Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

Sheenagh Pugh, The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Bridgend: Seren, 2005.
My rating: ****

The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context by Sheenagh Pugh

This book offers an excellent and sympathetic overview of fan fiction as a literary form. The author uses material from both media and literary fandoms as illustrations, including The Bill, Discworld, Blakes 7, Hornblower and Jane Austen. The book is eminently readable and a great resource for anyone wishing to learn about the practices of fan fiction communities.

The author is a poet, novelist, critic and translator and teaches creative writing at the University of Glamorgan in Wales.

6 thoughts on “The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context

  1. Fan fiction is a curious and rewarding area to research but I do wonder how ‘democratic’ something so grounded in celebrity ‘culture’ can actually be. I tend to prefer the way that someone like Kathy Acker would rework canonical texts, and some fan fiction approaches this but it rarely gets that critical….. But regardless thanks for drawing my attention to this book.


  2. Clare says:

    Not all fan fiction is tied to celebrity culture. This particular book in fact focuses on literary fan fiction which is not as closely linked to celebrity culture as media fan fiction. There is for example a huge Jane Austen fan fiction industry – some of it crossing over into the mainstream.

    I would also draw a distinction between fan fiction which focuses on actors or celebrities and fan fiction which is based on story. For example quite a lot of Dr Who fan fiction is more centred around the concept and the story than the actors who play the Doctor.

    I would however agree with you about your reservations concerning the word ‘democratic’. There are quite well defined power structures and hierarchies in relation to the relative status of the producers of the source texts and the producers of ‘derivative’ fan texts. There are also status hierarchies within fandom itself. In the case of celebrity fandoms, the fans who have actual contact with the celebrity are up the top of the totem pole. ‘Fanons’ (fan canons) also develop which can exercise a terrorist effect within fan communities.


  3. Points taken as regards the more literary uses… although one might posit Austen as a posthumous literary celebrity and there are for me also problems with a figure like Austen from a number of perspectives (post-modern, post-colonial etc.). That’s why I liked what Kathy Acker did with Dickens, since I don’t like Dickens himself. You’re right about the hierarchies that can be found in fan fiction… and of course with more contemporary sources also the threat of proprietary copyright claims being enforced to suppress material. But then all that also contributes to the richness of this area and makes it even more worth researching. I guess the area I’ve looked at most closely is slash, which might account for the one-sidedness of my original comment.


  4. Clare says:

    I haven’t read Kathy Acker – thanks for this tip. Dickens’ sentimentality is often a bit much for contemporary tastes. I find watching contemporary TV adaptations of books such as Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House more interesting than reading the originals.

    I would agree that slash is largely grounded in celebrity culture and around actors – but you get exceptions. For example: Tin Tin slash – which came to the surface in the early 80s and caused a public scandal in France and Belgium and drew litigation from Herge’s estate. The drawings were done really well and except for what they were representing were virtually indistinguishable from the original graphic novels. There is also slash written around Gerry Anderson’s puppet series.

    I suppose the description ‘democratic’ can be applied to the fact that anybody can engage in fan fiction, but it certainly doesn’t apply to the way the finished products are treated.


  5. There was an anarchist version of Tin Tin in London in the eighties… I don’t think that got sued but it was a book and a couple of thousand copies must have been printed. It seemed popular and may well have been reprinted. Herge’s estate can be difficult, as I picked up from Tom McCarthy in various anecdotes when his book on Tin Tin was in the production stage….


  6. Clare says:

    An anarchist version of Tin Tin sounds like a great concept! Many thanks for this information – I will have a hunt around and see what I can find out about this.


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