The Work of Small Hands

Author: Dawn Felagund

Nominator: Lethe

2008 Award Category: Genres: Longer Works - Second Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Medium Length

Rating: Mature  ✧  Reason for Rating: violence, sexuality, character death, mature and possibly frightening themes

Summary: Valinor has been plunged into darkness, most of the Noldor have gone into exile, and the Teleri grieve for those lost in the kinslaying. The Valar have turned their backs on the remaining Noldor--left without a king--and chaos rules the streets of Tirion. Can Eärwen, the quiet wife of a third-born prince, find the courage and strength to save her husband's people?

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Reviewed by: Lethe  ✧  Score: 10

As a general rule as soon as I read of the Noldor leaving Tirion, I am with them and I only ever vaguely wondered what happened to those left behind. In this story the author deals with the aftermath of the exile and the kinslaying at Alqualonde and more importantly with how the death of the Two Trees impacted upon the lives of those living in Aman. Told specifically from the viewpoint of Earwen and involving the ladies such as Nerdanel and Indis it is a no-holds-barred and deeply sympathetic work which reminds me of the aftermath of disasters or wars when there are food shortages and rationing and people are also grieving over many deaths. In this case a great many of the Noldor Houses had departed and so the women had to cope by themselves. It is a wonderful exploration of these characters who we read so little of in Tolkien; the women. Their characters are all different and the way they deal with this aftermath uncovers their strengths and ability to cope. It is doubly shocking since they were women who must certainly have been used to a life of gracious ease, even if emotionally those such as Nerdanel and Indis had to make decisions to part for their spouses. While the Noldor are gone, these " small hands " must deal with a darkened Valinor where food no longer grows, the light source needed having been destroyed. Although as we know, Finarfin does return, at the beginning he is so traumatized that he is of little use; one can also understand this. It was the first time the Eldar had seen the gory reality of battle and death and how horribly people can die. Earwen must deal with a husband who is losing the will to live and the fact that the Noldor who remain are starving. It is so very realistic, it has a feel of a city after a battle, desperation and cold and dark are depicted with gritty realism and through it the emerging personalities and inner strengths of the women begin to glow like lights. As some-one who does not find the females of Tolkien's works very interesting, this story has been a great surprise to me and in fact has drawn me in with a vengeance. It reminds me of my grandmother talking to me about the Second World War and the bombings and how she had to live and cope, the " small hands " which try to keep things together while the armies are away fighting and I find myself wanting to discover more about their natures and how they live through this time and after. My hat is off to the author for so skilfully drawing these personalities in a time and place of great grief and uncertainty and making them so vivid and realistic. She has certainly opened out a part of Tolkien's world that I have never seen explored and done so with a sure and elegant touch.

Reviewed by: Oshun  ✧  Score: 10

I believe I told you when I first started writing the Noldor, that one of the things I had difficulty with as a writer trying to image my own person vision of the entire world of the Noldor, was to come up with a good reason for why those who chose to stay behind did make that decision, especially Finarfin. And why did the most of the prominent women among the Finweans break with their spouses and stay, when the overwhelming majority of the Noldor left and stayed together? The problem in the original texts (that a large numner of significant women are barely visible) could provoke a discussion of the role of women in this sort of heroic storytelling. Your story is a thought-provoking attempt to explain them and how they might have behaved. But more so, it is a plausible look at who picked up the pieces of this shattered people in this paradise turned nightmare, how they might have done that, and what demons of their own they had to confront in order to do so. The accounts of the darkness are convincing, the details of the changes wrought by the event of the darkness itself, and the abandonment of Tirion and its environs by the vast majority of its population. I still want to argue with you about a lot of the finer details. I kind of don’t know where to start and this is not the place. There were times when I wanted to grab Earwen by the shoulders and shake her until her teeth rattled, but then, in her defense, she did have the worst of it in many ways. Also, would Finarfin have really been in such bad shape if he actually had the will to turn around and come back? I am not sure. Congratulations for opening up the whole can of worms and throwing some light on it. It’s a bold attempt and a fascinating one.

Reviewed by: Rhapsody  ✧  Score: 10

This novel(la) is a remarkable tale of how Eärwen grew into her role as the High Queen of the Noldor on Aman. Dawn simply crawls under her skin and lets the reader experience the profound emotions and experiences she has to go through during these dark times. From her husband abandoning her, his return and dealing with the darkness and experience of being bereft from all that she holds so dear with the other ladies of Finwë's house, is just the beginning. As you read along, every step Eärwen makes on her journey (be it the travelling and her emotional growth): it makes sense. I probably would have made the same choices as she did. It is such a treat to see her stepping forward, first earning the respect of her own people and then she tries to fight for the people of her husband, only to be coldly rejected by the Valar at the end. Oh how furious I felt, knowing all what Eärwen had done previously before she requested an audience, yet Dawn brings it in a way that it is logical that only her husband can heal the wounds of her own people and at the same time claiming his kingship. Still, she could have done exactly the same for her husband’s people. Besides this great characterisation and the writing of this gapfiller, Dawn weaves in the necessary suspense and drama, making use of her great descriptive technique and inner introspection of her chosen characters. This novel(la) left me with more wishes and thirst to read more of that period, but then with different characters like Nerdanel, but oh well, who knows! For those who are curious what happened during the darkening of Valinor and what happened to those who were left behind and would like to read a story about a female character in Tolkien's world and much more, this comes highly recommended.

Reviewed by: pandemonium_213  ✧  Score: 10

In the midst of e-mail discussions in which Dawn and I expressed our mutual desire to read of fully realized female characters within Tolkien's legendarium, she mentioned that she was working on a novella in which Eärwen, the wife of Finarfin, was the protagonist and how this woman became queen of the Noldor who remained in Aman, a radical feat in a culture of people who apparently practiced agnatic primogeniture. So I was thrilled when Dawn published [The Work of Small Hands] on the SWG. Just as with the history of our primary world, my suspicion is that the male writers of Aman and Middle-earth's histories overlooked many women and their power behind the scenes. Dawn's novel rectifies this unpalatable situation. Dawn is a skilled writer in every aspect of her work: setting, gorgeous phraseology, technicality, plot, and characters. In [WSH], Dawn gives each woman clearly identifiable personalities with just a few strokes of the digital pen: Indis with quiet restraint, brash Anairë, Nerdanel – her famous logic now horribly adrift -- and Eärwen, the reluctant leader designate who must reconcile her beloved Arafinwë’s kind and sunny demeanor with the blood on his hands, and then care for him and bring him back from a pit of despair after he returns. On a more analytical level, the thought-exercise behind the darkening of Valinor is well executed. Dawn places herself in a very grim “what-if” scenario: the consequences of sword wounds in Alqualondë, the psychological effects of unremitting darkness, and the increasing desperation of the Noldor as their food supplies diminish and they resort to baser behaviors as they approach starvation. Driven by dire straits, Eärwen goes to Máhanaxar to ask the Valar's help. This is an extraordinary chapter, and to my mind, one of the best descriptions of the Valar written. Dawn makes the reader feel Eärwen's trepidations before these uncanny beings who, although not gods, are significantly strange and powerful. I was introduced to Tolkienian fan fiction through Dawn's [Another Man's Cage] and thus was swept up into this milieu. I loved immersing myself in Aman with the family of Fëanor in that work and those characters are engraved in my mind, but it’s about time that the women stepped to the fore and in [The Work of Small Hands], they do.

Reviewed by: Marta  ✧  Score: 8

This story has a lot to recommend it. It has a cast of strong minor characters and original characters, and develops them nicely so that they fit nicely with what I know about the different elves of Valinor, yet still feel like distinct characters. The depiction of darkness, too, was done very affectively. I mean by that both the literal darkness, with all the affects that it would have on the food chain (and the poisoned water! I never would have thought of that); as well as the metaphorical darkness that separated the remaining Noldor both from their more civilized past as well as the other Elven kindreds. And that descriptions of the food supply were so, so authentic-feeling. I learned very quickly not to be snacking when I was reading this story, because the despair and grit was that real, it made me feel sick. But I think hands-down the best part was the author's handling of the Valar, and especially Earwen's realization that they knew the state of things in Tirion. I could write an essay on that alone, but I'll just say this: it rocked. Well done, Dawn!

Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 8

Ah--how it was that in the wake of the destruction of the Trees and the departure of the Noldor who followed Feanor first to Alqualonde and then across the sea and ice to Middle Earth those remaining in Tirion were saved from the devastation of the new darkness. Told from the POV of Earwen, this depicts in all its starkness the agonizing grief she feels as children and husband leave her to follow Feanor. The joy of Arafinwe's return, however, falls to ashes as he refuses to accept the crown or even thrive. So it falls to the surviving royal ladies to decide what shall be done to succor their people, and to see it done. The grief of all, the strength of Anaire, the careful thought Nerdanel, and the courage of Earwen in the end allow those of the Noldor who remained to survive. But imagining how Anaire might have convinced Arafinwe to rise from his intended deathbed is perhaps--disturbing. Excellently crafted and thought out. The kings might have been men, but it was their womenfolk who saw what needed to be done and saw it accomplished.

Reviewed by: whitewave  ✧  Score: 7

Very engrossing work on the House of Finarfin, another interesting family but too often forgotten or overshadowed by the Feanor and Fingolfin feud. And after all, Finarfin ruled the longest of all the Noldorin kings and to think he was not even close to being an heir at the start of the Silmarillion. The pivotal role played by Earwen here is also commendable I also appreciate that the story is from her point-of-view and how great her contribution was. It also gives a logical and plausible glimpse of what happened to the Noldor who remained and how and what the other kindred could have done or felt towards them. I was a bit frustrated, as usual, with how the Valar handled this again, but then that's just me. My favorite scene here was the scene of the four queens of the Noldor who find reasons not to rule, in sharp contrast to Feanor and Fingolfin. The most touching scene here is the final rites for the fallen in Alqualonde. One could only imagine how it must have felt--the ultimate paradigm shift indeed.

Reviewed by: Marigold  ✧  Score: 6

I am just beginning to learn to enjoy Silm-fics and to be completely honest, still find many of them incomprehensible - but this one was excellent. Tolkien seldom went very deep in exploring his female characters and that was the aspect of this particular piece of fanfiction that I enjoyed the most. It’s more than just the actions of menfolk that make the world go round after all! This story is dark and realistic and at the same time manages to convey a sense of hope through the actions and emotional strength of the characters and I felt real anger and frustration at the response of the Valar. The story had me totally drawn in and invested emotionally. Excellent and compelling writing and extensive research went into this story and the author is to be commended for giving us fanfic readers such a quality story!

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 5

A thoughtfully written and innovative Silm fanfic story - Dawn Felagund presents the tale of the Ladies of the Noldor, left behind when their husbands and children went into exile in Middle-earth, forsaken and broken-hearted as they hear of the atrocities in Alqualonde, and then try to pull together to help each other and the shattered tribes of the Noldor and Teleri. Dawn is a meticulous researcher, with unique insight into the workings of the Elven factions of the Time of the Trees and First Age. This story shows the strength and courage of Earwen and the other women, in a time of great sorrow and privation.

Reviewed by: Alquawende  ✧  Score: 5

This story makes Earwen, and elven women who stayed behind, just shine. She has to solve numerous problems, since the men are gone and her sisters-in-law are consumed in their own problems. What I really like is that Earwen is very persistent and feels that she has to help the remnants of the Noldor, though their kin had committed the Kinslaying at Alqualonde, the home of her own kin. The author has created a believable character, though she happens to be pretty and smart, from one of the numerous Elven Princesses created by Tolkien. It's quite difficult to not create a Mary Sue, but Dawn Felagund has done it beautifully with Earwen.

Reviewed by: viv  ✧  Score: 3

[When self-preservation becomes chief in our thoughts, decency, it seems, is the first bit of extra weight sacrificed to the churning, black fear on which we precariously drift.] -- You know, it is the mark of a piece of true literature that quotes can be taken out that are not only perfect for the scene from which they come but are also telling of the Human Experience overall. This is one such quote, something you'd see in Bartlett's.