My New Writing Buddy (Who Purrs)

The newest addition to our family: Monti!

The newest addition to our family!

Tiny orange striped, spotted blur

bounds up and down the steps

nestles in shoes, pounces laces

bats at feet and toys.

 

Big blue eyes grow heavy

cradle him in my arms

feel his contented purrs

sprawls on my lap.

 

Ears perked, watches me type

plays with the mouse

tiptoes across the keyboard

hops down to start again.

My new writing buddy

My new writing buddy

After years of passively contemplating adopting a pet, we fell in love with this six-week-old former stray. He’s a cuddler, always purring, just perfect for us.


The Silmarillion Recap: The War of Unnumbered Tears

Want to catch up on The Silmarillion so far? Check out the Silmarillion Recaps page here.

Last week, Maedhros gathered Elves, Men, and Dwarves to confront Morgoth once more. Now, for the beginning of the battle known in English as “Unnumbered Tears.”

Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 20 part 2

The time for plotting is over. The time for the newest assault on Morgoth has begun. Instead of detailing the battle blow by blow, as described in the chapter, this post will focus on the highlights. If you want to read the whole battle in detail, check out Chapter 20 in The Silmarillion. In either case, this war is so devastating that it is named Nirnaeth Arnoediad, “Unnumbered Tears.”

The first important event that happens is Turgon and his army from the secret land of Gondolin arrive. No one has known Gondolin’s location since its founding, so it’s a huge surprise to find Turgon roaming around after spending countless years cloistered away in his secret palace. (For all anyone knew, he had just fallen off the face of Middle-earth.) This certainly excites everyone, especially Fingon, Turgon’s brother who hasn’t seen him for years.

Speaking of Fingon, he has been with Gwindor, the Elf from Nargothrond whose brother had been captured during Dagor Bragollach (the last major war with Morgoth). In an attempt to lure Fingon into making a hasty move, the Orcs bring out Gwindor’s captured brother, Gelmir. Poor Gelmir has been blinded and tortured while in Morgoth’s prisons. And in this moment when it looks like they might bargain for his freedom, the Orcs instead execute him in front of everyone. Gwindor loses control of himself. Weapons blazing, he leads a charge straight to Angband’s gates. Fingon follows, hoping to help, but it’s too late. By the time he gets close, everyone but Gwindor is dead, Gwindor is captured, and Fingon is so overwhelmed that he has to withdraw.

After this, Fingon withdraws, where he meets with Turgon and his forces. This bolsters Fingon’s troops, which is good because they’ll need it. In the next breath, Morgoth fires everything he has, including Glaurung the dragon.

Unfortunately, Glaurung isn’t Morgoth’s only secret weapon. Throughout the years, Morgoth has used manipulation and lies to separate people. (After all, that’s why the Noldor became exiles in the first place.) In Middle-earth, he’s applied these tactics on Men, specifically the Easterlings (a familiar name from The Lord of the Rings) among other tribes. Now, in this moment when they need to stand together to face the dragon, a whole group of Men withdraws, abandoning Maedhros on the battlefield.

With a fraction of the army gone, there is no choice but to retreat. While it’s devastating, a few brave folk keep it from becoming a complete disaster.

The first: Azgahal, the Dwarven Lord of Belegost. When the dragon attacks, he and his armies fight back, and to the death. In fact, as Glaurung the dragon manages to kill Azgahal, Azgahal wounds the dragon so badly that it has no choice but to flee. This saves countless lives.

The second: Fingon himself. While he is with Turgon, they are faced with Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs. Unfortunately for the Elvish brothers, they’re separated by enemy forces, leaving Fingon to fight Gothmog himself. And while Fingon is a formidable foe, he’s eventually slain. While this is a terrible blow, Turgon does survive.

The third: Hurin. He and his brother, Huor, have been among the forces of Turgon, their old friend. (Yes, Maeglin still hates Hurin and Huor as much as ever.) Now that the battle has gone south, the brothers give Turgon a chance to flee. They offer to hold a bridge, allowing Turgon and the folk from Gondolin to cross, and the brothers will basically fight Morgoth’s forces to the death. At first, Turgon isn’t fond of this idea. However, Hurin convinces him that it’s for the best. He and his brother have lost everything. Their people have been devastated, their land is gone, they have nothing to return to. They want to go down fighting.

So that’s what they do. After Turgon and his forces escape, Hurin, Huor, and their men hold the bridge. Unfortunately, Huor is badly wounded by a venomed arrow to the eye and all of the men are killed, leaving Hurin to fight alone. But even then, Hurin never stops. He picks up an axe and starts swinging it, shouting, “Day shall come again!” (233) (By the way, if someone ever makes movies/tv miniseries of The Silmarillion, I hope they make this moment as epic as I imagine it. Slow motion and everything.) Eventually, Hurin is overwhelmed and captured, but not before he keeps his promise to Turgon and protects Gondolin’s location from Morgoth.

Once the battle is over, Morogth is quite pleased with himself. Sure, he’s bummed that Gondolin is still hidden and Turgon escaped, but at least the Orcs and wolves have the run of the place and the Elves won’t be banding together to bother him again for a while. Also, fortunately for him, he has Hurin in his custody. But back to this in a moment.

You see, in the aftermath of the war, many of the Elves flee to the Havens, where Cirdan the Shipwright has been for the longest time. Among them is Gil-galad, Fingon’s son. (He will be very important later.) Turgon and the other Elves try to send ships West to ask for help from Valinor, but none of them return, save one that was saved by Ulmo.

This action does, however, catch Morgoth’s attention. After attacking the Havens, Morgoth turns to the captured Hurin for information about Gondolin. After all, he’s been there before. But Hurin refuses to help. As punishment, Morgoth takes Hurin to a “high seat” where he’s forced to watch the fate of his family. As the events that follow take place, he never asks for mercy or death. He just watches, probably stealing much of the twisted pleasure out of the experience for Morgoth.

Next week, the things Hurin had to watch, part 1.


The Annual NaNoWriMo Quandary

As November swiftly approaches, I’ve been forced to face an all-important question: Am I doing NaNoWriMo this year?

To be honest, it’s been hard to answer. That fantasy/sci-fi steampunk novel idea from two years ago seems to have some potential, and two years of letting it brew in the back of my mind has left be itching to try it out again. It’s quirky and has pushed me into trying things that I haven’t done before, and I’m excited to see what another very rough draft will reveal about the world and the strange situation it’s in. Also, since I haven’t dedicated half of my life to it, it’s a novel that I’d be willing to try self-publishing without feeling like I’m selling it and myself short. It’s a terrifying and exciting thought.

On the other hand, Novel #1 and I have been getting along well and making some great progress in this latest review. The story is the same, but changing some things about one of my techniques has opened up some new, very candid moments between characters. I’m only partway through the draft, and I’d hate to interrupt this time.

And so, with November starting next weekend, I wonder what to do. To follow those impulsive urges to furiously write a story that’s just starting to take shape or to gently guide an old friend through a new level of growth?

I suppose the decision doesn’t have to be made until next Saturday arrives. Until then, I’ll let the debate continue in the back of my mind while Novel #1 and I keep plugging along.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?


The Silmarillion Recap: War Is in the Air (Again)

Sorry this week’s recap is a day late. Yesterday, I was up to my eyeballs in papers to grade. Now that the pile is back down to a manageable level, it’s time to dive into the fun stuff!

Want to catch up on The Silmarillion so far? Check out the Silmarillion Recaps page here.

After six weeks (believe it or not) of following Luthien and Beren’s story, it’s time to explore its aftermath. No one can face Morgoth and beat the other impossible odds they did without everyone taking notice.

Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 20 part 1

As promised last week, Luthien and Beren make a quick appearance at the beginning of this chapter. After all that they have gone through, they are finally back in Middle-earth, where they can enjoy their lives together. One of the first places they visit is Doriath, the realm of Luthien’s parents. Seeing Luthien again is a relief to poor Thingol, her father, who’s been grieving over her and Beren. However her mother, Melian, is completely heartbroken. Because of Luthien’s fate, Melian knows that she won’t spend forever in Valinor with her daughter anymore, and she is most keenly aware of this because she is a Maia, one of the servants of the Valar, so she knows things the others around her can’t imagine.

In any case, Luthien and Beren make their home in Dor Firn-i-Guinar (Land of the Dead that Live), and there they have a child named Dior. Don’t worry. There will be plenty more about Dior, often known as Thingol’s Heir, later.

It’s not long before rumors of Luthien and Beren’s return spread far and wide. Among those who hear of it: Maedhros, one of Fëanor’s sons. It’s been a while since Maedhros has received a mention in The Silmarillion. My first impression of him was that he had been the most grounded son of Fëanor. You know, one that didn’t have his father’s bent towards greed. However, years of hoping to reclaim his father’s Silmarils have apparently worn him down, so he seems to be just as difficult to work with and obsessive as his father and other brothers.

When Maedhros hears how Luthien and Beren broke into Morgoth’s fortress of Angband, put him to sleep, and stole a Silmaril out of his crown, he gets the crazy idea to attack Morgoth. After all, if a Man and Elven princess (basically) can go in alone and survive, maybe this is the opportune moment to strike.

With this, he gathers as many of the Elves as he can. While many do come, there are two particular realms who refuse to help.

The first: Nargothrond. Remember how Finrod was the king there until he left to help Beren retrieve one of the Silmarils? And how Maedhros’ brothers, Curufin and Celegorm, refused to help Finrod and then left Nargothrond in shame when everyone found out Finrod had been killed? Well, the Elves of Nargothrond wanted nothing to do with any of Fëanor’s other sons, and especially not Curufin and Celegorm, who were sure to be helping their brother in the battle.

A handful of Elves, however, are given permission by the current king of Nargothrond, Orodreth, to tag along. Leading them is Gwindor, whose brother was captured during the last major fight against Morgoth, Dagor Bragollach. If there’s any chance for him to save his brother, he wants to take it.

WP_000447

It may not be Dagor Bragollach’s battlefield, but it is one from the Civil War.                                              S.B. Roberts 2014

The second realm that refuses to help: Doriath. Of course, things may have gone better for Maedhros’ messengers if the conversation didn’t start with, “Hey, better give back that Silmaril you have. By the way, want to come fight with us?”

In all seriousness, though, Thingol has good reason to want nothing to do with Fëanor’s sons. Curufin and Celegorm had kidnapped Luthien and then attacked her and Beren out in the forest. Now, to add insult to injury, Maedhros is demanding for the Silmaril to be returned. After all that Luthien and Beren endured to retrieve it, it is far too valuable.

Very importantly, though, there’s one more reason Thingol doesn’t want to return the Silmaril. As much as he doesn’t want to admit it, he’s growing obsessed with it. The same accursed greed that killed Fëanor is now eating away at Thingol, but no one is aware of it yet.

When Thingol refuses to help, Fëanor’s sons are ticked (but what’s new there?). In fact, Curufin and Celegorm tell Thingol that, if they make it out of the war alive, they’re coming back to kill him when it’s all over.

Only two Elves from Doriath leave to aid in the battle: Mablung and Beleg. (They will show back up later, which is why they deserve a mention now.) They don’t want to be a part of Thingol or Fëanor’s sons’ drama. They just want to do what’s best for Middle-earth.

In addition to Elves, Maedhros is joined by the Naugrim — the Dwarves — as well as many of the Edain and other Men who have come to the western regions of Middle-earth over the years. Most notable among the Edain: Húrin and Huor. As mentioned before, these two brothers are very important to some of the upcoming chapters.

Together, they all prepare for the next major assault on Morgoth. But don’t think that Morgoth isn’t plotting as well…

Next week, Gwindor finds his brother, a dragon joins the party, and it’s revealed why the next battle is named, in English, Unnumbered Tears.


A Date with My Impulsive Side

They say confession is good for the soul, and I have a confession to make. I’m a pretty impulsive person sometimes. Yesterday afternoon, my blog suffered the consequences of it.

When I hopped on yesterday afternoon to see if there were any new posts to check out, I also went to my blog. And sighed. I think I’ve had the same scheme for two years now. While that isn’t a bad thing, it also means that it was doomed to change sooner or later. Everything deserves a fresh face once in a while, right?

Thus the itch began. I could sit on the idea for a few days, but I knew it was for naught. No matter how long I waited, I would probably make the same decision unless someone talked some sense into me. That’s how it always works.

As soon as I gave in, my fingers were ready. I found myself scrolling down the different themes, hunting for one that fit me. Not that the other one didn’t. That little flourish in the corner and the color scheme was very me, but it is time for something new. Like a new haircut. And like just the right haircut or a wedding dress (because you really can just put one on and know that it’s the one — I did), sometimes you just know the right one when you stumble upon it. And its name, “Elegant Grunge,” certainly didn’t hurt either.

Now, ink smudges and all, I have a new look.

Fortunately, it’s not as drastic as some of the other things my impulsive side has driven me to do. Like completely rearrange all the furniture in the house. Or cut my hair too short to braid. Or run a half-marathon with my mother…

What’s the last impulsive thing you did?


The Silmarillion Recap: Luthien and Beren’s Fate

Want to catch up on The Silmarillion so far? Check out the Silmarillion Recaps page here.

Last week, Beren and Luthien showed what they were made of as they stole one of the Silmarils. Of course, everything didn’t quite end up according to plan, leading to the climax of their story (which we’ll finally reach today).

Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 19 part 6

After taking one of the Silmarils and losing it (and Beren’s hand) to Carcharoth (Wolf of Angband), Beren heals under Luthien’s care and they spend quite a while living out in the forest. All they really want is to be with each other anyways, so Luthien doesn’t care that she’s completely abandoned the palace she used to call home to live in the forest like a hunter. However, Beren doesn’t feel so great about it. He did make a promise to King Thingol (Luthien’s father), and it only seems right to face him, even if he’s sure that Thingol won’t be so happy to see him.

What Beren doesn’t know is that Thingol and Melian (Luthien’s mother) aren’t the only ones back in Doriath who miss Luthien. The whole kingdom has fallen under a melancholy shadow. Since she left, Thingol had been listening to rumors of Luthien’s whereabouts. Last he’s heard, Beren and King Finrod are dead, and Luthien has been captured by Celegorm (who isn’t such a great guy). In case that isn’t bad enough, Carcharoth — the dreaded Wolf of Angband — has been ravaging the countryside and has now somehow broken through Melian’s magical barrier and is roaming through Doriath, his own kingdom.

S.B. Roberts 2014

S.B. Roberts 2014

It’s at this moment — when everything seems to be falling apart — that Luthien and Beren show back up in Doriath. Obviously, Thingol is thrilled to see his daughter, though he’s not so keen on this Beren guy. If it hadn’t been for Beren, there wouldn’t have been so much sorrow in his happy kingdom. Still a bit miffed, Thingol asks Beren for that Silmaril. After all, that’s what he was supposed to bring back in return for marrying Luthien.

And this is where it gets good. Like Macduff’s surprise for Macbeth good. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth… and think of Eowyn and Merry from The Return of the King as you do. After all, Macbeth was an inspiration for several of Tolkien’s ideas, including the Ents. “Biram Wood comes to Dunsinane…”)

Beren simply tells Thingol that he did fulfill the quest, and “even now a Silmaril is in my hand.” (218) Then he shows where Carcharoth bit off his hand, which had the Silmaril in it.

I would dare to say that Thingol is impressed. His animosity for Beren diminishes, and he does allow Beren to marry Luthien, as promised.

But that’s not the end of the story because the quest still isn’t finished. Carcharoth is still out in Doriath’s forests, and they need to take him out and save the Silmaril once and for all. Thingol and Beren join the hunt, leaving Luthien behind. Again.

It’s not long before they find Carcharoth, soothing his burning insides with some of the enchanted waters. Huan (hound from Valinor) doesn’t hesitate to attack, and Beren charges in after him. Within moments, Beren is badly wounded. Thingol drops everything to tend to him.

Meanwhile, the two hounds fight it out until both are mortally wounded. Carcharoth dies, and Huan limps to Beren’s side, where he collapses. Since Huan is only able to speak three times before his death and he has only spoken twice so far, he uses his last time to bid farewell to Beren. Beren rests his hand on Huan’s head, and the brave hound dies.

One of the Elves cuts Carcharoth open, finding Beren’s whole hand and the Silmaril still wrapped in it. He quickly takes the Silmaril and lays it in Beren’s good hand. At this, Beren, who’s been in and out of consciousness, offers it to Thingol and then slips back into darkness.

The Elves quickly bring Beren and Huan back to the palace. Before they can reach it, though, Luthien meets them. She wraps her arms around Beren, knowing that he’s fading fast, and tells him to wait for her “beyond the Western Sea.” Then he dies.

But this isn’t the end of the story either. Beren does indeed wait for her in the Halls of Mandos, which is a place where the dead live in Valinor. It doesn’t sound like mortals usually hang out there for long (or at all), but Beren does. And, after a time, Luthien finally arrives there as well. It’s not clear exactly how she accomplished this, but Tolkien spends no time explaining it, so I’m not worrying about it.

When she arrives, Luthien immediately enthralls everyone with her beauty and sorrow. Mandos (the Vala in charge of the dead) notices her and listens as she sings “the sorrow of the Elves and the grief of Men” (221). This song is so incredible that others later sing it as well, and it is still sung in Valinor.

For the first and only time in history, Mandos is moved. So moved, in fact, that he hurries to Manwë (the head Vala) and asks if there’s anything that they can do. Manwë speaks in turn with Iluvatar, who reveals his will.

Luthien has two choices. She can either live among the Elves over the Sea forever, but without Beren. Or she can give up immortality, her kinship with the Elves, and any assurances of a long, happy life and be returned to Middle-earth with Beren. She chooses the second, and she and Beren are reunited. (How could she not, after fighting so hard to be with him and help him with the quest?) They both will face a “second death” (222), but they will be together.

And while this is the end of the chapter, it’s not quite the end of Luthien and Beren’s story. There’s a little more about them both at the beginning of the next chapter and towards the end of the “Quenta Silmarillion.” But here ends the beginning (and the most exciting) part of their tale.

Next week, it’s time for another war against Morgoth, spurred on by one of Fëanor’s sons.


Writing History

Every time I begin reworking anything in my novels (especially Novel #1), I find myself thinking about things I never considered before. I suppose it shouldn’t be any wonder that it’s been a 15+ year adventure.

Anyways, my most recent musings have mostly centered on history. It’s probably thanks, in part, to reading The Silmarillion. Of course, that should be no surprise. Many of Carrick’s overhauls as a world have come from analyzing the techniques of other writers, especially Tolkien.

In any case, Tolkien’s world – and the worlds of most fantasy authors – are very old. Thousands upon thousands of years. Perhaps it’s in part because our world has thousands of years of history to its name so we’re very familiar with it, or just because it’s the perfect breeding grounds for epic events to grow to mythical proportions.

In either case, for whatever reason, it’s not the road I ended up on so far. The original histories I started to compose in high school only account for 516 years of Carrick’s history. Of course, there’s more to it: a time before the monumental mistake that changed the world completely, but I don’t know much of it. How long was it? What was life like before it? How much have things changed? I used to dodge the question because I would deal with it later. But that’s starting to change. I need to establish this now, before I get in too deep.

This whole musing makes me think of conversations I’ve had with my students lately. As we discuss King Arthur, we’ve talked about what the real man who inspired King Arthur might have been like and how the story could have changed over the years. But this inflation to legendary status doesn’t just happen to stories that are over a thousand years old. After all, the United States has only been in existence for less than 250 years, but George Washington and many of the other Founders are usually thought of with a similar mystique: many people know some facts about them but some things have become more like legends. (George Washington and the cherry tree, anyone?) So there’s plenty of opportunity for anything to grow to legendary proportions, even if it’s only been a few hundred years. Right?

In any case, it’s just one more thing to ponder in this never-ending adventure.

What are your thoughts on writing histories for stories?


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