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by Pat Foley

Embellishing and embroidering tales is a tradition older than written history. Mythology and folktales were passed down from one orator to another for generations before they were finally transcribed, and each “teller” undoubtedly added his own particular slant. With the advent of the printing press, radio and television, the medium, to paraphrase McLuhan, has changed the methodology. Now instead of crowding around a fireside and listening to a bard, we are often crowding around a television. But the desire to retell these new stories, add to them, carry them forward and share them with others hasn’t changed. The methodology has merely transformed into fanfiction.

Privately published and shared among groups of fans, television-related fan fiction sprouted not long after the popularization of that media. It become widespread in the 60s with Star Trek and has gained quite a bit of national attention since then. Many Man From U.N.C.L.E (MFU) fans were actually writing private fiction during the show’s first run. But MFU fan fiction really took off in the eighties due to the Return from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie and the syndication of the series on TNT.

Just like the bards who embellished their myths, fan-fiction writers start with the basic events that occurred in the series and consider those to be canon, a sort of gospel or set of guidelines for writers -- and then move forward from that. Writers may consider the ACE books and other publications from the time of the series as adding facts to the body of canon. Because the series changed so much in the four years it aired, writers also can choose to emphasize the darker, more realistic bent of the first and fourth seasons, or the comedic, slapstick tendencies of the second and third seasons. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. also may have a place in the body of canon. In addition to the series events being canon, some writers also consider the Return move canon; others disagree. The split there is often related to the question of whether Solo and Kuryakin resigned from U.N.C.L.E. and spent fifteen years apart. Or over a disagreement with the switch in occupations the actors made from the script (Solo was originally supposed to be the fashion designer, Kuryakin the computer expert). In addition to these sources, a large body of recollections from the creators, producers, writers and actors from the series has surfaced, both in publications and private papers, and these often are discussed among fan writers and accepted or rejected as part of “canon”.

In spite of the body of canon, plenty of room exists for reinterpretation. Solo appears variously as a superhero, a superspy, a rake, a lover, a cad, or even conversely, more of a sidekick to Kuryakin than the reverse. His past may be privileged or poor. Kuryakin may be a defector, a Soviet agent, about Solo’s age, up to ten years younger, a sidekick to his senior partner, or as the main focus of many stories. His past can run the gamut from war orphan to Romanov descendent. Waverly can be portrayed as benevolent to ruthless. Some fanfiction portrays Thrush as the main nemesis of U.N.C.L.E., in others, it is merely one of many foes.

Some writers deliberately choose to disregard series canon, and write stories more loosely based on MFU. These are known as alternate universe or AU stories, and can run the gamut from Kuryakin being a vampire or a unicorn, to cross-overs with more present day series, to setting the series in a current timeframe.

Most writers, however, embellish more than they replace. Even with four seasons of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and all the other sources, a lot of holes and inconsistencies remain in series canon. Much of fan fiction involves explores these unshown scenes, the areas where explanations were lacking, the beginning and ending of episodes beyond what was shown on the screen. Each writer chooses what constitutes canon for them, and builds on it, tells complicated -- or simple -- tales that can fill in lost scenes from the episodes, weave episodes together, show the beginning of the U.N.C.L.E. or its endings, the predecessors and antecedents of the existing enforcement agents, the beginnings and endings of the series agents’ careers.

U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction has developed quite a few genres. Some authors focus on realism, taking their cure from the involvement of everyday “innocents” that occurred in each series affair, and tell the stories from the perspective of the innocents involved, or focusing on the agents as real people, with all the intendant problems and nitty-gritty details that real people have. Some transform the characters into more superagent entities and make them a bit larger than life, with Solo becoming more Bond-like. Some write convoluted spy stories, with plots and sub-plots and intrigues tied to the conflicts of the time. Some focus on a more romantic vision with U.N.C.L.E. as a force for the ultimate good, fighting against Thrush as the ultimate evil. Other writers concentrate on the zany humor and slapstick of the third season. And all sort of romances are written, involving anything from an innocent of the week to giving one or the other of the characters a permanent relationship, a wife, even children. And some writers concentrate on the relationship between Solo and Kuryakin, focusing on the characters and their development of their association, which can run the gamut from colleagues to friends to even lovers. The later stories are known as slash stories. They may or may not involve a physical relationship, and are circulated in separate zines, among adults only, with an age statement usually required. Needless to say, all these genres can overlap to a certain extent. Fan fiction has become as sophisticated and polished as pro-fiction. Many longer stories, novellas or novels can involve both a complicated action plot or plots as well as several relationship plots and an underlying theme. Other stories can be little more than vignettes.

While most writers create individual “stand-alone” stories, some writers establish a “universe”, where all their stories share the same canon precepts. Sometimes stories in such universes are sequential and the events follow fairly closely from one story to the next in a serial form. Others have a more scattered chronology. In general there is the convention that in a universe, the characters and conventions are consistent, that there are not two stories involving the same characters set at the same time. Generally a writer with a universe has an underlying theme that drives all the stories within it. His or her characters and universe are moving toward resolving that theme, toward some ultimate conclusion. Universes usually have some name or identification attached to them, so that readers can identify them. Such writers sometimes create stories outside of their established universes -- stand-alone stories -- as well as their universe related stories. This also is akin to pro-fiction, where an author may take a set of characters and write story after story about them and yet still write other stories outside of that series. The difference is that MFU fiction always has a link to the U.N.C.L.E. characters, and that it is merely the type of characterization and theme that may change between an author’s universe and non-universe related stories. Readers interested in the particular theme or characterization within a universe may come to eventually regard that view of U.N.C.L.E. as more canon to them then the series itself.

Whatever a reader’s particular bent or interest in U.N.C.L.E, a type of fan fiction probably exists to satisfy it. And where one might not, a would-be writer can find plenty of encouragement to create it, to take in their own preference as to canon elements, and create something fresh and new that current fans can enjoy.