Dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien fans do not only worship The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. No, they appreciate ALL his work, whether it’s set in Middle Earth or not (and on the planet Arda of which ME/Endor is but a continent). Now, I’m not about to start in on academic endeavours such as Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics, or more ethereal, posthumous renditions of classic Nordic or Arthurian myth such as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún or The Fall of Arthur. No, the real nitty-gritty core of Tolkien geekdom resides firmly in The Silmarillion. This is, in fact, a collection of books – the creation myth, Ainulindalë; lists of the spirit races, the Valaquenta; the tale of the First Age of Arda, the Quenta Silmarillion; and finally, the Akallabêth which deals with the downfall of Aragorn’s ancestors, the Men of Númenor.
Befouled began as a fan-fiction novella called The Last Vanya, from a small snippet of ‘lore’ from the prehistory of the Elves prior to the First Age. It amounts to a few sentences on how Melkor/Morgoth and his chief servant, Sauron, stole many individuals and families of elves from their birthlands in the far east of Middle Earth. Once in captivity, these lost elves were taken to Melkor’s fortress of Utumno where they were tortured and experimented upon, to eventually become a vicious warrior slave race – the Orcs. Meanwhile, back in east, the three great clans of the Elves, the Vanyar, Noldor and Teleri have been found by Oromë, the Huntsman who persuades them to accept the protection and mentorship of the good angelic spirits far off in the west of the world, on the continent of Valinor, where they will all be safe from the predations of Melkor and Sauron. To do this, the three clans undertake a massive migration from the east of Middle Earth to the western shores where they will be transported into the peaceful lands in the far West.
My fan-fiction was inspired by this very sketchy account of the captive elves and their even less detailed metamorphosis into the reviled race of Orcs, to put flesh on the bare bones of the concept. The other part of this early legendarium that fascinated me was how the migrating elf clans found out about their lost kin and why they were so implacably rabid in their hatred of the Orcs. So, the she-elf, Faenelloth, was formed and I put her and her mate, Giliathmen right at the beginning of the tale, leaving their birthplace with a small group of their kinsfolk to find ‘safer’ lands, but instead running into Sauron and becoming enslaved as ‘blood-stock’. Because Tolkien had written nothing about the process used to create Orcs, I more or less had a free rein with how that was achieved, although I wanted to make it as plausible and true to the canon of Arda as possible. Sauron is described as a necromancer – a raiser of the dead, so the idea of my protagonists becoming ‘zombie elves’ was inevitable.
Also, the idea of Melkor and Sauron messing about with genetic manipulation was more than attractive, so my backstory on the early days of experimentation with minor ‘spirits’ and cross-breeding them with elves was also a shoo-in. This latter aspect also fed into some received wisdom about Tolkien’s elves, as the females were known to embrace death rather than be raped, or bear children if they were not mated. That little factoid also gave me an idea on Faenelloth’s incessant self-torture for the ‘sin’ of bearing debased children, or in the case of her first-born, to put the baby beyond Sauron’s power by murdering her and then suiciding herself. Of course, this was a mere inconvenience for a necromancer…
When I decided to adapt The Last Vanya, I needed to unpluck all the threads of reference back to The Silmarillion, as I had no desire to fall foul of the Tolkien Estate! Names and places were therefore swiftly changed from the Elven languages derivatives and put into ‘dog-gaelic’ alternatives. I also played fast and loose with the Ainulindalë, for the prologue, turning the Song of Creation into a Great Dance instead, and putting my version of the Ordha cosmos into a more acceptable stellar environment, circling ‘star-clouds’, instead of having the Two Lamps or Two Trees lighting the world, instead of a very tardy sun and moon for a flat earth.
That’s the beauty of epic fantasy! There are certain must-have, prerequisite formulas that were established long before Tolkien, Lovecraft, Morris and Blake and even Shakespeare put pen to parchment. There has to be ultimate evil, superpowers, heroes, god-like beings and legends in existence that key into our own timeless cultural and spiritual mythologies. I don’t have dragons or unicorns though. But I do have the undead, dark gods and fire-demons!
And, yes – here’s the trailer again! 😉
Which world mythology do you think makes for a good fantasy world yarn?