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Tuesday, June 24th, 2003

I have to show you this link: it's a LiveJournal post of an IM conversation between two writers of Harry Potter fan fiction. DO NOT FOLLOW IT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILERED! (The rest of this post should be okay, though.) I think it's hysterically funny – two very knowing people poking gentle fun at the weakness of fan fiction while still embracing the concept of it.

I'm having a debate with about fan fiction at the moment. I'm not a huge enthusiast and hardly read any, but I have written one piece myself (about the Buffy spin-off, Angel) and find the phenomenon interesting. She, however, has little patience with it. She says it's transgressive. The characters are not the shippers' property to do stuff with, so what's the point?

We agreed to differ on the IM conversation linked above. She thought it was icky, I thought they were poking fun at the icky side of it – I found the idea of hundreds of frustrated fan fiction writers all churning out drivel in which Harry spends countless hours grooming Draco to be irredeemably funny. I suppose they were also affirming their support of the concept of fan fiction though, so I can see where she's coming from.

I guess the thing about fan fic is that there are two kinds: they probably have names but I don't know them so I'll relate them to canon. One is entirely plausible within canon, like the Angel fic I wrote on T21. The other is totally non-canonical – Harry/Draco is a good example. The former is easier to justify as the characters are kept within the limits set by their creator (although it's worth noting that the many, many Buffy/Spike fanfics were as non-canonical as you can get – until it happened in canon). The latter is easy to object to as it goes way off the rails.

A lot comes down to whether you believe a writer is the only person who should be allowed to find the meaning in their works. I seem to remember it being a big discussion point in literary criticism – is a meaning there if the writer didn't put it there? Can a text be subject to interpretations other than those intended by the writer? I think, of course it can. I personally didn't spot any homo-erotic undertones in any of the relationships in any of the HP books that I can remember (a clear sign she's still writing for kids). But if others feel they see them, why not?

Fiction that really catches on creates a world of its own. Harry Potter does it, so does LoTR, the Discworld, Narnia, Patrick O'Brian, Buffy, Northern Exposure, Cagney and Lacey, Star Trek, Star Wars. Fan fiction (and spin-off RPGs) come from the desire to explore that world more than the published texts allow you to. If you feel that the world ONLY exists in the texts, as created by the author, and has no reality beyond those texts, then you are by definition against fan fic. If you yearn for the world to be real and wish it was possible to go through the wardrobe into it then fan fiction is the obvious way of exploring it. I guess it's obvious where I sit on that one…

That works as a justification for canonical fan fiction. It doesn't stand up for non-canon fiction. Personally, I think non-canonical fan fiction is mostly just intended to be *fun* – you certainly get that feeling from the conversation linked above. Taking it seriously is just silly, and pointless too as the next bit of canon will probably blow it out of the water (unless it's Buffy/Spike, or Evil!Willow, or all the other things that eventually come true. I guess a lot of the fun comes in picking the one that WILL come true – by that logic, the people offended by the death in the latest Harry Potter are just sore losers).

I know some people think fan fiction is pointless. I disagree – I think it's an end in itself. If someone enjoys writing it, and a few people enjoy reading it, then it's justified itself. I also vaguely remember hearing on T21 of a woman who used to write Angel fanfic and, on the strength of it, was asked to write an episode of the show – but that would be such a rarity as to be an irrelevant side issue. People get pleasure from fanfic and that's its point. Good enough for me.

But where I *do* agree with Astrofiammante's 'get a life' argument is that the best of these fics are written by people with talent. They ought to be creating their own worlds and their own characters. Where would we be if JKR had sat in that cafe writing LoTR fan fic?

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.