(Based on statistics from archives and hit counts. Purely relative. No offence meant. Opinions will differ from reader to reader.)
This essay began as a study into trends in fanfiction. It devolved into something sinister. I tried to identify the five major fleshpots of fanfiction. Based on some statistical meanderings, here’s what I have to show.
Tolkien fanfiction churned out every year is considerable. I take into account only the stories in English. After some data assimilation across archives, I was able to find certain trends. Mostly, we are a tolerant lot. But what drives us to rant? The following five genres, of course.
With each genre, I have tried to illustrate the salient features by using examples of stories that classify as belonging to the said genre. All mistakes are mine alone. This essay is not meant to serve any other purpose than being an outlet for what I found out from some datamining in fanfiction. The much maligned genres deserve some appreciation after all that their authors go through each time they do a story.
Most of the stories I mention are too wideranging to fit under any one genre. So I have taken the genre and then chosen the stories that best fit the criteria for the genre.
Recommendation: Whitewave’s series ‘My Preciousss Mary Sues’, Spiced_wine’s ‘Dark Prince’
A Mary Sue is a character that is introduced into a fictional world. Then how does it differ from an original character? Simple. A Mary Sue looms over the canon characters and takes up the major part of the story. In short, if your fanfiction is written around an original character introduced into Tolkien canon, you have a Mary Sue on your hands.
Any newcomer to fandom will have a Mary Sue story to flaunt. Be it Legolas/Mary Sue or A girl falls into ME, most of us have a skeleton in our closet. No wonder why they continue to corner almost 63% of fiction every year. But why then the bad reputation? Because the script has been done and done over and again? Even then, we cannot deny that there are stories which continue to make new paths on old lands. And whatever we do, the Sues are here to stay. They can almost be called an inevitable part of growing up. Which of us can claim that we didn’t have sweet dreams starring our favorite hero/heroine in our early days?
The series ‘My Preciousss Mary Sues’ will certainly defend the much maligned Mary-Suers from the rest. Beautifully illustrated by chibis, it is a visual treat to read. Outrageous humour that may offend some, but all in all, we get to see why Mary Sues remain popular.
Dark Prince: Strictly speaking, the lead character Vanimorë Gorthaurion may not classify as a Mary Sue. But as anyone who has read the tale can testify, the author has succeeded in building a story around an original character. This series is an ode to the power of imagination. And an ode to one of the best written original characters. The darkness has its own light, truly.
Recommendation: Pandemonium’s ‘The Apprentice’, Jdav’s The Song of Sunset
Let us face it, Tolkien did not care much for science. Which is probably why Pandemonium has offered us The Apprentice and The Elendilmir. It is not too presumptuous to say must-reads for any Tolkien devotee. The stories are written with a great deal of passion and adherence to the basics of chemistry. The parts set in Eregion are extremely powerful and can make you forget that you are reading a fanfiction. In many ways, the story is its own canon and has its own genre.
The Song of Sunset. If Pandemonium brought chemistry to Tolkien’s world, Jdav brings physics and a wonderful whiff of basic biology. How many stories have you read that made you cringe because of shapeshifting or impracticable Bacchalian sex or gravitydefying onhorse maneuvers? The Song of Sunset will make you sigh in relief. The author has written the stories with a simple principle: There are 206 bones in an elven/human body. The body is not made of elastic. It is not made of metal. Even elves need time to heal. Biology in fanfiction is a welcome change. And, yes, gravity is applicable on ME.
Recommendations: Erfan Starled’s ‘Glorfindel’s Stray’, Spiced_wine’s ‘The Dark Prince’, Jdav’s ‘The Song of Sunset’.
What is slash? Slash is the common term to denote male homosexual relationships in stories. Femslash is the female variety. But in Tolkienland Slash seems to be outrank femslash by a long reach. Perhaps it is because of the fact that most of the writers are women. Be that as it is, slash continues to contribute to fanfiction a whopping 30%, ranked just after Mary Sues and Crossovers.
The Journal of Slash Research which is still around somewhere can offer some interesting pointers to those who are interested in knowing more. It was written by a person who did some extensive research on the subject.
Some of the stories are true masterpieces in their own right. Be it the sprawling Dark Prince series that reveres slash or The Song of Sunset that strikes a fine balance between slash and het relationships or the small but sparkling Glorfindel’s Stray that explores the nuances of domination and submission in a relationship, each are a work of pure genius.
Glorfindel’s Stray – Erfan Starled is rightly known as one of the authors who are unafraid of delving into relationships. Glorfindel’s Stray is one among many pieces that the author has done showing slash unions. We see intense mental conflict, voluntary submission and traces of an attachment that cannot be classified under any normal relationship. Deep, moving and often disturbing, the story shows why slash fiction cannot be called mundane. The other AU stories of the author are also highly recommended if the reader is interested in the genre.
Dark Prince- The author does not shy away from exploring her characters. The Houses of Fëanor and Fingolfin are ruled by their desires. Passion, desire and lust drive them. Touches upon many tabooed topics like incest and rape in a burning manner. The love the author has for her work is quite evident. Taboo relationships as the scorching passion that a guilty Maglor has for his father which he seeks to dampen by pursuing tempestuous bedgames with Vanimorë make us wonder at the author’s complex plot.
The Song of Sunset- The story cannot be classified under a pure slash header. The author has a pragmatic view that not all relationships can be slash. But the ones which are slash are scorchers. The best thing is that she understands the masculine mind well. The shying away from emotions, unwillingness to make commitments, the solid façade that most men give the world and the ego factor are all explored in great, loving detail. It is a refreshing take after the clichéd slash stories that have men/elves crying at the drop of a hat.
Recommendations: Pink Siamese ‘The Dawn of Many Colours’ , Jael ‘Cophetua’
Though most of us are understandably reluctant to read het when we can lay our hands on slash, it has its own wide circles of popularity. Noticeably on many archives, the readers prefer to read het stories to slash. The reviews and comments are normally more generous for het. It is understandable. There are many among us who are squicked by slash though we accept it as a part of society. And even among those who don’t oppose slash, there are many who would love to read a warm, het story on a cold evening cuddled up on a cosy sofa. Come what may, het is here to stay. But het erotica? Many of us get cold feet then. Het relationships are meant to be holy and untainted by lust for several fans. But there are stories which make us salivate, drool and orgasm as we read them.
The Dawn of Many Colors- Pink Siamese is probably Eros’s gift to Tolkienland. Anyone who has read The Dawn of Many Colors will tell you why they consider building a temple to appease this lady of het erotica. Bold, stunning and withholding nothing, the story is a genre unto itself.
Cophetua – Jael is the queen of Mirkwood fiction. Most of us have cried with Thranduil when he lost his kid in ‘To Wrap an Elven Princeling’ or laughed with him when he was wooing someone into his bed. Seduction is a business that the author understands. Cophetua can be called her best story in that it has all her trademark elements and more. With Cophetua, Mirkwood will never be the same to you again. It is heartening to see that the author has succeeded in winning around even many who believe elves lead chaste lives.
Recommendations: Jdav’s ‘The Song of Sunset’, Pandemonium’s ‘The Apprentice’
After the Mary Sues, the most maligned genre has to be Alternate Universe. An AU results when the story has elements on the original fiction on which it is based, but deviates considerably from the actual timelines and plot. In Tolkienland, AUs abound. But most of them are sadly written by those with a mediocre knowledge of canon. For the record, canon is the actual story. For Tolkien, The HoMe, The Silmarillion, The LotR, The Hobbit, The Letters Tolkien wrote and The Unfinished Tales constitute the canon.
But how many of us have wanted to see those beloved characters exploring a different path from the actual version? It is a standing joke that many refer to Peter Jackson’s movies as AU. Tolkien’s Glorfindel was displaced by Liv Tyler and Haldir dies. Discrepancies from the actual text abound. But whatever the critics say, we cannot deny that the movies were tributes to Middle Earth.
The AUs serve that purpose. They prove to us that more can happen in Middle Earth. They give us a choice. What-if? The question is asked again and again. The two AUs I recommend above are their own canon.
The Song of Sunset – Nearly 40 stories set in a single plot. Twists, turns and playing hide’n seek with canon. If this isn’t AU, then what is? The plot defies all conventions of fandom. Just when you start to think that the author might be ignorant of canon, she comes back with a scintillating plottwist to show you that she does. Arwen is Celebrimbor’s daughter. What about Luthien’s lineage then? That is when the author explores the lives of Elured and Elurin. It has to be one of the neatest plot twists. The reader holds his or her breath in suspense as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives.
The Apprentice- Canon hereticism is an art brought to its peak by the author. All conventions of Tolkien are thrown to the winds when you begin reading The Apprentice. Just when you think that it cannot be more shocking the author comes up with The Elendilmir. The fine art of creating a plot is one many would die to have. This writer possesses it in abundance. She tells the story with bold flair. Dwarves, metals and pioneering women. All the above were anathema to the common Tolkien fan before The Apprentice arrived on scene. But after reading it nothing’s going to ever be the same. Say science in Tolkien, say Pandemonium!
Recommendations: Beruthiel’s Cats’ ‘Celebrían’s Journal’, Jdav’s ‘The Song of Sunset’
An AU is a deviation from story canon. Anti-fanon is a deviation from common fandom conventions. When we have Frodo/Faramir slash story instead of Frodo/Sam or the like, we definitely are seeing anti-fanon. Most anti-fanon stories are written as parodies of existing unspoken norms. But there are a few which are remarkable in their own right. Because they dare to tell us what we would never think of otherwise.
Celebrían’s Journal- A much deserved MEFA nominee. Anyone who hasn’t read it must do so. A poignant tale of loss, understanding and reconciliation. We understand characters normally shunned by fanon. The slash relationship is beautifully done and brings tears to our eyes. The author is bold and steely as she discards the norms of fandom and charters her own path to tell the story. Sadly, there have been accusations of plagiarism and plot stealing associated with this wonderful tale. We hope that they won’t affect the pen from which this beautiful tale came along. We live the story as we read it. Celebrían’s presence lingers on even after we finish reading it. One for posterity, definitely.
The Song of Sunset- Maedhros is meant to be paired with Fingon. This feisty author disagreed. What ensued was The Journal, a heartrending tale of pride, passion and doom which formed the first part of The Sunset series. Upturning all conventions and perceptions, the author stuns us again with Círdan’s love for Míriel Serindë. Though the series grips you in its hold till the very end, it is the First Age stories namely The Journal and its interludes that leave you speechless. ‘The Laws of The Gods Cannot Rule The Passions of Our Hearts’. Mixing bold philosophy with Victorian era subtlety, the author succeeds in carving her own niche in Tolkien fanfiction. Her Galadriel reminds us of the flawed hero, Icarus, who flew too close to the skies and was burnt. But more importantly, the author ignites her words with hope. That hope stays in your heart even after you finish reading the tale.