13. No I don't: combined marriages
A feature of the human society ever since hierarchies have been invented, combined marriages in romance serve one purpose: bringing together two unwilling, unlikely people who will then obligingly fall in love. When applied to human Middle-earth societies, especially the most developed ones such as Gondor and Nùmenor, combined marriages are quite realistic, and are usually applied to bridle a reluctant Boromir into wedlock with the maiden who's destined to tame him. However, while as it has been said it is more than fair to guess that Middle-earth royal families would tie alliances by marriage, the same cannot be said for Elvish ones.
The statement that the Elves do not combine marriages is one of the few in LACE that goes unchallenged by the actual tales: we have Elves who rape, Elves who lie, Elves who fall out of love with their spouse, but no Elf forced into an arranged union. The Eldar, says the essay, marry out of love, or however of their own free will. This does not mean that you cannot elaborately construe a situation where your Elven protagonist will not feel it his/her duty to get married in order to secure the support of a neighbouring kingdom; only that it would never happen in the Tolkienverse that a recalcitrant maiden be dragged all the way to the altar.
One last word on the subject: however wildly romantic, the age-old plot of the girl crying and kicking all the way to her first night in a combined marriage has been worked, reworked, and then worked again. You might want to consider altering it a bit: for example, a princess or high-ranking lady is likely to have been raised to consider it her duty to marry for an alliance, just like her male relations consider it their duty to go to war. Also, in the case of marriage to a famous captain, see again the Boromir example, couldn't the girl have a hero-worshipping crush on her husband to be, just to discover with time what true love is?
There's nothing wrong with the old plots; but they're not necessarily the only way you have to take. It's up to turn the age-old story in a whole new world.
14. He knocked him up: the controversial issue of M-preg
While writing this essay, I have kept to the opinion that each and every of the numerous sub-genres of the romance family are worthy of respect, and can be an inspiration for well-written, enticing stories. Whether our tastes lie with slashy romances or het erotica, we must keep in mind that outside our beloved little garden of favourite plots there are a thousand more just as pleasant to others. However, if there is a place where I would advise you to draw the line, it is when we get to the controversial issue of M-preg.
M-preg, short for male pregnancy, is exactly what it sounds like: a story where a man gets another man pregnant. Presumably inspired by the '90s film Junior, M-preg stories have one little problem: they are biologically impossible. While Potterverse M-preg writers use a badly mishandled spell as the starting justification for their plot, no such thing can be applied to Middle-earth. What happens then is that most writers will just assume that their readers consider it possible for such an event to take place, and work on their angsty oneshot of Legolas, while pregnant with Aragorn's baby, just as they would if it were Arwen speaking.
It goes without saying: when the plot-trigger is groundless, the story is dead on arrival. If you write slash and want your characters to raise their own family, it seems to me grossly disrespectful to homosexual couples everywhere to suggest that the only way for them to do so is by writing of something that could never happen, whether on this Earth or in the Tolkien universe. The solution to this, absolutely acceptable, and deeply rooted in canon, is adoption.
Tùrin, Tuor, Elrond, Elros, not to mention Aragorn: a lot of Tolkien's heroes were fostered by relatives or friends of their families. With all the wars continuously going on in Middle-earth, nothing easier than for your slashy couple to take under their wing a couple of orphans, or children of a distressed family they know. They get to raise their kids, and plausibility, both biological and of narration, is safe. If you want badly Aragorn and Legolas to raise Eldarion together in their love nest, just kill off Arwen in childbirth and have the Elf take over. Please.
15. There were nine walkers…no, wait, ten
A portal opens in the middle of nowhere, a plane crashes, the protagonist falls asleep; however it happens, the result is one: modern day girl ends up in Middle-earth. These kind of stories make up a large percentage of the whole of LotR fanfictions, and while most of Tolkien scholars and some writers are still sawing away at their wrists in despair at the thought of such plots, methinks the time has come to take a deep breath, relax, and acknowledge that the 'girl-into-ME' storyline isn't just going to go away. While I can only count the well-written stories of this kind on the fingers of my hands and spare some, the fact remains that this plot can be worked properly, and there is no reason why where some have trodden with success others cannot follow. Here we will stare down one by one the plot-beasts that have turned the 'girl-into-ME' stories in one of the readers' worst nightmares, and see if something good cannot be made out of them. (And, believe me, it can).
a) I got there, somehow…who cares? We do. If your story involves a passage from one universe to another, the means of this passage are fundamental. After Narnia was hidden at the back of a wardrobe, almost anything is fair game: and by 'almost' I mean that your character being the daughter of Elrond/niece of Gandalf/sister of Aragorn hidden away from Sauron in the XXI century U.S. to be brought back in glory to save them all from the Ring is not a good idea. I say Sauron, since all of the 'girl-into-ME' stories take place during the War of the Ring. We Silmarillion-obsessants are waiting for the Silm movie to bring new crowds to the forsaken shores of First Age Middle-earth. The method used to reach the Tolkienverse varies from fic to fic: in one particularly imaginative case, Larry1107's Plain Jane in Thirteen Chapters, Fanfiction itself punishes a supercilious girl by sending her to Middle-earth. Whichever device you choose to apply, bear in mind that being thrown from your world into the next should be a bit traumatic. Middle-earth as an environment can be roughly compared to Middle Age Europe: not unarmed girl-friendly. And no, you may not equip your protagonist with a superlight purse containing all she may need in every circumstance (unless, of course, she is Hermione Granger.)
b) Secret Council, my arse: In the most popular plotline, the protagonist will fall into Middle-earth just before the Council of Elrond, just to be conveniently picked up by a passing Man/Hobbit/Elf, brought to Rivendell, and then invited to the aforementioned secret meeting. While it is highly probable that if Aragorn stumbled upon a lost girl on his way to Imladris he would bring her along, remember that the Council is the supersecret meeting where they decide what to do with the dangerous weapon of the Enemy: do you really think they would invite to it a girl coming from an unknown place? In times of war, a girl who claims to come from another world would be suspicious to say the least, and the last thing she would be allowed to do would be listening in to the big boys planning wargames. Does she befriend the hobbits and covertly eavesdrop with them? All right: but if even Arwen was not at the Council, your character is not likely to receive Elrond's official invitation.
c) I'm waaaaalkiiiiing with the Ring: on her website, Merin Essi Ar Quenteli!, dreamingfifi has an excellent essay on why the Fellowship of the Ring should comprise nine walkers, not ten. To throw in a small hint: Nine Riders against Nine Walkers. Just saying. So, if you really really want your character to trot along, it means that another of the official nine stays home. (Please, DON'T look like that at Gimli. Fair representation for Dwarves, anyone?) Book!Elrond wanted to send Pippin back in the Shire, so I'd say that is your best chance; or, if you fancy Pippin, send back Merry. (Yes, in the book the Shire was conquered and scoured: somebody telling them to look out for nasties might have come handy.) Also, remember to answer one basic question: why should indeed your protagonist be sent on the secret quest? Unless she is a highly trained special forces officer, her best contribution to the quest would be that she knows already how it will end. Knowing gives her power: a power far more effective than the deadly attractive bodies and unlikely fighting skills so many girls into ME are endowed with. By flaunting the fact that she knows what's happening, and so could indeed help, she has the means to bargain to obtain what she wants, and join in the trekking trip.
Once your character is on the road, remember to keep it real: trudging into the wild with only as much luggage as she can carry is going to be hard on her feet, her mood, and her figure. ('Cause losing weight in real physical efforts, unlike in well-controlled gyms, makes for some unattractive gauntness: for a realistic description of a girl's hard time with the Fellowship, see Pink Siamese's A Dawn of Many Colors series.) As you cross out a change of dress for a romantic lounging by the campfire in the evenings, you can dedicate yourself to the really interesting task at hand: building your own story. Too many 'girls-into-ME' fics are but a doting witnessing of the events of the original plot: do you really believe the addition of somebody who already knows what lies ahead won't change a thing? If you joined the Fellowship, would you allow them to go into Moria when you know a Balrog is there? Would you let Frodo stray away on the Anduin's shore, when you know the Orcs are near? Be courageous: what you look at, you change. If you put a new character into the story, the story has to change accordingly.
d) Secret Council: take two: some clever authors bypass the problem of the Council of Elrond by having their character end up in Middle-earth after the Fellowship hits the road. These guys are definitely too good at heart to leave a damsel in distress in the wild, so indeed they can't but lug her along. If you have your protagonist join them after Moria, she won't even be a tenth walker, as by then they are sadly down to eight. Consider that Aragorn would probably try to 'make safe' any such damsel by leaving her with Galadriel: unless you fancy her fighting for Lothlorien with the Galadhrim, the 'I-know-what's-going-to-happen-so-you-had-better-bring-me-along' card could be successfully played now.
e) Kiss me, Leggy: let's face it: the only reason why writers bother to send modern day girls into Middle-earth is for them to fall in love with the heroes (and otherwise, we wouldn't be discussing this here). While it's all good and fair for romances with the fellowship, remember that the guys are out on a mission to save the Earth; so probably there'll be some serious fighting to do between one make-out session and the other. Too many fics focus so much on the romance you start wondering exactly why Aragorn is still leading the Fellowhip when clearly all he wants to do is sleep with the female protagonist (oh, and, there's that little Arwen thingy to sort out. Just saying.) One last thing: if you fancy Legolas, Frodo and Eomer, that'll make for the inspiration for several different fics. Don't try to cram all of your romantic interests in one fic for your protagonist to take on, or that'll only make for the inspiration for hilarious parodies such as Cressida and Gipsy Rose's Debbie Does the Fellowship.
Ultimately, the only way to a write a decent girl into ME fic is: think it through. Don't just write down your wish-fulfillment for the world to read. We all write to escape somewhere else; yes, even those who write to denounce the ills of society. When we write, we live other lives. But to make them worthy of being read, we have to take them one step further than a daydream.
16. Monster love: Orcs in romance
Orcs make for wonderful villains: they're easy to write (make them blundering, sadistic brutes and they'll be believable), they're virtually without personality, and they can make the worst of possibly thinkable actions without getting in the mesh of having to write of their guilt and regret. However, if in romance fics they are usually cast as rapists, abductors and slayers, comfortably at hand as disposable elements of disturb and tragedy, some very courageous authors are delving deeper into the Orcish world, taking on the disturbing questions left behind by these disquieting creatures.
As said before, we have extensive proof the Orcs reproduce by sexual intercourse, so there must be Orcish women and cute little Orclings somewhere (perhaps not so cute, all right.) In The Hobbit Gollum kidnapped and ate one Orcish child, so the doubts on this point are definitely solved: all those countless, faceless, nasty soldiers dying by the thousand under the walls of Minas Tirith and Helm's Deep had families back home.
When in the ROTK book Sam gets to eavesdrop on a couple of Orcs, we learn that they serve their masters but unwillingly, and dream of another, independent life elsewhere. (Admittedly, one of plunder and violence. C'mon, they're always Orcs.) There are many points still open to exploration in the Orcish world, such as what end did all those families of soldiers meet, or what form Orcish love takes.
Whether we make them the soulless, heartless baddies obligingly providing flesh for the heroes to slaughter (a purpose they faithfully serve throughout Tolkien's writings) or explore them as a desperate, damned race, living their own short-lived, brutal dreams, Orcs are without doubt an irrenounceable element of the universe of Tolkienverse fanfic.