Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fanatical Fans: The Novel as a Franchise

by Candace Pine

It’s no secret that recently many novels or (even more popular) series, are being made into films. With books like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight becoming their own cultural phenomenons, it’s sometimes hard to believe kids are all sitting at home staring at the TV or playing video games all day. Seeing massive crowds of fans dressed up and screaming to see their favorite stars from the movies that bring their beloved books to life is quite a fascinating sight. Some people disparage fanaticism in readers, especially since these books seem to attract younger and teen audiences, but there are also older readers (for example “Twilight Moms”) who can be just as obsessed.

So what is it about such novels that make readers fall in love with them?

Perhaps it feels like an escape from regular life. After all, many of these popular novels fall into the realm of fantasy. Or maybe readers like to imagine what it would be like to go on such adventures since nothing like that would happen in their own lives. Or it could be that people just find them exciting.

Despite the reasons for why these books are so loved, it’s the way they’re turned into full-blown franchises that really fascinates me.

Marketing types find a series that has a large fan base and exploit it, drawing in these fans first to the movies and then to the other large range of products that go along with it. There are the books and movies, of course, then the games, toys, trading cards, calendars, CDs, posters, backpacks, clothes, and anything else under the sun advertisers can think of to sell. The fact is, these books are turned into vast money making franchises.

In my opinion, that is the negative side of a really appealing book: The franchise takes something people love and vamps it up into a fanatic level because fans will pay money to surround themselves with commercial objects that go beyond reading. Plus, it draws negative opinions from outsiders who distrust it on the basis of popularity. The way people buy into these franchises just makes the opinion outsiders have about fanatical fans, and the books they read, sink even lower.

There is a tendency to look down on franchised books such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Twilight, and claim that they’re not good literature and therefore people shouldn’t waste their time on them. However, the love of reading fostered by such series could led to more advanced levels of reading and a taste for higher literature. What some people may consider "meager beginnings" could turn into a greater love for literature and a higher standard of quality.

What people should be careful of is being too negative about criticizing readers for being devoted fans because we don’t want to chase them off from reading. As long as people are reading and enjoying it and that feeling stays with them for the rest of their lives, then what does it matter what they’re reading?

Not everyone is going to agree on what’s “good.” The classic canon of literature has been in constant flux over the past three decades as scholars rediscover minority and women writers and fight against New Criticism’s notion of “aesthetics only.” No one should be discouraged from reading something they like, and if they want to buy into the franchise side of it too, that’s their decision. As long as they’re still able to make the distinction between fantasy and reality in their own lives, then people should just be able to read whatever they want without being judged for it. The world needs as many readers as it can get, not other condescending readers passing judgment on their choices.

Candace Pine serves as intern for Third Coast's managing editors.

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