The Kindness of Strangers

Author: Aiwendiel

Nominator: Larner

2009 Award Category: Genres: Drama - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Medium Length

Rating: Mature  ✧  Reason for Rating: The story contains references to violence committed "off stage," as well as references to possible rape and coerced sex. Torture and mistreatment do happen in this story, however, and since the characters involved are major characters to the canon, I elected to be conservative and chose the mature rating.

Summary: 68 days is a long time for an impatient wizard to do nothing but pace on top of a tower. Was that really all that happened during ten weeks? Did Saruman carry out any of his not-too-subtle threats? A “what Gandalf did on his summer vacation in Orthanc” tale, from the viewpoints of Saruman and an inquisitive stranger in black.

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Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 10

There are many writers whose works I particularly enjoy and whose new stories I anticipate with pleasure. And then there are those whose works I encounter for the first time that amaze me with how much they remind me of the power of the original. And Aiwendiel's story here is of the latter! We know so little of the period of captivity Gandalf knows atop Orthanc as Saruan's reluctant guest, a period of imprisonment intended to foreshadow a far more horrible incarceration by Sauron himself. We know that the Maiar who accepted the commission to come to the Mortal Lands in order to assist its inhabitants to withstand the evil intentions of Sauron took to themselves the bodies of elderly Men, and thus knew the needs to eat, rest, suffer hurt and experience healing common to Men. Although their bodies endured for well over a millenium and a half. still at least Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast are in danger of suffering the deaths common to the race they most resemble. So, how was it that Gandalf managed to survive the prolonged exposure and probable lack of food and drink he would be expected to know in such a situation? This tale in which he edures through the aid of those few who could easily come and go from the peak of Orthanc is one of the most superb tales I've yet read, and the characters drawn for those who succor him in his days of need are beautifully done, and well in keeping with their nature. As for their reaction to the one who finally comes to end the imprisonment--it is absolutely perfect! I have read few LOTR fanfiction authors whose writing has been so original while staying so well within the constraints of Middle Earth. And within this tale we see how closely aligned are the characters of Gandalf and his brother Radagast. Definitely a tale to read and savor!

Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 10

I've had my eye on this story for some time now, but had no chance to read it until now. I quite enjoyed it. The gap that Aiwendiel has set out to fill is not one for the faint of heart - this could have been absolutely brutal, but Aiwendiel managed to keep the worst of it off-screen and focus our attention on the battle of wills between Saruman and Gandalf, and on the delightful development of a friendship between the latter and Coräc's clan of ravens. I confess, the raven-Gandalf relationship was my favorite part. This is not to say that Aiwendiel's portrait of Saruman, his pride and jealousy, and his panic near the end, isn't very convincing - she gives ambivalence and ambiguity full play. But her ravens are absolutely believable and bird-like. I love their pride and their own sense of propriety and manners, their sense of their place in the world (men are beneath them, eagles are bullying twits). Their mobilization to aid Gandalf leaves you thinking that ravens are not given enough credit. Gandalf's manner of returning the favor and the gifts that he received from them is fitting and also a very creative use of a scene that is rarely explored in fanfiction. Well done! Thanks for a very enjoyable read, Aiwendiel.

Reviewed by: Celeritas  ✧  Score: 10

[What Gandalf did on his summer vacation] sets the entire tone for this story, so well written and so original! Even though it deals with very serious topics, from Gandalf’s torture to Saruman having a mistress (even more disturbing in that I don’t find it as disturbing as I thought I would!) a certain wryness in tone keeps the story well paced. This is probably due to the ravens, who have to be some of my favorite OCs of the year because they are so well done. Fiercely independent and proud, ignorant of mortal ways (for they are foolish), and yet—eventually—affectionate after Gandalf in their own way, Corac and his tribe are ultimately birds. I especially enjoyed their conception of the great Eagles, completely different from what we would expect but in keeping with their biology. Most everything in here is logically what would have happened—Gandalf would have tried to find half a dozen other ways to escape; Saruman would try to beat the information out of him; and if Gandalf was fortunate enough to befriend some ravens to help him, of course they would take issue with the fact that he escaped on the back of an eagle! One can imagine Saruman’s subsequent madness as he watches all these events with none of the context that we have been given, but one does not need to since Aiwendiel provides us with his side of the story as well. Such an obvious gap, yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen it filled before. If I have, I must have forgotten all about it—which I couldn’t for this one, even if I wanted to!

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 10

Gandalf is probably my favorite of all of Tolkien's manycharacters. He does not seem to be a favorite of Tolkien fanfiction writers; possibly because Gandalf varies between avuncular and angelic, but is not particularly sexy. So I am all the more pleased when I find some good Gandalf stories. And this is one of the best ones I have ever read. Aiwendiel takes a gap in LOTR history - mainly the several weeks Gandalf spent stuck atop Orthanc in 3018 - and fills it. She shows the hell that Gandalf endured, Saruman in all his pettiness and self-love, and not only Gandalf's tremendous strength and courage, but his ability to befriend others and make new allies. Details that stick in my mind - Saruman's orcs, for all their cruelty and viciousness, are scared of Gandalf; and stay scared, even while beating him; they blindfold him out of fear of his eyes and gag him out of fear of the spells he utters. The contrast between the ever so self-important Saruman's insistence on cleanliness, creature comforts, and elegant clothing, as Gandalf is reduced to a sunburnt and filthy, then beaten husk of his physical self wearing only shriveled leggings - and Saruman still can't get the better of the wizard he constantly calls [Grey Fool]. And even when the Nazgul are approaching Isengard to collect Gandalf and haul him off to Barad-dur; Gandalf refuses to give up hope and opt for a quicker death - instead, he takes up his sword and prepares himself, hoping to give the RingWraiths a good fight and some damage before they seize him. The evolution of Gandalf's friendship with the curious ravens is slow, not rushed; and very believable. The ravens are not miracle workers; it takes them awhile to understand how they can help Gandalf, and there are limitations as to what they can do. But one of Gandalf's great strengths is that he can go a long way on just a little help and encouragement; and the ravens recharge Gandalf's sorely depleted physical and spiritual batteries with the aid they can provide, even if it is only sustenance and conversation. Friendship cannot be under-estimated, in Tolkien's books; and in this story. One can almost feel sorry for Saruman; he is such an emotionally poor individual. Almost; for he is terribly cruel to Gandalf, and then blames Gandalf for the torment he has inflicted on him. A fantastic reading experience!

Reviewed by: Virtuella  ✧  Score: 10

Well, where can I start? I was a bit daunted to start on such a long story, and then I read it all in one sitting. That alone says plenty. You have achieved a fine feat in making so compelling and full of tension a tale the outcome of which was known to the reader from the start. But as Brecht says, what matters is not curiosity about the outcome, but curiosity about how it comes about. The dual perspective of this story worked out wonderfully. The ravens come across as delightful creatures, without being unduly romanticised. Coräc and Morigian are fully developed characters, as much as any humanoid. Kudos for getting into Saruman’s head so convincingly – his doubts, desires and fears are completely convincing. I was particularly impressed with his sudden realisation that he would become like a Nazgul, and with his relationship with the nameless woman. The way he rationalises his deeds and blames Gandalf for them – yes, I can see that happening. The prose reads effortlessly and flows without a flaw. There were some charming touches of humour, and it was great to see the great eagle taken down a peg or two. What this story does superbly is to raise some very salient questions about this passage in the books, and then answer them in such a way that the reader becomes convinced it could not have been otherwise. Wonderful story, thank you so much!

Reviewed by: Thundera Tiger  ✧  Score: 10

An absolutely wonderful story! I completely fell in love with the Raven Clan of Isen. Aiwendiel has tackled a difficult subject here and pulled it off with flying colors. Beyond Saruman and Gandalf, the principle players in this drama are not human. They're birds. And the challenge to make them both accessible to readers but still birds and not humans is a daunting one. I have no idea how Aiwendiel did it, but Coräc and his clan are ravens through and through. I love their prejudices, their loyalty, and their ingenuity. I'm particularly taken with the notion that Coräc decided to befriend Gandalf. Maybe part of it was curiosity at this human who spoke his language, but regardless of the reason, his friendship was certainly needed. And once that friendship was given, it was stalwart. I love the fact that Coräc involves his entire family in this friendship, and that they'll go so far as to oppose the Ringwraiths and the Eagles if need be. That was also a fantastic touch. If there are petty squabbles between hobbits, elves, men, and dwarves, why not birds, too? Beyond the birds, I also very much enjoyed Gandalf and Saruman. Well, maybe *enjoyed* is the wrong word to use, but they were both wonderfully characterized, and I loved seeing Gandalf try to persuade Saruman to recant, even offering to forget the whole thing in the beginning. His bewilderment at Saruman's actions is a lovely bit of gapfiller that I wish Tolkien had written more about. But it's filled nicely here. Thank you for such an entertaining story!

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 6

What an exciting gapfiller! I love it when authors fill a gap which I often wondered about but never considered filling myself. Gandalf's imprisonment at Orthanc is one such gap, and something mostly ignored in fanfic. I love the way this story is not only exciting, but meticulous as to the canon questions it answers: Why was Gandalf allowed to retain his sword and staff? Why did Saruman put him on the roof? What persuasions did he attempt to use on a fellow Wizard? How did Gandalf survive his more than two month exposure? The answer to the last question brings us to the introduction of the strangers in the title-- some of the most original and believable OCs I can recall! Within the context both of Aiwendiel's and Tolkien's worlds they make perfect sense. I whole-heartedly reccommend this fic to anyone who loves to see Gandalf featured in a fic!

Reviewed by: Linaewen  ✧  Score: 5

I really, really love this tale! I've always been keen to know more about this particular incident, where Gandalf is Saruman's prisoner, and with this tale, I've been given all I could ask for -- and more! In my opinion, this tale is as close to canon as a gapfiller can be, fitting seamlessly into the progression of the tale as Tolkien wrote it. The ravens are superb! I love them as characters! It's great to be able to get to know them as a race and also as individuals, and their contribution to the story is as vital as Gandalf's. It seems fitting that these creatures of Middle-earth should have such a part to play in the grand scheme of things. Thanks for an amazingly excellent story!

Reviewed by: Isabeau of Greenlea  ✧  Score: 4

A very enjoyable gap-filler that tries to address much that is left unsaid in the Professor's account-including how prisoner Gandalf got up on top of Orthanc tower with his sword and staff still in his possession (One of those things you don't notice until someone points it out and then it bugs you incessantly!). Aiwendial obviously has a great love and knowledge of birds and this is reflected in the story-also, I very much enjoyed the take on Saruman and how he might have wavered in his allegiance to Sauron.

Reviewed by: SurgicalSteel  ✧  Score: 3

This is a gapfiller of a sort I hadn't seen before, covering Gandalf's time atop the tower of Orthanc as Saruman's prisoner. Interesting choices for point-of-view characters and an engaging writing style make this a really good read!

Reviewed by: crowdaughter  ✧  Score: 3

Lovely story about Gandalf's imprisonment from a very unusual perspective. I love the view of the Ravens in this. But I also love the way you have portrayed Saruman and Gandalf. ["The great Wizard gazed in horror at his extremely expensive, fine wool carpet from Khând. It had been his favorite, and now look at it! Ruined."] *snort* I can just see Saruman do this. Very well done!