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From "fanatic"

It’s not mere coincidence that fan derives from fanatic.

The Oxford English Dictionary goes back to the Latin root, fanaticus, itself derived from fanum, temple. A fanaticus was a person who had been driven mad by a god, or as the OED says, “Such as might result from possession by a deity or demon; frantic, furious. Of a person: Frenzied, mad.”

As Christianity replaced the old pagan religion, a new sense developed: “Characterized, influenced, or prompted by excessive and mistaken enthusiasm, esp. in religious matters.”

And thus by logical extension into American usage as “a keen and regular spectator of a (professional) sport, orig. of baseball; a regular supporter of a (professional) sports team; hence, a keen follower of a specified hobby or amusement, and gen. an enthusiast for a particular person or thing.”

A colleague, Damon Curry, takes exception to last week’s post about J.K. Rowling on behalf of fellow fans of the Harry Potter books and films:

The Harry Potter series, as, I trust, you know, has gained quite the cult following. This following has lifted the world she created out of the context of the series and placed it in a larger cultural context. Look, for instance, at the midnight release parties and the myriad fan fiction Web sites. Online communities such as and The Leaky Cauldron sport member boards where the plot is discussed outside the context of the books. At midnight release parties, of which I have attended the past three, theories are tossed around and the plot is discussed outside the scope of the written, as with other popular series such as the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.

To the dedicated fan, the fact that Neville Longbottom marries Hannah Abbot is important information. It continues the story, which is the goal of the writer. The same goes for Dumbledore's sexual orientation. If the means by which she continues the story are outside a traditional realm and dip into popular culture, what is wrong with that?

Why must the character development be confined to her pen? Yes, fan fiction is separated from the official work and should in no way be considered a part of the world she created. But she has, indeed, created a world which she has documented *parts* of in the series. She has said that she has enough information left over to write an encyclopedia (and lord knows millions of people are waiting for her to release it). She knows each character's favorites; each character had motivations for their actions, which she, because of space, did not reveal in full.

So, I guess my question is this: Why must the world "beyond the realm of copyright" be discarded?

Harry Potter parties on the night of the release of the (presumably) last book of the series are no doubt innocuous fun. Members of the Baker Street Irregulars gather to read papers about the Sherlock Holmes stories that can be an arch satire on academic societies and papers.

But the tendency in fan is to gravitate toward fanatic. One likes a group of science fiction television series and movies. One discusses them with fellow enthusiasts. One starts to sprinkle conversations with “Live long and prosper” or “Make it so.” One puts a “Star Fleet Academy” sticker in the back window of the car. And soon one is showing up for jury duty in a Star Trek uniform or translating the Bible into Klingon.

It may be that I was displaying a personal distaste for excess last week — copy editors, apart from a fondness for drink, are not a notably Dionysian crowd — but it still seems to me that pandering to the appetite of fans for more stuff beyond the text is not the best use of a writer’s time and ability.


Posted by John McIntyre at 11:37 AM | | Comments (19)


I completely agree. I have never been a big fan of fanaticism, and I think it's ludicrous to put forth the information that Dumbledore was envisioned as being gay. First, it has no relevance to the story; second, there are 9-year-old children that read these books and don't need to know that information at such a young age because it has no bearing on their outlook of society; and third, there seems to be an overly arrogant aspect to announcing such a thing just to improve sales.

I commented on your post in my own blog this week (as well as a post by Angela Booth), and I think it only pertinent to expand it here, too. You spoke well about characters not being "fully realized" outside the context of the world in which they've been created. They're no real people, and their motives really should have no bearing on our lives. I think it silly to be so enthralled with a book as to long - yearn, even - for information such as this.

As a) a copy editor and b) a participant in the world of "fandom," I must disagree slightly. To equate every fandom's members with the guy who showed up for jury duty in a Klingon uniform is more or less the same as equating every evangelical with Jerry Falwell, and I would say that no creator who cares about his or her audience should stay silent for fear of creating a few nutjobs. What's more, fandom is good for a creator's wallet. You encourage the creativity of fans and you extend the interest in your product.

What's more, I think that JK Rowling positing that Dumbledore is gay really doesn't fall outside the purview of fan speculation. There's now a very fuzzy gray line between what's "canon" and what's "fanon" -- a fan-created fact that is widely accepted within the fandom but is not part of the medium itself. What JK Rowling has to say about Dumbledore is certainly closer to the canon line than what I may have to say about thinking that Matt and Mohinder are sooooo a couple on "Heroes," but the end of is is that these are people *outside* of that world talking about how they perceive people *inside* the world, and that leaves some wiggle room. And that wiggle room is where creativity lives. What fandom does is make a passive activity into an active one, and sometimes a social one, and that has been nothing but good for me and most of my fellow fans. It has a bad effect on some. So do a lot of things.

And of course none of the speculation has any bearing on real life, but neither does Shakespeare's sexual orientation or Eliot's state of mind or anything else that has been dissected to death in the world of literary criticism. It doesn't make it any less fascinating.

As a fellow copy editor and as a fan of many things, including Star Trek and Harry Potter, I can't help but be amused by your reaction to fandom.

To say that all fans naturally tend toward fanaticism is ridiculous. It's like saying that all football or baseball fans riot in the streets and set cars on fire. Obviously that's only a small minority.

So what makes science fiction fans any different, pray tell? We enjoy a series of books or a television show, we amuse ourselves by speculating what happened before the books or between two episodes of the show.

But believe me, we're no more fanatics than English professors who spend countless hours debating if Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays. (I might argue that we're slightly less fanatical, in fact.)

The fans that I know are intelligent, interesting, amusing, loving people, some of the best people I've ever met, in fact. I've seen science fiction fans gather to raise money for charity, cheer up someone who's down, and simply kick back to eat pizza and laugh.

All of that, and we can still enjoy finding out who Neville Longbottom married. (It'll always be Luna to me, anyway.)

I don't know whether Shakespeare was gay, and neither does anyone else still living. Manufacturing biographical conjecture from the text of plays and sonnets is a waste of time and an example of what Samuel Johnson called the "epidemical conspiracy for the destruction of paper."

Similarly, I doubt that there is any serious critic or historian who doubts that William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare, a point for which there is abundant 16th- and 17th-century evidence. The multitudinous theories otherwise have been the work of cranks, which is one more term for fans gone bad. Don't encourage them.

If you're not writing for the fans, who *are* you writing for? It's the fans who made Rowling the mega-author she is today, why *shouldn't* she do something nice for them like release all the bonus information she came up with that she couldn't fit into the books?

And why is it that, say, a scifi fan who dresses up as their favorite character is derided, while a sports fan who wears little but paint in the colors of their favorite team is seen as "normal"?

With all due respect, and you are certainly due a lot of it, Mr. McIntyre, you're attacking the wrong premise. The point is not whether biographical conjecture as to Shakespeare's sexual orientation is fruitful or not; the point is that conjecture as to authors' intentions remains a valid line of literary criticism.

You may feel that texts should be read without regard to the context in which they were written, and that's one way to read literature, but it's not and never has been the only way. What I think you've done in this post, however, is cross the line from saying that context is best left alone to saying that those who choose to examine it are bound to go postal. You can't expect me not to leap to my own defense in such a situation.

There's also the question, implied by your points, that all "epidemical conspiracies for the destruction of paper" should be eliminated. In that case, I must wonder why you bother to copy edit. It would seem to me that you'd be uninterested in any killing of trees that does not provide an immediate and direct benefit to the human race. Surely adding (or removing) the serial comma is just as much a waste of time.

I apologize if my reply is somewhat less than temperate of me. I'm sure I've leapt over a few lines myself in this, but I feel as though you may be defining a different sort of "crank" with your cold-water-pouring on those who dare have a (gasp) good time with the literature we read. Your fear of the Evil Fanatical Fanboy reminds me something of the definition of Puritanism: the lurking fear that somewhere, somebody might just be happy.

I'm fairly sure that nowhere in the 237 posts on this blog to date will you find a statement suggesting that sports fans are "normal."

Mr. McIntyre--

While I agree with you about the validity of Shakespeare's authorship of the plays, your assertion that no "serious critic or historian [have] doubts that William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare" simply reveals you have no idea what you are talking about. There are many respected critics and historians and writers out there who, in fact, do argue that point. I may disagree with them, but it'd be a very large stretch (not to say tremendous hubris) to refer to all of them as "cranks."

Additionally, thank you for revealing your belief that literary history is "a waste of time." Such absolute disdain, dismissal and (once again) apparent ignorance of entire respected academic field allows me to see the actual intellectual worth of your opinions even more easily.

I may not consider myself a "fan" of things, in the sense that you seem to wish to condemn, but I can still recognize poorly thought out and ill-informed opinions when I read them.

Perhaps you will find no assertion that sports fans are normal, but you will also surely find a lack of strong condemnation of players and managers for riling up their ever-so-volatile fan base with off-the-field discussions and speculations about what might be going on during the game. After all, what does a game have to do with "real life"?

My respect for literary scholarship is profound, as is my sympathy for scholars who have had to spend their time refuting crank claims about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

For one example:

But the tendency in fan is to gravitate toward fanatic. One likes a group of science fiction television series and movies. One discusses them with fellow enthusiasts. One starts to sprinkle conversations with “Live long and prosper” or “Make it so.” One puts a “Star Fleet Academy” sticker in the back window of the car. And soon one is showing up for jury duty in a Star Trek uniform or translating the Bible into Klingon.

I think what you're looking at is an extremely small sample size as a jusitification.

For a sports example, of the millions that watch a baseball game or attend one, how many of them are painting their faces blue, and presenting historical stats on A-Rod's RISP? Or of the, what is it, 150 million copies of HP that Rowling has sold, what percentage of them show up in wizard robes and draw a lightning bolt scar on their forehead.

The fanatic fans simply garner the most attention and the media coverage because they make a good story. But you can't make judgements on vastly diverse cross-sections of people based on a handful of especially demostrative ones.

As for the language, all pop media makes its way into the cultural lexicon, be it from fans or people who just pick up on the catchy meme saturating the media. Who didn't spend the 90s wanting to bludgeon the idiot who in the next cubicle who would not stop imitating the lines that were on 'Seinfield' the night before? How long has 'make my day' and 'I'll be back' been etched into daily culture without the need for people dressed like Clint Eastwood to push it?

Boy, John, you've really fostered a blog-riot. Here are some additional thoughts (and yes, I'm defending John):

The point isn't that science fiction fans (or fantasy ones) are all - as a group - fanatics. I am a speculative fiction writer and editor, and I certainly don't go around dressed as Kirk. The point is that whether or not it's "something nice" that's "bonus information"; the point is that it's a social statements that's unnecessary. How do you explain to your child what gay is? Why does it have to be put into the story when it does nothing to further the story as it's written? Whether it's interesting or not, it's a cheap, low-blow marketing tactic that proves only one thing: scandal sells.

As much as I like Harry Potter, I find it a bit of a disappointment coming from Rowling's court.

JB (and by extension John),

What I find interesting are the people who automatically say that gay means scandal, that gay is bad, that our children could never understand it and we would be endangering them in some way to let them anywhere near the icky gay sentiment.

I think the argument needs to be separated. Is extraneous information provided by the author useful or interesting, does it provide more context, different interpretations? While I would argue that authorial interpretation certainly has a role, I'd also argue that audience interpretation does as well. Certainly Tolkien gave us mountains and mountains of miscellaneous information after the fact in some cases.

The gay issue needs to be separated completely from this discussion because I'm seeing so much bigotry interspersed in the argument that it muddles the waters.

How do you explain what gay is, JB? The same way you explain what straight is! I have no idea why this is such a difficult thing for people to handle. Nobody's asking anyone to explain anal sex to a six-year old, after all.

My daughter (who is 2 1/2) understands quite clearly that some people have a mommy and a daddy and some people have two mommies or two daddies. As she gets older, we'll teach her whatever's appropriate for her age. That's it.

I sincerely doubt Rowling was making a social statement. She was answering a question from a fan, no more, no less. It's no different than when she explained who she thought married whom and what Hermione did after Hogwarts.

I don't believe I ever mentioned the gay topic as being 'icky'; and also, apparently, you've not been made aware that 'scandal' doesn't always have to deal with disgraceful.

In the end, the revelation brings nothing to the story. And if she wanted everyone to know what happens to the characters after Hogwarts, then why didn't she just write a new book?

@ Rachel & Mara:

It has very little to do with bigotry and quite a lot to do with what parents find accepting to tell their children.

I, myself, am not straight and would have no problem explaining to my children what "gay" is or isn't. On the other hand, I know a number of people in my office with children who hang on the right side of the political spectrum that have all but discarded the Harry Potter series from their children's lives on the tail of this little announcement.

I think it is up to the parent to decide whether or not their child needs to understand what homosexuality - or sexuality in general - is at the age of 9 - not from a *childen's* book series.


That's a fair argument, but I'm not really sure finding out from the books is the same as finding out from extraneous information. Though personally, I was given books that dealt with these things in an age appropriate manner when I was a child and if a 9 year old is old enough to ask the question then they're old enough to get AN answer. I'm not really sure talking about whatever extra information truthfully exists within the writer's mind is really a bad thing, it's not like she made the announcement so much as she was asked. No one is going on and on about who Neville ended up marrying and I think that the focus on Dumbledore's sexuality (which personally I think WAS hinted at vaguely in the books) and NOT on any of the other information she gave, deserves a hard look at as well.

Book 7 itself wasn't exactly nine year old friendly from certain perspectives.

I also DO think there's a level of bigotry involved, not necessarily from you, but the arguments I'm hearing here and elsewhere focus in a way that I'm none to comfortable on the gay aspect as opposed to the writer's interpretation aspect.

Mr. Dryden,

Re And if she wanted everyone to know what happens to the characters after Hogwarts, then why didn't she just write a new book?

I think you might find my above comment comforting in that case - I still consider Rowling's statement to be in the realm of fanon, albeit it dances very close to the canon line. When someone outside a work comments on their interpretation of a character inside the work, it's still only an interpretation. When it gets right down to it, all we know of a character in a book is what's in the book.

As for a social statement, this is hardly the first children's author to use their books to make a social statement. Look at J.M. Barrie or L. Frank Baum.

I agree with Rachel above that the issue of authors' statements outside of context needs to be divorced from The Gay Issue. Would folks be reacting so strongly if we had learned that JK Rowling believed Dumbledore was, I don't know, dyslexic or something? Of course not. So to say "it adds nothing to the story, thus my distaste for it," I think, is trying to fool others at best and fool yourself at worst.

All in all I have found this discussion to be most telling about how we cloak our true arguments in proxy arguments. We're not arguing over whether being gay is acceptable; we're arguing over whether or not an author's statements are relevant to the literature. Uh-huh. Right. Sure we are.

I'd been interested in seeing if there was a discussion here to be had about the changing role of the fan and the increasing interactivity of our culture, but I can see it will not be swayed. We will discuss T3h G4y. Right on, then, go have fun.

I, having recently participated in a discussion about the terms "sexual orientation" and "sexual preference", note not only the introduction of an additional term, "gay", to add to the list of euphemisms for "homosexuality", but the fanatism of all but one commentator to use any term but homosexuality. Except for the one identifying themseves as homosexual.
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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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