Mormon Fan Fiction?

7.26.11 | | 15 comments

0--Among_the_Nephites_productEarlier this month Time magazine used the popularity of Harry Potter to look at fan fiction. I was a little surprised to find that not only is the fan fiction universe much larger than I supposed (fanfiction.net alone has more than half a million Harry Potter works and more than 2 million total), but that two LDS authors are in the forefront of some controversy surrounding the genre.

[Likely some in the AMV community know far more about this than I do, and I welcome their corrections and comments.] For the handful who may not know, works of fan fiction are derivative works created by fans of an original work, be it a book, film, TV show, cartoon, game, play, music, etc. Modern fan fiction is said to have begun with the 1967 Star Trek fan magazine Spockanalia, but it is also acknowledged that derivative works based on the characters of an original work or using the same setting as the original work have existed for ages. The bible has been a source of many “fan” works — much of the non-canonized apochrypha might be very similar to fan fiction, I suppose. And more recent works, such as Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880), fit the definition of biblical fan fiction quite well.

My first thought was to wonder about the Mormon connections with fan fiction. Are there many Mormons writing fan fiction? Are they writing about Mormon themes? Are Mormon characters appearing? Does fan fiction arise from Mormon works?

Historically, Mormon fiction has created derivative works that might be considered fan fiction in various ways. Some of the early stories published in LDS magazines, such as B. H. Roberts Corianton, are clearly derivative works from the Book of Mormon and no different from fan fiction. The tradition of writing derivative works on the Book of Mormon hasn’t really abated, as can be seen from more recent works, such as the Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites series.

Still, none of this is quite like the Modern fan fiction phenomenon. So I did some simple (and admittedly not thorough) searches on a few of the major, non-work specific fan fiction archives, fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org, trying to find Mormon works. And I did find some works, although not nearly as many as I had hoped.

The works largely mirrored what you might find in more formally published books. Many of the works simply mentioned Mormons as part of the text, such as an off-hand mention in dialogue. Infrequently others actually included a Mormon character. A few original works, such as South Park and the Book of Mormon Musical (yes, there is already fan fiction based on the Book of Mormon Musical), actually included Mormonism in the original work, and those characters and elements also appear in their fan fiction.

More interesting are the handful of fan fiction works that incorporate mormons or mormonism even though the original work doesn’t (for example, the short short story based on the TV show NCIS that explores what happens when character Anthony DiNozzo answers the door to find LDS missionaries, or the story by an LDS author that explores what happens when the Harry Potter villain Voldemort converts to the LDS Church through a kind of mashup with the film The Singles Ward).

Fanfiction.net even has a couple of stories that are based on the Book of Mormon itself. Blik writes a story about Abish, set about 110 B.C., which tries to parallel the story of Joseph Smith. And Beatlefan110’s story The Daughter of Ishmael looks at what happens when a non-member girl wakes up in Nephi’s time as one of Ishmael’s daughters.

Reading fan fiction does need to be approached with some caution. It has the reputation of being largely pornographic, although fanfiction.net claims to have eliminated any “NC17″ material and most of the large archives have rating systems for identifying the maturity level required. Since I didn’t look much at the archives and sites oriented toward a particular work (such as the many Star Trek and Harry Potter sites), I don’t know how common these ratings are or how well the ratings represent what is in the fiction. I can say that alternative lifestyles are common in this fiction, even if the work doesn’t rise to the level of pornography or of explicit nature.

I’m not sure what the relative lack of works about Mormonism means — although it is hard to say that it is different from the more traditional publishing venues. In books I don’t get the sense that Mormon-related (or even mormon-mentioning) works make up a very large percentage of the fiction published. In such a cursory look as this I have to wonder if the relatively few works that mention Mormons and Mormonism have to do with the popularity of the subject, or (at least in the world of fan fiction) with the popularity of the original works on which fan fiction is based. Could it also be that Mormons simply don’t think it is “appropriate” to write fan fiction based on Mormonism, or at least on the most “popular” of Mormon works, the Book of Mormon?

Where stories may not be about Mormons or Mormonism in general, there is plenty of fan fiction based on the works of Mormon authors. Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight garners more than 20,000 works on fanfiction.net and an additional 643 on archiveofourown.org and Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven has 30 works. And Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series yields some 310 works on fanfiction.net and 24 on archiveofourown.org.

Scott Card’s presence in these archives is very interesting, given the controversy that the Time magazine article discussed. While authors like Stephenie Meyer are encouraging of the efforts of fans to write fiction based on her characters and settings, Card sees such efforts as a violation of his copyright and a threat to his livelihood. Those who know Card’s works might see this as more than a little ironic, given that Card himself has written the Homecoming saga, which clearly derives its plot and characters from the Book of Mormon. I’m sure that Card will argue that he changed his characters sufficiently and placed them in such a different setting that what he wrote doesn’t qualify as fan fiction. If so, then I await further clarification from him, and, more importantly, from courts, as to exactly where the line is between fan fiction that violate the copyright law and permitted derivative works.

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15 comments: “Mormon Fan Fiction?

  1. Terrance V. Mc Arthur

    My daughter writes fanfic in the Buffy-Angel-Highlander worlds on fanfiction.net and other sites as Twilight Unicorn. I asked her some questions about LDS fanfic.
    She doesn’t know any other LDS ff-ers, and the reason she has never written any LDS elements into her stories is that it never occurred to her. She’s not sure that she would want to for several reasons:
    –Anti-Mormons would jump all over it, and she has a diverse readership.
    –She might make light of sacred things, which concerns her.
    –She doesn’t know if her readers would “get” or appreciate Mormonisms.
    Of course, I look on the original Battlestar Galactica as LDS fanfic. Fanfic often blends elements from different sources: Captain Kirk encounters a time-traveling DeLorean, Harry Potter goes to school in Beverly Hills (90210).
    Glen Larsen combined elements of LDS doctrine and culture with “Wagon Train,” “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “The Ten Commandments,” and other sources into what I used to call “my home-study Gospel Doctrine course.”

  2. Kent Larsen Post author

    Terrance, thanks for passing on your daughter’s views.

    I’m especially intrigued by her hesitation because “Anti-Mormons would jump all over it.” Unfortunately, many non-Mormon authors have little hesitation with using Mormons, often for what they see as humor, in their own work. It seems like its OK to make fun of Mormons, but Mormons aren’t allowed to use Mormons seriously or positively.

    Of course, there have been some times when non-Mormons have used Mormons in a positive vein. For example, I loved the Mormon character on House some time ago.

  3. Jonathan Langford

    The prevalence of fanfiction is interesting to me, in part because of what it suggests about people’s reading tastes. Some of these fanfiction authors have a readership that almost any published author would envy. And some of these writers are quite talented. Many of the best seem to have an interest in writing their own original fiction as well. It makes me wonder if we may be moving in the direction of a post-professional world in art and literature. But that’s a musing for a different time…

    It’s interesting in general to see which universes attract more fanfiction than others. A lot of it has to do with a certain kind of open-endedness that invites co-creation. But there’s pretty much nothing out there that can’t be tried.

    With respect specifically to Mormon fanfiction: I’ve encountered several authors who are clearly LDS, though they seldom make any use of LDS materials in their work.

  4. C. M. Malm

    I was pretty heavily into Harry Potter fanfiction for much of the OO’s, and I even wrote a (rather gritty) fanfiction novel that’s longer than Order of the Phoenix under the pen name Verity Brown. No Mormonism in my fanfic, though, because I just didn’t see a place for it in the Harry Potter universe. That isn’t to say that I ignore religion in my story. But I have difficulty imagining how real-world Mormons would cope in a world that has *real* and non-evil magic. (Which is ironic, because I know so many Mormons who are big fans of fantasy stories with non-evil magic.)

    Then, of course, there is the problem Terrance points out, and it isn’t just Mormonism. Any attempt to portray ANY Christian religion positively is going to ENRAGE a certain subset of fanfic readers, and put off a larger subset of others. When you add overt Mormonism to the picture, you’re going eliminate fundamentalist Christians from your readership as well.

    Dunno how that’s all going to work out in my original novel…assuming I ever work up the energy to finish it. *sighs*

  5. Wm Morris

    The only time I’ve been tempted to write fanfic was after Firefly was cancelled, but then Steven Brust did it and did it so awesomely that it seemed pointless to try.

    Also: what’s interesting is that based on what’s been posted here and what little I know about the fanfic world, in some ways, putting Mormonism seriously in to fanfic is a bigger risk for two reasons:

    1. The only thing fanfic authors get for their efforts are comments. It’s easier to shoot for a niche audience (or eliminate certain potential readers) if you’re getting paid.

    2. One of the hazardous things with insert Mormonism into fanfic is that you are dealing with worlds where Mormonism isn’t native to or simply present in that fictional universe. So it may come across as more proselytize-ish because you have to make the conscious effort to put it in.

    Also: not a surprise, but there are 43 works on fanfiction.net that take place in Aprilynee Pike’s fairy world.

  6. Erik

    And just to be clear (because it’s the internet) I realize fan fiction is different than plagiarism. But I think his comments are still relevant to why he feels his work is different from the fan fiction he can’t sanction.

  7. Eugene

    I wrote a novel about Mormons coping with a world that contains “*real* and non-evil magic.” The objections seems split between having Mormons and “non-Mormon magic” even existing in the same universe, and perhaps worse, positing that Mormons might be tempted by it (i.e., non-gospel solutions), such that the “magic” gets labeled evil when it is a neutral force.

    Comiket, the world’s biggest comic book convention, is dedicated to doujinshi, or self-published manga. Many (perhaps the majority) of doujinshi are fan fiction and derivative works. An uneasy alliance exists between Comiket and the copyright holders, the kind of gentleman’s “we’ll all pretend they’re amateurs” agreement that the NCAA falls back on.

    One reason is that, like the NCAA, Comiket has become a prized recruiting ground for new authors and artists, who often produce professional products indistinguishable from the “real thing.” Even in this digital age, serious doujinshi are expected to use offset printing. There are companies in Tokyo that have whole side-businesses doing short runs for Comiket vendors.

  8. C. M. Malm

    While those who don’t like fanfiction are certainly entitled to their opinions, the idea that fanfiction is a brand new phenomenon aimed at destroying the copyright of writers is total bosh. Fanfiction has been around almost as long as written (especially printed) literature has been around. In the Middle Ages, for example, adding on to existing works, modifying them for one’s own purposes (and passing on the modified version), and/or attributing the authorship of what might be called “fan-written” works to a popular author who didn’t actually write them was not uncommon. It’s only been since copyright became a huge legal muddle in the 20th century that fanfiction has really been seen as a legal problem.

    Frankly, I have a lot more respect for authors who recognize the “gentleman’s agreement” that fanfiction is a not-for-profit, creative expression of admiration for the author’s work and not a legal threat. Authors who dislike (and work against) fan-fiction are certainly entitled to their feelings (and legally entitled to their actions), but they should be aware that their position makes them look like stuffy, fan-hating prigs.

  9. Melanie Goldmund

    Just a few thoughts from me:

    I write fanfiction in the fandoms that inspire me, and I’ve known a few other LDS writers who did so, too. (Maybe they still do, but I’ve lost touch with them.) Do I write about Mormon themes? I used the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife once as a base for one of my very early Star Wars fanfics, and the story of the people of King Limhi escaping their captivity as the foundation of another early story. I didn’t use Mormon characters at that time, although I suppose I could have found a place for such a religion in the vast Star Wars universe. Nor do I use Mormon characters now, even though my fanfic writing has shifted to various fandoms closer to the real world. I just haven’t felt that they could be integral to my particular plots in any way.

    Do I think it’s appropriate to write fanfic directly based on the Book of Mormon? After much thought, I’d have to say that yes, I think it can be. I did write a story about eighteen months ago that expanded on a few verses from the Book of Ether, but it was for a contest by LDS Publisher. I never thought of it as fanfic, though, although technically, I suppose it was. I don’t think I’d do it for any other reason than an LDS-based anthology, though.

    Does fanfiction arise from Mormon works? I personally haven’t felt the urge … yet. If I did, however, I think I’d lean more towards Brandon Sanderson’s works than Stephenie Meyers. Just personal preference.

    By the way, C.M. Malm, I read your Snape story and loved it!

    Whenever I write a fanfic, I always put a little disclaimer at the top saying, for instance, that the television show “S” and the characters of “X, Y and Z” on all belong to the BBC and Whatever Production Company, and I am only borrowing them for entertainment purposes, with no intent to profit. I haven’t been sued yet. I would hope that the powers that be recognize that fanfiction is a celebration of their product, not to mention free advertising.

  10. Wm

    For the record, you all are absolutely free to produce works of fanfiction from any of the works of mine that have been published so far.

    But seriously, I appreciate the comments by writers of fanfic who are LDS.

  11. Wm

    Hmmm. The wink didn’t come through. There should be a wink after that first sentence.

  12. Moriah Jovan

    I didn’t know fanfic existed until 3 years ago.

    I also wouldn’t object to fanfic written of my work (actually, it has been), but if someone slashes, I don’t want to know about it.

  13. Elyse

    I wrote a Harry Potter fanfic years ago, with a Mormon OFC, with elements of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and of Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series (oops. I had no idea OSC was against fanfic of his work.). It didn’t get much attention, but there were a few reviews memorable for their derision of Mormon ideas in relation to Snape, and of the church in general. I shruged them off. The positive reviews were better for my ego. :-)

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