Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Fangirls and Portals

A while ago I was talking about the portal stories in children's fiction -- how it must have been common enough that it was considered a trope that gets spoofed, but I hadn't been able to think of anything for children other than the Narnia books. I did eventually dig up some others, and there was the mention of E. Nesbit, who got referenced in the Edward Eager books.

Well, I finally remembered to request one of the E. Nesbit books from the library (most of them seem to be in the archive warehouse, so they aren't shelved in the regular libraries and have to be requested). And I may not be able to get through the whole thing. I can see why Edward Eager sort of lampooned them. They seem to be an artifact of their particular time and place. At least, this one was. It's not so much the fantasy part that's the problem. It's the characters. I've barely made it to the fantasy part. I liked the way the characters found the magical land, but boy, are those kids insufferable. I'm not sure I'd have been able to get through this even when I was a child.

So, this little bit of research for the portal fantasy story I'm plotting (which involves a story within a story -- it's a portal fantasy that involves a portal fantasy) may have to go by the wayside. I just know of another way of getting between worlds that I'll have to avoid.

Over the weekend, I read what I suppose you could call a genre-adjacent book, the young adult novel Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. The idea I'm playing with involves a character who's a fangirl of the portal fantasy book, so I wanted to see what else has been said about fan culture (I like to read any books that might get compared to my idea to make sure to differentiate mine). This book is about a college freshman who seems to be shy and withdrawn, without a lot of friends, but she has an active online life as a big-name fan fiction author for a series that's basically Not!Harry Potter. She writes epic Not!Harry/Not!Draco romances. As a college student, she's struggling with keeping up with her fan fiction while also navigating classes and relationships.

I had a rather uncomfortable response to this book. On the one hand, it does seem to accurately reflect what I've seen of fan culture. I've known way too many people exactly like the heroine (just substitute for the fandom of any real property). On the other hand, while the depiction was rather respectful, it also had a note of suggesting that she was this obsessed because she had a lot of emotional damage. She also seemed extremely disconnected with reality -- she's surprised to get an F on a college creative writing assignment because she turned in fan fiction, and she couldn't understand why her professor kept talking about how her work needed to be original when she kept insisting that the story was all hers and therefore was original, even if she borrowed the characters and situation from another writer. I've encountered fan writers who were unclear on how that works (someone once sent me a Buffy fanfic that "fixed" the Willow and Tara relationship to send to my publisher because they were sure lots of people would want to read a book about that), but it was hard to sympathize with the character when I was siding with the professor. The book seemed to go back and forth on whether all this was a positive force in the character's life or something holding her back. It was a big seller -- big enough that apparently the author published a novel that was the fan fiction story the character was writing -- but I'd be curious to know how people really involved in the fan fiction community felt about the depiction.

On the other hand, I did like the way college life and relationships were portrayed, the way friendships form in a dorm and in classes. The romantic plot was rather lovely -- a healthy, positive relationship rather than the weirdness you get with a lot of college-based romances.

It was a fun book I read quickly, though it ends up that this depiction of a fangirl is very different from the one I have living in my head. Actually, the one living in my head was somewhat inspired by a girl at my church who's just so enthusiastic about the things she loves, she manages to work them into every conversation. She was in late elementary school when I first encountered her, and she made what I think she believed to be an obscure and slightly veiled Doctor Who reference. I shocked her by replying in a way that made it obvious I got it. And then she talked my ear off with enthusiasm for having someone to talk to about her obsession. That's going to be my fangirl, the person who meets a kindred spirit and bubbles over.

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