I began my graduate work studying folklore, specifically the European fairy tale canon. Of course, when studying fairy tales, one runs smack into children’s literature. I became fascinated with the process by which these stories – many of which, as recorded, were not in keeping with our modern notions of “kid-friendly” – were repackaged as entertainments for children. Folklore studies arose during the same period as the “Romantic” child, and the two discourses intersect in a number of interesting ways. Something I especially enjoyed about fairy tale studies was the way in which one could combine folkloric analysis (how these stories functioned in communities, in performative contexts) with literary analysis (imagery, themes, language).
When I began my Ph.D. work, I wanted to write about fairy tales retold in the form of YA novels, such as the work of Robin McKinley and Donna Jo Napoli. On my own time, I was reading fanfiction, especially for the Harry Potter series, which I’d fallen in love with my first year in grad school. I became a participant in several fandoms, made a number of friends, and began writing Potter fanfic. Fanfiction was similar to the retold fairy tales I was looking at: both were retelling, reworking, re-seeing their source texts from a variety of perspectives; as a reader, fanfiction, like retellings, satisfied my desire for further experience with my favorite stories. And fanfiction was circulating within this vibrant community, and was taking full advantage of its “unofficial” status to explore aspects of source texts in all kinds of exciting ways. I realized that I felt far more passionately about this, my hobby, than I did about my nominal dissertation topic, and so decided to write about Potter fanfic, instead – and moreover, to use my own experiences as a fan as way of approaching both the Potter books and the fan stories.
Potter fanfiction obviously concerns texts published for young people, and also, because of the Internet, has been a way for young people to get involved in participatory fandom in a way they weren’t able to before. Prior to the Internet, if you wanted to read or distribute fanfiction, you had to have the mobility and financial wherewithal to get yourself to conventions, and to get put on the mailing lists – in other words, you had to be an adult (or related to an adult fan). Fanfic is not only fascinating in and of itself, but also, in the case of Potter, is an interesting space to think about larger issues of representations of children’s and YA lit, and childhood and adolescence itself, in literature and media. Moreover, it’s a space where younger readers and writers have the chance to make their voices heard on those topics, outside of institutional settings. This is particularly important with regards to issues of sexuality, especially queer sexuality, the discussion of which is heavily policed for young people.
Regarding that policing more generally, I’m really interested in the complex negotiations writers of texts for young people go through to make their stories acceptable to the dual audience of children and adults – and the ways in which texts by, for, and about young people get filtered through our cultural conceptions of childhood and adolescence. Why are certain books “classics”? Why are others censored? And what effect has advanced communications technology – and young people’s access to that technology – had on children’s/YA literature and culture?
1999 B.G.S. (Kent State)
2001 M.A. (Ohio State)
2007 Ph.D. (Florida)
Potterotics: Harry Potter Fanfiction on the Internet
This is a study of online fan stories featuring characters from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I combine literary analysis with certain insights from ethnographic approaches, locating fanfiction within broader literary traditions of recursive fiction and folk retellings, and also discussing it as a product of a specific community. Of particular interest are fanfic’s interrogations of the discourse of sexuality: straight and queer, adolescent and adult, normative and transgressive. A focus of the project is how the medium of the Internet shapes fannish communication and artistic production.
Besides turning my dissertation into a book, I have several other projects in the works. I was recently awarded the University of Winnipeg’s Major Research Grant, which will fund my research into 18th-19th century erotic boarding school stories at the British Library; this project will help flesh out my Potter fanfiction work (the books are set at a boarding school, after all), and will lead, eventually, to an historical survey of the genre as a whole. I have recently finished an article concerning the Grimms’ tale “Fitcher’s Bird,” a story of a murderous husband similar to ”Bluebeard.” This year, I will be guest editing a special issue of the fandom studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures, concerning the television series Supernatural (2005-present); the show, whose premise can be summed up as “hot brothers drive around the USA shooting monsters with rock salt, while having crazy incestuous sexual tension with each other,” is nonetheless one of the most interesting and nuanced presentations of folklore in popular culture. I presented a paper (which I am turning into an article) at the conference “The Fairy Tale After Angela Carter” on the use of fairy tales in the series and in the fanfiction. Within the next few years, I plan to do a study of Neo-Pagan texts for teenagers, both fiction and non-fiction; as with fandom, the Internet has made Neo-Pagan religions far more accessible to teenagers, and has helped to create an enormous market for books for young seekers.
- “Mature Poets Steal: Children’s Literature and the Unpublishability of Fanfiction.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 39.1 (2014): 4-27.
- “‘The Epic Love Story of Sam and Dean’ Supernatural, Queer Readings, and the Romance of Incestuous Fanfiction.” Transformative Works and Cultures (2008) 1.1.
- “‘Oh my God, the Fanfiction!’: Dumbledore’s Outing and the Online Harry Potter Fandom.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly (2008) 33.2: 200-206.
- “Homosexuality at the Online Hogwarts: Harry Potter Slash Fanfiction.” Children’s Literature 36 (2008): 185-207.