3 Works Of Fan Fiction That Are Actually Worth Reading

I have a horrible secret to tell you guys. I was going to write some clever introduction that would possibly lessen your inevitable horror-driven recoil, and possibly even lessen the chance that you’ll hate me forever, but that seems unlikely to work. So I’m just going to divulge it now.

I read fan fiction.

Alright. Secret’s out…. huh. I seem to have the same amount of Facebook friends. Maybe this wasn’t the worst idea ever after all…

Fan fiction gets a pretty bad rap, and honestly, it’s quite deserved. Most fanfic these days is nothing more than the wishful writings of teenage girls who have nothing better to do than “ship” their favorite characters together. Anyone up for 200,000 words on Katara and Zuko’s wedding and subsequent sexual exploits? Shoot me now.

What little fanfic that isn’t unrealistic shipping attempts is either poorly written, poorly edited, or both. It’s all worthless trash, and any time spent reading it is a disservice to real authors who actually take the time to build their own universes.

…or is it?

Since I’ve already outed myself, I feel I should justify my reasons. Don’t worry. I’m not sitting in the back of a 15-passenger van reading about Misty, Onix, and a sudden Vaseline shortage in Kanto.

Today I present, for your potential reading pleasure, three works of fanfic that are actually worth the kilobytes they take up. They’re creatively written, divert significantly from the original plots of the works they build off of (or eschew them altogether), and just might make you willing to admit you read fanfic as well.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky

hpmorI often hear my friends saying, “Damnit Tom, are you reading that stupid Harry Potter fanfic again?” Since they haven’t given it a chance themselves, they haven’t had time to come to the – very controversial – conclusion I have, which is…

I actually prefer Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality to the original books.

Now, I absolutely love the original books, but this is more my speed.

In Yudkowsky’s universe, Aunt Petunia married a biochemistry professor instead of a total dolt, and as a result, Harry is a genius child more akin to Ender Wiggin and Artemis Fowl than to his original character. He goes to Hogwarts with the intent of using the methods of science and rationality to unravel the secrets of magic.

What follows is an incredibly entertaining sequence of events, plot twists, and a more than heaping helping of explanations of rational thinking patterns, logical fallacies, and the like. The book is as much an entertaining primer for Yudkowsky’s sequences on rationality as it is a work of fiction.

And that’s ok. Being a fan of authors like Neal Stephenson, I’m totally ok with info-dumps and tangents into psychological studies and rationalist ideals.

There are also plenty of wonderful references to other great works of science fiction and fantasy, such as tons of incoming Muggle-born students thinking themselves clever for giving Dumbledore a copy of The Lord of the Rings as a gift, or a certain wizard using a dark spell called Gom Jabbar that inflicts excruciating pain on the victim’s hand.

The way Yudkowsky diverges from the original work is often brilliant and simply awesome. I won’t spoil anything here, but I will say that Harry’s experience in learning the Patronus Charm is very different than in the original books, and it blew my mind.

HPMoR is a polarizing work, and Yudkowsky states this right up front, saying that if you’re not into it by Chapter 10, you should probably give up. I completely agree. It’s not for everyone.

But if you – like me – are interested in science, logic, reasoning, and other related stuff – if you’re a geek – you’ll probably enjoy it greatly.

Oh, and it’s more than twice the length of Order of the Pheonix, so you’ll have a lot to keep you busy if you do end up reading it.

The Last Ring-bearer by Kirill Eskov

lastringbearerThe Last Ring-bearer’s status as “fan fiction” is actually that of considerable debate. Some consider it to be far too divergent from Tolkien’s story to be relegated to such a label – but the fact is that it’s still within the universe of Middle Earth.

The definition of fan fiction is a fuzzy one, and it starts getting hard to decide whether or not to apply the label when you’re looking at books that build upon classic stories, such as The Looking Glass Wars.

I ended up in a slightly heated debate with friends about this definition over 11:30 P.M breakfast at Village Inn one night. It would seem to me that work that uses the characters and universe of an already established work should be categorized as fan fiction.

My friends believed that the term “fan fiction” shouldn’t apply to works that build off of “classic” stories, and thus, The Looking Glass Wars isn’t fan fiction.

The logic in that statement (if there is any) eludes me – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland isn’t some fairy tale with no definite canon; it’s got a singular author, a publishing date, and everything.

But I digress.

The Last Ring-bearer seems to deserve the fan fiction label more than other works because it’s decidedly free. However, unlike HPMoR, it doesn’t follow the original work’s characters at all.

Instead, this work tells the story of the War of the Ring (and its aftermath) from Mordor’s point of view.

The central idea behind TLRB is summed up in the following quote:

“History is written by the victors.” – maybe Winston Churchill

Eskov’s retelling of the war sees Mordor as an advanced society which values science, reason, and technology over the barbarism and reliance on magic that pervades the kingdoms surrounding it.

Gandalf is a war-monger who seeks a “Final Solution to the Mordorian problem”. The story draws obvious parallels to the conflicts of Dark Ages-era Europe and the more learning-focused Muslim empires within its proximity.

The story essentially operates on the idea that The Lord of the Rings is essentially propaganda put out by the winning side. For a better introduction, check out Salon’s article on the book. 

My Immortal by Tara Gillesbie

myimmortalI’m joking. It’s a joke. No, really, I’m just joking. Don’t read this if you value your brain.

Often cited as the absolute worst fanfic of all time, I’m including My Immortal simply for comedy value. Instead of explaining, I simply offer up a choice few lines from the text:

  • “I MAY BE A HOGWARTS STUDENT” Hargirid paused angrily. “BUT I AM ALSO A SATANIST!”
  • Draco was standing in front of the bathroom, and he started to sing ‘I just wanna live’ by Good Charlotte. I was so flattered, even though he wasn’t supposed to be there. We hugged and kissed. After that, we said goodnight and he reluctantly went back into his room.

I sincerely hope whoever actually wrote this is secretly a master troll, because I don’t think I can handle living in a world alongside someone who actually thinks like this.

Still, if you ever find yourself in the back of van on an 8-hour drive to a remote part of Wisconsin and have a smartphone, it might provide some laughs -right before your own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leaps straight up through your neck and throttles your brain.

…phew. Ok, we’ve gotten through the list. Just make sure you’re very intoxicated before attempting to read that last one.

You know, I only wanted to include one parody entry in this post – but now that I think of it, there’s another piece of god-awful fanfic that simply cannot go without mention…

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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  1. I’m still reading HPMoR, and I’m thoroughly loving it. I’m still amazed by how many things that always low-key peeved me with the entire HP franchise could be so skillfully rearranged in such fascinating ways, and that LoTR fanfiction there, I have to say, look incredibly promising, so I’m definitively going to check it out. I thrive all the wonderful under-explored possibilities in canon getting new lens to examine them, and how refreshing a lot of them can get.

    And well, I know this post is quite old, but nonetheless, since the stigma upon fanfiction remains, I would like to leave this ove here. Not specifically for the OP, but rather for anyone who might happen to stumble across this.

    As much as I can get your point, I think it’s very unfair to say that any and all “200,000 words on Katara and Zuko’s wedding and subsequent sexual exploits” will never ever stand a chance of actually be something nearly close to worth reading. I can get that shipping is not everyone’s cup of tea (heck, it isn’t even mine a lot of the time and I know that it can get very squicky very quickly more often than not), but it’s not like you cannot explore complex and deep themes within it.

    It’s kinda sad, really, because, I believe that reinforcing this dichotomy of good fanfic vs shipping as everything else that is bad in the world is actually doing a disservice of the fanfic phenomenon itself. Many of the best fics I’ve ever read, and some that might be borderline entering in some aspects of Rational Fic, and YES, plenty of them are Shipping Fics, and yes, even plentier of them are Slash Fics. You’d be surprised by the maturity of some of those works. There are some that go onto exploring the actual lore implications, deal with loss of loved beings, cultural clashes between people.

    As Eliezer Yudkowsky himself said once in its own blog, there are some posibilities that fanfiction gives you as a writer than you could not possibly get otherwise. Mainly, because, since you have to play by other’s established rules. You’ve got no Deus Ex-Machina to save your plot, but rather, you’ve got to save your plot through wit. Because, if as the actual author you solved, say, the Patronus vs Dementors as Death problem as Eliezer did, you’d be accused of “cheating”, because he would have been the one to “set up the solution through the rules from the start”, and therefore, not being possible a valid recognition of the writer’s rationality and work because of this.

    There are oh so, so many many possibilities in fanfiction, and yes, even in shipping, that is quite a pity to dismiss everything else as pointless. I agree that execution is mot often than not painfully far from flawless, but still. My point stands in that “fanfiction worth reading” goes far beyond rational fiction, and this comes from someone who probably loves Rational Fics as much or even more than pretty much any other kind of fanfic. There is more humanity out there in fanfiction than can be expected for such a little and selfless thing.

    Even unrealistic shipping has it’s own merit when executed correctly. May be you need to learn where to took for them, or better yet, you might actually prove it possible by wrtiting what you wish could exist out there. After all, this very trope is the starting point for a lot of interesting character, thematic or even social development. That’s why a lot of people might end up finding it enticing.

    Would I like to read an epic fic developing a Zutara relationship over the course of years, which most likely would be the post-war most convoluted years, and would have to deal as well with the Fire Nation social expectations and aggressively brain-washed sense of superiority responding to a new foreign queen from a lesser nation? Would I like to read about their sexual exploits as an exploration of yet another angle of their humanity, their growth and their relationship, as complex and additionally convoluted as it might end up getting due to that ominous social tension that would be likely to be always hovering over them, and still being able to overcome that and find solace in each other while trying to bring peace to a shattered nation as much as they try to do so with each other?

    Hell yes, please.

    In fact, at the end most of the time, it always comes to the same point: regarding the actual quality of a story, always depends of it’s skillfully execution and the themes presented. And, surprisingly, execution get way more weight in this equation more often than not.

    I hope someone finds this useful, and in any case, I had fun writing this.

    Have a lovely day.


  2. I grew up often riding in the back of a 15 passenger van, and currently live in Wisconsin. Luckily I was never the one for those Katara/Zuko or Misty/Onix ship readers.
    I have read HPMoR before but now I feel I should go read it again, thank you for reminding me about it and how much I enjoyed it. As for the other two I have so far avoided My Immortal as I am not normally someone who enjoys crack-fics but maybe with enough alcohol, like you suggest, it would be fun. And LotR is on my re-read list so I may have to add TLRB to my list after I get through the originals again.

  3. Stumbled upon this while looking for a good rational fiction.

    Was gonna flip tables if HPMoR wasn’t mentioned.
    And I have to admit. After reading HPMoR. I can’t go back to the originals.

  4. Since June, I have been a faithful CIG reader, working my way through the archives. However, I haven’t read CIG for a while because Harry Potter and the Methods of the Rationality took over my life for the past four days. Typically, when I read something nonstop, it takes me a maximum of two days to read. But for HPMOR, I had to put my stack of library books on hold for four days as my brain was warped and questioned its own sanity. HPMOR was a great read, so thanks for recommending it although I lost some sleep. I was up until 3:30 last night and I panicked because it said the next chapter was going to be posted in February of 2015 and I had a heart attack because I forgot it was already 2015. That was the point that I decided that with 20 chapters to go, I should probably just go to bed. I loved the references to the original Harry potter in it like when professor Quirrell was upset because some sixth year used a dark spell out of a book when all it said about it was “for enemies” and when they said the Chamber of Secrets wouldn’t be in a bathroom (because that’s weird). Well anyway I just wanted to say thanks for the book recommendation and I’ll end my gush about it now

    • Comments like these always make me smile (especially since my friends make fun of HPMoR far too often). Glad you enjoyed it so much! I really need to read it again soon.

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