Three Generations of Tolkien Fans

Curator's Note

My chapter of Fandom, the Next Generation, co-authored with Dawn Walls-Thumma, discusses how we can see Tolkien fandom in three generations, broadly speaking. We focus on Tolkien fanfiction authors and archives, and, specifically, explore their relationships to canon. To do this, we draw from the Tolkien Fanfiction Survey that Dawn conducted in 2014-2015, which reached over a thousand fanfiction readers and authors. (You can read more about that survey here!)

Among other things, this survey asked Tolkien fanfiction authors when they began writing fanfiction, where they post it, and what texts inspire them. Tolkien fanfiction readers were asked what they liked to read and where they most often read it.

Each of these three generations, we found, occurred around a point where two factors converged: the first a development related to canon, and the second a development impacting English-speaking fandom more largely.

For instance, the first generation we identified focused primarily on Tolkien’s first two installments set in Middle-earth (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), and during this pre-internet period, fandom activities occurred mostly through Tolkien “societies” and fanzines. Next, the second generation sprang up following Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which coincided with increasing access to home internet and fans as early adopters of that technology. Finally, a third generation – so far! – follows the Hobbit film trilogy, and an important external factor here was fandom migrations to multi-purpose/multi-fandom platforms.

Each of these generations has drawn from both affirmational and transformational approaches to Tolkien’s canon in different ways. The idea of affirmational/transformational fandom, introduced by fan obsession_inc in 2009, describes how some fans laud their favorites (“affirm” them) and others mix things up (“transform” them).

Early fan studies work tended to treat these two positions as opposite sides of a binary, though obsession_inc did describe them more as a continuum, and that’s what we found as well. In the second generation, for instance, different fanfiction archives welcomed different approaches to Tolkien’s canon with the types of fanfiction they allowed.

(An early version of our argument, including this graphic, can be found on Dawn's blog here!)



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