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Why Do You Write Tolkien Fanfic?

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Why Do You Write Tolkien Fanfic?

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My Mythmoot proposal is due in about one month (eeeeeeeeeek), and I have an idea, but I need to make sure that what I'm planning to write and reality actually bear some resemblance to each other. So I have a simple question for all my Tolkien fanfic writers out there:

Why do you write Tolkien fanfic?

Thanks in advance to anyone with a moment to answer. (As always, private responses are welcome as a PM or email to DawnFelagund@gmail.com.)

And yes, this means that this year's presentation will not be about cosmogony ... ;)

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • Why do you write Tolkien fanfic?

    Because I wanted to change the original :) Some of it any-how. It's not in me to accept a story if I don't agree with it. It does not mean I don't enjoy it - I wouldn't have read the Silm or LOTR so many times if I didn't, but I still didn't accept them, if that makes sense. (That happens with all books, not only Tolkien's. My head will go off and start making other stories - the ones I wanted to read).

    This is why canon arguments just cut no ice with me. I really don't care. I've always mentally altered stories, up to and including the Bible. I've only cared enough to write fanfic about Tolkien's works, though.

  • OMG! I would have no idea where to start. That would be an autobiography or my memoirs. I suspect it is not the same as writing stories for "Teen Wolf" this year and next new TV show the following year. Or maybe I am being pretentious or overrate my passion in compassion to those of others.

    Edited at 2014-07-27 08:57 pm (UTC)
    • That's really the origin of my research question, though: Many of us have perceived (although few can actually describe) that Tolkien fandom is different from other fandoms. Mythmoot this year has a track titled, "Tolkien in the 21st century– how Tolkien’s works are being engaged with by new generations of fans," and I'd like to look at the rise of online fan fiction as one of those ways. I don't want to go too much more into my ideas as I don't want to bias future responses (I can send an email if you're interested). It also seemed fitting to do a presentation this year on Tolkien fanfic since the SWG will be ten years old (!!) next year.

      The durability of a writer's commitment Tolkien fandom is certainly one thing that interests me. Of course, we get our writers who flirt with Tolkien fanfic because they thought Kili was cute in the movies (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and have moved on to something new within a year, but many of us have been around for years and years and/or this is the only fandom we write for. I'm curious why that is, and what it is about how we interact with the texts that produces that longevity.
    • I imagine that what I might write would be quite similar to many of your observations. But I will try later. Can't really do it before finishing this month's character bio and, at the moment, am deeply engaged in writing a chapter and with my advanced writers block I dare not slow down when the ideas are flowing.
      • No worries about it! This is just the first step, mostly because I tend to talk most with people of a very similar mindset to me (like you ;) where this stuff is concerned and wanted to make sure I wasn't about to run off and research something applicable only to my friend-group. There will probably be something surveyish later, maybe more ...
    • Many of us have perceived (although few can actually describe) that Tolkien fandom is different from other fandoms.

      I actually had a brief conversation with someone over on tumblr_refuge the other day about this exact thing. She was shocked to learn that a fandom that had its own subculture still existed! (The comm's member-locked; you'll have to join to read it.)

      So, basically: if you're comfortable letting me know more about your research, I'd love it.

      Edited at 2014-07-27 10:08 pm (UTC)
      • I saw that convo yesterday! (And got a kick out of one of your remarks, but by then the thread seemed a bit stale to join in).
        • Ooh, really?! Which remark? (Never too stale. I'm honestly disappointed it ended when it did.)
          • Ah what the heck, I'll just reply to it over there! It was both the content (relevant to me) and the apt way it was worded. =)
      • Look for a probably long-winded and semi-coherent (I spent most of the day reading for my cosmology class) email in a bit. And thank you for calling my attention to that comm--which I joined--and that conversation (which also had a link to the post you linked me before about the differences between Tolkien fandom and Fandom but which I hadn't had a chance to try to re-find, so extra goodness there :).
        • Thank you so much!

          Be warned-- the comm is primarly Sherlock-focused (for now, at least), but that's because most of the people are fleeing from the very, very wanky Sherlock fandom on Tumblr. Still, it's interesting seeing another perspective.

          You're doubly welcome. :)
    • Could I get an email too?

      I'll try to think of a response to this journal, too. I'm just worried that my comment would rely too deeply on how I study subcultures a lot, have dabbled with the idea of doing a study on fanfic and fandoms one day (and have to do an original research project/study this coming fall in a different area but with some similarities), and just generally don't want to lead anyone who reads my comment to comment differently. -_-

      If I do come up with something, I'll PM or email it to you.
      • That's fine! And no worries if nothing comes to you now ... this is just the very preliminary phase of research, which is more to do with me not wanting to limit myself to the perspectives of my friends-group, who probably see things a lot like I do. I want to get a wider sampling of views on this question before I settle down to more hardcore research.

        I'm typing the email to Indy now, so I will include you on it! :D
  • I write fic because I’m a storyteller. I have stories in my head I want out or they want out. It’s really that simple.

    As for specifically why Tolkien?

    I fell in love with the characters and the world. I like exploring what happens after canon ends and what happens if something occurred differently. And writing outside of a handful of characters is difficult for me-- not because I dislike everyone else (my OTP is Lúthien/Beren, but I can’t write them), but because I write the characters whose stories grabbed me: aftermaths for Maglor, Elrond’s life in general, the happy ending and subsequent consequences that occur if Indis becomes involved in Finwë and Míriel’s relationship before the pregnancy.

    (I read your comment with Oshun-- it’s really not that different than why I write fic in other fandoms: I love something. Why I keep coming back to Tolkien, on the other hand, is much harder to answer.)
  • Not only do I write Tolkien fanfic, for the most part, Tolkien fanfic is the only fandom I write for. The only exceptions are a few challenges or exchanges, and a handful of crossovers with Tolkien.

    There are a lot of reasons I write Tolkien fanfic, but most of it has to do with a need to explore his world and characters, to figure out the whys of some characters and hows of certain events.

    While I sometimes write AU, that's also from a need to explore, in this case the "what ifs", unlike some people who are dissatisfied with Tolkien's canon, I'm not, at least not when it's The Hobbit or LotR. But I do want MORE of it than we were given.

    Some of my other reasons have to do with my love for the Shire and for hobbits and a wish to figure out from the hints in canon what its culture might have been.

    Also, there's the sense of community and belonging. I have friends I have known online for over ten years because of Tolkien fanfic, some of whom I subsequently met in RL. (And that's something else I've noticed; a lot of people will flit from fandom to fandom, but Tolkien fans are remarkably durable, and even when they may find a new shiny fandom, they never totally abandon Middle-earth, or they come back after a while. And I can name off the top of my head at least three other friends on my flist who have NEVER shown any interest in ANY other fandom, over the course of knowing them for nearly a decade.)

    So, yeah, I'd say the Tolkien fandom, and the Tolkien fanfic writers are different than most other fandoms.

    (BTW, Dawn, would you like me to link this post in my LJ, to see if I can get some of my friends to comment?)

    Edited at 2014-07-27 10:35 pm (UTC)
  • Because if I don't those muses will never ever shut up? Trust me, I tried, but to say no to a Fëanorian muse like Celegorm is just asking for trouble ;)

    A better academical answer will follow when I got more sleep, I promise
    • Rhapsy, just like I told Oshun, it is no worry if you don't get to it! :) This is the very earliest phase of research; I suspect a survey (based partly on the conversation here) will follow later with more time to respond, etc. You have tons going on right now, I know, on top of needing more time for yourself. (I very much agree with you from your LJ post the other day. ;)
  • (*deep breath, attempts to put things 'known' into words*)

    I suppose it's about writing being something I love and not having any great compulsion to get published, which means it's fine if I stay with fan fiction and just plain enjoy myself. Why Tolkien? Most books I've read and loved and movies/tv series that have spoken deeply to me feel 'complete' - I might even read their fan fiction, but I have nothing to add, nothing I urgently want to change or expand upon. A handful though have always been different, and of them all, Tolkien is the one that made me write. There are wide open spaces to fill, personalities to develop, actions to explain, bits and pieces that don't join up or that mutually contradict - it's the ultimate sandpit, and in it I have found characters I've grown to know and enjoy playing with and a personal headcanon (don't like the term, but anyhow) that has its own logic. Also, the more I write, the further that headcanon grows, the more questions I ask and the more I find to write about.

    The only other works where I've had ideas I might have done something with are X-Files (got my computer a bit late for that) and the Mary Renault fandom, which I found long after the voices in my head had quietened down. I love Marvel, I grew up on the comics and I had stories running through my head about those characters for years (my first fan fiction probably). but somehow I find I prefer reading to writing there. Looking at the above, I suppose what they all have in common for me are that Marvel and X-Files both have plenty of space to go off at a tangent or fill in vast dark corners, rather like Tolkien, while Mary Renault's ancient world characters called to me for filler and 'what happened after' type fics.

    Somehow nothing else I've read or watched has had quite the same impact. I don't think it's about being drawn into a world while reading/watching it, which was what I thought as I began typing this. One of my all time favourite novels is set during the Mongol invasion of Europe, and when I reread it, I am living in that place and time with those people, but I cannot imagine writing fan fiction about it. Writing fic is (for me, can't speak for anyone else) about concepts and characters that grab me and ask questions and demand more, and a type of source material that allows space for it.

    Did any of that make sense?
    • It made a lot of sense! :D I'm going to reply more fully this weekend; I'm wanting to keep my contributions to a minimum at this point so as not to bias people who wish to comment, but I loved your response.
  • To spend more time in that world. It works that way for the other fandoms I've been in as well but Middle-earth is the one with staying power. I don't write much these days and I've shifted from writing primarily slash to all gen, but it's still for the same reason, to spend a little more time there.

  • I write Tolkien fanfic because, for one thing, it's my favorite fictional world. Hell, it's my favorite world, period, a lot of the time. On top of that, there's really not that much extant story given that Tolkien's world-building is so rich that I feel like there must be a million stories just simmering below the surface, waiting to burst out. I do my best to coax some of them out myself because for me, there can never be enough. Last but not least, I write Tolkien fanfic because my favorite stuff is the more obscure material (Sil/UT/HoMe) and I know very few people well-versed enough to gush with me...and who are non-purist enough to appreciate the uncanonical and, at times, the downright crackified. I need an outlet!

    I'm registered for Mythmoot, too, so I really hope I get to meet you there! :)
    • I just totally had a squee!flail! Yes, we must meet up there! That would be awesome! I should hopefully be easy to spot, if my proposal to present a paper is accepted. :D
      • \:D/ I'm sure you will and it will! Hopefully I'll be findable too (unless there are a bunch of other attendees with long Tengwar spine tats walking around, heh).
  • Here via Dreamflower... I've drifted out of writing new exclusively-Tolkien fic for the time being, though I keep meaning to get back to some of the WIPs that have gone wayyyy on the back burner. But I think my basic answer's pretty much the same as Dreamflower's. More adventures, or things the Professor didn't get to, or character studies; occasionally I'll follow a what-if. But mostly it's a way to engage the story that's wholly different from academic analysis, even if I'm working from the same basic idea.
    By contrast, for Supernatural, almost everything I write is AU, and I've got... well, over 25 different AUs, if you count co-authored pieces and one-shots. The difference, I think, is that with SPN, I love the characters but hate the world they're in, whereas with Tolkien, I love the characters *and* the world. (And in fact, I've dumped SPN's characters into Tolkien's world and been much happier with the result than with SPN canon!) My fic for other fandoms isn't nearly as AU-heavy, but there's also not as much richness to those worlds to be digging into as there is in Tolkien's (she says, looking at her Tolkien shelf, over half of which is taken up by various volumes of HoME...).
  • Please to forgive the demanding question, but do you have a deadline for the response to this excellent question? Sorry. I am all about deadlines these days. :^)
    • Ack, it's hard to say! No time super-soon, as I have a lot of schoolwork this week and the SWG newsletter coming up too ... Probably a week at the earliest, I might be able to start compiling responses.
  • I only intended to write one story when I started 10 years ago but as readers seemed to like what I wrote I kept on. I like to write about friendship rather than romance and I like the values that Tolkien prizes such as friendship and loyalty. I feel at home in his world. I feel too that Tolkien's works are like a mythology and we fanfic writers are adding to it. I hope the internet will allow our stories to be read long after we are forgotten.

    I feel Tolkien left so many tantalizing hints about his characters, such as the mention of Aragorn's Thorongil years, which are just begging to be explored, also his brief mentions of other cultures.

    I wanted to know what was in the gaps in the stories that Tolkien didn't fill in, so continue to fill those gaps for myself.

    I also want to be able to entertain people. I love telling stories but know how hard it is to be published traditionally. This way I can share my stories. My greatest pleasure is to hear that one of my stories brightened someone's day.

    It is important to me to try to stick to the values Tolkien expressed in his books. I want to expand his universe but not change it.

    Edited at 2014-07-29 07:11 am (UTC)
  • I realize that my opinion may not be useful, but would you like a note from someone who used to write Tolkien fanfic, but no longer does it?
    • Absolutely! You were around before I was, so you represent the opinion of us oldtimers. ;) I would love a variety of responses, not just from people who are devoting tons of time to it right now.

      I am sorry that you are not writing Tolkienfic anymore, but I do want to say thank you for so many years and lovely stories. You were always one of the most generous people in the fandom--you are still on the Top Ten list of reviewers on the SWG!--and I know I am not the only person who thinks the world is a better place because you're in it. :)
    • Thank you. Now, you've got me in tears, literally. I'm going to put together a response later today, just wanted to thank you for your words.
    • All right, here I go. I wrote Tolkien because:

      -- of the love for the universe: I was (still am) totally hooked by it. Not all of it, as you know, for a time I was exclusively Silmfic writer. Tolkien's universe never bored me. I wanted to be there, explore it, know it inside out, to interpret it my way, travel around Beleriand, visiting various places and meeting the characters. What's better way than to create your own -- as Pande says -- secondary world? I didn't want the story to end (or end like this or that), I wanted to make it more mine, if that makes sense, and I wanted to fill the gaps. I was addicted to it, I had my mind on fire ;) There were words in my head that needed to be written, so I did.

      -- of the love for certain characters: those imaginary loved ones, Beleg, Glorfindel, Maedhros, etc., with whom I made friends, treated almost like my family members. I wanted to know them better and to give them personalities, so that they stopped being only paper and a little ink and became flesh and blood. I wanted to give them another life.

      -- of the joy of being creative: Tolkien fandom wasn't my one and only, but I devoted most of my fandom time and energy to it. I read most of the stories and wrote most of the stories there. I love writing, I have these images in my mind that need to be painted down and since I'm not that special in drawing, I choose words. Being creative in Middle Earth was a bonus here.

      -- of the joy of sharing: I met people who became my best friends even though we've never seen each other (and may not see each other). I loved the sense of community, the sisterhood (since most of us are girls, let's face it), I loved to belong to the group of likely 'crazy' people, with whom I could talk forever about Beleriand, share ideas, knowledge, tips on writing; I loved helping out as a beta. I loved reading and writing together, or simply chatting about all things Tolkien, laughing or crying together because of all things Tolkien. Those are really priceless aspects of being part of fandom that last. Friends will be friends.

      -- of becoming a better writer and editor: not to mention, in a language that's not my native one. The hundreds of pages I wrote contributed a world to it and bring me money since I'm an editor in RL.

      It's true that I devoted a good chunk of my life to Tolkien fandom. One might ask why I left since I loved it so much. Truth is, I still love it. I didn't delete my Tolkien-related userpics nor did I throw away my "Beleg lives! I don't care what Túrin said" T-shirt. Let alone the books or the movies. The decision to leave was one of the hardest in my life. Sometimes fandom doesn't return the favor, even to the most loyal fans, when we need it the most, and that's my case I think.

      Good luck with your work :)
  • I write Tolkien fanfic - or, specifically, Silmfic - because there are so many ways to interpret the characters. On the one hand, many of them, particularly the Fëanorians, do some very relevant, sometimes immoral things, yet are not particularly fleshed out. Essentially, I write Silmfic to create my own interpretations of characters I'm drawn to. I also write it because I like to see certain things happen to/with those characters, so on a more frivolous level it's a form of wish-fulfillment.

    Sorry if my reply is generic. :)
  • For me, it's to spend more time in Middle-earth with my favorite characters. There was something about the very first time I read LOTR and the end. It gutted me and I just wanted more, I wanted to spend more time with the characters and in the world. I didn't want Frodo to leave, I wanted the characters to interact in different ways, to deepen their friendships and their adventures. Sometimes I just wanted to play and be silly and write ridiculous scenarios. But whatever the case, I am always grateful to Tolkien for creating this "playground" with its marvelous backgrounds, diversity, and history, in which I can play. For all of us have limitless stories to tell, and between all of us who write fan fic, we can make Middle-earth and its characters go on and on and on. :)
  • Full disclosure: the only Tolkien fic I've written for years is drabbles (literally, 100-word drabbles), with the exception of my B2MeM prompt.

    Why do I write Tolkien fanfic?

    a) It's fun. I enjoy descriptive prose and Tolkien's stories, even in drabble form, tend to fit that.

    b) To remedy the limited amount of page time we get with various characters. Often this comes from a desire to basically get into their heads, get to know them better and 'spend' more time with them, especially given the rather remote tone of the Silm. This is why I often write slice-of-life. For example, the Arwen-and-Elrond piece I wrote for B2MeM this year is because I always thought Tolkien neglected Arwen. I think she's got endurance in spades, she fascinates me (esp. her childhood in Lorien) and I adored the way the films showed her bonding with her father. Note that this is *not* a
    Heretic Loremaster-type thing where I deliberately set out to subvert canon because I have an issue with what constitutes canon or its reliability in-universe. Nor do I aim to redress what some see as the male-centrism in Tolkien fanworks and fandoms. I write Tolkien fic because I want to see particular characters in offpage, daily situations. I also write it because I want to really connect to a character beyond the very distant style they're often written in.

    Sorry, that was probably a much longer answer than you needed!

    Edited at 2014-07-28 06:15 pm (UTC)
  • I'm one of those who only writes Tolkien fic. My interest is Middle-earth itself, not necessarily specific characters. It's big and detailed and coherent (a major flaw in many secondary worlds) enough that parameters (absolutely necessary for creativity) exist, and has enough blank spaces to allow the world-building urge to be indulged.

    Also, Tolkien's fundamental worldview and mine differ drastically enough that dialogue with the text and its assumptions is an interesting and amusing exercise for me.
  • The short version: I write stories because I need to, and I write Tolkien fic because it makes my mind fly and challenges my imagination and writing skills in the most enriching way. And, to a lesser degree, because of the community - Tolkien fans are a very special bunch in the most positive way, and I have never felt more at a home and more welcome than among them, on- and offline, within fanfiction or beyond.

    I'll give you the longer version by mail asap.
  • Here via the_winterwitch's kind forwarding of your query. There is perhaps a more thoughtful answer to your question and there's an old one...I knew, from the age of nine that Tolkien had got it wrong. This was because my Father, having exhausted all other story books in the house, read me The Hobbit and then LOTR one chapter a night. There were some tough lessons - I really wanted him to have stopped after the rescue of the Shire, but somehow understood that the whole thing was about darker things than fights and parties - but I was sure that Eowyn was hard done by and I could not forgive him for Snowmane's death...I was nine.

    As a grown-up writing FPF almost exclusively in the extended Tolkien/New Line universes there were and are a number of things that attract me...There are a range of characters of all ages with both text-based and performance-based work to draw from, to act as springboards for my work...and above all, I love the sounds of words, of language (King James, Ballads, some of the Sagas, Milton, Whitman) and in my AU I can let characters that emerge out of the text/film canon works, find new adventures and challenges and have the time to look around them, without worrying about an sneaky orc attack. I have also found this fandom to be welcoming and mature in all the ways that matter.

    Good luck with your paper.
  • I write because I love the characters and I love the world. LOTR takes me to an alternate reality, where I can stride with Aragorn through the brooding forest amid the rich scents of blossom and loam, doing good in the world while guided by a strong sense of purpose.

    I felt awkward intruding into this realm at first, because Professor Tolkien is absolutely master of his craft. But he had hoped his work would inspire others to make their own sub-creations, so I eventually justified it to myself on that basis. My stories are a way of keeping that world and those characters alive and, I hope, sharing the joy I feel upon reading this book with others in new adventures.
  • This is my answer today--ask me six months from now and it might be different

    I write fiction based on Tolkien’s world because it never gets old. He accomplished exactly what he set out to do in my opinion, created a mythology and legendarium which contains much of the complexity and contradictions of a real world. I approach fanfiction of Tolkien's work as one might approach writing character-driven historical fiction. I like to know all of details, but am not above redeeming one character or mildly slandering another, fantacizing a little. When I started I knew less, but always tried not to change anything unless I knew what I was changing. But I liberally apply my imagination. And I always have an ax to grind. Without that stories are dull.

    Tolkien and I do not always share the same world view, mores, or interests. So, I write to suit myself, but try to formulate those alterations in the context of his world. Might the motivations of one character have been different depending upon the scribe who recorded his story? Was a given tale written by a Hobbit, a Fourth Age Man or a Noldorin exile, each writing, of course, under the influence of the societal constraints and mores of their place and time? I made add humor or romance, de-mythologize or exaggerate the magic. I try to write real people, with believable motivations and familiar psychic pain. I both write between the lines and reinterpret. I mix and match the sources.

    I am quite a geek and a bit of Tolkien scholar, perhaps without the requirements of unnecessarily pretentious language (shop talk) or the discipline of an academic environment. When I research my fanfiction, I feel like a combination of a historian and an archeologist in regard to the sources, but first and foremost an old-fashioned storyteller not unlike those of the past, who take a story and re-tell it giving their own slant on it. I relate things to my own life experiences and lessons. I entertain myself and hope it entertains others as well.

    Long and repetitious. Sorry about that. I do write non-fiction delving into Tolkien’s sources almost every month. So I am beginning to know the sources pretty well. The languages are my weak point.

    Edited at 2014-08-03 02:06 pm (UTC)
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