Fell Knowledge: 3. Afterword

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3. Afterword

Canonicity Issues (Spoilers) — or, Where did that come from?
…Now there he laid
before their feet, as dark as shade,
two grisly shapes that he had won
from that tall isle in Sirion:
a wolfhame huge — its savage fell
was long and matted, dark the spell
that drenched the dreadful coat and skin
the werewolf cloak of Draugluin;
the other was a batlike garb
with mighty fingered wings, a barb
like iron nail at each joint's end—
such wings as their dark cloud extend
against the moon, when in the sky
from Deadly Nightshade screeching fly
Thû's messengers.

'What hast thou brought,
good Huan? What thy hidden thought?
Of trophy of prowess and strong deed,
when Thû thou vanquishedst, what need
here in the waste?' Thus Beren spoke,
and once more words in Huan woke:
his voice was like the deeptoned bells
that ring in Valmar's citadels:

'Of one fair gem thou must be thief,
Morgoth's or Thingol's, loath or lief;
thou must here choose twixt love and oath!
If vow to break is still thee loath,
then Lúthien must either die
alone, or death with thee defy
beside thee, marching on your fate
that hidden before you lies in wait.
Hopeless the quest, but not yet mad,
unless thou, Beren, run thus clad
in mortal raiment, mortal hue,
witless and redeless, death to woo. 
'Lo! good was Felagund's device,
but may be bettered, if advice
of Huan ye will dare to take,
and swift a hideous change will make
to forms most curséd, foul, and vile, 
of werewolf of the Wizard's Isle,
of monstrous bat's envermined fell
with ghostly clawlike wings of hell…'

There are three foundations for this story, which expands upon and illustrates Canto XII of the first Lay of Leithian fragment. 

The first is the chill that went through me reading the scene where Beren reaches the edge of battlefield and is looking out over what was once Ard-galen, realizing what it must have meant to the last of the House of Bëor, riding past the Fen of Serech, up to the site of the Leaguer itself, and the place where so many of his relatives, near and distant, died in the Winter Offensive of the Bragollach. The sheer weight of history, recent and ancient alike, and the profound emotional impact of arriving there at last, and seeing the burnt-out countryside, still devastated after over a decade (and never to recover) and the awesome meaning it would have borne for him is inescapable when considered with the story of the Edain as a whole as well as his own personal history, who was raised in the house who "of all Men were most like to the Noldor and most loved by them, for they were eager of mind, cunning-handed, swift in understanding, long in memory, and they were moved sooner to pity than to laughter." (Silmarillion., "Of the Coming of Men into the West.") 

The second is the fascination that tales of animal transformation have always held for me, going back to my Andrew Lang collections as a child and stories of changed heroines and heroes like the White Cat, Puddocky, the Black Mare, Prince Lindworm, the Laithely Wyrm, and the Bear in "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" — as well as those who are not, apparently, changed from anything else but nevertheless possess powers and knowledge as well as speech like the eponymous co-star of "Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf," or the horses Isengrim and the Young Archer's mount in "The Firebird." 

And the third is the unfolding of the first: the increasing awareness of the cyclical and at the same time complex workings of mythic history revealed through the Silmarillion and culminating in Lord of the Rings, rhythms and patterns playing out over the Ages with variation and unique event, but with an overarching similarity — and which, I think, that the heir of Bëor would have been able to discern to a significant degree upon reflection. 

The extra-canonical element which I have introduced for this story in the series (since all previous assumptions go on in this story) is the speculation that the two dead minions of Tol-in-Gaurhoth might have known each other very well in the days before becoming mirroanwi, incarnate beings, within the confines of Arda under Morgoth's ambivalent generosity. 

This came from exploring the question of how Thuringwethil might have come to be caught on the ground, when the other bat-messengers took flight from the falling tower, and was the most plausible I could come up with for a deliberate reason. (There would have been no sense, given the situation and the danger and the flight of the others, for her to be looking for carrion to scavenge, for instance.) Hence I put her on the ground, within Huan's reach, as a former beloved of the being who had been embodied as the werewolf Draugluin, mourning and seeking vengeance for her long-lost love, not concerned for her own personal danger, and in fact seeking out death (as well as finding it.) 

And while she could have been a random casualty of falling masonry, I elected not to have her merely an accident victim not simply for the angst value, nor for the horror implicit in conceiving of the two living lovers trapped in the memories of a dead and separated couple — nor even because it fits better with the words of the text, which imply battle, because of the use of the word "trophy" for both skins — but as a way of illustrating different kinds (or definitions) of love, in similar situation, and how the outwardly-same circumstances could be enacted in a destructive way, and in a redemptive way. 
…His dreadful counsel then they took
and their own gracious forms forsook;
in werewolf fell and batlike wing
prepared to robe them, shuddering.

With elvish magic Lúthien wrought
lest raiment foul with evil fraught
to dreadful madness drive their hearts;
and there she wrought with elvish arts
a strong defence, a binding power,
singing until the midnight hour…

What Lúthien does in the fragment of the Lay of Leithian quoted above to protect them against Morgoth's embedded spells is straight shaman stuff — "singing magic" of the purest sort — and her reasons for the work are deeply grounded in the folkloric traditions of animal transformation and skin-magic that have come down to us in fairy tales and legends. Swan-skins, hawk-cloaks, seal-coats — all of these have been told in stories, along with many other similar and dissimilar animal transformations of various kinds. What all of these have in common is the fact that the changing power is held within the fell itself, and thus an item of power that is both natural to the owner, and yet may be stolen, lost, lent or borrowed, conferring its power on the new holder. —Not unlike the Ring in this regard, in fact. 

But the power — again, not unfamiliarly — is two edged. Ursula LeGuin did not invent the idea of the enchanter becoming lost in his enchantment for A Wizard of Earthsea, when Ged in the form of a hawk forgets himself. This tale is also told in the Arabian Nights, when a curious caliph and his loyal vizier exercise an enchantment that will allow them to become birds until the countercharm is invoked — but neglect the warning that to laugh, at the things they hear while understanding the speech of animals, will cause them to forget the word that allows them to become human again. 

And that is a relatively mild and harmless change, though inconvenient for the king and his henchman, and risky for their realm. In one of the Scandinavian legends anthologized in the volume East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the morally-ambivalent hero disguises himself in a bearskin to gain access to the princess of his dreams. All well and good — but he is not merely hidden in fur, as Odysseus beneath the Cyclop's prize ram, but has actually become a polar bear, and taken on its nature as well. When one of the princess' handmaids forgets the warning delivered with the "performing bear" and laughs at its antics, he flies into a rage and tears her to pieces, according to the calmly bloodthirsty prose of the authentic folktale. And this is simply shrugged off, as the consequence of disobeying the warning, and the youngest son in disguise is never taken to task for it, nor ever shows any remorse after he has cast off the skin and returned to human form for the purpose of wooing his ideal. 

An even stronger cautionary tale of taking on another's form in spirit as in flesh may be found in the stories of the Tarnhelm, or Tarnkappe, that Norse legend of a cape or hood which is the universal transforming agent, with which the owner may take on the shape and abilities of whatever creature is wished. Hence the titanic warrior Fafnir, as immortalized in popular culture through Wagner's versions of the Nibelungenlied, becomes the physically vast and awesome, but psychologically diminished and paranoid dragon, whose horizons have become limited to the guarding of his hoard and who cannot conceive of returning to what he once was, so enslaved to his change has he become. (In this case it is of course not a skin, but a work of craftsmanship which replicates and adds to the abilities of all such magical coats.) 

Along with the loss of memory, moral compass, and "self" generally, there are other risks involved in these changes: we should all remember stories like "Puss in Boots," where the villain is tricked into becoming a mouse by the titular hero — who is himself uniquely suited to deal with such a form! 

One interesting point which should be noted is that some of these items are not dangerous to the nature of the wearer because the only wearer is the one to whom they naturally belong, and who ventures to wear them — such is the case with, for example, the Selkies of Gaelic lore and the Swan-maidens of Eastern Europe. The trouble is that their nature is so different from that of humanity that their mortal lovers feel compelled to steal and hide their coats so as to bind them helplessly to the land, thus guaranteeing that they will never be deserted, being unable to trust them not to return to their own elements otherwise. (Needless to say, this never works in the old stories, and in the end leads to greater tragedy, and just about guarantees that the girl of one's dreams will never come back, once she gets the chance to leave!) 
…Swift as the wolvish coat he wore
Beren lay slavering on the floor,
redtongued and hungry; but there lies
a pain and longing in his eyes,
a look of horror as he sees
a batlike form crawl to its knees
and drag its creased and creaking wings.
Then howling under moon he springs
fourfooted, swift, from stone to stone,
from hill to plain-but not alone:
a dark shape down the slope doth skim
and wheeling flitters over him…
From this it seems inevitable that a certain amount of trauma or at least distress was involved in the change, even apart from the risk of the aforementioned madness. It's rather ironic, I think, that the skin of Draugluin, whose bodily form Lúthien invoked as part of the sympathetic singing-magic of her hair-cloak, is now an essential part of the increasingly surreal situation they find themselves in. Yet even in this her special abilities and different nature come to the fore, as later, as the plan increasingly shipwrecks on unplanned contingencies (such as the existence of Carcharoth, and the fact that the bat-messenger from Sauron has already come and gone) she improvises how to partially transform, taking on the wings only of Thuringwethil without changing fully, and thus being able to wield the power of her cape as well. 

—But you must read the poem: I cannot do justice to it in mere summary and excerpt. 

My conjecture also extends, for the purpose of both drama and of conveying information, to the notion that the enchanted skins would retain something of the persona and recollections of each previous wearer as part of the spell and risk of madness — this is a device to allow the scenes wherein Huan defeats their owners to be plausibly recollected within the point-of-view format of the story. 

The parts where the two former and fallen Maiar consider their past choices, as remembered by the people now inhabiting their skins, are taken from the Silmarillion, from the part entitled "Ainulindalë," and from the Quenta Silmarillion, the opening of the chapter "Of the Beginning of Days". That they might have known Arien as a friend before the physical world was created is naturally as much speculation on my part as the idea that they knew each other. 

The bit about the pines of Tar-na-Fuin resembling the masts of ships is something which I took almost unchanged from the original quoted above. It is of course possible that it was a scribal interpolation, the addition of imagery by the unknown composer of the original Lay (though I have my guesses as to its "authorship"), as Tuor is the first of mortals in Middle-earth to reach the shores of the great ocean. I have elected to consider it an authentic observation, in keeping with the storyline as developed so far — which also should add to the overall disquieting atmosphere and horror. 

As far as the plot goes, I am following the Lay of Leithian fragment entirely, with the only change being one which was introduced later for logistical reasons: in the poem, (unlike the published Silmarillion,) in Canto XII beginning just after Lúthien's furious assertion that her love is "as great a power as thine, to shake the gate and tower of death," Huan has dropped her off and gone back without telling her why, and then returns with both the skins. Logistically it makes more sense for them to stop off and pick them up on the way north, rather than for Huan to backtrack, but I understand the dramatic reason for setting it up as Tolkien did in the poem, since it allows for a more intimate moment of dialogue between them, and an almost operatic building up from Beren's sung soliloquy, to Lúthien's entry and answer, to Huan's arrival making it a trio. 

As to whether Curufin's sword which Beren confiscated was one used at the fighting at Alqualondë, I know no more than Beren would have — but it's certainly possible. (It is also possible, though no more certain, that it was the same sword that Dior after used to kill Celegorm, and quite possibly Curufin and their brother Caranthir as well — the Silmarillion text is unclear as to whether all three were killed by Lúthien's son, or not, but allows both possibilities.) 

The Battle of Sudden Flame — the evocation of the battle itself in imagination and the constant reminders of it throughout the journey are simply taken, again, right from the poem, which begins with stanzas devoted to the Leaguer, and then to its breaking as the "rivers of flame" burst forth in the dead of night and transform the snow to steam, ultimately reducing the green plains to the "Ashes and dust and thirsty dune" that "Draugluin" and "Thuringwethil" must cross in the painful manner described, but only again amplified, not original with this story. (Even the more lurid details follow directly from the lines quoted at the beginning, as anyone who has ever carried a cat on one's shoulder, or a taloned bird, will immediately understand.) 
…Ashes and dust and thirsty dune
withered and dry beneath the moon,
under the cold and shifting air
sifting and sighing, bleak and bare;
of blistered stones and gasping sand,
of splintered bones was built that land,
o'er which now slinks with powdered fell
and hanging tongue a shape of hell.
Many parching leagues lay still before 
when sickly day crept back once more;
many choking miles yet stretched ahead
when shivering night once more was spread
with doubtful shadow and ghostly sound
that hissed and passed o'er dune and mound.
The rest which I have depicted is a gapfiller — that is, there is an entire day of travel through the Waste not described in detail, in which it's very likely that they would have had to rest — but taken from the scene which takes place late in the second day of the crossing, when they have reached the causeway leading to Angband. This subsequent and canonical scene, in which our two champions hunker down in the shadow of the road leading to the Enemy's mountainous fortress while they dream 
"…of Doriath, 
of laughter and music and clean air, 
in fluttered leaves birds singing fair…" 
while waking only brings "the trembling sound, the beating echo far underground" of Morgoth's forges, and 
"…aghast they heard the tramp of stony feet 
that shod with iron went down that street: 
the Orcs went forth to rape and war, 
and Balrog captains marched before…."
should, inevitably, remind readers of a similar scene in The Return of the King…

Until they pull themselves together enough to go on, and the next Canto begins with the recollection of Fingolfin's challenge, wounding of Morgoth, and fatal defeat at the climax of the Dagor Bragollach, and reminds us of the long-term difficulties that both Beren and Huan have given the Dark Lord, and the renewed fears that Sauron's loss to Huan have caused, resulting in the creation and deployment of Carcharoth, the greatest wolf to ever walk the world, "surpassing all his race and kin," and Beren's own doom as well — until 
"…comes stalking near, a wolvish shape
haggard, wayworn, jaws agape;
and o'er it batlike in wide rings
a reeling shadow slowly wings…"
and Wolf-Beren, seeing from far off the massive shape lying before the door, exclaims, "Long ways we have come at last to meet the very maw of death…Yet hopes we never had. No turning back!" 

The title of this story is, indeed, a pun, on the dual meanings of "fell" as a pelt and as that which is dark and beyond unpleasant, and part of my purpose in illustrating this Canto is to make it clear, since I have encountered Usenet discussions which show that it is not beyond debate (though what ever is?) that the two travellers really did transform, and really took on not merely an illusion, but the physical actuality of their dead enemies, and attributes thereof, which is not quite so explicit in the abridged prose version of the published Silm. as it certainly is in the Lay of Leithian. 

—Mostly, however, to show forth what is to my mind the essence of this and all successful Quests in the Arda mythos — that it is not courage merely, nor skill merely, nor "destiny" merely, which ensure such success as the Quest enjoys, but a love which embodies a mutual self-sacrifice and generosity, not acting out of any expectation of fulfillment or gratification, holding on far past the point when there are any rewards or likelihood of future reward. As George MacDonald said, and cannot be too often recollected: 
Death alone from death can save,
Love is death, and so is brave—
—but you really must read the fragments of the Lay of Leithian itself!
Exerpts from The Lays of Beleriand, © J. R. R. Tolkien, released by Ballantine/Del Rey, 1985.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Philosopher At Large

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 02/07/03

Original Post: 01/14/03

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