Things Unseen

Author: Marta

Nominator: Dwimordene

2011 Award Category: Second Age and Early Third Age: General - Third Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: General  ✧  Reason for Rating: N/A

Summary: It is said that, in his youth, Ar-Pharazon actually was quite awed by the Faithful. A conversation between Elendil and Pharazon on the nature of faith.

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Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 10

Marta's building a lovely collection of theologically-fraught stories, in which questions of faith and freedom, belief and betrayal of hope, all have a part to play. This is one of them, and it features something we rarely see: a youthful Elendil and Pharazôn, who are not yet enemies but whose different relationships to the Valar will eventually propel them into opposition. The story is lighter, therefore, than what one might anticipate, and that is a part of its charm. But what really caught me was the fantastic scene in which Elendil realizes what he is actually standing in: I seem to be gravitating this year towards stories that have one or two really striking visual scenes, and Marta delivers. I don't want to spoil the surprise, so I won't say what it is, but I thought she did a great job with that reveal: the wonder and awe are magical, and set up the argument between young friends who all too soon will have to choose sides in the brewing internecine strife. So if you like your tense confrontations to have a theological core, you should read this. If you're interested in a different Pharazôn-Elendil relationship than is usually written, you'll want to check this out. If you think that Manwë Sulimo is cooler than any J.K. Rowling's wizard - no, strike that. If you think a J.K. Rowling wizard is cooler than Manwë, allow Marta's story to persuade you otherwise. ;-)

Reviewed by: Lyra  ✧  Score: 10

This story raises an interesting question: How real would the tales of Eru and the Valar be for the Númenoreans, even the Faithful? For the Elves, who have either briefly lived next to the Valar or at least interacted with them or their servants, or know people who did, the matter is simple; but the Númenoreans have no such first- or even second-hand experience. So it is understandable and not all that surprising that young Pharazôn is sceptical of the legends, and considers them unenlightened explanations for natural desasters rather than accounts of real events or people, no different from the beliefs and superstitions of people in Middle-earth (and wouldn't their Giant Spider be likely as real as the Valar, whatever that may mean?). What I found striking, though, is that Elendil's best argument as to why Pharazôn shouldn't doubt the Valar is that such sentiments are against the mainstream and thus dangerous. While that may be the most effective way of getting Pharazôn to shut up about his thoughts, it doesn't exactly cast a good light on Elendil's own conviction - even though he seems to have the question of what is truth and what is myth sorted out for himself. Embedded in the story of Tar-Palantír's return from Middle-earth as a conqueror and set in an old aviary for - possibly - Manwë's eagles, this story provides quite some food for thought. I enjoyed it a lot!

Reviewed by: Darkover  ✧  Score: 7

Just as the summary says: a discussion between Pharazon and Elendil about faith. Pharazon has the all-too-typical youthful arrogance in that he doesn't see why we need god(s). Elendil, however, doesn't seem to have any arguments for belief better than Pharazon shouldn't say such things because he could get in trouble, and/or this is what our people have always believed. Neither is a very good argument for religious belief. That said, Pharazon clearly does not realize that when a religious faith in goodness is removed, nothing better will take its place: quite the contrary. Arrogantly, he sees no difference between a belief in Eru and the Valar, and the worship of a spider god, as the Easterlings do. A very common error, even in real life, until you end up doing as the Black Numenoreans did and seeing human sacrifice as just another custom. For such a short tale, this provides surprising food for thought.

Reviewed by: pandemonium_213  ✧  Score: 7

I'm invariably drawn to Marta's stories that address theological issues. In [Things Unseen], this reader (powerfully influenced by Thomas Huxley, a.k.a. Darwin's Bulldog) sees shades of Wilberforce in Marta's vision of the timeless debate of faith versus evidence between a pair of young men: Pharazôn and Elendil. I love the details shown in the story, that is, the remnants of the housing for the feathered messengers of Manwë as the centerpiece that triggers the debate. I also liked Pharazôn's rebuke of what we might call Pascal's Wager: ["I don't see cause to believe in any god; why should we pay homage to something we have little enough evidence even exists? Because it is prudent? Is that the worship your Valar would demand of me?"] Although in this story (and because I regularly immerse myself into Tolkien's legendarium), I easily can put myself solidly into a secondary world where powerful demiurges (the Valar) actually exist, I can't say I disagree with Pharazôn in principle. I might tweak Marta a little bit here and ask how the late Christopher Hitchens might have written this same scenario. A very thought-provoking piece.

Reviewed by: Adonnen Estenniel  ✧  Score: 6

The author has chosen a very complicated set of characters to portray, and she does it with graceful ease. The discussion of religion/mythology did not feel forced or "fake" to the reader; in fact, Pharazôn and Elendil’s differing viewpoints made a great deal of sense, and the conversation between them seemed to at once reflect their closeness and highlight the differences in background, and perhaps to foreshadow things to come. The chosen backdrop for the conversation was well-done also. Because of the situation the characters were in, the ensuing conversation seemed only natural. In this piece the author has attempted to explain a rather sticky situation, and though this short piece only scratched the surface of the issue, it did it very well.

Reviewed by: Ellynn  ✧  Score: 2

Very interesting dialogue between Elendil and Pharazon. He may not be corrupted yet, but his arrogance is already present. Well written.