Fanfic: cheapens the original or value-adding?

There’s allegedly an upcoming film loosely based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses incorporating elements of the Jeff Gannon scandal – sqeeeee! The working title is Bulldog in the White House, hmmmmm.

I found that out while researching LLD adaptations for the fanfic list later in this post. Why? Because there’s a terrific thread over at Making Light about fan-fiction (where somebody takes characters created by another writer and makes a whole new story using them). It is pointed out that fanfic has always been with us, but the Internet has taken it to new levels of wide accessibility, for both good and bad.

Theresa Neilsen-Hayden points out:

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year went to March, a novel by Geraldine Brooks, published by Viking. It’s a re-imagining of the life of the father of the four March girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Can you see a particle of difference between that and a work of declared fanfiction? I can’t. I can only see two differences: first, Louisa May Alcott is out of copyright; and second, Louisa May Alcott, Geraldine Brooks, and Viking are dreadfully respectable.

Commentor Stephen Frug adds:

Now, I think creators have a very strong right to be paid for their creations. But I don’t think they have a right — that is, I don’t think they should have a right — to control what happens to those creations.

Which brings us back to a subject which has been brought up in earlier threads about copyright: mandatory licensing. The precedent here is from music: if you want to record another’s song, you have to pay the composer — but they can’t deny permission.

This, I would argue, is clearly what should happen with literary characters and worlds. Anyone who wants to write the starship Enterprise should have to pay a percentage of the take to Paramount. But I don’t think that Paramount should get to decide what works get written, get published, get sold or get read.

Bad works, damaging works — as decided by readers, not writers — will be ignored. How many revisions of Odysseus there’ve been — most of them simply ignored in favor of Homer. But those with some real power (Dante comes to mind) add to our view of the character. (And, of course, this is decided on an individual level — the literary market just being a sum of the individual decisions.)

And the debate burbles on.

I thought about the books I’ve read that are fanfiction of one sort or another. Then I thought of movies, operas and plays that fit the bill. I’m sure that I will have missed a heap considering how late this indigestion bout is keeping me up, but let’s see what I know is fanfiction from what I’ve actually read/seen (forgetting those Hollywood movies which are direct adaptations of foreign-language films). Chronological and/or alphabetic order seemed like far too much work, so consider the random recall ordering as a deliberately provocative juxtaposition effect, if you like.

Macbeth – Holinshed fanfic.
West Side Story – Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet fanfic.
Genesis – Gilgamesh fanfic.
Twelve Labours of Hercules – Hercules fanfic from earlier myth cycles.
The Aeneid by Virgil – Iliad fanfic.
The House of Cards – Shakespeare history plays (esp Richard III & Macbeth) fanfic.
Dante’s Inferno – Virgil fanfic (at least in part).
Kiss me Kate – more Shakespeare fanfic (The Taming of the Shrew).
Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern –
Shakespeare Hamlet fanfic.
Star Wars – Hidden Fortress meets Flash Gordon fanfic.
I, Claudius –
Suetonius fanfic
Ivanhoe – Robin Hood fanfic
The Three Musketeers – de Sandras’ Les mémoires de M. d’Artagnan fanfic
The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Vol 3: L’homme au masque de fer) by Dumas pere– Man in the Iron Mask folk stories fanfic + D’Artagnan fanfic
Cruel IntentionsLes Liaisons dangereuses fanfic

Too tired to continue – what have I missed?

Categories: Uncategorized

4 replies

  1. Personally, I think Beowulf was fanfic. That would explain why it’s in English but about a Norse hero.

  2. Arrrgh – Beowulf. I ended the post when I realised I was too tired to remember all the bits I’d come up with when the post was mulling in my mind. I was also thinking that Alien/s is Beowulf fanfic.

  3. Speaking of Beowulf as a fanfic (which is more like an adaption than anything, something probably worth keeping in mind when you make this argument), Grendel by John Gardner is without a doubt a fanfiction. It is wonderfully written, and that makes it literature instead of a fanfic.Why the vast majority of fanfiction isn’t real literature is that it aims low and is written poorly. Written well and ambitiously, any source material whatsoever can give rise to a magnificent derivative work.

  4. I love getting book recommendations – Gardner’s on the list. Ta!

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