Boo, Yay, and Necessary Experience

I did work through the weekend (boo) but only half-days (yay?), which means I’m not done with loading the revised werelion serial (boo) but, gods willing, I should be today or tomorrow (yay?). Once it’s done I can leave it bloody well alone until June, which will be nice…

…but revisions on the second Ghost Squad book just landed, then there’s Sons of Ymre #2 to finish, Rook’s Rose (season two of Hell’s Acre) to get fully off the ground, and the second Tolkien werewolves book to write. All of that will be fun, but I could probably be forgiven for looking at the previous sentence and reaching blindly for my coffee while muttering something unprintable.

I also finished reading They Were Her Property, which was a difficult but necessary experience. Reading American history is maddening when the realities of slavery are glossed over, and terrifying when they’re not. I prefer the honesty of the latter, since the former is not properly history at all but propaganda–and not very good propaganda at that, since everyone bloody well knows the truth.

So. There are seventeen chapters of werelion to revise, and I probably won’t get them all done today, given how the dogs and my own bodily needs interrupt the work of writing. I am in that peculiar state where I resent anything taking me away from work, and self-care–showers, eating, even sleep–most of all. I just want to write, I just want to finish this. If not for the dogs I would probably ignore my own requirements, such as they are and for as long as possible, until the inevitable crash. Which would set me back quite a bit physically, and rob me of far more working time than just simply holding my nose and caring for my meatsack and self as I should, it’s true, so the dogs are helping more than you’d think.

Which they would be thrilled to hear if they weren’t so focused on waiting for me to get through my coffee so they have a chance of toast scraps. I believe there is a perfectly ripe avocado ready for smearing on my toast proper–don’t worry, the canines never get even a shred of that deliciousness; I know it’s Very Bad For Them. They do get bits of naked crust, though, because I’m a sucker.

There is only a thin scrim of coffee left in my mug, so it’s time to move on to the next task. I just have to keep my teeth and claws buried in the hide of this revision until it realizes it can’t shake me off and gasps its last tortured breath. Then I’ll be able to celebrate like a group of feasting Ewoks.

It’ll be messy, but satisfying. Kind of like the werelion book itself. In any case, Monday calls, and I should make sure the baseball bat is within easy reach. Just in case.

Have a lovely day, my darlings. We’ll get through all this yet.

Breathing From Hope

The weekend was lovely, though far too short–mostly because I worked through most of it, in one way or another, as has become necessary or just advisable nowadays. If I slow down too much, I run the risk of drowning.

The solar-powered lucky cat in the office garden is busily waving away, a sign the grow light is performing as intended. Otherwise, it’s a very dim rainy morning indeed, and the other solar bits and bobs–mostly flowers–are breathlessly still, waiting to see if the clouds will part. They probably won’t, which pleases me to no end–running in the rain is a particular joy, and I have new running socks.

There is very little as luxurious as new socks.

Sunday was extremely quiet; I built a fire in the upstairs fireplace and read from Anaïs Nin’s diaries. I’ve often meant to read more than Henry & June (and some of the erotica) and now seems the time to do it. I did read Henry Miller during my first-ever bookstore job, but found him very much like Brautigan, Heinlein, Harrison, and a great many of the Beats–so in love with worshiping their own twig-and-berries that they can’t see anything else. They imagine they’re casting monolith shadows, but it’s really just a lone stick stuck in the sand at noon, only seeming a monument because they’re looking at nothing else. Nin, for all her faults, has to take a wider view.

Anyway, it’s really nice to read Nin after intervening decades. I’ve gone from “why would you even be thinking about this, Anaïs?” to “oh, honey, I’ve been there, it’ll be so nice to see you get to the other side of it.” That’s the power of age, of surviving a world that wants to kill anything female.

Another thing I’m thinking about a lot lately is the idea, prevalent in both fantasy and horror, that childhood is a time of great power that never comes again. There is certainly a great deal to be said for innocence and wonder, and the energy of a young thing. But I want to write magical systems and things now where age and experience means far more power and counts for more than “I’m a young and talented Gary Stu, hur de hur hur, and I’ll never be this good again.” My thoughts on this are a bit inchoate at the moment, but I can see the dimensions of the problem and have possible solutions in mind. I think that’ll be the theme of The Innkeeper’s War but I have to finish The Black Land’s Bane first.

It’s nice to have things to think about, to feel like there might be enough of a future to continue breathing out of hope rather than mere spite. I’ve been sticking myself head-down in stories to survive for my entire life, but the years since 2016 have been…something else. May you live in interesting times is a horrible curse and if I ever found out who inflicted it on us I shall have words with them, dammit.

This morning, for the first time in a long while, I feel like there might be a future to survive for. Or maybe it’s just that my focus has narrowed so sharply I am seeing different horizons? I don’t know. It could just be the fact that I’m up relatively early on a Monday and need a new office chair. Ideally, I’d like one I can sit cross-legged in while I type, but that seems to be a fond dream more than an actual item than exists.

I spent a long time writing novels on a laptop balanced on a lap-desk while I sat cross-legged in a papasan chair, and while that might’ve been bad for my back it was good for me creatively, and I could also stretch out when necessary. I miss that, though I’m sure I could just…stand up? And get the same thing?

I don’t think I want solutions. I think I want to complain. *snork*

There’s another Tea with Lili today, and I actually have a dedicated Teatime Notebook now where I make notes about future subjects and things to talk about. I think today it’ll be a follow-up to my feelings about the so-called self-help industry, which we touched on last week, and we’ll talk about the work of worldbuilding as well as why I like timers so much. It’s good to have something planned, though I’m sure I’ll go wildly off-topic, as per usual.

The dogs are prancing up and down the hall, eager for me to grab some toast and get started on the day. I still have a third of a cup of coffee left, though, and the morning’s quad shot tastes especially good today for some reason. Seasoned by survival, perhaps.

Happy Monday, beloveds. I get to go running in the rain, which always pleases me, and I hope you have something likewise pleasant to look forward to.

See you around.

Repair and Reading

Over the past week we had two deliveries of dishwasher parts.

It was explained to me this is partly because of the recent groaning and creaking of the supply chain, partly to cut down on damage in transit, and partly so if the bits-and-bobs are damaged in transit, blame can be laid at the feet of the transit company instead of a parts warehouse.

Go figure. One does indeed learn something new every day. Anyway, the repairman hath arrived, has been dosed with an Americano from Horace de Brassiere, and is busily working away with said arrived parts. The dogs, realizing that I will not under any circumstances let them out of Durance Vile (i.e., my bedroom) to attempt wholesale consumption of said repairman (always a favourite pastime) have quieted a bit and are snuffling under the door, attempting to get a snootful or two of whatever stranger hath invaded their demesnes.

In other words, it’s a bit of a morning here at the Chez.

I spent most of the weekend working–getting the ol’ website links pointing at my Payhip store instead of Gumroad. I loved Gumroad when it started; unfortunately, this weekend they started being cagey about NFTs.

Like bitcoin, NFTs are purely and simply a pyramid scheme, and any reputable company or person should steer well clear of them. The whole thing leaves rather a bad taste in the mouth, since such schemes are often used for money laundering as well. I had thought that Gumroad would be too wise to countenance them, or at least, would understand that the creator-friendly company they claim to want to be would have nothing to do with such bullshit. I was wrong. So I shifted the buy links from my site to my old Payhip store (that platform has become quite handy for ebooks lately, they’re adding new functionalities with zest) and looked into different subscription/membership platforms.

Unfortunately, I can’t ask my subscribers to go elsewhere at a moment’s notice. It’s the same as when I tried shifting from Patreon to Gumroad for subscriptions–subscriber convenience is the watchword, and it’s unfair to ask people to go through all the bother of shifting around. There’s also the consideration that I have two separate workflows for getting subscriber goodies out weekly, and that takes a considerable bite of my working time. Adding a third would cut even further into actual writing, and I cannot have that.

So I will keep Gumroad and Patreon for subscriptions, but since Payhip has no truck with NFTs I shall sell my self-published ebooks directly through them (at a small discount from other distribution platforms) instead. That’s the best solution at the moment. I know Ko-fi does memberships now, so if one is just starting out that might be a better bet than Patreon or Gumroad. Also, has come out clearly with a statement that they will never truck with NFTs, and they are a fine platform for selling ebooks. (I put a few of the shorter, humorous works over there to test the platform, and have been agreeably surprised.)

Anyway, this is probably very boring to many readers, but others may be interested in the various decisions and considerations involved with being a “hybrid” author.

The shift to Payhip ate up a great deal of time, and the rest was taken with housecleaning and reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. The Universe shoved that book at me years ago but I did not have time to read it; over the past month or two the calls have become increasingly urgent. Generally when that happens it’s easier to just read the damn thing than to ignore it. So I dug the paperback out of the Literature section of the downstairs library, settled on the couch, and dove in.

It’s a wonderful fantasy novel disguised as literary fiction. It rather strikes me as what Fowles’s Magus (which I OMG outright loathed every minute of) should have been. I have other thoughts on it, but the book is still settling within my internal caves and halls and so will need further digestion before I can articulate them. It is no spoiler to say that I hated every single character with a passion and was also glad for Bunny’s murder. Everyone in the book is terrible, including the narrator, who is wonderfully unreliable. It’s a towering achievement and illustrates something I’ve often noticed–the most usual and genuine response to a genuine paranormal or “divine” event, in our culture, is heedless panicked flight in the other direction.

Which is, all things considered, probably very wise indeed.

It’s been a long while since I’ve settled on the couch on a sunny afternoon with a bourbon and a book. The pandemic has forced me into a state of exhaustion not very conducive to trying new things (telly shows, movies, books) or long stretches of concentration other than writing. I am beginning to feel as if I’m adapting to get some of that back–at least, until some-damn-thing-else happens–and it’s lovely.

Next up is Lee Child’s first Reacher novel, which has only been shoved at me by the Universe for the past week or so instead of for years, so maybe I’ll get a break after I finish it. So far it’s proving a lot easier than the second Wheel of Time book, which I could not get to the end of no matter how I tried. I just…I don’t like Rand al’Thor, I suspect I never will, and I further suspect there’s far too much of him and too little of others throughout the entire bloody series. But at least I gave it a go.

The repairman is still banging away in the kitchen, though the dogs have quieted. I should go see if the fellow wants more coffee. My Monday is off to a very early start, and I can only hope it will not be as Monday-ish as several previous ones have proved. I hope yours is quiet and behaves itself, my beloveds.

See you around.

Ridiculous Heat

The heat put paid to any real work yesterday, despite my best efforts and the air conditioning. Of course, I’ve been going without any real rest for a while, so the Muse just threw up her hands and brought everything to a screeching halt. On the bright side, now I know the next handhold to swing to in Cold North, and the next combat scene in Hell’s Acre is just about settled in my head. The only thing I have to get down is the entrance to the battlefield and the first few moves. The rest of the fight depends on the attacker getting to a certain point in the room, and the most efficient way of doing that will break his cover, which he needs until the very last moment. So he might have to amble, or let the opponents get a few shots in while they’re dragging him to meet their boss–which is precisely where he wants to be.

…they take only short time to read, but combat scenes often take a ruddy long time to write. Everything has to be just so.

On the bright side I can go down to the punching bag and work off some angst blocking out the close-quarters part of the fight. I have quite a few Tuckerizations courtesy of my lovely subscribers–sometimes I put out a call for character names, and mostly those walk-ons die in terribly gruesome ways.

So, yesterday was suboptimal but the heat seems to have broken, which means I can walk the dogs and get a nice reasonable run in, as well as leave my office window open a bit to cool it down–unless, of course, the weird alarm in the neighbor over the back fence’s yard keeps going off. I think he meant it as a squirrel deterrent, but it goes off at the least breath of wind and the thing is annoying.

I did finish that book on Rome and the Silk Road; I’ve moved on to a WWII memoir. I’m saving a scholarly Viking book for when a certain question involving Cold North is settled. At least I got some reading in during the heat, between lying on the floor as a puddle and making questionable food choices. (I regret nothing, though my digestion is a bit unhappy. NOTHING, I TELL YOU.)

I knew things were getting ridiculous yesterday when I realized it was 2pm already and I hadn’t even gotten a hundred words. That set off a death spiral where I was convinced, convinced my career was over and I’d never write again. It was a sign I needed some kind of break, so I carried said book to the floor and settled into reading and internal grousing, while the dogs did not pile onto me–it was too warm–but were extremely proximal, attempting to soothe.

They were paid for their care in French fries, and considered that quite acceptable indeed.

So, today I finish an elementalist and a shieldmaid having a heart-to-heart, then get an elf stabbed with a poisoned blade. And for good measure, I get a certain Hellion to the precise spot in a pub’s private room where he can commit maximum mayhem. Pretty sure he’s going to defenestrate someone–by request, actually, a soon-to-be-Tuckerized subscriber really wanted death by window ejection and I have no objection.

For I love my darling Readers and beloved subscribers, and if a little thing like tossing a character through a window will make them happy, who am I to deny it?

My mood has lifted considerably now that I’ve talked my way into defenestration. I suppose that’s the Thursday mood.

Over and out.

The Pile and Piranesi

Since some energy has freed up–i.e., the relief of everyone having at least the first vaccine shot means I’m not plunged in a whirlpool of worry every time someone in the house coughs–I’ve been getting more in the way of reading done. I had a stack of manga by my bed, which has been absorbed.1 Now the stack behind it can be approached.

Clarke’s Piranesi is at the top. I read it all in one gulp on a warm night earlier in the week, and am in the same position I was when I finished Kolyma Tales. In other words, I am envious of everyone who hasn’t read it yet, because it’s just so good. In fact, I’m reading it again, but more slowly. I don’t often do a twice-in-a-row–there’s been, I think, under ten books in my life I’ve even been tempted to–but I don’t want to leave it. I want to savor every single word all over again.

After that will come Price’s The Viking Way, which I promised myself I’d move to the top of the queue when I started earnest work on The Cold North. I can’t wait to get into it, but that will have to wait until I’m finished rolling around in Piranesi once more.

If this seems a rather small pile, don’t worry. It’s only the “next in queue” next to my bed. I have many more books to read. And isn’t that the definition of luxury? Many a book to read, and a bed to read them in.

Enjoy your weekend, beloveds. I’ll probably spend mine working, as usual, but I’ll certainly be taking some time to visit flooded hallways crowded with statues.

Yelling About Isildur, Part II

So yesterday I began the morning yelling about Isildur, went for a run with Boxnoggin, and came back bleeding from knees, hand, forehead and chin because said Boxnoggin startled when a bus drove past and took my legs out from under me.

Don’t worry, Boxnoggin’s fine. I was face-down on pavement, somewhat dazed, and he had the grace to nose at me like why are you on the ground, Mum? Is this where we live now? Is this the new game?

It’s hard to be angry at a canine who literally doesn’t remember what happened five seconds ago. Anyway, I didn’t feel the rest of that run, what with all the adrenaline going on. The scabs are great and I’m telling everyone I got into a fight.1

But what you’re really here for is Part II of Why Elrond Should Cut Isildur Some Ding-Dang Slack, right? (Part I is here.) If you don’t like my nerding about Tolkien, you might want to skip this blog post too.

Ready? Here we go…

So Ar-Pharazon2 is getting ready to sail West, there’s portents galore3, Sauron is sacrificing Elf-friends to Morgoth in the middle of Numenor, and Elendil has looked at this shit and decided “oh HELL naw.” He tells his sons4 to load up their ships, and there’s some deciding which harbor to sneak into. So Isildur (recovered from his TOTALLY BADASS raid to rescue a fruit from the White Tree, don’t forget) and Anarion–his younger brother, who Elendil probably liked better since he was named after the sun instead of the moon like Isildur, although it could just be because the White Tree of Valinor was older than the Golden one, sure, whatever–load up their ships and await developments.

Not a moment too soon, as it turns out, because Ar-Pharazon weighed anchor and went sashaying westwards, and that pissed the Valar off but mightily.

AR-PHARAZON: “Look, about that Death thing, it really doesn’t seem such a gift from Iluvatar, and there’s this guy Sauron making some really good points–“
THE VALAR: “Look, we gave you ONE RULE, don’t sail west towards our island, and what do you go and do?”
AR-PHARAZON: “But I’m the Golden King of Numenor, and I made this Sauron guy my servant and… oh, what the fuck, I’m coming over, we’ll talk.”

Every time I read about Ar-Pharazon setting sail and the Valar’s response I can’t help but think of the John Mulaney bit about a teenager at an illicit party throwing a bottle to the ground and yelling “Scatter!” when the cops arrive.5

In other words, the Valar decided oh hell naw too, and called their big brother to handle this bullshit. Well, Eru Iluvatar, God Himself, or the creative principle, or whatnot. And what does Eru do?

Well, Eru’s conflict-resolution skills aren’t great. He could have intervened against Morgoth’s bullshit at any moment of the First Age, or against Sauron’s bullshit at any goddamn moment in the Second and Third, but instead he… throws a tantrum when Ar-Pharazon sails West? To be fair, this was probably not the only ant farm Eru was tending, and Manwë, like most eldest kids left in charge of fractious younger siblings, probably didn’t let him know things had gotten Out Of Hand until someone had to go to the E.R. So you really can’t blame Eru for saying “EVERYONE GO TO YOUR ROOMS RIGHT-FUCKING-NOW, DAMMIT!”

Except when Iluvatar in his infinite wisdom6 does that, there’s a giant cataclysm, Valinor is removed from the world (though the Elves can still get there), Ar-Pharazon’s fleet is swallowed by the seas, and for good measure Eru sinks the entire frickin’ island of Numenor–dogs, cats, babies, assholes, and elbows alike–except for maybe the one place where Tar-Miriel7 fled to high ground.

It’s all very… Yahweh.

Anyway, I take all this time to explain because there’s Isildur, chilling on the ships with his dad and his little brother, maybe hoping the Valar will sink Ar-Pharazon and then everyone can get on with their lives, and BOOM. Here comes the sinking of Numenor/Atlantis, and since Elendil & Co. were super shady and snuck into a bay they weren’t supposed to be in, their ships aren’t immediately smashed to flinders but tossed towards the continent.

They make landfall, and since the Numenoreans have been spreading along the coasts and exacting tribute from a lot of people they’re not exactly penniless refugees, but the trauma of their entire damn island being smashed because one jackass just had to make a point probably didn’t help anyone at all.

The only silver lining, I suppose, was that Sauron, hanging out on Numenor doing the ol’ human sacrifices bit and laughing into his sleeve at how stupid Ar-Pharazon was, got caught up in the hubbub and lost his physical body. But he was one of the Maiar–basically an angel, you could say–so he didn’t really… need it? Anyway, he fled and couldn’t take “a comely form” after that, and spent a lot of time just rage-coalescing into The Eye.8

This would be enough trauma for any one person, but life’s not done with Isildur yet. To give the Elves credit, they don’t say “I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO,”9 instead focusing on “Hey, you’ve always been solid bros and you planned ahead, good job, let’s get you some Band-Aids.” So Elendil figures lemons outta lemonade, amirite? and he and his sons found Gondor in the south and Arnor in the north, and everyone settles down to maybe chill a bit and get some therapy.

Except there weren’t any therapists on Middle-Earth, I guess.

Unfortunately, Sauron was still pissy, and he couldn’t really consider the fall of Numenor a total 100% success because the jerkwads he hated most had survived and were swanning around with the Elves and making kingdoms and stuff. Elendil even thought Sauron was dead, but Sauron was all “OH NO, NOT EVEN CLOSE” and Elendil was all “…shit.”

ELENDIL: Okay, so I’ll hang out in Arnor and you two hang out in Gondor, play nice with each other.
ELENDIL: I’m so glad Sauron’s gone!
ELENDIL: Oh, for Eru’s sake…

Now we’re getting into more well-known Tolkien history. There’s the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, and after they lose patience with Sauron being a pissy asshat they march out to give him stern talking-to. The Elven high king Gil-galad11 had a bone to pick with Sauron too, but Anarion (remember him?) was killed in the siege of Barad-dur.

ELENDIL: We’re gonna go kick Sauron’s ass.
ISILDUR & ANARION: Sure thing, Dad!
GIL-GALAD: Look out, there’s a–
ANARION: *gets crushed by a falling rock*
ELENDIL: …that was my favorite son, dammit.
ISILDUR: Well, this sucks.

So here’s Isildur. He grew up under the shadow of a murderous authoritarian regime, never once betraying his dad or his dad’s friends, risked his life saving a scion of the White Tree, did what his father said and got the getaway ships ready, saw his entire home (along with dogs, cats, babies, and everything else) perish in the grand-daddy of tsunamis or volcanic events or BOTH, built a fresh new whole-ass city in the south with his little brother, then has to go march to Mordor because Sauron is still being that fucking guy, and then he sees his little brother–who his father probably loved more–die terribly12 during the siege.

I’m just sayin’, a therapist or two in Middle-Earth would have saved a whole lot of hassle.

Isildur’s on the battlefield, friends dying all around him, his little brother’s crushed to paste, and what happens? Isildur’s dad–the father he never betrayed growing up, the father he stole the fruit of the White Tree for, the father he loved–also dies terribly at Sauron’s hands right in front of him.

Isildur does what eldest children do13–he saves the day, going mad with grief and rage, and he fucking kills an angel.14 We’re not talking Michael Landon mouthing soporifics or a little Hallmark cherub, no sir, Sauron was a fucking Maia, an immortal ageless being with so much life experience it wasn’t even funny.15 Even Gil-galad, a Noldorian High King, couldn’t stand the heat of Sauron’s hand, though there’s some contention that Elendil and Gil-galad sacrificed themselves to get Raid Boss Sauron down to the point where a single fighter could coup de grâce.16

GIL-GALAD: I’m on cooldowns! Cast something! Shield, something, anything!
ELENDIL: I’m not a fuckin’ paladin!
ISILDUR: I hate everything right now.
SAURON: *casts Immolate*
GIL-GALAD: *burning to death* …shit, I’m out, where’s my battle res?
ELROND: I’m in combat, I can’t fuckin’ cast it!
ELENDIL: *berserks*
SAURON: *has the One Ring buff* HAHAHAHAHAHA!
ELENDIL: *burning to death AND beaten to a pulp* …well, that didn’t go as I expected.
ISILDUR: *all cooldowns have reset* LEEEEEEEEROY JENKINS!

Isildur slices! He dices! He saves the entirety of Middle-Earth during this terrible fucking battle, and at the end of it, all he gets is this lousy ring.

Now, if you’ve watched the movies, it’s actually pretty close to the book. Elrond and plenty of the Elves were all, “THROW IT IN THE FIRE, DIPSHIT!”

Just think about Isildur, though. This guy, probably suffering several different flavors of holy-old-hell PTSD, just saw his father beaten to death to top everything off. Is it any wonder the One Ring was all “hey, buddy, don’t throw me away–what else, after all, do you have left?” and Isildur listened?17

Isildur saved Middle-Earth and lost everything in the process; of course he was determined to keep a loot item that might rebuild a little of it. Then, as a final fuck-you,18 the goddamn Ring betrays him, slips from his finger in the river, and he ends up with a bunch of orc arrows in his back.

And Elrond–who of all people should understand, being orphaned too and seeing all this shit go down on the battlefield–still gets snitty with Gandalf over it centuries after.

Now, my beloveds, you understand what I’m saying. Isildur, son of Elendil, got a raw goddamn deal.

There’s a lot in Tolkien to disparage–the misogyny, the racism, the turgid prose, I could go on and on. There is also a lot I find value in, not least because Lord of the Rings was one of the works that gave me hope as a kid suffering my own version of thralldom in Angbad. There are certain points where Tolkien as a writer was operating at one, conscious level while the meta versions of his characters were doing something quite entirely opposite. (See: Book Eowyn, and that paragraph where Tolkien realizes he had a girl kill the Witch-King of Angmar and frantically backpedals, making it so the knife of Westernesse in the hands of a hobbit who at least had twig-and-berries could get the XP from the fight.19)

As a writer, often balancing on that knife-edge between control over the universe of my creation and the work doing what it will because it’s an organic whole, I derive a great deal of comfort from the meta-versions of the characters. Sometimes the work knows better than the writer what’s needed, and to his credit (or maybe because he took so much refuge in the legendarium to stave off his own horror and survivor’s guilt) Tolkien often let the meta-characters do as they would.

Maybe he didn’t even notice.

Maybe I’m delving into Tolkien as an escape from 2020. Maybe there’s the added attraction of being able to make ManFan heads explode, and the amusement I get from jackasses in my inbox telling me I have ruined Tolkien 4EVA by getting my filthy girl cooties on it.20 Maybe I see something a bit noble in Tolkien père‘s21 dedication to his imaginary world and Tokien fils‘s dedication to his father ‘s work.22 Maybe it’s just the exhausted writer in me crawling back into the comfort of fanfic, where someone else has done the heavy lifting and I can just enjoy the ride. Maybe I just want to share something I find strength in, maybe I just love to yell about cool things. Maybe it’s all this, and more.

I’ve got to get some more ibuprofen. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little detour into nerdery; heaven knows I’ve enjoyed writing it. Sail on into the West, my friends, and don’t take any wooden Silmarils.

Here endeth the tale.

for now.

Yelling About Isildur, Part I

I was going to do a whole Masto/Twitter thread yelling about Isildur last night, but there was the Incident with the Vindaloo-Coated Rice Grain at dinner and then I was quite naturally worn out, since the day had been unsatisfactory at best despite getting all my wordcount in.

The cognitive load of 2020 is something, ennit. I feel like the year itself, rushing past, is deforming me like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Plus, I have a LOT to say about Isildur, and most of it requires some background. If you’re not interested in my Tolkien binge, you might want to skip this particular blog post–and probably tomorrow’s as well, since this is gonna be a two-parter.

Still here? All right. Strap on your helm and get ready for some massive OMG WTF. Let’s go.

I spooled up the Fellowship of the Ring movie earlier this week, figuring that the Tolkien binge deserved to be visual as well. (I still get chills at Cate Blanchett doing the voiceover.)

We see Elrond in the prologue, driving home just how old Earandil’s son is; it reminded me of later in the movie when he tells Gandalf, “I was there the day the strength of Men failed.” Now, normally I’m Team Elrond all the way–he might be constipated, but he’s also a solid mensch most of the time–but I’d just finished reading the Akallabeth chapter and it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe Elrond should lay off Isildur a little.

I’m about to get a little nerdy here in order to give you background. Just… trust me.

Now, Elrond and his twin brother Elros saw their mother Elwing1 throw herself into the sea rather than give up a Silmaril to the remaining Sons of Feanor2, and the boys were adopted by Maglor3 and never saw their dad again. They were essentially orphans even though their parents are celebrated in song, and you’d think that would give Elrond a little bit of fellow-feeling for Isildur.

Because my dear sweet gods, Isildur had it rough, and I didn’t realize quite how rough until my last read-through of the Silmarillion.

Isildur is descended from Earandil too (he’s the however-many-greats-grandson of Elros, who decided to be counted among mortal Men4), so he’s a kinsman of sorts. But Isildur grew up in Numenor while Sauron was in charge, which was… not ideal.

You see, Sauron was the henchman of Morgoth, the Big Bad of Arda. Morgoth’s essentially a Luciferian figure5 but his ass was whupped by the Valar and Earendil (big battle, lots of dragons) at the end of the First Age. Sauron decided he didn’t want to go back to the Valar and possibly get capital punishment or worse, so he fucked off to the hinterlands and started fooling around calling himself the Lord of Gifts and helping people out–for a price, and the price was rarely immediately apparent.

And he was GOOD at it! Sauron was Stalin to Morgoth’s Lenin, sort of?6 Before the whole Rings of Power thing, only Galadriel and Gil-galad refused to have any truck with this guy calling himself Annatar7 and the Valar were busy with getting all the Elves back home and repairing the damage the huge battle had done, plus they were all “Men? We don’t need no stinkin’ Men, Iluvatar can deal with that, we’ve got all we can handle.”

One suspects even Manwë8 was feeling kind of harassed at this point, what with Ulmo lifting an eyebrow every time their gazes met.9

Anyway. The Men who fought against Morgoth got long lifespans and their very own island homeland kind-of-within sight of the Deathless Isle, which was a pretty sweet deal. (Look, I know this is all very boring and nerdy, but I have a point, I PROMISE.)

That isle was Numenor. The first High King there was Elros; the kings of Numenor were descended from him and Elendil was too, on the distaff side.10

Fast forward a few *mumblemumblemaybethousand* years and past the whole “creation of the Rings of Power and war of Sauron vs. the remaining Elves” thing, and Numenor was a huge power in Middle Earth. But Sauron had noticed them, and he was always more likely to try to corrupt Men.11 Plus there was that whole “Gift of Iluvatar” thing.

In other words, death.

Plenty of Numenoreans started thinking “WTF is this death thing? Elves get to be immortal, and we can sail west to the Undying Lands. I mean, we’re not supposed to, but we could… you know, maybe the Valar weren’t being quite honest with us…”

No doubt Sauron thought, hey, that’s handy! And he settled down in Mordor to wait after he blew his cover with the whole Rings of Power thing.

Tolkien was, of course, intimately acquainted with the fear of mortality. You could say his entire legendarium is a protest against the senseless slaughter he saw in WWI’s trenches.12 It’s quite clear in the Akallabeth chapter that it’s fear of death that prepared the ground for Sauron, although Tolkien says earlier in the Silmarillion that Morgoth got to Men before the Valar could in the First Age and planted a fear of the Gift in them, sensing it would bear fruit later.

SO. The last and most powerful king of Numenor doesn’t want any of this death bullshit, thank you very much. He marries the true heir to the throne13 and then decides “You know what? I’m a super badass, I’m going to SAIL TO THE CONTINENT and CHALLENGE SAURON!”

The Numenoreans who were still tight with the Elves were all “this is a super bad idea” but Ar-Pharazon14 sailed off to the Continent and challenged Sauron to combat.

Now, Sauron was sitting in Mordor, and he looked at this dude, and I can only imagine he smiled like a fox watching chickens march right into its den.

Ar-Pharazon, because he was totally That Dude, sent his heralds out to say, “Yo, Sauron! Let’s fight! Or, you know, you could just be my vassal, because look at my army, right? IT’S SO HUGE!”15

And Sauron said, “…Okay.”

So Sauron was taken to Numenor in chains, which was of course right where he wanted to be. And Elendil and the Elf-friends were all “guys, this is a really super bad idea” but Ar-Pharazon and his buddies were like “SHUT UP,” and started rounding up Elf-friends and putting them in prison.

As he’d planned to, Sauron talked his way out of chains and into Ar-Pharazon’s cabinet, and they were best buds for a while. It got to the point where Sauron even had a temple to Morgoth set up in the middle of Numenor’s capital city, and was offering human sacrifices to his “master.”16 The sacrifices were–you guessed it–most often Elf-friends.

One gets the idea Orwell and Tolkien, while not exactly getting along, might at least have agreed on a few things about human nature.

This is the world Isildur grew up in. To top it all off, he wasn’t even the favorite son, that was Anarion. Anarion was named after the sun, Isildur after the moon. You get the feeling that Elendil, even though he was sort of a standup guy, couldn’t help but play favorites, but Isildur was like “yo, this is cool, I love my brother AND my dad.” But at the same time, there’s human sacrifices going on, and living under a despotic regime isn’t good for anyone.

Sauron takes it into his head to cut down the White Tree of Numenor, and it’s not Elendil or Anarion who sneak in past all the guards and take a fruit from it, basically ensuring the survival of a scion of one of the Two Trees of freakin’ Valinor. No, that’s Isildur, basically lifting a giant middle finger to Sauron, because he kills some of Sauron’s lieutenants and cronies in the process of sneaking in and not-so-sneaking out. And Isildur got totally trashed during it17 and only recovered when the sapling bore its first leaf.

Then Ar-Pharazon, egged on by Sauron–who is basically the head minister now, Walsie to Ar-Pharazon’s Queenie18–decides “You know what? Screw this death thing, Imma sail West to the Undying Lands, and if the Valar don’t like it, I’ll make them my servants just like I did with this Sauron dude the Elves were saying is all big and bad.”

Elendil and his sons look at this, and Elendil says, “All right, boys. Get the ships ready, because this is not gonna end well.” So Isildur and Anarion prep getaway conveyances like the good sons they are.

And then… it all goes even more pear-shaped than Elendil could ever imagine.

To be continued…