Potter Familias: Spawning a Host of Spinoffs
Saturday, July 21, 2007
"Harry Potter looked out into the corridor and raised his wand. 'Accio Blaster!' he shouted. The storm trooper's blaster rifle flew out of his hands. Harry caught it. As the storm trooper stared at his hands in disbelief, Han Solo shot him.
"Chewbacca made another growl."
A twist ending to end all twist endings? Not exactly.
"Harry Potter and the Dark Lord of the Sith" is a work of fan fiction, one of 300,000 Harry Potter tribute stories currently posted on FictionAlley.org. Today, thousands of speed-readers will mourn the last page of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" with teary resolve. But those who refuse to be finished with this last book in the series will rush to their laptops to write new adventures involving Hagrid, Hermione and the rest of the Potterverse gang.
"Deathly Hallows" is the end. And it's the beginning.
The Potter fanfic phenomenon took off between the release of "Goblet of Fire" and "Order of the Phoenix" -- a Harry-less wasteland from 2000 to 2003 during which J.K. Rowling left fans desperate for the next installment of adventures.
What began as linear predictions of "What happens next?" has since morphed into fantastical postulations of "What else is possible?" What new battles could Harry face? What new girls could Harry date? What would happen if Dudley Dursley met Draco Malfoy? Despite the fears of some fanfic writers, each new book by Rowling has not limited the possibilities but opened them.
Today, fanfic sites host stories about Harry teaming up with Buffy (crossover fic), Harry marrying Ginny ('ship fic, short for relation ship) and historical fic about Dumbledore's youth. Readers can even visit RestrictedSection.org for NC-17 nudie fic involving pairings from Trelawney/Flitwick to Neville/Giant Squid.
"The Harry universe is always expanding," says Heidi Tandy, founder of FictionAlley. " 'Goblet of Fire' made us realize the wizarding world went beyond England with [foreign schools] Durmstrang and Beaux-Batons. 'Order of the Phoenix' made us interested in Harry's parents' generation. You can also write about goblins and house elves and veelas."
What these wannabe J.K.s are inadvertently highlighting is a very 21st-century debate: What is the nature of intellectual ownership and singular vision in the freeware world? Does fan fiction represent the new originality, born of the masses? "Harry Potter and the Cheerfully Bloating Wikipedia Entry"? Or is it just plain old poaching? "Harry Potter and the Death of Intellectual Property"?
Fanfic didn't begin with Harry Potter. Anyone familiar with "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead," that rollicking spinoff of "Hamlet," has read some already. The concept entered pop culture with "Star Trek," when uber-Trekkies began to circulate mimeographed tales of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock's forbidden love.
And fanfic is not a critique on Rowling, whom the writers view with awe, so much as a critique on ownership in general. Copyrights are so quaint and parental. The Internet is a world of easy and unabashed appropriation, where original works are viewed as raw material made for molding rather than finished masterpieces to be studied. Case in point: The proliferation of mash-ups -- the video equivalent of song sampling. You can morph Disney characters into avatars for a new digital identity. You can meld Mamet and Monet, if you want to. Finding something popular and making it personal is admired at nearly the same level as creating something entirely new.