When I left my childhood home, in my late teens, I sensed very strongly that I needed to find a haven, a safe place for my soul or innermost self to play, think and breathe openly and perhaps alongside other like-minded and slightly offbeat creatures. It was not a coincidence I think, that this urge came at the same time in my life as when I faced the big challenges of change, such as becoming a young adult, starting my first real job at an advertising paper and pondering what colleges to apply to (let’s just say that the whole college procedure is very different in Sweden from how it is in the US). There was also the challenge of my first own apartment and numerous other challenges, such as having a beer, dating, making new friends and contacts and trying to be true to myself during all these new endeavors. I believe it was a much much wiser part of my inner core that strongly felt the urge to seek out the company of Tolkienists during this huge time of change and scary independence in my life, and not so much the intellectual part of my brain or my comfort-seeking emo self. I want to call that wiser part my soul, for simplicity’s sake, but without necessarily attaching anything religiously binding to it. That part of us which during certain times lead us back to our true passions and places of inner importance, and seeks to build shortcuts of personal authenticity for us, like threads among all those other more muddled actions we take during our daily grind. The metaphors can be many, I’ve heard the phrase “personal mythology” mentioned in The Grey Havens, by at least two wise people, and I feel that this phrase too, touches on what I was searching for.
During all my adult life, Tolkien societies have played a part for me, often a big part. There is something about most Tolkienists which binds them together, no matter how different they otherwise are (and they can be *quite* different from one another). I want to say that there is a questing quality to them and a yearn to expand and understand, I could probably devote a whole blog post of its own to this subject alone, but I’ll leave that to others who’ve already expressed it better. Let’s just say that Tolkienists and Tolkien Societies played a big part in my search for true self, and in becoming a full person, and leave it at that.
I hung out with people from the Tolkien Society of the Southern City of Malmö for a while. Its name is “Angmar” and I will give more information about them when I shortly describe each society later on in this post. They were nice people and I was fairly active until I decided to move across the country after a few years and start college in Uppsala, the oldest university town in Sweden and with the oldest university in Scandinavia. During those first years of life there, I guested the Tolkien Society of Stockholm (which is less than an hour away from Uppsala) and also hung out with Tolkienists from Göteborg (second biggest city, situated on the west coast) and other parts of Sweden and Scandinavia, but my biggest “coming home” moment was without comparison when I joined the mysterious and legendary Tolkien Society of Uppsala. I realize I probably joined for life, even though I now live half a world away and only see my friends there a few times a year at best, and keep contact through internet the rest of the time.
I didn’t fully realize that I was in part an exiled person, a seal deprived of swimming in open water until I, through a friend, found the Grey Havens in Longmont Colorado. They had already existed as a group for two years when I joined them and I was amazed to once more experience that familiar sensation which I had been without for the large part of six years. Others have already written about and defined The Grey Havens eloquently, so I will just add that they as a group, indeed capture what’s best and truest of that subtle Tolkienist magic. A few people in the Grey Havens (like for instance Talelmarhazad and Badgaladriel) expressed interest in the Tolkien societies of Sweden and how they work and I promised them a short presentation in the form of a post about it. This is my attempt at satisfying whatever curiosity that Tolkienists far away from Scandinavia may have, as well as giving a cohesive and fair, but not in any way complete presentation of some of the most prominent Tolkien groups in Sweden.
I want to thank my anonymous Forodrim source for giving me such rich information about the Stockholm society, and Ruby Gamgee of Mithlond for giving me wonderful source material on the Göteborg society.
All pictures are taken from some of the few public events that the people of the secretive Uppsala Tolkien Society have been hosting, and they are either taken by Gil Galad of Mithlond or by anonymous photographers from within The Uppsala Tolkien Society.
A Hobbit pub with patrons, during the Uppsala Tolkien Society’s Jubilee of 2008
Forodrim – The Tolkien Society of Stockholm and other regions
Forodrim means “People of the north” and is the oldest active Tolkien Society in Sweden, founded in 1972, a year before professor Tolkien passed away (The Tolkien Society of Sweden was founded in 1968, but didn’t stay active very long). It all started with three prominent activists within the Science Fiction Fandom and publishing network deciding that it would be a good idea to start a Tolkien Society in Sweden. These three became the founders and were swiftly followed by other members. Member participation and numbers have varied over the years, but roughly it ballparks around 150 somewhat active members. The group is known for its quasi-feudal ranking system, where you rise within the group (based on levels of activity and time in the group) and acquire different titles during this odyssey. To give an example; you start off as a “commoner” and then after a handful of years become dubbed as Knight or Lady, and the highest rank is “prince” which goes for both genders. The High Council of Forodrim all carry the title of prince.
Forodrim has its own headquarters or premises which they rent, and continuous activities are held there. Forodrim is composed of numerous “guilds” and these smaller groups have various meetings during the weeks. A member can be part of several guilds (such as for instance the History Guild, the Dancing Guild or the Crafts Guild and many more). Once a year there is an evaluation of all the guilds and their activity and if a guild is deemed inactive it is written off, at least temporarily (for practical organizational reasons).
Forodrim holds banquets twice a year, in May and in November, these are bigger events where guests from other societies visit, and usually bring around 100 guests. In general, Forodrim can be called a fantasy society more than a strict Tolkien society. Aliases from other books or stories are allowed, as are evil aliases, and the group is pretty open with accepting members. They have a membership paper and a website:http://www.forodrim.org/index_en.html
The throne of Gondor, in Minas Tirith (courtesy of the Uppsala Tolkien Society)
Midgårds Fylking (The Uppsala Tolkien Society)
Midgårds Fylking means roughly “The phalanx of Middle Earth” but often goes under the name Uppsala Tolkien Society in official circumstances with the outside world. This is the second oldest Tolkien Society in Sweden, founded in early 1973 by a group of friends wishing for something beyond the mundane in life. The death of professor Tolkien in the fall of that same year may have bound them together even tighter in planting a seed which would grow into something extraordinary. Had they only known then what their little group meeting would become, they would undoubtedly be amazed.
The Uppsala Tolkien Society is today the largest society of this kind in Sweden, as they have surpassed Forodrim in number of active members, and much more so if semi-passive but still engaged members would be taken into account. This society is vastly different form any other Tolkien Society and one major difference lies in its secrecy. Membership isn’t open or for anyone, but even if I am not allowed to reveal anything specific, I will say that it takes both much less and much more to become part of this mysterious society than most people think. It is however not a group for those of little patience, as there can be a waiting list for up to a year before you can join. This wait has less to do with elitism and more to do with perfect timing of certain circumstances to align for the best possible atmosphere. The Magic that the Uppsala Tolkien Society creates is a little different from that of other societies, and they strive as a group to “champion for what is good” and in a direct and creatively interpretive way. This is less of a philosophical discussion group, even if there is plenty of philosophizing, less of a party society, even though parties may play an enormous part in their existence, less a live role-playing society, even though larping may seem quintessential, and less of a fandom group than any other, even though they may honor Tolkien more than most other groups, with every breath they take. Mysterious and frustrating? Yes probably, but that is part of the charm.
I will say these few things about the Swedish Tolkien Society that is closest to my heart; members vary incredibly, both in age, societal status and temperament. The structure is simple, yet brilliant, which is why it has survived so well over the decades. Once a year the society has a “public” party, where members of some other larger Nordic Tolkien Societies are invited, and once every 7th year the Uppsala Tolkien Society holds a big Jubilee Party Event which usually draws between 150 and 200 guests and sometimes spans over 2 days. On these big events invitations are open to family members outside the society as well as to not only Nordic Tolkien Societies but also to Tolkien groups in other countries. The next big Jubilee Party Event of the Uppsala Tolkien Society will be in 2015, probably in the summer. The Uppsala Tolkien Society is a strict Tolkien Society, which means that they don’t engage in other stories or works than those of the world of Middle Earth.
Mithlond – The Gothenburg (Göteborg) Tolkien Society
My friend Ruby Gamgee of Mithlond made a delighted exclamation when she heard that I had joined the Grey Havens; “They are our western equivalent” she wrote in her answering email to me. So, as indicated, Mithlond simply means “Grey Havens” in Elvish, which is very fitting as the city of Göteborg (second biggest city of Sweden), where the society is situated, is on the Swedish westernmost coast. I have hung out with Mithlondians on some parties where they were guests, and they are a very merry and delightful bunch, but as I have such an excellent first hand source in Ruby Gamgee, I will let her tell the story of this group in her own words (which I have abbreviated slightly):
Mithlond is an open society. To be a full member, however, you need to be at least 16 and to have passed the membership test. We are a primarily literary society, so you need to have a working knowledge of at least ” The Hobbit”, “lotr” and ” The Silmarillion”. Exceptions can of course be made, but only rarely. When you first join, you get to have a trial time, to see if this thing really is for you. Then you take the test (quiz) and get taken up into the society in a beautiful little ceremony. Mithlond was started in 1981, as a part of Forodrim. Forodrim was _the_ Tolkien society of Sweden at the time, apart from Those Other Guys in Uppsala. In Forodrim you could take aliases from other works of fantasy; thus we have a Beldin (“The Belgariad”) in our society. But when Mithlond broke off into an autonomous society 10yr later, it was as a strictly Tolkien society.
Our guilds, apart from peoples’ guilds like the Hobbits or the Elves or the Animals, include the Book Guild, in which we meet to discuss what fantasy (or other) books we’ve read and recommend, or go see movies or hunt books in their natural habitat (used book stores) or other fun stuff; the Language Guild which in its many incarnations has tried to learn Quenya, with varying results; the Food Guild which cooks and eats good food; the Dinking Guild which is a guild in the spirit of the Author, as the official subtitle says, mostly given to going to pubs and enjoying a good pint in good company; the Dancing Guild which does Medieval dancing; the Music Guild which, yes, does music; and other more or less inactive guilds. The Gaming Guild is active but not entirely Tolkienist.
The big Autumn Feasts have various themes. This year it’s going to be a big celebration in the Shire. Two years ago we had a grand jubilee, four days long, we managed to attract guests from Germany and Holland as well as the regular visitors from Denmark, Malmö, Västerås, Stockholm and Uppsala. The best costume I’ve seen was the Dutch Fangorn – a whole tree! Those Dutch, they’re crazy…
For some years we were at a village hall next to a big end moraine, with an Iron Age grave field on its flank. Rows and rows of standing stones, to which we walked in the middle of the warm night, dressed in cloaks and carrying lanterns. The stars blinked down from the grey sky, partly hidden by the black branches of trees… Sometimes, it takes very little for the magic to happen and for Middle-earth to be so near.
Angmar – the Malmö Tolkien Society
Angmar is situated in the southernmost region of Sweden, Skåne (Scania) and in the 3rd biggest city of Malmö, divided by only a slim sliver of water and a long bridge, from the Danish capital of Copenhagen. The society started off as a fiefdom to Forodrim and many members are still on long time friendly terms with Tolkienists in Stockholm. The society has its own headquarters on Nobelvägen in Malmö complete with a big common room for banquets and a little private cafe. Here their guilds hold meetings and here they hold some of their indoor parties and bigger gatherings. Angmar has a language guild, a costume/decoration guild, a gaming guild, a wine & food guild, a dance guild and an archery guild. I am unsure how active all of these groups are, since I couldn’t find anyone from Angmar to tell me a little more about their current events. Way back in the early 90’s, when I still visited Angmar (I was even a member there for a few years, under the alias of Rian), they had just acquired their headquarters and were a spirited and jolly society with lots of easy going activities. Angmar allows evil aliases amidst their ranks, so there used to be some friendly ribbing and rivalry between the “goodies” and the “baddies” of the group.
The major event of the year that Angmar is hosting is “Bokskogen” or “The Beech woods”. Southern Sweden has some beautiful forests filled with oak and beech and other leaf trees, and every year in late July the people of Angmar find a lovely place to hold their outdoor 2-day party event where people live in tents. The Beech woods are events filled with good food, bonfires, games, songs and stories and are popular yearly meeting spots for many Tolkienists in Sweden and Denmark.
These are the Swedish Tolkien Societies that I have some experience with, there are other, smaller ones, which may be fairly awesome and active too, but I have little knowledge of them. The Stockholm Tolkien Society, Forodrim has a cohesive link page to various Nordic societies on their web page should anyone want to read more: http://www.forodrim.org/links.html