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Virtual Potter: Dissecting the Fan Fiction Phenomenon

Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor


Image I have a problem every time I sit down to read the Harry Potter books. I find myself unsatisfied with the stories as they are written. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. I’m rather passionate about them, and I’ll leap into discussion of the Potter canon anytime the opportunity arises. But there are pieces missing for me. What’s Snape doing when he’s not being a snarky potions professor? Does Neville even have a love life? And really, isn’t there more to Draco than just a two bit villain? [And come to think of it, isn’t there a bit of sexual tension going on between Draco and Harry? Or Remus and Sirius for that matter?] Rowling leaves too many paths unexplored, and sometimes the ones she does go down—Harry and Ginny, for instance, ick—aren’t as satisfying as they could be. Thankfully, there’s fan-fiction to fill in the gaps and [re]write the wrongs in ways that Rowling never could and might never even have considered.

It all started, they say, when someone was watching Star Trek and thinking how much more interesting it would be if Spock and Kirk would just kiss already. Or maybe it was earlier than that, when someone was watching Romeo and Juliet on stage and regretting the miserable ending: rework the timings a little and you can have a nice happily ever after instead. Earlier still every storyteller could take liberties with myths: nothing was committed to writing, so each version was filtered through the speaker and audience, no two alike. Everyone who has taken a story and made it their own has engaged in an act of fan-fiction: creating derivative works, usually in violation of copyright law, that expand upon an existing universe. Prior to the Internet, these stories were handwritten or eventually typed and copied with early Xerox technology and distributed at conventions and through zines. These methods were far more intimate but limited in their reach compared to what is possible today.

But with the rise of virtual space, an entire culture has arisen among fans gathering to discuss the future of the characters they know so intimately, to play out their own lives in Hogwartsesque worlds brought to life by collective imagination, and writing and reading elaborate stories that rework the universe through the eyes of a fan turned storyteller. These stories range in length from quick parodies or scene rewrites to novel-length. On one major archive site of such works, Fanfiction.net, there are over three hundred thousand such stories. Other sites exist entirely dedicated to collection Harry Potter works envisioned by different groups, particularly those who find harmony in a particular romantic pairing of characters.

It can be hard to understand the act of writing fan-fiction if you’ve never been part of the practice. Writers of fan-fiction spend hours and hours putting together stories that they place out on the internet in hopes of gaining an audience. That audience might be appreciative, and a writer can even gain “big name fan” status and recognition among the community, but there are no tangible profits to the effort. It’s particularly impressive to see children and young adults involved in the writing and critique of these stories when the educational system is filled with complaints of how the Internet is reducing literacy: here, the writers and readers are engaged because they choose their topics and are motivated by passion, not a set of guidelines.

There have been writers who have come from the world of fan-fiction to mainstream writing: most famous of these is Cassandra Claire, whose works The Draco Trilogy caused a great scandal within the community. Cassandra Claire was already a writer and journalist when she started posting Harry Potter fan-fiction, and the works were a large scale success. She envisioned a world where Harry and Draco came to work together against not only Voldemort but the greater evil of Salazaar Slytherin resurrected from the era of the founders. The series is epic in scope, but hard to track down online now—Cassandra Claire has chased all copies off of the internet, well-received as they were. The works quoted liberally from various books, movies, and TV shows to the point of raising outright accusations of plagiarism. Despite all that, Cassandra Claire is now a published young adult fantasy novel: her novel City of Bones, first in a trilogy, has already found an audience in the “real world” of publication. Hers is a rare story of a dream cherished by many fan-fiction writers.

I have myself been a writer of fan-fiction, using my computer terminal as a portal to Hogwarts, where I can envision a Potions class or epic battle or rewrite book 6 to have a less tragic ending. It is a mostly anonymous pursuit: the works I’ve written should be difficult to link back to me in the same way that nearly all fan-fiction is tied to aliases and online-only personae. There is a certain need for privacy inevitable in a pursuit that is covered by mainstream media mostly as rampant copyright violation or an underground erotica movement. Writing fan-fiction can be seen as a strange and self-indulgent hobby: if we want to write so much, why don’t we write something original rather than going off on pop culture obsessions?

Particularly offensive to the outside observer are the number of sexually explicit works within Harry Potter fan-fiction, including works focusing on homosexual pairings that recall the predecessor of Spock/Kirk romance stories. Within the Harry Potter fan community there are a number of creators of what is called “slash” fan-fiction. Slash is now specifically associated with those couples that are homosexual in nature; generally such pairings are between two males though what is sometimes called “femslash” is also present with a smaller following. The stories have large followings and an older audience within the community, but they have equally vehement opponents: anyone who posts a work of slash can expect flames among their comments.

The presence of these stories online runs in conflict with the family friendly novels themselves: while the books have matured over the years as Harry Potter has hit adolescence, they certainly bear no resemblance to the rampant sexual romps the characters get up to in the world of fan-fiction. There has been concern about this adult take-over of Harry Potter, as adults rewrite a children’s world to their own liking. Run a search on Harry Potter fan-fiction on Google and it will return over two million hits featuring stories of every rating and genre. Here’s five stories offering a sampling of what you might find if you begin following the threads woven by the new ranks of Harry Potter storytellers…

 

Story Name: In Blood Only

Author: E.M. Snape

Archive: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2027554/1/In_Blood_Only

The Premise: Flashbacks throughout the series show us that Lily Evans, Harry’s mother, might have been closer to Snape than anyone’s willing to admit. And yes, Harry may look a lot like James Potter…but if Snape washed his hair and straightened his nose, there’d be some resemblance there. E.M. Snape explores a future for Harry where he suddenly finds himself with a father he’s not all that attached to. Over forty-some chapters are required to deal with this new family tie. Meanwhile, Voldemort’s supporters are raising hell and killing off characters more liberally than J.K. Rowling has ever dreamed of, allowing for a darker mood, as a fan-fiction writer is free to do what the creator of a franchise might hesitate to permit. With over 3000 reviews on Fanfiction.net and an award from the “Quill to Parchment” fan-fiction awards, In Blood Only is a strong example of what is called a “gen” fic, where the focus is not on romance or particularly adult themes but on telling an alternate version of the story.

 

Story Name: The Buried Life

Author: Kalina

Archive: http://www.obscurusbooks.org/html/Kalina/BuriedLife/index.html

The Premise: The Buried Life begins where–I presume–the Harry Potter series will leave off: with the defeat of Voldemort. Ron Weasley is dead, killed by Voldemort during the final battle. Severus Snape has been vindicated, and the reason for Dumbledore’s continued trust in him is revealed: Snape tried to save Lily and James Potter during Voldemort’s first reign. Harry is left to deal with the angst of being a hero who has outlived his quest, and instead of facing life without purpose he disappears, leaving his remaining friends and family to sort out the pieces. This premise allows for a particularly popular romantic pairing to take center stage, as an older and more mature Hermione Granger works with Severus Snape to try and find Harry and bring him back to face his adulthood. Kalina is one of many writers within the Hermione Granger/ Severus Snape ‘shipper community, a group with its own mailing list—“When I Kissed The Teacher,” or WIKTT—and numerous fiction archives.

 

Story Name: So You Want to Go to Hogwarts?

Author: Hijja

Archive: http://www.fictionalley.org/authors/hijja/SYWTGTH01a.html

The Premise: So You Want to Go to Hogwarts? is a short work that makes a mockery of the dreams of so many Harry Potter fans—namely, the desire to go off and attend Hogwarts. The story “reveals” the real fate of anyone so unfortunate as to get a Hogwarts letter. It’s one of many parody and humor stories online, and the genre is particularly important to counterbalance the angst, character death, and drama that make up a majority of the stories. This is the sort of work that reminds us that the fans are not all taking this so seriously: occasionally, a dose of comedy needs to be added to the world of Harry Potter for the same reason the Weasley twins are so important to the balance of Rowling’s novels.

 

Story Name: I am Lord Voldemort

Author: Nemesis

Archive: http://fiction.thebasiliskcafe.net/viewuser.php?uid=7

The Premise: While many of the fan-fiction stories stick to familiar ground reworking the years of Harry Potter’s time at Hogwarts, others delve into more original territory. Nemesis’s story is a powerful example of an effort at taking a character that has few dimensions within Rowling’s work, the great villain himself, and bringing him a more human character. Nemesis looks at Tom Riddle’s time at Hogwarts, and his own bitter childhood and the gradual transformation of him from man to monster. Stories in this vein take the Slytherins and bring them from stereotyped villains to fully realized characters. Nemesis’s work predates some of the character history Rowling worked into the later novels, so parts of it are inconsistent with the canon vision of Riddle and at times even more compelling.

 

Story Name: Irresistible Poison

Author: Rhysenn

Archive: http://rhysenn.morethanart.org/ip/

The Premise: One of the more respected slash writers within the genre, Rhysenn tells developed stories bringing romance between some of the more unlikely of character, whether it’s Percy and Neville or Lucius and Remus. Irresistible Poison is her Potter novella developing a romance between Draco and Harry. The work makes use of one of the more overused devices in fantasy fan-fiction: namely, the love potion. Often, the introduction of this element is a disastrous measure for the forcing together of unwilling lovers: in this case, however, only one party is affected and the other remains indifferent. Draco accidentally takes a love potion of unbreakable power and the first person he encounters is Harry. The hero-complex Harry has developed leads him to try and help Draco find a cure. Throughout the interplay, their relationship develops from animosity to friendship and further.

 

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Author: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor

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