Inspiration can come in many different ways. Sometimes Iíll have a particular title running through my head, and I find myself writing a story to fit it. A couple of my stories have been inspired by dreams Iíve had, and others by particular images that perhaps Iíve seen in a film, a painting or photograph, or walking down the street; while several have been the product of my mind chewing on a chance comment made or heard during a conversation and finding the associations evoked applying themselves to our beloved characters and world. Then several have come about to answer questions set by those whoíve reviewed my previous works. Several were either inspired or strongly affected by new information Iíve gleaned from one source or another, or a detail from someone elseís book or story Iíve read. Certainly Iíve incorporated information gleaned from documentaries, books, personal experiences, and interviews either heard or read into my stories as well as details that were merely the product of my own imagination. And in so doing Iíve tried to maintain in my writing the same feeling of both plausible reality and imaginative fantasy found in the original story that has so sparked our own imaginations.
This particular story was sparked by two images I found myself considering one day--one of Aragorn scooping up Frodo while Frodo was wrapped in a blanket and hurrying off with him; another of Sam, seated on the ground, a dying Frodo held in his arms, much like Sam on the mountainside speaking of strawberries and cream, but this time in a living land, and Frodo seeking to reassure Sam, not speaking in the despair engendered by the Ringís immediate antagonism.
Although I have published mostly canon-based stories to date, that doesnít mean I havenít considered AU stories--merely that I hadnít written many and hadnít posted any to date. In fact I do have another longer AU story in the works, but am reluctant to begin posting it until I have more of it written.
Until last fall I tried not to have more than one longer story written, as itís often easier to keep up the flow of my writing if I donít switch from one story line to another and back again. However, with Stirring Rings I found myself needing to do otherwise. Stirring Rings is one of the most difficult stories Iíve ever written, for it takes constant reference to the Tale of Years and Lines of the Kings and Chieftains, not to mention to Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion, to keep things even remotely straight. And even then, with constant reference to the Tale of Years, I still manage to get things out of whack and find myself having to nudge things to get them back within canon. To take a break from it is necessary from time to time. And so I thought to do so by having two stories going at once, although now and then a plotbunny sneaks up on me and insists on being put into one of my short story collections.
So, here I sit one night not long ago, and I find this very attractive plot bunny peeking out at me from behind the large garbage can I use to store dog food in. Oh, it was so sweet and simple looking, and had such innocent eyes. I ought to have been on my guard, for if Iíd remembered my Shrek II I would have recognized those eyes. I had this idea for a collection of AU stories--Might Have Been stories--and even had the introductory chapter written in my head. That was the easy part. And the image of Aragorn and Sam each cradling the body of a dying Frodo was there, reflected in those so-innocent eyes of the harmless, sweet, pathetic little plot bunny, and how I SO love writing pathos....
So I invited the dear little plot bunny along to the bedroom where the laptop on which I do most of my writing resides (a very deeply appreciated gift from the daughter and son-in-law and all) and never thought to look over my shoulder, for if Iíd done so I would have seen that that darling, innocent looking face hauled an extremely long body behind it. Puss in Boots in the castle of Far, Far Away has nothing on THIS nuzgul with ears on!
You see, this was to have been a single-chapter story--and then a two-chapter story--and then three, then five, then SEVEN, and it appears it will reach at least nine at this point. And this little AU nuzgul with ears on is MOST tenacious, insisting on being addressed until it is done with. So, here I sit having to keep going, and going, and Gandalf isnít getting anywhere near Lothlorien again; nor are Petunia and Persivo coming any closer to unraveling the mystery of what Cousin Frodo Baggins did out there during his absence from the Shire. As for Frodo and Boboli Hedges--they do have another a meeting coming up and thereís a to-do regarding Denra Gorseís suitors coming up as well--itís outlined and all; but the surrounding story isnít getting written because of this nuzgul.
So, those who wish to know whether or not there will be a romance between Alvric and Denra, or see how I deal with the loss of Amroth and Nimrodel--Iím very sorry, but youíll have to wait.
Tolkien and J.K. Rowling have both admitted that their stories are primarily about how we deal with our own mortality, and about death and dying in general; which of necessity include how we live before we die. Both look at the trials faced by the characters involved, primarily those faced by Harry Potter himself and how he reacts to the dangers he sees threatening in his world in Rowlingís works; while in LOTR we find ourselves realizing each and every individual Tolkien introduces us to is facing his or her own test, even those whose experiences are not described in detail within the narrative.
Many respond directly to the malicious intent of the Ring--Frodo must fight its influence constantly from the moment he becomes aware of its nature until the moment it is destroyed; and afterwards the psychic echoes It leaves behind are still to be battled. Sam, wearing and carrying It as he crosses over the invisible border into Mordor, finds he is imagining himself as the Hero of the Age or the Mystical Gardener who with a Word brings life back to the lands devastated by Sauron. Boromir, pressed by his fatherís expectations he will be the one to prove the salvation of Gondor in general and Minas Tirith in particular as well as his own ambitions, hears the Ringís promises to bring it all to be; and must struggle to keep in mind that the Ring was first devised by the one who was ever known as the Liar, and second that whatever one may seek to accomplish using the Ringís power will be undone by Its intent. Saruman, having despaired of finding ways to properly counter Sauron, now seeks to ease the worldís agonies by stopping the struggle against the Enemyís evil and by convincing everyone to ally themselves with Sauron instead--until the idea he might supplant Sauron strikes him.
Each individual faces his or her own test, and fails or triumphs. The Ring goes into the Fire and the world, for the first time in over two thousand years, knows a feeling of relief, for at last the evil Maia who sought to take Morgothís place is also gone for good, and from now on the evil Man might face is what grows in his own heart, not wrought by immortals of unearthly power.
Frodo initially knows relief after the Ring is destroyed, but the peace in his heart is not permanent. He returns to his own land, but finds that the anniversaries of his worst woundings bring back the memories so deeply he canít see much past them while they hold sway, although he does his best to push by them and to hide their depths from those around him. But with the ones that afflict him on the day of Elanorís birth he realizes he has been too changed to remain a simple Hobbit of the Shire, and he begins to make ready to leave. So it is that before the fallís remembrance of the wounding at Amon Sul can strike him he rides to meet the other ring-bearers in the Woody End, and accompanies them to the Havens and beyond, having made Sam his heir and left him and Rosie Bag End, half-promising that in his own time Sam might follow him over the Sea for a last reunion.
That Frodo was suffering failing health may not be strictly canon, but neither is it excluded by canon. It is probable that Frodo did know long-term disabilities resulting from his woundings, but that they were sufficiently unapparent that he felt he could hide them from those around him. That he failed to do so properly from Sam is apparent by Sam and Rosieís easy acceptance of his intent to leave the Shire, although it is obvious Sam believed he intended to follow Bilbo into retirement in Rivendell.
Bilbo was a hundred eleven when he quitted the Shire, but Frodo not quite half that, merely fifty-three, roughly the equivalent of a Man in his mid- to late thirties. For Sam to accept the idea of him retiring to Rivendell, I do believe the distress Frodo knew had to have been more deep than mere memories relived on October sixth and March thirteenth. And so Iíve felt it acceptable to follow the line of reasoning that sees a physical as well as emotional and spiritual decline in Frodo.
This is a changing basically of one element in the story-line of the original and therefore in my own story-lines; Frodo, on the night he lies out on the roof of Bag End in early September in my story-line, does not decided to leave the Shire; instead he chooses to remain in his homeland to finish his life as a Hobbit of the Shire. That, of course, leads to other necessary changes. If, as Iíd previously indicated, Shelob injected the spirit of her mother Ungoliant into Frodoís wound, then what happens to Ungoliant if Frodo doesnít take her out of Middle Earth to be dealt with by the Maiar and Valar in the Undying Lands? Once heís dead, couldnít she possibly break loose and wreak havoc on the Shire itself as well as surrounding lands? She was, after all, one of the first of the Maiar to follow Melkor, taking the shape of a great spider, a weaver of evil and user of venom, and thus possibly having been in her early times a follower of Lůrien or VairŽ. What better shape for such a one to take and be caught in, once sheíd lost herself in Morgothís dreams of evil domination?
Venemous spiders often do eat one another, after all; and that at one point Shelob might have consumed her motherís body but ended up cohabitating with her motherís spirit seemed a possibility. So--there remains in Middle Earth one more potentially freed Maia with hatred ready to loose on the lands only recently freed from the threat of domination by Mordor. That this must be faced by the denizens of Middle Earth is obvious; and being still within the Mortal Lands, Ungoliant would need a physical body in which to move, and the one mortal form sheís familiar with taking to herself is that of a spider....
There is also a species of spider in South America that lays its eggs in open sores or injected under the skin of animals and individuals, and the spiderlings, much as happens with what certain wasps do with caterpillars, hatch and develop under the skin, feeding off their living hosts until they are ready to break free. I rather imagine that such was the type of return Ungoliant would have wished for herself.
Since this story is openly AU, Aragorn is able to make it this time to bid Frodo goodbye, and therefore is able to find and reveal the nascent spiderling and deal with it before it can become powerful enough to break free of Frodoís grave and endanger the folk of the Shire. And with her last form of a spiderling destroyed at such a vulnerable time, Ungoliant herself follows the same fate as her fellows--a greater shape than that of Saruman but lesser than Sauron, but all three dissipated by the winds, for the Maiar wonít welcome her return as one of their own, nor the Valar accept her service once more any more than they would do Saruman or Sauron or Melkor himself.
The texts of the letters from Frodo Aragorn receives from Berevrion are given in the next to last chapter of The Acceptable Sacrifice; the third letter given there was not sent in this version.
The butterfly glade of Lesser Rings is replaced by this group of butterflies from Bag Endís own gardens. Some butterflies do fly in such swarms, and even migrate seasonally. The image of the circle of fluttering butterflies encircling Frodoís head in Lesser Rings is replaced by the individual insects lighting in Frodo and Samís hair, in a way revealing their majesty as Lords of all the Free Peoples to those closest to them, while for Frodo himself it is merely one last chance to delight as heís ever done in the beauty and wonder of life as Iluvatar has given it to us. Butterflies have ever been symbolic of the purity of the soul, and are seen by most Christians as symbolic of resurrection and rebirth.
For Frodo, it is imperative that at the end his death be peaceful and blessed; and I do believe that the Valar and Creator might well have allowed such an offer from Ešrendil to carry Frodo onward, much as I picture also in Reunion where after leaving his mortal life behind even Sam finds himself no longer afraid to accept the Marinerís offer to ferry them to the Halls of Mandos and the beginning of the Way.
I have again based Frodoís symptoms on real-life maladies--angina, congestive heart failure, and a fairly mild heart attack. Iíve had the chance to observe all three, after all.
And, of course, characters from other stories are part of this one--the hidden twin cousins who grew up in Westhall in the far West Farthing as fosterlings to the Gravellies, the resentful Bartolo Bracegirdle, the caring Brendilac Brandybuck and Narcissa Boffin. We are able to see their last interactions and how their distress is dealt with.
In this vision the Shire cannot remain ignorant of what was done out there. If Frodo sets himself to secretly leave itís possible that in the end only a relative few will appreciate what happened out there; but if he dies at home at Bag End, and his family begins to gather, it becomes impossible to hide things and keep them hidden. In my vision of Frodoís youth heís most delighted in helping others as he can. Once the family starts gathering the word would pass quickly that Frodo was failing, and the questions would be asked. And so it would be that Aragorn could now proclaim Frodo the Ring-bearer and let the ennoblement of Frodo and Sam to be known generally; and now those Elves remaining in Middle Earth would send representatives of their own to honor him at his internment.
The title is a quote from one of the psalms, I believe; but was taken more directly from the title of a book written by a chaplain for a childrenís hospital regarding her work with the families of dying children, one thatís been part of my personal library since the early seventies.
This has been necessarily angsty, but as I said before I love writing pathos, so please forgive me.
Now, to get back to my other stories, at long last freed of this one.
Post script: Well, although Iíve resisted the gnawing of this particular Nuzgul to make the story even longer, heís continued on until last night we at last made a compromise. An epilogue--a simple epilogue and no more. But I have a feeling heís not completely content....
BLS, March 16, 2007