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Pet Peeves :: I've Been Violated By A Quotations Dictionary

Pet Peeves :: I've Been Violated By A Quotations Dictionary

By: Leather Daddy

This is going to be a nonstandard review, because there's something I've been seeing a lot in fanfiction lately that just drives me nuts. So this is more of a polemic than a review per se. So I lied. I do that a lot, I'm afraid.

It's been said that there are no original ideas, and anything you read or watch or listen to contains elements of things that came before it. Now, I'm not starting on a plagiarism rant, because I think that that's something so obvious and elementary that you should be ashamed of yourself if someone has to tell you not to steal other people's ideas. I'm more talking about the literary and cultural references and quotes that turn up in fics all the time. Used cleverly and appropriately, they're great. But a lot of people just DON'T use them correctly, and those fics are a horror to read.

Think of cultural references as pepper, or some similar spice. Each person has their own tolerance; depends on what you're used to. And some things - like, I dunno, pepperbeef - are made to be doused in pepper, so go wild. But if you put pepper in a chocolate cake, it will taste godawful, because pepper wasn't meant to go with chocolate cake.

That's an idiotic analogy, but the best I can think of at the moment. Let me present some concrete examples - two Harry Potter slashfics, really, since nobody else could think of better examples.

Pet Peeve #1: Misattribution.

The Boat of A Million Years Cycle, Part One by Starkiller. Now, I'm not going to comment on the fic itself yet, that's not relevant to the current discussion. It's one of those fics where Harry Potter, who had been oddly asexual upto now, discovers that he's madly in love/lust with his school nemesis, Draco Malfoy, and much shagging and perilous whatnot takes place after that. Anyways. Each chapter of this fic begins with a quote or a reference, presumably one that's relevant to the current chapter/situation. Fine. The first time I tripped up was Chapter 3, which quoted Alexander Pope.

    When love approach’d me under Friendship’s name;
    My fancy form’d thee of Angelick kind,
    Some emanation of th’ all beauteous mind
    Those smiling eyes, attemp’ring ev’ry ray,
    Shone sweetly lambent with celestial day.
    -Alexander Pope, ‘Rape of the Lock’.

OK, fine. You get the idea of what kind of fic this is if it quotes lines like that. But the thing that made me frown were my high school memories of that particular poem. I had the definite impression that the Rape of the Lock was a satirical poem making fun of people who took things too seriously. The storyline essentially revolves around some girl who spurns some guy, so he ambushes her and snips off a tiny lock of her hair as a keepsake - read enough Jane Austen and you'll know that that used to be the thing to do when you were in love - and the girl angsts and moans and it's a Big Drama, the "Rape of the Lock", and their families became estranged over this horrible incident. Oh, and eventually the Lock ascends to Heaven and is immortalized forever, etc. etc. You get the idea? Satire.

So I read this exerpt and thought, "Wait, is this author quoting a satirical poem for a serious romancefic? Goddammit, another fanfic author that doesn't understand or care what they're quoting as long as it seems nice out of context."

Then I conferred with the local research monkey, who is smarter than I am, and he pointed out that the quote wasn't even FROM the Rape of the Lock. It was from "Eloisa to Abelard", another of Pope's poems. (If you want to read both poems, go here. And here is an amusing analysis of the "Rape of the Lock," written by Pope himself.) "Eloisa to Abelard" is essentially about a woman struggling between her love for a man and her love for God, and trying to replace Abelard with God in her mind.

I SUPPOSE that a quote from "Eloisa to Abelard" would work for a story about virginal Harry Potter resisting his dark attraction to Draco Malfoy. I suppose. But it was a pretty glaring misattribution on the author's part, since the two poems are vastly different in tone and subject. It's sort of like taking a quote from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and attributing it to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or vice versa. Same author, right?

Am I a literary snob? Oh hell yes! If you're going to quote, do it right, or be prepared for people to point out that you screwed up.

So there's the misattribution example. Will that detract from your enjoyment of the fic? Only if you recognize the reference, and if you do, it'll annoy you mightily. Is it nitpicking for me to get annoyed by it? Perhaps, but it makes the author seem ignorant when readers catch things like that, and you authors don't want to do that to yourselves, right?

Pet Peeve #2: What sort of crack was the author on when they referred to this?

Oh, I know exactly what fic I'm thinking of. It's chapter two of "Monogamy", by Irda Majere. When I saw this, I had to laugh.

Take a quick readthrough, if you would. Chances are that you'll see Seamus using a lot of random words you don't understand.

    "The bratchny!" Seamus yelled. "How could he do that to you? After all you've been through for him! Does he think it was easy for you to tell your droogs and the whole school that you're dating Draco Malfoy?"

(Translation for those who haven't read the book, or don't have a pocket Russian dictionary on them when reading slashfic: "That bastard! .......Does he think it was easy for you to tell your friends...?")

For some inexplicable reason Seamus Finnegan is speaking Nadsat, the Russian-based slang used by the teens in Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange." Yes, a Clockwork Orange. Even if you haven't read the book, flash back on the Kubrick movie. The book is about kids who are so desensitized to violence and so completely lacking in empathy or compassion that they're more like monsters than people. Or like machines that merely LOOK alive - like a 'clockwork orange,' without any free will or moral choices. They speak a weird Russian slang called Nadsat because at the time the book was written - 1962 - we couldn't have predicted that Russia would fall apart so completely. Hey, maybe in the future they would be a major power - maybe they'd take over - and we'd all be using Russian as our slang! That's the basis of Nadsat, and the link I've provided above gives a glossary and a list of the source Russian words.

With that cultural and literary background out of the way....why, exactly, is normal Irish boy Seamus Finnegan speaking nadsat? Is he living in some post-war Russian-dominated alternate universe? Is he just a dork who's read the book and thinks using the slang is cool, context be damned? (No, wait...that could be the author.) Having Seamus use random nadsat is a jarring anachronism, really. I mean, imagine if he said this instead:

    "Ano kusoyaro!" Seamus yelled. "How could he do that to kimi? After all you've been through for him! Does he think it was easy for kimi to tell your tomodachi and the whole gakuen that Draco Malfoy is your koibito?"
Other than being completely nonsensical, doesn't it make you wonder, "Hey, why the hell is Seamus speaking Japanese?"

That was like dumping pepper in a chocolate cake. It just didn't belong there! Besides, if Seamus were really using nadsat, there would be none of this 'shag' nonsense. The only sex in nadsat is 'the old in-out-in-out'.

I hope this wasn't a completely pointless rant. My only wish for you authors that choose to drag in outside references into their fanfics is that you pay attention to the meaning and context of the reference, and use it appropriately. When you don't, you come across as an idiot, and people are less likely to keep reading.

Man, I'm anal-retentive about these things. Maybe I need a drink.
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