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Writing a Green Sun: 1. Introduction
To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story making in its primary and most potent mode.
I read this passage from Tolkien in 1980. His words about a green sun - a fantastic invention within an imaginary world - and what it would mean to create a world wherein such a sun could exist have stayed with me for over two decades. When I read a work of fiction, even realist fiction, his words are always there in the background. The supreme achievement of fantastical writers, such as Thomas Pynchon, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Salman Rushdie, is their ability to do just that; create a believable world in which their green suns can reside. This is perhaps the greatest example that Tolkien set for modern writers, and the basis on which he can be included in the pantheon of modern fantasists and counted as a progenitor of magical realism.
As much as I love the fanfiction inspired by JRRT's writings, I often find myself dismayed by the lack of care authors bring to writing their interpretation of this "Secondary World". It is a sentiment I hear from many fellow readers and fanfiction writers, so I do not think it a misperception. The task of creating a compelling original story within Tolkien's fantastical world is more than simply knowing the names or the descriptions of characters, or understanding a plot device, or even comprehending a philosophical point. It is the way in which such simple facts (the green suns) are or are not made credible by the author. Works which are "canonical" in terms of simple fact are all too often incredible in terms of execution - they do not inspire "Secondary Belief". Arda is not present. I think this points not so much to failures in authorship as much as it illustrates how difficult good fantasy writing is to do. Still, there is greater and lesser care taken, and some sub-genres are more prone to inattentive writing than others.
My own foray into writing about sexuality in Tolkien's world, Legacy, arose from my persistent dissatisfaction with the portrayal of Hobbit social relations and sexuality presented in most slash fanfiction. What if I tried to write about an omni-sexual being in the Shire society? With close attention to how this (and not just this) being's sexuality is played out within a game of dynastic politics in a stagnant, agrarian society that is about to get swept up in the maelstrom of continental war? Where the most valued social good is to be "respectable" and the highest praise is that someone is "predictable"? Where fortunes are decided by getting into the right marriage?
Within a few days, the story took on a life of its own. I ended up creating an interpretation of Shire culture based on the teasing glimpses of Hobbit history found in The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and other works, and what had begun as a simple slash story ended up as an examination of social and political relations in the ruling clans and how sexuality as such plays out in these machinations. I wanted to write about how it is possible to write Bilbo and Frodo as not gay in any modern, post-Freudian sense, yet still have room for a wide range of sexual behaviors, few of them sanctioned by the larger society.
Legacy is sex and politics, inspired by Jane Austin and Henry James, examining the political relations between blood relations, and how the coin of respectability merges with and is trumped by the coins of commerce (and vice-versa). It's not simply sexual expression (as if that is ever the case) but is the implicit and explicit manipulation of the sexuality of subordinates (and how they resist that manipulation) by the socially superior. How our curiosity leads us to agree to things our common sense tells us to stay away from. Most of what I wrote is speculative, and a good amount is artistic license. In this essay, I will try to provide an account of what I uncovered in Tolkien's own works, and how this knowledge guided my writing.
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