Robin of Sherwood Fandom and Slash Fanworks

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The Robin of Sherwood fandom is unique in that the show's producer and writer, Kip Carpenter, specifically requested that fans avoid creating slash fanworks.

This request, along with the close and integrated contact with Carpenter had with fans and the fandom, had complex and pervasive repercussions for this fandom regarding fan discussion and fanworks. In short, Robin of Sherwood slash fanworks are nearly non-existent, largely due to fans' desire to comply with Carpenter's request so that they could continue to enjoy what they considered the benefits of having an "official" in their midst.

While many fans were happy to fall in line with Carpenter's stipulations about fanworks - considering it within his right as the showrunner to request this - others considered it (and the zines that upheld the policy) to be overly restrictive, if not outright homophobic.

Fandom history is full of similar instances in which The Powers That Be have intervened in an attempt to restrict or ban fanworks of their creation, with a lasting impact on fan behaviours. See for example J. Michael Straczynski's restrictions on fanworks, which drove the Babylon 5 fandom underground.

See also: Authors Who Discourage Fanfic About Their Work.

Robin of Sherwood Fandom's Relationship to TPTB

Kip Carpenter's Letters to Letterzines

The show's creator, Richard "Kip" Carpenter was an occasional (though lengthy!) contributor to the letterzine Cousins, something that had to have to been on the minds of fans as they communicated with each other.

At least one letterzine reader backtracked on a previously stated opinion after learning Kip read and responded, writing, "I never thought that my flaky meanderings would be read by the Source Himself! I'm so embarrassed!"

There was much mention of "what Kip requests" and that carried over to what kind of fanfic could be written - specifically slash, the big Robin of Sherwood no-no. More than one letter in Cousins mentioned that the universe of Robin of Sherwood belonged to its creator and that its fans needed to always keep that in mind; many, many letters discussed how to write the characters, in relation to its creator's desires.

Fans Sending Fanworks to TPTB

Fans also sent Carpenter copies of the zines they had created. A 1990 comment from Carpenter:
Thank you so much for the lovely book. The stories are great and a real logical extension to the series. I hope I get Albion 3 and that the sky doesn't fall!... [1]

Kip Carpenter's Presence at Cons

Carpenter was sometimes a guest of honor at Robin of Sherwood cons. This was not that unusual, as actors, showrunners and creators were sometimes guests at cons for other fandoms.

But as with all "official" presences, this had to have been a barrier to some fans' freedom to discuss fanworks with each other.

Carpenter also stated his anti-slash requests at at least one 1991 con where he and Mark Ryan were guests.

A fan wrote: "These characters were created by Kip and should remain within the bounds he created. True, he does not have ownership of the legendary characters, but as they are represented in RoS, yes he does. Generously, he has given his permission for us to play in his universe as long as we remain true to what he created (he told us this at Son of Herne's Con). Therefore, a writer must tread very carefully when attributing to a character abilities that were never manifested in the show." [2]

Some other statements regarding fanwork content is what is quoted in the first issue of Forbidden Forest. This issue has a dedication to Kip Carpenter, "who told us at Son of Herne's Con: 'If you're going to do a dirty 'zine, don't mess about...do it all the way!'" "All the way" apparently didn't include m/m relationships.

RoS Fandom and Slash

from an editorial in the zine Herne's Son
from an editorial in Forbidden Forest

RoS zine fiction is almost exclusively gen or non-explicit het as the creator of the show, Kip Carpenter, specifically requested people not slash the main characters. Most fans went along with this request.

From a submission request for Robin of Sherwood: The Early Years:
The subjects of this zine is the formative years of the Outlaw band, Robin of Loxley, Marion, the Merries, Heme, de RainauIt, and Gisburn. This would include stories similar to the episode format, or stories of one or mere of the characters fantasizing, remembering, or day dreaming. This is a Adult 'zine, and stories may be violent and/or be very sensual. Please try to be lyrical if describing sexual encounters - No same-sex stories, please, though the Sheriff may be free to dream/fantasize to his heart's content, as long as it is not graphic.

Many comments regarding slash in letterzines were along the lines that slash was boring, disrespectful, stupid, and bascially badly-badly written soft porn. A few fans commented that it was a matter of reality in other fandoms, but thankfully not Robin of Sherwood. A few fans spoke up, saying it was fine for other people, just not themselves and that if you didn't like it, don't read it. [3]

A fan wrote:
The only true no-no in our fandom is slash (this comes from Kip himself), otherwise you are free to wander wherever the muse leads you. [4]
Another fan wrote:
You may or may not be aware that Richard Carpenter has requested that fan writers not create homosexual situations using characters who are heterosexual in the TV stories. I feel that we are fortunate to have the series creator so actively involved in the fandom, and don't think it's unreasonable to honor this one request he's made. He also mentioned that homosexual relationships involving characters such as the sheriff, Philip Mark, Tom and Dickon - or your own original gay and lesbian characters - are fine by him. [5]

There is much commentary about slash in the letterzine Herne's Stepchildren #5. One comment:

I just don't read that crap. If other fen get off on it— that's their personal problem. I just ignore it and hope it will go away. There is very little, if any, of it in RoS fan-fic. [6]

Another comment:

Your comment on genres sounds precariously like a vote for censorship. And the comment on slash seems gratuitous, as I know of only two slash stories, one of which was written for another fandom. In this fandom, I think we respect Mr. Carpenter's wish for no slash, but I also think that Philip Mark is presented as gay, so slash does exist in the ROS universe. As for the men and women who like slash, again: if you don't, don't read it. Many fans loathe it, many love it. Most of both sides are nice people, and can't each be allowed to write or to read what they choose? I think it's fine if you personally find slash revolting, but I also think it's fine if adult people want to read it. Again, if you don't like it, don't read it. [7]

From a peripheral Robin of Sherwood fan:

Reading these [Robin of Sherwood] zines also serves as recreational blood-pressure-raising, when I come across submission guidelines like:
While encouraging a wide range of ideas and story lines, we strive, above all, to create a quality publication in keeping with the characters and situations already so ably developed and realized by Richard Carpenter, Anthony Horowitz, Paul Knight, and the cast. Altering characters beyond established format, and material exceeding the bounds of decency, will NOT be accepted. This is not meant to discourage the development of intimate situations as long as they are heterosexual in content and tastefully executed. [Quoted from Longbow 5, Celtic Heart Press]
Do I really need to detail to the Bedfellows just how offensive, insulting, and homophobic that is? [H], the fan I met, is much more of an actor fan than anyone I've talked with recently — hanging out with slash fans tends to limit the amount of chat that 1 get exposed to — and it's remarkable watching her talk about meeting the creators, and seeing the level to which she assumes that the creators will be involved with the fandom. I haven't seen its like since my early days in B7 fandom. My feeling these days is that the fandom is none of the creators' business. But judging by the adulatory tone of the Longbow guidelines, and from scanning an issue of the letterzine [H] runs, [H's] attitude is common in the fandom. This probably goes a long way toward explaining why there is so little RoS slash; when Kip Carpenter says don't do it, they obey. Why are RoS fans more obeisant than B7 fans were? (To the extent that Forbidden Forest, an adult RoS zine, opens with a dedication to Carpenter, "who told us at Son of Herne's Con: 'If you're going to do a dirty 'zine, don't mess about...do it all the way!'" and with the epigraph "Nothing's forbidden...nothing is ever forbidden"...and still 100% straight.) [8]

Another fan expressed her displeasure in these statements, calling it out-and-out homophobia:

Instead of simply stating that this zine did not accept slash, it spent a paragraph explaining that it would not except stories that veered from the presented T.V. cannon by containing explicit homosexual interactions between the characters, or other morally repugnant and immature characterizations. This is not the exact wording, but damn close. It not only slammed slash as immoral and immature, but implied that homosexuality was as well. Needless to say, the statement really pissed me off.

My take on anti-slash sentiment is that it's basically homophobic. If one were to write a sexually explicit story about say, Avon and Cally, or Susan and Doyle, would anti-slashers claim non-cannon and disapprove? I doubt it. And yet both of those het. pairs are no more "accurate" to the show's presentation of the characters than are Avon/Blake and Bodie/Doyle. [9]
From a fan in 1993:
I don't find anything to like about RoS, so I don't have to torment myself about my perverted lust, since in this context at least it doesn't exist. However, my response to the dude's demand is this: "Excuse me? What exactly gives you the right to tell me what I can and cannot fantasize about? Believe me, buddy boy, it has nothing to do with you--I just like men with long hair and tights." As for the self-righteous, censorious sycophants who spout off at people who do write or read RoS slash, they can decide what *they* will read, but they will bloody well not decide -- or even comment on, unless they want a swift kick--what *I* can read. [10]

References

  1. from an LoC by Richard Carpenter (Ayot St. Peter, Eng.) in "Albion" #4
  2. from Cousins #3
  3. see Herne's Stepchildren for some of these comments
  4. from the letterzine, Cousins #6
  5. from the letterzine, Cousins #8
  6. from Herne's Stepchildren #4
  7. from Herne's Stepchildren #4
  8. from a fan in Strange Bedfellows #2 (August 1993)
  9. from a fan in Strange Bedfellows #2 (August 1993)
  10. quoted anonymously on Virgule-L, October 31, 1993
✪ This article was previously featured on the Fanlore main page in 2018