[It’s] borrowing… Repurposing. Remixing. Sampling… It’s not illegal… I don’t own the characters, but I’m not trying to sell them, either …
The whole point of fanfiction… is that you get to play inside somebody else’s universe. Rewrite the rules. Or bend them. The story doesn’t have to end.
Cath “remixes” the characters and plots from a series similar to Harry Potter. We meet her as she’s adjusting to college, a transition that exacerbates a rift in her relationship with her identical twin and increases her anxiety over her empty-nesting father’s mental health. Adding to these stresses is a budding romance, which is as challenging as it is exciting for Cath. Aspects of this romance reminded me of my own relationship with my husband, whom I started dating our freshman year of college. Rowell really “gets” the awkwardness and excitement of young love.
While much of this romance resonated with me, it had its flaws. The conflict between Cath and Levi felt contrived, and the resolution felt too convenient. I loved the characters more than I loved the plot, but overall I enjoyed the book.
It would be great to see a “remix” of these characters in a spinoff. I would love to see a bigger role for Reagan, whose sardonic attitude left me chuckling quite a few times, and a more fleshed out relationship between Cath and her twin. I understood the nature of their relationship by the time they went to college, but I wanted to know more about how they got to that point. Without more of this backstory, the relationship between Cath and Wren felt flimsy, making the fact that they sprang from a single zygote largely unnecessary.
I would be interested in reading sequels or prequels to Fangirl that addressed these issues, written by Rowell or even by someone else.
If someone else is so inspired, Rowell (via Cath) is generally right that such “repurposing, remixing, and sampling” is legal in the United States under certain conditions. As I discussed in a previous post, Preventing Literature from Disappearing Up its Own A-Hole:
Such derivative works often amount to copyright infringement unless the fan fiction writer is able to establish a defense, such as by arguing that the original author has given his or her implied consent (by, for example, allowing fan fiction to go unchecked long after learning about it) or by arguing that the fan fiction is Fair Use. A fan fiction author is more likely to succeed under Fair Use if, when assessing the purpose and character of the use, the derivative work is educational, a parody, and/or, perhaps most importantly, non-commercial. So, historically, a fan fiction author’s ability to make money off of his or her derivative creations has been limited — as soon as they try to commercialize the work, they can expect a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the owner of the original work’s copyright.
With this flexibility in copyright law, characters can live on long after they’ve parted ways with their originators. Sometimes the original author unexpectedly produces a sequel/extension, such as J.D. Salinger’s previously unpublished work featuring the Caulfields, but fanfiction is the most likely way for a seemingly finite story to continue.
As Cath says, “the story doesn’t have to end.” I wish Rainbow Rowell’s stories wouldn’t.
Is there a specific character in a novel you read lately who should be the focus on his or her own spinoff? Do you read or write fanfiction?
Other Fangirl reviews:
- Katie at Words for Worms: “Rainbow Rowell, I am now your fangirl. If I ever meet you, I’ll be the girl who breaks her leg tripping over her shoelace on the way up to the table where you’re signing books. If you could sign my cast instead of my book, that’d be cool too.”
- Molly at Wrapped Up in Books (Molly has never steered me wrong!): “Rainbow Rowell captured my heart with Eleanor & Park. I loved her adult novel, The Attachments. But Fangirl solidified her spot among my favorite authors.”
Also, in case you’re interested, here are my comments on Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, which I highly recommend (Rowell’s description of the main character, Lincoln, reminds me so much of my husband: “built like a tank, dressed like he just won the science fair.”).