Can you name the largest piece of literature ever known to mankind? No, it’s not Les Miserables or Infinite Jest, or even War & Peace. It is, in fact, none other than the four million word-long (and counting) Super Smash Brothers fanfiction named “The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest.” If you don’t already know, fanfiction (or "fic") is a subset of literature that expands on the universes of already existing pieces of fiction. It is the practice of writing stories centered around already existing characters and worlds and making them your own.
The 4 million word fanfiction was penned by a teenager under the username AuraChannelerChris on Fanfiction.net, who started writing it simply because he wanted to learn how to perfect his English (x). He’s written 4 million words of his fanfiction over the process of 8 years, since 2008, and still updates the story often. To achieve this, the author of this fanfic must have had to generate an average of 41,000 words per month (9,000 less than what is considered standard novel length). All that, and English isn’t even his first language. There are tons of skeptics who claim the fic is poorly written, or that the fact it’s fanfiction is proof that we’ve failed as a species, but I couldn’t disagree more. If you ask me, I don’t understand how anyone could not look at the situation and be impressed by the power of fanfiction.
If you ask me, it’s fair to say the general public have fairly negative opinions on fanfiction, ranging from ignorance to general disgust, to outrage. The number of fanfiction naysayers is far too high if you ask me, and I fear its potential to discourage fanfiction authors. George R. R. Martin himself thinks that fanfiction is “the lazy way out" (x). Many others, despite fanfiction coming into the mainstream, most (in)famously in the form of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, either don’t appreciate fanfiction or don’t understand it.
So, who are these people who are writing this fanfic? A study done on the website FanFiction.Net shows that the majority of fanfiction (or “fic”) authors on the website are females between the ages of 13-17 from the United States. What good can come of these teenage fans writing and sharing their stories for the world to see? Quite a lot, actually.
It goes without saying that the accessibility of fanfiction is unmatched, with all of it being available for anyone to publish or read online without it having to go through any biased publishing houses or prior approval. Anyone with access to a computer (which can be granted by a visit to the nearest public library) can read or publish fanfiction.
Not only is fanfiction the easiest literature to access and share, it’s one primarily being used by young people. Adults of the Baby Boomers generation love to say that “kids these days” don’t read enough literature, don’t engage in creative pursuits enough, but to that I say: they’re doing all of those things, just not in a way that they approve of.
Fan-fiction provides the access point of widely loved worlds and characters to break the intimidation one might feel towards writing or reading a completely original story. If you already know the characters and the world, there’s no fear of not liking the characters you find when you pull up fan-fiction to read (unless you stumble across a fanfic you don’t like, in which case there are plenty of alternatives). Writers who are just getting their feet wet through fan-fiction don’t have to struggle with creating new characters and worlds if they’re not ready for such a step, and can relax and build their writing muscles in a comfortable world with characters they know well already. Fan-fiction creates a medium for people who might not normally have done so to read and write, and they’re doing it by themselves purely out of a passion for literature.
Fanfiction helps its readers and writers not only on a creative level but an emotional one. Charlotte Thompson, who is 21 years old and has been reading fanfiction since her early teens, says fic “is not educational by any means, [but] it led me to seek out other sources and learn about sexuality and safe sex which is extremely important with all of this abstinence-only, straight-only sex "education" we receive…I thank fic for teaching me to be open-minded, less ashamed, and more educated about sex.”
Fanfiction also gives writers who struggle to see themselves represented in modern media an affirming, positive place to grow. The majority of fanfiction is slash fic, otherwise known as the genre of fic that writes characters largely interpreted as heterosexual as gay or bisexual. The modern slash scene started with the Kirk/Spock fanbase in the 1960’s and grew from there. The slash genre now includes many other subgenres, such as femslash (the lesbian equivalent of slash). There are even small communities of writers who identify as transgender who write their favorite characters as transgender, non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming. Even though LGBT individuals might struggle to find themselves represented in modern media, they can make their own representation in the form of fanfic.
Many people say that fanfiction is lazy, poorly written, and an invention stemmed from bored millennials who aren’t creative enough to create their own worlds. Ewan Morrison from The Guardian says “…the actual term "fanfiction" was coined…as a derogatory term.” But even though the term “fanfiction” was coined in 1939, the practice of fanfiction, when taken to mean the act of re-telling a story with your own voice and sharing it with others, has existed since the dawn of time. It existed when our ancestors sat down around a fire to re-tell the cool story their neighbor just told them. William Shakespeare himself based most of his plays off of already existing stories. Star Trek fans in the sixties published their fanfiction in fan-produced magazines that were passed out at conventions.
Fanfiction is not a new thing millennials created: it is merely a form of literature. It’s literature that is breaking the rules of what literature should be, making literature more fun for everyone. Just because the really good fanfiction you stumbled upon isn’t going to be taught in an English class anytime soon doesn’t mean it’s not literature or that it’s not valuable.
Sure, it’s a form of literature that might occasionally be embarrassing (who the heck thought of writing a fanfic where Sonic the Hedgehog and Donald Trump get it on?), but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I, myself, am an English major who got my start on fiction writing through fan-fiction (my Avatar: the Last Airbender days were wild). Fan-fiction gave me a free space to develop my authorial voice. And sure, if I found my old fiction now it would make me cringe to no end, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for the skills fan-fiction taught me. Fan-fiction might be the messy, full-of-typos, occasionally embarrassing black sheep of the literature family, but it’s one I feel it necessary to defend, because, without it, many literature writers and readers would be lesser for it.