Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fanfiction: May We Read it, Write it, Engage With It

If you have any sort of online presence — maybe (possibly) have a secret Tumblr account you’re hoarding away from family members and “real-life” friends — then you’ll know about fanfiction.net. This amazing site is often abbreviated as fanfic and is one of the greatest treasure chests of online writing. It is quite possible that you’ve read a fanfic or two yourself; it was probably some coffee shop AU (alternate universe) where your favorite character doesn’t die at the end of the movie and instead lives a simple, normal life as a barista, and then meets the love of their life — a story that the writer could decide to tell in anywhere from 100 to 100k words. And that’s the beauty of it: there’s a fanfiction out there for nearly every scenario, every universe, every character, and every story, that includes everything from the mundane to the fantastic.

The term fanfiction refers to stories that are produced by fans that use the characters and plot lines working within the canonical work of the original creator of the media, and/or veering away from it. Before the advent of computers and the internet, fanfiction remained a largely underground and marginalized activity among mostly female fans, as the dissemination of stories and poetry (as well as fanart) was often painstakingly written on typewriters, bound into zines, photocopied, and mailed around the world to other members of the community. That is, until sites sprang up to collect and archive these stories and make them completely accessible to everyone who owned a computer or phone with web access — anyone remember the days of frantically hitting the back button on their parents’ phone when you accidentally opened the web browser?

But why is fanfiction important? Why spare a blog post for it?

For one thing, this form of writing is usually not just a branching-off point for many younger writers, especially children, but also their starting point. It builds on the imagination and creativity by treating the text or movie as something to interact with, instead of it being a static object to put down as soon as you are done consuming it. But why does the world in any text have to end with the last written page and then reshelved? Fanfiction can help solve this dilemma and keep all you love from the fiction world alive. These fan writers can take the canon material and begin anew with those same characters, reminding us that, as Bronwen Thomas states, “storyworlds are generated and experienced within specific social and cultural environments that are subject to constant change.”

Fanfiction builds community, gives solidarity. It isn’t just about reading or watching the canon stories and then writing your own take on it. It allows fans the opportunity to set up special interest groups and expand on representation that might otherwise be lacking. While male members of fandoms are generally thought of as the keepers of fact and canon, it is the female members who create: They alter fandom because, often, popular media and its canon works do not serve their female members. Men, and more specifically straight, white, cismen, are ubiquitous in popular narratives. Thus, in order for canon to fit the “other” (female, queer, POC), they must attack canon and rebuild it, and that takes creation and imagination and engaging closely with the material, far beyond memorizing facts and timelines within said canon. It might be said, then, that fanfiction allows the more feminine aspect of fiction to blossom along its male counterpart. 

While some might say that recreating what others have already created is a waste of time, those who have roamed the forums of fanfiction.net will politely disagree. Nothing imaginative or world building should ever be frowned upon, even if the social hierarchy suggests otherwise and makes us accustom to rejecting creativity when we see it. Therefore, it is crucial to encourage and nurture young children as they play with words and allow this creative landscape to grow. Or you’re welcome to encourage an adult near you as well!


  • Thomas, Bronwen. "What is Fanfiction and Why are People Saying Such Nice Things About It?" StoryWorlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies. 3. (2011): n. pag. Web. Project MUSE. 16 Sept. 2015.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Miyazaki Land- Where Children Come Back to Nature

In recent news, Japanese filmmaker and childhood animator Hayao Miyazaki announced a plan that is as enticing as Disneyland and chocolate cake mountains. Seventy-three-year old Miyazaki is spending about $2.5 million US dollars to build his own imaginative playground, replicating scenes and images from his movies that bring nature and childhood together in yet another way. This new “utopian” theme park will be built on a remote island with an                                                                    intended completion date set for 2018.

Miyazaki is a name that contains a vast area of study amidst the academic community, from the imagination, to the steam punk influence, to childhood fears of parents and the unknown. With nothing but the most satisfying fantastical and steam-punk-esque stimulation of the senses, Miyazaki’s animation no doubt holds creativity and world building that prevails in the film community. These children’s films contain a variety of intriguing tales that are closely woven into representations of the adult world around us from a “childlike” perspective. The stories become even more powerful because they easily become embedded within the imaginations of all who watch them and also simultaneously provide a sort of social commentary. These not-so-subtle hints of “what our world has devastatingly come to,” one might say, are sure to be lessons for children to learn the responsibility of improving our planet from both an environmental and social standpoint. All Miyazaki’s films are told in a playful, carnivalesque tone that includes a contemporary and realistic view of the world, where soiled land and forgetful parents tend to be seen alongside the climatic hook of the movie. Ponyo, is one example. With underwater scenes of trash filling the beautiful ocean scenery, the movie furthers the call to action from the ocean king’s didactic voice of how the unconcerned human pollutes these waters and creates a major gap between man and nature.
One critic and researcher of Japanese mass media and popular culture, Alistair Swale, discusses Miyazaki’s work in context of nostalgia and learning form our past, followed by the influence or use of magic. “We might also describe it as a "culturalist" approach, given that it tends to prioritize the aspects of Miyazaki's work that engage in nostalgia as a means to reclaim a lost past—an attempt to retrieve something essential to Japanese culture” and might also be one we can all learn from. With the use of magic, what is found is the connection between the imagination and viewing the past, helping the continuation of nostalgia. This is quite apparent in Spirited Away, the title that Swale focuses on most carefully, with the transformation of the real world for Chihiro into a fantasy world where her parents get turned into pigs and she must learn to be brave all by herself—a similar sort of advice a child moving to a new city might hear, which is Chihiro’s story.

In this sense, the past that these movies convey is lessons children must learn when they are growing. Miyazaki’s movies manifest dream-like worlds and characters, becoming costumed real world experiences and current issues, to allow children to interact with larger and often scary ideas these movies encompass. It will be a hard wait until the completion of this very special theme park, which will work to bridge the gap between children and nature, moving them into a space closer to nature.


  • Swale, Alistair. "Miyazaki Hayao and the Aesthetics of Imagination: Nostalgia and Memory in Spirited Away." Asian Studies Review, 39.3 (2015): 413-429.
  • http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/hayao-miyazaki-is-opening-a-nature-sanctuary-for-children-on-a-remote-japanese-island-10488123.html