Newsletter: February 2009

Table of Contents

SWG News

Back to Middle-earth Month 2009

After the third Lord of the Rings movie was released in 2003, the Tolkien fandom experienced a dimming in enthusiasm. Back to Middle-earth Month (B2MeM) was created as a way to keep the enthusiasm for Tolkien's stories going even without a new movie to look forward to.

Although enthusiasm has never been a problem in the SWG, we participate in B2MeM every March as a way to encourage more Tolkien fans to get involved creatively with the fandom and to recognize the diverse and significant creative achievements of our members. Last year, we collected theme-inspired stories, poems, and artwork as part of Beyond the Circles of the World. In years past, we remembed how we got involved with the Tolkien fandom and took a quote tour of Arda.

This year, we have a theme for 2009: Influences. We will be considering influences in their myriad forms throughout the year. In keeping with this theme, our 2009 B2MeM project will look at what influences us creatively.

Often, as creators of Tolkien-based writing and artwork, when we are asked to consider what influences us, we think first of favorite characters, favorite scenes, or the quote that--the first time we read it--made our hearts lurch and imaginations begin to whirl. We are often quick to go to the texts when in need of inspiration. What we consider less is how our everyday lives inspire us and influence what we create.

Each day through the month of March, we will post a prompt on our homepage, LiveJournal community, and Yahoo! group. Usually, when creating Tolkien-based stories and artwork, we begin a particular character, scene, or idea from the texts. These prompts will ask participants to do things a bit differently. We will start with our lives and experiences as writers or artists and create a Tolkien-themed work based on these.

The goal is not to create full stories or masterpieces but rather to explore how our writing and artwork is influenced by the experiences, opinions, and emotions that we bring with us from our non-fannish lives.

We encourage participants to try each daily prompt. Those who are successful at trying each prompt will get a shiny banner at the end of the month to commemorate their efforts! Each day's participants will get an icon related to that day's prompt. More details on how to get involved with this year's B2MeM will be available during the month.

We are also looking for the assistance of volunteers with this project. We need,

As the month progresses, we will be posting more details about this project. In the meantime, kindly direct all correspondence about the project to us at

Volunteering for the SWG

The moderators of the SWG have been busy making plans for 2009 and beyond. But we can't do it alone. We rely on the talents and generosity of our groupmates to make this group a fun and valuable place to spend time online.

One way that members get involved with the SWG is by working as volunteers. We appreciate every bit of time, energy, and talent that our volunteers donate to the group; in many instances, their assistance is what allows us to run projects and improve the site. We can always use the help of volunteers, and this month, we're going to highlight some of the areas where we have the greatest need of assistance throughout the year. We encourage any members interested in volunteering to contact us for more information!

Every week for the month of February, we will post to our Yahoo! email group and LiveJournal a description of a volunteer job where we currently need help. Here are four volunteer jobs that remain open throughout the year. As always, we encourage anyone who wants to help out to email us at

ToS Translator. One of our goals in the SWG is to make the group as friendly and accessible as possible to members for whom English is not their first language. One way in which we hope to do this is by making our Terms of Service (ToS) available in as many languages as possible. Legalese is scary enough in one's native language without adding more barriers to understanding!

Currently, our ToS is available in German, Spanish, Polish, and Russian. We are looking for translations into any other languages. If you're fluent in a language and would like to contribute a translation, please contact us first at (This is primarily to assure that we don't already have someone working on that particular translation.) This is a one-time volunteer job that allows you to work at your own pace without making a long-term commitment.

Reference Reader. Reference readers serve as fact checkers for essays that we are considering for our Reference Library. Reference readers are not beta-readers or copyeditors and are not expected to vote or judge in any way the essays that are being considered. Their primary task is to verify that the essay's citations match what is said in the original source. They may also provide input on sections that need additional citations or additional sources that the author might want to consider in making his or her argument.

Reference readers are contacted whenever a new essay is under consideration for the Reference Library. They choose on which projects they would like to work without obligation to complete any minimum number or percentage of essays.

For members interested in learning more about Tolkien's canon or who are interested in non-fiction writing, we encourage you to sign up as a reference reader. We will assist you in acquiring the source materials that you'll need to do your job.

Yellow Pages Coordinator. The Yellow Pages Coordinator is a leadership position within References. This volunteer will work closely with reference moderators Angelica and Dawn to expand and keep up-to-date the SWG Yellow Pages reference. The job primarily includes adding groups submitted via the application on our site, seeking out new groups to add, and periodically checking links to assure that all are still active.

This is largely a self-paced position. While volunteers should expect to put in some effort each month, the amount of effort each month can vary based on the volunteer's schedule and there are no deadlines associated with the position. Volunteers for this job should either be familiar already with basic HTML or be willing to learn what they need to know to add to the listing. This is a "back of the house" job that requires minimal interaction with the public.

Newsletter Columnist. One of our goals for 2009 is to add to the Reference section of the site and, also, to expand our newsletter as a resource for information on Tolkien's writings and the fan community built around them. We are currently seeking members who would be willing to write regular columns for the newsletter. These columns will also be archived in the Periodicals section of the Reference Library.

Volunteers do not need to bring any particular expertise or experience to this job. They must be willing to learn, research, and share what they know as part of a regular column. Reference moderators and site moderators will provide support through the research and writing process, if needed, as well as in-depth feedback on request. All columns will be copyedited prior to publication. Whenever possible, we will assist columnists in acquiring references and resources that they need.

Columnists should be prepared to commit to a topic with a regular deadline (monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly), both of their choosing. Columns do not need to be long; columnists should aim for about 1,000 words, though columns considerably shorter or longer are certainly acceptable as well. Multiple authors may contribute to a single column if they wish. Columns will be due on the 25th of the month before the newsletter in which they are to appear. (For example, a column for March's newsletter will be due on 25 February.)

Following are column proposals for which we are seeking writers:

Silmarillion Connections to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This column is aimed readers new to The Silmarillion or approaching Tolkien's posthumous works primarily as they relate to those books published during his lifetime. The column will discuss in what ways the characters, ideas, events, and passages from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are expanded upon in The Silmarillion and other posthumous writings.

History of Middle-earth Summaries. Beginning in May, the SWG newsletter will feature a monthly summary of a chapter or essay from The History of Middle-earth series. Members who would be interested in assisting with or contributing to this project should contact us.

A Bestiary of Arda. This column aims to explore the fictional beings presented in Tolkien's Arda-based stories. Columnists might look at where a specific being appears in the texts, how that being evolved over a lifetime of work on the Legendarium, the mythological roots of a particular being, how Tolkien's depiction of a being "set the stage" for future depictions in the fantasy genre, and common discussions and debates (yes, those ongoing debates about whether Balrogs have wings and whether Orcs are corrupted Elves!). Artists interested in possibly illustrating this column should also contact us.

Please note that columns are not limited to these topics. If you have an idea for a column or would like to write about one of the topics listed above, contact us at

Now whenever the issue of volunteering comes up, so do certain worries. After all, no one--by offering to "help out"--wants to be more of a burden than if they'd just left well enough alone. So if you're thinking, I want to help, but ...

I don't know how to do that! Many of us, when we started in the SWG, didn't know how to do many of the things that we now do on a regular basis. For example, when I (Dawn) started this group, I didn't have the faintest clue about HTML. I've since learned enough about HTML and CSS to design and hand-code the website you're reading right now!

If we require specific skills for a volunteer job, we will be clear about that. Otherwise, we will gladly teach you or help you to learn what you need to know to do your job.

I don't have that much time. It sounds cliched to say, but every little bit does help. A volunteer who can take two hours to make banners for a project frees up those two hours for a moderator to work with project contributors, promote the project, or design the page that it will go on. (Maybe a bit of all three!) A reference reader who can "only" read every tenth essay still provides valuable feedback.

I don't know if I can commit to any one particular job. That's fine. We understand that our volunteers have busy lives off of the Internet. If you'd still like to help out, please email us, and we'll add you to the list of members we contact when one-time volunteer jobs are needed. For example, we try to run special projects and events a few times a year. At these times, we often need help with things like making graphics/banners, converting text to HTML, getting the word out to groups outside the SWG, and so on. These jobs don't require a prolonged commitment, but the time they save those members and moderators working closely on the project is invaluable! (In fact, the news item before this one concerns this year's Back to Middle-earth Month project. Please see this posting for a list of jobs for which we need volunteers!) Other jobs--like translating the ToS or serving as a reference reader--are either one-time jobs or do not have requirements for commitment. Even if you think you might only occasionally be available for such jobs, please feel free to volunteer.

So, if you think you might like to volunteer now or in the future, please email us at If you're interested in a particular job, do let us know. If you'd simply like to be "on call" when we need help, we will add you to our volunteer list. If you have any particular skills or tasks you're interested in doing, learning, or trying (or something you're pretty sure you don't want to do!), feel free to include that information as well.

And thank you to the volunteers who have made and continue to make the SWG such a vibrant online community!

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Character of the Month: Námo

Dawn Felagund

In the Valaquenta, Námo--more frequently named after his dwelling place, Mandos--is named as the fifth most powerful of the Lords of the Valar, followed only by Irmo and Tulkas. Yet Námo is prevalent throughout The Silmarillion, a mysterious character whose pronouncements overshadow nearly all of the events and whose dooms lie like shadows across the history of the First Age.

Námo's role in the story is a complex one. Unlike many of the other Valar--whose duties can be confined to a single domain--Námo's responsibilities are multiple and varied, with the exception that all of them seem to be a matter of dread to the lives they touch. As described in Valaquenta, Námo

is the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and the summoner of the spirits of the slain. He forgets nothing; and he knows all things that shall be, save only those that lie still in the freedom of Ilúvatar. He is the Doomsman of the Valar; but he pronounces his dooms and his Judgements only at the bidding of Manwë.

So he summons the spirits of the dead and keeps and judges them. He not only keeps the most meticulous notes of all of the Valar concerning what has been, but he predicts what is yet to come. When bidden, he'll let the rest of us in on to a few of these insights.

In addition to his specific duties, his halls--which share his name Mandos and are located on the shores of the Outer Sea--are also a focal point throughout The Silmarillion. In addition to serving as a boundless place of rest and recovery for the spirits of the dead Elves, they also hold contain the stories-as-tapestries woven by his wife Vairë. Some believe, also, that spirits of dead Dwarves go as well to Mandos, where Aulë gets a special section of these halls that "ever widen as the ages pass" for the Dwarves' keeping (1). Similarly mysterious is the fate of Men, who are also said to stop at the halls of Mandos before departing for "whither they go after the time of recollection" (2). Nienna, too, finds temporary employment there in comforting the spirits of the dead (3). And, famously, the halls of Mandos were used as a prison for Melkor for three ages during the Time of the Trees.

Despite Námo's fifth-place spot in the ranking of the Lords of the Valar, he is one of the most ubiquitous and memorable of them throughout The Silmarillion. Prior to Melkor's treachery and the start of the First Age, Námo predicted the coming of the Elves, kept Melkor imprisoned (4), received the departed spirit of Míriel Þerindë (5), foretold the fates of the Silmarils (6), stood in judgment of Fëanor for his threats against Fingolfin, and foresaw the death of Finwë (7).

But the deed for which Námo is perhaps most famous in The Silmarillion is his pronouncement of what would come to be known as the Doom of Mandos:

Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.

Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall dwell in Death's shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in Middle-earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken. (8)

In researching this biography, I plugged the name "mandos" into my digital Silmarillion. Aside from Námo's many doings prior to the First Age, most mentions of him concerned the Doom of Mandos. This Doom literally shadows the entire First Age. Negative events are attributed to it, and it withers the hopes of those looking to accomplish good things in Middle-earth. Whether actual foresight or simply self-fulfilling prophecy, although he is rarely present in the story after it moves into the First Age, through his Doom, Námo nonetheless remains an ominous presence throughout the First Age, an impression heightened by his association with death and judgment.

However coldly rational and unyielding his pronouncements may seem, Námo is not unable to show some mercy. Once, anyway.

After Beren's death, Lúthien grieved so badly for him that "her body lay like a flower that is suddenly cut off and lies for a while unwithered on the grass," and her spirit fled to Mandos. There, she sang to Námo of her grief--a song that encompassed the sorrows of both Elves and Men--and he was moved to not only allow her to bid Beren goodbye but even went so far as to entreat Manwë to plea to Ilúvatar to change her fate so that she and Beren could be together (9).

But, as Tolkien notes, "Mandos was moved to pity, who never before was so moved, nor has been since" (10). The next time that Námo appears in a prominent role in the story, it is to attempt to deflate Ulmo's hopes of, at last, convincing his brethren to aid the Elves and Men in Middle-earth against Melkor. In Námo's opinion, Eärendil's entrance to Aman should not allow him to live. He is, after all, "'Equally [of] the Noldor, who went wilfully into exile, may not return hither'" (11). So much for mercy.

Námo's character is an intriguing one for the complexity of the ideas associated with him. Not only is he directly involved with death, judgment, and resurrection--all of them complicated and, at times, controversial ideas in Tolkien's Legendarium--but his ability to foretell the future also muddies the waters as far as fate and individual will on Arda are concerned. From his seat of judgment, well-removed from the events of the First Age, his presence is nonetheless felt most heavily of all of the Valar save Ulmo, who continues to directly interact with Elves and Men, even the exiled Noldor. All hopes are doomed to fail for he has seen this and pronounced it so. And they do. His shadow over the First Age invests the most noble of actions by the most noble of characters with a sense of futility, of fighting something even larger and more overwhelming than the shadow of Melkor in the north. We know, at the start of the First Age, that it will not end well. We have, after all, been told as much by he who "forgets nothing; and … knows all things that shall be" (12).

Yet the heroes and heroines of both Elves and Men--despite similar certitude--fight on. And we read on too.

Works Cited

  1. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Aulë and Yavanna."
  2. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Men."
  3. The Silmarillion. Valaquenta. "Of the Valar."
  4. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor."
  5. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor."
  6. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor."
  7. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Flight of the Noldor."
  8. Ibid.
  9. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Beren and Lúthien."
  10. Ibid.
  11. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath."
  12. The Silmarillion. Valaquenta. "Of the Valar."

View past character profiles.
Read all archived stories about Námo.

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Current Challenge

The End is the Beginning

Stories often end with a bang: with an event of great importance, either happy or tragic. Birth, death, marriage, parting, the end of war, or the beginning of a new age ... all of these events might serve as a suitable ending to a story, and all of these events are prolific throughout The Silmarillion.

But, in Tolkien's larger Legendarium, The Silmarillion is but the first chapter. What serves as an ending in The Silmarillion--the departure of Galadriel and Celeborn from Doriath, the death of Fingolfin, the fall of Gondolin, Finarfin's return to Tirion--opens a new chapter elsewhere in Arda and, oftentimes, elsewhere in Tolkien's stories.

This month's challenge is to take the ending of a story and use it as a beginning. The ending you choose might begin a story that Tolkien himself considered, such as Elros's choice of mortality and the founding of Númenor. Or it might take you down roads less travelled. After Maglor tossed the Silmaril into the sea, where did he go and what did he do? When Idril and Tuor departed for Valinor, what did they find? After Sauron fled the judgment of the Valar at the end of the First Age, what did he do next?

Challenges Revisited

Because most of our members live in the northern hemisphere, it is easy to forget--as we wrap in blankets and huddle close to the fire--that February is one of the hottest months of year for our friends south of the Equator. When we initially ran the Hot Summer, Hot Stories challenge, it was August, one of the hottest months for those of us in the north. This month, we offer our members in the southern hemisphere their chance at this summer-inspired challenge and our members in the northern hemisphere the opportunity to heat up those cold winter nights!

As much of the world experiences one of the hottest summers in history, we turn up the heat in our stories for this challenge. Whether the literal heat of Glorfindel's battle with the Balrog or the figurative heat of Nerdanel and Fëanor's steamy romance, this challenge asks you to create a story worthy of the most sweltering summer!

View a list of stories written for the Hot Summer, Hot Stories challenge.

Quote of the Month

Fall seven times, stand up eight.

-Japanese proverb

Want more challenges? Check out our complete challenge listing for more than three years' worth of challenges to inspire your writing!

Have an idea for a challenge? Some of our most popular challenges have been created by you, the members of SWG! If you have a plotbunny gnawing at your ankle, a favorite quote, or a favorite character that you think might inspire others as well, please send an email to and we'll try to include your challenge in our next newsletter!

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Around the World and Web

Teitho Challenge

At Teitho, the challenge for February is Excuses in all possible forms: excuses for situations or behaviour and, of course, apologies. The challenge will end February 25th. If you want to participate, head over to the website to see all further info.

The Second Issue of Silver Leaves Available

The second issue of the Tolkien-based journal Silver Leaves is available through the White Tree Fund.

The Silmarillion Set to Music?

The Italian music group Ainur aims to "transpose into music the entire corpus of tales of 'the Silmarillion'. Find out more about the project on their homepage.

Around the World and Web is provided for our members to inform them of events in the larger Tolkien community. SWG is not affiliated with and does not endorse the groups that we feature in Around the World and Web, and we are not responsible for content on sites outside of our own. Please use discretion and caution when visiting unfamiliar sites on the Internet.

Would you like to see your group or event featured on Around the World and Web? See our Promotions Page for more details or email us at

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