Random thoughts on fan fiction

Happened to type the words “tolkien fanfiction” to a Google box today; was rather shocked to see the number of results. I had thought Tolkien was impenetrable because of the sheer number of things that are “fixed” one way or the other; but apparently there is plenty.

Not that that is news to me — many, many, many long years ago I came across two lengthy Tolkien fanfics, and read one of them: it was, I think, about Isildur and the lost men of Dunharrow.

Now, fan fiction — and you note this is the third spelling for the word I’ve used in so many paragraphs — is not alien to me. A slightly lesser amount of years ago (the spring of 2003, I think) I fell in love with manga, Japanese comics, and the first and strongest object of that love was Rumiko Takahashi’s comedy-drama Ranma 1/2. And, as I was more net-savvy by then, I found there was plenty of net-buzz about the by then concluded series, and plenty of fan continuations, complications and reboots.

Some of these were silly, some serious, some heart-wrenching. My stash of things scraped from the net then comes to some 50 megabytes of pure text, a fifth or so of which I actually read (that is still, in colloquial terms, “an enormous shitload of stuff”), and so much of it was so good and went in so surprising directions, to moods and problems so different from the original, and so impossible in it, and to imaginations so deft and true — less like playing children and more like Gaiman’s Beowulf — that I haven’t been able to just dismiss fanfiction (like some do) ever since. Some was inexpertly written, or had nothing original, or just plonked; but enough was more than good enough. Some was better than some stuff I’ve seen published, though that’s the faint praise thing, right? Publication is no sure test of quality, and there are fields where (as in fanfic for legal reasons) “official” publication is neither the aim nor an option.

I even wrote a few pieces of my own — of these, the less is said, the better — before being swept along to other titles and horizons new. (Though for a couple of years my “need to stop worrying and get to sleep now” exercise was to start doing an intracranial simulation of resolving all the relationship problems in the series as originally imagined in some kind of a new happiness-maximizing way — I inevitably escaped to dreamland somewhere around “So, starting with Ranma-chan plus Happosai, who do I have left for Kodachi?”)

Finally, rather deep in the “Things that should not be” territory, there was that piece where I tried to fuse the Lord of the Rings and Ranma into one unified tale: basically the first told with the characters of the second. The results tended towards comedy. I think Ranma ended up mapped to Aragorn, and Tatewaki Kuno to Frodo. This, “naturally”, meant Soun as Elrond, Akane as Arwen, Ukyo as Legolas, Happosai as Gandalf, and after that, things got really strange. (Also, “Kodachi Sackville-Baggins”?)

Now, while this concluding item isn’t very far-fetched for Ranma, given its certain essential plot elements, it was something that, when I once by pure accident (I swear!) came across a Tolkien-based example of it, shocked me much more than the volume of Tolkien fanfiction I just discovered: erotic fanfiction. (Basically, Middle-Earth Gone Wild!)

You don’t want no details; I am not going to give you none; okay?

PS. There’s one spot I recently noticed where Tolkien is very nicely open for fan fiction to flesh out a certain obscure spot — what company did Saruman have when he settled in Isengard? Surely the Steward of Gondor wouldn’t give such a fortress to just one lone man, no matter how powerful — and just as likely his companions couldn’t have been orcs or half-orcs, and given the recent Dunlending trouble in Rohan (Wulf, Helm and all that), probably not people of that land either. Who were his companions — men of Gondor? men of Rohan? — and what happened to them and their descendants when the White Wizard became that of Many Colors?

PPS. And if you expected me to opine on other facets of fanfic — well, I think that while the names and likenesses belong to the original author, it would be immense prick-ness and ofermod for the author to go screaming and stopping anything short of someone trying to make money out of their creations or going around claiming them as his own from the very origin — and I think sans printing expenses there isn’t much that breaks the first, and even that is rare, and there’s none that I know of that goes for the second.

2 Responses to “Random thoughts on fan fiction”

  1. Bob O'H Says:

    Was Isengard a fortress or just a tower when Saruman was given it? Did he build it up when he changed colours? I’m sure there’s some comment about it in LotR – either Treebeard or one of the Rohirrim says something about what he’s been doing with the place.

  2. masksoferis Says:

    Grrm hrrm. A good question.

    I think Tolkien’s explicit on that Saruman built up the place, but he’s less clear about how much of a fortress Isengard was before him — it certainly was more than the tower since the Appendices say that during the unpleasantness of Wulf and Helm (just before Saruman’s arrival) Wulf’s Dunlendings held Isengard, but couldn’t enter the tower of Orthanc; and given that they were “driven out, even from Isengard”, that does seem to imply there was something more than a tower they could hide behind.

    And in the following bit from the Two Towers (towards the end of chapter 8), after describing Isengard as it had been “while Saruman was at his height, accounted by many the chief of Wizards” (though the ring-wall and other described forts could have been much older), and not yet the pit-digging, tree-burning Orc-friend of the latter days, Tolkien ends with:

    A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars. But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better. as he thought, being deceived — for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor[.]

    And then in the Appendices, Tolkien goes on to say that in 2759 Saruman “took up his abode in Isengard. For this, Beren, Steward of Gondor, gave him leave, for Gondor still claimed Isengard as a fortress of its realm, and not part of Rohan. Beren also gave into Saruman’s keeping the keys of Orthanc. That tower no enemy had been able to harm or to enter.”; but two centuries later, in 2953, “[w]hen Turgon died Saruman took Isengard for his own, and fortified it”.

    So the answer seems to be “Yes, he built it up, but what exactly and how much, we don’t know.”

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