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Ivory and Ivy November 2004 by Edward Carmien
SFRevu Column  ISBN/ITEM#: 0411I2
Date: November 15, 2004 /

Bring on the fans.

No, not rotary air-displacement devices. Readers of science fiction and fantasy and any fiction who like what they read so much they become involved with the field in some tangible way, by attending conventions, by participating in discussion lists or online communities such as (for Cherryh readers), by publishing fanzines (see for an impressive list), or even by more formally entering the world of ideas by, gasp, appearing in print, as in More People?s Guide to JRR Tolkien and The Plot Thickens: Harry Potter Investigated by Fans for Fans, two new books by and for fans of two of the most important fantasy authors in the field.

I could turn to a discussion of the postmodern, of the denial of a universal perspective or centrality of cultural control or some other mind-boggling turn of phrase or philosophy to describe this trend, but all I?d be saying is: the fan is coming of age in the society of ideas.

Naturally, fans have long been the object of discussion by those of us in the writing business, and even by those of us in the ivory tower business?the Popular Culture Association, for example, has been talking knowledgeably about fans for years. The thoughts and ideas of fans, however, have not commonly had strong currency in the writing or academic fields?sure, we pay attention to what we hear, but generally speaking (sorry, fans, but this is just the grim truth) the ideas coming from the fan world were considered to be, well, fannish. My dozen short stories haven?t earned me many fans yet, but I know from the experience of other writers that it?s nice to have fans appreciate one?s work?but has any writer I?ve ever spoken to taken something a fan has said about characterization, plotting, or fiction in general as an authoritative statement?

Shhhhh. This is a secret: the answer is ?no.? Sure, there are occasionally stories about how a writer does something in response to popular fan outcry, but by and large fans are either something to observe (as an academic) or to cultivate (as a writer).

Until now, that is. More People?s Guide to JRR Tolkien and The Plot Thickens: Harry Potter Investigated by Fans for Fans appear to break new ground. Prior to this fans that wanted to enter into the world of ideas had to leave fandom behind. Many of the best writers in the field began as fans, in fact, and of course it is the rare writer of what I call romantic fiction (sf, fantasy, horror, detective fiction, and so on) who doesn?t also appreciate the fiction he or she reads in a fan-like way. These new books showcase fans being fans.

More People?s Guide to JRR Tolkien was written ?by the people for the people,? and is self-consciously addressing issues that spring from the minds of fans and not from the minds of scholars. This follow up text addresses the third Jackson film and represents the collected wisdom of authors from ?the #1 Tolkien fan website.?

The Plot Thickens is editor Galadriel Waters? newest contribution to the world of hints and puzzles about Rowling?s Potter books. Such books are fascinating from an academic perspective, as they are essentially a form of literary criticism aimed at young readers. In this one, Waters gathers ?53 fans from 10 countries? and their investigations of ?sly clues? in Rowling?s works.

Both of these texts represent the gathering of thoughts from the densely packed and weird world of the Internet, and both can serve as an introduction to on-line mini-communities full of people who share ideas about books of which they are?you guessed it?fans. If nothing else, these printed versions of the best of the best of such online discussions serve as a reliable way of documenting them?these are texts that are going to have a much longer shelf-life (or at least a more usable shelf-life) than the originals that appeared, in unedited and casual form, online. The online versions of these fan discussions live uncertain lives, threatened by each change in format, by time, by the costs of archiving and making them available to the world online?print?s advantage here is obvious.

If you?re a fan of Tolkien or Rowling (or both), these texts are worth a look. Be careful: reading one or both of these might lead to your involvement in the online discussions about the texts?and too much of that can lead to something hitting the rotary air displacement device.

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