Lazy Luddite Log

29.5.14

The Fellowship

I recently became aware that the Fellowship Of Middle Earth (FOME) has changed its name to the Fantasy And Science-Fiction Association (FASA). I had been forewarned of this in conversation with someone who is both a member of FOME and the Monash University Choral Society (MonUCS) that I’m active in. Nonetheless the announcement of the change makes me a bit wistful. In this post then I will reflect on my own personal understanding of the history of what from 1977 to 2014 was known as FOME.

I attended the thirtieth anniversary of FOME in 2007 and blogged about it then. What I neglected to say in that post is that while I was active in FOME I became a sort of historian for the group and even did presentations on the topic. As a result what I will relate here comes more from my memory of all the notes I poured over in the Mathom House and the conversations I had with older members than it does from my own personal experiences.

The Mathom House by-the-way is the name given to the library collection and archives of FOME, which for most of the time was held in two lockers upstairs in the Campus Centre. The Mathom House I knew contained a lot of pulp paperback science fiction and a smaller number of hard-cover fantasy novels and scholarly works on concepts like “sub-creation”. Like many of the trappings and traditions of FOME, the name “Mathom House” was an obscure reference to the fantasy world of Middle Earth. However, since its inception FOME was always a literary appreciation group for much more than just the works of Professor Tollkien.

1970s - Fantasy Origins

In the original constitution and related notes from 1977 the group expressed its interest in fantasy works like those of J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis. They specifically referenced those authors because many of the founders of FOME were Christian. This came as a surprise to me in the 90s as an agnostic who felt that the group had a very secular sensibility. But let me clarify that Secularism involves the inclusion rather than exclusion of religious perspectives. Both Tolkien (subtly) and Lewis (rather more blatantly) explored Christian themes but I would argue that a lot of the philosophy they espoused was more universal than that. Fiction has an ethical element and that is something that interests all contemplative persons. And what are university students but thinkers?

The anecdote told by original members is that a group of them sat at the back of meetings of Evangelical Union (later named Christian Union possibly to distance themselves from the contemporary flavour of the word "evangelical") and discussed the philosophical implications of fantasy fiction and, rather than persist in this disruptive conduct, they decided to form a separate group to allow them to be nerdy in their own time. Some of the oldest traditions of FOME were started then, such as celebrating the birthday party of Bilbo And Frodo (pretty much an excuse for a dinner or house party) and holding Hobbit High Teas. In these practices you can see appreciation for the notion of The Good Life.

1980s - Additions And Subtractions

All groups change and part of that arises from changes in the setting which surrounds them. One augmentation to FOME came as a result of the Science Fiction Club folding. That group had a big collection of novels that were then given over to FOME. Suddenly Asimov and McCaffrey were bumping dust-jacks with Tolkien in the Mathom House. From that time on FOME was in effect the group for both fantasy and science fiction fans. However they still looked a lot more like fantasy tragics.

Another change came when some students (including some FOME members) formed a chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) at Monash. Till then FOME members had done a lot of costuming (if old photos are any indication). However those most interested in such an activity got more involved in the College of Saint Monica and what was left behind in FOME was the tradition of making cloaks specifically (incidentally a cloak is a wonderful thing).

Another group FOME had overlapping membership with was originally called the Dungeons & Dragons Club but soon changed its name to the Monash University Role Players (MURP). A lot of role-play games have fantasy and science fiction settings so the overlap makes sense. But as much as games like D&D draw inspiration from Tolkien, they also draw on other authors, like Robert E Howard and H P Lovecraft. It is particularly an attraction to the darker moods of these sword-and-sorcery and horror influences that I think distinguished MURP from FOME.

Finally I must refer to a Monash Uni group lost to the mists of time – The Pooh Club. This was a group dedicated to silly and frivolous things from the children’s books of A A Milne to the adult comedy of Monty Python. They folded in the 80s but somehow that child-like sense of fun and irreverence transferred to FOME. By the time I got to Uni the description of FOME in Clubs & Societies (C&S) Orientation Week guides described the group in terms of the shared interests of its members and quoting Monty Python was definitely part of the idiosyncratic mix.

1990s – Codifying Fantasy And Science Fiction

If I were to say everything I did in the FOME of the 90s it would take far too long. I will just say a few important things starting with what we did to the Constitution. Recognizing that we were a group for both fantasy and science fiction fans we changed our objectives to reflect that. We also noted that books were just one medium we consumed and so also referenced other forms such as cinema and television. I was involved in this process, which necessitated the consultation and consent of C&S. We also in that time prominently referred to both genres in all our publicity.

There were other changes too. We still did things like Bilbo & Frodo’s birthday party, but we also instituted an annual Masquerade Ball, at which we got into costume and danced (we would borrow the awesome stereo of Monash Dance Sport to play our own track selections on). As far as I know this continues to the present and is assumed by current members to be a time-honoured tradition. And I suppose it is. What this says to me is that just as we changed what the group had been, so too will others.

FOME members had a wider impact on campus culture by forming other clubs. One was the Fiction Writers (who later became Creative Writers on the grounds that they did poetry and “poetry is truth”). FOME members had always penned original fiction and these members wanted to do more than just fantasy and science fiction. Overall however it was difficult to get contributions to the FOME publication Elbereth. Maybe we were all just too busy with increasingly complex lives.

For a more general impression of on-campus life in the 90s take a look here.

The Twenty First Century – FOME to FASA

I was an active FOMEite last century and then just someone who monitored them since. My impression overall is that they continue to do what we have always done but once more environmental factors have produced recent change. So what is it with this name-change to FASA?

Oral history is a murky thing so beware that what I will say next is the product (like much of this post) of word-of-mouth. One impression I have is that C&S have dropped the ball somewhat in understanding the diversity of groups they manage. Some students decided to form a Harry Potter group and C&S were fine with this because as far as they were concerned FOME was just for fans of Lord of the Rings. Had they looked a bit more closely at their own records they would have known that FOME had been the fantasy and science fiction club for a long time. As a result of such tardiness it is a necessity that the group re-assert its identity.

I have pondered the exact content of the new name. Surely “FASFA” is right because “Fiction” is a word too but I accept that that is difficult to pronounce and note that they have hyphenated “Science-Fiction” in the club name. Also what of campus identity? Monash University Fantasy And Science-Fiction Association (MUFASA) has a cool ring to it. Well apparently they did consider that but allegedly the University itself now frowns upon groups incorporating the name of the institution on the off-chance that the groups could do things to embarrass the Uni. This seems ridiculous to me. On the other hand an original FOME member told us back in the day that FOME had an ASIO file and that the group was deemed “harmless subversive” so who knows?

Well that is my potted history of a group that has enriched the lives of many of its members. I trust that the Fantasy And Science-Fiction Association (FASA) will continue to be the adaptive, contemplative, frivolous, creative, harmlessly subversive group that FOME always has been.

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