Akallabêth in August
This month, we focus on one of the most tumultuous times in Arda's history: the Second Age and the rise and fall of Númenor. But even as Númenor was the central player during these times, the whole of Arda was affected by the events that affected the prideful and unfortunates alike of this doomed island.
Any story that is or might conceivably be part of the Akallabêth is acceptable for this challenge. If it's been a while since you've read the tales of the Second Age of Arda, why not crack open this oft-neglected chapter and see if inspiration finds you? Here are a few plotbunnies that might find a home in this challenge:
- Elrond and especially Elros are important players in the Second Age, and they set the stage for Tolkien's later mythology as well. But behind these mythical figures are two brothers who made the choice to be parted in life and in fate. How did the brothers make their decision and deal with being parted? Did they see each other after Elros was established as the king of Númenor? What was this visit like?
- The Elves of Avallónë lost not only allies but also friends when the Númenoreans turned against the people of the west. Follow an Elf of Tol Eressëa as he or she strikes up friendship with the new neighbors, grows accustomed to losing friends to mortality, and then loses them for good when the kings of the House of Elros rebel against the west.
- Dare to step into uncomfortable shoes and ponder why the kings of Númenor chose the road that they did and followed Sauron. Ar-Pharazôn felt doubts as he moored off the coast of Aman, so it is likely that those who came before him also felt uncertainty along their treacherous road. Did they question the justice of what they were doing? Did they ever fear the retribution that they knew would come? What were the private thoughts and counsels of Arda's most wicked kings?
- What was Amandil's fate? The Silmarillion doesn't tell us what became of him or even if he was successful in his quest. Consider what might have happened: Did he make it to Aman? Speak to the Valar? Or was he lost along the way? Take your readers on a daring journey as one man dares to defy the gods to save his people.
All Good Beasts
While Elves and Men get a lot of attention in fanfiction, sometimes we neglect some The Silmarillion’s greatest supporting actors: animals! Whether a heroic beast like Huan, who slays the lord of werewolves and earns nearly as much screen time as his master Celegorm, Fingolfin’s great warhorse Rochallor, or someone’s unrecorded pet rabbit, animals have an important place in The Silmarillion and in the lives of its characters.
This month, write a story featuring an animal. Show how important a beloved animal is to a character or tell a story through the eyes of one.
Browse through a list of Middle Earth’s animals for inspiration.
And the Winner Is ...
The Silmarillion is full of characters at the peak of their physical and intellectual capabilities, characters both wise and wondrous. What happens when Middle-earth's top contenders face off against each other? This challenge asks writers to pit two characters against each other to see who wins. Characters can fight physically or match their wits or even magic. From epic clashes in the tradition of Fingolfin vs. Melkor or Finrod vs. Sauron to the more everyday struggles of who will win a game, an argument, or the hand of a loved one, we look forward to seeing who will be named a winner.
This month, we imagine our favorite characters as children. Whether silly, fluffy, playful, or profound, stories about characters' childhoods are a common fan fiction sub-genre.
What lessons learned in childhood shaped what a character would become? Characters like Túrin, Elwing, and Fëanor had canon childhood experiences that determined, in part, who they would become as adults. Other characters may have been children during major historical events; for example, Celebrimbor quite likely was a child during the Darkening of Valinor, the Kinslaying at Alqualondë, and the Noldorin exile. How did these events shape these characters' fates?
Or maybe you want something lighter: the time a character got punished for a bad deed or learned something fun about the world, the arrival of a new sibling, a character's first word ... the possibilities are endless! Let's look back to a time in history where much remained to be determined, when even the most tragic characters experienced the joy of discovery and innocence.
Another Place in Time
When we write about Silmarillion events, our stories often concern the time and place where the action primarily occurred. However, there is a broad world beyond--what was going on there, at the same moment in time?
This challenge asks authors to move beyond the places and times of familiar events to consider what was going on elsewhere in Arda at the same time as a major event covered in The Silmarillion. How--if at all--did the event impact what was transpiring elsewhere at the same time?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- We just finished Akallabêth in August last month, and most of the stories concern what was going on upon the isle of Númenor during the Second Age. But what about Middle-earth? Valinor? As Númenor tottered towards its fall, what was life like elsewhere in the world, and did these people have any notion that a major civilization was about to be wiped off of Arda?
- During the Darkening of Valinor and Melkor's escape back to Middle-earth, the Sindarin and Avarin Elves remained in darkness, as they had for centuries. But were they wholly oblivious of the destruction wrought an ocean away and of the changes about to come upon their own lands?
- It is said that the Valar shut their eyes and ears to the exiled Noldor in Middle-earth, but we have proof--the answers to Fingon's prayer to Manwë and Ulmo's numerous manifestations in Beleriand--that this was not always the case. What was life like in Aman after the Noldor left? What awareness--if any--did the Valar and the Elves that remained behind have of their loved ones in the Outer Lands?
All around the world--and on the Internet--on the first of April, people celebrate April Fools' Day by playing pranks on their friends, family, and associates. This lighter challenge asks you to write a story, poem, or vignette in which a character tricks or plays a prank on another. While this challenge may suggest itself to humor and parody, The Silmarillion is also full of more nefarious tricks played by characters such as Morgoth. Your piece can be as close to canon or as AU (alternate universe), as serious or silly as you'd like.
Through the imagination and the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, we have strolled the wide marble avenues of Tirion, welcomed the sun from the walls of Gondolin, and watched the ships of the Eldar moor in the habors of Andúnië. We have kept the company of heroes and kings and seen the great events of history unfold in majesty and splendor. But where the streets grow narrow and rugged, where the torchlight fails and the bright voices fade, what can you discover of the people of Middle-earth?
This challenge asks writers to take the dark back streets of one of Arda's cities, to explore an unsigned tavern or hovel, and to meet the people too insignificant or unsavory to make it into the history books. The piece you create for this challenge should touch on the lives of the ordinary folk; explore an issue like poverty or crime; or consider a subculture, counterculture, or underground in one of Arda's cities.
Around the Fire
"Tell me a story. Be my storyteller."
Be it midst of winter or summer, this is the time to gather around the fire together. Whether for warmth, companionship or simply to pass time, there is no better place to share stories together. This quarter, we are sharing stories at the fireside, and we invite you to request a story and/or write a request for someone else. If you'd like to request a story, you can do so here at our LiveJournal community (you do not need an account to participate). If you want to write a request, you do not need to sign up but simply leave a link to your story in the comment to that request once your story is finished. You are welcome to post your story to our archive or at our LiveJournal community. If you chose to post it somewhere else, please put up a valid link for the person who requested your story.
Back to Nature
Nature is ever-present in Tolkien's works, from the obvious interventions of Yavanna and Oromë to the untold struggles of a tribe of mortal Men journeying into Beleriand. Few are the characters who are not asked to interact with nature at some point over the course of The Silmarillion. This month's challenge asks you to consider conflicts with nature--both overt and symbolic--and characters' relationships with that which is natural in their world.
What are some struggles individuals and groups have with nature, with plants, animals, geography, or weather? What about those with a special relationship with natural forces? Consider the various locations upon Arda--for example, Valinor, Himring, Doriath: What symbols are present in the natural environments of these places that highlight the conflicts that take place there?
Beyond the Circles of Middle-earth
Many of Tolkien's characters in The Silmarillion are immortal, and a favorite approach to Silmarillion-based writing has been to imagine how those characters might have perceived different historical eras or events. This challenge takes a similar approach but asks you to imagine one of Tolkien's Silmarillion characters in one of the many fictional settings from our real-world literature. For example,
- What if Glorfindel were to return a third time to Middle-earth and found himself in Jane Austen's world?
- What if Aulë were one of the Sumerian gods? Would he help Gilgamesh in his quest for immortal life?
- Or maybe Makar and Meássë were adopted by the Norse pantheon after being removed from Tolkien's. How might the Ragnarök look with them in it?
- What if one of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves returned to life in Huxley's Brave New World?
But I Won't Do That
I would do anything for love,
I'd run right into Hell and back
I would do anything for love
I'd never lie to you and that's a fact ...
And I would do anything for love, but I won't do that
We've all been in Meatloaf's shoes. We've all insisted that, no matter how ardently we feel about a person or passion, that we draw the line at doing that.
This month, we ask you to consider what "that" is for your character: the one thing that she or he refuses to do, no matter what. And what happens when she or he ends up having to do it anyway?
Your story can be serious, perhaps involving the many wars, kinslayings, and other tragic events of The Silmarillion. Or it can be humorous: What one commission would the young artisan Nerdanel refuse (and what happens when it is offered to her at a price she can't refuse?) Sauron is all about repentance until Eönwë suggests--what exactly?? The key is to put you character into a tough spot and see how he or she extricates himself--or doesn't!
Canon with a Twist
Have you ever wondered, what if just one thing had been done differently in the canon? Maedhros had decided to hold off on meeting Morgoth? What if Oromë had taken a different road and hadn't discovered the Elves for another five centuries? What if Haleth had taken Caranthir's offer to stay in Thargelion? What would have changed?
This challenge asks you to think about just that. Choose a single moment in Tolkien's canon and have the character make a different choice. How does history change? Or how does fate fulfill itself? The response may be any length and format--poetry, drabble, or fiction--but should ask what might have happened if one thing had changed.
The Circle of Life
Although the circle of life is something that we all witness and experience, in Tolkien's world, the life spans of several races run a different course. From conception to death, the peoples of Middle-earth all take different courses. The elves are bound to Arda and will only perish once Arda ends. Men, on the other hand, are gifted with death and go beyond Arda. The fate of Dwarves is a fascinating one:
The Dwarves add that at that time Aulë gained them also this privilege that distinguished them from Elves and Men: that the spirit of each of the Fathers (such as Durin) should, at the end of the long span of life allotted to Dwarves, fall asleep, but then lie in a tomb of his own body, at rest, and there its weariness and any hurts that had befallen it should be amended. Then after long years he should arise and take up his kingship again.
-Tolkien, The Peoples of Middle-earth, page 383
We would like to challenge you to write a story that addresses the question of life, (im)mortality and reincarnation, or re-embodiment.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- What thoughts would Curufin and Telchar exchange over the matter of life? What would each reveal to the other?
- Have you ever imagined what life would be like once you go beyond Arda?
- What conversation would Tuor and Idril Celebrindal have regarding their future together?
- Orcs, balrogs, and other evil creatures: how would they view all aspects of life?
The Color of ...
Colors are often used in fiction as symbols or to achieve specific effectsor moods. This month's challenge asks you to write a piece of fiction that is built around a color or colors.
Naturally, there are a number of ways to approach this challenge. One could consider some of the colors specifically associated with events and characters in The Silmarillion:
And Fëanor made a secret forge, of which not even Melkor was aware; and there he tempered fell swords for himself and for his sons, and made tall helms with plumes of red.
-"Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor"
But as the host of Fingolfin marched into Mithrim the Sun rose flaming in the West; and Fingolfin unfurled his blue and silver banners, and blew his horns, and flowers sprang beneath his marching feet, and the ages of the stars were ended.
-"Of the Return of the Noldor"
There shining fountains played, and in the courts of Turgon stood images of the Trees of old, which Turgon himself wrought with elven-craft; and the Tree which he made of gold was named Glingal, and the Tree whose flowers he made of silver was named Belthil. But fairer than all the wonders of Gondolin was Idril, Turgon's daughter, she that was called Celebrindal, the Silver-foot, whose hair was as the gold of Laurelin before the coming of Melkor.
-"Of the Noldor in Beleriand"
Or color can take a more symbolic role, representing the banners, heraldry, and names (i.e., Green Elves) of various peoples and characters.
Here are some links that might provide ideas and inspiration:
Symbolism of Color. The various meanings that color takes in different cultures.
Color Meanings. How colors work together and create various emotional effects.
Symbolism of Heraldry. Colors and symbols, their use and meaning on coats of arms.
Heraldry of Arda. The emblems and heraldry that J.R.R. Tolkien designed for use in his world with explanations of their possible meanings.
Companies, Clubs, and Cliques
Tolkien's canon gives us many formal divisions among his characters: groups such as the Naugrim, Sindarin, and the Edain or family groups such as the Fëanorians. Through the Lambengolmor and the Gwaith i Mirdain, we also know that there were formal societies established around a shared interest in study and trade, while groups like the Aulendur suggest alliances existed along quasi-religious lines.
This challenge asks you to imagine what other character groupings might have existed beyond those we are provided in the texts. What other guilds and trade groups might have existed? Were there specialized or elite military companies? What about political, philosophical, and religious societies? Did characters join together in social clubs, or how did informal but powerful alliances in cliques shape the events of The Silmarillion? Your story can look at any aspect of a group--formal or informal--in Arda that Tolkien didn't identify or describe in his own writings.
Crime and Punishment
Throughout The Silmarillion, we see glimpses of justice, crime, and punishment in action. This challenge asks writers to tackle these topics head-on. Perhaps you want to write about a canonical incident that involves topics related to crime and justice: the imprisonment of Melkor, the exile of Fëanor, or the murder of Saeros. You could also approach the challenge by exploring how a group or culture handled crime and punishment. This challenge also begs for mystery fiction, in which characters investigate and solve a crime.
Choose a drabble or another work by an author that illustrates a single character's perspective. After seeking the original author's permission, write the same event--using all of the author's original conventions--from a different character's perspective.
The Duel of Songs
J.R.R. Tolkien was an avid poet, and poetry filled his stories, from his first tentative imaginings in The Book of Lost Tales to the songs we all know by heart from The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. As April is National Poetry Month, it seems fitting to spend the month looking at Tolkien's poems and those by other authors based on his works.
This month, we encourage our authors to try their hand at poetry based on Tolkien's works. Not sure where to begin? The WORDshop has links to pages about dozens of poetic forms. Try a triolet, a tritina, or a tanka. Make us laugh over limericks and sigh over sonnets! Or maybe you tend to skip the poems in the books (don't worry, a lot of us do!) and want a refresher course? PoemHunter.com has much of Tolkien's poetry in one spot.
And, of course, don't forget to check out the poems by our SWG authors here.
An Elf Falls into Modern-earth...
Many writers have done successful comedies and dramas based around the idea of Tolkien's characters arriving somehow in modern times. What if a character arrived somehow in the modern world? What might s/he think? Or perhaps the character has been here all along: Maglor, Daeron, or Celeborn, to name three examples. Whatever the means you use to get them here, this challenge asks you to experience modern life through the eyes of First-, Second-, and Third-Age Silmarillion characters.
The End is the Beginning
Stories often end with a bang: with an event of great importance, either happy or tragic. Birth, death, marriage, parting, the end of war, or the beginning of a new age ... all of these events might serve as a suitable ending to a story, and all of these events are prolific throughout The Silmarillion.
But, in Tolkien's larger Legendarium, The Silmarillion is but the first chapter. What serves as an ending in The Silmarillion--the departure of Galadriel and Celeborn from Doriath, the death of Fingolfin, the fall of Gondolin, Finarfin's return to Tirion--opens a new chapter elsewhere in Arda and, oftentimes, elsewhere in Tolkien's stories.
This month's challenge is to take the ending of a story and use it as a beginning. The ending you choose might begin a story that Tolkien himself considered, such as Elros's choice of mortality and the founding of Númenor. Or it might take you down roads less travelled. After Maglor tossed the Silmaril into the sea, where did he go and what did he do? When Idril and Tuor departed for Valinor, what did they find? After Sauron fled the judgment of the Valar at the end of the First Age, what did he do next?
The Exchange Student
If someone from our time were to be an exchange student somewhere in Middle-earth during the First Age, what would they learn and what would others learn from them? Or what if a student from some race, grouping or clan were sent to a different one for a cultural exchange? Would the student have ideas about what to expect that ended up differently? Would there be any cultural misunderstandings? Also, would the experience be different depending on who the student was because of their gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, personality, etc?
Create a piece written from the exchange student's perspective. The person in question doesn't necessarily have to come from our time, but it could also be a Belegost dwarf sent to Lake Helevorn to learn more about Noldorin traditions, or a Numenorean scholar spending time at the court of Gil-Galad in Lindon, to learn more about Elven cultures.
The Silmarillion is full of big, complicated families, and even though we don't often hear what happened within the bounds of such families, given the history recounted in the stories, the discussions and dilemmas must have often been profound.
This month, step inside of one of the families of The Silmarillion and tell their tale. The purpose of this challenge is to illustrate conflicts and relationships that occur within a family, from the simple to the profound. Whether it's a dinner gone disastrously wrong or a discussion that influences a family's choice to go to war, your challenge is to make your readers part of your characters' family, to laugh and lament right alongside them and to better understand the choices and history of their family.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- What arguments might have erupted between Bereg and his family--loyal followers of the House of Finarfin--when he decided that he no longer trusted and wished to follow the Eldar?
- How did the sons of Finarfin react to the birth of their little sister Galadriel?
- Journey across Ered Luin with Haldad's family: What experiences and conflicts did he and his children Haleth and Haldar face that made them so brave and loyal to each other?
- What was said during Elwë's last conversation with his brother Olwë before he disappeared into Nan Elmoth?
"Fanon" is a detail or idea invented by fans of a work that is expressed so prevalently in the community that many consider it to be factual or even think it came from the texts themselves. Fanon is celebrated by some, scorned by others, proudly flaunted, sheepishly followed, and denied outright, yet as members of the Tolkien fan-writing or -art communities, fanon touches us all and, whether we like it or not (or even know that we're doing it!), shapes our works as well.
For this challenge, we will take a fanon about which we feel passionately--whether "passion" be best defined as love or loathing--and turn that fanon on its head, writing something that goes against the fanon norm in fandom.
The first line of a story can be very important. It usually sets the tone or introduces you into a scene. With this challenge, we have made a list of story openers for you to use and to expand upon. If you take part in this challenge, your story must be written with one of the first lines provided below.
- This morning marks the anniversary, the anniversary of two people...
- Even now she could see the scar on her left hand she got on the day she finally escaped.
- After the door shuts and the footsteps die...
- Knowing they would be quick to jump to conclusions, she figured it would be best for him to hide under the bed.
- Tracing the outline of her face (or his) from a photograph...
- Collapsing under a canopy of green...
- Never one to back down from a fight, he smacked the hand away that was extended to him and smirked.
- Underneath the pile of clothes, dirt, and junk, there was a small, golden medallion that seemed to shine in importance.
- The stain will not come out...
- He kept asking me if I had forgiven her but I couldn’t even remember her face, let alone my own name.
- Jewels aren't for giving...
- Taking his shirt off, he looked over all his wounds, wondering if they were worth the price of getting the information.
- Images are blurred...
- Holding her necklace close to her chest, she finally looked up with determination and said, “No.”
- It's not the street I usually go down. But for some reason, that day I...
- Taking a moment to breathe, she turned around, smiled politely, but in her head she was plotting revenge.
- "I’ve got the ingredients," he exclaimed, "now I just need the innocent human to sacrifice and I’m all set!"
- I noticed you...
- Only time would tell, but he was pretty sure that letting go of her was the best possible decision.
Can't find a first line that inspires you? Try these first line generators for some more inspiration: First line Generator at Writingexercises.co.uk or Story Starters at Writingfix.com. If you make use of one of these generators, mention it in the story!
How might a character originating from and living in Valinor react to his or her first meeting with a character just arriving from Middle-earth?
The possibilities for this challenge are vast and encompass all of the ages and Tolkien's works. Perhaps the first to come to mind are those characters from the Third Age who travelled to Tol Eressëa at the end of The Lord of the Rings. However, this challenge also contains the possibility of working with characters well beyond these obvious examples. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Describe the first confrontation between a son of Fëanor and Gimli, knowing that Galadriel gave Gimli the gift of her hair that she'd denied Fëanor.
- Write how Aulë might react to this same situation, to meet one of the most influential of his Dwarves.
- Describe the thoughts of a Valinorean horsemaster upon his first acquaintance with Shadowfax.
- Develop a scene where Eärendil meets his grandsons Elladan and Elrohir for the first time.
- Describe the first conversation between Finarfin--who has never met a mortal man before--and Tuor. Or write about his first encounter with a hobbit.
Follow the Leader
The Silmarillion shows us many leaders who attain their status through different means and for different reasons. For this challenge, consider a leader in The Silmarillion and show a scene in which that character shows why he or she is a leader of his or her people.
She knows that the information she seeks is secret, forbidden. Great consequences may arise from this knowledge. Yet she opens the book, turns the page, and begins to read ...
This challenge asks you to consider knowledge that is forbidden or taboo. What sorts of information might have been hidden over the course of the history of Arda? Why might a character wish to discover this knowledge? And perhaps most importantly, what are the consequences when he does? There are a multitude of possibilities, but here are just a few to get you started.
- Knowledge about a certain craft is considered secret. Maybe it is the making of lembas by the Yavannildi or the secret behind the Silmarils or the Rings of Power. Your characters seeks, and finds, this information. What will she do with it?
- Or maybe it is a dark secret in the histories being hidden. A Noldorin child in Middle-earth first learns of the Kinslaying ... or a Noldorin child left behind in Aman first hears about his exiled kin. A descendant of Uldor learns of his relationship to the infamous traitor. An Avarin child discovers stories about the light of Aman, forsaken by his ancestors.
- What about culture and tradition? Essays such as "Laws and Customs among the Eldar" are fan favorites, but do they tell the whole story? What might have been hidden from the loremasters collecting this information? What are the real customs among different clans of Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Ainur? What notable exceptions to cultural mores may have been hidden throughout history to preserve the reputations of peoples and families?
- Or keep it simple! A child is due to receive a special gift and learns where it is hidden. Does she look? What does she find? Or a young adult discovers the privileges and pursuits allowed only to adults.
What will forbidden lore teach you?
The four elements--earth, fire, air, and water--are commonly used in fantasy stories, and Tolkien is no exception. Literally and symbolically, Tolkien's works are filled with mentions of the four elements. Beyond that, fan fiction writers often use this theme to connect ideas in meaningful ways.
This month's challenge asks you to write four pieces, each of the four centered around a different one of the four elements. You are welcome to be as ambitious as you'd like with this project, and entries ranging from four hundred-word drabbles to four full-length stories are all welcome. Or four poems, or four nonfiction pieces, each exploring a topic that can be tied back to one of the four elements.
The ideas are limitless, but here are some possibilities:
- Consider the races of Arda. How does each relate to the elements of Arda compared to the others? Why is this meaningful for that race? Each story could show a young citizen of one of four different races learning his or her relationship with the element most important to his or her people.
- Follow a group of people or a character and how each of the elements was important over the course of their history. How did early Men discover fire? What about the role of Water to the Quendi?
- Explore the meaning behind the fates of the Silmarils or the three Elven Rings of Power and how they relate to the different elements.
From Evil Comes Good
For many of our members, it will soon be spring, a time of growth and renewal. In The Silmarillion it is written that evil should constantly arise and, out of it, new good should constantly come. This challenge is to write something in which you demonstrate how something good came out of something evil. One example is Huan the hound of Celegorm, who leaves his murderous master in order to help Lúthien, or the Exile of the Noldor, which keeps Morgoth at bay and keeps Beleriand peaceful for many centuries.
A Gift of a Story
As the year draws to a close, many of our members have or are preparing to celebrate winter holidays of celebration and thanksgiving. 2007 is less than a month away, and we look back at another year of new experiences, new friends, and new stories. If you are at a loss for a new project for the month of December, then why not gift a story to a person who has helped and inspired you in the past year, based on his or her interests? Whether a beta-reader, reviewer, or just a good friend, drabbles, stories, and poems are a great way to show thanks and appreciation!
The Silmarillion is filled with characters going places, from the great and important journeys to the daily travels that must have occurred but live only in our imaginations. This month, we join our favorite characters on the road, to discover the actual and symbolic importance of journeys.
So where shall you go? Here are a few places to start:
- Follow the early Elves as they journey to start a new life in Valinor. What challenges did they encounter? What of those who turned away on the road? What were their hopes, dreams, and fears, and did the journey help the Elves to realize them? Or just the opposite?
- Follow a character on the road to visit a friend. Fingon visits Maedhros in Himring; Haleth visits Caranthir; Beren seeks Luthien: What motivates these characters to take to the road? Love? Friendship? Political gain? Take us on their journey, both on the road and in their thoughts.
- Many groups of people great and important journeys during the earliest days of Middle-earth, but we hear little about them. Men, Dwarves, Moriquendi...history was shaped by such travels. Take us along with either canon or original characters as the history of Middle-earth unfolds.
- Take the point of view of the proverbial bearer of bad news. What are the thoughts of an ordinary Elf or Man as he or she brings news of death or defeat?
Halls of Mystery
For much of the world, April is a time of rebirth. One of the most intriguing--and controversial--elements of Tolkien's mythology is his notion of Elven "immortality": that Elves who "die" spend a period of time in the Halls of Mandos before being reborn in new bodies. Different authors and researchers have interpretted and portrayed the Halls of Mandos in vastly different ways; indeed, a look back at the early drafts of the works that would become The Silmarillion shows that Tolkien also had conflicting ideas about the Halls of Mandos and the process of Elven rebirth. Early ideas presented in The Book of Lost Tales depict a hall that is "draped with dark vapours and its floors and columns were of jet" (while Nienna keeps a hall as well that is roofed with bats' wings!). Tolkien dabbled with the idea of Elves being reborn as the children of their children, being given new parents, or being remade into bodies like those they had inhabited in their first life.
So which is it? Perhaps the most reliable conclusion about the Halls of Mandos is that we know next to nothing about them at all!
This month's challenge offers you the chance to explore the place and ideas behind one of the most mysterious locations on Arda. Your story, poem, essay, or vignette should explore the Halls of Mandos or the ideas of Elven "death" and rebirth to take your readers on a journey through the surreal, inexplicable, or just plain weird.
In all of fiction but especially the fantasy genre, heroes are of the utmost importance. Our stories are filled with them: from those who take noble stands in great battles to those who make a quieter difference at home. Those with the strength to change the world for the better fill the greatest tales of truth and fantasy alike.
So, in honor of these people and characters, we dedicate this month's challenge to the study of heroes. And not just the sort to stand up to the Dark Lord alone--though Fingolfin is more than welcome too!--but all sorts of heroes: the unlikely, unsung, and accidental, those who have been forgotten or perhaps were never noticed at all, who made their worlds a better place.
A History of Tradition
This month, many around the world will celebrate Halloween, and groups throughout the Tolkien community will encourage writers to come up with something spooky in honor of it. Halloween--like many modern festivals and observances with roots in ancient celebrations--began in Ireland as the Celtic festival Samhain. Tolkien wrote his stories in hopes that they would represent a mythological history of our world, so, within his mythological framework, one can imagine that modern festivals stretch back even deeper into time than the Samhain festival that evolved into Halloween.
For this month's challenge, authors should choose a festival or tradition observed in the modern world and write a story that includes that festival or tradition as it might have been celebrated in Tolkien's mythological world. The holiday you choose may be as specific as Samhain or as general as a birthday celebration; it may be as serious as certain Christmas traditions or as silly as National One Hit Wonder Day (September 25). The holiday you write about may be part of Tolkien's canon--such as the Gates of Summer--or may be of your own invention.
Do you need to find a holiday? A complete listing of daily holidays can be found on Holidays on the Net. For more information on the history of popular holidays, check out History.com's History of the Holidays. The Thain's Book includes a referenced list of Middle-earth holidays if you'd like to explore some of the canonical festivities Tolkien imagined.
Holidays in Arda
July is the month where much of the world travels on holidays, seeking reprieve from their daily routine. Whether you will enjoy such an opportunity or not, this challenge asks you to take a mental reprieve by visiting your favorite place on Arda for a fictional "holiday."
The aim of this challenge is to set a story in a place that you would like to visit, whether a city, region, island, or body of water. Through the eyes of your character(s), take your readers to your haven and show why it appeals to you, whether visiting for the first time or returning as an old friend.
If you are fortunate enough to be one of the millions who will be traveling away from home this July, don't forget to take the opportunity to learn from your new surroundings. Places unfamiliar to us--whether seashores, mountains, or bustling cities--can inspire stories or hone our descriptions when we visit similar places in our tales. Perhaps shape your experiences to Middle-earth and use them to write this challenge.
Hot Summer, Hot Stories
As much of the world experiences one of the hottest summers in history, we turn up the heat in our stories for this challenge. Whether the literal heat of Glorfindel's battle with the Balrog or the figurative heat of Nerdanel and Fëanor's steamy romance, this challenge asks you to create a story worthy of the most sweltering summer!
There are several mentions of memorials throughout The Silmarillion, and there are countless additional places where some kind of memorial is possible, even likely. Gondolin is built as a memorial of Tirion, the White Tree is a memorial of the “light of Valinor”, and the remains of the Two Trees stand in Valinor as a tribute.
This month, we ask authors to consider memorials. What might an Edain soldier do to honor a fallen friend or family member? What sort of tribute might stand in Alqualondë in memory or reminder of the Kinslaying? How were these memorials decided upon? Alternatively, tell us more about one of the tributes already mentioned specifically in The Silmarillion. What made Turgon decide to create Gondolin in Tirion’s likeness when his cousins did no such thing? Did Thingol indeed remember Húrin of Dor-lómin when he wore the Nauglamír? Songs, statues, ceremonies...the options are limitless. Pick an existing memorial, adapt a modern (or not so modern!) one, or create your own!
As a group predominantly peopled by writers and artists, we understand as well as any the power of inspiration. This month's challenge turns to consider inspiration.
Your characters inspire you--but what inspires them? For this month's challenge, we ask our writers to consider what inspires their characters to act and create. The Silmarillion is full of creative geniuses and heroes alike. What drove them to the deeds that shaped the history of the early ages of Arda? Perhaps it was a person: a spouse, a sibling, a teacher. Or maybe it was an event that allowed them to realize their potential to influence the course of history. Or maybe it was something darker: jealousy, lust, or a desire for power.
The story might consider the moment of inspiration, or it might consider the repercussions of the actions or creation inspired. Are you looking for ideas? The Silmarillion is full of artists; what inspired the greatest (or even unknown!) creations of people like Celebrimbor, Daeron, Fëanor, Aulë, Sauron, Varda, and Nerdanel? What inspired characters like Beleg, Morwen, Húrin, and Glorfindel to the heroic actions that they took? What inspired the unique outlooks of characters like Melkor, Thingol, Túrin, and Finarfin to the rather unique outlooks they had when compared to the rest of their people?
The possibilities are boundless so, in the end, what inspires you?
The Silmarillion explores the early histories of Arda's people, a time when they would have necessarily been forming the technologies that would later aid them in building their civilizations. From the mundane to the complex, Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Ainur (and any other races that you wish to consider) would have been busy with invention.
This month's challenge asks authors to consider an item or technology and to describe its invention by the people of Arda. The invention may be simple or complex. How did the Eldar invent the dinner fork? Or when did the Edain first make use of agriculture? What about the palantíri, galvorn, limpë or any other of the myriad imaginary technologies we encounter in Tolkien's stories? Stories may be serious or humorous, based in canon or speculation as far as your imagination can wander.
It's All in the Numbers
Now that we all have entered the New Year and have to get used to writing 2012, we would love to issue a challenge regarding numbers. Numbers are all around us--be it in math, counting how much you have, or how many are surrounding you--numbers are a significant part of our lives. Numbers have a rich and diverse history in our own world: They have been used for many centuries, and ancient civilations had their own numbering systems.
Now take a step back and think about numbers in the world of Tolkien. From where did numbers in Arda originate? Who of the Elves might have come up with it? Did the Valar teach them or did they come up with a system in Cuiviénen? How about Men and Dwarves--from who did they gain this particular knowledge? Who of the Valar would have sung numbers into the Music of the Ainur?
You might also explore how an individual character would deal with numbers. Is she or he good at it, or who taught her to use numbers, or how important are numbers in his life?
Let’s bring a little magic into our fanfic! So many of our stories are written very realistically, as if the events are taking place in the present day. However, Tolkien's stories do include magical elements, from the Silmarils to the duel between Finrod and Morgoth to the magical cottage in The Cottage of Lost Play from the Book of Lost Tales I. Other aspects of daily life for the citizens of Middle-earth--Elven "mind-speak," for example--seem magical to us, in the modern world.
This challenge asks authors to incorporate elements of fantasy or magic into a story. Whether "canon magic" or that of your own imagining, let's break our grip on reality and see how well we can transport an audience to a distant and truly magical place.
Lembas has always had a special place in Tolkien's mythology and in the stories written by fans of his world. Often, lembas is used as a detail to make a story sound more authentic, but looking at Pengolodh's short essay "Of Lembas," from The History of Middle-earth, Volume Twelve: The Peoples of Middle-earth, this item is also worthy of starring in its own story.
This month, we offer a challenge to write a story about how lembas is cultivated, made, or used. "Of Lembas" might be a good start, but the following passages might inspire those without access to the essay:
- "The Eldar say that they first received this food from the Valar in the beginning of their days in the Great Journey. For it was made of a kind of corn which Yavanna brought forth in the fields of Aman, and some she sent to them by the hand of Oromë for their succour upon the long march." Lembas is said to give strength to those making long journeys or those who are injured. For this reason, an early form of the word lembas can be translated as meaning "journey bread." Consider it's use in journeys: How might a journey have succeeded or failed because of this rare food?
- "If it was sown at any season, save in frost, it soon sprouted and grew swiftly, though it did not thrive in the shadow of plants of Middle-earth and would not endure winds that came out of the North while Morgoth dwelt there ... The Eldar grew it in guarded lands and sunlit glades ..." Growing lembas is done carefully and in secret, for this special gift also holds a dark power.
- "For it is said that, if mortals eat often of this bread, they become weary of their mortality, desiring to abide among the Elves, and longing for the fields of Aman, to which they cannot come." Lembas is given to mortals only in special circumstances. Túrin uniquely received such a gift from Melian, and lembas is given by Galadriel to the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings. How might these characters--the givers and the recipients--have chosen to use lembas, and how might mortal characters have been changed by their taste of it?
- "From the ear to the wafer none were permitted to handle this grain, save those elven-women who were called Yavannildi ... the maidens of Yavanna; and the art of the making of the lembas, which they learned of the Valar, was a secret among them, and so ever has remained." Consider the calling, training, and life of one of the Yavannnildi, how her special trade might have served--or been abused--by the people of Middle-earth.
Just Say It with a Gift!
In Tolkien’s legendarium there is a lot of gifting happening, including in The Silmarillion. The gift-giving in The Silmarillion does not always have a generosity behind it. Take Sauron, for example, who named himself Annatar, the Lord of Gifts. Then there is Ilúvatar himself who bestowed gifts on the Ainur, who at their turn bestowed gifts upon the Elves. There are gifts of freedom which is bestowed on the Secondborn or gifts as atonement, such as when Maedhros gifted horses to Fingolfin. Weapons appear to be a much-gifted item as well.
We would like to challenge you to write about gift-giving (be it material or immaterial) by your characters or perhaps to write about traditions of gift-giving amongst the people who lived during the ages represented in The Silmarillion. What motive would they have to bestow this on others? What would they consider the greatest gift they ever received or which one disappointed them the most?
A Lesson Learned
This month, as students in many parts of the world head back to class, shops advertise their back-to-school sales, and many new university students (and their parents!) adjust to their new lifestyle, education is on the forefront of the minds of many! In keeping with this idea, this month's challenge deals with lessons learned.
Write a story, drabble, or poem that features a character learning something new. The character could learn something very tangible--like forging, the alphabet, or how to tie his or her shoes--or a "life lesson": the meaning of love, friendship, betrayal, or any number of others.
Some writers might find it interesting to explore what sorts of education systems--if any--existed in the different cultures of Middle-earth. Many times, Silmarillion-based stories features apprentices or formal schooling. Do you think that this is probable for a specific culture? Other authors might enjoy imagining how different cultures and races interacted and subsequently learned from each other. Were the Edain literate before they met the Elves? What did the Elves teach them of art and war? What might Eöl, Maeglin, and the Gwaith-i-Mirdain have learned from the Dwarves and vice versa? Or what did the Valar teach the Elves when they first arrived in Aman?
Let the Games Begin!
As fall begins, many of us return to school grind, filling our days with classes, homework, and tedium. So in the midst of that return to seriousness, let's take a moment for some fun and play games! Write about a game your favorite characters used to play as children, or the contests that may have been held at festivals. Or if you're feeling at little mischeivous, write about the games your favorite characters might have invented to enliven a good bottle of spirits. It doesn't matter how simple or complex, as long as the games begin! As always, use any style (drabble, poem, novel, etc)!
The Living Land
"Most of the trees are just trees, of course; but many are half awake. Some are quite wide awake ..."
~Treebeard, The Two Towers
One of the most attractive aspects of Tolkien's Middle-earth is its realistic geography, with its descriptions that bring names on a map to vivid life for readers. Many of the memorable places in Middle-earth literally or figuratively come to life, becoming almost characters themselves. This challenge asks writers to choose a place in Middle-earth that is particularly evocative and write a story where that location itself acts as a character, interacting with and shaping the lives of the people who live in or pass through its boundaries.
Your character is going through paperwork, an old trunk, or the dusty shelves in an forgotten part of the library when she or he discovers a letter from someone no longer present. What does the letter say? What does your character do (or not do) as a result of it?
Love Conquers All
So the old saying goes: "Love conquers all?" Does it? Can love overcome the death of a loved one? The trauma of war? The pain of exile?
In this challenge, show how one character helps another to overcome a difficulty in his or her life through love and romance. At least one of the characters must be a canon character, but the pairing may also involve an original character or may be AU (alternate universe). It may be slash or het, and any rating is acceptable. The difficulty faced may be from the canon, implied by the canon, or may be AU.
Here are a few examples:
- After the death of Finwë's wife Miriel, how did Indis help him to cope with this? Along the same lines but with more of an AU slant, how might a lover have helped Turgon to recover from the loss of his wife while crossing the Helcaraxë?
- How might the love between a husband and wife help them cope with the difficulty of raising their first child?
- How did Fingon help Maedhros to recover his strength and pride after being rescued from Thangorodrim? Or, alternatively, how did an original female character do the same?
In honor of Finarfin Appreciation Month, this month's challenge asks you to consider nonviolent conflict. Can you create tension and conflict without drawing swords? Many of the key turning points of The Silmarillion take place off of the battlefield, in meetings and councils, between individuals and groups, but few are the instances where we are allowed to see and hear what actually transpired. So let us wander there: to the soaring halls of Valinor or the hovels of the Edain, where decisions that would change the history of Middle-earth were made. Entries may be any length and involve any characters; the goal is to create tension and conflict without resorting to overt action.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- We all know that Caranthir caused a stir with the sons of Finarfin during the Noldorin council about Thingol, earning the chastisement of Maedhros, and we are granted the chance to see part of this. But what of the rest? What might have led up to Caranthir's reaction, and how might Maedhros have later dealt with it?
- To draw from the material in HoMe, how might the councils between the Valar and between Finwë and the Valar have gone, regarding Finwë's remarriage? To take an AU approach, assume Fëanor's involvement: What might he have said? Or, if you take the approach that Fëanor was an adult when Miriel died, what transpired that he did not go at all?
- How was the decision made by the Valar to re-embody one of the deceased Elves? How might it have progressed in certain individual cases, for example, Finrod? Or Glorfindel?
- Journey to darker places, to the secret meetings between Morgoth and the Men of Ulfang, when they plotted their treachery in Nirnaeth Anoediad. How were they convinced? What might have been the thoughts of their wives? Sisters?
The Nature of Fear
The month of October, for many, is a time for celebrating that which is supernatural, misunderstood, or fearful. In Tolkien's universe, people and places are often scary. From Ered Gorgoroth to characters like Sauron and Gothmog, there is plenty that is dark and spooky in Tolkien's world!
This month's challenge asks you to write a story that explores fear in some way. Whether you try to scare your readers with a horror story or show how a character perceives and reacts to fear, your goal is to gain a greater understanding of this powerful emotion through your writing.
Here are some examples of stories that might fit this challenge:
- A character is forced to journey to or through one of the darker regions of Arda: Angband, Avathar, or the Temple of Armenelos. What challenges does she or he face, both physical and psychological? How might such a journey change the character?
- Explore some of the supernatural elements of The Silmarillion: the terror of Ered Gorgoroth, the debilitating power of Melkor's gaze in the depths of Angband, or what it means to use mind-speak or undergo re-embodiment in the Halls of Mandos.
- Plenty of stories in The Silmarillion are scary with few or no supernatural elements at all: the Darkening of Valinor, the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, or Sauron's control of Númenor.
- Tell a spooky legend or story that might have been part of your character's heritage or culture. How did the early Elves explain the disappearance of those captured by Melkor? How did the Edain perceive Melkor's influence in the world? What myths and beliefs surround death and afterlife?
New Beginnings (October 2006)
Most of our members are welcoming the autumn season and preparing for the cold months ahead, and it is easy to forget that for a good part of the world--and several of our members--the spring is warming toward summer.
Whether you are feeling chilly at the thought of winter ahead or eagerly welcoming spring, this challenge asks you to write a story or poem celebrating new beginnings. Birth, marriage, first love, a journey to a new home, or the rebirth of hope following success in battle--all of these and more will satisfy this challenge!
New beginnings (October 2015)
In the Silmarillion many people migrate from one part of Middle-earth to another. It almost seems that there is always a group on the move, from Elves to even Hobbits and they all migrate to start a better life or to follow a promise or a dream. What would their journey have been like? How would they have been welcomed by the natives of the lands where they settled? How would these folk have coped with the influx of different people?
We challenge you to explore these big events, from whatever angle you wish to approach them: from the adventurous perspective to a social economical perspective. Just see where this journey takes you.
Most Silmarillion stories tend to focus on Elves, Men, and the Ainur, despite the fact that Middle-earth was a racially diverse realm. This month, in honor of one of these races--and the writers who love them--we ask our members to consider one of the most neglected races in Tolkien fan fiction: the Petty-Dwarves.
The Silmarillion says of the Petty-Dwarves,
Before the Dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost came west over the mountains the Elves of Beleriand knew not what these others were, and they hunted them, and slew them; but afterwards they let them alone, and they were called Noegyth Nibin, the Petty-Dwarves, in the Sindarin tongue. They loved none but themselves, and if they feared and hated the Orcs, they hated the Eldar no less, and the Exiles most of all; for the Noldor, they said, had stolen their lands and their homes.
"Of Túrin Turambar"
And we learned more about these mysterious creatures with the recent publication of The Children of Húrin.
This month's challenge asks writers to consider the Petty-Dwarves. We know very little about them, so authors who take this challenge will have a lot of freedom to invent and create. Here's some possible story ideas that would satisfy this challenge:
- Mîm has two sons ... but what about their mother? Was Mîm married? What happened to her? What about love and courtship among the Petty-Dwarves?
- "In the time that followed Túrin spoke much with Mîm, and sitting with him alone he listened to his lore and the tale of his life." (From The Silmarillion, "Of Túrin Turambar") Tell one of these tales that Túrin learned from Mîm.
- Write about a member of your favorite race or your favorite character encountering a Petty-Dwarf for the first time. Finrod hears a tale about the original artificers of Nargothrond, Celegorm discovers that his quarry was a Petty-Dwarf, or one of Túrin's men kills Khîm.
Of All That Remains
Many characters in The Silmarillion leave behind their childhood to face daunting challenges and endless journeys. What is left in them of their childhood innocence? What would they remember? Would they cherish these memories of the past or would they rather forget it? This challenge is to write about a childhood memory of a character. Let him or her relive that memory in their heads, and write about as much as they can recall. Your work can cover the following things:
- Who was with your character and what was the weather like, was it cool and dry in the mornings, or hot and humid?
- Where did this memory take place was it at home or elsewhere? Was it in the cities or under the dark skies at Cuiviénen?
- How does this memory affect your character today?
- Why is this memory a favourite or otherwise why would they rather forget?
Of Stories Left Untold
A story must be told or there'll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving.
Letter to his son Christopher (30 January 1945) - in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), p. 110
In The Silmarillion, many things get a slight mention but are never properly explored. We challenge you to create a gap-filler where you explore an event, a character, or perhaps an item that The Silmarillion makes clear must have existed but where the full story is never told. Think about an adult character's childhood, for example, or how a famous weapon or treasure came into the hands that won it renown. All art forms are welcomed.
It has been said to me, though the truth I know not, that that lane ran by devious routes to the homes of Men, but that way we never trod when we fared thither ourselves. It was a lane of deep banks and great overhanging hedges, beyond which stood many tall trees wherein a perpetual whisper seemed to live; but not seldom great glow-worms crept about its grassy borders ... These too were the earliest children -- the children of the fathers of the fathers of Men that came there; and for pity the Eldar sought to guide all who came down that lane into the cottage and the garden, lest they strayed into Kôr and became enamoured of the glory of Valinor; for then would they either stay there for ever, and great grief fall ontheir parents, or would they wander back and long for ever vainly, and become strange and wild among the children of Men.
Early in Tolkien's mythology, in The Cottage of Lost Play from The Book of Lost Tales 1, he tells of an extraordinary road that leads from the homes of Men to Tol Eresseä. Along this road, the children of Men travel in their dreams and visit the Elves and a wondrous world beyond their own borders. While the idea of Olórë Mallë--or the Path of Dreams--was quickly abandoned, dreams remained important throughout Tolkien's works. Through dreams, Melian receives word of what transpires in Valinor. Finrod and Turgon are moved to establish their respective hidden kingdoms because of Ulmo's voice in their dreams. Thingol receives hints of Beren's arrival and Beren receives portents of his father's death in the strange world of dreams. Eärendil turns his ship back to Beleriand because of a dark dream.
This challenge asks authors to consider their characters' dreams. What dreams haunted the Noldor, Edain, and Dwarves on the night before the Nirnaeth Arnoediad? What dreams of her child might have caused a mother to name him as she did? What silly, hopeful dreams drove a character in his youth? Any story, poem, or drabble about dreams will do. This month, we invite our members and guests to step upon Olórë Mallë and consider where it leads.
One True Love (For Adult Authors)
Many of us are guilty of it: that one pairing that captures our fantasies, the love story that Tolkien never wrote...but we just know it should have been. It torments our thoughts, expresses itself in awkward behavior in our otherwise well-behaved characters, and many times, goes unwritten for shame. It is wholly unjustified by the canon or is just too weird. Maybe the characters lived too far apart in time or geography to be brought together; maybe their differences were insurmountable to friendship much less romance. The characters might be different races, different species, or the same gender.
But for this challenge, we want you to forget all of your qualms, cast aside your inhibitions, and write your one true pairing.
No matter how odd, no matter how wrong it feels, share in a story why this pairing captivates you. Whether it is an AU (alternate universe) pairing as common as Maedhros and Fingon or as strange as Galadriel and Aulë (or even stranger!), your goal for this challenge is to build a story around the premise of love between two characters that we never see in Tolkien's canon. Het or slash is acceptable, but both characters in the pairing must be canon characters (although only one needs to be from The Silmarillion) and the story should be more than just a raucous love scene. Create characters and build a story that convinces your readers that these characters belong together, and use love scenes to advance your plot and characterization.
“Greater as is the skill of the Quendi to mould things to their will and delight, and to overcome the chances of Ea, yet they are not as the Valar, and with regard to the might of the World and its fate, they are but weak and small. Therefore to them also severance is severance, and friends and kin far away are far away."
-HoMe 12, "Dangweth Pengolod"
J.R.R. Tolkien largely invented Arda as a place to experiment with his invented languages, and therefore, the movement of different peoples often results in a change in the way that they speak. In "Dangweth Pengolod," Pengolodh explains to the Anglo-Saxon explorer Ælfwine how the sundering and change of the speech of the Eldar occured.
However, from the modes of linguistic change come some of Tolkien's most poignant stories of families and loved ones parted. This challenge asks authors to consider the separation of friends and families across the history of Arda, whether by canonical events, such as Elves lost on the Great Journey or separated by exile, or through the normal courses of life: marriage, estrangement, birth, and death.
The Plot Thickens ...
There saw I how the secret felon wrought,
And treason labouring in the traitor’s thought,
And midwife Time the ripened plot to murder brought.
In shadows, in secret spaces, people lean close with their heads together and plot ...
Plot what? This challenge asks writers to consider characters in the act of plotting something. Plotting often calls first to mind conspiracy and overthrow, but characters could just as easily plot something good: a surprise for a loved one, a marriage proposal, a wondrous invention. Or, take the meta angle and consider the plotting of stories and epics by historians and writers.
I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.
Promises Made / Promises Broken
Throughout the history of the Fëanorians, their best attempts at thwarting Morgoth and restoring peace were ruined by their oath. The Silmarillion includes many examples of characters that were made--and broken--by promises kept and foresworn. This month, in honor of the Fëanorians, we consider the weight of promises on the lives and fates of our favorite characters.
This challenge asks authors to write a story focusing on a promise. The promise may have the epic weight of the Fëanorians' oath or may be as light--and seemingly insignificant--as an absent-minded husband's promise to be home on time. The story should look at how the promise shapes the character's outlook and behavior and the challenges that she or he faces in keeping it ... or breaking it.
"To know a people's popular proverbs ... is to begin to know that people."
~Morton W. Bloomfield and Charles Dunn, The Role of the Poet in Early Society
Many of the cultures that Tolkien studied as an academic are known for their gnomic writings and especially their use of proverbs. Not surprisingly, his own writings are filled with sayings often interpreted as proverbs. Your task for this challenge is to do what scholars Bloomfield and Dunn suggest: Begin with a proverb and then write about what it shows about the people who preserved it. If you need some ideas, you can find thousands of proverbs from Tolkien's books on @TolkienProverbs!
Any story inspired by a possible proverb from Tolkien's books is acceptable for this challenge. You might show how proverbial wisdom inspires a young person to make a particular choice. Perhaps you'd rather explore the origins of the proverb: the person or event that inspired it. You might show a culture at a moment where they decide to continue following the wisdom of a particular proverb or to abandon it. Many are the proverbs and approaches that could offer inspiration for this challenge!
On Modern-earth, in many parts of the world, February is Black History Month, a reminder of how justice is often wrested and seized from the powerful through the courage and sacrifices of the oppressed.
The early ages of Arda are likewise defined by revolution. Ossë's rebellion against Ulmo. The return of the Noldor to Middle-earth. Barahir's outlaws. The Kings' Men and the Elf-friends of Númenor. Into the Third Age, the Gondorians rebelled against the cruel usurpation of Castamir. Then of course there are the individual revolutionaries of Arda: Fëanor, Andreth, Aredhel, Isildur, Ar-Pharazon. (And who could forget the ur-revolutionary Melkor?) Between the lines, many fans read resistance against dominating--even colonialist--cultures by the unsung peoples and heroes of Middle-earth.
For this month's challenge, participants will receive a quotation, artwork, speech, or song concerned with protest and revolution. Your final piece does not have to include a revolution or concern revolution in any way, but you should use some aspect of your prompt in the final story. While not required, participants are encouraged to include characters of color or from underrepresented cultural groups.
Writers, comment on our LiveJournal or Dreamwidth, send our tumblr an ask, or email us to receive your prompt. Please specify if you have a preference for the format of your prompt (song, speech, art, or quotation).
If you want to create a fanwork other than fiction, your challenge is to create a piece of protest art in any format that you choose.
Season of Change
As fall--or spring for those on the Southern Hemisphere--approaches and heralds another change in the season, this challenge is all about the seasons and how Tolkien’s world responds to them. As the writer, you can approach this from many angles. Here are some examples:
- How would an exile from Aman respond to the seasons of Middle-earth? What has changed for him or her?
- There are seasons in our lives -- how would one of the Edain react to this, knowing it does not have immortality?
- With seasons often come celebrations. Write one about (or several) celebrations in Tolkien’s world.
- What season is your favourite and what would inspire your character to tell a story about it?
The sea is an important part of Tolkien's mythology, and changes are often signaled by sea voyages. For example, the fates of the Eldar changed when they sailed to Aman and again when Fëanor brought them back. Eärendil saved the people of Middle-earth from Morgoth, and it began with a sea journey; the defeat of Sauron began with the escape of Elendil and his sons by sea. Numerous also are the people who lived by the sea and, presumably, made sea journeys a part of their daily lives: the Teleri of Aman, the Elves of the Havens, and the Númenoreans name just three.
This month's challenge asks authors to create stories centered on or including sea voyages, whether one of the important journeys that shaped the fate of Arda or an everyday foray along the coast.
Because the month of June falls partly under the sign of Gemini, this lighter challenge poses an AU question: If you could "fall" into Middle-earth, who would you choose as your sibling? Write an AU story where an original character--you!--tries to influence his or her canon sibling in some way or in which you choose a sibling to influence you. For example:
- You choose to be a younger sister of Celegorm because you want to learn to speak the languages of the beasts.
- You chose Fingon to be your brother because you're always getting into bad situations like being caught in a giant spider's web, and you think he can get you out of them.
- You chose Maeglin as your brother because you think you can save him from his own dark soul.
The Soft Underbelly
It is said that all dragons have a weakness despite their huge size and heavily armored skin. It is their soft underbelly, which in Glaurung’s case, was vulnerable to the sword of Túrin.
The Silmarillion is often thought to be such great fodder for stories because its characters are flawed and possess obvious weaknesses. This challenge asks authors to explore a weakness of any of Tolkien’s characters in The Silmarillion and show how that character was felled by this innate frailty of his or hers. For example, King Thingol of Doriath was obsessed with the Silmarils of Fëanor, and eventually, they caused his death. Likewise, Celegorm’s quickness to anger contributed to his becoming the first of Fëanor’s sons to die.
Songs of Arda
Music is important in The Silmarillion. It is the force behind the creation of Arda and is central to many of the most important myths, from the creation of the Two Trees to the story of Beren and Lúthien. Exceptional musical talents are central to many of the characters of The Silmarillion, and songs such as the "Noldolantë" capture history, yet are never written for us to read.
This month's challenge asks authors to look at the role of music and songs in Arda. Stories and poems should focus on music, whether the casual influence of music in daily life or on a specific song on instance where music was used. Here are a few examples:
- There are several instances where music and "magic" are connected: the song of Lúthien when claiming the Silmaril from Melkor and Yavanna's song when creating the Two Trees, to name two. In what other instances might music have been used to create and change the course of history?
- History was often put into song, as in the Lays of Beleriand or the "Noldolantë." Write a poem about a historical event in The Silmarillion. (Remember that poetry is just as welcome here as stories and essays!)
- How did a character first discover his talent for music? Learn to play the harp? What important events in her life--weddings, festivals, first meetings, et cetera--were accompanied by music?
'Each of us has been designed for one of two immortal functions, as either a storyteller or as a cross-legged listener to tales of wonder, love and daring. When we cease to tell or listen, then we no longer exist as a people. Dead men tell no tales.'
-- Bryce Courtenay
We have all come across them: storytellers. You know the kind. You're at a party, bored out of your mind ... until Uncle Saul walks in. Before you know it, you are engrossed in another of his wild and crazy stories.
Storytelling is an interactive art, using words and actions to bring a story to life while encouraging the listener’s imagination. In many cultures, storytelling is much more than entertainment: it is a way to pass on history and cultural traditions. Even in modern times, storytellers still hold a special rank amongst their people, from Naghāls to Bards.
This challenge is all about storytellers in the Silmarillion tapestry: maybe someone like Finrod Felagund enchanting men or long-lost elves who can treat passersby to songs and tales of old? What epic do they pass on and to whom? How does the crowd interact with the speaker and help him or her to embellish the tale? What is their way of life? What status do they have within their community? Are they a wiseman of the Edain or a wanderer hoping to earn some coin on the road? What drives them and what have they experienced?
It is up to you to tell their tale.
Strangers in Strange Lands
Your character arrives for the first time in a new place. Maybe he journeyed there with a purpose, or maybe she ended up there by accident. What does she perceive? What new experiences and conflicts will he have? This month's challenge asks you to bring a character to a new, strange place for the first time and to develop a story around his or her experiences there.
Part of the challenge involves painting a realistic picture of a place or civilization for your readers. How well can you make your readers see the stolid bleakness of Himring? Or feel the enchantment of Doriath? Fear the shadows of Angband or be overwhelmed with the grand halls of Nogrod?
And within each of these places are strange new cultures, possibly contrary or hostile to what your character is accustomed. From here, your conflict may arise, as characters try to barter, entreat, and win love in foreign lands, facing the same barriers of language and custom that plague the modern world. Or, possibly, the conflict is more of a physical nature: an Easterling battles the cold of northern Beleriand or a new captive in Angband learns to navigate the complex prison society of her new home.
The character you choose for this challenge may be original or canon. The conflicts the character faces may be profound or petty. Such a challenge can be shaped into any genre: horror, romance, adventure, or humor, to name a few examples.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- A young messenger from Himring arrives in Doriath, bearing word from the Sons of Fëanor that they will attack if Dior does not return to them the Silmaril.
- Oromë, arriving for the first time at Cuivienen, must convince the Elves to follow him to Valinor.
- Dwarves passing along the Dwarf Road become waylaid by a storm into a Noldorin city, where they experience for the first time the hostility of those who share their lands.
- Aredhel is a well-bred lady of the Noldor, but on her first night in Nan Elmoth, she finds herself perplexed by the customs of her Avarin host.
- The Valar have seiged Utumno. Manwë steps into his brother's dungeons for the first time.
Strength and Beauty
For this month's challenge, create a fanwork about the following prompt. You may use any part or all of the quote.
"Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony,
but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful,
strength has much to do with the magic."
~Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Choose a female character from The Silmarillion or related texts. It could be someone like Galadriel, one of the Valar, or someone barely mentioned, such as Nerdanel or Elenwë. Write a story--any length--about this character, developing a strong personality for her. Her strengths could lie in many different areas: Perhaps the woman would be a good mother, perform an act of heroism, or be a healer or a teacher, but she must contribute something of value.
Tolkien is often criticized for the lack of strong female characters in his work. In doing my research for this challenge, I found my way to a lot of discussion forums, where the dominant opinion was that The Silmarillion not only incorporates more female characters than Tolkien's other works but that they more often serve in strong or influential roles than the women of LotR. The stories of Middle-earth would be vastly different without characters like Varda, Galadriel, Haleth, and Lúthien Tinúviel.
Nonetheless, there are still many women who recieve only glancing acknowledgment or appear only as "footnote" characters--regardless, their influence on their husbands, children, and the world around them is undeniable.
This challenge allows both for the development of strict canon characters within the confines of Tolkien's world or for those more AU-inclined to create wholly new characters from those women whose canon role extends little beyond being the wife or mother of someone more important.
Still at a loss? Consider the vast number of women who appear in The Silmarillion and it affiliated works. Or maybe your feeling like taking on a truly challenging challenge, writing a character you've never tried before? Choose at random one of the women from a list of canon female characters, give her a significant role, and bring her to life on the page.
All cultures have behaviors that are forbidden. And frankly, our beloved Silmarillion characters get up to quite a lot of them.
This month's theme is Taboo and features a bingo card for participants to self-select a prompt or prompts to inspire their fanworks. To participate as a creator, you need only to create a fanwork using one prompt; however, for the more adventurous among us, we encourage you to combine prompts, complete rows, or attempt one of the dozen variations of card patterns. You may use multiple prompts in a single fanwork or use prompts to inspire multiple fanworks. To participate as a reviewer, review at least one challenge response--although we certainly encourage you to review more!
Participation stamps are available for both creators and reviewers. To be eligible for this month's stamp as a creator, you must post your response to the SWG archive no later than February 10, 2017. Review challenges never expire; however, we ask that you email us if you need a reviewer stamp for a challenge that is more than two months old.
The Terrible Twos!
SWG turned two at the end of July, so this challenge asks authors to consider the second year of a character's life. What happened in history that shaped their early childhood? What was their family life like? Were they indeed "terrible" as the old adage predicts? Whether fun or serious or somewhere in between, let's go back to this time of innocence and mischief in the lives of our favorite characters.
Things We Never Said
As we read the Silmarillion and related works, we encounter many moments of drama, unexpected deaths, other partings or lives unfulfilled. Quarrels are left unsolved, spouses suddenly sundered from one another, or words left unspoken. Ask yourself, what was it that they probably could have done to change events and get that last chance? What would your character want to say to one when there is just one chance left?
This challenge is about forgiveness and catharsis. To be able to forgive and let go of what once was might result into that transformational power or character growth you might have wished for to read in the book. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- What could have happened if Nerdanel and Fëanor had settled their differences?
- How different could Ancalimë's life been if her parents Erendis and Aldarion would have settled their differences?
- If Saeros would have swallowed his pride, would Turin have forgiven his taunting?
We challenge you to fix that moment that you always wanted to see handled differently by offering your beloved character that moment of forgiveness or redemption.
Write a story of any length concerning one of the three quotes. You may--but do not have to--use the quote in the story if you'd like. Although all three quotes concern Fëanor, the quotes certainly apply to a broad range of characters, and your story may be about any character you choose.
- "For his wounds were mortal, and he knew that his hour was come."
- "She restrained him when the fire of his heart grew too hot."
- "But he lied in his lust and his envy."
If you're feeling extra ambitious, of course, you're welcome to do a series of stories involving all three!
To Be Free
Freedom means many things to different people. It has been the cause of wars and underlies dreams of peace. Many of the greatest works of literature discuss freedom in one way or another.
J.R.R. Tolkien's books are no exception. Freedom is a theme throughout his works and is often a primary motive for his characters. For this challenge, we ask you to show a character working to achieve freedom. While the actions of major characters like Fëanor and Lúthien might come first to mind, your story need not focus on epic quests for liberty but may also focus on small, everyday attempts to win freedom.
Part of what makes Tolkien's legendarium feel so real is his expertise in alluding to and sometimes even creating the mythic and historical materials that form the basis of his Ardaverse. These materials include the songs, poems, and stories of an oral tradition. For this challenge, we ask our writers to show the oral tradition in their story. Perhaps a character is telling a folktale, cautioning a child with an urban legend, or scaring a sibling with a ghost story. Perhaps a character is reciting a bardic poem or singing a popular song. How might the traditional spoken word have been used and impacted the cultures of Arda?
Trinkets and Treasures
The Silmarillion is full of stories pertaining to or involving items that are magical or valuable in some way to their owners. Write a piece in any form--short story, drabble, poem--about how one of these items influenced history or its possesor, how the item was acquired or created, or how the item was lost.
The Silmarillion canon is full of items that could be used for this challenge, but also, there are items that must have existed by receive no special mention and items that exist only in the imaginations of fanfic writers. Any item--canon or not--is suitable for this challenge. Here are some examples to get you started:
- How/from where did Maedhros acquire his first sword after losing his hand on Thangorodrim? Describe his first challenge in learning to use it.
- Follow Nauglimir through its history, from its Dwarven creation until the death of Elu Thingol.
- Write a romance during which Beren creates or acquires a wedding ring for Luthien.
- What were Aulë's thoughts, upon the forging of Angainor, on having to restrain the mightiest of his kinsmen?
- Write three drabbles about what each bearer of the three Elven rings of power felt in the instant s/he became aware of the One Ring.
The Silmarillion has many moments when a character stands upon a crossroad: He or she will have to make a decision. At such a turning point in your story, the character realises that the journey or actions he or she is about to embark on or take will have a profound effect on either on the character or the world around him or her. Write about that moment that will define or alter the life of your character. How will he or she reflect on what is about to change and how does she or he look back on the way things were(in good, bad, or both ways)?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- What thoughts would Fëanor have had once he set fire to the ships at Losgar?
- Why did Elros chose the race of men and what was his reasoning behind it?
- Why did Eärnur accept the challenge of the Witch-king to enter Minas Morgul? What went through his mind when he crossed the gate?
- Tulkas came to the aid of the Valar during their war against Melkor. What was his reasoning for doing so? How does he reflect upon that?
- Finarfin returned to his people after both his brothers left Aman. What was the impact of this decision on his life and those close to him?
United They Stand
Throughout the books we see women like Haleth leading their people, or Lúthien doing deeds no other man dared to do. Dwarves meeting elves, or Oromë discovering the elves. Emancipation and equality can be found in the Professor's words, and we would like to challenge you to write about this process. To get you started, here are some ideas to explore:
- What do you think it means for all people in Arda to be treated equally? What would such a civilisation look like? Are there traditions or conflicts that show how some people are not treated as equals? We want to dare you to explore how this came to be. Is it cultural or were there outside influences like the evil in Tolkien's world?
- How would your characters view it? Would it prompt them into action or would they accept it as a given fact? How would ethnic and racial diversity work? Ask yourself how they would interact after they met, and how perhaps their traditions would either clash or melt together. Or how would equality be shown between people. Would a man treat a woman as an equal or how would unions between your characters be seen? There are plenty of ideas to explore and write about, but with this challenge the main focus should be on emancipation & equality.
The Silmarillion is a unique story in that it is not told by an omniscient, omnipresent narrator but by ordinary people, as fallible and prone to bias as you or I. This month, as we focus on the House of Fëanor, we consider also how their story might have been told--or not told--truthfully by the "authors" of The Silmarillion.
This challenge asks authors to take an event from the canon and rewrite it from the point-of-view of one of the characters disfavored in the history. The piece shouldn't seek to make excuses for a character's misdeeds but rather to address legitimate issues, perspectives, and interpretations that might have been lost or ignored as the histories were written. Behind each decision that seems terrible or puzzling to us lies difficult deliberation, reason, and regret, and this challenge seeks to address this.
While this month honors the Fëanorians--and they are perfect for this challenge--any typical "bad" character will work equally well. Authors could write about Thingol, Maeglin, Fëanor, or Melkor. "Good" characters who often come off negatively to readers are perfect for the challenge as well. For example, why did the Valar choose to pass judgment on Fëanor rather than leaving the decision to Finwë, his father and king? Why did Orodreth seem so incompetent in his handling of the affairs of Nargothrond? Why did Melian leave Doriath defenseless after her husband's death?
When the Storm Breaks...
No matter where we turn to these days, a storm seems to have an impact on our lives. We either face it head on, or seek shelter until the worst has passed. The word storm can both be taken literally or figuratively, of course. As the writer, you can approach this from many angles.
- What would a storm on Arda look like?
- What reason could Uinen or Ulmo have to invoke one?
- How would a Noldor deal with an ice storm crossing the Helcaraxë?
- What would Voronwë do the moment he realizes that he survived a storm?
There is a multitude of possibilities to explore, and we challenge you to find one.
Wish upon a Star
Stars are vital to the mythology presented in The Silmarillion. The Eldar awakened under--and were named after--the stars. Varda multiplied the stars to give light to the Elves and serve as a warning to Melkor. Later, Eärendil, bearing a Silmaril, was hailed as a new star and a sign of hope to all upon Arda. To the people of Arda, the stars are a sign of hope, a light in the dark.
This month's challenge asks authors to reach for the stars ... or at least have their characters make a wish upon them. Write a story, drabble, or poem where a character is wishing upon or musing on the stars. What does the character hope for? Does she or he believe that it will come to pass from so simple an action as wishing upon so meaningful a symbol? Does the character's wish come true, or does wishing upon stars prove to be the stuff of childhood fancy?
Wish upon a star and find out ...
(For more information on the astronomy of Tolkien's world, we recommend The Astronomy of Middle-earth by Dr. Kristine Larsen, an astronomer and Tolkien scholar.)
With a Bit of Fairy Dust
No matter on what continent you might be at this moment, both spring and autumn are times of change making you look at life and the world around you from a different perspective. So why can’t we look at The Silmarillion in a new way? This challenge gives you the opportunity to try and see how your favourite character would star in a fairy tale! Give it a try with the following fairy tale writing prompts as an example!
- Cinderella refusing to marry a certain Noldor prince?
- Little Red Riding Hood and the Carcharoth as best friends forever?
- The Bremen Town musicians teaming up with Maglor?
- How about Sleeping Beauty awaking early to a kiss from a Tolkien villain?
- Snow White accidentally breaks the Silmarilli! What happens next??
Unleash your imagination by looking at fairy tales of old and mix them with Tolkien's own Mythopoeia. Or make up your own fairy tales featuring your own characters or such stories told by your characters! There is a multitude of possibilities to explore and we challenge you to find one. No holds barred regarding your imagination, that this challenge about!
Within the Pages of Lore
March is Back to Middle-earth Month, when we all remember what inspired us to become part of this fandom in the first place.
But one of the most fun aspects of fandom is discovering new interests and inspirations. At times, we as writers can get caught in a rut of writing about the same characters, events, races, and eras. This month, we challenge all of our authors to try something new.
Interested? Get your Silmarillion off of the shelf. Close your eyes--but finish reading these instructions first! Now let your book fall open at random. Put your finger down on the page.
Open your eyes and copy the sentence on which your finger lies.
Your challenge is to write a story using that quote. The quote can form the basis of the story. It can be the first line, or you can use it as a line somewhere within the story. You might find yourself researching and reading stories about a subject you'd never really considered before, and if this is the case, then the challenge has worked for you!
"You Can't Go Home Again"
At last worn by haste and the long road (for forty leagues and more had he journeyed without rest) he came with the first ice of winter to the pools of Ivrin, where before he had been healed. But they were now but a frozen mire, and he could drink there no more.
Thus he came hardly by the passes of Dor-lómin, through bitter snows from the north, and found again the land of his childhood. Bare and bleak it was; and Morwen was gone. Her house stood empty, broken and cold; and no living thing dwelt nigh.
-The Silmarillion, "Of Túrin"
What would happen if one of Tolkien's characters returned to a beloved home after a long absence? This challenge asks authors to pursue that very question. The return may be canonical--such as Túrin's return to Dor-lómin in the quote--or alternate universe, such as Fëanor's return to Tirion after many ages in the halls of Mandos. What and whom might the character encounter? What has changed? How has the character changed?
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