Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Differing Fandoms

When I finished the most recent Robert Jordan book, I suffered a bit of withdrawal. I looked around online to see who was out there and had answers to some of my questions. I found several websites and discussion boards devoted to The Wheel of Time. I found an incredibly comprehensive encyclopedia that covers all 8000+ pages published thus far. I found detailed chapter summaries. I found interesting theories and amazing quantities of background research.

Every time someone asked a "dumb" question or made an error, there was an immediate correction by another reader. These people were geeks, of course. I found pictures of conventions and weddings designed around the world Jordan created. But these people are also really smart. I was duly impressed.

About a month later, I finished the most recent Diana Gabaldon book. Diana Gabaldon herself is very smart and a little intimidating. I anxiously looked for Outlander online communities to read discussions about this latest installment in the lives of Claire, Jamie, Brianna, and Roger.

I didn't find much. Well, I did find a robust online community. But far from being a place where every inconsistency is closely examined and critiqued by fans, as on the Jordan sites, the level of discourse on the Gabaldon fan page ran more toward comments like, "Well, everyone makes mistakes. There's a lot to remember here."

Not examining "inconsistencies" purposefully included by the author is a good way to miss important developments in the story. But more importantly, not asking for accuracy in the writing is an insult to the author. It's suggesting that the work of fiction is so inconsequential that it doesn't even seem real in the author's own mind.

Instead of detailed theories, complete with footnotes, readers asked very basic questions. One reader talked about buying her Christmas tree. It was from North Carolina and was a Fraser Fir. She couldn't believe the coincidence! Suddenly "Fraser" is everywhere! I mean, it's not possible that the author did such incredible research that she might have discovered that there are Fraser Firs grown in North Carolina, where she set Fraser's Ridge in the books? Impossible! It must be an incredible coincidence.

That's about when I closed my browser window and went on my merry way.

So, yeah. Jordan fans and Gabaldon fans seem equally passionate. Both spend incredible amounts of time online discussing the books. But Jordan fans seem a lot more intellectually engaged with the work.

Interesting trend watch. Laurell K. Hamilton, Robert Jordan, and Diana Gabaldon are all series authors I read. And they have all become much more interactive with their readership. All have some sort of blog for communicating directly with us outside of their books. It's interesting. I wonder how this growing transparency will affect the writing and the author/reader relationship.