The 21st century Alexander Romance and Transformative Fiction (aka is it fanfic?)

Most Alexander-the-Great-inspired fiction is arguably a fanfic of the man himself. This includes that 2000 year old tradition called the Alexander Romance, which is basically (simplistically) an isekai alternate universe history of the Macedonian hero going on wacky adventures, retold over and over again by writers and artists who admire his achievements. But what happens… when the author of the 21st century Alexander Romance is not herself a fan of Alexander?

Maybe it’s not surprising. Still it’s the facts. I am actually not a fan of Alexander. If you asked me “if you could time travel, who would you meet?” he wouldn’t even be in my top ten. (Which are Nikola Tesla, Da Vinci, Public Universal Friend, and the rest are women or marginalised people or folks who would be considered middle-class in today’s society with interesting life stories) If I were to see him in person, I would beat him up (I won’t, because he’s given me my next project). I never liked him back when I didn’t know anything about him, and I only like him now in the sense that I respect his existence, much like a doula respects the dignity of her client’s life and death, and strives to honour his personhood, flaws and all.

Even my introduction to the Alexander Romance is roundabout. It was not Alexander himself that got me interested, but the collective legacy of creatives from different times and places who wrote and drew of him. I guess you could say I am a fan of their work. Still though,

Is what I am doing technically fanfiction? While I am alright with the term being used on Alexander Comic as a shorthand or an inside joke, I don’t agree with it, because it feels untrue. However, it is definitely, 100%, completely a type of transformative work — which is not the same as calling it fanfiction, because fanfiction requires a certain intent that Alexander Comic doesn’t actually carry.

Fanfiction is one part of a larger category of transformative work, or transformative fiction. There are other forms of transformative work, like remixing, sampling, collage, etc. A rapper sampling a track and making it their own thing is engaging in transformative work, but is not doing fanrap. An artist taking public domain drawings of Da Vinci and turning them into some metafictional gallery exhibit (or a meme) is engaging in transformative work, but is not doing fanart. A singer who covers a song may or may not be a fan of the song or the original singer yet appreciates the song’s qualities nonetheless in context of their own voice and work, is not necessarily doing a fanmusic thing though they are again, engaging in transformative work.

Here’s a quote from a related Tumblr post (side note: I didn’t know you can embed Tumblr posts into WordPress now??? FANTASTIC), which I’ll admit inspired this blog post:

Which brings us back to my opening paragraph. Can most Alexander-the-Great fiction (specifically in my case, the Alexander Romance) be considered fanfiction? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the intent, and on the contemporary framework of the times (like the Tumblr user argues) and on the author.

Personally I would rather not call the entire Alexander Romance tradition a tradition of fanfiction, though in some cases, an author may harbour a feeling of genuine admiration for Alexander as a historical figure. And I suppose, the same can be said of some historical fiction. Regardless, all of what we do is transformative work. That’s legit. And I am proud of that.

Anyway, something clarified.

Hello, hello

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    • Star Butterfly
    • October 20, 2020

    This was great but neither post clearly explained what’s the difference between between fanfiction and transformative works. From what I understand, a work ceases to be fanfic once money changes hands?

    • Reply

      Hm fair point, I was operating on a base of A Lot of Knowledge regarding fan culture online. I think the difference comes down to creative intent, in the examples I posted i.e the artist borrowing Da Vinci’s work for an exhibit, a cover of a song – in those examples and the example of fanfic, they are taking and reinterpreting from other sources, but there’s a difference of intent. I am not saying fanfic and transformative work are separate entities because fanfic is transformative work. Just that not all transformative work is fanfic? And in order to understand this we have to know the other types of transformative work.

      Also I don’t think fanfic stops being fanfic when it starts earning money, especially in the case of public domain IP or a long dead author’s work (or in the music industry, a cover artist who is a fan of the original singer or song gets paid for radio plays of their cover song). But money being given for fanfic of works that are currently copyrighted (especially without the consent of the author) is a whole other topic entirely.

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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