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NYTC Presentation: "Loremasters of Fëanor: Historical Bias in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien ..."

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.

NYTC Presentation: "Loremasters of Fëanor: Historical Bias in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien ..."

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feanor fall
Okay, at long last, I am sharing the video of my presentation at the New York Tolkien Conference here. The full title (which will not fit in the space allotted for titles) is "The Loremasters of Fëanor: Historical Bias in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Transformative Works." It discusses both the evidence for historical bias in Tolkien's works (especially The Silmarillion) and how the fan community uses that bias to create fanworks.

You won't be able to see the data and other visual aids on the screen behind me. That data (as well as a detailed synopsis of the paper) is available on my blog The Heretic Loremaster.

Also, a friendly reminder that The Heretic Loremaster does have a feed set up on both LJ and DW at heretic_lore. Following this feed will bring new HL posts directly to your flist. Because my journal has come to be just that--a journal--it is usually the last place that I bring fannish stuff; however, I know a lot of people who friended me here did so because of our shared fandom involvement, so if you miss seeing that stuff here, the HL feed might help a bit. (Just a bit because it is infrequently updated thanks to my grad school schedule!) Also, please remember that I have no ownership or control over this feed, which means that I don't receive comments left on feed posts. Please comment directly on the posts themselves; no membership is required to do so.

The paper will eventually be available to read but I need to clean up citations first. If you don't mind my sloppy sourcing and want a copy early, just let me know.

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

  • I just listened to it on Heretic Loremasters a little while ago. I adored it! The presentation was great too! OMG!

    (You mentioned me (wow) and then I did not catch the words that immediately followed! It was very understandable overall--darn.)

    Edited at 2015-06-25 09:30 pm (UTC)
    • Thank you! :D

      Here's the sentence with you in it:

      In another approach, writers consider how the in-universe narrators may have intentionally distorted details of a story for literary or mythic purposes: Thingol stared into Melian's eyes for years on end, Maedhros dangled from Thangorodrim for a half-century, or as my SWG colleague Janet McCullough John has often noted, it seems every other character is identified as the tallest.

      Our conversation the week prior about comments on character heights and reading what you had to say in reply to those inquiries inspired this! And it's so true. My remark would have included a shameless plug for your talk except that it was going on as I spoke!

      I was pleased with the audio quality, given the conditions: a classroom with nowhere to set up the camera (we ended up putting it on top of a piano mysteriously shoved against the wall!) and all hard walls, floors, and edges, plus me (unbeknownst to me!) hiding behind the computer the whole time. These videos are never ideal, but I figure they are better than having nothing at all.
      • It was great. I have bad hearing and that was the only thing I missed.

        Janet McCullough John has often noted, it seems every other character is identified as the tallest.

        Brilliant comment (not)! I was hoping I had said something more profound. Although I can see how it was quotable in the context. Ha! Did I mention Laura told me mine was pretentious during our fight a few days ago. She has since retracted that statement! Now says I was not as relaxed as she had hoped and only said that because she had heard me give better talks. She said it because she knew where to stick the knife! We're all jolly again now, so never mind!

        OMG! I haven't answered your post of yesterday, not because I didn't care but because it made a big impact on me. The letdown which follows major projects...I always do that. Even when I only post a new chapter of a WIP. (More later on that reaction in the right place!)
        • OUCH. I won't say much more here because this isn't flocked. But if Bobby were to want to hurt me? Something like that would bring me pretty low. There is still a lot of insecurity over the bravery I have trained myself into in recent years.

          (Of course, I am by far the meaner of the two of us. I can't see him saying anything of the sort. But just imagining ...)

          I never wonder or worry that you don't care, of all people! So no worries and take your time. It's an introvert thing for me: not just socializing but stimulation. And I was waaay overstimulated that week. I have trained myself to have a good bit of endurance where overstimulation is concerned, but it's a bit like the part in the movie Gataca where Ethan Hawke's character's brother asks how he can swim so far despite his bad heart and he says, "Because I don't leave anything for the swim back." I don't leave anything for the swim back, and I know the crash is coming. It is not, thankfully, as devastating as it used to be. I think I am becoming more normal as I get older. :^P

          I am trying to find a home for the research that went into this paper, and I will mention you in a better context when I do. ;) I just didn't have much time for examples, but if I find the home I'm hoping to find for it, I will have that space available. (Being elusive again because of lack of flock!)
          • Jumping in briefly, though there will be a longer comment later, once I'm no longer sick and hiding from contact (totally understand that introvert stimulation thing. Summer session at school, where I had to constantly be around people, eat every meal with a couple dozen people, etc, has sapped me - I hope your crash isn't bad this time), but I really hope you find the home you want for the research!

            You really deserve to, for this and all your other research. I don't think I told you this, though I meant to, but my sociology professor last semester was very interested when I was telling him about your survey, in spite of not being in the fandom at all.

            Sorry if this is hard to understand. I'm also on dayquil, and I can be more coherent after a half bottle of wine than one dose of that.
            • You're perfectly coherent! :)

              Well, the proposal is written. I will look at it again tomorrow and maybe prod some other people to look at it too. I've been getting up my nerve to write it for three days now, kind of like jumping into a cold pool!

              Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your professor's response. I had a bit of a lightbulb moment at the last Mythmoot, where one of the themes was Tolkien in the 21st Century. That theme combined with the SWG's impending 10th birthday made me realize that, while striking out into all kinds of strange new terrain as far as my research went was fun and certainly valuable, there was also a lot of value in talking about where my expertise truly lies: the fanfic community! :) I won't deny that I was a little nervous about it. I'm just a lowly grad student, still far from being a scholar, and my reputation is still there for the making, and I worried what it would mean to become "the fanfic woman." But it seemed a good way to honor not only the SWG but the many people who have had such a positive, life-changing influence on me to treat what we do as significant. And the response has been so encouraging and heartening. People are not only interested in this stuff but all the mean-minded, stereotypical protests and questions I anticipated have so far not come to pass.

              I hope you too overcome your crash and feel better as well. A major reason why living on campus never appealed to me and I spent my four years as an undergrad in my childhood bedroom rather than sampling life as an independent adult is because I could not imagine living with other people constantly.
  • Hiya! I had been waiting for this. I'd love to also watch/read Oshun's.

    I really like the work you have done in organizing the information and arguments for your thesis and in providing a numeric basis for the fan perspective. It feels very sound, well-grounded, well researched and I'm dying to read the final paper.

    I loved how you pulled the character classifications against the number of fics per character. Now I'm going to go off in a tangent (and by no means am I implying that you should have touched this in your half-an-hour, which was already brimming with details) but when I saw the graph and heard you speaking about Fingon and, later, the ladies, I couldn't help thinking on Aredhel. I think she would be an orange one, like Fingon. However (and I may be wrong because I did not do a thorough data-based analysis) she often gets portrayed in a terrible light in fandom. The temptress who breaks Celegorm's heart, the bad mother... She actually stood in the way of a spear to protect her son but people say things like she should get the bad mother award of the year, whereas Elwing, who chose suicide while leaving two young children in the hands of the presumable killers of her brothers gets the 'poor baby' wrap. I think this is an interesting case of double standards from the fanbase (or it could be, if I had numbers for good Aredhel/bad Aredhel fic to consubstantiate it).

    Anyway, your paper was a great formalization of an issue that has been underlying a good deal of fanworks and has been a major fandom view since I remember being around (about the same time as you). It was time someone made it official. ;)
    • I can send you a copy of the paper now if you don't mind the messy sourcing (things like SHIBBOLETH PG NEEDED in bright yellow highlights! :D) I need to finish the citations so I can put it up on Academia.edu; I saw another conference paper go up today and that and your comment kind of nudged me ...

      I couldn't help thinking on Aredhel. I think she would be an orange one, like Fingon.

      I agree. The characters I included were those Lewis discussed in his article (kind of a lazy way of narrowing down the dozens of potential characters for the presentation ... ;), so Aredhel wasn't included ... odd, since he spent quite a bit of time discussing the bias against Eol and Maeglin, and it seems Aredhel was caught up in that.

      I sent off a proposal tonight (eek) for a longer form of this paper to maybe find a home somewhere. If it's accepted, Aredhel is definitely a character I will include (because I will not take the lazy route this time of just using Lewis's characters :).

      I take your caution about her depictions in fanfic as well. It was interesting that no one brought up the (valid) critique that some of those sky-high bars could have been filled with fic that gave more negative depictions of characters like Maedhros and Feanor, probably because anyone who's read even a little Silmfic knows that negative stories about those characters are very rare! :)

      Actually, your point here has my wheels turning because the higher numbers for female characters aren't necessarily a positive overall. Elwing is another character whom fandom treats harshly; her relatively high numbers could only reinforce the gender bias against her. This is definitely something I will need to look into, should I (hopefully) end up needing to expand this paper beyond its present form.

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment--it really got me thinking in a new, productive direction!
    • I don't think it was lazy - it was pragmatic - better to have a paper with a sound basis that can lead to other questions than to have an great idea with many details but too big to make it on time for the conference, right? :)

      Anyway, I actually didn't think that there could be negative a lot of Maedhros or Maglor fic either - lol. Fandom really is kind to the blue ones. As for the women other than Aredhel, you might be on a good lead. In Elwing's case, I actually have read more fic that tries to justify her actions than to condemn, but maybe that's of reader bias - I keep trying to understand what she did and consequently, search/stumble upon material in that line of thought.

      If you need any help in the next project, I'm game - it's actually a very, very interesting and pressing theme.
    • Oh, and yes, a copy would be nice, even with the notes. :)
  • I read the post on the heretic, even though I didn't comment.
    I just don't always find the right words to express myself, but it inspired me to look for that lecture by Alex Lewis, and it's interesting.

    You might be interested to know that I already passed the link and info of that bias part about Fëanor, to guys of the local community.
    I don't believe they will "drop by", but who knows, I hope I'm wrong.

    I intend to watch the video, but as I explained in a previous occasion, I am more comfortable with reading, so I'll wait for that.

    I'm glad all is well and working enough for you to be able to make this post *wide grin*

    • Thank you! :D Yes, life is settling back down to its usual breakneck pace and I am adapting to the new computer--I still miss my start menu, though! I still haven't found my character map or Notepad (not that I've looked that hard), but I've almost mastered the new mouse.

      Thank you for passing on the link! If you'd like a copy of the paper now, I can send it if you don't mind the sloppy sourcing; conference papers let me be lazy about doing my citations as I work, and completing these is really the only thing holding me back at this point from having it in post-able form. But I'm happy to share it with friends who won't judge my wacky notes in the place of citations too harshly. :)

      You found the Lewis paper okay too, I presume? Because I have that as well, in PDF form, and am happy to pass it along to anyone who wants to read it.
      • Yes please, on both papers.
        I'll add more in reply to the papers email, as I don't want to overwhelm here.
  • Great job! I'm glad I have the time (being on vacation) to watch a video, instead of waiting for the text. And Wow! you mentioned me! Thanks! If I had a blank look on my face the other day, when you said you'd used my quote, it was because I couldn't think what I'd written that was particularly noteworthy. (Though I figured it out later...)

    I forget, did you get Q&A? It's always interesting to find out where people's interests and misconceptions lie.

    It's swell to have the aca and fan aspects linked so solidly, with the understanding that our (fic-writers') knowledge can be just as deep and broad as any academic's, and is often more so. Hope this paper and others like it lead to more recognition of this. We are all auto-didacts in this field, which just means we acquired our knowledge in a less formally focused way, not that it is less complete.

    Thanks for posting this, and I'm looking forward to more where that came from!
    • :D Well, it was a while since you wrote that comment that I ended up using in the paper; I probably wouldn't have remembered either! :) I just loved not only the example but the comparison to the snow globe. It was perfect for what I was hoping to show.

      There was a Q&A section. (I never record that since people can be touchy about having themselves recorded on the Internet, and I don't want to discourage participation because of that.) I got some really good questions and comments; people tended to be sympathetic to my idea (which surprised me, as I thought I might get some blowback). Probably my favorite comment/question noted that, because "lit crit" discouraged acknowledgement of historical/biographical context for so long and required texts to "stand on their own," that scholars approaching Tolkien's texts from that background might not be accustomed to taking historical considerations into account.

      our (fic-writers') knowledge can be just as deep and broad as any academic's, and is often more so

      Oh, absolutely. Hanging out with both crowds, if I had to choose to bet on one side's knowledge of the more obscure sources (like HoMe and UT), I'd take the seasoned fanfic writers every time! :D

      Thank you for watching the video and commenting! :) I suppose you're home or close to it by now--I hope you enjoyed your vacation and Gettysburg treated you well!
  • I've listened now, as well as read the summary, and it's very interesting. I hadn't realized there was going to be so much about Feanorians, although I suppose use of Lewis's paper as a starting-point would actually suggest that. I think in the case of the Feanorians, maybe, the traces of Tolkien's own shifting authorial bias in the texts might interact with the hints at in-universe narrators and so encourage such a reading--do you think?
    (Also, I'm wondering whether the proportion of negative stories about Feanorians might be higher on SOA than on SWG...)
    • I decided to focus on the Feanorians. It was a tough call. (Not! :D) Over on Tumblr, a few people have suggested doing similar studies looking at other groups of characters. I think this should definitely be done. (The Avari are another group I find extremely interesting in this regard. Someone else suggested mortal humans, who interest me less.) I absolutely hope others will do so.

      I definitely think that Tolkien's own changing views/biases affected characterization of the Feanorians. It has long seemed to me--I just lack the time to do the research to prove it--that his characterizations became more simplistic, more black-and-white, as he revised (and aged). Little things like the friendship of C&C with Angrod and Aegnor that he took out made their characters seem more human.

      You make a good point about SoA. I will very likely continue this research (I've actually sent in a paper proposal that would do just that) and know I need to be more scrupulous with the data when I do. Checking that stories actually reflect a desire to characterize beyond the simplistic black-and-white characterizations we get from the texts is definitely part of that. (So is not just copping out by using Alex Lewis's list of characters who receive bias!) The same issue arises with the women I mentioned. Tal noted Aredhel up-thread, and I think Elwing is an example as well of characters judged harshly in fanfic, so lots of stories about them may reflect the exact opposite of a desire to "right" the historical record.
  • I've listened to the first five minutes or so of your talk but because you were speaking so rapidly (NOT at all a criticism - I know how you worried about fitting it all into your allotted time slot) I missed quite a few words, so I am going to read the text first, then come back to this post to hear the rest with a little more understanding.

    The idea of bias is so interesting though, and how clever of Tolkien to have insinuated it into his writings. Of course it exists everywhere and the idea of bias existing in fanfic (of course it does - we all have our favourite characters and tend to dislike their enemies) makes me want to explore the negative side of, say, the Feanorians, treating them as 'the baddies' because I've always been a big fan of theirs and considered them more as heroes.

    When I thought about the SWG being ten years old I was staggered. But I can see the community never ending because there is so much to explore in Tolkien's world and the deeper one delves the more there is to discover it seems.
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