Iconography: Figuring Fan Fiction
I was twelve or thirteen when I first started reading and writing fan fiction, and I can’t see myself stopping any time soon. Fan fiction is not only creative, I haven’t simply been a part of great communities, but there are some really interesting dynamics going on with feminist refiguring of literary icons.
“Fan fiction” refers to works by fans of television shows, movies, books, and such using the source material’s storylines, characters, world and so forth. Legally, therefore, they inhabit a tenuous position. Fan fic is often shared with fellow fans, formerly mostly in zines and now largely on the Internet. There are large fan fiction communities online, some specific to particular fandoms, and some catering more widely, as with FanFiction.net.
On first making my way into fandoms, I was amazed to find that I was participating in communities full of women. Geekery, running about in costumes and attending conventions and such, is often held to be a men’s domain (just see what the folks at Geek Feminism have to say about that!). But here I was finding groups largely comprised of women: writing, sharing, bouncing ideas off each other, editing each others’ work, participating in fic writing challenges. Here I found women working collaboratively, getting creative together and building women’s cultures on women’s terms. It makes my feminist heart sing.
Women’s fan fiction communities are a fabulously feminist project just for that, but there’s still a world of possibilities to be explored. Have you ever felt like an author simply did not do right by a character? (I’ll be examining Bertha Rochester from Jane Eyre later on in this series, for example, because for goodness’ sake, Charlotte Brontë.) Well, here’s where many have taken the chance to rewrite endings from a feminist angle, or to examine the bits of women’s lives left unexplored in published literature. Fan fiction has particularly emerged as a means of taking queer subtext and making it text; I may have read more Harry/Draco slash (“slash” refers to fan fic about a same-sex pairing) than I’ve had hot dinners. Where usually only certain kinds of fiction get to be iconic in popular culture, this subculture gets to tease out the subversive might-have-beens.
I love it both when fan fiction furthers the legacy of feminist writers and when misogynistic elements in classic or popular works are turned to the feminist. I love the transformation of a one-dimensional stereotype to a fully fleshed out woman, giving the female sidekick the chance to live out her potential (hello there, Hermione Granger), and the rejigging of a plotline so that it no longer leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And it’s especially cool when you get transmedia interplay. For example, "In An Interstellar Burst" by such_heights is one of my favourites for upending the end of Doctor Who series four, in which, spoiler alert, the main female character has her memories of all her heroic deeds erased. I don’t want to convey that fan fiction is especially about making creative works do what the fans want. Rather, it’s about taking your own perspective and engaging with iconic texts, something that often eventuates in a beautifully creative engagement with social justice or just plain old fun.
Fan fiction allows writers to jump off from iconic works and learn and practice their own skills. Where women are often told that their imaginings are silly and inconsequential, fan fiction provides some support with already publicly validated worlds in which to run free. And then there are many writers who have found their way into paid writing work on the back of their fan fiction. In a fandom like Doctor Who, that’s famously men, but there are women starting to emerge too, like Harry Potter fic fandom’s most famous daughter, Cassandra Clare.
Writing is often all about the icons, but with fan fiction it’s about turning them (as well as works not as famous) to popular use. A fair part of the time, it’s about turning them to women’s communities, cultures and creativity. It’s about creating the kinds of stories we want to read, even if we’re not lucky or privileged enough to get our own work out there in established and accepted forms. How gloriously feminist is that?
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