Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards

The man in the woods

Author: Dot
Nominator: elliska
2007 Award Category: Races: Men: Eriador or Rivendell - First Place

Story Type: Story : Length: Short Story
Rating: Teen -- Reason for Rating: The story involves a death that some younger readers may find disturbing.
Summary: A little girl who wants to be a ranger, a day in the woods, and an unsettling discovery.


Reviewed by: Dwimordene -- Score: 10

Dot takes characters from meckinock's version of the Angle and deploys a pair of them in an adventure of her own crafting. And it's not an adventure in the way that children usually mean it – which is precisely the point of the story. Halbarad's young son Alagos and daughter Falathren creep out to play one morning, after their father goes off on some unknown but urgent errand with Aragorn. The usual children's games occur, and Dot, carefully constructing this as a memory narrated to an unknown other by a much older Falathren, uses that reflective distance to point out the ways in which Falathren at that point was an innocent, who understood neither the nature of her father's duties, nor her own place within the community of the Angle: ["Though unaware yet that my birthright as a Dúnedain woman was not to fight for our future but to sacrifice my loved ones to it with a resolute heart, I nevertheless did not mind that Ada never told me I’d be a good Ranger. Besides, I was still young enough to need a father’s company, not his approval"], Falathren tells us. But this day's Ranger-play turns out to be truer than imagination (even that of ["a girl with a boy’s imagination"]) had ever intended. They happen upon a body, dead by some violent, unknown hand, and Falathren, in a fit of hysteria, refuses to follow her brother home for help. Instead, she waits by the body, covers it with her cloak, and stands a sort of vigil, out of the conviction that the young man, whoever he was, should not be alone. Later, when Aragorn and a few others come to rescue her from the task, we understand that this was the very errand that had taken Halbarad away early, the search for the missing man. Falathren has unwittingly done a Ranger's duty, though it is in the patient, resigned acceptance of loss that Falathren sees in the faces of the women of the Angle that she recognizes her own future – that she recognizes her own place vis-à-vis Rangering, rather than in her play-time fantasies. Unsettling and sad, but poignant and all too real – well done, Dot! Ranger fans will surely enjoy this one.

Reviewed by: annmarwalk -- Score: 10

What a gorgeous, gorgeous story, with wondrous use of language, and absolutely perfect characterization. I've read a number of Halbarad stories, and never really seemed to be particularly moved by them, until I read this – I think it is the imagery of Halbarad as a loving husband and father that must have been moved me so. Though Halbarad appears only briefly, at the beginning and the end, it is his influence on his young daughter Falathren that defines her personality and her actions in the story. [Though unaware yet that my birthright as a Dúnedain woman was not to fight for our future but to sacrifice my loved ones to it with a resolute heart, I nevertheless did not mind that Ada never told me I’d be a good Ranger.] Falathren and her older brother Alagos have slipped away while their mother is sleeping to play in the woods. Their games are based on the stories (and other useful skills) they've learned at their father's knee [far away places that made my father’s voice warm and soft as fresh baked bread when he spoke of them, though he knew them only from his own Ada’s stories and the faith that thrummed in Dúnedain blood...], so that when they find a body in the woods, they are not unduly shocked or startled but know exactly what action is called for: [He surveyed me for a moment and then with a decisiveness no doubt born of life in a Dúnedain household he announced, “We need to go for help.”] Falathren, though, chooses to stay with the body, her fear overcome by compassion she is yet too young to recognize. What I found particularly touching in this story was Falathren's honest voice as she describes her early resentfulness of Aragorn: [I knew I was supposed to like Aragorn because my parents did – almost everyone did – but he always took my father away from me] which is transformed into comfort and reassurance when it is Aragorn who retrieves her from the dead man's side [He rose and carried me away, hugged close to his chest so that I could listen to the hum of life within him]. The final lines [I looked away from the reflection of my future in the knowing gazes of the women and leaned into him, grasping at the scent of him, that scent of smoke and sweat and self-assurance, of the achingly familiar in a strange new world.] are almost heartbreaking, symbolizing to me the world of Dunedain women, into which this child has been thrust all too soon.

Reviewed by: Bodkin -- Score: 10

This is just the most amazing story! I love the point of view - the girl on the cusp of innocence, at the point where she learns some of the harsh reality of Dunedain life. And Dunedain female life in particular. The end - where the women's eyes inflict their hard-earned wisdom on the child - is haunting. As is her clutching for comfort and reassurance in the temporary and only too short-term presence of her father ... and, of course, their chieftain, Aragorn. I love it that she - unlike everyone else, to whom he represents hope - doesn't like Aragorn, because, to her, he is an ominous presence, one who always arrives to take her father away. That it just such a perfect childish reaction and understanding of events. And the echoes of Dunedain society - the constant echo of a glorious past in a threadbare present - come over so clearly. I love Alagos as much as Falathren. And although Eirien is asleep, her character comes over pretty clearly, too! The woods, and their games - and the suggestion that, when the blessed day comes, the glory will be epitomised by the fact that all elves will let children ride on their horses - are just gorgeous. With a remarkable counterpoint of horror in the blue-tinged corpse. A cared-for blue-tinged corpse with an embroidered tunic and a broken bow. Poor kids. Whatever they knew about the world in the backs of their minds, they've taken a step into the adult world here - and they'll never be able to go back. It's a gorgeous story, Dot.

Reviewed by: Imhiriel -- Score: 8

Engagingly told, with some beautiful and highly evocative descriptions and/or turns of phrase. The PoV is used to good effect, giving the story an additional layer: we have the girl's thoughts and preconceptions, and her limited worldview, and at the same time those are filtered through the lense of the more experienced Falathren as she tells the story. Clear descriptions successfully flesh out the background or highlight small details that give the story a three-dimensional feeling. Good charactersations all around. I was impressed with the way the Dúnedain and their way of life were evoked with just a few "brush strokes". Even Halbarad was a fully-fleshed character, despite his only brief appearance. This passage: ["Alagos wanted to play king-returned then. I loved that game, loved to imagine far away places that made my father’s voice warm and soft as fresh baked bread when he spoke of them, though he knew them only from his own Ada’s stories and the faith that thrummed in Dúnedain blood."] I found particularly meaningful. The encounter with the body is told hauntingly, and here the small details are especially resonating: ["the ragged edges of a lovingly embroidered tunic"], the bug crawling over his face, the remains of the bow. The description of her lonely vigil moved me very much and this: ["I ... wrapped myself in the hush and the creeping of time."] captured the particular stillness of death and the forest beautifully.

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon -- Score: 5

[warning - some spoilers ahead] A gem of a story; this tale brings the everyday life of the Dunedain, and the pressures, stresses and hope they live with and for, to vivid life through the eyes of a little girl, Halbarad's daughter. The innocence of the games she and her brother play in the woods, (and the game of "king-returned" is an absolutely delightful, and very credible concept for the children of Aragorn's people) gives way to a grim discovery; reality intruding on the children's youthful fantasies. Falathren's response shows the courage and strength of the Dunedain women, who have different responsibilities, but no less resilience, then their Ranger husbands.

Reviewed by: elliska -- Score: 5

This is an incredibly powerful story. The characters in the beginning are really engaging--very realistic in the way they see the adults (Aragorn) around them. And I like their little game. The discovery they make is very shocking and really underscores the dangers their earlier thoughts reveal they were aware of, but probably did not fully understand. Falathren's strength and bravery is incredibly touching. And the ending is so complex--in one way, Falathren see that what Aragorn drags her father away to do is dangerous. But she also sees why her father and so many others will follow Aragorn in the way he responds to her. Great story!

Reviewed by: Jay of Lasgalen -- Score: 5

This is lovely, Dot. The small, incidental details you've included are great - the little girl tucking the frayed end of her skirt into her knickers; the children climbing over the fence the neighbour had put up to stop his goat eating the washing. These tiny snippets add so much life and colour to the story! Little Falathren is so brave as she sits beside the dead warrior to keep him company, but I feel sorry for her as they return to the village - she sees that her job will always be to sit and wait, while others do the great deeds. She could be a great warrior and Ranger too!

Reviewed by: obsidianj -- Score: 3

In this story a young girl and her brother are confronted with the grim reality of the dangers of life for the Dunedain. I love the description of everyday life for the children and the games they play. The 'King-returned' game reminds me of some of the role-playing games I played with my siblings long ago.

Reviewed by: Larner -- Score: 3

A child finds a stranger in the woods of Eriador; and it is up to her and her brother to deal with the situation. A horrible way to learn the truth that rangering isn't about adventure and fame and glory, but about dealing with enemies and all too often dealing in death. Well told.

Reviewed by: Linda hoyland -- Score: 3

This is a very moving story with a vividly depicted and delightful young heroine. This story is quite unusual in that it shows the hardships of Ranger life through the eyes of a child. I'm glad the young heroine saw Aragorn's caring side. A vivid look at what life must have been like.

Reviewed by: Marta -- Score: 2

This was very well done. The little girl and her brother were so realistic, and I think this is just how life might have been in the North in those years.