Peekaboo is a thrill for very young children because developmentally, they are just learning the concept of persistence. Not in the sense of stubbornness, but the idea that an object continues to exist even when one does not observe it. Cover your eyes, and Mommy goes away…but not! This is a concept that has long intrigued humanity, but one that we never quite fully grasp. We play with it, turn it over in our hands and minds, take it into our ivory towers with Schrodinger’s Cat and Heisenberg’s Theories, take it into our pop culture with Weeping Angels and Silence, take it into our homes and families every time we’re shocked that in the five years since we saw someone at Christmas, they’re five years older.
What’s more, their lives have gone on! That person we got a Facebook request from? How could they possibly be married, have THREE KIDS, be a TEACHER? Or, God forbid, they’ve changed their name! Come out! Changed their gender expression! No no no no no! They’re still fifteen and struggling with acne and algebra and a desperate crush on that totally hot camp counselor, just like the last time we saw them! We looked away and they were supposed to stop existing, frozen in time, waiting for us to come back and hit “play” and resume their familiarity.
This is a normal human tendency that I’ve only seen amplified in fandom, and particularly in reader reaction to the way I interact with fandom narratives. I have always been addicted to the concept of sonder. I want to shine a light on the unobserved and reconstruct how the Angels dance when no one is watching. It has always been the way I think. I see snapshots and I wonder about lives. I see keyframes and construct animations. I am a sucker for the journey and its motion.
To me, the few moments we see Colin Creevey in the HP narrative do not define him. They are glimpses at a person who continues to exist when Harry is not watching, and I try to construct a life not based on those moments as if they were all of who he is, but a life where those moments could exist in a linear fashion within it. I know that JKR offers only a single touch of the elephant for that character, so I try not to assume that he must be made of ivory. Instead, I let my mind travel over possibility and as long as there is a place on him that is ivory-smooth and at the right height from the ground, I consider it “accurate” and “in character” whether it’s bone or tooth or tusk or shell or claw, and whether the rest of him is fur or flesh or feather.
I have done the same for Lavender, Ernie, Seamus, and many, many others, and there have been varying degrees of acceptance of this. For some, one of the comforts of fiction is the lack of sonder, and I am ok with this and how unsettling that makes my ‘verse for them. They LIKE a mental place where if they feel ivory, it’s an ivory being, and they can have and feel safe in the predictability. To those kinds of narrative consumers, the Daydverse is practically a violation, and pointing out that all the touchpoints of the animal are consistent with canon doesn’t change their distress at how radically different the rest of it is from what they had assumed or imagined. Others are ok with my filling in the gaps, but they hugely disagree with me about how, or about the conclusions I made from the pieces I had. That too, is okay with me, and the nature of humanity is infinite variability, so there is more than one set of “right” answers to be gleaned from almost any piece of character information or moment.
What drives me nuts are those who get aggressive with me that if we didn’t see it, it couldn’t happen. If the canon protagonist didn’t see it, it didn’t happen, and if the canon protagonist did see it, they are automatically completely correct about it and their interpretation is the only Word of God truth. There is no room, to these people, for the slightest possibility of Unreliable Narrator, much less sonder.
They want to tell me that if we never heard James Potter referred to as Jim, it’s not viable for anyone to call him that ever, despite it being a wildly common derivative name and us knowing almost nothing about his life between school and his death (except, ironically, that several people said he changed tremendously). They want to tell me that if Lavender comes off as a brainless, “popular girl”-type ditz, that is simply what she is, and there is no possibility that could have been performative on her part.
To them, if a character comes into the narrative and is an asshole to Joe Protagonist, they are an asshole, plain and simple. If a character tells Jane Protagonist that all those from the Northern Lands are dangerous idiots, then it is automatically wrong to ever create a character from the Northern Lands who is harmless or intelligent. That is a viable form of narrative interpretation and interaction, but it is not and never has been one that interests me. I want to know why the character performed those actions that came off as asshole in that particular moment, and I am far more interested in why the other would believe or say that all Northlanders were dangerous idiots than in assuming they’re right. And that, too, is a viable form of narrative interaction.
It is interesting to me, and interesting too in the comfort that people find in things like “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home,” in the knowledge that no matter how many times they open a book or watch a movie, nothing will have changed, or the consistency of prayer and ritual. I would love to contrast this with the people who find greater pleasure in sports, video games, reality TV, cooking, politics, science, or other forms of unpredictable-within-a-framework. I would be even more interested to cross-reference that with how those people interact with fandom and extrapolation in fanworks.
In the mean time, however, I will continue to be content with filling in the untouched areas of my elephant. My Colin will have a life of sixteen years and ten months, even if only a few minutes intersect with that of Harry Potter under the pen of JKR, and it will not be dictated solely by those few minutes. My James Potter will be James or Prongs or Jim or Jimmy or Mr. Potter or Auror Potter or Jimbo or Jimmy-my-lad or Jims or Jake or Fuckface or Four-Eyes or Kid or You There, depending on the moment and who’s talking to him and the response they want.
I will tell the story I see. You will tell the story you see. We will all fill in our elephants from the same little touches we were given, and they will all be good elephants, because that is the real magic of Fandom Peekaboo.
So I read this great post on why a show like Supernatural never receives awards not driven by fan votes while a show like Mad Men gets heaps of them. And then I sort of wrote an accidental screed that sort of runs off on a huge tangent, so rather than clutter up that post (which you can and should read here), I figured I’d start a new thread.
Because what persephoneshadow so eruditely argued in their post also very, very heavily applies to all other forms of media, including books. And, for example, the entire genre of romance. Since romance novels are concerned primarily with matters of the heart, love, and family—concerns and emotions culturally coded as feminine—the genre is therefore perceived as less valuable, and often outright denigrated … never mind that the vast majority of what anyone ever does in real life, male or female, is driven by those same concerns.
Romance novels basically never win major (or even minor) awards, unless those rewards are open only to romance novels (like the RITAs). Worse, even voracious consumers of romance novels often denigrate the genre—they call them “trashy books,” “beach reads,” “fluff,” “throways.” Many romance fans are embarrassed to talk about what they’re reading. Many only buy the books in mass market paperback because who cares, it’s just a silly romance novel I’m never going to read again so I’ll break the spine and leave it at the beach and never think about it twice.
Except that’s so, so not true. Some of the most famous novels in the history of the format—ones we study in school but oh-so-conveniently neglect to call “romance” and refer to instead as “literary fiction” or “classics” because heaven forbid we acknowledge that Jane Austen indeed wrote romance novels—are romances. Some of the most brilliant works releasing each year are romance novels. Some of the most popular, too, even though critics and booksellers and even their authors are often so very careful not to use the “R” word in connection with those texts.
It’s bad enough that the Rich Old White Guys who get to declare which genres and types of literature “matter” sneer down their noses at romance. It’s downright tragic that people who love (and sometimes even people who write) the genre have so profoundly internalized the male hegemony that they, too, must devalue the kinds of text that represent not just their experiences but everyone’s experiences.
Are some romance novels “trashy”? Sure. But so are some sci-fi novels, and some historical fiction, and some upmarket fiction, and some literary fiction, and some of every kind of fiction ever conceived. The subject or thematic heart of a book is not what makes it “trashy” or less worthy of recognition or acclaim or value. Only the writing and execution are.
So, I’m just going to keep repeating this until I’m blue in the face, or until it sinks in. ROMANCE NOVELS ARE NOT INHERENTLY TRASHY. ROMANCE NOVELS ARE NOT LESS CULTURALLY VALUABLE OR MEANINGFUL OR DEEP OR ENJOYABLE THAN LITERARY TOMES RUMINATING ON OLD-WHITE-MAN PAIN. ART THAT IS CULTURALLY CODED AS FEMININE IS NO LESS IMPORTANT THAN ART THAT IS CULTURALLY CODED AS MASCULINE, NOR ANY LESS IMPORTANT, VALUABLE, OR ENJOYABLE FOR MEN THAN IT IS FOR WOMEN.
So please stop perpetuating such harmful beliefs. If you love romance novels (or Supernatural, or anything else that’s “silly things silly girls like because girls are silly”), own your passions. They are not “guilty pleasures”; they are simply pleasures. What you love matters. Who you are matters. Those old white dudes will be dead soon anyway, and then it’ll be your turn to shape our culture. Don’t let shame or internalized misogyny drive it.
And don’t you just love it that “The Fault is in Our Stars” which is a TEENAGE ROMANCE NOVEL is praised by all of these critics as this super amazing thing and restored their faith in YA fiction when there are so many other novels that are equally great and well-written but they are overlooked and derided as being Twilight ripoffs. I think it’s more than just a coincidence that “The Fault is in Our Stars” is a written by a straight, white male.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that the only reason why science fiction and fantasy has been perceived to be crawling out of a fiction slum is that titles written by women are being funneled into YA-Lit, and the Sci Fi and Fantasy genres are becoming far more series-based (book 1 of 20?!) and exclusive.
Basically when people talk about book genres getting uplifted or so much love, what they mean is that these genres are being uplifted by and for a white male audience- extant stories written by that demographic are glorified, and new entries find it more and more difficult to compete with these titles, especially if they are not aimed at the same audience, written by similar voices, or feature similar concepts. Meanwhile, female authors are heavily encouraged to relabel their fantasy/sci fi as YA Lit, so they do not have to compete on this super-exclusionary playing field.
The gentrification of once-minimized fiction and the creation of new genre slums favor straight, male, white readers over others, but beyond that it also makes it exceedingly hard to publish new fiction that does not follow the current trends of what publishers think will sell- this goes not only for female authors, but for any author that wishes to challenge these trends or even just be inclusive, regardless of their own identity or book topic. And if no risks are taken, then these trends will be very difficult to break because no challenging voices will make it past the publisher.
― Robert McKee, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting
(more quotes from McKee here. He’s one of the best teachers in this art around right now.)