Confession time: I was a Twilight fan. It’s not as damning as the image that probably comes to mind – I honestly don’t remember much of what happened and I certainly never cried over Edward or Jacob. However, I did read all the books and watch all the films (more times than I’ll put in writing). When Stephenie Meyer’s website updated with a countdown, I checked out a few speculative articles but didn’t think much of it – it was probably nothing. Every few hours, though, I would refresh the page, just to see if anything changed. Any ex-fangirl (or fanboy) will know the intoxicating feeling of being part of something exclusive. It feels good to be the first to know.
The eventual announcement, Midnight Sun (a retelling of the saga from Edward’s perspective), was no surprise to long-time fans. Twelve chapters were leaked in 2008. Meyer described it as “a huge violation of my rights as an author, not to mention me as a human being”. Meyer’s roles as an “author”, creating work for profit, and “human being”, suggesting writing as a form of personal fulfilment despite its widespread reception, are equated. This replicates two understandings of such expansion within a fictional world – is Meyer exploiting nostalgia for profit or trying to bring joy to fans? Unless she’s had a change of heart, it doesn’t seem to be a passion project. Meyer told Variety in 2013 that Twillight was not a “happy place” for her. Repeatedly revisiting it, then, with The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, Life and Death: Twilight Imagined (featuring Edythe Cullen and Beau Swan) and now Midnight Sun seems bizarre. Does a changed perspective add much from a literary perspective? The narrative is fixed and Meyer’s characters were criticised as superficial. However, E.L. James followed a similar route – leading to critical disdain but massive sales. This popular appeal highlights the contradictory relationship of prestige and pleasure within the reading experience.
The upcoming prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, has sparked similar controversy. It will describe the events of the tenth Hunger Games, where the eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow must mentor a girl from District Twelve. Despite Scholastic ordering an unprecedented print run of 2.5 million copies, receptions have been varied. Part of this stems from its role as a prequel – it’s set over sixty years before the events of The Hunger Games, so we aren’t going to return to Katniss. However, we previously met Snow as the tyrannical President. According to The Guardian, one fan wrote that “you mean to tell me … I’ve waited years and preordered the Hunger Games sequel for it to be a President Snow origin story … about a rich white boy becoming an authoritarian who loves *checks notes* genocide?” It’s hyperbolic but a common sentiment.
While it might seem like an easy way to make money, previous expansion has backfired. After J.K. Rowling’s factoids went too far she lost scriptural authority. Adding to this the controversy surrounding The Cursed Child with back-dated diversity and her interactions with trans-exclusionary groups, Rowling found herself displaced. Instead, fans created their own canon with some of Rowling’s ideas firmly excluded. Her interjections were even mocked through a new meme format. As the Washington Post puts it, “she is no longer their distant, omniscient god”. There don’t seem to be many financial consequences for Rowling. She’s still profiting from Potter merchandise, attractions, films (even if their future is looking grim…), and probably much more. Instead, it’s cultural capital and a defined canon at stake. Rowling’s attempts to sue fanfiction writers show how much she values such authority and her ability to define the experience of reading Harry Potter.
Meyer, Rowling and Collins certainly aren’t benevolent gods, scattering down books as gifts to their worshiping fans. However, a depiction of them as money-hungry wolves, devouring naïve fans, is overly sceptical. For readers, it comes down to your level of investment in their respective fictional worlds – have you yearned to know Edward’s thoughts as he gazes at Bella? Do Rowling’s opinions have value to you – even if you disagree? Do you want to reminisce on the days you desperately attempted to learn how to do Katniss’ braid? Reading should bring joy, not shame through policed texts or exclusionary fandoms. Just as prequels or other extra texts can’t be divided easily into profit and philanthropy, neither can the reading experience.