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04/03/2014 / rooswrites

Enemies Make the Best of Lovers: Rewriting J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter as Fanfiction

“Watson! Are you busy?”

“Actually, I am, rather.”

“I am sorry, but it can’t be helped. I need you this instant. It’s urgent.”

“Urgent, Holmes?”

“I’m afraid so. You must drop your pants and come with me to the Continent.”


— From Irene Adler’s “Drop Your Pants”

 That might not have been the kind of behaviour that you took literary detective Sherlock Holmes and his right-hand man Dr. Watson for.[1] This small and humouristic excerpt is from a so-called slash fanfic written by a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Fanfiction are stories that revolve around the premise that fans write their own fiction, based on a preexisting fictional world which is not their own. Fans write fanfiction on almost anything. There is fanfiction written on computer games, movies or books and there is fanfiction written on classic stories (such as Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist and Red Riding Hood), but also on contemporary mass medial productions (such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter). In the same way in which fiction knows subgenres, so does fanfiction. There are action-adventure, mystery, romance or even PWP[2] fanfictions. Slash, then again, denotes the subgenre of romantic fanfiction stories that feature same sex couples. The slash is derived from the habit of fanfics to have their pairing (their couple) to be stated with a slash – in the case of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson it would be SH/JW. The original works, in fandom, are referred to as the ‘canon’, the canonical works that inspired and instigated the existence of the fan community itself.

It all began in the 1970s when the science-fiction series Star Trek was on the rise (Jenkins 1992, 186). Fans started to write their own variaties on the plots and continued the series’ story-lines. And fanfiction as we now know it – although on paper – was born. Whereas paper-based fan stories were only limited to a marginal but nevertheless broad fanbase, the internet has offered a platform for every possible kink or preference within fandom.

In this paper I would like to approach the genre of fanfiction from the perspective of adaptation studies as well as the technological medium of the internet. What is fanfiction and how does it function are only two of the most probing questions guiding my quest. Additionally, I will supplement the theoretical framework with an actual case study of ‘real’ fanfics and thereby illustrate how the fanfic itself works and functions. Finally, I would urge everyone unfamiliar with the exciting genre of fanfiction to embark on a journey to find their own fandom and its fanfiction haven.

The Fanfic and the Internet

With the rise of new media, things have changed. One of the major consequences of the internet is that it has – for those with access to this medium – created new media that are more accessable than its older counterparts. The existence of online writing communities, weblogs and online art groups have made it possible for otherwise unknown artists to display their products – and maybe even more importantly: for them to be read and criticised by their online peers. One of these genres that have grown exponentially after the rise of internet is that of fanfiction. Before the internet, fanfiction only existed in small-scale magazines that were distributed and photocopied only by a marginal group of people. Since access has opened up, so has the number of active participants risen.

Fanfiction is an embodiment of the shift of agency within contemporary media. According to Henry Jenkins the massive phenomena of convergence (the notion that different media converge more and more into singular exemplars of media devices) has nothing to do with technology, but with how we – the more and more participating consumer – want our media best served (2006a 4). Internet facilitates the possibility of the active audience, “it brings within our reach the possibility to become producers in our own right” (Lister et. al 185). The internet is the place that leads to mass mediation – everything can be connected to everything through the means of insertion and hyperlinking. Nevertheless, simultaneously it emphasises the importance of the classical media. The majority of texts on the web is text-based and fanfiction itself revolves around writing. More and more, notices Jenkins, does a work of art function through different media and it is “the interplay between […] such works that can create an unprecedented degree of complexity and generate a depth of engagement that will satisfy the most commited viewer” (2004, 40).

Charles Leadbeater’s interesting Web 2.0 themed exploration in his book We-Think  unfortunately does not mention the practice of fanfiction itself. Nevertheless, the general message of We-Think revolves around the ultimate facilitation of participatory culture – how ‘we’ altogether can create and have created many great things through the epitome of convergence, namely the internet. Random people become communities and strive for collective goals, self-regulating their positions and thereby generating a huge collective intelligence (11). Leadbeater’s tone is highly positive and hopeful, even though almost simultaneously published similar explorations of the ‘new’  way of using internet and media are more sinister and negative about its future (see e.g. Andrew Keen’s 2007 The Cult of the Amateur).[3] We-Think expresses the joyful experience of individual knowledges and abilities to function for a free collective. People who express themselves or their expertise on the web, often do so without payment. Such things are unimaginable in every day life, on the work floor. The internet seems the place were old-fashioned virtues and habits of working together have come to life once more (24). The only real value in web-based communities is recognition.

Fanfiction activies on the internet are obviously characterised by CMC – computer mediated communication. According to Lister et. Al, “it is by no means clear how the internet is a medium in the same way as tv, film or photography are distinct media” (165). The internet as a device that connects individual computers to a larger network and to each other. One of internet’s most pivotal characteristics is that it consists of open architecture, meaning that it is a circular flow of information, not a flow with a center and a periphery. The inherent of the internet thereby facilitates a participatory culture – it enables everyone to write and create.

According to Bolter and Grusin, some sorts of CMC have no other goal but to remediate the self (285). Through the means of writing, creating and communicating on the internet, one asserts himself and his identity. Lister et. al state that CMC reads identity not as a fixed entity, but as a fluid process in which the self is constantly interacting with the environment (167). Within the scope of fanfiction that would mean that the writing of fanfiction is a process that somehow negotiates the self through the canon writings. If a fan enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories, he tries to make it his own through writing fanfic. Thereby he subsequently makes Sherlock Holmes into a character that has more appeal, or is more relatable or more likeable to the self. Through other and alien universes that we admire, we try to bring them home – to enlarge (in the very literal sense of ‘making more of it’) our pleasure in our reading and experiencing of them. By writing the story

Internet interaction is real, but distorts neat boundaries of the symbolic and the real. We can see writing/ typing on the internet as a perfomative action, as something that happens, something that is and action that changes something else within the realm of the internet. Dibbell (1999) states that these actions “are a akind of speech that doesn’t so much communicate as make things happen, directly and ineluctably – like pulling a trigger” (132). Writing fanfic changes something in the universe that it writes about. Following this, internet is the place of ultimate remediation, “the www could now refashion a much larger class of earlier media. In addition to the letter and the scientific report it could now remediate the magazine, the newspaper and graphic advertising” (Bolter and Grusin 198). As well as the remediating process at work within fanfiction itself, which reinvigorates its canon. By writing different stories and perspective on the same source texts, these texts themselves gain an extra dimension – thereby fanfic writing is a very direct process of remediation.

According to research done in on the web use around hyped phenomena, web use facilitates a feeling of participation in media space (Senft 2000). Fanfiction – if we adopt this view – becomes a manifestation of the desire to be part of it, to continue the moment of the text through constant reiteration and circulations (Lister et al. 185). Fanfiction is an example of highly individualised mass culture, performed through the internet community.

The Fanfic as Adaptation and/or Remediation?

 Adaptation, apart from a noun gathering many different kinds of adaptations, is also a process of adapting – of reworking one medium’s content into that of another. Unfortunately these intricate dynamics are devalued by academia  and adaptations themselves are seen as mere derivatives of other works (see Stam 3-4, Hutcheon 2-3). Adaptations in general are treated with the same disgust as fanfiction  – they are not ‘originals’ and therefore not quite as worthy as their ‘original’ counterparts. Even though many literary theorists would object to the notion of the original an sich – this comparative approach is still often the starting point of adaptation studies (see e.g. the corpus of Stam’s Companion to Literature and Film). Thereby the historically ‘first’ medium is regarded as the ‘original’ by which the adaptation itself is only valued from the perspective of the fidelity to the ‘original’.

In the case of fanfiction, fidelity in the way we would perceive it is not the holy grail. Fanfiction fidelity works in a different way – it is more about the possibility of the actions recounted in the fanfic. Surely Sherlock Holmes did not ask Holmes to ever take his pants off – but the way in which he does so, does comply with the corpus of existing Sherlock Holmes texts, with its canon. So, if it would have happened, it could have happened like this. One of the greatest sins in fanfiction is OOC-ness – Out Of Character behaviour. The centre around which every fanfic revolves is its characters, since these were the initial inspiration for the story itself. Hutcheon, in her exploration on adaptation theory, defines a remediating experience as that moment when one (e.g.) sees a film, which is an adaptation of a known book. It is then when there will be a “constant oscillation between it [the original] and the adaptation we are experiencing” (xv). This is the whole crux of fanfiction’s delight.

Even though the notion of fidelity should not be used as ‘the’ meaningful referent to an adaptation, it is interesting to look at the problematic issues of this notion and apply them to the fanfiction. When adapting from novel to film, the idea that a filmic adaptation will destroy the fantasy of the reader of the original novel, is one of the main causes of loss and devaluation of the adaptation itself (Stam 15). A writer, for example, can describe his character however he likes, but it is the reader who draws the mental images and colours them how he likes. Then subsequently, he could view the film adaptation of this book and the possibility exists that all characters are nothing like he imagined them. This unpleasant effect has absolutely no bearing on the case of fanfiction. Quite the opposite, since the fanfic is the place where a movie’s characters can really come to life – where the reader can imagine and see everything how he wants to see. In fanfiction the fans themselves write their own novelisation of books, films, games or comics. They very literally fictionalise the (already fictional) world of their heroes. Baetens describes a kind of novelisation as a “continuative”, a novelisation that in fact continues the original story in the novel – which is of course almost similar to the genre of fan fiction, in which there is both continuation as well as rewriting at play.

A written fanfic can also be interpreted as a kind of novelisation. The verb ‘to novelise’ literally means “to put into the form of a novel” or “to make fictional; fictionalise”.[4] What a fanfiction writer does, is exactly the fictionalisation of already fictional worlds. The novelisation an sich is moreso typified as a written variety (book form) of a visual medium – novelisations on big box office movies for example. Nowadays, the novelisation is seen as an insignificant, minor subgenre of literature – if one even ventures as far as to call it literature. About seventy years ago, the existence of the novelisation was similar to today’s video recorder or DVD – it was the way to relive the movie you loved (Grady par.3). In contemporary society, however, this old function has been lost. So apart from the fact that it is still highly interesting that there seems to be an urge to have your favourite movie or computer game on your night stand in the form of a book, we can also distinguish a new type of novelisation. Fanfiction goes beyond the ‘true-to-the-original’ embellishments that a novelisation limits itself to. Fanfiction rewrites. The fanfic is a mediation between the self and fiction, as well as it mediates the existing canon of a work of art. The adaptations that the writer of fanfiction writes are from what he wants to read, how he wants these characters to behave.

Inside the Fanfic

People who engage in writing fanfiction on the internet do not ‘just’ write stories and post them. All fanfic writers once began as avid readers (of canon as well as fanfiction) and most of them are still fervent readers of their peers’ stories. On all platforms (such as, communities on or the more adult themed there is space for reviewers to post their responses to the stories. Apart from this feedback loop, there is a lively community surrounding the writing of fanfiction. All subgenres have their own fora and communities where fans post, request and theorise around their favourite characters and their universe. What arises is a partially homogenous community in the sense that the bulk of fans agree on how certain characters and relationships should be written. Fandom is an epitome of imagined community, in the way that the basis of the whole community is fictional in itself and nevertheless manages to bind together a vast array of different people. In the sense of the community, fandom is self-regulatory and very ‘we-think’. It organises itself automatically – ranging from high-brow fanfiction and ‘smut’ stories (PWP’s revolving around love and sex).

Henry Jenkins, one of the first scholars to busy himself with the field of fanfiction, used the concept of textual poaching in his first book on fanfiction. This notion comes from Michel de Certeau and entails that readers are more travellers than writers and they “move across lands belonging to someone else, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write, despoiling the wealth of Egypt to enjoy themselves” (In: Jenkins 1992, 24). De Certeau’s take on fanfiction within the frame of poaching is quite negative and reminds of the dichotomous approach within adaptation studies. A dimension that is more important to fanfiction in my eyes is how it mediates between that what we all know (canon) and that what me make of it. It is this exact mediation that brings us the must joy in reading and facilitates the activities of fans within online communities. We have the canon that binds us and the fanon that finds us.

Subsequently, by the means of an old children’s story, Jenkins elaborates more on the nature of fanfiction and its presumed textual poaching. A toy rabbit (much similar to Pinocchio) wants to become Real, but in order to do so, he has to be loved, real hard, by its owner. The owner has to believe the toy is real and insert it into his imaginative activities. Eventually, by the time the rabbit can become real, according to the story, is when he is loved so extensively, that he will be worn down. Now, Jenkins explains this story as an allegory for the fanfic. The rabbit’s worn down qualities, to the established order of the toymaker, where the toy originates from, is mere “vandalism, the signs of misuse and rough treatment” (2004, 51). On the other hand, these signs are illustrations of love and tenderness to the owner of the rabbit. The practice of fanfiction, from this point of view, becomes the treasuring of one’s canonical works by writing them – thus creating a whole new dimension of reality to the texts. Pierre Levy offers another view of the function of fanfiction, namely as an area where self-organised groups serve as a model for society in the future, as a test base (217). The group’s basis is the collective intelligence that it has and through its practices on the web, fandom might explore how future modes of decision-making and communication can and may work.

So why write about characters and worlds that are not one’s own? One of the many answers, is to be found in research performed on audience responses of soap operas. The main reason for people to watch soaps is that they can subsequently communicate on an interpersonal level (Baym 15. This interpersonality links back to the earlier mentioned notion of sharing canon as a collective ground. This shared knowledge is what makes the interpersonal interaction possible and it can also subsequently lead to the creation of one’s own fanfiction.

 Case Study: HP/DM NC-17[5]

Subsequently I would like to illustrate some of the claims made in this theoretical framework by pointing to actual examples of how a very specific form of fanfiction functions within a certain fandom. Not only do fanfic authors write how they like to see their favourite characters and universes to work, in the last years there has also been a rise in so-called fanfiction academia. Many of today’s writers of fanfic are university students – and thereby quite high-educated. By writing these fanfiction essays and papers, they attempt to justify their former often frowned upon and ‘sordid’  little pastime. By making academia take fanfiction seriously, they can take their hobbies seriously themselves.

The fandom on which I will focus is the best seller book series Harry Potter, originating in 1999 in Great Britain by the hand of single mother Joanne Rowling. Not only did the seven-part series Harry Potter grow out into one of the most beloved and most read books – the subsequent film series and its merchandise have also flourished. On January 6 2007, 380 communities and 475 users on list Harry Potter as an interest and a “Harry Potter” fan fiction google search brought up 1.510.000 results on the 6th of January in 2007  (“HP fandom by numbers”, par. 4). In other words: the fandom of Harry Potter is huge – the biggest on (counting 17.487 on the 10th of April) and (counting 351.221 stories).

One of the main reasons often mentioned why the Harry Potter universe is so popular with its fans and fanfiction writers, is that its world offers up unlimited possibilities. Harry Potter, its protagonist, is a young boy who learns he is actually a wizard and subsequently he is introduced into a whole mind-blowing world of witchcraft and wizardry. A realm filled with magic, potions and spells offers possibilities that most authors can only dream of. Every plot is imaginable, with the help of an unknown spell or hex. Harry Potter is an orphan whose parents were killed in the battle against the supreme evil overlord Lord Voldemort. Harry’s personal enemy is his classmate Draco Malfoy, whose parents are Voldemort followers and who value pureblooded wizards more than anything.[6]

The subgenre that I would like to focus on is the aforementioned slash. Many bland studies have been done on why women write male-on-male slash. Women are said to not want to identify with female characters (since women are never the real interesting characters), to desire male/male interaction that they will never experience and reality, etc. (see Jenkins 1992, 2006). Female slash (‘femslash’) in this argument is mostly completely ignored or shove aside as ‘irrelevant’ (see Jenkins 2004). Cat Anestopoulo states that a canon only has a very limited array of interesting characters to play with. We identify with the (male) hero and subsequently there are the accomplice, the – what she calls – “screaming ninny” that is the female character and at the same time the often ‘obligatory’ romantic interest and finally the enemy.

 The point is to make him [the hero, Harry in this case] feel the feelings of sex and romance and then identify with it. So he has to have a relationship with someone other than himself, with someone who produces emotional reactions in him that you find interesting. (In: Jenkins 2006b 67)

According to Anestopoulo the only possibility of writing interesting romance lies with the buddy, since he is the only one “with the enemy who shows a sustained interest in the hero” (In: Jenkins 2004, 68). Interestingly enough, the biggest portion of all Harry Potter slash stories focus on the relationship between Harry and Draco – hero and enemy. Of all fanfics on 3.314 are Harry/Draco, which is roughly a baffling 17% of all stories posted there (slash and non-slash straight stories combined).

In contrast to what many laymen think of fanfiction, writing it is not all about recreating the canon. It is completely acceptable to write an AU (Alternative Universe) story. For example, the Harry Potter fandom has stories about Harry being a young Jewish boy living during the Second World War – with his nemesis Draco Malfoy (whose entire family is conveniently ashblond in canon) as the son of a powerful Obersturmführer. Fans do not dislike these stories simply because they are beyond the canon universe, as long as the characters are still believable.

Additionally, I would like to comment on one of the most repeated claims made by Jenkins in his view on slash. He argues that what makes us enjoy slash so much is that it is somehow inherently “tender” and revolves around beautiful and reciprocal relationships between to equal men (1992, 193). The Harry Potter fandom is rich in hate, hurt and comfort and even rape stories that do in no way display a loving and tender relationship between men. In one of the examples of the ‘fanfiction academia’, a fanfiction author herself questions why there are so many Harry/ Draco shippers[7].

 In fact, the boys can pull off all kinds of extreme behaviour – usually involving astronomical amounts of sex and violence – which would sound clumsy or forced or plain ridiculous if we tried them with other pairings. (“Much Ado About Draco, par. 14)

What makes Harry/ Draco so interesting to many of the fans is how they used to be equals in canon, the only ones clever enough to make the other angry. It obviously it is no fib that there is a thin line between love and hate – and that is how a majority of fans likes to see their love in fandom. Hot, passionate and with a whisp of wrongness. The drama of loving one’s enemy has featured in countless epic love stories – does one even need to hint at Romeo and Juliet? To add another cliché: the forbidden fruit is always the sweetest. So slash fanfiction can go (and goes) way beyond examples of tender and sweet love that we miss out on in daily life.

One of the best illustrations of the we-think environment in the Harry Potter fandom is when, in the beginning of 2002, the casting for the Harry Potter movies started. Long preceding every movie there were extensive discussions within fandom on who would be the best suited for which role. Every time after a new book (until as late as 2006s summer) was published, fans would explode into hypotheses of who could play which newly introduced character. The last film, in cinemas in the summer of 2007, had a cast featuring Imelda Staunton (one of the most desired actresses to play Umbridge in web discussion) and Helena Bonham-Carter (the almost unanimous voted-in actress to play the wicked Bellatrix Lestrange within fandom). This force is baffling as well as highly enjoyable for the fans. Casting companies have it easy when preceding their casting call is a years-long discussion on the internet intensively debating who would be best suited for the roles they have.


What makes us enjoy fanfiction is partly the same as it is in all sorts of adaptations. We recognise something we know – only different, better. Thereby fanfiction creates a collective framework that facilitates its fans to talk about the same thing they all know. Subsequently, it also takes our love and adoration for a fandom and brings it back to life, again and again, every time we read or write a fanfic. It is not a rereading of the texts we loved, but the rewriting and reshaping of its universe in ways that we like it – considering one only searches within subgenres of fanfiction that one actually likes and enjoys.

Fanfiction is much more than mere losers writing obsessive stories around their favourite science-fiction and fantasy worlds. It is about a new way of dealing with canon and authorship through the internet. Now, we can all write, create and learn from reviews on the internet. We can all become somebody through our interaction with our most loved stories, films or computer games. Through the means of writing fanfiction we perform our relationship towards the canon. The internet has given space and possibilities to the fanfic and will only continue to do so. In a couple of years, fanfiction might be the only thing we read.

Works Cited

Adler, Irene. “Drop Your Pants”. <> Holmes/ Watson

            Slash Archive. 10th of April 2008.

Baetens, Jan. “Novelization, a Contaminated Genre?”. In: Critical Enquiry. Vol. 32, Issue 1.

pp. 43-60.

Baym, Nancy K. Tune in: Log on: Soaps, Fandom, and Online Community. London: Sage    Publications, 2000.

Bolter, Jay David and Grusin, Richard. Remediation. Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.:

MIT Press, 2000.

Dibbell, Julian. My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World. Fourth Estate. London, 1999.

Grady Hendrix. “Hacked to Death: Will the Novelization Survive the DVD era?” In: Slate, 28th of June

2006. <> 12th of March 2008.

Jenkins, Henry. “”

—                    Convergence Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2006a. In: Fans,

            Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New

York University Press, 2006b.

—                    “The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence”. In: International Journal of Cultural

            Studies. Vol. 7 (2004), Issue 1. pp. 33-43.

—                                “‘Welcome to Bisexuality Captain Kirk’: Slash and the Fan-Writing Community”. In:

Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York and London: Routledge, 1992. pp. 185-222.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur. New York: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2007.

Levy, Pierre. Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Cambridge: Perseus,


McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. New York: Routledge, 2006.

“Much Ado About Draco: Writing H[arry]/D[raco]”. Livejournal entry at Harry Potter Essays

<hp_essays>. <> 12th of

March 2008.

Leadbeater, Charles. We-Think: Mass Innovation, not Mass Production. London: Profile Books, 2008.

Lister, Martin et. al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge,2003.

Stam, Robert. Introduction. Literature and Film. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. pp. 1-52.

“The Harry Potter Fandom by the Numbers”. Livejournal entry at Harry Potter Essays <hp_essays>.

<> 12th  of

March 2008.

[1] Funnily enough, Sherlock Holmes might not be the best example of really writing homoeroticism into the plot, since Conan Doyle’s detective has very often been accused of homoerotic tendencies. These, however, can be easily linked to the inherent characterisation of the literary character of the detective – who is often devoid of sex in any way and has some air of originality and thereby homoeroticism seems inherent. (See e.g. Robb.)

[2] Plot, What Plot?  Meaning stories that usually revolve around a little anecdote and do not really have a plot. PWP stories are almost always single-chaptered short stories.

[3] Keen argues, with the same facts, that the internet is wrecked by these amateurs who do not know anything ‘for real’ and thereby he sentences the web 2.0 to a classification of a medium more and more revolving around fulfilling one’s own desires.

[4] “novelization.” Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 10 Nov. 2007. <>.

[5] The subtitle denotes Harry Potter (HP) / (Slash) Draco Malfoy (DM) and the NC-17 is an American film code for the age restrictions of movies. NC-17 means that a film or story involves (a lot of) sexual content and that the viewer/ reader needs to be at least seventeen years of age.

[6] Muggles, those who cannot do magic, are the worst and useless kinds of people to these Voldemort followers. Their whole agenda is actually to kill and/ or abuse the whole human race that is not magical and thereby superior in nature. (That, combined with the ashblonde hair that this family has, obviously reminds us of a certain Nazi empire.)

[7] Shippers as in ‘worshippers’, fans. A ship in fanfiction is a couple (e.g. Harry/Draco) that one enjoys. One’s OTP is one’s One True Pairing, the couple that one really really thinks could have/ has happened, only canon did not show it.


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