My fabulous Maya mentioned on Tuesday that she'd read an article complaining of the evils fanfiction - how it's plagiarism, and worse than that, it's just a bunch of sick grown-ups turning youth literature - Twilight, for example - into pornography.
Now I have to be real, I've always found fanfic kinda pathetic. Even more so after trying to read some of it. But then I read some more. I still didn't like it, for the record, but I'm starting to realize it's not as pathetic, or illegitimate, as some of us think. Much of it isn't even porn (for reasons I'm not quite clear on).
Let's take Twilight. I haven't read Twilight, but a lot of folks I know who have read the books say that they're kind of a lot like the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) books without the sex. Both books have a girl who considers herself pretty average pursued by dark and paternalistic vampire. In Twilight, Edward is fascinated by Bella because he can read minds but can't read hers (which my friend Nick states is proof she's "brick stupid"); Sookie Stackhouse is fascinated by Bill because she can read minds and can't read his. In both series, the "good guy" vampires have given up human blood (sorta). In later books, Bella and Sookie are both befriended by loving and supportive werewolf who is so clearly much better for her than that stupid uptight prig of a vampire.
So there. Twilight's a total ripoff of the Sookie Stackhouse books. Twilight is basically fanfiction. Right?
But aren't the Sookie Stackhouse novels suspiciously similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer? In both, the young, pretty, blond heroine is separated from everyone else by an extraordinary and very unwanted ability. Both women struggle with work, school, and relationships because of their ability. Both fall in love with annoyingly penitent reformed vampires, but later become interested in a sexy bad boy vampire (who is tamed by some mysterious force).
So Sookie Stackhouse is really Buffy? So the Twilight books are just Sookie Stackhouse fanfiction, and Sookie Stackhouse books are Buffy fanfiction?
But wait. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while infinitely more awesome and original than the aforementioned vamp stories, is basically fanfiction of every other vampire thing ever. The vampires, their personalities and hierarchies and such, are pretty heavily influenced by Anne Rice's vampires. One Buffy season features Count Dracula himself, and the "uber-vamps" from the last season are pretty clearly the bastard children of Nosferatu.
Anne Rice could totally be writing Bram Stoker fanfic, but Bram Stoker was pretty much Varney the Vampire fanfic and Varney was pretty much mythology fanfic.
Then there are the similarities between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings... Frodo and Harry are orphans raised by their uncles; they're led by wise old wizards, they've inherited a magical item that makes them invisible, are helped by a pathetic toad looking creature who speaks of himself in the third person, and so on.
In high school, we had to read The Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a prequel to Jane Eyre written much later by another author. Fanfic.
Stephan King's Wolves of the Calla is The Magnificent 7 is 7 Samurai. Fanfic.
West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet is Pyramus and Thisbe. Fanfic.
Wicked is another take on The Wizard of Oz. Fanfic.
Think of how many permutations of Batman we've seen between the comics, books, movies, cartoons, and so on. Fanfic?
The Flintstones are The Honeymooners. Fanfic.
All of these things (aside from Twilight, of course) are really good in their own right; influenced by but not imitations of their predecessors, and proof that a good story is timeless. And you know what's kind of wild about the sort of fanfic littered all over the Internet? Nobody's getting paid to do this. Many or most of these folks probably don't admit to people that they do it. They certainly don't do it to put on a resume. They write to write, because they love the stories, they love the characters, and they love to write. There's something to be said for people who are willing to work that hard with no reward other than the compliments of strangers. And maybe three best-selling books and a movie deal.