Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why I've Been So Slow, Part 3: Harry Has Sucked Me In

Well, of the two reasons I've considered thus far to account for my blogging slowdown, the first was entirely beyond my control (mysterious ear ailments usually are), while the second, though not entirely beyond my control, really made it truly difficult for me to adequately focus on the actual work I'm supposed to be doing, much less on hobbies like blogging. But the third major cause...well, it's not as though I've been so physically out of it and so buried under that I haven't had anytime to devote to the funner uses a computer can be put to. On the contrary, I've been able to find the occasional hour here and there regularly enough. And what I have been spending those hours on? Oh, lots of different things, to be sure. But honesty demands that I 'fess up to a relatively new and, in recent months, quite significant additional obsession of mine.

I've been reading fan fiction. Specifically, Harry Potter fan fiction.

Let's be plain here: I'm a geek. Not an absolute, stereotypical, completely-useless-for-real-life geek, but I do have my obsessions. Long ago it was comic books, though I haven't followed any titles for many years now. Dungeons and Dragons has also played a big role in my life, though now it's mostly a once-a-year thing. And there have been others. Mostly, these days, I get into various types of world-creation literature: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and so forth, but even there I'm not the obsessive reader that I once was. (Though I have flashbacks: a few years ago, a friend of mine pointed out to me that somebody, in defiance of who knows how many trademark laws, had posted the entire collected works of H.P. Lovecraft online, and for about three weeks between every class I would run back to my office, close the door, and consume another tale about the Elder Gods.) But Harry Potter though...well, anyone who has hung around this blog at all over the past few years knows all about my preoccupation with Rowling's oeuvre. I honestly thought after Deathly Hallows I'd be able to walk away from it all. But, even as Alan and Tim and Ross and I and others were conducting our postmortems on the series, ideas started creeping into my brain, ideas I couldn't shake. I've never before--honestly, never!--been the sort of person interested in rewriting or extending extent works of fiction; the most my imagination ever seemed comfortable doing was putting me--the actual, unadapted, ordinary me--into stories and movies and books as a kind of sardonic, all-knowing narrator. But this was different: I needed to read what other people were doing and saying about these plot holes and loose ends that I seemed to feel all around me, begging for elaboration and resolution. So I started checking out The Sugar Quill and Checkmated and other Harry Potter fan fiction sites. And I started reading. And reading. And reading. And...

I should note that I have nothing against fan fiction; on the contrary, thanks the terrific and thoughtful comments of professional editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden (particularly here and here; the estimable John Holbo once referred to that first post as having spawned "the greatest thread ever," but really you can find commentary like this all over her and her husband Patrick's wonderful site) I've long recognized that fan fiction is a perfectly organic response to the present-day, commercially and legally convoluted (and often unreasonably so) world of publishing, particularly genre publishing. Actually, I think I kind of knew this already, having grown up reading fantasy magazines and comic books that would frequently play fast-and-loose with popular culture (didn't Chris Claremont once write an X-Men story where Storm and the New Mutants met the cast from Remington Steele on a Greek island somewhere?); but I'd never really gone anywhere with it. I've long had some fiction writing aspirations of my own, which I've kept telling myself I'll get around to after I get tenure somewhere, but those ideas were never derivative, at least not in a fan-ficky sense. (They are, if you must know, a plan for a series of short stories taking place in a kind of Christian fantasy world, but despite having kicked these ideas around for close to 20 years, all I've got there is a main character, some vague plots, and a bunch of titles; and--more prestigiously--a mental outline for a big post-apocalyptic/historical fantasy-type opus that I've been thinking about for 15 years or so (the initial inspiration occurred around the same time as the 1994 midterm elections; one of the main characters is clearly a parody of Newt Gingrich), which has become extremely detailed in my head, but which I'll probably never write, as it's gone in some sort of Lord of the Rings/Canticle for Leibowitz/Thus Sprach Zarathustra-type direction and is becoming more a fantastic philosophy of history then anything that would be, you know, actually fun to read.) But anyway, the point is, once I saw how people were playing with, fixing up, tearing apart, and generally having fun with Rowling's creation, my resistance to letting my own ideas get going melted away. And so, for many weeks now, when I could be producing wonderful works of scholarship, I've been obsessing over how I can get Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood out of that Chinese wizard's dungeon they'd been thrown into.

Yeah, it's mostly about the grown-up Neville and Luna. I'm not sure why. I think, if my genealogy of my own imagination is at all accurate, it began with wondering where Luna might have been during the epilogue scene at King's Cross at the end of DH, all those years later, and somehow I decided she'd probably be in California, maybe at UC-Santa Cruz or the wizarding equivalent, lecturing about various magical beasties. Crazy? Um, yes, but not unreasonably so; I've always kind of envisioned (and reading fan fiction has led me to conclude that I'm not alone here) Luna as a brilliant, creative, but basically self-enclosed and self-taught individual, who was going to end up going the guru-route after Hogwarts: kind of hippie-ish, all flower child and free love and so forth, that is when she isn't off on adventures looking for invisible carnivorous fairies in the jungle or amongst the fjords. She'd be a hit in the Bay Area, I figured. And this fit in with the vibes that Rowling herself sent us about Luna, and the Luna/Neville ship. (Yes, "ship." I've absorbed fandom's jargon, I can't deny it.) First she said they'd never be able to make it as a couple, then she drops some big hints to focus our attention elsewhere, then all of sudden she admits to having thought they'd get together after all while actually writing DH, and then she tells us Neville and Hannah Abbott get married. (No, I'm not going to link to all this; go find it yourself.) In time, my thoughts solidified: clearly, Neville and Luna--already pretty good friends--would have grown very tight during the year they and Ginny managed a guerrilla resistance at Hogwarts, and Luna's interest in magical zoology (confirmed as her likely career choice in a later Rowling interview) would coincide perfectly with his expertise in herbology, and so no doubt any likely future stories for them would have to tell the tale of their joined passions and the--given Luna's headstrong nature--mad situations those plans and expeditions would land them in, not to mention getting some humorous mileage out of the inevitable distaste Neville would feel for Luna's crazy personal hygiene and general lack of modesty when they go tramping across Brazil. But there was a problem. Seeing as how I basically accepted the idea that Neville and Luna just weren't meant for each other, how to keep them from becoming in an even de facto way another post-Hogwarts couple? The difference in their temperaments? No, I felt; in a world in which Rowling can stick such complete opposites as Ron and Hermione together (and in which the fan-fickers have kept them together, in ever position imaginable, I assure you), that excuse wouldn't fly. For a while, I was thinking Neville would be gay, and I thought that would make for some interesting twists and turns, but I confess it sometimes came in my head to seem like some terrible mash-up between Will & Grace and The Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Then fortunately Rowling revealed that Neville turns out to be an ordinary domesticated member of the married wizarding bourgeoisie, which would work even better with what I foresee. (Neville getting religion, among other things.)

Wait a minute...what I foresee? Do I actually plan on writing any of this down, do I imagine that it'll be read and perhaps be absorbed into the Harry Potter fanon (yep, that's more jargon there), do I dream that Rowling will take up the story again and in any sense think the same thoughts that I think? Well, in order: maybe, no, and definitely no. But having spent as much time on it as I have, I can't just write it all off as some weakness of mind; there may be no money, minimal prestige, a lot of potential embarrassment, and a heavy cost in terms of time involved in actually writing a story that takes place in someone else's word, but hey--others may enjoy it, and I'd at least learn something from it, so it's not complete geekery. Or maybe it is, but it's not necessarily bad geekery. Consider it practice to later effectively expand my writing repertoire. That'd be worth doing, assuming I can actually straighten out my life enough to stop letting this most recent obsession of mine interfere with real-world journal articles and book reviews I've committed to writing. And blogging, of course; that's the real world too. Sort of.

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