“Transformative Works as a Means to Develop Critical Perspectives in the Tolkien Fan Community” (Paper Presentation)
This past weekend, I presented a paper at the Mythmoot III conference in Baltimore, Maryland, an annual fantasy studies conference hosted by the Mythgard Institute. Mythmoot started as a Tolkien studies conference but branched out a bit more this year to include more presentations on speculative fiction texts that aren’t Tolkien. When the initial call for papers went up, one of the suggested themes was “Tolkien in the 21st Century,” a theme that looked at how contemporary fans respond to his work. Now, so far, I have not mixed too much of my academic and fannish lives. At last year’s Mythmoot, I gave a talk on cosmogony and the Ainulindalë, for instance. This year, that “Tolkien in the 21st Century” theme gnawed at me a bit, helped along by the fact that the Silmarillion Writers’ Guild is actually going to turn ten this year. (I know! Crazy! We can all remember when it still had perpetually skinned knees and smelled of peanut butter and wet itself occasionally. Like it was yesterday.) Anyway, in light of my baby turning ten and the enticement of the “Tolkien and the 21st Century” theme, I decided to let my two identities come out to play together and give a talk on Tolkien fan fiction.
What I didn’t want my talk to become–keeping in mind that I would be addressing people that were highly literate and Tolkien but not necessarily familiar with or supportive of fan fiction–was a “let’s gawk at the weirdos” harping on what newcomers to Tolkien fanfic tend to view as the more audacious genres, followed by a “but we’re not all like that!” defense. Because, as anyone who reads here regularly or knows me knows, I believe that all stories have value. So I decided to take the approach of looking at how Tolkien fan fiction encourages immersion in the texts and world and, for many writers, results in the development of analytical and critical skills where those texts are concerned. I put together a survey of Tolkien fan fiction writers and readers, and much of my data did support my thesis.
The video of the presentation is below. Here is the handout and, if you prefer audio only, here is an MP3 of the presentation. The full-text paper will be published in the conference proceedings, available for free online, as well.
Also, the Tolkien fan fiction survey will be ongoing until December 2015 (when my IRB approval runs out). Since I’m not going to do anything else with the data until after finishing my MA this fall, then I definitely welcome as many participants as wish to take it. Both readers and writers of Tolkien-based fan fiction are eligible. The Tolkien fan fiction survey is here.