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LotR Plot Bunny - Arwen-centric Third Age Divergence

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Taure, Sep 14, 2021.

  1. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

    Mar 5, 2006
    United Kingdom
    High Score:
    Obligatory Anti-Steelbadger Disclaimer: the following engages with LotR in accordance with the tropes and standards of modern genre fantasy, and not on its own terms as mythic fantasy/artificial folklore. My feeling is that the mythic framing severely limits a fanfic author's scope to tell new and different stories and so I prefer to take the LotR world and translate it into something more grounded, while retaining the essential tone/feel of the world as revealed in LotR and the Hobbit (but not necessarily the wider legendarium). This is not to everyone's tastes but this discussion has been had many times.

    And now, on with the main event...

    I feel like the early Third Age doesn't get a lot of love in the fandom, but it is in fact really packed full of a lot of events which present all sorts of scope for interesting divergences. In particular, there are two time periods which represent significant fulcrums in the path of civilisation in Middle Earth.

    One is around the late 1900s T.A., which sees the fall of Arnor, the destruction of Angmar, and the emergence of Durin's Bane. There are certainly lots of stories to tell there amid those events or in their aftermath, but in many ways, those are the events which established the setting of LotR as we know it from the War of the Ring, so divergence potential may be limited once they have taken place.

    More interesting for those who wish to tell a substantial divergence which completely derails the universe, I think, is the time around 700-900 T.A. This is the period in which Arnor divided into three Kingdoms. It is, perhaps, the most "open" moment in the Third Age: Khazad-dum remains at the height of its glory, Sauron has not yet returned or founded Dol Guldur, Greenwood the Great remains, the Istari have not yet come to Middle Earth, there is still a King in Gondor and Osgiliath remains its capital.

    And best of all, in Arnor, the division into three Kingdoms creates all sorts of possibilities for interesting conflict between men, an opportunity to tell a "shades of grey" story rather than a "good vs. evil" story. One such story could be a plotline surrounding attempts to reunite the three Kingdoms, or to avert their shattering in the first place, which, if successful, would preserve Arnor's strength, its royal line, and completely change the script as regards the rise of Angmar. In such a universe, the War of the Ring - if it ever occurred - would be very different.

    I think Arwen is a perfect vehicle for such a story. She has many virtues as a POV character:

    1. She's an outsider to the realms of men, and therefore the a good perspective for the reader to be introduced to them, as she will be encountering things for the first time at the same time as the reader.

    2. At the same time, Arwen will be highly educated and knowledgeable, allowing the narrative to engage with these new experiences in an intelligent and efficient way.

    3. As an individual of high birth, she will have good access to the movers and shakers of the period.

    4. Being 400+ years old during this era, she is an excellent opportunity to explore the mentality which comes with that kind of age and experience, a story element that always fascinates me but which is so poorly explored by so many stories (immortal elves so often are depicted as unruly and emotional teenagers).

    5. There are many possible interesting character arcs for Arwen. You can play with her curiosity about men, having been raised in a rather sheltered fashion despite her long years, and maybe conclude that with a "once burnt, twice shy" type conclusion. You can make something of the fact that she is a supremely privileged individual who likely has never had cause to interact with areas of the world with poverty, deprivation, crime, violence, unjust rule, etc. You can present her as starting with a black and white morality which is possible in the peace and protection of Rivendell but struggle with moral dilemmas and complex questions with no easy answers once exposed to the world of men.

    6. As a woman who appears limited by the gender expectations of her era (e.g. she was not present at the Council of Elrond), Arwen is also good vehicle to explore stories that revolve more around relationships/politics than action/fighting.

    7. I think Arwen also has substantial potential for a "hero's path" arc in terms of developing her powers. She is, after all, the granddaughter of Galadriel and descended from Melian. I think a story such as this could be used to explore setting and character-appropriate magic such as mental communication, foresight, enchantment of objects/places (e.g. Melian's Girdle), healing, and the ability to read and/or dominate a person in mind and spirit. A lot of these powers also tie in with the point above about exploring stories which do not rely on action/fighting as their resolution. It is, in many ways, the "Jedi Consular" model of heroism/conflict resolution.

    8. Given her position as Elrond's daughter, she is also a good perspective to explore a more grounded depiction of elvish society (which is, by all indications, feudal in nature).

    So I am envisaging a story where Arwen, curious about the world of men, still young and full of energy by elvish standards, inexperienced but growing in powers, persuades her father to let her attend some sort of important event at Annúminas as a foreign dignitary around the 850s, towards the end of the life of King Eärendur.

    Once there, she of course immediately attracts attention by virtue of her beauty and status. I am imagining a kind of "old money vs. new money" approach to Elvish vs human nobility. Arwen's status and lineage is impeccable, but the size and power of the human Kingdom dwarfs that of any Elvish realm in Middle Earth except perhaps Greenwood.

    In turn, Arwen finds herself fascinated by the vigour and life of the world of men, so different to the static nature of elvish society, and lingers for a time there. She soon ends up drawn into the schemes and politics of Eärendur's three sons, who are each vying to succeed Eärendur as the King of Arnor.

    By the end of the story, Arwen has successfully assisted in keeping Arnor united, but in the process has learnt to be careful and distrustful of men. I am thinking along the lines of her trying to remain neutral at first, acting as a kind of mediator between the three brothers, but ultimately is forced to make a difficult choice and take a side in order to keep the Kingdom together. In doing so, she succeeds in her material mission, but compromises her own morality in a way which makes her uncomfortable with remaining in the world of men. Her powers have also grown to the point that Elrond decides, at the conclusion of the story, to send her to Galadriel.


    Particularly interested in ideas as regards:

    - What plots and schemes Arwen could get drawn into;

    - How you would handle the depiction and progression of her powers;

    - What level of technology you would depict the Kingdom of Arnor as possessing, and what the population of the Kingdom should be;

    - The social/political structure of a more grounded elvish society (are there elvish farmers? Where do elves get their food if not?);

    - The social/political structure of the Kingdom of Arnor.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2021