Friday, October 16, 2015

Fanfic and Folklore

I like folklore. You’ve probably already noticed that.

What you may not have noticed, because it’s never really come up so far, if that I also love fanfiction. Fanfiction, you ask? That stupid thing teenage girls do where they write stories about their favorite TV shows so they can make things go exactly the way they want?

Yeah. That thing.

We’ll talk more about the stupid teenage girl angle later. For now you may be wondering why I opened with the folklore.

Well, they’re basically the same thing.

Here’s why I like folklore: it’s all about the idea of the collective story. Story as a conversation, a huge one, between all the thousands of people, over all the thousands of years, who have ever had anything to do with it. When I sit down to read a “Beauty and the Beast” picture book to my cousin, I’m not just communicating with her, or even just with her and the author and illustrator of this particular book. It connects me to Madame Villeneuve, who wrote the book that led to the story in this picture book. It connects me to Madame Beaumont, who adapted that book into something more recognizable today. It connects me to Robin McKinley, who’s written two beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” retellings, and to Disney, the influence of which is inescapable. It connects me to the other French writers who influenced both Villeneuve and Beaumont, to dozens of people who recorded similar fairy tales, to the people they heard those tales from, and to the people those people heard them from.

Stories work differently, now that most of the oral traditions have been written down. They tend to belong to people now. And that’s fine. It’s great. I write a lot; I understand how connected you can get to the characters you make up, how uncomfortable it might be to see another writer making them do something you know they never would. It’s why, when I’m reading fanfiction, I tend to focus on fic from TV shows rather than novels, or at least novels that have become a part of the collective consciousness, like L Frank Baum’s Oz books. I know people have strong feelings about it, and I try to be respectful. But when the author is cool with it, or long dead, or when the story is already a collaboration between several writers, as in the case of movies, TV shows, etc., fanfic is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful thing.

Let’s take the show Supernatural, for example. You start off with a show that’s already based on myth, religion, folklore, and urban legends from a wide variety of cultures. We don’t even have to talk about the Supernatural fans: the show itself is already fanfic. But let’s talk about those fans anyway. They write their fic. A whole lot of fic. Now this particular fandom is especially useful in this conversation for two reasons. Firstly, it’s very vibrant and active, and contains a lot of great writers who are influencing each other. You can actually find fanfiction of fanfiction of the show. Secondly, it’s very vibrant and active while the show is still running. Fanfic and fandom have, on multiple occasions, been incorporated into the show itself—basically the writers writing fanfic of the fandom. And then people write fic for those episodes, and you end up with fanfic of the fanfic of the fanfic. I think. Admittedly I’ve gotten a little lost at this point.

What it comes down to is this: people hear a story. They tell others that story, but they change it a little. Make it their own. Someone hears their version of the story, and changes that version a little to make it their own. And it goes on and on. Maybe someone who had a hand in an earlier version comes across a more recent one, and changes that one a little, too. And people see that, compare the two versions the one author touched, and notice new things about the story. Things they want to emphasize or eliminate, things that will influence them the next time they tell the story. And everyone has had a chance to make the story their own. So in the end it belongs to everyone.

That’s what folklore is. That’s why I love folklore, aside from the talking animals and people in pretty clothes. And that’s why I love fanfiction. It fills a role in our society that would otherwise have faded away. It turns stories into conversations again.

(Stay tuned for a rant on public opinion of a)fanfic, and b)teenage girls, coming soon to a blog near you.)

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