A Song of Fans and Authors – George R. R. Martin and the Ethics of Fanfiction

Jenkins considers fan fiction at length in his work Convergence Culture. Chapter 5, “Why Heather Can Write”, engages with the active community of avid Harry Potter fans who wrote for and maintained the fanfiction site The Daily Prophet. The Daily Prophet, now defunct, provided a place for young Harry Potter fans to actualize their fantasies about the object of their fandom via the posting of news articles describing happenings in the Potterverse. Jenkin regards The Daily Prophet as a positive influence, as the site’s users develop their digital literacy by engaging in creative enterprises (Jenkins 170-175).

Fanfiction certainly can be a wonderful way for younger children to develop writing skills and social skills in equal measure, and fans of Harry Potter enjoy a lenient author who embraces fan rearranging and reimagining of her works. However, not all authors of hits in modern popular culture take the same tolerant perspective on fanfiction espoused by Rowling. George R. R. Martin, author of the massively popular A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF) series of books which spawned the TV hit Game of Thrones, has spoken at some length about his attitude toward fanfiction on his website.

Unlike Rowling, Martin takes a hardline stance against fanfiction of his works. Martin opposes fanfiction to the point that he requests fans refrain from writing ASoIaF fanfiction. While our instinctive reaction may be one of disappointment or annoyance given that, as Jenkins tells us, creating fanfiction can prove a wonderfully instructive process, Martin raises issues worthy of consideration. On May 7th, 2010, Martin, or GRRM as many fans call him, authored a lengthy post on the “Not A Blog” section of his website in which he engaged with the issue of ASoIaF fanfiction in great depth. In his post, GRRM explains that the need to protect his copyright mandates the suppression of ASoIaF fanfiction. While such corporate concerns may not seem sufficient justification for limiting the ASoIaF fandom, copyright protection does not constitute the most powerful reason for Martin’s dislike of fanfiction. As Martin says in his post, “my characters are my children, I have been heard to say. I don’t want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I’m sure that’s true, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still…” (Martin).

GRRM’s characters are indeed his children in a very real sense, as they sprang into existence from his imagination. Fans may love the cast of ASoIaF, but so does GRRM; whose love can be said to be greater? Which takes priority, the right of the author to protect their “children” or the right of the fans to transform their passive consumption of ASoIaF into active creative exercise? The sterile, corporate attempts to smother The Daily Prophet are a far cry from such an emotion-ridden debate. As Martin says in a subsequent post on May 8th, 2010, “It is all about love. On both sides.” (Martin).

I myself frequently peruse fanfiction of many different franchises and self-identify as an avid fan and participant in creative fandom, but I am very struck by GRRM’s arguments for the inviolability of his characters. As much as I enjoy the products of fans’ creative efforts in official authors’ universes, I cannot say that I find the right of ASoIaF fans to write fanfiction possessed of priority over GRRM’s desire to retain total creative control over the characters he loves. Martin’s wishes certainly haven’t halted the writing of ASoIaF fanfiction; at the time of writing, the ASoIaF fanfiction archive on Archive of our Own contained 6,403 stories set in the ASoIaF universe.

Citation

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press: 2006.

Martin, George R.R. “A Few More Last Words”. Not A Blog. http://grrm.livejournal.com/152340.html

Martin, George R. R. “Someone Is Angry On the Internet”. Not A Blog. http://grrm.livejournal.com/151914.html

Image used under creative commons license from the Wikimedia Commons.

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2 thoughts on “A Song of Fans and Authors – George R. R. Martin and the Ethics of Fanfiction

  1. Pingback: Game of Fanfiction by Viserys Targaryen | FanFiction Fridays

  2. Pingback: Parting With FanFiction (aka I’m going to stop writing fanfiction) | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

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