Literary Fanfiction

Staff Picks

Literary Fanfiction

Fanfiction.  People often say this word with a sneer, but if you’re a reader you have probably been reading fanfiction your whole life. You just don't know it.  From Romeo and Juliet and Paradise Lost to today’s Fifty Shades of Gray and After, many works of popular fiction are built off of stories and characters created by other people.  In fact, some of the most daring and celebrated novels in modern fiction are, essentially, works of fanfiction. If you are hesitant about fanfic, maybe these books will open your eyes to the possibilities of the genre.  Then maybe check out some online fanfiction. (Archive of Our Own is a good place to start.) There's good stuff out there. I promise.  

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
It's hard to read Jane Eyre and NOT want to hear more about Bertha Mason, the "madwoman in the attic" and Rochester's first wife. (Spoilers for Jane Eyre, I guess.) Jean Rhys felt the same way and she wrote Wide Sargasso Sea as a response.  (Lesson: if you aren't happy with the stories out there, write your own.)  Frankly, Wide Sargasso Sea almost works better as a stand alone work. Rhys' novel's connection to Jane Eyre isn't readily apparent for those of us who remember little about Jane Eyre.  Part one, which deals with the complicated girlhood of Antoinette (aka Bertha Rochester nee Mason, aka righteously angry attic wife) in post-colonial Jamaica is especially stunning.  Unlike Jane Eyre, the book slows down once Rochester shows up, but it's still a compelling portrait of a crumbling marriage.  Also, we could all use a reminder that Rochester is a terrible person (even when he is played by Michael Fassbender).

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The relationship between Iliad characters Achilles and Patroclus has long been a subject of debate.  Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles takes the position that they were a couple and Song of Achilles is the story of their ill-fated romance.  It works quite well within the world of The Iliad and it's the kind of fan fiction that adds depth to the original work, rather than cheapening it.  Miller won the Orange Prize for Fiction for Song of Achilles and it's easy to see why.  It's a beautifully realized story with a ending that will make you ugly cry for days. (That's a good thing.)

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall 
Anyone who has read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell knows that it would have really benefited from some perspective changes.  Enter Alice Randall.  In 2001 she published The Wind Done Gone, a tragic examination of slavery in the South, told from the perspective of Cynara, “Mammy’s” daughter and Scarlett’s half-sister.   Margaret Mitchell’s estate sued the book’s publishers and tried to prevent the book's publication. The book had to be labeled as an "unauthorized parody" in order to be published.  Weirdly enough, in 2014 the Mitchell Estate released Ruth's Journey, a novel written from "Mammy's" point of view.  Figure that one out.  

March by Geraldine Brooks 
The March family patriarch Mr. March is largely missing from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Womenbut his absence is keenly felt. (Jo wouldn't cut off her hair for just anyone, right?)  March follows the journey of John March, who's finds his ideals and beliefs tested through his experiences as a Civil War chaplin.  Alcott modeled Mr. March after her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, who was a huge deal in the transcendentalist movement.  Brooks used the ample material available on Alcott to help shape her vision of Mr. March. 

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
What is so bad about the Wicked Witch of the West?  Okay, she's pretty awful in The Wonderful Wizard of Ozbut we should also keep in mind that Dorothy killed two people and Glinda is pretty shady. We all have good and bad sides is what I'm saying. That's what Gregory Maguire is saying in his novel Wicked, too. Maguire's Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch) is a little harsh and aloof, but she's hardly the monster we see in the original book and movie.  Also, Glida?  A little dumb.  Maguire gives Elphaba a rich backstory and a little more motivation (although "They killed her sister and stole her shoes" was already a sufficient motive, I think). Fans of the Wicked musical should know that the Elphaba in Maguire's book isn't quite as sympathetic as the musical Elphaba.  Book Elphaba and Musical Elphaba both have good hearts, though.  Like all non-wicked people.