Author: Lilith Lessfair

Nominator: Spiced Wine

2011 Award Category: Alternate Universe: General

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: Teen  ✧  Reason for Rating: Violence

Summary: An alternate universe version of the infamous dogfight at Tol-in-Gaurhoth, featuring a female Sauron, a conflicted Lúthien, and a valiant Huan.

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Reviewed by: pandemonium_213  ✧  Score: 10

Lilith's rendition of Sauron is nothing short of brilliant. It takes an author of keen intellect to pull off the Dark Lord as...the Dark Lady. I recall discussing how three of us who tend to write the Dark Lord approached the feminine, that is, beyond the expected Thuringwethil who is often invoked: mine derives from a more tradition type of generation (I have my reasons), Pink Siamese's seductive Lugmoki is the next step, i.e., a de novo creation by Sauron, but Lilith goes all the way: to quote Lúthien who gasps when Sauron reverts to accustomed form while in Huan's grip, ["A woman...The great lieutenant of Morgoth is a woman.] It's an excellent approach on Lilith's part. Giving this iconic villain a woman's voice and perspective is thrilling. Luthien says [But I had not thought a woman could do what you have done.] To which Mairen, the Dark Lady, responds, [Do you truly believe that we women are so very different from our men? Do you not think that we share the same hopes and fears or the same dreams and desires? That we have the same flaws and failings as they? Do you not believe that we are as capable of great and terrible deeds as they?] And from there an incredibly powerful — and haunting — dialog between the two women ensues. The characterizations of both Lúthien and Mairen are well-drawn, and Lilith dares to tread in Mairen's headspace. The choice of present tense throughout lends a sense of urgency, of immediacy, but mostly? It is the conversation between the two women that is absolutely riveting. I look forward to more of Lilith's exploration of her Dark Lady.

Author response: I must apologize. I have intended to respond to this review for far too long, but it is such a generous review and I had wanted to give it the attention and care your intelligence, thoughtfulness and generosity deserve that it has lingered on the hard drive for an appalling length of time. I do thank you very much for your review and your initial encouragement on a piece. Without it, Mairen would have almost certainly continued to linger on the hard drive and in my mind and never make an appearance on the interwebs. Or she would have, doubtless. But as a different female version of Sauron created by a different and quite possibly far cleverer writer, whom I hope exists in order that he or she might contribute to the further discussion of gender roles in JRRT's world. But, for encouraging me to bring this strange lady forth, I owe you a very great debt. That said, I think your review might be bit too kind and might underplay your own contribution to complicating Tolkien's presentation of female characters. I, for one, am not entirely sure how original or clever Mairen is. I simply took a step to the left (or a step a bit farther to the left since I rely on certain characteristics JRRT uses to describe Sauron) while both you and Pink fashioned OFCs who are both novel creations made out of the warp and weft of Tolkien's legendarium. That's a far more remarkable and original contribution to my mind. Again, thank you. I should like to say there will be more of her. One of these days, perhaps. Until then, I look forward to reading others' work.

Reviewed by: Oshun  ✧  Score: 10

This is a fabulous story. Beautifully imagined and executed. I ran off to the SWG to copy and review my review there and found that I had never written one. I do not know what is happening to me, some creeping senility or what. I know I appreciated this and I do try to review stories I like, not always, but most of the time. Anyway, my apologies. You picked a method of telling a story which is really, really difficult to pull off. Sometimes I think fanfiction writers are incredibly valorous in that way. They also often fall on their face--you did not. You chose an iconic scene from canon and re-wrote it from a totally different perspective, jumbling up the characterizations and the relationships in a most fascinating manner and convincing the reader of their absolute validity in the new context. Mairen as a woman in process and still not hardened into who she will become is unexpectedly poignant. The belief that she could somehow collaborate with Melkor and remain entirely herself was wrong and we see her first realization of that. It's painful and surprisingly to this reader, not entirely unsympathetic. He interaction with Lúthien is mesmerizing and shows both a weird intimacy based upon the fact that there are more similarities between the two than one could easily have imagined, but you make them seem to transparent. Lúthien is usually dull as dirt or annoying to me, I have loved only a couple, Moreth Musing's take-charge Lúthien jumps to my mind and now you have given us yours (it was not my conscious intent, but I wrote a Lúthien story this year and it probably owes something to yours--some little bit--mine is a nothing little vignette, but I probably would not have even considered writing her before at all). I have to say the title is out of this world fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing this story with us. Look forward to more of your Dark Lady in the future.

Author response: Thank you for your far too kind review. I'm very glad you enjoyed the story, and I'm pleased that you found Mairen at this point in her existence to be a compelling character. I've been thinking about this recently, at least in the context of writing MEFA reviews, and trying to express what I found so compelling about particular characters in Tolkien's works and certain authors' depictions of them in fic. I think and I'm grasping a bit for words here that there's a certain distinction between the achievements in terms of writing original characters in fanfiction and writing canon characters (even if you flip the canon around a lot), and I wouldn't say that one was a greater achievement than the other -- after all, a strong character, whether a fanfiction author's own or their interpretation of a canonical character, is nonetheless a strong character -- but that the tasks are somewhat different. In the cases of your Fingon, Pande's Dark Muse, Russa's Eonwe and Sauron, Elfscribe's Sauron, Steel's Ar-Pharazon and many many more that I haven't the space to list, one of the great strengths of each of these is the sense that these are characters that are dynamic. They continue to grow and to change. It's not an easy task because one has certain qualities from Tolkien's world one wishes to incorporate (because those are what makes the character compelling after all) but to show how the character arrives there and how they might continue to develop is unique challenge because it's an original interpretation on an established idea. At any rate, I suppose I'm trying to say that I'm flattered because I think that's a tough thing to pull off in general -- to strike that balance between honoring that vision and then making it a bit of one's own. I think my Luthien owes quite a bit to Moreth's too (and is not nearly as feisty as your own). Many thanks!

Reviewed by: Russandol  ✧  Score: 10

This is the Luthien that Tolkien did not write, the real woman as opposed to the beautiful enchantress with magic long hair. The Luthien in Dogfight is resolute, and ruthless in her determination. I followed, fascinated, the debate between the two foes, and admired the way in which their parallel choices were pointed out during their conversation. Luthien's quest was stripped of its glory and brought down to the reality of its consequences in success or failure, without room for romantic embellishments. At the same time we discover how Mairen may not have found what she wanted when she joined Melkor full of ideals and believing she could set her limits. Amazingly, changing Sauron into a woman did not feel strange at all, if anything, there was a sort of mutual respect between the two adversaries born of their common understanding of their dreams and ambitions that was not there in the original. Maire's empathy, even in defeat, made her far more credible than a snarling, bitchy enemy would have been. I liked and felt sorry for both characters, actually. After all, both women were fighting for what made them feel alive, away from the established norm, even when they feared what they would find was not what they had sought in the first place. I thoroughly enjoyed this fic, gritty and insightful.

Author response: Thank you, Russa, for your very generous and fascinating review. I'll admit that most readers of this piece have seen more in it than I actually set out to write. I'd really only played with the notion of Sauron as a female character because so many of the qualities attributed to Sauron are ones associated with female villains in literature, and I'd wondered how that shift -- the step to the left, if you will -- would have influenced his interactions with other characters. Morgoth, Gandalf, Celebrimbor immediately sprang to mind, but then so did Luthien as she was one of the few to best Sauron and to be a position to speak about it later (and then have a reason not to speak much about it). I'd wondered how a female lieutenant of Morgoth would be viewed by Tolkien's paragon of female beauty and virtue, and then it occurred to be to wonder how that paragon of beauty and virtue would be viewed by a fallen woman, which Mairen certainly was. I'd eventually decided that Mairen, because she would identify with Luthien and because she would also be likely to weigh different choices and tactics neatly as the wise fool Gandalf claimed Sauron to be, would almost certainly see some of the negative consequences of Beren's and Luthien's quest and that, wise and ruthless as she could be, she would not hesitate to point those out. Thank you again.

Reviewed by: crowdaughter  ✧  Score: 10

What I like most about Tolkien fanfiction is that once in a while along comes a story with such an astonishing and refreshing interpretation of canon, even while it happens to be AU, that it leaves me breathless and stunned, and yet nearly completely convinced that yes, in truth things had to be that way, because this way it makes so much more sense. Like this story. That Sauron could be a woman (and indeed identical with Thuringwethil), is a surprising idea in this story, but it works beautifully and it makes so much sense that after reading, it is hard to imagine otherwise. However, even more striking is the interaction between her and Luthien here - the sharp understanding of Mairen (not Mairon) of Luthien's fate, and situations, the references to Mairen's own former fate which made her break with her former duties among the Maiar and turn to Melkor, and finally, last but not least, the idea that it was her help (how ever enforced and with as much hidden agenda it was given) that allowed Luthien to enter Melkor's lair. The whole conversation between the fallen maia and the half-Maia is breathtaking, and one is fascinated and caught in the way Mairen manages to read captor and manages to seduce her into listening to her. There is so much truth in her bitter but clear assessment of Luthien's situations - and we see that fallen Maia as almost compassionate and find ourselves suddenly sympathizing with her, even more as the whole story is told out of her perspective... Great stuff! I also like the idea that the Silmarilli, both in their perfection and their dangerous power or seduction, gave Mairen the first idea for her later project of a ring of power. As I said, the whole tale makes so much sense that it leaves me stunned and convinced that this is what really happened. An excellent story, and a brilliant read. Applause!

Author response: Thank you for writing a truly marvelous review. As I've noted to Pandemonium, I've been very slow in responding to some reviews, but please do not view it as a lack of respect or appreciation for the time and care you took to write your review. I was very touched by it and wanted to write something marvelous in response. Unfortunately, I never managed the marvelous response I wanted and I am only very slow. I cannot tell you how appreciative I am of this review. I was concerned when I first began to write Mairen that she would seem unrealistic or, worse, like some sort of stunt, so to hear that the character seemed to fit well into the stories was beyond wonderful. To a certain degree, I think part of me had been fascinated with the way Tolkien endowed one of his two great villains with traits more typically associated with female villains than with male -- deceit, stealth, and seduction being three that come to mine -- that Sauron was more successful when he relied upon those traits, and that he was associated with the east and south of Middle Earth, areas which if we were to look at their counterparts on our Earth were frequently feminized in Western Literature. This made me wonder: what would change if Sauron were a woman and so I began to write in bits and pieces. As for the conversation with Luthien, I will admit some of that must have been my own desire for someone to say how very crazy the quest for the Silmaril was. Thank you again for your thoughtful review.

Reviewed by: SurgicalSteel  ✧  Score: 6

This was a really fascinating read. The author plays on the fact that in Tolkien's legendarium, Sauron seems to exhibit many of the same behaviors of female villains in classical literature - seducing, persuading, bewitching rather than attacking by brute force - and creates what is a believable female Sauron. The details of the fight - blood and mud and sharp teeth - led a gritty realism to the piece. I liked that both Luthien and Mairen (the female Sauron) have an undeniable strength of character. It fascinated me that Mairen in this piece has clearly collaborated with Melkor, but remains her own person with her own goals - and it was equally fascinating that Mairen and Luthien are not so different from each other after all. A really thought-provoking read.

Author response: Thank you very much for your wonderful review. I hadn't really thought about how a female Sauron and Luthien would be like one another until I started to write this piece. I'd started this piece with a fairly simple notion: given, as you've observed, that Sauron as Tolkien depicts him shares many traits in common with female villains and given that he is more successful utilizing those tactics than ones of brute force and open combat, what would a female Sauron have been like? How would gender further complicate the image of an already complicated character? I'd then wondered how one might work around the depiction of Sauron as male in the legendarium? What if it were a secret and who might have known? I arrived at Luthien as at least one person in Arda who would have encountered an unmasked and vulnerable Sauron and then wondered how those two -- Tolkien's epitome of female beauty and desirability and his feminized villain -- might have dealt with one another. It then became clear that they would have had much more in common than one might think or that Mairen would certainly think they did.

Reviewed by: Spiced Wine  ✧  Score: 5

I meant to review this much earlier, and lost my wish list. I have to copy this from SWG just to be in time with the reviews, but I will say again, how much I like everything about this: I was fascinated by Mairen's insights on how she believed she could join Melkor to a degree, or choose her path, and how she was stripped of that notion actually made me feel pity. Her conversation with Lúthien, coming to a strange intimacy, truly showed the similarities between the two. And by the way, I like your Lúthien as a depiction of her character. I hope we see much more Dark Lady soon.

Author response: Once again, you are far too kind and I thank you for it. I suspect we've talked about this before, but I do think the notion of Sauron (whether male or female) not quite understanding precisely where s/he stands with Melkor owes a good deal to Guy Kay's Galadan and his relationship with Rakoth, though I suspect her gender greatly influenced how she perceived her standing (In my view, she, not unlike Sauron himself and Galadan, was quite assured in her powers, though I suspect the gendered order of things among the Ainur might have given her an additional edge to that complaint, justified or not.) Mairen, I think, was only too willing to believe what she wanted of Melkor and I also suspect that Melkor initially encouraged the perception that she might pick and choose, at least until she fully switched sides. I hope to have a bit more of Luthien to post and then of Mairen too. Thank you again.

Reviewed by: Independence1776 (Crystal113)  ✧  Score: 4

An excellent alternate universe in which Sauron is a woman, and how that change affects everything, especially her meeting with Lúthien. Mairen understands Lúthien far better that the latter wishes, and manages to score several points even though she is laying in much with Huan at her throat. A wonderful exploration of each woman’s motivations.

Author response: Well, Mairen's seen a bit more of the world than Luthien, and she's also had the dubious pleasure of being around Melkor who I suspect was both quite perceptive (at least where others were concerned) and quite willing to use that perception to his advantage, so she's well prepared to spar with Luthien. I also suspect Luthien -- perhaps unintentionally -- landed her share of verbal blows. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece and greatly appreciate your generous review.