What can I say--another smaller nuzgul with ears on this alleged plot bunny turned out to be.
This is my Mother’s Day tribute to the many mothers and second mothers in my acquaintance, particularly to the memory of my own mother Lynn, Eleanor Fine who was as my second mother, and to that of my friend Michelle’s mother who was always amazed and sometimes appalled at me, and also to Marti Newell who taught me to be a second mum in my own right, having served as that to the one who in time became my daughter, and the three mothers-in-love my husband bequeathed to me--Bea, Nina, and Lucille. (Long story.)
As a very young child I went through a harrowing experience that left me with a phobia toward doctors and needles, one that has stayed with me for the past fifty-four years. When I was age ten my older brother and younger sister and I were comparing notes on the number of children we wished to have one day. Big Bro wanted at least two (which he got, by the way), and my Sis wanted thirty-six--she even had it worked out how many twins and triplets she’d have to give birth to in order to meet this remarkable number before she went through menopause. (She was only seven at the time, you must remember; that she understood what menopause was itself was remarkable, I suppose. She was granted three and at least one lost.)
I announced that I wouldn’t have any of my own--that I’d care for other people’s children instead. And so it worked out, although I’ll tell you that learning God had apparently taken the words of a ten-year-old seriously was a humbling experience as I found I truly wanted a child of my own and learned I’d lost the first and only one I conceived before it had gone from mass to foetus even. So I became the perennial second mum--to a stepson, to an adopted daughter, to a foster child we were supposed to have adopted but who was given back to his natural mother by an indifferent state, to numerous nieces, nephews, and now to grandchildren and grand nephews and nieces, not to mention the many students I’ve come to love over the years.
As a result, I’ve often found myself identifying with Esmeralda Took Brandybuck, who probably served as foster mother to Frodo Baggins after his parents’ tragic double drowning. Certainly that is how I myself tend to write her. How she must have come to love and care for him, and how she must have grieved to see him go to Bilbo. Then, when Frodo disappeared into the Old Forest with her son, her nephew, and Sam Gamgee, what thoughts might have gone through her head!
I decided to write using loosely connected vignettes showing illustrative experiences at each stage of Frodo’s growth and maturation, from the happy child, the bereft but biddable orphan, the rebellious teen intent on proving his ability to read and manipulate others, the repentant tween who quietly carried out his own form of reparations in spite of his family’s fear for his health, the blooming ward to Bilbo, and the increasingly responsible Master of Bag End and the Hill and head to the Baggins family. We then examine the growing concerns for why Frodo might be reacting in an unusual manner towards others--and especially toward attractive Hobbitesses, the terror of the Time of Troubles, the joy of the return and time of renewal, and the realization that Frodo himself was not healing as were the others. Letting go of him that second time must have been almost more than Esmeralda could bear--but it was necessary for him to find that final healing. Knowing that Esme sanctioned whatever choice he made, even if it meant she lost him again, must have helped Frodo feel better about accepting the Queen’s gift to him.
As I was writing The Choice of Healing I found myself wanting to add in a moment in which Frodo met someone who examined his palm and read his fortune from it. I toyed with the idea of him meeting a Middle Earth version of a gypsy at the Bridge Market as a teen or tween, him meeting a mysterious Elf woman within the Shire, and so on; but as I came to write the scene it became Frodo, having twisted his ankle running from Maggot’s dogs, cowering in a stall in a byre and finding himself freed from his self-imposed prison by a mysterious fellow in brown who sent the one anxious dog who’d followed Frodo off Bamfurlong’s acreage back home, sought to comfort the terrified young Hobbit, and then saw him home with the advice he stop thieving and that he surround himself with those who love him. But before they leave the byre he examines Frodo’s palm, warning him he will be asked to sacrifice much, perhaps all, but that surrounded by those who love him he will not be lost no matter what happens. And so I first placed Radagast in the Shire at an important time in Frodo’s life. So, I now extended Radagast’s stay in Eriador to three years in which he works to restore much of the damage wrought there in the past before he returns back over the mountains to Rhosgobel in the valley of the Anduin.
Yes, I know that in LOTR when the Brown Wizard approaches Gandalf he professes he was told by Saruman to seek him out in the place with the uncouth name of the Shire; but figured he might not have cared enough to know by what name this land was known at the time he visited it earlier, or that he might possibly be teasing his grey fellow, or have some other reason not to apparently recognize the name of the country in which he was instructed to seek Gandalf out. As I refuse to see Radagast as a failed Wizard, the idea that he doesn’t care so much about the name by which a land currently goes as he does its condition pleases me, and that’s the way I’ll write my stories, thank you very much.
In LOTR we are told that Farmer Maggot is known and esteemed by Tom Bombadil. Certainly when he finds Frodo, Pippin, and Sam trespassing on his land as they emerge from the woods through which they’d traveled to escape the Black Riders he treats them with great courtesy and hospitality. Obviously he and his dogs aren’t the terrifying monsters imagined by Frodo from a long-ago encounter over purloined mushrooms, particularly as Pippin, who’s obviously met the farmer while in the company of Merry, makes little of Frodo’s confessed fears. That Maggot might put on a show of bluster to try to cow raiding young Hobbits into not stealing his precious mushrooms seemed likely, and that he’d administer three whaps with his stick and send Frodo off pursued by dogs well trained to chase but not really harm. Yet in LOTR he admits recognizing Frodo as the Rascal of Buckland--so I write him as carrying some fond memories of the lad he remembers as well as respect for Frodo’s originality and perseverance. So, that’s the Maggot I’ve written; and I thought I’d like for Esme to realize that Frodo’s already come to the attention of some unusual individuals who generally have little interest in the mundane life of the Shire and its inhabitants.
The glimpses at Esme’s prescient dreams I give first are perfectly in keeping with the nature of my own. I don’t know as many now that I am into my middle years, but I certainly knew them as a child, an adolescent, and a young adult. I have loved other stories I’ve read in which the alleged faerie blood carried by the Tooks led to some experiences of ESP by Esmeralda, and so decided to write that idea into mine as well, although I’ve patterned her earlier experiences on my own and then given her later, more detailed ones during the time the four Travelers are gone.
I’ve tried to stay true to the proper seasons for various flowers and nuts and such to have properly bloomed, fruited, or come to ripeness; and I’ve tried to give small laughs along the way.
The odd matter of having a series of “stuffings” I describe actually was done during the Middle Ages. I have my doubts as to how good it might turn out tasting, finding the boar has been stuffed with a goose and the goose stuffed with something smaller and so on, but this was tried as a form of culinary one-upmanship by some chefs trying to outdo one another and to come up with truly memorable dishes for formal feasts. I found I had to try mention of it at least once.
Esme’s experience as she leaves her life behind is patterned on reports of near-death experiences I’ve read collected by the likes of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Raymond Moody and told me by my mother and grandmother and others. Many fail to recognize their abandoned bodies as those they’ve just quitted, and it is common to feel as if they are looking down on the actions of those they care about from above before they are drawn away from this plane.
There are some nods to my favorite authors here and there--E. Pargeter, C.S. Lewis, A. Merritt, and a few others, mostly in the names given to some characters. I hope you don’t mind and that they give you a chuckle.
Those of us who have served as second mothers often have a thankless task, but I assure you that those of us who are devoted to our calling love our children as truly as do those who bore them, and in some cases more--certainly all too often more appropriately, considering some of the experiences my stepson, daughter, and foster child knew with their birth parents.
Throughout this story you will find threads from other stories I’ve written, and occasionally allusions to the writings of others, particularly Lindelea, Dreamflower, Ariel, Anglachel Jodancingtree, Lily, Baylor, and a few others. Dora’s writing style is directly influenced by Dreamflower’s Miss Dora Baggins’ Book of Manners; Pippin and Gandalf playing at farms came originally from one of Baylor’s stories; the name of Merimac’s wife and Berilac’s mother is from Lily’s stories, Frodo’s heart murmur came from Lindelea’s A Small and Passing Thing and the idea of the Feast from her other works, much of Radagast’s nature is from Jodancingtree’s Brown Wizard stories, Menegilda as healer and midwife was sparked by Anglachel, the inclusion of linden trees is from Ariel’s work, the silver fountain Lobelia wished to see came from Primsong’s Nothing of Note, and the idea that Gollum might have had a hand in the accident leading to the deaths of Primula and Drogo was inspired by a story read on the Stories of Arda site a year or two ago that I’ve been unable to find again so as to give proper attribution. If you find other tributes hidden here and there and recognize them, be assured I most cheerfully accept all blame for admiring someone’s work sufficiently to offer my small references, and I truly hope none take offense.
As I explained in a response to a review by Elanor Winterflower, this may serve as a prequel of sorts to several of my stories, including the AU work Go Out in Joy and the more canon works of Filled with Light as with Water, The Choice of Healing, and Reunion. The Sword given Bucca of the Marish is totally my own invention and first appeared in Merry’s Wedding, although I offer it freely to others to use in their own stories if they choose, as are the use of younger children and animals serving as diversions in order to more easily raid the fields, gardens, and so on within the Marish--and the worn hoe that Frodo then takes up as he seeks to make reparation to those from whom he stole during his wild years. Again, I offer these devices and the nature of Frodo’s job as deputy Mayor to others who might desire to add to various times in Frodo’s life.
We know from FOTR that Frodo danced and sang on a table in the Prancing Pony, and I’ve always loved the one glimpse in PJ’s movie we get of Frodo dancing at the Party while two admiring lasses look on at the caper he cuts; Frodo as a dancer grew out of that. That Frodo would be trained by Bilbo to copy, illustrate, and bind books followed naturally from Bilbo’s own interest in studying the histories of the world he knew; and this is the primary profession I’ve given the two of them as their role within the Shire.
I was the first I’m aware of to write stories actually depicting Frodo’s time as deputy Mayor, and so much of the nature of the Council Hole, the archives kept of documents countersigned and registered by the Mayor, the use of Took lawyers to help in the clearing out of documents and sorting through them, the construction of a proper Hobbit prison in place of the thrown-together prison using the existing storage tunnels, and so on is again of my own imagination. More expansion of Frodo’s time as deputy Mayor can be found in The Choice of Healing, The Ties of Family, The Acceptable Sacrifice, and Trials and Tribulation and Stricken from the Book (usually found in the collection Moments in Time).
The idea Ferdibrand Took might have been blinded by Lotho’s Big Men came again originally from some of Lindelea’s works, but where she has his blindness resolving itself I made it permanent due to injuries suffered by the visual cortex. Hey--I teach blind individuals--you gotta expect blind characters from time to time.
Anyway, I’ve tried to make the Shire a real place with its own speech patterns varying from region to region and class to class, its own unique economic system and legal traditions, and so on; and I hope that it adds to the appreciation others have for this wonderful land so many of us would love to visit.
Thanks for reading my stories, and I hope that all mothers and second mothers accept the tribute I offer to all of you.