Fan Fiction Comes Home to Roost

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Title: Fan Fiction Comes Home to Roost
Creator: Ken Wedding
Date(s): April 26, 2003
Medium: online
Fandom: focus on Xena: Warrior Princess
External Links: Fan Fiction Comes Home to Roost
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Fan Fiction Comes Home to Roost is a 2003 essay by Ken Wedding.

Some Topics Discussed


Fan fiction is the literary product of devotees of some particular author, situation, or set of characters. The fan fiction [my friend] introduced me to was all science fiction. It was distributed in 'zines, that were delivered to small parts of an in crowd.

In the early '60s, fan fiction was published on mimeographed and dittoed pages in people's basements. Dittoed pages could have a circulation of up to 40 before having to be retyped. Mimeographed documents could be reproduced in quantities of over 100.

Technology has transformed fan fiction, but it still fits the old mold. Xerox machines made reproduction easier. While multi-generation copies weren't much better than dittoed copy number 50, an original could, in theory, have an unlimited distribution.

The internet has made fan fiction an even more active enterprise. Today fan fiction apes not only science fiction like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Babylon 5, but other popular topics like Harry Potter, Northern Exposure, and (believe it or not) Scooby Do. The audiences vary from a few fans to thousands.

A purposely anonymous writer on one of the Xena fan fiction mailing lists says,

"One of [Henry Jenkin's] main premises in the first book is that fan fiction is an attempt by people to return to that early tradition in storytelling where someone would tell a story around a campfire, then others would repeat it, adding interpretations of their own, then others would in turn change it some more and so on until years later the story would just be part of the culture with no real "owner".

"Our earliest legends and stories (like Beowulf for instance) are probably the result of that cooperative storytelling. Initially there were no written stories so there was no document with an author's name that could prove ownership. There were also no copyright laws. People just shared stories and characters and changed them at will. Today of course we have laws that give ownership rights to the creators of stories and characters.

"On the one hand this is good because it ensures that people are appropriately compensated for their creativity and talent and efforts. On the other hand, though, to some extent it stifles creativity in others who might be inspired by those same characters and settings to produce tales that while similar explore new directions, new interpretations, etc.

"Fan fiction is the outlet people have found to revisit that old tradition which allowed many different writers to share their own visions of particularly compelling characters or situations.

"You know that old saying, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.'

"It's taken us a few thousand years but with the Internet in particular I think we now have this seriously huge mega-campfire where we can all congregate when we're introduced to a story or concept we like and add our own twists -- occasionally improving on the original, sometimes keeping the original idea alive and well when the originators of the idea completely ruin it. You get the picture."

This has the potential to rival the Napster controversy if the copyright lawyers can manage to prove economic losses. The lawyers' dilemma is that this activity involves the most fanatic of the audience for these entertainments. No publisher is going to go near these stories, but they can be "published" on the web.