Stars less strange: An analysis of fanfiction and representation within the Tolkien fan community

— Dawn Walls-Thumma, Humanities teacher, Coventry Village School

Paper given 4 July 2021 at Tolkien Society Summer Seminar 2021: Sunday session № 2

Fanfiction and other transformative works provide one mode by which fans from marginalized groups extend and repair texts to better represent more diverse people and perspectives, a process that Una McCormack terms reparative reading.” While poor representation of diverse groups is endemic within literary and media texts, Tolkien’s works are often singled out for their problematic representations of gender and race – and silence on sexuality – making his canon fruitful territory for transformative works by fans that not only recognize the existence of women, people of color, and queer characters within Middle-earth but transform the canon to recast Tolkien’s stories from their perspectives.

This paper will consider the historical and current use of fanfiction to address issues of representation in Tolkien’s canon. Historically, the online Tolkien fanfiction community has not been receptive to reparative readings,” with authors who attempted to include more diverse perspectives often harassed by peers or subjected to gatekeeping and targeted campaigns by fandom institutions. After considering this historical context, I will use data from the 2015 and 2020 Tolkien Fanfiction Surveys to consider whether and how these values have changed over twenty years of a significant online fanfiction fandom. These surveys consider demographics, values, and behaviors as self-reported by writers and readers of Tolkien-based fanfiction. Results of the 2015 survey showed that, while the fandom was undergoing sometimes rapid evolution in norms around how diverse people from Tolkien’s canon were represented in fanfiction, these changes were not fully actualized in many fandom spaces. This paper will extend that analysis using the newly completed 2020 survey results to evaluate how values and practices around representation have changed since 2015 and how fans who themselves identify as part of marginalized groups use fanfiction to broaden the perspectives offered by and to correct racism, sexism, and homophobia found within Tolkien’s canon.

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date recorded 📅2021-08-16
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