The Krum Theory (or burblings about fanfiction and authorial … authority?)

J.K. Rowling said the end of Deathly Hallows was about “wish-fulfillment” and I had some thoughts. Again, very sparse; I’d love to hear of more examples of authors who have written fanfiction set in their own universes.

From this weekend’s column.

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One of the difficulties of a book or television series that generates a great deal of fanfiction is the possibility that while we wait for the next installment, the (unpaid, non-professional) fan writers are doing it better. I spent much of the most recent series of the BBC’s Sherlock series comparing it (usually to the actual show’s disadvantage) to other, fan-produced works. But this is hardly the only instance in which a ‘real’ author’s work has reminded me of fanfic.

The last of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out in 2007. Like what felt like most of the world at the time, I read it the day it was released. It was all going so well until we came to the book’s epilogue. Here was a piece of writing that had all the characteristics of a particular sort of fanfiction, the kind that generally isn’t very good. The neat pairing off of everyone with everyone, the weird and wonderful names given to the characters’ offspring; it was uniformly dreadful. Years later, the movies would drive this point home further by fake-aging their actors to film this scene, thus making of it something truly unsettling.

I reread this unfortunate chapter recently, after Rowling herself admitted to the wish-fulfillment nature of it all. More importantly, she suggested that having her character Hermione Granger end up with the gormless Ron Weasley may not have been the best idea, and that Harry Potter himself might have made her happier.

Naturally this has pleased a section of her fans who always thought that Hermione and Harry were meant to be, and others who simply thought she could do better. Some of us grumpily asked why she needed to be paired off with a man at all when there were so many other options available to her. She could be Minister for Magic. She could be queer. She could have a torrid affair with Bulgarian Quidditch player Viktor Krum, before choosing career over personal life and inventing something world-changing. She  could work towards the inevitable house-elf revolution and be reviled among polite wizard society for her supposed treachery.

But that is one of the things fanfiction allows us to do—to take characters, and imagine that they have an independent existence outside the text, and explore the possibilities they offer us. It’s one of the luxuries afforded to fans of a work, and I’m sure that all of these (and thousands of other) potential futures for Hermione have been explored by writers who are more willing to put in the effort than I am.

But Rowling isn’t a fan of the Harry Potter books, or at least not a typical one, and I find myself intrigued by the implications of an author thus elaborating upon or rethinking events set in the world she created. If Rowling reveals ‘facts’ about the characters that were not stated in the books (as with her assertion some months after the series ended that Professor Dumbledore was gay), are they necessarily more canonical than my own belief that Luna Lovegood is right about the Nargles (admittedly, there’s more textual evidence for the first of these theories than the second)? If Rowling were to write a ‘corrected’ version of the final book with a very  different version of that last chapter would we accept it as the ‘real’ sequence of events? What are the limits of story, to what extent do the millions of people who have already read the book own the plot, so that it cannot now be changed?

All this is hypothetical, since Rowling has shown no sign of wanting to correct her books. And while her pronouncements on the series will presumably always be listened to more seriously than those of her fans, I suppose it would be unfair to ban her from playing with her own creation.

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5 Comments to “The Krum Theory (or burblings about fanfiction and authorial … authority?)”

  1. And of course, dear JKR has always supported other people’s fan creations.

    As to writers writing fan creations in their own universe — I wonder if there is a point, particularly in serials, where the next installment of a series is no longer written in isolation but as a response to the avalanche of fan material around the writer. It’s not just the idea that fan creators might do it better. It’s the slippage between being a ‘creator’ yourself and falling in love with the idea of your work so much that you acknowledge the reality of that in your work.

    Rowling’s case is different. She speaks (in)directly against canon, which as you say, is utterly fascinating. But what happens when the creation of new canon itself is an exercise in fandom?

    It seems to me that television shows at least are increasingly becoming self-aware. As you point out, Sherlock’s latest season was more or less and exercise in fan satisfaction — but was it for fans or for Moffat? Is that a distinction we can really make? And do fans write for themselves or for others? It’s more than just plumbing fans for ideas. It’s acknowledging their source, as any decent fanfiction writer will do.

    It would be interesting to see where this goes from here, if reader feedback were to become so loud and ever-present that a writer can no longer write alone. There will always be other voices.

    It’s all so very hyper-real, isn’t it?

    • I don’t know much about Rowling’s past engagement with fandom, so it’s possible I’m missing something?

      Your comment puts a lot of these questions more clearly than I did. I am also fascinated in the ways in which the lines of authorship, and between canon and fandom are being blurred. And since most of the popular media I’m seeing come out seems to be remake or reboot (and I wonder if the reasons for that are connected to these questions as well?) it’s a process we’re seeing all the time.

      Very hyper-real, as you say.

      • Oops, I just realised I haven’t been here in a month. Most loverly posts you have too. (I usually abstain, then read post upon post until a deadline looms.)

        As to JKR, I believe she doesn’t mind fanfiction unless it’s commercial or has sex in it. How she deals with slash, I have no idea. That always makes me laugh. But she almost pursued a case against the James Potter and the [...] series writer until he promised her he’d keep it only online and only free, so there you have it. That’s been her line since.

        Great point about popular media in general. That didn’t occur to me. With superhero franchises, it’s clear enough — or rather, people seem to have said enough — that they seem to be products of people wanting their childhood obsessions to grow up with them, or some such. But for superhero films at least, it seems to be an easy answer. Why, as you point out, is so much else redone? Could it be just a modern manifestation of the formula films of old? I’d love to read more about it.

        (And reading about remakes before posting this reply, I see that a Sandman film is finally in the works! I tremble.)

  2. Nice piece!

    Two questions: Do you write fanfic? I’d love to read it!

    And could you point me towards the Sherlock fic that you enjoyed? Almost all my fic reading is of books, with the occasional exception of West Wing fan fic (did you see the episode where Sorkin reacts — very negatively — to fanfic in the guise of Josh’s response to internet fans?) but I’d love to read good Sherlock fic without having to wade through crappy fic in order to find it! (Sherlock itself, of course, is a fanwork, so is it really surprising that Moffat’s offerings in the latest season were so tuned towards fan reaction? It’s typical fanfic author behaviour! Conan Doyle may be the better comparison with Rowling — after all, The Adventure of the Empty House was written in response to fan pressure after he’d closed his own canon with The Final Problem.)

    • Priscilla–sorry, I don’t write fanfic, and I’m a bit wary of recommending any; in much of the fic I read sex features prominently, and so recommending any might be giving out information more personal than I’m comfortable with. :)

      Your ACD comparison’s an intriguing one–one advantage that ACD had was that the Holmes stories were never so consistent (in fact or characterisation) as to put much constraint on his continuation of the series!

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