Tolkien fan-fiction that is. Not that I have delusions of grandeur; far from it. My approach is one of respect and sense of adventure: to understand and fill in the gaps unsaid (mainly to calm the unavoidable mental fidgeting in my head), not reinvention or re-imaginings – which is as fruitful as trying to re-discover the wheel, or fire.
Canon-friendly, canon-correct, canon-conscious, whatever the term, those are my perimeters, my prime directives. Which can be personally stressful and painful, painstaking in fact.
Why do it then? Because I can’t help it (and perhaps there’s a hint of the Sisyphean, a dash of autoflagellation, and if I’m honest just oodles of plain old masochism).
Simply put, Middle-earth is quite apart from the usual fiction worlds that I’m fascinated with. The prof has left us such rich background, back-stories, and there’s so much that’s alluded to, but for which we have no further details. So I started thinking about those blanks that he left us, which led to imaginings about how those hinted-at events played out, which led to them playing out in my head. I found in myself a growing need to flesh out those imageries playing in my head.
I needed information at points, and tended to check the books, and as the stories grew, they became endeavours, and finally, I officially embarked on what now is essentially my magus opus about the hunt for Gollum.
Here I must divert for a little to describe the path that led my wandering feet into the venture. Yes, the first movie, LotR: FotR, which led me to venture not only into the books but also online, where I have been taken on a wild ride before I realised what happened.
Most other fandoms I have, and still keep, as mentioned, have a very definite shape and form, and a finite framework to them. Not to say there’s no room for expositions in them. For example Neil Gaiman’s Stardust leaves so much tantalising hints of history and background and I believe someone who is immersed in the world of mythlogy and folklore would do a great job if he/she was minded to shine a light into any of those bits left open. But there is no definitive guide or comprehensive backhistory documented to enrich the original story and give readers luxuriant details, and extra materials to analyse and obsess. And I don’t like going off and making up things entirely out of nothing and so most other fandoms are safe from my musings.
So then along LotR came, rocked my world, and in the process, ignited my OCD tendencies with the stunning visage of THAT one Elf.
That led to web adventures, of sorts. And of course, my internet meanderings brought fanfics onto the fanscape: first contact was underwhelming, writing that well, frankly, woke something in me that went, “Is that all there is? Easy peasy, let’s have a go!”.
So I wrote my first fic, sometime in early 2002, just a short 1 page thing about Legolas taking leave of Thranduil as he prepared to bring the message about Gollum’s escape to Elrond.
Self-delusion cannot even make me label it as anything but truly insubstantial and inconsequential. Of course I was pretty pleased with it back then. But as I got into the book’s appendices and found my way online, my jaw dropped and I realised ME was a far, far richer and well-realised world than usual. Also, I stumbled upon fan-fiction of a different sort. Quality writing that looked to giving shape and expanding the ME world with respect and canonical accuracy, though they are not easy to find, amidst the clamouring proliferation of poor writing.
Nonetheless, I was inspired, and threw myself into the writing. And then, and then I had an epiphany: if I want to write fan-fic, I damn well better do it properly. I started to revise that damned fic, and it turned into my first, damningly so, still work-in-progress, multi-chapter gapfiller fic.
An attempt at detailing the Hunt for Gollum in the intervening years between TH and LotR, I researched relentlessly for the fic, fleshing it out, and adhering to and using canon as much as I was able to. Though it’s not finished yet, it has changed totally. It’s just got a prologue and 4 chapters right now (though not all in the public eye), featuring all the probable characters who would be expected to be involved in the tale, per canon. Gollum, orcs, Beornings, Dunadain, Breelanders, Gandalf, Aragorn, Mirkwood Elves, hobbits, even those spiders… everyone except Legolas who started it all. He is not even in it anymore at this point where I’ve stopped putting it online, though he will appear at some appropriate time. Heck, even Thranduil has made his debut in my tale (distracting me very mightily in the process I might add, even then, during the height of the movie frenzy almost a decade back and that’s saying something – I was falling into a fandom within a fandom before I knew what happened, an unabashed fangirl of Thranduil before the Elvenking had even graced my opus, with heartfelt apologies to Legolas).
Stranger still, I started doing more: beginning another long-fic, an episodal one this time, about Denethor and his young family, one-shots about Aragorn and Elrond’s boys, Eomer and Theodred, a drabble series about the White Council, even christmas carol parodies (still canon-friendly) and poetry (a literature form I barely touched before) – haikus about places, people, events, even romance (Aragorn and Arwen) though I don’t even read the genre, and a villanelle on Grima’s perspective about him and Eowyn (don’t laugh and don’t judge please).
It seemed like I’ve been ficcing everything in TA ME but my original fangirl!squee or his awesomer Daddy. The interesting what-ifs that take me off on these ficcing tangents somehow just seemed to not involve either. Oh the irony!
Sometimes I wonder why I couldn’t just stay a fangirl and squee my due allotment of fangurling if I’m not getting time on my squees but the what-ifs, they still run wild and free in the mind even after all this time.
My magnum opus is an ambitious and foolhardy venture for sure, and it’s far from done even after a decade, but I enjoyed the exercise, and it helped make me learn more about ME as well, and grow my appreciation in the process.
Sadly, I’ve lapsed since 2008 in my ME exploration and fic-writing.
Then along came the Hobbit movies, which, truly, have rekindled the fire, and well, looking at it now, the fic that is, there’s obvious issues with it, and a rewrite is needed for many bits. Eru knows why I feel the itch. It can be stressful and thankless to try fitting book canon and come up with stuff that doesn’t (hopefully) disgrace the source, especially with being canon-aligned and canon-appropriate my overriding objectives.
Again, I’m well aware I’m not a great writer, but experience tells me I am able to write passing well, which is why I dared even start on the venture. I do feel that fan-fiction has gotten a bad rep from the deluge of bad-fics and non-fics obscuring those bits of great writing that attempt to share interpretations of what the prof only hinted at or drew a general framework.
I expect I will revise this post at some point. But for now, the bio I’ve put up on SoA and ffnet still applies. So here it is if you have a few spare moments to strain your eye.
The purpose of this space is to hold my bio, so here it is: “We write fan fiction. However, despite enthusiasm, real-life gets in the way a lot and so I’ve an update-rate that may rival the bristle-cone’s growth rate.”
Beyond that, I would rather try to talk about the whys of my fan-fictionalisation stance. So ready?
Let’s see: the beginning – I began picking up the pen in early 2002, when the combined lure of LotR the movie and LotR the book, proved irresistible. I’ve had ideas and plot-bunnies running amok in my head since, no thanks to musie, who has succeeded in his sedition attempts and staked a part of my mind for his own.
Despite all my whining and whinging, I can’t help but be taken along for the ride, clambering back on even when the seat of my pants’ all worn out.
Creepy feelings of fatal affliction prompted worry about my devolution into an imitation wannabe.
What I truly want is to write serious, seriously funny that is. But I’ve come to accept that despite RL staples of skewered humour, pervy fancying, self-deprecation and cynicism, writing humour is beyond musie’s best bunny spawning ploys, simply because he’s a stiff-necked canon stickler.
Thankfully, for my sanity, I find that how musie means gets some high-fives from this hefty quote:
“”Serious reading is designed to bring the readers to a common experience outside the story, by writing papers that attempt to persuade others that this is the (or a) “meaning” of this or that item in the tale or (or attribute of the text).
But “escapist” reading brings readers together only when they are inside the story: and the more closely they compare notes, the clearer it becomes that they have not had the same experience, not in detail.”
Orson Scott Card: “How Tolkien Means” (Meditations On Middle-earth, edited by Karen Haber, 2001).
Stale lembas closet attempts at “farnie” aside, I find the above quote apt and to the point because it describes the “Power of the Story” in Tolkien’s work. In short, said Story is to be experienced, not studied or analysed. Enter the Story, go for the ride, don’t rationalise or attempt to, as Card says in the same article, “decode” it.
Paradoxical it may be for someone who has both feet and hands poked deep in the fan-ficcing beast, groping and feeling the innards and insisting on calling a liver… well, a liver instead of changing it into a heart just because I don’t like the taste or look of it: I believe that’s called sticking by canon.
I’m not looking to contort a great work I love and respect into a vehicle for expression of my own unsated desires, or “righting” dissatisfactions about it. What I do hope to achieve is to enjoy my forays into canon, take nothing with me when I leave, and leave nothing behind save environment-save footprints, and if it’s a liver I see, a liver it is. *everyone say “BLECHEESE!” now*
No alternative reality or thesis-grade paper about that certain plotpoint. No, no, that’ll be creating that dreaded “common experience outside the story”. What I want to do is take all those plot-bunnies going “well, this could have happened to lead to this here exposition by this guy” or “”looks like this may have happened on the side of this here event” to offer plausible plotlines which, if successful, look like they just might have been part of the Story, story-lets within the established framework: tales that hopefully manages, in their own small ways, to “brings readers together only when they are inside the story”.
Big talk, much? I reckon so myself. But the truth is, the Tolkien world(s) are almost complete in, and perhaps inspite of, their reality as fictional creations.
Much as professionals like paleontologists, astronomers, archaelogists, and historians (even forensic pathologists and law enforcement agents) speculate, formulate, theorise and debate, thereby filling their chosen fields or causes with the colour, depth and dimensions – who is to say how right or wrong they are? Certainly, the dinosaurs, celestial beings, and even the characters out of our history aren’t going to sue the pros for their speculations. The key, is in the operative word – plausibility.
In Tolkienese, the appendices are great allies – though I’ll admit I don’t know what I’m gonna do if I should ever be told that my own has to go.
Anyway, in finding my own voice in writing, I’ve cracked my head over a name that will fit me as well as I hope to fit it. After a few trials, I settled on the pen-name of Wayfarer: nicely anonymous, ambiguous, yet evocative of travelling and yarn-spinning. Later I would discover that was what Bilbo was called in the narrative for the third age in the Silm. A sort of benediction, if I may be so bold, that my own small attempts are not adversely looked upon by the powers that be. There is hope yet…
I’m still lost in the labyrinth of Tolkien’s creations, but I do hope to find time eventually to take a few leaps of faith into other fantasy and SF worlds I’ve grown up with. Some day, I might even find the nerve to get into and showcase original efforts. Perhaps I’ll even muster enough guts to tell the liver to mimic a different organ for a change – “hey you blood cleansing thingy, suck it in like the guts are told to!”