A few months ago, the Collectiva Diva and I sat down and had a long discussion on what it means to be in a fandom. For us and others like us, a fandom is a safe place–a space where interests, theories, and ideas are expressed, validated, and transformed. For others, “fandom” is the margin into which society pushes those of us who take books/films/television/video games/comics “too seriously.” If you are in a fandom (and let’s face it, if you’ve been reading our blog, you are), you’ve inevitably faced fandom shaming at some point or other.

But why should we be ashamed? Fandoms are another means by which we express our identities, a line on our personality resume. Throughout the next seven weeks, the Collectiva Diva and I will be discussing a variety of fandoms and key issues surrounding them.  You may know us as fangirls afficionados, but the Diva and I will be putting on our academic caps and using our graduate degrees for good in this series of posts as we discuss what it means to be a fan, the power of fandom, and why we should never be ashamed of any of it.

The FF Word: Blurred Lines in Criticism and Copyright of Fan Fiction

Source: The New Yorker
Source: The New Yorker

Fan fiction holds a tenuous (and sometimes volatile) relationship with the canon on which it is written. Pieces written by fans have occasionally been dismissed by society at large as “copyright infringement” or “unoriginal” or, as it pertains to certain types of fan fiction, “vulgar.” The truth is that fan fiction can be all of these things or none of them. A loose definition of fan fiction is any fictional piece written by a fan using setting/plot/characters/etc. from a text authored by someone else. This definition, although workable in a day-to-day context, is unsuitable for a comprehensive guide to the history and legal issues surrounding fan works for the following reasons: 1) many well-known  texts have sources in older works, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s incorporation of elements commonly seen in Norse mythology and legends in his Middle-earth histories; 2) the very act of reading is an implied collaboration between reader and writer to tell a story–the writer provides a description of the protagonist, but the reader interprets that description and creates his or her own mental image for it. This brings us to two questions: Who defines the text? And who owns it?

In short: is it the author who gives the story its meaning, or is it the reader?

This week, my villain of choice was the Dark Lord before there was a Dark Lord (wasn’t that just hipster of him?).

Man esselya ná?

Originally known as Melkor of the Ainur (which is Quenyan for ‘He who arises in Might), he is more commonly known as Morgoth or Morgoth Bauglir. He has been known by many names such as:

  • the Foe of the Valar
  • the (Great) Enemy
  • the Dark King
  • the Dark Lord (sometimes called ‘the Lord of the Dark’)
  • the Dark Power of the North
  • the Evil of the North
  • the Black Hand
  • the Master of Lies
  • the Hunter and the Rider
  • Dark Enemy of the World
  • Black Foe of the World

His faithful servant, Sauron (yes, that Sauron) referred to him as:

  • the Lord of the Darkness
  • the Lord of All
  • the Giver of Freedom

Morgoth referred to himself as “the King of the World.” Me thinks he had a bit of an ego trip.

Ma istanyel? Or, Morgoth in 10 words or less:

Evil. Insatiable lust for power. Megalomaniac. Dark Lord.

Stephen Colbert is one of my favorite people, celebrity or not. Mostly because we share a passion for Tolkien and sarcasm. He did a cameo in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug [insert my jealous remarks here] and Peter Jackson, director of Middle-earth films has called Colbert the “biggest Tolkien geek” he’s ever met. High praise coming from someone who made sure that small details from the book trilogy, like the standard Arwen’s carrying at the end of The Return of the King made it onto the big screen.

But back to Colbert.

Last weekend, as I was sipping on a Cumberbatch-approved gin and tonic at a ridiculous meat marketclub in San Diego, the DJ played Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and played a video of Colbert dancing to it. Since then, I’ve youtubed dozens of Colbert videos because I just can’t get enough of the guy. So here’s a few of my favorites. Enjoy. Colbert is awesome.

Up first: Colbert appears on Whose Line Is It Anyway? 

Stephen Colbert rapping with Wayne Brady is pure gold. 

I’m enjoying a vacation from work (sometimes I really love the academic calendar) and like any good Tolkienite, I’m marathoning the films once more before I go back to work on Monday. This time, as I work my way back through Middle-earth in the books and on screen, I am noticing things I never noticed before. Perhaps I should blame my graduate-level education for being unable to enjoy a book for its own sake any more, but the intricacies enrich the world and make the story so much richer for me.

Throughout my re-reading of The Lord of the Rings, it is repeatedly seen that Frodo, and other Fellowship members, have thoughts in their heads that are not their own–a narrative tactic that I wish I could duplicate in my own work. Oftentimes these characters will make exclamations in languages in which they are not fluent, usually Elvish, and have visions of things that may or may not have already happened. These foreign thoughts can be good or evil, and are influential in the actions of the main characters (particularly the hobbits), especially Frodo in his dealings with the One Ring. I mention Frodo specifically, because of the burden of his Quest. Any influences on the hobbit could make or break Middle-earth.  Could Frodo be hallucinating and delirious under the effects of the Ring, or is there a Higher Power playing in the turn of events in Middle-earth?

source: councilofelrond.com
source: councilofelrond.com

Sometimes, I like to answer my own questions, and so I took a look at the origins of Middle-earth (my obsession has led me to have my own Tolkien library). If you’ve never read The Silmarillion (and I think that everyone should), Middle-earth was created by Eru, or Ilúvatar with the help of the song of the Ainur, but after the creation of Eä, or the world, the Creator is conspicuously silent and absent from the cycle of events that unfold in his creation. He places select Ainur in the role of the Valar (think of them as deific beings who watch over Middle-earth, like the Norse gods and goddesses); they are the protectors of Eru’s creation. In The Silmarillion,  the reader repeatedly sees the intervention of the Valar in the course of the history of Tolkien’s secondary world, particularly in the battles against Melkor, AKA Morgoth (the first Dark Lord, and Sauron’s master). The Valar actively go to battle with Melkor, restrain him for three ages, and then later cast him out into the Void.

I was a peculiar child. Every Christmas season, instead of begging my parents for new dolls, princess tiaras, or a pony, I’d always write down “books” at the top of my Christmas list. To my eternal disappointment, every year my mother gave me stuff I needed: a new coat or shoes, a new dress for church, or the ever-dreaded socks. My mother doesn’t read for pleasure and never understood my fascination with words. “They’re not real,” she’d tell me when I told her about Captain Ahab’s white whale or Beth’s death in Little Women, “Why do you care so much?”

Twenty years later, that question still haunts me. Why do I care so much? Why do I cry for fictional characters? Why invest myself so much in a world that’s not real?

I blame my father.

I was seven-years-old the first time I read The Hobbit. Although my mother was unwilling to indulge my obsession for fiction, my father did. I had tossed aside The Chronicles of Narnia and The Little House on the Prairie series. I read things like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Three Musketeers, but at the age of 7 I didn’t understand them, nor did I want to. One Christmas, my father handed me a crudely wrapped present. “Don’t tell your mother,” he whispered.