Friday, September 20, 2019

on fiction

The latest kerfluffle over fan fiction, and memories arise of my previous encounter with advocates, not from a separate community but what I'd thought was my own, who insisted not only that I accept the right of fan fiction writers to publish their work, in violation of copyright and the original author's wishes, but that I aesthetically admire not just the fact of fan fiction's profusion but the stories themselves, and who abused me mightily for staying uninterested.

I think the problem is that my reasons for liking or even cherishing a body of fiction are quite different from those of most people.

Most people seem to have two strong responses to finding a work or body of fiction that they greatly like.

One is, they want to see it made into a movie. You can see this here, in a thoughtful article on Tolkien that nevertheless assumes that the dearest wish of all Tolkien fans is to see his work made into a really good movie.

I do not have this desire. I do not imagine visually, still less cinematographically. When I go see a movie, it's because I expect it to be good, not because I like movies as movies. I have no interest in movies as an art form. Consequently when I read a piece of written fiction, my mind does not turn to imagining a movie adaptation.

Furthermore, the more I cherish a work of fiction, the more the news that it's to be made into a movie arouses in me feelings of fear, anxiety, and foreboding. This is because I know that the "really good" adaptation is a chimera. The more I love the written work, the more the inevitable changes in the adaptation, not to mention the equally inevitable misreadings, will pang me. This is not pleasant. I watched the Tolkien adaptations in a state of near-continuous agony, even while admiring some other (mostly visual) aspects. The last movie of a book I liked, that I liked better than the book (though only in some respects), was The Princess Bride. And that movie was written by the book's author, so he understood the intent of the book. Furthermore, while I liked the book, I didn't like it that much.

The other reaction is, they fall in love with the characters and the setting. This is what inspires fan fiction, to give them more of both.

I do not. Yes, I like the characters and the setting; if I didn't, I won't like the book. But I like them as a function of the author writing about them, and writing it well. If a work of fan fiction is as well-written as the original, I will admire it accordingly, and this has happened. But if the original is very good, this is extremely rare. Rather than read more about the same characters, even sometimes from the original author, I'd rather re-read what I already have.

What makes me cherish a work of fiction is largely the quality of the writing. By this I don't necessarily mean pellucid prose. The authors I like most, like Tolkien, are often criticized by high-literary types for their prose. And indeed it has flaws, but even Homer nods. The prose I like is plain and clear, but above all else compelling. In lighter work, I like wit and sparkle. But good writing is more than that. I like depth of imagination, I like evidence of serious thought about the creation, and I like the upholding of moral standards. I realized I liked these things when I first read some of the other books recommended to me by people who knew I liked Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings is about magical war in an imaginary pseudo-medieval realm, so they gave me sword and sorcery books about the same thing. And I was totally uninterested. I realized that they lacked these additional things that Tolkien had.

Another thing I like that applies specifically to Tolkien is the fact that all this brilliant profusion of imagination is the work of one man. Not only does that make it more awesome, but it gives it both a unity and authority that a shared-author work doesn't have on its own. Given that, why would I be interested in a fan fiction addition to the creation by somebody else? It's completely irrelevant to my interests, and if I have to study the original scholastically, the additions will only needlessly clutter up my head.

No comments:

Post a Comment