As an aspiring fantasy writer, I have often thought a great deal about what my stories might become one day. I have spent countless hours of my time day-dreaming about what success might look like for me, and how I might use that success to make the world a better place. I have also taken a great deal of time immersing myself in the fandoms and myths of many of our greatest franchises. At thirteen I read Tolkien’s Silmarillion and loved it. I have searched through the depths of Wookiepedia learning the intricate secrets of lightsaber construction. I have delved deep into the Wikis of stories and game franchises that I have had little to no actual experience either reading or playing. If I had to describe myself, I would use the word Lore-hound.
But in recent time I have noticed something about all these expanded universes and wiki articles that I have found slightly disturbing. I wrote in a recent essay that I believe modern fantasy has been losing something. I believe that our recent stories have become preoccupied with drawing in their readers, and have forgotten to provide some meaning that they can take back to the real world.
When I came to this realization I began to notice something odd about all the excessive material I had been reading. While some works such as Tolkien’s Silmarillion were good at providing philosophical and theological depth to the themes of his other works, many expanded universes tend to focus on expanding the surface content of their worlds. I noticed that, while the countless articles I had read about the physical functions of spells had added a great deal of physical complexity to their worlds, they rarely delved into the moral themes that the original works had explored. Even the Fandom masterpiece that is Pottermore rarely does more than restate the simple, black and white morality of Rowling’s original works.
I have come to believe that one of the major problems with modern Fantasy and Sci-fi is its focus on fandom building. In our modern literary landscape, successful writing is measured primarily by how many devoted followers an author has in their story’s fandom, by how many books they can reliably sell. It is for this reason that creations of J. K. Rowling and George Lucas have risen to the forefront of their genres. Through their expanded universes fans of these peoples’ work have been able to draw out their stories indefinitely through an endless stream of random facts and tie-ins. The Star-Wars expanded universe is especially guilty of taking minute details of the original movies and spinning them into long and often pointless tales of their own. (If you doubt me, just look up “Skippy the Jedi Droid”).
The main problem with this type of behavior is that, instead of sending the reader back out into the real world to use what they have learned during their literary vacation, readers are encouraged to dive deeper into the world of the book. They are taught to become obsessed with certain characters and items to the point that they will read (and pay for) any story wherein these things are contained regardless of quality or meaning (again, just look up Skippy).
The truly unfortunate thing about this culture is by this point it is not entirely within the author’s control any more. Any successful story will spawn hordes of fans dedicated to writing fanfictions and theories. Stories and ideas dedicated entirely to filling in any space, even those spaces that the author deliberately left empty. As an aspiring writer, one of my greatest fears is that my readers may begin to take the characters that I have intricately crafted to portray a specific set of ideas and they will use them to construct cheap filler stories. Stories that have the potential to alter or even counteract the ideas that I worked so hard to communicate, all according to the desires and philosophies of writers who either do not understand my intent, do not care to understand it, or else seek to actively resist parts of it and to customize it while surfing upon the wave of whatever success I may have achieved.
But at this point I think I should clarify something. It may seem like I am entirely against this kind of writing, but I am not. In this essay, I am simply trying to warn readers of the potential dangers that have been created by taking a purely capitalistic approach to writing. If you appreciate a story’s lore for its own sake, then there is nothing wrong with spending an afternoon reading up on the nature of lightsaber crystals or the properties of different woods when used for making wands. Even fan-fiction is not devoid of good use, there are instances such as the musical Wicked where another author can take up a world and successfully add to it. In these instances, the writer is not trying to cash in on the popularity of the original work by adding on pointless stories that happen to use the same setting or characters. In these cases, the fan-fic writer tries to add on to the original in a meaningful manner.
In the end, I will leave you with one heartfelt plea. When next you read a book and wonder what lies just over its horizon, ask yourself whether the writer may have wanted the horizon to be left to the imagination. Remember that after “The Last Battle,” C. S. Lewis actively decided that there would be no more Chronicles of Narnia because he knew that they had run their course. Remember that, when it comes to writing, many of the best stories are the ones that know when they end.