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Beta Reading Samples: 7. Version 3 of How Many Years?
Third draft posted by Marta with revisions based on Tanaqui’s suggestions. Comments by Tanaqui in the text, with subsequent e-mail discussion included at the end. Gwynnyd for real-life reasons unable to comment on this third draft.
Marta’s comments are in red.
Tanaqui’s comments are in mauve.
This IS really getting there—I am so moved when I read the end of this. There's rather a lot of pink pen still, I'm afraid, but I think it's coming on immeasurably and I hope these comments help!
"How Many Years?"
13 March 2004
"They made a level space, and at its eastward end they raised a mound; within the mound Isildur laid a casket that he bore with him. Then he said: 'This is a tomb and memorial to the Kingdom of the South in the keeping of the Valar, while the Kingdom endures; and this place shall be a hallow that none shall profane. Let no man disturb its silence and peace, unless he be an heir of Elendil."
"If then Mardil had exercised the authority of the King in his absence, the heirs of Mardil who had inherited the Stewardship had the same right and duty until a King returned; each steward therefore had the right to visit the hallow when he would and to admit to it those who came with him… Nonetheless, the Stewards, partly from awe, and partly from the cares of the kingdom, went very seldom to the hallow on the Hill of Anwar, except when they took their heir to the hill-top, according to the custom of the Kings."
-- "The Tradition of Isildur," Pt IV of "Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship
of Gondor and Rohan," JRR Tolkien's Unfinished Tales
"And this I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. 'How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?' he asked. 'Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty,' my father answered. 'In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.'"
-- "The Window on the West," Book II, The Two Towers
Marta’s note: help with the quotes please. Do you guys actually need anything to set the stage for this, or would it be better to just begin the story? Originally, when I thought I was doing Amon Anwar, I felt I needed some explanation, but now I'm not so sure.
Given you’ve changed the location, you might just be better putting these quotes — together with some of the text I sent you about Aragorn and Gandalf going to the hallow on Mindolluin—in an author’s notes chapter, explaining how you are linking the Tradition of Isildur with the hallow on Mindolluin.
I last travelled this path with my father over — delete? I think it’s actually 49 years? fifty years ago. It was not this overgrown in my memories. Reverse the order? In my memories, it was not this overgrown. Saplings now grew sprouted? To avoid grown/grew repetition? in the middle of the trail, not just along the edges as they had of old — delete as unnecessary, you’ve already got now earlier in the sentence?. Even when the kings ruled Gondor comma? few but they ever came this way, and — delete and replace with semi-colon? since the last of Anórien's line rode away and did not return, comma? less should be fewer! still disturbed the hallows. Each steward came thought to come? Since you then say they may come a third time. only twice, once with his father and again with his son. We Maybe: We hoped the days would not prove so dark that we would not need to brave the road a third time to seek counsel?
Grammar note: fewer is for countable nouns (those with a singular and plural form eg person/people) while less is for uncountable nouns ie it refers to quantity (less sugar, less misery).
Marta note: some of this new material feels rough, phrasing wise… help?
It was well I remembered the path so—delete clearly, or I could not have travelled the path even this second time travelled it a second time?. Mindolluin was is? Since we are in Denethor’s thoughts here and the present? treacherous; colon? nature and man had -delete forged paths leading everywhere and nowhere, semi-colon? and Húrin's sons did not visit the hallows did not tread them? often enough to make the right road any — delete? clearer than the wrong.
Suggest new para here
I held my torch arm — delete? out before me, searching the ground for some time, while my other laid lay? comfortably over the Horn of Gondor that hung around my neck. I had worn it every day since that first walk. For the first time I realised I would miss its comfortable presence. Might be better to say some thing more concrete than for the first time eg : I realised, as I sought the path on which I would lead my own son, that I would miss its comfortable presence?
Grammar note: You want the past tense of lie = lay (intransitive only, be at or come to rest’) not the past tense of lay = laid (transitive only, put to rest’). See the info on this page for more details: http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/notorious2.htm
"Boromir," I called, turning back to face him as where? he lagged behind. His head snapped around to face me then, but not quickly enough to hide the furtive look down the mountain toward the pencil-thin towers of Minas Tirith far below. If Denethor sees Boromir snap his head round, Boromir is not hiding the furtive look at all, since Denethor has caught him casting it! Maybe: His head snapped around as he abandoned a furtive look down the mountain toward the pencil-thin towers of Minas Tirith far below? The seven circles would soon be ringing with song as the people celebrated his twentieth birthday. After all, the steward's heir only came of age once every generation, and they did not intend to waste this opportunity. As per the note below, maybe: The seven circles would soon be ringing with song, for the people would not waste the opportunity that came only once every generation to celebrate the coming of age of the steward’s heir. "They will still celebrate when you return," I assured him, "and they will sing all the louder for your arrival. You know you are needed here. Maybe: But now you are needed here?"
Marta's note: Is the "After all" sentence necessary? I was trying to make it obvious that Boromir is coming of age, but I may not need to.
I think you can make Boromir’s exact age clearer when you mention his service with the guard later?
"The boy tries hard," Imrahil said.
"Trying hard will not help him find the path when he must lead his own son this way." I’d like a tone of voice here? Eg:I said, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. I felt Imrahil's sigh on the back of my neck and turned to face him, his torch shining warmly against my face. Reading on, I’ve realised I’m unclear on where the three of them are relative to each other — Denethor appears to be leading the way (he is searching for the path) but when he turns round, Imrahil’s breath is on his neck, so Imrahil must have been standing very close either in front or immediately to one side, which doesn’t square with Denethor searching to me. It would help me if you could you think about the blocking in the scene a little more and make sure where everyone is does make sense and is clearer. "Perhaps effort suffices in Dol Amroth, but in the White City it does not. The Shadow does not shrink back because we try hard, but because we remind it that Gondor is still strong."
Very Denethor — lovely!
Imrahil looked like he wanted to say more, but he mastered restrained? himself and continued silently up the hill add: past me? To make it clearer that Denethor is still stopped and Imrahil gets ahead of him. You flatter yourself, Denethor. The thought sprang unbidden to my mind. The Dark Lord? Fear you? And what chance is there that Gondor will survive long enough for Boromir to lead his son this way? The black Stone of Minas Tirith Maybe just call it the black stone — since it’s the only one Denethor has and people will either know what it is or the extra words won’t help. Also if you are going to use the adjective black, stone should be lower case I think. So you could maybe also have just The Stone had revealed to me the armies festering behind the Ephel Dúath, and I shivered to think of them. All hope seemed fey* , but Gondor would persevere beyond hope, until the king returned.
* fey: 1) interested or believing in the supernatural 2) clairvoyant, visionary 3) fated, doomed to die 4) in a state of high spirits. It comes from the old English for "marked out for death". I think you are trying for sense 3 but it strikes me only people not abstract concepts like hope can be fey? Maybe just foolish? or even "All hope seemed folly" to echo the exchange between Denethor and Gandalf?
But I LOVE these two sentences about the Stone and Denethor’s reaction to what he sees in it.
That cold laughter filled my head then, as unyielding and uncaring as it always was when I dared the stone capitalise Stone?. But troubling words, much less troubling thoughts, should not mar such a day. Yet neither troubling words nor thoughts should mar such a day? I banished them to the far recesses of my mind from whence they came and tried to think about happier things. From whence they came seems over-elaborate to me. Maybe just: I banished them back to the far recesses of my mind and tried to think of happier times?
I walked back to Boromir's side, holding my torch arm—delete? out in one hand? to light the way and laying my other arm across his shoulders, my horn pressing into his side. Is there a reason why the horn is pressing into Boromir’s side? The phrasing sounds a bit awkward. Maybe: The horn that lay between us pressed into my side? This perhaps begins to convey the transfer of horn (and metaphorically, the burden/pain of being Steward). "Do you see that oak, my boy?" I pointed out one of the trees that grew this high. Two things here. Firstly, Denethor still seemed lost and searching for the way earlier, so why does he seem to suddenly recognise this oak. Maybe the oak is something they passed a few yards back, so it’s clear Denethor must have recognised it and taken them past it. Secondly one of the trees that grew this high implies there are not that many (ie they are getting near to the tree line, yet they later, implying there are many trees ahead. Maybe: "Do you see that oak, my boy?" I pointed out a tree we had past a few yards back. Its trunk was split into two halves, each twisting around the other until they merged into one some distance up some way above the ground?. "That tree stood there when your grandfather Ecthelion led me along this path when I was your age, and he said it stood when he was a boy as well. Look for it, when you bring your own son along this path bring your own son this way?, so you will know you have not lost the way."
Boromir nodded, breathing in the crisp early morning air. A bird swooped past his ear, and he turned to see it. Its song broke the pre-dawn silence, and Boromir's eyes danced as he watched its flight. A rather tame bird! Maybe just: a bird swooped past and he turned his head to follow its flight. Its song broke the pre-dawn silence, and Boromir's eyes danced as he watched it. Those are not the eyes of a soldier, I thought, surprised by this unusual display of mirth. But a boy you are yet, for a few hours at least. The But… doesn’t quite make logical sense to me. Maybe: Yes, a boy you are yet, for a few hours at least.
Blocking again! I got the impression (because the bird flew past his ear) that Boromir turned his head away from Denethor to watch the bird, so how could Denethor see his eyes? So maybe even have he turned his head towards me to follow it’s flight?
"Denethor!" Imrahil called from ahead. "I found the clearing!"
Boromir sprinted ahead at that, nearly taking my arm with him, and I hurried after him. I think you need to put Boromir’s separation from Denethor before his sprinting. Maybe: At that, Boromir shrugged off my arm and sprinted ahead, and I hurried after him. Aye, still a boy.
We made our way through the woods perhaps last of the woods? Since you implied they were near the tree-line earlier? until at last we broke through the trees and found the clearing. Imrahil stood reverently before the raised mound. Elbereth's stars fought that night's last fight with Anar before they surrendered the heavens, until tomorrow fought. They always lost, yet they still fought on. Eärendil's ship had already passed from these mortal lands, bearing his precious jewel away past Elvenhome. With the silmaril gone Boromir, my own faithful jewel, had no rival.
Marta’s note: I tweaked it, but I’m still not sure if it works entirely. The passage originally was: Elbereth's stars fought that night's last fight with Anar before they surrendered the heavens, until tomorrow night. They always lost, yet they still fought on. Eärendil's ship had already passed from these mortal lands, and with that precious jewel gone my own -- my son, more valuable than any silmaril -- now had no rival.
My attempt: Above us, Elbereth’s stars fought the night’s last fight with Anar, before they surrendered the heavens for another day. They always lost, yet they fought.on each morning. Eärendil's ship had passed from these mortal lands some minutes bgefore, bearing his precious jewel away towards Elvenhome. With the silmaril gone, Boromir -- my own faithful jewel, more precious to me than any work of craft -- now had no rival.
In the stuff below, you still have a lot of description that relates to Amon Anwar and the crest of a hill, I think we are now in a clearing in a hollow or small valley on the side of the mountain. I have suggested some edits for how things might be laid out in the new scenario.
Boromir and I walked gravely and took our places beside Imrahil Boromir and I gravely took our places beside Imrahil? at the row of white stones that circled the crest of the hill circled the mound at the centre of the hollow? We stood in silence, captivated by the simple image of a white ship and an eagle flying high above laid out in white pebbles on the mound on the grassy slope?. Is that… ?" I heard Boromir ask, and Imrahil answered him.
What he answered What words he spoke?, I could not say. They faded away, my son and my wife's brother, and I stood in Boromir's place, looking into my own father's eyes, asking him the same question.
"Nine ships there were," Ecthelion had said to me, his hand resting on around? my waist, "and they fled before the black gale of Númenor, out of that twilight of doom into the — delete? darkness blacker than the night. And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger. Waves like unto mountains moving with great caps of tortured snow bore them up beyond the fell clouds, and after many days they were cast down upon our forgotten shores."
I LOVE that paragraph — wonderfully evocative lanaguage
I looked up up? Is Ecthelion much taller than a 20 year old Denethor? Maybe across? at him, and his eyes were clouded over, searching out the furthest West. Was Elendil's cloud, that cursed cloud he had sailed through from Númenor to Middle-earth, like the one that now shrouded my father's eyes?" delete quote mark and maybe put Was Elendil… in italics as Denethor’s thought?
"Four they gave us for Elendil," I replied uncertainly, "and for Isildur three, and for Anárion two. What more mercy should we ask of them?"
Ecthelion smiled at that. "Aye, you are right, son. Such wisdom!" He ruffled my hair. "You must forgive an old man. Sometimes we forget that the greatest trial often holds an even greater gift."
Oh, this is a WONDERFUL exchange too!
"Father?" Boromir laid his hand on my shoulder, pulling me back from the world of memories pulling me back from my memories?. I saw the same question in his eyes.
"Here Elendil lies." IS this Elendil’s grave — Amon Anwar wasn’t, especially after the casket was removed — I always assumed it went to Rath Dinen, but it just said the hallows so maybe it was reburied here? I knelt down and opened my pack, pulling out two flowers carved from the wood of one of Nimloth's heirs. "The Valar keep his grave well." I laid one flower on the mound, handing the other to my heir. Standing up, I walked to the edge of the clearing.
I’m not clear where they are putting the carved flowers — my first read through, I thought they were adding to the design of the ship etc, but I see now that that is in pebbles. So where did you see them putting the carved flowers ? (Lovely idea for a tribute, btw)
Also, at the edge of the clearing — can Denethor just see trees in front of him or does the ground fall away steeply, so he is looking over the tops of trees on the slopes below and can see Gondor before him? Would maybe clarify things later if you put a bit of description about that in at this point.
Some time later I heard Boromir's footsteps behind me. "How many years?" he asked quietly. "How many years to make a steward a king?"
Now it was my turn to sigh. "You asked me that question before," I replied.
"I now ask it again," he insisted.
"And I answer you the same way," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. "In Gondor, ten thousand years would not suffice."
"And yet here we stand beside Elendil's grave. Ondoher is dead, and Eärnur rode into Minas Morgul near a thousand years ago! This king who shall return, where will he hail from? Perhaps he waits in Númenor and will one day spring out of the sea?" My head snapped around, my eyes begging Boromir to watch his words in front of his uncle. It is as likely as anywhere else, father," he finished. "Gondor has no king to return."
Marvellous dialogue — and nice movie dialogue echo!
I let my gaze drift far to the North, beyond where I knew the Argonath stood comma? beyond the horizon to Arnor, the land of Arvedui's heirs. Maybe, just to make it clearer if people are less well versed in Arnor/Gondor history: the land of the heirs of Arvedui, last king, the land of the heirs of Isildur? Yet they had no claim in Gondor, semi-colon or even colon? that had been decided long years ago. Who else was there, then? Usurpers like that — delete? Thorongil? How then could I tell Boromir that grown men should not ask such boyish questions?
He walked around to face me. "How many years, father?"
"The question is wise," I admitted softly, "but to ask it is foolish. You will be steward after me, and your son after you, until the king returns. And if he never returns, then we will be steward then you and I and our heirs will be stewards until death breaks our line or the world ends. And no one, not I comma? nor your people comma? nor the Valar themselves, will hold you in any less honour because the minstrels sang of Boromir the valiant Steward of Gondor."
Boromir nodded slowly, the words seeping in. And it was not Boromir son of Denethor who stood before me: I saw him as Eärnur, high king of Gondor. Maybe: before me: for an instant, I saw Eärnur, high king of Gondor? The Shadow might return lengthen?, but the Valar had sent me a mighty gift with which to fight it. I could not have asked for a mightier powerful? weapon in this, the very hour of Sauron's return, the darkest hour the Faithful had endured this age. The boy was gone, for the moment at least, replaced by a man well suited to what honour would demand of him.
Again, wonderful paragraph — great sentiments, beautifully expressed, lovely echoes of Tolkien.
Imrahil approached, carrying a jewel-studded goblet. He handed it to me, and Boromir kneeled without being told. He pulled the scabbard and sword from his belt and handed it to his uncle. I tripped over he pulled — which he? So maybe: Imrahil approached and handed me a jewel-studded goblet. Boromir knelt without being told, pulled the scabbard and sword from his belt and passed it to his uncle. Imrahil grasped the hilt of Boromir's sword —delete, it’s clear which sword we are talking about? and held it out for me to inspect. I allowed my eyes to rest on the blade for a moment; custom demanded it, though I already knew its worth. Boromir had wielded it for four? Gets over Boromir’s age! years already, since the day he joined the guard at sixteen, and it would serve him for many years yet many years to come. Yet—just delete this one — the sentence has more punch without it today, we would put it to a new use.
I handed Boromir the goblet, then took his sword and rested the flat of the blade on his shoulder. "In the name of Elendil, and Mardil, and all the Faithful, I name you, Boromir son of Denethor of the line of Húrin, my rightful heir. May your sword keep you and all Gondor safe, may your heart never falter, and may your legacy be a joy when the years have passed you by."
Boromir raised his head at that and met my eyes sincerely. Implies the gesture of meeting Denethor’s eyes is sincere, not the look in them. Maybe: met my eyes with a sincere look in his own? "Fealty and service to Gondor, and to her Lord, I now do affirm: to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, in need or plenty, in my lord's dying and after his dying, from this hour henceforth, until death take me, or the world end. May my feet never falter, my hands ever find righteous work, and my heart stay true to what it holds dear this day. So say I, Boromir son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor."
I lifted the blade and handed Two I… I… sentences- it’s a bit flat. Maybe: Laying my hand at the base of the goblet, I raised it to my son’s lips. As he drained it I heard Imrahil say behind us, "And so do I, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth and kinsman of the Steward, hear and testify as long as I have breath to do so."
"And so do I also hear," I said at last, resolving not to let the tears welling in my ears escape down my cheeks. "Though life may be bitter as this wine, may you drain it to the dregs as thoroughly as you have done here today." I took the horn that hung from my own neck and raised it to my lips, sounding it more fiercely than I had ever done before.
Beautiful, beautiful oaths! Very moving
The birds in the trees around the edge of the clearing flew from the branches, and a great rush of wings accompanied my last call. Boromir bowed his head, and I settled the baldric around his neck. "Bear this horn to good fortune, my son. Sound it at need, no comma! and a thousand orcs shall not keep your brothers in arms from your side."
I took the goblet from him and gave it to Imrahil. I placed my hands on his shoulders and drew him up, Boromir and Eärnur or some new mix of the two, son of kings and son of stewards both. I stepped forward and kissed his brow, contemplating his suddenly mature features before stepping back. He smiled, and we walked back toward the path leading down Mindolluin toward Minas Tirith.
Again, blocking doesn’t feel quite right here—why can’t Boromir give the goblet straight to Imrahil? And if they are of roughly equal height, it will be hard for Denethor to kiss him on the forehead. Maybe try:
Imrahil took the goblet from Boromir and I placed my hands on his shoulders and drew him up: Boromir and Eärnur or some new mix of the two, son of kings and son of stewards both. He bowed his head and I kissed his brow, contemplating his suddenly mature features. As I stepped back, he lifted his head and smiled at me, before we turned away to the path leading down Mindolluin toward Minas Tirith.
Whatever came tomorrow Whatever tomorrow brought?, I would not return; whatever counsel I might need tomorrow — delete this one? And add a comma? I would find it? elsewhere. 'Twould be sacrilege to spoil a haven such as this with anything so worldly.
Marta's Note: Two "I would"s in a row, I know, but I can't sem to avoid it. Suggestions?
Actually, I like them, I like the symmetry and the rhythm!
Word count: 2,135
Marta and Tanaqui discuss some parts of Tanaqui’s beta by e-mail. Replies in subsequent e-mails are marked ==> and then <== .
This IS really getting there—I am so moved when I read the end of this.
I'm very glad to hear that.
There's rather a lot of red pen still, I'm afraid, but I think it's coming on immeasurably and I hope these comments help!
Thanks. I'll work through and get you another version, but I just wanted to address two comments quickly.
But I LOVE these two sentences about the Stone and Denethor’s reaction to what he sees in it.
I'm glad to hear it. I was actually concerned about using "festering" to describe the orc armies. I like the image of the armies of Mordor as diseased, but according to Merriam-Webster, the verb has several meanings:
1 : to generate pus
2 : PUTREFY, ROT
3 a : to cause increasing poisoning, irritation, or bitterness : RANKLE < dissent festered unchecked > b : to undergo or exist in a state of progressive deterioration < allowed slums to fester >
transitive senses: to make inflamed or corrupt
The first two are correct for how I'm using the word, I think. 3a is particularly apt, I think; it's exactly the sense I'm after. But 3b suggests a decline, and that's not what I mean at all. The orc armies are actually getting more powerful. Was this at all confusing?
A bird swooped past his ear, and he turned to see it. Its song broke the pre-dawn silence, and Boromir's eyes danced as he watched its flight. A rather tame bird!
Apparently we breed braver birds in America, or maybe I just live in a rural enough area where they're not as frightened of humans. My experience may be rather unusual, however: just this week a deer came from the woods into my sister's garden where I was working and came within a metre of me. And we live pretty close to downtown, off a cut-through street between two major interstate highways... so a bird swooping by someone's ear is a completely normal picture to me, but maybe it is bold for other areas.
Re: the exchange between Ecthelion and Denethor. The reason it's such evocative language is it's lifted from a quote in the Akallabêth:
Nine ships there were: four for Elendil, and for Isildur three, and for Anárion two; and they fled before the black gale out of the twilight of doom into the darkness of the world. And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and waves like unto mountains moving with great caps of writhen snow bore them up amid the wreckage of the clouds, and after many days cast them away upon the shores of Middle-earth.
Ditto for the oaths. So much of that is adapted from Pippin's oath to Denethor in RotK, which I think is one of the most beautiful things in the entire book. I suppose there's somthing to be said for picking the right quote to insert, but the beauty itself is not my doing!
"Here Elendil lies." IS this Elendil’s grave — Amon Anwar wasn’t, especially after the casket was removed — I always assumed it went to Rath Dinen, but it just said the hallows so maybe it was reburied here?
I hadn't thought of Rath Dínen? being referred to as the hallows as well (which it is, of course, in the Pyre of Denethor chapter and elsewhere.) I reread the paragraph at the end of the UT section last night, and for some reason I just assumed it went to the hallowed place. Does this keep you from believing the story? (IE, do I need to change it?)
Working through detailed comments:
I last travelled this path with my father over — delete? I think it’s actually 49 years?
I could have sworn I'd read somewhere that Denethor married Finduilas when he was 50, but according to the Tale of Years he would have been 46, and 48 when Boromir was born. So I've fixed that.
I think we were all vaguely using Denethor = 50, Finduilas = 25 when there was that discussion over at CanonNoFanon about his relative attractiveness and why she would marry him.
His head snapped around as he abandoned a furtive look down the mountain toward the pencil-thin towers of Minas Tirith far below.
Is it okay that I've described the towers as pencil-thin? Tolkien uses pencils too (in the description of the hallows Liz sent yesterday), but it feels modern.
If Tolkien uses it, I think you're OK, especially if its in description rather than dialogue (I mean, does he not mention an express train during his description of the fireworks at Bilbo's birthday party?!?) Checking my dictionary (very useful having one with etymologies) pencil comes into the English language in the 14c from old French from the Latin for a small painter's brush (and it can still mean that).
==> I'd never heard of pencil meaning a painter's brush, and I knew that writing pencils were fairly recent. But Tolkien used it, and the word apparently is quite ancient. So that's good enough for me.
Re: the flowers... I've tried to make it clear that they're putting them right under the ship, and that Denethor's and Boromir's aren't the first. Is this at all clear? (And glad you like the tribute! What can I say, I've got a thing for the White Tree... )
I thought that's probably what they were doing with them, but if you have such a lovely image, you might as well make it clear! And yes, the White Tree is marvellously symbolic < g >
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