Marta's Mathoms

Being a Collection of Fanfic, Political Musings, Memeage and Asundry Goodies

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another year, another MEFAs
The 2011 MEFAs have been closed for nearly three hours now. I'm more or less the public face of this fannish awards program, though others do the lions' share of the work most days. (aranel_took jumps to mind, though there are certainly others.) I have sort of gone on politics safari this year, which combined with grad school and teaching meant that I haven't made time for the MEFAs both as a volunteer and as a reviewer like I wanted to. Since this is the time for New Years' resolutions, I can only promise to try to do better next year.

I did manage to write twenty-six reviews. Every year with the MEFAs there are stories that don't compete, either because the author chooses not to or because they aren't nominated for some reason, or simply because they've already run in the past. And this year in particular, there were many great stories that I just didn't get around to reading. Even so, I wanted to share the stories I did review - not because they're the best but because every one of them is well worth the read. Listed more or less in the order I reviewed them, which is no particular order at all.

1. A Fragile Chalice by pandemonium_213

In spite of weariness, Celebrimbor hosts a gathering in his home: a supper followed by what we might call a salon for the elite of Ost-in-Edhil. Musicians, rival poets, and lively conversation among the guests provide the evening's entertainment. An elven poetry contest causes him to become immersed in deep memories — some poignant, some painful, and one dark yet vaguely familiar.

My review: The idea of a salon in Eregion is simply inspired. It's the closest thing to true high civilization that I think we see in Middle-earth (at least an urbane civilization), and the mix of different cultures gives the place a truly Parisian feel to it. The original characters were all wonderfully drawn and it reminded me in some ways of a Georgette Heyer novel - a definite compliment in my book.

I think I have a particular soft spot for this piece because of the character Melamire. My first fanfic was a novel revolving around a Gondorian, Melamir. That piece has all the bad habits of a first fic, but reading Melamire I saw my character as I would have liked to write her: self-assured, to be sure, but with the hint of nobility. I can truly see the child of that particular father having just those traits. All in all, she was wonderfully charming (and not alone in that respect).

2. A Momentary pause in the Act of Death by grey_gazania

It wasn't supposed to end like this. After the attack on Doriath, Curufin is found by Maglor.

My review: This story is gutwrenchingly tragic, especially the last line. There is a quiet pain but a solemnity and a dignity to it - I won't say I enjoyed it because the subject matter is dark, but it was quite well written. Nice work.

3. Ice and Tears by Adonnen Estenniel

Not all marriages are based on love. An unconventional glimpse into the union between Rohan and Dol Amroth.

(My review has spoilers and is available at the MEFA website.)

4. Ariel by Altariel

Finduilas is made of air. A tiny ghost story.

My review: I love the quiet dignity of this drabble, and the understated horror of it - it seems just right for the steward's family and Finduilas in particular. The use of that word, [houseless], was particularly inspired as it brought to mind the image of elven fear shorn from their body. While this isn't a drabble about elves, the visual of that canon idea seemed to really complement what Altariel was trying to do here. Well done.

5. Till the World is Mended by Azalaisdep

A conversation Tom and Goldberry might have had if the Hobbits did indeed visit them again after the Ring War. For the LiveJournal tolkien_weekly "Water: River" challenge.

My review: This was charming and oh so Tom, to be so easily distracted. It was nice to imagine this pair's take on the great events (which, from their timeless perspective, would naturally seem not so great after all).

6. Westmarch by Celeritas

Westmarch is resettled. Written for B2MEM 2011, Day 12, about the relationship between each of Middle-earth's races and nature.

(My review has spoilers and is available at the MEFA website.)

7. Alone, and in bear's shape by Tanaqui

How did Beorn come to be at the Battle of the Five Armies in "The Hobbit"?

My Review: There's a lovely almost animistic feel to this drabble - the melding of man and bear along with the combined influences needed to bring him the news honored all of Beorn's character. Nice work, Tanaqui.

8. Fathers and Sons by Gwynnyd

What makes a person a father? Estel adjusts to life at Rivendell, as Elrohir remembers Arathorn. Written for a challenge on what happened one year after an event. With many thanks to my excellent betas, Oshun, Adaneth, Jael, Lia and Lucia.

(My review has spoilers and is available at the MEFA website.)

9. Inner Light by pandemonium_213

During the darkening weeks before they depart Rivendell with the Fellowship, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took tell the Istyanis, an elven smith who has recently returned to the West, of Yule customs in the Shire. In turn, she describes a festival of light celebrated in a distant land where she had lived for many years, illustrating that not all of the East lies in darkness.

My review: When I first read the Lord of the Rings, one of my favorite themes was how each of the "free peoples" we encountered did their part in aiding the fellowship. Some supplied members, others supplied treasures like Galadriel's phial and Rohan's Shadowfax, but it seemed like all the free people of the west were bound up in that quest. In this fanfic, pandemonium_213 shows us how the free peoples of the *East* made a rather unique contribution: a sense of spirituality and inner light that can be relied upon [when all other lights go out]. It is a truly remarkable custom, and beautifully told - a real feast for the senses.

That could easily be my favorite part of the story, and I think the first time I read this fic it *was* my favorite part. But on a second read what really impressed me was the many subtle connections to Eregion: the reference to holly, the speculation she might have been of Feanor's kin, the accent that marks her as strange even among the elves of Rivendell. She has the quality of a sage, almost a bit like Radagast in her own way, but she is this in spite of (or perhaps because of?) her technical cumen. It is a nice shot across the bow, as it were, against Tolkien's anti-science themes. That, too, was a true treat.

Nice work, Doc B.! This was really well done.

10. Heaven in the Meantime by Dwimordene

There is no news from Minas Tirith for one left behind: between death and heaven lies Pelennor and its detritus.

My review: Like the beast of drabbles, "Heaven in the Meantime" has a lyrical quality to it, almost like poetry without the line-breaks. There is hatred, and ample justification for hatred, but also empathy if not quite forgiveness. A lovely addition to the Beyond-the-Pale verse, and a nice look at how war affects the survivors.

11. The Thorn Gate by Jael

A twisted little tale for Halloween. A visitor from Rivendell experiences the fabled hospitality of the Silvan Elves. Erestor; Thranduil; Galion; Legolas. Warning: Flagrant disregard for canon. Egregious librarian abuse. Plagiarism -- both alone and with someone else. (1) Rated PG

My review: This earned a definite chuckle from me. In many ways it makes more sense than anything Tolkien worked out, and it certainly turned puritanical mores on their head. Hilarious!

12. Characterization in Fanfic by Dreamflower

An essay on characterization: constructing your characters to fit into Middle-earth.

My review: I found this a very interesting look at how to develop a canonical character into "our" character in our own fanfics. Using examples from well-known stories (the author's and others'), Dreamflower walks through how to develop the snapshots given in canon to a believable characterization of that character at other points in his/her life. There were a few points where I disagreed, mostly to do with what the author should do in her characterizations rather than how to develop a canonical characterization if she chose to. Still, even when I disagreed with the essay, I thought Dreamflower laid out a really convincing case for her point - this was a very well-written essay.

13. The Gates of the Kingdom by Azalais

Some bonds are as strong as mithril or as steel. Twelve years after the defeat of Sauron, Gimli has a project and a deadline... Written for the 2010 3fan_holidays fic exchange at LiveJournal (which had the general theme of "celebrations") for thrihyrne, who particularly requested Dwarves and/or Rohirrim.

My review: This piece was so fun, it is hard to know where to begin! Given that I have apparently acquired a bit of a reputation as a dwarf-writer, perhaps it's not surprising that the bit that *really* captured my imagination was the conflict Legolas nearly sparks off with Fror, and Bifur's description of the politics regarding the return to Khazad-dum. This was actually a perfect example of what Dreamflower talked about in her essay competing in this year's MEFAs about how to extrapolate faithfully from canon - really, this was so convincing, I have a hard time telling where the story begins and canon ends.

The other part that really touched me was the way the various cultures worked together. In contrast to the current political debate going on in Europe, I might term this as interculturalism - and it works. You see it in the description of dishes in the final section, and also in the sleeping arrangements Faramir and Aragorn have to navigate. There are general issues that need to be resolved [accommodating the Rohirric horses; Celeborn's refusal to sleep in a stone city] but also there are similarities and those are honored just as much. The final detail (which had me grinning from ear to ear) was the inscription of the gates, so reminiscent of another dwarf-elf friendship.

Nice work, Az!

14. Song of Summer by pandemonium_213

While visiting Imladris during the 20th year of the Fourth Age, Radagast overhears an elf-woman, who pulls weeds in the kitchen garden, singing in his Valarin mother tongue. When the wizard observes that he has heard her Song of Making, she informs him of her purpose and priorities. Inspired by a lively discussion about Lúthien on The Heretic Loremaster and ripe New Jersey tomatoes

My review: I quite enjoyed this - slightly heretical (in a good way), but even that a nice earthy moment between an elf and a wizard, showing how they might relate to each other when great matters were not at hand. Using Radagast was really appropriate, as he seems to shine precisely when things are at their most mundane (but again, in a good way). I could see this happening quite easily.

15. Grace Before Meet by Gwynnyd

A brief moment in Eriador. Inspired by the activity of two deer during my recent descent to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Thanks to Adaneth for the title.

My review: This is a nice look at different cultural attitudes in Middle-earth. Pippin's confusion seemed appropriate, but the way he accepted it even as he did not understand it was very sweet, marking him as an appropriate choice for the fellowsihp. Nice work, Gwynnyd.

16. Dragonsblood by Dreamflower

Bard the bowman slew Smaug, didn't he? Who would believe it could happen any other way? What if someone else had taken that role, as JRRT originally envisioned it?

(My review contains spoilers and is available at the MEFA website.)

17. Hollow by Thundera Tiger

There are some forests even Legolas cannot abide, and there are some caverns even Gimli cannot endure. A gapfiller featuring the Grey Company on the Paths of the Dead.

My review: This was a really interesting gapfiller for the ride to the Paths of the Dead. If anything, it made more sense than the Tolkien original - just why was Gimli so affected by the ghosts of men? I found myself fully absorbed and also not-unpleasantly terrified by the scenes playing out. Like so many of Thundersa's works, the categorizations are spot on, down to Gimli's inability to tell one son of Elrond from the other. I don't usually enjoy horror, but this tale was both chilling and engrossing - not an easy feat.

18. Babe in the Woods by Dreamflower

Aragorn and Halbarad find themselves on a mission of mercy as they travel through Staddle. (Written for the B2MEM March 7, 2011 challenge.)

My review: A very touching story. I particularly liked seeing how hobbit attitudes toward big folk might differ in the Shire and outside of it; I can easily see this heightened suspicion happening out of the Shire, where the world is much more dangerous. Neddy was very cute, too! Very nicely done.

19. Ladies and Captains by fireSign

"Shall you be my Captain?" Five drabbles, one question. The life of two citizens of Minas Tirith; the boy sent to war, and the girl who waited at home. Written for A Long Expected Contest July 2010- "Freedom."

My review: I really like this set of drabbles - nice symmetry, and a nice viewpoint on the war. Very thought-provoking.

20. Places in the Heart by Raksha the Demon

A new map reveals the boundaries and routes of a Shadow-free world to Aragorn and Faramir. But dreams cannot always be charted and drawn as easily as lines on a map. A short story of the late Third Age, partially inspired by the "Passport to Middle-earth" theme of the 2011 B2Me Challenge.

My review: A nice look at how politics might meet the personal. Of course Faramir would want to see Osgiliath restored, for the loss of that seems to represent the waning of Gondor (falling from a true capital to a war-fortress, etc.) This fic did a good job of mixing the private with the political.

21. Love Less Than Before by Tanaqui

What were Huan's feelings about following his master, Celegorm, into exile and about Celegorm's treatment of Lúthien?

My review: This drabble does a very nice job of walking the line over sentience that's very keeping with Tolkien's myth structure. Huan has loyalties and thoughts, just like any person, but the end shows animal traits like a keen scent and nuzzling against the knee that no dog-lover could mistake. It gives a nice image of an intelligent wolf that is still something wholly different from the speaking folk. Nicely done, Tanaqui!

22. Mapping Desire by Empy

There are hidden treasures in the libraries of Minas Tirith, and when Aragorn finds one of them in a book of maps, Faramir agrees to act as guide.

(My review contains spoilers and is available at the MEFA site.)

23. The use of Memory by Altariel

"Memory is not what the heart desires..." Faramir and Arwen.

(My review contains spoilers and is available at the MEFA site.)

24. Character Bio of Gildor Inglorion by Oshun

Gildor Inglorion seemed a fitting choice as a biography subject for Back to Middle-earth Month. He is yet another link between the history of the Elves of the Elder days as recounted in The Silmarillion and that of the Men, Hobbits, and Dwarves of the Third Age upon whom many of the readers of The Lord of the Rings focus.

My review: This was a really enjoyable glimpse into Gildor's character and the way the Silmarillion's deistinction between elves makes for a thorougher understanding of how he interacted with Frodo&Co. The canon was presented in an even-handed way, but it was far from dry, and I found myself with a definite nuzgul by the end of it. Very interesting material all around!

25. All She Wants to Do Is Dance by Dwimordene

A wedding, a rebirth, and a Steward swept quite off his feet. Cue Don Henley...

(My review contains spoilers and is available on the MEFA site.)

26. The Burden of Sons by Linaewen

Legolas contemplates the burden of responsibility placed upon himself and his companions by their fathers, and makes a vow.

(My review contains spoilers and is available on the MEFA site.)

Every year I try to recognize one new author whose work really caught me off-guard and who I'll now be following more closely. This year I want to do something different, mainly because I made so little time for the awards that I didn't really read much outside my comfort zone. Instead, I want to spotlight an author I've been following for years (with or without reviewing regularly), but that I don't think I've given half the credit she deserves.

That person is Oshun. She is a long-term member of the Silm corner of the fandom, and consistently writes work that seems true to Tolkien's 'verse and at the same time not confined by it. But what really made my jaw drop this time around was the quality of her non-fiction. She writes a column for the Silmarillion Writers Guild most months where she spotlights a character and looks at a controversy or issue surrounding them. She always has her facts as far as I can tell and also has her thumb on the beat of canon. But even more than that, she shows why the characters are interesting. It's a shame that she writes so many in a way, and that non-fiction stories have to always compete together, because I think this may put her at a disadvantage. But I walked away from reading her Gildor column imagining a conversation between Pippi and Gildor on shall we just say Gildor's ambiguous family tree and have drafted the first half of that vignette. I can think of no higher comment for an author than to say her work has inspired me to take up the story's thread. So if you are not reading her fiction and in particular her SWG columns, I highly encourage you to start.

One last thing before I plough back into MEFA-related tasks. I wanted to offer a sincere thanks to my own reviewers. You know who you are, and I will try to reply privately over the next few days, but I also wanted to thank you publicly. On more than one occasion, the site of a motorcycle or a little boy with ears that stick out have quite literally reduced me to tears this last year, and a review on one of my stories has, well not made it all better but definitely earned a smile in spite of that. You guys have lessened the load, and you've also gratified me that some small bauble still affects someone. I appreciate that, too.

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Thank you, Marta, and thanks for all your contributions to the MEFAs over the years. :) I definitely resolve to make more time for reading and communicating with authors in the new year.

Wow! Thank you so much. Now I feel like such a jerk for always complaining that nobody reads my bios. I actually write them because I hope they serve as a standing resource for the whole Tolkien fandom. It gives me a chance to share my big love of Tolkien's entire life work and not just that one, weighty as it is, epic novel. I also believe in paying one's dues to communities which serve one. In addition to being a year-round active reviewer of what I read in the fandom (I'm not a lurker), the character bios are my personal contribution to the fandom economy. Thank you again.

And thank you for your huge contribution, whether it might have been slightly fewer hours for you this year or not! I do appreciate all of the work of all of the volunteers who make the MEFAs possibile. Here's to a bigger year next year! The Hobbit anyone?

Thank to Ann also, who made sure I did not miss this entry.

Edited at 2012-01-01 04:59 pm (UTC)

Marta, thank you and the other volunteers for all the hard work you do. When I started in the fandom, I was very skeptical about awards. It seemed like asking for trouble to "quantify" subjective judgments about art by awarding prizes to some but not to others. I can say very sincerely that the MEFAs are a positive part of this fandom, in my opinion. I know that much excitement always surrounds reading the feedback left on one's stories. It feels awesome to have a piece nominated or to have a chance to make an author's day by nominating her work. And people get to discover authors they ordinarily would not. I feel like, ultimately, this fandom is a better place because of your efforts and the efforts of the other MEFA volunteers.

I can also only echo what you wrote about Oshun. I work with her every month as I put the SWG newsletter together and know the amount of effort she puts into the bios that she writes. Many authors would struggle to write one or two biographies that are as well researched and engaging as Oshun's are, and she does it every single month, often writing about characters that I know aren't her favorites. Her biographies are amazing resources, both for newcomers to the fandom trying to get to learn about a character (but not necessarily possessing the resources needed to do so), as well as experienced writers who could use a memory jog or a fresh perspective. I always hope Oshun knows how appreciated her work is. Thank you for recognizing her achievements.

Plenty of us wish we'd managed to write more MEFA reviews, and that we managed to read and review more full stop ;-/

Thanks as ever for all the work you do do for the MEFAs - it's not all about the reviewing!

Thanks for managing to run a pretty tight MEFA-ship for yet another year, Marta! I can understand why you didn't have time to write more reviews; what with all the work you put into the competition, not to mention having a life outside fandom! Thanks for reviewing one of mine, will reply on-site if I haven't already...

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