NY Tolkien Conference: “The Borders of the (Fictional) World: Fan Fiction Archives, Ideological Approaches, and Fan Identity” (Video)

Two weeks ago*, Janet McCullough John and I co-presented a talk at the New York Tolkien Conference on Tolkien fan fiction archives. This presentation grew from my work on the Tolkien Fan Fiction Survey, specifically from some data I’d run while writing a paper (in press) for the Journal of Tolkien Research. Investigating how fan writers respond to narrative bias in The Silmarillion, I’d looked which characters authors from different sites generally write about and was rather surprised to find a divide based on the site I was looking at: On some sites, characters ignored or disfavored by the narrator were preferred, and other sites showed no effect at all. In an attempt to explain this, I turned to some of my survey data and found, again, that users of different sites varied noticeably in how they responded to the different items in the survey. This prompted me to look closer at differences in responses among the various archives.

Janet begins with a review of the history of the Tolkien fandom. One of our theses is that the cultures on the various archives have developed from conflicts within the fandom that extend back to the fandom’s origins. There has always been disagreement over the “right way” to interpret Tolkien’s books, which often boils down to who is allowed to interpret them. There have been large injections of new fans into the fandom at various points in its history–the unauthorized Ace Books version brought the book to the attention of American fans, especially within the hippie counterculture, and two blockbuster film trilogies rocketed Tolkien back into the pop culture consciousness decades later–and veteran fans have tended to react negatively when these newcomers bring readings of the texts that stray from what had been conventional in the fandom to that point.

This tendency was picked up by the Tolkien fanfic community as well. Janet describes how the simultaneous rise of Web 2.0 in the early aughts and the first of the Peter Jackson films not only opened a floodgate of new fannish activity but enabled it to be shared online. We see our first online fanfic groups at this time–often based on Yahoo! Groups–followed by the creation of independent web archives for Tolkien-based fan fiction. (Fanlore has an excellent timeline of what happened when, both for traditional and Internet fandom.) But these new fans brought new ideas, often movie-inspired, that sometimes conflicted with how veteran fans read the texts. This provoked the creation of resources and discussion and reading groups aimed at new fans, but it also provoked hostility and gatekeeping practices aimed at excluding new fans or certain uses/interpretations of the texts (which were often typical of new fans and so served the same purposes).

We chose an archive for our study if it was used by 5% or more of survey participants who filled out the field asking what archives they used to post their writing. We looked solely at writers, not readers, in this study. This gave us fifteen archives: AdultFanFiction.org, Archive of Our Own (AO3), Dreamwidth, Faerie, FanFiction.net, the Henneth-Annûn Story Archive, Library of Moria, LiveJournal, LotRFanFiction.com**, Many Paths to Tread, the Silmarillion Writers’ Guild, Stories of Arda, Tolkien Fan Fiction, Tumblr, and Yahoo! Groups.

The Tolkien Fan Fiction Survey consists mostly of statements to which participants have five choices of response: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, and No Opinion/Not Sure. (Participants were also able to skip any question aside from the eligibility screening question, “Do you read and/or write Tolkien-based fan fiction, or have you done so in the past?”) We pulled out seven of these statements and looked at how responses varied by archive:

  • It is important to me to write stories that I think Tolkien would have approved of.
  • It is important to keep my stories consistent with Tolkien’s moral beliefs.
  • When writing fan fiction, it is important to me to stick to the facts that Tolkien gave in his books.
  • Writing fan fiction lets me challenge Tolkien’s worldview.
  • Writing fan fiction lets me criticize Tolkien’s world.
  • Writing fan fiction helps me to correct problems with race, gender, and sexuality that I see in Tolkien’s books.
  • Writing fan fiction allows me to explore or enjoy my sexuality.

We could see clear differences between the archives on these questions, which isn’t surprising. (For the full data, see the presentation Powerpoint here.) What was more interesting was the lack of intersection between archives. In other words, each archive was a little different in what its members valued as important in their fan fiction. For example, it is easy to assume that slash writers are concerned with social justice issues related to the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. This isn’t always the case, however. Users of a site like AO3 where slash is popular also tended to agree with the statement about correcting problems with race, gender, and sexuality in Tolkien’s books. On the Library of Moria, however–a slash site–its users were among the least likely to agree with this statement. Archives either arise to serve a specific niche in the fanfic community, or members of similar sites differentiate the sites’ cultures over time. The graphic below shows where the responses to the seven statements above show each archive’s purpose to lie, according to that archive’s membership.

Each of the fifteen archives have slightly different purposes for writing according to their members

This last point was also an important takeaway from our research, and one that also surprised me a little. There are two ways in which a site’s culture is created. There are formal controls from the site’s administration: the site’s purpose (what is included), gatekeeping practices (what is excluded), and rules and policies. Then there are informal controls from members: what people write, what people read, the kinds of reviews left on different stories, popular stories and authors on the site, and opinions and views expressed by the site’s members, often off-site (since few fanfic archives also include discussion forums, although some have associated discussion groups on social media sites like LiveJournal, Yahoo! Groups, and Tumblr).

Members exert significant control over a site’s culture. Stories of Arda, for example, is a genfic archive and the archive with the most stringent rules and gatekeeping policies of all the archives we studied. Authors have to pass muster with the administration before being granted posting privileges. They forbid slash, crossovers, parodies, adult-rated fiction, Mary Sues, and even “general silliness.” Nor are these empty threats: They not only remove stories but ban authors who post the “wrong thing.” Many Paths to Tread, on the other hand, is also a genfic archive, but unlike SoA, MPTT’s site policies were designed with inclusiveness in mind. (I know–I was there!) The only thing the site doesn’t allow are stories above an R-rating because, again, it is a genfic site: Slash is okay, crossovers are fine, and you can be as generally silly as you want. On the basis of these formal controls, one would assume that MPTT would attract more authors with critical and reparative motives, or authors open to using sexuality in their fiction. The opposite is true. The two most consistently conservative sites were Many Paths to Tread and Tolkien Fan Fiction–the latter, again, a site with no formal controls on content (even allowing the graphic content that MPTT does not). This shows the power that the members of a site wield over its culture.

(And lest one think that this culture is imperceptible to authors posting there, let me offer my own anecdotal evidence: I eventually stopped posting at TFF because I not only received no comments on my work but only had about a dozen people even clicking on it. [Actually, I received precisely one comment during my time there: ironically, from pandemonium_213, who on the basis of the ensuring conversation we had would become one of the major “heretical” writers on the SWG.] Despite being a moderator on MPTT, I also receive very little attention for my work there either. My work–also “heretical” and falling very much under the critical umbrella–just doesn’t match well with what the majority of users of those sites are interested in.)

Finally, our data hinted at a transformation that the Tolkien fanfic community has been undergoing in recent years, since the release of the Hobbit film trilogy. The Tolkien fanfic community has always been insular. Tolkienfic writers tend to be monofandom at a higher rate than writers of fan fiction in general. Our concerns and our purposes for writing have also typically differed from fan fiction writers as a whole. Scholarly consensus claims that the act of writing fan fiction shifts authority from the author and editors–where it traditionally resides–and onto the fan to make decisions about the story. Fan fiction, therefore, reflects the personal experiences and interests of the fan rather than the author and editors (who overwhelmingly tend to be straight white guys). As a result, fan fiction is often critical, reparative, or erotic in nature (again, according to what fan studies scholars would tell you).

It’s not so simple in the Tolkien fanfic community. As we’ve seen, some archives and some writers put a lot of weight on Tolkien’s authority. If they don’t believe Tolkien would have approved of an interpretation or story element, then they don’t write it. They stick close to the books and what they believe the author would have wanted. While many fandoms have had a significant social justice component among their fanfic writers, Tolkien fandom remained largely oblivious to this until fairly recently. Instead, much of Tolkienfic provides story internal criticism or commentary rather than connecting Middle-earth to the concerns of Modern-earth. Additionally, most Tolkienfic is genfic, which Centrum Lumina’s data on “categories” of fanfic preferred by readers and writers on AO3 suggests is not the case for fanfic in other fandoms.

In some ways, much of this is changing. Our data showed that Tolkienfic writers on newer multifandom sites like AO3 and Tumblr tended to reflect the concerns of the broader fanfic community rather than those typical of Tolkien fanfic community. I believe that this is a result of the Hobbit film trilogy, although I have not fully gathered evidence in support of this hypothesis yet. Prior to the Hobbit films, many Tolkien fanfic writers discovered Tolkien fanfic because of a specific interest in Tolkien, either generated by the books or by the LotR film trilogy. When the LotR films came out, there was not yet a massive fannish presence online for most media, so you didn’t have fans enticed by the movies to write Tolkienfic who had already written for a dozen media fandoms prior to that point. Most authors were writing fanfic for the first time or had played in other venerable pre-Internet fandoms like Star Trek. With the Hobbit trilogy, you had just the opposite taking place: a popular film series that attracted people already writing fanfic for other fandoms and accustomed to the norms of those fandoms rather than of the Tolkien community. As a result, we see more cross-pollination between the fanfic community as a whole and the Tolkienfic community than we ever have before.

What does this mean for the Tolkien fanfic community? I honestly don’t know. The Tolkien fanfic community has always largely centered itself either on Tolkien-specific archives–Fanlore lists more archives for Tolkien fanfic than for any other fandom except Harry Potteror on groups that use various social media platforms for sharing and discussing Tolkienfic. In a way, what is happening now is similar to what happened in the early 2000s: the simultaneous advent of new technology and a boom in Tolkien fandom popularity due to the release of a new film trilogy. In this case, the new technology is sites like AO3 and Tumblr with massive amounts of multifandom activity already in place, and the new film trilogy was The Hobbit. We already saw how the LotR film trilogy resulted in fandom fragmentation, enabled by Web 2.0 technology that made setting up a group or a website within reach even for people with big dreams but little tech savvy (like me, when I founded the SWG!) So what happens next? Will the Tolkien fanfic community slowly homogenize with the fanfic world at large? Will we continue to bleed independent, fandom-specific archives and groups, as we have been for the past several years? Or will those of us who remain dig in our heels and maintain our site cultures and our community’s independence? Or maybe there’s a middle ground in which we become able to celebrate our own take on Tolkien and fanfic about his world without denigrating those who view that world and writing about it differently, and we can finally leave that conflict on the “right way” to read Tolkien in the dustbin of fandom history? It remains to be seen.


 

Additional Resources and Reading


*TWO WEEKS. Let me tell you. Putting this video together felt like the Siege of Angband. Let’s just say that a lot of things went wrong. I’m mortified to think that I blithely promised this a week and a half ago. Thank you if you kept a lookout for it despite the delay.

**I’m not linking to LotRFF because Keith Mander has left that site in such disarray that the damage done by hackers makes me sick to see. I’m seriously considering telling him I’ll take it over just to stop the ruination of a historic Tolkien archive. Talk me out of this, please. (Or not.)

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29 Responses to “NY Tolkien Conference: “The Borders of the (Fictional) World: Fan Fiction Archives, Ideological Approaches, and Fan Identity” (Video)”

  1. Independence1776 says:

    Random thoughts before watching the video:

    I cannot remember what I answered for the questions under consideration, but looking at that chart, as I think of myself now, I’m in the apparently nonexistent grouping of critical and canon compliant. (Though I’m not sure how you’re defining canon complaint. And I couldn’t care less about Tolkien’s morality and opinions about my fics.)

    Instead, much of Tolkienfic provides story internal criticism or commentary rather than connecting Middle-earth to the concerns of Modern-earth.

    I think this is why I have a tendency to bounce off some of the more recent fic: I’m used to and like the story internal criticism mode and the modern Earth mode rings false to me because modern Earth isn’t Middle-earth. (To make it clear to anyone reading this: this is just my personal taste. One of the things I love about fandom is the wide variety of interpretations even when I disagree with them.)

    I suspect you’re right about the Hobbit trilogy and I think the panfandom nature of Tumblr and AO3 helped speed the cross-pollination along.

    I hope a middle ground is possible, but I’m feeling pessimistic at the moment. And I do hope we’re able to keep our sites and culture alive.

    • Dawn says:

      The “canon-compliant” sites were those sites where members agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “When writing fan fiction, it is important to me to stick to the facts that Tolkien gave in his books.” Obviously, that’s a really shallow definition of a term that is fraught in the fandom. Overall, just about half (49.9%) of authors agreed or strongly agreed with that statement. 35.8% disagreed or strongly disagreed. Here is a screenshot of the slide showing the data for all of the sites we studied.

       photo canon-compliant-data_zpso8fwqz6h.png

      This was one of the questions with the least variation in response, at least as far as agree/strongly agree. (I haven’t fully calculated the data for disagree/strongly disagree, although I’m really close and willing to share this if you/anyone else is interested.) On most sites, about half of authors agreed/strongly agreed with the statement. I don’t find this particularly surprising, since the appeal of fanfic for many (most?) people is working with the source material to create something new. There were a few that surprised me: Library of Moria being as high as it is and especially MPTT being as low as it is.

      And I do hope we’re able to keep our sites and culture alive.

      Me too. I have no issues with the cross-pollination you mentioned, but I do take issue when people start believing that Tolkien-specific archives are unnecessary and we can all get by just fine on AO3. But we’ve talked about that before, and I think it’s safe to say we’re of one mind! :)

      • Independence1776 says:

        Thanks for the definintion and the data. I’m not surprised at the amount of people who agree and disagree, given my experiences in fandom and what I’ve seen just browsing around.

        There were a few that surprised me: Library of Moria being as high as it is and especially MPTT being as low as it is.

        That’s a huge surprise to me, too, as far as MPTT goes. LoM, though I’ve never read there, I think in some respects could be a holdover from the earlier days of the fandom where slash writers had to stay as close to canon as possible in order to prove that they knew Tolkien. (Mind, my early days in the fandom were on ff.net, which has its own problems and culture.) But MPTT?! No idea there.

        I did watch the video last night, btw, but was unable to post my comment (I tried four times on two different computers). So I’ll copy/paste some of my train-of-thought responses (I’d had the foresight to write the comment offline).

        I didn’t know that there was a division within Tolkien scholarship itself. Mind, that’s entirely due to my not trusting scholarship because the first book I looked at in the library literally said that the name Arwen was Welsh, not Sindarin (not an overlap of names, rather that Tolkien stuck a Welsh name into M-e). So apart from a few things here and there over the years, I’ve ignored it.

        I love the quote the compared the LotR movie surge of fanfic to a gasoline tank on a campfire.

        I’m really looking forward to the paper so I can dig into the details Janet had to skip.

        Veteran writers not knowing about the survey– I told my sister about the survey and I think she took it: she’s no longer actively in Tolkien fandom (she occasionally reads) and hasn’t been for years. But she’s the exception that proves the rule: she wouldn’t have known about the survey if not for me.

        I wonder about the overlap in posting for sites: MPTT-SOA-TFF. I wonder how many people use that over SOA now because the site mods seem to be somewhat MIA over there? And crossposting between the two? And newer fans just simply not knowing about MPTT. (And the new membership process on MPTT seems a bit uninviting; there’s nothing on there about needing to do it for spam purposes– and the whole “need to be a member of the one of these groups” is still there, too, I think, even though it hasn’t been relevant for years. I haven’t checked recently.)

        I like that every archive is just that little bit different. Fandom wouldn’t be fun if we were all the same. But it also makes me wonder how much people give up because they can’t find the site that fits them or that they think every site is like theirs and bounce off when it becomes clear it isn’t. And it also fits into the perennial “how do I make my site more welcoming?” question.

        So I’m really looking forward to reading the paper!

        • Dawn says:

          a holdover from the earlier days of the fandom where slash writers had to stay as close to canon as possible in order to prove that they knew Tolkien.

          I agree. The mantra back in the day was knowing the facts, making intentional changes, and knowing enough about the legendarium to understand how that changed the story. I think that is far less the case now.

          But MPTT?! No idea there.

          Me neither, which is kind of embarrassing since I’m a mod there! I hope Dreamflower comes along and might have some insights on this.

          My sole theory is that MPTT might attract genfic writers who are put off by the stringency of SoA. These are writers who want to write low-rating, so-called “family-friendly” fanfic but also enjoy the “general silliness” that SoA outlaws. But this is just a theory. I do have a survey item on using fanfic to write fun and silly scenarios that I wanted to do data on but ran out of time. That might provide some insight. *adds to mental list to finish that*

          I didn’t know that there was a division within Tolkien scholarship itself.

          I don’t know that it’s early scholarship so much as early fandom (which were often one and the same, to be fair). I don’t know early scholarship that well. But between us, Janet and I found several quotes from the Tolkien Society from the time it was founded that identified as an explicit purpose shutting out fans who had come to Tolkien via the counterculture movement. It’s this weird thing about our fandom–and the fanfic community by extension–that fans tend to become dogmatic about the texts in a way that I have a hard time imagining in other fandoms. (I’m willing to stand corrected on that point, of course, since I’m monofandom.)

          But yeah … there is some awful Tolkien scholarship! Janet can rant at length about things like finding books on Tolkien where the author hadn’t even read the Silm! In part, this is because Tolkien studies as a serious field is relatively new, so a lot of early stuff is written by fans who didn’t actually know much with very little oversight: ideas that would be instantly shredded were they to be posted today on Tumblr. I have put down more than one book on Tolkien in my day.

          I wonder about the overlap in posting for sites: MPTT-SOA-TFF.

          I’m curious about overlap in general between sites; this is something I’ll be looking into in the future (but is also a little more statistically complex, so I need some time to figure out the best approach and probably relearn some of what I’ve long forgotten from my days as a psych major! :D)

          I’ll check into MPTT; those things you mentioned should be fixed. The site itself could use a good combing over (the SWG too, but the SWG isn’t quite as bad; I fell behind on some routine maintenance on both sites during the past two years of grad school).

          And it also fits into the perennial “how do I make my site more welcoming?” question.

          The question that causes me so much stress! I want everyone to feel welcome on both the SWG and MPTT! This research suggests that, beyond fostering inclusiveness in the site policies, this is the fandom admin equivalent of tilting at windmills. It’s largely beyond my control. :^/

          • Independence1776 says:

            It probably says something about me and how long I’ve been in the fandom because that’s still my mantra.

            Every time you say something about having more data about something or other, my ears perk up. 😀

            It’s this weird thing about our fandom–and the fanfic community by extension–that fans tend to become dogmatic about the texts in a way that I have a hard time imagining in other fandoms. (I’m willing to stand corrected on that point, of course, since I’m monofandom.)

            Hmm… I think it might depend on the fandom. I can’t say anything about Harry Potter because I largely read that one on recs. Star Wars… I’d say yes, but to a different degree because it was so expansive that you literally couldn’t keep up with the amount of material. But there was definitely a “don’t annoy the Man in Flannel” aspect, though my corner of the fandom was very much open to multiple interpretations of the material (as long as it stuck to canon pairings). My other media fandoms… Merlin didn’t. The Marvel movies fandom seems to be more focused on defending and attacking interpretations of characters, though there’s also large and loud segments that hate X movie and therefore everyone should hate it.

            Doctor Who: okay, DW is the prime example of dogmatic interpretations. There are people who don’t consider the 2005 and beyond series to be canon even though it’s explicitly clear in the show that it’s a continuation of the old show. I still love the show, but the fandom came very close to making me hate it because of how horrible the fandom is. I literally left the fandom in order to keep that love.

            I keep saying I want to read more scholarship and then I remember the book I picked up and quietly change my mind. That scholars haven’t read the Silm hurts my brain.

            I’m curious about overlap in general between sites; this is something I’ll be looking into in the future

            Me, too and I’m glad you’ll be looking into it!

            Thanks for looking into the MPTT stuff. The “must be a member of X to join” is the first FAQ; it’s not in the registration area. It’s what kept me from registering until I signed up for the Yule exchange last year even though I knew it had been opened to broader participation.

            This research suggests that, beyond fostering inclusiveness in the site policies, this is the fandom admin equivalent of tilting at windmills. It’s largely beyond my control.

            Yeah. :(

          • Zdenka says:

            Interesting posts here, Dawn. I don’t have a lot to add, but I wanted to comment on one thing, where you say “My sole theory is that MPTT might attract genfic writers who are put off by the stringency of SoA.” The rules on SoA did look a little intimidating to me, but I have a different reason for not attempting their membership process. Although I think of myself as primarily a gen writer (I’ve written some stories of all pairing types, but it’s not my main thing), I’ve decided that I’m not personally comfortable posting on any site that categorically disallows same-sex pairings while allowing het ones.

            I don’t know how much of a factor that is generally, but just adding to the anecdata.

          • Dawn says:

            Ah, I’ve reached the limit of the comment threads!

            Indy: Thanks for the multifandom information! Doctor Who is one fandom I’ve had zero exposure to; I get some incidental contact with other fandoms via my Tumblr dash, but aside from the occasional image or gifset have never seen anything much from that fandom.

            Zdenka: It’s funny that you mention this because I would say the same of myself. (I do, in fact, mention this in the video, although I don’t think I mention SoA by name.) When I was very, very new in the fandom, I applied for membership on all the sites. SoA wasn’t accepting new authors at the time. Looking back, I’ve often thought that was serendipitous; I’m not comfortable with their approach on a few levels but especially as an LGBTQ+ ally.

            I don’t know how common our attitude is or even if there is a way I could tease this out in the data. The best approach I can think of is to perhaps look at how SoA members compare to authors overall on their response to the statement about using fanfic to explore LGBTQ+ issues. Even that won’t get fully at it, since one can certainly be opposed to banning same-sex couples without taking a social justice approach to fanfic, but it might provide some interesting data nonetheless.

          • Independence1776 says:

            You’re welcome, Dawn. I’m not surprised you haven’t seen any Doctor Who on Tumblr. It’s both on hiatus right now (the next episode will air at Christmas) and the current showrunner is divisive to say the least; the show’s fandom has been for years to largely be love-or-hate with no middle ground.

            I don’t know how common our attitude is or even if there is a way I could tease this out in the data.

            From what you’ve said, it also won’t get the people like me who started posting there for one reason or another and eventually stopped because of the same-sex relationship ban. That might skew the data a bit, too.

        • Rhapsody says:

          I wonder how many people use that over SOA now because the site mods seem to be somewhat MIA over there?

          Indy, the owner of SoA site is seriously ill and is in a hospice for some time now. The site is modded, but the focus is – logically so – elsewhere now. Just Fyi. As for TFF, I have no idea, but that one isn’t exactly hopping from activity either (I saw that Mike passed over the reigns to a Brenda?). SoA is being used more actively a far as I can tell. Perhaps you meant something else there?

          • Independence1776 says:

            I knew she was ill but I hadn’t known she was in hospice. :(

            You’re right; that was unclear. I meant how many people are using MPTT over SOA now.

  2. DrummerWench says:

    Terrific job, Dawn and Janet! This is all so interesting, esp. as you note regarding the curious overlaps and lack thereof which are not particularly intuitive.

    Also, seeing HASA listed here makes me sad that it is pretty much gone. :-( It was where I first posted all my fic.

    Are you going to put a formal paper up on academia.edu? That’s be great!

    • Dawn says:

      Thank you! I experienced a mixture of reactions while working on the data for this project. Sometimes, I saw trends I’d intuited as a member/user/admin of a site confirmed, which was really cool. But there were some results that were just plain surprising. I walked away from this particular project with an understanding that the Tolkien fanfic community was complex in ways that I hadn’t realized.

      I miss HASA as well. I didn’t post a lot of my work there–it was kind of my reserve, for what I thought was my best stuff–but it had so much to offer and was a veritable trove of fandom history.

      The finished paper will definitely go up on Academia.edu, and I will post here, Twitter, and Tumblr (at least) when it does. Janet is going to send me her polished section as soon as the next SWG newsletter is published, I’ll add the necessary graphics, and we’ll be ready to go!

  3. […] about the texts. Fan studies scholars recognize fanfic as a vehicle of criticism, and while it is far from that simple in the Tolkien fanfic community, most Tolkienfic writers become experts on one or several parts of the legendarium simply from […]

  4. Rhapsody says:

    What happened with OSA? Why aren’t they included? *is puzzled*

    • Dawn says:

      Less than 5% of participants used OSA. 5% was my cutoff for including an archive.

      They were the only archive I almost broke the rules for because it would have been interesting to see the results for a het archive. But since I already had fifteen archives, and it took about an hour to run the numbers for each statement (and I had about ten statements I looked at; they didn’t all make the final cut), then I ultimately decided to stick to my rules.

      I can certainly crunch the numbers sometime and share them relative to the other archives.

      • Rhapsody says:

        Oh if you could, no hurry though! But since OSA was founded as a response to LoM… both are gatekeepers sites in that sense. I am just curious where they would fit in in your lovely Venn diagram. It feels strange not seeing them there.

        • Dawn says:

          I have a couple questions that have popped up this week in response to the video, so I will probably tackle those questions next week. Adding in OSA’s numbers are top of that list! :)

          “Gatekeeping” is such a tough concept. Very few sites accept everything. (Ironically, those that do–at least of the Tolkien-specific archives–are among the most conservative!) I’ve never felt like LoM or OSA projected an approach of shutting people out so much as one of creating a space for a specific type of story. OSA is very up-front that they have nothing against slash but wanted a space where het writers could share their work. That always appealed to me, and that is why I was comfortable being a member there where I was not comfortable with SoA.

          At the same time, I am aware that no matter how clear one is that a site is for the love of a type of story rather than borne of dislike for another type of story, some people will still feel shut out. :^/

          • Rhapsody says:

            Over 12 years ago, Isil and I both applied for membership at SoA at the same time. I as an ESL writer was accepted (which knocked me over), but Isil was denied membership because her immensely wonderfully hobbity story was all about… original characters (it most definitely was a Bechdel pass). No canon character in sight. Isil was way way much the better writer back then so we were both puzzled by it. And it felt so unfair to me! She hopped over to HASA, I stuck with SoA and OSA then (although I never considered SoA as a fannish home, OSA was for a while). We both never paid much attention to social justice issues of said archives (btw, I never full realised what would encompass social justice. This term always puzzled me and the first time I came across it was at Tumblr) when we applied. Most hobbity writers posted their work at SoA, so we thought… why the heck not. :)

  5. just_jenni says:

    Dawn, it was fabulous. I loved it. I’ve left a comment on Oshun’s journal entry about her portion of the presentation, so I could do yours separately here. Both of you are such interesting speakers that I found myself totally invested in everything you talked about. But rather than get into everything in detail, I’ll just make a few comments on things that affected me most.

    – first, I LOL’d when you mentioned some survey responders had never read or written fanfic! I do think there is a subculture of people who just love to fill in forms, never mind what!

    – the point about people wanting to adhere to JRRT’s morality which is something that has always intrigued me.

    – the social justice fanfic, i.e. bias against women, gays, etc. is another fascinating view.

    – it made we think that I’d be very interested to see something shake this up even more – like Islamic ideology being imposed upon Tolkien fanfic – not the crazy fringe ideology but the basic one as written in the Qu’ran. Wouldn’t that be something? Of course I am assuming that this type of fanfic doesn’t exist yet, but perhaps I am wrong. I just haven’t read anything that took JRRT’s religious ideology out of Christianity and applied another religion to his world.

    – any cultural differences in fanfic greatly interest me and I think inspire my own stories, so thank you for touching on that!

    Again, I think you both did a wonderful job and wish you each had more time for your presentations. There is so much more to talk about! But of course something has to be left for next year and beyond I suppose. :)

    – I also find you to be quite lively and entertaining during your presentations despite being introverted. Yet being an introvert myself, I always did enjoy getting up in front of people and giving a presentation. Perhaps because it kept me outside the group? I don’t know but it was never a problem for me to speak in front of people – just maybe not within a group of them when nobody is really listening.

    • Dawn says:

      first, I LOL’d when you mentioned some survey responders had never read or written fanfic! I do think there is a subculture of people who just love to fill in forms, never mind what!

      They were disappointed in this one then! That was a screening question that an answer of NO took one directly to the thank-you page.

      it made we think that I’d be very interested to see something shake this up even more – like Islamic ideology being imposed upon Tolkien fanfic – not the crazy fringe ideology but the basic one as written in the Qu’ran. Wouldn’t that be something? Of course I am assuming that this type of fanfic doesn’t exist yet, but perhaps I am wrong. I just haven’t read anything that took JRRT’s religious ideology out of Christianity and applied another religion to his world.

      During the Q&A, someone asked if anyone was using fanfic to apply a Pagan worldview, drawing on some of JRRT’s ideas on nature and anti-industry. I replied that I knew a handful of people–one of them me! I’m not Pagan, but I do practice a nature-based spirituality and have used those ideas in Tolkienfic. Obviously I’m not going to use anything explicitly Christian. I don’t know the extent to which others do this, although a few other people who have Pagan or similar spiritual views have commented on those themes in my work. No one suggested this as a motive in the pilot phase of the study, so I did not include it.

      I don’t know if anyone has used Islam per se. I know there has been some exploration of some of the southern cultures of Men but don’t know if anyone has applied an Islamic worldview/morality to those.

      I also find you to be quite lively and entertaining during your presentations despite being introverted. Yet being an introvert myself, I always did enjoy getting up in front of people and giving a presentation. Perhaps because it kept me outside the group? I don’t know but it was never a problem for me to speak in front of people – just maybe not within a group of them when nobody is really listening.

      Thank you. :) Introversion really has nothing to do with public speaking, and I’ve heard (though not seen evidence to actually prove!) that most actors are introverts. This has never surprised me. As an introvert, I am energized by time alone and introspection and drained by social interaction and overstimulation, especially noisy environments (not helped by the fact that my hearing isn’t good in those settings so not being able to hear what people are saying adds another level of stress and exhaustion). Public speaking, as you note, is more of a solo effort. I’m not being forced to engage much–if at all–with other people. I find public speaking fun and energizing–not at all exhausting.

      People sometimes express amazement that I not only do talks like this but love it! So many people are afraid of speaking in public. I tell these people that I regularly performed in front of the world’s toughest crowd: not just high schoolers but emotionally disabled high schoolers! They had no problem with tell me that something I was talking about was “boring as shit” or letting me know that doing something like looking at pictures of sneakers online was more interesting than me. So I have pretty thick skin! 😀

  6. just_jenni says:

    I forgot to comment on your addendum! LOL @ the Siege of Angband reference in putting your post together! I know it isn’t easy but all of us who enjoyed it do appreciate your efforts more than you probably know.

    I didn’t know what had happened to LotRFF and feel very sad about it too. Now come on, Dawn, you know you want to do it. What are you going to do with the time you never knew you had but used it completing your Master’s? Someone needs to save this valuable archive and why not you? If it dies won’t you feel guilty the rest of your life that you didn’t do anything to save it?

    Sorry, I realize I am being very, very evil, but I wanted to use whatever powers of persuasion I possess to encourage you to do what I determined you wanted to do anyway, either explicitly or subtextually above. (Makes you sick to see, seriously considering…you’ll take it over, ruination of a historic…archive, (Or not.)

    (As always, I am tongue-in-cheek.) 😉

    • Rhapsody says:

      Someone needs to save this valuable archive and why not you? If it dies won’t you feel guilty the rest of your life that you didn’t do anything to save it?

      Help was offered Jenni, but Keith decided to recruit someone himself. I just noticed that the site is hacked again, so off I am to contact him. *sighs*

      • Dawn says:

        I recall that he was asking someone to take over the site? I think I remember posting about that in the SWG newsletter …

        I might send you a private email. I don’t remember what happened that well, and you have been much more involved in the whole thing than me. (As ever, your patience and willingness to see the good in people far exceeds mine!)

        I don’t need another fandom project. Neither of us do! But …

        • Rhapsody says:

          Keith and I e-mailed about his site last night. No, nobody wants to take over the helm (he told me that). I think by now I am the only one who doesn’t hate him, somehow. I know he made a huge mistake, but for the sake of that site, folks have to start to look beyond it. I passed on tips and suggestions on how to prevent spammers from signing up, but I really really cannot take on any more moderation as I do now.

          • Dawn says:

            I don’t hate him! I’m sure he’s a nice person–I’d probably like him if I knew him outside of fandom!–but I am angry with him for the way he has treated the community he chose to buy. He took on the site; he should run it, even if it’s not what he thought he was getting, until he can pass it on to someone else. This constantly letting the site be overrun by spammers and hackers has more than a whiff of punishing us for 1) not buying into his scheme and 2) not bailing him out once he was in over his head. None of us owe him our help, and if we’d welcomed him and he was making a profit on the site, I have no doubt he’d find the time to keep the spammers and hackers away.

            You should not have to email him to tell him that HIS site has been hacked. That is fundamentally unfair.

            I’m not sure what we have to look beyond. The spam he allows to plague the site? The egregious hacking? We should keep posting there anyway or just forget about this historic archive that was once a beloved home for many writers? Or those of us who already have unpaid part-time jobs in fandom (*ahem* me and you!) should once again step to the plate and sacrifice our already limited time and energy because he can’t spare five minutes a week to look in at the site?

            I’m ranting, but it’s not at you. I am angry, yes, but not at you. When I visited the site two weeks ago to get a screencap for our Powerpoint and I saw that latest hack, my blood boiled. I was not on his side when he bought the site because I oppose fandom for profit, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that he’d abandon the site the way that he has.

    • Dawn says:

      Lol, I really don’t want another fanfic project–I’m trying to extricate myself from some even so that I can focus more on my own research, writing, and the SWG and MPTT–but just like with the HASA rescue, as someone who values our fandom’s history, it makes me sad (and angry, in this particular case) to see it going down the drain.

      Someone thought he was going to make money on this site. When it became clear that he would not, he stopped making even the minimal effort to stop by once a week or so to make sure that people weren’t posting spam as stories or hacking the site with badly spelled profanity. Rhapsody and I have both had contact with him, and he seems a nice person. But at the end of the day, this was a site that was a place for people to post and share their art; it was a place people loved and considered an online home. It makes me angry how little those things mean once money enters the picture. Rhapsody does more to moderate this site than he does.

      Sorry. Rant out! :)

  7. Brooke says:

    I’m horrible late with very few thoughts, but off the top of my head:

    I think that the sheer variety in how people approach fic from archive to archive is good evidence of why I hope the middle ground of ‘everyone does what they want and stops judging everyone else for archive/story matter/whatever else’ wins.

    Also, what the differences from site to site says to me is that instead of having one culture, there’s a bunch of smaller interconnected ones. More like a cultural grouping like “Mesoamerican” than a specific one like “Aztec”. I know we talk about the Tolkien fandom culture, but I’ve been on a bunch of different websites with different groups of people and while there’s stuff in common, at times they seem as different to me as say the Harry Potter fandom is from the Tolkien fandom.

    Also, I can remember those type of discussions in the HP fandom. They happened a lot and on occasion entire sites got their mods locked out and shut down by other mods from the same site because they’d go from discussion into everyone being annoyed and ready to light the flames at the slightest twitch. So it’s not just the Tolkien fandom that has widespread debates over things like how close to canon something should be (less today, but back when I first wandered into the HP fandom, things were very iffy and there was a lot of “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” when things noncanon showed up. Also, whether Ginny or Hermione would end up with Harry was treated as a matter of one side got victory and the other needed to get off the internet when Rowling said Ginny was canon). On the flipside, I know at least at one point the HP fandom was considered to be in roughly the same position as Tolkien before the Hobbit movies was: an initial fandom that a lot of people got in without having any other comparable fandom experience, out of love for the source material.

    I know there’s a focus on making people feel welcome at each site, but at the same time, I wonder if at some point we need to just accept that not everybody is a good match and stop trying to force it. I mean, my experience in real life has been that trying to make it work just leads to the people who don’t fit in feeling worse about it.

    • Dawn says:

      Also, what the differences from site to site says to me is that instead of having one culture, there’s a bunch of smaller interconnected ones.

      I’d agree. I think writers on one site might recognize the motives for writing on another site as completely foreign in some (not all) cases. I have heard that a lot over the years: “I don’t understand why someone would want to write that” … and that statement isn’t only aimed at slash and erotica. I’ve heard it from people who don’t understand the purpose of canon-strict fanfic either or stories that share Tolkien’s moral basis.

      I think the HP fandom is interesting for the reason you mentioned: It rose in popularity right around the same time as LotR and missed being “just another fandom” a multifandom author wrote for. The number of archives built for HP fandom also reminds me of the early Tolkien fandom and, I think, reflects the relative dedication of HP fanfic writers compared to many multifandom fanfic writers today to any particular text.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but a lot of the conflicts in HP fandom were ship-related, no? And archives as well were often ship-based? This is a difference I’ve often perceived: Tolkien fandom doesn’t have any ships like that, inspiring such fervent dedication and equally impassioned hatred.

      I’ve always felt like our conflicts were more based in appropriate use of the texts. I know, as you mention, that HP fandom had its share of “BUT THE CHILDRYN!!1!” arguments being made (especially since the canon was written for children). This sometimes appeared as genre-related, but I think that slash often stood in for the broader debate on how to appropriately use Tolkien’s canon, just because Tolkien’s moral and religious beliefs are so much more a focus than JKR’s and perceived as being central to his work and so more difficult to ignore/abandon by some writers.

      I know there’s a focus on making people feel welcome at each site, but at the same time, I wonder if at some point we need to just accept that not everybody is a good match and stop trying to force it.

      The results showing that site culture was largely driven by the site’s members (not its policies and admins) was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it means that my attempts to be welcoming on my sites aren’t necessarily going to succeed. On the other hand, it means I can stop worrying about it so much.

      I’m kind of coming around to seeing my role as an admin as 1) creating/maintaining policies that allow for diversity and 2) enforcing those policies that ensure that hostility will have no place on the spaces I manage. I have to accept that telling someone they’re welcome on my site doesn’t mean that they will perceive my site as welcoming. That is admittedly frustrating but something it seems I have to come to terms with.

  8. […] from the past weeks’ posts and discussions surrounding my and Janet’s cowritten paper The Borders of the (Fictional) World: Fan Fiction Archives, Ideological Approaches, and Fan Identity. In the push to get the video done and the synopsis posted, I did not get a chance to convert the […]

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