The usual upside to getting the flu is marathoning the pain away via Netflix, but instead I read all of War of the Wheel, the 39-chapter Magic: the Gathering fanfic on par with any fantasy out of HBO or Hollywood, and got a chance to speak with the author.
The quality of War of the Wheel was a small revelation–I was thinking to myself ‘what the hell are we doing, waiting on the next season of Game of Thrones? People are writing these things right now, and I can read this for FREE...’ Fanfiction still doesn’t have that great a rep in mainstream media/social circles (any addition of ‘avid King of the Hill fanficcer’ to a Tinder personal description should be met with a slow clap), and more and more, that attitude feels positively medieval.
War of the Wheel was written by a forum user that goes by RavenoftheBlack, as part of a fanfiction community whose works are known collectively as Magic: the Expanded Multiverse. The plot follows an uprising across multiple planes, bringing together a cast of fleshed-out and likeable characters including a gladiatorial dragon, a sentient fox-man, a siren, and a rebel pharaoh. The action is fast-paced, the worlds are varied, and the scale is epic.
Here’s a conversation with RavenoftheBlack about his novel-length work, the community of Magic: the Expanded Multiverse, and fanfiction as part of ages-old literary tradition:
So War of the Wheel exists alongside a rapidly growing pool of works called Magic: The Expanded Multiverse. Can you introduce this project to our readers? What makes this fanfiction community unique?
Magic: Expanded Multiverse, or M:EM for short, is a collection of writers and world-builders who enjoyed the concepts and philosophy of the M:TG universe (Multiverse) so much that they wanted to expand it. The project began on the official M:TG boards by KeeperofManyNames and other like-minded people who saw the incredible potential of an infinite setting defined not by physical locations but by connected metaphysical philosophy.
I think the thing that most sets us apart from other fanfics is quality control. Because fanfic can come from anywhere, it can be difficult to know what is “good” or what isn’t, what is “well-written” or “well-thought out” and so forth. The M:EM, while welcoming (I like to think), is based on members. But even those members don’t simply put works into our archives. Everything is voted on for quality, read over for typos, logical errors, continuity, and whatever else. So, while not every work in the Archives will be a perfect fit for every reader, I personally think they stand up to a level of quality that not every fanfiction community can claim.
It is also interesting to note that one of the original goals of the M:EM from the beginning was to craft a unified setting of shared planes and characters. That was not a goal that was arrived at later, as with many fanfics, or one that never came about at all. It was the original intention. The goal, in a lot of ways, WAS the community. It was to create something that everyone involved would have a part in, and everything added was an improvement for the whole, rather than just an achievement for the individual. The ‘shared world’ aspect of the M:EM is, in my opinion, one of the most important and interesting things about us.
Can you introduce us to the plot of The War of the Wheel? What kind of tale are we dealing with?
War of the Wheel is a large-scale story of vengeance, vice and vindication. It is the intersection and escalation of several storylines from previous short stories of mine culminating in a war that stretches across planes. The Dual-Walkers, two ancient, powerful, and thoroughly amoral planeswalkers, are bringing all of their considerable resources to bear against all those they perceive as enemies, and they couldn’t care less about who or what is destroyed to regain what they believe is theirs. Thematically, the story deals with matters of responsibility, honor, and morality, and the far-reaching consequences of the decisions people make. The characters are varied, representing the entire spectrum of MTG’s color wheel, and in many ways, it’s their interactions with one another that I most like about this story. As for what kind of a tale this is, I’ll just say it’s a big one. There is plenty of action and magic, counter-balanced with some philosophical discussions of issues like morality, duty and divinity. Also, there’s a dragon…
It seems like writing for the ME:M provides a unique experience as compared to other fanfic communities, in that the canon Magic universe has built-in flexibility with the concept of an infinite number of co-existing planes.
Absolutely. As I said, the fact that the settings can change wildly and yet still maintain the basic “Magic-ness” means that the doors are open for imagination. In The War of the Wheel, we visit at least a dozen different planes, all of which differ from one another in one way or another or many. The differences possible between these planes allows an incredible amount of flexibility and creativity in the worlds and the characters I create. It really is one of my favorite things about writing in the MTG fanfic community. The settings, characters, and plots people have come up with in the M:EM are incredible, separate and distinct, and yet still connected. It’s a fantastic environment.
Writing within the ME:M bears many comparisons to writing within, say, the DC or Marvel universes, in that the creator starts from the canon material and adds a new spin, a new story to the existing universe. What do you think of that comparison?
It’s funny you should mention that. One of the inspirations for me originally writing The War of the Wheel was the big, multi-character cross-overs of the comics, specifically the Secret Wars storyline from the ’80s. I’ve always liked the concept of character crossovers, which is likely one of the things that attracted me to the M:EM in the first place. It was also why it was important to me to include at least a few characters from other M:EMbers in The War of the Wheel. I think it really helps add to that element of a big, shared universe (or Multiverse in this case!) and helps support that collaborative effort. The main difference, I think, is that because DC or Marvel tend to work with the same characters, rather than, in our case, the same philosophy, more problems can arise from them. For instance, the sheer number of retcons that comic writers have had to utilize over the years in an effort to keep the characters fresh over decades is partially a result of multiple authors working with the same characters. The collaborative nature of the M:EM, I feel, avoids some of these issues.
What role do you think the backstory plays in a game like M:TG? What does it add?
Without any backstory or any flavor to the game whatsoever, the cards are just game pieces. Rather than having a Serra Angel or a Shivan Dragon, you may as well have Card #4 and Card #37. I don’t think it’s essential that every player knows who Urza is or where Jamuraa is or anything like that, but the backstory provides a world for people to understand and connect with, as well as providing an overall aesthetic to the game. Not everyone’s going to care about the story behind Khans of Tarkir, or the next block, or the one after that, but I believe that enough people will to justify the effort, and those who don’t will still benefit from it when they can draft a card with a clever name and some amazing art, rather than a piece of cardstock that says Card #4,876.
What would you say a fanfic-ing community adds to the greater community of any franchise?
Connectivity. I think fans have always made connections with the things they enjoy, but with the advent of the internet and the rise of forums, I think fanfiction has become an increasingly popular way to connect with fiction. I suspect that fanfiction, in some way or another, has existed nearly as long as fiction itself has. My suspicion is that even back in ancient days of fables and oral tradition myths, people told stories, and others invented new stories with the same characters or settings. If we look back at Arthurian myth, or tales of Robin Hood, I have to wonder how many of their myriad stories were created by their original authors. I mean, Robin Hood appears in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, so you could probably make the argument that even that masterpiece was, in some ways, a fanfic.
But, I think it’s only in recent years, where fandoms can be more widely shared online with like-minded people, that fanfics have really exploded. It makes sense. Honestly, I’m not certain I know anyone personally who has the interest in M:TG backstory and fanfiction that I do. However, by having an online community, I can share my interest with people in America, in Canada, in Europe, in Equestria (I think?) and anywhere else. And knowing that people who share my interests might read my work really helps me want to write it. I mean, if I were just writing for myself, or if I didn’t know there were at least some people who would be interesting, I doubt I would have spent forty-some weeks writing the thing. And if it gets people interested in M:TG, so much the better.
“I suspect that fanfiction, in some way or another, has existed nearly as long as fiction itself has.” That’s a pretty loaded statement that challenges a lot of our preconceptions of fanfiction–are there any others you’d like to comment on?
That’s a difficult question. I mean, there are often assumptions made about the quality of fanfic writing, and hopefully the M:EM has done at least something to help disprove that one already. A lot of people believe that fanfic is written by inexperienced and often uneducated people. Again, I feel like the M:EM is a counter-point to this. Speaking personally, I teach writing for a living, although admittedly not creative writing. People also often assume that fanfic writing is nothing more than fantasy fulfillment and authorial insertion. This one is interesting, because self-insertion and fantasy fulfillment IS a common occurrence in fanfiction. But, the reason I mention it, is because in my experience, there is a lot more to it than that. Talented and thoughtful writers will push even those tropes further than the surface. Naturally, like anything, there are plenty of examples where it doesn’t work, but there are also plenty of examples where it does.
Can you recommend other fanfics within the M:EM project that you feel break the mold, expand on the original material in unexpected ways, our simply found to be of exceptional quality?
Honestly, it will be difficult for me to narrow this down to a manageable number. I think there is a great deal of really amazing work in the Archives. One of our most popular works, and one I whole-heartedly recommend, is a short story called “Two Bullets and a Pocketful of Hate,” by RuwinReborn. It showcases both the plane of Jakkard, probably our most popular plane, and the character of Fisco Vane, a character RuwinReborn created and who is, as I said, one of our most popular characters. Barinellos has a story called “Loss” that I think hits some very powerful notes, and OrcishLibrarian has an entire series of stories about his character Beryl, the Heart-Scarred, starting with “Small Magic.” I also highly recommend “Dominian Nightmares” by KeeperofManyNames, “Virtues” by Tevish Szat, and“The Pinch” by Disguised Goblin.
Or, if you’re a fan of poetry and like the idea of M:TG-related poems, I recommend you check out my thread Raven’s Rhymes, wherein I have written and posts over fifty poems, most of them based on actual M:TG cards.
But I absolutely recommend the stories found in the M:EM archives. They were voted in for a reason, and I genuinely think people would enjoy them, whether they have an interest in M:TG canon or not.