You may or may not have heard, but Amazon has come up with a way to license fan fiction.* This project is called Kindle Worlds, and it’s getting bandied about different ways all over the internet, with some people happy to see a chance to make money through fan fiction and others complaining about the terms. Personally, I have no dog in this fight. I don’t write fan fiction and I don’t read it (Heck, I didn’t even read Steven Brust’s Firefly story, “My Own Kind of Freedom,” and I love Brust’s work). If fan fiction matters to you, though, you might consider that the terms Amazon is offering are about identical to the terms you’d get if you wrote licensed fiction for any media tie-in.**
This idea makes me think of Thoth-Amon.***
For those of you who don’t know, Thoth-Amon was a wizard who appeared in exactly one Conan story by Robert E. Howard, “The Phoenix on the Sword.” One. He is mentioned by reference in two of Howard’s other Conan stories (“The God in the Bowl” and “The Hour of the Dragon”) and one of Howard’s non-Conan stories (“The Haunter of the Ring”).
That’s it. One appearance and three references by the original author. And yet Thoth-Amon has become the most famous “villain” ever “faced” by Conan. He serves as the big bad in the MMORPG Age of Conan, appeared (sort of) in Conan the Destroyer, and even had a Dark Horse comic dedicated to him.
Personally, I’ve always liked Thoth-Amon because he was largely the powerful wizard off stage, rarely appearing and never Conan’s direct foe; Conan only ever brushed up against Thoth-Amon’s plans. I always took that to mean that Conan was just one man in a much bigger world, but Thoth-Amon was a real mover and shaker.
But the appearances of Thoth-Amon in non-Howard stories change that. They add backstory at the cost of mystery. They move him center stage, make him an opponent to be overcome like some mere Voldemort.
Yeah, I said it. Voldemort was only the “most powerful dark wizard in a century.” That’s not even the most powerful dark wizard in living memory (hello, Nicholas Flamel). Thoth-Amon’s legacy spanned millennia, from ancient Hyperborea to twentieth century Hungary.
But these new reductions of Thoth-Amon were written by authors after Howard died. They all had permission for their work, proper licenses from the inheritors and everything. That means that their stories were as official as Howard’s as far as most people who aren’t me go.
So when I think about Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds project, I think about all these fan fiction writers, putting their own official spin on other people’s characters. Some of the work will likely be fantastic, everything readers could ever hope for and more. But still, I can’t help but wonder which great character will next be brought low.
What do you think? Am I making too much of this?
*Note that they specifically exclude pornography and crossovers. As I understand it, that will exclude a fair bit of it from the get-go.
**Well, almost. It’s basically work-for-hire, but I note that Amazon claims ownership of some of the IP and grants a free perpetual license to the property holder. I suspect that licensed fiction is owned by the licensor, the owner of that property. This is more than I want to go into here though.
***Even though all of this and more could also apply to Conan, it’s the wizard I think of first. Typical.