On the Twilit Planet Below

Author: Darth Fingon

Nominator: Russandol

2011 Award Category: Alternate Universe: General - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: General  ✧  Reason for Rating: N/A

Summary: "Now they begin their new lives." A rigid society on a distant planet imprisons free thinkers, and a vast ship transports prisoners across the galaxy to their new home colony.

Read the Story

Reviewed by: Oshun  ✧  Score: 10

This is terrific. The idea of melding the early histories of Arda and the Elves in a science-fiction world really appeals to me--far more than a Biblical kind of creation story. I got a huge kick out of the whole concept of everyone who thinks too hard, outside of the box and/or doesn't conform in all manner of different ways gets rounded up and deported. I love more things about it than I have the energy to write up in this review. I love dividing them by physical characteristics like hair color. So seemingly random, but then again maybe not in the end. I also love the hints at characteristics we love to think about as stereotypical for the Noldor, Vanyar, Teleri, etc. When I first read it I really wanted to see it developed further. To read more about what happened. Obviously, that could turn into a massive project--the entire pre-history and early history of the elves. You noted that you wanted to leave it as a one-shot for the moment at least. But I am aware, except for a couple of very particular pieces, your writing is rarely compartmentalized and has a tendency to fall together into a single universe. I can only hope this is true in this case. I will not easily forget this beginning. Beautifully written as always, of course, hardly seems worthy of note. You are nothing if not dependable.

Reviewed by: Russandol  ✧  Score: 10

This story blew me away. When I began reading I was puzzled, wondering what a spaceship with an exacting captain had to do with Arda or with the stories told in the Silmarillion. Then the veil was lifted, little by little, and the twist made me cheer aloud at the computer screen. Thanks to the peppering of small clues I'm relieved to say I managed to guess the truth just a few lines before it was revealed. I've always been a fan of good sci-fi stories, and to get what equates to a interestelar travel meets prison planet fic as the origin of the elves, as opposed to the conventional creation myth, is the ultimate treat. It was entertaining to try to match the crimes committed by several of the prisoners with the traits or past stories of the unbegotten elves whose names we know, like Ingwë, or Beleg. I must say I failed completely. But my favourite detail was how one of the guards suffered from an undesirable "artistic" instinct, of the same sort that might have landed the prisoners into trouble in their home planet, so that he decided to order the shipments of the sleeping elves by hair colour. A great explanation for the origin of the elvish clans we are familiar with. And the writing? Beautiful. Deceptively simple, with the right words and nothing else. This is an absolutely unmissable story well beyond the beaten path.

Reviewed by: Lyra  ✧  Score: 10

What if the first Elves who awakened in Cuiviénen hadn't been put there by a creator - how did they get there, then? Darth Fingon explores such a "What if...?" scenario in this entertaining short story. It doesn't actually answer the 'origins' question, only delay it, but it's quite fascinating as a thought experiment. In this take on Elvish prehistory, the people whom we know as the first Elves are in fact prisoners from an extraterrestrian culture that discourages free and creative thought, but offers its rebels a choice between exile or imprisonment. Those who chose exile are then transported to a distant twilit planet - Arda, as it turns out - where they are abandoned with their memories wiped and have to build a new life, if they survive. A chilling thought, but a great premise for a story! Aside from the creative starting point which replaces mythology with science fiction, this story is also very well-written, peppered with little details that make the setting believable - the Admiral's hairstyle, the shift in artificial gravity as one of the characters moves between different decks of the transport vessel and so on - and with little hints that make the initially unknown background of the characters recogniseable - the language that is neither Quenya nor Sindarin, but feels related to either; the ruling of the strange culture by Towers of different purpose, reminiscent of the many towers the Elves will later build. And I couldn't help smiling at the irony that some of the descendants of these rebellious exiles will later rebel and choose exile again... Great and effective use of a fine sci-fi trope to give the Cuiviénen myth a whole new twist!

Reviewed by: Elleth  ✧  Score: 10

Darth Fingon has managed to write one of the most original and memorable stories of this year's MEFAs, at least in this reviewer's opionion. Not only does he manage to deconstruct and thoroughly demythologize the canonically religious Eldarin origin story, he has also succeeded in superimposing Sci-Fi on Tolkien; not a mix that I ever thought would succeed. It does, not only by virtue of his clever easing the reader into the story via little clues, or the sheer hilarity of an alien origin of the Eldar. This is, however, not a funny story per se. I'd never have believed how alien Primitive Eldarin could sound put into the real circumstances, in this case a rigidly totalitarian society discouraging free thought and creative expression. The gradual revelation of elements of the later origin story, such as the number 144 or the division of the prisoners by hair colour, not to mention the nature of their "crimes", their tenacity at choosing survival, and the resulting exile that strikes up a beautiful parallel to later canonical events make this fic a real treat. That's not to mention the questions beyond the scope of this review that the story hints at. If that wasn't enough to make this a must-recommend and must-read, the last line introduces a dramatic shift in perspective that firmly serves to push the entire framework away seemingly without effort, and jumpstarts the epic we know and love. Fantastic work, and recommended for anyone who doesn't mind the near-complete lack of religious themes and a very liberal approach to canon.

Reviewed by: pandemonium_213  ✧  Score: 10

In an under-the-radar conversation, Darth had mentioned to me an Elves-in-Outer-Space concept. I did my best to egg him on. My goading worked as illustrated by [On the Twilit Planet Below], written for my birthday earlier this year. If one looks askance at the concept of science fiction (or "scientifiction" as Tolkien called it) interlaced with JRRT's legendarium, I would point the skeptic in the direction of Tolkien's [The Lost Road] and the even more overtly science fiction draft, [The Notion Club Papers]. Darth classifies this as alternative universe. I'm not convinced of that. After all, in [The History of Middle-earth], Tolkien made note that the tale of the Elves awakening by the shores of Cuiviénen was an elvish children's tale to teach wee elflings how to count. That poses the question of what, then, was the reality behind the myth? Darth and I have different interpretations of that reality (as it exists in Middle-earth), and his is wonderfully illustrated in this story, which works for me on so many levels. Darth has made a hobby of the study of Tolkien's Elvish languages, and he puts them to excellent effect in this sci-fi story, thus linking it powerfully with Middle-earth. For example, the names of the primary characters — Captain Tadhâtel and Admiral Usilawjê. Darth gives the reader glimpses on the far horizon of the civilization that the malcontents come from, one of order and control with the chilling Tower of Justice and Tower of Law, chilling names those. Darth's trademark humor is present, e.g., the sorting of political prisoners by complexion and hair colo(u)r. He drapes a veil of mystery over this space-faring culture, which is very effective and sets up the misty border between hard sci-fi and Faerie, as delivered by the last full paragraph and the final sentence: a shiver-inducing transition from high-tech science fiction to the mythic.

Reviewed by: crowdaughter  ✧  Score: 8

This is an unusual approach at Tolkien's world, and yet, it works surprisingly well. The puzzle how the first Elves came to wake at the Waters of Awakening, in such a small number, is all too fittingly explained in this short piece. At the same time, one gets the impression that the prisoners who have been left out there took the far better deal than the society that left them there. It is a intriguing thought that the Elves who come to be the Firstborn of Middle Earth have been taken from the rebels, the deviants, the most creative and questioning minds of their original people. Also, the story opens up a whole number of questions about the true nature of the Valar, later in Tolkien's world, or rather, how the legends about those might have originated. The "Towers" of the world which has cast out the prisoners, and the strictness of their rules and belief systems, remind disturbingly of the Taniquetil and the society of Valinor. This is a thought-provoking piece, and one that works all too well. Thanks go to the author for writing and sharing!

Reviewed by: Spiced Wine  ✧  Score: 7

I loved this fic; it directly feeds my love of Sci-fi, which can't compete with Tolkien, but does simmer away, and it is also much more intriguing and interesting than the canon version of the Awakening of the Elves, which I simply did not find inspiring. 'Outside the box' fanfiction written by clever people who are also excellent writers can outshine the original work, and this story is a perfect illustration. I could quite easily accept this premise, because, as a reader, it fascinates me far more. I am a selfish reader; I want to think as well as be entertained. Fanfiction need not be leg-shackled to canon, in fact I prefer it not to be. Darth could make this into an epic alternative universe if he so wished. 'Origin' questions do not concern me, wonderful stories do, and I admit I bounced up and down on my seat when I first read this. I would recommend this for any-one who enjoys truly transformative fanfiction.

Reviewed by: Lilith Lessfair  ✧  Score: 7

This tale absolutely astounded me. I've neither the wit nor the eloquence to do this piece the justice it deserves, but I'll do my best. I found the relation of a possible origin story of the Elves (and, indeed, of Arda itself) to be utterly brilliant and the use of a style more common to science fiction to be very well suited to the story. I've usually tended to the origins of the Elves, the Valar, and, indeed, of Tolkien's world in general in more mythic or Biblical terms. But this highlights elements of his story that are well suited to a more modern world of science fiction beautifully and make it very deeply compelling and original. It's all the more compelling in that it's written beautifully. I cannot help but smile that the thought of the supposedly beneficent Guardians wiping the minds of free-thinking individuals and then depositing them on a little known planet; it'd certainly explain a fair few things about the conflicts occurring in this world later. Wonderful!

Reviewed by: Jael  ✧  Score: 6

I had the pleasure of reading this story before it was published. I loved it then, and i love it now. Over a year ago, I had a strongly worded discussion with a professional author who dismissed all fanfiction as badly-written sex scenes, not unlike putting action figures into naughty poses. How I wished I could have pointed her to this tale! If one has no familiarity with Primitive Elvish and knowledge of relatively obscure material from the appendices, one wouldn't even know that these are Tolkien's elves at all. The story could stand on its own as science fiction, although the surprise twist at the end makes it the delightful, imaginative effort that it is. Darth Fingon never fails to give us stories that push the limits of fanfiction. One more thing -- I keep wondering who those prisoners he mention end up becoming in our familiar history.

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 6

Darth Fingon deftly weaves a very unusual, but quite plausible, origin for the Elves whose awakening at Cuivienin was chronicled in [The Silmarillion]. In this outstanding short story, a hundred and forty unconscious political prisoners are abandoned, with their memories taken away, by a technologically advanced civilisation, on a technology-free planet. It's an audacious concept, carried out believably. The viewpoint character's horror of creativity and fanatic championing of order at any cost echoes and exaggerates the friction between the Noldor and the Valar in [The Silmarillion]. The ending, with its transition from sterile dystopia to the awakening of one man on the planet, yearning for the stars but free to exert his will upon a new world, is haunting and powerful.

Reviewed by: curiouswombat  ✧  Score: 4

As someone who has been a science fiction fan for more years than I care to remember, this story is a joy to read. A reminder again of how good the MEFAs are at pointing us to stories we did not previously know existed. I really love this explanation for how those first elves got to where they awoke, with newly clear and open minds, even if there is, to me, a horror of the idea of having all their previous memories wiped away like that. An excellent short story.

Reviewed by: Fiondil  ✧  Score: 3

A most imaginative piece of writing, as we see a possible explanation of how the Elves came to be in Arda. And who is to say that Eru Iluvatar did not so arrange matters to allow it to happen this way? Darth Fingon is to be commended for writing this thought-provoking piece. A worthy addition to the Tolkien fan-verse.

Reviewed by: Liadan  ✧  Score: 3

This is a fascinating and highly plausible version of just how the elves might have 'arrived' at Cuiviénen just before their Awakening. It also helps to explain what the Valar were trying to do when they were helping the elves. I'd really love to see this story explored a little further.

Reviewed by: Darkover  ✧  Score: 3

Wow. A very interesting, very intriguing, very AU story about how the Elves came to arrive in Middle-earth. A highly original idea, well-developed. I found myself thinking that it explained a lot about the Noldor in particular. Well done!

Reviewed by: SurgicalSteel  ✧  Score: 2

This is a really unique take on the origins of the Elves, blending more conventional science-fiction into Tolkien's world in a really unusual and creative way. I liked it!

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 2

A very different explanation for the Awakening at Cuivienon than we are given in The Silmarillion. Yet it seems quite suitable, and more than a little plausible. A very nice twist!