If Frodo loved Bilbo...

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News Media Commentary
Title: If Frodo loved Bilbo...
Commentator: John Allemang
Date(s): 30 November 2002
Venue: Globe and Mail
Fandom:
External Links: If Frodo loved Bilbo... via Wayback
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If Frodo loved Bilbo... is an article by John Allemang about fanfiction.

It appeared in Globe and Mail in November 2002.[1]

The author interviewed Thamiris who talked about pseudonymity, writing, community, slash, and fanfiction as literature.
When it comes to sharing her gift with the outside world, our Thamiris is filled with maidenly modesty. It's not so much the erotic nature of what she writes -- most of it highly charged male/male pairings designed to boldly split a prim grammarian's tight infinitives -- as the fact that her literary output is, she says with an intellectual's secret shame, "based on TV."[1]

The article name-checks Henry Jenkins and the author's research must have included the Foresmutters Project because he refers to numbers[2] that could only have come from that site: "Fan-fiction archivist Mary Ellen Curtin, writing two years ago, offered a very conservative estimate of half-a-million 'fanfic' stories in on-line circulation. The number is far greater now. 'It's a huge literary movement that the official publishing and academic world is largely unaware of,' says Sharon Cumberland of Seattle University."[1] Cumberland is identified as the author of a study about five women who wrote collaborative fiction revolving around characters played by Antonio Banderas.

The article has a strong focus on the legitimacy of the genre and is fairly positive, even if it gets some things wrong. For example, it mentions that "the genre's leading Web site, fanfiction.net, has recently banned the more salacious forms of sexual storytelling known as slash (after the oblique line that separates the two partners in a coupling)."[1] This probably refers to Fanfiction.net banning NC-17 fanfic which shows that the author conflates explicit fanfic with homoerotic fanfic, a common mistake that outsiders reporting on fandom make.

However, the article gets many things right as well, such as this good insight into some of the controversial fannish topics at the time: "There are many Web-log discussions about the need for moral boundaries within the on-line free-for-all -- though granted, these tend to be less about avoiding sex than advising against couplings that involve real-life boy-band members or underage screen characters."[1]

Update to the Article

The article was reposted to the Globe and Mail with an update on April 17, 2018. A comparison of the text shows that the only update is the removal of the header/teaser in the original article: "The sizzling world of 'fanfic,' where Starsky finally beds Hutch and Lex gets it on with Clark Kent, is now a huge literary movement on the Net, writes JOHN ALLEMANG." [3]

Fandoms, Fans, and Fanfic

Fandoms mentioned include Hercules, Smallville, Buffy, AtS, Star Trek, Starsky and Hutch, General Hospital, and Queer as Folk. Strangely enough, given the title of the article, Lord of the Rings isn't mentioned at all. Fan writer Tara O'Shea is mentioned in connection with the medium's value.

The article quotes from Thamiris's Sexed-Up Grammar Guide, her Bible slash story In Principio, and several stories by other authors who were not aware that their stories would be excerpted in the article. Some authors were caught off guard by this and there was discussion about it on livejournal.[4] Mary Ellen Curtin called it "something of a journalist landmark, because it's the first story on fanfic/slash I've seen in which stories were quoted wholesale without the authors' permission. Welcome to the Internet, please secure all tray tables and seat backs in the upright and locked position, enjoy your flight."[4] Although the general reception of the article was positive[5], some fans pointed out that it focuses too much on sex and femslash isn't mentioned at all.[6]

See many of these comments at Thamaris' journal (November 30, 2002): Slash in the Candian News; archive link page one; archive link page two; archive link page three.

Fic Excerpts in the Article

The excerpts in the article are introduced as "a selection of fan fiction, from the steamier end of the spectrum" and were taken from the following stories:

  • In Principio by Thamiris (inspired by The Bible)
  • Fancy's Hot Fire by Jungle Kitty (inspired by Star Trek)
  • The Road Home by Merryish (inspired by Smallville)
  • Rite of Passage by Rushlight (inspired by Harry Potter)
  • Supple by LaT (inspired by Due South)
  • Elizabeth and Darcy by Cassandra (inspired by Pride and Prejudice)

Excerpts from the Article

He pauses, flexing those amazing pecs. "Let's try once more. 'The god ran his fingers through his thick curls; she could only gasp in amazement.' See? Use a semi-colon, not a comma there. If you do it right, I'll consider running my tongue up and down your body."

The Semicolon, from Thamiris's Sexed-Up Grammar Guide Sexed-up isn't quite how you would describe Thamiris right now. Grammar is indeed preoccupying her, but it's not the kind that comes with bulging pecs and hot-breathed pronouncements from the male characters of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Instead of parsing the romantic possibilities of one of her favourite TV shows, she's reading run-of-the-mill undergraduate essays and her libido is flagging like -- well, like a university professor confronted with too many passive verbs when she'd really rather get active with Ares, God of War.

Thamiris, needless to say, is a pseudonym. "She was an Amazon queen who hacked off the head of some king who pissed her off," says the latter-day Thamiris with some relish. "And she was known for her intelligence."

It's the kind of handle a thirtysomething Vancouver teacher takes when she needs to separate her day job winning kids round to Euripides's Medea from an after-hours passion that involves bulging pecs, darting tongues -- and erotic fiction with perfectly placed semicolons that she crafts for an admiring Internet audience of likeminded literary Amazons.

She is one of the most inspired practitioners of a potent underground genre known as fan fiction, where cult TV series such as Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Star Trek inspire wild tangents of fancy and fornication. And yet when it comes to sharing her gift with the outside world, our Thamiris is filled with maidenly modesty. It's not so much the erotic nature of what she writes -- most of it highly charged male/male pairings designed to boldly split a prim grammarian's tight infinitives -- as the fact that her literary output is, she says with an intellectual's secret shame, "based on TV."

The cultural possibilities of television do not end with the pretty demographically pitched stories that issue unsought from the silly box in the corner. When you enter the wonderfully twisted (and mostly female) world of fan fiction -- where, after the standard legal disclaimer, Spock can requite Kirk's passion, Starsky can have his way with Hutch and Scully finally beds Mulder -- it is like suddenly discovering the flat Earth's deliciously rounded curves.

Fan fiction may have started quietly and tentatively in the 1960s with Trekkies who desperately needed more stories than the original Star Trek series was able to offer. And for many years, the genre lived a low-key life in limited-circulation 'zines. But with the arrival of the Internet, the process of crafting alternative TV worlds has heated up and the longing for fan fiction has launched a vast parallel publishing empire.

Fan-fiction archivist Mary Ellen Curtin, writing two years ago, offered a very conservative estimate of half-a-million "fanfic" stories in on-line circulation. The number is far greater now. "It's a huge literary movement that the official publishing and academic world is largely unaware of," says Sharon Cumberland of Seattle University.

It is also a movement that consists almost entirely of female amateurs, which may account both for the official world's indifference and the eroticism that thrives where officialdom doesn't pry. "This is a way for women to form communities and share stories with one another," says Cumberland, author of a study about five women who wrote collaborative fiction revolving around characters played by dashing Antonio Banderas.

"The safety of the Internet allows women to take erotic liberties without being outed." Cumberland says. "We can understand it when women get together to write about grandma's quilt, so why not when they create a character to express some other aspect of our experience or desire?"

Thamiris is quite pleased to say that she has been liberated by fan fiction. While still reluctant to give out her real name -- there's a profoundly blasphemous God/Lucifer story that could come back to haunt her -- she says her views on sexuality have been completely overturned. "I was a feminist, antiporn, really hard-core, and it was deeply disturbing to me that I could be writing this stuff. But then I started to see that porn isn't inherently evil, that it doesn't lead to oppression, because I was producing it. And this has had an impact in my real life -- I now have a greater acceptance of all things sexual."

The original motivation of fandom, says Henry Jenkins, "is born from the balance between fascination and frustration. Mass media never perfectly satisfies our needs and interests. It's always slightly misdirected, and so fans begin to flesh out the parts that aren't there. It's a grass-roots customization, and it occurs within a social space."

When Thamiris posts a Smallville or Hercules story on-line and asks for feedback, she'll immediately hear from 50 or 60 fellow writers, all of whom offer detailed analyses of plot and character and sexual tension, with the occasional "Yummy!" thrown in. "There's so much positive reinforcement to write," she says.

Positive doesn't mean uncritical. Thamiris remembers vividly her first halting attempts at writing a Hercules story. "When I sent it to a beta reader [fanfic-speak for a no-holds-barred editor], it was quite a shock. 'You have to fix this and this is too pompous and you sound too academic and this is wrong.' You come in shy, but you learn, and the community is very good at talking about how you're supposed to respond: Suck it up, act like a man."

She wouldn't have it any other way. "If I wrote pro-fiction [fanfic-speak for paid writing], I think I'd do something literary, not popular, and I wouldn't get the same warm and fuzzy feelings I get when I post on-line. Being isolated, being shut up in a garret, that's not writing to me. We write with a community -- a lot of writers even write in chat rooms and every sentence they write gets an immediate response."

Ironically enough, it's that powerful and liberating sense of community that raises doubts about the worth of the fiction it motivates in such quantity. How can people who work in groups and derive their stories from sci-fi and beefcake TV make any claim to art?

"The idea that you have to create original characters to be any good," Cumberland observes, "is palpably untrue. Originality is just an invention of the high literary culture of modernism, which has come and gone. When you read the best fan fiction, there's a parallel with an oral culture of myths and legends that goes back to Homer."

Well, maybe the potential greatness of fan fiction, unlike such Troy sequels as Virgil's Aeneid or Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, is still in doubt. But its connection with literary tradition becomes more obvious as Ullyot cites numerous precedents from Chaucer's more personal Troy story, Troilus and Criseyde, to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regium Britanniae, where a descendant of Virgil's Aeneas (himself a refugee from Homer's Iliad) detours to Britain and brings literary legitimacy to a country insecure about its heroic origins.

Thamiris is well aware of precedents -- she's a professor of literature after all. When she feels the need to boost her pride in what she writes, she rereads Ovid's Heroides, which retells Greek stories of abandoned women from a more humane Roman perspective. "Definitely fanfic," she says. But for Thamiris, as for many other writers of fan fiction, the need to establish a pedigree and gain broader respectability is secondary to other more immediate desires. "Of course we want to put pretty boys together. But with so many writers being female, we're doing something that's traditionally been a male preserve -- instead of being the objects, we're creating the objects. There's a lot of power in that -- and a lot of pleasure."

Reactions and Reviews

A Star Trek-heavy and fairly accurate article about fanfic, but more specifically, the prevalence of slash -- and more to the point, salacious slash. Mentions some well-known names out of fandom (I recognized them, anyway), including Thamiris and Mary Ellen Curtain, which adds credibility. It's a keeper -- and not just because it led me to another promising-looking DS author, lol. [7]
Wow. I just read through all 56 comments on fandom_wank about that G&M article. I'm not sure if they were just being snarky or just lobbing rudeness. In any event, *warm hugs* to you. For what it's worth, I thought the article was great. [8]

Some people liked it; some people thought I was too academic. Some people thought both. *g*

[snipped]

I tried in the interview to balance out my appreciation of porn with my sense that it can have a smarter edge to it. Not that all fanfic is porn, bladdity blah blah. *g* I still haven't read the article, so I don't know if that came through, although I believe my "pretty boys make me horny" or something was quoted. ;-) [9]

I was surprised to see the Globe and Mail article wanked in Fandom Wank and I think it was wanked for reasons beyond what was said in the article about fan fiction. I think it became a personal attack against you, plain and simple.

I would have thought that fan ficcers would be pleased to see fan fiction portrayed in a more positive light. Most portrayals tend to suggest that it is just a bunch of obsessive fans writing porn. Not that there's anything wrong with porn, of course, and not that there aren't a lot of obsessive fans out there. Good lord, I've ranted long enough about a few of them. But I think all the honking about "it's just porn, stupid" is really anti-intellectualism at its worst.

Nothing is "just porn" as if that's a simple dismissal of what slashers do and there's nothing more interesting to say about the issue. To me, a serious examination of fandom and fan fiction/slash yields some really interesting material for analysis of popular culture and of women's sexuality. But I suppose it's all just meaningless tripe and I am over-intellectualizing something that is merely crappy porn!

They say it's all in fun, that it's all just laughing at the silliness of fandom, but I felt that some of [the comments at Fandom Wank] crossed that line between honest humour and downright smallness. And I should know, since I've been just as small as the smallest of them in my time. [10]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 John Allemang. If Frodo loved Bilbo..., in: Globe and Mail, 30 November 2002. (Accessed 07 December 2009)
  2. Fan Fiction Statistics, data from June 2000. (Accessed 07 December 2009)
  3. If Frodo loved Bilbo..., April 17, 2018 update
  4. 4.0 4.1 Discussion in Thamiris' livejournal. (Accessed 07 December 2009)
  5. Slash in the Canadian News, discussion in Thamiris' livejournal, 30 November 2009. (Accessed 07 December 2009)
  6. Fan Fiction - sizzling and predominately female, posted to the Willow/Tara Kittenboard, 02 December 2002. (Accessed 07 December 2009)
  7. comments by Bennie Robbins at Metafic
  8. stopawhile's comments at My Thoughts on Fandom_Wank by Thamiris (one of the fans interviewed for the article) (December 13, 2002)
  9. Thamaris' comments at My Thoughts on Fandom_Wank by Thamiris (December 13, 2002)
  10. azimuth's comments at My Thoughts on Fandom_Wank by Thamiris (December 13, 2002)