You guessed right, this post is partially inspired by the immature Teen ‘article’ condemning Teen Wolf fanfiction that made its way across twitter yesterday. It’s also an issue that’s crossed my mind in a few times during my recent reads, especially ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell.
This is a question that we as fans debate again and again, whether it’s about a new or ongoing series, whether it’s books or other forms of media. Once an author has placed their book out there into the world, they cannot control how readers react, nor can they stop their fandom from coming up with head canons, from dreaming up subtexts and themes.
As a reader, I used to feel bad about ‘going against’ the author’s wishes. While I accepted that other fans may have different opinions and will always respect them for it, I viewed the canon as ‘law’. My thoughts on the matter has changed a bit lately.
Characters & Their Development
This is more obvious with series, where characters grow and change with each book (as they should!) When I was younger, I often rolled with it when characters changed – even if it was not in a direction I particularly liked. For example, Harry of Book Five bugged a lot of people, myself included – but I recognised why JKR took him in that direction.
However, there are two recent examples of character development that have bafffled me. Firstly, Chaol of Throne of Glass – and secondly, Theron of Snow Like Ashes. I won’t elaborate on how they have changed, to spare you all spoilers – but I know I’m amongst the majority when I say that they feel like completely different people. Is it still good development when I can’t see HOW they became who they are? Yet, who would understand a character better than their own creator – who spend years in their head space? As fans, are we right to feel disappointed when the characters we love end up unrecognisable?
On the flip side of the character development, there’s also different interpretations of characters. I come back to the Harry Potter fandom, as it’s one most of us are familiar with. JKR’s view of Draco Malfoy, or Slytherin as a whole for that matter, is quite different to his fans’s version. I read the amazing FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell recently, and there’s a scene where Cath’s fan tells her she prefers fanfiction’s depiction of Baz over the author’s version. There are numerous villainous characters that have been adopted by fandom over the years, is it right for the readers to feel they have a better understanding of these characters? Or is it just wishful thinking on our part?
In my opinion, fans are obviously entitled to their own version of the characters. Our experiences are all different, and they play a role in shaping our interpretation of a story. I speak as a reader, though. I would love to hear the opinions of writers on what they think about the fandom experience transforming their characters into something more – or different – to what they originally envisioned.
Shipping, Canon, Fanon, Slash, Crack & All The In-Betweens
Speaking of characters, shipping is almost an extension of that – how you interpret a character would greatly influence who you ship them with. For the majority of my fangirl life, I have been dedicated to the canon ships, I like to avoid heartbreaks – but sometimes, you really just can’t help it!
I’m not just talking about shipping the ‘wrong’ side of the intended love triangle, either. I’m talking about seeing love triangles when there’s nothing there. You only need to venture into fanfiction.net once to realise how varied the tastes in fandom are. Ranging from ships that have some basis in canon (like Inuyasha/Kikyo, or Cloud/Aerith, or Celaena/Dorian) to some that are wildly from the left field (like Cloud/Sephiroth, or Inuyasha/Sesshoumaru, I’ve yet to see a Celaena pairing I’ve deemed impossible). Not to mention that in our passion, we put these characters in some uncompromising situations that would never be possible in canon. This is part of the beauty of fanfiction, to explore what we would never experience.
However, as writers, would authors have any reservations when their favourite characters are written into situations you wouldn’t necessarily endorse? What about when a fanfiction of that nature takes life of its own and becomes published novels (*ahem, Fifty Shades of Gray*). I could understand if authors became upset, yet I still think the fans are within their right to play around with their fictional world and characters. Where do you stand on this?
I think one of the most beautiful things about books is all the different symbolism and imageries readers can dream up – some are there completely unintentionally. Surely Shakespeare could not have intended ALL of those themes I wrote about in High School English! This is the same with all the classics, who’s to say Austen or Bronte intended their books to have spawn so many essays or thesis. I’m also quite certain readers see a lot more than what’s on the page, I love written work coming into life on its own through numerous interpretations. What do writers feel when their audience can identify themes they did not intend? I am curious, so please speak up!
I won’t talk too much about fanfiction, but that’s a debate as old as time. We are in an age where there’s LOADS of published, approved fanfiction: whether it be Pride & Prejudice with Zombies, or the latest retelling of Cinderella, to works spun from Shakespeare. Written work will continue to inspire and ignite the imagination, and as long as they do that – fanfiction is quite inevitable, no matter what your views on them may be.
As you can see by my muddled word vomit, I am still pondering this question. Readers: where do you stand in this? Writers: I would love to hear your opinions?