You know you’re getting old when you have to look up the definitions of abbreviations. It has taken me a year to figure out “TTYL” and “LMAO” and “ROLMAO”. Now I had to contend with AU (which for me meant astronomical units–darn you Astronomy Class).
AU in the “fan fiction” world I learned meant “alternate universe”. That differs from “regular fan fiction”–how? According to Wikipedia, it is “An alternative universe (also known as an alternate universe, alternative reality or alternate reality) is the occurrence of canonical facts about the setting or characterization of a particular fictional universe being explored in a non-canonical way.”
“Regular” fan fiction defined by Wikipedia is “fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator. It is a popular form of fan labor, particularly since the advent of the Internet.”
So, what the heck am I doing? Brief history–I never heard of fan fiction until someone said I was writing it. I was just writing…okay, I was correcting. I was rather irritated by some things in the film version of “The Hobbit” that were closer to “AU” than “Fan Fiction”. It was an exercise in writing because I was waiting for someone to get back to me on a motion picture script that was so far from what I’m doing now, it seems like I got sucked into a wormhole like Jodie Foster in “Contact”.
So which is it? I do use canonical facts but not in a non-canonical way. There is nothing alternate (and I despise that word since learning about the Alt-Right, so let’s go with ‘other universe’). The only thing “non-canonical” in the way I am writing The Kingdom of the Woodland Realm Trilogy is that it is in first person. It uses characters and setting from the original work, so it’s fan fiction. However, there is a difference.
First of all, I didn’t want to do this in the first place, but something kept calling me to it. Secondly, midway through it, I learned what fan fiction was and I wanted to stop doing it because so many authors were against it. I have my own original things, but all in the form of scripts because frankly I thought I would suck at narrative. I have a blog with 24 posts and 230+ followers. I suppose I don’t suck as much as I thought. There are people who want it published and that is a rarity for any fan fictions–especially a Tolkien story. Thirdly, someone asked me to do it because they thought I could. After I while it became not that I could but that I loved what I was doing.
I don’t change anything from Tolkien–not one word, event, circumstance–nothing whatsoever. That sounds like a fairy-tale, but it’s true. I don’t take anything from anywhere but the works of Tolkien (meaning even if I created a new character, I used Tolkien’s methods). I don’t put anything in the story that I feel doesn’t belong there–for me it has to “fit” and if it doesn’t, I don’t put it in. I write about vague events that actually happened in Middle Earth History that Tolkien didn’t explain as it pertains to the character in question (which is Thranduil currently). Unlike Peter Jackson, I’m not adding someone who interferes directly with the action of the original story–in other words, I’m not having a canonical character do non-canonical things with non-canonical characters that make absolutely no sense at all or changes Tolkien’s original story. An example is my “version” of the Battle of the Five Armies. Where there was an available opening, I put something there. Otherwise, it is the same story but from the vantage point of Thranduil. He won’t see what Thorin sees, or Bard or Bilbo or Bolg (son of Azog).
I also didn’t put characters in places they weren’t there but are canonical. For example, Azog was in “The Hobbit Trilogy” but he shouldn’t have been. He was killed by Dáin II Ironfoot in 2799 T.A. at the Battle of Azanulbizar–142 years before the First Battle of Dale (which is another Tolkien name for BOTFA). If Peter Jackson actually read The Hobbit, he’d know this because the book explicitly states Azog is dead and his son was leading the horde. In the Appendix of LOTR, it says Azog died by the hand of Dáin during the War of Dwarves and Orcs–hard to miss.
I will, however make use of canonical characters that have little or no complete history so long as they are in their proper Age. I spend hours reading (between learning Elvish and other languages and studying maps) to find the life behind a character that doesn’t have one or it is vague. If they can be used in context, I will use them. I will say that sometimes when I do, I find out later it happened and that is the best feeling in the world.
As far as films go, I don’t take issue with some things done for cinematic effect. Some things I liked. I only take issue with rewriting a story then saying it is based on the book because Tolkien never wrote about Kíli falling in love with a female warrior elf. Thranduil didn’t have an obsession with a necklace that never belonged to him or his wife (he got the necklace from Bilbo as a gift from his share of the treasure for helping Thorin). Bard’s wife never died (says so in the actual book). Elrond was never at Dol Guldur (that’s in the book because Gandalf told him how Sauron was run out of Dol Guldur upon his return to Rivendell with Bilbo). Legolas was never in The Hobbit–and to assume to think Tolkien would want him there is tantamount to thinking one is on the same creative level as Tolkien in writing and imagination and that seems rather conceited to me.
I don’t think I know better than Tolkien when I write. I don’t take it upon myself to think I’m good at all because I know that writing is a lifelong lesson and requires the humility to know that no matter how successful you are, you still have something to learn. I don’t presume to think what Tolkien would do. I wonder what Tolkien would do and if what I do sounds “Tolkien-esque”. Otherwise, I’m not doing it.
You could say my “extended versions” are OU–but of my own story. It dares ask the question of what if Thranduil’s wife lived as opposed to dying (which was a PJ invention and she died in such a place as to be so OU, you have wonder when Legolas had time to be conceived). It dares ask the question what if Legolas has a sister. It asks those questions while never leaving the “fan fiction” side of the story.
Also, I write into it things that are not in the novels but were Tolkien’s other works only if they affect Thranduil such as The War of the Last Alliance (which is portrayed at the beginning of “The Lord of the Rings” but leaves out the fact that the Dwarves of Khazâd-dûm under the leadership of King Durin III were there. What is vague, I elaborate as close to Middle Earth History as possible. Unlike most fan fictions or AU/OU’s, that requires me to know everything Tolkien as possible. I don’t want it to sound like my facts came from anywhere but Tolkien–even if there are new characters.
To do this effectively, a person has to respect the original writer by thinking “What would Tolkien Do”. I never write a think until I am comfortable with the scenario as something Tolkien would have liked to see and be proud to see it. Fan fiction or AU, I don’t want to write anything against the grain. For me, that is the single most important difference between me and most fan fiction writers. I’ll do it so long as “Tolkien is First Served“.
I don’t ask “what if” in the framework of the story; I ask “when did”. What ifs belong in my own view of the life of a character living in Tolkien’s world. His life is his own, but the world is not. It is not easy doing what I do, but I love writing and I love Tolkien. Neither one will I wantonly disrespect by thinking outside the delicate world of Middle-Earth. For me, it’s not about whether it’s AU or Fan Fiction. For me it is all about does it work–does it fit into Tolkien’s imaginary world realistically. My father always said, if you do anything, do it completely or not at all. If you are going to do something “half-assed”, just don’t do it. It won’t be genuine. It won’t be good. It has to be truthful and it has to be sincere. If my story is both those things, good should come naturally. That’s my hope and my only concern–not if its popular or has 10,000 readers. I care about the story. I care about the characters and I care about making two men in this world proud–my Dad and J.R.R. Tolkien.
So I’m writing a fan fiction in honor of Tolkien, I guess you could say. Something that doesn’t happen somewhere it shouldn’t asking what if’s that are nots. I’m writing something that is supposed to flow into a world seamlessly no matter where it goes in the end.–J.
The Kingdom of the Woodland Realm Trilogy by J.M. Miller (me) Book I: The Epic of Eryn Galen, Book II: The Saga of Thranduil, Book III: The Last Tale of Legolas Lasgalen. c.2015-currently
Image: ©2001. Warner Brothers Pictures. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. All Rights Reserved.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. ©1937, 1951, 1966, 1978, 1995 by The J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust. ©1995 HarperCollins Publishers (Houghton Mifflin Company). All Rights Reserved.
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. ©1987 Houghton Mifflin Company, © 2004 HarperCollinsPublishers. All Rights Reserved.