Fannish Folklore

Feminist Fan-Fiction Retellings of Germanic Fairy Tales

by Jaime Roots (Author)
©2022 Monographs X, 246 Pages
Series: German Studies in America, Volume 77


This book explores the intersection of folklore and new media storytelling in feminist adaptations of traditional fairy tales. Focusing on the Germanic folktale, the author investigates how retelling and reinterpreting fairy tales in online fan fiction both criticizes traditional narratives and reinforces the continued importance of fairy tales, while also mirroring contemporary concerns and changes in German-speaking society.
Fan versions of the examined folktales are repurposed to serve new functions within the communities in which they are told. Within the community investigated in this book, the stories open an online space where women can reclaim and reconsider the role canonical fairy tales play in their lives. Introducing fandom and new media studies to the realm of oral storytelling and folklore produces a new way of understanding the importance of communal folklore even in an age of mass culture. The adaptations traced throughout this book show the fascinating longevity and flexibility of the folktale and its power to reimagine the Germanic past into the future.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction Storytelling and the Role of Fan Fiction
  • Chapter 1 New Media Folklore
  • Chapter 2 A Quiet Space: Misogyny, Discrimination, and Online Communities
  • Chapter 3 The Event of Online Storytelling: Audience and Performance
  • Chapter 4 Interpreting the Fairy-Tale Narrative
  • Chapter 5 Fairy-Tale Fan Fiction and Questions of Women’s Consent
  • Chapter 6 Storytelling and Its Reconstruction of Identity through Identity Play
  • Chapter 7 Renewing the Past through Cultural Memory
  • Conclusion The Role of Folklore in Framing the Present and Future
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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I gratefully acknowledge the many people who have contributed to this book by either reading the entire manuscript, offering comments on various sections, or helping me develop ideas into full-fledged chapters. The feedback and suggestions from Laurel Plapp and the anonymous reader have helped invaluably to produce this book in its present form. I am ever grateful to Gail Hart for her encouragement to pursue the topic of fan fiction as an area of study as well as her feedback along various forms of my manuscript. I am grateful as well to my partner Daniel Stapleton and his patience in listening to and helping me work through many of my arguments before they were developed enough to be committed to paper and for providing feedback on many of them once they were.

My dear friend Crystal Carney provided her copywriting expertise as well as her mutual love of the topic; from childhood we have been writing stories and giving each other feedback. My great thanks to Morgan Morales for reading through several chapters and helping me refine my ideas. Finally, I must acknowledge two students of my students, Joey Dickinson and ToniAnne Wong, for their contributions to this book. Joey Dickinson helped with the painstaking categorization of fan fiction works and comment thread discussions as well as coding our data into graphic visualizations. ToniAnne Wong produced the marvelous cover image in fan art style with her interpretation of the contents of this book.

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Storytelling and the Role of Fan Fiction

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is ever-present in our lives, and yet it is often taken so much for granted that we are scarcely aware of it. We tell stories to pass the time, for entertainment, and for sympathy, understanding, and persuasion. Humans are so inclined to tell stories that, given the opportunity, we opt to connect events and rationalize what has taken place rather than let them sit unconnected in isolation. Take, for example, this simple exercise:1

The man meets the woman. I walk her dog. The boy visits with flowers.

Looking at these three simple sentences, our minds quickly begin to draw connections between them. Am I walking the woman’s dog so that she may meet up with the man? Is the boy bringing flowers the man has ordered for the woman? In truth, there is no inherent connection between these three sentences: they have been selected at random and yet our brains are already working to create connections between them—to tell a story.

The human brain, above all, likes to make sense of things even if, as with this example, it needs to make it up. It is also important to note that we are often completely unaware that we are creating connections where none previously existed: our brains want to make sense of the world—to explain our surroundings—and drawing connections and conclusions (telling stories) is how this is accomplished. Stories are our means of understanding ←1 | 2→the world. Folklorist Bruce Jackson describes the phenomenon of making connections which may not exist: “People are very good at making sense, even if they have to create it. That’s one of the jobs our stories have” (44). He indicates further that this phenomenon appears already in early youth as soon as children understand the concept of a story. Children learn through stories that events should lead to a sensical conclusion and will often create non-existent connections to draw even extraneous details together.

It is of course not just children who like to link situations together for a sensible progression of events. Everyone is a storyteller. This does not mean that everyone is a skilled storyteller, able to enchant audiences and weave monumental epics, but rather that everyone tells stories, even if it is something as seemingly inconsequential as describing one’s day. Storytelling helps us define ourselves and make sense of the world. Storytelling is such a part of us as humans, that human experience and storytelling are inextricable. John D. Niles describes the importance of storytelling in the role of human development:

Through storytelling, an otherwise unexceptional biological species has become a much more interesting thing, Homo narrans: that hominid who not only has succeeded in negotiating the world of nature, finding enough food and shelter to survive, but also has learned to inhabit mental worlds that pertain to times that are not present and places that are the stuff of dreams. It is through such symbolic mental activities that people have gained the ability to create themselves as human beings and thereby transform the world of nature into shapes not known before. (3)

Stories permeate society and we as a species are “addicted to story.” Folklore has long been seen as a means for communities to pass their traditions and views of the world to new members and generations, and it is still a means by which we identify ourselves and our place in our communities. Even now in the twenty-first century we “still hew strongly” to folklore passed down through the ages (Gottschall xiv). No matter the technological, political, philosophical, or other advancements to human society, folklore remains a fixed part of our lives. “Cut from the marrow of human experience” (Wilson 149), folklore is constantly around us in myriad forms.←2 | 3→

Folklore and folk practices, in the colloquial use of the term, are often associated with times long since passed: the “old-timey stuff” of vanishing cultures and traditions (Blank, “Introduction: Towards a Conceptual” 4). The broad term “folklore” encompasses folk expression such as material culture, belief, and ritual, among others, though throughout this book I will focus specifically on one type of folklore: folk stories. In the West one often thinks, for example, of folk stories which were written and collected in now-famous anthologies largely during nineteenth-century Europe such as the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen [Children’s and Household Tales] (1812–1857) or Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale publications (1835–1852). Yet Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner note that there is “no inherent rule that folk expression must consist of ‘old stuff.’” What is of more importance is that folklore expresses consistencies which allow a group to perceive their folklore as “traditional, locally derived, or community generated”—everyday expressions by everyday people (23–24). Folklorists study folklore to “understand the nature of human cultural history and expression” (Toelken 31) and that certainly includes contemporary, everyday expression. The evolution of folk stories is often characterized as a “multifaceted process involving the production, institutionalization, definition, acceptance, rejection, transformation, revision, and interpretation” of traditional versions of tales (Haase, “Introduction” The Reception 12). These stories which evolve and shape as they are retold and refashioned allow participants to personalize stories while still maintaining ties to the traditional versions of tales. Put quite simply, then, folklore is “the study of the living performance of tradition—for better and worse and for everything in between” (Phillips and Milner 25).

Folklore is such a crucial part of our lives that it is represented in all media. The human connection can be so strong and multifaceted that folklore is not contained within just one media form but reaches across all genres to help represent and authenticate human experiences in diverse ways—such as the themes and characters of oral fairy tales which exist in textual form, in film representations, song, performance, and fine art. While folk stories may be told through media as diverse as text, film, song, stage, and image, the Internet has expanded the space of storytelling, and opened a space for amateur writers to collaborate and share their stories ←3 | 4→with people around the world—allowing the emotional and personal connection to these stories to continue to flourish and be shared broadly. Jack Zipes, for example, writes that technological innovation, in particular, has enabled folk stories to expand in cultural domains. The availability of more widespread dissemination and discussion enabled by technology such as the Internet has helped folklore to spread to wider audiences. And folk stories, in particular, continue to spread, “embracing, if not swallowing, all types of genres, art forms, and cultural institutions” including the Internet (Irresistible 22). Technology makes this diffusion of stories much easier and more readily available than ever before, as technology at its most effective helps give us new and more effective ways to do what we had been doing anyway.

The Internet has also affected these stories in other ways. The Internet has expanded the space for storytelling. It has offered new options for storytellers to share “‘classic’ small-scale stories” across the globe (Lundby 3). While published books may be distributed throughout the world, the rate at which online stories can traverse the globe is instantaneous. Feedback, editorial work, publication, distribution, and audience commentary and feedback on the work, which can sometimes take years to accomplish with published works, can happen within seconds online. Indeed, “like nothing that has come before, accessibility puts the everyday expressions of everyday folk collectives right at users’ fingertips” (Phillips and Milner 49). Technological innovation has allowed folklore to flourish and spread to audiences in ways which, until recently, were unimaginable. In my study, I focus on a particular technological innovation which amplifies the power of folklore: the digital storytelling of fan fiction. Henry Jenkins has defined modern media fans as “the most passionately engaged consumers of mass media” (“Fandom”). While many media fans never engage in transformative works such as creating artwork or writing stories based on the media they consume, here I discuss the fans who are “active participants in the construction and circulation of […] meaning” (Jenkins, Textual 24). All fans discussed in this book are fans who do create transformative works based on the media they consume. Though fan fiction (also abbreviated as FF or fic) is certainly more nuanced and will be discussed in more detail ←4 | 5→later, it may be simply defined as unpublished, amateur stories based on other (usually published) works such as film, television, and books.

In my investigation, I focus on one of the largest strictly German-language sites FanFiktion.de and its stories classified under the category of “Grimms Märchen” or “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” This collection is also of particular interest in relation to studying the evolution of folk stories in German-speaking cultures, since fans directly engage with the Grimms’ tales, treating them as central to an established fairy-tale canon. These fans acknowledge this canon while simultaneously rewriting and critiquing the tales, often engaging in metadiscussions of the genre. Fans at times discuss not just the Grimms’ role in defining the genre, but their own active engagement in redefining the fairy-tale tradition. I likewise narrow my focus to discuss this specific treatment of the genre because, as Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson note, it is impossible, even perhaps dangerous, to speak of all fan fiction as a single genre; fan fiction revolving around different media are often part of online communities which have strikingly different rules and expectations (“Introduction: Why a Fan Fiction” 6). Below I introduce the genre of fan fiction, though for the sake of clarity I first define terms key to the discussion of online fan fiction as well as provide a description of the site FanFiktion.de.


X, 246
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
fairy tales fan fiction feminist Grimm fairy tales new media folklore Fannish Folklore Jaime W. Roots
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. X, 246 pp., 6 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Jaime Roots (Author)

Jaime W. Roots is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of German at Washington and Lee University, where she teaches a range of courses in German language and literature. Her research focuses on German folklore from the nineteenth century to the present, gender representations in folklore, fandom studies, and the incorporation of Digital Humanities in teaching. Her work includes publications on new media folklore, modern feminist folklore revisions, and cultural memory in folktale collections.


Title: Fannish Folklore
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258 pages