Friday, May 10, 2013

Number One Fan

By Russel D McLean

umber whunnnn
yerrrnnn umber whunnnn

These sounds. Even in the haze.

- - Misery (Stephen King)

I’ll admit I haven’t read Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series or even seen an episode of True Blood (not for any reason other than time; seriously, if I had time to read every book I ever wanted or see every television show), but this last week I’ve been extremely intrigued by the reaction to the new - and final - Sookie Stackhouse novel that finally got its Uk release on Thursday.

Why intrigued?

Because of the  unpleasant face of fandom that reared itself prior to the book’s publication. It started with a German fan revealing the ending and from these escalated as people howled and wailed and generally stramashed over the fact that Stookie didn’t end they wanted her to. Some have even sent death threats to the author. One woman proclaims herself “heartbroken” that the series is ending and “still can’t believe it.” This particular fan reads the series once a year and takes out a free trial to HBO for three months of the year simply to watch the TV show.

All of this over an ending that Harris has planned since the second book is this long running (16 books) series.

There is always a little sadness when a long running series ends, but you deal with it. You move on. You remember why the series affected you. You think about what the ending meant in context with everything else. You consider why it had to end that way. Maybe you’re a little dissapointed. Maybe you love it. But you engage with it.

And you don’t claim ownership over the work of another person in the way that certain obsessive fans seem to do now without thinking.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The prickly dynamic between Ms. Harris and some of her followers highlights how hard it can be to kill a successful series. For the first time in years, Ms. Harris isn't touring to promote the book. She doesn't want to be berated by readers who hate the ending or want vampire spinoffs.

Is this normal? Is this how a creator should be? Frightened by their own fans?

Fans can be obsessive. I know that as well as anyone. I'm a self confessed Star Trek fan as well as a Whovian. I love comic books. I can quote whole scenes in movies without thinking twice. But I never feel that I own these things of which I am a fan. I do not have a sense that somehow they owe me something other than the enjoyment they have already given me.

Sookie Stackhouse is Harris’s creation. We may love that creation, but it is no more ours than the significant other that we love is ours. Like any relationship, there is a point at which the fannish entitlement crosses over from enthusiasm and devotion to a kind of deluded sense of ownership that was never there to begin with.

As fans our right is to be entertained. Not to have our every whim catered to and not to dictate the way in which the creator tells their story.

After all, where’s the fun in that?

What I love as a reader is being taken on an unexpected journey. I love being surprised and I love the feeling that I’m being taken to places I never would have gone myself. If I were to turn around tomorrow and demand that Steven Moffat*** do a whole series of pure historical adventures with no science fiction or monsters, and then he did that, then I would perhaps feel satisfied but the romance of my relationship with Moffat’s creations would be gone. The fact is that the more fans demmands are met, the less fun they have. Because what pulled them in at the start was the wild and genius unpredictability of not knowing what was in store or coming next.

Perhaps this is why I’m not a big fan of series fiction in general. There is a sense that, after a while, all that unpredictiabily gets bogged down in a sense of diminishing returns. There is nothing new to be seen or discovered. Returning again to that Wall Street Journal article:

For a while, it was easy to take the series in surprising new directions. She relished coming up with grisly new ways for characters to die. To choreograph elaborate fight scenes, Ms. Harris, who studied karate, would get the other students in her karate class to act out the fights.

The key words are “for a while”.

Harris always had an end in sight, and if I was a fan I’d rather she got out while the going was good rather than getting bored. And I’d be happy that she provided me with entertainment during all those years and all those books. And while I’d have a relationship and fond memories of them, I would never feel that I owned them or that their very existience was dependant on my own whims or dreams or ideals.

If you want that kind of control, then go create your own worlds, your own characters, your own plots.

Otherwise, hang on, enjoy the ride and appreciate that it might take you places you never expected.

“She can’t be dead!” Annie Wilkes shrieked at him. Her hands snapped open and hooked closed in a faster and faster rhythm. “Misery Chastain CANNOT BE DEAD!” - Misery, Stephen King

*probably not literally
**Yes, one fan threatened to kill themselves if the Stackhouse novel did not meet their expectations of a gran finale
***current show runner of Doctor Who


JD Rhoades said...

Some people regard authors as creators, as partners in dreaming. A very few regard authors as The Help, and God forbid The Help get uppity.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I was sad to see Battlestar Galactica end (I kniw, TV not books). On the other hand, I didn't get into any battles with Universal over it.

Some characters you just fall in love with and want there to be more, more and more. So it's with mixed feelings that I read about plans to revive Bertie Wooster with a new writer taking up where P.G. Wodehouse left off (when he died). On the one hand, I really can't get enough of Bertie and Jeeves. On the other, I can't believe anyone can replicate Wodehouse.

John McFetridge said...

In the words of the great Canadian band, Chilliwack, "If there ain't no audience then there ain't no show."

Still, I think there's something bigger going on. It's possible that many people are feeling a loss of control over many aspects of their lives. We can try to petition and boycott companies all we want, they will still make products in rickety factories in third world countries. We can vote however we want, almost none of us feel our governments represent us.

And even our entertainment can feel like a dictatorship we have no say in.

So much of our lives feel like, "Take it or leave it."