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The fandom critique begins.. [May. 9th, 2012|12:09 am]
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Yesterday, as I perused a master list of Alternate Universe X-Men First Class recs I came across a Notting Hill adaptation, a “reel” X-Men fic, if you will.  I found myself incredibly frustrated by it.  I thought to myself, oh hush, what right do you have to make any kind of criticism whether you believe it to be constructive or not.  Today, as I sat in my Latin American Literature and Revolution class I realized perhaps I do have some place to voice my thoughts as the most frequent reader of fanfiction and amateur original fiction I know.  

A month ago I “discovered” the Inception fandom, immediately became obsessed with Arthur/Eames fic, and found myself immersed in its world.  Last week I thought miserably to myself: well, that’s it, Ali, another fandom used out.  I scoured the internet for more great fic but couldn’t find anything that really caught my interest that I had not already read.  See, I don’t really read fic - I tend to devour it.  I’ll read as much as 15 stories, as much as 200k a night.  I read one thing and it’s brilliant, fun, keeps my interest, I look at the time and say to myself, just one more.  But it’s just not satisfying yet.  I read another.  And another.  It’s a problem and one I’ve had since the fourth grade when I discovered fanfiction through my (glorious) love affair with Sailor Moon.  I used to come home from elementary school and read six fucking hours of Sailor Moon fic, or rather as much as I could before my mom came upstairs and yelled at me until I went to bed.  How the fuck did I read all of that Sailor Moon fic?  I don’t know.  But I did.  And it taught me early on to absorb as much as I could in a single sitting because there simply wasn’t enough time in the world for me to read as slowly as I would like.  Unfortunately, I was human and needed to eat and sleep and go to school and dumb things like that.  Anyway - I’ve realized I move through fandom like it’s nobody’s business.  I’ve been a part of the Harry Potter fandom since the seventh grade.  When I get into an HP fic mood I look up recs or find communities on ff.net - only to reminded, once again, that I have read everything I have ever wanted to read in the fandom.  In fact, most of the title links in the communities that I visit are red - showing that not only have I probably read around 1k (I can’t even estimate it could be like 10k) Harry Potter fics in my life, I’ve read them twice.  There is fic I haven’t read - of course there’s fic I haven’t read - but generally that’s because, well, I don’t want to.  I’ve never read The Marriage Stone, despite its fame, because I’m not interested.  I’m not really a Snarry fan, though I will say that I will basically read anything if I think it will be fun/interesting (for example, I’m not usually a Harry/Ginny fan, but This Means War by Jeconais is one of my favorite classics).  But I have read nearly every good Snape-Mentors-Harry fic that’s out there because that’s my shit.

So, as a veteran member of the fandom community (having been a part since I was nine years old, yes, apparently my life is that sad) I just want to point a few things out about fic - things that annoy me, things that frustrate me, things that people should be more aware of, and, hopefully, things that will improve people’s writing and fics in the future.


The Severitus/Sevitis/Potions&Snitches Problem: 

This is one of the first issues that began to frustrate me in the Harry Potter fandom - badly done Snape-is-Harry’s-Father or Snape-Mentors-Harry.  

First, I’ll name some of my absolute favorites in this genre: 

A lovely more recent fic To Recollect the Future.

One of my all-time favorite fics by one of my all-time favorite authors Practicing Liars.

The classic Family Night.

The breathtaking and beautiful A Place for Warriors.

An intriguing body swap fic Never Say Remember.

And finally the most fabulous entrance to Mentor Snape I could have had A Year Like None Other.

What is it about these fics that work?  Well, in order to answer that I have to address what I find does not work.

The point of Snape as a fatherly figure to Harry or Harry as a son figure to Snape as I would understand it (and the reason I love it so much) is to bring two damaged, lonely people together, two people who have more in common than either of them realize.  There’s something very touching about the image of Snape acting with care and concern towards Harry - because we know he loved Lily, yes, but mostly because neither of them have families of their own.  Both have some pretty serious emotional problems, though Snape’s are far more obvious and his is a purposeful isolation.  Both have a lot that they could teach one another - Harry about what it means to love someone, to enjoy spending time with someone, and Snape what a normal child should experience in a parental figure.  I like when Snape is rational, when he gets angry at Harry for doing stupid things, because someone should be pointing these things out to him.  It is not healthy for a child to rush into danger without second thought.  But no one has ever punished Harry for being reckless or not taking care of himself.  No one has taught him self-preservation.  There are a lot of things that Snape could teach Harry about politics, about cunning, about the world as a whole and the dark things that he will have to face.  

So, when a fic starts out with Harry and Snape hating one another, like full-blown, hot-blood, I-want-to-throttle-this-child (a point I will bring up in a bit) hatred and then moves very quickly into concern and affection it just does not work.  Okay, Snape found out he’s Harry’s father.  Suddenly, he regrets all of his past actions and becomes a nice guy?  No.  He’s probably still irritated with Harry and still a cold, somewhat malicious person in general.  Finding out that Harry is his son, or, as is the case with most mentor fic, that Harry has more potential and talent than he’d realized would push him to cultivate a relationship with Harry, perhaps.  But the move from irritation/hatred into something warmer would be slow as fuck and require a lot of emotions that neither of them are very equipped to deal with.  They are both kind of emotionally retarded.  So, they will probably get into a lot of fights and it will be miserable, but, ultimately, they might find each other worth the effort.  

Making Harry a very Slytherin character out of the blue does not work.  Making Snape a very kind and considerate character out of the blue does not work.  It’s about character.  If I wanted to read a plain ol’ father and son story where everything is fine and dandy and gentle and sweet I could read that anywhere - I could read a fucking Remus-adopts-Harry-fic, I could read Sirius-adopts-Harry-fic, I could read a story in a magazine about a dad doing nice things for his son.  What I want out of Snape-Harry fic is for the characters of Snape and Harry who I know and love so well to be brought together.  They can’t lose their past without losing some of their character.

A few other problems I have with typical Harry-is-abused-and-Snape-finds-out fic: when the author suggests that Snape would like to throttle Harry as I said earlier.  Woah, these guys are eventually going to be in something of a healthy relationship and thoughts like that do NOT bode well.  Snape may be a pretty cruel and unsociable guy, but saying he wants to hit a kid (or actually having him hit Harry) is going a little far.  Especially if Harry is a victim of abuse.  If Uncle Vernon has been smacking Harry around he does not want to go to the other guy who’d like to smack him around for help.  It just doesn’t make sense.  In terms of Snape’s reaction to Harry’s abuse - don’t make him immediately warm to Harry (“Harry, Harry look at me, it’s okay, sshhh, shhh, we’ll tell the Headmaster-” “NO!” “Okay, okay, we won’t tell the Headmaster, just relax and let me hold you”), but don’t (seriously people do this) make him act like it’s no big deal (‘So the brat’s got a few welts from his Uncle, what a pussy’, Snape sneered as he watched Harry’s cowering figure)!  If Harry’s abuse is a central point in your story, it should be important to Snape as well.  Typically, he would mull over it.  He would think what’s the rational thing to do in this situation?  He’d think maybe I knew about this neglect all the time in the back of my mind... He’d think damn the kid has something in common with me.  He’d think fuck, Lily’s kid has been abused and neglected.  Or hell, he’d probably think it’s pretty sick for any adult to hurt any kid, regardless of who hat child is.  In any case, the recovery from the abuse and Snape opening Harry up about it - take it slow.  It is not an easy subject, by far.  It might be wise to not make your Snape-Harry fic about abuse because there’s so many ways it could go wrong.  When it’s right it’s beautiful and touching, of course.  But it’s hard to touch upon such a sensitive subject over a short period of time.  Abuse fics, in my opinion, should be about healing, about Harry learning a little about being a normal child with an authority figure that is concerned for him when it’s time to be concerned and (probably warily in Snape’s case) proud of him when it’s time to be proud.  These things take time to develop and establish.

Now, concerning Harry’s friends’ reactions to his relationship with Snape - the worst is when they, like the bad Snape and Harry characterizations in fics, take it too well or too badly.  If Hermione is next in line and becomes Snape’s adopted daughter you’re just being silly.  Not only does Hermione’s introduction make the story become more ridiculous and fluffy, it typically overshadows Harry’s relationship with Snape which is why I want to read the damn story in the first place!  Now, if Hermione and Ron and all the Weasleys are soooo disgusted by Harry’s new relationship and decide to completely shun him without second thought (“You’re an evil Slytherin now, aren’t you?” “Should I call you Snape now, you snake traitor?”) and Harry is transferred to Slytherin because he’s so miserable with all the evil Gryffindors, well, it’s just not believable.  Every one of Harry’s friends would not turn their backs on him over something stupid.  If Ron, Hermione, Neville, even Ginny, has proven anything it is that they are pretty damn loyal friends.  The most realistic reaction might be something wavering between concern and satisfaction on Hermione’s part (“You really do need a parental figure in your life, Harry, although I don’t know how healthy a relationship with Snape is.../I guess I can get on the bandwagon out of pure rationality”) and grudging acceptance on Ron’s part (“Can’t say I understand, mate, think you might be a bit barmy, but if this makes you happy..”).  Give their reactions more flair, change the up, do whatever you like, but please, keep Ron and Hermione Ron and Hermione.  Fic is always better when it’s believable in the HP world.

I suppose that’s all for now.  I’ll have to scour some more Severitus fics and continue these guidelines or whatever you’d like to call it later.