Transmedial Uses of Fantasy – The World Hobbit Project in Finland in the Transmedia Use(r)s Summer School

By Maria Ruotsalainen*

Soon after our project started in March we heard that it would be possible for us to attend the International Summer School in Cultural Studies, held at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, June 13-15, 2016. Normally, summer schools are targeted for PhD students, but this time our project members – both doctors and doctoral students – were allowed to attend, because the theme of the summer school came so close to the research questions of our projects. And what was the theme this year? Transmedia Use(r)s.

Day 1.

The first day of the summer school began with a symposium with three speakers. First, Professor Raine Koskimaa’s from the University of Jyväskylä opened the symposium and gave a talk about games and transmediality. In his talk, Koskimaa emphasised the importance of temporality in a transmedia gaming experience.

Pic1Professor Koskimaa giving his talk

After Koskimaa, there were two keynote lectures; one by Assistant Professor Elizabeth Evans from University of Nottingham and one by Associate Professor Lisbeth Klastrup from the IT University of Copenhagen. Evans drew attention to the particularities of engagement with transmedia and demonstrated how those who produce transmedia often understand the concept of transmedia as well as that of engagement in a very different way than those who use transmedia.

Pic2Associate Professor Evans presenting her work

Klastrup, in turn, concentrated on the transmedia experience, emphasizing the way that transmedial worlds are experienced and constructed through these experiences. The One particular notion Klastrup discussed was nostalgia’s relation to transmedia. Klastrup pointed out that from the point of view of the people who experience transmedia, transmedial worlds are not all about expanding, but also about returning. This holds especially true in relation to older fictional worlds (such as that of The Hobbit, we feel obliged to add).

pic3Professor Klastrup and transmedial world theory and approach

After the inspiring keynotes we had some refreshing drinks and snacks and change to get to know each other a bit. The discussions started during this welcoming reception also had a  chance to continue in the evening when we headed together for dinner in the restaurant Figaro. Dinner and drinks were well received, albeit one of the dessert choices, basilico pannacotta with devil’s jam, caused some amazement and amusement.

Day 2.

Transmedia(l) fantasy worlds, or the user practices related to them, were a reoccurring theme throughout the summer school. This became clear when the second day was opened by a presentation held by members of our Hobbit research group. In their presentation “The Book, The Film and Audience Responses – In search of a transmedial mode of reading of The Hobbit trilogy by Peter Jackson”  Jyrki Korpua, Irma Hirsjärvi and Urpo Kovala had two main focuses. Firstly, they introduced the term transmedial mode of reading. Secondly, they paid attention on a specific case which emerged from the Finnish Hobbit audience data: That of The Silmarillion. Korpua, Hirsjärvi and Kovala noted that some of the respondents articulated that the Hobbit movies had elements of Silmarillion in them, while in actuality Jackson did not had the rights to use any references to Silmarillion. Through this case Korpua, Hirsiärvi, and Kovala discussed the concept of false memory in transmedial worlds.

The second presentation of the day, held via Skype, was on GoT (Game of Thrones) Audience Research, given by Carmen Spano (University of Auckland, New Zealand). In her presentation Spano discussed about the differences between GoT audiences in Italy and New Zealand. For instance, she pointed out how the Italian audience was in general highly sceptical towards any kind of commercial extras offered to them by the production company of GoT, while the audience from New Zealand did not share this scepticism.

After Spano, the stage was again ours and it was time for the second presentation of the Hobbit project. In the second presentation of our research team, “Uses of Fantasy: The World Hobbit Project in Finland” Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, Tanja Välisalo and myself discussed the transmedial users practices found in the Finnish Hobbit audience data and the meanings of fantasy articulated by the respondents of the Hobbit survey. In our presentation, we presented four interconnected ways in which the respondents assign meaning to fantasy, ranging from an affective or emotional relationship to Tolkien’s work or the Lord of the Rings films/books to escapism and immersion in Tolkien’s world or fantasy worlds in general. The importance of belonging to a community and the significance these fantasy works can have for personal growth were also mentioned.

Nevertheless, the summer school was not all about dragons and fantasy worlds. The last presentation of the second day proved this as it focused on a) planning a transmedia experience or world and b) did not wonder in the realms of fantasy. In their presentation “New Audience Research for the New Audiences: Designing a Basque Transmedia Experience” Díaz Bizkarguenaga, Landabidea Urresti and Salces Alcalde talked about how to design a transmedia experience for the Basque audience. They proposed a model in which the audience engages with what they call a “transmedia Basque news-world” through web-tv, blog, twitter, and newspaper. In the discussions following the presentation, the presenters added that humour or sense of irony would be a common thread connecting the different platforms together.

After the interesting presentations, it was time to relax: in the evening there was a chance to enjoy the summery weather on a boat ride at a beautiful lake.


Day 3.

Day three (the final day) started with a focus not on fantasy worlds nor any location on Earth, but on space.  In his presentation “Transmedia storytelling for science promotion: NASA’s #JourneyToMars transmedia storyworld” Sergei Medvedev discussed how NASA uses multiple platforms in their construction of a “Journey to Mars” storyworld, which is also used to promote NASA. This storyworld consists of multiple aspects: The Martian movie  and Ticket to Mars Campaign, some to mention. The presentation resulted in a very vivid discussion considering the nature and definitions of transmedia, as well about the blurring boundaries between the real and the fantastic.

The second presentation of the day – and the last presentation  of the conference – was given by Tanja Välisalo form our Hobbit project. This time she did not discuss The Hobbit films but her other research interests – the furries. Välisalo’s presentation “Original characters as a transmedia practice in media fandom”  highlighted how in furry fandom the content, and in this sense the whole transmedia world, is produced by users and fans. Her presentation sparkled an interesting discussion on the nature of medium, as the very materiality of the costumes worn by fans is an integral part of furry fandom.

After the last presentation, and before the final lunch together, it was time for some conclusive remarks and discussions. The general feeling was that of contentment and inspiration. Thus, the conclusion was that the summer school had been a success.

Some lessons learned and notes to take home

For us from the “Hobbit project”, the summer school was as inspiring and educating event and while a whole posting could be written about the lessons learned and ideas created during these three days, I will now mention only two of the central ones.

First of all, it was really interesting to see the different ways transmediality can be understood and conceived, especially in relation to the world of Tolkien.

Secondly, the discussions held after our presentations greatly helped us to plan our research and upcoming articles further.

A big thank you to all the participants and the organisers of the summer school! With these lessons, we now continue on our fantastic journey.

If you are interested in transmediality, here is something you might want to read (our team will surely be revising these texts during the summer!):

Dena, Christy. 2009. Transmedia Practice: Theorising the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World across Distinct Media and Environments. Doctoral Dissertation Thesis. Sydney: University of Sydney. (accessed 1 December 2015)

Evans, Elizabeth. 2011. Transmedia Television. Audiences, New Media and Daily Life. New York: Routledge.

Harvey, Colin B. 2015. Fantastic Transmedia. Narrative, Play and Memory across Science Fiction and Fantasy Storyworlds. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Jenkins, Henry. 2007. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. The Official Web-Blog of Henry Jenkins, March 22. (accessed 17 January 2015)

Jenkins, Henry. 2011. “Transmedia 202: Further Reflections.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. The Official Web-Blog of Henry Jenkins, August 1. (accessed 1 June 2015)

Jenkins, Henry. 2013. “T is for Transmedia…” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. The Official Web-Blog of Henry Jenkins. March 18. (accessed 7 January 2016)

Klastrup, Lisbeth & Tosca, Susana. 2014. “A Game of Thrones: Transmedial Worlds, Fandom, and Social Gaming.” Storyworlds across Media. Toward a Media-conscious Narratology. (ed. Ryan, M. and Thon, J.), University of Nebraska Press. Accessed through EBSCOhost.

Mittell, Jason. 2015. Complex TV. The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York and London: New York University Press.

Scolari, Carlos A. 2009. “Transmedia Storytelling: Implicit Consumers, Narrative Worlds, and Branding in Contemporary Media Production.” International Journal of Communication (3): 586-606.

Scott, Suzanne. 2008. Authorized Resistance: Is Fan Production Frakked? In Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica, edited by Tiffany Potter and C. W. Marshall, 210-223. New York: Continuum.

Scott, Suzanne. 2010. The Trouble with Transmediation: Fandom’s Negotiation of Transmedia Storytelling Systems. Spectator 30 (1), 30-34.

Scott, Suzanne. 2013.“Whose Steering the Mothership?” The Role of the Fanboy Auteur in Transmedia Storytelling. In The Participatory Cultures Handbook, edited by Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, 42–52. New York and London: Routledge.


*Maria Ruotsalainen is one of the researchers of Uses of Fantasy – The World Hobbit Project in Finland. Read more about Maria here.


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