Previously on The Whistle-stop History of Fanfiction, we have talked about the Bronte Sisters creating fictional worlds for Wellington to dash around in, the Austen Family writing fic for the lovely Jane, if Star Trek is the granddaddy of fandom, and does the Tolkien Society need to get over itself? See parts one and two if you haven’t already. But now we must move swiftly on to the last part of this journey, into the modern age of fandom.
As we all know, in 1983 the internet was invented, and in 1990 it became widely available. And with the internet came a new and wonderful era for fandom and fanfiction. Suddenly, we didn’t have to worry about getting ahold of zines, and attending conventions if you could get to them; you had direct access to your fandom through your computer screen. It changed everything. Forums allowed fans to talk about their fandoms as much as they wanted, exchange ideas, theories, art, and fic.
But I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here. I can bet that many people reading this have been on at least one fic site or forum in their time. There have been quite a few over the years, after all.
- News groups – such as Use.net. You had to use a special browser for these, rec.art.comics example, to get onto each of one of the groups. Essentially these groups were early forums
- AOL — message boards
- Livejournal – a haven for fic and community based fandom. Livejournal always had a much more community orientated spin than other fic sites, it was sort of an earlier version of tumblr, and we have recently witnessed it’s death due to the Russian hosts of the site blocking any and all LGBT+ content.
- Fanfiction.net – definitely my first introduction to fanfiction, much easier to find things on than other sites. I think many us remember those moments of seeing #lemon #dontlikedontread on FF.net and knowing we were in for a wild ride.
- Dreamwidth – er, not that sure about this one, a bit more hardcore and always scared me a bit. Again, it was more community based, and less a search engine for fic.
- AO3 – the glorious Achieve of Our Own, the hub for all things fic. You want something, you’ll find it on AO3, every niche little ship, kink, AU, whatever, is covered here.
Of course there are plenty of solely fandom based fic sites, the KS (Kirk/Spock) Archive springs instantly to mind, along with Whofic and Mugglenet, but I think that in this beautiful internet age that we live in that the “fic search engine” is the overall winner.
These sites have led to a surge in fic, hundreds, if not thousands, of new ones are added every day. But, even during this period of internet wonderment, fanfiction still faces obstacles. As I mentioned above, Livejournal, which was a home for all things weird and wacky in fandom and fanfic, has recently had a mass exodus due to the servers being moved to Russia – back in 2016 – and then the Russian hosts changing the Livejournal policy on LGBT+ work and “discussion”. Basically they outright banned it all and thus, Livejournal came to an end.
But this is by no means the first, or last, example of fandom policing. There have been several examples of authors stamping down on fanworks, most infamously, Anne Rice.
“I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.” – Anne Rice, statement on April 8, 2000 (still on her website in 2016)
In 2000 all of the Anne Rice fics on fanfiction.net were removed by request of Rice herself, but this was not the end of it. There were also several attacks on fic authors, consisting of, amongst other things, email threats regarding not only the writing of fanfiction but any writing that any fic author attempted to engage in, regardless of who owned the copyright on that work. There were also attacks on fanfiction authors on and offline, and weeks of harassing personal letters sent to fanfic authors email addresses and guestbooks. Rice’s employees also dug up personal information on authors and used it to harass them on and offline. All of this lead to the fandom going underground, code words and phrases were used to hide fics and fanworks, and much of the older work was lost.
Thankfully in more recent years, Rice has changed her standing on fanwork, taking to “ignoring it” rather than trying to remove it, but no official apology has ever been given.
If you are interested in reading more on Anne Rice and her Fandom, you can find all in the information here.
However, on the flip side of this, we have J.K. Rowling. Rowling has encouraged her fans to create as much fanwork as they want, encouraging all and any headcanons, to the point that she has taken PoC Hermione, one of her few favourited tweets, and made her canon in the Cursed Child. On top of this, she blocked Warner Bros from suing Starkid over the Very Potter Musical, and has made several announcements about how she wants and encourages fans to make their own stories, art, films, songs and whatever they want. Think what you want about Rowling, but she has made her fandom a safe and open space to share and create. It’s because of authors and creators like Rowling that fanfic is becoming more legitimate; Mortal Instruments is after all Harry Potter fanfic with the serial numbers scratched off.
While we’re talking about fanfiction that became actual fiction, I think we do have to go into the dark, horrible and worrisome place that is Fifty Shades of Grey. Most of us are aware that Fifty Shades was original Twilight fanfiction which, with a few quick name changes, made its way onto the bestseller list. It might be an awful representation of BDSM and glorify abusive relationships, but you could argue that that without the base that fandom and fanfic had created, what Fifty Shades managed could not be possible. And it’s not the only fic that this has happened to.
Another example is Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. She was writing short pieces of Neil Gaiman fanfic, which she showed to him and he encouraged her to continue and write them up into a complete story.
Fanfiction is a safe place for people to practice and hone their skills as writers. The fandoms help and guide, giving authors advice and praise, and yes, there will always be trolls, but mostly fandoms nurture the talents of their fanwork creators. And I feel that is the most important thing about fanfiction and fandom that is a community. We are lucky to have the ever growing store of fanfiction that we have. I hope that fandoms and creators alike continue to embolden the fic writers, young and old, amongst them.