Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards

Dance on the Way Down

Author: Aliana
Nominator: Dwimordene
2006 Award Category: Races: Men: Post-Sauron's Fall - Third Place

Story Type: Other Fiction : Length: Short Story
Rating: G -- Reason for Rating: N/A
Summary: Nearly twenty years after the end of the Ring War, a woman in Minas Tirith listens and remembers.


Reviewed by: Dwimordene -- Score: 10

Aliana has a wonderful ability to evoke tone, and draws her characters--often nameless, but never faceless for they are always memorable--deftly, yet quietly. Hobbit-like, their manner of speaking about hardship tends to heighten the impact because it is not overstated: things happen, thus and so, yet life goes on. This is a story of life going on, twenty years after the Ring War. One gets a sense of the chaos of war, of the boundlessness and limitlessness it imposed: memory seems very compressed, unnaturally sharp in some places, dim in others. Not simply time, but everything is out of joint: there is no more banality to life, but a healer's daily task of binding up a cut leads to a kiss between total strangers and it doesn't seem uncalled for; they were too young (and probably too harried) to feel any shame over it. Later, in the present of the story, they will see and remember each other, and find that they are now too old to be embarrassed about it: it's as if they've skipped the middle season of their lives when things could be common and ordinary. Instead, it has been twenty years of learning to live with nightmares, in oneself or in one's spouse, or listening as old songs, with terrible words, are transformed one day into songs whose lyrics know nothing of the horror of those days. And that is, one senses, as it ought to be for these characters, who have seen enough of dying and death and pain to want to memorialize them in a popular song--let the words go, just as the kiss is let go in order to cultivate other loves, and shyness is let go to dance or sing once in a while. A lovely vignette that once more does honor to the healers and soldiers of Minas Tirith, Aliana!

Reviewed by: dkpalaska -- Score: 10

This story flows beautifully, and the writing is precise and clean, conveying exactly what the author wants while remaining understated. The thread of the old song, as we follow its growth and change, connects the "before" and the "after": the oppression of facing Mordor with no real hope for relief, which becomes the innocence of young people who know nothing but peace and expect nothing else for their own future. Aliana does a wonderful job of contrasting the children of the two times. The older characters' wartime memories are a mix of vague and sharp, not all of them shared and many suppressed, carrying both internal and external wounds gotten much too young. The younger characters are truly still children, at an age when the older folk were forced into early and grim maturity, and this "extended childhood" is acknowledged as the way things ought to be. The narrator accurately reflects that events are measured by whether they occurred before the War or after the War, ["(f)or the space between was so wide…"] Of all the wonderful inclusions in this story, my favorite has to be the portrayal of the narrator's marriage. In only a few short exchanges and reminiscences, Aliana conveys pages of information about them. I especially loved the reflection, ["But still, she thinks. Still, it will take a lifetime and more to learn this man."] Aliana's story is actually the centerpiece of a trio, with the beginning and end pieces written by Aeneid. There are events and characters referenced that were developed in other stories by both authors, but none of them are necessary to appreciate and enjoy ["Dance on the Way Down"] by itself - it is superbly self-contained. However, this story gains even more depth and poignancy by having some familiarity with them. This is particularly true for the memories of the unnamed narrator from Aliana's ["Fallen"].

Reviewed by: Marta -- Score: 10

I read this several months ago and in the interest of getting to more stories am going to skip re-reading it. Which is a shame because it is probably one of my alltime favourite OC-centric pieces. None of the characters are canon, but they are undeniably Tolkienesque, mostly healers from this author's longer piece "Fallen". Having read a lot of that longer piece, I think it enhances this one-shot, but the one-shot does not suffer for backstory. What is necessary to the plot is woven in deftly, which is more than I can say for other similar pieces. And I know from personal experience how hard it is. But what really makes "Dance on the Way Down" work so marvellously is its minimalistic, almost mythic, approach. It has some of the most effective use of language that I have ever read, like ["What matters is this: somewhere, a young girl in the fading light, humming softly to herself."] That sort of captures the whole plight faced by "ordinary" people trying to get on with their normal life before, during, and after the Ring War. They are not heroic, but they just go forward as best they can and don't give in to the darkness. Yet in this piece Aliana makes that point clear without really saying it, with the metaphor of an old song and dancing couples and the story that wounds tell and so many other things. If you like quiet melancholy pieces that are beautiful in their sorrow, I cannot recommend this one highly enough.

Reviewed by: EdorasLass -- Score: 10

This is peaceful, nostalgic, and melancholic all at once, and it's a lovely mixture. I'm assuming that Eirien is not much older than the Narrator was when she was first in the House, and the girl's lightheartedness and openess is quite the contrast to the Narrator's quieter and more reserved demeanor when she was younger. But of course that's the point, isn't it? Eirien's generation hasn't experienced life with the Shadow of Mordor hanging over their heads; they've not known anything but peace. The Narrator's rememberances of those days just after the War are beautifully done, expressing very clearly how difficult those days were for anyone who lived through them, and those memories are affecting without being melodramatic - this is what happened, and this is how we dealt with it. And now we've had twenty years to come to terms with the aftermath, we're all mostly well adjusted, even if old wounds do sometimes cause a twinge of pain when we poke at them. I love her reflections on her husband - there's a strong, solid love there that doesn't need to be embellished upon to be expressed and it's very comforting for a reader of "Fallen". Her interaction with Iorlas is lovely as well, and I like how they share so much about days gone by in so few words. And it's a relief to see that the Narrator as an older woman, with a loving husband and family of her own.

Reviewed by: annmarwalk -- Score: 7

I like the way you begin by contrasting the two healers: the young girl, giddy child of peacetime, spritely and full of the promise of joy; and the veteran healer, survivor of the siege, whose girlhood was given up to war and her part in it. The youngster sings a song, a snippet she’s heard in passing; but the song awakens memories in her companion of those unsettled days when she was adjusting to her world turned upside down both by the end of the War and her new life as a bride. The healer’s thoughts are reminiscent of what we’ve heard from our own mothers and grandmothers, of the strange and heady days following the end of *their* war - even now, we hear songs of the 40’s and 50’s that make no sense whatsoever to us, but turn their eyes dim with wistful memories. Through the medium of the city’s celebration of the harvest festival you’ve reminded us very deftly of the many burdens that are borne quietly and patiently so that the young may sing and dance, untroubled.

Reviewed by: Bodkin -- Score: 4

I loved this. There is such a difference between those who were there and those born afterwards. Innocence and experience. Not that anyone would ever want their children to live through such days ... I liked the meeting between the healer and Captain Iorlas and their reminiscences about the days when the world was just about to end. I found this to be a very touching story - I really enjoyed it.

Reviewed by: Imhiriel -- Score: 3

Wistful, peaceful, warmly-glowing tone, a lyrical, beautiful style. The theme of the piece - the changes peace has brought, and the memories of the ones who lived through war - flows like a calm undercurrent through the story, gaining strength as the story goes on. The love between the unnamed narrator and her husband is depicted very movingly.

Reviewed by: juno_magic -- Score: 3

A beautiful, song-inspired short story about life during and after the Ring War. Sparse, elegant prose offers insights in the lives and hearts of everyday people, the unnamed heroes of Tolkien's Middle-earth.

Reviewed by: Dreamflower -- Score: 2

While I get the feeling that I might have missed something in the backstory, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the story, the air of nostalgia and memory. Very lyrical and bittersweet.