Book review

Fanged fan fiction: Variations on "Twilight," "True Blood," and "The Vampire Diaries," by Maria Lindgren Leavenworth and Malin Isaksson

Anne Gilbert

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

[0.1] Keywords—Genre; Reception studies

Gilbert, Anne. 2014. Fanged Fan Fiction: Variations on "Twilight," "True Blood," and "The Vampire Diaries," by Maria Lindgren Leavenworth and Malin Isaksson [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 17.

Maria Lindgren Leavenworth and Malin Isaksson. Fanged fan fiction: Variations on "Twilight," "True Blood," and "The Vampire Diaries." Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013, paperback, $40.00 (236p), ISBN 978-0-7864-7044-0.

[1] If there ultimately proves to be a bottom to the current cultural frenzy for all things vampire, we are certainly not there yet; vampire romances in books, television, and film continue to provide the foundation for a massive volume of fan creations. With these comes continued academic interest in the complexities and consequences of vampire-based fan productivity. In Fanged Fan Fiction, Maria Lindgren Leavenworth and Malin Isaksson add to the growing body of work on vampire fandoms with a book that approaches fan fiction as texts in their own right rather than simply as a means to analyze fans and their communities. The actual artifacts of fan fiction texts, the authors argue, constitute ever-evolving archives of audience response that negotiate relationships to others' work as well as to the canonical material of the Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries sagas. Using these archives as a lens, this book attempts to articulate the ways—both resistive and normalized—that the vampire trope is used to speak of some aspect of contemporary culture that resonates with fans.

[2] In the first three (perhaps strongest) chapters of the book, the authors offer a considered and nuanced chronicle of canonical and fan-generated works in the three series. These chapters provide a foundation for how the books and films of the Twilight franchise and the books and television shows of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries construct characters, relationships, and perspectives, before highlighting the process of fan engagement with these elements and the nature of fan fictions that respond to and expand upon the canons while ultimately perpetuating them. After a brief interlude to mark the shift, the volume then moves to subversive texts within these archives, those stories that challenge canon norms of sexuality (namely chastity and heteronormativity), monstrosity, and the good/evil relationship. Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson are clear that this is not research that delves into identities and communities of fan fiction authors; instead, the textual analysis performed here is meant to complement existing ethnographic and cultural studies work on fandom. The organization of the volume, therefore, allows the authors to argue that these texts, and the relationships between them, are themselves instances of cultural reflection that both reify and deconstruct norms.

[3] In the first chapter, "Single White Females and Sympathetic Vampires: The Canons," Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson outline the characters and relationships that form the central components of each of the three canons under discussion. The three share notable similarities: Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries are all focused on a young, pretty, and somehow exceptional female protagonist (Bella, Sookie, and Elena, respectively) who are bound in an epic romance with a dangerous yet sympathetic vampire (Edward, Bill, and Stefan) and who must deal with their complicated feelings for another man (Jacob, Eric, Damon) while navigating the supernatural in their relationships. Despite these similarities, however, the analysis here offers a more comprehensive look at the nuances that separate the texts from one another and from their different incarnations—differences, for example, between the blonde, bitchy Elena of L. J. Smith's young adult book series and the more sympathetic brunette who appears in the television show. These variations, and in particular those that mark the different ways that the figure of the vampire in each canon navigates the position of the Other and the Hero simultaneously, reveal a depth of understanding for the values and goals at play within each narrative. The authors likewise use this chapter to briefly contextualize the canons as "promiscuous" (borrowing from Ken Gelder's discussion of vampire fiction) members of the paranormal romance genre and as narratives whose engagement with fan creativity has benefited from their nature as serialized, transmedia sagas. These discussions do not revolutionize the ways any of the three canons are understood, but they do articulate a perspective on the characters and relationships in these narratives as a set of preexisting rules that fan fiction, considered in subsequent chapters, can reference or reject.

[4] Next the authors outline how transmedia paratexts and fan-generated archives are each organized in these canons. These archives are framed as quintessential examples of prosumption, as fan fiction results when a fan first consumes texts and then produces material her- or himself. The authors discuss the rules that govern the practices of prosumption, including those imposed by the canons and the implied and articulated conventions of the sites that host fan fiction and discussions, as well as the ethics involved in following and breaking those rules. A close reading of fan fiction that crosses over between canons illustrates how the authors of these stories must make choices and set priorities in order to balance conflicting norms of different canons. This chapter also constitutes the methods section of the book, in which the authors consider the challenges of analyzing artifacts from a massive and expanding fan fiction archive, though they do not actually outline how they came to choose particular fan fiction stories for textual analysis; nor do they indicate the possible implications of these choices. Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson also solidify their approach as grounded in literary analysis by remaining lurkers; they note that the texts themselves are paramount in this study, and though they leave traces of their research in the form of hits and site visits, fan fiction authors need not be any more involved in the textual analysis of their work than are, for example, the authors of the canon material. Though this section is necessary to situate this volume within existing approaches to fan studies research, in itself, this chapter does little to advance the discussion of these challenges.

[5] The third chapter focusing on canon returns more directly to fan fiction stories themselves. Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson insightfully point out that in the zeal to analyze the transgressive, resistive, and transformative characteristics of fan fiction, common types of fan fiction stories are often left underanalyzed. This chapter, therefore, contains close readings of fan fiction that the authors consider to be canon adherent—stories that retell canonical events from a different perspective, that constitute prequels and sequels, and that explore alternative romantic pairings within the canon. These stories may include original events or romantic relationships that deviate from canonical pairings, but they maintain the (heterosexual, monogamous) rules, norms, and qualities of the canon and its characters. The authors argue that the elements fan fiction writers choose to change, keep the same, reuse from canon and other fan fiction, and introduce as variations to an existing world reveal individual consumption practices and underlying cultural values. Although the chapter could use a clearer articulation of what these particular stories actually offer by way of findings in these categories, their close readings are thorough and comprehensive. The chapter benefits most from its invocation of Abigail Derecho's term "archontic literature," characterizing the archive of fan fiction as neither derivative nor simply appropriative of original, autonomous material. Instead, the canon and the archive are in conversation, such that similarities and differences influence understanding of canon and fan fic alike and the relationship is more interwoven than hierarchical. By taking a different approach to fan fiction and concentrating specifically on canon-adherent stories that are frequently passed over in fan scholarship, this chapter offers a useful means to illustrate the possibilities and transformative potential of fan fiction even when it is not framed as critical or transgressive.

[6] The final two chapters, "Canon-Transgressive Lemony Goodness: Sexual Norms and Undead Desires" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes: Ethics, Monstrosity and Issues of the Soul," as the titles suggest, explore resistive elements taken up by fan fiction writers within these canons. In their analysis of stories featuring, among other themes, BDSM, slash and femslash, and dubious consent, Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson contend that the nontraditional sexual norms celebrated within these types of stories introduce more possibility for alternative power dynamics and self-actualization than are available in the imbalanced male vampire/female human romances of the canon. Because the figure of the vampire is so often homoeroticized in numerous contexts, though, slash fiction here is not presumed to be a challenge to the canon norms; the authors explore transgressive but not necessarily critical texts in which homosexual encounters are fleeting or take place in prequels, thus leaving open the possibility that the canon and its heteronormative values will ultimately prevail. It is through the discussion of femslash stories, which carve out erotic subtexts from canon situations that are merely friendly, and tales of dubious consent, which speak to notions of sexual control, that take the transgressive potential of fan fiction further afield. This is where the chapter is able to consider more broadly the implication of this mode of fan fiction writing for power, agency, and romantic control.

[7] The final chapter addresses monstrosity in both the canons and in fan fiction. The chapter begins with a protracted analysis of the figure of the vampire: the issues he presents with his status as both man and monster, his predatory relationship with humans, and his ensuing conflicts with morality and sense of self. It is quite detailed, if more historical and literary than specifically supporting the fan practices. The analysis is particularly useful, however, when the authors juxtapose this with three canons that, the authors argue, domesticate the figure of the vampire to the extent that the boundary between good and evil becomes ambiguous. The analyzed fan fiction that resists this message of tamed evil actually aims to reinforce the boundaries between human and monster that canon narratives comfortably blur. The vampires here, for instance, revel in killing, are sinful and morally bankrupt, and are dangerous to the humans around them. The underlying inhumanity portrayed in the vampires of the stories analyzed in this chapter reveals fan commentary on issues unaddressed in the canon: misogyny, abuse, and the false promises of romantic relationships. Framing these critiques as representative of a dissatisfaction with canonical representations of vampires as angst-ridden and metaphorically defanged forms an effective symmetry with the discussion of the sympathetic vampire from the first chapter, and creates parallels that illustrate the limits and desires of resistive fan fiction.

[8] Fanged Fan Fiction is a strong complement to existing fan studies when it focuses on the intertextuality of fan fiction and the relationship between canon and fan archive, and it provides close readings of fan-created texts that conform to and resist (at times simultaneously) the canons of Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries. There is a great deal of existing work that deals with these fandoms (Twilight in particular), but by steering away from an ethnographic approach and concentrating instead on actual fan fiction and how it reflects audience understanding, the authors pave the way for some new insights. Some of these conclusions are not as drawn out or as deeply considered as they could be, and the detailed description and close analysis sometimes overshadow a sense of context. As previously mentioned, the authors do not detail how they selected particular stories for analysis; it would be folly to attempt to feature fan fiction that somehow represents the fan archive, and Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson are clear that they are in no way attempting to do so. However, they go far enough in the other direction that they do not much discuss the implications of these stories beyond contemporary fan archives for these particular canons. Without straying beyond their stated scope, the authors could offer greater context of how these artifacts from a particular archive relate to broader practices of reading, watching, and negotiating contemporary media. As it is, however, this book is particularly valuable for its perspective on the significance of fan fiction that may not be resistive and transgressive. It offers detailed insight into fan fictions as texts, as products of complex readings of paranormal romance canons, and as evidence of negotiations of norms, conventions, and desires.