Fantasy Themes in Alternative Fan Fiction Stories: When Pattern Becomes Cliche´



On the path of Gabrielle's Staff we see how fantasy theme actions of reading and writing fan fiction create various dramas for readers and bards as they interact with stories and each other while the imaginative landscape, the fantasy theme setting, for those stories, becomes an interface metaphor for the Xenaverse in cyberspace. On the path of Xena's Breastplate I examine story genres and consider ways in which the formation of an archetype may find an influence outside of the Xenaverse. In this node I want to look at specific fantasy themes inside the stories, especially as some fantasy themes have become so reified that they begin to become Xenaverse fan fiction clichés. In addition to the alternative fiction stories themselves, two works of humor and parody inform my analysis here, Bongo Bear's collaboratively collected "Alternative Fan Fiction Cliché List," and Word Warrior's parody based on Bongo Bear's list, titled "For the Love of a Cliché," a story where the author endeavored to use every cliché on Bongo Bear's list within the space of two pages.







One key difference between my analysis here and in the other analysis sectors of Fandom Culture and Community is that the number of additional fantasy themes and types for fan fiction expands the list considerably. Most notably absent in fan fiction is the character fantasy theme of TPTB, reflecting further their displacement from any kind of a central position in this sector of the Xenaverse. Sometimes Tyldus or some other member of TPTB will stroll into a story, but usually only in parodies, such as in the story where Xena and Gabrielle go to couple's counseling in the present day to discuss their inability to get together. Every time they start to declare their love for each other, a member of TPTB bursts in and keeps them from saying it. Still, appearances by TPTB are very rare. Fantasy theme characters of HCNBs appear in stories very rarely as well, such as in DJWP's outrageously funny "A Bard Day's Night." This story also features a famous walk-on fantasy theme character who shows up in a number of stories: Sappho. In "A Bard Day's Night" Sappho is as famous as the Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night." As the "tenth muse" she travels the countryside, and eventually she needs Xena as a bodyguard to protect her from the pursuing crowds. When Xena and Gabrielle join Sappho's entourage, they become famous also. HCNBs appear in a scene outside the balcony from the inn in which the performers and bodyguard are staying. Looking over the crowds below the balcony, the famous troupe views a scene straight out of a Con, with HCNB fans dressed up in Xena and Sappho costumes. Another missing fantasy theme character is Joxer, who is so reviled an intrusion that few self-respecting "alt-fic bards" will put him in their stories.





The fantasy theme characters who feature most prominently in Xenaverse alternative fan fiction are Xena and Gabrielle, and of course the arch-villain Callisto (who also sets off plenty of erotic fire, mostly of the forbidden, insane, and sado-masochistic sort). As we will see when I look at various fan fiction clichés below, the alt-fanfic bards have varied in their conceptions of the fantasy theme characters of Xena and Gabrielle. Early alt-fanfic, influenced by the Season 1 television portrayal of Gabrielle as a young woman, possibly a teenager and certainly a tag-a-long, seemed to have a great deal invested in Gabrielle's innocence and virginity. In contrast, the early alt-fanfic portrayal of Xena is closer to the edge of her dark side, and much much more worldly and experienced than Gabrielle. In these stories Xena is often holding back in her feelings for Gabrielle because she sees herself as a hardened "old warlord" who doesn't deserve someone as virginal and pure of heart as Gabrielle. Or rather, she thinks that Gabrielle deserves someone better. Gabrielle, meanwhile, is cast as clueless, not understanding her growing feelings for Xena, but determined to do something about it. Quite often, in these early stories, it is Gabrielle who makes the first move. In Season 2 on the TV show, as Gabrielle develops more into a fully grown woman who would have (presumably) lost her virginity on her wedding night, before her husband was killed the following day, the fantasy theme characters take on greater complexity in alt-fanfic. Gabrielle and Xena are no longer portrayed as simple dualities of light and dark. It was at this point that much of the character-driven, longer stories started appearing.



Another important group of fantasy theme characters appear with regularity in alt-fanfic: Amazons. Fantasy theme characters of the Amazons have been introduced in the television show, but the Xenaverse has made the Amazons a nation of their own, especially after Gabrielle became an Amazon Queen/Princess on television, bringing her status closer to parity with Xena's, although she is still not the typical Amazon warrior because of her pacifism. Gabrielle only fights to defend herself. Many web sites have been designed around Amazon themes, indicating their popularity among women and men in the Xenaverse. I have coded long threads discussing Amazon myth and legend on the listservs.


Amazons in alt-fanfic become stand-ins for the HCNBs themselves, and many Xenites take Amazon-related names for their online "handles." Fan fiction writers elaborate on existing Amazon characters such as Ephiny, Solari, Eponin, and Melosa, and freely create many more, as Word Warrior puts it, "made up especially for the story." On television the Amazons are a tribe of scantily-clad women who always seem to be dancing to some omnipresent drumbeat, doing what fans and TPTB have jokingly referred to as the "Amazon hokey-pokey," what looks like some sort of circle dance. In alt-fanfic, the Amazons are always having festivals (as Bongo Bear and Word Warrior point out) which allow Xena and Gabrielle to drink a little, dance a little, then slip back to their hut for some big fun. Bards also invent all kinds of arcane Amazon rituals that Xena and Gabrielle are forced to participate in (Gabrielle is the queen, after all, even though she stays on the road with Xena most of the time). A number of writers have imagined Amazon bonding rituals in great detail, often involving power differentials between the warrior caste and Amazon royalty. If bards have Xena and Gabrielle getting married, they usually do it at the Amazon nation.




Classical Greek deities show up as fantasy theme characters both on television and in alt-fanfic. On television, on both "Hercules:TLJ" and "Xena: WP" Ares and Aphrodite make fairly regular appearances. Zeus, Apollo, Hera, and Cupid appear less regularly, and once Callisto became a god, an evil, non-Greek deity and his minions also appeared. Fan fiction bards like to use the fantasy theme character of Ares, and word floats around the Xenaverse from time to time that Kevin Smith, the actor who plays Ares, is so sexy he could turn many lesbians straight. Two other goddesses appear in alt-fanfic but do not show up on television. Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, often bestows favors on Xena online, and Artemis, moon goddess, goddess of virgins and the hunt, looks out for the Amazon Queen Gabrielle, since she is also the patron goddess of the Amazons. (However on TV some Amazon tribes supposedly worship Hera, but those are the evil Amazon tribes.) In BL Miller's famous fan fiction "hurt/comfort" story "The Cabin," Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite all drop in to bless Xena and Gabrielle finally getting together.






The fantasy theme settings in the alt-fanfic Xenaverse are perhaps the most often clichéd, and Bongo Bear's "Alternative Fan Fiction Cliché List" shows many of them (reduced here to simple items on the list):

1) X & G take lots of baths.

2) G sleeps after sex.

3) G wakes up with the munchies.

4) X has more stamina. See #2.

5) X is more experienced.

6) X is more kinky and knows which end of the toys to use.

7) They almost always have good sex. Lara said change "good" to "incredible, spectacular, and earth shattering". Whatever you say, dear.

8) All "first time" alt. fic has X asking G "Are you sure?" (lara)

9) X almost always has been interested in G in "that way" for a long time, but G has usually just figured out her own feelings. (I guess that goes along with #5). (lara)

10) As soon as the first confession of love is made (verbal or otherwise), they waste *no* time before "hitting the bedrolls." (lara)

11) G gets to take off X's armor piece by piece. In detail. (lara)

12) X gets to take off G's BGSB. In detail. (lara) [BGSB=Bilious Green Sport Bra ed.]

13) G is a *very* quick study. (lara)

14) Gabrielle loses her virginity, again!

15) While G almost always makes the first "move," X quickly becomes the-ahem- aggressor. (lara)

16) X delivers, all the time, every time. G is a very satisfied, happy customer.

17) X & G's "first time" is usually after some trauma. (snoop)

18) X & G always boink if they're in a cave. (snoop)

19) First Time stories usually happen at: (Joe Murphy)

A. A festival

B. The Amazon Nation

C. A festival at the Amazon Nation

20) Everybody around the two know that they are in love, except them. (Joe Murphy)

21) Xena is always afraid her past will somehow come back to hurt Gabby, as if it hasn't already. (Joe Murphy)

22) X & G always declare their love for each other prior to the act.



Word Warrior puts all these clichés humorously into action in "For the Love of a Cliché." Her story makes banal the central features of most alt-fanfic stories. Bongo Bear's list points up many fantasy theme settings in the alt-fic Xenaverse. The most common fantasy theme setting for the warrior and bard is on the road, camping in the woods, having fireside chats. This happens on TV as well. Sometimes they stop at a rustic inn, where, if Gabrielle is not accosted by a smelly, toothless man that Xena has to beat up, Gabrielle often tells stories and earns a few dinars. Inns have rooms and, ever economical, Xena and Gabrielle often share a room with one double bed. If it is a more upscale inn, they usually can get a bath (see #1 above), and if it is really upscale, they can get a bath for the two of them at the same time. The fantasy theme action of Xena and Gabrielle bathing was initiated by TPTB in the Season 2 episode "A Day in the Life," and fan fiction writers are never going to let go of it, clichéd or not. Xenites will never be able to get the strong image Xena and Gabrielle bathing together out of their heads. As snoop points out above (#18), in alt-fanfic they often stay in caves as well, and those usually have some sort of natural hot springs which allows them to bathe again. Other fantasy theme settings that appear in alt-fanfic are lakes, beaches (both lakes and beaches are used on television as well), an abandoned shack or picturesque cabin, or a forest glade near a stream-spring-waterfall (again, for more bathing). Finally, an extremely common setting is a festival at the Amazon Nation. There, because Gabrielle is queen, they get their own thatched hut.



Fantasy theme actions in alt-fanfic (besides bathing) often follow a simple plot which, in its simplicity, masks the real agenda in the stories: to explore the characters of Xena and Gabrielle and the relationship between them. The plotline is simple: Xena and Gabrielle overcome some life-threatening (usually) obstacle and get together. Some authors even apologize up front for their story not having a plot, but these character explorations (and excuses for steamy erotica) reveal what matters most to some Xenites. While some alt-fanfic bards do enjoy writing epic battle scenes as well as character exploration, others turn their cleverness toward plotting tales of intrigue or conspiracy, or incorporating classic Greek myths and history into their stories. Some writers even bring in an element of pagan spirituality or mysticism, with oracles or magic talismans.


What we don't see in fanfic fantasy theme actions that we do see in the fantasy theme actions created by the television program are the more dualistic stories of "Xena defeats evil warlord in a heroic battle." To be fair, the television program has moved away from this sort of storyline in favor of more complex characterizations with reversals and surprises. TPTB have admitted that they got backed into that corner with "Hercules: TLJ" because Hercules had no character arc; he was always on the side of good and he always won. Some of the things TPTB and alt-fanfic writers can play with in "Xena:WP" are the complexities of Xena's dark past. TPTB have used themes of Xena's past as an incredibly brutal mass murderer in China in the highly acclaimed episodes of "The Debt Pt. 1 and Pt.2." Alt-fanfic bards can bring in ex-lovers from Xena's past, raising issues of jealousy. They can explore Xena's apprenticeship as a young warrior through flashbacks and resurrected old ghosts. The television program has also turned to exploring the complexities of Gabrielle's character in the controversial "Rift-Arc." While some fans are still not happy with how the entire rift came off, it does pave the way for a Gabrielle who is no longer the picture of innocence, idealism, and purity, a Gabrielle who has lost her blood innocence and taken a life.


In this node we have examined the role of fantasy themes within Xenaverse alternative fan fiction. We have seen subtle differences in the character and setting fantasy themes between the television program and the imaginative world created by the alt-fanfic bards, some of which have humorously become known as fanfic clichés. Fantasy theme actions in alt-fanfic reflect what it is about "Xena:WP" that matters most to the people who are drawn deeply into the online Xenaverse, drawn in to the point that they have seized the means of production and created their own Xenaverse in cyberspace-- a space where their agendas are the top priority and where TPTB have absolutely minimal control or influence. This fan fiction universe is the height of rebellion away from TPTB because it in essence says, "We don't need the television show to sustain this space." Surely most bards would admit to being particularly inspired by Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor as fleshed out avatars for their fictional dramas, but they have past seasons on videotape which they can look at any time. One of the most ironic outcomes of the furor over the "Rape/Rift" issue was a significant disenfranchisement of a number of prominent figures in the Xenaverse. Some dropped out of fandom completely, such as "xenos" of the famous fan fiction index. Some disenfranchised fans, however, publicly proclaimed their break with the television show while continuing to be highly active in fan fiction circles, saying essentially, "I'll get my Xena fix from fan fiction; I'm not going to watch the show anymore."


On the path of Xena's Breastplate I examine how fantasy theme actions are further typified into several common story genres in the Xenaverse. The icon of Gabrielle's Staff moves into a discussion of the fantasy themes surrounding the social role alternative fan fiction plays in the Xenaverse community. Continuing on the path of Xena's Sword takes you into the voices of Xenites themselves as they respond to this dissertation. If you would like to add your voice to the mix, you may go to "Xenites Talk Back" on the Navigational Map or take this link.




The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace

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