8. Other Sub-genres and the Online Tolkien Fanfiction Community
“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. Some responses about this are below:
- “People who whine that they can’t write female characters in JRRT fanfic because *he* doesn’t write them extensively are just lazy. Or don’t want to admit that they just want to write about hot guys […] Add sneer that they are sorely lacking in imagination, too. Read works by […] to get a clue as to how powerfully female characters can be written without making them into play toys of the guys.” Anglachel
“I try not to take too much artistic license with my work, because I don’t want to defile everything that Tolkien has written! He didn’t give us very many female characters to work with, and if I work with one and develop them too much, it might not be what Tolkien had in mind. I wouldn’t want that to happen.” Ashley Davis
“… the whole Tolkien world is based in a sort of Medieval view of our world, give or take a few fantasy issues, and in middle ages women just weren’t that important. Men were the warriors and the ‘strong’ ones in society, which is a ghost women of today are still struggling with. I, personally, like to identify myself with the warriors, and I like a good battle before a romance, which is what women were always involved on […] I liked Éowyn because she was woman/warrior in a society that didn’t allow that.. if there were more women like her, perhaps I would write something there.” Yours Truly
“I think it’s essential to have more stories about Tolkien’s female characters, although not necessarily stories with romance as their primary genre, if that is the genre at all. There should be more stories exploring these women and their pasts.” Evening Nightshade
“I have created a few female characters of my own to supplement what I might feel is missing in Tolkien’s work, and am quite pleased with them. I especially like the idea of female elven warriors. I think the big difference between my female characters and, say, Éowyn is that they’re never women trying to act just like men. They are just strong female characters.” Ciryatare
Putting Arwen out with the Entwives
Early in my discovery of Tolkien fanfiction I heard of writers purposefully removing some of the women characters, usually under the auspices of being able to elaborate on the male/male friendships so prevalent in Tolkien’s works, especially LotR. With that in mind, I asked the question, “If you write AU fanfic, do you purposefully eliminate Tolkien’s women characters? If so, why?” As the replies came in, I realized that AU, like the word “canon,” varies greatly from author to author, and many writers were unsure as to whether or not they considered what they wrote to be included in that category. In addition, 25 of the 62 respondents (40%) wrote that they did not write in that genre at all. Only twelve people (19%) indicated that they did purposefully eliminate some of the women characters. Their reasons for doing so primarily focused on wanting to explore more fully the male relationships already present in Tolkien’s works, especially from a psychological viewpoint. Some authors indicated that they did not want to take the time to more fully “flesh out” the women characters, but most wanted to write about the male relationships and so simply removed the women from the new plotline.
- “Yes. They don’t have anything to say. The men are the action and their foibles, worries, failings, greatness and emotions are the meat of the story to me […] Sorry to sound so down on this but the reason I do slash is that I am interested in men and their emotions. I have found that I cannot read het anymore after slash. I just can’t be interested.” Arcatpus
“I eliminate his and use my own. He doesn’t develop any of them past Galadriel, and even her to a lesser degree than the boys. It’s all about character development and what you can do with what the author gives you.” Jae Noble
In 40 percent of the replies, 25 respondents, the authors indicated that they would never remove a woman character from any story that they wrote. Several of the replies were indignant in tone about the authors who do that in fanfiction, though it appeared to be common knowledge that within certain genres, the practice was not uncommon. Many people expanded on their answer to show that they were conscientiously building up the women characters in their stories, whether Tolkien’s characters or new ones created for new stories.
- “NO! Even when writing slash fic (Legolas/Aragorn) I always keep Arwen in there. All the characters have a purpose. And Éowyn’s one of my favourite characters.” Hathor
“Oh no, and I wouldn’t. The ones he *did* give us are pretty excellent - I love Éowyn and Galadriel in particular. I love Lobelia Sackville-Baggins wailing on the Shire-usurpers with her anachronistic umbrella!” Vulgarweed
“I’m doing quite well with the ones he gave me!… This is a question about those people who eliminate Rosie in order to write Sam/Frodo porn epics, isn’t it? Bah, I say to that. Bah. Rosie deserves porn epics too!” Mary Borsellino
Muses of Middle-earth
The use of the word “muse” jumped out at me in three of the replies to this survey, perhaps because I did not expect to see it used within this writing community. The three references were these: “my standard muse-trigger is usually ‘what if,’” “I write, probably, the most on Legolas […] who now is my muse who picks on me when he wants me to write something.” “I find that the Elves are my muse more than any other race.” A Muse is traditionally known as one of the nine Greek goddesses who generously give or withhold creativity to those active in the world of the arts, literature and sciences. For writers of their own stories set in Middle-earth, these muses are very personal, and usually male. I emailed each author who had referenced her muse to get some clarification, and they each said that it was simply their term for their usual source of writing inspiration. The world of Middle-earth is, as Tolkien himself describes in his essay “On Fairy-stories,” in the realm of Faërie, so it should not be surprising that authors sub-creating in that realm use a term such as “muse” to describe their inspirational spark. Perhaps like their more ancient Greek counterparts, these muses are quite active in the imagination of the author, as anyone choosing to write more stories in such a well-developed otherworld must have an inclination to the fantastic. I was a bit startled at the bold intersection of myth and Middle-earth present for some fanfiction writers; in reply to a review I submitted to an author (Isabeau Greenleaf) about a story featuring Gimli, she replied: “Thanks for the review, Thevina! I like Gimli, but he’s never been my favorite character, so I was rather surprised one day when he hijacked my muse. Rather looking forward to him doing it again someday.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.