How (Not) to Tick off a Literary Superfan

John Green superfan

Geeks are my people. Book geeks, mostly—spastic, obsessive, all-in types. Literary superfans know everything (about their chosen reads), and it’s an honor to geek at their feet. If you don’t have any superfan friends, pencil in making some as a New Year’s res—there’s nothing like a discussion with someone who truly cares about and knows books. But BEWARE: literary fanboys/girls are easily put off. Follow this what not to do list and you should be cool.

1. Don’t be disrespectful

Leave preconceptions and disdain at the door. A book geek loves his book/series/author/genre or sub-sub-genre and likely knows something interesting about it that you don’t, so don’t go waving Camille Paglia dismissively at a Jane Austen fan, or chuckle and say: “please sir, I want some more,” while raising a hand to high five a Dickens geek. If you wanna be privy to the (awesome) reasons a work has a devoted following (driving narratives, resonating themes, sympathetic heroes, complicated villains), don’t besmirch the work to its disciples, especially without having reading the author, series, or sub-sub-genre.

2. Don’t get titles/names wrong

Consider yourself warned: if you mention Game of Thrones (GoT) to a true George R.R. Martin/A Song of Ice and Fire fan without quickly expressing your mounting anticipation for The World of Ice and Fire (Martin’s forthcoming Silmarillion for Westeros) or citing a favorite book (ah hem, A Storm of Swords), it’ll be clear that you’ve seen the HBO series but haven’t read the books. Calling A Song of Ice and Fire Game of Thrones” is like referring to all of the Harry Potter books as “the Sorcerer’s Stone.” (Two other geekout-worthy authors, Daniel Handler and C.S. Lewis, avoid this confusion with the words “chronicles” and “series.” Pronunciation and spelling will give you away, too. These things are tricky. Probably best not to try to spell any LoTR characters’ names phonetically (or at all). Even pros botch The Silmarillion (see #3) and Ayn Rand’s name has been pronounced EYE-en, AY-en, AYn, EYEn, Ann and everything in between. Let Google be your constant consort in these matters.

3. Don’t make a shaky comparison

Be careful drawing title and author parallels, and when in doubt, ask. For instance, I think it’s OK to compare Stephen King’s The Stand to the Tolkien universe and McCarthy’s The Road, but end-of-the-world books are difficult—even when they’re good. Max Brooks is great, and his fathers a god among men, but World War Z doesn’t belong on a shelf with The Stand. Maybe: Shute’s On The Beach, Ballard’s The Drowned World and, most recently, Heller’s The Dog Stars, but pretty much anything else…I’d fight you on. The incessant faulty Westeros/Middle-earth analogies irk me, too, personally. Citizens of the Seven Kingdoms can hop a boat to the Free Cities, but men can’t just sail from Gondor to the Undying Lands. Yeeeeesh.

4. Don’t dis a beloved character

You wouldn’t insult the home team’s star player in a packed stadium, would you? It’d be similarly unwise to walk into a comic book store and shout, for example: “Wolverine is the worst!” Or, for those DC over Marvel folks: “The Dark Knight is a lily chump!” (FYI, dis-ing writer/creators like Stan Lee, Grant Morrison or Alan Moore probably isn’t wise either. Superhero superfans are the craziest/best.) Some fictional characters, you just shouldn’t hate on, whatever their faults. To be safe, it’s probably best to keep comments warm and fuzzy toward: Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, Gandalf, Hagrid, and Lisbeth Salander. (Who else? Add names in the comments!)

5. Don’t be surprised…

…if a work of speculative or science fiction is intellectually challenging, if a fantasy series is political or spiritual, or—if you’re one of those holdouts who STILL hasn’t read Harry Potter—when The Boy Who Lived melts your heart. (If you, adult reader, can get through books 5–7 without tearing up, I’ll send you a handwritten letter acknowledging your superlative non-wimpiness.) Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing marital happiness for all most of the Bennett sisters. Don’t be surprised if you start reading and become a superfan.

What’s the quickest way to insult your fandom of choice?

  • referencegirl

    What do post-apocalyptic worlds have in common with Tolkien? I have never seen those compared before.

  • Erynien

    As someone in the fandom of the prime example talked about in this article. . . thank you.

    I’m a big Tolkienite and it annoys me when people ask questions, but don’t want meaningful answers. (Other questions are fine.) They just think they’re being clever when they’re they ten millionth person to ask, “Why didn’t the Eagles just take them to Mordor?” Look it up online if you really want to know, because every other person has asked that question and I’m tired of explaining it. It’s getting repetitious.

    I’ve also had someone ask, “Why couldn’t the books be as interesting as the movies?” I’m not sure what you could call my reaction to that — but it was anything BUT positive.

    Oh, and when people cite the movie guides as sources of “official information” about Middle-earth, despite the fact that the “information” can often change dramatically from movie guide to movie guide. The only source of “official information” regarding Middle-earth is Tolkien, so stop thinking you’re a lore expert because you read movie guides and not The Silmarillion. It’s not wrong to read the guides, of course, but when people think they know EVERYTHING because of it. . . it’s frustrating.

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