UnknownHenry Fielding’s first novel, Shamela, published in 1741 under the pen name Conny Keyber, was in essence a fan fiction, taking off from Samuel Richardson’s immensely popular Pamela. There were several early stage adaptations of Pamela and it forms the basis for the libretto of Piccini’s comic opera La buona figliuola. This sort of borrowing was (and is) fairly common, going all the way back to Homer as a source — but it was not till the advent of the internet that we thought to give it the name fan fiction.

Fan fiction tends to be written by indie authors (self-published authors) in digital form. Fifty Shades of Grey started off in this mode, and Ms. James drew criticism from the fan community when she “went legit” and had her book printed and published by Vintage Books. There’s a site for fan fiction, http://www.fanfiction.net, which started in 1998. It has a directory organized by source which is immense. Can you believe that there are 703,000 fan fictions based on Harry Potter? I’m not going to count them! I find it pretty amazing that there are 14 based on the Aeneid. Vergil has fans out there? This sort of amateur activity, taking off from well-known characters really got its start with the Star Trek fanzines in the sixties. The internet, by making the operation easier, has facilitated a massive expansion. If you are a big fan of say Bilbo Baggins, one can see how you might well be inclined to read more stories about him — even, if you are feeling daring, some that shade into the soft-porn area. And these fictions are read. In statistics about reading in USA, this sort of material tends to be overlooked because it’s not coming from any “official” publishing source. I bet many of those non-readers in our society actually do plenty of reading — of fan fiction.

The legal status of fan fiction remains ambiguous: as derivative works or parodies they are probably not copyright infringements but this can really only be decided by litigation. In 2001 the estate of Margaret Mitchell sued to prevent the publication of Wind Done Gone, an adaptation of Gone with the Wind. The case was settled and the book published. Since then an authorized continuation, Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley has been published. Stephanie Meyer did not sue to prevent publication of Fifty Shades of Grey; indeed she rather welcomed it. Of course there is no copyright in characters, so a fiction extending your characters will not be infringing. Use of the same words probably will though.

Something of the same impulse to know more about the characters you love is satisfied by tie-ins. The movie tie-in differs from fan fiction in that it is authorized by the movie production company. The New York Times article of 5 January shows that TV as well as movies is now throwing off tie-ins.

UnknownA movie tie-in would usually be a cheaper paperback using the movie poster on the cover in order to attract most sales. Often it may be specially written (on a break-neck schedule) with guidance from the screenplay, though if the movie is based on a book, it will be a reprint of that book with a new cover linking to the film. The tie-in for the movie of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street looks great, but is a reprint of a book, The String of Pearls, which was published in weekly parts in 1846-1847. I suspect that fans of the movie or the musical might have been a little disappointed after buying the rather dusty account in the “classic” book. According to Wikipedia, when Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever was adapted into the 1988 film Die Hard, the novel was republished as a paperback tie-in under the Die Hard title with the film’s poster on the cover. However, when Walter Wager’s 1987 novel 58 Minutes was adapted into the 1990 film Die Hard 2, the novel was republished as a paperback tie-in that kept the original 58 Minutes title but prominently advertised on the cover the fact that the novel was the basis for Die Hard 2.

See also Fanfanficfic.