Forum: Writing Warfare in M-e

Discussing: Believability


One thing to remember about writing warfare is that, hey, war is pretty ugly. Tolkien knew this firsthand and incorporated it into his writing where possible. One of the most chilling images from The Lord of the Rings are those heads flung over the walls of Minas Tirith in Return of the King; some are crushed and shapeless, but others are recognizable as fallen comrades. (PJ, listen to the fans and keep the flying heads in)

I still remember little bits such as Hirgon's headless corpse clutching the Red Arrow by the side of the road, Finduilas being pinned to a tree by Orc spears in The Silmarillion (reminding us that, yes, women were casualties) and Fingon's head being cloven in two and his body being trampled into the dust at the Fifth Battle. Yeah, a lot of people kick the bucket in that book, but when Tolkien stops and gives a detail or two like that, it's incredibly vivid. And that faceless Southron soldier who falls dead in front of Sam, prompting Sam to wonder who he was and why he was fighting, I'm very glad they kept that in the film.

Those of you who have read The Silmarillion, I recommend Book of Lost Tales II for the very detailed, vivid account of the fall of Gondolin. People being trampled in the streets, suffocated or caught in the crossfire as they try to flee, being crushed by falling rocks or overwhelmed by fumes in Idril's passageway. I bookmarked this chapter when writing my own Gondolin story and added a few details of my own: Ecthelion simultaneously drowning and boiling to death when he goes into the fountain with Gothmog, a soldier's head being torn off by a Balrog's whip, Glorfindel's men stumbling over corpses in the passage, and (because I've read too many fics where the writers tell of the corpse Thorondor bears up from Cirith Thoronath as being "still beautiful") Glorfindel's body hanging from the Eagle's talons like a blackened rag because not only did the fall break every bone in his body but the Balrog's heat burned him beyond recognition. (Even Gandalf the White told of being burnt by the Balrog's flame when he fell with it into the depths of Moria).

I use my own examples only because they most easily come to mind and because I have had many people comment on them, but the gist remains the same: there are no beautiful corpses in war. On the other hand, Tolkien never used gratuitious violence and I don't believe in it either because it desensitizes the reader/viewer to the horror being conveyed. I do think, however, that the characters themselves can become desensitized, being exposed to horror for prolonged periods. I think Frodo and Sam in Mordor were certainly desensitized to the darkness and bleakness by the end, to the point that light and beauty and safety afterward came as a complete shock.



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