When you enter a fandom, how fanatical are you?
I had a conversation with a family member recently about Brandon Sanderson. I called myself a Brandon Sanderson fan, as I have read some of his books and enjoyed them. I’ve read the first two books of the original Mistborn trilogy, The Reckoners books, Starsight, The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and The Emperor’s Soul, and I realize there are quite a few more yet for me to enjoy. My one family member jokingly said that I wasn’t really a Brandon Sanderson fan because I have yet to read all his work. I called her a gatekeeper repeatedly, (mostly) jokingly, and the conversation came to a close. But it has me still thinking:
What makes a fan?
The word fan is possibly derived from the word fanatic, as we all know. And fanatic means, in this case, a person “characterized by excessive enthusiasm.” Let’s unpack this a little. (And note that all definitions come from etymonline.com.)
Characterize = verb, meaning “to describe the qualities of”
Excessive = adjective, “exceeding the usual or proper limit”
Enthusiasm = noun, “fervor, zeal”
So, in the literal sense, a fanatic is a person who is defined by their extreme obsession with something. BUT we are not taking into account the way language evolves over time. Think about it. “Fanatic” originally referred to someone who was insane. Do we consider someone who claims to be a fan of a franchise as literally out of their mind? Not only is that an unkind generalization, it isn’t accurate. So if we went along with the original definition, calling someone a fanatic is an insult. But we’re not saying “fanatic” any more, are we? No. We’re saying the shortened version of the word. Why? Because language evolves.
“Fan” in its shortened form (1889) means “devotee.” And it might not be a shortened form of fanatic at all, according to Etymonline.com. It could be derived from the word “fancy,” a “collective term for followers of certain hobby or sport.”
And what do followers do? They follow. Does the extent even MATTER? Especially when it comes to an author, a game, a book, or any franchise. Surely each individual gets to decide how much they want to follow something and gets no less enjoyment out of it than someone who considers themselves as wider read/watched/participated than the average Joe.
Language matters, yes. Accuracy matters. But the word fan has been bandied about so much, does its definition really matter anymore? Can’t I call myself a Brandon Sanderson fan without having to obsess?
What are your thoughts on this issue? Please keep it polite!
Keep your nose in a book,