You're Kili-ing Me
The Rumors of My Death Have been Greatly Exaggerated
Brainburps on Fanfiction Involving Those Hot Dwarves and How MarySue Changed the World
If you are reading this, I assume you've seen The Hobbit film (at least, the first one). If you're writing fanfiction, I assume you've read
The Hobbit book... all of it. Therefore nothing I say here will be a SPOILER, right?
This is not a fanfic, it is more of an essay, a bit of brainburping, a few brainfarts, maybe you'll get to thinking and come up with some stories. My own characters are dragging me off kicking and screaming into their tales.
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”(sometimes quoted as “rumors of my death”) Mark Twain said this after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal. According to my Tumblr feed, the entire female fangirl world has fallen in love with Thorin Oakenshield and his nephews, Fili and Kili. I read The Lord of the Rings somewhere back in the Dark Ages of 1978, I think I read The Hobbit right after that. I always preferred LOTR, it had Elves, lots of Elves, and one in particular (you know...). Reading The Hobbit, I felt that the Dwarves were mostly a list of semi-rhyming names. Except for Thorin, who was “very haughty”, and Bombur, ever the butt of fat jokes, and if you wanted something risky or difficult done, you got FiliandKili to do it. Now we have personalities and faces to go with those names. Some nice faces. Some very very nice faces. And hair. And boots. Very nice, um, boots. Wait, seriously, those are Dwarves? (I have inferred that it's not till they get older that they get those gnarly noses and such... or maybe it's just these guys are the Princely Line). I may have to turn in my membership in the MirkWood Elf Party Club.
Oh, yes, where was I … fangirls. Writing fanfics about Majestic smoulderingly hot short guys with braids and Serious Eyebrows. Have you noticed that by the end of The Hobbit those three are totally, finally, irrevocably, honorably, heroically, unexaggeratedly quite dead? Of course you have, you've read the book.
Which leads us to MarySue and her Excellent Adventure.
Wiki tells me that “The term "Mary Sue" comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story "A Trekkie's Tale”published in her fanzine Menagerie #2.... Such characters were generally original (invented by the fanfic writer) female
adolescents who had romantic liaisons with established canonical (book, film) adult characters, or in some cases were the younger relatives or protégées of those characters. ” Mary Sue tales were often just wish fulfillment for the author, a daydream not well written. If you're writing fanfic, you probably already know this. And write Mary Sues anyway. Been there, done that. This not to say that all Mary Sues are bad. Any tale can be well written. How? I don't know. I've read tons, and spew words back out onto virtual paper. The best advice I've heard is read read read, write write write, edit edit edit, and write some more. Pay attention to what your favorite authors are doing, and emulate it. And get a dictionary.
Back to Marysue and The Oakenshields. What is Marysue going to do with the knowledge that her favorite characters die horribly in chapter XVIII?
Two favorite tropes in fanfic are:
A. Marysue yanks a character (or two) out of Middle Earth into the Mundane World..... and
Been there, done that: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1710591/1/If-Wishes-Were-Elves-Even-Fangirls-Would-Dance).
B. Marysue falls through an interdimensional Gate into Middle Earth
A. In this trope, our Middle Earth Hero ends up floundering amusingly around our world like a polar bear in the prairie.
Marysue could save Fili and Kili (and possibly Thorin as well) by hauling their excellent buttinskies into our world, thus sparing them the necessity of the Battle of Five Armies and imminent death.
Aaaaaaaand, what happens to the story? And more importantly, to the characters themselves?
In my tale, I hauled Legolas out of Middle Earth well before the events of LOTR. The problem my fangirls discovered was: without him, The Story changed. (Without any number of characters, the story would change, I just picked this one, he's fun)... a brief look at what I perpetrated...
"Just look at this!" Lorien thrust her copy of LOTR under my nose, the one it took a crane to lift, the special anniversary edition with the Alan Lee paintings in it, where you never see Legolas' face. So you can imagine it any way you want.
"Look!" she was practically shrieking. She thumped it down on my lap before I even had her car's seatbelt on. Lorien was babbling somewhere between tears and 'this is it you're gonna die'.
I let the rest of my schoolbooks slide to the floor and peeled her book open. Carefully. It was one of those treasures she never let out of
the house. So why was it here now, on my stable-work encrusted lap? I had a really bad feeling about this.Yep. Alan Lee had vanished, or mutated into something really scary. Like I've seen some hard-core comic books that were less scary than this."Uh oh." I said.
Lorien was still babbling, her voice wailing right up into the zone with fingernails on chalkboards. "...and when Frodo says 'I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!' there's no Gollum to bite off his finger and take it into the fire!"
"What?" I dropped The Book and shook her. "What are you talking about?"
"Haven't you been listening to anything I've said? No, of course you haven't!"
"Gollum? What's Gollum got to do with this?"
She closed her eyes and put the backs of her hands together, raising them slowly from her middle to her chin, breathing really slow, then
letting it all out in one carefully controlled breath. Centering breaths she called them. Some wierd obi-wan-zen of kung-fu-tai-chi thing. She gave me a long hard look. "You aren't surprised."
"Well...my action figure collection looked kinda' different last night..."
"Action figures! This is not about action figures! It's about real flesh and blood people who have just had their world ripped to shreds!"
"I think you're over-reacting."
"I AM NOT..." she closed her eyes and did another recentering breath.
"Gollum." I suggested, quietly, very quietly.
"Gollum was a pivotal character." Lorien said, trying not to clench her teeth. "Remember how Gandalf councils Frodo not to be too swift to pass out death and judgement?"
"Uh, yeah, sure."
"Frodo doesn't throw the ring in the fire." she said with the kind of patience reserved for extremely dense children. "Frodo never throws the Ring into the Fire. Not in the original story, not anywhere else. He never actually does what he sets out to do because the power of the Ring becomes too much for him. He claims it for his own!"
"Oh...yeah." I forgot about that part, mainly because Legolas wasn't in it. "Right."
"It gets destroyed anyway, because of the compassion he and Sam showed Gollum. It's Gollum who destroys it!"
I never did get that part, they avoid doing the obviously smart thing of just squashing the little bugger, then he bites of Frodo's finger, and that's a good thing. Aren't the Good Guys supposed to just kick butt?
Lorien continued, her voice desperate, "Without Gollum, Frodo becomes the next Dark Lord!"
"Whoa, Mini Vader." I tried to picture it, but it bent my mind too much. "And what the hell does that have to do with our Elf?"
Lorien gave me the longest, patientest...most patient...look she could muster. Through tight teeth she said, "Why was Legolas at the Council of Elrond?"
"Uh...I do remember he was wearing camoflage; well, green and brown..."
She closed her eyes and did another recentering breath. "He was a messenger from his father."
"The message was...?" she gestured toward me for the answer.
"Um. That Aragorn was the once and future King of Gondor?"
"It's Rivendell! He was raised there! They already know that! Except for some thick-headed Gondorians!"
She glared at me. I gave her a winning smile. It didn't win anything.
"The message was that the prisoner that Aragorn had left with," she made little quote signs in the air, she always did that when she was quoting a line from The Book, "the watchful Elves of Mirkwood, had escaped. Legolas was one of those Watchful Elves. Possibly the leader of the company set to watch the prisoner that day, and he escaped."
"Gollum, you idiot!"
"Ok, so why would that change the book?"
"If Legolas wasn't there, maybe Gollum wouldn't have escaped. Then, when Frodo and Sam reach Mordor, Gollum is still safely in the keeping of the Watchful Elves of Mirkwood and there is no Gollum to bite off Frodo's finger and destroy the Ring!"
"A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can alter the course of a hurricane in India." she stated.
Honestly, I don't know where she gets this stuff.
So, your Marysue gets the guy, but the story falls apart (Lorien and Liz do get... well, just read it already). Tolkien, drawing on his spiritual roots, had a fine sense of a Larger Power helping things along. What appears to be coincidence is that Larger Power at work. If you yank a character out of the tale, you've yanked a strand in the Web of Life, and the whole thing unravels. Of course, the Larger Power
could just find another way to destroy the ring, but you're the one messing with Middle Earth.
If you yank Thorin out of the tale early, if he never decides to go to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo never has an adventure, never finds The Ring, never hides it safely for sixty years, never inspires his nephew to go have his own adventure, and the Ring finds its way back to Sauron. If you yank Thorin out of the tale later (on the Quest to the Lonely Mountain), the Company is leaderless. Bilbo could still find
the Ring, but the Company needs Thorin to git'er done.
If Fili and Kili leave the tale, then what? Their skills help the Company make it to The Lonely Mountain (let FiliandKili to do it). They protect Thorin in the end as long as they can. Perhaps their intervention even keeps him alive long enough to have that final redemption scene with Bilbo.
And there's the matter of the sealskin. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (PhD), inWomen Who Run With the Wolvescalls it “sealskin/soulskin”. Her book explores the psychology and meaning behind a number of faerie tales. In every culture that has seals, there is the tale of the selkie. A fisherman falls in love with one of the selkies, the seal-women. He steals her sealskin so she can't go back to her home in the sea. She goes home with him, becomes his wife, bears his children, but begins to wither and die... because her sealskin/soulskin is missing. One day, one of her children says something like “why does father keep an old coat in the thatch?” (a line from Secret of Roane Inish, a fine little movie). The child brings her the sealskin, she takes it to the beach, puts it on and returns to sea. To Home. The child usually grows up to have some interesting insights and powers.
If you take Fili and Kili out of their world, you steal their soulskins. Not only do you have the problem of how you're going to explain them looking pretty much the same in forty years (Dwarves age slowly... it's worse if you kidnap an Elf, they don't age at all), but they have no drivers' licenses, no birth certificates, no social security numbers, and their blood type is going to be really really weird. And while mining precious gems and killing orcs are popular skills in demand in Middle Earth, they don't have job skills for Muggle World. And here, they are an endangered species. Think about where they came from: Aule' made them, Illuvatar awoke them, the Dwarves are the essence of the rock and bone of Middle Earth. They are clannish, insular, (no outsiders even know their true names), loyal to a fault. Remove them from that world and you've broken their hearts.
OK. So you decide to send Marysue into Middle Earth instead. You always wanted to go there anyway, and airfare to New
Zealand costs more than Bilbo's mithril chainmail. Now what?
She could try and convince Our Heroes not to go to Their Doom.
Like they'd believe her. OK, she could tag along on the Quest, and with her superduper ninja warrior skills (or perhaps a phaser or lightsaber lifted from an earlier adventure) she protects them at every turn. Or with her knowledge of The Story, she warns them that they should watch those ponies more closely, and oh, you should take a different mountain pass because that one has stone giants in it, and yeah, watch
out for the crack in that cave floor, and don't climb any pine trees and gee Gandalf, can't you just summon those eagles sooner?
What she can't do is convince them not to go. They're Dwarves. I know. I grew up with Dwarves. OK, they're called Pennsylvania Deutsch around here, but, they look like Dwarves, they think like Dwarves, they act like Dwarves, they're just a bit taller. They are my friends, my relatives. They are honest, loyal and more stubborn than Scottish Shetland Ponies. If you are unfamiliar with Shetland Ponies (I've had a
few) picture an 18 hand Clydesdale wadded into a ball the size of the average beer cooler. All the power, all the attitude, all the strength in a compact package.
Marysue could tell Our Heroes (after demonstrating her prescient skills with the troll incident, the stone giants, the goblins and eagles) Their Dire Fate, and how to avoid it.
But they won't. They're Dwarves. They will plug right along to the Lonely Mountain and take up residence, dragon or no, annoy the Elves and make some (very human) mistakes and finally have to fight alongside those who were almost their enemies. They will not turn aside for a mere female.
Which brings us to a Dwarf characteristic I've heard mentioned in both Tolkien's writings and from the actors portraying our heroic band of adventurers. Dwarf women are few, and many of the men don't seem to be concerned with finding a woman. Actually, many of Tolkien's males of any race seem to be single (odd, because he had quite the romance, and a long marriage and some kids). Fili and Kili, and especially Thorin, would not turn aside from their clan, their people and their quest, for a woman. Any woman. Probably not even Galadriel. Marysue hasn't got a chance. Unless she's taken a detour through Harry Potter's world and learned some love spells.
Marysue has one last chance to save Our Heroes. She could simply stand beside them in the battle and protect them, potentially sacrificing herself for them.
Which led me to wonder why those three characters die in the tale. Against the odds, Tolkien survived trench warfare in WWI; some
enormous percentage of the young men he knew did not survive. (I half remember a statistic; something like 9 out of 10 died). His own characters had a much better survival rate; only Boromir bites it in LOTR. Only three out of thirteen Dwarves die in The Hobbit. It might have been any of them, any of the lesser known ones, the ones who are mainly names in the list; BifurBofurBombur OriDoriNori OinGloinBalinDwalin... OK, we know Balin('s tomb) and Ori(wrote the book the Fellowship is reading ) and Oin (eaten by the Watcher
in the Water) go to Moria, and Gloin shows up at the Council of Elrond with his kid. So they're safe, for now. But why Kili, Fili and Thorin? Thorin is a fascinating character, flawed, heroic. He leads the quest, succumbs to the dragon sickness/gold lust, nearly starts a war among the good guys, falls defending them, is redeemed. It's a tale of redemption. Fili and Kili are young, innocent... sort of a blood
sacrifice for Thorin's failures. The Sacrificial Heroes. In the book, this is told swiftly, as a flashback, but if you think about it long enough, it carries a great deal of mythic weight. Thorin and the ones who are like his sons are gone, the line is gone. It's up to others to carry on the
Marysue could change the story, but then, it would lose much of its power.
Still... Dwarves live a long time. She could encounter them earlier, and have an adventure, and leave them to their fate.
She could return to her world, richer, not in gold, but in experience. And there she might find a surprise or two...
It was January third, J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday. I was at work and looked up to see a customer... uh, looked down, more or less, not too far, I'm not that tall either. A young fellow, ginger-haired, short beard, piercing blue eyes, stout, solid, cheerful. I discovered he had just graduated with a degree in elementary education. I picture him in a year or two, reading The Hobbit to his class. They are the luckiest class in the world, because their teacher looks just like one of Thorin's Company.
So go forth on your own adventure. Read some, write some more, even Marysue. And go outside and play.