Friday, May 14, 2010

Why Studying Fairy Tale is Awesome: A Seminar Paper

On June 1st, I'm giving a paper entitled 'Why Studying Fairy Tale is Awesome' as part of the English Lit. seminar series. It'll be on at midday in the ECPS library, level 7, Menzies Building, Clayton campus. Please do come along if you're interested in fairy tales - everyone is most welcome.

I'll be talking a bit about the field of fairy tale scholarship and the changes that are taking place in the field, including the impact of research into popular novels, comics and television, and then I'll give everyone a rundown of my own research. It'll be a little like those school presentations, 'what I did on holiday,' except I'll be talking about what I've been up to on research leave!

I was in two minds about the title - did it sound like I was trying to be 'too cool,' which can be incredibly painful? However, a random poll of my students reassured me that studying fairy tale is awesome and it should be stated.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Fan Fiction Debate

There's a great piece over at i09 by Catherynne M. Valente about authors and their response to fan fiction, in which she declines the urge to "holler about fan fiction being evil when I've made a name for myself at least in part by retelling fairy tales."

Anyone who knows and understands fairy tales will usually feel pretty comfortable with fan fiction. Fan fiction and fairy tale operate on a very similar basis. The best fairy tales don't simply retell earlier tales - they fill in gaps, twist the plots, upend characters, indulge in the odd bit of wish-fulfillment or revenge, and incorporate opportune bits from other tales.

Fan fiction is simply part of what makes the world of storytelling go around. It's not out of bounds to claim works like Geraldine Brooks' March are fan fiction. There are good and bad examples, after all. There is always a little trickiness around copyright - happily earlier fairy tale tellers didn't worry too much about that - and this has created angst and over-caution among some authors. It isn't that incredible in light of what can happen in the courts. Angst is probably also due to the reality that authors can access fan fiction thanks to the internet. Fan fiction was always being written, but the 'source' authors didn't generally see it until the proliferation of fan fiction sites. Curiously, television writers seem more apt at accepting and absorbing fan fiction, perhaps because much, even most, fan fiction is generated by serialised storytelling. Shows like Supernatural actively play to their fan base and you'll see the occasional wink to the fan fiction trends. Television shows also tend to have writing teams, with different writers working on the same stories, characters and arcs, pulling them this way and that as the series evolves. There is a different sense of proprietary rights involved, one a little more friendly to the generation of fan fiction. And most scriptwriters do spec scripts, which aren't a world away from fan fiction, either.

For myself, I think fan fiction is evidence of engaged, active, creative readers, readers who in turn become writers. I have nothing against having more writers in the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This morning's post brough to you by the Bronte sisters

This is a fantastic fake ad for Bronte sisters action figures. I'd tell you about the coolest part, but that would be a spoiler.

I actually grew up thinking women 'owned' the novel. We once discussed in a women's writing class whether we'd noticed the gender of the writers we'd been reading up to that point. The outcome was intriguing. Most of the writers I thought of were women. The odd Dickens or Eddings, but even now, if I glance along the shelves, where there is a concentration of novels by the same author, it's far more often a female author (although there is a slight shift since I've been adding comics to the mix... where are the female comic book authors? I'll have to pursue that).

Students went home and had a look at their shelves and came back with all kinds of insights about their own reading and whether or not they'd noticed or even cared about the gender of the writers they'd been reading. It's worth reflection. We talk a lot about gender discrimination and its impact on literature, and our own reading is a useful place to start.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

'One Book, One Twitter'

If you know my curriculum-setting habits, you'll know I smiled at the first choice for the 'One Book, One Twitter' initiative (you can read about in here in The Guardian). The choice is for the big, rambling Neil Gaiman novel, American Gods.

It's not an easy or simple choice, so I'm fascinated that it won. The field included literary and science fiction heavy weights, too. In reading about the 'one book, one city' efforts that spurred 'one book, one twitter' on, what is exciting is that the novels aren't predictable. Apart from perhaps To Kill A Mockingbird in Chicago. Yes, I enjoy the novel, but it regularly crops up on 'to read' lists. From Russia With Love, chosen by Brighton, doesn't.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Genre Definition

Lincoln Michel is thinking about genre labels in The Faster Times. The article underscores the difficulty of working with definitions in terms of genre. Genre is slippery. It is meant to be. Solid definitions or labels simply shouldn't stick.