Does Gender Matter? Women, Tolkien, and the Online Fanfiction Community Community

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Title: Does Gender Matter? Women, Tolkien, and the Online Fanfiction Community
Creator: Thevina
Date(s): March 2, 2004
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: Does Gender Matter? Women, Tolkien, and the Online Fanfiction Community, Archived version
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Does Gender Matter? Women, Tolkien, and the Online Fanfiction Community is a 2004 essay by Thevina.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.

The essay is a paper discussing the results of a 2003 survey of Tolkien fans:

Method, Results and Terminology

In early February, 2003, I researched within groups.yahoo.com as well as uk.yahoo.com, ca.yahoo.com, and au.yahoo.com to see if there were Tolkien fanfiction communities based in North America and overseas. All of the fanfiction communities were within the North American yahoo.com setting. Since I was interested especially in those writers who were writing about Tolkien women characters, I also contacted the five groups that were women-focused or not as LotR focused. There are many individuals with their own sites and fanfiction communities so I attempted to contact many of them as well, and they are listed at the end of this essay. The survey that I posted consisted of a "cover letter" in which I introduced myself as being a member of the Tolkien fandom community about to embark on a scholarly paper on women writers of Tolkien fanfiction. I then included the survey of questions. I set up a Hotmail account to receive the surveys (dinenwen@hotmail.com, dinenwen meaning "silent maiden" in Sindarin, the more common version of the Quenya language used by Tolkien's Elves) and from February 3rd to February 15th I received 62 replies. In the survey I indicated that I would not use any author's real names (unless they said that was how they wanted to be represented), so their pseudonyms or an anonymous indicator is used for all quotes from the responses received.

Sections

  • The Tolkien Online Fanfiction Community: Motivation
  • The Tolkien Online Fanfiction Community: The Recent Explosion
  • Does Gender Matter?
  • Self-Representation
  • Slash and Tolkien
  • Other Sub-genres and the Online Tolkien Fanfiction Community
    • Galadriel vs. Mary Sue
    • Putting Arwen out with the Entwives
  • Muses of Middle-earth

Excerpts

About a year after the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth had come into my life, I discovered the world of Internet-based fanfiction. I had been exposed to a little bit that was posted on the fan site TheOneRing.net, but I had assumed it was a rarity. Then I emailed a friend about her writings and received an eloquent, passionate response. Armed by her enthusiasm I dove headfirst into the Tolkien fanfiction community and was astounded, not only at some of the writings themselves, but also by the sheer number of stories being written. The more I read, the more questions I found forming in my mind. I wondered if most of these stories were written by women, as it seemed, though it could not be proved since many writers use pseudonyms. Consultation with a Tolkien scholar with a background in fandom studies did confirm that, on the whole, most fanfiction across genres is written by women. Then I became more curious: why were hundreds or even thousands of women writing new stories set in Tolkien's world, especially set within The Lord of the Rings (LotR), when there are so few women characters provided by Tolkien? Lisa Hopkins in her essay "Female Authority Figures in the Works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams" voices the sentiments I felt.

Galadriel vs. Mary Sue

"Mary Sue" is the common term for fanfiction in which an OFC is introduced and acts out the fantasy of the author in her stead. In the replies that I received, the most derisive comments had to do with those who wrote in this genre. Within the Tolkien fanfiction communities, these self-inserts tend to involve the author and Legolas, to the point where a term has been coined: "Legomances." Mary Sues can be fertile ground for writers for Tolkien fanfiction, however, if the term is expanded to encompass any OFC, and these stories are sometimes encouraged as they require additional creativity on the part of the author. One Tolkien fanfiction site, Henneth Annûn, has had writer challenges for Mary Sue fanfiction, to prove the point that such stories can be written well. As others have written, often women authors of Mary Sues are inserting themselves into Tolkien's world to add some feminine qualities to the stories, while others want to imagine themselves romantically involved with the more movie-based characters.

OFCs are not derided across the board, and as comments below indicate, many writers are indeed adding new women characters into the expanded world of Middle-earth as envisioned by fanfiction writers. Many writers use a combination of OFCs and bringing more obscure canon women characters to the fore, especially when writing gap-filling works. There is a lot of possibility within this genre, as many of the mothers and daughters and everyday female citizens of Middle-earth exist in the books in name only, and Tolkien tended not to illuminate their psychological processes. Perhaps the personalities of those writers who prefer to do research and approach their Tolkien fanfiction from an analytical perspective are those writers more likely to fill in the gaps with fringe women characters, as it takes more effort. Or, as others have expressed, they write about them precisely because of the challenge to their creativity, sometimes to create a sort of counter-balance to the sheer number of male characters.
The writers in the Tolkien online fanfiction community, as in other online fanfiction communities, appear to be mostly women. This was a surprise to me initially due to the predominance of male characters in Tolkien's works, especially in The Lord of the Rings, the time period in which much of the current fanfiction is being written. After consulting some of the canon works on the history of fanfiction as those by Jenkins and Cicioni, I discovered that this was the rule, not the exception. I sent out a survey to the current women writers of Tolkien fanfiction to see whether or not their writings were affected by the number of women characters in Tolkien's world, and the results I received were very mixed. Overwhelmingly, they write because they are inspired by the world that Tolkien created, and neither the gender of the characters nor of the authors is of primary concern. However, many authors acknowledge the paucity of well-developed women characters in Tolkien's writings, especially within LotR. Some have chosen to add new characters when writing their own fanfiction, others have filled in background stories to both the primary and secondary women characters. Several writers pointed out that the themes present in Tolkien's work transcend gender, and their gender as writers should also be irrelevant, that their stories should be judged by quality of writing alone. Is gender relevant to the authors of the tens of thousands of stories present in the online Tolkien community? The answer appears to be both yes and no. Some of the women authors within this fanfiction community write with their gender in mind, and are acutely aware of relating to Tolkien's few, yet integral, women characters. Other writers, however, distinguish their gender as irrelevant to the creative process, and pursue their stories with the characters present in Middle-earth, regardless of their gender. The one conclusion that can be drawn from this survey is that the writers in this fandom are not easily categorized, as their responses are as different from each other as are their stories in style and content, even though all are connected and inspired by Tolkien's Middle-earth.

References