Tuesday, May 27, 2008

FanFic: Reading "The Democratic Genre" by Sheenagh Pugh

The subtitle to The Democratic Genre is "Fan fiction in a literary context," and so far it's a fascinating look at the fanfic genre. Having been a member of the Austen fanfic community since 1999 it's interesting to find out that the approach I took instinctively with my writing followed a track that can be written about as a genre.

Best Bits

I love the notion that authors like Austen or Pratchett and characters like Sherlock Holmes and TV shows like Star Trek have created or are creating modern mythology that can be tapped to create new literature. This notion flies in the face of Anne Rice's plea that authors should create stories using only original characters--the implication being that "real literature" does not plunder another's works. Pugh points out that "Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and successors happily plundered classical, English and European history for plots and characters," and goes on to describe mythology (classical and modern) and history as a resource for all to use in the creation of stories.

The other best bit in the opening chapters is the notion that fanfic readers are looking for either "more of" a story or character(s) or "more from" the same. With regards to the Austen world, both are true. The Austen canon is quite small--6 books, with most fanfic focused on Pride and Prejudice, both Austen's version and Andrew Davies' version. When stories have classic comedic endings as Austen's do, modern readers crave to know what happened after the wedding...how did things turn out...did those awful issues that kept the couple apart reemerge to wreak havoc on the marriage? That's the "more of" category. Despite Austen's manifest genius, readers of Austen fanfic also want "more from" characters like Fanny Price and Caroline Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy. What really is his or her story--there is so much under the surface that can be probed and analyzed and discussed...in story form.I started writing fanfic because I found it a way to control the argument. That is, I could say, in story form, that I think Lady Russell has been given the shaft by a century's worth of readers for persuading Anne Elliot not to marry Captain Wentworth. I found that I was better at making my point via a story, in this case, Three Sisters, than by quoting chapter and verse in a discussion group. I found it was more powerful to give Mrs. Bennet's point of view in a story, The Last Baby, than to argue that despite being poked fun at since 1813, she might be less to blame for the Bennet family troubles than Mr. Bennet.

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