II. A. Information on the Tolkien Newsgroups
- What newsgroups are we talking about again?
There are several Usenet newsgroups specific to Tolkien and his works. However, the two most widely read and distributed of these are rec.arts.books.tolkien and alt.fan.tolkien, commonly abbreviated either r.a.b.t or RABT and a.f.t or AFT, respectively.
The official rec.arts.books.tolkien charter can be found at
Alt.fan.tolkien does not have a formal charter.
- Why are there two groups?
Originally, AFT was the only Tolkien newsgroup on Usenet. RABT was created (when the approval vote passed on 26 Mar 1993) as a replacement for AFT which would be carried by a larger fraction of news servers. However, AFT was never removed, and both groups currently enjoy substantial readership. While only RABT has a formal charter (see question II.A.1 for reference), the two groups are virtually identical in intended content.
Many participants see a tendency for RABT to be somewhat more "scholarly" in tone while AFT is a bit more "conversational", and some suggest that this distinction is useful and should be encouraged. Other participants draw less of a distinction between the two groups, and often believe that a difference in focus would be both undesirable and impossible to achieve. In practice, everyone decides for themselves how they want to treat the two groups, and most people generally don't complain one way or the other.
- Do I have to have a Ph.D. in Tolkienology to post?
By no means! People with any amount of Tolkien "lore" are welcome to participate. It is advisable, however, to have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before spending much time here, as otherwise you run the risk of many, many spoilers for both books.
When you do participate in discussions, just use whatever Tolkien knowledge you have: you can have great ideas regardless of how much you've read. Occasionally, others will cite sources (often obscure but just as often authoritative) that weaken or disprove your arguments. When this happens (as it does to every one of us), nobody will think less of you for not knowing the reference; treat it as a chance to learn something new about Middle-earth.
- What questions and topics are appropriate?
Virtually any topic related (even distantly) to Tolkien and his works is fair game. If you post a purely "factual" question (like "How many Ringwraiths were there?"), it's a good idea to explain why you're asking: we periodically see questions from students who hope we will do their homework for them, and the last thing we want to do is help people to avoid reading the books!
It is appreciated if articles that have absolutely nothing to do with Tolkien have subject lines beginning with "OT:" ("Off Topic"). The Tolkien newsgroups are a sufficiently social community that threads often do drift away from their initial topics, and while this should not be discouraged, it is polite to label it when it happens. On the other hand, off topic discussions that get too intense or go on too long can interfere with others' enjoyment of the groups, and should be avoided.
Binary files, such as images or sounds, are NEVER appropriate in a non-binaries newsgroup. To share a binary file with people in the Tolkien groups, you have two main options. One is to find an appropriate newsgroup in the alt.binaries.* hierarchy, post the file there, and then post a message here telling us where to look. Another (more common) method is to put the file on the Web and post the URL on the newsgroups.
- What does a tilde (~) in the subject mean? and
Is it acceptable to post messages with sexual content?
Articles posted to these newsgroups occasionally contain comments that some consider inappropriate for younger readers. After much discussion, most participants agreed to mark messages with sexual content with a tilde in the subject line. Individuals can then create killfiles to screen out such messages as desired. While not everyone agrees that such a system is beneficial, following this convention is the polite thing to do. The newsgroup charter recommends the use of ROT-13 "encryption" for this purpose, but this has become less common.
- What common mistakes should I try to avoid?
By and large, the participants in the Tolkien newsgroups try to judge others based on their ideas rather than on details of grammar and posting style. However, there are a few types of simple mistakes that tend to cause some level of bias and annoyance among many group members, which in turn can distract them from your real message. Most of these are covered in the "Netiquette" section below.
One common mistake of this type that is not related to netiquette is confusing the singular and plural forms of common Elvish words. On the Tolkien newsgroups, these words are so familiar that the phrase "Manwe is a Valar" sounds just as jarring and strange as "Finrod is an Elves." To reduce this problem, a list of some of the most commonly confused singular/plural pairs is given below. Note the patterns!
Singular: Vala Maia Elda Noldo Teler Istar Adan Plural: Valar Maiar Eldar Noldor Teleri Istari Edain
Another issue that arises periodically is whether or not The Lord of the Rings should be referred to as a "trilogy". Tolkien said quite clearly in Letter #165 that "The book is not of course a 'trilogy'", and some people make a point of correcting those who use the term. However, in Letter #252, Tolkien himself refers to "my trilogy", so most of us agree that using the term is an acceptable shorthand, if nothing else.
- What do all the abbreviations used on the groups mean?
Some names and phrases come up so frequently on the Tolkien newsgroups that they are often abbreviated for convenience. A few of the very most common are defined below; these definitions are excerpted from Sir Confused-a-Lot's old AFT Glossary, now online at
- JRRT: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
- ME: Middle-earth
- LotR: The Lord of the Rings
- FotR: The Fellowship of the Ring
- TT: The Two Towers
- RotK: The Return of the King
- Silm.: The Silmarillion
- UT: Unfinished Tales
- HoMe: the "History of Middle-earth" series
- Letters: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
- Narn: The "Narn I Hin Hurin" in UT
- Athrabeth: The "Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth" in Morgoth's Ring
- NG: Newsgroup
- TEUNC: "Tolkien Eccentric Unusual Nut Cases", an eGroup of Tolkien fans, some of whom frequent the newsgroups
- LOL: Laughing Out Loud
- ROTFL: Rolling On The Floor Laughing