Newsletter: January 2009

Table of Contents

SWG News

Dear SWG Members,

2008 has been another successful year for the SWG. We've written hundreds of stories and reviews, honored our creative achievements as part of Back to Middle-earth Month, learned and shared new things about Tolkien's texts, and worked tirelessly to make the SWG a group that is fun and valuable for all in the motley community we call "fandom." As the moderators of the SWG, we are, as always, proud of and grateful to the many people who share their talent and energy with our group; it is you--not new projects, not fancy computer code--that make the SWG possible. Thank you!

But now we look forward into 2009 and our new directions for the SWG. For the first time, we've chosen an annual theme to guide the projects that we undertake in 2009: Influences. This theme will have different meanings for different people. What influences us as writers and artists? What influences and shapes our characters? What influenced Tolkien in creating the world we enjoy as both authors and artists, researchers, and fans of his work? We hope to explore these ideas and more in the year to come.

For us, as moderators, "influences" also invites us to consider the influences and changes the group has undergone since its founding three years ago. In 2008--with the archive created and several major projects behind us--we often identified improving the group as our primary goal, and we hope to continue that into 2009. We want to establish the SWG as a group that is foremost responsive to the needs and interests of its members. We have already started making revisions and additions to the group that we'll talk about more in the News section of this month's newsletter.

Now more than ever we invite people to become involved in our group. Whether getting started as an author or reviewer or working as a volunteer, our community is made vibrant by the energy of our members, and we invite you to help us make 2009 our best year ever!

Best wishes to all for a fantastic New Year,

Dawn, Uli, Tárion, Rhapsody, and Angelica
SWG Moderation Staff

Newsletter Changes

Those who are familiar with our newsletter have likely noticed by now that we've changed it a bit. Our newsletter has remained virtually unaltered from its first issue in September 2005 through 2008, but the SWG has not remained likewise unchanged. The New Year seemed to invite us to do some much-needed housekeeping--as well as to begin on our goals for 2009--and the changes you see are the result of that.

The biggest change is the addition of new columns to the newsletter. Oshun has been generously contributing her talents as a researcher to give us a monthly character biography for well over a year now. Because this is probably the most popular feature in our monthly newsletter--as well as an invaluable addition to our Reference Library--then we've decided to add other columns on topics that might be of interest to our members and visitors. Two new columns will debut in months to come: Lady Elleth will be discussing mythology and Tolkien, and our resident language expert, Darth Fingon, will be answering questions about Tolkien's languages.

In addition, we've made several formatting changes. We've moved SWG News to the top of the page. Months when we have news and announcements to share are no longer the exception (as they were in 2005), and we want to make sure that our members are informed of what's going on in the group. We've also added a Table of Contents to help you navigate easily through the newsletter as the newsletter grows in length and complexity.

Reference Library Changes

With the focus of the past two years on building and improving our Archive, the Reference Library has grown dustier than Denethor's hoarded scrolls and books in Gondor. We've most recently turned our sights on expanding and improving this area of the site, which we hope will come to be regarded as a valuable resource in the Tolkien community.

To start, we had to do some major housekeeping. Reviewed essays are now found on a separate page from the regularly updated periodicals that appear monthly in the newsletter. We've redone the layout of all Reference pages so that it is easier to find what you need.

We've added printer-friendly and downloadable PDF versions of all of our references. Printer-friendly pages make it easier to print articles without wasting paper, space, and ink on site headers, menus, and sidebars. For visitors who'd like to save copies of references to their computer, PDF versions allow that to be done easily; references can also be printed in this format. We are also working on a third format that will allow our references to be read easily on e-book readers.

Now, when you search for a character in our Archive, you will get a list of all stories that listed that character and all references about that character. We hope that this will eliminate the need to do multiple searches in various parts of the site for all content concerning a particular character.

Finally, as mentioned already in "Newsletter Changes," we have several new newsletter columns, so our Periodicals section will soon feature several references that are being constantly updated. We invite you to check this section of the site frequently for updates!

In keeping with the new energy in Periodicals, we are also seeking to expand the Essays section. If you have written essays on Tolkien, writing, or fandom/Internet culture or are interested in trying your hand at non-fiction, we invite you to send your work to us for consideration for our Essays section. Full submission guidelines can be found here, and we may be reached at or with questions.

Challenge Changes

We offered our first challenge, Strong Women, in September 2005 and have presented at least one new challenge per month since then. Because of our focus on constantly developing new challenges, we've ended up with a challenge listing containing more than fifty topics for our authors to write about!

With this in mind, we've decided to slow down a bit from our current challenge-a-month. We will now be offering new challenges quarterly rather than monthly. Each month, we will list our current challenge, re-visit an old challenge, and offer a new quote of the month for inspiration and contemplation.

As always, we welcome and encourage our members to challenge each other by suggesting ideas for challenges. Please contact us at if you have an idea for a future challenge. And, as always, on the SWG, challenges never expire, so feel free to keep writing for the old challenges in our listing.

Acceptable Image Use on the Archive: Images in Summaries

It recently came to our attention that images were being used in story summaries on our archive. While the archive allows the <img> HTML tag (and, therefore, images) in the summary as well as other parts of the archive, our image policy has always restricted images to "non-public" parts of the archive that are under the control of a single author.

However, during a recent software update, the reminder about and link to our image policy that appears on the story submission form was not added. Because we do not expect our authors to read our minds or memorize the minutia of our site policies, then we have decided to allow images to remain in story summaries for the time being, provided that the image is suitable for all audiences and is not unreasonably large in terms of file size or dimensions. Sometime in March, we will contact any authors who still have images in summaries and ask that those images be moved elsewhere on the site. Until then, authors are welcome to leave and continue using images in summaries.

Inevitably, this policy invites the question of what makes story summaries unique compared to other areas of the site where images are allowed. Story summaries appear on any page where the story is listed: the Most Recent listing, search results, and listings of the story by author, character, challenge, and so on. Often, these listings include stories by multiple authors, so an image that disrupts the loading speed or appearance of the site affects the ability for multiple authors--authors who do not have control over the image--to have their stories accessed by readers.

Images are inherently problematic because image files tend to be much larger than most web files and so slow page-load time for anyone working on dial-up or a slow connection. The SWG site was specifically designed to use as few images as possible in order to make visiting the site a pleasant experience for all users, regardless of connection speed; the only image on most pages is our icon in the upper-left hand corner of the page. What images we do use site-wide are kept intentionally small for this reason.

In addition, most images being used on the archive are being hosted off-site on photo storage sites like Photobucket and ImageShack. This takes that image further out of our control. If the host's server is slow or down altogether, or if the author moves the image and does not update the summary, or if the image host decides to swap out all images it hosts being used on SWG with a placeholder claiming that our site has been banned as a pornography site (as has happened on two different occasions with the same image host), then this affects the loading speed and appearance of the page for multiple authors, not just the author using the image.

In the interest of fairness to all of our authors, then, we decided to limit the use of images only to parts of the site that are controlled by a single author. Presumably, then, an image that is slowing page-load times or ruining the page's formatting could be removed by an attentive author. If the author chooses not to modify or remove the image, only that author's readership would be affected.

This issue was discussed on our Yahoo! discussion list, and questions and concerns brought up in that discussion (and privately to the moderation staff off-list) were addressed by our moderation staff on their forum. We have decided to leave the policy as it is for now. Also, the question was asked about images hosted by the SWG. In the past, for events we've sponsored, we've offered participants site-hosted banners and buttons. Since they are hosted by us, many of the concerns pertaining to off-site hosting are irrelevant. However, to keep our policy on image use as simple and transparent as possible, then we are also requesting that these images not be used in story summaries.

As always, questions and concerns should be addressed to the moderators at

Terms of Service Now Available in German

Many thanks to Lady Elleth, who translated our Terms of Service in German!

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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

In 2009, we hope to embark on new projects that will make the SWG a more fun and valuable group for our members and for the Tolkien community at large. New Beginnings, then, seems an appropriate challenge to commemorate that goal. Originally written to honor Spring for our members in the southern hemisphere, we revisit it now in this new context:

Most of our members are welcoming the autumn season and preparing for the cold months ahead, and it is easy to forget that for a good part of the world--and several of our members--the spring is warming toward summer.

Whether you are feeling chilly at the thought of winter ahead or eagerly welcoming spring, this challenge asks you to write a story or poem celebrating new beginnings. Birth, marriage, first love, a journey to a new home, or the rebirth of hope following success in battle--all of these and more will satisfy this challenge!

View a list of stories written for the New Beginnings challenge.

Quote of the Month

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

From "The Tables Turned" by William Wordsworth

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

Tolkien Birthday Toast on January 3rd

Each year, the Tolkien Society coordinates a worldwide toast in honor of J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday on 3 January. The toast is held at 9 p.m. in one's local time zone. Please see their toast page for more information and to coordinate efforts with other fans.

A Long Expected Contest

At the start of the year, it seems only right to have the theme be New Beginnings!

The story does not have to be based on documented events in the book and the words in the theme do not have to be included in the fiction. Each writer has until January 31, 11:59 PM PST to turn in the story.

Both submission for last month's theme Holiday Moments and voting for stories for A Little Night Music ends Saturday, January 3 at 11:59 PM PST.

To find ALEC - look here!

Good luck and happy writing!

Teitho Challenge

At Teitho, the challenge for January is Leavetaking. For this challenge, write a story that somehow evolves around taking leave. Write about farewells, goodbyes or leaving behind people or places. How exactly you interpret that term Leavetaking is, of course, up to you. The challenge will end January 25th. If you want to participate, head over to the website to see all further info.

Read LotR Aloud

Chapter Three has been posted! Sign-ups for readers for Chapter Four will begin on 12 January 2009.

Exploring Tolkien: Online Tolkien Course

Cardiff University is offering an on-line course taught in 10 weekly units by Dr Dimitra Fimi. The course will run three times during the 2008-2009 academic year, starting on 6 October 2008, 19 January 2009 and 27 April 2009 respectively.

The students will be able to explore Tolkien’s Middle-earth from their home, in their own time. They will examine the vast mythology behind The Lord of the Rings and gain a thorough knowledge of Tolkien’s fiction and its creation by focusing on The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin. For more information, see the announcement on

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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