Weapons of Choice.


Whilst exploring the tangled and thorny jungles of the internet one discovers many things. Last week I discovered that Mitt Romney doesn’t know why you can’t open the windows on aeroplanes. I found that there are a large number of people who suggest that he should be free to experiment with window opening at 30,000 feet, provided they aren’t on the plane. I discovered the interesting fact that lots of people are delighted not to like J.K. Rowling’s new book, presumably because they were just getting really sick of everything else she did being good and a change is as good as a rest. I also discovered that people are seemingly only happy with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson possibly being able to have sex if they’re both of the same gender.

I personally have never been of the opinion that sex ruins anything, provided that thing is both consenting and adult, and it really, really helps if the thing in question is totally fictional.

“That cardigan really suits you…”
“Sorry, not my division.”

What really fascinates and encourages me and fills me with a sort of bubbly excitement is the sheer degree of energy people out there are devoting to this seemingly fairly subjective and innocuous issue.

Because it’s not innocuous to the people who are invested in what they would refer to as their “fandom”; it’s a massively important issue that hits heart deep into their individual identities.

The identity question is an important one. The internet, which is where a huge proportion of people today spend a large amount of their time, is predominantly faceless. This isn’t news to anyone I realise, anyone who has had to sit their trying frantically to remember their username or password knows that; simply screaming “But it’s me!!!” at the monitor doesn’t help. The internet does not know you and is not your friend.

You are however free to construct and present yourself in any way you see fit. I for example could have constructed the persona of a muscular, handsome and dynamic antiquarian book dealer with encyclopaedic knowledge and a dry, yet gentle, wit. Justin Croft beat me to it, however, and I ended up with this.

As we are often told in warning tones the internet is full of people pretending to be something they aren’t.

So is the outside world, that’s what people do. Who on earth wants to be what they actually are?

Internet fandoms are massively complex and shifting communities. A better word might be territories, a word that brings with it the suggestion of the occasional border conflict or the possibility of a turncoat or two. Doctor Who, Glee, Supernatural, John Green fans, Twilight fans and a million more islands of avid devotion float in a massive sea of instant communication. Occasionally temporary alliances or a sudden shift in fan numbers might cause a few of these islands to swing closer together; Whovians and Supernatural fans (is there a word for them? Enquiring minds need to know…is it Idjits?) seem to have a lot in common and there’s a fair amount of sharing. Similarly giant rifts can open up overnight and you wake up discovering that opposing Glee fans have turned on each other.

There’s a lot of hugging and gif producing between Who fans and Sherlock fans (who may actually be the same people considering the family atmosphere of the Gatiss/Moffat Axis of New Old Fiction), and Harry Potter fans seem to be pretty cool with everyone provided you love Snape and hate Umbridge and have no objection to identical ginger twins snogging each other.

Game of Thrones fans are too terrified of their favourite characters being killed off by George R.R. Martin to attempt making friends with anyone else. A man knows how they feel.

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
I didn’t even need to make anything up for that one…

So alright, the internet is a big sea of people who really like stuff floating around looking for people who like similar stuff, and it’s easy for them to do it because…internet. The motto of the internet is “MOAR!!!1!” and its crew simply reflect that, drilling deeper and deeper down into any fictional construct in order to extract every last shred of fulfillment from it.

I recall watching hard-core fans of “Lost” go frame by frame through shots of the jungle, the Black Smoke and each character’s apartments; stripping out every possible clue to what might be happening. In the end their suppositions and theories were far, far more interesting than the ideas of the actual program producers. Fan fiction (of which there are several Alexandrine Libraries full floating around out there) is frequently as engaging and interesting as the narrative structure it pays homage to.

What has this to do with books, you dribbling idiot, I hear you ask? Well, aside from the fact that a lot of these fandoms stem from books and that a lot of fandoms are held up and propogated by massive amounts of writing?

We’re not talking about this. We’re glossing over this completely.

Even after the books have been absorbed by the Shoggoth of Hollywood the fandoms often bestride the two camps rather triumphantly, or at least amiably. The book fans apparently consider it partly their responsibility to encourage the screen fans to join them in their enthusiasms, and the phrase “The Books Were Better.” has achieved ironic t-shirt status.

I asked  my favourite expert where she thought it had all started, she pondered for about 15 seconds (God knows what I’d have to ask about to have to wait longer than that for an answer) and said the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

So that’s what the next couple of posts will be about: when did we stop simply being readers and become fans? What was the first fandom?

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About bibliodeviant

This is the journal of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities, and all who sail in her. Information, updates, rantings, musings and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person's head. We welcome queries, comments and contributions of virtually any description, and in return we will attempt to rein in our multitudinous personality disorders and deliver wonders and joys beyond compare. At least that's the plan. View all posts by bibliodeviant

6 responses to “Weapons of Choice.

  • Karen Rought

    I asked Twitter the same question about Supernatural fans the other day (having just “officially” become one) and got no response in return. So, I can’t help you there.

    Very interested in seeing the follow up(s) to this post, though. Natalie pointed me in this direction so you can either thank or blame her – you decide. 🙂

    • bibliodeviant

      I only ever thank Natalie, she’s one of my favourite people who aren’t fictional characters. maybe there should be an internet wide competition to come up with a fangroup name for Supernatural…I’m fairly sure the collective noun should be an “Impala” of fans.

  • Brooke S. Palmieri

    I love thinking about this!

    Some ideas:
    1. If ‘stopping reading’ is the starting point then one way of determining fandom is a question of merchandising, where reading stops and lifestyle begins, I think, go back to 1740, Richardson’s Pamela. I can’t think of anything earlier that produced an ‘ecosystem’ of merchandise: teapots, figures, ephemera, and other souvenirs, stage adaptations, spinoffs, and parodies (‘Shamela’).

    The next person to do that on an even larger scale was I think Dickens, starting with the Pickwick Papers and surrounding Sam Weller in particular.

    2. If ‘writing about your reading’ aka fanfiction is your measure I would go way, way back and trace scholarly trends in reading and imitation. Some highlights: (Pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite, a New Testament spin off, endless works written as Thomas Aquinas, or humanist ‘discoveries’ of spurious Cicero, various Canterbury Tales added to cast Chaucer as a proto-protestant…

    In Chaucer’s case, fanfiction is about transforming the author you idolise into the ideal you want them to be.

    But what sets these other examples apart from forgeries (i.e. unlike The Donation of Constantine) is the very strong ‘imitatio’ tradition that says all good writing comes from copying & eventually improving upon the best of the best. Imitation is more than form of flattery, but a display of credibility and great learning, and the only accepted pathway to writing great things yourself. ‘Original genius’ is a silly romanticist concept, composition is about communing with the great writers of history.

    3. My personal favorite candidate is a mixture of both of the above: Don Quixote. DQ was so popular Cervantes couldn’t write book II fast enough. So someone else did it for him. And he was so angry about the ending they anticipated that he makes his own Don Quixote change course completely, citing the book within the book as his reason for doing it! Not only does it make for a great moment in book/novel history, with the book engaging with itself as a book, but it’s also a great moment of an author taking issue with an over-eager reader.

    I think DQ was written to early to really have a quality of ‘merchandising’ but what it does have by way of extras is printed ephemera, chapbooks and abridged versions were widely printed. For example, the only reason why the Windmill episode is so famous, even though it takes up literally a paragraph in the book, is that early chapbooks included AND illustrated it. Thus a few fans chose their own iconic moment to make widespread.

    • bibliodeviant

      I am laughing as I write this, thinking: “Jesus, that’ll teach me!”
      Pamela I’ll definitely go with, I think I’ve mentioned before that reviews of the time occasionally accused it of heralding the apocalypse of youth. Young people would spend all their time laying about on couches in fantasy worlds instead of…I don’t know, invading Moghul princedoms or somesuch.
      The religion thing was my stumbling block. It’s arguably the finest example of Western civilization’s need for a fandom. Schisms and sub-schisms between faction after devoted faction…every Catharist heresy, Minorite excess or Waldensian weirdness created new degrees and minutiae of canon. The period of two (or more) popes is one of my favourite bits…it’s like a spin-off show; Buffy versus Angel. As you so wisely point out the “imitatio” concept and the tradition of “Ad Pedes Domini” (my Latin is really rusty) confuse any issue and I thought it was just too big a concept to get across in anything other than my usual flippant manner. Also, people might think I knew something, and then my image would be totally blown.

      Dickens I’m covering in the next bit, after Boston. Pic-Nic papers and mobbing the boats for Little Nell etc.

      Don Quixote though, you’ve totally got me…didn’t even think of it.
      Don Quixote is a great example. One of the telling details of any pretense at fandom is the coining of oft used phraseology. The tilting at windmills episode fits that to a tee.
      Also, you read my stuff. I am well proud.

  • Blair R. Cowl

    I’d like to drop a spot of 12th century into the mix with Mr Fruitcake himself: Geoffrey of Monmouth, and his super crazy Historia Regum Britanniae. This kicked the whole Merlin craze off in every European court which lasted until at least the 18th Century and created an entire industry of manuscripts, books, pamphlets, prophecies, round tables, dubious geneologies and people transmogrifying into trees…

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