?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

It's all fan fiction, baby.

From Neil Gaiman's blog today:

Hello, Mr. Gaiman. I'm wondering what the proper etiquette is when it comes to work inspired by anothers. For instance, I'm a college Film major, and recently had an idea for a screenplay, but the idea stems from something you discuss in the commentary to one of your short stories in Smoke and Mirrors. Is that something that as a writer is okay to run with on your own if it goes off in a divergent direction from the other story, or is that where right issues and the like come into play? Thank you for your time, James.

No, that's just Where Ideas Come From and Being Part of the Cultural Dialogue. I just read Terry Pratchett's lovely novel Going Postal, and realised while reading it that, at least in part, it's a Will Hay comedy. (This means almost nothing if you aren't British.) Of course when our hero arrives at the abandoned post-office, waiting for him will be an old man and a gormless boy. That's how that story works. It doesn't mean that Terry's stealing from anything, it means he's part of the cultural dialogue. And so are you.


There's yet another reason - and I certainly don't need more - for me to love Gaiman. He gets it. What he describes, Tolkien would explain in this way: every Writer as Cook dips his or her ladle into the Soup of Story to partake of its common, even ancient ingredients. In short, everyone is a textual poacher. Or, to put it another way, everything is fan fiction.

Which reminds me, C.S. Lewis fans should take note of Gaiman's "The Problem of Susan" (in the 2004 anthology Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy), which is a direct answer to the ending of The Chronicles of Narnia. A must read.



Now to my quote of the day:

"It is the human condition to ask questions like Anne's last night and to receive no plain answers," he said. "Perhaps this is because we can't understand the answers, because we are incapable of knowing God's ways and God's thoughts. We are, after all, only very clever tailless primates, doing the best we can, but limited. Perhaps we must all own up to being agnostic, unable to know the unknowable.... The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne's are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God."

from The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
st_crispins
Nov. 23rd, 2004 01:04 pm (UTC)
I love The Sparrow and its sequel.
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 23rd, 2004 01:08 pm (UTC)
Me too! :) You know what's funny? A friend of mine got me to read the first one by saying "It's basically non-smarm h/c pre-slash. You won't believe it!" Now that I know the books (and actually teach the first one sometimes), that description makes me laugh. Isn't she due out with her next novel, the historical one, here soon? I think in early 2005.
st_crispins
Nov. 23rd, 2004 01:17 pm (UTC)
See, and now it was all the moral/philosophical questions that fascinated me :)
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 23rd, 2004 01:21 pm (UTC)
LOL! Yeah, if I'd known what the book was really about, I'd've read it sooner!
maidoforange
Nov. 23rd, 2004 01:20 pm (UTC)
Gaiman is awesome! I love Neverwhere, American Gods, and Coraline.
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 23rd, 2004 01:32 pm (UTC)
Isn't he great? I love those books, too. When I read Coraline, I kept thinking "Where was this book when I was young?" It would have been my very favorite. I love the fact that he doesn't write down to his audience members, regardless of their ages.
alicambs
Nov. 23rd, 2004 03:06 pm (UTC)
Which reminds me, C.S. Lewis fans should take note of Gaiman's "The Problem of Susan" (in the 2004 anthology Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy), which is a direct answer to the ending of The Chronicles of Narnia. A must read.

This sounds like a must read, is it printed anywhere else, or only in the anthology?

As to The Sparrow, I got the impression from reading the reviews that it was heavily religious in a Christian/Judaism way, as you quote appears to support, and that put me off it immediately. Am I wrong, or is far more than that?
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 23rd, 2004 03:20 pm (UTC)
I think "The Problem of Susan" is just in Flights for now, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't show up elsewhere once the compilation has been out for a little while. I really do love the story: it holds Lewis accountable for a lot.

The Sparrow is actually an extended metaphor for 1492, which is why I find it so compelling. The author wrote it in part as a response to the 500th anniversary of Columbus reaching the West -- or, more to the point, as a reaction to the popular reaction to the 500th anniversary. In the book, the Jesuits get the jump on the different nations and send up an international group, some Jesuits and some not, to make "first contact" with another planet. As she says in the prologue, "They meant no harm." But great harm happens anyway.

She wrote it while converting from Catholicism to Judaism through what must have been a very difficult several years, considering her tone. In the end, you could say she's more critical than she is celebratory of anything. But I think the angle she's chosen works, because in a way it's a fitting parallel to the religious issues bound up in the whole Columbus scenario. So what I'm taking a long time in saying (!) is that I don't think you need to be attached to either Christianity or Judaism in a personal way to get something out of the books. A lot of pertinent questions are raised, but you can consider them from a variety of different directions. Does that make any sense? Sorry for rambling!
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 23rd, 2004 03:23 pm (UTC)
I should say that both "The Problem of Susan" and the Russell books are deeply troubling, at least in my opinion. I tend to go for that kind of thing, because it means the author isn't offering easy and oversimplified answers to tough questions. But still, just a disclaimer, so you don't put them on the "feel good" pile. :)
alicambs
Nov. 23rd, 2004 05:14 pm (UTC)
Okay, thanks for the very comprehensive reply. I'm not attached to either or any religion, so that was not my problem, it was more that I hate, hate, hate being preached at or moralised at. I was 11/12 when I realised that the Narnia books I'd loved so deeply as wonderful fantasy were actually Christian allegories. Even at that young age I remember feeling disillusioned. *g*
(Deleted comment)
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 23rd, 2004 06:05 pm (UTC)
Gotcha. Russell's approach is more like a horrified "How could this have happened?" so I think in that sense you'd be okay. Characters do preach their perspectives at times, but the readers are left to figure out what to do with the different views when it all hits the fan. As for your experience with Lewis, I believe that was Gaiman's same experience, as well.
randomalia
Nov. 23rd, 2004 06:12 pm (UTC)
They're great quotes (from Gaiman and Russell both). Everything is fanfiction! That's a wonderful way of describing the way we all share common roots and common stories, or story elements that are sort of foundational to human experience. I like the way Gaiman takes such a generous approach to that.

I'm curious to check out The Problem of Susan now. I remember being disappointed, at some stage, at the heaviness of the Christian aspects of the stories which put 'lessons' or inculcation in place where I wanted to draw my own themes and ideas.

Thanks for the quotes :)
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 24th, 2004 05:52 am (UTC)
I like the way Gaiman takes such a generous approach to that.

I do, too. That's a position that carries with it a certain humility, I think, because it means that none of us produces truly original works. We all are building on, as you say, "story elements that are foundational to human experience," those "common roots and common stories."

I have great respect and affection for C.S. Lewis, but I end up agreeing with you -- and Tolkien -- about his use of Christian allegory becoming heavy-handed. Tolkien, so averse to one-to-one direct allegory, didn't have the same problem, in my opinion, despite the fact he was writing from an equally strong religious conviction. (Another way I could say that is that I find Lord of the Rings to be rereadable and thought-provoking in a way I don't find Chronicles of Narnia to be.) Anyway, I think you'd find "The Problem of Susan" very interesting indeed.

Thanks for your reply! :)
faramirgirl
Nov. 23rd, 2004 06:50 pm (UTC)
"It is the human condition to ask questions like Anne's last night and to receive no plain answers," he said. "Perhaps this is because we can't understand the answers, because we are incapable of knowing God's ways and God's thoughts" How true is this? I do believe that things happen for a reson and even if we don't understand it now, one day we will, because God will tell us all.


"The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne's are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. " Yes God just don't hand us nothing on a silver platter we must use our minds and think. I have questions all the time that are not anwsered or are they? This reminds me of a song. "Unaswered Prayer" by Grath Brooks.

Thank you for sharing this with us.
fg
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 24th, 2004 05:37 am (UTC)
Thank you for your reply! "Unanswered Prayers" is a great connection to this idea. I particularly appreciate your point about using our minds and thinking instead of expecting God to hand us solutions on silver platters. Great point! Thanks.
estellye
Nov. 23rd, 2004 09:59 pm (UTC)
I struggled for some time with the ethics of fanfiction. I had just spent months writing it but was planning to show it to only a handful of people. After all my hard work, I wanted more for it than that! I actually sent a note to my old ethics proessor and asked him his thoughts ont the subject. He had never heard of the term fanfiction and it became a nice exercise for him to mull over the ethical permutaions of my dilemma. Ultimately the lure of sharing with other writers and potentially gaining the opportunity to discuss my writing and my story with scribblers who are honing their own skills was too much for me, so I posted it.

Thank you for sharing th Gaiman quote, it is a perpective I hadn't considered. I guess in an ultimate sort of way he is correct and everything is fanfiction. Was he not one of the authors of Good Omens?

Elfriend
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 24th, 2004 05:34 am (UTC)
You might be interested in this discussion here, based on the idea that fan fiction is the current incarnation of the much older phenomenon of storytelling in oral cultures, building tales off of tales, spinning them in different ways, much as the medieval authors took the stories of the historical Arthur and created a series of romantic legends about him and his Camelot. It's one way of thinking about fan fiction.

I suppose the ethical issue for me is the question of harm to the original creator; Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry seemed to think fan fiction helped him and those in his position, because the same people who wrote and read it would see his movies, buy his novels, buy the episodes, etc. That makes sense to me. Fan authors are great consumers of the original works in their respective universes. That's why I don't think creators like Anne Rice do themselves favors by ridiculing their fans who write fan fiction: that's just alienating a loyal (and paying) audience. If a creator can show harm, though, I would find that to be another issue.

Interesting questions, indeed. Thanks so much for your reply! And you're quite right, Gaiman wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett. On his own he's also written books like Neverwhere, American Gods, and Coraline, as well as the Sandman series of graphic novels, and various short stories and such. I can't think of Good Omens without hearing Queen in my head! ;)

estellye
Nov. 24th, 2004 12:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the link to the earlier discussion.

I can understand the point that authors have regarding fanfiction which is published in book form, which of course only happens legally under licensure, because once I have read a book about a character or world it becomes a part of my understanding of the overall work. That can be a disconcerting thought for an artist whose creation is being perceived in a way not intended by them. When I read unpublished fanfic, however, I enjoy it for what it is without adding the information to the original artist's vision. I don't know why the book jacket makes a difference, but it does to me.

I remember being terribly confused by the relationship between Luke Skywalker & Leia Organa in Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye.

I can't fathom why an author would object to posted fanfiction and I agree that support of it, or at least tolerance of it can only be of benefit to them. That being said, I will certainly respect there wishes o the matter. My LOTR fanfic made mention of Anne McCaffery's Pern and Raymond Feist's character Pug/Milamber. I quickly edited those references out when I saw that these authors are numbered amongst those who are opposed to fanfiction. I would never wish to offend any artist's preferences in the matter, especially those whose work I have enjoyed. (Fortunately for me, my story is probably better without the references, in any case)

This is all new to me and these discussions are marvelous. I am getting rather fond of Live Journals! ;)
eldritchhobbit
Nov. 24th, 2004 01:52 pm (UTC)
I don't know why the book jacket makes a difference, but it does to me.

Good point! I think a lot of us as readers feel the same way.

I would never wish to offend any artist's preferences in the matter, especially those whose work I have enjoyed.

And your example here is another reason why I remain so impressed with the fan community as a whole over time. These authors can't hope to coerce people into respecting their wishes -- there are simply too many ways of producing such fan work covertly -- but fans self-police, and in this case, you followed their requests simply out of conscience and respect. That's very honorable.

I am getting rather fond of Live Journals! ;)

Me, too! I'm pretty new to LJ, and I'm so glad I've found such compelling and thoughtful people to talk with about things I find so interesting. Thanks so much for replying and sharing your perspective with me, especially since you found such a satisfying solution in your situation, not throwing out the fan fiction baby with the bathwater, and yet still honoring the requests of those authors specifically opposed to fan works. Great example!
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

April 2017
S M T W T F S
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30      
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lizzy Enger