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In defense of slash

(Contains LOTR plot spoilers, should you wish to avoid those.)

Another troll popped up on an LOTR community the other day to announce in all caps that she HATED SLASH and that all writers of it were PATHETIC and were not TRUE TOLKIEN FANS. This is nothing new; there's a deep anti-slash feeling in lots of fans, and it invariably sparks a big debate when someone decides to yell about it. (Not that the LOTR community in question was discussing slash, mind you, until this troll appeared. Like good Tolkien fans we had been discussing the plot, the movies, the characters, the tie-in merchandising, etc.)

I don't count myself a slash writer, but I've read enough of it, and I've written enough about slash, that I wanted to take this space to say something in its defense. I know I sort of made fun of LOTR slash just a few months ago on this very journal, but I've softened on it since then. It's the sort of thing you can get used to, even if you do make fun of it. And that's just it: it's FUN. Slash is for fun. Even the angsty slash is fun, as far as I can tell.

Here's the basic argument: people love these books and these characters, but unfortunately Tolkien is dead and cannot write any further of the Fellowship's adventures. We'd all like to see more adventures anyway. And, ideally, these adventures should be interesting and should bring us pleasure. This is the point at which the slashers and the anti-slashers part ways: the slashers think that pleasure can include sex; the anti-slashers think sex should be off limits.

I think there's enough sadness and pain in the books already. We all had to dab away tears when reading "The Choices of Master Samwise," and though most of the characters live to see the end of the trilogy, there's still a great deal of poignancy, in Frodo departing for the Grey Havens, the Fellowship getting scattered all over the map, Elves still dwindling in population and some of them (like Arwen) giving up their immortality... So if I can laugh when reading these further adventures that the fanfic writers come up with, I'd be much obliged. And like it or not, sex is inherently pleasurable, and thus is rich material for comedy. Or at least fluff. Is it so wrong to grant our dearest characters a few paragraphs of lighthearted bodice-ripping? (Breeches-ripping, I guess, in this case.)

Now, if you don't want to think about the characters that way, fine, don't read it. I don't read the Gandalf slash stories or the Gimli/Legolas ones or the incest ones (Faramir/Boromir, anyone?) because those ideas don't appeal to me. But I'd never claim that these writers weren't "true Tolkien fans."

Let's pick apart the claims of the anti-slashers:

Claim #1: "This isn't what Tolkien intended! The characters aren't gay!"
True. But: a) the slash writers know that (they usually put disclaimers on top saying that very thing, often with an apology), and b) how many times can I say this? It doesn't matter what the author intended. Even as a novelist myself I believe this. But it's a long topic, and one for another day, perhaps. Just know: once your work is out there, how it grows in the minds of your fans is none of your business. If they stalk you, that's another question. If the slashers are sending their stories to Tolkien's descendants and insisting that they "admit" that this is really how the characters behaved, then yes, that's demented. But 99.9% of slash writers, I bet, are not doing that.

Claim #2: "All you people think about is sex, sex, sex!"
Actually, a surprising number of slash stories are rated G or PG, and never get beyond hand-holding and flirty words. Seems more to be about love--though I realize that's a cheesy thing to say. Granted, there's a category they call "Porn Without Plot," so once in a while this claim is true. Is that a crime? Similarly, is it a crime to admit that some of the actors in the movie are, in fact, hot, and to employ their good looks in a story? Does that detract from Tolkien's genius in some way? Hardly.

Claim #3: "You're not true Tolkien fans if you write or read this!"
Please. I'm so sick of the fan snobbery in EVERY pop culture arena. Like we don't get this kind of thing enough from indie-record-store clerks. If you think you're a fan, you're a fan. Quit worrying about whether your neighbor's a fan and get a life.

Claim #4: "It's pathetic to use someone else's characters. Make up your own!"
This is actually the main reason I'd feel silly to write fanfic. It IS harder (and thus more respectable) to make up your own characters. But how do we know the slashers don't have fabulous novels among their computer files? How do we know they DON'T write their own stuff? Thing about slash is, people want to read about these pre-established characters, so the writers are answering this call. From what I've heard, the feedback is tremendous and probably very flattering. It's very difficult to get someone's attention when your work is entirely original. With an LOTR-based fan fiction, you have a ready-made audience. Fanfic writers are not getting paid for this, remember--they legally cannot get paid for this, in fact. Meanwhile, every day, hundreds of mediocre TV scriptwriters are getting paid, quite a lot of money, to take pre-established characters and feed them lines. And as someone pointed out in the LJ debate, Peter Jackson himself had to adapt Tolkien's material and work with pre-established characters. Does that make him pathetic? Aren't we all rather glad he took the trouble?

They have other claims, but those are the most commonly cited ones. In the future, I suggest we ignore trolls of any type, though especially on this topic. 'Tis getting quite old.

Now, move along and continue undressing Legolas. It's your constitutional right.
:)

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
lush_rimbaud
Sep. 2nd, 2002 11:26 am (UTC)
Original characters
thanks for the defense, and v.v. true. One thing, though. You're quite right that it's harder to come up with good original characters than it is to use someone else's. (Coming up with bad original characters is something else--witness the proliferation of Mary Sues over at ff.net.)

But more respectable? I'm not sure about that. I think it helps to keep in mind that, with the exception of a few plays, virtually all pre-Victorian literature was actually fanfiction. For example: the Iliad? Real-person fic about the heroes of the Trojan War, and the characters from Greek myths. Macbeth? Same, except that the characters are from Scottish history. L'Morte d'Arthur? Same, using characters from English/Welsh history and legend. And so forth, and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. More recent works, like Tennyson's The Idylls of the King and Mary Renault's The Persian Boy, also fall into this category.

anyway... just my two cents. Hope this didn't sound like an attack on you--I didn't mean it that way at all.
mollyringle
Sep. 2nd, 2002 03:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Original characters
Hiya,

You're right--in fact, I meant to mention this, but forgot. I myself used Greek gods in a novel, so I'm not innocent of employing pre-established characters either! And this tradition has a long and rich history, as you point out. I guess the only difference is that the gods and historical figures are sort of "public domain," while Tolkien's estate still owns his characters. However, that's a legal distinction, not a creative one, and thus probably shouldn't make much difference to the creative argument.

Btw, I'm glad you brought up "Mary Sues"--I've been meaning to ask someone what the heck that means. Apparently something to do with original characters thrown into a fanfic? Or does it refer exclusively to bad original characters thrown into a fanfic? :)

(You're right, though: writing bad fiction is all too easy. My relatives keep saying, "But you've written a novel!" as if this in itself were some huge achievement. It's easy to write a novel, I keep answering. It's writing a *good* novel that's hard...and I have no idea if I've done that!)
lush_rimbaud
Sep. 2nd, 2002 05:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Original characters
I'm sure your novel is great. ^_^ Don't worry about it.

Oh, and about Mary Sues. Um. It is my painful duty to inform you that a Mary Sue (or Marty Sue, or Gary Stue, for guys) happens when the author inserts herself into the story. Typically, in an LotR Mary Sue, the Fellowship meets up with Eralindome, a teenager from Earth who's actually a half-elven warrior princess, and all the male characters fall in love with her, and she revives Boromir by washing him with her tears, and then she and Legolas have hot sex, and then she gets killed by orcs and the whole world mourns. And a beautiful flower blooms on her grave. And the reader throws up.

Everybody hates them, but there're billions of them. Practically every other LotR story on ff.net involves teenagers who randomly wind up in Middle Earth and find out that they're Gandalf's long-lost daughter and Legolas' soulmate or somesuch. They always, always go for Legolas, and then they do the most unspeakable things to him, the poor guy. Or sometimes they go after Frodo, if they're the spunky-buxom-hobbit-wench variety.

*gags*

There's lots of very funny Mary Sue parodies and MSTs out there--some of my favorites are over at the marysues community, if you're interested. And, erm, I'll go now. Sorry to go on so long.
mollyringle
Sep. 2nd, 2002 06:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Original characters
ROFL!

Oh, THOSE. Right, gotcha. I assiduously try to avoid reading stories like that. And that is one hilarious parody/summary you wrote of the typical Mary Sue tale. I'm still laughing...oh jeeez...

Anyway, thanks for the answer. :) And I'll have to keep my eye on that community...could prove entertaining.
hollinelf
Sep. 2nd, 2002 01:40 pm (UTC)
I read every word of that and completely agreed with you :) I can understand why some don't like slash, but why do some people have to be so disrespectful about it? Like saying those who read/write it aren't fans?
It's like that parody book 'Board of the Rings' that's out - I remember reading a review about it saying that 'if you are a fan of LotR, don't read 'Board of the Rings' because it will offend you'. Wha?! The point of parody is that you have read the original material it's based on to get the jokes. I think slash is like that too, which is why it's appealing. Like you pointed out, it's fresh and interesting reading about the characters we love! Maybe slashers are just more relaxed and open-minded people, I know I'm open to anything ^^

Sorry, I've gone about this a bit havn't I. Now, what was that you were saying about undressing Legolas?!
mollyringle
Sep. 2nd, 2002 03:11 pm (UTC)
Glad you agree.
Yeah, I sort of envy people who genuinely have nothing better to worry about than What the Slashers Have Done to Lord of the Rings. Must be nice to have such non-pressing priorities. < /sarcasm)> ;)

Now, what was that you were saying about undressing Legolas?!
I just assumed everyone mentally undressed Legolas in their spare time. Was I wrong?

(I do wish *literal* undressing of Legolas was a constitutional right...boy, the immigration department would have their hands full with a storm of new arrivals if that was the case...)
hollinelf
Sep. 3rd, 2002 01:36 am (UTC)
I just assumed everyone mentally undressed Legolas in their spare time. Was I wrong?
Nope, you were right ;) I mentally think about undressing Pippin too, which is kind of disturbing. j/k
silverowl86
Sep. 2nd, 2002 05:02 pm (UTC)
I'm not a fan of slash, but I must say that was well said. I think people should enjoy whatever they choose to about Lord of the Rings. It really doesn't matter to me in what way they love the story and/or choose to expand upon it. I don't care what kind of fanfic others read in thier spare time; it's their own choice. I did not participate in that argument in said LotR community. For one, I wasn't there when it happened, and two, I really wouldn't care to get involved in such a pointless flame war. All it did was make a lot of people angry when there was nothing to be angry about, at least before that one trouble-maker stirred things up for the sake of attention.

I've got nothing against people who write or read slash, I've got nothing against homosexuality. All I ask for is a bit of good non-slash canon fic to read, a community where people discuss instead of argue, and a good cup o' tea. ;)

Your entry was well written. I enjoyed seeing the other side of the arguement. Cheers to you.
silverowl86
Sep. 2nd, 2002 05:06 pm (UTC)
Crud. *their

I hate it when I spell incorrectly because of typing in haste.
mollyringle
Sep. 2nd, 2002 06:01 pm (UTC)
Hi Silv!

Yeah, I pretty much stayed out of the flame wars too--that's why I put this defense on my own journal instead of the community...hehe. (Cowardice, if you like.)

And I'm actually glad there are purer-minded LOTR fans like you out there, guarding the traditional viewpoint. Before discovering the incredibly huge amount of slash on the web, I assumed all Tolkien fans were traditionalists. The slash came as something of a shock--though, being a perv in my increasing old age, I took to it with a lively enough enthusiasm. :) But for the most part, I try to keep the two "worlds" separate (i.e., the real canon and the slash), and as I said during some part of the debate on someone's journal, it would strike me as very bizarre and very wrong if the two worlds collided. For instance, if Frodo turned to Sam in the next movie and started making out with him--yeah, that would not be right. Hehe. That should stay in the slash universe.

You're very good to take the "live and let live" stance (as you just posted in the LOTR community, I see). Lots of people just want to silence the other side, and/or argue pointlessly, as you say. Thanks for being so reasonable! :)
hollinelf
Sep. 3rd, 2002 01:32 am (UTC)
Am I weird when I say, that when I see LotR, I do admit to slashing it (if I'm with fellow slashers) and I do joke about some lines (don't get me started on nobody 'tosses a dwarf') but on the whole, I just sit back and admire a movie that I feel is beyond slash, fanfics or mechandise, and I admire the simple beauty that it is, a movie on it's own.
Like when people say slashers aren't fans, not true because they can laugh, but are still awed by the movie...does that make sense? It's funny, some things only make meaning inside my head, but I don't get the chance to be analysing often so do forgive me :) This topic is interesting
mollyringle
Sep. 3rd, 2002 05:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, that makes sense. Exactly--we're in awe of the canon as it stands, but we also take time out to be slightly immature sometimes and crack jokes, because hey, what fun is life if we don't? :)

Haha...hadn't thought about "nobody tosses a dwarf" that way before. Oh, that is funny...
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )