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Fanfic / With Strings Attached

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"Don't worry," said John, "we've already brought the gods back, we're the gods of rock 'n' roll, remember?"

"Do a miracle and send us home, then," said Ringo.

"Sorry, I've used up me quota. Fuck!" John threw his seashell towards the ocean as hard as he could with his left hand, then sat up fully. "I don't care what our mission is. I resent bein' dropped here without so much as a `Would you like to go?' I may not even do whatever we're supposed to do, if we do have a job. We might not, y'know. Maybe some fuckin' Beatlemaniac just thought `Eh, wouldn't it be a lark to put the Beatles on another planet and see what they do.' Well, this one's not gonna do anythin', so fuck you!" John shouted at the sky, giving it the finger.

With Strings Attached, or The Big Pink Job is possibly the most famous single Beatles Real-Person Fic out there, and certainly one of the oldest known. Aviva Rothschild, who wrote the first-ever bibliography of graphic novels, started writing Strings in 1980 at the age of 15 and completed it in early 2009. It has been online since 1997 and is so well established that there was a brief period when, if you googled the common phrase that is the main title, it would come up first. Half the story is available on Rational Magic, the author's website, and the entire work can be purchased as a downloadable PDF or a thick paperback book (commonly referred to by the author as the Big Pink Brick).

Strings is a serious (if frequently hilarious) epic fantasy—no Slash Fic, no Time Travel, no romance, no Alternate History. It's spring 1980, and the four ex-Beatles awaken on the strange planet C'hou, terrified out of their minds, sixteen years younger, and utterly clueless as to why they're there. As they struggle to make sense of their predicament, they must survive the dangers of two very different countries: Ketafa, a quasi-Victorian theocracy based on a fake religion, and Baravada, a dying magical anarchy whose inhabitants' fondest wish is to find monsters to kill. Observing all this are some quite fannish aliens, whose dialogue punctuates and clarifies much of what's going on, and who have their own little dramas taking place as events spin rapidly out of their control.

Ultimately, the four are spectacularly equipped to embark upon a quest that, if successful, will remove a curse that prevents the real gods from seeing Ketafa. Careering through three crazy universes (including a Funny day on an alternate Earth that combines Beatlemania, New York City, Xanth, and Harvey), they collect the three scattered pieces of the Vasyn, a statue that is the (sub)titular Big Pink Job. But restoring the Vasyn to Ketafa will be the most dangerous task facing them....

Notable for, among other things, its portrayal of the four ex-Beatles as real people, not as any of their fictional personas, who undergo genuine Character Development as the story progresses. Also notable for being a rare fantasy where the main characters are essentially Actual Pacifists.

Rothschild completed the first half of the sequel, The Keys Stand Alone (circa 2015); its first chapter is available on her website.

This lengthy work encompasses a huge number of tropes, the most significant examples of which are:

  • Actual Pacifist: The four. They never initiate fights - in fact, they avoid conflict when possible - and while three of them do deal some minor damage to people in revenge for having been badly abused, none of them would dream of seriously hurting any living thing. The irony, of course, is that collectively they have been gifted with enough power to wipe out a city before breakfast.
  • Anal Probing: Discussed in the prologue when Varx is trying to convince Paul to go on a "great adventure".
    Paul: Is this one of those alien abductions where you're gonna probe me, then?
    Varx (snorting): Gods, you Eartians are masochists. Believe me, if we really wanted that info, which we don't, we could do a deep scan right from our own universe and you'd never know it happened.
  • Background Magic Field: The universe that contains the planet C'hou is permeated by a Field of raw magic that people can learn to shape, or, in rare cases, are genetically able to manipulate without special education (i.e., Psychic Powers).
  • Badass Unintentional: The four have no interest in combat or adventure. However, after being Touched by Vorlons, they get maneuvered into that stuff. And they're now rather good at it. Their opponents are damned lucky the four are Actual Pacifists.
  • Bag of Holding: A variant comes with George's "closet". He basically figured out a loophole with his transformation abilities where transforming into himself with or without the object allows him to pull things from or put things into a pocket dimension. The only living thing he's put in there is a potted plant, and he's not sure he wants to try with animals or people.
  • Berserk Button: Harm an animal, or one of the others, around Paul, and he may quite violently stop being an Actual Pacifist... though he has such a horror of hurting anyone that it's not too hard to talk him down. In fact, it seems likely that any of the four will discover a Berserk Button if their True Companionship is threatened.
  • Big Eater: John's magic from his initial transformation uses so much energy, he constantly has to eat large portions of food to keep himself functioning. Part of why he's Blessed with Suck.
  • Brainwashed: The whole point of Brox's Kiss. Both John and Paul get Kissed, with varying results.
  • Death Is Cheap: As'taris dies and is resurrected in half a page.
    Death is cheap, life is expensive.
  • Dystopia: Baravada, at least from the Baravadans' POV. The four feel rather differently about it.
  • Elseworld: The Beatles on another planet. Yup, that fits.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Jeft, after Jim Hunter becomes friends with the four.
  • Faint in Shock: John faints when he sees himself in the mirror for the first time and realizes that he's grown wings. He'd kind of worked himself up to it, given that he'd awakened in a strange bed, starving to death, with a growing panicky awareness that something was terribly, terribly wrong with him...
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Paul goes through several chapters of this when the other three all get magic dumped on them, but he doesn't get any.
  • Jerkass Gods: The Dalns gods, though apparently only in the past.
  • Medieval Stasis: Baravada has completely stagnated, technology-wise (though they are rife with magic), and the inhabitants brush off inventions as "tinkerings".
  • Muggles: The non-Idris in Ketafa, who are derisively referred to as "fodder"; and the tirin in Baravada, except they're just as mean and annoying as the skahs, and occasionally nearly as lethal. They're also far more content with their lot than the skahs are.
  • The Multiverse: The story takes place in or mentions at least six different universes, and Jeft refers to existence as the Infiniverse.
  • Mundane Utility: The four dick around with their magic a lot.
  • The Nicknamer: The four really go to town with this trope. They also attract their fair share of nicknames.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: The epic battle on the Plains of Death.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: We repeat—the premise of this story is the Beatles on another planet with super powers.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted on a number of occasions, including right at the beginning, when John and Paul have to stop to pee.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The word "Beatles" rarely appears in the narrative; the author refers to them as "the four". Almost the only time the name appears is when one of the four makes a sardonic or angry reference to it, or when one of the Fans mentions it.
  • Older Than They Look: The four have been rendered sixteen years younger, so they look like young twenty-somethings rather than the nearly 40-year-old men they are. This affects the way a bunch of people treat them, occasionally to their benefit.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Fans, initially. Except only Jeft wants to be vague; the others want to be helpful and informative.
  • Omniscient Morality License: The Fans. Even though she loves the four, Shag thinks nothing of dropping them into a dangerous environment, completely unprepared and ignorant of everything.
  • Orphaned Series: The author, who began it in 1980 and who started posting it in 1997, gave it up in 2002 after her personal life imploded (mother had Alzheimer's, laid off from her job, etc.). She never thought she would finish it, but in early 2009 she was hit by literary lightning, wrote 300 pages in 3 weeks, and finished the thing.
  • The Power of Rock: Subverted in that the four play music a few times with no supernatural effect, and even sneer a bit at the notion that their music may be magical.
  • Super-Senses: John has very acute hearing now, with its attendant problems.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The four are committed to this stance, to the point of having to get really creative to solve a problem because the opponent's death is not an option.
  • Touched by Vorlons: The four (more like slammed by Vorlons).
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: A comedic example: At the beginning, Paul theorizes that if they've been forcibly reunited, turned into their younger selves from their collective heyday and supplied with instruments, whoever did it probably wants them to play together. They give it a shot, despite being in a stressful situation and not having played together in a decade. They suck.