The Fault In Our Stars is a phenomenon, there's no doubt about it. It's already been heralded as a modern classic, its characters and its author have already been referred to as icons. But The Fault In Our Stars , while bringing in the big stuff — the questions aimed at our universe, the mass reaction to the book and upcoming movie — it's also about things that are big but that feel intimate: Death, love, and, of course, fandom.
John Green, though not on the TIME 100 list until this year, was a phenomenon even before The Fault In Our Stars — he was just a relatively niche one. In fact, The Fault In Our Stars has in its very DNA the heart of the fandom that has long followed Green through his novels and his video blogging enterprise with his brother Hank. The roots of Fault were, after all, inspired in part by Green's time with Esther Earl — a "spunky, energetic, creative" young woman who took an active role in the fandoms surrounding people like Green and the books he writes, who became John's friend, and who also died of metastasized papillary thyroid cancer at the age of 16.
Though Green cautions readers and viewers to remember that the story there is not the same as Earl's — and we should heed those warnings — her influence is clear in The Fault In Our Stars, especially in the parts of the book's plot revolving around Hazel meeting a favorite author of hers. Luckily for everyone, Green seems a bit less soured than Fault's fictional author Imperial Affliction Peter Van Houten (to be played by Willem DaFoe). In fact, as a long time inhabitant of a number of different fan communities, I take no qualms in saying that the one that surrounds Green is one of the most open, reciprocative, and enthusiastic fandoms I've ever experienced. And it's the understanding of the power of that sort of community love that has helped launch Fault, and Green, from a beloved new addition to the YA to bonafide phenom/icon/legend.
Green seems to have an intimate understanding of these dynamics. In a recent interview with The Wire he talked a bit about how Hazel herself might have made use of fandom resources:
I’m really interested in the relationship we have with the stuff we love. Particularly today. Because of the internet it’s easier to connect to people who share your passions. So even with something as obscure as An Imperial Affliction, in real 2014 Hazel probably could have found a community of dedicated An Imperial Affliction fans online, on Tumblr, on the Imperial Affliction tag.
Green himself is very active on Tumblr, to the degree that a popular game called "Make John Green Find the Thing" has developed amongst users collectively pushing certain posts of potential interest in his direction. And it's clear Green relishes these fan-creator interactions just as much as his fans do, putting himself at the front lines. As he said when asked about a recent rather large fan screening of the movie:
We’ll it’s very surreal. It’s just very surreal. I can’t process it very well. I’m so grateful to people who care about that story. I’m so grateful to them for reading it so generously. I’m so grateful to them for kind of protecting it, if that makes sense. I feel that they have kept it alive, they have made it successful, and I am very grateful for that. The attention or the scrutiny can sometimes be a little overwhelming. [...] Every time someone has seen the movie, I want to interrogate them, you know? I had this 2,800 person line at the LA Times book festival and everyone was putting lots of pressure on me, like, go faster go faster go faster. But when someone was like "I got into an early screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie," I was like: "Stop everything. Did you like it? What did you like? What did you not like?"
The film's director, Josh Boone, even included a shout-out or two to the fandom that have made Fault what it is. In one scene, Hazel and Augustus are shown watching an old episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — specifically a scene between one of that show's iconic couples, Buffy and Angel. It stands as a sort of commentary on the soon to be iconic teen couple Green's created.
It's partially because of this relationship Green has with the public — that of a benevolent fandom kingpin, a best-selling uber-famous author, and the creator of stories that make people cry, laugh, and beg for more all at once — that he's often philosophical about his place in it all, and of the way people see him and other creators. Here he's not just talking about himself, but he might as well be:
I’m also interested in the weird relationship between the things we love and the people who make those things. Because often, of course, the thing is much better than the person. Usually the thing is better than the person or at least easier to love than the person, because people are complex and flawed and troubled. I think in the age of the internet — in the age of social media — it’s just much harder to separate the artist from the art. Particularly when the artist is constantly inserting himself into the conversation on Twitter or Tumblr or whatever.
And it's hard to deny that's the world in which Green lives. But from here it looks, overall, like a pretty rewarding world.
And if you ever doubt the enduring cult fandom of John Green, just watch this video diary from the national tour he took with his brother after Fault was first released: