Discussing: Slouching Toward Gondolin
Slouching Toward Gondolin
02 Aug 03 11:07 AM
I really like this story--it's a good investigation of one of the key ideas necessary for (IMHO) a proper reading of Tolkien. It also sheds more light on what Orcs might have been like in the First Age. I know I have the lazy tendency to think of Shagrat and Gorbag every time I see the word "Orc," no matter what Age.
You wrote: "Yet they [the Elves] are so blind to others they can only see beauty in themselves." I really think you've struck gold with this line.
In reading posts on Tolkien elsewhere (these are not the most sophisticated Tolkien places on the 'Net, but they are very popular), I have seen, over and over again, some assumptions that I do not necessarily believe are correct.
1. All characters in Tolkien are either wholly Good or wholly Evil.
2. [this is a more general assumption that isn't JRRT related] Bad must be Ugly and Beauty can only accompany something that is Good.
There are many things that can give a character beauty in Tolkien, and many of them are virtues like courage, loyalty, love, etc. However, characters can possess physical beauty and beauty in terms of spirit (I'm thinking about Feanor, obviously). I term this beauty in Tolkien "the noble impulse"--the spirit to tangle with things that are at your limits, or perhaps even beyond them.
We know from the Silmarillion that the evil characters, from Melkor to Sauron to the Orcs, were once good. Melkor, who is Evil, could have stood with Manwe as the highest embodiment of Good. Sauron could have remained in Valinor as one of the beloved of Aule, and so on. In describing the fall to the shadow, the phrase "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" applies to the characters in Tolkien.
These characters are capable of doing amazing things--they are *bad* things, but still amazing, which makes me believe they require something that could be called Beautiful, even though it might now be beautiful only to themselves and twisted to us readers. The Orcs who took Gondolin were able to defeat Turgon and Co.--this is no small feat, and means that we are not dealing with "mindless" orcs. These Orcs needed to have some outstanding characteristic. They did not have (what Tolkien or most of us, I assume) would consider virtue, they didn't have much physical beauty, but I assume that the impulse and drive of the Elves hadn't been debased yet (as it seems to have been by the Third Age).
When I am reading Tolkien, I am forever asking "Where is the 'beauty,' either proper or twisted, in this character?" I have found that my readings of certain characters are much more complex since I started using this approach, and this story seems to also be aware of the same sort of idea, so in conclusion, I really like the theme you used.
In terms of the writing, as others have said, the closing is fabulous--very strong.
Very minor comments and suggestions:
Your dialogue has a polish and sophistication consistent with the style in the Silmarillion, which I think is proper. However, the word "stupid" or a variation thereof occurs a couple of times, and does not seem to be in perfect harmony with the rest of the dialogue.
Perhaps: "I don't need some laughable/pointless/simple/trivial/ludicrous story about how I came to be" and/or
"I felt my blood and anger rise as the belly of the metal serpent roared against the walls of their fatuity/imprudence/naivete.
That's all I have for now.
Re: Slouching Toward Gondolin
27 Aug 03 4:40 PM
Reply To: 13864
As always, I would like to thank my reviewers for their time and comments.
This story had the most consistency of “pull-down” I have ever had, (generally they are very mixed) with nearly all the reviews mentioning a reason I have never gotten before - “Effective/Creative use of JRRT's works.” I hope that means I am growing!!
I had (as always) a few remarks about grammar, all of which I have considered and most of which I have changed.
Two sections were mentioned as needing to end with a question mark. Neither of them are questions to me – and I was hearing them with a sarcastic note, not a questioning uplift at the end. The first I changed:
Well, that’s how elves are – tell them they are wonderful, the crown of creation – why would they question that.
The second I am reluctant to change. But I am willing to hear opinions… what do you guys think?
And if I wanted a creation, what fiction could I devise to rival my reality as I ride towards Gondolin in the belly of death, wedged in tooth by claw with – more death!!
I had a detailed review given with permission to post it that leaves me with a question I want to share – when should a story be labeled AU?
Capsule Reason: Factual errors wrt JRRT's works/unworkable AU
Reviewer Comments: A very well-wrought vignette, therefore I hesitate to decline it. But I just can't approve it without an AU label. This is not a J.R.R.T. orc. Not only is 'he' (not it) too sophisticated and philosophical, he has something Tolkien's orcs lack by definition: an abstract ideal.
This orc unravels the whole concept of good and evil as Tolkien presents it in his works. In itself, you are right to attempt such a thing, because Tolkien wasn't happy with his Orcs (see Morgoth's Ring)
Still, within his world it remains AU. It tries to modernise what is basically a mytological approach of good and evil. (Not that this is the only fanfic in which this happens.) Sorry.
This gave me a lot to think about.
I have been thinking of AU as a story that takes Tolkien’s material and uses it out of context. Not “Out of Canon” which I find harder to define, but out of its own context.
Should I be considering an AU label for anything that deviates from LoTR? Does that includes all first age orcs and elves, who are mentioned briefly in a historical/mythological way in LoTR? The phrases "made from the elves" and "made in mockery of the elves" come up more than once.
I have no problem with labeling this piece AU, and I welcome your input and suggestions. It simply never occurred to me to think of this piece that way. It is written within the confines of “The Siege of Gondolin” as it is told in The Book Of Lost Tales II. I don’t think it deviates from what Tolkien says in that context.
Here's one example - In the Siege, (The Book of Lost Tales II p. 177) when the Orcs capture Meglin, he bargains with them over information, and they talk among themselves and agree he might be worth more to Melko alive, especially as he is a “noble” captive. It seems pretty sophisticated, and they become angry when they sense he is mocking them, which seems to include abstract thought to me.
I would never have given the thoughts of this orc to a third-age orc—I am following the expressed line that Orcs were much closer to their elven stock at that time. In fact, this line stopped me cold (and started notes for another story) :
Book of Lost Tales p161:
How it came ever that among Men the Noldoli have been confused with the Orcs who are Melko's goblins, I know not, unless it be that certain of the Noldoli were twisted to the evil of Melko and mingled among these Orcs, for all that race were bred by Melko of the subterranean heats and slime.
They must still be pretty similar for this “mingling” to occur, especially un-coerced, even if it does not imply interbreeding (which I obviously think it does.)
My story does not mean to “unravel the whole concept of good and evil as Tolkien presents it in his works” or to “modernize what is basically a mythological approach of good and evil.” Quite the opposite – I am a champion of restoring mythology to everyday life, here and in Middle Earth.
We see Tolkien’s forces of evil represented by the third age Orcs of LoTR. Elves and Men stand on that stage as the heroes.
But in the First-Age, the symbols are larger than life, Melko is the huge evil and the Valar still stride through. My own belief is that both Elves and Orcs are still victims at this point, and it was my intention to show the process of possession – emotional, intellectual and physical – of both sides, as well as to contrast the similarity of the elves to these orcs.
Mythically, I cannot conceive of the third age orcs as a threat to Gondolin. I tried to use them, in their own context, with spirits that made them fearsome, worthy foes. Feas that had been the spirits of elves.
And personally, I will never see Orcs as an "it," and I don't think Tolkien demands I do. War is too easy in black and white and, especially in these dangerous times, I will never believe otherwise. The war of the ring happens in black and white - but I think that's why all our heros have grey eyes. They will never look without seeing.
As always, I am willing to re-examine my stand. I just wanted to say I did not make the leap to this orc without considering the texts.
Re: Slouching Toward Gondolin
28 Aug 03 2:00 AM
Reply To: 15487
Re: Slouching Toward Gondolin
31 Aug 03 6:03 AM
Reply To: 15498
I have only now got round to giving this a proper read and I think it’s really terrific – literally. We are just steamrollering along in the body of the beast.
My Silmarilion is fairly basic and I haven’t read The Book of Lost Tales, but recently I've developed an interest in orcs and have been dipping into Morgoth’s Ring. Based on what I’ve read, with regard to your review, personally, I would not even think of calling this AU. I think this is definitely a matter of different interpretations. For me going AU is a deliberate step taken by an author for specific “true to JRRT” reasons.
Personally, as far as interpretation goes, I would disagree with your reviewer. I think even the “faded” Orcs of the Third Age are capable of “an abstract ideal.” I’m thinking of Grishnakh here in TTT when Ugluk ask him “if these Nazgul are all they make out”.
“Nazgul, Nazgul,” said Grishnakh, shivering and licking his lips, as if the word had a foul taste that he savoured painfully. “You speak of what is deep beyond the reach of your muddy dreams,” Ugluk, he said. “Nazgul! Ah!”
It seems to me there’s more than just fear of the lash driving him on. Fear, yes, but also awe and desire, and he’s able to think about it. Since Yeats is in the air the words “terrible beauty” come to mind about your story
As do “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity”. Your orc knows what he is an that gives him power. The Elves, in his eyes, are diluted by comparison, having rebelled I suppose.
I definitely agree with you about seeing in shades of grey. In fact, pondering a bit, that seems to me what “a mythological approach of good and evil” – gaining access to the other side.
Thanks for a great, though-provoking read.