It’s always an amazing feeling when you connect strongly with a fictional character. I remember reading Harry Potter and loving the heck out of Luna Lovegood. When it comes to HBO’s mega hit Game of Thrones– I connected with Arya Stark instantly. And to be clear: I’m not just talking about modern literature. It does not matter when a fictional work was created. Part of fiction’s brilliance is its ability to make complex themes forever relevant. An example is William Shakespeare enriching our minds with Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet. This is because writers, on a daily basis, give us characters to relate to.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Connecting with fictional characters is great for understanding yourself. Asking myself why I find Sherlock Holmes and Luna Lovegood to be such magnetic characters helps me understand my Asperger’s. Fiction is the ultimate exercise in empathy, creativity, friendship and intellectual debate. Even if you don’t identify with a fictional character, you can still understand why others might.
Yet the fictional characters we love- are just that. Fictional. They aren’t real, they linger between the pages of our favourite books. You can see them on posters that do not come to life. Connecting with fictional characters is not silly- it’s quite normal. But after engaging with many fan communities, I believe people take their interest in fictional characters too far.
The Lingering Thrones Of Tumblr & Twitter
Tumblr and Twitter are two interesting, almost notorious places. Every day I go on these sites- and I witness people losing their minds over fictional characters. It eventually reaches a point where you want to scream ‘how does any of this matter?’ I’ve seen friendships- good, solid online relationships- break down because someone liked the “wrong” romantic pairing. Unfortunately, it does not stop there. The amount of crude harrassment that goes on in fandom spaces is disgusting. Fiction should bring people together, not draw them apart.
This melodramatic tendency to lash out at people having different opinions or liking “problematic” literature is childish. And when adults or teenagers act like children, it’s terrifying. We saw this with Young Adult author Amélie Wen Zhao and her disturbing treatment at the hands of Twitter mobs. I think the core problem is mostly young people who are too attached to fiction. They expect fiction to mirror their own beliefs and worldview, and for it to never be challenged. Diversity of thought is non existent. It’s just a dull echo chamber that seeks to sanitize literature.
Fiction Matters. But Not In The Way Many Think.
I came across a post on Tumblr, where a Daenerys Targaryen fan was extremely angry. Why? Because someone compared her to Viserys, Daenerys’ older brother. Apparently that was comparing Daenerys to her abuser. Here’s the thing: Daenerys is not real. She can’t be hurt by what fans say. She’s not an actual person, and therefore she is not entitled to the same protections as regular humans. However, when you see how upset and angry people are- you may think that Daenerys is real.
Many Daenerys fans reacted negatively to the final season of Game of Thrones. And that’s okay! Freedom of speech is important in discussions about fiction. What’s less cool is how the anger translated into fandom ugliness. It’s not fair to acccuse D&D and George Martin of ‘loving slavery.’ That goes too far. I believe many younger fans paint themselves as righteous soldiers in a war of problematic literature. However, the reality is that they are like Annie from Stephen King’s Misery. Demanding authors to write a certain way? Shaming them when they don’t? Not cool!
However, fiction matters. It represents the hard work of the author. Adding onto that, fiction is representative of our own reality. Fiction can be a terrific tool to understand our past, present and future. Just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland helped sophisticate our understanding of ‘madness’- so can many fictional works. As I said earlier, fiction enhances our imagination, our empathy and our creativity. Fiction shouldn’t make us ugly and vicious.
Treating Fiction Like Reality Does Not Help Authors
As an author, I am attracted to creating rich fictional worlds because they are unlike reality. Through worldbuilding and rich characterisation, I can express and comment on our everyday lives. Fiction can be escapist, it can make you think. Often, fiction is more marvelous than our actual lives. Whatever genre you write in- you have the awesome opportunity to talk to the hearts and minds of your readers.
However, it’s daunting. It’s one thing to write a book that your readers dislike. It’s another for your book to be put on a bonfire. Judging by current developments, we truly live in an age where readers can fall into the latter.
On this blog, I advocate for complete freedom of speech in literature. Authors should be able to write whatever fiction they want. Free speech has resulted in literary works of art, such as Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. What works of art has formed out of Twitter mobs? Serious question, because I am curious. Exceptional literature tends to not flourish under social censorship and fear-mongering.
It’s Okay To Be Critical. Being Controlling? Hell No!
You are more than welcome to criticize any piece of writing. I am not going to stop you. Despite my grievances with anyone who treats Daenerys Targaryen like a real person, I do respect that they have the freedom to do so. That being said, fans must realize that they are not the ones in charge. It’s simply not okay to harass or bully anyone over fictional characters. You also do not have the right to demand an author to write in a particular way.
Let me be clear: there’s a difference between being critical and being outright nasty. If someone comparing Daenerys to Viserys causes a physical reaction in you… then you might be too attached to certain fictional works. Appreciate fiction for what it is- not what you think it morally should be.
Authors are under no obligation to make you happy. Nor should they feel burdened by societal pressures to create something ‘unproblematic.’ That doesn’t make much sense!
Enjoy fiction… but it’s not worth losing your marbles over!
Healthy Ways Of Connecting With Fiction
There are plenty of healthy ways to connect with fiction and its characters. I’m a huge believer in fan clubs. Some people like to write meta or fan fiction, and that’s terrific. Others cosplay, whilst some paint their favourite characters. There are even people who get PhD’s studying their beloved texts! That’s all wonderful. I’m a big believer that fiction is a force for good, and can bring people together. After all, many fans go on to be terrific film directors, authors, musicians and playrights. This is because fiction has touched their hearts and challenged their minds.
I am also not saying that connecting with fictional characters is silly or bad. It’s actually wonderful! The people who take it too far are in the small and vocal minority. Adding onto that, I believe these people take their attachment to ridiculous levels. They start to demand that others see fiction the way the do. And I’m not a fan of that.
Alot of my best memories are associated with fiction- the joy of a new Harry Potter book, discussing Tolkien, demystifing science fiction, or solving an Agatha Christie murder. The friendships I’ve developed through fiction mean alot to me. That being said, I refuse to let fiction be an excuse to be nasty or hateful towards a fellow human being. That’s not cool. Because of that, I hope others have or adapt a similar attitude.
Through this blog post, I made several points. If there is to be one take away from this long entry, it would be this. Fiction is marvelous, fun and thought-provoking. It’s a force for good, and can start interesting conversations. However, it becomes less engaging and interesting when people are nasty and entitled.
Being a fan of a fictional character should not make you less likable. We should also be careful to not let fiction make us completely upset.
Anyway, that’s enough from me. What are your thoughts on this issue? Any fandom experiences you’d love to share? Comment below, I love to read your ideas!