Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards

The Dancer

Author: annmarwalk
Nominator: EdorasLass
2007 Award Category: Genres: Drama: Minas Tirith - Second Place

Story Type: Story : Length: Short Story
Rating: General -- Reason for Rating: N/A
Summary: "You, who have only known Denethor in his later years, when his burdens lay heavily upon him, can scarcely imagine him in the glory of his youth." A dowager lady of Minas Tirith recalls love and loss.The prologue to "For the Moon to Lead, and All the Stars to Follow" (MEFA Award winner 2006).


Reviewed by: EdorasLass -- Score: 10

That was one of the first LOTR stories I read, ever, and I've been so curious about her for so long and I'm so gloriously happy that Ann saw fit to flesh her story out more. I will be the first to admit that I have a very hard time being able to think of Denethor as young. Seeing him through Írildë's eyes is a revelation of sorts; I feel such sympathy for her, and that is entirely due to Ann's careful, deft creation of a character with whom we can all easily identify and sympathize. [Twelve years of partnering him at the first and last dance, as clear an announcement of interest as a proclamation from the White Tower. Why did he not speak?] Oh, the poor girl. But you can hardly blame her - all those things do make it seem to be written in huge sparkling letters that he is going to one day offer for her. And that makes it all the worse, since we know it's never going to happen. I can't imagine that Denethor really had no idea she was going to think he would offer for her; in fact, I'm fairly certain most of Minas Tirith expected that their engagement was a foregone conclusion. And oh, her thinking of Finduilas marrying one of her brothers is just *wail*. She never even sees it coming. [““Are you ill, Lady Írildë? Would you like some water? Perhaps a glass of wine? Or..” Gently Vinyarion turned me to face him. “Would you care to dance with *me*?” In that instant I could see all my future. “I would be honored, my lord.” ] I love love LOVE this, and I still can't even clearly articulate why. There's just so much emotion there, heartrending and painfully realistic, seeing that Irilde's dreams have been dashed, and her pragmatisim at realizing that Vinyarion will be a suitable, hopefully good husband, if not the man she was hoping for. I do feel great sympathy for Vinyarion, and hope fervently that she didn't spend much time pining after what might have been. It doesn't seem that she did, but the final line, [Boromir, the pride of our city, dazzling in his power and beauty, the image of the man I loved so long ago], does hint that while Irilde may not have pined after Denethor, she never lost all of that emotion she once had for him. It's just gorgeous and wistful and heart-achey and full of quiet dignity, and Irilde is definitely one of my favourite OCs ever.

Reviewed by: Mechtild -- Score: 10

[Contains spoilers] What a story. I do obeisance before your story-telling craft. This character is so beautifully done, her voice so clearly captured in your tale, and the tale she tells rings so true, how can I not love it? The scene in which Denethor earnestly takes her hand—the reader’s breath stopped along with the heroine’s in that moment—even though the reader knows, as does the older narrator, that whatever he is going to ask it will not be for her hand in marriage—is perfectly played. And the moment when she sees Denethor and Finduilas together at the Mettarë ball, I imagined I could feel the heart-twist she did, yet with a complicated ambivalence. For you have made me believe that she really does love this man. As much as the sight of Denethor’s and Finduilas’ obviously enamoured state is like a knife-wound, she seems not able to permit herself to feel rancour towards either, for what would be the point? The point is that he be happy in love, not that he be hers, in the end. That is the sort of woman she is. Her own end—not throwing herself from the citadel but carrying on, making do with a marriage based on duty with its lesser degree of companionship, still being of service where she might—is one that perhaps only a grown-up can admire, but it only increased by respect and regard for your heroine. The final vignette, years later at another ball, in which you reveal how in spite of having gone on to live a different life her love for Denethor has endured undimmed, is the perfect finishing touch to a story full of sharp truths about real life, the painful way of wisdom, and, yes, love.

Reviewed by: Elen Kortirion -- Score: 10

This story is Irilde's but also very much Denethor's, by explaining the social mores and manners that constrain this lady of Gondor's highest society, Ann also gives us glimpses of Denethor and what was expected of him in that world of rigid rules. An old court like that in Minas Tirith would likely be as hide-bound and reginented as the European courts of a 100 years ago - for both them and Minas Tirith - it takes a shattering war to alter the deeply entrenched customs that became enshrined as 'tradition, right or wrong'. It is a very original character that Ann displays for the reader, no violet-eyed shimmering-blonde-haired young thing with no more substance than filo pastries - her Irilde has the touches of reality that come from carefully judged writing and acute observation of the author's surrounding humanity. And what a lovely picture she paints of the dashing young Denethor - one that, particularly after the films, we tend to forget! I confess, I am disappointed that the lovely dowager was not allowed a family to eventually provide some comfort to her old age... but in all probability, three sons gone to soldiers and all now dead... rings with the truth of times of all-consuming conflict. While I might hope for the steadfast old lady to achieve some happiness, I readily bow to the author's clear, consise and very engaging plot that is a seemingly all together correct reality for the times portrayed here.

Reviewed by: Aliana -- Score: 8

As one of Annmarwalk's beta readers for this story, I might be a little bit biased, but not too much, I think! Told in spare, unsentimental language and all the more effective for that, this is a story of unrequited love and hope abridged in the life of a Gondorian noblewoman. Irilde is a sympathetic and realistic original character, and through her we are also able to see a younger and less severe Denethor than the one that Tolkien gives us. Although Annmarwalk's register is more modern and direct than Jane Austen's, I couldn't help but thinking of Austen in the short line in which Irilde tells us that she could see all her future--the husband she could not obtain, and the man she would take as a consolation prize of sorts--in a single instant. An evocative, bittersweet story about the type of woman we rarely or never see in the canon--the woman standing steadfastly in the background waiting, the woman who is painfully aware of the curtailed set of options in her own life and who never quite gets the chance to follow her heart's true wishes. Lovely, Annmarwalk.

Reviewed by: dkpalaska -- Score: 7

Augh! This is devastatingly sad. The narrator's voice is extremely well done. I was drawn right into her narrow world, her hopeful and then hopeless feelings for Denethor... her brave - so brave - acceptance of Vinyarion's invitation (and I love that he is gentle with her distress). She would have indeed made a worthy wife of the Steward. The descriptions of Denethor were wonderful. I adore the way he is brought to life as a graceful, virile, handsome and charming man; it gives his later despair and descent into madness an even more horrible cast. The writing is excellent, too: even though we know the end to his story, I was as impatient as the lady when he was slowly and so tantalizingly building up to asking for her correspondence. Denethor's love of Finduilas takes on a complex bittersweetness because of my total sympathy for Irilde, and the end of her own story... That was terrible. I wish she could have had at least one son left to bring her joy, and I do hope that her marriage was happy in its way.

Reviewed by: stefaniab -- Score: 6

"The Dancer" is a bittersweet portrayal of Denethor at various points of his life, as seen through the eyes of a Gondorian noblewoman. The protaganist Irilde pines for Denethor, originally a friend of her brothers, with all the futility of unrequited love. Through her we learn that the man who became the icy and formidible Steward of Gondor was once handsome and considerate--and appreciative of a woman's intelligence as well as her beauty. And he could dance! What a great catch. But catching Denethor was not Irilde's fate. I'm glad that Annmarwalk gave Irilde a life after the sad reveal that marriage with Denethor was not to be. Her dreams were wrecked but her life went on, and was fulfilled in ways she could not have imagined while she pined without hope for Denethor.

Reviewed by: Bodkin -- Score: 6

The poor woman - that is so sad! A society where she must be totally passive and receptive. Always be asked, not asking, wait and smile and be patient. And he intended to wed her - one day, when it suited him and the need for heirs made marriage inevitable! Only he fell in love - and dropped her without even an apology. Such self-centred arrogance! But Vinyarion sounds a kind man - and understanding. And she was content - both to be with him, I imagine, and to be away from Minas Tirith. The last thing she needed was to see Denethor with Finduilas! Only life didn't even spare her one of her sons to stand by her side, but doubtless handed her home to her husband's heir and sent her back to watch Denethor atrophy. A lovely - but sad - perspective on the prospects for the Mothers of the Sons of Gondor.

Reviewed by: Marta -- Score: 5

It feels a bit odd to be reviewing this, as I beta'd this story and so I have a very personal connection to it. But I think it is objectively good, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone, especially people who like original characters. The OFC in this story provides a fresh look at the Gondor of a generation before the Ring War. The politics certainly feel consistent with canon, and annmarwalk's version of how Denethor met Finduilas was utterly believable. And the individual short sections made the piece race by almost too quickly, capturing the way I'm sure the years would have slipped by for this dowager lady. Nice work, Ann.

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon -- Score: 4

[Warning - Plot Spoilers Ahead] This is so sad; poor Irilde, loved Denethor, saw him love another, built a good life with a worthy man, and then lost husband and sons. At least Denethor had two sons that survived, something to delight his old age. And yet, Irilde is not a pathetic victim; she seems to accept and go on and fail to despair. Great descriptions of Denethor as a handsome and charismatic young man.

Reviewed by: obsidianj -- Score: 3

This is a side of Denethor I have never seen described. Although it is heartbreaking to watch the heart of the lady being broken. She was very patient to wait for him so long and then when she found joy in her marriage (four children must account for a reasonable happy marriage, right?) all this is taken away from her, too. This tale makes me want to weep.

Reviewed by: Larner -- Score: 3

The heartache of unrequited love will remain always, as does the regret for what might have been, no matter how satisfying the life experienced. This look at one who loved Denethor and had hoped perhaps to become his bride, her losses and her perceptions of him as well, are most enlightening. Very thought-provoking, and most interesting POV.