Earlier 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.