My Harry Potter is not your Harry Potter

Relating to my previous musings about fanfiction, and the recent short story detailing some post-Hogwarts events, it seems a good time to discuss this idea.

One of things I’ve found interesting about reading fanfiction is seeing different people’s takes on a character. This can even become apparent in seeing fan reactions to new stories/episodes/sequels/etc—some like it, some complain that a character has changed (the more adamant even claiming the writer(s)—in many cases the one(s) who invented the character in the first place—has gotten the character wrong).

You see, for any (significant) character, the writer has probably delved into vast screeds of back-story and analysis that colours how they expect the character to behave. The audience usually doesn’t have access to this information (which is fortunate, as it probably doesn’t make for exciting reading), so will fill in gaps with their own preconceptions, expectations, and assumptions.

We do the same thing with real people. Note that I’m not saying this is wrong; we’d find it much harder to empathise if we didn’t (as we’d have no frame of reference). It’s essentially the “putting yourself in their shoes” idea; the more you know about them, the more accurate the metaphorical shoes will be. It’s another of the sensible cognitive shortcuts that help us deal with the world around us. The only problems arise when the other person’s experience is so different to ours that we make completely wrong assumptions about them, and the only way to correct this is to be aware of the error, and be open to learning something new.

Which can be hard to do, especially if you’re a white male in western society (which keeps telling you you’re the norm), but it’s definitely worth it for the chance to see the world from a new perspective.

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The Problem With Fanfiction

The Collins English Dictionary defines “fanfic” (short for “fan fiction”) as:

(noun) fiction written around previously established characters invented by other authors

While it’s not a new phenomenon (see for example The Testament of Cresseid), it has grown hugely in the internet age owing to the relative ease of dissemination.

What it generally is, however, is derided. Which I find somewhat puzzling. fanfiction.net (hardly the only site out there) has hundreds of thousands of stories in a wide variety of fictional universes, and a wide variety of genres. Okay, it’s not as populous as something like facebook, but the point is that there are a lot of people reading and writing fanfiction; it’s not just an obscure, niche interest.

In fact, I would suggest it’s something that people do instinctively. How many kids make up stories about what their toys are doing? How often do you wonder “what if…”? Humans love stories, and—while I can understand the copyright and intellectual property concerns of some authors—nothing will stop people from being imaginative. Having a starting point makes the process much easier. Most aren’t doing it to make money, or to deprive the original creator. Even if it’s used for publicity for an aspiring author, it’s also publicity for the original work.

In the end, though, it probably comes down to legitimacy. Some creators don’t like the thought of other people playing with their toys, whether for profit or just for amusement. And some people are uncomfortable with the thought that the only reason Sherlock doesn’t count as fanfiction is because they’re getting paid for it. 🙂