This blog post is Part Two in my series about the different categories of fanfiction, as outlined by Henry Jenkins. Part One can be found here. In the first post, I look at different ways in which the story of the source text can be expanded to reveal interpretations of the characters. This post looks at how fans shift perspectives and genres to get “more from” the source text (Pugh 19).
Fans can also recontextualize a story through “refocalization” or by writing from an alternative perspective (Jenkins 165). Jenkins explains that “some writers shift attention away from the program’s central figures and onto secondary characters, often women and minorities, who receive limited screen time” (165). My example shifts focus from the titular Harry Potter to Hermione Granger, and, by doing so, draws attention to how poorly she was treated by Ron and Harry at the beginning of the series’ first novel.
“Dear Ms. Granger”
When Hermione Granger had first received her letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it had been absolutely brilliant. At first, she had been rather shocked. As far as she had known, there was no such thing as witches nor wizards, let alone a school for them. But Hermione prized her mental dexterity and decided that when new facts presented themselves, she had no choice but to reevaluate. She determined to, as soon as she could, to learn as much about Hogwarts and the world of wizards as she could.
Frankly, she was relieved. She had always felt that she didn’t quite fit in. The girls and boys that she went to school with tended to pick on her. They made fun of her bushy hair and front teeth and the fact that she always knew all the answers in class. They called her a brown-noser and a teacher’s pet and other nastier names. She loved learning, but decidedly did not care for school.
But a magical school was bound to be different. The other children must be as eager and excited to learn as she was. They would, after all, be learning magic and she might finally have friends.
At first her parents, who were both dentists, weren’t sure what to make of the letter.
“What do they teach at a School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?” her mother had asked.
“I wonder what their maths program is like,” her father mused.
Of course, they had consented. They had even taken her shopping for the necessary school supplies, wands and cauldrons and robes. In Flourish and Blotts, in addition to her required reading, she also picked up a copy of Hogwarts: A History, which she read in the car on the way home from the shops.
The night before she was supposed to leave for school, she could barely sleep. She looked forward to meeting the other children on the train to Hogwarts tomorrow and the promise of all of the friends she would make.
“Moral Realignment” also offers a change in perspective, this time shifting focus to the story’s villain (Jenkins 168). Jenkins explains that “some fans invert or question the moral universe of the primary text, taking the villains and transforming them into the protagonist of their own narratives” (168). In doing so, fans often present a more sympathetic portrait of the villain than present in the source text. My story provides insight into Serena Joy from The Handmaid’s Tale and suggests why she might have been complicit in the formation of the oppressive regime of Gilead.
Serena Joy was one of the most frightening things in the world: a true believer. She saw the declining fertility rates, heard the stark quiet of the maturity wards, recognized her own growing desperation for a child. She monitored her cervical mucus and basal temperature. She scheduled sex with Fred during times when it should have been most advantageous for conception. He teased her about her eagerness and some days he complained that it had been a long day, that he wasn’t in the mood. She didn’t let his teasing bother her, didn’t listen to his protests. Afterward, they prayed.
Each month, she mourned the blood of her menstruation.
She did not understand why God refused to bless her with a child. All she could do was hope and pray that the next month would be different. That next month she would conceive. That next month her womb would flower. That next month there would be a miracle.
She never used the “i-word” to refer to their condition,
Each month her hope dwindled. But each month her faith grew.
Eventually, she saw what God had planned for her, what he wanted her to do. He had not given her a child because he needed her to be mother to a country. He was punishing America for its atheism and hedonism and materialism and narcissism. He was punishing the world for turning away from him, for closing their ears to his Word, and ignoring his message. It was a modern plague, this withholding of children, and it would not end so long as the world’s hearts were no longer hardened to him.
Together, she and Fred conceived of Gilead. And God needed her help to ease the birth pangs of a new nation.
She wrote books. She appeared on television and on college campuses. She explained what had to be done to save the American people and the babies they were being denied. She was cursed at, spit upon, shot at. But she persisted. Because that’s what a mother does; she defends, protects, her children at all cost.
And when Gilead arrived, she did as mothers before her have done. She gave up everything for the sake of her child.
Well, not everything. For the first time in a long time, Serena Joy began to hope again.
In “Genre Shifting,” fans, picking up on subtextual cues in the source, take characters from one genre, say action-adventure, and put them in another, frequently romance (Jenkins 169). This genre shifting is a way for fanfic writers to focus on the emotional content and to argue for the romantic nature of characters’ relationships. I have taken, for example, the zombie survival show, The Walking Dead, and shifted to a more romantic focus in my exploration of the interactions between the characters Beth Greene and Darryl Dixon, and thereby arguing that the characters were romantically interested in one another.
Living in the prison, they hadn’t spoken much. He’d always kept to himself, stalking through the woods, hunting for food. He’d spend time with Rick and Carol, but he was wary of the newcomers. She’d been with the children, teaching them, nurturing them, mothering them. Her life there had been cozy, almost, safe, or as safe as you could be with the dead walking the earth. She didn’t think that he’d known a life that wasn’t hard.
(There had been that one hug. After Zach had died and he’d come to tell her. She had confessed to the emptiness in herself and he had looked, full of guilt and grief, and she had hugged him. He’d been so stiff at first, as though not sure what to do, but then his hand had come up and held her elbow and she hadn’t wanted to pull away.)
And then the prison fell and they’d lost everything except each other.
At first it had been hard traveling with him. He didn’t talk to her. He was rough. He scowled and hollered and snapped and growled. He was like a wild animal, so focused on survival that he didn’t see anything else in the world. He kept them alive, sure, but it wasn’t living.
But then things changed. Maybe it was drinking moonshine. Maybe it was the screaming match. Maybe it was the hug, where she had held him up so that he could break down. Maybe it was sitting out on the porch buzzed and talking well into the night. But something changed.
He was easier around her now. He smiled and laughed, even made jokes. He asked her to sing. He touched her when he didn’t need to, giving her piggyback rides and carrying her around the house. (And sometimes those touches would linger for a few seconds longer than they should after he’d put her down. And sometimes she wished that they would never stop.)
And then there was the way he looked at her. She didn’t think anyone had ever looked at her like that. Not the boys she knew in school. Not Jimmy. Not Zach. His look was so intense, so piercing, so penetrating, and full of admiration (and maybe, she dared to hope, love). And when she caught his eyes, she didn’t want to look away. (But always did, feeling flushed and thrilled and maybe a little shy.)
(She imagined what it would be like to kiss him. To take him to bed. To have him look at her like that with their naked bodies pressed together, intertwined, him inside her and her around him, and more alive than they’d been even before the dead started walking.)
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.