Lord of the Rings: Fan Fiction and Fan Response Carnival

The Return of the King will be with us soon, so I thought I’d begin assembling some nice exemplar artifacts from the online fan communities that surround Lord of the Rings. They run the gamut: lovelorn, analytical, nostalgic, snarky…

I’m focusing on “snarky” today…

The Very Secret Diaries
Elijah Wood is Very, Very Gay

… both of which reflect upon Lord of the Rings as this queer space, where “fellowship” as a homosocial category in Tolkien’s original becomes willfully ambiguous in the films, so much so that the casual viewer, even when outside the community of slash fiction and fairly uninterested in subversive readings, will ask, “Frodo and Sam are gay, right?”

Of course, the film trilogy is just more sexualized overall than the book trilogy, as is I think evidenced by Arwen’s more substantial role in the films. But I’m fascinated by the decisions to make the film queerer in production, not just in reception (the DVD commentaries include Sir Ian McKellen entreating Elijah Wood and Sean Astin to “play it gayer”), and by the many levels of fan reaction and recombination these decisions have inspired (reshaped, amplified).

And I realize I’m being a bit totalizing, conflating Wood as an actor and the narrative of Lord of the Rings here. I could make an excuse, talk about the potential confusion between personae in a system where the narrative and its production have an equivalent presence, but my very secret reason is that I found the line “Elijah with baked goods = gay” very, very funny.

Lessons Learned from the Legion

I’ve been thinking about the case of the Legion of Super-Heroes and what lessons we might take from what I would call narrative mismanagement of a large-scale story system in the case of Legion. So, here goes:

1.) Narrative changes cascade. If you are in a connected story system, your creative choices should be made not only with an eye toward your most relevant or most local narrative but also toward all connected “remote” narratives. Do not assume that the local narrative’s interests are top priority in these considerations, or that an especially “remote” one will roll with the punches… the narratives of Superman and of the Legion of Super-Heroes had grown quite independent from one another by the 1980s, so much so that editorial surely underestimated the ontological connection. In the case of games, revision in the master story or in the game elements will have secondary and tertiary effects; these need to be accounted for as exhaustively as possible, and repercussions shouldn’t be too quickly dismissed as trivial.

2.) Narrative damage is easier to control than brand damage, especially in fantastic worlds where the laws of physics are better understood as guidelines of physics.

Right now, according to the DC Universe’s “canon” or “mythology,” Clark Kent didn’t put on a sexy blue suit until his 20s. That can be effectively revised as of next Wednesday, and, as long as the explanation has some marginal coherence within the narrative as it exists, that revision won’t disrupt the forward progress of the narrative.

However, there are branding questions raised here, which are different but perhaps more relevant. How does a change affect the reader or consumer’s perception of the property, and her or his likelihood of sticking with it? How does the removal of Superboy as an entity affect the brand perception of the Legion of Super-Heroes? As an alternative, how does the creation of a schism between two threads of the overall system — the “Superman” thread, which posits that Clark was doing chores as a teenager, and the “Legion” thread, which posits that Clark was saving the 30th century as a teenager — affect the brand equity of both threads? I think that brand anxiety led to narrative uncertainty here, which consequently led to both narrative and brand damage.

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