To whom does a fantasy world belong? I was thinking about this recently when reading about the (now seemingly abandoned) possibility that there could be a Buffy movie without Joss Whedon.
At first blush, this idea seems ludicrous. How could you separate the Buffy-verse from Joss? But then I thought about all those characters and fantasy universes that have both found success surviving past their original creators’ contributions and also fallen flat when left in the hands of creators who have long since moved past creating them in a way that pleases the fans.
Marvel’s a clear example that comes to mind for me of the first idea. Stan Lee created the X-Men and Spider-man–but some of the most iconic characters and story lines associated with those fantasy franchises weren’t his. Wolverine, Emma Frost, Black Cat, Venom were all created by other talents who took over the fantasy world Lee gave us. And what would those franchises be without those characters?
Star Wars seems like a good example of the second concept. Before the original trilogy had ended, thousands of fans were already creating fan fiction and participating in a shared experience of that galaxy far far away. When Lucas returned to the galaxy more than a decade after leaving it, he rewrote and reimagined many key concepts and pieces that really rubbed many of the fans who had taken ownership the wrong way. Didn’t Han shoot first?
Can the creation be separated from the creator? Though we may think the author of a work of SF&F has the definitive authority over what is and isn’t part of that world or story, isn’t it true that sometimes ownership does and should pass to the fans and writers who follow him or her?