The Boy Who Lived Forever

Fanfiction, and what it means for literature.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. J.K. Rowling probably isn’t going to write any more Harry Potter books. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any more. It just means they won’t be written by J.K. Rowling. Instead they’ll be written by people like Racheline Maltese.

    Maltese is 38. She’s an actor and a professional writer—journalism, cultural criticism, fiction, poetry. She describes herself as queer. She lives in New York City. She’s a fan of Harry Potter. Sometimes she writes stories about Harry and the other characters from the Potterverse and posts them online for free. “For me, it’s sort of like an acting or improvisation exercise,” Maltese says. “You have known characters. You apply a set of given circumstances to them. Then you wait and see what happens.”

    Maltese is a writer of fan fiction: stories and novels that make use of the characters and settings from other people’s professional creative work. Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don’t do it for money. That’s not what it’s about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They’re fans, but they’re not silent, couchbound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.

    Right now fan fiction is still the cultural equivalent of dark matter: it’s largely invisible to the mainstream, but at the same time, it’s unbelievably massiv...

Originally published in Time, July 2011