Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.

Every culture in existence has its own tales, whether written or oral. More often than not, these tales are classified as ‘folktales’, separate from the concepts of ‘myth’ and ‘legend’. However, with the expansion of the internet and the interconnectivity of communities, new cultures have been created in this new world. Fandoms, aka groups of people who enjoy a particular product, can be seen to be their own distinct culture. If this is taken as true, then the tales these cultures create can be seen as folktales. Therefore, fan fiction, these created tales, must be a modern day equivalent of folktalkes.

Firstly, the definition of culture. The Oxford Dictionary describes it as two-fold: “The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively” and “The ideas, customs, and social behaviours of a particular people or society.” The latter definition is often the concept we think of when it comes to talking about cultures. For example, the Egyptians built the pyramids due to the ideas that they had. They had the idea that building the pyramids would help their Pharaohs in the afterlife, so they enacted upon this idea. As such, the pyramids became part of the Egyptian culture. Another example is found within the Aztecan society. They had the custom of having human sacrifices in order to influence certain meteorological events, leading to this custom defining much of their culture. A more contemporary example can be the social behaviour found within New Zealand’s culture. New Zealanders have the phrase ‘yeah, nah, yeah’, a phrase that is only found in New Zealand and relies on understanding New Zealand social behaviour to appreciate. To understand the phrase, one must understand the idea that New Zealanders tend to be more laid back and calm, taking a relaxed approach to the world. The existence of this phrase only further exemplifies this social behaviour. It shows that, by using the colloquial ‘yeah’ and ‘nah’ (rather than the formal ‘yes’ or ‘no’) New Zealanders have a less strict view on things. Furthermore, by stringing together two affirmatives with a negative, it shows a counter-intuitive approach to answering the question. It essentially says ‘yes I have understood what I said, no I don’t think we should do it, you comprehend what I am saying yes?’. This complex social behaviour is shrunk down into one phrase in order to reflect the ideas and customs of the New Zealand way of life. So one definition of culture is certainly fitting when it comes to establishing what it is. The second is also useful since it relates closer to folktales. Firstly, culture is defined as ‘human intellectual achievement’. In this case, the ‘human intellectual achievements’ mentioned so far would be the pyramids, the custom of human sacrifice, and the phrase ‘yeah nah yeah’. All three things require human intellect to fulfil them, since upon observation no non-human being has created the same things for the same reason. As such, this is indeed an achievement of sorts. Secondly is the section that is ‘regarded collectively’. Now this definition seems to be primarily referring to ‘collectively’ in a geographical sense. That the Egyptian, Aztecan and New Zealand culture is defined as being the culture that was created in those geographical locations. However, one could also see the definition talking about the culture temporally. For example, ’60’s western culture’ refers not to a specific place but a specific time, in this case the 1960s. When we regard ’60’s western culture’ collectively, we are collecting the culture that existed within a single decade. Thirdly, and most importantly, culture is ‘the arts and other manifestations’. For this to make sense, we need to come up with a working definition of the word ‘arts’. Once again, the Oxford Dictionary provides several definitions for this: “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as a painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” (with the sub-classification being “works produced by human creative skill and imagination”). Once again, this can relate to the three randomly picked cultures described about earlier. The Egyptian culture, the Aztecan culture and the New Zealand culture all create works of art. The Egyptians built the Sphinx, the Aztecans built their pyramids, and the New Zealanders made films such as “Goodbye Pork Pie” and “Boy”. The latter, being the most relevant, are particularly good examples of this definition in action. The films took creative skill and imagination to come to life, since without these qualities there would be no film. It relates to being human because, as far as we can tell, no non-human being has made art similar to what is being described. These films were likewise created in order to be visually engaging, by in turn having the audience relate emotionally with what was being put on screen. Likewise, while the Sphinx and the Aztecan pyramids were not created for their emotional power, they were created with their beauty in mind. They were designed to be visually beautiful, whether to impress their gods or the local populace. As such, since the concept of arts and culture are so tightly interconnected, it can be justified that a culture is both a collection of people who share the same beliefs that also produce art.

Secondly, the definition of folktales. The Interpreting Folklore course outline reads “A folktale is a story that, in its plot, is pure fiction and that has no particular location in either time or space. However, despite its elements of fantasy, a folktale is actually a symbolic way of presenting the different means by which human beings cope with the world in which they live. Folktales concern people – either royalty or common folk – or animals who act or speak like people…”. This differs from a myth, since a myth is a sacred story of how the world came into being and how the world relates to human beings. Likewise a folktale also differs from a legend, which are believed to have a grain of historical truth to them and focus on a specific geographical and temporal location. However, there are differing accounts about what folklore actually is. As referenced by Alan Dundes in his essay “From Etic to Emic Units in the Structural Study of Folktales”, he points out that the members of the Anthropological School “were convinced that folklore evolved from historical facts and primordial customs. In the course of the uni-linear evolution of all cultures, there were preserved vestigial remains of the archaic origins. These remains were termed survivals in culture, and the study of these survivals was called folklore”. These two definitions appear counter-intuitive, therefore there must be some middle-ground that satisfies both parties. The common link in both of these definitions is that folktales are the reflection of the culture. While the course outline argues that these tales are unstuck in time (whereas the Anthropological School argues that they are somewhat specific to the time) both agree that the folktales are the naturally progression of the expression of the people. As such, this can be seen within folktales all around the world. Tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Hansel and Gretel” and “Baba Yaga” all share the same similar theme: The woods are dangerous and must be avoided at all costs. In each of these folktales, a young child (or children) ventures into the woods and encounters some sort of danger within them, either a wolf or a witch. The folktale can be seen as a cautionary tale for the children, warning them the dangers of the forest. This ties into the real-world customs and ideas of the culture, since during the time the folktales were created, the forests and woods really were dangerous to small children. By creating monsters that lived in these woods, the adults could convince their children to avoid going into them since it would threaten their own safety. So while folktales can be seen as an extension of the culture’s ideas and customs, in order to fit in with the definition established earlier, they would also need to be considered art. It can be easily argued that folktales are the creation of humanity’s creative skill and imagination. They are stories created from the real-world surroundings in order to impart meaning onto said world. They can also be appreciated for their emotional power since, as mentioned previously, they were designed to emotionally move children into keeping out of the woods. They manipulated the children’s emotions to achieve their desired goal. However, whether these folktales only became art when they were written down is the main problem. The definition says “typically in visual form”, which would seemingly exclude folktales. But, just because something is not visible does not mean it’s not real. When someone recites something out-loud, they are turning it into a somewhat physical item due to the sound waves being sent through the air. Likewise upon hearing the words, the mind recreates them to form an image in its head. In other words, when you hear the word, your mind creates an association between that word and what you already know of it. So oral stories do take on a somewhat physical element, meaning in turn they can be considered art. As such, a folktale is the creative product of human imagination that is influenced by the community around them. In turn, these folktales can be further expanded upon and changed as time goes on. When these folktales cross into different cultures, they become a new product of fiction. For example, there are two differing versions of Hansel and Gretel by the Grimm Brothers. Both of these tales can be considered as folktales, even though the latter is more influenced by the Grimm’s own culture. As such, we still consider these works of fiction to be folktales, despite the changes that have occurred during the re-telling. Despite evolving with the times, they still fulfil the requirements set out previously. Therefore, a folktale can be considered art and falls into the definition of ‘arts’ that comes from defining a culture.

Thirdly, the definition of fandom. Oxford Dictionary defines the mass noun as “The state or condition of being a fan of someone or something”, with the sub-classification count noun being “The fans of a particular person, team, fictional series, etc. regarded collectively as a community or subculture.” It is the count noun in particular that relates to the topic in hand. There are multiple examples of fandoms that exist all around the world, with some of the more prominent ones having their own titles. For example, adult male fans of the animated TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic are often referred to as ‘Bronies’ (a portmanteau of the words ‘bro’ and ‘pony’), while adult female fans are often referred to as ‘Pegasisters’ (a portmanteau of the words ‘pegasus’ and ‘sisters’). Likewise, fans of the TV show ‘Doctor Who’ are often referred to as ‘Whovians’, fans of the TV show ‘Star Trek’ are often referred to as ‘Trekkies’ or ‘Trekkers’ and fans of Harry Potter are sometimes referred to as “Potterheads”. Throughout the ages there have been people who appreciate a property, which in turn means that they can be grouped together under the umbrella term of ‘fandom’. However, for this logical argument to be valid, fandoms must also be considered a culture as well. To refer back to the previously established definition of culture, a culture is “The ideas, customs, and social behaviours of a particular people or society.” Now many of these fandoms have equivalent concepts within their own circles. For example, fans of something are liable to quote sections of their favourite work at one another in a form of social ritual and as a way of identifying oneself. If I were to say “live long and prosper” or “may the force be with you” I’d be identifying myself as a Star Trek fan and a Star Wars fan respectively. I would use these phrases to indicate a relation to the product. Likewise it is not inconceivable that two Star Trek fans would use the Vulcan salute when meeting one another, or two Doctor Who fans would discuss ideas related about the show. All fandoms exist by having a group of people who share the same root interest in a particular product, as well as acting on it in a certain way. So, in accordance to the latter definition, a fandom can be seen as a culture, since those within it does have their own rituals. Meanwhile, the other definition (“The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”) is likewise as valid when applied to fandom. At a fan convention, a group of people come together to celebrate the subject at hand. For example, Harry Potter fans hold a yearly conference dubbed ‘LeakyCon’. They come together and act within a certain way, since they are surrounded by people who share the same beliefs as them. As such, this fulfils the ‘regarded collectively’ section of the definition. Likewise, fandoms enjoy creating art. Whether it be on general sites like ‘deviantart’ or on more specialized sites like “Equestria Daily”, there exists a subset of fandom that enjoys producing works of art. These works of art, be they visual or non-visual materials, are the product of human creativity and imagination. In turn, it is these centrepiece of these fandoms that inspire these works of art. As such, if culture is the concept of artistic and intellectual achievement being regarded collectively, then fandoms must be somewhat synonymous with culture. So, fandoms can be seen as valid a culture as any other found within the world, even if the point of origin is different than what is traditionally associated with culture.

Finally, the classification of fan fiction and whether it can be defined as art. Firstly, fan fiction can be best summarized as a piece of text set in and featuring elements from a fictional universe that the writer did not create. For example, a Star Wars fan fiction may involve the characters of the Original Trilogy going on adventures that did not take place on screen. The writer of this fan fiction did not create Star Wars or its characters, instead using them to ‘play around’ inside the universe. As demonstrated by fanfiction.net, there is a wide variety of properties that have had fan fiction written about them. Furthermore, properties like Harry Potter have had almost 700,000 stories written in relation to it. Now, for this fan fiction to be art, it would need be created with human skill and imagination, while being appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. As mentioned previously, it takes human skill and imagination to produce any work of fiction, so fan fiction fulfils this criteria of the definition. Likewise, these fan fictions have the power to emotionally affect people. There are many comments on many fan fictions that often express how the reader is happy, sad, angered etc. at the various happenings within the fan fiction. As such, these fan fictions must have some sort of emotional impact on some people, meaning in turn that it can be seen as art. Since fan fiction is an art form, in order to justify the thesis of this essay, fan fiction must also be synonymous with folktales. As mentioned previously, folktales are the reflection of the culture they were created in, being expressions of people’s thoughts and views on specific things. As such, since fandom can be seen as a culture, it is logical to argue that fan fiction is the expression of these fandoms. Famous fan fictions like “My Little Dashie”, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “My Immortal” (inspired by My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight, and Harry Potter respectively) are similar in that they are the expression of an author’s world-view via their appreciation of their favourite property. They acknowledge and conceptualize their beliefs via the influence of the fandom culture, in turn furthering establishing the fandom’s ideas and customs. In relation, folktales themselves can be seen as a type of fan fiction. The Grimm Brothers did not create many of the tales they gathered, but they did put their own interpretation onto the stories. They created fiction based off the fiction they were given, manipulating it to better fit their world view. Even the act of translating it resulted in the folktales becoming different to their original counterparts. As such, the Grimm’s brothers were fans of these folktales and in turn created fiction based within the same universe as the original stories. So, if the changing of folktales can be seen as fan fiction (in that the writer is manipulating elements from a culture they did not create but are a part of), it is likewise true that fan fiction can be seen as folktales. Therefore, fan fiction is the modern day equivalent of folktales.

Within the last one hundred year or so, new cultures have been created that are based around fictional properties than geographical locations. Rather than being inspired by their location, these cultures are instead born from a common interest. As such, both the traditional view of culture and these new emerging fandoms both share many traits. One in particular is their desire to examine the world through the use of fictional tales. Since folktales and fan fiction are both artistic expressions of the culture, fan fiction must then be the modern day equivalent of folktales.

So there you have it. My look at whether fan fiction is the modern day equivalent of classic folktales. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.

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