When I was 12 years old, I became obsessed with an epic literary series. It was more than twice as long as War and Peace or Infinite Jest; longer than the entire Harry Potter series, and two and a half times as long as The Lord of the Rings, the series on which it was based.
That's right—this 1.2 million word epic is a Lord of the Rings fanfiction series. It's called the Mellon Chronicles.
Taking its name from the Elvish word for "friend," the Mellon Chronicles follows the misadventures of a young Aragorn and Legolas. Like romance novels, Westerns, and Sherlock Holmes, the Mellon Chronicles follow a formula: most of the 36 stories begin with Aragorn and/or Legolas traveling somewhere; then one of them gets captured and usually tortured; and then the other one rescues him. While this description might not sound like it, the Mellon Chronicles were entirely nonsexual—"no slash, no smut," as the saying went.
The Aragorn/Legolas friendship was a popular fanfiction genre when the three Peter Jackson-directed movies were coming out in the early 2000s—probably largely thanks to the fact that Aragorn and Legolas were played by the extremely attractive Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom—and the Mellon Chronicles, written by the mysterious Cassia and Siobhan, or Sio, were the most popular of all. At its peak around 2004, the Mellon Chronicles had an active Yahoo Groups list large enough that it was mentioned as one of the biggest fan communities in a book about Tolkien scholarship; fan-made audiobook readings, Photoshopped story art, and YouTube videos; their own fanfiction awards; and a fanlisting. They set Lord of the Rings fanfiction tropes that other fanfic writers faithfully followed.
Recently, I found Cassia and Sio's old AOL and Hotmail email addresses linked on a late '90s fanfiction website, valarguild.org, and found that one still worked—Sio's. She looped in Cassia, and the three of us had a long email interview about the Mellon Chronicles and the early days of Lord of the Rings online fandom.
The story of the Mellon Chronicles begins in another fandom. Cassia and Sio—both pen names—connected while writing Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice fanfiction around 1999. This was Cassia's first online fandom, which she joined at around 18, and Sio's second, after the TV show The Sentinel.
"She had written this super cool Star Wars story and I contacted her about it," Sio said. "I was totally in awe of her, which we still laugh about now. But that led to us co-writing our first story, which was actually a Star Wars fic called 'The Hunted.'"
When the first Lord of the Rings movie came out in late 2001, both Cassia and Sio wrote their own fanfiction—separately. First, in 2002, Cassia wrote a dark short story called "Captive of Darkness," about a very young Legolas getting captured and tortured (including an implied rape) by evil humans before being rescued by Elrond. Then, Sio wrote a short story about Aragorn and Legolas' first encounter called "First Meetings," giving Legolas the history that Cassia wrote for him. After that, Cassia and Sio began collaborating on a story taking place immediately after "First Meetings."
"It was a wonderful and humbling feeling to see it take on a life of its own like that."
"I don't think it was until we were halfway through writing the story that came after that, 'Exile,' that we realized this was going to be a series, since by then we realized that 'Exile' was going to have to end with something pretty drastic happening, that would then need to be fixed in the following story, 'Return.' Even then, we had no idea how long the series would become. Basically, we just kept going as long as the inspiration held," Cassia said.
Inspiration held for three years, from 2002 until 2005. Cassia and Sio wrote collaboratively, coming up with ideas and outlines in "a flurry of emails back and forth," and then each writer would choose sections to work on. Stories took from a few months to over a year to complete—and were a considerable amount of work. "I could easily spend between four to eight hours a day writing," Cassia said. Sio added, "I was actually a horrible employee while we had the MC. I spent half the day writing in between work duties and keeping up with the [Yahoo Groups] List."
Cassia and Sio started the Yahoo Groups list completely by accident. Cassia set up the website to host the stories so they had an archive. They didn't realize that Yahoo had an automatic Group Mailing List set up with the website, so when they started getting emails about stories they were totally surprised.
"We decided to let it go, thinking we'd only get like a couple of people actually reading," Sio said.
A couple of people soon turned into a couple hundred, then a couple thousand—and many loved the Mellon Chronicles so much that they wanted to write stories for it as well.
"I think the first time I realized how much others were enjoying the world we'd created was when people started requesting to use our original characters and sometimes the backdrop of the MC world as a whole in their own stories," Cassia says. "It was a wonderful and humbling feeling to see it take on a life of its own like that."
The group members were so close that Cassia and Sio sent them Christmas presents each year—once, it was homemade bookmarks; another time, it was keychains. "One Christmas there was something like 13 different countries we sent Christmas gifts to," Sio says. When the Mellon Chronicles ended in 2005, Cassia and Sio mailed a CD with the text of the entire series on it to every reader who wanted one.
Cassia says that the early 2000s were a special time for fandom—before social media existed, or even Livejournal, people had to track down likeminded fans by using webrings, recommendation lists, and individual Geocities sites. "I do think that there was a certain enthusiasm and joy of discovery and exploration in those early days that perhaps is not so present now," she says.
"We really didn't think people were reading the stories anymore."
The ending of the Mellon Chronicles coincided with the beginning of the stories' disappearance. In early 2005, fanfiction.net removed the series completely due to new rules about using song lyrics—the Mellon Chronicles often used a song lyrics as an epigraph before a chapter or as a pagebreak between sections. After the fanfiction.net takedown, Cassia and Sio continued posting the Mellon Chronicles on their own website, aragorn-legolas.5u.com, and in the Yahoo Group, but in summer 2005, they posted their final story—and with it, an announcement that, "To paraphrase Bilbo slightly, we need a holiday. A very long holiday. And we don't expect we shall return. In fact, we mean not to."
Sio says that it was simply time for the series to end. "We actually both 'knew' that our time with the MC had come to an end and would end in July 2005. It was a mutual thing and it was the right time," she says. Aragorn-legolas.5u.com stayed up for years, becoming a sort of digital ghost town, the Photoshopped story banners getting more and more dated—until the website abruptly vanished when the credit card that Sio had set up with auto-pay was stolen. "We decided to let it go because it had been so long since we'd done anything to it we really didn't think people were reading the stories anymore," Sio said.
They were wrong—shortly after aragorn-legolas.5u.com's disappearance, the Mellon Chronicles started appearing on the popular fanfiction website Archive Of Our Own, moved by an English fan, Eleanore, 26. Eleanore was 12 when she started reading the Mellon Chronicles in 2002, and when the Hobbit movies came out a few years ago, she wanted to reread them, but found the original site gone. Eleanore began posting the stories to AO3, mostly for herself, and was surprised to find there was an audience—"I started getting messages asking when I was going to post the rest, which made me realise that other people were re-reading them too," she said. Now, she gets comments from readers both old and new.
The Mellon Chronicles' legacy survives: along with Archive of Our Own, a fanlore wiki charts its impressive history; the Yahoo Groups is still somewhat active, and fully archived; there's a "Mellon Chronicles" tag on Tumblr; and Sio still gets regular emails from fans.
"Friendship with her was the best thing that came out of the MC."
Neither Cassia nor Sio ever published any more fanfiction, though Cassia now writes original fiction and Sio paints and draws. Both say they lurk in fandoms—and both look back on their Mellon Chronicle days with fondness. Sio now runs the office of the place she worked while writing the Mellon Chronicles, and Cassia also credits the Mellon Chronicles for her current job, saying, "some of the peripheral things associated with running the list and website back then actually helped me discover what career path I wanted."
Cassia says that she and Sio "remain best of friends. We talk all the time. She is one of those rare, special people that you can share anything with, and who you know will be a part of your life forever. I'm blessed to have met her."
"We tease that we're twins who were separated by a space/time warp event!" Sio says. "Friendship with her was the best thing that came out of the MC."