Conventional wisdom in fan studies presumes that writers of fan fiction or transformative fiction assume a level of authority equal to that of the original author and editor, an authority that grants them the right to critique, comment upon, and even change the facts present in the original work in an attempt to achieve coherence between the imagined world and the fan writer's personal experiences. In the Tolkien fan fiction community, as this paper will show, this assumption is not so simple. The amount of authority granted to a fan fiction writer is a central conflict within the Tolkien fan fiction community, and community-built archives often reflect the various views on this issue.
Tolkien's construction of his legendarium as a pseudohistory, complete with fictional narrators or loremasters, offers one means by which some writers of Tolkien-based fan fiction extend their authority to critique and change the details of the texts. As this paper will show, Tolkien employed fictional loremasters and wrote his books from their distinctly biased perspectives. Pengolodh, as the primary loremaster of The Silmarillion, was given a background that leaves him particularly susceptible to bias, and analysis of how characters and realms are discussed in The Silmarillion show that this bias reflects subtly in ways that even readers unfamiliar with Pengolodh's personal history are able to detect. Correcting this bias by showing other perspectives on the story becomes a motive not only for writing fan fiction but for extending the fan writer's authority far enough to allow alteration of details of the text.
Using a survey I conducted of Tolkien fan fiction readers and writers, as well as data collected from online Tolkien fan fiction archives, I show that writers of fan fiction based on The Silmarillion do often choose which characters they write about based on that character's subjection to negative historical bias from the pseudohistorical loremasters. Characters receiving negative bias tend to be more popular subjects with many Silmarillion fan fiction writers, who attempt to show the story from those characters' perspectives and correct the bias in the source text. However, not all archives showed this effect, and authors on archives with a reputation for a more conservative use of the source texts are significantly less motivated by historical bias than authors on archives that encourage critical and corrective motives for writing fan fiction. This difference illustrates the fragmentation of the Tolkien fan fiction community along the lines of authority, namely the extent to which it is acceptable for writers of fan fiction to assume equal authority to J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien in altering the texts to better reflect the writer's understanding of reality. In the fan fiction community in particular—a community comprised primarily of women—fans use the historical bias in the texts and their own experiences with bias and injustice to justify granting a more prominent role to characters and groups maligned or ignored by the books' fictional loremasters and to maintain relevance of the books to a more diverse audience than Tolkien himself likely imagined.
Walls-Thumma, Dawn M.
"Attainable Vistas: Historical Bias in Tolkien's Legendarium as a Motive for Transformative Fanworks,"
Journal of Tolkien Research: Vol. 3:
3, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholar.valpo.edu/journaloftolkienresearch/vol3/iss3/3