On April 30, I had 2 Tumblr followers (and I’m being gracious to myself), and all my friends on Facebook seemed to be anticipating my work on one script–the second act to another project. I had a deadline to meet in two weeks and I was ready. However, I have Attention Deficit Disorder (really) and so I always need something to remind me to stay on course. I chose to change my header photo on my two web pages to remind me to finish what I was doing. It was Thranduil from Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy. Totally unrelated to what I was doing, to be sure. Two weeks came and went and I was told to wait two more weeks due to civil unrest in Baltimore. In between waiting to get something to a major (and quite legendary) producer I was slipping Thranduil into the mix here and there. By the first “excerpt” that was mostly just me expanding something insignificant, I noticed my Tumblr had gone from 0 notes to 10, then 20, then 30 then in three weeks in the month of July, one post had 1700 notes and the few excerpts began to get 20-50 in hours not days. It got so bad, I literally broke my Tumblr page so many times, they couldn’t fix it.
I started another personal page and thought better to just put Thranduil’s story on a separate one. By this time, the original project had started to fade in the light of Thranduil. I didn’t know why because there were so many “fan fictions” about Thranduil already that I was not expecting anything but maybe a few readers. I hadn’t even put things in order until someone asked me to. They asked me to go to WattPad. I spoke to my intellectual properties lawyer first because I knew I had new characters mixed in with licensed ones and since much of what I had done dealt with writing about others’ intellectual properties, I knew he’d give me great advice–he already represented Kevin Kline after all. I decided against WattPad thinking this story wasn’t going to do much but get my other work noticed. Then it happened–I had Chapter Block. I had written so much I had to decide chapter titles for it all. When I realized I had written (at the time) 10 chapters, I got a Facebook page at the beginning of this year.
By March, Tumblr started to grow and I got a few hits on Facebook. It wasn’t until I was outed on the Mythopoeic Society Facebook page by someone who mentioned I was writing a “fan fiction” that everything turned from being a nice stroll through a field of tulips to a chaotic battle reminiscent of The Battle of the Five Armies. The book blog grew, my personal page grew, Facebook grew, so on the advice of a fan, I went to Twitter. Nothing. I didn’t mind because as a writer, I have to explain things and 140 characters is like writing a Dick and Jane Commentary.
I had spent much time trying to go back to what I was doing before, but now my personal Facebook friends were more interested in Thranduil. Some preferred me writing in elementary Elvish. I had amassed a crate of Tolkien, 10 chapters of the life of the elusive Elven King and all of a sudden, I was being read, discussed and followed. I took it with a grain of salt until my printer jammed printing 296 pages that would become 360 at the completion of Book II: The Saga of Thranduil exactly one month ago.
Then it happened–the one thing most writers fear (I would assume, then again I’m very shy). I wrote an excerpt for Book III: To Eryn Lasgalen that started a close encounter of the Elven King. Thranduil, being a widower since Dol Guldur was taken by Sauron, he has an intimate moment with his dead wife’s cousin. You thought I just killed off Jon Snow or something. I had played with an alternate ending in my mind before. Tolkien himself had many–what writer doesn’t have a thought the proverbial ‘Wonderful Life’ scenario? But one fan made it perfectly clear that she would rather see Thranduil alone than replacing his wife because no one can replace Êlúriel. I couldn’t stop laughing, to be honest. When I first decided to give Thranduil a wife, people did not take much interest at first. It took a month to develop her against the backdrop of Tolkien’s character but Jackson’s actor (Lee Pace) because no one could ever again see the Frog King of Mirkwood from the 1977 animated version–Pace annihilated the image in the first 10 seconds of “The Unexpected Journey”. Most people were interested in how Thranduil got along with Oropher or Legolas. The only female character anyone seemed to like was Queen Nimeithel, Thranduil’s mother who at times made Galadriel seem like a wallflower.
So to satisfy some–who wanted Thranduil to either find love again or bring his wife back (I guess after 19 chapters of her, she became to be rather a staple in the story to the point that some role players on Tumblr had named Thranduil’s lover “Ely” and after a game, I was always thanked by the players for some reason). I finally created a character in a fan fiction that was plausible–someone they could see in Middle Earth. The fact that TKWR was written to be plausible and fit into Tolkien’s world finally seemed to be working. Someone used my story once as an example how not to put graphic sex into Tolkien–referring perhaps to my vague descriptions of anything other than wars and conversations. I mean, Legolas is born, after all, but I did not make much of his conception. My thing is, if Tolkien didn’t do it, neither would I. As newlyweds Thranduil and Êlúriel are a bit romantic, but I prefer to use emotional intensity–in a gaze perhaps–to get the point across (please, I squirm watching Disney characters kissing).
As I begin the end of Thranduil’s story in Book III and the War of the Ring in Eastern Arda, for the long stretches where I’m playing with my toy soldiers to create realistic battle plans based on Tolkien’s vague descriptions over his many volumes to write from Thranduil’s perspective, I gave some fans the beginning of their alternate ending: http://alttkwrtrilogyend.tumblr.com. So far the third is more popular than the beginning. I only had to change one chapter title. I will have to rework things, but not much–with the minor exception of the birth of the second child of Thranduil and Êlúriel. In the original, she dies carrying the child, now the child is born.
The original book won’t change at all–Thranduil remains a widower until the end. Some are anxious to see what happened before Thranduil in Book I and that is just starting to get together. The work is hard, the research tedious, but I love every minute of it. Like Bilbo, I went on an unexpected journey that changed my life. So far from where I started, it’s like looking back and seeing nothing but the horizon behind you.
I am just filling in the blanks, if you must know. The Kingdom of the Woodland Realm Trilogy finishes just one Unfinished Tale, I wager. Granted, I chose one of the most elusive of all characters to write. I never thought I would get 1000 words out of all that is known–much less 360+ pages. Every day is an adventure–like learning to live where you already have only it’s all new.
Today, Thranduil has moved from 0 notes to 140 + readers on Tumblr with notes I cannot count. His Facebook began to grow and Twitter went from 4 followers to 60 in three days–mostly other authors which I like. He grew from a posts on one page to numerous ones on 8 websites. I still have work to do–that is the part I like the most. I was told by a voice one night while in depth of despair “to see beyond all that lingers”. That is what writers do, you see. We see beyond all that lingers–into dark places to give light. My encounter with Thranduil was a gift–to tell as new story in an old world. Whenever I wished to stop, I remember what Elrond said to Frodo (in the book, LOTR) ‘If I understand aright all that I have heard,’ he said, ‘I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will.’
I like to think this task was appointed to me because when I got to Chapter 10, I knew I had to finish the story. It is one of many twists and turns–new characters in an old world. Old characters speaking with old and new in places familiar and some not so much. To see Tolkien’s world through the eyes of Thranduil in a way that is original but never wavering from his path. The words are mine, but in them will always beat the heart of Tolkien. There are far more tales left to be told–I am just telling one of them.–J.