Saturday, September 26, 2015

Quick Thoughts - King Arthur, Spreadsheets, and Headcanon

I was going to write up something about negative reviews this week, but I'm not sure I'm in a place to think about that in a coherent fashion, so instead I'm going to talk about King Arthur. And perhaps the joy of liking problematic things. I think I've gone over some of this, vaguely, when I wrote about fanfiction way back in the day (so like two months ago?), but here I am again because I've just been through my probably tenth reading of Le Morte d'Arthur and polished up a nice spreadsheet of it and I'm left wondering why I spent so much time on this. It's a question I find myself asking more and more, especially when it feels like I don't have time, when all I can manage to do is keep up my reviews and maybe squeeze in a story or two of writing a month.

So time. There really isn't a lot of it. I will never be able to read all the things I want to read, that I'd love to read. I will die with so much unread. So why am I spending time on something that is, admittedly, kind of bad? I have no illusions about it being some great work of literature. It's entertaining at times but it's also very misogynist, very Eurocentric, Christian, and white. And…I wonder at times why I find myself drawn back to the idea of King Arthur, why I have this elaborate headcanon about it. Because I do. I have this entire world of things in my head about "my" King Arthur, from knights who are women crossdressing to pass as men to a whole lot of queer stuff to an entire altered timeline whereby most of the court was rendered immortal by drinking from the grail.

I also have no illusions. All of this is fanfiction. But as I think I've said before, I think fanfiction plays a vital role for a great many people. Because, when done right, it erases many of the problematic elements of a work. It creates something that is good. The main problem is that there isn't a King Arthur interpretation that's already as queer and as weird and as robust as I want it to be (unless I'm missing it). There's Le Morte d'Arthur, which appeals to the spreadsheet part of my brain. Yes, I know the win-loss-tie outcome for every battle in that book, have them recorded and compiled. I do power rankings and I have my favorites. And I have a novel that I'm nearly dying to write that I just won't let myself pull the trigger on because if I try and fail I don't know what I'd do.

But the thing about all of this is that it's not really the source material that I'm in love with. It's the source material in the context of my headcanon that I love. The world of King Arthur as I wish it had been written. But it wasn't. It's not the best of stories. Perhaps not even a good story at all. And perhaps I'm spending way too much time trying to make it good when I should be doing things brand new. I know that's a thing leveled at many who write fanfiction. But there is something about taking something that could be better, that should be better, and making that happen. I understand not wanting to let it go. I have a similar relationship with The Wheel of Time. It's like I want to share in other people's enjoyment of a thing but can't entirely because it's pushing me out so I make it mine by writing it different.

So yes, I am rather obsessed with Le Morte d'Arthur. Rather a lot obsessed. Do I have an erotic Arthurian story maybe going to get published at some point? Yes. Do I have unpublished erotic fanfiction featuring some versions of my headcanon? Yes. Do I see a problem with that? Mostly not. It's something that gets my fingers to the keys, something that I love, and that's important and vital. Look at comic books. What is any mainstream comic if not fanfiction of some original idea? And now we are finally getting more diverse heroes and a more diverse comic landscape. So yeah, just a friendly reminder that I'm super into headcanon and fanfiction. Rant over. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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