If you know where to search online, you will find me (or at least an incidental character named after me) appearing in fanfic. As we approach Christmas, I cannot help but think that such material is more ubiquitous than most of us realise. We are entering a time of year when fanfic has shaped our culture, traditions and holidays.
What exactly is fanfic? To answer that, maybe a good place to start is to ask what do Sherlock and Spock have in common – apart from a similar-sounding name that has led some fans to speculate that the former may be an ancestor of the latter, or that (via some time travel intrigue) they are perhaps both the same person?
Their biggest similarity is actually the fans themselves: both characters gave birth to legions of fans whose rabid support caused both fictional personalities to return from the dead, and – even more importantly – those fans wrote fan fiction (now commonly called fanfic or fic) that changed the face of literature, raising questions about copyright, and popularising terms like ‘cultural appropriation’ (which asks whether fans can claim some form of ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ of their favourite fictional franchises because they feel so passionately about the material and helped to make it so popular).
Fic is fun to write. It allows fans of any TV series, book, or film to create further adventures of their favourite characters. Some fic has been collected in paper fanzines (in the old days) or in Internet digital archives such as those for books or TV shows or anime or games. (But be careful – if you are copying a universe that is legally owned by others, you cannot make money from your stories, and you must take care to remain amateur and respectful and do nothing to violate their limits or endanger their profits. Stay within fan circles, be nice, and have fun.)
Fan fiction has a long and obscure history. In olden days, before writing was common and oral stories were more popular, it may be that myths and legends, and heroic tales such as those of the Trojan War, Atlantis, Robin Hood, Cleopatra and Hypatia may have included types of fic. In later times, Shakespeare and other authors created classic fic stories.
Some modern-day professional authors began their writing through writing fan fiction, while Fifty Shades of Grey and other novels are known to have come out of fan fic based upon the Twilight series or other original material. (This alternative is possibly a more rational idea about what to do with your fanfic other than keeping it backed up in some private computer file for nobody else to ever read – change your fanfic so it contains new characters, names, settings and plot. Bingo! New material free of copyright problems!)
What has all this to do with Christmas and the holidays? The answer should be self-evident: some of our earliest fanfic probably comprises religious stories where followers told and retold oral stories of their favourite religious figures and mythologies. Jesus and Hercules and Osiris rose from the dead just like Spock and Sherlock and Superman. Odysseus and Jason and King Arthur undertook quests just like Katniss Everdean and Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. We approach the time of year when Christians celebrate their annual homage to one of the likely biggest sources of fanfic in history (the Bible) and its collected tales of life, death, and the power of inspiration. I do not intend to demean Christians with these comments: I also know the power of life affirming fanfic, even though my favourite fanfic is secular and science fictional.
One form of fanfic, called Mary Sue fiction, is a popular medium. This is where the author of the story (or in slight variation, their friends) become character/s in their stories. When I was much younger, I wrote myself into Star Trek and other sci fi fanfic stories, and in more recent times a friend had me (or a character named after me) appear in her fic about a wagon train convoy crossing the US plains during a past century. Mary Sue fiction has probably been around forever. Some of the early Biblical stories (and some more modern tales of religious experience) were probably originally Mary Sue tales of followers imagining themselves in religious settings interacting with their favourite religious figures. Such tales convey the power and passion of fanfic – but also warn us of the potential perversity if taken to extremes. Perhaps the biggest potential problem with religion (like any other form of fandom) is that while moderation brings motivation, more extremist forms put the cult into culture.
So happy Christmas, Hannukah, or Science Fiction Day. It’s all fun, imaginary, and it assumes whatever forms of inspiration that each of us needs in order to help shape our personal views, values and lives. Fandom is fun.
© 2022 Geoff Allshorn