Friday, March 1, 2013

Heightened Drama in Chapter One: "The Childhood of Turin"

Still not over the triple-whammy of sibling feels. Killing off Lalaith, Gelmir (look I even cried about this on my Tumblr) and Huor in the span of two chapters was simply not cool.

But what I want to talk about was the moment of heightened drama in Chapter One which I did not get a chance to share, which was Hurin and Huor's escape/rescue and visit to Gondolin. First of all, they are quite young. Tolkien states that Hurin is 17, which makes Huor 14 (even though Tolkien states he is fully grown and taller than most of his people already). Huor shouldn't be in combat situations even by pseudo-medieval fantasy standards. And they are ambushed by orcs and "scattered" and "pursued" and they would have been "taken or slain" but for Ulmo pulling up this mist out of nowhere. 

But what struck me I think the most about this passage was that they "wandered in great hardship." This was really vivid in my mind, and I literally gave pause at this point and (as my fanficcing mind usually goes) I wanted more, and so I thought up more. What if one of them was wounded? Maybe Hurin had to carry his little brother part of the way. There's no time specified that they wander, "bewildered by the deceits of that land," but it might very well have been a long time. Maybe they had no food. Maybe it was cold, and the mist certainly made it wet. And they are pursued by orcs, so they can't stop and rest. And then the eagles find them and take them to Gondolin. Pretty quickly glossed over, but again I'm picturing more. Maybe Hurin is scared and fierce and protective of his brother? Maybe they both are? Are they even conscious when the eagle takes them to Gondolin? Do they try something desperate before Turgon talks them down and they realize they are finally, finally safe? 

So yes, I'll let you all know when I finally do write the fanfiction of this. Because it's apparently happening.

So I guess what struck me in terms of heightened drama was how The Silmarillion (and LOTR even) in general strikes me: because of it's brevity, it inspires more. One sentence or one phrase can become so much more in the mind of the reader. In essence, the reader heightens the drama for him/herself. You can "fill in" the gaps and it becomes yours, something close and personal--in fanfictionland and tumblrland we call this a "headcanon." Maybe that's why I have this irrational, pathological hatred of the films: because so much is given for you, there's less room to have your own intimately personal version. But I'm weird!


S. M. said...

I agree with you that some of the shortest passages in a story are some of the most moving. For instance, Felagund’s final battle is described in less than one paragraph in The Silmarillion, but whenever I read it, a whole drama unfolds in my mind. I not only see the desperate exchange of blows between Elf and beast, but I also see Beren’s pained expression as he silently pleas for his friend’s life. Words not included in the text come into the scene as it unfolds in my mind.

sworland said...

I think this is what I love about Tolkien. He'll give us so much description and detail, but he still leaves his readers with moments - sometimes brief, sometimes long, and sometimes of unspecified length - where we get to decide what happens.

One of these instances that I really love is in Return of the King, when Eomer finds Eowyn on the battle field. Tolkien writes, "Then suddenly he (Eomer) beheld his sister Eowyn as she lay, and he knew her. He stood a moment as a man who is pierced in the midst of a cry by an arrow through the heart; and then his face went deathly white, and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while." Tolkien gives no specifics as to Eomer's actions for that while, only describing his silence. I love that freedom to imagine what Eomer does in his grief before he cries out and charges into battle.

This is one of the things that I think makes Tolkien such a masterful storyteller and writer. He inspires his readers to their own imagination.

Anna Adams said...

I agree that the brevity Tolkien uses heightens drama. I like how Tolkien leaves room for the reader to imagine their own part of the story. It was too huge a task for Tolkien to have included detail for everything in his mythology, so he uses this to his advantage by being brief and dramatizing the moment.

And I'd love to see your fanfiction when you write it, Megan. Maybe we should all write some fanfiction. That would be an interesting project.

Richard Wentworth said...

This brevity reminds me of the style of the Saga of the Volsungs. My favorite part is when Signy sends her son to her brother Sigmund for him to help Sigmund kill her husband Siggeir:

"Sigmund welcomed him in seemly fashion, and said that he should make ready their bread; 'But I,' said he, 'will go seek firewood.'

"Therewith he gives the meal-bag into his hands while he himself went to fetch firing; but when he came back the youngling had done naught at the bread-making. Then asks Sigmund if the bread be ready—

"Says the youngling, 'I durst not set hand to the meal sack, because somewhat quick lay in the meal.'

"Now Sigmund deemed he wotted that the lad was of no such heart as that he would be fain to have him for his fellow; and when he met his sister, Sigmund said that he had come no nigher to the aid of a man though the youngling were with him.

"Then said Signy, 'Take him and kill him then; for why should such an one live longer?' and even so he did.

"So this winter wears, and the next winter Signy sent her next son to Sigmund; and there is no need to make a long tale thereof, for in like wise went all things, and he slew the child by the counsel of Signy."

Now I don't know what the intended effect of this part is, but the fact that so much is left unsaid makes it much more disturbing for me.

Megan said...

Wow, thanks for adding other such great examples, guys! It's amazing what such short passages can do!

And Anna, yes we should totally start fanficcing together. And anyone else who wants to join! I guess I recommend you save them for the end of term project...and/or get started early!