Honors College Theses

Publication Date



English (B.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Hans-Georg Erney


English departments face a crisis of student disinterest. Scholars are struggling to sell the study of literature as practically useful in an increasingly STEM-dominated world. The literary realm of fan fiction, which can serve as a guiding star, demonstrates how a community of readers and writers can reach for ideals of democracy and creativity that acknowledge the inherent worth of studying literature while also examining how such study can help students thrive in a world threatened by censorship and authoritarianism. This is a prescription for a total shift in philosophy for the academic study of literature. Such study has been dominated by copyrighted single-author works, but fan fiction provides a blueprint for a more collaborative approach that more resembles the storytelling found in ancient human societies. I begin with a comparative history of literature study versus the reading and writing of fan fiction to demonstrate how the two worlds mirror each other. This leads to the guiding question of why one world is dying while the other is thriving. I investigate how the strategies that sustain fan fiction can be translated into the academic world, and I argue for a discipline-spanning course adjustment in terms of atmosphere and methodology based on the idea that fan fiction is the ultimate realization of reader-response criticism. The single-author copyrighted work approach has guided literary study in the past fifty years, but the discipline’s response to the lessons of collaborative fan fiction will decide if such study will survive the next fifty.