9. Non-con: rape me (not)
Do Men rape? Unfortunately, we already know the answer: Mankind, be it Tolkienian or actual one, has an innate tendency to turn nasty. Do Orcs rape? Unfortunately again, yes, they do. If the origins of Orcs are shady, and Tolkien changed idea about them several times, we have iron-cast proof that Orcs have sex: when Tolkien mentions their multiplying, he often uses the verb 'breeding'. A quick visit on a dictionary will tell you that 'breeding' is referred to the mammals' way of reproducing, which, indeed, is through sexual intercourse. And villains that can have sex, evil minions forever bent on doing as much damage as possible, will rape. Not only: we also have proof that they can have offspring from other races. Treebeard thought it possible, however horrific the thought may be, that a likely explanation for the Uruk-Hai's origin was Orcs interbreeding with Men.
Do Elves rape? Here comes the big question. According to LACE, no way. They consider it 'a very wicked deed', and the essay furthermore adds that even when many Elves turned to darkness, they did not lust; ergo, with unimpeachable logic, they did not rape. As we will see in a moment, that is just not true.
In the first versions of the Silmarillion, the Elf Eol took the Elf Aredhel as a wife 'by force.' As time went by Tolkien softened this: but in the published Silmarillion the wording is that she is 'not wholly unwilling' to marry him. You don't get any more ambiguous than this; and the shadow of non-con remains. In the same version of the Silm, Caranthir accuses Eol of 'stealing' Aredhel, which brings us again in an uncomfortably criminous semantic camp. Celegorm lusts after Lýthien, abducts her, and keeps her prisoner while he asks her father permission to marry her. As Lýthien has been adamant that she does not want him, we are brought to wondering what would happen on their first night if they actually got married.
Do Hobbits rape? Difficult question. The Scouring of the Shire showed us some Hobbits can definitely be mean, selfish and exploitative; given that the most accredited version of how the Hobbits came to be is that they are some different kind of Men, we would be tempted to give them all the qualities and defects of Mankind. It's only up to you: write your story well and people will find rapist Hobbits plausible, even if they are more difficult to pull off than Orcs.
Many fanfictions show raping as a prelude to the falling in love of victim and rapist; while sometimes sex can border into painful deviations (see point 10), and it can happen that one lover will force the other, that would in another moment have given his/her consent, to non-con intercourse, rape leaves a trauma that is the very antithesis of falling in love. If your character has been a victim to abuse, she/he should bear the marks of it; where the marks are shame, phobia of contact, depression, and other unpleasant things. You can get Stockholm syndrome after being held hostage; no such thing happens after being raped.
Rape is a traumatic experience: while in a violent world like Middle-earth it will be plausible and even probable for it to happen, and rape is indeed a plot-point in several of Tolkien's tales, to use it as a device for your characters to fall in love is to belittle the deep suffering that such an experience brings to those who have been subjected to it. So, if your OC Elven maiden is waylaid and violated by Orcs, if your Thranduil abuses his son, there is some lasting damage you will have to put in the equation of the story you're writing.
LACE also tells us that any raped Elf will give up his/her life rather than to live with what has happened; which contrasts with Aredhel's story and with what happened to Celebržan. Both of them, however damaged, lived on, which leads us to think that just as some human victims of rape will grow suicidal, while others will be able to resolve their trauma, so will Elves. If your story features a raped Elf, you have several different options of how to make her/him deal with that event; the only constant you have to keep for your plot to be realistic is that some reckoning with such a trauma has, sooner or later, to happen. The same goes for your Elf being abducted by Haradrim slave dealers, and sold into prostitution (a plot that turns up quite often): if your character has reason enough to hang on, she/he may well do it; otherwise, she/he won't spend sixty chapters lamenting the loss of freedom and cursing his/her life. For the Elves the afterlife, with the added bonus of being reborn in a pleasant, sheltered place, is always only a small choice away.
10. Love hurts: BDSM
It's quite plausible to imagine that, if Middle-earth is actually our Earth, and Mankind is the same as we are, some humans in the Tolkien-verse will have a tendency to enjoy in a sexual way inflicting and experiencing pain. Thanks to the careful shading of Tolkien's canon romances, again here we are moving in the dark. Would Elves enjoy BDSM? Where does BDSM end and rape start? Gray areas getting grayer; when you're navigating these waters, you'll need all your skill, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.
Author Tyellas makes a convincing argument for the feasibility of Elvish BDSM; and indeed a species with a proven tendency to stray off the Valar-approved path for sexuality and dealings with authority figures may well harbour and develop sado-masochistic tendencies. While BDSM majorly concerns erotica, I have seen several generic romances featuring it; as in all things, don't write it unless you know where you're going and why. If you have difficulties with classical, simple lovemaking scenes, BDSM may definitely not be your cup of tea.
11. Incest: too close for comfort
The working definition of incest is a sexual or romantic relationship with somebody too closely related to you for said relationship to be acceptable to your society's or religion's ethics, rules, and laws. There have been different definitions of incest throughout history, and in different cultures: nowadays most Western countries consider incest sexual relationships, be them consensual or not, between parents and children, between siblings, and between grandparents and grandchildren, or uncles and aunts and their nephews. A remarkable exception are the United States, in some states of which cousin marriages are forbidden.
Whatever your culture and background, whatever your religion, while writing you have to consider that you are entering a completely different world: Elves, Men and Hobbits have different rules and customs from our own. Here I will examine each case in detail.
a) Elves. Elvish laws consider it incest to marry as far as your first cousin; therefore, any parent-child, siblings, uncle-nephew relationship will be forbidden. Elves are disturbed and horrified by the notion of marrying close kin, as we saw in the Silmarillion when the Elf Maeglin fell in love with his first cousin Indis: the reaction was a strong, disapproving, and utterly creeped out one. There seems to be an exception for first cousins through half-siblings: meaning that if you want to write about Celegorm marrying Aredhel, or Maedhros falling in love with Fingon (their fathers being only half-brothers) that doesn't count as incest.
There are many Tolkien-verse fics featuring incestuous siblings, the most common being Elladan/Elrohir ones; and a lot of fics have Thranduil sexually abusing his son Legolas. Without entering into the question of whether or not these plotlines are plausible, remember one thing: Elves have a broad definition of incest and most of them won't react well to brothers or cousins hopping into bed together. The need for secrecy of these couples will be even stronger, and the consequences if they are discovered more severe than for slash couples. So if Elrond catches his sons frolicking around in the garden, he won't smile benignly; and in order to be realistic to the fandom your story of incestuous Elvish love will have to cope with the issues before described.
b) Men. Here we have to make a distinction: while First Age Edain (so Týrin's and Týor's family, or the people of Haleth, or Morwen's family) and Second Age Nýmenoreans have taken Elvish laws, and follow the Eldar in their attitude towards incest, other peoples such as the Rohirrim or the Men of the North haven't.
The Dunedain, Aragorn's kin, and the Gondorians, notably Boromir's and Faramir's family, all are of Nýmenorean descent; so count for them incest till the first cousin. Usually incestuous romances in this context happen between Boromir and Faramir, or have Denethor sexually abusing his younger son. Again without trying to analyze the dynamics involved in such stories, bear in mind that what your characters are doing is considered by their society wrong and disturbing. They won't be serene about it, and its thought will pose them great problems. This should show in your writing: happy siblings having it off just aren't an option in Minas Tirith.
Silmarillion's Týrin and Nienor, the only canon incestuous couple, got married without knowing they were brother and sister and upon discovering the truth both committed suicide; this goes a long way in telling us what your average reaction to sibling incest would be had you been raised in the Elvish morals about it. Without going to these extremes, feeling a tad too warmly about a close relative when you are an Edain, a Nýmenorean or a Gondorian is not going to be the happiest event of your life.
The Rohirrim and the Men of the North have had next to no contact with developed Elvish societies, and while they have been influenced by Gondor and its Nýmenorean customs, it's fair to try to fill the void in canon about their culture with guesses. While it's improbable they would condone sibling incest (the examples of this throughout history are limited to a few royal houses, such as the ancient Egyptian and Hawaiian one, and if Tolkien envisioned such a custom for the Men of the plains, he would have probably told us) you could push it to them accepting cousin marriage, in case anybody out there is a Thťodred/Eowyn shipper.
c) Hobbits. We lack explicit material on the Hobbit notion of incest, but we can certainly hazard an hypothesis.
Very realistically for a rural community living in medieval times, the Hobbits are tightly inbred. When you get to a point where the main families are reciprocally second and third cousins (see Frodo and Pippin) the problem is not marrying your cousin, but indeed managing to find somebody who isn't your cousin in some degree. In such a context, cousin marriages are a reality that can't be escaped, as the blood bonds between the various families are so numerous either they relax their notion of incest or marrying outside the clan (and Hobbits have a well-documented passion for keeping an almost obsessive track of their relatives) becomes a serious issue.
Some may argue that such a thing would have gone against Tolkien's Catholic upbringing; as an Italian girl who was born and raised in a Catholic country, I can tell you that the Catholic ban on cousin marriage needs only a bishop's permission (easily obtainable) to be lifted. Cousin marriages, and even marriages between uncles and nieces, have been sanctioned by the Church throughout history.
Whatever the race in which you are setting your incest!fic, remember one thing: it's not going to be a picnic for your characters. A happy ending is going to be extremely unlikely, angst, instead, will come along by the kilo. And plausibility is an even greater challenge; if you manage to pull this all off, see again Spiced Wine's work for example, it's going to be an indeed remarkable feat.
12. Sirs and servants: class struggle, Middle-earth style
The theme of the poor milkmaid/shepherdess/scullery maid falling in love with the handsome prince, discovering she is actually a princess, and marrying her lover to become queen is firmly rooted in our conscience, so much that Cinderella is a synonym for any girl overcoming great difficulties to find a happy ending with a gorgeous fiancť. While mean anthropologists will tell you eagerly that such an archetype is just wishful thinking turning the seduction and rape of poor servants in ancient times by their masters into a romantic love story (not joking), the point remains that lots of Tolkien romance-fics rework this age-old theme. While I have seen nurses falling for FŽanor, the main candidates for this 'class difference' fics remain Faramir, Boromir, and Legolas.
Minas Tirith being the environment closest to Medieval Europe you'll find on Middle-earth, there are several realistic fics picturing the Gondorian brothers having more or less lasting affairs with courtesans, maids and peasants; all of them rather prone to end in tragedy with Boromir's death or Faramir's betrothal to more suitable ladies (Eowyn). But the grim realism that usually permeates human class difference fics tends to fade rather hopelessly when we get to the Elves.
There are many authors, some of them quite knowledgeable about Tolkien, who entertain the curious notion that Elves don't have servants. While certainly nomadic societies of hunter gatherers, such as the Silvan Elves used to be for a long portion of their history, usually present a fairly equal social structure (no kingdom equals no king) the Noldorin exiles bring into Middle-earth an elaborate hierarchy where a warring aristocracy dominates the rest. The Sindarin Elves adopted it, and indeed Legolas is member of a Sindarin royal family ruling over Silvan subjects, just like Galadriel is the last of the Noldorin exiles, whom, married to a Sindarin, rules over Wood Elves in LÚthlorien. Is this not enough to persuade you? Again, the texts give us ample proof.
In the Hobbit, Bilbo gets a close look at the household of the Elvenking (Thranduil), which features guardians, people in charge of the cellar, and a butler. Copying and pasting from the online Merriam Webster dictionary, a butler is:
1 : a manservant having charge of the wines and liquors
2 : the chief male servant of a household who has charge of other employees, receives guests, directs the serving of meals, and performs various personal services
The debate could definitely end here, hadn't we yet another clear example of Elves serving other Elves: in LotR, Galadriel has servants bring the Fellowship presents. And the Valar themselves, from which the Elves took many of their customs, definitely had servants: in particular we know of Varda's handmaiden. The moment you establish a clear hierarchy, with somebody giving orders and somebody else obeying them, you have your servant class right there.
In Elvish-cast 'class difference' fics, usually the maiden ends up raised from her poverty and dejection by the prince, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, Legolas. While it is only fair to argue that Sindarin and Noldorin aristocracy may have chosen to intermarry with their subjects (one scholar makes a convincing argument of Legolas having a Silvan mother, based on his archaic name) for sure even a fairly egalitarian hunting-gathering society will have its most distinguished families, the best hunters, perhaps, or those respected because of a knowledge of medicine or wisdom in counsel. Even while on a spree of feeling of mingling with the lower classes, it is doubtful that the royal family would go looking for a bride in the backyard. Does that mean that Legolas can't, under any circumstance, fall for a little miserable floor-scrubber, and cover her in newfound glory? No. But does it mean some serious conflict should have to be faced and solved, at the price of pain and compromise, in order for it to happen? Definitely so.
At the end of the day, the bottom line does not change: keep it real. Even in Middle-earth.