Reviews for The Song in the Darkness
cairistiona7 chapter 3 . 10/8/2009
*dep breath*

My word, poor Aragorn! You're right-it does seem I'll need a vast storehouse of "my poor Ranger"'s and "Oh my dear Aragorn!"'s! Hard to read him being so treated but at the same time... it would be the case, were he ever captured and brought to Barad Dur. I'm so glad he has a way to disassociate from it all... I'm almost afraid to keep reading, but I have to!
cairistiona7 chapter 2 . 10/8/2009
Oh... poor Aragorn! This is so dark, and yet you have to have darkness to show how very strong even a faint light can be. This is definitely the kind of AU I enjoy... taking canon in a different direction in a "what if..." scenario, leaving the principle characters and setting intact. This story is off to a fine start (although Aragorn might argue otherwise!)
cairistiona7 chapter 1 . 10/8/2009
Oh what a chilling start to this story! I can all but feel the coldness of the Nazgul's miasma and before that Aragorn's fatigue from his hard labors. The bit where he had to stop and shut his eyes, at the spot where Halbarad died, was sparsely told but powerful for all that it was bare of much detail. I'm looking foward to reading the rest of this!
Canafinwe chapter 6 . 10/5/2009
And now (drumroll please!) ANOTHER overdue review!

I love that Aragorn retreats, not into unconciousness, but into a place deep within his mind where he can shelter from the pain. The changing of the colour of the light of hope is at once very poetic and profoundly eerie. He has no hope left for himself, but the Hope that he is still shines for Middle-earth.

For some reason the words "bleary eyes" make me so profoundly sad. How low Aragorn has been brought in his suffering: his eyes, always "keen and commanding", always kindled with a light that few could endure, are now bleary, clouded with pain. Still he manages a "calm and cold look", and the Mouth of Sauron is forced to look away, quailing as he does in the book. But here, of course, he is able to wreak revenge for the humiliation, and he slams Aragorn's jaw in frustration.

He has doubts now, too. "lacking the strength to support it... or was he saving it for later?" The Mouth is beginning to realize what a formidable opponent he is facing.

Aragorn is subsisting soley in the present: he banishes any hint of speculation as to the next torment. This is sound survival techinque, by the way: often it's the imagined horrors that inflict the most damage on the psyche, not the actual pains. "he had the last moments before it began". These words speak to desperation, the frantic clinging of a beleagured mind to the last moments of the pain it knows, before the unknown pain descends.

The image of the Argonath, timeless and unshakable, is beautifully used. It's such a perfect metaphore for "secrets kept, strength like a tower"

The anguished description of the stretching of his tormented body is very nicely (horrifically!) done. "as it shifted the broken ribs" was for some reason particuarly effective. The stark, almost clinical wording leaves so much to the imagination, and as you've probably noted my imagination is a very hyperactive one.

"It hurts... Oh, Valar, it hurts so much!" The dichotomy between the vivid words that you use in the narration and this simple, almost child-like cry of suffering is very powerful: Aragorn has been reduced to the most basic thoughts. He cannot embellish the pain, because it overwhelms his faculties. So only the stark, simple words remain. "It hurts so much."

Here's another very evocative sentence: "The world erupted in a fountain of pain". Again, the simple word best serves your purpose, punctuating the statement and allowing the image to dominate. I admire your style precisely because you are not afraid to take a Spartan approach and to let the strength of your writing carry you without explicite words. Well done!

He escapes at last, but of course the Mouth of Sauron cannot allow that. The choking smoke is a horrifying and haunting tool: I can almost smell it as I read. It would be interesting if this strange wood were Lebethron... that dark, ageless wood that composes the casket in which the Winged Crown of Gondor rests. Just for the sake of a little awful irony.

In any case, the thought of coughing against broken ribs sends a shiver of empathy into the pit of my stomach. And it is only the first discomfort, as the smoke drags him back into "the centre of pain".

He cries out for his father. Oh, he cries out for his father! Again the childish words: "Ada" this time. "oh, Ada, it hurts!". And after anther hugely effective description of suffering... "Ada! please..."

"and he was young again"... the wistfulness of this line is the most evocative part of the whole chapter. In it, Aragorn seems to wish away not only the anguish of the moment, but all the long years of suffering and hardship and bitter labour. In this simple phrase all of that falls away, if only for a moment, and he is free again. How many of us do not at one time or anohter experience a moment like this? Once more you've given us a profoundly human moment, where we can glimpse deep into the heart of the grim-faced Ranger who so stoically endures discomfort and deprivation and degredation, and reminds us that under it all he is just a man. A brave and valiant and unspeakably *good* man who happens to be trapped in the Alternate Universe from Angband at the moment.

Then the pain returns and he is no longer innocent or unsullied, but he brings with him the memory of that vision, and with the memory he finds new strength to endure. He is no longer little Estel, standing at his foster-father's knee, but he is still in the Hall of Fire, and the songs sustain him. This is a moment that could be straight out of Tolkien: Aragorn, the culmination of all the long years, the scion of all the great heroes of old, singing in his torment like Maedhros in Thangorodrim.

I shudder to think, however, just how long he hangs there. The Lay of Leithian alone is a good two or three hours long.

Here you have the Elessar... hmm... I'm so evil. I love your final sentence: "Many hours passed, but to him, they were ages, and the old legends of song unfolded in their own time, while he suffered in the dark cells of Barad-dur". He is at once profoundly alone, but at the same time he is a singer in the great Song of Arda: the Song that began when Eru first bade the Ainur to create their music, and the Song that will continue on for all eternity, even after the world ends and Ea is unmade. He is a part of the grand tapestry of the universe, a thread in the vast web of Tolkien's mythos, and in his singing he defies the darkness and endures in hope and fortitude despite impossible odds.

How strange to say, but what a satisfying chapter! Viva la Alternate Universe. ;-)
Canafinwe chapter 5 . 9/28/2009
Ooh, you open with some powerful metaphores this time! "Pain circling his veins instead of blood. Pain filling his lungs instead of air." Pain has become elemental for him, an integral part of his world.

Alone in the darkness... his panicked response to the thought that he might be buried alive reminded me of the dread with which he faced Moria. Can it be that he has a fear of dark, enclosed spaces? Even if it is only a product of his traumatized and fevered mind, toying with him in the bowels of the Barad-dur, it's still a terrifying prospect.

That he longs for the return of the orcs wrings at my heart: he is so desperate for water, even a little water, and for the reassurance that there is a world beyond the darkness that he awaits the pain "eagerly". There's a metaphore here, too, I think... does anything exist beyond the Shadow of Mordor?

"Why?" The question that one always asks in moments of trial and suffering. Why this? Why me? Why? There is never an answer.

The repetiotion "... and in the darkness bind them..." feels almost like the heavy tread of a drum, or the beating of a heart. It is a pulse of despair and blacckness, and it binds these anguished paragraphs together into a cohesive whole. I can feel Aragorn's terror and the disorientation and the despair.

His mind tormenting him with visions of failure... very, VERY Aragorn. It seems like he spent half the Quest brooding on the ways he might bring disaster upon everyone. It would be no different here. It's perfect that Sam is the accusing voice: Sam, whose trust he laboured so hard to earn. Of all the apparitions to give voice to his failure, it would have to be Sam.

Ack! NO! He wasn't given that gift to use like this! Ooh, to have him tempted thus by his ability to offer up his spirit willingly, at a time of his choosing... horrific. BRILLIANT.

Mixing my Inklings again, but your descriptiion of "clean air... as fresh and sweet as the morning of the first snow", and the layers of the world, and the song, reminded me of "The Last Battle", when they all pass into Aslan's Country at last. Gorgeous.

And the next paragraph is the Song of Melkor, of course, awakening him once more to knowledge of the terrible price of failure. His repentance is exquisite. It's heartbreaking to see him begging for suffering, but it is precisely what Aragorn would do. He accepts his duty before his needs, and he returns to the pain, to the torture that still awaits him. He is prepared now to endure it. He harbours no illusions about his fate: "for him, suffering until death. Or until they broke him.'

He understands his destiny: he is Estel, the Hope of all the free world. Even when he has no hope left for himself, he holds out hope for them... beautifully expressed. I can see what you mean about the darkness and the light in this story. It's filled with pain and despair, but it isn't bleak. That's a stunning accomplishment, and it's perfectly in line with J.R.R. Tolkien's philosophy and world view: even in despair, there is Hope. Even when all seems overrun with Evil, there is Good. Even in the pits of Angband, there is Eru.

*shivers in awe* Wow.
Canafinwe chapter 4 . 9/28/2009
The moment of disorientation was more painful than the description of the blow. I hate to think of Aragorn waking lost and alone in such a horrible place. "His heart sank"... ooh, you're hard on my heart-strings and the mounting suspense is going to cause a haemorrhagic stroke.

"Our Majesty is awake"? Oh, how dare he? How DARE he mock King Elessar! I love the almost sing-song statement: "There is a little piece of jewelry. A golden ring, very dear to my Master.' I can just here him cooing those words in a horrible, saccharine voice.

Okay, I know that when it comes to torture impliments, cross-contamination with another person's bodily fluids is really, REALLY low down on a captive's list of concerns, but I just want to say that even if Aragorn isn't phased by the fresh blood on the whip, I AM! And strangely, I'm curious who it might belong to. Orcs? Unfortunate human slaves? Some unlucky Ranger of Ithilien languishing in the dungeons below? I have more ideas, but they get progressively strnager from here. Anyway, Aragorn's progressive reactions to the sound of the whip work very well. A blink, because he can't really help it. Then he jerks, because he was expecting the lash to fall upon him that time. And then...

Nothing. Because the dread of pain is as powerful as any actual suffering, especially at this point where the posibilities are endless, stretching out before the prisoner's imagination. The taunt that maybe the Mouth won't even listen when Aragorn finally breaks (this story is just FULL of eternal optimists, isn't it?) was a nice touch: what a diabolical threat, that when one finally shatters and is willing to do as the torturer requests, that release will be denied. He's trying to rob Aragorn of all hope already. Poor fool doesn't know who he's dealing with.

Anger and defiance when he realizes that the Mouth is toying with him... true Aragorn. Lifting his head proudly even though he can't even keep his feet... that's our courageous Ranger. Even the stroke of the whip cannot drive the determination from his eyes. It takes *six* strokes just to elicit a gasp.

The description of the blows as "confusing" is very effective. "Eratic" or "irregular" would work just as well to describe the pattern of the strokes, but by using "confusing" you ensure that we are inside of Aragorn's muddled mind. We can feel his bewilderment and the slow loss of reason as the pain overcomes him.

Bleeding, but not screaming. This, of course, would only infuriate the Mouth of Sauron. "then you will beg, you would-be king!"... his anger and his disdain of Aragorn's claim to the throne of Gondor rings very true... for what is the Heir of Isildur but an upstart threatening the dominion of his master? Aragorn made that claim in the palantir, openly defying the Dark Lord and wresting the seeing-stone from his power... and then subsequently riding to open war against him, subourning Sauron's own ships! The audacity would infuriate the Lieutenant of the Tower, and you capture that so well with that one brief thought.

The thought of Frodo being subjected to the same treatment gives Aragorn the strength to renew his determination: here's Strider, pledging once more to protect his hobbit seems the vow he made in Bree is going to be sorely tested.

I love the use of "sore back". It's such a tiny detail, but by using that adjective you prompt the perfect "poor Aragorn!" response while at the same time reminding us that, as painful as this is, the injury is still superficial and there's a long, long way left to spiral down into horror. Not sure that I should be so pleased by the prospect, but there it is.

He seeks true unconciousness this time. I love the careful description of Aragorn's groping deep into his mind for that border that leads to oblivion. Triumph at last! I shared his thrill of victory... but it seems the Mouth of Sauron is intelligent enough to reason that people in pain often pass out, because of course he's ready.

The description of the second flogging is much more powerful than the first - as it should be, of course! The Mouth doesn't even hesitate this time, it seems, but strikes again and again. "The light in his eyes diminished, and they glazed over with pain." Oh, no! This is more distressing than the description of the flogging or the knowlege of the horrible, scarring damage that the cat is inflicting on his back.

The Mouth of Sauron very nearly went too far: Aragorn is in too much pain at first even to comprehend his question. When he does realize what his captor is saying, of course, he is enticed, for the barest of moments, by the wish to end his suffering. Yet he rejects the tantalizing posibility, and makes us all proud. I cringe to think how dearly he paid for that defiance, and how much more dearly he will pay in the coming chapters, our "pitiful bloodied figure hanging limp in the shackles", our poor valiant Ranger, our suffering King.

Great chapter!
Canafinwe chapter 3 . 9/27/2009
I just noticed your chapter titles: the battle of Finrod Felagund against Thu... ooh, this bodes not well, not well at all!

Nice touch with your opening similie: the tried-and-true "as if it could be the last one", when abruptly he realizes that it actually COULD be his last breath. He's eternally optimistic, isn't he? I don't harbour any such illusions: he's going to live for a long while yet. They haven't even started.

A Man in a mask! The Mouth of Sauron! Some people, it seems, are doomed to meet, whatever universe they inhabit. It's a very strong image: Aragorn curled at his feet, the Mouth looming over him. It's so different from the Morannon, where even Aragorn's gaze cowed the wretch. Valiant Elessar, in the clutches of a coward, and worse: a coward with power.

His anger ("How did you dare... how did you dare...") is in part loyalty, I think, but also perhaps jealousy. How long has he served the Eye, longing for such an offer as the one that Aragorn so impudently refused? He would have difficutly even understanding such a refusal, and to see one cast away in disdain a prize he has coveted would be infuriating.

Even through the pain, helpless on the floor, Aragorn musters defiance. I'm cheering him on, but I shouldn't be, for I know he'll only make matters worse for himself. It's a dangerous game that he's playing, meeting the Mouth's eyes (hmm. That sounds like a physiological impossibility...). He quailed before Aragorn's eyes in the book, but here he can gain immediate and painful retribution. Aragorn must endure; he has no choice but to endure, and yet I wish he wouldn't goad his captor.

You describe the pain so well... the sharp, terrible pain of the repeated blows to his broken ribs. It seems incredible taht he is able to move at all after such treatment, and yet there seems to be a flicker of self-approabation when he is unable to stand. Small wonder he can't stand! That he can even think of escape is a testament to his undaunted spirit: he is going to fight, to resist until the last.

Ah, I see. Here, again, you're doing AU the way that AU ought to be done (what on earth was I afraid of?). He's the same valiant Strider who said "If by life or death I can save you, I will." He's still going to draw the Eye away from Frodo, just as he did in the book. He's just going to do it here, in the Barad-dur itself, instead of on the slag hills before the Black Gate. I'm guessing he had it easy with his poor army of six thousand... at least compared to what he will suffer here.

You offer a very strong visual of Aragorn being hauled away and manacled by the orcs. The laughter is especially reprehensible. I feel a little like Lucy Pevensie (sorry: mixing my Inklings) as I cry out at my screen: the cowards! The COWARDS! Of course they can't resist beating him, especially not after he groans in pain.

I was a little puzzled by the description of his cloak being snatched away, and his tunic being torn by the blows of the orcs. I would have thought the first logical thing to do would be to strip him, and ensure he hasn't got the Ring on his person, since he's the prime suspect for Bearer. Or has the "strip and plunder" order that was in effect in Cirith Ungol been lifted? I thought perhaps Sauron could tell that he didn't have the Ring... but as he couldn't sense it two miles from his seat, I suppose he can't.

After they leave him, hanging in the shackles, it's only natural for Aragorn to seek some release. I love how you accomplished it: instead of merely having him pass out in suffering, he seeks within himself for that wellspring of hope, the soothing place deep within his heart, where he can shelter for a while and prepare himself for the brutality of the coming storm.
Canafinwe chapter 2 . 9/26/2009
The first scene was very well written! You portray their grief and Gandalf's anxiety very nicely. I especially liked the twins' mournful exclamations. The last paragraph - Anduril illuminating Gandalf's tear - is a beautiful piece of imagery.

From that, we cut to Aragorn. Chilling descriptions of his perilous flight and his entry into Mordor. Interesting that the first horror that assails Aragorn is "failure", since that is precisely the demon that haunts him throughout the Quest. And the cost of failure is higehr than ever now!

The visions are absolutely chilling. I love how Sauron makes his offer, and then Aragorn's own heart overcomes it: here is the bold heart and the iron will that defied the Enemy in the palantir!

But of course defiance has its consequences. I shudder to think of his poor broken ribs... and the suffering that is doubtless to come.
Canafinwe chapter 1 . 9/26/2009
*Deep breath* Oh, no.

What a time to be snatched. Of course he can't fight them off: he's been labouring for more than twenty-four hours (assuming he even slept on the black ship) without respite: the desperate race to the Pelennor, the battle, then the hours of healing. "Too long had he walked in the shadows, seeking the lost and returning them to the light. Now he had no strength left for himself".

This actually makes quite a lot of sense as a place of divergence: of course Sauron would come for him. After all, as far as Sauron knows, Aragorn has the Ring, and his wondrous eleventh-hour triumph on the Pelennor would only seem to bear it out.

Unfortunately for Aragorn, I think he was probably much better off with his desperate march on the Morannon. Next chapter!
Ragnelle chapter 3 . 7/24/2009
This is the chapter where the torture beings in earnest. In one way it is very good: it is full of pain and most of the time you manage to convey that. But at once you do too much and too little.

I know that this is a torture-fic and so the main part will be the torture, but I think you start it off a little too strongly. If you use too strong words for the pain now, what will you then do in the chapters that follow? That is the problem in most of these stories and you have not quite avoided that trap. I think you would be able to create a much more powerful story if you built up the torture a bit more slowly.

I don’t think you have to change so much what they do, as the intensity and your description of it. I’ll go though the chapter from the top and comment, and perhaps in the course of the review I’ll be able to explain a bit better what I mean. I’ll maybe see it better myself that way ;-)

First paragraph: “precious air” doesn’t work very well for me. One thing is that I know that we need air, and you have used the same expression at the closing of the last chapter so it is too much of a repetition. Another thing is that in LotR the word “precious” has connotations that make it difficult to use innocently; “the Precious” of Gollum has influenced the word a little too much. That is, however, not that much of a problem. I think one reason I picked on this expression, is that is shows what you need to work on in this paragraph and in your descriptions generally: avoid the clichés or make them not feel like clichés. Also you need to vary your writing-mode so that everything is not the same. What I said about the different languages in the last review is to this point, but it is also that you would be able to write more vividly if you don’t use the same, simple mode of description all the time.

Here, in the first paragraph, I think the story would benefit if you changed the way you described the waking by making it more immediate. Perhaps use shorter and even fragmented sentences. Example:

“Air! He gulped, he coughed, he fought it into his lungs. Air! He could breathe! For one blessed moment all he knew was the air that filled his lungs again. He sucked on it, forcing it deep into his chests, and then lay panting, eyes screwed shut against the second thing he felt: pain. Quick, shallow breaths as he tried to feed air into his body past his broken ribs.

He opened his eyes. A dark shape was leaning over him. As his vision slowly returned Aragorn could see pale lips. Smiling. Cruel. A Man, no wraith, in a dark mask. Their eyes met.”

Again, just an example of one way it can be done differently. Only thing I would insist on, is calling the Mouth a Man, not human. Tolkien is consistent in talking about the race of Men when talking about human beings – he never use human. Man or Men with a capital letter shows us that we are dealing with humans and keeping to that you will be more consistent with the fandom.

The conversation and kicking:

Here you try to make the MoS as evil as possible, which he needs to be. But don’t quite make him menacing, only mean. The first is good for this type of story, the second is just typical. What I mean is that he is not evil enough; he just beats Aragorn as any bully could do if he has the advantage. That is too petty for the MoS. At the very least in his own eyes.

So: the first question and kick don’t work well with building up the image of the Mouth as a serious adversary to Aragorn. Is the question about joining them serious or just a way of mocking? It does not work either way, but how you rewrite will depend on how you meant it to be. If it is serious – in the sense that the MoS intends to make Aragorn join them – then you should rephrase it so it becomes more of a question and let the first kick come as a result of Aragorn’s reaction to it. That will make the MoS more calculating and make him appear more sinister.

This will also hold if he is just mocking. Make the MoS’s actions more rational and calculating; that is much scarier than random violence at this point. Leave the mindless cruelty to the orcs if you want it there.

I’d also advise that you leave out characterisations as “the coward”. Make his actions peak for him and let the readers make up their own mind. There is little chance that they will think him the hero anyway ;-) but if you just call him a coward without showing us that he is, we only have your word. Kicking a defenceless man is a dishonourable thing to do, but it does not follow from that that the man is a coward. If you make the MoS’s kick a fear-reaction from something Aragorn says or do (remember the book where he falls apart from Aragorn just looking at him?) then we will get the point without you resorting to name-calling. Remember that the MoS has no personal reason to hate or despite Aragorn; they have never meet. He has never been intimidated by Aragorn. If you want some of that interaction and relation between the characters – like in “You wouldn’t dare” – then you need to lay the foundation for that here in their first meeting, and you need to do it before you presume anything on the behalf of the characters’ reactions to each other.

A formatting tip: you don’t have to start every direct speech with a new paragraph; you can connect it to the narrative where it fits together. Example:

You wrote: “The man didn’t give him time to recover; he grasped his blood-stained shirt and jerked him upright, looking straight into his eyes, his lips a tight line.

“You know something that my Master wants to know. And you will speak. If not this way… then another!” he hissed.”

Try: “The man didn’t give him time to recover; he grasped his blood-stained shirt and jerked him upright, looking straight into his eyes, his lips a tight line. “You know something that my Master wants to know. And you will speak. If not this way… then another!” he hissed.”

The text will not appear so fragmented this way, and the two sentences belong together.

One other problem with the fist of these sentences: it is unclear. You use ‘he’ and ‘him’ so much that in the end it is hard to understand who you are talking about; whose lips is a tight line at this point?

Now to a point that is most obvious in the first part of the chapter, but to a certain extent valid for the whole. Where are we? You give us almost no indication of where we are, no description of the environment, nothing that can give us a clue of the physical place Aragorn is in, nor, really, much on the physical state he is in. this makes the narrative confusing in a bad way. We can’t get a picture of what is happening and I, at least, struggled a bit to make Aragorn’s actions (or, rather, lack of them) fit his character. If he is too exhausted and pain-worn to move now, how in Mordor do you keep him alive and conscious though the rest of the 14 chapters? Build it up a bit slower, or at least have us see him try, and fail, at doing something other than just lying there and get kicked.

He was tired when he was taken, and he was wounded. Remember also that his sword-hand should be hurt from stabbing the first Nazgul as well as the wound on his left shoulder and the broken ribs. Merry and Eowyn was hurt from stabbing the Witch-king – subjecting them to the Black Breath; should not Aragorn feel some of the same effects? All this does make it probable that he will not be able to put up much of a fight, but I don’t see him trying. Not at the start when he would be in better shape to make an attempt than towards the end when he has suffered more abuse.

As for the lack of description of the place; we don’t need a long, detailed description. The Mordoric taste in decoration is not the main point of interest here *g*, but try to give us some feeling for the place. Is it outside or are they under a roof? You do mention a stone-floor, but the placement of the description makes it disappear, perhaps if you included it in a longer description of Aragorn’s waking-up? Or gave us a sensory description of hitting his head on it? Make us feel the floor, not just mention it, or you could as well not have mentioned it at all as I could no remember. Or you could include some sensory details when you have him shivering in pain after the kicking. That moment when he is alone is a good place to give us a little breathing-place with some description. Aragorn seem to regain some lucidity at this pint as well, so it is a natural place for him to make some observations.

The description of the orcs that come to drag him away is fine – you can work on it more, but if you want to work on it, you should be more than capable with what I have talked of before. Only thing I’d wish a bit more of, is the evil atmosphere in the cell – you loose some of what you build up with the “echoes of pained screams and evil laugh” by rushing a bit, but that is all.

I am also not certain if slumping in the chains would relieve much of his pains. In his legs and toes maybe, but his arms and torso would be stretched painfully if he slumped and make breathing difficult (those crucified died of suffocation when they could not keep their bodies upright any longer), and our legs can easier take more strain from standing than our arms from hanging. I would find it more natural that he strove to stay upright until he couldn’t. If he has to stand on his toes, I can see him falling down there, i.e.: not slumping in the whole body but sinking down by not standing so high on his toes. But this is more how I would imagining it, and I have not the experience to say what is most probable ;-) Just look at it to see if I might have a point or not.

I really like the repetition of the italicised “they laughed” and think it would be even more effective if you should use it more thought the chapter – but too much might also kill the effect, so use your judgement there (as with everything).

In spite of all this; very good chapter.
Raksha The Demon chapter 13 . 7/23/2009
Well, happy days are here again for sure! Having walked through the fire, Aragorn can look forward to some well-deserved good times.

A very powerful story!
Raksha The Demon chapter 11 . 7/23/2009
Lovely presentation of Earendil and the Valar - I found it both Tolkienesque and your own. Of course Aragorn would choose to return to his mortal life; even if it was quite uncomfortable at the moment!
Ragnelle chapter 2 . 6/27/2009
A lot of what I say here is a bit general as ways of how to improve one's writing, but I think it is relevant to this chapter and have tried to show examples of what I mean.

As always my suggestions are just that, and you might not think they are an improvement. If so, feel free to not use them. If you like any and think the style is not incompatible with your own, feel free to use it.

In this chapter the pace of the story picks up and you manage to convey the sense of urgency in the first paragraphs. They work quite well, but if you want to improve on them, I would suggest using shorter and simpler sentences. One action, one sentence. And less adjectives, especially those describing emotion (I will tell you why later). To give an example with the first paragraphs:

“A high shriek echoed on the fields of Pelennor. It startled all that heard it. The Dunedain rushed from their tents, swords in hand. Something was wrong. They did not know what. A dark shadow passed across the sky. It brought despair in its wake


They ran. The two sentries were found. Dead. Their featured twisted in a mask of horror and the rangers knew; the servants of the Eye had returned. Why? Revenge, or to quench the courage of the Children of the West?”

I have here tried to mainly use short sentences with only one action in each. I have not followed this unconditionally, no rule is absolute, but a bit stricter than is called for, just to give an example of the effect it gives.

In addition I have cut some of the imagery and rearranged some of the events to make the telling of the scene more succinct and, in my view, logical. Everywhere else in the book the nazgul are recognized in the effect they have on their surroundings, most of all the impression of despair and/or fear in those around. Even when they just fly high up out of sight, the people below can feel them and I think the shadow is enough for the rangers to identify the threat. Having done this, they would search and find the sentries, confirming their suspicions. Saying at once that they found the sentries, tells us that they are recognized and so you don’t have to tell that they still could be. This makes the narrative more succinct and more immediate, more vivid.

The third thing I have done is to cut what one of my teachers called the language of feeling and use mostly what he called the language of action.

The language of feeling is when you say things like “with a feeling of horror”, “overwhelmed by despair” or otherwise specifically tells us what emotion a character is feeling. The language of action is when you tell what they are doing: “he ran”, “he saw”, “he drank” etc. there is a third language, the language of description, which is used to describe things: “A magnificent sword with elven script on the blade and hilt, reflecting the dim light that was beginning to lighten the sky.”

All these languages have their place and use, but generally speaking the language of feeling should be used sparingly and with great care. Sometimes not at all. The danger in using this language is that you very quickly impose on your reader what _they_ should feel about the events you describe. In doing so, you take away their freedom and capability of judgement, and often get the opposite effect of what you want. The readers become resentful and are pulled out of the story instead of feeling with the characters. Using actions or descriptions to convey feeling is most times more effective because that shows us what happens and lets us interpret and draw conclusions, instead of telling us what we should think. It really is about the old “show vs. tell”.

The language of action has the effect of making the story move forward and can create a great sense of urgency and haste. It answers the question: and then what? Too much of it makes the narrative barren, though, and takes away the sense of place; we get no image of the events.

That is what the language of description is for. It lets us see the events, the characters, the places. But it also slows down the narrative and can pause the action completely. With all description the story stops.

If you use the different languages consciously, it will help you pace our story and give it rhythm and timing. It is a very good exercise to force yourself to rewrite the same part using only one of these modes at a time. You will then see where the different languages work and where they don’t. in the re-write above, the first paragraph is at times forced into a form that don’t quite work because I have kept to one mode of writing also in places where it don’t quite work.

If you want to do this exercise and want someone to discuss the effects with, just contact me and we'll find a good place to do it.

One example of how to say (almost) the same with a different language, is when I rewrote: “A dark shadow passed across the sky, and everyone who saw it was overwhelmed by despair, despite the uncertainty of what had transpired this night.”


“A dark shadow passed across the sky. It brought despair in its wake”

I translated the original from the language of feeling into the language of action here, and it has made the shadow more menacing and sinister as it emphasizes that it is the shadow that causes the despair they feel. And the scene becomes more succinct.

I think this should give you something to work with on the rest of the scene. It is generally good though. The only really jarring thing in it, to me, was the laments of the sons of Elrond. The way they spoke clashed with the style in the rest of your writing. It is not that it was out of character for them to say something like that; it was just so different in tone from the rest, the same way the quote from the Paths of the Dead was in the first chapter. It fits Tolkien, but it is not integrated in your writing-style.

Nitpick: “The tortures of Barad Dûr were terrible, and Sauron knew already who Aragorn was.” Cut the last comma.

That paragraph needs some rewriting, btw. It is a bit confusing as it is now. If you give us more of Gandalf’s thought-process it might become clearer. If you include some speculation on what Sauron might want from Aragorn and why he was taken, and from there goes over to what will happen if Aragorn reveals Frodo? The transition from Sauron knowing who Aragorn is, to the fear for Frodo is a bit abrupt to me. If you move the conclusion that Sauron will ask Aragorn about the Ring before you bring up the concern for Frodo, I think it will make more sense.

You also mix tenses in this paragraph, which adds to the confusion.

The second part of the chapter where you take us back to Aragorn is also well done but can be improved on as well. Here I think you should make the dream-like elements stronger. Use the image of the wave for all it is worth. Since you return to the image of being pulled under water (by a wave this time) you don’t have to specify that it is an image of how he felt. A possible rewrite is:

“… Aragorn writhed in a new wave of agony. Darkness grew tall above him; a wave dark as the depths of the sea. From a high place he saw it coming for him; a deadly wall of crushing pressure. Nearer and nearer until it washed over him.

No breath. No thought. The whirling streams of darkness extinguishing the light of his soul, hammering into him from every side, pulling him deeper and deeper into the colourless world of shadows.”

Confuse the line between what is happening and Aragorn’s perception of what is happening to emphasize the confusion and pain he is feeling. Description is the main tool here, and the nightmarish visions. You do this already, but do it more and make the visions more real, avoiding the word ‘like’ and phrases like these: “he saw it like”, “like as swarm” etc. Your readers are smart people; we understand that it is visions.

Here to you can use the length of the sentences and a mixture of action and description to pace the narrative and create a rhythm within the story.

The part where he finds a place to hide inside, is beautiful. You do overemphasize Aragorn as Hope though. I think you can convey this message with more power if you leave that aspect in the sub-text; let it be an underlying understanding, implied, instead of stating it so openly and crudely. This goes for all parts of the story. Don’t let it be stated openly that Aragorn is the hope of anyone, the story tells us this very strongly anyway. Use the name Estel, but don’t translate it in the text. If you want to make sure that your readers get the point, give a translation in a note at the beginning. Most of your readers will know this anyway.

So, the image of an inner sanctuary, connected to his childhood and by implication his childhood name, is very good and beautiful. The stressing of the point that this is hope and hope is him, his inner core, is heavy-handed and works against the message you try to convey. Trust the story and symbols to be strong enough and clear enough on its own.

Shorter than the first ;-) Am I improving?
Ragnelle chapter 1 . 6/26/2009
I finally had the time to start reviewing your story. As I said in the PM, the overall impression is good, but since you wanted some constructive comments I will probably focus mostly on those places where I think you can improve. At times I will go into detail, and just ask if you want me to clarify some points.

First: I think it is good that you give the references when you quote Tolkien, but the text does not flow very well with footnotes. Not in this kind of story, or at least that is my opinion. In a more humorous story it would not be a problem, but here I think the reading of the text would flow better without the numbers attached. I am not quite sure of the best way to give the references though. In this chapter there are few enough that you could make a note at the end or beginning explaining how you mark the quotes and where they are from. You need a few more words to do this and with longer chapters and more quotes it could become a little hard to follow, but the story itself would read better.

That said, I think you should either work more on your style to make it fit Tolkien's more, or keep the quotes to a minimum and preferably use your own words throughout. (This does not apply to the use you make of the Lay of Leithian later in the story, but I'll comment on that when I come to it.) I think the second is the better alternative both because no one can really do Tolkien’s style as well as he so there will always be a noticeable difference, but more importantly because you will become a better author this way and develop your own style. Copies are not as interesting as originals even in fanfiction. Now, you do not use quotes excessively so it is not a big problem and it does not make your story boring as it does with those that quote movie-script with an additional character. Your use, especially later, has a point, in most cases, but in this chapter I find the second superfluous and not well enough integrated in your writing-style. The first serves as an introduction, to set the stage and give us the point where your AU breaks off from Tolkien’s story so that one is fine. It serves a very good purpose and does not need to fit with the rest of the story stylistically. You could even make it a longer quote so that this quote is our way into the story, starting it _in media res_.

I am not sure what you have aimed at, so if this suggestion is way of what you have wanted with the opening, just tell me, but I would consider tightening the first chapter, making it shorter but more intense. The long reminiscing in the first four paragraphs makes the beginning of the chapter feel a bit slow. To me, too, it is a bit unnecessary as we all know the story. I would recommend that you cut all or most of it and concentrate on the “new” story rather than repeat what has happened before. I think that could make this fist chapter more intense. At it is now, it drags a bit in the beginning.

This is not all due to the fact that you have a recap at the beginning. It is also a side effect of the reflective mood of Aragorn here, and the fact that you tell from his point of view, making us hear his thoughts in a way. And it also feels a bit long or dragging because you use a lot of words to say the same thing: Aragorn is tired and concerned for the Ringbearer. In combination with the recap it becomes a bit too much.

Your writing-style in this first chapter is spot on for the kind of angst-story that focuses on the main person’s feelings and thoughts. Many here love that, and if you want to write in that style, just continue the way you do. I think, however, that you could develop your writing and make the story better if you work on some points that I think is a weakness in this style. Bear in mind that I tolerate this introvert, feeling-centered writing only in small doses before I get impatient so take that into consideration when you read my comments.

You keep repeating words like “weariness” and “exhausting” which do emphasize the exhaustion of Aragorn, but it also makes me think “I get the point, get on with the story”. Tolkien said it in one sentence: “When he could labor no more..” and needed no more words for it. You want to embellish on this, and that is fine, but you hamper too much on the weariness and then it loses its effect.

Reading the first part again I realize that what I have written is not exactly right either, I just have a hard time pinpointing what it is with this part that I think could be improved. I want to say that you should try to get more description and less thoughts/feelings and use the descriptions to convey his emotions, show them to us rather than tell us what he feels. You kind of do that but it does not quite work for me. Perhaps it is that your descriptions are a bit stock-in-trade. I would not call them clichés, but they are close; stumbling with weariness, blood-soaked fields, and corpses on the battle-field, to mention some examples. All these things are true and realistic, but therefore also typical and much used. It does not help us see Aragorn’s exhaustion with any vividness. Now if you want an example of what I mean by using descriptions to convey Aragorn’s emotions, I have posted a vignette where I do that with Éomer and you can look at that if you want (no, you don’t have to leave a review unless you _really_ want). I too have the stumbling, the blood and the corpses but I think I have managed to make it vivid anyway. You can find it in my profile.

One other thing is that you overuse the passive a little and that also contribute to the feeling of dragging. Again this is not much, so little that when I just look for examples, I don’t really find that many and it is not as if you can’t use passive ever. It is more a case of many small things that are not a problem separately, but together they create this slightly dragging feeling.

Good news is that this largely disappears when you come to the fight. You know more of this than most here and it shows in your writing even if you don’t try to show off your knowledge. Very good.

A few times in this part you try to give too much information and so lose some of the flow and urgency of the narrative. Most noticeable when Aragorn sees the fallen kinsman:

“He rushed in the direction, where the cries came from, and stumbled over a body. It was one of the sentries, his features twisted in horror… Aragorn spent no time by surveying the body, the features were hardly recognizable, but he knew the name of the man – Lenareth, one of the most trusted rangers, one of the only kin he had. He felt a light touch on his cheek that sent shivers through his body, like a wing of a nightmare.”

A bit too wordy. Try something like:

“He rushed to where the cries came from and stumbled over a body. It was one of the sentries, his features twisted in horror; Lenareth. A kinsman. One of the only ones he had. Aragorn felt a light touch on his cheek that sent shivers through his body, like [the] wing of a nightmare.”

Remember the maxim; less is more. We don’t need to have everything explained. Descriptions should be precise and vivid, but that is not the same as using a lot of words, only that you choose your words and what you describe with care. To include details in the descriptions is good, but only a few important ones.

In the scenes where you go more deeply into Aragorn’s mind, you can try to vary with some direct thoughts as well, this will break the slightly monotone voice of the narrator. The fourth last paragraph is a good place, when you bring in the image of the gate.

“The gate was cracking beneath the force, and he knew that the next blow would be the last. He couldn’t let the blow fall! He felt as though he was looking up from deep dark water that he was sinking in. But he didn’t give up, not yet! Desperately, he struggled to swim to the surface… and he did!”

Try something like:

“The gate was cracking beneath the force, and he knew that the next blow would be the last. *No! It can’t fall!* He was sinking into deep water, down, down into the dark. Above was the surface, too far away. *No! Not yet. I won’t give up yet!* Desperately, he struggled to swim to the surface…

He broke though. Once again he was aware(…)“

I suggest changing the “he did!” with the image of breaking though the surface of the water as that is a more vivid image. Also that you make the image more real by dropping the explanation that Aragorn felt like he sank. It is such a well-used image of losing consciousness that we get the point without it and it makes the image more vivid. You can also consider re-using it when he finally does at the end.

One canon-nitpick/question: why does not Andúril melt? Though it is only specifically stated that all blades that pierce the Witch-king is destroyed, it is implied that the same goes for all the Nazgûl. At Weather-top Aragorn uses only torches to chase off the wraiths and at the Ford they do the same. If blades could be of use, Aragorn and Glorfindel would have used them.

In addition: With all the emphasis you have put already on how tired Aragorn is the wraiths should be enough to overcome him even without the trauma inflicted in killing the first. Also it seems to detract from the deed of Merry and Éowyn in killing the Witch-king. Aragorn is high enough on the hero-scale as it is, you don’t need to give him more great deeds for us to know he is great and skilled and all that ;-)

Linguistic nitpick:

“Unable to take hold of the hilt any longer,” I think would make more sense to say: “Unable to hold on to the hilt” He has not lost it yet, has he? It might be that the way you said it is correct and it just sounds strange to me because I am not a native speaker and don’t know all the possible expressions, but it sounded to me as if he had to take hold of the hilt again, not that he was holding it and couldn’t any longer.

I think this is officially my longest review
lindahoyland chapter 14 . 6/26/2009
A moving end to a great story.I love the way you use poetic images and language. Excellent writing!
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