Monday, January 6, 2014

Fictional Conversations?

If you have not read any of the exploits of Harry Dresden, as penned by Jim Butcher, than much of the following may not make sense to you. So, go read. It's only 13, maybe 14 books at this point? You can catch up. I'll wait.

Ready? Good.

So, this happened.

Yup, that's me.

No, not the wizard, the question. I know, I know, it's anonymous, but trust me, it's me. (I made a Gattaca reference. That, by itself, has to limit the number of people it could be. Although it's a seriously underrated movie.) And it made me inexpressibly happy. Squee-worthy happy.

Now, I've been retweeted and responded to before on the internet, by some pretty heady company. Car Talk, NPR Books, Think Geek (I think it was about the monkey), and even Neil Gaiman.

(I'm not humblebragging. I'm just bragging. There isn't a humble bone in my body.)

This is not to say Neil Gaiman replied to me. I was merely retweeted. It was sufficient.

[Although someday I hope to meet Mr Gaiman. Not for a book signing, but in a drink line or a bar at a convention or something.

Yes, yes, I hear you. You're saying, "Surely someone of Neil's" - because I presume those of you objecting are the kind who would put yourself on a first-name basis with him - "Surely someone of his fame and stature has people who fetch his drinks. He must have drinks people, he's won awards." And while that may be true - the drinks people part, not the awards part which is definitely true -  I expect that he is the kind of person who fetches such things himself.

... I feel compelled to quickly point out that the first two words in the "drinks people part" are an adjective and a noun, not a verb and an object. Important distinction, that.

I also expect nothing more than to perhaps maybe shake his hand, gush profusely, and stammer semi-coherently. Which is pretty much what I did when I met Jane Goodall. (Not bragging this time. I'm sure she doesn't remember me, even above and beyond the minor inconvenience of no longer being among the living.) And now that I have sufficiently digressed...]

And yet - and this is a sizable "and yet" - the reply from the wizard made me as happy if not slightly happier than all of the above. I'm not entirely sure why.

Sure, it was an awesome response. I could read entire books of that magic geek stuff, because I find that kind of minutiae fascinating. (I have issues, I know.)

And yes, I'm a fan, obviously. But I am not an obsessive fan. I do not play the game. I do not watch the fan films. This despite being assured both are awesome. And while I do own the DVD of the short-lived tv series, I also seem to be one of the few fans who doesn't have too many problems with it. In fact, if you ask me, the more hard core fans shot themselves in the foot by getting all nit-picky about the tv show and are responsible for its premature death.

But, beyond that, I think my response to this gets at the core of some of the meta-ness of having fictional people on Twitter and elsewhere on the internet. A trend for which Harry isn't even the poster child, but just one of many. Although I give the people behind it full credit, and they have done a sizable job bringing a large chunk of the Dresden universe into an interactive environment where it's not just fans the characters interact with, but each other. However the people behind the scenes were cast, they've done an excellent job of it.

This should be separated from the use of fictional aliases that are used for non-character purposes. Let's be honest, there are so many Drunk Hulk Twitter personalities that, were it really Hulk, he'd never have time to get drunk. Dunk Hulk is a shorthand for getting somewhat vociferous and forgetting to turn off the caps lock.

Harry and his ilk are different. These are the "actual" characters. Yes, I'm going to put that in quotes, because despite addressing my question directly to Harry, I know full well that the illusion only works so long as we don't peer behind the curtain. I have no little dog for that, anyway, and my cat certainly couldn't be bothered. My willingness to participate in that illusion, however, does not equal a blind acceptance of the underlying conceit, and I doubt anyone who interacts with any of the characters online feels differently.

Though I have learned not to underestimate the internet. No doubt someone out there does believe. Which, so long as it's harmless, is fine with me. I believe in Santa Claus, after all. (Me and Frank Sinatra, by the way, so that's pretty damn good company.)

I wouldn't want the characters to be actual people in the first place. Leaving aside the issues that arise from the "author as agent" concept, I don't want Harry's world to be real. Because that would be terrifying. Although it might be worth it for the T-rex incident. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you didn't read the books like I told you to at the beginning. You've got to follow directions, people.)

All of which gets me back to the unbridled elation I felt upon seeing my question answered. It's not just that it's a neat little trick, it's the willingness on the part of the author to sign off on this and say, you know what, let's give the fans a little something extra. It's the willingness of the fans of the author to buy into it, to accept the idea that we're talking to the characters. We go along with it not just because it's fun, not just because it tides us over between books, but also because it brings an extra dimension to the experience. It deepens our interaction, adds layers that can't exist elsewhere, and, yes, gives us a place where we can get our geeky little questions answered.

Although that last part may just be me.

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