When Harry Potter Met Frodo

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News Media Commentary
Title: When Harry Potter Met Frodo
Commentator: presented by Naomi Alderman
Date(s): 26 November 2012
Venue: BBC Radio 4
Fandom: multifandom
External Links: BBC Radio 4
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When Harry Potter Met Frodo was a 28-minute BBC Radio 4 programme on fanfiction, presented by novelist Naomi Alderman, which was first broadcast on 26 November 2012. It was subtitled The Strange World of Fanfiction. The guests included aca-fans Francesca Coppa, Henry Jenkins and Ika Willis, British slash fan Hannah, author China Miéville, and journalist Damian Barr.

Fandoms mentioned in the programme include Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock, The Professionals, The Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Twilight, as well as many rare fandoms. Archive of Our Own was mentioned as one of the largest fanfiction archives.

Topics

Some of the topics covered included:

  • Although no study of the ratio of male:female fanfiction writers has been carried out, fanfiction is overwhelmingly written and read by women; Coppa speculated that fanfiction fills the gap left by a marketplace mainly aimed at men.
  • Crossovers between two different intellectual properties are impossible in mainstream publishing, but fanfiction makes them possible. Authors can point out resonances between divergent sources, eg in a fusion of The Lord of the Flies/Walking Dead. Also mentioned were an Adventures of Tom Sawyer/Alice in Wonderland crossover where Alice moves to America and becomes friends with Tom, a Bible/X-Men crossover where Charles Xavier meets Jesus, who is a mutant, a Dracula/Van Helsing crossover where they reconcile and have sex on the beach, as well as a crossover between The Tudors and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.
  • Slash fiction was defined as a subgenre of fanfiction focused on people having sex, usually two men. Hannah speculated that writing slash was as common a hobby as knitting or gardening. The vast majority of writers are straight women. It's not like straight men viewing lesbian porn, because the women make it, rather than being fed it. Lesbian and bisexual women enjoy m/m slash because it's about loving male relationships, not necessarily sex scenes. For example John and Sherlock have a loving, tender relationship. Alderman pointed out that Nancy Friday's studies of women's fantasies in the 1970s found that women never fantasised about two men together, and speculated that perhaps it was a repressed fantasy. Hannah thought that slash shows women's sexuality is a lot more complex than had been believed. Barr said, as a gay man, he had no problem with being objectified by straight women.
  • Willis explained that historical precedents for fanfiction include folk culture and myth. In Homer's The Iliad, Achilles and Patroclus have a close relationship which is not stated to be sexual, but by a few hundred years later, the pair were being written as lovers. Fanfiction enables writers to go back to earlier stories and bring out things important in their own culture.
  • Willis said that Mary-Sues went all the way back to Dante, where he meets five pagan poets in Purgatory, and they acknowledge him as the sixth member. She likened this to fans inserting themselves into the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings. Alderman mentioned wealthy people having themselves painted into pictures of the Crucifixion. Willis brought up Margery Kempe writing about meeting Jesus, a topic being studied by aca-fan Anna Wilson.
  • Jenkins said that the quality of writing in fanfiction can be more thoughtful and insightful than the original text, because it is a collaborative effort, building on each others' work. He stressed the role of fanfiction as a training ground for writing professionally. Fanfiction provides a low-stress place for people to publish in a writing community, get feedback and improve. Barr felt that at its best fanfiction has enthusiasm and can be funny, just as long as it's spell-checked!
  • A huge amount of reading is going on outside normal publication channels. Is reading slash a gateway to Jane Austen?
  • Miéville stressed the collaborative/interactive relationship with the text. An increasing minority of readers have now grown up with fanfiction and learned that tinkering with the text is normal.
  • Fanfiction can be a literary form when applied to out-of-copyright sources, for example Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad (The Odyssey fanfiction). Coppa said that we have experienced a hundred years where stories belonged to professionals only, which she hoped was an aberration; earlier there was a much more fluid notion of writing, eg the various versions of the stories of Hamlet and Merlin/Arthur.
  • Other fanfiction tropes mentioned more briefly included mpreg, wingfic and hurt/comfort.

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