The North Tower #32: Fanfiction and Literary Tradition
Hi everybody. Sorry it’s been so long (three weeks, though my ambition now that school’s started again is to write one article every other week, so it’s not that long really.). My computer got a virus and had a complete breakdown, which left me handicapped for over a week before I could get my hands on a restore CD and format my hard drive (yes, the infamous format c: we all know and fear. :-)) Lost a few files and *cough* borrowed programs, but things are mainly back on track. Ok, enough about that.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve laughed these past weeks as I read some of your feedback. You guys are very funny. I’ve received hundreds of tips for good fanfiction stories and different archives, which will make sure that I’ll never finish any of my school work. 🙂
Anyway, I know some people didn’t like the idea of a fanfiction article and have begged me to write a normal NT this time. I had planned for my fanfiction/Shipping article to be a two-parter however, and since a lot more people have said they really liked the subject, I’ll go ahead and finish what I’ve started. So, for those of you who don’t like this theme, I’ll have to beg your indulgence until next article, which will be a traditional NT on the subject of HBP.
Last week I did a basic outline of romantic writing and romantic fanfiction in general. Today I wanted to show how many of the HP-fanon pairings are based on well-established cultural and literary archetypes, and how each fits into a specific way to represent love that has been around for a long time. Let’s start with one of the most common ones.
1) The Attraction of Opposites
Most romantic writing has at least some of this archetype in it, even if it’s not the principal theme (including script writing, just think Angel and Buffy, or Rachel and Ross). Classic romance writing draws heavily on it, increasing the attraction of the main characters by making them different, mentally and physically. He’s tall, dark, tanned, experienced, hardened by life, older, with hard muscles—shes short, blonde, pale, innocent, naive, young and very soft—to show an obvious example. The more different, the more attraction—pure physics. Emphasis is put on the difficulty of understanding the other, fascination of the unknown and a lot of fighting to keep up the energy. An Attraction of Opposites-couple is often very passionate and fights rather than talk things out (Buffy and Spike anyone?).
Ron and Hermione are an obvious choice for this type of scenario. The canon characters are always bickering and there certainly seems to be some difficulty for the two to understand each other, especially when it comes to feelings and such. They are very different, both physically and mentally: Ron is tall, Hermione’s not (there’s nothing in canon to indicate that she’d be particularly short, but she’s not described as tall at least). Ron’s very into Quidditch, Hermione’s a book worm. Ron has six brothers and sisters, Hermione’s an only child. Ron’s hot-headed, Hermione’s logical and cool. Ron’s a bit reckless, Hermione thinks before she does something, and so on. Fanon tends to enhance these differences, making Ron into more of a jock and Hermione into more of a mental genius than they are in canon. Fanon-Hermione also tends to be very short, and very soft and curvy to underline her femininity, whereas fanon-Ron tends to grow quite a bit of muscle. 🙂
2) The Star-crossed Lovers / The Soul in Two Bodies
The most prominent example of this archetype in English literature is probably Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet. You all know the story—two people meet, fall hopelessly in love and often reach a very unhappy end because some major thing prevents them from being together. This love is eternal, transcends death and cant be stopped by anything. The couple is often referred to as soulmates. This archetype usually draws heavily on the Attraction of Opposites-theme, at least for things that have to do with appearance and circumstance. Crucial to this theme is that there is something big that prevents the lovers from being together. It can be race (take any movie where one is white and one is black), status in society (rich-poor, noble-commoner, e.g. Pretty Woman, or Ever After), families and friends standing in the way (e.g. Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story), some fact of life (the guy’s a priest, they’re actually brother and sister, one or both are married…) or just plain old magic/fate (Buffy-Angel and the curse, anyone?). This archetype puts the etymological value back in passionate, which originally means painful, suffering (think Passion of the Christ) and that’s what gives it its intensity, I think.
For a soulmates-scenario, there’s no questioning that the couple should be together and the description of their love can keep an intensity and a pure romantic feeling that other archetypes often have a hard time reaching. This is possible simply because the couple won’t ever get together. The love story will never have to stand against the worst romance killer of them all—everyday life. Notice that once a Star-crossed lovers/ Soul in two bodies-couple gets together for real, the story will either end (as in fairy tales), or one or both in the couple will: A) die, B) disappear off the show (e.g. in a soap opera), C) become extremely dull. A description of star-crossed lovers can’t survive for them to be together and happy. They’re like two magnets, once they are put next to each other and cling together, there’s no more power. It’s only while they are kept away from each other by force and try to get together that you can get some juice out of it. Which means that this kind of scenario needs to end either with a And they lived happily ever after or a tragic separation where their love will always live on etc.
In HP-fandom, the two most illustrative examples I’ve seen are Redeemed-Draco Malfoy/Ginny Weasley (alternatively Redeemed Draco/Hermione) and Young-Snape / Lily Evans. The characters in these fics are usually pure fanon creations of the change-variety (i.e What would this character be like if this and this happened? or How was this character before and what happened to make him/her the way he/she is now?). Redeemed-Draco is thus Draco Malfoy turned good and remorseful by something (usually the death of his mother) and Young-Snape is a good-hearted Snape at the time before he joined the Death Eaters. Both pairings are usually based on the social barrier-theme as well as drawing heavily on the Opposites attract with the Slytherin-Gryffindor confrontation. In the Snape/Lily-fics, the reason Snape turned into a cynic bastard in canon is of course the loss of his soulmate and love of his life (usually). 🙂
3) Meeting of the Minds
The Meeting of the Minds (theres a great fic called that over at fanfiction.net by the way, by Helga von Nutwimple. I greatly recommend it to anyone who likes the Snape/Hermione pairing) is in a way a variation of the Soul in two bodies-scenario. The difference is that instead of an instantaneous, complete and overwhelming sense of belonging together, the couple are drawn to each other by a mutual understanding of how the other one works and thinks. The two people are apart from most other character in the series somehow because of their intelligence and it’s mainly the intellectual understanding and kinship that makes the relationship work. The Meeting of the Minds-archetype is less common and more difficult to write than the other two because it requires a greater degree of intelligence and wit in the handling. An Opposites attract-plot can run a lot on pure energy, with fighting, misunderstandings and all sorts of love-hate themes. The Soulmates-plot doesn’t necessarily need a well-constructed backstory to make the attraction plausible—the couple loves each other because they were fated to. End of story. In a Meeting of the Minds-plot, however, the storytelling needs to reflect the more subtle nature of the relationship. It should be witty, logical, well constructed and the reader must understand why the people are attracted to one another. (Not to say that there aren’t incredibly well-written and incredibly crappy stories of all three varieties. A good writer is a good writer. Simple as that.)
The prominent HP-example for this kind of archetype is the Snape/Hermione pairing. It’s more often than not mixed with at least the Opposites attract-theme (sometimes also the Soulmates-one, see for example Where Your Loyalties Lie by Tater Chip Girl orRising Celestial by x_fiery_aries_x over at Ashwinder). Snape is usually very tall and Hermione very short for example. Then there’s of course the whole Teacher-student = forbidden-fruit-situation if you need an obstacle, and some sexgod/sexgoddess-stuff thrown in for fuel. 😉 The main thought is that they are well suited for each other because they’re equals as far as intelligence goes—and that there are few others that are as smart as they. The intelligence they display in canon is enhanced (sometimes to the point of unreal genius) and frequent references to NEWT scores are made. Contrary to e.g. a Ron-Hermione pairing, or a Harry-Hermione, or a Harry-Ginny, or a Ginny-Draco, or most other pairings actually, their relationship usually grows out of some intellectual task rather than a dangerous situation. Working together is almost a rule, solving some difficult problem as well (A complete cure for Lupin’s lycanthrophy has been invented god knows how many times in these stories.).
The main difference to the other two models though, is that the Meeting of the Minds has a much greater tolerance for the every day life romance killer. Fics usually have Snape and Hermione getting together through physical attraction (opposites attract) but have the relationship develop through conversations and spending time together in an everyday-life situation. The attraction can, if the storytelling is skillfully handled, actually survive a sequel or a story set at a time when they’re already married/together without throwing in new obstacles to the relationship itself and without it getting boring. I still havent seen an Attraction of Opposites or a Soul in two bodies that has managed that in a satisfying way. (If you have, please point the way.)
Mix and Match
These three archetypes are not all there are (naturally), but they’re some of the most common ones. Take a moment to think through couples in books you’ve read or seen on TV or films you’ve watched, and I think you’ll recognise these models. They’re well established in our culture and therefore also in the expressions of that culture, such as literature, commercials, TV and film, even music. I challenge you to find one example of a fictional couple that has nothing of any of these three models in it.
Naturally, fictional couples aren’t usually pure versions of only one archetype. The Attraction of Opposites is almost always present, even if it’s only in subtle ways like colours (have you thought about the fact that red and green are the colours opposite each other on a colour circle, the same way black and white are, for example?) difference of opinion, sex, (doesn’t work in slash-fics though :-)) height, origin or interests. Your average soap-opera or TV-series will usually have both mixed couples and one couple for each archetype. Take Buffy (sorry, but you know that I’m a Buffy-fan by now :-))—where you have Buffy and Angel for Star-crossed lovers, Buffy and Spike and Xander and Anya for Opposites attract and Willow and Tara for Meeting of the Minds (in this case, magical minds).
Harry Potter fanfiction works in pretty much the same way. Depending on which fanon-version of the characters a writer chooses to use, different combinations can go into different models. A Redeemed-Draco can be the hero of a Star-crossed lovers-fic, whereas a more canon-like Draco can be the hero of an Opposites attract-fic. The fact that JKR herself doesn’t focus on romance in her books gives each fanfiction writer the freedom of deciding how her characters would react in a romantic situation and the freedom of modifying the character to their needs. HP-fanfiction not only follows the lines of JKR’s fictional universe, it also follows the lines of long literary and cultural traditions. It’s a most interesting literary genre, being a fictional response to other fiction (most responses to fiction are non-fiction) and not only using the universe of the original writer (here, JKR) but expanding it, changing it, creating something new from something already in existence—which is, in a way, at the same time, exactly what literature has always done. It used to be rewrites of old mythological and historical stories (like Corneille’s Tite et Bérénice or Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) Then there were rewrites of more recent stories (like Clueless, which is a modern version of Jane Austen’s Emma, or The Lion King, which is basically Disney’s version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet). With fanfiction, we have a continuation of this tradition, and though it’s not published (at least not in book format) and the quality of the stories vary, I think it’s only fair to recognise it as a popular and interesting type of literature—it’s its own genre.
See you next time, for a going through of Blood and Princes.
Ps. For a funny and poignant analysis of the Snape/Hermione ship, read the Granger/Snape story here.