A new resource has opened up for anyone interested in Tolkien fandom and research. The journal Mallorn is now open access and free (except for the last two years as part of a rolling paywall). As I was browsing the issues I couldn’t help noticing the range of articles and fan creations, including discussions about the fandom, that had been published in its pages.
The reason my mind turns to these subjects is the recent spate of attacks on social media against Tolkien conference presenters and organizers who were simply doing what they always do – that is, investigating and exploring Tolkien’s texts in an effort to better understand his work and how it relates to our world today. However, a mob of social media trolls stand ready to insult and accuse as soon as they hear of any scholarly work on Tolkien or fantasy that contains terms that trigger their investment in the right-wing “Culture Wars,” such as “diversity,” “queer,” “racism,” “heterodoxy,” “pagan.” Whether on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, and I’m sure elsewhere, they simply repeat and repost each other’s unfounded accusations, round and round, in a self-confirming loop.
Theirs is a ludicrous attempt to restrict the discourse on Tolkien by maintaining only one point of view on his work. One of the often-repeated claims is that because Tolkien was a Catholic, only discussion of approved traditional Christian beliefs is “allowed.” Furthermore, one tweeter informed me that only ideas mentioned by Tolkien were acceptable – if Tolkien didn’t say it, we can’t discuss it. He then, on second thought, added that because Tolkien’s son Christopher edited and studied so much of his father’s work, it was also acceptable to discuss anything Christopher had said. If neither one of them mentioned an idea, then “it wasn’t real.” I was informed that I suffer from “extreme hubris” if I think otherwise. These unreasonable restrictions not only misunderstand the nature of literary analysis of any author but also overlook Tolkien’s own statement that he disliked the “domination of the author” and preferred the “freedom of the reader” in interpretation (See the Foreword to the Second Edition of LotR).
Social media comments such as those above are based on the mistaken belief that the fandom used to be homogeneous and static but now it was being disrupted by illicit ideas. Apparently, according to one tweeter, I am an “ideologue” who has “infiltrated” the venerable 50-year-old Tolkien Society. (I find this particularly amusing, since some of my research, forthcoming in the Tolkien Society 2019 conference proceedings, draws on biblical typology as explained by the Old English writer AElfric in his Catholic Homilies). In any case – browse the past issues of Mallorn, and you will see that Tolkien fandom has elicited diverse discussions, including Indo-Iranian influence, gender and sexuality, Marxism, and Jewish influences, to name only a few.1 The Tolkien Society may have been a conservative and quite homogeneous group, but there were some people in it who made room at least to acknowledge and debate other views.
For example, look at the first issue of Mallorn published in 1970. In an editorial, Rosemary Pardoe admits, “I regret that the Society has an unfortunate reputation for narrow-mindedness and fanaticism.” To combat that perception and in the hope of winning new members, she states, “As far as I’m concerned this magazine is open to anyone to write anything about LotR whether they think it’s a fairy tale, an allegory or even any of the hippy ideas.” (Mallorn no. 1, 1970, p. 3). The editors make good their promise in the second issue where Belladonna Took (Vera Chapman) and A.R. (Faramir) Fallone debate the political positions of “hippy” fandom, with Chapman stating a conservative view in “Hippies or Hobbits” and Fallone with some objections in “On Behalf of the Half-Hippy.” The debate is further carried out in vol. 3 (1971) by Bob Borsley in “Some Thoughts on Hippies and Hobbits.” 2 None of these writers expresses radical positions, but I cite them because they are willing to discuss and analyze other political views, whether they share them or not, and to recognize that not all Tolkien fandom is the same.
Running throughout the objections of some of the social media posters is the fallacy of Christian persecution by the scholarly community, as if readings of Tolkien based on his Christian belief are consistently rejected by scholars. Although I could point to many different publications as contrary instances, here I’ll use Mallorn again as an example to cite some recently published essays: “The Healing of Théoden or ‘a glimpse of the Final Victory’” (J. Chausse, no. 59, 2018); “A Holy Party: Holiness in The Hobbit,” (N. Polk, no. 59, 2018); “The Harrowing of Hell Motif in Tolkien’s Legendarium” (R. Steed, no. 58, 2017). 3 It would be easy to find many others.
One of the things that recent attacks have revealed to me is that many people have no idea what literary criticism even does. Many seem to believe that any critique of Tolkien’s work is an attempt to “cancel” him or to remake his stories into something different. One naïve commentator on YouTube even admitted that she had rushed out to buy copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before they were changed by the critics!
Making a journal such as Mallorn open access is one way to better inform the public about what interdisciplinary scholarly criticism – the exploration of an author’s works from different points of view and expertise — is all about. It will not budge those who are entrenched in their restricted views, but others might be curious. Other open access periodicals, such as the Journal of Tolkien Research and Mythlore also contribute to the picture of the Tolkien studies field with their various interpretations by many different kinds of readers writing from different viewpoints. To my mind, rather than condemning this state of affairs, we should celebrate it.
I want to acknowledge that this year I joined the editorial board of Mallorn. For those who don’t know the inner workings of the scholarly world, we do not get paid for any scholarly journals’ peer reviews, editorial advice, or writing of essays (or blog posts).
1 These are the examples I’ve cited: McClain, M. “The Indo-Iranian Influence on Tolkien.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 19, Dec. 1982, pp. 21-24, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/329. Craig, D. M. “‘Queer lodgings’: Gender and Sexuality in The Lord of the Rings.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 38, Jan. 2001, pp. 11-18, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/145. Unknown. “A Marxist Looks at Middle-earth or The Political Economy of the Shire.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 9, Jan. 1975, pp. 24-29, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/283. Cramer, Z. “Jewish Influences in Middle-earth.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 44, Aug. 2006, pp. 9-16, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/113.
2 The editorial of the first edition can be found here: Pardoe, R. “Editorial.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 1, 1970, p. 3, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/issue/view/2/2. The various articles on the theme of hippy fandom are: Borsley, B. “Some Thoughts on Hippies and Hobbits.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 3, May 1971, pp. 17-19, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/262. Chapman, V. “Hippies or Hobbits?” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 2, Jan. 1971, pp. 11-13, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/257. Fallone, A. “On Behalf of the Half-Hippy.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 2, Jan. 1971, pp. 14-16, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/258.
3 Chausse, J. “The Healing of Théoden or ‘a Glimpse of the Final Victory’.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 59, Dec. 2018, pp. 49-51, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/23. Polk, N. “A Holy Party: Holiness in The Hobbit.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 59, Dec. 2018, pp. 57-63, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/16. Steed, R. “The Harrowing of Hell Motif in Tolkien’s Legendarium.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 58, Dec. 2017, pp. 6-9, https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/view/26.