Thursday, April 19, 2012

"It's Lance Bass!"

Before the seventh Harry Potter book came out, millions of people around the world placed bets on what would happen. Would Voldemort die? Would Ron and Hermione end up together? And whose side was Snape on, anyway? People wanted to know how the book turned out, but, of course, they did not want to be told. They wanted to read the book to find out for themselves.

I thought that Harry should have died. I thought it was a cop-out to for him to come back to life. He was the final horcrux! He should have been destroyed like all the other horcruxes!!

Note that I said "should." Harry should die. I did not say that I want Harry to die. In other words, the plot would have been better if Harry had died, but I did not want the "actual" character of Harry to die.

I am not alone in this desire to maintain the life of the famous Harry Potter. When JK Rowling was writing the seventh book she got letters from people begging for her to spare the lives of the main characters. Spare their lives! As if she were holding them hostage and determining (whilst stroking a cat and holding her pinky to her mouth) whether or not a good story was worth the loss of human life

I recognize that my attachments to Harry, Ron, and Hermione are irrational. The characters are not real people and I should not care whether they live or die. But when I'm reading the story they might as well be real. I'm attached to them as if they were real people.

So what happens if a story doesn't turn out the way that we want it to? Lots of people think Harry should have died. Others think Harry and Hermione should have ended up together. Still others think that Fred and George should have had a threesome with Lance Bass

That is the beauty of the human imagination. We have the ability to take the (fictional) characters created by an author that we do not know, and imagine the characters in situations that we have never seen them in.

Much of the pleasure that I get from books is in thinking about the characters as real people. I have a huge crush on Will Parry from The Subtle Knife, and when I was about to turn eleven, I checked the mailbox daily for a letter from Hogwarts. When I didn't get one, I convinced myself that I would get it on my twelfth birthday because the British system was a year ahead. True story.

Perhaps I am a bit of an extreme case, but many people have this sort of emotional attachment to the characters in their favorite books. I would go so far as to say that much of the pleasure people get from pop fiction comes from bringing the characters into their own lives.

That is where fanfiction comes in. If a story doesn't end the way that you want it to, fanfiction lets you change it! If you wish that Harry had died, or that Bella and Edward had more sex, or that you were a student at Hogwarts, you can write it!

When I was about 14 years old I saw the movie Flight Plan:

I thought the first half of the movie was decent but once I figured out what was going on I got bored and spent the rest of the time figuring out how the movie should have ended. When I got home I rewrote the movie. It's still on my hard drive if anyone cares to see it. I reread it last semester and I actually didn't hate it. I was shocked. But I digress....

It takes a special type of book or movie to elicit an outpouring of fanfiction. I am probably the only person in the world who has written Flight Plan fanfiction, but lots of people have written Twilight fanfiction. And this makes sense. Writing a fanfiction requires placing oneself inside of the characters that one is writing about. That is only possible for characters that feel so real that they develop their own wills and desires and thus can actually interact almost independently with new environments. This means that fanfiction tends to reveal an attachment that readers have to the characters of a book and a distance from the plot.

Some people think that Twilight has a terrible plot. I was talking to someone (I can't remember who, but if you are reading this, thank you!) who said that Twilight was frustrating because there was no tension. The moment there is tension (Edward Cullen hates Bella) it is resolved almost instantly (he is really in love with her and can't control himself around her).

Fifty Shades Of Grey is Twilight fanfiction, but it does not follow the normal pattern. Normally, fanfiction takes characters from a well-loved book or movie and puts them in strange situations. In other words, they keep the characters, ditch the plot. But Fifty Shades Of Grey follows a different pattern in that it keeps the plot and ditches the characters. Anastasia and Christian are very different from Bella and Edward, the most noticeable difference being that Christian is not a vampire. However, the rest of the plot is almost identical. One of my friends read Fifty Shades Of Grey not realizing it was Twilight fanfiction and noticed a near bijection between the main plot events of each. Needless to say, she was surprised (and probably a bit relieved) when she realized it was written as Twilight fanfiction.

But the point of this is that the plot of Twilight is so popular that it was published twice! And if we think about Twilight as having a generic romance plot, then that plot has been published thousands of times under the Harlequin label.

We may think that the stock romance plot is trite and uninteresting, but the romance plot is not a new idea. Jane Austen wrote romances that we consider "real" literature, but we do not consider Harlequin romances "real" even though they have very similar structures. In both cases, a male and a female who are dissimilar in some way shouldn't be together. But, of course, they end up together, proving that, in books at least, love conquers all.

So the plot of Twilight really isn't that trite and dull. In fact, it is so not dull that we have read it and similar plots hundreds of times without being bored. And my guess is that we will continue to read books like this, and watch romantic comedies, and narrate our own love lives as though they were novels, and continue to feel pleasure from all of this, until we learn how to reproduce asexually. 

No comments:

Post a Comment