A profile in several short parts:
- Introducing myself
- Why SS/HG? (my take on it)
- My take on it falls apart
- Short rant on fanfic and intellectual property
- Even shorter: a few dumb questions
- p.s. favorites among the favorites
Ozma of Oz, a character I've identified with since I was a very little girl, was created by L. Frank Baum in about 1902. Now I specialize in magicking neglected baubles of cultural memory back to life. IRL I write historical nonfiction and also work in libraries; also a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy literature. I identify with Hermione in more than a few ways: I'm most at home inside of a library, and, like the life that Hermione leads in many of her possible futures, am scholarly myself and am married to a professor who is several years older than I am.
I discovered FFN in December 2012. This newness is notwithstanding the old treeware slash zines that I've had since the 80s, all K/S fiction. The online / FFN / HP fanfic universe bowled me over when I discovered it. ST:TOS had a bigger effect on me as a whole (since it grabbed me before I could walk), and Kirk & Spock were sort of my fictional "parents" when I was small. But Hermione Granger and Severus Snape are each more fully drawn, and also more like me and my own loved ones. Now here I am all grown up and spending my fanfic time with the HG/SS "shippers."
Fall 2015 update, part 1: In my first three years here I was properly anonymous. But the recent launch of my second book was botched by the publisher, and I'm willing to scrape for readers anywhere, even in this largely commerce-free zone! Bye-bye anonymity. If you like historical nonfiction about art and technology (Leonardo-ish), please look up "Inside the Machine: Art and Invention in the Electronic Age" (2015) (an art history of electronics) and "Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-62" (2010) (about sci-fi art created to sell the space age). Yup, I wrote both of these visual history books, aimed at popular audiences, and now really need all the readers I can get. Thank you.
Fall, 2015 update, part 2: I've just discovered Doc Martin, both the show and the associated fanfic universe and really like both. My "why I read FFN" essay below is centered entirely on my attachment to the HP universe and the Severus and Hermione characters. There are some similar dynamics at work in Doc Martin between the Doc and Louisa, and I guess I really respond to those dynamics (introvert/extrovert, etc.).
Why SS/HG? My take on it
I've spent a huge amount of time here reading. If you're reading this, you're probably one of the authors who I've thanked for writing. At a certain point I had to try to understand: WHY? I'm a mid-career grownup with all the attendant responsibilities, yet here I am. *How is it* that HP fanfic can be so much more compelling than than other fanfic? ...than other original fiction? (It has all but spoiled me for original fiction). Here's my take on it:
J K Rowling has opened up the widest of possible gaps between a world's potential and its canon story: her fictional world is as complex and engaging as any in literature, yet her characters beg for new narratives.
Hermione Granger and Severus Snape are the two literary characters who are least well explored in canon relative to the compelling and complex natures with which their author endowed them. They also embody features of literary archetypes — in particular, some archetypes that are under-explored in general in original fiction.
Hermione is a supporting heroine: She is smarter, faster, and better-skilled than Harry, yet firmly stuck in a supporting role. The antecedents in literature are too numerous to mention. The highest calling of fan fiction, in my mind, is to liberate Hermione from this second-fiddle status (third-fiddle, even, as the actress who portrays her in film always gets third billing).
My theory of Hermione is based on the fundamental feminist principle that she deserves to have a bigger role because she is smarter and more interesting than Harry, and because she's the girl. She's the one that we bookish, brainy girls identify with. Plus her romantic fate in canon, in that Epilogue, is just wretched. Unless you prefer our favorite heroine to compromise her availability due to peer pressure, family or societal expectations, or a lack of obvious alternatives, the pairing of Hermione with Ron really strikes a sour note.
Severus Snape shares features with at least three literary archetypes, all at once! This is central to "his" problem. First, he's a classic mysterious and tortured romantic hero. Second, he is a self-sacrificial anti-hero whose character death enables a narrative triumph for the hero (such as Tolkien's Gollum and Boromir characters). Thirdly he is a very Spock-like character who is assumed to be lacking a heart throughout much of the story, only to have a magnificent heart revealed at a moment of crisis.
By giving him traits from all these character types Rowling has placed Snape in an impossible position in canon. In particular, the romantic hero / self-sacrificial anti-hero types are totally incompatible. Character death in particular is *completely* incompatible with the romantic hero role. A single character cannot inhabit all of these types at once without producing significant dissonance in the mind of the reader.
The pairing of Hermione with Severus can resolve all of these problems within one story. The best of these stories move Hermione and her great mind to the center of the tale and offer her a worthy mate, while also redeeming Severus, resolving the contradictions inherent in the multiple roles he is made to play in canon, and giving his character its "well-deserved" second chance at life and happiness.
Layered into such stories is the powerful, mutually beneficial dynamic between introvert and extrovert: Hermione is opened up to her future by using her outer-directed power to unlock the introvert, gaining a treasure that's inaccessible to anyone else. Severus, on the other hand, is opened up to his future by ultimately surrendering to the one person who can reach through the barriers that he has placed between himself and the world. In spite of himself, his character becomes seen, heard, and understood ... loved ... and by no one less than the most powerful witch of his era.
The best of these stories position Hermione as the instigator of their romance, or an external force like the Marriage Law. These setups work best because Snape's character, in canon, does not *want* to be given a second chance: his fear of pain is too great, as is his fatalism. His guardedness offers a fierce challenge to Hermione. But, like the potions puzzle he once put in front of her, it's a challenge we know she can solve.
Lastly, when I discovered that FFN is also a free community of women writing smut for one another's enjoyment ...I'm speechless with wonder that such a place exists on the internet. Thank you. Can you believe that until 2012 I thought I was alone in having those kinds of thoughts about the snarky potions professor?
My Take On It Falls Apart
The above theories of Snape and Hermione fall apart completely when faced with the fics that were written before books 6 and 7 were published. I noticed this in 2014, re-reading the delightful "Before the Dawn" by snarkyroxy. In the author's notes of that epic work she discusses her responses to the publication of book 6, which happened while she was writing. Really? SS/HG developed *before* Hermione reached even 16 years of age in canon? Before Snape was "killed"? Before his truly big heart was fully revealed? I give up.
Very short rant on Fan Fiction and Intellectual Property
Fan fiction is a legitimate form of literature: It is appropriative re-use of pre-existing materials, a literary strategy that is as old as the oral tradition of storytelling. Someday the ridiculous regulatory environment around ownership of literature will be reformed in favor of appropriative re-use. I challenge any fellow author to assert that her needs are served by the current system of rights management. The existing system has been developed to protect the interests of entertainment companies, not individual authors, not even J K Rowling. In a reformed system of rights management, an author could opt to renew her copyright every 14 years (as the U.S. regulations were originally written), or, after 14 or 28 years, or at any time, she could either cede her work to the public domain, or simply cede appropriation rights to her fans. Did the novel and musical "Wicked" hurt the legacy of the Wizard of Oz? Of course not. Did "Pride & Prejudice...and Zombies" hurt Jane Austen? Did the 1970s children's empowerment movie "Free to Be You and Me" hurt the legacy of the Greek myth of Atalanta, from which it was partially derived? How about Neil Gaiman's fantastic riff on Snow White? Of course not! Is it fair that the authors of those works are allowed to earn money from their fanfics because their source material predates the reach of current rights regulations? No. The system is entirely unfair. I'd gladly spend $15 to have a printed, typeset, bound copy of "Pet Project" by Caeria, and that willingness in no way lessens or dilutes the value of Rowling's work (or threatens the amount of money I've sunk into purchasing multiple copies and editions of her seven volumes and viewing all the movies). The idea that a work of literature is threatened or diluted by derivative works is a myth cultivated by entertainment companies seeking to maintain a stranglehold on literature. This stranglehold is not inevitable. Rather, it is a historical anomaly that is weak in the face of the history of storytelling. What is up with the authors who put copyright notices on their fanfics???
Even Shorter: A Few Dumb Questions:
• Where did the idea of a Marriage Law come from? Who issued the WIKTT challenge?
• Why does Fanfic seem to have some of its own writing tropes & tics? Such as "pear-shaped" as a metaphor for going badly? ("Everything went pear-shaped for the Order...") and characters "squaring their shoulders." Those phrases are *everywhere*! Where did pear-shaped come from? What does it mean, exactly? Is anyone studying this?
To all of you authors: my adulation! Thank you for writing! People who can write fiction stand on a huge pedestal in my mind... I can't fathom how much work, and how much inspiration it takes, to craft these stories anew, again and again. Thank you!
p.s. One More Thing: Favorites Among the Favorites
Probably no one's ever going to read this far -- I wrote this profile essay mostly for myself, to understand my own relationship to FFN. That's neither here nor there. What I want to point out here to anyone who *has* read this far is that among my long list of "favorites" are some works that stand out from the rest, according to my own humble and personal points of evaluation.
Best Strong Hermione story series: Hermione Granger and the Half-Blood Prince / Deathly Hallows / Elder Wand by grangerous - this trilogy takes Hermione to greater heights of power than any others, and gives her Severus too
Most Concise and "Believable" fic that takes Hermione and Severus from zero to sixty in fewer than 2500 words: Serendipity by Mother of Tears - I have essentially memorized this story and find it so soothing that if I'm awake in the night I can put myself back to sleep by telling it to myself
Best Overall HG/SS Fanfic: Pet Project by Caeria (not an original opinion but that doesn't make it any less true). This story has everything: Strong Hermione, deep Severus, and plot plot plot!
Best Smut Authors in the HG/SS universe: llorolalluvia, also Loten
Sweetest and Best-Written Mid-Length T-Rated HG/SS romance: Accountable by Dyce