Tolkien fandom is an international, informal community of fans of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, especially of the Middle-earth legendarium which includes The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. "Fandom" implies a subculture marked by youthful enthusiasm but comparatively little sophistication compared to scholarly literary criticism and thus marks the popular aspect of the general topic of the reception of J. R. R. Tolkien. "Tolkien fandom" in this sense sprang up in the USA in the 1960s, in the context of the hippie movement, to the dismay of the author (Tolkien died in 1973), who talked of "my deplorable cultus".[1]

A Tolkienist is someone who studies the work of J.R.R. Tolkien: this usually refers to students of the Elvish languages and "Tolkienology".[2] The term Ringer refers to a fan of The Lord of the Rings in general, and of Peter Jackson's live-action film trilogy in particular.[3] Other terms describing Tolkien fans include Tolkienite or Tolkiendil.[4]


Tolkien's The Hobbit, a children's book, was first published in 1937, and it proved popular. However, The Lord of the Rings, first published in 1954 through 1955, would give rise to the fandom as a cultural phenomenon from the early to mid 1960s.

Early fandom (1960s to 1973)

1960s USA

Foster (2006) attributes the surge of Tolkien fandom in the USA of the mid 1960s to a combination of the hippie subculture and anti-war movement pursuing "mellow freedom like that of the Shire" and "America's cultural Anglophilia" of the time, fuelled by a bootleg paperback version of The Lord of the Rings published by Ace Books followed up by an authorised edition by Ballantine Books.

The "hippie" following latched onto the book, giving its own spin to the work's interpretation, such as the Dark Lord Sauron representing the United States military draft during the Vietnam War, to the chagrin of the author who talked of a "deplorable cultus" and stated that ""Many young Americans are involved in the stories in a way that I'm not"[1] but who nevertheless admitted that

... even the nose of a very modest idol [...] cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense![5]</blockquote>

Fan attention became so intense that Tolkien had to take his phone number out of the public directory[6] and eventually moved to Bournemouth on the south coast of England.

This embracing of the work by American 1960s counter-culture made it an easy target for mockery, and resulted in The Lord of the Ring acquiring a reputation of a dubious work of popular culture rather than "real literature", post-poning the emergence of academic Tolkien studies by some twenty years, to the late 1980s.

The Lord of the Rings also from the mid 1960s acquired immense popularity in the emerging hacker culture, and the technological subcultures of scientists, engineers, and computer program­mers, and flourishes there still. (Spangenfeld 2006) It also figured as one of the major inspirations of the nascent video game industry and the evolution of fantasy role-playing games (Burdge 2006).

Many fantasy series written in the period were created by fans of The Lord of the Rings, such as the Shannara books by Terry Brooks.

Tolkien societies

Further information: Tolkien societies

Although there were active Tolkien enthusiasts within science fiction fandom from the mid-1950s, true organized Tolkien fandom only took off with the publication of the second hardcover edition and the paperbacks in the 1960s. Although there are numerous Tolkien societies in different countries today, it should be noted that they are not endorsed or even authorized by the Tolkien Estate.

Articles on The Lord of the Rings appeared regularly in the 1960s fanzine Niekas, edited by Ed Meskys. The first organized Tolkien fan group was "The Fellowship of the Ring", founded by Ted Johnstone at Pittcon, the 1960 Worldcon. They published four issues of the fanzine i-Palantír before the organization disbanded.

The Tolkien Society of America first met "in February, 1965, beside the statue of Alma Mater on the Columbia University campus," according to a 1967 New York Times interview with Richard Plotz, the Society's founder and first Thain. By 1967, Meskys had become Thain and the society boasted over 1,000 members, organized into local groups or smials, a pattern that would be followed by other Tolkien fan organizations. The society published a newsletter, Green Dragon, and The Tolkien Journal (edited by Plotz). In 1969, the society sponsored the first Tolkien Conference at Belknap College. The Tolkien Conference was not a "science fiction convention" but rather a scholarly event.

The University of Wisconsin Tolkien and Fantasy Society was founded in 1966, and is best known for its journal Orcrist (1966-1977), edited by Richard C. West.

Across the continent, Glen GoodKnight founded the Mythopoeic Society in California in 1967 for the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythic literature, especially the works of Tolkien and fellow-Inklings C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. The society held its first Mythcon conference in 1970, which featured readings, a costume competition, an art show, and other events typical of science fiction conventions of the day. The society's three current periodicals are Mythprint, a monthly bulletin; Mythlore, originally a fanzine and now a peer-reviewed journal that publishes scholarly articles on mythic and fantastic literature; and The Mythic Circle, a literary annual of original poetry and short stories (which replaced the Society's earlier publications Mythril and Mythellany).

Orcrist and The Tolkien Journal published three joint issues (1969-1971). The Tolkien Journal and Mythlore published several joint issues in the later 1970s and eventually merged.

The Tolkien Society (U.K.) was founded in the U.K. in 1969, and remains active as a registered charity. The society has two regular publications, a bi-monthly bulletin of news and information, Amon Hen, and an annual journal, Mallorn, featuring critical articles and essays on Tolkien's work. They host several annual events, including a conference held at Oxford, Oxonmoot.

Both the UK Tolkien Society and the Mythopoeic Society were and remain organized into "Special Interest Groups", focusing on one area such as languages, and into local or regional groups who continue to meet on a regular basis. The journal Parma Eldalamberon, founded in 1971, is a publication of one such special interest group of the Mythopoeic Society.

There is also a long tradition of organized Tolkien fandoms in Scandinavia. The Tolkien Society of Sweden was founded in Gothenburg in 1968 ("of Sweden" was added in 1969 to avoid confusion with the UK society) and The Tolkien Society Forodrim was founded in Sweden in 1972.

Some fans, known as Tolkien tourists, travel for the purpose of visiting Lord of the Rings and Tolkien related sites.

1970s to 1980s

After Tolkien's death, his son Christopher Tolkien began the publication of posthumous material, beginning with the Silmarillion (1977) which was being prepared for publication by Tolkien but left unfinished at his death, followed by the The History of Middle-earth series (1983 to 1996). J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography (1977) and The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981) provided biographical information. These publications provided the raw material for in-depth Tolkien research, pioneered by Tom Shippey's, The Road to Middle-earth (1982).

Interest in The Lord of the Rings led to several attempts to adapt it for the film medium, most of which were largely unsuccessful. Filmmaker Ralph Bakshi succeeded in securing the rights to produce an animated feature film version, part one of what was originally planned as a two-part adaptation of the story. Bakshi produced the film using, among other animation techniques, rotoscoping, shooting a majority of the film in live-action first before transferring the live footage to animation. While the film had, and continues to have, a mixed critical reaction, it was a financial success, costing USD 8 million to produce, and grossing over USD 30 million at the box office. Despite this fact, United Artists, the film's original distributor, refused to fund a sequel, leaving the project incomplete.

1990s to 2000s

The 1990s saw the conclusion of the The History of Middle-earth series. A series of minor texts by Tolkien were edited in journals such as Parma Eldalamberon and Vinyar Tengwar, published by the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship since the early 1990s. In 2000s, several encyclopedic projects have documented Tolkien's life and work in great detail, such as the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006) and the twin volumes The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion and The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (2005, 2006). The dedicated journal Tolkien Studies has been appearing from 2004.

Translated into dozens of languages and spread across the globe, The Lord of the Rings has never been out of print since its publication. The existing fanbase in the mid-1990s consisted of devoted fans, completely unused to having truly new material or any sort of mass-media acknowledgement, who paid strict attention to detail and continuity within the legendarium.

Online fandom

Tolkien discussion took place in many newsgroups from the earliest days of Usenet. The Tolklang mailing list was started in 1990. The and rec.arts.books.tolkien newsgroups are active since 1992 and 1993, respectively.

Notable points of contention in online discussions surround the origin of orcs, whether elves have pointy ears, or whether balrogs have wings. Following the announcement of Jackson's movies (from 2001), online fandom became divided between "Revisionists" and "Purists", controversy surrounding the character of Arwen and the absence of Tom Bombadil in the movies.[7]

Jackson movies

The Lord of the Rings gained a much broader audience with the release of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy These were released serially in three successive years, from December 2001 to December 2003. Since then, a large number of fans have also arisen who have not read any of the books, and have been only exposed to Tolkien through the films and its merchandise.

Tolkien-related games, especially computer and video games have also increased in number and in popularity. Popular culture references to Middle-earth have also increased, as well as satires and parodies of it.

One of the most prominent fansites of Jackson's movies is, which was very popular even with the cast and crew of the film. TORn, as it is called, was originally a small movie-news site that gained in prestige as movie-rumors became reality. The filmmakers put special effort into winning over the fans, not simply tolerating but actually actively supporting fansites. Of these, is the most well-known and is probably responsible for popularizing the term Ringers. Another prominent fansite is The One Ring - The Home of Tolkien Online, by contrast to focussing on the literary works rather than the movies.

A fan edit of the theatrical cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers exists, called The Two Towers: The Purist Edit.[8] Most of the changes are incorporated into The Lord of the Rings - The Purist Edition, another fan edit which turns the entire trilogy into an eight-hour film without most of the changes.[8][9]


Further information: Middle-earth canon

Tolkienology is a term used by Tolkien fans to describe the study of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien treating Middle-earth as a real world, conducting research from an "in-universe" perspective. This differs from Tolkien studies in that it ignores the real-world history of composition by the author, and necessarily needs to assume an underlying internally consistent canon

"Tolkienology" may include:[10][11][12][13]

  • Tolkienian linguistics: Study of the most complete languages Tolkien designed for Middle-earth, (usually Quenya and Sindarin), study of the writing systems, the most known being the Tengwar, and possible reconstruction for everyday use.
  • debate on the "true" nature of Tom Bombadil, of balrogs etc. and debate on the "real" motivations of characters in the stories
  • Genealogies of Hobbit families and kings
  • The accuracy of Tolkien's calendars and how can they be used today
  • Reconstruction of history (of Elven kingdoms, Arnor and Gondor, Rohan or the more unknown lands)
  • Morality issues such as whether an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent Ilúvatar (God) would destroy Númenor, if the 'bad' Dunlendings had any right rivalling the 'good' Rohirrim and if Gondor committed genocides.
  • Possible census of population about each race.
  • Astronomic descriptions in the books (moon phases, positions of stars), and what can we infer about Middle-earth geography from them.
  • Strategies of wars and battles, if they were right and what alternatives might have been
  • Possible folkloric impressions Hobbits had about places of the Shire and other whereabouts, determined by translating placenames.

Fandom and Tolkien studies

Further information: Tolkien studies and Reception of J. R. R. Tolkien

There is no clear line dividing Tolkien fandom and scholarly Tolkien studies. Authors of academically published studies on Tolkien may still be motivated by private enthusiasm for his works, and various Tolkien societies combine scholarly study with fandom activities. Thus, the Oxonmoot organised by The Tolkien Society includes talks, slide shows and an evening party with a costume masquerade. Similarly, the Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft caters to Tolkien fandom in German-speaking Europe, and also co-organized seminars on Tolkien studies hosted at Jena University in 2005 and 2007.

Generic Tolkien fandom is separated from "serious" Tolkien studies by a sliding scale of awareness of Tolkien's lesser and posthumously published works. Many Tolkien fans will be aware of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and perhaps the Silmarillion. Awareness of Tolkien's short stories, his non-fiction publication, and the detailed editions of his unpublished notes since the 1980s is reserved for the more literary-minded demographic section of Tolkien fans.

Fandom and Tolkienian linguistics

Further information: Languages of Middle-earth and Neo-Eldarin

The studies of Tolkien's artistic languages (notably Quenya and Sindarin) is a field where "fandom" and scholarly Tolkien studies overlap. The resulting friction between scholarly students of the languages focussing on their conceptual evolution and fandom-oriented students taking an "in-universe" view became visible notably in the "Elfconners" controversy of the late 1990s.

There is a "reconstructionist" camp, which pursues the reconstruction of unattested Elvish forms, and a "philological" or "purist" camp which focusses entirely on the conscientious edition of such fragments as can be found in Tolkien's unpublished papers. By its nature, reconstructionism aims for a "canon" of "correct" standard Elvish (Neo-Eldarin), while the philological study of the evolution of Tolkien's conceptions cannot assume that the languages had ever reached a complete or internally consistent final form.

The "reconstructionist" camp is represented e.g. by linguist David Salo, and the "purist" camp is represented e.g. by Carl F. Hostetter, the editor of Vinyar Tengwar.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Lev Grossman, Feeding on Fantasy, November 24, 2002
  3. the term appears on in December 2001 [1]; "Ringer community" Kohman (2005) p. 10.; c.f. Ringers: Lord of the Fans (2005)
  4. an Anglo-Quenya compound, meaning "Tolkien-lover", mostly known as the name of a French Tolkien society.
  5. Letters, no. 336.
  6. Letters, no. 332.
  7. "Fellowship of the Ring" - Wired, Oct. 2001; "The campaign for real Tolkien" - The Independent, Nov. 2001
  8. 8.0 8.1 Leo Grin. Tolkien Purists Strike Back!. Retrieved on 2007-12-28.
  9. The Lord of the Rings: the purist edition. Retrieved on 2007-12-28.
  10. Alberto Monteiro's Tolkien Page
  11. Lalaith's Middle-earth Science Pages
  12. The Tolkien Meta-FAQ
  13. Could the eagles have flown Frodo into Mordor?

See also

External links

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