Whoosh! Issue 83 - December 2003


By Anita J. Firebaugh
Content © 2003 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2003 held by Whoosh!
2489 words

In the Beginning (01-05)
Decline of the Relationship (06-07)
Studying Xena and Gabrielle (08-11)
The Reviews (12-17)
Post FRIEND IN NEED (18-26)


In the Beginning

[01] Back in the heady days of first showings of Xena: Warrior Princess, fan fiction sites were flung up quickly and furiously. Stories begat stories, begat genres. Then some Xena fan fiction found its way into a book, Further Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess, a selection of fifteen short stories edited by Martin H. Greenberg.[Note 01]

[02] Mary Morgan, [Note 02] one of the many contributors to this book writes serious Xena: Warrior Princess fan fiction that does not titillate or dwell on sexual organs or orgasms. Instead, she writes stories that examine the relationship between Xena and her companion, Gabrielle, in depth and with a touchingly accurate portrayal of the seasons one and two characterizations of the lead heroes.

[03] Morgan started out strong in 1997, giving readers "After the Volcano" and "The Judgment of the Gods," both searing portrayals of a stoic and determined warrior in love with a gentle bard, and vice versa. She followed that with two more stories, "Breaking the Ice" and the award-winning "The Enemy." [Note 03] She was just as prolific in 1998, giving readers "The Deer," "Just a Pinch of Black Powder," "Cry Wolf," and the award-winning "Circle of Stones." [Note 04]

[04] But then 1999 saw only two stories, "A Mortal Trade," and "Hungry Land." She followed up in 2000 with "In the Kingdom of Horses," winner of the December Swollen Bud Award.[Note 05] Her last story was released in September 2001, with the post-finale (FRIEND IN NEED (134/622)) "Turning the Wheel."

[05] Morgan's inclusion in Further Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess alone makes her lessened output worrisome, since the editor would not have accepted the work had he not enjoyed the mark of excellence for which Morgan is known. But given the quality of her writing, along with her in-depth, thoughtful, and thought-provoking study of the concept of friendship and soul mates, why did the stories stop?[Note 06]

Decline of the Relationship

[06] A quick review of the show's episodic timeline indicates the decline of the relationship in the series parallels Morgan's work. Her greatest output in terms of number of stories corresponds with the first seasons of the show. But by the time Season Four aired, Morgan's pace had slowed. She released fewer stories, and the ones she gave her readers were longer, more thoughtful, and more focused on Gabrielle and the relationship between the Poteidaia Bard and Xena. This parallels the Season Three "deconstruction" of the relationship that took place within THE DELIVERER (50/304) and GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) arc. Following those episodes, the relationship was never the same, and while bones tossed to the "subtexters" kept many happy, innuendo and eroticism is not the same thing as pure love or friendship.

[07] Too, it is a bit hard to reconcile the noble character of Xena in Morgan's "In the Kingdom of Horses" with the Xena of say, Season Four's IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404). Morgan's Xena is sometimes overly self-involved, but she never reaches the wild-eyed and petulant characterization of that and similar episodes.

Studying Xena and Gabrielle

[08] Morgan's stories resonate with Xena: Warrior Princess fans because they are relationship-centered. She essentially writes a third-year Gabrielle, mature and thoughtful, who deals with a first season Xena. The stories are finely crafted to the point of belonging in high-quality literary quarterlies. With quality writing of this caliber hard to come by on the Internet period, much less in fan fiction in its myriad of forms, where have writers like Morgan gone? Morgan explored much with her work -- point of view, setting, and mythology -- and her growth as a writer is apparent in each subsequent story. Her words will not make the reader squirm in ecstasy in her computer chair, but they will certainly cause a catch in the breath and tear in the eye. Fewer stories from Morgan is a loss for fan fiction readers everywhere.

[09] These stories are strong studies of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, told in mythic proportions. Just as importantly, her works are visions of the light and dark sides of human nature, though not necessarily a reflection of "good and evil" or black and white. Morgan's characters are human, mixtures of all phases. Morgan's Xena is a strong character who missteps boldly and then hesitantly turns around to make sure Gabrielle still loves her. This is the Xena who, in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), prays for the light to continue to shine in her bard's eyes.

[10] Morgan's Gabrielle is rather non-violent until her post-FRIEND IN NEED story, but the bard's inner strength more than makes up for brawn. This is a Gabrielle who remains a human being. She worries about messing up and being in the wrong place at the wrong time to the point of needing therapy, and no matter what, she loves Xena. For Morgan, both heroes have a lot to learn and neither is always right. Sometimes, even, as in A Mortal Trade, they are both a little bit wrong. Morgan sees both women as flawed, and they are wonderful.

[11] Gabrielle's point of view is never neglected in Morgan's work. She gives the bard a silent, subtle strength, and a determination to keep bloodshed to a minimum. Xena is dark, brooding, and self-absorbed, so much so she sometimes forgets Gabrielle, or, as in "Hungry Land," finds her an annoyance. But as Xena seeks her personal redemption, her absolution for those crimes, Xena "genuinely loves Gabrielle and admires her beliefs,"[Note 07] and because of this, the Warrior Princess is all the more able to actively redeem herself. The stories always come back around to Xena loving Gabrielle. Morgan makes sure the reader knows that love and forgiveness actually matter in the lives of these women.

The Reviews

[12] Lunacy, writing a review of "Circle of Stones" in her fan fiction review site,[Note 08] says "Mary's treatment of the Xena/Gab relationship is one of the factors that always make her stories such a pleasure to read. She envisions them with a kind of connection that is spiritual and magical and always poignant." In writing of "The Enemy," Lunacy says,

"Mary excels at showing the deep bond between Xena and Gabrielle by depicting it through the eyes of others."
And of "In the Kingdom of Horses," the reviewer writes,
"a challenging mystery with solid portrayals of the mutual devotion and love between the leads."

[13] All of Lunacy's reviews of Morgan's work are equally praising: "very unusual, skillfully written" she says of "Breaking the Ice."

"I continue to be amazed at how this bard can tell a story more by implying things than saying them straight out,"
she writes of "Cry Wolf." Of "After the Volcano," Lunacy says,
"brace yourself for this haunting, beautiful little story because it is going to touch your heart and leave an unforgettable impression. Masterfully written."

[14] Another bard, Kamouraskan, says,

"Mary's forte has always been imaginative creations that highlight the bond and relationship between the Bard and Warrior… their commitment to each other could not be stronger." [Note 09]

[15] Morgan does all of this, and more, with a sometimes-frightful darkness that draws the reader in and does not let go until the end of each story. Xenalicious, a reviewer, says Morgan "knows how to twist the knife just so" in her review of "Turning the Wheel."

[16] This author writes stories that sometimes are wryly playful, occasionally part political commentary, as in "Just a Pinch of Black Powder." Her works, often filled with malevolent forests, spiritual unease, and a Gabrielle thoroughly focused on Xena, reflect happily on the hope of love.

[17] But Morgan's silence after FRIEND IN NEED indicates that the knife Xenalicious notices twists both ways. That final shot in FRIEND IN NEED, with Gabrielle alone with an urn seems to have twisted hard enough to break all the pencils in England.


[18] So what to make then, of only one story post-FRIEND IN NEED, "Turning the Wheel"? One story featuring Gabrielle's journey after Xena allows herself to die in Japan? Could it be that one of the possible messages of the finale, that Xena's journey with Gabrielle was for naught, sunk in so deeply that this bard cannot write?

[19] Morgan writes of a Xena who loves Gabrielle enough to place "a thoughtful kiss in each palm" of the bard's hand ("A Mortal Trade"). She does not lust after the bard but instead misses her stories, her voice, her words, her looks, and her touch. The presence of love overpowers and empowers Morgan's stories. These women share a bond of pure love that binds and ensnares them with a certainty that clutches at the heart of the reader. These are the snares which initially captured viewers of the TV show, subtexter and non-subtexter alike. She captures with words the incredible power of this love, the soulfulness of being as one, that the early seasons of Xena showed viewers. How then, is Morgan to reconcile the story told in FRIEND IN NEED, where Xena denies her soul mate the right to happiness and decides to stay dead?

[20] "After FRIEND IN NEED, there is silence," Morgan writes in reply to a query as to why she is no longer writing. She says she would write more fan fiction "if only she believed that the relationship really existed." Alas, FRIEND IN NEED, it seems, destroyed Morgan's faith in the love and forgiveness about which she wrote so passionately.

[21] Morgan acknowledges that the relationship attracted her to the show.

"The idea that their love could lead to redemption and defy death itself, and that together with forgiveness it could break the cycle of vengeance,"
she writes. [Note 10] Morgan obviously took to heart a quote from Gabrielle in CALLISTO (22/122).
"There is only one way to end this cycle of hatred and that is through love and forgiveness,"
the bard said. But love and forgiveness betrayed Xena and Gabrielle in FRIEND IN NEED: Xena was not forgiven by those 40,000 vengeful souls, and Gabrielle's love, no matter how strong, could not bring the Warrior Princess back to life when she did not want to return to the living.

[22] Morgan uses her works of art for many things -- world commentary, declarations of love, and character analysis. Some interesting words of wisdom can be found in her fiction.

"Some people … fought because they loved to do so, and some fought simply because they loved,"
Morgan writes in "A Mortal Trade."

[23] Her work features nameless enemies, a darkness of fear, sometimes despair. Whatever it is, it must be stopped. Her works are metaphors for life, for the fear of change, the joy and agony of living. Nowhere else will such thought-provoking fan fiction lift the reader on a wind of love and hope while crashing her headfirst into a cliff.

[24] And then there is Turning the Wheel. Morgan's post-FRIEND IN NEED work is long and reflects a difficult process of bringing Gabrielle to a point of, if not happiness, at least contentment following the death of her warrior princess. In a bitter commentary, Gabrielle says

"They don't need heroes… no one's a hero. No one…. Bards call them heroes, and people believe what they hear, but none of it's true. It's faith which makes heroes. Then whoever gets called one can't let down that faith. Till it kills her."
And finally Gabrielle mourns,
"I knew she didn't love me as I loved her. … but that didn't matter, because I loved her. All of her.… I knew she loved me as much as she could."

[25] How sad for Morgan's Gabrielle, to come to such a conclusion about such a bonding, entwining, and emotional love! Reading Morgan's work from beginning to end, one can see the agony the TV show inflicted upon the writing. Though Gabrielle reflects doubt throughout many of Morgan's stories, she never doubts Xena. She doubts herself. But this has changed in Morgan's last work.

[26] Perhaps Morgan's disclaimer at the beginning of "Turning the Wheel" says more than anything else:

"Xena and Gabrielle do not belong to me."
It is this dispossession which is most readily apparent in this bard's writing. The statement reflects as much as anything the impact of a finale that set out to undo all that came before.


Note 01:
The book tag for Penguin Putman says the work features stories by "National best-selling authors" Jennifer Robertson, Josepha Sherman, and Diane Duane, along with "series scriptwriter" Melissa Good and Greg Cox. They were joined by Keith De Candido, Esther Freisner, Robin Baily, Lyn McConchie, Mary Morgan, Gary Braunbeck and Lucy Snyder, Jody Lynn Nye, Tim Waggoner, and Russell Davis, Jaye Cameron, and David Bischoff.
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Note 02:
Mary Morgan's XWP Fan Fiction
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Note 03:
The Enemy won Muzza's Fan Fiction Award for Best Short Story
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Note 04:
Circle of Stones won Muzza's Fan Fiction Award for Best Mystery Story
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Note 05:
The Swollen Bud Awards
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Note 06:
It may be argued that Mary Morgan's work is not as popular as other writers in part because it is high quality writing. It offers no titillating experiences and is never a quick read. Morgan, however, seems a bit reclusive and while accolades surely are appreciated, writing of this caliber isn't written, generally, to create a fan club. Something other than lack of recognition seems to be at work here.
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Note 07:
Mary Morgan, personal correspondence.
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Note 08:
Lunacy's Fan Fiction Reviews
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Note 09:
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Note 10:
Mary Morgan, personal correspondence.
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Anita J. Firebaugh, "Reactions to Death in 'THE GREATER GOOD' and 'IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE', Whoosh! #3 (November 1996)

Anita J. Firebaugh, "Published Fan Fiction: A Critique of Emerson's Latest Xena Novels". Whoosh! #46 (July 2000)

Anita J. Firebaugh, "Has Everyone in the Xenaverse Been to a Con Except Me?" Whoosh! #57 (June 2001)

Ms. Firebaugh was also a writer for the Whoosh! Xena Episode Guide


the author Anita J. Firebaugh
She is "Bluesong: Spoiler Princess," who wrote synopses of the show for Whoosh! from mid-season 1 until the finale. Anita is a native Virginian who loves the Blue Ridge Mountains, "strong women" TV shows, and the freedom her work as a freelance writer gives her. She misses the early seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess terribly.

Favorite episode: The Greater Good
Favorite line: "You are what you do. You can recreate yourself every second of your life." -- Xena, Forgiven.
First episode seen: The Warrior Princess
Least favorite episode: In Sickness and in Hell, Married with Fishsticks



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