Fan Fiction or Intellectual Violation?

There are numerous POV’s when it comes to fan fiction, from authors who fiercely protective of their work and forbid it to those who love it and allow open season when it comes to their mythos and characters, and everything in between. There is some high quality fan fiction out there and even people who have landed book deals on the back of their achievements, but my opinion has always been that is you are going to write 20,000 words why not put it towards your own manuscript and vision?

As a fan, if I knew that an author didn’t want fan fiction featuring their work I would refrain, from a simple sense of respect for them. Writing it anyway, out of some passion for their characters or world, would be sort of like stalking a girl who didn’t want you in her life to show her how much you cared! If I ever got to the point of inspiring people enough to have them write fan fic based on my work I would be flattered, but where I might get a bit protective would be if people were using my ideas in a way completely contrary to the spirit of what my work stood for. I think that is pretty wrong, and not something I would ever do to anyone or want done to me.

That is what I feel is happening here:

Well, there’s two sides to every story, or to quote a less banal maxim, history is written by the winners. That’s the philosophy behind “The Last Ringbearer,” a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of “The Lord of the Rings”) and told from the point of view of the losers. The novel was written by Kirill Yeskov, a Russian paleontologist, and published to acclaim in his homeland in 1999. Translations of the book have also appeared in other European nations, but fear of the vigilant and litigious Tolkien estate has heretofore prevented its publication in English.

In Yeskov’s retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science “destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!” He’s in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become “masters of the world,” and turn Middle-earth into a “bad copy” of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron’s citadel, is, by contrast, described as “that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic.”

I know this sort of revisionism is fashionable, but it does leave a bad taste in my mouth. Personally, I can’t see an issue with stories of “Good vs Evil”, and while there is definitely a place for more nuanced works with shades of grey and moral ambiguity (George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series is one of the greatest fantasy works ever written), why not write your own instead of leveraging off the work of someone who set out to create a particular type of writing?

I have read all the criticisms of LOTR, that it is sexist and racist and reactionary, but I don’t agree. You always find those things in anything if you look for them, and there is no doubt Tolkien was a product of his time. But, if you actually read the books, the heroes are not the aristocratic white powerful males, the heroes are people like humble and small hobbits or the woman who refuses to be bound by the roles foisted upon her by her society and destroys the most dangerous creature in Middle Earth. The established order is powerless to stop Sauron, and the whole theme of the book is of change and of the old order passing away…hardly reactionary stuff. It is a story where individual choices matter, where there is not simply some elite that determines the course of the world but where anyone, no matter how inconsequential they might seem, can make a difference.

LOTR is a revolutionary book, and I think it is under appreciated as such. It is not some vastly powerful magic wielder or muscled barbarian or extraordinarily disciplined army or the intervention of capricious Gods that brings down Mordor, but the values of love and loyalty and altruism and compassion. Imagine if any of those who had the chance had given Gollum what they believed he deserved, instead of the compassion Gandalf spoke of?

The science of Mordor and Isengard was not the sort of science that seeks to understand the world and to be good stewards of it, that seeks to make life better for all people and bring enlightenment and understanding. It was the science that dehumanises, that doesn’t consider the consequences, the science that seeks to bend everything to a political end. Both Sauron and his pale imitator, Saruman, seek to remake the world in their own image and absorb the individual into the collective. The Ringwraiths are the eventual fate of all those under the Dark Lord’s dominion, and it is why we don’t see the Orcs as individuals, because they labour under the tyranny of Sauron’s will.

It’s a fascinating concept, I guess, and I will probably read it. But, I know who I think deserves higher praise out of the creator and the corrupter of the breathtaking vision that is Middle Earth.

One thought on “Fan Fiction or Intellectual Violation?

  1. Bobbie Metevier

    I think it depends . . . when writing in genre almost everything can be considered fan fiction. Consider the tropes–vampires, zombies, werewolves. Someone was the first to create these staples, right? Granted they’ve merged and evolved–folklore included–but still . . . It’s all been done before.

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