Playing Politics

Author: SurgicalSteel

Nominator: Russandol

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

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: Teen  ✧  Reason for Rating: Sexual Content

Summary: In which the king and queen of Númenor discuss a request from the Lord of Andúnië. Contains references to several of my other Second Age fics, all of which may be found on my fic LJ or Dreamwidth account.

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Reviewed by: Lilith Lessfair  ✧  Score: 10

This is a terrific story, drawing upon Tolkien's earlier conception of a more affective relationship between Ar-Pharazon and Ar-Zimraphel. It is a clever, sensitively written piece in which SurgicalSteel offers a highly nuanced version of court politics in Numenor. In this complex setting, she is able to and does offer a complex situation in which the traditional heroes of the piece -- Isildur and Amandil -- are shown as complicated, flawed, and, to the mind of this reader, fascinating characters whose motivations stem as much from their very human passions and their (Amandil's, at any rate) need to preserve an increasingly vulnerable position in Numenor while the traditional villain -- Ar-Pharazon -- is shown to be a man concerned for his queen and his subjects. Ar-Zimraphel also emerges as a marvelous character; as ambitious and as pragmatic as her husband, Zimraphel proves to be a clever politician and an able ruler. While Steel's powerful vision of Numenor and her subtle characterizations prove to be the highlights of this work, I also greatly enjoyed the references to the colonies Numenor established in Middle Earth and the complicated relationships between the men and women of the home island and those men and women living in their colonies.

Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 8

By building on a version of the story of Pharazon and Miriel present in Unfinished Tales in which their marriage was perhaps instigated as much by bride as groom, Surgical Steel has given us a far different version of the political situation than we usually see. Pharazon finds his wife particularly astute—and randy—as the two of them discuss Cousin Amandil’s latest demand—that marriages need to be properly licensed and registered to be considered valid, which would nullify not only the marriage of King and Queen, but also that of Isildur to a distant daughter of the Royal House who dwells in Umbar and is the heiress to one of the leading merchant families there. For Amandil has insisted Isildur marry the daughter of one of the nobles from among the Faithful here in Numenor, and the young Man has followed his grandfather’s wishes, making of himself a bigamist. A fascinating new and more humanistic look at the relationship between Pharazon, his queen, and the loyal opposition amongst the Faithful. I do recommend it heartily.

Author response: Thank you for your commentary and for the rec, Larner! Tiny thing - the alternate version of Pharazon and Miriel/Zimraphel's tale came from 'The Peoples of Middle-earth' rather than 'Unfinished Tales.' But thanks again!

Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 7

Mm, dynastic politics... I've got just enough other stories about SurgicalSteel's Haradrim to know the basic backstory to Amandil's current dilemma. Brutal political play, nicely juxtaposed with the more enjoyable sorts of personal politics. I love the fact that SurgicalSteel's Pharazôn is this witty, wry fellow who can talk about the possibility of his enemy trying to retroactively annul his marriage with his queen, in bed, and not be overly alarmed by it: he can handle business and pleasure at the same time, and spot the weakness of Amandil's very dangerous proposal. Zimraphel, too, is a canny operator here, and I love the deconstruction of Isildur's marital relations. Sometimes you have to think his dying after Gladden Fields did his heirs and kingdoms a favor... A refreshing look at these two characters, written with charm and humor and encouragement to imagine what comes next!

Author response: Thanks, Dwimordene! I've never been entirely satisfied with the depiction of Ar-Pharazon as a complete and utter villain without redeeming qualities. When I read 'History of the Akallabeth' in HoMe XII, I was delighted to find a version of the tale in which Tar-Miriel willingly married him because she loved him, and spurned Amandil's brother to do so. I thought that gave me justification for portraying their relationship differently than I'd seen it. During the period of time when I was contemplating all of that, there was a show on NBC which I thought was frankly too smart to last for long on US network TV called 'Kings' in which featured Ian McShane as King Saul. He was just so fantastic in the role that it influenced how I write Pharazon really strongly. I'm really glad that you enjoyed this.

Reviewed by: Lyra  ✧  Score: 6

Ar-Pharazôn and Ar-Zimraphel are indeed "playing politics" when they discuss a request from Amandil of AndúniÑ‘ in bed. As it turns out, Isildur has foolishly married a rich Umbarian girl before marrying again on Númenor at his grandfather's behest - an awkward situation that Amandil wishes to correct by a retroactive change in laws. But more than Isildur's first marriage would be nullified if such a law would be passed - so the king and queen of Númenor have no choice but to shoot this motion down. As usual, I liked that Pharazôn and Zimraphel are evenly matched and equally involved in the ruling process, following a version of their story in an earlier draft instead of the black-and-white account offered by the published "Silmarillion".

Author response: Thanks, Lyra - I'm glad you enjoyed this!

Reviewed by: Russandol  ✧  Score: 5

Politics become play or, more accurately, foreplay, in this shrewd conversation between the king and queen of Numenor. As opposed to the conventional version of a forced marriage between them, in SurgicalSteel's 'verse Zimraphel and Pharazôn are perfectly matched and share power comfortably. As an extra, we also understand the reasons Amandil and Ar-Pharazon can never be reconciled, and it's not merely to do with political differences, but with the unusual (and illegal!) circumstances regarding Isildur! I enjoyed watching these canon events woven with Steel's own plotline through the astute eyes of Pharazôn.

Author response: Thank you, Russandol - this was one of my responses to the B2MeM prompts this year, which for whatever reason seemed to really allow me to flesh out how I think the late Second Age might have been in Arda. I'm really glad that other folks have enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing!

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 4

In past ages of our own world, much less in Arda, politics were inextricably entangled in family ties, love, marriage and birth were commodities, and SS reminds us of this. She shows Ar-Pharazon as not so much a villain as a politician (and in spite of the way things seem sometimes, the two are not necessarily synonymous) and gives layers of depth and nuance to the politics of Numenor and to the kingdoms in Middle-earth, as well as some interesting speculations about the enmity between Gondor and Umbar. A very clever story!

Reviewed by: obsidianj  ✧  Score: 3

I love this. Second age and Numenor is usually not my cup of tea, but here the characters come to life. I love the comment about politics as foreplay. Only a king and queen could come up with something like that. I had to laugh.