Reading, Writing, Rowling: Tolkien Again


From Laurie Beckoff’s description of this episode over at

Katy and John continue the conversation with Dr. Sara Brown and Dr. Amy Sturgis, this time focusing on the fans and the film versions of the iconic fantasy series of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. We discuss whether the Rowling and Tolkien fandoms are oppositional or intersecting, and what the newer Rowling fan community can learn from Tolkien fans’ experiences. In both fandoms, there are questions about how people became interested in the worlds (books, movies, cosplay), intergenerational and global differences, and people who mingle elements of Middle-Earth and the Wizarding World in their own creative fan productions. Amy asks, “What Hogwarts house would Galadriel have been in?”

We compare fans’ creative expressions and consider whether these offer fans a chance to critique Tolkien and Rowling, especially through what Sara calls “writing into the gaps,” which allows fans to greatly expand the worlds they love so much by focusing on neglected characters and scenes. Fan discussions of the authors’ approaches to race and gender exist in both fan communities. Tolkien and Rowling readers alike seek immersive experiences, too, that allow them to live in the Shire or attend a wizarding school. Fans of Middle-earth and the Wizarding World seek out communities based on “loved things held in common.”

Part 1 of this Tolkien-Rowling discussion can be found here: ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling: It’s Tolkien!


  1. Brian Basore says

    RWR 28 and 29 were great.

    Not to worry about fandom and their books if the quality of the reader attraction is there. Generations of fans have died and taken what they thought with them in the 150+ years of Lewis Carroll fandom, and there are still fans (all kinds of them) and the books.

    We know what Tolkien knew about Carroll and and what he thought of him, because of Tolkien’s collected letters. Similarly, it is documented that C. S. Lewis looked for the one surviving man who had worked with Carroll, when Lewis started at University. We do not know what specifically attracted Oscar Wild and Queen Victoria, of the first generation of Carroll fans, to the Alice books, other than they were fans. But that shows the attraction was there from the first.

  2. Interesting discussion on both podcasts. I was so excited that you did a discussion on Tolkien. I really enjoyed in part one the section on literary alchemy in The Lord of the Rings. I also enjoyed your critique of the Hobbit movies. My husband suffered from some “evil tinnitus” as well.

    I found it interesting that you separated out Tolkien and Potter fans that much. In 2001, my best friend got me into Harry Potter and I got her into Tolkien. I just assumed that their was quite of bit of overlap between fandoms before, I guess I was wrong!

    Yes John, that means my friend and I partially came to the books through major motion picture movies. But my father and brother were huge Tolkien fans and I heard the story in various forms (books, audio adaptations, cartoon movies) from a very small child and can’t remember not knowing the story. And I read every book in Potter and Rings book before I at least saw the next movie. I think it is possibly to keep a “book Harry” and a “movie Harry” images separate in my head. But I think the scenery in both The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are more vivid to me then what the characters look like.

    Speaking if which, “Tolkien was a racist.” “Oh, yes, Tolkien was a racist.” makes for a really boring podcast. My I submit the idea that if Frodo were darker skinned but still a hobbit from the Shire (aka pre-industrial Britain) the story would be exactly the same? It’s language and culture, perceived or actual differences between races, and yes, prejudices and grudges (sometimes well deserved) over history between countries/backgrounds/races that matters. As well as, and most importantly, actual acts of hatred and violence. Tolkien explores these themes deeply and compassionately with elvish-dwarf relations, the constant underestimating of the hobbits and Faramir’s speech over the slain southern soldier. I’ve taken the orcs to be something like WWI British soldiers when Sam listens to their conversation. Less so when they’re talking about killing the hobbits or each other. But even the stock villains, (just to clarify, orcs, also known as goblins in the Hobbit and other children’s stories) have some complexity.

    I also thought it interesting that you defined Potter and Tolkien fans as people who write/read fan fiction and attend conferences. All of those are fine. Okay, I think wading through fan fiction to find something that is well written and doesn’t completely undermine the story sounds awful and I don’t want retcons of Tolkien the way we have with Harry Potter, but if it’s worth it too you, that’s okay. But doesn’t loving the stories, having a deep personal connection with the stories, learning from them, and reading the books one, or ten or twenty, times count?

  3. But doesn’t loving the stories, having a deep personal connection with the stories, learning from them, and reading the books one, or ten or twenty, times count?

    I hope I didn’t say that only the fan fiction writers and convention go-ers count as ‘true fans.’ If I did, I was wrong. No one in my family has ever gone to a fan convention (unless accompanying me on a trip paid for by the convention) or written a word of fan fic and they are uber-fans of the series.

  4. Oh no, you’re good, John. Dr. Brown and Dr. Sturgis talked about fan fiction and conventions a fair amount. But I can understand if they were doing that as a way to guess at the number of people who are fans of both Tolkien and Potter. I’d imagine we don’t have enough studies about that. I was just feeling a little left out. (Of the conventions, not the fan fiction.)

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