I'm reminded of Kurt Vonnegut and Dresden, somehow. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, go read Slaughterhouse-five. I'll still be here when you get back. It's a short book.) And that got me thinking about one of my favourite topics of consideration: the folk process. And fanfiction, and how fanfiction, I think, is probably the truest modern representation of the folk process, along with, perhaps, role-playing games and other forms of interactive storytelling.
I'm a big proponent of strong copyright laws. And I'm also a big proponent of those copyrights not being extended into infinity, because the folk process needs something to work on. I couldn't have written the books and stories I've written without the freedom to use the poetic and prose eddas, old folk and blues tunes ("House of the Rising Sun," "Stagger Lee"), the Elizabethan and Jacobean canon, ideas out of Lovecraft and Mallory and Yeats, ballads like "Tam Lin" and "Thomas the Rhymer," and so on, ad infinitum.
That's the secret. We like to pretend that fanfiction is somehow lesser than original fiction: what fan fiction really is is a thing born out of the same urge that makes The Greatful Dead rewrite the ending of Stagger Lee and give it a rock and roll sensibility, that makes Pete Seeger take an old Slavic folk song and turn it into the stunning, elegaic song "Where Have All The Flowers Gone." That gives us wonderful conversation between Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh in "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" and "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd." That gives us old Irish and Scottish ballads adapated to the hills of Appalachia and gives us the kind of passionate dialogue about the nature and validity of war that emerged in science fiction with Starship Troopers and The Forever War and continues through Bill The Galactic Hero, Ender's Game, Warchild, and "Hardfought"--and into the future, to stories published now, to stories that will be published in twenty years.
Professional writers write fanfiction too. We just are a little more adept at filing the serial numbers off and telling a different story using the same conceits, and we call it a 'pastiche' or an 'homage'. My story in Shadows Over Baker Street is unabashed Lovecraft/Conan Doyle/Kipling fanfic. For which I was paid pro rates, because I know the secret of filing off the serial numbers, and unlike many writers who 'only write fanfic,' I have professional writing ambitions and so I don't write in trademarked universes.
It's all part of the folk process. The creative dialogue. The evolution of legendry. The compulsion that makes people want to claim and own and recreate a little bit of the story of Star Wars is exactly the same as the process that makes them want to claim a little piece of King Arthur, or Tam Lin, or the life history of William Shakespeare (*coughs into hand*) or John Henry Holliday or Lao Tsu or Shaka Zulu.
I've certainly written works inspired by other writers, and seen characters inspired by things I've written turn up in wonderful work by other writers in my crit group, and a writer with whom I beta just gave me a lovely little non-canonical crossover story between her universe and mine that made my whole week, because it was such a gift of love and comradeship.
And I personally think that seventy-five years after my death is more than long enough for my heirs and assigns to maintain complete control of my work, and at that point in time I would love to see Muire and Jackie and Whiskey and Jenny and Garrett and the rest of my creations go forth into the great soup of human unconsciousness, there to multiply and grow and feed the need of legendry.
Otherwise, where are our new Peter Pans and Robin Hoods going to come from?