Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23) wrote,
Eildon Rhymer

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Fanfiction and the school library

There is an article on fanfic in the current issue of "The School Librarian", the journal of the School Library Association. It was surprisingly positive. The author clearly reads a lot of fanfic herself, and was arguing strongly that fanfic can be a very positive thing for young people.

Obviously, the focus on the journal is on school libraries, and ways to promote books and reading to young people, and so the article had to reflect that focus. This meant that the article did tend to give the impression that fanfic was solely the preserve of teenagers, which made me - an adult fanfic writer and reader - feel something of a freak. I think this impression was accidental, though.

The article painted a very positive picture of fanfic. The main issues she covered were these:

- Fanfic explores other people's worlds and characters. This does not make it inferior to "real" writing, and is not - she argues - theft of copyright. In medieval times, she argues, all story-telling consisted of telling tales about established characters and worlds. For most of the history of man, characters and worlds have been owned by the people. She quotes Henry Jenkins' work, "Textual poachers" - "fanfiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by folk."

- Fanfic is empowering. It has broken down the idea of authors as being "other", and readers as being passive. Anyone can be an author. Anyone can read a book, and like it, but think, "How can I develop that myself?" And they can get an audience. If a 14 year old wrote an original story, no-one would read it. If they write fanfic, there is a ready-made audience already immersed in the world, eager for more.

- Fanfic is written by the audience, for the audience. All published children's books are written by adults, for children. Adult editors, publishers, booksellers, teachers, librarians, parents etc. all stand between the young person and the text. In fanfic, young people can read fiction written by people just like them, and they get it direct.

- Fanfic breaks down age boundaries. In online fandom, children, young people and adults can all interact on equal terms. There are few places in "real life" where that can happen.

- Fanfic as reader development. Reader development is a big buzzword in libraries at the moment. It means that we don't simply put books and shelves and let people read them, or not read them. We set up book groups, and "readers recommend" boards. We chat about books, and use them as jumping-off points for art and creativity - precisely as fanfic does, of course.. Fanfic writers read a novel, but it doesn't stop there. They explore characters. They fill in gaps. They ask "what if?" Really, they are exploring a book as thoroughly as any English teacher would ever want them to do, if not more. Fanfic, really, is the ultimate in reader development

- Fanfic encourages textual study. People who write fanfic usually study the original text thoroughly, to get insights into characters, or to track down little details. "Perceived bad characterisation or other infidelities to canon engender scathing criticism. Working within these boundaries is extremely demanding, requiring a level of engagement with the text that many English teachers strice in vain to encourage their students to achieve."

- Fanfic encourages people to develop their writing skills. She discusses beta readers, constructive criticism, selective archives, and communities that mock bad writing.

- Fanfic provides literary richness. In particular, she cites the prevalance of short stories, and even drabbles. The published world of books is focused on novels, and the short story is frequently written off as a dying art, but they flourish in the world of fanfic.

Obviously, as this article is written in the context of school libraries, the author has to address the subject of explicit content. She touches on slash, too, which she thinks is popular because teenagers like to explore boundaries and investigate taboos, but in a safe arena, where no-one else can see them do it. (Which, in my opinion, is missing the point entirely. I think the appeal of slash lies in the fact that, instead of getting one pretty boy, you get two, and that's twice the fun.)

Because explicit content is so easy to find, she cautions librarians against actively promoting fanfic. Further, she says that it would be damaging to actively promote it, since she thinks a large part of its appeal lies in the fact that it is perceived as belonging to the fans, not the establishment. She does, though, urge librarians to be aware of it, and encourage it, should young people in their schools happen to mention that they've discovered it.
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