In my last post, I mentioned that Sheenagh Pugh argues that fanfiction writers want “more from” or “more of” their source text (19). In this series of blog posts (this project got away from me a bit, so I am going to break it up over multiple blog posts), I want to consider the various positions that fanfiction, as it provides “more from” and “more of,” takes in relation to its source. The categories of fanfiction that I explore here are outlined in Henry Jenkins’s Textual Poachers and provide an overview of the kinds of fanfic one might encounter. It is worth noting, though, that these categories are not mutually exclusive, and very often fanfics can be classified in more than one (this is, in fact, true of a number of the stories that I have written here).
Potential spoilers for Twilight, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Handmaid’s Tale, Pride and Prejudice, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
One common approach that fanfic writers will take to get more from the source text is “expanding the series timeline” by writing prequels or sequels to the story’s canon (163). Prequels are generally based on “hints or suggestions about the characters’ backgrounds not fully explored within” the source text (163). Sequel’s imagine the characters’ “future lives” (164). Like all fanfiction, sequels and prequels depend on an interpretation of the characters. In my example below, my interpretation of Bella and Edward’s relationship suggests a darker future than that implied by the ending of the series.
Their first fight had been about Renesmee. They had been married for five years. Sometimes Bella felt like she was the only one not determined to spoil the child rotten. Edward bought her everything she wanted, the elaborate toys, fancy designer dresses, and the latest iphone. She was sure that eventually, when he determined that she was old enough to drive, Edward would give their daughter a Jaguar XK.
“Maybe we don’t need to give her every little thing she wants.” Bella said to Edward one night after they had put Renesmee to bed. Their child was getting too big for night time stories and rituals, but Bella wanted to hold onto them for as long as she could. Because of her accelerated aging, Renesmee’s childhood would be so short, and Bella would be deprived of years watching her grow. She didn’t think Renesmee would leave them, but it would not be the same when she was grown. Renesmee would feel like less of a child, and Bella less like a mother.
“How could I resist her?” Edward had replied. “She is almost as irresistable as her mother.”
“I’m just not sure it is the best thing for her.”
“She’ll be fine,” Edward assured her, and despite the hesitation she felt, she let herself be convinced, overruled by him.
When Renesmee was six she attacked a human, a hiker who had wandered into the woods where the Cullen family was hunting.
“It’s not entirely her fault.” Edward had told his wife. “She was hunting, her blood was up. She couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“She has to resist, Edward. That’s not who we are. We’re not killers.”
“Most vampires, however well intentioned, have slips. Only Carlisle is saintly enough to have never hurt a human.”
“Well, we can’t all be a perfect as you,” he said darkly.
“I never said that I was perfect.”
“No. You wouldn’t. You just make the rest of us feel like we’re not nearly as good.”
“How the hell do I do that?”
But he didn’t answer, and in the end, she felt bad enough to apologize to him for making him feel that way. Then she was mad at herself. She always gave in, let him get the upper hand. He was an expert at manipulating her, controlling her, and stupid lamb she was, she always fell for it every single time.
When they had been married for ten years, she realized that they had little to talk about. Renesmee had moved out and in with Jacob, something that Bella would never be completely comfortable with. Their daughter visited them frequently, but without her constant presence, Bella realized how much she and Edward had depended on their child for topics of conversation. Now that Renesmee was gone, Bella and Edward sat in silence most nights. She didn’t go out much. Edward didn’t like it if she did. He hadn’t forbidden it, but he had let her know he disapproved. So they stayed at home together, and Bella felt very alone.
She tried to remember what they had talked about before, but she couldn’t. Books? She tried to bring up the topic. They had talked, and she wondered if he had always corrected her so much. He made her feel so stupid, the way he dismissed her interpretations and ideas.
“Sorry I haven’t had over one hundred years to read every book ever written,” she had fumed one night when he looked at her disapprovingly for not knowing some obscure German title.
The sex was still amazing, but the silences between were growing wider and sadder.
When they had been married for forty years, they stopped having sex. Bella wasn’t sure exactly when it had happened. It had been such a gradual reduction. They still lived together, but they started staying in separate bedrooms.The worst part was that she had no one to talk to. Charlie was dead of a heart attack and her mother had Alzheimer’s and didn’t recognize her or anyone else. She had come to love her vampire family, but they were Edward’s siblings and parents and she wasn’t sure that she could tell them about how bad her marriage had become. She was afraid that they wouldn’t understand; they all seemed so happy, still, in their relationships. Or worse: they would take Edward’s side. And then she would feel more alone than she did at night beside her husband.
That was the reason why she had never considered a divorce. She didn’t even know if vampires could get divorced, if they could leave their mate. It was not something that the Cullens discussed. But she did know that if she got divorced, she would be alone in the world. Forever. And so she stayed. Year after year after year.
Fans might also “recontextualize” character’s actions and motivations by providing scenes, interactions or thoughts that occur off screen (162). As Jenkins explains, these stories tend to “fill in the gaps” and “provide additional explanations for the character’s conduct” (162). My story draws on the Northern Fool theory, developed by fans of Game of Thrones during the show’s seventh season, which argues that Jon Snow is not really in love with Daenerys Targaryen; he engages in a sexual relationship with her in order to manipulate her into an alliance with the North, to secure her help fighting the horde of ice zombies heading toward his home. This missing scene lays the groundwork for those actions.
He finally found her in the Godswood. He had looked all over Winterfell for her, from the Great Hall to the kitchens, from the Crypts to the ramparts, from the practice yard to the Lord’s Chamber. And now here she was in the last place he had expected to find her, though perhaps it should have been the first.
Her skin was pale as snow and her eyes like the blue of the winter sky. He knew how cold those eyes could be, though since their reunion she hadn’t looked at him save with warmth. With fire when she was frustrated or angry, but never with ice. Even her Tully hair reminded him Winterfell; it was the red of the weirwood’s leaves against the bone white of its trunk. She was the North itself.
It was snowing lightly, but she didn’t seem to notice. She was beneath the heart tree, in the same position he had found their father so many times before. She looked up as she heard the crunch of his boots on the crust of snow that covered the woods.
“I thought you kept the Faith of the Seven.”
“I’m not sure that I keep any faith at all,” she replied. “The New Gods did me little good in King’s Landing, and the Old did not protect me from Ramsay after we knelt together before their tree.”
“So why do you come here?”
She shrugged. “When I was South, the capital and the Eyre, it was the one place that reminded me of Winterfell, of home, of father. It was the one place I felt safe. At first, it was because I though the Old Gods were watching over me. I don’t know when I stopped believing that was true.”
He nodded. “I don’t know what to believe anymore, either.” After all the things he had seen—the Other’s relentless march south with their armies of the dead, the scars in his chest that would never heal, a red witch who could give life to the dead, rumors of dragons that proved true and dreams of wolves there were real—he believed in everything and nothing.
“I know that father had faith in these trees and their gods. But there is so much that he believed in that no longer makes sense in this world.”
“The wars have changed many things.”
“Not everything. Not the fact that the pack is strongest when together, when united,” she paused and took his hand in hers. “Don’t go. Please, Jon. No good will come from going South.”
“It never does.”
He looked at her sadly. “Sansa, you know I must.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Aye. I wish for the same. I wish that the Night’s King wasn’t threating us from the North and a mad queen menacing us from the South. I wish that Arya and Bran were alive and here and that none of us had to leave the safety of these walls.” His eyes met hers. “I wish that so many things were different.”
“If only the gods heard ours wishes.”
“If only they answered them.” He squeezed her hand. “But they don’t, so I must go.”
“You don’t. Stay. Don’t abandon the North.”
He sighed and his voice was weary. “The North doesn’t need me. It has you. And I’ve already explained to the Lords, to you, Sansa, we need her as an ally. She sits on a mountain of obsidian and her dragons are our best hope of defeating the White Walkers.”
“She won’t just help you out of the goodness of her heart. She will want something thing from you. Would-be-queens always do.”
“Well, then, I’ll give her what she wants. If I can.”
“And what if you can’t? What if she asks a price that is too dear? We’ve fought too hard for our home, for the North, you can’t give her that, though she’ll want it to complete her kingdom. And Northerns will never fight for her, even against Lannisters. You heard them. Her father killed the Lord of Winterfell and his heir. Our grandfather and uncle. And her brother kidnapped and raped our aunt. The North has not forgotten and will not fight to put another Targaryen on the throne.”
“You’re right they won’t forget. Especially if you keep reminding them.”
“They don’t need to be reminded. They lost fathers and sons, husbands and brothers, in the war to usurp a dragon; they won’t risk more kin to seat another.”
“Then I’ll offer her something I can. Or find some way to persuade her.”
She smiled at him sadly. “You are a Northern fool.”
“Sansa.” He reached out and cupped the back of her head. “This is a risk we have to take. I don’t know what the Dragon Queen will do when I meet her, but I do know what the army of the dead will do if it breaches The Wall, and I must do what I can to protect the North. Our home. You. I cannot have this argument with you. I leave tomorrow. Let there be peace between us.”
“I can’t lose you again,” she said quietly. “Not now that I’ve only just gotten you back. Jon, you’re all I have left in this world.”
He pulled her to him and embraced her. She had grown taller than he, but she curled herself into him and seemed so small that for a moment he almost acquiesced, almost agreed to forget the Night’s King and the Dragon Queen and the whole rest of the bloody realm and stay in Winterfell with her. But he knew that they could only pretend to be safe for so long. Winter would come for them eventually.
“I will return to you,” he breathed into her hair.
“You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep.” Her words were hot against his neck.
“I have every intention of keeping this one.”
“Do you swear?”
“To the Old Gods and the New. I swear I will return to Winterfell, to the North, to you. And I hope to return stronger, in a better position to defend ourselves.”
She pulled away from his embrace so that she could look into his eyes. “Remember, Jon, the Gods won’t help you. Do what you must to survive, to return.” She paused. “Even if you need to turn your back on some of the old ways, to forget some of father’s lessons.”
“I’ll do my best, Sansa.”
“I know you will. If there is one thing I still believe in, Jon, it’s you.”
“Aye. And I believe in you. Hold the North. Care for our people.”
She nodded and held his gaze. And they stood together under the heart tree, still holding each other and neither wanting to let the other go. In each other, they had found their family and regained their home, and they were afraid of what parting would mean for them. So they stayed close and put off saying goodbye for just a few minutes longer.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context. Poetry Wales Press, 2005.