Monday, March 21, 2011

A Very Brief History of Fandom

Being an extremely cursory timeline of fan fiction and fandom based on my dipping of my toes into the waters of Studies in Fan Culture. 

(Inspired in part by's recent article on pop culture and fanfic, which, be warned, is very funny but also very not at all PG. I like my blog PG and will warn in advance if it is not. Article contains the whole gamut of potentially disturbing subjects.) 

So. Timeline.

1136-1200 AD. The King Arthur stories.  Of course, you say, these are myths. They don't count. But the original King Arthur and the Round Table story was expanded upon by other authors extensively, most notably by the addition of Lancelot in 1136 by Chretien de Troyes. Some scholarship has been done on Lancelot being inspired by similar Welsh heroes, but he was first "imported" into the King Arthur mythos in de Troyes' work. The site linked to above notes that "The poet seemed to assume that people have already read Chretien's Conte du Graal", with 'Graal' being the first text in which Lancelot appears. Maybe it's not fan fiction per se, but it's certainly expansion. It is fiction with the intent of a previous fictional world existing behind it. 

1719. Unauthorized sequel(s) to Robinson Crusoe

1728, The Beggar's Opera. I note that the wikipedia article lacks sources, but can cite the source of Some Overenthusiastic British Professors I Studied With as well. "The Beggar's Opera" was the 1700s equivalent of Glee. It used popular songs, and parodied the Italian operas popular at the time. People liked to buy stuff with the characters' faces on it. Strange but true. 

1787. The Sorrows of Young Werther is published. This novel is the poster child for German Romanticism. It also spawned a fandom of people who dressed like the main character, and committed suicide in imitation of him. Yes. Werther was adapted into an opera in 1887. I'm not sure if there were amateur derivative stories produced based on it, but that's what my next huge paper is for. 

1887. Sherlock Holmes fan fiction and fan groups. The Fan History Wiki has a nice timeline of derivative works. 

1967. Star Trek fanzines created fan fiction as we know it today. These were mailed or hand-distributed anthologies of fan works. Slash and/or adult content were common, possibly leading to that trend (or that stereotype) being so predominant today. These magazines also created some of the terms and punctuations ( the use of "/" in pairings, for example) that we use today. Zines are considered a collector's item today, and to see them in print is rare or impossible, because the same needs are met by the much easier medium of the internet. 

Some people are bringing zines back because they like the format, or for the retro feel. My own work should be appearing in a printed Zoids fanzine any time now. However, the big difference is that these zines feature international authors through connections only made possible by the use of the internet. 

1998. is founded. Things change. Fans now have an organized, easy-to-use sharing system. It's not perfect, but that's another post. 

Told you it was cursory, but there's the timeline. Hopefully you've learned that fan fiction and fandom are in no way new phenomena, and that aspects of them have been studied in an academic setting before. 

Next post coming soon. 


  1. I wonder if, going even further back, many ancient myths were "fan fiction" of the religious traditions they described--they were certainly expansion, a further explanation and elaboration of the source material.

    But then I suppose you'd get into a discussion of where "fan fiction" ends and derivative work begins, as well as whether or not it counts as derivative depending on the intentions of the writer (for example, the Horus cycle of Egyptian literature was most probably based on an original source that the Egyptians had available to them, but through generations became more of a highly symbolic ritual play that perhaps not even the Egyptians themselves fully understood the meaning of, instead just being an engaging and somehow important story about their pantheon).

    I dunno. Just a thought.

    The Beggar's Opera amuses me. Humanity never changes, does it?

    The main character of Sorrows of Young Werther sounds like literature's first Mary Sue. (Although I'm sure an argument can be made for Mary Sues in antiquity. Heracles, Gilgamesh, anyone?)

    It wouldn't surprise me if Star Trek fanzines were the source of fan fiction having such an...unsavoury reputation. Which is a shame, fan fiction could have gotten off to a much more respectable start if people had kept their hormones in check.

  2. Yeah, I chose not to go too deep into myth because, as you said, it's hard to tell where "derivative works" produced for a religious or political purpose end and fan fiction that's anything like what we do today begins. I think that motive is important. For example, the Catholic church commissioned a lot of religious art and even forbade non-religious topics. Artists who were working in that era did religious paintings because they sortof had to. That's very different from a teenager today who can pick from hundreds of fandoms without any political or religious pressure.

    I also don't think we can know to what extent ancient people really believed in their myths. I mean, is somebody one day going to be teaching about the 'Star Wars cycle' in a class on American Myth?

    (I love your comments. They always make me think. Also, please pardon if this comment is at all confusing; it's an accidental second draft because the first one got deleted and I'm working on memory. Grr.)

    In terms of heroes as Sues, I think that if they turned up in amateur work today they would indeed be considered as such. Antiquity and popularity mean that they can serve the purpose Sues are actually intended for but never, if they're given the name 'Sue" succeed in-- being inspiring and cool. The same can happen when Mary Sues are drawn by really good artists. People like 'em despite the lack of flaws or the cliche.

    I do think heroes are a good thing; characters like Hercules give us something to aspire to, even if we aren't all going to be fighting monsters.

    No, humanity doesn't change!

    Werther is the original emo kid. Truth.

    I agree about the fanzines. Not all of them have the unsavory content, but of course the most talked-about ones do.

  3. Wow, you reply fast. Or I get distracted and lose track of time what is wrong with me.

    I'd love to see a class touching on the mythic elements of Star Wars, honestly.

    (Aww, thank you. Sometimes I'm afraid they're too long-winded but thinking is a good thing, right?)

    This is true; there is such a thing as a successfully inspiring and cool Sue and the key is good writing and good design and basically being a visionary. The eponymous hero of Miyazaki's classic epic film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is arguably a Sue, but she's so genuinely cool and is written so brilliantly that nobody really cares.

    Yeah, I think people get caught up so badly in anti-Sue tirades that they forget that characters need to have at least some elements of heroism that make them likeable and inspiring, or else you're going to end up with a genuinely terrible character who is terrible because they are so utterly imperfect. In the old days when I was a teenager I was writing on this theory and determined that the perfect "anti-Sue" is an overweight, unattractive middle-aged man with severe mental impairment who sits on the couch watching television all day. He has none of the elements of a Sue, but is also seemingly completely lacking in elements that make him a likeable, engaging character. (On the flip side, a good writer would probably be able to take this character and make him likeable. It really all depends on your writing ability and creativity.)

    I now have a morbid fascination with Werther. Thank you.

    I find it sad that that's what the fanzines are most remembered for; not as "look at this community of fans bonding and interacting and sharing their creativity in the days before the Internet" but "oooh, look what they got away with writing". I actually have a friend who worked on a fanzine back in those days, who wrote actually good ST fan fiction (as in, it was well-written, as well as not containing any nasty malarkey), and now she's a professional novelist. There's a good and a bad to most everything, I suppose.

  4. I'm not sure it's possible to have a non-morbid fascination with Werther.

    It is sad. That's good that your friend can speak for other aspects of it!

  5. Wow, very interesting! I never knew that fan fiction went back such a long way! (Though it most likely wasn't referred to as "fan fiction" at the start.)

    Also, "The Beggar's Opera", the original Glee? I don't watch Glee, but a lot of my friends do. That's extremely interesting. (I use that word too much!)

    Ugh. So, the Star Trek fanzines are responsible for the bad reputation fan fiction has today? *sigh* I don't understand why people write about that stuff and others find it good. I just don't understand at all. *shakes head*

    Also, Lady Fourteen Flowers. (I think I should chuck in something about Jade Empire in every comment from now on, no matter how out-of-place it seems.)

  6. I'm glad to help you learn! Nope, the term fan fiction came around during the 1980s-90s.

    Haha, I follow Glee because my friends do and for the music-- I don't care too much about the characters. But both "Glee" and "The Beggar's Opera" use popular music to tell their stories. (My professors tell me not to use the word "interesting" overmuch, but sometimes it's hard to find an alternative. I don't mind it.)

    I think they might be, although I haven't researched that. Eh, I don't understand it either...

    (lol okay! We gotta get more people to play this game. Bring it back into the mainstream. Henpecked Hou!)

  7. That's really cool. Some things don't change, do they? (I can't help but use "interesting" all the time. Sometimes I sit there for a while, trying to find another word, but I usually end up typing interesting.)

    I don't know if I'd want to research it. O_O

    (We do! I've encouraged some BioWare fans to play Jade Empire, but I don't think any of them have got their hands on a copy yet! It's a shame, they're really missing out! Ahh, Hou. A lot of interesting [There I go again!] conversations to be had with him.)

  8. True, researching something like that itself can be disturbing. I don't want to be thinking about such things all the time.

    (Woo! Well, maybe you will one day convince them and there will be a renaissance. And a sequel. Which will be sorely lacking in Zu, but that's the way it must be.)

  9. Haha, Jing Woo! Maybe! (I hope.) I know… as much as I want a sequel… ZU. D: