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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Fife

Fan-fic vs. "Literature"

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

A project I'm in the middle of producing, Pemberly: Mr. Darcy's Dragon has got me thinking. As I've told friends and family about the project, I've had more than one person respond with “So, it's basically Fan-Fiction then?” My initial knee-jerk reaction has been, “Well, no, its kind of its own sub-genre called Gas-Lamp Fantasy.”

But it made me consider – what makes something fan-fic? Is there some line between a “legitimate” work of fiction, and “fan-fic.”

Is fan-fiction just taking something in Pop Culture & putting your own spin & stamp on it?

One of the highlights of my youth was when after a dearth of new Star Wars material, George Lucas finally gave the green light to Timothy Zahn who in 1991 released Heir to the Empire. It was a new era. Was Timothy Zahn the ultimate fan-fic writer? His Thrawn trilogy was superb, and probably in large part the impetus for the special edition release, followed by... you know the rest.

But the Thrawn trilogy was superb. Yes, it was Star Wars told by someone other than the original creator. The characters themselves have become such fan favorites that Thrawn is now canon, as well as several of the names created by Zahn, David Wolverton, Kevin Anderson and more. I myself had a superb novel etched out in my mind after revenge of the Sith that filled in the prequel holes & married it to many of Zahn's characters. But alas, Disney chucked out 3/4's of my plot (I still toy with the idea of writing the story as a non Star Wars book, with the names changed to protect the innocent). Was Zahn a Fan-fic writer? He was already a writer, well established. The reason the Thrawn trilogy did so well, was because he used is skill and applied it to a universe that was already there.

Isn't that what all fiction is?

Yes, there are folks like George Lucas, Frank Herbert, Brandon Sanderson, George RR Martin, JR Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis who have created completely fleshed out worlds of their own, but ultimately, all fiction is a variation on something we already know about. There have been roughly 70 billion self aware humans who have inhabited this planet. Imagination exponential. We're bound to revisit things again and again. Some things are obvious: The Three Amigos, Galaxy Quest, A Bug's Life. All the same idea. Is that fan-fic of an idea? I'm sure there's probably a Shakespeare play that it goes back to.

Some of the other books I've narrated are in a similar vein – Dan Kimmel's Father of the Bride of Frankenstein – Take both movies, do a wheel of fortune Before & After, and go. All Made of Hinges – 12 authors take 2 ideas & mash them together – Mormon Steampunk. Both of those books are great & I loved doing them. Definitely worth the read/listen!

Which brings me back to my initial ponderings – Why am I defensive when someone asks if the project I'm working on as a narrator is fan-fiction? As I've read & re-read Maria Grace's Pember: Mr Darcy's Dragon in preparation for, in the act of narrating, and in the editing process, I'm struck by a few things:

1. She's a good author.

2. She knows Austen. While she may have had P&P sitting at her side as a handy reference, its apparent that she knows each of these characters intimately. And many of them are more fleshed out than Austen had them to begin with. I love the interaction of characters we know with each other who did NOT interact in the original. She's very true to the characters!

3. I'm struck by the humor of what she sometimes includes verbatim from P&P, but often spoken by an unlikely character – Like Lizzy's mother saying the famous first line of the book, for example.

4. What she's added to the story is an engaging story in itself, with delightful new characters just as fully realized.

5. I would love to do some of Maria Grace's “original” works as well. Maria Grace is Passionate about what she writes & you can tell. So, fan-fiction vs. “real” literature. I've decided I don't care. I love a good story, and that is why I do what I do. Pemberly is a great story. What are your thoughts?


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1 Comment

May 14, 2019

I hadn't really thought about the question in these terms before because, to me, a well-written novel that helps me think about issues beyond the novel is good literature. Maria's dragon books do just that and are are my favorites among the many delightful variations she has written. On the other hand, I realize that I have been very careful who I tell about my delight in both Jane Austen's originals and the stories that have sprung from them simply because I've had enough of rolling eyes from those who prefer "real" literature - whatever that might be.

Still, not everything that is categorized as Jane Austen Fan Fiction falls into the category of good literature for me. (Please note…

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