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[LotR - Plot Bunny] Lower fantasy retelling of LotR

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Taure, Jun 25, 2019.

  1. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Something that came up in IRC. I was thinking about how I tend to love HP/LotR fics but often have very little interest in pure-LotR fics, and I think one of the reasons for that is the nature of LotR. Simply put, the LotR world is not exactly a sandbox type universe. The way the story was told is already pretty "complete", the moral lines between the sides are too clear-cut to tell varied or nuanced stories, and the structure of the world is quite rigid (e.g. in terms of Eru having a plan, etc).

    So the premise of this thread is to re-imagine the LotR world as one which is of a lower fantasy type setting. Maybe not Game of Thrones levels of gritty, but certainly more grounded, with more moral shades of grey, more factions at play than "good vs evil", less certain religion, a de-Catholicised mythology, etc.

    Warning: if you dislike the idea of making fundamental changes to LotR, you're not going to like this thread.

    Some ideas to get us started:

    Mythology

    A few changes here:

    1. Completely remove Eru. Elvish and Numenorean religion will be centred around the Valar.

    2. Different groups of Elves have different pantheons of Valar which mostly align but have some differences (like Roman and Greek gods).

    3. No elves have ever met the Valar, except for a few mythological tales which not all elves believe to be literally true.

    4. The Maiar are known to exist for sure, in Valinor and elsewhere, and they proclaim to act on behalf of the Valar.

    5. However, a certain group of Maiar who follow Melkor maintain that the Maiar have invented the Valar. Melkor, they say, is the greatest of the Maiar, one who wishes for the peoples of Ea to know the truth.

    6. The Vanyar, Noldor, and those of the Teleri who sailed to Aman say that Melkor is a rogue Vala. Other elvish peoples (including the Sindar) pay lip service to that line but are not nearly so religious.

    7. Men are divided on the issue. The Numenoreans (before their "fall", and in Gondor and Arnor) follow the Noldor religion. The Black Numenoreans and the other kingdoms of the east and south follow the Melkorish mythology. The lesser nations of Middle Earth either follow their own, separate religions, or some hybrid form.

    8. The Noldor say the Valar destroyed Numenor for their blasphemy. Others consider that it was a natural disaster, or that the Maiar did it. Whatever the cause, Aman is sundered from Middle Earth by fierce storms and treacherous oceans.

    Maiar

    1. Maiar are spiritual beings which may take physical form. It takes time to craft a physical form, they cannot shape-shift at will (though some have specifically developed the power of shape-shifting between specific forms).

    2. Maiar cannot be killed, but their physical form can be destroyed.

    3. Maiar are variously capable of telepathy, telekinesis, healing, manipulation of the weather, creation of fire and light, manipulation of plant and animal life, and can craft illusions, enchantments and imbue objects with mystical qualities. As with certain Elves (see below), they can also exert a spiritual force which can overcome those of weaker spiritual power.

    4. Maiar are highly intelligent and in particular many workings of the physical world will come to them intuitively.

    5. Maiar vary considerably in power, with the weakest of the Maiar being roughly equivalent in power to the greatest of the Elves. Only the greatest of the Maiar have access to the full powers listed in 3.

    6. When in their physical forms, they are capable of great strength and have considerable resistance to harm.

    7. A Maia who occupies an area for an extended period of time can imbue their power into that area, shaping its geography, flora and fauna according to their will.

    The Elves

    1. Elves possess the physical, mental and spiritual powers which they possess in canon, but do not have any special species-derived wisdom or learning which is not accessible to other races (though their immortality certain assists in the accumulation of knowledge).

    2. Elves have a low birth rate, with female elves only entering a period of fertility once every 50 years.

    3. Elvish society is highly stratified/aristocratic, with the spiritual and mental powers associated with elves in canon limited to the high-born, passed down the bloodlines. Those powers consist of (depending on the elf): telepathy, healing (of others), manipulation of plant and animal life, and the ability to craft illusions, enchantments and imbue objects with mystical qualities. As with Maiar, they can also combat other beings directly by pitting their spiritual power against each other.

    4. Non-aristocratic elves will have no special spiritual or mental powers, but will be immortal, immune to disease, light of foot, slightly stronger than a man of equivalent size, and need little in the way of rest. If an elf does not eat or drink, they will not die, but they will weaken considerably, and in extreme cases may enter a kind of hibernation.

    5. Elves do not live in a utopian post-scarcity society. They have money and jobs. They have servants and farmers and hunters and bakers and fishermen etc. Outside of the Noldor, they even have prostitutes courtesans.

    6. The Elvish population of Middle Earth is greater than it is in canon as a result of there not being any way to cross to Aman following the fall of Numenor. Their principal kingdoms are (in order of population) Lindon, Lothlorian, Mirkwood, and Rivendell. Lindon is Sindar-dominant. Lothlorian is Noldor-dominant with a Silvan minority. Mirkwood is almost entirely Silvan. Rivendell is Noldor-dominant with a large Sindar population.

    7. There are further elvish kingdoms in the east, which follow the religion of Melkor to varying degrees.

    Men

    1. The history of the Numenoreans is more or less the same as canon. Numenoreans and their pure descendants have extended life span and youth, a higher resistance to disease, greater physical strength, stamina and resilience, and some abilities with healing, telepathy, and spiritual strength. A Numenorean's spiritual strength is more inward facing - men cannot really force others to submit through spiritual power alone, but they can resist the spiritual power of others.

    2. Men may gain access to more mystical powers via sorcery. Sorcery is a learnt body of knowledge and does not grant anything for free. It is frequent for sacrifice to be involved, and as such it has a dark reputation.

    3. The principal kingdoms of Men in Middle Earth are Gondor, Umbar, Rohan, Harad, Rhun, Khand, Dale, Angmar, Mordor (mixed kingdom of men and orcs) and the successor Kingdoms of Arnor.

    4. The successor Kingdoms of Arnor are considerably more organised than canon, with proper cities, armies etc. but they are patchwork quilt of small, divided states (think the Holy Roman Empire, but the Emperor has disappeared).

    5. Gondor is the strongest and wealthiest kingdom, with the largest population of Numenorean descendents of relatively pure blood. However, it is highly decentralised since the royal family died out, with the Steward really only having significant control over Minas Tirith and surrounding areas. Belfalas, Pelagir, Dol Amroth etc. all function effectively as independent fiefs, similar to the Seven Kingdoms in GOT.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2019
  2. Nauro

    Nauro Headmaster

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    This thread intrigues me, but at the same time, I'm hesitant to offer suggestions. At the same time, I both want to preserve the black and white setting of LotR, and I have consistently found myself enjoying elements of grey introduced to the setting in some crossovers*.

    I'm not sure if undercutting elven mysticism and increasing their numbers is the way to go, I'd probably still want their numbers reduced and waining - to make it still, as it was an era of Men.

    Surprisingly, I think Dwarves probably need the least ajustments to function in this lower fantasy version of LotR.

    What of Sauron, though? Reputably, one of Maiar? What of his ring? Do the rings remain a driving force of the story, or are they an afterthought, minor trinkets of power with no major plot influnce, or do they sublty nudge the events along?
    It's all well and good to focus on the "Lords " bit, but who are they Lords of? What about "the Ring"?

    ++

    *There's a Westeros crossover that's average, but it introduces Lannister westerlands to the setting in a freak accident, and while it contrasts the different behaviours of men from different universes, it still develops some of the greyer outlines of the LotR universe. There was also a complete Black Company crossover that shows off nuance of the bad side, notably developing orks and other "evil men" in service to Sauron.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2019
  3. Steelbadger

    Steelbadger High Inquisitor

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    I find myself conflicted here. On the one hand, I feel like a lot of these ideas have a great deal of potential and on the other, I feel like many of these represent such large changes to the Lord of the Rings mythology that it's really more a wholly new setting inspired by the Lord of the Rings, and coincidentally reusing some of Tolkien's names for things. It differs more from the original than many other derivative works.

    I do agree, though, that fanfiction in the Lord of the Rings is very static, it seems that very few want to touch it, and those who do are loath to make changes.

    I would say, however, that if you're looking for a more morally nuanced story, I think the trick, really is in changing the framing, rather than the details. Really, the morality of the Lord of the Rings is fairly nuanced already, but it's been told by one who has a very binary world view (that person may be Tolkien or Frodo, depending on how much one is willing to believe that Tolkien was able to separate himself from the narrative. He tried to, but as you say, his Catholicism still kinda leaks through). What's more, it was written by a scholar, with ready access to the full and accurate history of the world, this is highly unusual amongst the population of Middle-earth.

    Consider the canon world from the point of view of a man of Rohan. Almost all the aspects of low fantasy are already fulfilled. Elves are little more than old tales told around the hearth on long cold nights, and in those tales they are very similar to Elves/fairies of British legend, mysterious, fickle and inscrutable. Orcs are bad, yes, but for the Rohirrim it was Dunlendings and Wainriders who were the more pertinent threats. Certainly in the case of the Dunlendings, there are many who would argue that they are the wronged party. Rohan won, however, and so it was Rohan that chose how that history was recorded. In addition, religion in the Lord of the Rings is, well almost completely non-present as it is. In fact, the only time I can recall actual worship being mentioned is in Numenor before the fall where they worship Morgoth (and practice such things as human sacrifice).

    Tolkien himself considered some story ideas with much greater levels of moral ambiguity but in the end discarded them not because they didn't exist within his world, he was well aware of the potential for evil that exists within all men and can be realised through even the best of intentions, but because he simply didn't want to write it. He wanted to write a fairy tale, a modern myth where everything was writ larger than life, and so that's what we got. The Silmarillion has many stories that are rather more Greek in their tone; flawed and doomed heroes abound.

    So, I guess what I'm saying is that on one hand, you seem to have created a whole new setting, distinct from the Lord of the Rings, while on the other, I'm not sure it's actually functionally different really from how Bill Ferny from Bree believes the world in which he lives works.
     
  4. Blorcyn

    Blorcyn Unspeakable DLP Supporter DLP Silver Supporter

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    @Steelbadger I'm thinking you've just activated Taure's trap card. He's drawn you out of your sett.

    On topic, where do orcs fit into this new cosmology? A more low fantasy feel does not particularly suit them, I feel. How do you make them into a more low fantasy culture in the style you've done for the elves?
     
  5. Aekiel

    Aekiel Angle of Mispeling Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Going low fantasy, I'd just merge orcs into the Easterlings and Haradrim so that 'Orc' is just a slur against them. Orcs probably existed in the past, but they're near extinct now and viewed in the same way most Middle Earthers would the Elves. Only for the rising threat to be the return of the Orcs from the North and from Mordor.
     
  6. Glimmervoid

    Glimmervoid Groundskeeper

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    Not sure I really like this. Melkor's defining trait his he is really really prideful. I can't see him talking himself down as 'just' a Maiar. It is not in character.

    In canon, he's jealous of Iluvatar holding the power of creation, so he tries to steal it. He's jealous the music exists to someone else's design, so he seeks to make it in his own image. He's jealous of the world and the gifts given to the Children of Iluvatar, so he seeks to twist them.

    Now that's canon, of course, so the examples don't need to be true, but I think the core of Melkor's character should stay in tact. And I can't see that meshing with him styling himself as less than a Valar. That's independent of if the Valar exist at all, of course.
     
  7. Methos

    Methos Professor DLP Supporter

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    Question:
    Why keep the Elves immortals and not just extremely long lived, who mistake themselves to be immortals?
    An element of arrogance can be insert as well ?

    If i'm not mistaken Tolkein was influenced by Norse myths, their gods aren't immortals, just extremely long lived.
    They will probably die first to fatal injury rather fully live their natural life span.
     
  8. quixoticcool

    quixoticcool Second Year

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    I think the core problem here is just as @Steelbadger pointed out but even more so. Not only is LotR already low fantasy to most people it is just straight up low fantasy. Only a few especially climactic events involve "magic" at all. The elves are a waning people with none of the powers they once had, the Numenoreans have become little more than longer lived men, even Sauron relies on strength of arms and his power to dominate over sorcery, the Witch King doesn't strike Theoden down with magic, he makes his horse fall on him.

    It's not the "high fantasy" setting that makes LotR a poor environment for fanfiction, instead it's the very "completeness" you mention @Taure . Tolkien created a whole world and unlike other authors whose ambitions were greater than their abilities he was up to the task and left little room for the speculation that fanfiction is rooted in. In Harry Potter or Game of Thrones there are a million loose threads for a Fanfiction writer to weave with, but LotR lacks these. That's not to say you can't write fanfiction for LotR but more that any that tries to insert itself into the main story will inevitably fall too far short of the original to be worth it.

    I think this is an ambitious endeavor but you're coming at it from the wrong direction, rather than rewrite the universe you need to reframe the setting, pick another moment in history and write a story that can fit in, rather than attempt to change what already exists.
     
  9. pbluekan

    pbluekan Death Eater DLP Supporter

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    No. No it really isn’t. It is most definitely high fantasy. Hell, LoTR basically defines the genre of high fantasy. Go look up the defining characteristics of those genres before you say that.

    However, as steelbadger said, to the individual characters within the world, it might as well feel like low fantasy.
     
  10. quixoticcool

    quixoticcool Second Year

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    "High fantasy is set in an alternative, fictional ("secondary") world, rather than the "real" or "primary" world.[2] This secondary world is usually internally consistent, but its rules differ from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterized by being set in the primary or real world, or a rational and familiar fictional world with the inclusion of magical elements"

    These definitions completely lack any sort of fit with Low Fantasy or High fantasy as we use the terms and show a complete lack of understanding of LotR since the entire point of LotR is that it is set in the "real" world. In fact LotR fits heavily with the definition of Low fantasy being a basically high medieval world into which magical elements intrude. That low fantasy and high fantasy are poorly defined doesn't have any bearing on the way we use them. Undeniably ASoIF is "low fantasy" as we use it and yet it is an alternative fictional world with it's own internally consistent rules that differ, albeit slightly, from those of our world.
     
  11. Garden

    Garden Minister of Magic

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    My rule of thumb: if an average character can go their whole life in the setting without ever believing in magic or seeing it, it's a low-magic setting.

    ASOIAF=low magic, especially in the 'modern' era. In the Age of Heroes, not so much.

    LOTR in the 3rd age= low-magic for almost everyone, unless you're an elf.
     
  12. Agayek

    Agayek Totally Sirius DLP Supporter

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    That raises a question; what do we call a setting where magic is physics wearing a silly hat (say, the Forgotten Realms, where magic and the study thereof is both scientific and mundane)?
     
  13. Scarat

    Scarat Second Year

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    Those tend to be physics-themed magic, so still magic in the end.
     
  14. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    The thread seems to have taken an oddly semantic tone (looking at you, @quixoticcool!). Personally I don't think it really matters whether LotR is classified as high or low fantasy - we all know what LotR is in content, and in particular I think the OP was fairly clear about the problems I had with the LotR universe from a fanfiction perspective:

    1. Too spiritually certain, with powerful god-like beings known to exist (with characters in the story being eye-witnesses to their existence). Those beings sit on the sidelines but occasionally interfere.

    2. Too Catholic, with a further omnipotent, benevolent god ruling above the pantheon of godlike beings (who again, also has interfered in the world - Numenor). This god has a fixed plan for the world and has an afterlife for at least some of the characters.

    3. Too morally black and white, with one side being the indisputable good guys who are just right, their position supported by the godlike beings mentioned in #1 and the absolute god mentioned in #2.

    4. Too politically simple, with insufficient factions, a largely deserted, underpopulated world, and battle lines being largely drawn up by species. Monarchy is good, nobility triumphs, powerful warriors are always just rulers, "good" characters never have to compromise their morals to win, the "bad" characters have no redeeming features whatsoever, etc. This is all tied in to point 3.

    Now, I take the point that from the point of view of an ignorant country bumpkin, these things do not hold in their everyday life. But I have two problems with that as a solution to 1-4 above:

    A. Regardless of what the country bumpkin thinks, we the reader know they are wrong. And my problem is with the universe itself, not the point of view of a character viewing that universe. Fundamentally, I am not interested in universes which contain god or gods, a certain afterlife, etc. It robs the human-level characters of agency. It takes tension out of the risk of negative consequences. It lowers the stakes of any conflict. It makes the entire plot seem like a small side-story that the true protagonists of the universe (the gods) consider too unimportant/irrelevant to pay attention to.

    B. In any event, no one wants to read the story of a country bumpkin. Inevitably, a story set in this universe is going to follow the movers and shakers of the universe, the educated elite, the great lords who know Elvish lore and may well have met some elves who can speak from personal experience of the Valar etc.

    Thus the AU.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2019 at 8:00 AM
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