Yesterday, I ran the first of a two part series from Ksenia Prassolova, who was until just a few weeks ago a Visiting Scholar in the Comparative Media Studies Program. Prassolova was in this country on a Fullbright fellowship, pursuing research on Harry Potter fan fiction as a literary phenomenon. She has now returned to Immanuel Kant State University of Russia (Kaliningrad). In the first section, she described the context in which Russian-language fandom operates including consideration of issues of intellectual property, translation, and the relationship of fandom to other changes in Russian culture in the post-Cold War era. In this next section, she deals directly with various forms of fan creative expression and the picture she paints shows both strong parallels to western fan culture but also significant differences.
For those of you who are just coming to the blog through links on one or another Harry Potter fan site, you might be interested to check out my own thoughts about Harry Potter fan culture from earlier this summer.
“Professor Snape’s Dungeons”
Translation was also one of the channels for fan fiction to find its way into Russian Harry Potter fandom: in 2001 fandom was mostly discussing the available four novels and their Russian versions, but by 2002 it already was busy reading at least two competing translations of Cassandra Claire’s then work in progress, The Draco Trilogy. ‘People’s Translation’ were among the first sites to open a fan fiction section, which hosted both translated fic and the infamous Harry Potter and Phoenix from the Order – written by the author named Constance Ice, this work is considered to be the first honest-to-Merlin Harry Potter fan fiction written in the Russian language (yet some claim that this title belongs to Harry Potter and the Order of the Broom, a parody fic posted by an anonymous author at Harry Potter Research Institute).
Approximately at the same time, a number of Snape fans joined efforts and started an on-line role playing game, which went on for a number of years at a site called ‘Professor Snape’s Dungeons’. The game’s central character, Severus Snape – a brooding, Byronic hero – was mostly busy saving the world at various points in history and all damsels in distress he could find along the way. In the end, Professor Snape (or S.S., as he is referred to throughout the game) ‘rebuilds the Tower of Babylon and finds Light’. This massive on-line project featured not only the text itself, but also some skillful artwork, analytical materials and carefully-collected soundtrack. The project also clearly outgrew itself: in 2003 the game, complete with sounds and fanart, was privately published as a set of 3 multimedia disks, and 2005 marked the appearance of a very impressive velvet-bound volume, Liber Lux et Tenebrae.
The picture below shows the book (part I) in its dust cover, and a random artwork spread; a curious reader will also make out the characters’ names, which, for some reason, were left in English.
There are three reasons I am mentioning this project here: firstly, it included most of the fandom’s big names of then (and of now); secondly, it set another mark as far as the tradition of publishing fan fiction is concerned; and thirdly, long before the appearance of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince it established a very specific interpretation of the character of Severus Snape – the one that would gradually become all but canonic for a multitude of Russian Snape fans, even though they might have never heard of ‘Professor Snape’s Dungeons’.
The Shock of Slash
By 2003 fandom was already flourishing: it thrived on sites and forums; it was writing and translating fan fiction; it had its own version of the infamous Restricted Section; and it had discovered slash. As many other fannish concepts, the concept of slash came as is: through reading and translating of Western fan fiction and analytical materials. The new genre immediately acquired both dedicated followers and avid haters, and while it would be wrong to say that it split fandom in two, it did cause some distress along the way. Some people never caught up, and the general level of intolerance to slash and queer readings of the source text is still higher in Russian-language fandom than in English-language one. Intolerance in fandom comes from intolerance in society: until 1991, homosexuality had been a criminal offence; no wonder many still consider ‘queer’ offensive, the ban might have been lifted, but little has been done to promote tolerance and understanding. Slash in Russia is not taken for granted and in most cases requires a very open mind set from its readers, but in the end of the day, it does help to change personal attitude to queer people outside fandom, thus performing this huge educational function that might not be central to this genre as it is perceived by English-speaking fans.