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Something for the sraffies May 29, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in sraffies.
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So, for some weird reason, I found myself last night re-reading lots of my old reviews. I was searching for one on Peeps and The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld, but I ended up reading them all. It was like peering back through the pages of an old diary, laughing at the clunkiness of my old prose and, every so often, shocked, thinking, ‘I believed that?’ My review of Eragon is absolutely painful to read. I described the book as ‘richly imagined’? That pile of dross recycled from The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Earthsea Quartet? What was I thinking?

What I really wanted to post here, was, however, my article about literary internet fansites. I think it will be amusing for all the sraffies. I certainly laughed when I read it (and not only at the clunky writing). The illustrations show a very early image of the BttS homepage, with news stories by Merlyn (that’s how old this article is, sraffies) and Blighty (is that Will?).

So, for your reading pleasure and amusement, I present ‘It’s Booklovers Anonymous in cyberspace’.

One of the delicious thrills of joining a literary Internet chat room is the possibility that you may actually be talking to a friend. Hidden behind the many adopted noms de plume may be someone you know – a casual acquaintance or even someone you passed in the street that day. While in the library at uni a few weeks ago, I noticed something unexpected as I waited in line to check my email.

Another student, already on the computer, was browsing the forums of an unofficial literary Internet fan site with which I was perhaps too familiar. I did not know this girl – indeed, I know none of the other members of the fan site. All go by pseudonyms, preferring to cloak their almost fanatical love of books in obscurity. It is strange and slightly unsettling when the anonymity of the Internet is threatened in this way – when its artificial world comes too close to the real world.

This girl and I did not know each other, and yet we may have been sharing thoughts on our favourite books for months. A literary fan site provides anonymous possibilities similar to the pleasures of a masked ball.

While many have claimed that the wonder of the Internet is email – instant communication in real time – for those with a passion for particular authors or genres of literature, the unofficial fan site would have to run a close second. For booklovers who perhaps had scorned the Internet as yet another small-screen diversion from life’s real purpose, of reading more books, the development of literary fan sites has proved as much of a diversion as the Australian Idol website has been for those with a different kind of passion.

Literary fan sites – on authors from Sir Thomas Malory to George Orwell to the generic writers of The Saddle Club – are generally run by fans, places where groups of like-minded people can discuss their favourite books, trade gossip on book-related topics, and essentially indulge their obsession with a particular series of books. (argh! three ‘books’ in the one sentence. *winces*)

Indeed, one of the chief delights of literary websites lies in sharing the obsessive pedantry of the fan with like-minded souls around the world. While some of the sites are little more than chatrooms providing a front for selling merchandise, others include transcripts of interviews, heated discussion about the significance of particular events (on the fan site for His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, the discussion about whether two characters slept together goes on for 36 pages and counting!) and speculation about where a particular series of books is heading. (hmm, only 36 pages? It must be close to 200 by now…)

Many fan sites, particularly those related to fantasy writing, are really clusters of sites. The main site for Isobel Carmody fans is obernewtyn.net, which has a sister site, Obernewtyn Theories. The main site has transcripts of interviews, fan fiction, fan art, news and gossip. The second site is an endless forum for discussion of the meaning of texts, plot development and cross-text references.

The Philip Pullman site, which is at bridgetothestars.net, includes a series of forums dedicated to not only the His Dark Materials trilogy itself but all other books by the author, as well as separate forums for discussing other books, movies, music and interests. As well as the inevitable fan fiction (stories using the original novels as a starting point), bridgetothstars.net also has a section where fans can publish their essays.

Fantasy sites seem to attract mainly young people, who enjoy writing themselves into the story. However, these fantasy sites are not simply filled with lost children escaping the real world. The existence of an essay section in bridgetothestars.net actually encourages readers to research and write essays about aspects of their favourite texts. (No, really?)

Children and teenagers are writing essays on topics as diverse as the scientific basis of the multi-universes of Pullman’s world, to his use of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, in in work, for the sheer love of it.

[…]
Just as the line between fantasy and reality can be thin on the Internet, so it it too for these avid fans. One of the more recent issues discussed on the Pullman site was the possibility of dedicating a park bench – which plays a significant role in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – in the Oxford Botanical Gardens to the chief characters in his books. Later, English fans returned to the site to report that the characters’ names had already been carved into the bench by more switched-on fans. They also reported that the bench had been formally dedicated to a couple of women already, and a search began to find out information about these women and the possible reasons behind this dedication.

The obernewtyn.net site hosts monthly “moonfairs”, complete with competitions and prizes, in an attempt to emulate similar moonfairs in the series. The moderators of the sites use a number of creative methods to contribute to the intellectual life and discussion of the site. For example, members of obernewtyn.net belong to “guilds”, similar to the guilds created by Carmody’s heroic characters; each guild member attracts points by contributing to the site.

On bridgetothestars.net members are rewarded for posting on the numerous forums by being moved up on the invented hierarchy of characters from Pullman’s trilogy. For example, a member who has posted 25 times or less is known as a “grazer” – a bovine-type character with no consciousness – whereas 25 to 50 posts puts the member in the category of the “mulefa” – a creature similar in appearance to the grazer but with the bonus of human-like consciousness. (hmm, someone didn’t understand the conventions of php-based forums, clearly. Someone also appeared to think that post-count related ranks were there to reward post-whorage. *shame*)

All of these things combine to create a friendly, if obsessive, atmosphere, full of like-minded people. As for collectors of memorabilia and the other groups of passionate oddballs, the sense of community, of shared experience, in literary Internet fan sites, is strong. They provide an outlet for such people to enjoy literature away from the academic world, and without its pressures.

With the freedom of anonymity, users are able to cultivate individuality and enhance any quirkiness they are able to express. While the rise of the Internet was seen as a threat to the future of the book, just as television was supposed to signal an end to reading, literary fan sites encourage an appreciation of literature and should be applauded.

Fantasy web sites, in particular, created for the most part by young people, have encouraged the close reading of texts and the self-expression dear to the heart of any English teacher. They are also lots of fun!

~ This originally appeared in the CT on Saturday, January 31, 2004.

I feel shame that I ever wrote this badly, but the comments about teh sraffies crack me up now. Anonymity? *falls over laughing* I also love that I hadn’t quite been bitten by the Internet bug yet – and still believed in a false dichotomy between the ‘online’ and ‘real’ worlds.

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Comments»

1. Anoria - May 30, 2008

Well, back then before irc, there was a certain degree of anonymity. I remember when I joined (and went up the ranks from grazer to megamouth in record, attentionwhorey time) very few people were using each other’s real names, and there was a thread for the brave souls who wished to reveal such close personal information.

Also, I think the site was closer to ideal back then anyway 😉 Before the flood of ignorant preteen n00bs (or at least before most of us were so sensitive to them, being a bit closer to preteenhood ourselves) and kids wanting to try out to be Lyra, y’know back in the golden years, I could see a lot more of what you wrote being applicable.

And that’s not bad writing. It’s not the polished impressiveness that you write now, but it’s better than the vast majority of newspaper and even textbook/journal articles I’ve seen. Book book book 😛

2. dolorosa12 - May 30, 2008

I don’t think that it’s as woeful as you seem to think. Sure, it was probably more of a ‘golden age’ back then, but I still have fun on teh ‘Pub. IRC has, of course, helped matters a lot in weeding out the irritating Willabes and other n00b c00bers – you can just ignore them!

As you know, I wasn’t really a very active sraffie until last year – I didn’t even post on the non-book sections of the forum – so I don’t really know what it was like back then. It’s certainly, for me at least, retained its status as a home for all book-obsessed fanatics and for that I will be eternally grateful.

3. bananna - May 30, 2008

sorry to be so ignorant, but what’s a sraffie?

4. dolorosa12 - May 30, 2008

Sraffies are people who hang out here.

5. James (H) - May 31, 2008

I felt, as I occasionally do, the urge to blog today. This presented a problem, since I don’t actually have a blog, but for the moment your comment field will have to do…

This time I was inspired by [Ronni’s post]. Her reminiscing on past writing, with the obligatory self-deprecation that entails, set off a few thoughts:
* shit, I know my writing hasn’t improved since 2004
* my writing must be crap
* but I have nothing to write about
* I’m a failure as an Arts student
* damn, my last English class was in 2003
* what can I write about?
* why do I care?
* but I don’t really care about anything
* I should care about something
* yet caring about writing well is completely ego-centric
* etc.

A few minutes later, this depressing pit of introspection ended in self-referential indulgence. The most frustrating part of it is that I have almost no ability to critique my own prose – almost immediately after writing it I hate it. I need some kind of external validation, which has traditionally come in the form of marks. The only fairly painless option, one which doesn’t involve trying to get a job as a journalist, publish a book, or return to university, would be to have a blog.

Yet a blog wouldn’t really solve my problem. Even if I did have enough to write about, what do I really expect? From the comments I leave (and view) on the blogs of others, I know that no-one’s going to say ‘what a great piece of writing’ unless I aspire to literary creativity, which is absent from my soul. (Read that as pompous drivel for ‘I have no imagination or skill’). And given the number of blogs, and my relatively limited circle of potential readers, the chance of inspiring much comment at all seems limited.

So, what am I saying (the logical part of my brain demands)? Nothing at all. But I commented on your blog, so maybe you’re happy that you affected another person.

…but not effected! A triumph I still remember from Year 11, being the only person in my English class able to define the meaning of all four of that set of nouns and verbs – perhaps I’m validated after all! Will someone stamp my hand with a smiley-face now? Anyone?

PS I worked out what sraffies were without needing to be told. 😛 at Anna!

6. dolorosa12 - May 31, 2008

@ James: You say ‘egocentric’ like it’s a bad thing! 😛 *Your* comment has kind of inspired me to write a ‘why I blog’ post at some point, but not now, since I’m utterly exhausted.
Blogging really is self-indulgent. But for me, when it’s not just posting links to clips from Buffy or *other people’s* interesting blog posts, what it is is *practice*. I blog so that I can work at my writing in a ‘safe’ kind of environment: a place where my writing’s read only by a smallish group of real life and online friends, and where, if I make mistakes, it doesn’t really matter. (That being said, if I made shocking grammatical errors, I’d feel ashamed…)
It’s nice to know that people read my blogs, and it’s nice to know that sometimes they inspire people to respond. So thank you.
High fives for you and much sterity for working out what sraffies are.

7. dolorosa12 - May 31, 2008

Oh, and *stamps James’s hand with a smiley face* 🙂

8. James (H) - June 3, 2008

Yay! I got a stamp! Thanks 😉


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