It’s easy to assume that fan fiction has only been around as long as the internet (or at least since Spockanalia #1). But for as long as people have written stories, other people have written other stories using the same characters. As with many peculiar permutations of human behavior, the internet didn’t create fan fiction, it just made it way easier to share: the dead-tree age of Ye Olde Fanfictionne can’t hold a candle to the wealth and weirdness of the intertubes.
In fact, some of literature’s most revered authors could (completely anachronistically) be said to have penned some fan-fic stories themselves. Here are four of our our fave famous fan-fic-ers.
The author: Charlotte Brontë
The genre: Real-person fic
Charlotte Brontë did a lot of things typical for teenagers: made ‘zines, wrote fan fiction, and had a Gothic phase (albeit one that produced Jane Eyre). In those less known, periodical-style works of her juvenilia, she and her brother Branwell crafted fantastical adventures stories based around, among others, the Duke of Wellington, known for being Actually A Real Person. At age 13, Charlotte took over her brother’s pet project Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine, renamed it The Young Men’s Magazine, and, along with her siblings, proceeded to publish a series of speculative and imaginative stories set in the fantasy world of “Glass Town.” And even without the internet, Charlotte saw fit to give herself an alternate identity for her role as content creator—though, honestly, with her name of choice being “Captain Tree,” she’d fit in just fine online.
The author: Virgil
The genre: Crossover fic
Anyone who’s taken high-school Latin can tell you that the Ancient Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (AKA Virgil) wanted to create an awesome poem on the scale of Homer’s Odyssey. But Virgil didn’t just imitate the form of the epic story of Odysseus: for maximum creative cred, he took a minor character from the Odyssey itself and made him the hero: the tossed-about Trojan and legendary leader of Latium, Aeneas. Mashing up the story of the refugee Aeneas with the myth of the Carthiginian queen Dido gave Virgil a squee-worthy pairing (Dido/Aeneas 4 evar!), but for reasons known only to him (okay, okay, something about the fate of the Roman Empire, whatever) the author doomed his hero to shack up with Italian Lavinia, a picture-perfect princess who might be the earliest example of the Mary-Sue.
Ironically enough, Virgil’s poetic pastiche of ancient sources itself became one of the most imitated, continued, and reimagined stories of the Western world. Many versions of Arthurian legend begin with Aeneas’s descendants making the slog up to the British isles (wanderlust being apparently genetic), authors as recent as Ursula K. LeGuin have tried their hand at transforming the tale, and Virgil himself shows up as the tour guide from Hell in Dante’s Inferno. And speaking of self-insertion…
The author: Mark Twain
The genre: Self-insert fic
Mark Twain was supposedly inspired to try his hand at a time-traveling burlesque after he himself had a dream of being an Arthurian knight and found his imagined armor uncomfortably cumbersome. Likewise, the titular fish-out-of-water, savvy Connecticutian Hank Morgan, finds himself thrown into the past after a bash to the head. There, he finds all the famous figures of yore (Lancelot, Arthur, Merlin…the gang’s all here!) and uses a little 19th-century know-how to make with some “magic” and work his way up to King’s Minister. Crazy mind-trips aside, Twain had plenty in common with his narrator: both were CT residents and both were just a leetle too clever for their own good. Like any good self-inserter, Twain knew his personal proxy in the story needed a pseudonym (one that wasn’t “Mark Twain,” of course. Though that’s not a bad choice for a FF.net user login). Reading Yankee, it’s hard not to see Twain himself enacting Hank’s whole schtick of sending up chivalry and outfoxing the Arthurians—right down to the ending where Hank, like Twain, awakens from a dream to find himself once again unarmored and at home in Connecticut.
The author: Shakespeare
The genre: Jokefic
It’s the story of star-crossed lovers, separated by their families, desperate to be together, and united only in death. But Romeo and Juliet this ain't. Ol’ Will Shakespeare was no stranger to poaching material from elsewhere (cf. all the history plays), but was also generally faithful to the tenor of the original. But the mini-metadrama of Pyramus and Thisbe in his fairy farce A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes the tragedy of the original and turns it topsy-turvy. The myth of Pyramus and Thisbe, made most famous by the Roman poet Ovid, is chock-full of cheerlessness, drawing to a close as beautiful Thisbe kebabs herself on Pyramus’s sword…with her boyfriend skewered at the other end. But leave it to the Bard to sidestep the squick and spin tragedy into fluff. His rewrite of Pyramus and Thisbe shows the bungling Bottom and his crew of actors constantly going OOC. The end result reads like classic so-bad-its-goodfic, but (spoiler alert!) they all still die in the end.