Friday, August 15, 2014

Woman on Top: Feminism and Subversion of Themes, Roles, Gaze in STARZ’ Outlander Episode 101

[graphic: STARZ via]
Outlander’s overwhelmingly female fanbase has been waiting more than 20 years for the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s eponymous first bestseller. The author turned down a number of opportunities for the book to be realized as a movie, but it was Ron D. Moore’s treatment as a cable TV series that got the nod.

Since the series was announced over a year ago, fans expressed concern as to whether the series would adequately reflect the rich history of two war-shattered periods — the aftermath of World War II, and the ramp-up to Scotland’s 1745 Jacobite uprising. The book had been pigeon-holed as a romance when first published, though it crosses historical, sci-fi, fantasy, and romance genres. Would the series fully realize the breadth of these fiction categories?

But readers also worried about the preservation of the book’s strong female protagonist, Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, and the feminist themes she represents. Feminists point out that the series is helmed by a man, and only one of four directors are female. Could the show tell Claire’s story with so much testosterone on board, and not revert to a male-centric swashbuckler?

Dinna fash, as the Scots might say — not to worry. The first episode demonstrates in subtle but deep detail that this is not the usual fare. We are definitely “outland” of traditional cable series.

Let’s take a fine-toothed comb to this first hour of programming, giving it the deep analysis this long-awaited adaptation merits. It bore the additional burden of establishing canon for viewers not familiar with the book, while adding new reinforcing content to replace the level of detail only the text could provide.


It’s important to remember as viewers we don’t know how much of these details were created consciously or unconsciously. But we can analyze them for what they may say to us at both levels. Details are listed here by the minute:second they appear in Episode 101.

Caitriona Balfe’s name appears first in the cast listed during the title sequence. Modified as the theme for the series, the lyrics to the traditional Skye song, have been changed from 'lad' in reference to Bonnie Prince Charlie, to 'lass' in reference to Claire.

The hour opens with Claire in voice over, looking at a shot of Glen Coe, Scotland — the beauty of which transcends conflict and is beyond time in appearance. Like the book, this story is told from Claire’s perspective — hence her voice first and the lack of a gendered gaze. By way of her voice it’s implied her thoughts are more important than her appearance.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Loving "Bad Jane": Pride and Prejudice and the Too-Good Sister/Daughter/Mother

"Got a light, big boy?"
[Based on C.E. Brock's Bingley and Sandy from Grease]
The Derbyshire Writers' Guild Tea Room features a rather intense thread examining the rationale behind "bad Jane" characters in Pride and Prejudice fan fiction.

That so many writers and readers alike enjoy a "bad Jane" does not surprise me, nor does the dynamic discussion about Jane's relative merits. This hints at a key reason why Austen's Pride and Prejudice remains her most popular and successful novel — the underlying archetypes speak deeply to us, and they communicate successfully. The real mystery is how a single woman could write out a comprehensive ancient mythos using so many archetypes in sync and with such clarity that most readers don't see them yet enjoy the story they tell.

It's important to understand that P&P is not about a single character. It's an ensemble, a system that works well, each of its different components serving a critical purpose.

The novel itself mirrors a portion of the women's mythos — the story we tell each other about what being an adult woman requires, how to become one successfully as we move from maiden to wife/mother. P&P is a women's bildungsroman, in other words.

While most readers follow the Elizabeth-and-Darcy storyline most closely, the other components tell us very deep things about womanhood in an economy of words.

The five daughters are not independent; they are each of them an extension of the uber-mother, telling us what is successful as mother and daughter alike. Each daughter represents a specific model of emerging womanhood, from which we are to learn.

1) Jane — The too-good sister/daughter/mother — In which we see complete investment of the mother and minor investment of the father; this child has learned complete control over herself.

2) Elizabeth — The good-enough sister/daughter/mother — Exemplifies more paternal investment and a more hands-off approach on the part of the mother.

3) Mary — The intellectual abandoned sister/daughter/mother — Parents utterly fail this child, who strives to replace the knowledge and wisdom of parents but without any guidance.

4) Kitty — The incurious abandoned sister/daughter/mother — Again, parents utterly fail this child, but she cannot even see her way to replace missing knowledge and wisdom.

5) Lydia — The animalistic sister/daughter/mother — Father fails grossly, while mother identifies too closely with this child, indulging all the animal urges without restraint.

Each of these models have varying degrees of attachment to their parents. These variations teach us something about the role of parents in their daughters' lives and their respective likely outcomes.

We've seen these models before. They appear again and again in fairy and folk tales, once told by mothers and grandmothers to their daughters in front of the hearth. They were unconscious guides to help guide pre-literate people.

Friday, January 10, 2014

General Resources for Fan Fiction

Graphic: Fan fiction in the Making,
by Kalexanderson via Flickr
A community member at's A Happy Assembly asked about general resources for fan fiction writers. By general they meant fandom agnostic — resources of use to writers of any fan community.

This is a pretty big topic; what makes it so large is the number of possible fandoms, and the highly individual nature of each fandom. A writer driven to create fan fiction must be motivated enough to seek out content related to the focus of their personal fanaticism, as well as other fellow fans. There's not much one can do to supplement this drive apart from telling them to use a search engine.

However, there are some pretty obvious places to look for other fan fiction authors and their content — the major fandom-agnostic fan fiction platforms:
  • FanFiction.Net — The mac daddy of fan fiction sites, in terms of both size and age
  • (AO3) — The fan fiction site of the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), differentiated by its status as a nonprofit dedicated to supporting all fan fiction work; OTW also publishes regular fandom-agnostic fannews posts related to the topic of fan fiction.
  • Wattpad — A site dedicated to self-published fiction online, including both original and fan fiction
  • Amazon Kindle Worlds — A highly-focused commercialized platform for specific fandoms through which some works can be published for profit
  • FictionPad — A relatively new site still in beta
I have personal concerns about the last platform, about which I wrote a post a few months ago; the same post also includes an overview of the major sites listed above. Keep in mind that functionality and business models of any of these sites might change at any time with little advance notice.

To learn more about fan fiction as a genre, see

Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, by Prof. Anne Jamison (follow her on Twitter: @prof_anne)

Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays, by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (this book is pre-Twilight/end of Harry Potter movie releases; fandom information may have changed substantially with age)

To learn the craft of writing fan fiction, see

How to Write Fan Fiction that People Want to Read, by Daphne Dangerlove and the related site, (also on Twitter: @how2writefanfic)

There are other books about fan fiction, and how to write it; the above are among the best known and most recent.

And of course, new fan fiction readers and writers alike will want to acquaint themselves with appropriate terms like canon, fanon, AU, so on. The Wikipedia page on fan fiction is actually a decent place to start. It's also critically important that new and experienced fan fiction authors inform themselves about the legal issues surrounding fan fiction (see also OTW's website, linked above).