Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards

Beneath the Surface

Author: Canafinwe
Nominator: Thundera Tiger
2010 Award Category: Genres: Character Study: Dunedain - First Place

Story Type: Story : Length: Short Story
Rating: General -- Reason for Rating: N/A
Summary: On a bitterly cold night in Bree, Aragorn reflects upon one of his many secrets.


Reviewed by: Thundera Tiger -- Score: 10

The thing I love best about this story are the layers. Layers upon layers upon layers. There are layers in the title, in the main character (more on him later), and in the people of Bree. I have to admit that the latter group really surprised me. I think I've been underestimating them all these years. As a general rule, writers take the good folk of Bree in one of two directions: They're either overly folksy and charming, or they're paranoid and suspicious simpletons. Canafinwe takes a look at both extremes, finds a compromise, and then builds the kind of people who would make a village in the middle of Eriador really work. It was a pleasure seeing them in action. There are elements of the more rural lifestyle as well as elements of the more suspicious-minded, and in the mix of it all is built the kind of sturdy, undaunted perseverance that a community like this would need. But enough about the side characters. Let's talk Aragorn, because he really is the star of the story. And what a star he makes! There are several extremes that writers occasionally unearth in my favorite Ranger, but just like the people of Bree, Canafinwe hits a fantastic characterization balance that gives Aragorn immense depth. He has his gruff exterior, he's hiding extreme weariness, he's sustained by inner hopes that are almost too beautiful and cherished to take into the Wilds, and it all comes together in nearly effortless symbolism at the end of this tale, culminating in a conclusion that is both elegant and profound. It's like you can see all the guises that Aragorn goes through until we reach the inner core of the man, a core that is shared with only a very few. On a final note, I should say that this story does wonders in visualizing itself. It isn't just told. It's experienced. You can feel the cold and the snow and the grit, you can see the Inn and all its staff, you can feel the stretch and ache of tired muscles, etc. A simply beautiful tale.

Reviewed by: The Lauderdale -- Score: 10

In the dead of winter Aragorn comes to the inn at Bree, exhausted and at the end of his tether. Seeking ["a hot meal and one blessed night out of the cold,"] he is met with obstacles and resistance at every step, and is reduced nearly to the point of begging when he asks the harried Butterbur for a place to stay. I’ve always been struck by the uncharitable relationship between Strider and Barliman in LOTR, so it’s interesting whenever I read a fanfic in which the two interact. We know that Strider can be forbidding and gruff but is a good man, we know that Barliman can be insular and absentminded but is a good man, yet this basic goodness does not enable them to bridge their differences. Here, at least, both bend in some measure, and that bending is written believably and in character. Winter travel and the life of a ranger have seldom looked so grim, and Canafinwe writes both Aragorn's trials, the resources in which he finds strength, and the final moment of grace, with assurance and conviction. The title of the piece, “Beneath the Surface,” fits this story in a number of ways, but while I am touched by the way Aragorn draws on tokens and memories of Arwen and Gilraen for sustenance under harsh conditions – this is touching, but certainly not surprising – it is what lies beneath the exteriors of two brusque men who normally cannot stand one another that is the most moving aspect of the story.

Reviewed by: Larner -- Score: 6

A January storm has driven Strider to Bree, and even Barliman Butterbur, as overcrowded as his inn has become, feels compassion for this suspected ruffian. A warm drink is given him; and even pipeweed, although admittedly of poor quality, is brought him. He is even granted a private room of sorts for the night! And so the Ranger strips down for the night, washing himself and his undergarments as he can. And he finds himself with his own hope renewed as he considers the secret lovegift he's worn next to his skin for so long! A beautiful examination of the removal of disguises and ill-seemings, if only for the night, and the effects of compassion in offering renewed heart to those who wander, seemingly homeless and landless, but secretly the guard and Hope to all. A lovely, loving story!

Reviewed by: Mirach -- Score: 6

The title for this story is chosen really very well. It goes beneath the surface, and deeply. With Aragorn's undressing are visible all the layers of disguise and secrecy that he has to take, the hard fate of being despised by those that he protects. Until the last layer - his true self, as different from the man that he appears to be in the eyes of the folk from Bree as the fine shirt made by Arwen is differnt from the other clothes. What more, there were two moments when he had to ask for admittance, where his biggest qualities were shown: first the strength of will, and then humility. These two combined make him the true king, even behind the haggard appearance. My heart ached for him when I imagined all the hardships that he had to go through, and that are described in this story. And then we saw beneath the surface once more - it was a nice ending with the glimpse of the softer core of old Butterbur...

Reviewed by: Dreamflower -- Score: 5

A very beautiful character study of a weary Ranger, coming in from the cold to a scant welcome from a suspicious innkeeper. I love the way Canafinwe shows us layer by layer as the Ranger becomes a man made both vulnerable and stronger by love through the symbolism of the clothing, from the mitts that Gilraen had made, all the way to the final layer-- the shirt made by Arwen. With each divestment we learn a little more. And yet it is also a study of another character: Barliman Butterbur, who shows his own quality beneath the layers of brusque suspicion. The ending is perfect.

Reviewed by: Cairistiona -- Score: 4

Who would imagine the story of a man's life could be told layer by layer as he peels away his dirty clothes in a cold attic on an even colder night? Canafinwe did, obviously, and brought the idea to exquisitely detailed life. Reading this gave me a greater appreciation for the hardships the Dunedain endured, and the stoic practicality with which they faced them.

Reviewed by: RS -- Score: 4

The title says it all...literally and figuratively. Never have I read a story that made getting out of dirty, stinky, sticky and wet clothing so interesting. The descriptions are so vivid, sight, scenery, smell..everything. This is not only about clothing but who Aragorn is "Beneath the Surface". Also shows Butterbur who he truly is. A very well-written story.

Reviewed by: Inzilbeth -- Score: 4

This story was my introduction to the writing of the wonderful Canafinwe. The setting for this story is very simple and so too is the plot. Aragorn arrives at Bree and Butterbur brings him his supper but the detail which Canafinwe injects into the story is quite remarkable. This is definitely a story to read again and again savouring every perfectly chosen word.

Reviewed by: khazar_khum -- Score: 2

The setting is wonderfully realized. The author clearly spent time learning the intricacies of early clothes.

Reviewed by: NeumeIndil -- Score: 2

I am impressed that you took us piece by piece through ancient clothing. (I have a fondness for well-researched fic.) The shirt is a lovely touch as well.

Reviewed by: Linda Hoyland -- Score: 1

A beautifully written and moving story. The ending has an especially lovely touch.