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…

Procrastinatin’ With the Ol’ JRRT

I slid into a deep hole of procrastination last night, ending up livetweeting bits of The Silmarillion. Well, more like shitposting, because oh dear gods there is some funny shit in there. Plus, I have the three-volume box set History of Middle-Earth because why the hell not, and there was even a Saruman-Sons of Feanor-Galadriel-Prince song joke included!1 Not to mention Gandalf and Galadriel’s Discord chat logs (“Saruman’s still talking” “Well wtf do you expect he’s SARUMAN”), Idril Celebrindal’s dick jokes (nothing the Eldar love more than a good dick joke, and in Gondolin they had to make do), Elrond’s constipation (did he have to poop one last time before deciding to join the Eldar, or did it just… fossilize in there?), Feanor’s sons pirating a T-shirt design… look, what I’m saying is there was a lot.

The Reply Guys and Mansplainers found the threads last night, which I knew would happen eventually. What’s even funnier is some of the ManFans have found them, and consequently when I checked my email this morn–lying in bed, for great is my power, I have an iPad–some of the ManFans had, with a great deal of effort and labor, taken themselves to my website, to the very contact form itself, and proceeded to correct some typos and also inform me I have, in my monstrous might, ruined Tolkien forever.

I think they mean I got my ovaries too near the material. How dare a girl make Tolkien dick jokes?

You know who would have loved a good dick joke? Strider. Also, Turgon, and I’ll bet Feanor had a filthy mouth. Glorfindel and Ecthelion both slew Balrogs with the power of trash-talking2, and even Finrod Felagund dropped bars on Sauron and you can’t tell me some of it wasn’t volleys of diss.

But among the Eldar, the greatest teller of dick jokes was Galadriel, who could crack Luthien up across a crowded elven hall just by looking at her and thinking them.

…you get the idea.

You can’t hear it, but you can imagine me laughing in bed, both dogs cuddled up close and blinking, as I scan the missives of furious men who don’t want girl cooties on their Tolkien. Sucks to be you, boys–ol’ JRRT, even though he was a massive misogynist who betrayed every female character he ever set his pen to, was very explicit in his letters that he wanted other people to play in his legendarium. It was what the whole effort was for–I mean, primarily there was his joy in making the thing, but he also wanted others to play in the sandbox. Like Morgoth’s rage-boner for Luthien, it’s canon, baby.3

The thing with opening your sandbox is sometimes the cats visit it.4

Anyway, I am drunk with power this morning, having apparently achieved with little effort and a great deal of mirth the total destruction of a whole and veritable fantasy literature cottage industry. Clearly I do not know my own strength, nor the power of my laughter. Lo, I am a veritable Tulkas, motherfuckers.5

It’s all very well but I have space opera to write, and the John Wick meets American Gods book. Then maybe I can turn my attention to Team MonsterFucker Goes to Gondolin, full of highfalutin’ deeds and dick jokes so subtle they are like elfsheen upon the hair of Morwen of the house of Beor.

My coffee has cooled and the dogs are very sure my laughter means we’re about to go rambling, so I’d best not disappoint them. It’s good to laugh again, since the slow-motion disaster of pandemic and coup is giving a little breathing space. Maybe that’s why I’m rereading Tolkien, hoping that some good comes out of this despair.

And maybe I just think dick jokes are hilarious, and like Galadriel says, “you gotta take your humor where you find it because who knows when a Balrog will come along, RIGHT GLORFINDEL?”6

*fades into distance, laughing*

Villains and Dream-Reading

I took almost the entire holiday weekend off (save some mischief-managing, of which not a word shall pass my lips until the entire affair is finished) and read a lot of Tolkien. Like, a lot–the Fall of Gondolin which his son put together, and the Silmarillion once more. I also splurged, since there was a release day, and more book Middle-Earth is coming to my house.

I don’t know why the Fall of Gondolin fascinates me so much. Probably it’s the tragedy, and the figure of Maeglin. The son of the Dark Elf had a hard go of it, and honestly without him there wouldn’t be much of a story. Like how without Morgoth everything would be hunky dory and we’d hang around singing to Iluvatar all ding-dang day, which might be nice, but… and without the Silmarils there wouldn’t be the entire Wars of Beleriand and all that jazz. The villain is a prime motivating force in many a story, and thankless work it is, too.

You remember those old Disney specials where the Magic Mirror would talk about how cool the villains were and how without them there’d be nothing? Or maybe it was only one special, but it occurred at different points on television and I was always fascinated.

I don’t necessarily want to write it from Maeglin’s point of view, much less Morgoth’s, though the idea that Eru was like, “I’ve got this plan,” and Morgoth was all, “It requires me to be a bastard, though, doesn’t it,” makes me want to laugh like the “get help” gag between Hemsworth’s Thor and Hiddleston’s Loki. It presupposes a plan and a just, if not a kind, universe; in that, Tolkien wrought more religion than he knew.

Of course there’s the whole psyche-violated-by-WWI thing, and the idea that Morgoth just didn’t want to go with the program and Eru was a jerk about it, or that Morgoth was the Arda equivalent of an authoritarian fuckwit, which yea even unto the gates of heaven shall be with us like the poor are said to be. Who knows?

Anyway, there’s the third season of HOOD to finish and The Black God’s Heart to make good wordcount o, because I wasn’t allowed to work for the past couple days, at risk of being tied up to a chair in the living room while the children glowered at me if I even attempted anything that looked like work. I gather I was getting a little too stare-eyed and intense, and they were a bit worried.

I do wonder, though–do you, dear Reader, read in your dreams? One of my friends sent this article recently, and I’ve been thinking about the books that have come from dream-images as well as the plot problems my subconscious has thrown into my sleeping hours in order to get resolved in interesting ways. I dream in hypersaturated color and have read more than a few books in dreams, though I can’t work a cell phone in them for the life of me. Not a few of my anxiety dreams have centered on trying to make a dream-phone behave, but the circuitry always seems wonky.

I think the last book I read in a dream was a version of Nancy Price’s Sleeping With the Enemy where the protagonist Sara drove race cars. I remember one passage that Price couldn’t possibly have written with two minor characters late in the book, and sometimes when rereading (it’s one of my go-to reads, revisited about yearly) I’m surprised to find it not in there, and I miss the descriptions of cars flying on the track with the wheel safe in a woman’s gloved hands that I read only once in said dream.

So, I’m curious. Do you read in your dreams? And now I’m off to finish my coffee and take the dogs for their ramble; Boxnoggin is eager to run since we took a few days off. He needs work, and so do I.

Back to it, then. Back into the fray, or into the dream. Not sure I can tell them apart at this particular moment, but that’s for the coffee soaking in to fix. All I have to do is let it work.

Over and out.

Visual Rest

Over the weekend I (finally) read How to Win Friends and Influence People–it had been referred to thrice by three separate people within a week, which is usually a sign I should at least glance at something. I was somewhat pleased to find out most of it’s stuff I already do as a matter of course.

I was forcibly struck, however, by how much of the book presumes a parity of privilege between the two involved in friendly communication. Some of the principles can be altered slightly for dealing with people possessing far more privilege than oneself, it’s true. But the book, when taken as a sole guide to human interaction, woefully underprepares one for dealing with malignant narcissists and rampant, toxic bigots.

Of course one should never take any one book as one’s sole guide to human interaction; humans are impossibly complex. But if one’s going to read Carnegie’s opus I think it should be paired with Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear and a great deal of Captain Awkward. Not quite like pairing wine and cheese, more like pairing calcium with vitamin D.

It’s a lovely grey morning full of rain. The flames of deciduous trees shedding their summer robes are dying down; we’re entering the time of monochrome. Or at least, as close to monochrome as firs and pines through a screen of mist can be. I know I’ll be ready for some splashes of color by the time the plum blossoms are ready to emerge, but for right now I could use some visual rest.

I have been rather sharp with people lately, though. Carnegie’s book is a nice reminder to be kind, when I am certain my interlocutor is not toxic. Toxic requires different strategies.

Yesterday evening neither dog would rest until both of them were crammed into the single chair I had settled in. Of course they couldn’t take the loveseat where the Princess was knitting or the couch where the Prince was frowning at his phone, occasionally muttering when a particular boss in a phone game did something rude. Of course not; the dogs simply had to stuff themselves into the smallest occupied space in a pile. The Princess caught a picture, and my expression is a variety of rueful amusement I probably haven’t worn since she and the Prince were toddlers. Then I went to bed, and of course both dogs had to pile atop me there, too.

It was nice and warm, but dreadfully difficult to breathe.

In any case, there’s walkies and a run to accomplish today, both in the rain. Which Boxnoggin will not like, but this is where we live, so deal with it we must. Fortunately his harness is a jacket and keeps the worst of the wet off; he will still high-step and shake his dainty paws every once in a while. He is a very catlike dog.

Tomorrow is a release day; I am already feeling the nerves. So I’m going to go and get what work I can done before I am too beside myself to even attempt to string sentences together, with as much tea as I can brew.

Burning world or not, tea must be made and the words, like spice, must flow.

Not Further Behind

It’s Monday, I have coffee, and there’s a trip to the grocer’s in my immediate future. We need milk. I dread leaving the house if it’s not for walking the dogs–at least outside I can cross the street to get away from selfish jerks without masks, and the open air means very little viral load.

At least a Monday visit isn’t as bad as a weekend visit. I’m sure the church crowd yesterday was a Petri dish. And speaking of selfish jackasses, someone is still setting off fireworks between midnight and 1am somewhere in the neighborhood. The Princess hopes they run out of them soon and that all their bacon burns–a quite elegant curse, but I have spent some time cogitating on far less gentle wishes.

It’s a good thing I’m not telekinetic. Especially nowadays.

I didn’t peek at social media this weekend, unless one counts livetweeting Netflix’s The Old Guard on Saturday evening–which I enjoyed roundly, by the way. I like watching Charlize Theron in combat. Plus there was Matthias Schoenaerts, whose performance in a different movie I once wrote a whole-ass romance novel around, and KiKi Layne, who is incredible. I liked the movie very much, if you can’t tell. It was directed by a woman and very refreshing to see female pain not being sexualized by and for a male gaze; I had the same feeling while watching Birds of Prey.

I also got some reading in, and it was pleasant to settle on the couch and fall into a book, even if that book was history and as such, a cavalcade of blunders and nastiness. I’m finding very little to be amused about in the human condition nowadays.

I didn’t get half of what I wanted to done during the weekend. I’m feeling a bit under the weather, and the stress of wondering whether it’s the plague, or whether we had the plague back in March, or whether we haven’t had the plague and should dread its advent… it wears on one. But the dogs must be walked, my own tired carcass must be exercised, and the business of living goes on, and on, and on.

On the one hand, it’s not a bad thing. On the other, it’s exhausting.

There’s also a great deal of work to get done today. I have thrown up my hands and decided “catching up” is a chimera; I will instead endeavor not to fall further behind. And to that end I bid thee a civil adieu, my beloveds; it’s time to get the dogs walked before the sunlight pulls other people out onto the street and drives them insane. Honestly, it’s like the big yellow eye in the sky showers most people with cray-juice or something; they start acting like drunken wasps. No wonder I long for rain most of the year.

All right, Monday. I’m not ready, but I am prepared. Let’s see what you’ve got.

History, Reverberate

I didn’t feel fully awake until about 3km into this morning’s run. Now I’m not entirely awake, but close enough. I could do with a spot more tea, but that will have to wait until after I’m done writing this.

The last Haggard Feathers post goes up tomorrow. I’m sad to bring the experiment to an end, but on the other hand, it will be a relief to stop the time drain so I have some internal resources to deal with the ongoing flood of bad news.

It’s Memorial Day. I spent yesterday afternoon reading Osinga on John Boyd, and once I finished that I moved to Orlando Figes on the Crimean War. I haven’t read about the latter except in fiction; the first time I can remember hearing that particular conflict referred to was a short story featuring Florence Nightingale, which I read when I was about twelve, I think? Or maybe a little younger.

The more I study history, the more I think humans don’t ever really learn. Things just… reverberate. One can trace a certain strain of European conflict from the Roman Empire to the Crimean to World War I to World War II and up to the present day; it’s sobering to sit with the fact that people are killing each other over thousand-year-old grudges. Genocide and war don’t ever really stop, they just mutate, particularly virulent species going quasi-dormant and waiting for the next instance of fortuitous conditions.

It makes me wonder if we’d get further treating violence as a virus.

Anyway, I am not particularly cheerful this morning, though I suspect a cuppa will fix that. I have far too much work to let myself sit in the doldrums for long, thankfully. And a touch more caffeine might make my fingers stop stuttering on the keyboard. It’s taken a ridiculous amount of time just to type these few paragraphs, having to stop for typos and errors every few words. Some days are just like that.

At least it’s raining, the dogs have been walks, and I have some lovely piano music on tap. I’m definitely not in the mood for lyrics today. I woke up with Satie’s Je te veux in my head this morning, which I used to play along with ACDC to get Graves from Strange Angels to start talking.

He was an interesting fellow. And now it’s time for me to make that cuppa.

Over and out.

Carousel of Spiritual Bends

Woke up in a “burn it all down” mood, and so far coffee isn’t helping as much as I thought it would. Still, I’m vertical and have my cuppa, and I’ve trimmed some energy expenditures from my calendar. It’s going to have to be enough.

Despite really wanting to do a few more organizational purges around the house, it’s probably best for me to stay in a holding pattern for a wee bit. The Princess remarked the other day that getting rid of junk or clutter isn’t just getting rid of things but also feelings and memories. (She’s been watching some Marie Kondo lately.) The decompression in normal times is a day’s worth of discomfort, but in these trying times it’s a bloody carousel of the spiritual bends.

At least I’m back on my reading schedule. Last night I finished the US Army Guerrilla Warfare Handbook, which is an interesting quasi-historical document. The Cold War was a helluva trip, and I was forcibly reminded several times of how much technology’s changed just in the course of my adult lifetime. Some of the implicit assumptions under the dry terminology were pretty startling–not surprising, more confirmation of things I already suspected.

To take the taste out of my mouth, I’ve started on Robert Chambers’s The Tracer of Lost Persons. Chambers also wrote The King in Yellow, which opened up some interesting doors inside my head. There’s a sort of creeping dread in the latter that reminds me of Lovecraft.

One of the more effective things Lovecraft and Chambers do (despite the rampant racism running through their works) is show just enough of the monster for the reader to effectively scare herself. Stephen King remarks near the end of IT that fully seeing the monster decreases the terror; we fear the unknown more than we fear tentacles, giant space-spiders, aliens, or kings in yellow or crimson. The trick and the balance is to show just enough and let the reader’s personalized, active imagination fill in the gaps.

A reader will scare themselves far more effectively than a writer could ever hope for. You just have to give them enough rope. So to speak.

I’ve been consuming said coffee and poking at social media feeds while writing this, and the caffeine-juice has soothed my ire considerably. Today is for walking the dogs, getting a run in, poking at three separate projects preparatory to getting back to serious work next week, and getting out to the store for milk and other necessaries. I wish I didn’t have to do that last bit. People are thinking the worst is over; they won’t find out they’re wrong for another couple weeks.

At least my writing partner made us all cloth masks with insert pockets. Masks, even the expensive ones, are pretty much just snot-catchers. They mean you won’t infect other people as much, and every little bit helps. I don’t know if I could live with myself if I knew I was asymptomatic and infected someone who died of it. I wish we had an actual adult in the White House instead of a criminal cabal centered around a demented malignant narcissist.

But we’ve got what we’ve got, I suppose, and it’s incumbent upon us to take care of each other. Heaven knows the criminals in power won’t. I’ll be picking up supplies at the store for more than one neighbor; if things get bad it’ll be those neighborhood links that save us.

And now my stomach has settled enough for a bit of brekkie, and to start the day. I’m fractionally less stabbity than when I started this post, thank goodness.

But only fractionally. The rest requires food, and working off the stress hormones with sweat and effort.

See you around.