A friend of mine made these wonderful sketches of Harry Potter characters and scenes a few years ago before the first film was released and changed most people’s perspective of the characters, before every Snape painting started to look like a gorgeous Alan Rickman.
Fanfiction and fanart has always been part of fan cultures, but it is clear that the Internet gave storytellers and artists a new platform and readers and admirers a far more easy access to those works. It gave fanart in all its forms a greater visibility. Before that the stories and sketches were mainly shared in real small circles of friends.
The special thing about fanart: it connects people – across borders, across continents. Even though they have completely different cultural backgrounds, they share a love for the same things: movies, series or books. It is completely breath taking to see how people on the Internet connect, share jokes, cry and laugh together and sometimes even unite in hatred against a certain character or a certain plot.
I give you a fair warning: If you have not seen the second series of Sherlock, read through the Harry Potter Books, dislike Doctor Who or are completely besotted with Shades of Grey: Better do not read on. There are spoilers and admiration for the first three and harsh critic for the last.
One of the most well known fanfiction websites is www.fanfiction.net . Apart from that every fandom has its own fanfiction pages, www.sycophanthex.com for example is dedicated to the Potter universe. The statistics alone are incredible: Nearly 630,000 Harry Potter stories have been published on fanfiction.net, making it top in the category books, followed by Twilight with over 200,000 stories and Lord of the Rings with approximately 47,000. In the category “Film” Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean and High School Musical are the top ranking. Even TV series find their continuity in fanfiction writing. Glee, Supernatural, Buffy or Doctor Who they all have their fanfiction counterpart. Some stories are short, consisting of one chapter only, others could fill more than one book, containing 200 chapters and more.
Fanfiction writers create sequels, prequels or fill the stories’ gaps. Side figures become main figures, characters evolve beyond the original story, the dead ones are alive again and the living ones are killed.
Of course there are some authors who vote completely against fanfictions and claim their characters for their own and only use – fanfiction.net for example does no longer publish Anne Rice’s stories because the author claimed legal issues. In a statement she wrote: “I do not allow fanfiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fanfiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.” A statement that was not appreciated by some of her fans.
Somehow it is understandable since Anne Rice still uses the characters for new and ongoing stories. Quite the opposite are the Harry Potter books: There have always been stories parallel to the original since fanfiction writers picked up the story line quite early in the series, twisted it, made it their own. And after finishing one story they often picked up the story line at another point, for example the sixth book instead of the third book, and started a new story. Their writing evolved with the evolving complexity of the Harry Potter books itself.
Accepting those stories is a kind of marketing, it causes strong bounds between reader and writer, fandom and television show. Joanne K. Rowling for example always accepted fanfiction storytelling as part of her own success.
J.K. Rowling had let her agent declare she felt flattered people wanted to write their own Harry Potter stories. Her only concern so far is that those stories have to stay non-commercial and are not published in the traditional sense as book or e-book. When she outed Dumbledore to be gay she even said in an interview: “Just imagine the fanfiction now”. For some time there were rumours in the Harry Potter fandom J.K. Rowling had made an appearance on fanfiction sites using a pseudonym to comment on stories and discuss with readers.
It is a curious thing that most writers, television producers or actors are quite aware of fanfiction stories or fanart. Many of them try to stay away from that as far as possible, especially writers who do not want their heads be messed up by their fans imagination. But also actors like Louise Brealey, playing the pathologist Molly in the BBC hit series Sherlock, have given up following their fans’ writing and art. She stated in a Guardian interview: “I initially thought they were just stories but they’re not; they’re basically porn. After the first series, I was looking online to see what people thought of Molly and what came out was this story in which Molly got nipple piercings and had sex with Moriarty. At which point, I stopped reading.”
Other collegues seem to be more amused than shocked by the amount of fan admiration, like actor Martin Freeman who plays not only Bilbo Baggins in the new Hobbit movie, but Dr. Watson in BBC’s Sherlock as well. He made the whole Sherlock fan community gasp in commenting “I know what that question is all about, and you’re all fucking shocking” on John Watson’s red pants during “The Game is on” charity Q and A for the London Gay and Lesbian switchboard in 2012. Want to know what that is about? If you are old enough and feel safe with some explicit pictures, look here for an explanation and links:
Sherlock-star Benedict Cumberbatch commented on fanfiction and fanart in a MTV interview:
Different fandoms are not secluded or try to shield themselves from each other. The contrary is the case: Pairing for example Sherlock with Doctor Who is one of the most famous fandom crossovers. Can it be that this inspired the original writer as well? Steven Moffat clearly had its fun when in the 2012 Christmas special of Doctor Who “The Snowmen” the Doctor investigated telepathic snow dressed as Sherlock Holmes declaring “Shut up I am making deductions… it’s very exciting!”. Even the music was based on the Sherlock theme song.
Love stories are still the main fanfiction stories, and every fandom has its favourite pairings. Hermione and Snape, Draco and Harry were quite favourite for example with Harry Potter fans apart from the obvious pairings of Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny. Tragedy and death, lost loves and wars are as much part of these stories as happy marriage and eternal bliss.
An interesting change to the original stories happens in the BBC Sherlock fandom, where fans either ship Johnlock (John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in love), Mystrade (Mycroft Holmes and DI Greg Lestrade), Sherene/Irenelock (Sherlock Holmes and dominatrix Irene Adler, better known as The woman) or Sherlolly (Sherlock Holmes and pathologist Molly Hooper) and sometimes a mix of them all.
I have found myself addicted to Sherlock fanfictions recently, no idea how that started. But it is quite interesting: Once started, you simply can’t stop reading. You accompany the author through his or her writing process, since many publish chapter after chapter while continuing writing. It makes you squeal when there is a terrible cliffhanger and you have to wait days or weeks for the next chapter since it is not even written. You can give comments, give inspiration and even discuss how the story will continue. If a story is badly written the critics can be quite harsh, but most likely never unfair since many who comment on stories are writing themselves and know how much unjustified bad comments hurt. That makes Fanfiction a strange and none the less adorable universe with strong bonds between readers and writers.
But it is not all about connecting with others. Of course somehow as a fanfiction writer you become part of something bigger, says Liona, a 18 year old student from Germany. But when chatting on Youtube for example “there is still a distance, because you can never be sure who is really behind an account”.
Liona started writing fanfiction three years ago. But not only that: She is a quite apt musician. Playing the piano for almost eight years, Liona writes her own songs, some of them fan songs like this beautiful piece about the BBC television series Sherlock.
“I wrote fanfiction stories about the Doctor Who series, so I think the first short song I wrote was about ‘The Doctor’”, she says. “Unfortunately I haven’t recorded everything at this time, because I just played along and improvised.” Only later she started her first recorded music projects. Thinking about the difference between simply writing a song and writing a song about a series or a film she states: “First I wanted to say that if I write about a series or a film I have more space and possibilities, but now I think it is actually the other way round. When I write a text about a film or a series I have to concentrate a lot more.” Before writing her lyrics and composing the melodies Liona tries to get to know the character, “his flaws and behavior”. Sometimes it can be something as simple as “a word, a phrase or an object they always wear, that makes the song vivid and believable for other fans”, she explains. And that makes the writing far more complicated. “In a song about real life not everything has to be so specific.”
A simple phrase can inspire a whole song, like it happened with this one Liona wrote about Third Star, a film about a young man dying from cancer who makes a last journey with his three best friends to his favourite place on earth.
“In my opinion the art of fanfiction doesn’t start with writing, drawing or singing, but by imagining and daydreaming.” Sometimes Liona simply writes because she likes it, out of fun. But writing fanfiction has also helped her cope with the divorce of her parents. “I found a way to escape into a world where I can set the rules and suffer just as long as I want and then make a happy ending out of it.” Something that during that time was simply impossible in real life.
Liona has a point. Writing has always been a therapy for me as well, a way to release stress in simply writing away the pain. It might be that this is the appeal of fanfiction: Using a borrowed character the author already knows very well and create something new inspired by the inner turmoil in an author’s soul.
There are some quite advanced fanfiction writers who could – only judging their style of writing – publish a book.
Some of those stories are only for adult readers because brutal or sexual content. Readers of http://www.adultfanfiction.net for example have to declare they are older than 18 before getting access to the website. Out of a good reason: Some stories are really cruel and bloodthirsty, contain BDSM, explicit sexual descriptions, non-consensual sex, love between siblings, rape and torture. Reading through some of the stories even as an adult makes you doubt you really wanted to know about certain things. It can make you wonder why you even started to read the story at all.
Considering the adult content of some stories and considering there are some great writers with a quiet poetic style of writing I think it is justified to raise the question why out of all these interesting stories someone picked Shades of Grey and published it as a book. Written as a Twilight fanfiction in the first place it is neither a good story nor extraordinary daring. Only exceptional boring. I barely made it through the first book. Leaving aside the strange perception of women, the innocent little girl that is seduced by the good-looking rich man, it has a strange sense of humans psychology: He likes SM so he has to have had a bad childhood. How boring. If you are writing a sex story, why can’t he simply enjoy it, why can’t she simply consider it without feeling guilty or dirty or overwhelmed? How often can a women “come hard” in one book?
Fifty Shades author E.L. James, whose real name is Erika Leonard, was born in London, read history at the University of Kent and started writing erotic fanfiction later in her life. She submitted her story to the above mentioned fanfiction.net under the pen-name Snowqueens Icedragon. It can still be found on the website, but all information and stories are deleted.
With Gabriel’s Inferno another fanfiction was published as a book. Both Gabriel’s Inferno and Fifty Shades of Grey were surpassed when Alice Clayton’s WALLBANGER was published – the most successful release of a former Twilight fanfiction so far, it soon reached Number 2 on Amazon’s Top 100 Kindle Bestseller list and sold 100,000 copies in shortly over a month.
Judith Rumolt, better known under her pen-name Cassandra Clare, started her carrier as a fanfiction writer as well, publishing Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings stories in the Internet. She deleted her account shortly before she published her first novel The City of Bones in 2007, the first book of a trilogy called The Mortal Instruments. The first book will be released as a major motion picture in 2013, starring Lily Collins as Clary Fray, one of the main characters.
One thing Fifty Shades of Grey and other former fanfiction authors gained is that it is commonly accepted today that fanfiction writers can become so called real writers. But can this distinction really been made: Fanfiction writer vs. real writer?
The assumption that only original work is good work, that you can simply draw a line between fiction and fanfiction is quite wrong. Most writers are inspired by stories they have read, some of them even borrow characters from legends or myth to create their own stories. The German young-adult fiction writer Christoph Marzi always mixes his own inventions with well known fictional characters, borrowing from modern books as well as from Greek mythology or the bible. One of his best books is called Grimm, in which Grimm’s fairytales become part of the modern world reality. Cornelia Funke, currently the most successful and prominent German children book author, uses fairy tale stories from different cultural backgrounds to create a whole new world in her new series Reckless. Coming back to television series: Grimm’s fairytales are an essential part of Sherlock series 2 finale.
Fanfiction storytelling does not stop with writing fiction, many fans have found their share with the fandom in editing videos and post them on platforms like Youtube. Apart from fake-trailers and music videos there are some quite inventive films and projects, like the Harry Potter Puppet Pals (over 138 million views) or A Very Potter Musical.
Fanfiction and fan videos often become quite mixed up with each other – another proof that a strict line between what is original and what is borrowed cannot be drawn. The author MadLori submitted Alone On The Water to fanfiction.net, a quite sad story about Sherlock Holmes being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
What fans of this story did are these videos on Youtube. Especially the second one, a video made of various Sherlock sketches, is quite amazing:
What does it tell us, that people make videos not only based on books or films but fanfiction stories as well? My conclusion is a simple one: Fanart and fanfiction are only another form of people’s imagination manifesting into art and literature – inpired by existing stories but changed into something unique. And again this raises the final question: Where does fanart start and where does it end?
You like Liona’s music? You can contact her by mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Liona on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/dtdwFan420