If I Could Scratch Five Words from the Fannish Lexicon …

Hey, we all have those words and terms for which we bear an illogical (or maybe not-so-illogical …) loathing. Here are my fannish five.

(I should add that this list is relevant to the Silmarillion fandom, perhaps the broader Tolkien fandom in places, but they are hardly representative of Fandom as a Whole, if there is any such thing, and they are not meant to be.)

5. AU. Short for alternate universe, this term isn’t bad if it’s used for what it is meant to represent: stories that are set in an actual alternate universe. This term’s shortcoming comes from the way that its definition has been distorted unto meaninglessness by confusing unpopular interpretation with distortion of the canon. I’ve discussed this elsewhere, so I won’t say much more here except to note that it is unfortunate that a term intended to delineate a distinct, legitimate genre has instead become an aspersion and used to attempt to shame authors into a mainstream, fanonical, and crowd-approved interpretation of JRRT’s texts.

4. OOC. Short for “out of character,” I’ve seen this used as a warning, as a form of AU (i.e., “Warning: I’ve made Maedhros really mean and OOC!”), but most often as a criticism of stories where the reader feels the author strays too far outside the bounds of believability.

But, in Silmfic, “OOC” is almost meaningless.

We recently had this discussion on the SWG list. As I pointed out in my post, even the most written-about characters are barely mentioned in the text; for example, Maedhros–who commands an impressive 22% of stories on the SWG archive–is mentioned only eighty-eight times in The Silmarillion. This isn’t a whole lot to go on.

Silmarillion characters, by and large, are not characters at all. They are archetypes; they are familiar faces throughout literature, here, being used to illustrate broad points about an imagined history. While a perceptive reader can and will detect complexity in these characters, this is more often derived from implication than anything explicit that JRRT has done in terms of characterization. For example, Fëanor is widely regarded as a complex character. What The Silmarillion actually says about Fëanor, though, is anything but shades of gray: He is depicted negatively, representing the worst qualities of pride and arrogance; he is the quintessential fallen character who serves a broader purpose as a vehicle for expressing ideas about possessiveness, pride, and obedience to authority.

These are Fëanor’s canonical traits: He’s a proud jerk. Readers, though, see complexity in his relationships with his family, people, and the Valar. They read between the lines to determine that he was not always such a negative character; that his negative traits evolved from what was done to him rather than from core character flaws.

Most of Tolkien’s Silmarillion characters are this way. They have a handful of defining traits and not much else. It is possible to see much more implied in the story, but this is largely conjecture and interpretation and can hardly be called “canon.” So what of OOC?

OOC, I think, is a completely irrelevant label in Silmfic 99% of the time that it is slung against a story or author. “Keeping to canon” in terms of characterization is limited to understanding the roles that a character plays in the broader framework of the story and not much else. In other words, understanding Fëanor the symbol/archetype requires that he maintain certain traits in order to function in the same way in fan-authored stories as he does in the texts. Making him a meek and pie-eyed boot-licker of the Valar is likely to irrevocably change his character’s function in the story*. Making him chronically anxious or empathetic or a great teacher or a loving father … not OOC. Those things can all coexist alongside his necessary role as the proud jerk to create a portrait of Fëanor the man (not Fëanor the symbol/archetype). As authors, moving characters beyond their roles as symbols or archetypes is usually a good idea.

In Silmfic, OOC is rarely a legitimate critique. More often than not, it is wielded against those stories that do not conform to the reader’s personal interpretation of a character. For example, Another Man’s Cage was once deemed “OOC” by a reader because Fëanor hugged his kids. This particular reader–who clearly wasn’t inclined to see characters rounded beyond those few key traits JRRT gives us–couldn’t see how one as “evil” as Fëanor could ever do something so sweet and cutesy as hugging his kids.

There is absolutely nothing in the texts to support this idea. There isn’t, of course, anything in the texts that definitively states that Fëanor did hug his kids either. Which left that reader and me at an impasse, neither of us wrong but neither of us right either, hurling textual facts at each other that proved nothing definitive.

Slathering “OOC” onto any interpretation which one does not agree is not the solution.

* I would not be me if I did not mention that one can actually justify some of these “OOC” 180-from-the-texts depictions by remembering that The Silmarillion was written as fictional myth or history, with all the thorny issues of finding “truth” in myth or history present here as well. This takes more convincing in a story, I think, but is not outside the realm of possibility.

3. Mary Sue. “Mary Sue” is another one of those terms that has lost its meaning. When I first joined the Tolkien fandom, Mary Sue was usually defined as “ya know her when ya see her.” As I did more and more reading, Mary Sue came to be a character with flawed characterization: Instead of being possessed of all the round, complex traits that we know we should invest our characters with, she was flat and unequivocally Good. Because she represented the author, of course, and the author was simply acting out a fantasy.

Later, Mary Sue was redefined for me as an actor that warped the plot or the other characters. The problem with her wasn’t her flat characterization but the way that she had of hijacking canonical plotlines or skewing canon characters into “OOCness” (see the gripe above this one), i.e. making Frodo’s choice to take the Ring to Mordor not an act of self-sacrifice but because he was enamored of her, and she was going along with the Fellowship because she and Legolas could not be parted from each other. She could be the most believable female character in the world, but her exertion on the storyline and her fellow characters (as understood in the canon) was too strong.

Naturally, “Mary Sue” is not the only fannish term to have different definitions depending on who you ask. (Just ask a few people what “PWP” stands for …) That’s not my problem with the term.

The concept of “Mary Sue” is often itself misogynist. Like “AU” and “OOC,” it often becomes a criticism broadened to include any story with an original female character. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it suggests that there is something wrong with giving the spotlight–or even part of it–to a woman. One of my major critiques against JRRT’s writings is that they are an old boys’ club. Yes, he did better than many–even most–male fantasists, but his stories are still about males shaping their world to suit their vision. It’s called the Fellowship of the Ring for a reason. There is also a reason why even gender-conscious fans do not blink at the term “Men” being used to refer to mortal human beings of both genders: Because mortal women in JRRT’s writings so rarely give us reason to apply it to them that we don’t usually get the chance to notice the sheer wrongness of a sentence like, “Haleth was a Man who led her people to victory.”

One of the major positive functions of Tolkien-based fiction (aside from its value as entertainment or personal fulfillment or as a fun community-building hobby) is that authors can give voices to the unnamed, unvoiced women in the stories and begin to correct the gender imbalance in JRRT’s works. Pinning a derogatory label on the front of every female character who does not appear on the short list with which we have to work in “canon” is one way of further stifling creativity in this regard.

Secondly, the oft-mouthed definition of Mary Sue as a (female) character who is “too perfect” is problematic. What does that mean? That a woman can’t be beautiful, smart, and charming? (I do not believe that. I know some.) Characters that are “too perfect” appear throughout JRRT’s writings. They are both male and female. Critiquing a character as not relatable because of his/her unreal perfection is fair game. Claiming that, as a whole, female characters that are “too perfect” can’t function in a story is sexist. Despite the existence of terms like “Gary Stu” and “Marty Stu,” I’ve never actually seen these terms applied to a story. The message I come away with is that “perfect” women (read: strong, beautiful, assertive, charismatic) are problematic. The same traits in a guy are Finrod.

Thirdly, the accusation of “Mary Sue” is most often made against those characters appearing in stories authored by young women. They are problematic (it is said) because they are shameless self-inserts and represent a female fantasy and nothing else.

And what, pray tell, is wrong with that?

It seems to me that male-authored literature and media is full of self-inserts that represent male fantasies. How many skinny nerds become superheroes or martial arts masters or secret agents charged with saving the world? How many of them get ripped and get the girl? How many adolescent males authoring fan fiction do you think make their male self-inserts well-rounded characters? And how much critique do you think these young men get when they fail to do so?

We not only critique young women; we made up a whole term to point out their literary sins!

No, “Mary Sue” has to go. Not only is it being applied too broadly to exclude female characters in general, but it is being used to devalue the writings and fantasies of young women. It asks, why should they be writing about themselves as an equal, as a Tenth Walker, when they could just pick one of the boys that JRRT gave them to write about?

2. Slash. As I’m writing this, I’m sensing a trend in my loathing of most of these terms: once-accurate (and largely neutral) terms become pejorative and are broadly applied to anything that even vaguely resembles what the term was invented to actually define. Or: if it quacks like a duck, that means it must be a duck, even if it’s really a goose, my dogs’ honking stuffed duck toy, or my crazy uncle dressed like a duck on Halloween.

Slash, as I understand it, was a term originally coined for stories with a prominent same-sex non-canonical consummated pairing. Despite the awful-sounding name, it really was meant to be neutral: “Slash” referred to the literal slash between the characters’ names when indicating the pairing, i.e. Maedhros/Fingon, Aragorn/Legolas, Kirk/Spock. It was a distinct subgenre of fiction that represented the author’s purpose in writing the story–to present sexually a non-canonical homosexual (usually male) couple–and not to act as an indication of non-sexual content.

These days, though, I get the impression that “slash” has come to mean “anything gay.” If your characters just happen to be gay and just happen to have an off-screen and completely non-sexual same-sex pairing, then that is slash. If I want to look at the social issues that might have been present in Gondolin if Ecthelion and Glorfindel really were a couple, even if I never venture beyond the council rooms and parlors of the city to look at their personal/romantic lives, even if they never kiss, then a certain subset of readers will expect me to label that story as slash. It’s not remotely incestuous; it doesn’t “violate canon” in any way, but it depicts gay characters, so people need and deserve a warning.

Among my friends who write mostly same-sex pairings, there is lately a revolt against the term. They don’t like it, and I don’t blame them. Broadly defined as it is, it becomes a way of enforcing homophobia. Readers who don’t like slash often use sexual explicitness as the reason for that. They’ll often affirm, in the same breath, to dislike graphic het stories too. The difference is that a lot of these readers won’t blink at a story that mentions Maglor’s extra-canonical marriage but will pitch a fit if Glorfindel and Ecthelion have an extra-canonical off-screen romance. That’s homophobia, folks. Allowing homophobic people to avoid that truth by aiding them in sweeping anything “gay” under the same label as “gay sex” is wrong.

1. Canon. Tolkien’s stories are full of mythical entities. A coherent canon is one of them.

If one defines “canon” as basically the same as “inarguable facts” (implying that the writer cannot deviate from them without making a mistake or writing an AU), then there are precious few of those in JRRT’s writings.

That is not the problem. That is, in my heretic’s estimation, what makes JRRT’s writings such a fruitful playground for my own creative endeavors and why, I suspect, unlike many other fandoms, one doesn’t see too much migration of Tolkien fans.

The problem is that discussions of canon often begin with the belief that it is possible–with enough study of the texts–to find out answers, “what really happened” in the stories. That it is possible to grade most scenarios, tidily, as right or wrong in terms of canon. That “canon-compliant” and “AU” do not occur on a continuum.

I’ve already made the argument elsewhere that precious little truly counts as canon. Few of the “facts” presented in the stories can’t be challenged in some way. I’ve argued yet elsewhere that where people are hung up on questions of canon, they need to be asking questions about stories and writing. I stick by those beliefs and, in my perfect fannish world, would no longer see discussions of canon framed as finding right or wrong answers but as looking at myriad possibilities with the goal of creating a thoughtful or entertaining story.

So … what terms would you strike from the fannish lexicon?


18 Responses to “If I Could Scratch Five Words from the Fannish Lexicon …”

  1. Niki says:

    One of my “favorite” things about the term Mary Sue is that I usually hear the term (used seriously) from people I’ve seen griping about how lazy or hive-minded other reviewers are. Because using “Mary Sue” when something more along the lines of, “I’m having a hard time empathizing with your character because ______” would be so much more useful to the author (and other reviewers) isn’t the least bit lazy or hive-minded.

    I also have major issues with the fanfiction-related use of the word “review.” When I first started poking my nose around the fanfic world, I expected it to mean, “Comments from other readers that will help me decide whether or not to read the story for myself.” And then I saw Fanfiction.net saying things about reviews that suggested that reviews were supposed to be about constructive criticism aimed at the author, not for the benefit of other readers (not to mention all sorts of people griping that people who just say, “Great story, I hope to read more!” in a review are just wasting time and that they wanted to see rich reviews with all sorts of criticism)–which helped lead to me starting to view the world of fanfiction as a giant writer’s workshop, and I couldn’t bring myself leave a review without getting obnoxiously nitpicky. Argh.

    So I guess I wish reviews would mean, “Comments from readers to other readers,” and that notes to the author about their stories would be called “comments” instead of “reviews” or something.

  2. Oshun says:

    I agree with most of your points on the above terms. I cannot think of any others off the top of my head.

    I am less upset one way or the other about the term Mary Sue—I simply don’t take it seriously as a criticism. Be specific if you want to talk about what is wrong with the plot or the characterization of a story. But, I also find it a stretch to argue that the term Mary Sue is an anti-woman term. This superficial, sweeping, and largely inaccurate, generalization was coined by women for women to complain about unconvincing characterization. One can discuss any number of other much more valid and serious examples of bias against or paucity of strong women in literature and the reasons why these persist.

    I am one of those who object to use of the term slash and the intense reaction against and dislike of a romantic involvement between two men or two women in a story. I am appalled by homophobia. It is the cause of violence, injustice, and a whole series of other really ugly real-life things in the world I live in and I cannot tolerate it lightly. I will complain about it. I could not live with myself if I did not. I can no more stomach a tacit acceptance of tolerating objections to it in my fanfic life than I would quietly tolerate racism or any other form of bigotry for the sake of peace and inclusiveness.

    Some people who object to so-called “slash” insist they are not homophobic; they have good friends who are gay or lesbian (where have we heard that before?), but they just don’t enjoy m/m romance, for example, so they should have a “warning.” By that logic, I should get a “warning” for dull, repetitious or tedious stories. There are plenty of stories I do not like. I stop reading them. I do not complain to a website administrator about them or go into a nervous tizzy insisting I be protected from them. I do not look for a site to use that bans those stories either—it reeks of book-burning and censorship to me. (Frankly, I am uncomfortable reading at such sites. It feels hypocritical to me.)
    Others say it is a religious question for them. Well, eating meat is a serious religious question for many millions in the world. We do not warn “this story contains meat eating.”

  3. Dawn says:

    Niki: I agree with you on the word reviews! Upon joining fandom, to me, a review was like a book review or a movie review: a coherent what-I-liked-and-what-I-didn’t analysis of the story aimed at others considering the story. Then I realized that it was more, as you said, for “comments.” But then there are those who treat it like a writers’ workshop. ??? No wonder there’s always such confusion and drama over reviews! :)

    Personally, I get a bit irritated with the writers’ workshop interpretation, not because I don’t want people pointing out where they think I could improve, but because I think it lends the impression that fanfics are never finished and are always up for revision. No way. There are some stories that I never want to touch again. As long as people understand that, critique away! But don’t get angry that you (theoretical You, not actually you) spent an hour on a “review” and I’m not making any changes. I’d rather a true “review” of the first sort, actually: “I didn’t like this story because …” not with any expectation of revision.

    I would prefer “comments” as well. :) (And, yes, I’m hypocritical because the SWG calls them “reviews”! In my defense, that is default, and I never thought to change it. 😉 )

    Oshun: As a vegetarian myself, I love the meat analogy! :) Of course, people will say, ” ‘Slash’ isn’t canon, so that’s why I don’t want to read it.” Of course, it’s not uncanonical either (in fact, I make the argument that it’s harder to argue that homosexuality would not have existed in Arda than it is to make the argument that it did). And the fact that homosexuality, alone of the matters where “canon” is uncertain, requires a warning? Just … no. Is it so hard to see why that’s problematic??

    And I don’t regard religious reasons as more important than any moral or ethical reason for avoiding something. That’s probably because I’m agnostic, so all my avoidances are moral or ethical. :) Nope, to me, that’s a cop-out, a way of pleading “religion!” instead of having to utter the hard truth of, “I just don’t like gay people.”

  4. Independence1776 says:

    The term “Mary Sue” and the fear of being labeled as such is much of the reason that people don’t write original characters. But in the Silm, we generally have to include them, even if they’re only background characters. But woe betide the author who makes one or more prominant, especially if said character is female. I hate it. I write OCs, and am well aware that one of my future stories won’t be widely read because it centers around them. I wish people would stop the automatic reaction that original character = Mary Sue, because there are plenty of good stories that aren’t.

    Readers who don’t like slash often use sexual explicitness as the reason for that. They’ll often affirm, in the same breath, to dislike graphic het stories too. The difference is that a lot of these readers won’t blink at a story that mentions Maglor’s extra-canonical marriage but will pitch a fit if Glorfindel and Ecthelion have an extra-canonical off-screen romance.

    I’m in the small minority, then, who doesn’t care what orientation the pairing is. I just prefer not to read graphic sex. (Graphic being the key word.) That said, I will read it– preferance does not equal refusal. One NC-17 slash series is on my to-read list, and the *only* reason I’m not reading it now is because it deals with some of the same situations I am or will be writing about in the near future. So please, *please* do not assume that all of us are homophobes.

    Canon… *growls* I’m currently having a discussion with someone on ff.net who feels *bad* that she only bases her stories off the Silm because she hasn’t read all of HoME. I still haven’t formulated my response yet, because I find it hard to fathom.

  5. Michelle says:

    Oh, don’t get me started on slash *wails*. You know I’ve tried to beat some sense into the awful term “non-slash” and failed. What is that supposed to mean? There’s no gay in the story? (The truly ironic part is that these are mostly friendship stories, which tend to drip of *teh gay*). Anyway. Coming from the corner of LOTR fandom that was strictly gen (or non-slash *eyeroll*), slash was usually used as the one trigger that would get everyone mad and really self-righteous. Having my own list – gen, because I inherited it from a gen writer – but being a slash writer myself, I try to work against that trend. I can perfectly understand that a reader doesn’t want to read slash, for whatever reason. We all have our squicks. But I will *not* tolerate someone coming on to me telling me how sick and depraved slash is.

  6. Rhapsody says:

    Hmmm we discussed the slash issue so often, but I still think that het writers also deal with a bucketload of issues. By now I am convinced that people who dislike slash dislike explicit sex in stories, be it a same sex pairing or not. How many will not leave a review in a public archive on a pwp (hehehe you had to mention it) if it is erotica. Oh my, one might get caught actually liking such a thing. I sometimes don’t get the whole plot/idea/characterisation behind a pairing (but that has more to do with writing than whatever pairing/orientation is at display) and it takes a while before it grows on me. Or it is just badly executed 😉

    Anyhow, I know that the GBLT issue is important to you and you also know my tiredness towards it since here the GBLT issue is no longer an issue, but I hope that people can understand that, well it doesn’t feel like a hot topic to include in a story or to read it. It just feels normal in a way. When a writer shrugs like that and just can’t get their mind set to writing such a thing (not so much a challenge), they often get the label homophobic unjustly slapped on them. The intensity comes from both sides on this matter, especially when a non-slah lover never said anything on if its ooc, non canon, fanon and so on. But oh boy if you say that you don’t write or read slash… you’d better hide. Sometimes things are just as they are and not reading it isn’t always a statement on a big issue as the GBLT issue.

    Mary Sue remains an intriguing thing, that’s for sure. With your post on it I often had thoughts on how people who are anti-Mary Sue are in a way anti feminist as well and do not like strong women or out spoken women or…

    Ah well, enough ramblings on my behalf.

  7. Dawn says:

    I will reply to people individually, but I wanted to include a brief note.

    I do not think that people are homophobic if they prefer not to read stories with same-sex pairings or same-sex sex, graphic or otherwise. Nor do I think that people are homophobic because, in their personal vision of Tolkien’s world, they don’t imagine homosexuality would have existed.

    What is homophobic is expecting to be warned about gay characters. Not sex. Not even kissing. But characters who the writer views and writes as being homosexual. If you don’t want to read that, fine. But expecting a warning? Why again? Why do we need to warn for the presence of gay people in our stories??

    That’s homophobic.

    Those of you who don’t like to read same-sex pairings, who don’t read same-sex pairings, that’s your own preference, and I don’t pretend to judge that.

  8. Dawn says:

    Okay, back for individual replies …

    Indy: I doubt highly you’re among the people I’m pointing at here. :) I have no problem with people who don’t want to read sex. That’s no one’s business but theirs. I don’t even have a problem with people who don’t want to read stories with gay characters in them. If they don’t see Tolkien’s world that way, that’s none of my business either. Their reading habits make no imposition on me.

    But most people in groups that accept het, slash, and gen expect that slash, especially, will be labeled as such. Which I have no problem with, when it includes sex. Even kissing. What I have a problem with is the expectation that stories with gay characters who don’t behave sexually towards each other at all requires some kind of warning. Sure, it’s not an interpretation that some (a lot?) of Tolkien fans like. But I don’t like the interpretation of evil!Feanor, yet don’t go so far as to expect a warning about it.

    It reflects fandom’s tendency to view homosexuality as somehow “more bad” than other extra-canonical details or personal interpretations. Or more dangerous. Or more offensive. Or more … whatever. Irregardless, I think it’s wrong.

    And that was a rant that was not directed at you. :)

    You do not need to feel bad about not wanting to read graphic sex, either. There is nothing wrong with that. Everyone likes what they like, and you shouldn’t read what you’re not comfortable or don’t like reading. And I don’t think that being accepting of people requires detailed contemplation about their intimate bedroom lives. 😉

    In fact, there are some who would make the argument that graphic slash stories objectify gay people. I haven’t read too much on this argument, so I’m not sure whether I agree with it or not, but it certainly makes a point for avoiding graphic stories.

    On Mary Sue, if that OC-centric story is Silmfic, I hope you’ll put in on the SWG. You’re in good company there, as far as stories with OCs go!

    On canon, quoth my co-moderator Tarion Anarore: It’s not HoMefic. It’s Silmfic. 😉

    Michelle: Why am I here if not to push buttons? 😉

    I join you in *headwalling* over the term “non-slash,” although I’ve (luckily) yet to see it in use aside from your previous *headwalling* over it. I know enough of human nature (and trust you besides!) to know that it exists. Not seeing it is likely because the SWG always has been accepting of any kind of story and so tends to hold in check the more rabid anti-slash fans. (The fact that homophobia is one of the easiest well-known ways to piss off the group owner probably helps too. 😉 ) But I have, in my years in fandom, observed people who feel the need to state that what they do is not slash. I’ve seen this especially on ff.net, which reinforces my crackpot theory that this urge intensifies in the presence of a vocal anti-slash contingent.

    Rhapsody: I don’t disagree that “PWP” het writers have their own share of issues. (PWP would have been #6 on the list! :) ) However, that is true of a lot of fannish subgenres: AU, stories heavy on OCs (especially OFCs), Legomances … dare I mention Mary Sue? 😉 It’s true in the broader literary world as well. And I think the bias against all of those stories is terrible. But slash is different.

    As thrilled as I am that GLBT people are finally receiving equal treatment in many places in Europe, the fact remains that, in the majority of the world, they are second-class citizens. The fact that the US doesn’t allow civil partnerships seems pretty moderate when one considers that, in many countries, a person can still be legally executed for homosexuality.

    So I must confess that I’m a bit perplexed when European friends tell me how frustrated and tired they are of hearing about GLBT issues and how they’re unable to see what the big deal is. This is still an enormous issue in most of the world, and as glad as I am that this is no longer the case in much of Europe, I do think that my right to speak out in defense of my fellow human beings trumps another’s wish not to be dragged through that fight again. Or, to draw an analogy, women have had the right to vote in the US for almost a century now, but that does not absolve me from caring that women in other countries obtain suffrage, and “tired” is the last word I would use when approaching a friend who still must fight for equality on her home soil.

    That is why slash is different, imho. Because the backlash against slash is largely motivated by homophobia. It is not motivated by a dislike of a particular story or genre but by people. Which is why I don’t give a hoot whether people read slash or not. But I do care when I write a story with gay characters and am expected to warn people of that, when it does not contain sexual content, or when I cannot post that story in some places just because it has gay people in it.

    Imho, people who are railing against fans who don’t read slash are distracting themselves with a fight against the wrong people. I don’t read Hobbits, as a general rule, but that doesn’t mean that I have a problem with Hobbits. (Hobbitophobia? 😉 ) I’d just rather read other things. I don’t see the “slash question” as trying to get people to read or like a certain kind of fiction; I see it as trying to acknowledge where people’s treatment of slash stories and authors indicates legitimate homophobia and trying to increase awareness and decrease acceptance of that.

    No one ever said I wasn’t a pie-eyed idealist. 8^)

  9. Michelle says:

    Your thoughts on slash are extremely interesting! (As well as your thoughts on us lucky Europeans – I don’t think much on the gay issue at all, because most of the time it doesn’t concern me, but from time to time I’m extremely proud of the fact that our capital has an openly gay mayor who brings his partner to official events. But I digress.) I think that in my corner of fandom (that is, either Aragorn/Legolas friendshippers or Aragorn/Legolas slashers) people tend to tiptoe around the slash issue, because the line between friendship and slash fics is an extremely thin one. I assume that a lot of gen-writers have been faced with readers interpreting their stories as slash and that it annoyed them. The truth is: A lot of friendship stories are *this* short of being slash – what is usually missing is a kiss or a sex scene, but apart from that there’s a lot of touchy-feely stuff and one offering his life for the other. The most famous A/L friendship series, “The Mellon Chronicles”, has a large following among slashers, for the simply fact that it caters to a slasher’s reading habits. So I guess that a lot of the “non-slash” comes from gen-ficcers’ phobia to distinguish themselves from the slashers. While the slashers are afraid to speak up in a gen crowd because they’re afraid to get told off. It’s rather sad.

  10. pandemonium_213 says:

    Words that I would strike from fandom…or the blogosphere or webleworld or what have you…

    Meme. It’s a totally irrational dislike on my part, but if one isn’t using it like Dick to the Dawk(ins) uses it, then I will shudder.

    Specific to Tolkienian fandom:

    Elves and humans. That makes me want to stick a sharpened No. 2 pencil in my ear because that would be more pleasant than that phrase.

    Warnings such as “adult content” or “graphic sex” should be enough. I mean, does the movie industry get so granular in their ratings that we know there might be same sex romantic/sexual relationships in the film. We might know from a synposis or review of the film, but a rating does not convey that nor should it.

    I agree with Oshun that Mary Sue as “misogynistic” (literally woman-hating) is a stretch, but from my observations, it cannot be dismissed as merely a catch-all for bad characterizations. There is a vitriol there which, if not misogynistic, then certainly is sexist.

    I’m tempted to make some wild-ass extrapolations concerning intrasex competition among women and how that plays out in the fandom world, i.e., an OFC paired with a male character is seen as a threat somehow, a phantom competitor among other women in a fantasy world. But that would be a stretch! 😀 Nonetheless, I wonder if this fear of Mary Sue-ism leads to some very inauthentic male-male couples. Then there’s the paucity of female-female pairings. That says something I think, but I am not sure what. What’s the deal there? Why do writers who focus on male-male relationships often (but not always) ignore female-female pairings? Ah, well, that’s another topic entirely.

    Independence1776, I”ll encourage you to forge ahead with your OCs, and damn the torpedoes. As a reader, some of my favorite characters in Tolkienian fan fic (in addition to imaginatively drawn canon characters) have been (and are) OCs. Will these garner a gazillion readers? Probably not. But you may very well attract readers with — how shall we say — more expansive views and that counts for something.

  11. Independence1776 says:

    Gotcha! I understand your argument and objections much better now.

    I know I shouldn’t feel bad about it (and I don’t), but I feel like I have to justify myself because, for many people, I think they think I mean I don’t like slash, and I’m just trying to hide it by saying I don’t like graphic sex across the board. And I hate having to justify my tastes– it shouldn’t bother people if I don’t want to read something, yet it does.

    Yup– my OC-centric novel is Silmfic, but it’s not written yet. (And it won’t be until I finish the second draft of my Maglor-centric novel.)

    I ended up telling the person that there was nothing wrong with relying solely on the Silm, that there are many definitions of Tolkien canon even though some people don’t like it, and that those people have no right to tell someone else what to write or think. Hopefully, she’ll listen.

  12. Independence1776 says:

    To Pandemonium:

    I’m going to write the novel, period. It won’t leave me alone. As for attracting readers… I’m hopeful, but also know the subject matter (Noldorin thralls in Angband) won’t be pleasant and may drive some readers away.

    Elves and humans: Your complaints about that have stopped me from using it, even though I’ve known for years that Elves and Men are the same species! It’s just a bad habit from all the fanfics that use it. I think part of why people use the phrase is to avoid the misogynistic implications of the term Men, which is why I’m trying to use mortal or Secondborn now.

    And I love imaginatively drawn canon characters– we know so little about them (this relates back to the OOC argument above) that we have to make things up. Which is part of the reason I love your Sauron– he makes *sense.*

  13. Rhapsody says:

    I think that Michelle touched upon what I tried to say without repeating myself of what I already expressed on the slash topic in the past. Like her, we have many many things to be proud of regarding the achievements of the GLBT issue, marriage here is open to every one and adoption requirements and alike are equal to everyone regardless the orientation. For us, me a Dutch woman, the GLBT issue has become part of normal life, that doesn’t make me close my eyes for the rest of the world, on the contrary. We simply set a good example how it can work, its still however just integrated into my life and isn’t that exciting to read or write about.

    However, being in this fandom for a while, the fanatism of slash writers/lovers have more than once make me decide to keep my mouth shut about what like like to read/beta/write. I mean, only late last year you found out that I wasn’t that adverse towards slash than you thought and we know each other longer than that. I just never felt the need to explain myself about what I like or not. What I write, review or beta shows that.

    What I am mostly tired off is that for some reason if you don’t express a clear opinion or sometimes when people insist on knowing why you don’t read something like slash, you can never ever give a satisfying answer. Or that there must be something between the lines of your answer. Stop digging people, please. I can understand as Michelle commented, that people are tip-toeing around this issue simply because it might cost them a friendship or that they end up being put outside the group of which they want to belong to. I am quite certain that based on a simple and quick assumption, I have been placed in camps while I thought that my betaing would speak for itself in a way. Too bad that I don’t care that much about social pressure or camps 😉 It does surprise me though.

    I have observed that a huge group of the Tolkien fandom hails from the US, a nation that suffers from a polarisation that gives me the shivers. Combine this with political correctness and it just feels like a minefield to me. Whatever answer you give or opinion that you express, it just never seems good enough.

    There is also a thing with warnings, I never will get why people put up a warning like: non-slash. It feels pretty redundant to me in a way. If there are warnings needed, they should be added thoughtfully, especially when you also have a G-nc-17 rating system or the one we have at the SWG. When you see a rating like adult and you see character names, that should give you a good idea what the story is about. In a way it feels that the reader expects the writer to take full responsibility of what they post. Including warnings to whatever the reader might expect. But then again, even if you put up a story with all the flags, whistles, screaming labels, it is still the reader’s responsibilty that they click on that link/button to get access to it (I do think the more warnings a story has, the harder it becomes to ignore it, it just makes people so curious). And of course, to some readers, it is never good enough, so where does that end? I am all for that the responsibility that has been placed on the shoulder of the fannish writer should be partly be given back to the reader. This also include warnings regarding AU, Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) and slash/het/sex and so on.

    Pandemonium and Indepence: I always use the expression elves and edain. It just reads beautifully to me.

  14. Michelle says:

    @Rhapsody: I’m like you. I don’t care much for “camps” and social pressure. But unlike you I’ve been very outspoken about what I like/don’t like for most of my fandom life. The first LOTR group I joined was very obsessed with avoiding anything slashy and at some point it just annoyed me to the point where I decided I wouldn’t shut up about my preferences in fic simply because it might affront other people. Of course, nowadays I’m in the privileged position of running my own group and site and while they’re both gen I believe that I can still set an example and encourage people to be openminded and respectful of one another.

  15. pandemonium_213 says:

    Indy, be assured that I will not shy away from a story whose characters are Noldorin thralls in Angband. The tidbits that Tolkien threw out there regarding them beg for more fics, so I’m happy to see that you’re tackling this!

    Thanks so much for the compliments, too, on my version of the Dark Lord. Tolkien introduced ambiguity into the moral nature of this character (more in his other writings than Lord of the Rings) , e.g., “not wholly evil” and a “greater fall” because Sauron turned away from a “good” path. So a Sauron with a conscience (and other “good” characteristics) is not OOC if one studies JRRT’s writings and their implications, some of which are rather uncomfortable to contemplate, e.g. those who we label as “villains” in our primary world may still retain relics of the humane.

  16. SurgicalSteel says:

    Arriving late to the party.

    AU – never really thought about it in that light, but I think you’re right. The term’s been so watered down as to become meaningless, and people do seem to use it as an excuse for not doing their homework. Ditto for OOC – given extraordinary circumstances, it’s possible for almost anyone to react in a way they normally wouldn’t, and as you said, in Silm fic, the term’s almost meaningless.

    Mary Sue… Hee. I’ve been accused of writing a Mary Sue simply because I write an original female character who happens to share my profession. Never mind that (IMO, anyway) she’s got plenty of flaws and has been known to stick both feet in her mouth down to the hips, etc. She’s an OFC and hence must be a Sue. I remember where the term actually came from – there was a parody Star Trek fic written in the late 70s, I think, which featured this impossibly perfect ‘Lieutenant Mary Sue.’ Applied in that way, it’s not the term I mind so much as the pejorative connotations it’s taken on. If a 16 year old girl wants to write herself into whatever fandom has captured her fancy? Let her. It’s hardly the worst thing she could do – and she may actually turn out to be a decent writer someday.

    Or some other productive member of society, like a surgeon. 😉

    But bashing that 16 year old girl because ZOMG MARY SUE! That’s sort of like kicking a puppy. I’d rather see people point out the strong points in those stories when there are some and encouraging the young writer to keep imagining and keep writing.

    Slash – hee, I’m a slash reader from the days when slash equalled Kirk/Spock, and ooooo, if my parents had known what was in those ‘zines! I don’t think it’s the gayness so much as the sex that would’ve bothered them though. 😉 But it’s another term that’s sort of been twisted into something ugly and pejorative by a certain subset of readers. I’ll agree that ‘explicitly adult material’ or ‘explicit sex’ should be the only warning needed. It truly shouldn’t matter what gender the individuals are. If I were writing original fic, I wouldn’t think to warn people about an interracial couple – and I think the same *should* apply to the genders of the couple.

    Canon. Hee. I just posted something that’ll be considered rather heretical by some, when it comes to Tolkien canon. No fallout yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

    I was raised Roman Catholic and studied theology and scripture – and my officemate/partner in practice is a part-time divinity student. I told her that I objected to the term ‘canon’ as applied to the Bible because it was silly to decide which books were kept in or left out because of what language they were written in or whether they had ideas in them that might undermine Rome’s authority. She sort of blinked and called me a heretic in admiring tones – she’s really quite OK with people going back and looking at the ‘extracanonical’ books of the Bible and making up their own minds.

    The same applies to anything published after JRRT’s death – the same people who insist that LACE is biological fact (which is ludicrous, IMO) also insist that the world was flat prior to the fall of Numenor – and you can’t have it both ways. If LACE *must* be fact, then so must ‘Myths Transformed,’ which is in the same volume of HoME.

    I’ll slink back into lurkdom now…

  17. Michelle says:

    I’ll agree that ‘explicitly adult material’ or ‘explicit sex’ should be the only warning needed. It truly shouldn’t matter what gender the individuals are. If I were writing original fic, I wouldn’t think to warn people about an interracial couple – and I think the same *should* apply to the genders of the couple.

    Yes, if you think warning for slash means trying to steer the homophobic people away. But I’ve seen authors warn for het content (with an imagined *ihhhhhh*). And given the fact that a large percentage of authors are female and heterosexual I’ve always wondered why they needed a warning for het. Can you be heterophob?

    Personally I consider slash and het to be labels like hurt/comfort, drama, character death. I choose fics by looking at those labels… I read het, but I’d rather read slash. I read crack, but I’d rather read drama. I know Dawn has complained about the compulsive labeling and warning, but I *do* like to have an idea about what to expect of a fic.

  18. MithLuin says:

    So basically what you’re saying is that you don’t like labels?

    I agree, for the most part. Much better to be specific and precise than to just throw about terms that mean different things to different people.

    I could be called a gen writer. There are people in my stories who get married or have babies or whatever…but usually my main characters are single. But I just call myself a fanfic writer. I have also written about a woman on her wedding day, reflecting back over her growing relationship with her husband. It’s rated G, but I mean, the whole point is the romance, so….

    I have written scenes that could be interpretted in a slashy way. I wanted to convey a close (and passionate) relationship between two guys. But I leave that open to interpretation, and usually don’t answer definitively which way I viewed the relationship myself – friendship or something else would be in the mind of the reader.

    If someone were to tell me I should label such stories as ‘slash’ (or ‘non-slash’), I might be a bit annoyed. The whole point is for the reader to figure out how to view the relationship – and if it’s that ambiguous, certainly the story contains nothing I should be ‘warning’ readers of…..

    My best example is from an anime:
    (Warning! Contains sex scene!!!!! 😛 [not explicit]) So I’m sure no one here wants to read it, but let’s just say it is more about battle lust than anything else. Here’s a clip from the original anime; do they have to warn about innuendo in this scene? I mean, that would be silly! It’s a fight; if fans take something different from it, that is understandable, but…you might as well warn that the girl’s bellybutton is visible in her priestess outfit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5z7hpKh5is It’s rated PG; if you prefer dubbing to subtitles, click the first one on youtube.

    To be fair, Tolkien’s writing is not like that. He doesn’t usually use sexual tension to advance the story. (*cough* Luthien *cough*) So, I can see people seeing certain fanfics as being out of place in the world Tolkien created. But then just say that – tell the author her voice is unique and that her story doesn’t sound like it was written by Tolkien. That’s more precise than slapping labels like AU or slash or Mary Sue or whatever on it anyway.

    Tolkien has his male characters walking around declaring love for one another all the time, so in the absence of kisses (or sex scenes), I’m not really sure how someone could tell if a friendship fic were about 2 straight guys or 2 gay guys. I mean, come on, Eomer tells Aragorn (in canon): ‘Since the day when you rose before me out of the green grass of the downs I have loved you, and that love shall not fail’ – sure, sure, they both have wives, and it’s talking about the friendship of kings and loyalty and all of that. I’m just saying that if it’s not written as a romance, then it’s probably not slash. I had Maedhros call Fingon ‘dearer than brother’ once, but I never did have either of them specify what he meant by that. Since they were both dead at the time and without bodies…it really is up to the reader.

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