Child of the Sad Water by Illyria Novia
If I could rec only one story that illustrates the heights LOTR fanfic can attain, this is the story I would rec. Novia is a great writer, probably the greatest fanfic writer I’ve ever had the honor and pleasure to read. Her use of language is without peer (and even more astonishing is that she isn’t a native English speaker).
In this story, we see the life of one of the slaves of Sauron who lives by the Sea of Rhûn, and what happens to him after the downfall of Sauron. The way Novia envisions that place is so vivid that you feel as if Tolkien himself must have described it to her. You can see, hear, smell everything and believe that this is how it was. It’s simply brilliant imaginative writing at its best. Please go and read it!!
I could quote back the entire story, but I won’t. :-) Here are a couple of favorite passages:
But goatherding was a quiet, undemanding job that allowed me much time to mull over my grandfather’s tales. I recalled his story of the first spring growth, vivid blues and yellows and reds and violets on luxuriant green, and the way the milk of cows and meat of lamb smells and tastes the sweetest in spring, after they foraged on the new grass and flowers. I tried to imagine all the colors while standing on top of a stony knoll, watching my goats scrounge up coarse blades of grass, scraps of dry moss, and the stiff, thorny branches of stunted scrubs, and all I saw was a wind-stripped, sun-bleached land the color of rocks and sand and dust, glinting and blinding by day, treacherous and frozen by night. I tried to imagine the fragrance of flowers while the air around me baked and writhed in the heat of the sun, but all I smelled was the strong, dry scents of goat. And I thought surely such things my grandfather told in his stories did not exist, or if they once did, the Eye of the Tower, and the Masters in their flying beasts, would have long ago reduced them to dust, to less than dust.
The ship… It looked at once imposing and fragile. I gaped at the polished hull, the forest of masts and neatly furled sail, the watertight spacious hold. But then they uncoiled the stout, heavy ropes and released that stately beauty into the mercy of the river, and the ship drifted away, seemingly as helpless and as vulnerable as a leaf. The balance and smoothness of its passage felt precarious, breakable. It seemed the river could laugh, was laughing, at all the magnificent craftsmanship that had so awed me just moments before. How could mere planks and beams held together by nails, pegs and ropes stay afloat? How do you steer it in the strong current? The ship felt alive around me. Solid as it was I could hear faint groans and creaks in the woodwork as the ship cleaved the water, wrestling with it, dancing with it. I was put in mind of the reed baskets mothers used to cradle their babies when they waded and canoed in the Sea, gathering fish and mussels; the contrast between the rough, gnarly knots, the frayed bottom and the straining weave, and how soundly a baby slept in it, how snug and warm it was. I thought I understood now why sailors spoke of their ship as though it had been a woman.
South by Aliana.
This is a story that if it doesn’t make you cry will leave you with that ache in your throat that means you are on the verge. Merry travels to Rohan to visit with Éowyn. A simple enough plot, perhaps, but it’s the beauty of Aliana’s insights and the beauty of her writing that make this story memorable. I’ve read it many times and it never fails to move me. Here are two short passages that I especially love:
To be honest, though, they've never really talked very much. As if they're always re-creating that long, lonely ride to Pelennor. She had a reason to be silent, then, of course; she had a secret to keep, a disguise to maintain. But even now, not many words pass between them; and yet somehow he doesn't mind. The quiet minutes are as full as a busy hour of Shire-gossip.
He once thought that leaving the Shire, seeing all the wilds and wonders and terrors of Middle-earth would make his world larger, and it has. But in some ways his world is also smaller, now, shrunk down to the roomful of people with whom he can sit in silence and not feel the need to explain.
The People of the Stars by Shirebound.
Shirebound excels at gap filling, and ‘The People of the Stars’ is no exception. She takes a single line from LOTR, “Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there,” and creates a tender and joyful story of Legolas and Gimli visiting the place where the Elves first awoke. The ending is incredibly moving.
Here is a favorite passage:Legolas stood quietly, gazing back westward, one hand resting lightly upon a small bush that seemed to quiver at his touch. He wanted to memorize every tree, every whisper of wind, every impression. Here had stood the first of his race... those to whom Middle-earth had been bathed ever and only in starlight. When he reached the Blessed Realm – assuming he could – he would speak with those of the First Ones who yet lived. He would tell them that the Awakening Place, even now, still faintly echoed with their presence.
Beyond This World by Thundera Tiger
I recently rediscovered this story about Legolas and Gimli that I originally read many years ago when I first got into the LOTR fandom. I am happy to say that it has lived up to my memory of it as a powerful, emotional, moving exploration of grief. Many years after arriving in the West, Gimli is at last dying and Legolas is struggling to accept that reality. I don't want to give away anything more, but you may want to have tissues on hand.
A small sample of Thundera Tiger's beautiful writing:
"There," Elrond whispered, pointing to the sea. "Behold the rising of the sun. See how the colors dance and sing before it, welcoming this new morning."
"And so comes another day of hopes and dreams," Galadriel added. "For with each dawn, a new day is born. And with that day come both beginnings and endings. Together they are a cycle, for there cannot be a beginning without an end and there cannot be an end without a beginning. That is the way of the song we live. As one melody falls, another rises to takes its place, and so the order of things is created, both in this life and also beyond the circles of this world."
Legolas could sense Galadriel spoke not only to Gimli, but the elf discarded her message for she was wrong. There would be no ending this day, for such an end could hold no beginning. Not for Legolas. "Look to the mountains, Gimli," he said, pointedly ignoring Galadriel’s words. "Behold one of the many wonders of the Undying Lands."
Knowing that his friend had refused to listen to comfort and knowing that there was nothing he could do to change that, Gimli sighed heavily and looked west toward the towering peaks. It was a sight he’d beheld before, but it never failed to give him chills. And it was a sight he’d not seen for years, for as he’d grown older, his ability to rise with the dawn had been lost. Before him, the snow-capped mountains blazed forth with a golden light, and the streams and waterfalls running down their slopes caught the sun’s rays in a multitude of dazzling rainbows that bewildered the eye. The mountains came alive and became as great gems of unimaginable worth. For a moment and an eternity, two elves, one half-elf, one dwarf, and one Maia basked in the glory of the dawn. And then the sun rose higher, the rainbows vanished, and the golden snow became once more a dazzling white.