Tolkien Fanzines from the S. Gary Hunnewell Collection: A Digital Critical Edition Project


A critical apparatus (Latin: apparatus criticus) in textual criticism of primary source material, is an organized system of notations to represent, in a single text, the complex history of that text in a concise form useful to diligent readers and scholars. The apparatus typically includes footnotes, standardized abbreviations for the source manuscripts, and symbols for denoting recurring problems (one symbol for each type of scribal error).

The Process of Creation

This project began as a curiosity about the Hunnewell fanzine collection, and an exploration into the idea of recreating the original reading experience of a print fanzine in a digital format. As we got started, we had a number of questions that we needed to consider and answer.


While we were aware that the fanzines had been preserved in a digital format in the Digitized Collections on ContentDM, the actual process of reading the content of the fanzines in that format was obviously very different than how original creators and readers experienced it. In the same way that reading a physical book and an e-book are different reading experiences, reading text off of an image scan or plain-text OCR output is different than reading formatted text published with a web-authoring tool.


We choose to use Scalar because it met our initial needs: it is free, open-source, and integrates well with our hosting service. What really set Scalar above other options we considered were the built-in tools for visualization, annotation, and exploration that we felt would not only allow us to create a digital reading experience, but to enhance the content of the original source material with things like maps, semantic relationship linking, and media annotation as well as the ability to provide readers and users the opportunity to interact with the material through comments and private lens development. (See below for more information on lenses.)

Neither of us had used the software previously, so it was also an opportunity to build familiarity with the tool in the DSL in anticipation of growing interest in web publishing projects among students and faculty, coinciding with the development of the library's Web Publishing & Hosting initiative.


The third phase of the project, after answering the initial questions of why and what, has encompassed the majority of the actual work. Our first major decision concerned the direction that the project would take in terms of focus. While the content of the fanzines is J.R.R. Tolkien and his world of Middle-earth, what intrigued us both was the culture of mid-Century American fandom that underlay the production of the fanzines themselves. This, and the fact that numerous detailed Tolkien resources and references exist in both print and digital format, we decided that our critical edition would focus in on only fan-related information, including contributors and other fans, fan terminology, fan events, etc. We would annotate data that helped to contextualize the process of fanzine creation, the cultural chronological moment, and the larger network of fans and fan-activities.

How to Read this Site

Scalar is often praised for its flexibility in organizing content, built on the maxim that "Anything can do anything to anything." From their website:

not only can any piece of Scalar content become a path or tag (or both), but it can also reference any other piece of content: text, video, audio, imagery—making it possible to build images that link to sequences of videos, audio files that group together related texts, or just about anything else you can think of.

Each Scalar project, colloquially referred to as a book, has a number of tools that it can utilize in order to present content and organize it in a logical way. We have used these tools in the following ways:


A Scalar Path is a linear progression through the project content established by the creators. It's a recommended way of moving through the different pages in order to experience the narrative in a specific order. We've created paths that will navigate through the fanzine issues as if the user were reading the original publication page by page.

Currently there is an Entmoot path, which will lead readers through each of the issues in succession, and four issue-specific paths. In the future, if more fanzines are added to the project, paths will be built in the same way, with a zine-level path that contains individual issue-level paths within it.

Tags and Notes

Scalar Tags create "non-linear groupings of content." We have used the tagging function as a way to indicate fanzine content authors. Each piece is tagged by the author or authors who created it, as in the writer of an article, the artist of an illustration, or even the submitter of a letter to the letter-column.

See an example of a Tag.

The Scalar Notes feature we have used in order to add contextual information to the fanzines, whether this means information about events, explaining languages and terms specific to the fanzine world or fan culture, other fans or people mentioned, etc. As users can see in the Connections visualization, these contextual notes help to identify relationships in theme across articles and issues, frequently mentioned or linked individuals, and more.

See an example of a Note.


The annotation tool from Scalar allows for detailed critical engagement with project media. We have used this tool to create individual item records for artwork featured in the fanzines, including covers and inset illustrations as well as large passages or text in any of Tolkien's scripts or languages. Each annotation includes a creator tag, when that information is available, as well as a description of the content. When possible or available, descriptions or translations for foreign- (Tolkien-) language passages are also included.

See an example of an Annotation.

How to Use Scalar Visualization Features

In addition to the book itself, Scalar offers users ways to drill deeper into the content of a project with two kinds of discovery layers: Visualizations and Lenses.


Scalar offers built-in visualizations of the site contents, allowing users to engage with materials in unique and in-depth ways. These discovery layers include a variety of data views from the simplistic (Contents, for example) to the complex (Connections, Map, etc.), drilling into the relationships between pages as well as metadata features.

The Visualizations are accessible from the hamburger menu at the top left of the screen, under the Wayfinding (compass) icon. Learn more about Scalar's visualization features at their documentation.


Lenses are a way to explore and search through the content of a Scalar book, accessible via Wayfinding icon. They can be pre-established by the project for users, or users can create their own, using filtering, metadata searching, specific focus on types of content, and more. The data behind each lens can also be downloaded in .CSV format for use with other digital scholarship tools and inquiries.

Users can have up to five lenses active in their account at a time. They can also submit lenses to the editors for inclusion in the lens gallery viewable to all visitors.

See an example of a Lens or learn more about Scalar Lenses in their documentation.

Site Sources

The following reference works were most frequently consulted and cited throughout the project:All single-use references have been cited on individual note pages.

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