I have been lurking in this discussion, though I definitely have some
opinions which Cai's post has prompted me to share. Warning - long
ramble ahead, however, I have some personal experience with some of
these issues which will hopefully offer some insights.
Cai Cherie wrote:
>This is an unexpectedly interesting issue and I have found myself giving it alittle more thought than I'd originailly anticipated. From what I can see, its not quite a black and white issue, and its in the shades of grey that things become fascinating.
I agree completely.
>Bluntly, I find -most- fan fic unreadable. Why? Well, anyone who is willing to forgo their own world-building possibilities for someone else's, on a whole, is often either lacking in, or unsure of, their own vision.
<some good analogies snipped for brevity>
Again I agree. I have never been a fan of fan fiction. However, like
many Tolkien fans, I often have wondered what happened in the parts he
skims over or did not write about. And yes, I have written about some
of those things, primarily for myself. I even had one short story from
the point of view of Galadriel returning to Valinor which was published
in Amon Hen. I had written it for my own enjoyment and my love of
Tolkien's character, and only submitted it after I saw that similar
things were published.
For over a year, I participated in "roleplay" bulletin boards on a
Tolkien website. This consisted of making up one or more characters in
Tolkien's world and writing stories with others who would then post and
write their character's actions and point of view. Naturally, most of
what was written there (including my own) was pretty dreadful, but the
point was that here was a group of people who loved Tolkien's world so
much they wanted to be a part of it. There were some good writers on
the board, though, and we eventually found each other. One friend and I
wrote a story that followed the lives of two elves who were among the
others sent out with Glorfindel to look for Frodo. When it turned into
a love story, we did research in the Laws and Customs among the Eldar
essay in HoME to get some ideas about the marriage customs of elves.
The story also went into the battles between Lothlorien and Dul Guldur
during the War of the Ring, something I've always wanted to know more
I also participated in a thread about the elves crossing the Helcaraxe,
for which, again, those of us writing all referred to Sil and HoME,
though this was much more difficult to write, I think, because Tolkien
had written so little about it and we were scared to death to go off
into too many strange tangents and risk doing something to desecrate the
work of an author we revered.
Was it good fiction? Would Tolkien have approved of any of it? I am
sure the answer is no on both counts. Thinking back, I know there were
some things I would like to change if I were interested in doing
anything more with it, which I am definitely not. But it was not only a
lot of fun, I think it helped me as a writer because I got used to
sitting down and dashing off three or four single spaced pages in an
evening. There was very little pressure to make it perfect, because we
were doing this for fun, knowing that there was no remote chance of
publication. A few people on the website followed the story and enjoyed
it, though I think we would have kept writing even if no one was
reading. My main writing partner did some excellent work and I would
read her post, and then get so many ideas that my fingers could barely
keep up with my brain. As a writing exercise and just for the sheer
enjoyment of having my own character in Middle-earth, the experience was
Ultimately, I got burned out on this sort of writing for many reasons,
not the least of which was that I was working on some other writing of
my own. As some of you are aware, I had originally hoped to turn the
story of Beren and Luthien into a ballet, but this was not something the
Tolkien Estate was interested in. My adaptation could I suppose be
called "fan fiction" in the loosest sense of the word and I greatly
enjoyed working on this (I still have every page of Tolkien's Letters
and his biography that mentions the story bookmarked with a post-it).
The fact that the Tolkien Estate said "no" was one of the greatest
blessings I have experienced as a writer. I had so much respect for
Tolkien's story that it limited my own creativity, though I did have to
greatly adapt the story (streamlining, cutting out events and
characters, etc. As George Balanchine said, "There are no
brothers-in-law in ballet.").
We still had a ballet to put on, and this change freed me to take the
story in some new directions while retaining Tolkien's themes of love
and loss. I had never tried to write my own fantasy because I believed
it was simply too difficult - I did not have it in me to create a
world. (To quote Cai, I was both "lacking in" and "unsure of" my own
vision.) And certainly, I couldn't even come close to what Tolkien did,
so why bother at all? To make a very long story short, the ballet The
Willow Maiden was a success, the novel based on the ballet (and greatly
expanding upon it) is nearly complete in a first draft, and I don't
think any of this would have been possible if I hadn't gotten in some
good practice working in Tolkien's world.
Moving from writing in someone else's world to writing in my own has
unlocked my creativity as a writer in ways that spills over into my
other, real-world fiction. Of course "my" world is not truly mine
either - in addition to Tolkien I have many other influences including
Norse mythology. I am much less socially conservative than was Tolkien,
and this was always difficult for me writing in his world and trying to
respect the choices he made though they might not have been my
choices. Now, I can write something that reflects my own
sensibilities, not those of someone else.
In short, fan fiction and the like definitely has its uses, but I
believe, based on my own personal experience, that a real "grown up"
writer does not rely on someone else's world.
Willow Maiden website now up at:
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