How Sherlock Can Be a Barista, and Still Be Sherlock: A Study in Fan Fiction

Irene Howard


Fictional characters are often thought to exist in some form, though not in the same way many other objects in our world do. Though you cannot meet Sherlock Holmes in the street, he is nevertheless a being that can be pondered, altered, and sent on adventures in written form. The nature of being, or ontology, of fictional characters is a question of much research and philosophical debate. Of particular concern in this paper is the question of equivalency; should characters in certain derivative works written by various authors be considered to be the same characters as the ones in the original canon? Fan fiction is a subtype of derivative literature consisting of unauthorized written works concerning established characters. It is a large and growing sector of popular culture, but has not to date been subject to much philosophical examination. Fan fictions have more restrictions in regards to their connection with the original work than other derivative works, so they are worth looking at as a unique construct which we can examine philosophically in a manner distinct from other discussions about fictional characters. The basis of the popularity of fan fiction is in assuming that the portrayed characters are the same as those from the original canon material. This allows readers to become invested in new stories about characters they are already emotionally attached to. This paper addresses the question of whether characters in fan fictions imported from the canon source material are ontologically the same as their canon counterparts. This paper also examines the idea of "essential properties" of fictional characters, and how they can be used to discern ontological equivalency. This question is viewed through the lenses of internal and external realism, and takes into account the ethos of the community of fan fiction writers themselves.


Fan fiction, Philosophy of literature, Ontology of fictional characters

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