Oh, Professor Snape

I write to you of struggles with demons; of image and word and symbol used as weapons in our existential battles. I write of reasons to go on. But I also write the human, mundane component of this story; the part about my personal foibles and the silly things I do to deal with, or escape from, my reality.

Meditation and Frog Breeding is an example of a time I revealed something that makes feel sheepish. Today I’ve decided I am due for another, and more embarrassing, revelation about what I do to pass the time when I just can’t think any more. Here goes: I read fanfiction.

When I first encountered sites such as fanfiction.net, I was astounded at the sheer volume of this kind of thing available. The Harry Potter universe is, by a large margin, the most popular template–on one site alone, there are more than 600,000 stories in this genre. Some incorporate erotic interaction among characters; some do not. Some are short and amateurishly written; some are novel-length and quite interesting. These fans explore a variety of plot-related questions and alternative ideas. Some of the most popular ones include:

–hello, why did no one ever check on Harry after he was dumped on a doorstep? And how could Dumbledore blithely send him back each summer to be abused and starved, blood wards or not. It must be part of a plot to keep Harry ignorant, desperate for affection and easily led. What if Harry grew a pair and got angry enough to seek help from somebody besides the man who, it turns out, was raising him to be a sacrifice?
–the epilogue does not exist. it never existed.
–Ron and Hermione? Seriously? Ron’s a fool, they have nothing in common, and it’s not going to end well.
–thousands of WAY more interesting ways the war with Voldemort could have gone, or what would happen if he’d won.

Don’t even get me started on the romantic/sexual plots. Every conceivable pairing has been done…the most popular ones being Harry and Draco (thin line between love and hate, I guess) Snape and Hermione (he’s the only one near her IQ) Lucius or Draco/Hermione (because it’s hot and dangerous, I suppose). Some authors just push the pair of their choice together with a magic spell or an arranged-marriage law.

But, by far, the character the most often, the most deeply, and the most variably explored is Severus Snape. Embittered outcast, double agent, brilliant potions master, seeker of redemption and ultimate martyr. There are a thousand versions of him out there, each far more explored than the one in the books.

Why do people love him so? Because they do. The fan universe, most of the time, flatly rejects the death of this character. They craft detailed romances between him and another character, lovingly building a story in which he gets the love and happiness they feel he deserves. They delve into just what horrific tortures he suffered during his times as a double agent. They have him misunderstood, persecuted or enslaved after the war, to be rescued by the aforementioned future mate. Or he’s exonerated and admired, building his career and taking on Hermione Granger as his apprentice. He’s usually far hotter than the book version, or even Alan Rickman.

Why am I telling you all this? Firstly, I’m doing it in the spirit of confession; to show that I haven’t just scanned a few of these things but read enough to know a bit about the genre. Secondly, I’m about to do one of my metaphor things.

I think the Harry Potter universe is the most popular one for fanfiction writers because it carries the largest number of opportunities for what-ifs. What some people, rightly or wrongly, consider to be holes or weaknesses in the author’s crafting are each transformed into tiny windows into an alternative reality. It parallels quantum theory; the idea that every choice and every variable give rise to another one of a vast sheath of other universes.

When I studied just a bit of quantum theory, this the aspect I found most exciting–and its implication that no aspect of reality is cast in stone. Our assumptions, our allegiance to the story of our reality, may not be as valid as we think they are. If we’re confronted by a scary gun-wielding person in an alley, there’s a universe in which the attacker is our cousin, or just asks us to name the capital of Wisconsin, or drops the gun and starts crying.

These writers–often young with dreams of doing other writing, or older and seeking diversion from their daily works–are reveling in the opportunity to riffle through an infinite sheath of possibilities and choose the ones that please them. This can feel easier, more fun, and more relaxing than creating one from scratch.

This, then, is my take on why I find it relaxing and diverting…it’s not a defense, only some thoughts. My daughter is mortified by my little habit; she’s a purist at heart. She’d be even more stern with me if she knew what happened during my last bipolar episode–what I did in the throes of my racing, desperate search for soothing occupation. If she knew that, last week, I actually wrote a little story. Oh, the shame.

5 responses to “Oh, Professor Snape

  1. If it helps, I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading fanfiction. I’d suggest that your thesis about Snape/Hermione predominating is probably a matter of projecting your personal quirks onto the medium – I’m guessing that Snarry tops it by a factor of two or three (although that may be *me* projecting *my* quirks onto the medium).
    A quote for your daughter: The media scholar Henry Jenkins says, “Fanfiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk.” FWIW.
    Why Snape? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byronic_hero , that’s why. See also: Spike, Sherlock, Spock, etc., etc., etc. (I wonder if the phoneme “S” is somehow built into the archetype.)
    Would love to read your story if you feel like sharing…

  2. Wszystko w idealnym porządku POLECAM:)

  3. Also: Here’s a way I can see Ron/Hermione working out: http://trickster.org/res/bed.html . (I think Rupert Grint warped a lot of people’s feelings about Ron, FWIW. In the books, he didn’t have the greatest emotional intelligence in the world, but he was a tactician and a brave man.) And we should probably take further fanfiction discussions off-line – you know where to reach me 😉

  4. Haha! I agree, the epilogue never existed.

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