From Arks to Argh! - The History of Tomb Raider Fan Fiction

1:00 pm HelenLJohnson 0 Comments
So another month of #20Croft comes to an end with April paying homage to all the fantastic Tomb Raider story weavers out there. I teamed up with Noelle, aka pfangirl, who wrote an excellent collab piece over on her blog on why Fan Fiction shouldn’t be considered the lower form of fan creation and how fan fiction is beneficial to writers. So you should certainly check that out if you haven’t read it yet.

This post has greater focus on how amateur writers has approached the Tomb Raider franchise over the years. When I say amateur, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad, it means creations that are borne from writing for writing's sake, that are not paid although may be picked up along the way and showcased. Of course there are plenty of fluff pieces floating around the internet, meeting your fan needs like you never knew you wanted them met. However there are also plenty of gems, that alongside their real-life counterparts, sometimes need a little digging to find.

So how did Tomb Raider fan fiction come about? It is hard to pinpoint, however writing about an existing franchise was nothing new, especially with the rise of easier to use forums, hosting and archiving websites in the mid to late 1990s. It was inevitable that someone, somewhere would publish a story about the globe trotting Lady Croft sooner rather than later. The earliest recorded story was by Robert Wheeler titled Lara Croft and the Lost Ark in 1997; inspired by the easter egg of the Ark of the Covenant within the mansion. The story took, as most of the early works did, a lot of inspiration from the Indiana Jones films with subtle references to the franchise and woven in with the gameplay from Tomb Raider to create the narrative. Many of these older stories can be found here on the Tomb Raider Archive. Most are short, one shot, adventure filled romps that rely on the artefact, or indeed artefacts, being the sole purpose for Lara’s motivations.

As we approached the new millennium, Tomb Raider as a franchise began to change. We saw the possibility that Lara Croft could be dead at the end of Last Revelations with Chronicles relying on flashbacks as a secret team worked on the first reboot, Lara Croft: Angel of Darkness. Within fan fiction, stories were no longer reliant to being hosted on individual or niche sites when launched in 1998. As authors migrated their stories over, they became easier to find and create a community. Even to this day, Tomb Raider is a small to medium sized writing community, commanding 1.5k individual stories as of April 2016 compared to Devil May Cry at 5.5k, Mass Effect at 17.7k or Undertale which has only been out a few months amassing 3.5k. There are of course other sites, for Tomb Raider one of the most influential was the Croft Codex which is now sadly not in operation.

What we see developing past the year 2000, are the stories about Lara becoming longer and more detailed as the trend for novel length fan fiction stories grows greater than ever before. Core Design also acknowledged the work of these writers by hosting competitions on their forums and through official PR streams. In addition to her excellent work of gathering screenshots from the Tomb Raider franchise, Katie Fleming found great success in publicising her stories with Sweat, Strength, and Determination winning first prize in a 2003 competition by Core and The Search for Delphi being published as part of a not-for-profit comic, Tales of Lara Croft. Her stories were also publicised within the Tomb Raider Anniversary Ten Year Collectors Edition.
Let’s backtrack a little to 2003, a very important year to the history of Tomb Raider fan fiction due to the introduction of one particular man; the ever elusive and brooding Kurtis Trent. Although deemed as an activity as ‘what not to do in a Tomb Raider game’, Angel of Darkness delivered a larger and more detailed story to the franchise. The game finished on a cliffhanger with many threads left hanging as to what happened both before and after the events of the game narrative. It provided a wealth of inspiration for writers to dig into, in particular the relationship between Lara and Kurtis. Until now, if a relationship appeared in a fan fiction, it was either as a friend, a colleague or if it was romantically, often an original character or Alex from the 2001 Tomb Raider movie. There were also the odd ones with questionable stories involving Werner around Ankor Wat, but let’s not get into that! Angel of Darkness provided a much needed injection of creativity into the Tomb Raider writing community, a trend that continues to this day with a solid fan base who use their stories to finish off the timeline and use the space available to speculate what could have been. Personally, this side is my favourite of the Tomb Raider fan fictions as the stories tend to sway a little darker and as an AoD fan, I’ll always be wondering what if?

As we approach the second reboot with Tomb Raider Legend, Anniversary and Underworld, Tomb Raider fan fiction moved with the games incorporating elements such as exploring Lara’s relationship with her mother or revisiting the artefact based narrative rather than human interaction based as had been the trend after Angel of Darkness. Kurtis Trent romance stories were still in their abundance, however the momentum had dropped significantly. I began writing in 2011/2012 after replaying Angel of Darkness and I remember the total number of stories being around the 800 mark.

Then the next important milestone hit in March of 2013. As the third reboot of the franchise was released, it expanded the fanbase and tagged along the fan fiction writers with it. Exploring the relationships between the Endurance crew, in particular Sam and Alex. Writers took it upon themselves to delve deeply into the what ifs of Lara and her relationships to other people. The notion of a survivor came through the writings and people found creativity through the naïvety Lara held in the reboot. Of course there was smut, there will always be smut and fluff! At the moment, it does seem to be mostly LaraxSam stories, and admittedly they are the most reviewed and followed at the moment, however these only account for around 18 percent of Tomb Raider stories on A number I was actually quite surprised to work out as admittedly I thought it would be higher! As with everything when you dip your toe into the world of fan creations, you often need to invest the time to find what suits your style, or if all else fails you create your own.

So, what is the future for Tomb Raider fan fiction? I can’t honestly say because who would have predicted Sam and Lara back in 2005? Fan fiction moves with the franchise with certain elements that thread through the years. There will always be adventure stories involving Lara, stories that involve the manor and Winston. Likewise, there will always be LaraxKurtis and LaraxSam style fictions as these have proven to be popular with fans. What appears to be the situation is when the official narrative leaves plots holes, hints or ambiguity; this is where writers pick up the baton. For the readers, they are interested to understand what happens next and can be frustrated when official sources cannot clarify details. Is Lara gay or bisexual? Is Kurtis dead? What happened to the doppleganger? These all provide a platform for creativity within boundaries that push writers to explore existing narratives and expand upon them. I applaud everyone who has sat down and decided to write about my favourite fandom, you are a talented bunch and deserve more recognition and respect than you currently receive.

Do you have any thoughts about the history of Tomb Raider fan fiction? Have I missed anything out or if you simply have a must read you have found over the years; let me know in the comments below or tweet me @Lady_Scion.

Further Reading:
Fan Fiction on WikiRaider