Pulitzer-winning fanfic: a non-exhaustive list

A non-exhaustive list of books that would be considered fanfic except for the fact that they won the Pulitzer Prize (provided as a service to writers who believe that fanfic is "immoral, illegal, plagiarism, cheating, for people who are too stupid/lazy/unimaginative to write stories of their own" and who feel "personally traumatized by the idea that someone else could look at your characters and decide that you did it wrong and they need to fix it/add original characters to your universe/send your characters to the moon/Japan/their hometown.")
* Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres, a modernized AU (Alternate Universe) retelling of King Lear and winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. King Lear is itself a hybrid of multiple folk and fairy tales

* Rodgers & Hammerstein's Tony-Award-winning South Pacific, which was based on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific and is the only musical to win the Pulitzer Prize that is based on *another* work that also won a Pulitzer.

* Geraldine Brooks' March, a parallel retelling of Little Women and winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for literature

* Stephen Sondheim's Sunday In the Park with George, which is half-original fic, half-RPF (real person fiction) based on the artist Georges Seurat, and winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

* Jonathan Larsen's Rent, which is an AU fanfic of La Boheme (much like the movie Moulin Rouge, an AU hybrid crossover fanfic of La Boheme and La Traviata) and winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

* John Corigliano, 2001 Pulitzer-Prize winner for Music, who wrote the opera Ghosts of Versailles, a postmodern fantasy RPF/fanfic crossover AU about Pierre Beaumarchais and the characters from his play La Mère coupable.. Those characters were previously fanficced twice over, in two separate operatic masterpieces: Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, both based on the other 2 Figaro plays by Beaumarchais.

I'm done explaining to people why fanfic is okay. (via Making Light)


  1. While I’m sympathetic to fanfics, I’m just not buying the idea that most of the items on this list count as fanfiction. Operas and Musicals in particular are highly complex artforms that often rely on source material from other media for their stories. They are genres rife with adaptations from other plays, novels, historical events, folktales, etc. That means they are adaptations. I wouldn’t call them fanfiction. When a story is re-told in a different context or is modernized, that doesn’t seem to be a fanfic to me. It’s an adaptation or modernization, a re-interpretation of an existing text.

    The author seems to want to say that any adaptation of an existing work or any work that takes elements from an existing work is a fanfiction, but that seems to be far too broad a definition.

  2. I think what we have here is a disagreement about the definition of what fanfic is and isn’t.

    If you want to take it as far as the blog post takes it, let’s just agree that everything being written today, the last hundred years, last four hundred years, going back to stories being told over an open fire under some ancient skies – passed from one generation to the next. Riffed, variation on a theme, setting changed time changed story stays the same: everything is fanfic.

    If you are going to that extreme of an example – which the author was obviously trying to lay out in an overabundance of ‘evidence’ – then just say what you mean: Everything being written today is a form of fanfic, period.

    I have no problem with that as long as you are being honest about it. If this is the definition you are aiming for that is.

    The art of story telling is about riffing off of themes of the storyteller before you and the one before that and the one before that all the way back through time.

    If that is the definition of fanfic you are looking for.

    When I read or hear the word fanfic though, I think of sometimes well written but mostly mediocre attempts at passing the time by writing new stories or a novel in another person’s created world. Again you can take that and say, “Exactly!”

    I think you know what I mean though.

    If you want to say all writing is fanfic. Fine. Otherwise I’ll stick with what I first think of when I hear or read the word Fanfic.

    1. Geraldine Brooks, a fan of Little Women, writes a parallel telling of the story because she’s a fan of the original, but it’s not fanfic? Did I mention that she’s a fan? And that she wrote some fiction because she’s a fan?

  3. I have to agree with the above comments — this is a very broad approach to fanfic…

    In my opinion, fanfic is a type of creative creation that cannot, by definition, be commercial because it relies on the prior creations of other creators. These works seem to have been decidedly commercial in nature, and so I have a hard time seeing them as fanfic.

    Now, it is possible that some of the works listed above would be infringements in copyright given our current laws, I’m no expert, but this seems like a pretty good place to draw the line. If anything, this article is a perfect argument for the limitation of copyright law. Less copyright law would mean more room for “interpretation” a.k.a. fanfic.

    The “Copyfight” can decide where exactly this line is, and I’ll differ to that decision.

  4. Then there is the question of whether permission was granted or not and whether there was any consideration exchanged. King Lear? A bit of a lag there. Even Disney might have trouble getting an extension of copyright of several hundred years. Now Shakespeare, he might have penned some fanfic alright, but (according to Wikipedia the Decameron was finished in 1351 and Shakespeare (if you believe he really existed) was baptized 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616 so again there was a bit of a lag between *some* of his source material and his work. Sure his work was collaborative and blablabla, but this is a question of fanfic not the merits of collaborative works and collegiality and the exchange of ideas among artists. If fanfic writers want to write it great, but why they think they should have any claim to any narratives they come up with is beyond me. They are using someone else’s property, not for the purposes of satire or transformation but for their own entertainment. If some of it shows up in a later novel tough cookies. Maybe the author had already thought of it, maybe they didn’t. You don’t like it don’t write fanfic.

  5. I think it’s a question of how much is added. A musical adaptation of any story is, by its nature, going to involve a lot of creative work — they can say, “Okay, the story is a given, we’re not doing anything interesting with the story, but our music is worth paying attention to.” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is still a stage play, but it’s a complete reevaluation of the events of Hamlet, and a translation into a comic/absurdist mode. Someone painting a picture of Mario and Luigi is doing something visually creative — their work has to be interesting as a painting, regardless of who’s in it.

    In my experience, a lot of fanfic writers seem to say, “Okay, I’m not doing anything new with the characters, and the setting is what you’re used to, and the voice should be very familiar…but in this one there’s a potion that turns boys into girls!” It would be possible for that premise to produce something interesting — deep ruminations on gender issues, maybe — but in practice it ends up reading like a J.K. Rowling story. We’ve already seen those. There’s just not that much added, apart from the effort of sitting down and typing for a few hours.

    Every work of art connects in some way to other works. Adaptations make those connections explicit and integral — they borrow characters, or plots, or settings — but worthwhile adaptations (like the ones listed above) are interesting works in their own right. They’re not propped up by the works they borrow from; they stand on their own and comment on the works, or use them as cultural shorthand to say something new.

    Whether or not a work is fanfic is irrelevant; the question is, “Is it doing something interesting?” “Real” books can be just as derivative and pointless as bad fanfic — see the ten million Tolkien clones. And fanfic has the potential to powerfully re-imagine familiar stories — which, I guess, is the point of the post. If there’s fanfic out there, emerging from the fanfic community, that does so as well as Stoppard and Sondheim, then I’ll stand up and applaud. I have not yet seen that fanfic.

    (I may be applying an unfairly high standard — there is room in the world for comfort reading. There are whole genres that never strive to do anything artistically interesting, and insofar as they make lots of people happy I support them. But if fanfic wants to present itself as “real writing”, it needs to be doing something new, not endlessly churning the known.)

    1. I may be wrong, but you seem to say that fanfiction ought to be of a higher quality than published works to retain a right to exist. Which, sorry to say, is absurd. I’ve read fantastic published works, and fantastic pieces of fanfiction. I’ve read seriously bad fanfiction, and I’ve read published works that made me angry, they were so bad.

      In the end, I think, the quality is irrelevant, because that is subjective. It is also irrelevant whether or not the piece of fiction does anything new with the characters or the premis. Baz Luhrman’s Romeo+Juliet didn’t do anything new with the story – it told the same exact story, but placed in another time, and no one seemed to think that was less valid.

      What matters is the function the work fulfills for the reader. Terry Pratchett makes me laugh. Fix-it fanfics made me feel better when my favourite character on my favourite tv-show died. And so on.

      1. You might want to take a look at my last parenthetical, Anon 12. All art has a right to exist (depending on the legality question, which I’m not interested in here). There are plenty of published works that are dreadful, as you and I both pointed out. But the LJ post seems to be arguing not just that fanfic should exist, but that it should be taken seriously as a literary genre. I don’t think there’s anything innate to fanfiction precluding that, but in order for that to happen the fanfic community has to produce some works that do new and interesting things, not keep muddling the same porridge pro writers have already muddled. If a Rent emerges from the equivalent of the La Bohème fanfic community, I’ll give it all the props it deserves. Maybe it’s already happened, and I haven’t heard about it. (It’s happened, many times, in the SF/fantasy genres, and mainstream reviewers refuse to see it. That’s frustrating, but I can point to Philip K. Dick and Gene Wolfe and M. John Harrison and prove them wrong. Can someone point at a fanfic writer to prove me wrong? Gement, could you link to some of the “amazing fanfic that stands alone” you’ve read?)

        Again, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with comfort reading, or reading for pure enjoyment. I read (and watch, and listen to) plenty of things that aren’t pushing any artistic boundaries. But I don’t pretend it’s anything more than popcorn, and for the most part the producers don’t pretend it’s anything more than popcorn. As far as I’m concerned, people writing fanfic for fanfic fans is an example of a happy hobbyist ecosystem, and happy hobbyists are something I can get behind.

  6. The amount of fanfic that I’ve read is not very far from zero, but
    I don’t think of a retelling/recasting of a work as fanfic, but the creation of a derivative work. And we’re looking at derivative works that are either created from out of copyright works or with the permission of the author.

    I would say that the closest parallel to fanfic that comes to mind out of the literary canon would be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which is a reusing of characters from someone else’s creation to tell a new story (and seems more in line with the definition of FF as it appears on Wikipedia).

    There might be good arguments for FF, but I don’t think any of Cory’s examples are it.

  7. Fanfic has a bad name only because people don’t realize that Sturgeon’s Law/Revelation applies to literature too, that many manuscripts, both published and unpublished, also suck.

  8. It does seem like an odd definition of ‘fanfic’.

    According to its arguments:

    (1) Any story based on real events is automatically ‘fanfic’. (eg: Six degrees of Separation) (Or RPF – which since it is listed as evidence that fanfic is OK must indicate that it’s equivalent)

    Ergo: Half the episodes of ‘Law & Order’ count as ‘fanfic’. Is that *REALLY* a sensible definition !?

    What use is a definition like that ?

    We already have a category for that: ‘Based on real events’. If you want to eliminate that category and regroup it as ‘fanfic’, than all categories are now useless.

    (2) A comedian parodying someone they don’t like is ‘fanfic’ !!!??

    (3) A producer who buys the rights to a screenplay or existing film is creating ‘fanfic’ !? (The idiotic example was ‘The Departed’)

    (4) And the author actually argues that a making a film with the permission of someone (even paying them to be in it) counts as ‘operating outside the consent of the person’ !!!


    I’m sure that many of the examples are real fanfic – but how can we tell when the article seems to be arguing that a comedian who parodies someone they don’t like counts as ‘fanfic’ !?

    The argument seems to be:

    1. These are examples of building on prior works
    2. Fanfic involves building on prior works
    3. Ergo, these are examples of fan-fic.

    That logic is like saying:

    1. The animal curled up on my lap purring is an animal with four legs
    2. Dogs have four legs.
    3. Therefore the animal purring on my lap is a dog.

    It might be true. But it isn’t logical.

    This has to be one of the most poorly thought out screeds I’ve seen on the subject.

    And I’m a guy who has been known to read fan-fic.

    (PS: And how could the list omit Mark Twain? He wrote a Sherlock Holmes story !!)

  9. It’s really hard to evaluate what’s being said when it’s obviously part of a conversation/argument, the other half of which seems to have been completely deleted — all the links to the other blog (voyageoftheartemis.blogspot.com) are dead. Having said that: in addition to the objections in #7, the part telling the author that she just shouldn’t be feeling the way she does about fanfic of her own work seems pretty arrogant, as does the sentence “It’s not about you.” — what’s “it”? “What I want to talk about”? Well, sorry, but you don’t always get to declare what the conversation is about.

  10. Some of the list’s examples qualify as fanfic, but many are rather far-fetched.

    Neil Gaiman was commissioned by DC to completely revamp the Sandman franchise. How does it qualify as fanfic? While he may have had some appreciation of the original series/character, he basically worked with the publisher to make a completely new franchise of his own with nothing in common from the original aside from the title and a few cameos. He was basically working around the rule that he could only re-use an old title, not create a brand-new one.

    A huge studio like Disney repackaging classic fairy tales in a new medium (animation) for broad commercial purposes isn’t fanfic. They most likely picked some stories over others because they felt they could be easily updated and resonate best with the target audience, NOT because they were fans.

    I also seriously doubt that Tina Fay is a fan of Sarah Palin. Fanfic may include some satire, but satire is not necessarily fanfic.

    I have no problem accepting that there is great fanfic (along with the bad) and that the genre has a lot of work to do to brush off the stigma attached to it. But to just broadly call every adaptation- no matter how vague- fanfic doesn’t really help the point and, really, distracts from it.

    1. “I also seriously doubt that Tina Fay is a fan of Sarah Palin” I’m not so sure… Although Fay may have different politics; Palin, like most politicians, is essentially an entertainer. Fay might be a “fan” of Palin’s populist speeches! Sure, it’s a stretch to qualify satire as “fanfic,” but not on the basis of fandom. Harvard Lampoon’s “Bored of the Rings” comes to mind.

  11. The above excerpted list doesn’t at all address the matter of legality, since in every single case the works are based on public domain texts or legally held the rights to adapt (as with South Pacific, where Rodgers & Hammerstein acquired the rights to Michener’s book).

    The rest of the original list is not much better, with only a couple genuine cases of what I’d call fan fic (Gaiman’s “The Problem of Susan” chief among them; I’ve heard that he sought and received permission from the Lewis estate, but can’t verify this and see no reference to such on Gaiman’s site.)

    I’m afraid that the common definition of fanfic for most people is the stuff that’s overwhelmingly being posted on fanfiction.net, on Journal Fen, on LJ, etc.: fans writing fiction in settings or involving characters from modern books, films, and television, generally without permission and with recognition (and generally — but not always — explicit acknowledgment that they’re defying copyright).

    The list above basically ignores all of that work and instead grabs a hodge-podge of material which is not like that. This strikes me as foolish, and I’m not sure who decided to put their thumbs on the scale by using such a ridiculously broad definition of fan fiction at such strong variance with what the vast majority of the fan fiction community is doing.

    I think certain segments of the community shares a bit of blame: trying to encompass roman à clef and historical fiction as being the same as all the rest of the fan fiction which dominates the community — creative works based on someone else’s copyright-protected creative work without legal permission — is simply not germane.

    A cursory look at Fanfiction.net suggests that approximately 95% of the literary-based fiction there is based on works under copyright, many of them published in the last 20 years. T

  12. I have to agree with almost all of the comments, and not with Cory’s apparent enthusiasm for what is, if you read it, an increasingly silly and ill-considered viral list of lots of completely different and unconnected things.

    There are more reasons to differentiate though and these have to do with context. Fanfic exists in two contexts. The first is a general contemporary commercial culture of franchised cultural products, which is unlike the context of most older acts of cultural appropriation, retelling and so-on. Fanfic is as much a child of the particular commercial environment as it is a reaction to the particular cultural product.

    The second context, however, is the world of the cultural product. The big difference between fanfic that remains merely fanfic and any product that has a potentially wider cultural resonance (i.e. beyond the subcutural fan group) is that the former cannot be understood or appreciated without an intimate knowledge of the original and its world. That’s the whole point! But almost everything on that list can be appreciated without any knowledge of originals, sources, models, inspirations etc. South Pacific is as enjoyable a musical whether you know the original Michener collection or not. It stands on its own and does not require you to have a deep knowledge of the short stories – in other words, you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate it.

    None of this is necessarily about ‘quality’ or critical judgement. Just context. But it does show up the rather whiney, myopic, self-regarding nature of the original rant. It can’t have its cake and eat it. If fanfic wants to be something that expresses a love of / obsession with a particular cultural product and reinforces a shared, often subcultural, identity built around it – which is surely, what fanfic is – then it is unlikely to have much impact beyond that. But as soon as it starts to mean something independent of the original product, it ceases to be fanfic and becomes part of wider culture. Exactly like most of the things on this list, whatever their origins.

  13. Didn’t win the Pulitzer, but was named by Time as one of the best 100 novels in English since 1923: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – a prequel to Jane Eyre. Given it was written as a reaction to the original’s depiction of the first Mrs Rochester, and that the book is unremittingly depressing, I’m not sure Rhys strictly counts as a fan, though.

    I’m also not sure one could count Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro as fan fiction – it just takes the play and adapts it for opera, in the same way that modern movies are adapted from books or plays.

    Shakespeare’s Lear is a retelling of a legendary story of a pre-Roman British king, effectively taken (probably not directly) from Geoffrey of Monmouth, and to which a classic European folk tale involving the father-daughter rejection (typically involving an argument over salt) had become attached. Shakespeare changed the ending from romantic to tragic. For much of the 17th/18th century, this new ending was unpopular, and “fixed” versions (notably Nahum Tate’s version of 1681) were performed, with a new happy ending (there are even significant differences between the two contemporary printings – the quarto and the folio). Goes to show that once a great work escapes into the wild, all kinds of interesting things can happen to it, good and bad.

  14. I guess this is actually the “science fiction” argument, just with different clothes. Some people have negative associations when they see a particular term being used, so they will go out of their way to refute it, or even just avoid mentioning it. Fanfic hasn’t quite entered the public conciousness in quite the same way yet, so there is no real need to pretend that a work isn’t “fanfic”. But if a work is structured strongly around the foundations of another work (regardless of whether it can stand alone or not), then it must surely be counted as Fanfic.

    (So, I think that there is a distinction to be made between something like Bridget Jones’ Diary, which works, regardless of whether you know the source, and March, which I think doesn’t, even though it’s a wonderful book. But they are both still obviously Fanfic.)

  15. I’m with the majority of the commenters here. While I’m sympathetic to fanfic as an art form, the definition given here encompasses every work that is derivative of something else. Which I think we all agree is true for anything you care to point at. That renders its arguments in favor of fanfic weak to the point of useless.

    What, for example, differentiates an “adaptation” from a “fanfic”? Et cetera. Erasing these differences isn’t helping make the case any crisper.

  16. #15, scurra writes:

    “if a work is structured strongly around the foundations of another work (regardless of whether it can stand alone or not), then it must surely be counted as Fanfic.”

    But it’s not that simple, is it? (and ignores every thing I wrote above). You can’t surely define ‘fanfic’ solely by its sources but by the context. Fanfic is a subcultural phenomenon. It is about the formation and sustenance of identity (as fans) in the people who write and read it. It is more than just adaptation or inspiration. The distinction you make in your brackets therefore is indeed one of the differences between fanfic and conventional adaptation, not between types of fanfic.

    As to the fanfic / SF as negative analogy. These are different kinds of categorisations, but in any case, my attempt to define fanfic has absolutely no positive or negative implications – unlike the original rant, which is clearly trying to argue that by redefining things that are seen as culturally mainstream as fanfic, some kind of credibility will attach itself to fanfic. This just indicates an inferiority complex. Acknowledging that fanfic is deliberately exclusive and subcultural is only negative if you think mainstream ‘culture’ (or public consciousness) is by definition superior. It isn’t, it’s just culture.

    1. Good point about the subcultural nature of fanfic. In my mind, fanfic is like filk. Filk emerges from a particular social context; Weird Al’s Yoda isn’t filk, even though it’s a parody about a fannish topic that’s nigh-indistiguishable from a filk song. For me, fanfic is only fanfic if it comes out of the fannish subculture — it’s got “fan” right in the name.

      If something emerges from the fanfic subculture that’s as brilliant as West Side Story, I think it’ll achieve recognition for the genre. There have been breakout filk songs (where “breakout” is defined as “topping the Funny 5 on the Doctor Demento Show — see the great Luke Ski). It happened (on a larger scale) with mash-ups, remixes, and sampling — see M.I.A.’s Paper Planes and a zillion other examples. For now, most fanfic depends so strongly on the particular subcultural keys that people outside the subculture just can’t see the appeal (though I would love to see counterexamples).

      Maybe the Very Secret Diaries have come closest to finding broad success — they’re clearly fanfic, but they were widely enjoyed outside the fanfic communities. There was even a documentary.

  17. All the cited examples are either in the public domain (King Lear, Little Women) or created with permission of the original author (Tales of the South Pacific).
    Copyright owners objecting to fanfic would not be impressed by this list.

    1. Can’t help that when term extensions keep robbing the public domain of new material.

  18. It’s hilarious to read redefinings of fanfic that are clearly from people who’ve never written one or read one that was of any quality.

    An AU where everyone is an animal or in high school, a parallel story from another character’s point of view, a fan-character inserted into pre-written events to influence them, shared universe stories, all of these are staples of fanfiction.net and Livejournal and a million other places. They are fanfic. They are extremely common kinds of fanfic. They would not stop being fanfic if Harry Potter and Twilight were suddenly a hundred years old, or if there was one fanfic that was the Holy Grail out of a hundred that are really really bad and add nothing to the characters.

    And my give-a-damn is busted about legality, because if it’s illegal it’s a law that protects no one and harms authors who could see their fanbases grow. I am way more inclined to consume media with active fandoms and the potential for creative growth. But I resent the hell out of the implication that there can be a limit on the human mind’s potential to adapt, reimagine, and transform art based on a reader’s personal experience. That process starts whether an author likes it or not, the moment his or her words enter my head. The hell you say it’s a limit on my imagination – it’s an extension of it, it gives me a deeper understanding of a work than I would have if I’d not sat and thought about it and precisely who those characters are, what makes the story work for me. And any author who doesn’t understand that has lost track of why stories are important.

  19. I have to admit, I’m a little baffled by the original post. The author says, “But those are all different, you say. Those authors are dead, or their copyright claims were satisfied, their royalties were paid, or the proper homages given to the original writers. Fanfic is different, because fanfic operates outside of the consent of the original authors or original subjects, if they are alive. Professional creative works never do that. / Ahem. ALLOW ME TO CONTINUE.” S/he then proceeds to list half a dozen examples of derivative works that were explicitly permitted by the original author, while drawing attention to that permission: “Eric Flint’s 1632 series, which he has opened up to fanfic authors…”, “Sara Donati’s (approved) use of Diana Gabaldon’s characters…”, “…Joss Whedon has endorsed it”, “…explicitly fanfic contests restricted to amateur authors”. Everything else on the list is parody.

    Why would someone list so many counterexamples to their own point? Particularly after adopting such an insufferable, all-caps tone?

  20. @ #12: “But as soon as it starts to mean something independent of the original product, it ceases to be fanfic and becomes part of wider culture.”

    Others have already mentioned the science fiction argument here, but I’ll spell it out. I took a library school class taught by a very prestigious book recommender, a rock star among librarians. And, generally, a champion of reading all genres.

    We talked about whether to shelve things in genre or in mainstream/literary fiction. She said she would file Time Traveler’s Wife in literary. I asked why, when the author identified it as science fiction. She said, “Well, because it’s so much MORE than that!”

    “You mean it’s better than that?”

    “Well, yes!”

    [After some more vehement discussion, she recanted.]

    If a genre is defined by removing the most powerful examples, it’s not a genre, it’s a dumping ground. I’ve read some amazing fanfic that stands alone, but is much richer if you know the source. The line is much less clear than you would like to think.

  21. I’m double-posting as an anon here (I need an actual account since I’m feeling a need to post more and more) but I got off track in my last ramble when more and more I just want to ask: since when was the post only drawing attention to fanfic on a legal basis? Every response here seems to be speaking to that effect. That is not what the OP was talking about or responding to.

    She addresses fanfic’s legality in a whole separate paragraph, but what she is trying to “prove” by that list is that fanfic is NOT a lazy, morally bankrupt form of expression that displays a lack of authorial creativity and skill, and destroys the integrity of the original work. Whether the fanfic that’s been produced is wholly or partially derivative, commercial or not, is fanfic of a fanfic of a myth or is a direct line to its original source – it’s one work grown out of another. And fandom doesn’t have to be concerned about “mainstream appeal” to be offended by the accusation that because they have their own frame for someone else’s stories, they can’t write.

  22. @ #20 Jere7my, I find it enlightening that you list those as counterexamples. (I was nodding along with them.) This is helping me sort out where we’re getting different perspectives.

    Let’s set aside the tone for a moment, as she was targeting this rant at people who already agreed with her. How you see these examples as different is that people got permission. How I see them as the same is that they trigger the same emotional and cognitive reactions in my head, and I model that they trigger similar reactions in the heads of writers, whether pro-, fic-, or both.

    “I need a doctor. Can I borrow Claire?”

    An author had a hole in a story and thought a character she already knew, and loved, and could model in her head, would fit that hole. Whether permission was obtained is irrelevant to that cognitive act. Whether the character is currently being written is similarly irrelevant. Whether the person is technically a historical figure rather than a fictional character is irrelevant.

    This isn’t to say that all fiction is “fanfiction.” Yes, all fiction is scavenging, and in the end no one brings their own dirt, but there is a difference. When a specific character or story is distinct and recognizable, whether re-imagined or put in a different set of circumstances or set to music, it clicks some very specific gears in my head, whether as a creator or a reader/viewer.

    Yes, Weird Al is famous and doesn’t go to filk circles. And yes, he’s still a Star Wars fan and Yoda was still an act of filk. Yes, West Side Story is an AU Romeo and Juliet. Yes, borrowing a character from someone else’s universe is crossover, no matter how much permission you get.

    [Side thought: This may seem like a completely random analogy, but it’s very close to home for me: some people do not wish to identify as gay because they think it will require adopting a lot of cultural trappings, mannerisms, social circles, and activist attitudes.

    They don’t have to use the word. But if they are experiencing and/or acting on same-sex attraction, they are doing something in common with the core definition of the identity. And I’d appreciate it if they didn’t put down people who are more visible on the subject.]

    Most of the people running Doctor Who right now were originally fanfic writers, then licensed novel writers, and now script writers and producers. It seems pretty solid to me that they are doing exactly what they have always done, and the label only changes with the money.

    1. Gement, I agree with you to some extent. I’m a sucker for crossovers — I loved it when Batman and Robin showed up on Scooby-Doo when I was a kid. There is nothing, in my mind, wrong with plucking the strings of culture to achieve resonances. If that’s all you’re doing, you’re not doing anything artistically interesting (see Scooby-Doo), but there’s nothing stopping anyone from making great art with other people’s cultural touchstones. I’d love it if you could link me to three really great fanfics (coming out of the fanfic community), because I have never yet seen fanfic that I would consider interesting fiction. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive — I haven’t looked very hard.

      But I was replying in particular to the attitude Bookshop was trying to address: “Fanfic is different, because fanfic operates outside of the consent of the original authors or original subjects, if they are alive. Professional creative works never do that.” After that rather sweeping statement, s/he didn’t provide any examples of professional creative works that weren’t explicitly permitted (except for parodies, which are a special case). It seemed like a baffling tack to take.

      As for Weird Al — well, genre boundary discussions never go anywhere interesting, because they ultimately come down to dictionary definitions. I (and I have been a filker — Google [lucasfilm pie] for proof) think there’s value in preserving the cultural context of filk, and I don’t think parodies produced from outside the fannish filk community should be called filk. After I drifted away from that community, I stopped writing “filks” and started writing “parodies” (and it was a parody of mine, not a filk, that Dr. Demento played, though he has played many filks). If you want filk (or fanfic) to be more of an umbrella term, that’s fine; I think you lose a useful distinction by doing so, but I’m not the boss of you.

  23. @1: “When a story is re-told in a different context or is modernized, that doesn’t seem to be a fanfic to me.”

    Actually, a decent amount of fanfic, especially of science fiction or fantasy stories, is simply a re-telling in a different context. In the fanfiction community, this is called “AU” for Alternate Universe, or sometimes “AR” Alternate Reality. Modern-day retellings of science fiction or historical stories are popular (what if the Enterprise was a magazine, not a spaceship?) as are crossover AUs where characters from one story are placed in another story’s universe as if they were always there (Harry Dresden is actually Harry Potter).

    @14: “The big difference between fanfic that remains merely fanfic and any product that has a potentially wider cultural resonance (i.e. beyond the subcutural fan group) is that the former cannot be understood or appreciated without an intimate knowledge of the original and its world.”

    I agree. The article is full of examples that are derivative works like fanfic, but in a different context. So it still is a good argument for why fanfic isn’t a “waste of time,” but you can’t really call these works fanfic since they didn’t come out of a fanfiction community.

    It should also be noted that fanfiction isn’t necessarily unpublishable. There’s a Sherlock Holmes fanfiction community; almost all the stories they produce are potentially publishable, since only the last of the original books is still under copyright in the U.S. “Real Person Fiction” (RPF) also came out of fanfiction communities, and its legal status is open to debate. Fiction about living public figures is probably not publishable; historical fiction probably is.

  24. The problem with linking to outstanding works of fanfic is this: if you’re not in that particular fandom, you still – probably, *very* probably – won’t get what’s so great about them. That is because the resonance of the source text the fic is based on is crucial to the fic’s effect (and sometimes there are important resonances between the fic and other fics, or certain features of fanon, or certain fan debates, etc.)

    The resonance is not all there is; but it is nevertheless central. You cannot appreciate the full artistic achievement of the best fics without ‘getting’ that resonance. At best you’ll be able to appreciate some well-turned phrases etc.; but you won’t understand what the fic is *really* doing. I’ve been reading fic for twelve years, so I know the… aesthetic vocabulary, you could say. Yet even I don’t really ‘get’ most fic outside my own fandoms. I follow links to well-known, outstanding works sometimes, but I haven’t found many (or, so far, *any*, really) that *really* worked without that background. I’ve found some in Doctor Who fandom that I think *might* work, but as I do happen to have some DW knowledge, I can’t really tell for certain.

    I think it’s a constitutive element of fanfic to be extremely context-dependent – much more so than most other forms of writing.

    Oh, gah. I’d like to continue, but there’s dishes to do. :-( Maybe later.

  25. Gement @25 is spot-on in the comparison to the “science fiction” versus “literature” argument.

    “Fanfic” is a ghetto name. When it’s done using characters that are in the public domain–see, for example, Laurie King’s series of novels featuring Sherlock Holmes–then it’s called “pastiche”. When it’s done with approval of the copyright holder it’s called a “licensed adaptation”. When it’s done without approval, but is considered to have literary merit, they might slap a sticker on it and call it an “unauthorized parody” like they did with Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone. It’s only called “fanfic” if it’s not considered legit.

  26. @jere7my:

    Your distinction on filk makes more sense of your stance. (I do get it about the filk subculture.) If fanfic is what comes out of the fanfiction community, then yes, that’s a pretty restricted cultural definition. I don’t think it’s the distinction the list-maker was using. Even by that definition, the current big-name staff on Doctor Who still qualifies, so that’s the example I can really point to. All of modern Doctor Who is a massive act of fanfiction, straight from the formally identified fan community.

    I think filk as a definition can be more tightly constrained than fic. I was personally relieved to learn the word “fanfiction” at the age of 18, because it made sense of what I’d been doing in my head since I was 8. I’d argue that communities form around fic, rather than the inverse. Fic (usually) starts in the solitary mind.

    I’m short on links right now because I don’t tend to save bookmarks, but I appreciate your interest. (I’d say “I’ll have a look around,” but I’m too work-swamped for digging right now and I know it.)

    Also, @Hmph, THANK YOU, yes. Without knowing jere7my’s resonant interests, I’m frankly at a loss for recommendations. I could recommend him a fine sci-fi short, emotional novel, or pornographic vignette, and it would stand alone… But the bit that makes it burn is the additional knowing. The context is the point, and that’s not a weakness. It’s true of most humor as well.

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