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Elfcon (also ELFcon), short for "Elvish Linguistic Fellowship Convention", is a convention first proposed by Jorge Quiñónez, and then organized and originally hosted by Bill Welden, dedicated to the study of the languages created by J. R. R. Tolkien.
"Elfconners" is a loose term to refer to any attendee of an Elfcon, but the term is by some narrowed in use to refer to a specific group of people involved with unpublished linguistic writings by Tolkien.
E. L. F. Conventions
The ELFcon was the annual open conference of the E.L.F., advertised in the E.L.F. journals. The purpose of ELFcon was to present scholarly papers on any subject relating to Tolkien's invented languages, and then to discuss the paper amongst the attendees, and to serve as a friendly gathering of folks who share a common intellectual pursuit.
There were four ELFcons:
- First Annual Colloquium on the Languages of Middle-earth, later referred to as ELFcon I (1991)
- Second Annual Coloquium on the Languages of Middle-earth, also known as ELFcon II (1992, report in Vinyar Tengwar #23)
- ELFcon III (1993)
- ELFcon IV (1994)
ELFcons ended in 1994, but Tolkienist conventions organized by Bill Welden continue: "International Conference on J.R.R. Tolkien's Invented Languages"
Originally the term "Elfconner" simply meant "attendee of an ELFcon". The term "Elfconners" has subsequently been used by critics (and formerly and in passing by one member), at least in quotation marks, to refer to the group of editors appointed by Christopher Tolkien and granted access by him to unpublished wriitngs by J. R. R. Tolkien on his invented languages, although some members have rejected the term both as a misnomer and as intentionally derogatory, and the group prefers the both accurate and neutral term "the Editorial Team".
Christopher Tolkien, as the holder of the copyrights of his father's works, in 1992 invited Christopher Gilson, Carl F. Hostetter, Arden R. Smith and Patrick H. Wynne to undertake a project to analyse, edit and publish material written by Tolkien concerning his invented languages and alphabets. Bill Welden was later brought into the project at their request. Members of the project report that these previously unpublished writings extend to some 3000 pages of linguistic material, consisting chiefly of photocopies supplied by Christopher Tolkien to the editorial team throughout the 1990s and handwritten notes made by the editorial team in the Bodleian Library in 1992.
Work based on some of this material was presented during the ELFcons, and those in attendance were unofficially allowed to look at the photocopies and take notes for private use. However, according to Hostetter, frequent unauthorized sharing of such notes eventually led Christopher Tolkien to prohibit even showing the material to others.
Resentment at these restrictions led to accusations that other people were wrongly denied access to the material, and the issue resulted in a hostile split beginning in 1994 among the (then) more prominent Tolkien's fans, and accusations of secrecy and cabal-forming against the editorial team.
The first public reflection of the conflict appeared on the Tolklang mailing list on 28 October 1996 with a post by Lisa Star, the editor of the fanzine Tyalië Tyelelliéva, entitled Failure of Elfconners. In her post, Star impatiently calls for rapid publication of the material then in possession of the group for at least four years. In a reply of 4 November 1996, the four team members counter that they do not have the permission to publish all material, and even if they did, it would take years to decipher and edit it, and that Star's outrage was due to a misunderstanding. In 2004, Hostetter states that he still does not have (and never will have) permission to publish any of his group's work with Tolkien's papers without the review and approval of the Tolkien Estate's lawyers for copyright reasons.
On 6 November 1996, David Salo posted on the list a detailed and very critical report of a visit to Hostetter in Washington, D. C. ("I felt surprised, especially at the extreme insularity of his group. I did not and do not feel that to be a healthy attitude"). In a reply on the following day, Hostetter dismissed Salo's report as insulting and partly false. The conflict continued both online and offline for several years.
Since the late 1990s, portions of the disputed material are being published in the E.L.F. journal, Vinyar Tengwar, and in Parma Eldalamberon. While this seems to have appeased some critics of the "Elfconners", much remains unpublished.
In a 2001 article in Wired, Erik Davis reports on the issue, adding allegations that the "Elfconners" had attempted to prevent publications by other scholars: "…the Elfconners have behaved as informal copyright police, pressuring other linguists not to publish their dictionaries and grammars". Hostetter claims that he has never objected to Fair Use of Tolkien's works, but argues that dictionaries of Tolkien's languages (and potentially, though less clearly, grammars, depending on the proportion of quoted to original material), due to their wholly derivative nature, do not constitute Fair Use, and thereby violate the Estate's copyright, drawing parallels to Marc Okrand's Klingon and to the Estate's lawsuit against Michael Perry's Tolkien chronology. The latter suit was eventually dismissed by a district court after Perry made substantial changes to the work that satisfied the Estate's original objection to its publication, and the parties reached an out-of-court settlement.
For the critics of the "Elfconners", the story is reminiscent of similar scholarly controversies surrounding unpublished philological material (for example the Dead Sea Scrolls and the mycenaean Thebes tablets) in which some scholars are accused of having abused their privileged access to unpublished material to enhance their own prestige. The editorial team, in reply to this charge, notes the fact that, unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, Tolkien's manuscripts are owned by and under the copyright of the Tolkien Estate, which thus has the right to restrict access to them and their publication as they see fit. Some have drawn comparisons to the dispute resulting in the creation of Lojban, wherein Loglan creator James Cooke Brown attempted to assert copyright over the language, a claim contested by the creators of Lojban, the Logical Language Group. However, the copyright dispute never went to court, as Brown decided to press a trademark infringement case instead.
- Star, Lisa (28 October 1996). "Failure of Elfconners". The Tolkien Language List.
- Wynne, Patrick; Smith, Arden R.; Hostetter, Carl; Gilson, Christopher (4 November 1996). "Unpublished Documents". The Tolkien Language List.
- Salo, David (6 November 1996). "'Inside Information'". The Tolkien Language List.
- Hostetter, Carl (7 November 1996). "Re: 'Inside Information'". The Tolkien Language List.
- Davis, Erik. "The Fellowship of the Ring". Wired.
- Hostetter, Carl (18 January 2002). "Regarding publishing...". Yahoo! Groups.
- Hostetter, Carl (5 February 2002). "A case to watch". Yahoo! Groups.
- "Rings timeline row settled". BBC News Online. 19 June 2003.