Julia Neugarten

Gods, Heroes, Myths: Anchoring and Innovating Classical Motifs in Fanfiction

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Gods, Heroes, Myths: Anchoring and Innovating Classical Motifs in Fanfiction

Anchoring and innovating, developing imaginative new insights in familiar fictional contexts, are key practices in storytelling. All stories build on the stories that came before them, but perhaps none more unabashedly than fanfiction. By writing and reading fanfiction, fans of all kinds of narratives, from contemporary reality TV to Classical mythology, expand and adapt the stories they love most. This project examines how fanfiction anchors and innovates story elements from Antiquity.

Fanfiction as Reception of Antiquity

The project analyzes fanfiction as a type of reception, to see how Antique motifs or story elements are reused and given new meanings in fanfiction contexts. The project examines this reception on three levels: the representations of Antique motifs in fanfiction itself, the reception of this fanfiction in online reviews from the fan community, and the relationship between fanfiction and published literature that represents Antiquity, such as the popular novels of Madeleine Miller.

Methods of the Project

The project combines methods from literary studies and reception studies, such as the analysis of narrative, representation, style, and rhetoric, with computational methods from the digital humanities, such as analysis of the frequency with which words are used and the patterns in which they are combined. I focus specifically on three Classical motifs that lots of fanfiction is about: Gods, heroes, and myths.

Practices of Anchoring and Innovating in Fanfiction

The aim of this project is to understand how Classical Antiquity is represented and explored in new ways by the growing community of people writing fanfiction online. This community is engaged in practices of anchoring and innovation in two ways: on the one hand, motifs from Antiquity are recontextualized in fan texts, so that popular media may serve as an anchor for which the introduction of Classical myth is an innovation. On the other hand, the fanfiction community uses the stories they know best to shed a new light on Gods, heroes, and myths from Antiquity. Here, these motifs are anchors that help innovate audiences’ understanding of their cultural landscape.