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The Virtues of Reading the Books by Meneltari

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2003 8:00 pm    Post subject: The Virtues of Reading the Books by Meneltari Reply with quote

Elvea's Essay On Why Every Fanfic Author Should Read The Books

By Meneltari

I've been a Tolkien-fan for a while now, although I didn't bother to enter the ff.net community until about a year ago. It seemed and still seems to me that there are barely any pre-movie fans here, and certainly not in my age group (14-18 years of age). I've read the Hobbit and the trilogy more than once, have read the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and even the apparently practically unknown books from the History of Middle-earth series such as Morgoth's Ring and the Book of Lost Tales. Doing so, I've taken notes on languages, family trees, habits etc. They call me an obsessive purist for this, and I'm proud of it, although I'm (slightly) more flexible in my judgment than most purists would be.

However, the amount of bad fics grows by day. And with 'bad' I don't just mean the badly written ones, no, that isn't the main problem. After all, fan fiction is free for anyone, even those without enormous writing talents. If it wouldn't be free, there would hardly be authors. So in theory I don't mind anyone writing. It's a great way to release creativity, relax and get rid of frustrations. I do not wish to withhold anyone from this; basic human right gives us the right to free press and our own opinions, just so long as we don't violate someone else's rights with it.

The problem is that some ideas are simply so ridiculous that the idea of Middle-earth as Tolkien designed it, completely disappears. Creatures that don't belong in Middle-earth suddenly appear there with dozens at a time, Elves have no problem with rape, and not a single species is what they're supposed to be like. Especially the 'non-readers', as I will call them, seem to make up the most ridiculous things like Moon-elves, Unicorns and Ent/Orc parings. Yes, these godawful things can be found in this section of ff.net, and elsewhere on the web. (I'm not saying that all non-readers write bad fics, but most of the mistakes do come from this group of authors.)

I know that I'm certainly not the best author either, and I really regret the first fics I wrote, being both badly written and ridiculous. Most new writers make mistakes and that's perfectly okay, just so long as you accept the fact that your work might not be perfect and that people will have critique on it. All that a new author has to do is accept this critique and use it to improve; critique is there to help. Since I started writing, I have certainly improved in writing style and ideas, simply because I accepted criticism for what it is. And at least I've read the books. I'm now trying to keep Middle-earth the way it's supposed to be. From experience I know that doing a little research really does improve your story. It may take time, but it saves you a lot of flames you might not deserve. After all, authors usually put a lot of time and effort in their work.

The first things I wish to discuss are the canonical family trees.

Get them right and do not just change them to suit your ideas. The family trees of the Hobbits are simply in the Appendices of RotK and even a lot of history on Aragorn, Boromir and Éomer can be traced. This is simply a matter of opening a book and looking facts up. It is really annoying to read a story that already goes wrong with the family trees, not to mention the author's other bloopers. Other family trees can be found in the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, but I can imagine that not everybody has these books on the bookshelf. For those people, there is the Internet with lots of websites that go into the books and backgrounds, not just the images of pretty boy Legolas (or someone else).

For one thing, Aragorn and Boromir are NOT cousins. You'd have to work really hard to find the link (I speak from experience), and even then it would be incredibly distant and not really by blood but by marriages. It wouldn't even be considered as related anymore. If you're working on a story but aren't sure about family trees, ask a friend or fellow author that DOES know. Most people will be happy to help.

If you want to add an original character into an important family such as that of Galadriel or Legolas, try not to make this relation too relevant to the plot. We've seen Arwen's long lost sister Mary Sue now, as well as Galadriel's other daughter (I beg your pardon?). It simply gets dull, lame and has become a cliché. Try to keep characters like that of minor relevance and really only on the sideline. I'm not saying that Legolas can't have a brother. It said nowhere that he doesn't have any siblings, but try to keep the sibling away from the clichés. And forget about Arwen's sister or Galadriel's daughter. Tolkien made it clear how many children Elrond and how many Galadriel had, there are no exceptions possible. If you are still stubborn enough to want to add a member to their family, make sure the relation is distant to keep it believable. But please, don't just add a member of a family into another already existing family tree; first look up whether or not the family tree is flexible at the point where you want to add in the new family member. If the family tree is clearly defined (Elrond had three children, no more, no less) then it is best to leave it that way. If not then you should feel free to add in a new character (Merry, Frodo and Pippin had lots of cousins everywhere, it is easy to make a new one fit in); the canon left some wriggling room for you.

Final thing on the subject family trees; Aragorn is NOT a Half-elf.

The percentage of elven-blood in his veins is so low even that it's negligible. Even Éomer has more elven blood than Aragorn in his veins, but I'm not going in on a detail like that right now. (By the way, if after reading this essay anyone decides to write a story in which Éomer is a half-Elf, I will most likely shoot myself.) That Aragorn is not a Half-elf is really a simple thing to explain and to understand. You'd have to trace Aragorn's bloodline back to either Idril or Thingol before you'd find a full-blood Elf, and they had little pretty half-elven children (but not together) of which Aragorn descended (Idril and Thingol lived way back in the First Age, which ended over 6000 years before the War of the Ring).

Continuing with important things: the languages of Middle-earth.

English is not one of them. What in Middle-earth is used as universal language between peoples is called Westron, which Tolkien was kind enough to write down for us in English. If you use one of the languages of Middle-earth, and there's a big chance that you will, then make it clear which one it is, even when you only mention it briefly.

'Elvish' for instance, is too broad. There's Quenya (and Quenya has Noldorin and Vanyarin Quenya as dialects), Sindarin and its ancestor Telerin, there's also Silvan, Avarin, Nandorin... take a pick, but be careful. Not every Elf speaks every elven language, and in the Third Age the Silvan wasn't even used so much anymore in the bigger elf habitats such as Lothlórien and Mirkwood. (It had never been used in Rivendell.) In these places the Sindarin and Silvan had probably mingled into a dialect of the two languages. The most commonly used languages are the two Quenya ones and Sindarin; the Elves in Middle-earth use mainly Sindarin, and the Valinorean Elves usually use either one of the Quenya dialects or Telerin, depending on which kind they descended of.

In Rivendell however you are still likely to find some Elves speaking Noldorin Quenya because it was built as a refuge for Elves, but mainly of the Noldorin kind. They have (for the most) adopted the Sindarin as their new language; in the Third Age the Noldorin had become about as much as a book language. You could compare it to Latin, although Noldorin was probably used more in the Third Age than we use the Latin now.

Lothlórien and Mirkwood Elves, at the time of the War of the Ring, spoke mainly that mix of Sindarin and Silvan. (Frodo spoke some Noldorin Quenya and some Sindarin; hence he couldn't entirely follow the dialect spoken in Lothlórien.)

"There was a sound of soft laughter over their heads, and then another clear voice spoke in an elven-tongue. Frodo could understand little of what was said, for the speech that the Silvan folk east of the mountains used among themselves was unlike that of the West." (LotR:FotR; Lothlórien)

A second thing concerning the languages should also be headed. Once you've chosen the language you want to use, stick to it. With this I mean that when you decide to use Sindarin, make the phrases in Sindarin, and keep words from other elven languages out. A Sindarin phrase containing Noldorin for instance would be similar to a German phrase containing Dutch, and that sounds incredibly daft. You really don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.

It is true that in origin all elven languages came from the same basic elven language. But after their sundering in the First Age the 'basic elvish' evolved into several different languages. German, Dutch and even English can be compared to this situation. They all came from the same root (Anglo-Saxon already being sundered quite a bit, but still even now one can see a lot of similarities in the three languages), but if you listen to them now they differ quite a lot in pronunciation, spelling, grammar and the general vocabulary. If I were to speak Dutch with someone and simply stuck in random German words (or the other way around) the other person would have serious trouble with following the flow of the conversation, unless he or she speaks both languages quite well too. Now Elves are more intelligent than the average human, and might be able to trace a foreign word back to its root and uncover its meaning, but confusion would come of it anyway. Unless you want to mention the confusion in your story or if you don't care about a flame from an angered purist it is wise to stick to the language you chose.

Also be careful with singular and plural forms of words. It's great that you know of the Valar and Maiar, really. It's even better if you mention these names in your story when you mention deities of Middle-earth. But "Gandalf the Maiar" or "Gandalf the Istari" sounds rather daft. Why? Because Valar, Maiar and Istari are plural forms. If you mention just one of these beings you should use Vala, Maia or Istar. Of course this goes for many other words. Don't use a word unless you know its exact meaning; it saves you from coming off as stupid.

Final thing on the topic languages is spelling. This is very important, considering the fact that the misspelling of one word can lead to a whole different sentence and thus to misconceptions. In Sindarin for instance you have the words 'galad' and 'galadh'. The first one means 'light' or 'radiance', the second one is a word for 'tree'. Even if you gave translations of your sentences in your story thinking to be correct, it could still lead to less nice reviews of people who noticed the mistake, and after hard work of research to find the proper language that will probably not make you happy. Make sure that your spelling is correct before you post your story (this, of course, also goes for your English spelling).

The next thing I will discuss is slash.

I don't really have anything against these stories, but there are a few things that you should keep in mind if you write a slash story. What I find important, and I think most people would agree, is if the story's believable. It might be more an opinion than a fact, but doubtless it makes sense.

When writing a story like this, you have to keep in mind that Middle-earth is very different from our world. In our world, only 4% of all men is homosexual (definition used in the research of this: "having been in love once or more than once with a member of the same sex, having admitted this and having had sexual intercourse"), and in Middle-earth this is likely to be even less. Tolkien was a convinced Catholic, and in general (exceptions left aside, of course) they don't approve of homosexuality. It's not sure if Tolkien was one of those Catholics, but considering his religion, the percentage of homosexuals in Middle-earth is low. Sure, Legolas may be gay if you want him to be. But how big is the chance that another member of the Fellowship is also gay? Very small.

Middle-earth had a culture that at various points resembles our world in the Middle Ages. In these days in our world homosexuality was a crime and you could get death sentence if you were found out (it has been, in fact, a crime in most countries of our world until about the 1970's). Tolerance on homosexuality was practically zero. Middle-earth, resembling this period, is probably not very different from our Middle Ages, except maybe the death sentence. Don't expect much tolerance when Legolas and Aragorn run off together or when Frodo and Sam announce to be a couple, if they even dare to announce this.

And just because Aragorn and Legolas happen to be a gay couple in your story doesn't mean that half the male population is also homosexual or even bisexual, which seems to be the case in the average slash story. In the average Aragorn/Legolas nearly half the world seems to lust after Legolas, and usually this is the main part of the plot. Be real. Like I said before, only 4% of all men or even less would be homosexual in Middle-earth, and with bisexuals added, you might get the number up to 14%, but not more. And not all of these men happen to live in Mirkwood, Gondor or whichever place the story is set in. One gay couple or maybe two is more than enough, more than four gay men would be unreal as could be. Certainly if they all admitted to be gay.

Then there are slash stories you should just avoid completely, simply because they're so unrealistic and so un-Tolkien that the story loses all connection with Middle-earth as it was originally created. Best example of this would be the Elladan/Elrohir fics. This would never, I repeat never, happen in Tolkien's Middle-earth. The reason is simple: Elves don't get involved romantically with anyone closer related than a second cousin. It's not in their nature. They think it odd and wrong, and even if they would fall in love with a closer relation than that they would not express it and keep it to themselves. In simpler words: it freaks them out and they ignore the feeling until it goes away or is replaced with love for another.

"...he [A/N: Maeglin] loved the beauty of Idril and desired her, without hope. The Eldar wedded not with kin so near, nor ever before had any desired to do so. And however that might be, Idril loved Maeglin not at all; knowing his thought of her she loved him the less. For it seemed to her a thing strange and crooked in him, as indeed the Eldar ever since have deemed it..." (Of Maeglin)

Maeglin was Idril's first cousin. Not convinced yet?

"None of the Eldar wedded those in direct line of descent, nor children of the same parents, nor the sister or the brother of either of their parents; nor did they wed 'half-sisters' or 'half-brothers'." (LACE)

Well, you say, these quotes only concern marriage. That has little to do with sex...
That's another misconception slash authors in general (once again, there are exceptions) seem to have. Elves take one or more bed partners before getting married and it is common for them to fall for both men and women. Both of the previous elements in a slash story are untrue.

Elves are very careful when it comes to love, and don't just go screwing around with the first ruggedly handsome ranger that comes along. Tolkien made it very clear in his essay "Laws And Customs among the Eldar (LACE)" that this is not very likely to happen. To Elves, and most fan fiction authors really don't know this, sex is similar to marriage and an important part of the wedding. Of course, by the time it happens, the couple will have left the wedding party, but the sex is essential to the wedding. It sometimes even happened that when on the run for something, Elves skipped the ceremony of the wedding and just made love to be married. So Legolas can't be Aragorn's partner and then worry about Aragorn's engagement to Arwen, because they'd already be married. (Which could still be an interesting plot line.)

Elves do not have divorces; their marriage is forever and even after the death of one or both it is not broken, unless both Elves agree to this. When they do, a period of ten years follows in which the decision can be revoked and the deceased can still return to life. If this period expires and the deceased wishes to remain in the Halls of Waiting, the other can remarry. The deceased then can never return to life, for the other would then be wedded to two, which Eru does not allow.

Take Finwë and Míriel. After giving birth to Fëanor, Míriel rejected further life and passed to the Halls of Mandos. Finwë wanted more children and loved Míriel dearly, but she would not return. Later on Finwë met Indis of the Vanyar and fell in love with her. Technically he was still married to Míriel. The Valar then discussed the case and after Míriel's final decision and the said ten years, Finwë married Indis. The law made for this type of case became known as the Statute of Finwë and Míriel.

Where the idea comes from that it is common for Elves to be bisexual I don't know, but most likely a non-reading slash author came up with it to cover up a plot-hole. It's quite big nonsense, actually. In all the history of Middle-earth there isn't a single homosexual character mentioned, or a bisexual, probably for reasons I have already explained, such as tolerance. How likely would it be then, that 90% of the Elves is bisexual? Once again, not really likely. Keep this statement out; it only makes the story look stupid. (Of course there were probably some homosexual or bisexual Elves and Men, it would be equally unlikely that there were none at all. But even if this would be the case, it happened only seldom and would probably not be considered 'common' or 'alright'.)

Yet another element frequently used in slash stories is rape, prostitution and slavery with ELVES. Sure, these things might have occurred in the world of Men, but certainly not in the elven community. An Elven prostitute would have a lot of husbands (or wives, if the prostitute is male), and an Elf visiting a prostitute would have some explaining to do as well. Elves can hear in one another's voices whether they're married or not, so cheating would be very tough.

"Guile or trickery in this matter [A/N: marriage] was scarcely possible (even if it could be thought that any Elf would purpose to use it); for the Eldar can read at once in the eyes and voice of another whether they be wed or unwed." (LACE)
Elves do not rape either. It would be forcing into a marriage, and this is not in their nature. An Elf forced into this kind of situation would not wish to live on either and would reject further life. Forced marriages would be a wasted effort then. Elves can easily let go of life if they wish, for their spirit rules over the body, not the other way around, as is the case with Men. For the same reason they cannot be FORCED into prostitution (or sex in general) by someone, they'd reject life and remain in the Halls of Waiting, or be reborn in freedom if they wish to try again and were indeed allowed. (Of course some of the things mentioned above will also go for het-stories.)

(As for the case of Eol and Aredhel, for those who did read the Silmarillion: Tolkien mentions that Aredhel wasn't entirely unwilling, and therefore I doubt that it should be considered as rape. Rape, per definition, is entirely against someone's will. (Apart from that, later on Tolkien mentions that Aredhel did love Eol, although he doesn't say in what measurement or when she fell in love.))

I doubt that every Elf would just die and go to the Halls of Mandos; as long as the Elf still saw a reason to live he or she would not let go of life. There is healing after most hurt, after all. But an Elf that was raped and then forced into slavery as a whore would not want to go on. It is not in the elven nature; Elves are quite proud. In such a position there is usually little hope of release, and it would be better to let go of life, abide in the Halls of Mandos and return to life in Aman, as mentioned above. And let's be honest; no one, be they Elf or human, would really feel much for living on the situation just mentioned. Would you want to live on?

"The Eldar wedded once for all. Many, as histories reveal, could be come estranged from good, for nothing can wholly escape from the evil shadow that lies upon Arda. Some fell into pride, and self-will, and could be guilty of deeds of malice, enmity, greed and jealousy. But among all these evils there is no record of any among the Elves that took another's spouse by force [A/N: they did not take anyone by force]; for this was wholly against their nature, and one so forced would have rejected bodily life and passed to Mandos." (LACE)

Basically you'd need one hell of a plot to write a good slash story, keep it realistic, loyal to the world of Tolkien, and without any major plot holes. But not just slash stories often contain plot holes. Normal romance stories are usually full of them, after the slash stories they're probably the biggest group of stories containing plot holes; other categories usually contain less mistakes, although there are really silly ones. I'll give a couple of examples.

Romance between Men and Elves is a very familiar plot line in this fandom. Some beautiful mortal girl appears and steals the heart of Legolas, Haldir or whichever other Elf the author finds hot. She joins the Fellowship and gets together with her chosen hottie (an Elf-girl falling for a mortal is also done at times), they spend some nights together and she ends up pregnant (or something along a similar plot line). In other kinds of romance there is no Fellowship and the Elf and Mortal just get together. The couple practically always gets married later on. Either way, this is full of plot holes. Having read this far, you can probably point out a couple by yourself already. The ease in which they get together, and the marriage that follows even when according the elven law they're already married isn't even the biggest one.

Elves know that only when a high fate awaits them they should be together with a mortal, and that such a romance is accompanied with a lot of trouble. They know that they will outlive their lover, and that it would be hard on both them and their lover in mental and physical ways. Only really strong minds would endure this, but the Elf is most likely to decide to keep the love to him or herself to avoid pain on both sides, as was the case with Aegnor and Andreth. (Aegnor was Elf and Andreth was a mortal woman.) This statement is taken from Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth (the Debate of Finrod and Andreth), in which much of the case of Aegnor and Andreth becomes clear (Finrod explains to Andreth why Aegnor withheld from romance). They were indeed in love, but Aegnor never submitted to his feelings because he felt it was for the better. A lot of Elves would probably take the same decision.

Apart from that, it is a law among the Elves that they should be at least betrothed for one year before they get married. Only in very rare cases, when there was really no other option, they got married immediately. This could happen when they were on the run, or when they lived alone, or for other reasons, but it wasn't common, and Tolkien states in LACE that if such a thing happened other Elves usually frowned upon it.

Another thing that should be noted is that Elves do not wed or take children in times of war (such as the War of the Ring). They wish to build a family in peace and harmony, and a war against evil just doesn't fit in that scenario. If Legolas really wanted a child of his lover in this period, he'd be most likely to think it better to wait until the shadow had passed. (Apart from that he had no time to nurse a baby. Having to change diapers in the middle of Rohan or during the Battle of Helm's Deep would not work out, you see.) And Legolas is really not the only Elf to come to that conclusion.

"Yet it would seem to any of the Eldar a grievous thing if a wedded pair were sundered during the bearing of a child, or while the first years of its childhood lasted. For which reason the Eldar would beget children only in days of happiness and peace if they could." (LACE)

Don't go off and create any half-Elves just because it sounds nice. There are only four couples in all of Middle-earth's known history and these would be Beren/Lúthien, Idril/Tuor, Aragorn/Arwen and Mithrellas/Imrazôr. The first two couples were the ancestors of Elrond and Elros (and eventually Aragorn and Arwen). These three couples had a high fate awaiting them. The last couple did not have this high fate, but Mithrellas didn't stick around. It comes down to this: unless some high fate brings Elf and mortal together, a relationship between the two kinds will likely not last.

I have mentioned these four couples (and Aegnor and Andreth earlier) to indicate how rarely it happened that Elf and mortal fell in love, and that it happened even less that they allowed this love to develop further. It is not impossible that there were more than the previously mentioned couples, but it requires a very good explanation. Why was the new couple so different that they wanted to get married so badly?

When it comes to High-elves there probably were no more exceptions. Their history is thoroughly described in the Silmarillion and other books, and if more High-elves had wedded a mortal, we'd be likely to know. But when it comes to Dark-elves you'll find some wriggle room. Just remember to avoid any plot holes.

The second big mistake you can make, is an Elf traveling alone being ambushed and taken captive by a couple of Mortal Men. Elves are far better warriors than Men, and even when Men have the element of surprise, an Elf on his own could easily fight off ten to fifteen Men, if not more. Think about it... in the movie you can see Legolas battling dozens of Uruk-hai with only Gimli at his aid. He may not be alone, but he is still severely outnumbered. He survives with practically no scratches. And Uruk-hai are trained to kill. Would a couple of human outcasts be able to defeat him then? No. Even an ambush would be hardly possible, because elven senses are much sharper than those of Men and they can see (and hear) other creatures clearly when they're miles away. Legolas would be likely to know about that ambush a mile ahead, and be prepared for battle, even when he is in a dark forest like Mirkwood.

Besides, Elves have magic, and even though Wood-elves have magic nowhere near the strength of High-elves, they're still pretty damn strong. If you've read the Hobbit you'll know that a couple of Wood-elves captured Thorin Oakenshield by using magic to make him fall asleep. And those were ordinary Wood-elves. Legolas is a Wood-elven prince, and of higher descent than those Elves. So even if he'd be losing, he'd still have the option of making his attackers fall asleep with magic, or to do something similar.

"Thorin had been caught much faster than they had. You remember Bilbo falling like a long into sleep, as he stepped into a circle of light? The next time it had been Thorin who stepped forward, and as the lights went out he fell like a stone enchanted. (...) Then the Wood-elves had come to him, and bound him, and carried him away."

Note that he would not KILL them with magic, because Elves only kill when there is absolutely no other option.

Please also note that elven magic is quite different from the kind of magic Gandalf and Saruman use. Elves often used a song for an enchantment, and then the result would be such a thing as falling asleep. (Lúthien did this to make Morgoth fall asleep.) Whereas Gandalf might be able to summon lightning bolts, an Elf would never use such a spell. Elven magic is quite different from 'battle-magic'. (Battle-magic: I cast Lightning Bolt, you cast Timestop and then a Fire Orb, for example.) In fact, elven magic doesn't even closely resemble it. It is subtle and only in very rare cases used in a fight. The only case recorded is the battle between Finrod and Sauron in the First Age (Finrod indeed used song against Sauron). Only in great need would an Elf use magic to ward off an enemy.

Elves did not have 'practice battles' to train their magic either. They felt no need to. If you want to read about 'battle-magic' or 'practice battles' I suggest you go and read Harry Potter or something like it (no offense to these books intended); it suits Harry and Hermione better than it suits an Elf of Tolkien's kind.

There are always some exceptions to the rules. But you have to know the rules in the first place to know where you can bend or break them. Bill Ferny could not take on Legolas or Elrond on his own, true. But a big gang of human outlaws might just be able to take on an Elf travelling alone, if said Elf is more of a scholar, still very untrained or heavily wounded. In any case you'll need a very good explanation as to why this Elf couldn't deal with these men. (And saying that Legolas was severely wounded in a fight with a band of Orcs will in most circumstances not suffice. He's a good warrior, certainly when it comes to fight of Orcs. Heck, he lives in a forest full of big, meanie spiders. How did the Orcs get him so badly wounded and how did he manage to get away?)

The final thing I think you should avoid is the creation of whole new countries, cities, forests, creatures and important Elven colonies in Middle-earth. If Tolkien didn't describe an elven colony at a certain location, or a forest isn't on the map where you want the forest to be, it just isn't there. Forests don't pop up out of nowhere, and if the elven kingdom was really so important, Tolkien would probably have mentioned it. Forget about gorgeous (as in being prettier than Lúthien herself; "Sue was the most beautiful of Elves that ever lived") princess Sue from Silver Pixiewood riding a unicorn; Silver Pixiewood after Rivendell, Lothlórien and Mirkwood being the most important elven habitat and located in the south of Gondor.

Sue is NOT prettier than Lúthien, Arwen or Galadriel; they are extremely fair even for Elves. Sue may be very pretty to human eyes, but just a normal girl to Elves. Lúthien Tinúviel was the fairest of all Elves ever, only Varda Elentári of the Valar was fairer than she. You'll just have to live with that. If she's from another elven colony than the three majors of the Third Age, she's probably not a princess either. Most elven colonies were small and did not have a king. No king, no princess, it's as simple as that.

There is no Silver Pixiewood in Gondor (the Steward would know of it, really, and probably ask for the aid of these Elves when Sauron's forced infested Gondor. Even if he didn't ask them for help the Elves would probably fight the Orcs anyway, seeing as they live in the same region. And in that case Tolkien would've mentioned these Elves somewhere in the books), so she's not from a major colony and thus another reason why she's not a princess. She does not ride a unicorn either. These don't exist in Middle-earth. There are vampires (although not of the kind we describe with that name), werewolves (quite different from the ones we define by "werewolf") and dragons. But unicorns, centaurs and any other mystical creatures mentioned nowhere simply do not exist in Middle-earth, so forget about it.

There are a lot of regions Tolkien described briefly or not at all. Take Rhûn, Harad, Khand, Dorwinion... a lot of wriggle room for you to put a forest or whatever you planned on putting there. Stack your enchanted lake there, fine. I'll even let you have your elven colony; Tolkien mentioned something about some Elves going south early in the First Age. It is just very unlikely that these elven colonies had ties with Elrond or Galadriel, or were even known of at all. Writing about an elven colony in Harad or Khand is probably a lot more interesting too.

The same goes for inserting new races. Really, we'd know if there were any unicorns in Rivendell. But if you can think of a very good reason why an entire herd of them lived near the Sea of Rhûn without having been discovered yet, they can inform me. I'm interested to see how that plot develops.

All the things mentioned in this essay are reasons why you should read the books Tolkien wrote; simply to avoid mistakes like those, and I can guarantee you that there are a lot more that people often make.

For anyone that has some knowledge on Middle-earth that goes farther than having seen the movies a couple of times, and especially for the purists, these mistakes are simply frustrating, driving some of the purists and their good stories away from ff.net and other fan fiction websites; a thing that should not happen. The purists too stubborn to leave will flame a non-reader making major mistakes to hell, something that is also quite cruel. They too might work hard on their fics and have more use for constructive criticism. I don't even believe a flame is of any use in the first place, not is it relevant to the story.

Reading the books on history of Middle-earth et cetera published for the movies (such as the "Creatures Guide") is not enough; these don't go very deep into subjects and are often incomplete, and that easily leads to making a small or big mistake.

A lot of Tolkien's work was never finished before his death, but his son Christopher published a lot of it later on, including important information for characterization of Elves. Reading these will certainly help you keep your story more realistic as a work of fiction in Tolkien's canon. There are quite some inconsistencies in Tolkien's published works, I'll admit that. But if you know these, you can make use of them. Like I said before; you need to know the rules to know where they can be bent or broken. The inconsistencies leave a lot of wriggle room, why not use that instead of flatly ignoring everything that's known of Tolkien's canon? One of the reasons fan fiction exists is to correct those things people see as errors in the canon plot line, not to make more and more.

But reading the books is not just important for getting things right. It allows a reader to open up to a new style of writing (and with each new style of writing we read we are able to develop our own to a better level) and might also help to enhance one's vocabulary; something a good writer will always need. Apart from that it gives you access to a lot more and new and interesting characters to use in your story, and to new and unused plot lines. Anyone reading this would probably realize that a new plot line is more interesting than one that has been done twenty or more times already. Doing something new shows creativity and intelligence and will be more interesting to write and read, simply because it hasn't been done yet.

Lastly I think it's wrong to write fan fiction in a specific fandom just because some pretty boy actor starred in the movie, rather than liking the world and its characters in itself. And wouldn't it be odd to write about the characters from Tolkien's books without actually having read the books in question?

E/N: I wrote this essay to be a help for non-readers or readers that have only read shallowly. I have no intention whatsoever to insult anyone, although I can imagine people recognizing things from their own stories here. I've made a couple of mistakes as well, so in no way am I superior. It's just an essay containing (creative) criticism, and thus to help. If you need help on history of Middle-earth or specific details not mentioned here, or looking for a beta with more knowledge than having seen the movies, you're free to email me or leave your question in a review; I'll do my best to answer. If anything is unclear I'm also glad to explain further. My email address is displayed on my bio page, so contacting me is no problem. I'm interested in your opinion of this essay, and if it was any help or is a waste of the disk space. I'm asking for criticism or, if you like this, positive reviews; I have no use for flames, as they are attacks directed at me and not my writing.
(Definition of a flame: a personal attack on the author (in no way whatsoever having anything to do with the story.))

Sources used for this essay:

Morgoth's Ring (Edited and put together by Christopher Tolkien) - LACE (Laws And Customs among the Eldar) and Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth (The Debate of Finrod And Andreth).

The Silmarillion (Edited by Christopher Tolkien) - Chapter 16; Of Maeglin.

The Unfinished Tales (Edited by Christopher Tolkien) - The Tale of Galadriel and Celeborn, Appendix B (The Princes of the Sindar).

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien.
The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, by JRR Tolkien

This essay can be found in the Reality Bytes section of the main archive.
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