This is an exposition of the history of Tolkien fandom, not written by me. It was relocated from the article to a blog because of the text's resemblance to a school essay or journalist commentary.
Mainstream and media fans
The major divisions of Tolkien Fandom can best be explained in a chronological context.
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) was published in 1954 and The Hobbit prelude in 1937, and bootleg paperbacks eventually found their way into colleges in the U.S.A. in the 1960s. The "hippie" following latched onto the book, but a great many did so for possibly misguided reasons; some openly stated that they felt the Dark Lord Sauron represented the United States military draft during the Vietnam War; an impossibility given the fact that the work was written by a World War I veteran during World War II and published over a decade before escalations in Vietnam. This led to "mainstream" groups to label Lord of the Rings as some sort of "hippie book", which was simply not the case: even Tolkien called them The Deplorable Cultus, stating that "Many American fans enjoy the books in a way which I do not".
Still, many people throughout the world simply fell in love with the book (as it has been translated into numerous languages), and although not everyone agrees that The Lord of the Rings actually created the entire fantasy genre of novels, it was certainly and undeniably a profound influence. It formed almost a "Myth of Er", in that it created a new genre where there was none before. Many fantasy series such as "The Sword of Shannara" and Dennis L. McKiernan's Mithgar series were created by fans of LOTR.
Then, in the late 1970's, Ralph Bakshi and other developed a series of animated films based on The Lord of the Rings, with the most popular being The Hobbit - a 1977 short film. However, these animated features were meant not meant for the more mature audience, as these short films were created a childrens stories, as these films contained numerous morals, folktale music, childish-animated humor and showed little violence (when violence in the films did take place, there was no blood or gore to be seen, which disappointed many of the older and more mature fans). However, Tolken had created The Lord of the Rings for an older audience. The series of movies was never finished however, and ended up being a major "flop" in many devoted fans eyes. (It should be noted, however, that fans, hungry for any material related to The Lord of the Rings at all, watched the movies anyways.) The last effect was that the "mainstream" viewed Lord of the Rings as "hippie-nonsense" and "childish" even more, and the work that was probably one of the most mature fantasy novels became viewed otherwise.
Still, a massive fanbase of readers developed over the years. Many could be described as fanboys or geeks, under their Wikipedia definitions. 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 mythology.
With the release of the Peter Jackson live-action movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, each of the three movies release in serial from December 2001 to December 2003, The Lord of the Rings has gained a much broader audience.
Today, estimates vary wildly, but the majority of the fans are those who have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, yet have identified themselves as part of Lord of the Rings fandom through watching the featured films and being avidly involved with the rest of The Lord of the Rings franchise - from video games to purchasing weapon replicas and other materials based off those used in the movies or attending Comic Con as their favorite characters.
Organized Tolkien Fandom
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.
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-Palantir 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, primarily in the New York area, and was 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 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 (UK) was founded in the UK 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 U.K. 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 Forodrim was founded in Sweden in 1972, and has an especially active group interested in Tolkien's languages, Mellonath Daeron. Arthedain, the Tolkien Society of Norway was founded in 1981 and issues a journal Angerthas.
The major categories, in no particular order, are:
- Fans who read the books before the movies were released (or buzz about their release started in 2000), or at least not as a result of the ensuing hype.
- Fans who read the books after the first movie was released.
- Fans of the movies who have never read the books.
Fans who read the books before the movies came out fall into two or three categories (note that the terminology varies but the basic groups are the same):
- The Purists a.k.a. The Old Guard: Fans of The Lord of the Rings who felt the movies strayed too far from the books, and are considerably inferior to them.
- On the other side of this schism are fans of both the books and the films.
Finally, there are fans of the movies who have not read the books. Some have just never had the time to read such a long work as the Lord of the Rings, but nonetheless understand that it is an adaptation. Many are (and are treated as) quite respectable fans. There are, however, exceptions.
One division of those fans that have, read the books is:
- Fans who have read only The Lord of the Rings (and probably also The Hobbit)
- Fans who have also read the additional material such as The Silmarillion and the long series of uncompleted writings starting with the Unfinished Tales and culminating in The History of Middle-earth series.
This second group can be further divided:
- Those who accept the published Silmarillion as canon, and quantify or ignore the rest
- Those who see the published Silmarillion as faulty in many parts, and who see stories from UT or the HoME as canon.
- Those who accept that the mind of Tolkien was never fixed on a particular version, and who are happy to do without any "canon".
See Middle-earth canon for an extended discussion on this second split.
There is also a subcategory, called 'Tolkienian linguists': people who are interested in the languages of Middle-earth, mainly Elvish. These people study seriously the languages as if they were real ones (much like how Tolkien himself made them, with a virtual yet realistic etymology, evolution, grammar, vocabulary and alphabets).
A notable division occurs in that field among the purists and reconstructionists.
The former believe that Tolkien's languages, however sophisticated and well made, are not intended to be regularised for practical use, but only for scholarly study. The latter try to establish a standard and consistent system of the languages, often discarding Tolkien's experimental and abandoned forms, and often expand the vocabulary and grammar by reconstruction in order to translate names, phrases and poems. To the purists, these expansions are frowned down upon, as much as fan fiction, and they consider such attempts of systematisation futile.
The reconstructionists also prefer for this reason only the most later forms of Tolkien's creations, believing that earlier forms of his languages belong to a different universe (in a way that the Book of Lost Tales belongs in a different universe than the Silmarillion) and concentrate their studies on them. The purists prefer to regard all the forms of his languages as conceptual evolution of a single creation. Notable known reconstructionists include David Salo, the linguist who was mainly responsible for the reconstructed Quenya, Sindarin and other Tolkien languages in the movies.
An accusation from the purists against the reconstructionists is that the latter, trying to systematise everything according to logic and fit everything in their theories, come to hasty and biased assumptions that often contradict Tolkien's writings. Notable purists include Carl F. Hostetter, the editor of Vinyar Tengwar.
Effects of the films
The number of fans (and the number of people who will admit in public to being fans) has increased enormously due to the benefits of mass media and advertising, as has the number of people who have read of or at least heard of the books.
However, some of the new "Tolkien fans" are apparently unaware or uncaring that the films were based on a book. On points where the books and movie diverge, many book fans will accept changed scenes more or less, but new fans who have never read the books usually base beliefs about the mythology on the movie, beliefs that are contradictory to established canon. For example, movie fans might think Arwen is a warrior, which, while not entirely impossible within the actual story, is certainly not supported by any material published by Tolkien. (Similarly, all Elves are not automatically strong warriors and archers.) Arwen's strength in the book is emotional and possibly spiritual, and the feeling of many new fans that she must also be a strong fighter (in order to be a "worthwhile female character") is counterproductive, actually weakening the character.
A special kind of "new fandom" centers around fangirls who tend to idolize the male stars of the movies in a rather unhealthy way: most notably Orlando Bloom ("Legolas"), despite the fact that the role is not a major character.
Highly debatable issues
Then there are the divisions inherent to the story, the "Do Balrogs have wings?" debate had reached legendary (and to outsiders often comical) proportions. The books are ambiguous on the matter, but the movies follow the interpretation that they did have "wings of shadow". Could they fly? Did they even need wings to fly? The bad blood (and bad jokes) caused by this debate persists to this day.
Other popular debates include "Do Elves have pointed ears?", "Who or what is Tom Bombadil?", and anything to do with any change or adaptation made for the movies.
Smaller internal divisions (some would say, "spirited discussions") of this nature have fueled the online community for as long as there have been online communities.
The most popular fansite is currently TheOneRing.net, which is very popular even with the cast and crew. TORn, as it is also 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, TheOneRing.net is the most well known and is probably responsible for popularizing the term Ringers. Fans who have avoided the hype surrounding the movie therefore may not use the term, so it is probably preferable to say "Tolkien fans" or "Lord of the Rings" fans when in doubt.
Another popular fan site is LOTRPlaza, which is a role-playing site that doubles as a forum to discuss everything from whether Balrogs have wings to the best way to learn Sindarin.
Recently another fansite has surfaced that now has quite a good following of a variety of fans. This one is CouncilofElrond.com. It has lots of information on the books, movies, and languages of Tolkien's world. It also has a good community and forums for discussion and fun.
Currently some fans are pushing for the adaptation of The Hobbit prelude as a feature film. Their wishes have been heeded and a film is currently in production, to be released in two parts in December 2012 and December 2013.
After that, there is a strong drive to have the Silmarillion adapted, although the Tolkien Estate has not sold the film rights. The Silmarillion could provide enough material to easily create two more trilogies*… at least, but is especially troublesome as it is not a single story.
*Strictly speaking, The Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy, but rather a single book that—for purposes of publication—was divided into three volumes. This is another issue of frequent debate, and one misunderstood by movie fans who have not read the books. In fact, Tolkien did not even come up with the names of the three volumes, and later regretted his publisher using the title Return of the King as he felt it gave too much away.
Brazilain Tolkien fans have a very nice website the tolkienbrasil.com, which publishes articles and news on everything related to Tolkien.