7/29/2007

Midrash and Fan Fiction

(Moderate spoiler warning: some details of the conclusion of the 7th book will be revealed in this post, though the primary theme of the post is Torah-oriented))

Many of us now know how the Harry Potter series ends. We have followed the story of this young man from his birth all the way until fatherhood, a span of 36 years, with special emphasis on the seven years of his upper schooling. We have grown to love him.

Despite the thousands of pages that tell Harry’s story, there are gaps and unanswered questions. There are meanings which remain unclear, relationships which remain undeveloped, and back stories which remain unexplored. To fill that gap, hundreds of fans around the world have composed their own supplemental stories to fill in those gaps. This genre is known as ‘fan fiction’.

There are different attitudes that one can take toward fan fiction. One might say, as I do, that an issue that is not addressed has no answer. Questions like: “What happened to Harry’s grandparents? Did Neville and Luna wind up together? What did Harry do for a living? Who are Hugo and Rose named for? Do they have middle names?” are unanswerable. The author gave us no indication, so the answers don’t exist. The reality of the ‘Potterverse’ is a fictional one, and only elements that it contains are the ones created by its author. Attempts to fill in details or resolve contradictions are meaningless and fruitless – the story’s meaning it what it is. There are no answers.

Nevertheless, there are elements which can be penetrated, because they pertain to the storyline itself and either its internal meaning or its relationship with history and literature. For example, one may entertain whether the symbol for the Deathly Hallows, which Grindelwald used as his own symbol, is comparable to the swastika, given Krum’s reaction upon seeing it. One may ask what the turning point of each book is, when Harry became an adult, the degree to which names broadcast significant information about a character (like Xenophilius means ‘Lover of the strange’), and the like.

Others may counter that it indeed possible to fill in missing details of the book. The stories, once published, become the property of its readers, who may advance alternative theories, which remain valid unless dispelled by the author in a subsequent work. The fictitious universe may have been created by one person, but many inhabit it.

Of course, these same musings apply to Torah as well. Although this type of interpretive endeavor extends to every text, the most obvious parallels are with the attempts to fill in the details and meanings of Biblical narrative. What happened during the first 75 years of Avraham’s life, or the first 80 of Moshe’s? What went through Avraham’s mind during the three days of traveling toward the Akeida? What type of identity did the Israelites preserve in Egypt? And the list goes on. This is fan fiction at its best; the reader is so completely drawn into the world created by this work of literature that he feels compelled to complete it, to address loose ends. The Torah is not fiction, but it is not history either. It remains a work of literature and t invites readers to participate in the construction of the narratives, to relive its drama both through what is written (’black fire’) and that which remains unwritten (‘white fire’). Although the Torah is different from other works of literature – intrinsically and in the mind of its readers – it should come as no surprise that the types of response generated by these works are similar.

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