Roland Barthes’ ‘Death of the Author’ theory, if you’ll allow me to get academic for a moment, is sort of a philosophy on reading and writing, and basically states that once a written work goes out to its readers, the creator loses all control over it. Not in a copyright sense, but in a more intangible and symbolic way: essentially, the human being who made up the story becomes totally irrelevant to the story itself because the power to bring that story to life lies with the reader. Whether or not you agree with that wholeheartedly, I think it’s an interesting thing to think on regarding fandom, especially in its modern incarnation, where we not only have fans speaking directly to and demanding more from authors, but fans gathering in greater communities to demand more from these works of fiction themselves.
Straight up, an excellent example of this is Harry Potter, always a good specimen to examine simply because its fanbase is so huge and so dedicated, and at this point in time, heavily consisted of people who read and loved the books as they were growing up and are now looking back at them with their new sense of maturity. And, as even I learnt, there’s a lot of thinking you can do about the Wizarding World even if you’re not super involved with it, which has naturally led to swathes of headcanons and theories that extend the story world from how it’s presented in the texts, whether that’s prodding into plot holes or extending the story, and doing so with far more varied perspectives than the original author’s. As this compilation post nicely puts it: “Thus the muses spake: ‘JK you dealt kinda shittily with Dumbledore and other diversity aspects, so we’re gonna go ahead and fix this ourselves’.”
I think this is a key aspect of fandom, and definitely translates nicely into fanfiction: readers enjoying something, but wanting more from it. A character is shafted by the narrative, so a reader who thought they could have had more potential will start musing on or writing about them to give them the development they were denied. A story presents a pair of characters they tease heavily as a possible romantic pairing, but won’t actually get them together for whatever reason, so a member of the audience will write about that romantic arc actually occurring. An audience member has trouble finding themselves represented in canon, so they tweak it in their own creative space to make it more inclusive and interesting to them personally. Viewers will wrangle headcanons or stories of sexuality, gender, background and all sorts of things onto characters you’d never have considered them for, mostly, in my experience, because the text itself would never go in that direction and is content with keeping its characters on a narrow, conventional path. And not all consumers are happy with that. Continue reading