Kristi Lee
Nashville, TN USA
March 31, 2004

Under the Waterfall:
A fanfiction community's analysis of their
self-representation and peer review


In the fall semester of 2003, my friend and fanfiction scholar, Dr. Amy Sturgis, allowed me to sit in on a class that she was teaching at Belmont University entitled "Fan Participation in Media and Culture." It was an inter-disciplinary course which addressed exactly what the course title promised; fandom as expressed in myriad forms and within multiple genres, from the genesis of the first Star Trek convention to current writers of Labyrinth fanfiction, and much in-between: downloadable garage-band Harry Potter filking; watching and subsequently analyzing the messages portrayed in movies which highlighted fan culture such as "Free Enterprise" and "Galaxy Quest"; and papers presented by fellow students ranging from people who love all things Harley Davidson to groups who watch "The Andy Griffith Show" in syndication on a weekly basis. The purpose of the last project in the course was either to contribute to a particular fandom, whether in writing or artistic form, or to analyze one. As a relatively new, but prolific fanfiction writer, I felt that doing the first would be cheating, so this is my belated essay analyzing the online Tolkien fanfiction community of members of Henneth-Annûn.

Though the internet may have begun to mainstream fandom, it has not necessarily created a single, unified fan position or practice.1

Henneth-Annûn ( is a public, member-driven archive on the internet which went live in May of 2002, where writers of Tolkien-based fanfiction can post, or "publish" their stories. The Henneth-Annûn story archive (HASA) is run by volunteers, all of whom perform the maintenance duties of the site in addition to real life day jobs and family responsibilities. This site does not simply house stories, however. Within the site's members section, there are multiple areas of resources and forums which provide a public space in which a member can access other writers' particular knowledge about geography, warfare, poetry, food, or any number of other aspects to life in what has been coined the "Ardaverse,"2 the realm in which all Tolkien fanfiction is based. Writers can find beta readers, or proofreaders, to look over his/her work, as well as post comments about one's stories and await criticism or enthusiasm for one's works. The site has both a public and a members' exclusive section. There is no cost to becoming a member of the site. From the public area, one can read stories which have been accepted into the public realm of the archive after going through a nine-person, self-selected reviewing pool and have been accepted by at least five of the reviewers. From the members' area, one can read stories that are in progress, works which have not been submitted to the reviewing pool, and the Resources section, which includes Tolkien-based essays, character biographies, and URL links to other sites intended to aid an author who wishes to write within the rather complicated realm of Middle-earth.

From the Henneth-Annûn website, here are the final two paragraphs in the stated purpose of the archive:

Having been active in this particular part of Tolkien fandom for a year, I had discovered that fellow writers and readers tended to be more vocal about this particular archive and held definite biases toward or against it. The archive is not merely a "bookshelf," or place where all fanfiction is posted without any sort of selection process (ie. the model), and therefore there is "…a profound tension in the site between the attempt to be inclusive in the members area and the need to be exclusive in the archive."3 Implicit within the private and public side of the archive is an ever-changing, anonymous, self-selected group of people who have taken on the mantle of becoming objective judges of other people's writing. This is indeed an emotional and, to use a title of one of Tolkien's story collections, "perilous realm," whose sentiments are echoed in the words of this respondent:

2: one of the individuals composing a group

I have a deep and abiding love for the works of JRR Tolkien, and an equally deep appreciation of the people who have embraced me and welcomed me into this particular fellowship of wordsmiths. What more need be said? (28)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy and accompanying texts (including, but not limited to The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and the History of Middle Earth series edited by Christopher Tolkien) may be described as "cult texts" as explicated by Matt Hills in his book Fan Cultures:

Such a rich density of texts, accompanied by Peter Jackson's overwhelmingly popular movie interpretations of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, has inspired an almost unfathomable number of people to write their own stories using Tolkien's works and/or Peter Jackson's films as a starting point. The Tolkien online fanfiction community ranges in the tens of thousands, using the number of authors at as only a starting point.5

There are many Tolkien-based fanfiction archives on the web. Only a few are all-inclusive; most have particular guidelines or character focuses: slash only6; non-slash7; Legolas/Gimli stories8; Frodo-centric hurt/comfort9; R-rating maximum stories10; to list only a very few. HASA accepts all kinds of stories, regardless of time period, story genre, and rating level in regards to violent content or sexual explicitness. This attribute alone makes it unique within Tolkien fanfiction archives, though there are additional differences which set it apart from similar sites. At the time of writing this essay, there were around 460 active members at Henneth-Annûn.

Though almost all authors at the archive write under a pseudonym, those assumed names can be well known within the community. I wished for the people who replied to my survey to be completely candid and honest, so I specified that I would not use anything other than a numbering system when quoting responses in this essay. In November of 2003 I sent an email survey to everyone who had a member biography and a publicly listed email address. At the time, there were 183 people who I could contact, and from that, 50 people chose to reply to my questions, a response rate of 27%. As an active member of Henneth-Annûn myself, I recognized some of the names on the list that I knew had not contributed anything to any part of the archive in several months, and I do not believe that all 183 people on the list were still active at HASA when I contacted them.11

I felt I needed to have some benchmark questions, and length of active membership at HASA seemed to be a logical starting point. Of the 50 replies to the question, "How long have you been a member of the Henneth-Annûn story archive (not the yahoogroup list)?", 18 respondents or 36% had been members of HASA for 9 months or fewer; 18 respondents or 36% had been members for 10-15 months; and the remaining 14 respondents or 28% had been members for 16 months or longer. A few respondents indicated that they had been members since the inception of the site. The variety of months of membership in the responses of those who did reply means that the answers were skewed neither toward those who were relatively new to the archive, nor toward those who have been involved for well over a year.

The next benchmark questions had to do with what the members of HASA did at the archive, both in regards to contributions made and use of resources available. I asked, "What would you say is your primary activity at HASA- writer, reader, reviewer, admin, or some combination? (if it's a combination, please try to give a percentage or ratio of sorts, if possible)," and also, "What is your primary use of the archive? (for example: place to publish stories, place to communicate with other writers, find beta readers, etc.)" It was in these responses where some differing patterns emerged. Thirteen people, or 26%, indicated that they were not currently active writers, and of those, four specified that they were now mostly inactive in regards to HASA, though they had been more involved in the past. Four additional people indicated that at least 50% of their time spent at the archive had to do with their administrative and technical support duties. Fifteen people, or 30%, wrote that at least half of their active involvement was in writing, while 23 respondents, or 46%, indicated that at least 50% of their time at the archive was spent reading the stories there, whether completed or works in progress. In regards to reviewing stories, 21 respondents, or 42%, specified that they spent at least a tenth of their time as active reviewers.

Overwhelmingly, the people who replied to my survey use the archive as a place to house or publish their fanfiction. Of the 50 responses, 33 replies, or 66%, wrote that publishing their stories was either the primary reason for joining the archive, or it was one of only two reasons why s/he was a member of HASA. Fifteen people, or 30%, specified that one of their main purposes for becoming a member was to be able to communicate with other writers in the forums, and hopefully collaborate with like-minded writers. Below are some replies to the question "What is your primary use of the archive?".

The third part of the triumvirate of questions relating to participation in the archive had to do with members' use of aspects of the site that went beyond housing stories. I asked "Do you avail yourself of the forums, URL library, resources section, beta readers, etc?" All but thirteen people indicated that they did use the resources, forums and URL library at least from time to time. The remaining thirty-seven people, or a predominant 74%, use the archive beyond simply housing stories, or reading stories. Three respondents specified that they did use the beta reader section, and one writer specifically made not of his/her effort to get a beta writer, but to no avail.

2 b: the information transmitted to a point of origin of evaluative
or corrective information about an action or process

Since there are so many other Tolkien-based fanfiction archives on the internet, I asked the question, "If you are a ‘published' (as in, have stories posted publicly on the internet) writer, do you have stories archived at other locations besides HASA, such as other archives or your own website? If so, why?" Two respondents indicated that they were not published authors within Tolkien fandom, and of the remaining 48, 11 people, or 23%, replied that they chose specifically not to archive their stories at HASA. These author's reasons ranged from feeling uncomfortable or philosophically at odds with the stated goal of the archive of housing some of "the best" Tolkien fanfiction, to translation issues (one author was French), to having requested feedback and not receiving any, then removing their stories. At the other end of the spectrum, five authors, or 10%, revealed that their stories were available only at HASA. In those cases, reasons were not explicated. Most individuals who replied to my survey have stories both at HASA and other locales: other archives, their own websites, and in livejournal weblogs. An overwhelming 67% (32 people) fell into this last category. The answers to the question, "If so, why?" became repetitive, and being a writer myself, I was not surprised to see "maximum readership/additional feedback" come up multiple times- 22 times, or 69%.

A desire for more feedback or critiquing of works was a common theme voiced by several respondents, both in regards to the reviewing process, but also in general. Since almost one-third of those surveyed indicated that they hoped to have an active dialogue with other writers, such a pattern of comments was not unexpected, though the messages differed in perspective.

1: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion)
toward an object, person or thing

In the first chapter of Henry Jenkins' book Textual Poachers, he states that "The fans' response typically involves not simply fascination or adoration but also frustration and antagonism, and it is the combination of the two responses which motivates their active engagement…"12 While that phrase is couched in the context of fans' relationship to mass media, I believe that it is equally appropriate for describing the inter-personal relations between fans within a particular fandom, and even within unique aspects of a fandom, in this case, the writers and readers of Tolkien-based fanfiction who frequent the Henneth-Annûn archive. This sentiment is echoed by Kirsten Pullen in the concluding paragraph of her article " Creating Online Fan Communities:"

I wished to find out how the members of this particular archive saw themselves, both in regards to the other members of the archive, but also within the fandom as a whole. To that end, I asked the questions, "Do you compare this community with other fanfiction communities, either on your own or with other fanfiction community members? If so, what comments do you have about HASA and other archives? Do you 'behave' differently in other communities?" Unfortunately the wording of the questions was not as explicit as it could have been, and some respondents indicated that they only participated within Tolkien fandom, as opposed to answering that they participated only at HASA, if that indeed happened to be the case. I next asked for a free-thought response with these sentences: "Please describe how you feel as an active participant within this community. If you are active in other Tolkien fanfiction communities, feel free to compare your participation and experiences within HASA versus those in other communities." The replies to these questions varied widely, as evidenced by the few quotations listed above.

Of the fifty replies received, I divided them into positive, neutral/no answer/ambivalent and negative. Twenty-five, or 50% fell into the positive category; fourteen, or 28% were in the neutral/no answer/ambivalent group, and the remaining 11, or 22% were negative. In the positive camp, many people wrote that they felt as though they were valued contributors to the community, or that it was a more mature community than some other fanfiction communities. Several respondents did voice sentiments that it was not perfect, while acknowledging that no community can be.

In the neutral or ambivalent group, some respondents indicated that they were only sporadically involved, which parallels the 26% who specified that they were not currently active within the community. Two people elaborated on their conflicting feelings about the archive:

The negative replies focused on feeling left out of the community, sometimes due to the author's personal preference to reading and writing in particular subsections of Tolkien fanfiction which were felt not to be accepted by most members at HASA.

1. a critical article or report, […] on a book, play, performance, etc.; critique

As mentioned earlier, one of the primary differences between Henneth-Annûn and other Tolkien fanfiction archives is that it is composed of two parts: the members' section, which is private but has no requirements for membership outside of joining a public yahoogroup; and the public side, which showcases fanfiction which has been evaluated by a nine-person, self selected reviewing pool. Any person who has been a member of the archive for thirty days is eligible to be a reviewer. Reviews are encouraged to be anonymous, though some reviewers include their pseudonym and email address in their comments.

My final question in the survey was an open-ended one to encourage the respondents to think about the reviewing process and articulate their feelings about it. I wrote, "A unique attribute of this archive is its 9-person, self-selecting reviewing process to approve or decline stories for the public side of the archive. If you have been involved with this process, whether as a writer, reviewer, or both, please describe your feelings about it."

The comments I received about experiencing the judging end, being a writer submitting stories to HASA's reviewing pool, varied significantly. I categorized the replies into those who felt primarily positive, predominantly negative, and those who either did not address that aspect of the quest or were not published authors. Twelve people, or 24%, were in this last category. Of the remaining 38 respondents, half wrote that they felt mostly positive about being a writer and having submitted works in the reviewing pool. The other 19 people felt that their experience in the process was a negative one, or as one person replied, "It's a mixed blessing."16

Most people who replied to this survey, if s/he was a reviewer, indicated that s/he took the responsibility seriously, while others explicated their conflicting feelings about the process.

In some of the quotations already listed, the sentiment was voiced that the people doing the reviewing are biased for or against particular genres of stories or even who races, such as hobbits or Elves. Many respondents, however, addressed how they felt the reviewing pool actively discouraged this bias, while acknowledging that reviewers can opt to be selective in what they review, or "cherry pick" particular genres or story focuses.

In early March, one of the site managers posted a public plea to HASA members either to become reviewers, or to review more often. Since the reviewing pool and stated purpose of the archive have proven to be points of contention within and outside of this particular community, and one of the purposes of this paper is to reveal how the members of this community interact with each other, I feel it is not inappropriate to include this additional insight outside of the answers to my survey questions.

‘Come, come!' said Gandalf. ‘We are all friends here. Or should be […]'
-Lord of the Rings, "The King of the Golden Hall"

"I have read all the FAQs and stuff about what Henneth Annun WANTS, but what are we trying to do here? Make better writers, better fiction, better Tolkiens?"18

The Henneth-Annûn story archive is a multi-faceted community of fanfiction writers and readers who participate with varying levels of involvement. I wished to find out, from the members' own words, how they saw themselves in relation to each other, and the archive as a whole, as well as comparing their experiences with this community with other Tolkien fanfiction organizations. As the quoted responses reveal, there are widely divergent views, and any sense of an overarching sentiment could not be gathered from the replies I received. A further difficulty in this process was my inability to contact every member of the archive, as well as my dependence on people taking the time to reply to my survey. While there are over 450 active members, I was able to contact fewer than half of them, and of that, under 30% chose to communicate with me.

Despite a shared commonality of a love of Tolkien fanfiction, whether as a producer of works or a reader of them, the members of the Henneth-Annûn archive are neither unified in their perception of the archive itself, nor in their observations about their participation in the archive. Given how many people are involved with the community, and the differing backgrounds of the authors (age, culture, length of time in the fandom), this is not surprising.

Henneth-Annûn is not the sole archive in cyberspace whose goals are to house quality works of Tolkien-based fanfiction. The definition of quality, however, differs from person to person. HASA is most definitely an ensemble of individuals who are there to write, and to learn, and to share ideas. Included in the stated aims of the archive is this sentence: "The purpose of the site is to collect the very best examples of JRRT fanfiction writing from around the Web, and to provide a collaborative work environment in which site members can appreciate and create quality JRRT fanfiction." The archive is there to promote all writers to improve their craft, as well as freely share a wealth of detailed analysis of Tolkien's characters, languages, politics, and much, much more.

What it is not, and I believe this is what addled many people who replied to my survey who were frustrated by a lack of personal attention to his/her works, is an educational institution. Like all archives with which I have been involved, Henneth-Annûn is administered by, and prolifically attributed to, volunteers. My impression from the replies received is that most people who become members of this archive do so to house their fanfiction. That is only a part of the reason, however. They wish to learn, and to collaborate. I did not get the sense that people join HASA for the sole purpose of improving other people's writing, which creates yet another Catch-22 for the archive. Newer writers are there to solicit constructive criticism and feedback, but the more established writers are still at work on their own stories and have a higher profile, therefore there are more writers seeking their advice. From my personal experiences at the archive, I do firmly believe that no new author is purposefully ignored. There is an adage which sums up this situation, though: "perception is reality." Even if what is revealed through surveys and statistics is that overall, members have a positive experience in the archive, what each unique writer undergoes during their time at the archive is what remains the ultimate truth for that person.

This community, as with all communities which are internet-based, is also in a constant state of flux, which makes analysis a challenging endeavor. While the information garnered from my survey hopefully illuminates the many complex and contradictory purposes and emotions which surround this particular fanfiction archive community, it is obviously only a few trees in a forest the size of Fangorn.

Works Consulted

Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

___. "Why Heather Can Write." Technology Review, Inc. February 2004.

McCormack, U. '"How can it be transgressive if it's been on Woman's Hour?": Online fan communities and the politics of slash.' (Unpublished manuscript.) 2004.

Pullen, Kirsten. " Creating Online Fan Communities." Web.Studies: Rewiring media studies for the digital age. London: Arnold, 2000.

Rust, Linda. "Welcome to the house of fun: Buffy fanfiction as a hall of mirrors." Refractory: a Journal of Entertainment Media, Vol.2. March 2003. []

Sabotini, Rachael. "The Fannish Potlatch: Creation of Status Within the Fan Community" []


1Pullen, Kirsten. " Creating Online Fan Communities." Web.Studies: Rewiring media studies for the digital age. London: Arnold. 2000, p. 60.

2"In the language of the Elder Days, 'Arda' signified the World and all that is in it. Arda was created through the Music of the Ainur to be a dwelling place for the Children of Ilúvatar (that is, Elves and Men)." from The Encyclopedia of Arda,, original date pf word creation unknown. A Google and Altavista search on the word on 3/24/04 revealed its use four times.

3Respondent 3

4Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. London and New York: Routledge., 2002. p. 137.

529,826 when accessed on March 26, 2004 (Lord of the Rings only; if one adds in stories based on The Silmarillion the number is increased by 1,125.)

6Library of Moria []

7Open Scrolls []

8Axe and Bow []

9Frodo Healers []

10Parma Eruseen []

11Per email correspondence with the site administrator, sent February 19, 2004: "There are 800+ people on the list at present time, @ 460 of whom are active. Starting this year, people who have no activity after one year will probably be removed permanently, simply to keep the list to manageable levels. We have had 59 new members sign up since February 1, and almost 100 since January 1."

12Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1992. p. 23.

13Pullen, ibid. p. 60.

14 "FAQ #3: Who can review? Anyone who has been a member of HASA for 30 days is eligible to be a reviewer."

15 Author's personal experience. As of March 30, 2004, I had 13 works accepted into the archive and two which had been declined. Most reviews were anonymous, but not all.

16 Respondent 41

17 "Review Process" forum, posted March 9, 2004 [in order to keep this response private outside of the members' section of HASA, I am not listing the actual URL].

18 ibid. Reply posted March 20, 2004.


The significance of the title of this paper refers to the name of the archive. As quoted by Faramir: "This is the Window of the Sunset, Henneth Annûn, fairest of all the falls of Ithilien, land of many fountains." Lord of the Rings, "The Window on the West."

The definitions used at the beginning of the different sections came from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

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