Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Classics and fanfic

One of the things I've often heard said is that most texts of ancient  mythology are pretty much fan fiction, since they reuse and repurpose characters that already exist. "Virgil was writing Homer fanfic" is the way it's often phrased. I'm not too sure that the equivalence is as strong as it's sometimes claimed to be. For a start, the concept of fan fiction is predicated on the idea that there are 'official' and 'unofficial' stories set in a particular megatext, and that the official stories hold an essential position of privilege over the unofficial ones. That's not really true in ancient literature - not even Homer is quite treated in that fashion. Still, what the comparison does show is that fanfiction, telling new stories about characters in stories that we've heard, is a manifestation of an urge in human storytelling that has very deep roots indeed, and that making the creation of original characters a sign of a superior writer, a stick that is often used to beat fanficcers, is a fairly recent idea.

Anyway, Juliette Harrison has written an interesting blog post on this subject. And Ika Willis will be editing an issue of  the Journal of Transformative Works that addresses Classics and fanfic, If you want to contribute you have until 1 March.


T Guy said...

The notion about original characters came in with the novel (hence its name), so as a Cultural Trope or the like, two or three centuries ago, though can be traced back to Don Quixote, which was a bit earlier.

I must confess that I have mixed feelings on the issue. Let me rephrase that. I would say that I enjoy fiction with original characters and with previously established characters. You can have your cake and eat it.

Ika said...

I think this comprehensively refutes your "The Aeneid is not fanfiction" argument.

(No, seriously, I think the canon/non-canon thing is decisive in terms of being able/not able to draw an exact equivalence, but I also think that there's an awful lot to be said about the similarities/differences....)

Tony Keen said...

T Guy, I tend to think that the invention of copyright, and especailly the Berne Convention, is an important factor in privileging orginal characters over recently-created characters of other authors. But I agree absolutely that there's nothing wring with original chacters, which are ti be found in ancient literature (e.g. Petronius) and in Shakespeare (e.g. Much Ado About Nothing). Both approaches are fine, and most writers mix them up.

Ika, Kate points out that the Aeneid may not be fanfic, but it is a transformative work.