History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

17 December 2010

Mashups and Revisionings:The Romance of Shared, Imagined Worlds

This will be a quick one, (even without pix,which blogger seems to be ignoring today). Because I'm trying to finish up a publishable version for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies of what I spoke about last summer in Belgium: Queer Theory, male/male romance by women for women, and what we can learn from one about the other. With proper academic citations and proof of argument -- which, I find, is particularly challenging as I lack much advanced academic background and as a fiction writer being used to making stuff up.

Still, it's been interesting, especially when I try to analyze my friend Ann Herendeen's bisexual take on Pride and Prejudice, Pride/Prejudice -- and as I trace its roots back to slash fan fiction. I wrote about this sub-genre a while back -- the amazingly popular grouping of do-it-yourself female Star Trek fans, who loved to share their own made-up alternate Universe wherein Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock maintain a hot and also tender erotic relationship. Kirk/Spock fiction it was called. Kirk SLASH Spock... giving rise, some two decades later, to Pride/Prejudice.

But I'd never read any of it until recently, when I got hold of one of the old zines, called Naked Times, and featuring, to my fascination, a story that I learned was a respected classic in the genre, the very hot and sweet 1979 "Desert Heat," by Gayle Feyrer, who some decades later wrote some well-loved and highly prized historical romances, under her own name and as Taylor Chase.

Connections everywhere... and to me the connections seemed particularly apposite since a few weeks ago I attended my first JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) conference, and found myself feeling like... well, like I imagine a Trekkie feels at their conventions, engulfed in the warmth of shared knowledge of a world and a population that seems, when you talk about it with other fans, almost as real as our own. "What would Eleanor Tilney say to that?" we asked each other -- or particularly dearly to my heart, "What did the maddeningly quiet Jane Fairfax think at that moment?" (I've got my own answers to that one on my hard drive that I hope will someday make it to print, in a work-in-progress currently called Jane Fairfax's Dream, though my husband likes to call it Bad Mr. Knightley.)

Connections and questions. About why romance -- and popular culture in general at this time -- lends itself so readily to mashups and revisionings. Why do the stories become so much our own, and so shared and beloved, that we want to bring the "hidden parts" into view? As, of course, some of our Hoydens have done, with Lauren's intrepid graduate student heroine on the trail of the "real" Pimpernel, and Janet's disclosure of what really happened during Jane Austen's trip to Bath and an encounters with a sexy bunch of vampires. Or even, on a less fan-fiction note, how Tracy and I have attempted to tell some of the "real" stories of political struggle under the glamorous Regency surface.

Readers, writers, and those hybrid reader/writers among you: Why do we love to retellings so much?

What are some of your own attempts (perhaps, still, like mine, in progress)?

And what are some of your published (or filmed or televised) favorite mashups, revisitings, and revisionings?

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Blogger Unknown said...

"Slash" has been around a lot longer than *two* decades. The first K/S slash was being written in the early 1970s, making it closer to a four decade time span.

Don't forget that "Mary Sue" was coined in Star Trek fan-fiction, too, and at about the same time as "slash" was named.

I think the impulse to embroider on and retell stories has been present for as long as there have been storytellers. But with technology from mimeograph and offset 'zines to the story archives on the internet, we just have more and better ways of sharing them now. I can't put it any better than Henry Jenkins: ""Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations, instead of owned by the folk."

My personal favorite for film re-visioning is Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, though the new Star Trek was very well done, too.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I like revisionings like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or Red Shirt (more Star Trek) where we follow the story from the POV of secondary characters, and I've enjoyed some modern takes like Clueless, but I'm not a big fan of stuff like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Pride/Prejudice where they utterly alter the basic story and characters.

Just not my cuppa (to be clear, I don't have a problem with people writing or enjoying these, they're just not for me).

9:07 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Carol, you're so right re chronology. My math is messed up -- or I'm personally in denial about the passing of time. And yes, that is a great quote from Henry Jenkins, though I'd ask (and not in an adversarial tone here) who owns the Jane Austen mythology nowadays?

While as for the Mary Sue thing -- actually, that's going to be part of my paper, the way that in romance mashups, the author-surrogate discipline works differently than in fan fiction.

Isobel, I like that kind of retelling the best -- and in fact, ever since I first read Emma, I've been wanting to hear that angry, angry girl, Jane Fairfax's, story.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I'd love to see the events of Emma through Jane's eyes (and yes, bad, bad, Mr. Knightly!).

5:56 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, yes. Jane Austin is in the public domain now, but I was thinking more about fan-fiction in general with the "Textual Poachers" Jenkin's quote. I well remember the huge up swelling of that "there are more stories to tell and I will write and share them!" feeling when fan-fiction went from notebooks under teens' beds read by a handful of friends to fanzines with copy runs into the thousands during the 70s. No corporate entity was was going to tell us we couldn't write and share those stories. So there, Paramount!

Today, of course, fan fiction is practically respectable (though still legally in a gray area), and it is certainly of interest to academics.

I think that without 40 years of fan fiction to pave the way, something like "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" would not have been possible to get published at all.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I totally agree, Carol. Fan fiction is a kind of hinge moment. And Jenkins' reading of Eve Sedgwick's work is very germane to what I'm doing as well.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I always find it really interesting to see the range of responses authors have to fan fiction. Me? I grew up with Marion Zimmer Bradley as a model (she was a friend of one of my godparents), so it seems natural to embrace the idea.

I find it bizarre that someone could be offended rather than flattered that their world is so real to their readers that it literally lives inside their heads. That said, I do understand why many authors don't want to read their fan-fic . . .

8:28 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Pam! For as long as I can remember, I'd finish a book and imagine "what happens next," so to me fan fiction seems perfectly natural. Like Isobel, I think I'd be pretty flattered if someone found my fictional world so real they wanted to write about it (though I'd want it to remain clear that my stories were the "official" version as it were).

I think my favorite re-imagining is Laurie King's Mary Russell series. It works builds organically (at least to me as a reader) on the Sherlock Holmes cannon, and yet the stories are fresh and unique.

5:42 PM  

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