How Friendly Were Frodo and Sam? An ApolloCon 2007 panel

Description in the program book: Was there a [same-sex romance] subtext to Lord of the Rings? Is subtext in the eye of the beholder, or is Spec Fic friendlier to GLBT characters and readings than the mainstream?

Panelists: Alexis Glynn Latner (moderator), Lee Martindale, Jess Nevins, Selina Rosen, Mel. White

What was it really about:

At first there was some speculation about Frodo and Sam. Jess Nevins thinks that while Tolkien certainly never intended Frodo and Sam have a relationship, a reader has every right to read what they want into the text; a reader’s interpretation is just as valid as the author’s. And the way Jess saw it, they were more than friends.

The rest of the panelists were skeptical of this interpretation. Selina Rosen thought that Sam and Frodo’s close bond was the kind of bond that people often form with others of their own sex: women are often closer to their female friends than to their husbands, men also often form closer bonds with other men than with their wives. They are able to talk with friends about things they can’t talk with wives or girlfriends about. Selina also added that a person entrusted with great responsibility, like Frodo, often has no time or energy for romance.

Somebody else suggested Frodo was essentially asexual: either he had not hit puberty yet (that’s not supported by the book, because Frodo was 33; and while that’s young adulthood for a hobbit, it is nevertheless post-adolescence — E.), or he had no interest in intimacy. In contrast, Sam was a grown man.

From there, the discussion effortlessly jumped to slash fiction. Lee Martindale was vehemently opposed not just to slash fiction, but to most kinds of fan fiction, except when it’s written with the author’s explicit permission.

Lee Martindale. I have a problem with someone who hasn’t created those characters rewriting this stuff. I ran across [a fan fiction story where] a couple of my characters had been hijacked and “slashed”. That is the verb, isn’t it? My first reaction was, what the hell? My second reaction was, I’m half Italian, half Irish. First I get mad, then I get even. […] I came down on it with all 4 feet. One, they didn’t create those characters, I did. Two, I didn’t treat their sex life in any way, shape or form in that 3000 word story; and three, they are copyrighted. I wanted to do different things with those characters, and now I can’t. I want to take them down and scrub them down with a wire brush.

She added that because of that particular slash story, she started getting hate mail from conservative Christian groups. They didn’t know it wasn’t her who wrote it.

Selina Rosen and Jess Nevins at the Frodo and Sam panel

Frodo and Sam panel at ApolloCon 2007
CIMG6461 Selina Rosen and Jess Nevins at the Frodo and Sam panel at ApolloCon 2007

The rest of the panelists defended fan fiction in general, even if not necessarily slash fiction. Selina Rosen observed that fan fiction may get readers interested in the real author’s works.

Lee Martindale. If that’s the way my stuff gets out, I’d rather it didn’t. […] Why aren’t they [fans] writing original fiction?

A woman in the audience. Because that’s much harder.

Selina Rosen. They are not writers, they are fans.

Jess Nevins. I didn’t write fan fiction because I lacked imagination. I did it because by making use of preexisting universe I guaranteed myself an audience. In fan fiction you are guaranteed feedback.

Mel. White

Mel. White at the Frodo and Sam panel at ApolloCon 2007
CIMG6465 Mel. White at the Frodo and Sam panel

Mel. White observed that slash fiction isn’t primarily written by LGBT writers. It’s written by women for women. It’s a counterbalance to, uh, certain types of grown-up entertainment created by men and for men, that portray same-sex relationships, but not at all from LGBT angle. (I am phrasing this deliberately awkwardly because to avoid spambots hitting my website. They are attracted by certain types of keywords.)

A woman in the audience added that slash fiction does not address LGBT issues at all. It is a way for women to turn tables on men. Selina Rosen agreed that it’s a power thing for straight women.

As far as whether speculative fiction is friendlier to LGBT characters and readings than the mainstream? There weren’t any great insights there. Yes, the fandom is more open to the diversity and alternative lifestyles than the mainstream society. But speculative fiction does not have significant power to open the minds of those who don’t want to open their minds.

Lee Martindale. SF is only as liberal as the readers and the writers. You have people like Selina who write kick-ass lesbian characters. But if a reader whose mind is so narrow you could thread it through a needle, picks up one of Selina’s books, if they haven’t tossed it across the room, they’ll send her hate mail.

I put together an anthology “Such a pretty face” about fat people. Some people feel about fat people as strongly as the way some others feel about melanin in the skin. I still get death threats since it first came out. We can write a story, but we can’t guarantee that prejudiced people won’t feel strongly about your book without even having read it.