Guest Post: On the PotterMore Epilogue and Good Endings

From ChrisC — Enjoy!

Getting it Right: Some thought’s on the Pottermore Epilogue, Canon Narrative, and the Importance of Endings.

I’m curious.  How did everyone else feel about the Quidditch epilogue that J.K. Rowling wrote on her Pottermore website, the one that was told from the point of view of Rita Skeeter?  Did you think it was good, did it strike you as bad?  Or were you somewhere in between?

My own two cents?

For the record, I thought it was unnecessary, really.  For one thing, nothing is really added to the characters we already know, or at least nothing that broadens them. They are never given a whole new dimension that can be ascertained whenever going back to the original books.  They remain static, or at least the same as they were in the closing of Book 7.  All manner of things are still well, it seems, nothing more.  We don’t even get an ending with the word “Scar”.  In other words, I’m just not seeing any of the characters progress.  In further words, the reason for that is because it seems the characters have either finished, or just run out of things to say, do, tell, or show.

Reading the addition does however bring up (at least for me) certain matters that have been on my mind lately.  You see, with all of the extras being tossed our way; first by Pottermore; then talk of a Newt Scamander film; even (if you can believe it) the possibility of a play centering on Harry’s early years with the Durslesy before the events of Book 1; all this makes me wonder just what kind of  the audience might attach to it all?

My own approach to all this is a bit more technical than most people in the aisles.  My only excuse what I’m about to say is that I’m a bookworm.  I like to think not just about my favorite stories, but also how they are made.  In fact, I contend that how a person views the writing of fiction is what determines how they judge any given work of fiction, whether it be stand-alone, limited-run, or an entire series.  A bit of thought should demonstrate the truth of what I mean.  Take this website for example.  It’s precisely “because” the Resident Hogpro Professor himself believes that Ms. Rowling writes in the same vein as the Inklings, and that a great deal of literature, both ancient and modern, is what Tolkien called Mythopoeic in nature, that he is able write and share opinions that he has.  A belief about fiction, or at least opinions on what is or isn’t a an entertaining read, is something most audiences form for themselves, even if they don’t think about it too much.  My beliefs help me determine why I think the Pottermore epilogue may as well not even exist in term of it’s importance.  With that in mind, the only way my lack of enthusiasm for the epilogue will at least begin to make some kind of sense (hopefully) is if I show how literary belief can effect the way a person receives the effects of a story.

The truth is I don’t just think the new epilogue was needless; I also worry about whether or not it’s part of trend in how stories are told, whatever the medium, and it’s not one that I think may good for the health of either storytellers or their audiences.  Like most readers who grew up before the advent of internet and worldwide fan bases, I was raised in a world where most books had beginnings, middles, and when the last page was turned and the book closed, that was considered that.  When the author wrote “The End”, they usually meant it 99% of the time.  Until very recently, this state of affairs was taken as a given in creative circles.  The writer told his or her story, the audience listened, watched, or read to the end, and that was literally all there was to it.  Tolkien never wrote with an eye toward a multi-part franchise in mind, and even Lewis meant for Narnia to have an actual close.

I don’t know whether or not this sounds old fashioned but I think there’s a distinct disadvantage in prolonging a work of fiction indefinitely.  From the purely practical side, the author runs the risk of audience fatigue if the story situation is dragged on for too long beyond a certain point, as it results in the flattening of character buildup and whatever tension has been used to generate the necessary suspense and interest up till then will soon dissipate as both the characters and main action fail to grow and progress.  The chief example of this kind of failure of storytelling, at least for me, would have to be modern comic books, especially of the superhero variety.  I’ll admit to never really being impressed with the genre, and the main reason is because the characters are given a beginning, followed by an interminable middle with no end or overall goal in sight.  That for me is the sign of poor writing.

The problem is how this ethic, for lack of a better word, of beginnings, and middles with no end seems to be a growing vogue in even the publishing industry.  Aside from the technical issues mentioned above, another reason I have issues with this open-ended ethic in writing is because of the way it denotes a fundamental lack of respect for the written word, and in particular the value that certain fictional characters in literature seem to possess.  I don’t how that must sound, yet I can’t help but feel one of the reasons certain stories last as long as they do is because of the inherent dignity contained in either the events of the narrative, or the characterization on display, whether these aspects be deliberate or otherwise.  The more I’ve studied various books, and reader responses to them, the center it all keeps circling around and back to, at least for the majority of readers, is because either the characters or situations display a kind of basic moral center combined with what can only be called the “Proper Artistic Display”.

The use of the word “proper” for denoting how well a story is told, or a character depicted is important, I think, for the way it suggests that in order to be successful, any potential “Inspired” story must get a more or less exact sequence of events.  The idea that a story has a “proper” sequence or characterization to follow is something I got from both the Inklings and, perhaps surprisingly, Stephen King.  In his nonfiction work On Writing, King makes the following statement about the nature of fiction:

“…My basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves.  The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course)…When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories were found things, like fossils in the ground, he said he didn’t believe me.  I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believed it.  And I do.  Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Gameboys.  Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.  The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground as possible.  Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell.  Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth.  Either way, short story or a thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same (King, 159-160, mass market paperback ed.)”.

For whatever reason, those words lit a light in my mind and have stuck with me ever since; a kind of “Ah-ha” moment were a puzzle piece falls into to place, and suddenly your graced with the ability to understand what was up till then and complex and inscrutable subject.  King, as it turns out, has some very definite ideas about how to compose a novel or short story, the golden rule of which was given just above.  On the nature of the structure of any given work of fiction, he writes:

“No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses.  To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools; air-hose, palm pick, perhaps even a toothbrush (King, ibid)”.

What King does next is make a very valuable distinction, I think, between types of writing.  In the following paragraph, I’m willing to make the case that, whether he knows it or not, King brings up the distinction Coleridge made between works that are the product of “Imagination”, and those that are the work of mere “Fancy”.  In King’s vocabulary Story (or sometimes the fossil metaphor) seems to be his word for “Imagination”, while “Plot” epitomizes the nature of “Fancy” (insertions for emphasis mine).

“Plot (Fancy, sic) is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer.  You can liberate a fossil from hard ground, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is going to break almost as much stuff as it liberates.  It’s (Fancy) clumsy, mechanical, anti-creative (sic).  Plot (Fancy) is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.  The story which results is apt to feel artificial and labored (King, ibid)”.

What’s so gratifying about that last paragraph is how almost seems to approach a Coleridgian idiom as he brings his point about the different between Plot (Fancy) and Story (Imagination) home to bear.  Whether or not King is familiar with any of Coleridge’s works, it’s interesting to note that he seems to hew close to the Poet’s definition of good fiction and good writing.

In a way, what King says cuts right to the heart of my problem with Ms. Rowling’s so called epilogue.  In short, it’s mere “invented” uninspired Fancy, with little to no need for it to make the original story work.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is the working hypothesis here.

My allusion to the words “Inspiration” and “invention”  takes me to my second list of quotation’s that have been sort guides for my thinking about stories.  This time from both Lewis and Tolkien.  What makes it all so brilliant is that they basically say the same thing as King did, and possibly years before he was even born.  On page 138 of the first collective biography of the group, The Inklings, Humphrey Carpenter juxtaposes a series of carefully selected quotes from both Tolkien and Lewis, in essence making an artificial, yet some how natural, artistic dialogue (one almost wishes Carpenter had constructed his entire book on these lines).  What they say was another of those “Ah-ha” moments.  Before going into the relevant quotes, I’d like to cite one more from King, as it forms a natural lead in to both Tolkien and Lewis.

First King (italics mine),

“My job isn’t to help (the characters, sic) work their way free, or manipulate them to safety – those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of Plot – but to watch what happens and write it down.

“The situation comes first.  The characters – always flat and unfeatured, to begin with – come next.  Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate.  I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way.  On the contrary, I want them to do things their way.  In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized.  In most, however, it’s something I never expected.  For a suspense novelist, this is a great thing.  I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but also its first reader.  And if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning suspense (King, 161)”.

Now compare the above with the relevant Inkling passages from Carpenter (italics, once again, mine):

Lewis: “How does any author think of anything?  I don’t think that conscious invention plays a very great part in it.  For example, I find in many respects that I can’t direct my imagination; I can only follow the lead it gives me.”

Maj. Warren Lewis: “Absolutely true.  I mean, when I picture the country house I’d like to have if I were a rich man, I can say that my study window opens on a level park full of old timbers, but I can only see undulating ground with a fur-topped knoll.  I can fix my mind, of course, on the level park, but when I turn to the window again after arranging my books, there’s that damn knoll once more.”

Dr. Humphrey Havard: “What do you suppose is the explanation, or the significance?  I imagine Jung would ascribe it to the collective unconscious, whose dictates you are obliged to follow.”

Lewis: “Jung’s archetypes do seem to explain it, though I’d have thought Plato’s would do just as well.  And isn’t Tollers saying the same thing in another way when he tells us that Man is merely the sub-creator and that all stories originate with God?”

Tolkien: (grunts in agreement)

Lewis: “But the real point…is that it does happen.  You see, I come more and more to the conclusion that all stories are waiting, somewhere, and are slowly being recovered in fragments by different human minds according to their abilities – and of course being partially spoiled in each writer by the admixture of his own mere individual “invention” (Carpenter, 138)”.

What we have here is two writers removed from each other by about a decade or half, each of them expressing the exact same view about the nature of writing in similar language.  To see two authors who never met share the same literary view, to me at least, can only mean that their shared belief is in fact a tradition in the history of literature that both of them draw on as part of their philosophy.  The possible meaning all this may have for Ms. Rowling’s epilogue can be gleaned from the word “invention”.  With the hindsight of context, it’s pretty clear Lewis uses the word “invention” in the same way that King used to word “Plot”, as a variant on Coleridge’s “Fancy”.  I’d argue, again, that she was “inventing” as opposed to being “inspired” to write, though for what reason I’m not quote sure, but I do wonder if whether or not it has to do with the attention span of a lot of modern audiences (various fan cultures especially, and if so then that just says something sad about our ability not just to read fiction, but also comprehend reality!).

J.R.R. Tolkien puts this whole incident into perspective best, I believe,

“Although you may feel your story to be profoundly “true”, all the details may not have that “truth” about them.  It’s seldom that the inspiration (if we are choosing to call it that) is so strong and lasting that it leavens all the lump, and doesn’t leave much that isn’t mere uninspired “invention” (Carpenter, ibid)”.

That quote, aside from his Fairy Stories essay, shows just how Coleridgian a writer Tolkien is.  He equates “inspiration” with the “Imagination”, and, like Lewis, uses the word “invention” to describe “Fancy.  What Tolkien is talking about above is something I’ve had first hand experience of.  That moment when a book which has up till that point been barreling along suddenly falls flat on it’s face.  The situation goes from Sublime to subpar, or the protagonist starts to act “out of character”.  It’s that moment when the author shows just how human he or she can be by loosing the narrative thread, the one that was leading them through their particular labyrinth.

The best example of this happening in a book that I know of is the concluding chapters of Huck Finn.  The beginning and middle pull out all the stops at developing both Huck and Jim into two of the greatest heroes of Western Lit.  Past chapter 31, however, they characters to caricatures, almost burlesques, and thus loose just about every shred of dignity they had gained up till then.  This is because somehow Twain felt it necessary to enforce some humor into the proceedings.  Now to be fair, Twain got his start in literary burlesques, and even his early work is still very good (in particular is the story of the Sparrow and the Nut).  However, the story of Huck Finn was of a nature that it was really trying to go beyond just “burlesque” and into something a lot more fuller.  Satire, maybe?  In any case, I’d argue that because of this unnecessary humor and padding, the ending as it exists in the book is sort of a washout.  To be honest, I think the closest any die-hard Twain fan is going to get to what the original ending could have been like, then that would be the PBS American Playhouse adaptation of Twain’s masterwork.  Tom Sawyer is introduced back into the proceedings again in the PBS version, and he does brings some humor, however Huck in this version still keeps in mind all he’s learned throughout his excursions, and actually winds up fighting back with Tom (all I can say is, if your not cheering at least a bit inside etc).

I think it’s also telling that Tolkien’s words above can also serve as a critique not only of Rowling Quidditch epilogue, but also certain character elements of Dumbledore (I just think that’s the one thing about the books that should be changed is all).  Also, Tolkien himself echoes King’s sentiments about the art of composition.  Speaking of the writing of LOTR as a whole Tolkien admitted:

“…how much of it “came” ready made, and how much of it was conscious “invention”.  It’s very difficult to say.  One doesn’t, perhaps, identify the two elements in one’s mind as it’s happening.  As I recall, I knew from the beginning that it had to be some kind of quest, involving hobbits – I’d got hobbits on my hands, hadn’t I?…I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me.  The Black Riders were completely unpremeditated – I remember the first one, the one that Frodo and the hobbits hide from on the road, just turned up without any forethought.  I knew all about Tom Bombadil already, but I’d never been to Bree.  Trotter (the character who later became Aragorn, sic) sitting in the corner of the bar parlour was real shock – totally unexpected – and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo.  And I remember I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf’s failure to appear at Bag-End on September the twenty-second.  What’s more, I can tell you that there are quite a few unexplained things still lurking.  Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree: now what do you make of that?  I know it will play some important part in the story, but I can’t say what (Carpenter, ibid)”.

Examining the evidence, what we have is a writer in the late 20th century expressing views that remarkably match up with Coleridge, followed by to earlier authors who essentially back up the latter’s statements.  It’s all too neat to be coincidence, and as I’ve surmised, it all seems to point to a tradition of how writing works that seems to have managed to survive up to the present day, the same type of philosophy of writing espoused by Coleridge.

It’s just possible this all mildly interesting, yet the important question is does this have anything to do with that epilogue or am I just wasting everyone’s time?  The point of the epilogue (at least for me) is that it all has to do with what I said earlier about the idea that any good idea for a real story, one that’ actually entertaining, is that all the events of the narrative, characters, situations and major turning points are contained in that one brief moment of “Inspiration”.  It’s is just the writer’s job, as King said (with a little help from Lewis and Tolkien) to try and set down as much of the actual sequence of events that make up that Inspired story to the best of his or her abilities.  From my perspective, Rowling hasn’t been “Inspired” by any new revelation from either the characters or any other element in her story.  At least it doesn’t read that way to me.  It’s more like playing a game of catch up with old acquaintances than divulging any new or necessary.  In other words, the lack of anything important contained in the Pottermore epilogue tells that it was ultimately an “uninspired invention” rather than the case of an author with a really important story to tell.  I’m willing to go a bit further.  I’m willing to argue, that the epilogue doesn’t have to be considered Canon.  The reason for this is, again, because of the question of whether the elements in the work can be thought of as either “Inspired” or “invented”.  In my opinion, if the majority of a work can be considered “Inspired”, based partly on reader response and also on the overall coherence in terms of both situation and characterization, then it can be considered the “True” story the writer is working with.  Of the main seven books, there is perhaps just one element of characterization I’d revise (but that’s another story).

These aren’t easy ideas to swallow, and I don’t even know how much of the quotes from both King and the Inklings may even make any sense to whoever’s reading this.  Perhaps their ideas just make them look strange.  After all, it’s just fiction.  Besides, why get so carried away if an author decides to throw the audience an extra bone?  Well, such a hypothetical response begs the question.  Does fiction mean anything, or is it at all important?  What do you think?


Also, why on earth would you treat a group of fictional characters as if they were members of your family, instead of just letters and words on a page?


  1. waynestauffer says

    good thoughts all.
    i’m interested to know what you think, then, about the fan fiction/spin-off stories associated with the star wars stories…

  2. Wayne,

    The place of fanfic in writing is a question I’ve wondered about myself.

    For instance, what if a fan supplies a piece of writing that, regardless of inevitable differences of one writing style from another, fits in with the original story that inspired the fic? Could the original author be made to incorporate that piece in his or her own style? These are questions I don’t have all the answer to. However, my main belief still remains that fanfic most likely plays a vital yet limited role in terms of “getting as much of the fossil out of the ground as possible”.

    I think, as in the case of PBS Playhouse cited above, the fanfic author may be able, if extremely lucky, to maybe run across a bit of the story that was part of the original fossil. I’d like to stress however that that’s one big IF. Writing is a craft, but it’s also something that not everyone can do well. The ability to find a piece of the puzzle may not be the same as having the definite talent to use it. However, sometimes it may be possible, apparently, to bottle lightning. Here I’m thinking of the almost fanfic adaptation of Moby Dick made by Ray Bradbury and director John Huston. Bradbury called Melville’s tome “A masterpiece of bits and pieces”, by which he meant that some parts of the book worked, while a lot of it also needed editing, and perhaps even a re-write. So apparently that’s what Bradbury and Huston did. I have to say that in a choice between the 1956 film and the novel, and think the film does actually help streamline the story and make it understandable. I also feel the same about John Ford’s adapt of the Grapes of Wrath.

    I don’t know if the two examples I just cited should count as adapts, fanfics, or completions, but I will argue they more or less uncovered their respective fossils.

    Then there’s Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. That it can be called fanfic I don’t doubt. That is know how it may apply to the original Hamlet, I’m not so sure. However I will admit that Stoppard does underline the problems caused by people who ultimately refuse to take moral responsibility for their lives and destinies, so maybe there’s something in that angle.

    These are as far as I’ve got on thinking about fanfic. I owe most of this line of thought to a very helpful article by Sheenagh Pugh called The Democratic Genre. While I can’t say I agree with all her points, I do admit it’s what got me started thinking about the actual possibilities of the unofficial genre.

    The essay can be found here:

    In particular, the paragraph (and a half) that got my attention reads as follows:

    “Readers, however, have not always been content to play as passive a role as Rice would assign to them. Most of us can recall feeling vaguely bereaved by the end of a book, wishing it could go on and continuing the action in our heads – maybe even on paper. Or perhaps we have wished to change something about a book, feeling we actually understood a character better than the author did (presumably anathema in Rice’s mind). One of the more amusing examples of this is an afterword by V S Pritchett to a Signet Classic edition of Vanity Fair [6]. Pritchett, who is plainly more than a little besotted with Becky Sharpe, states outright “It is apparent that Thackeray is wronging her, and . at three points he is actually lying”. This is a fascinating concept. Thackeray is, after all, lying throughout the novel, from the moment he pretends that Becky ever existed at all – as, at moments, he cheerfully admits. He created her; she is, in his own words, the “famous little Becky Puppet” whom he, the puppeteer, will put back in her box when he is done with her. Thackeray, by the sound of him, would have had no truck with “death of the author” theories; this is the Author as God.

    “But Pritchett, as reader, does not accept that she can be put back in the box. Once created, she has her own reality, which her creator does not necessarily understand perfectly, or even better than a reader. He has not, after all, created her out of air (Pugh, Refractory, web)”.

  3. Wayne,

    Apologies, I just remembered your other question.

    I’ll admit, like a lot of others, I sorta wrote my own sequels in my head (though that’s where they remain). I won’t bore with details, I don’t want this to turn into that kind of thread, however I will admit I did read a few of the extended books that were published after the original 70s/80s trilogy, and they were entertaining. Whether or not they should be considered Canon, who can say?

    I realize now that I should have added something to the above essay which would have given a more balanced picture. I said there’s a difference between “Inspiration” and “invention”. That doesn’t mean invention doesn’t have it’s place. Of course it does. Just because a story is “consciously invented” doesn’t mean it can’t be good. If that were true, I wouldn’t have enjoyed R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. I’d now like to add basically that invention does have it’s place, and it can stand right alongside “Inspiration”. The only difference is this: invention, even at it’s best, can only be “good”. It take an act of Imagination or “Inspiration” to make a story even potentially great (and there’s no guarantee that an author can’t screw up an “Inspired” story, look at the original Moby Dick to get an idea of what I mean).


  4. I mostly came to chime in about Fanfic and a brilliant fanfic I read based on what you’re calling the “new epilogue” here.

    First, I don’t think I would call it an epilogue. In a lot of ways, I found it to be satire, underscored by the fact that she wrote it from Rita’s perspective. The entire story, to me, seems to poke fun at fandom’s endless need for information about where Harry and the Gang are now. Rita out-and-out states that that’s what she’s doing at the 2014 Quidditch World Cup.

    Second, Rita’s article has Teddy and Victoire snogging, which technically breaks the canon of the epilogue, when James catches them snogging and is surprised by the manner. If an article published three years prior to the epilogue mentioned them snogging, and was true, James wouldn’t be surprised.

    The fanfic I read ( talks about it as Rita’s article completely making things up. That clears up the timeline/canon error, and I think also shines a light on what might be JKR’s purpose. She’s completely making things up. The story is over as she envisioned it, but perhaps those in charge of Pottermore have her continuing to write more in the HP universe, just to keep traffic up on a frankly disappointing site.

  5. Rochelle,

    Just read the fanfic you posted. Not bad. In some ways I’ll it admit it strikes me as better than even Rowling’s Quidditch piece. However, even there, I’ll further admit it still strikes me as invention. While I clarified that invention has it’s place, this one, I think, can just remain unofficial and still non-canon. To be fair though, I do have to give credit to the author. It’s obvious he knows what he’s writing is really just a response and is really done as much for a lark as well as liking for the characters. He also shows a fair amount of talent, and hopefully he’ll find something to do with it. I’ll go further. Neil Gaiman once said that he thought it was impossible for most writer’s (those with a genuine “knack” or talent) not to at least dabble in fanfic before moving on to writing their own works.

    I’m actually sort of guilty of that myself, I’ll admit. Once with Discworld and once with Narnia, in fact.

    I can’t help thinking Gaiman may be onto something, and if so then it further solidifies the value (whatever it’s limits) of fanfic as at least a training ground. Although here I think it helps to stress the caution that has to be kept in mind especially with the possible abuses fanfic is subject. There’s a lot of people out there (I’ve come to conclude) who’d use fic as a means of power fantasy, rather than as a means of entertainment, or even enlightenment.

    The author of “Passing Fancy” manages to both avoid those pitfalls, while displaying some obvious writing chops, and showing he has what might be called the proper “Artist’s Respect for Character”. When I say respect for a character, I really mean just that the symbols or “images” that make up “Inspired” fiction have a value that shouldn’t be overlooked if the writer wants to make something of value. This is something I don’t think a writer like Percy Shelley was ever capable of. Sorry, rambling.

    Anyway, while I might think “Passing Fancy” is still non-canon, I think it can be used as a pretty good example of talented “invention”.

    I also agree that Ms. Rowling “may” have written that “epilogue” partly as a result of a satire and also because of “those in charge”. I think what were seeing here is a bit more than just an editorial suggestion or something like that, however. My worst fear is that Ms. Rowling might find herself contending with the modern “Marketing and Merchandise” mindset wherein the rule of thumb is to treat Art (even the Mona Lisa) as a product to “saturate” the market until every last possible cent of profitability is wrong from the Golden Goose of the hour, and then toss it away like a paper cup.

    I don’t know if that sounds paranoid or not, however it is possible that Ms. Rowling isn’t the only famous author who has had to deal with such problems. Neil Gaiman recently released a Sandman prequel for instance, and yet like the Pottermore piece, it doesn’t seem to add much to the characters and there’s little surprise or wonder to it (it also, I think, ruins the original entrance of “Didi” (longtime “Dreaming” know who I mean). And it may have been this similar mindset that led to King to pen a REALLY unnecessary sequel to one of his classics.

    Although that’s just speculation.

    …Sorry if I got off topic.

  6. Chris:

    She. The author of the fanfic (who isn’t me, btw), is a she.

    Her style of writing, and the only style of fanfic I appreciate, branches off from the original, staying true to the characters and themes, writing minor characters who aren’t fleshed out in the original. Keeptheotherone is particularly partial to Bill.

    Gaiman’s philosophy of fanfic is identical to my own. I’ve written nearly 250,000 words of fanfic, mostly for HP, on purpose as training grounds for “real” writing. I even wrote a blog post about it. (

    I agree that most fanfic isn’t worth the time it took to write, at least as far as intrinsic value is concerned. But some is. I’m lucky to have found a group of writers whose work does have this value for me.

    And of course JKR isn’t the only one to succumb to the “need” to write more stories in the same ‘verse. Hers is just the example dealt with here.

  7. Rochelle

    “She. The author of the fanfic (who isn’t me, btw), is a she.”

    Errmmmm, sorry about that! (goes beet red sinks below writing desk).

    Your blog article is interesting, and it’s you’ve no idea how gratifying it is to hear you mention the word archetype. When it comes to gauging the value of fanfic, I’d say what the reader is presented with is the problem of deciding whether a story is good, only doubled. The reason for that is it’s a fan addition to an already familiar, and possibly complete in itself, story. That makes finding diamonds in roughs all the more harder.

    My own approach to looking for good fanfic is to ask whether or not the particular “fossil” or archetype (if there even is one in any given case) is more or less fully unearthed, or does it seem like there is either more that could have been done with the original story, and maybe the original author missed this potential. The problem there is to know when to let the official work stand, and let fanfic remain unofficial.

    Also, apologies, but you mention the following:

    “And of course JKR isn’t the only one to succumb to the “need” to write more stories in the same ‘verse. Hers is just the example dealt with here.”

    I may have made a mistake. The way write it at least “sounded” like there was supposed to be a link to an article somewhere. Again, this may just be a misread on my part, if so, pay this last sentence no mind.


  8. waynestauffer says

    so, is it a reasonable observation that fan fiction, then, is an extension of that late childhood, early adolescent desire we all have to not want the fun to end? i’ve seen a meme that reads something like, “My problem with good literature is not that I want the characters to be real in my world. I want to be real in their world.” fan fiction seems to be a way of becoming real in that inspired world, of inventing a way to connect with the brilliance of the inspiration. having taught junior high English for a while, I’m familiar with a fair amount of adolescent/young adult lit, and it seems that fanfic is another form of adolescent/YA lit. a kind of phase in writing some of us go through. i daresay that no one is writing fanfic of the Casual Vacancy or Cormoran Strike novels… or of Michael Crichton’s novels, or John Gresham’s, or Neal Stephenson’s or others widely considered “adult fiction.”
    in reading your article, chris, i was prompted to think of the hundreds of spinoff stories that were written over the years that expand the star wars and star trek universes. Lucas and Roddenberry were pretty protective of their inspirations for a while, but then they relaxed some and exerted some control via publishers and certain “authorized” writers on the franchise. and the fanfic grew even more. and those “authorized” and fan fiction inventions do not seem to have diminished the brilliance of the inspiration in the originals or the demand for more of the stories.
    with the announcement of the new star wars movies being made, a shudder has shaken fandom because the filmmakers have commented that they felt no compulsion to make the new film scripts in any way consistent with any of the stories of fan fiction, however sensible and consistent they may be with the original inspiration. this potential for upsetting the invented universe is pretty big.
    as “artistes” it is easy toss the stones of criticism at the dollars and cents side of the publishing industry and sniff that, “they’re just doing it for the money, and will accept any old piece of writing if they think it will bring in more money.” and I readily concede than a majority of the inventions maybe should not be published. BUT there are those instances when a fan comes up with a piece that is hugely consistent with the inspiration and is very believeable within the inspired universe. if we don’t acknowledge any of it, we risk missing the good works and shutting down writers who are on the verge of inspiration in their own right.
    i am also reminded of the many many role playing games a la “Dungeons and Dragons” that resulted from readers’ wishes to enter Tolkien’s Middle Earth saga…what are they if not fan fiction? and of the Sherlock Holmes societies around the world who gather to engage in another game that is afoot.

  9. Wayne,

    You raise a lot of interesting questions, so I’ll try and tackle each one at a time.

    First, thanks for bringing up the internet meme, as it is an actual display of a phenomenon I’d been noticing not just in fanfic, but in the various fan cultures out there, and not just ones limited to Rowling or Tolkien.

    The phrase “I want to be real in their world” is really one of a handful of audience responses I’ve noticed over the years. While I’m not close to knowing how many responses there are to various stories, I do believe that it’s possible to classify fan responses into either those that can be classified as healthy, or else not. To be fair, people aren’t books, and it’s generally not a good idea to judge them by just a few words alone, especially without more info regarding their actual beliefs. So while I admit that while the the meme writer’s choice of words tie into a genuine concern of mine, I think it’s safe to assume he at least meant well. My genuine concern, however, is that people are taking statements like that to an unhealthy degree. Here’s what I mean. There are at least two types of unhealthy responses to fiction, both of which may be inter-related. One may be called the escapist response, the other is best summed up by another meme, “Don’t feed the Trolls”. The reason I think there may be a relation between Internet Trolling and escapism stems from reading and watching various fan reviews on the net, and seeing the Trolling phenomena separated from genuine artistic criticism by a paper thin line. Where critics like Roger Ebert or T.S. Eliot would bring a genuine sophistication and knowledge to their reviews, leaving the reader or viewer with a better understanding not just of the book or film under review, but also, if your were lucky, a brief philosophical insight, or knowledge of how such a book or film related to history. All of that seems to be vanishing from critical discourse, and to our detriment, I think. If I have to give a concrete example from among the (literally mind-numbing dozens) I’ve witnessed, then maybe this fan article about “Shared Universes in Superhero Movies”.

    Now, there are a few things about this article that I find troubling. On the surface it looks harmless enough. Certainly it may not seem all that important to a contemporary reader. However it goes back to what I said about a loss of certain elements of classical knowledge that both artists and critics used to guide themselves by. Look at Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” or “T.S. Eliot’s Tradition and Individual Talent”, then go back and read the above linked article, and the drop in both knowledge, and therefore quality, should be obvious. True, it’s an expression of opinion only, but is there any value in it? That actually is an important question, I think, really. Although I know many reading this will have the typical modern response that I’m “taking this way to seriously”. Well, that may be, but then why does the guy who wrote the piece on shared universes so serious about his article, then? It’s useless to voice any opinion is you truly think it’s valueless. This is sort of the quandary I believe artistic criticism and knowledge is in right now, and I further believe that it stems from a gradual loss of a lot of knowledge that was once considered essential not just for criticism, but also for real life. Indeed, I’m even willing to believe that it’s this loss that is responsible for the modern form of escapist-trolling I’ve seen so much of. That, very poorly expressed, is why such sentiments as wanting to “be in the fiction” tend to make me nervous. I worry that the final step in this escapism will be the inability to distinguish fiction from reality. I don’t know whether any of that sounds paranoid or not. Still, for all that, I do continue to hold out hope for intelligent fanfic to make some valuable, partial contributions to art. I will also say that the Baker Street Irregulars at their best represent the kind of classic, knowledge informed, fan appreciation that does seem to be endangered nowadays.

    As for whether or not actual published YA stories count as fanfic? I’m not sure. Technically, while the fact of publication may not guarantee a story is “True” in Tolkien’s use of the word, I think the fact of publisher recognition “may” at least count for something, though I admit I don’t know what, and I’m ill to rethink this part a bit more.

    As for why no one writes fic based off Grisham, Crichton or even the Strike books? Well, I think part of the answer may have to do with how “advanced” a form of fiction each writer represents. The point of fanfic is exactly because it is meant only as “beginner’s tryouts”. Gaiman’s point was that fanfic is how most writers “start”, his point (and Rochelle’s if I read her correct) is that the talented writer should “advance” onto to their own (semi) original material.

    In terms of franchises like Trek and Wars, I think it helps to lump stories into three types of categories. Novels like a “A Christmas Carol”, “Romeo and Juliet” or “Moby Dick” are what I’d classify as Stand-Alone stories, because the basic nature of their narrative negates the possibility of a sequel (something the modern entertainment industry is more than willing to either forget or ignore), the second, more limited variety I call Limited-Runs. These are the handful of stories that, like the Stand-Alone, have a definitive beginning, middle, and very final “end”. The difference seems to be that that ending can at least “possibly” be stretched to maybe two or three more books at the most, however, this type of story does have definitive “end”. Good examples of Limited Run stories are Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, Mark Twain chronicles of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and even Ms. Rowling’s Potter books and The Hobbit and LOTR. The third type is the one the industry concentrates on the most, it seems. These are the Serial Stories; open-ended and more or less continuous, although I’m will to rethink that bit as well. Such examples include, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and endless host of Saturday Morning Cartoons (both classic and disposable), and yes, Superheroes.

    On those terms, what you say about Roddenberry and Lucas may well be true. And I’m happily willing to see what other make of either franchise. Though I will admit, Lucas said his story was supposed to have only “nine parts”. That sort of makes me wonder whether or not the whole thing should be considered “Limited Run” instead of “Serial”.

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