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Has the Tolkien fandom/community changed?

Grey Havens

May 12, 7:39pm

Post #1 of 14 (9221 views)
Has the Tolkien fandom/community changed? Can't Post

I'm sorry for admitting this, but I just found myself literally crying over some comments I saw on YouTube. It was a video discussing Eowyn and feminism.

As you can imagine this subject attracted a lot of political debate in the comments, which I guess is natural, but then it struck me how common these political comments are in other videos and even in this forum, when they often aren't relevant. I'm sure it never used to be this way - but it seems increasingly that there's an attempt to gatekeep Tolkien, particularly from the rightwing, but there has been unpleasantness from the whole political spectrum. And it just made me so sad to see this and realise how difficult it has become to have a full and nuanced discussion.

Has Tolkien always been considered far-right literature and I've just been ignorant to it? I always used to associate it with hippies and the left. What happened? I don't see how either side can claim it over another and say things like "Tolkien doesn't fit into your modern world view, they're not compatible". What happened to applicability? Timelessness? Why are these same comments absolutely everywhere?

One of my favourite aspects of all Tolkien's stories is the recurring strength in pluralism. We're shown repeatedly how the division between races and peoples results in distrust and corruption, and that good only comes when people put aside their differences and work together to fight against the ONE singular, to rule them all. I think Tolkien would be ashamed to see how these political interpretations have divided his fans.

Sorry if this was poorly written, or if I said anything wrong. I'm emotional and not as articulate as I'd like to be.

(This post was edited by AshNazg on May 12, 7:51pm)


May 12, 7:58pm

Post #2 of 14 (9166 views)
Éowyn: Book vs Movie? [In reply to] Can't Post

It wasn't this video, was it? Éowyn: Book vs Movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDFW5jcbDEE

I'm not sure what here might have triggered you. I thought it was a well-balanced analysis, and not at all anti-feminist. Was is something said in the comments? I only gave the comments a casual look through but nothing struck me as particularly contentious.

“Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved.” - Tony Isabella

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on May 12, 8:06pm)


May 13, 4:34am

Post #3 of 14 (8848 views)
I generally steer clear of Youtube comments [In reply to] Can't Post

It's not what it used to be: random people voicing random opinions on the video in question. There are polarized people everywhere on YT now, but more importantly, there are political bots everywhere spewing out the same tired political propaganda on everything from videos on how to make the best cheesecake to how to insulate your home.
You're right about hippies claiming Tolkien as "theirs" back in the hippie era, and I think environmentalists still do. Feminists who do a superficial character count of females in Tolkien have always been critical (they don't care if Luthien is repeatedly saving Beren and not vice versa).

The far right likes the glory of war in Tolkien plus the wonderfully blond, Norse-like Rohirrim. And I'm still trying to understand today's far right myself, but since they adore dictators nowadays, they'd like Sauron too. (There is a weird, vocal group on Reddit who always say Sauron wasn't wrong, and I no longer think they're just being provocative & contrarian.)
But what you said is unmistakable, so people have to shamelessly cherry pick Tolkien to avoid it:

One of my favourite aspects of all Tolkien's stories is the recurring strength in pluralism. We're shown repeatedly how the division between races and peoples results in distrust and corruption, and that good only comes when people put aside their differences and work together to fight against the ONE singular, to rule them all. I think Tolkien would be ashamed to see how these political interpretations have divided his fans.

I still think neither side gets to claim Tolkien as their own, not in my mind, but no one's asking me first. Tolkien the monarchist, Tolkien the environmentalist, Tolkien the Catholic minority in an Anglican country, Tolkien who disavowed the Nazi attempt to certify his books as "pure": there are too many dimensions to nail him down as champion of left or right. But the cherry picking blithely ignores that. And the endless bots definitely ignore it all and just spew, spew, spew.

Oh, and the other thing about YT in general nowadays (not specific to your video) is that it's much less about creativity "Hey, I had a new insight into Tolkien" and much more about clickbait titles designed to infuriate people, which drives traffic and metrics and money, so there are many more cynical, soulless videos now than before, just trying to churn cash. It's not just YT; it's social media. So sorry you found the pollution crept into a Tolkien video's comments, but I'm afraid it's everywhere now.


May 13, 11:05pm

Post #4 of 14 (8794 views)
First of all... [In reply to] Can't Post

...I'm very sorry that it made you so upset and I'm sending relaxing and calming thoughts your way! My only real thought (mindful of the TOS) is that there's an increasingly slim section of the internet that manages to be a fulfilling place to be that doesn't cater to a person's more negative tendances/tone/fears/etc. TORn has probably always been the exception to the rule, but I think a more polarized (or a more vocally and visibly polarized) society only makes those things more pronounced, severe, vicious and possessive. It slips into TORn here and there, but like stray Orcs, they tend to get lost in Fangorn (or the Reading Room) and don't usually stick around very long.

My best suggestion is to go outside and breathe the fresh air again, look at the trees and flowers and clouds and stars, talk to some friends and loved ones, and you're already more in-tune with what Tolkien was really about. No one can take that from you, and there's practically nothing on the internet (especially comment sections) that'll be as good for you.

And my other suggestion is - if you're comfortable with it - to try to share your love of Tolkien with someone in your life! Ask them if they'd read the books with you, etc. I read LOTR with a friend last year and it brought me much closer to them as a result, on top of the joy of reading the books together.

I hope this didn't come across as patronizing - I'm sure you've thought about these things too, but I hope it's helpful hearing it from a stranger.

Take care!

Join us every weekend in the Hobbit movie forum for this week's CHOW (Chapter of the Week) discussion!


May 14, 2:18pm

Post #5 of 14 (8765 views)
You've got Tolkien's message right, imho :) [In reply to] Can't Post

There will always be conflicts of opinion or interpretation on any subject, and Tolkien is not safe from those opinions that will feed the negativity. I have a weird way of approaching anything that causes me conflict. "You are what you eat." That's not just about food, but also the consumption of the noise around you. If it creates the kind of angst you're feeling, stop eating it ;) If you let it in and let it compromise your Tolkien-zen... they've fulfilled their goal.

When I first found Tolkien in 1971, there was all sorts of back-and-forth noise about the books and characters also. Tolkien "fans" were pretty isolated with limited access to fellow fans when there were only occasional animated movies, some underground-esque slogans ("Frodo lives"), etc. But it was still possible to embrace and enjoy Middle-earth. There's so much saturation now with the overload and stimulation of today's tech... it's hard to maintain the very special place Tolkien has created. A big part of that for me is that his story is so easy to live in with my own life experiences. Finding TORn and so many who feel the same way (or better) about Tolkien's work has been life changing; but I still read the books in that simple, intimate, familiar place in my imagination.

What happened to applicability? Timelessness?
One of my favourite aspects of all Tolkien's stories is the recurring strength in pluralism. We're shown repeatedly how the division between races and peoples results in distrust and corruption, and that good only comes when people put aside their differences and work together to fight against the ONE singular, to rule them all.

There! You've got it right :) The negative noise will always be around; but you can just let them go play their joy-killing games over there and not let them diminish your Tolkien-zen. Feast away!!! :)


We have been there and back again.

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Tol Eressea

May 14, 10:02pm

Post #6 of 14 (8733 views)
Echoing CuriousG... [In reply to] Can't Post

...YouTube comments, as well as (but even more than) internet comment sections in general, tend to be awful and make me want to gouge my eyes out, so they typically give an especially bad impression of any sort of Discourse. That said, Tolkien contained multitudes even more than most people, holding a wide array of views which are very difficult to map onto any common belief system, so people from all around the globe and across the political spectrum – or spectrums, since it can be hard to generalise about ideology across every single country – have long been able to find meaning in Tolkien's works. Far-right readings of Tolkien have been a notable thing since at least the 1970s, when Italian neofascists ran "hobbit camps" for their youth wings. White supremacist readings of Tolkien can also be found in Nordic countries. Varg Vikernes, who recorded music under the name Burzum (Black Speech "darkness"), is perhaps the most infamous example given his convictions for murder and arson of churches (including one from the 12th century; needless to say, not something I can imagine Tolkien condoning). But you are of course correct that there have been plenty of left-wing readings of Tolkien as well, most notably by the '60s counterculture.

I obviously have my own views and thus consider some readings of Tolkien to be self-evidently wrong, but I can see where they come from. Tolkien stated in Letter 45, "I have in this War [WW2] a burning private grudge – which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler [for] Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light." He also disliked the word Nordic for its association with "racialist theories" (Letter 294), though in contemporary times its use is generally pretty neutral. I think this is telling as to Tolkien's own beliefs, but it's not surprising that people who already interpret Norse/Germanic mythology and culture through a white supremacist lens apply that same lens to any modern work which draws inspiration from the same, regardless of authorial intent. Furthermore, Tolkien's works are set in the northwest corner of Middle-earth because he was inspired by the languages, cultures, and geography of northwest Europe, and some readers consequently see the legendarium as "belonging" to northwest Europeans,* and react poorly to fan works or adaptations which implicitly or explicitly dispute this.** Not necessarily many readers in proportional terms, but Tolkien's readership is so huge, and people with strong views so vocal, that it can seem that way.

Anyway, I'm sorry that the comments you came across were upsetting. I withdrew from a number of Tolkien communities in the late 2010s because the alleged political agenda of ROP – or the presumed agenda at first, from the moment it was announced and before we even knew what the show would be about – significantly changed the tenor of discussion in a lot of places in ways I found draining to my mental health. I miss some of those communities and the friends I made in them, but I think pulling back was the right decision for me. I hope you make whatever the right decisions are for you! :)


* Not all of whom were considered white when Tolkien was born, or for much of his life, though a lot of people are very good at forgetting this.

** This is not, of course, to say that the only reason to dislike ROP, or any other Tolkien adaptation, is resentment of its purported political messages. I was, on the whole, unimpressed by ROP S1 myself.

(This post was edited by Eldy on May 14, 10:03pm)

Grey Havens

May 14, 10:56pm

Post #7 of 14 (8715 views)
The comments in that video, yes... [In reply to] Can't Post

Youtube tends to filter positive comments to the top, but if you sort by newest you usually get a broader idea of people's opinions, and it can be ugly.

As you say, the video itself is well-balanced and most of the comments are fair - I'm not against people bringing politics into Tolkien, I think there are perfectly valid political discussions to be had in Tolkien's work.

But since RoP released there seems to have been this wave of really strong opinions claiming their interpretation is the only correct one, and often the opinions are outright offensive. Seeing these comments swamp every video and discussion gets depressing.

But as others have said, it's not exclusive to Tolkien. Comments like this can be found everywhere, sadly.

Grey Havens

May 14, 11:27pm

Post #8 of 14 (8712 views)
I really appreciate that, thankyou... [In reply to] Can't Post

Not patronising at all, I deeply appreciate all the kind words and support!

Everyone here seems to understand what I was trying to say and have expressed it in better words than I can. Laugh I've enjoyed reading all the replies and will take your advice on board for sure.

I wish I had a friend to read LotR with, that sounds wonderful! I'm glad you got so much from that experience, what a beautiful idea. I guess the closest thing I have is this forum, but maybe I could look into joining a book club or something. That could be fun.

It's funny, as an introvert - I used to spend all my time on the internet so I could avoid difficult people irl. But nowadays I'm limiting my internet usage to avoid the difficult people online Laugh

Grey Havens

May 15, 12:30am

Post #9 of 14 (8706 views)
Thankyou for such a detailed reply! [In reply to] Can't Post

I was hoping for a post like this, you actually answered my question, this is so fascinating! I'd love to know more. I had no idea about the Hobbit Camps, or any far-right associations going back that far.

As I said, I used to associate early Tolkien fans with hippies (which I'm sure Tolkien disapproved of) and also with smart, Oxford educated students of literature and mythology. Then later came your typical D&D nerds (all of these are silly stereotypes, I know). But the far-right I thought was quite a new development. I feel like there's a whole area of Tolkien history I've overlooked (perhaps for good reason).

I've read a number of articles recently making claims that LotR supports eugenics or is racist in its description of orcs, or is sexist in its depiction of women. Often taking quotes completely out of context or skewing the authors intention with their own interpretations. And seeing so many comments from people with these beliefs upsets me...

It makes me sad to think that future generations might look back at Tolkien or his fans as being far-right or racist, when I feel there's nothing in the books that actually supports this. I don't want a time to come when I feel ashamed to call myself a Tolkien fan because of how our own silly stereotype is perceived. ...If that makes any sense?

I'm sorry you needed to withdraw from those communities, but I completely understand. I'm glad you were able to recognise the effect it was having on you and to move forward. I'll try to do the same, thankyou. Luckily there are pockets of good people and good communities online where trolls seldom come. Although, as Cats16 said, they do occasionally stumble in uninvited. But we can manage those.


May 16, 4:04pm

Post #10 of 14 (8252 views)
We've all changed [In reply to] Can't Post

None of us have escaped the internet unscathed.

Some of us are more online than others.

Sometimes it feels so heavy and oppressive that I can no longer remember the taste of strawberries and cream, or Rosie Cotton dancing...

*Gestures wildly around at everything: "This IS Mordor, Sam..."

"So which story do you prefer?"
"The one with the tiger. That's the better story."
"Thank you. And so it goes with God."


May 19, 9:45am

Post #11 of 14 (6356 views)
Echoing Eldy echoing CuriousG (and agreeing with everyone else) [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm so sorry you had this hoirrid experience, AshNazg. Hateful and angry online comments are something some folks can just shrug off (or find amusing), but are really upsetting to others. I'm often in the second camp.

Do I think things have changed since 2012-13 when you and I signed up to these boards? Well yes (but also no).

Folks have already said that Tolkien fans have come from across the political spectrum for a long time. I think that developments in social media have just made it much easier for people to be really nasty to each other.

And developments in politics and current affairs have been such that more people feel threatened by one thing or another, and I think that can come out in how people approach social media. And of course it is true that there are many people and robots with a propaganda, political or commercial agenda to fulfil.

I think another thing that might have happened is that the Tolkien fandom has become big enough for new kinds of exploitation. I agree with Eldy how noticible it was that provocative rumours about ROP were circulating long before it made any sense to do more than just wait and see. I think that this was because provocation was now worthwhile (stoking the American culture war for political purposes; or for rankings in a ruthlessly competitive world of Tolkien influencers; or for commercial gain; or for online attention of other kinds).

But it was disapointing how credulous about this speculative stuff some fans seemed.

I also think that Tolkien fandom online has become big enough that more people don't care who they offend. Or at least I'm contrasting how things went in the run up to ROP with how TORN felt when I turned up. At that point it still seemed amazing to me that there was a community I could discuss Tolkien with, and I felt there was a shared sense of purpose (I imagine tha was an even stronger feeling when the site first started). I think that kept a number of us on best behaviour, and willing to swerve away from marginal subjects that might be contentious.

Of course we had a sprinkling of tedious pedants, attention-seeking smarty-pants and people who could not accept any opinion other than their own (a strange approach for someone joining a discussion site, where you'd imagine you expect to find you ideas ....discussed?). But whether a pleasant and worthwhile conversation can be maintained is about numbers and ratios of positive and negative contributions.

Like others, I really could have done without the cantankerous drunken uncle runining the family gathering with his monologue behaviour of some fans over ROP. And in some way -- I'm not sure exactly how when I don't see that kind of behaviour in such volume now -- something seems to have permanently shifted or broken in how I feel about this place. I haven't worked that out yet, or what I want to do about it.

I fear that all this will get worse.

  • There are new tools - in AI and so on -- to automate the production of hateful, wrong, fake, libellous or otherwise maddening or confusing content on social media.
  • I don't see our multiple current affairs crises being solved quickly.
  • I have my own opinions about the quality of political candidates up for election in many different polities around the world this year.
  • I also think we have entered the age of increased 'fan impotence' -- the vulnerability of caring about something deeply but having no control over it..
Concerning that last point:

Compared with the time when Tolkien (and his estate) could just sell books, really there's big money to be made (or at least sought) in Tolkien entertainment products nowadays. And a lot of that market is the casual audience, rather than the Tolkien aficionado (or asphyxionado perhaps, when I think of how some fans would like to choke the life out of anything tha doesn't exactly match how they had personally imagined Tolkien's world).

I expect ROP to be only the first media production that some fans are really going to hate vociferously from before the moment there is the slightest actual thing except rumour and prejudice to base an opinion on. I suspect that will become standard. I think many fans have become just impossible to please.

But that is the fate of all kinds of fans when the big money moves in. As a parallel I'm thinking of the exploitation of football (soccer) fans by their clubs in England. Probably it is the same elsewhere, and for other sports. The ticket prices go up and up, and yet you are not a proper fan unless you attend the games. The team strip is changed more and more often and yet you must collect it to be a proper fan. The club is brought by some dodgy reputation-laundering (or money-laundering) billionaire or corporation who can sell your favourite players, bankrupt the club, move the ground or do any number of other vexing things. It is not uncommon for fans to hold protests at games whre they boo their owners. The apparently obvous thing to do -- just switch support a better-run or less annoying club -- is I'm told impossible. The worst transgression of all is to for a soccer fan to switch alliegence.

I feel comparatively lucky here - I don't feel obliged to watch ROP, or buy the last barrel-scrapings of Tolkien's writing, or compete to be the Alpha Tolkien Nerd.

What to do then? Or, what not to do?

NoWizards seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. Smile

Also of course, I can't make folks less credulous, less addicted to doomscrolling, less angry, or less inclined to drunk-post. We can't make folks less enthusiastic about picking out the tiniest possible fault with shows or other fans (to show how much they know). Or to then make the greatest possible fuss about it, to show the extent of their 'passion' -- or to get clicks, likes, follows, or sales of vitamin supplemets (or because they are a propaganda 'bot stirring thinsg up).

For myself, I think I'll be taking up the advice folks here have already offered - as smaller doses of online stuff begin to affect me, I'll take less. I'll go and do something real instead. I'll do my best not to be an ass online myself. And I'll not worry about things I can't control, like the direction of the 'fandom' or what Tolkien entertainment products of the future will be like, or how the future will view Tolkien or his fans.
*These are all genuine -- though in my view pretty ridiculous -- historical gripes about ROP.

"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.

(This post was edited by noWizardme on May 19, 9:51am)


May 19, 6:16pm

Post #12 of 14 (6256 views)
What is the Tolkien community? [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien has readership fans.
Tolkien has movie fanss.
Tolkien has specific website fans.
Tolkien has oppositional critics.

I don't people have changed so much as every one has a louder voice.

Facts are still facts....a circle is not a square, 2+2 does not equal 7....this is not an interpretation. Noting personal dislike of some plot or writing decision does not equate to some ism. Some of the comments above could be objectionable for their broad generalizations. Life is too short to get overly annoyed by opinions. Discussion should always be encouraged. I would say that for the most part people are respectful. Some are more easily triggered over a certain comments but that comes with the territory of any discussion. Do people want to see two distinct threads that are exclusive for people who share the same viewpoint - Fans of ROP only and Critics of ROP only....and never the two should mix?

Oh well, enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Grey Havens

May 19, 9:15pm

Post #13 of 14 (6223 views)
All true, I think we all agree.. [In reply to] Can't Post

I really appreciate all the replies, and I apologise if any of my posts were objectionable. I understand it can be a controversial topic and I'm not the most delicate at such subjects, I can put my foot in my mouth at times, but I think my general intention was understood here.

Nobody wants two distinct threads separating us all and nobody wants to silence respectful discussion. We should be able to express our opinions freely and be open to other interpretations and disagreements without feeling put down - and that's the key point...

My OP was more about those who close off healthy discussions by claiming "My view is the correct one and everyone else is wrong". You see this behaviour a lot on YouTube, which I guess isn't a discussion-focused platform..

I also expressed a concern of Tolkien fans being viewed as increasingly more far-right. I want to clarify, this is an observation I made ignorant to the history of these interpretations. I thought it was a new thing. But just to be clear I am talking exclusively about the wider perception of Tolkien's works being associated with very extreme views. Obviously the reality is that fans come in all shapes and sizes and their views are individual and nuanced. But I'd hate for a stereotype to emerge from people claiming one interpretation over another.

I'm not opposed to people discussing their dislike of writing or casting decisions - as you said they do not equate to isms. But many comments I've seen out in the wild absolutely do, and they're often the ones claiming ownership of Tolkien. I would hate for us all to become associated with such views, that's all.

Hope that all makes sense.


May 20, 12:26am

Post #14 of 14 (6159 views)
Fans and ownership [In reply to] Can't Post

You raise a good point about

But many comments I've seen out in the wild absolutely do, and they're often the ones claiming ownership of Tolkien.

Sometime in the last 1-2 years (hazy memory day), Wiz posted a quote from Neil Gaiman who addressed GOT fans' sense of ownership of GOT to the point that they sent negative, bossy messages to George Martin about what he should write and when (or close to that). I'm more focused on bringing up the idea of fans and ownership in general than discussing GOT: something can become near and dear to your heart. LOTR did for me. A lot of my ethical values were directly influenced by Tolkien. I had my own version of WWGD/WWFD etc ringing in my mind for many years when I was in doubt ("what would Gandalf/Frodo/Faramir do?"). So when something stops being another book you read or another movie/TV show you watch and really becomes a part of your life, there is that temptation to lay claim to it in some way.

And I think you pointed out that the simple enough answer is: don't go down that road. Love it all you want, but don't claim it as your own, because other people claim it too. We'll just cross our fingers and hope Tolkien's works don't get embraced so loudly by extremists that LOTR becomes "those books that only crazy, angry people read."


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