Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Fan..

I thought we’d talk about literary fandom this week. Last week, I linked a post I’d found about the fans of Twilight. It was interesting, in that it gave an idea of how we tend to dismiss Other Fans as ridiculous without looking for the shared experience. The blogger is not a Twilight fan, neither am I, and it’s true I have trouble understanding why fans of the series don’t see the issues I see in the books, but the post had a tone that tended toward unkind. Not being a fan of the series, I missed a lot of the attitude in my first look. But I can catch it in any review of Tolkien because I'm fan. Not the dorky kind, the one who names her kids after characters or watches the awful movies Peter Jackson made from The Lord of the
Rings over and over. I’m kind that learned elvish and Old English in College, studies the Appendices and can tell you all about the First Age of Middle Earth. So, the dorkier kind, I guess. I never really put myself under the label: Tolkien Fan until I caught myself correcting someone on a tiny detail from the Silmarrillion, my husband looked at me and grinned, knowing I’d have to see it now. So I’m developing a sympathy for Harry Potter fans, and Twilight fans. It’s not Tolkien, but there is something similar in the way all fans relate to their books. For me the real relationship was possible because there was a whole mythology, there was depth and meaning and intention, along with a story to follow and characters to love. I like knowing that there is information I’ll never know, I like the grandness of it all and the obsessiveness of the author. I like being able to fall into a world that is real enough to believe in. But there are other reasons books have fans. What is similar? What’s different?


  1. I think for most people the most important reason for being a 'fan' of a particular story is whether the story generates a personal investment of some kind. For instance, I suspect that most 'hardcore fans' of a particular story or character encountered their story early on in their reading/viewing career and found it to be the most engaging story in their experience to date. From then on, it sort of becomes the 'benchmark' by which they judge other stories, and they retain a nostalgic fondness for it even as they develop into a more mature consumer of fiction. Speaking for personal experience, I know most of the things I consider myself a 'big fan' of are things I encountered at a relatively young age (i.e. Godzilla).

    But even more important the 'nostalgic, grandfather-clause' factor, I think there has to be something in the story that speaks to a particularly strong longing or emotion in the reader. 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight' are so popular, I think, because they hit on universal (or at least currently ubiquitous) emotions: friendship, love, sacrifice, and coming-of-age for Harry Potter, sappy, slavish, shallow-yet-safe romance for Twilight (apologies to 'Twilight' fans). And if they could tap into these things with flare and humor and creativity, well, so much the better.

    So, to summarize, people tend to become fans when they find a story that 'adheres' particularly well with their own personality, wants, and feelings. Typically, this includes a mixture of early discovery (so the fandom and the personality develop simultaneously), a particularly engrossing or personal theme, and some flare or eye-catching elements to pull you in and keep you interested.

  2. Wow BT! Thanks for giving this so much thought! I completely agree that fandom is an emotional investment, but I'd disagree that most fans encountered their story in early reading, especially when you look at the myriads of adult fans or late-coming fans of various pop phenomena, for instance, I have a nostalgic fondness for S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, but I'm a Firefly diehard.

    I also agree that something has to stir in the reader, that stirring creates the fan, but I think you're unnecessarily unfair in your discriptions of what exactly attracts Twilight fans. Twilight, and the prevalence of supernatural romances in general, I think attracts fans because it gives the reader a chance to 'believe' in the supernatural, however distorted the form it takes. Harry Potter probably owes some of it's popularity to this as well. We are, right now, a culture bereft of magic and mystery. I think that HP and Twilight tap into this lack and feed it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I loved this post. And have had a lot of fun working up a response to it. :D

    I'd agree with BTanaka, though--for some of us at least, depending on the definition of 'early on'. I was 27 when I first read Harry Potter, and though I'd already read Austen and Dostoevsky and Hemingway, I'd never been really taught how to study literature. Reading HP and discovering literary analysis of it transformed me from a passive reader into an active one.

    And I definitely experienced it as 'the most engaging story in my experience to [that] date', and can relate to everything he says about 'From then on.' :)

    But maybe it's less a matter of the story having being introduced to us when we were young, and more a matter of the story being formative in some way.

  4. Oh, but about reasons for HP and Twilight fandom: Those works are certainly popular in part because they tap into universal emotions, but I don't think that's how they create hard-core fans. Not solely, anyway.

    The sappy, slavish bit about Twilight has less to do with Meyer's books, I think, than with Robert Pattinson's hair and shirtless Taylor Lautner mixed up with a pre-teen fan base.

    I do think there's something to the point about the safety of the Edward/Bella romance. Passion and chastity aren't often combined in our culture, and a lot of women yearn instinctively for men who temper intense desires with respect for the female body and emotions--and for tradition, too. Safety is a basic human need; we ache for it viscerally, and it's terribly hard to find in romantic relationships nowadays.

    Twilight isn't great literature, but it isn't as bad as it's made out to be, either. Meyer's saga rather powerfully illustrates the awakening and development of conscience, for instance. And for all the sloppy prose, I found the books gave me some vivid and beautiful images to ponder. (No, I'm not talking about Edward's chest. Or Jacob's. :P)

    But I definitely agree that both HP and Twilight fandoms arise in strong part because they offer magic and mystery to the myth-starved modern soul.

  5. Oh, dear. I'm in both camps. Watch the movies over and over again (I do love them, for what they are!) and know the appendices and parts of the Sil. even better than the bulk of the Lord of the Rings. Does that make me dorkiest?

    Though I never learned elvish and/or Old English in college, I aspire to it! One day, C., one day . . .

    But, safe to say, I'd never name a child after a LotR character. Though. I would name one something in Old English. Hm.

  6. A thought: I feel as though there can be more than one type of fandom.

    For instance, I'm a huge fan of Sailor Moon, but not in the same way I'm a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings. You could say I spent much more of my quarter-century-life absorbed in Sailor Moon (I've got volumes upon volumes of fanart, and a healthy bit of fanfiction), but I'd sacrifice Sailor Moon to the fire if I had to choose between it and Tolkien's world.

    There is a why to the difference here, but I don't have enough time at the moment to attempt to unpack it.

  7. Jenna,
    I think you're right about it havng less to do with age than formation..periods of transition might lead to fandom if we find thr 'right' book at the right time.. and now I'm thinking we shuld spend a week or two on popular fantasy and the soul starved for mystery..

  8. Christie,
    I think it DOES make you Dorkiest! :)

    Seth and I were just discussing the varying degrees of fandom..and how it varies even in regards to the same in Jenna may find a lot to ponder in Twilight, she may obsess over potential for depth, while another fan may obsess just as much over the potential for an "OMG he KISSED HER!!!" moment. They're both fans, but they're fans of two different aspects, and in two very different ways..(sorry to use you in the example, Jenna.)