Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards

Lie Down in the Darkness, Rise Up From the Ash

Author: Dwimordene
Nominator: Altariel
2011 Award Category: Alternate Universe: General - Honorable Mention

Story Type: Story : Length: Novel
Rating: Teen -- Reason for Rating: Mature Language/Themes
Summary: Without Gollum, how does the Quest turn out? Angsty drama ensues as the storyline of the Lord of the Rings unfolds differently as we attempt to take the Fellowship and those who meet them down "the road less traveled by." [Note: Story grows more continuous over time as departures from the original story become greater and consequences start to play out.]


Reviewed by: Thundera Tiger -- Score: 10

I'm having trouble even knowing where to start on this story. This is the masterpiece, then only seven or so chapters long, that pulled me into Tolkien fanfiction. Though a vivid fan of the books, I'd given the fanfiction group only a passing glance until I stumbled upon this AU. More than pulling me into reading Tolkien fanfiction, though, this pulled me into WRITING it. So I suppose all of my own insanity that followed can be said to be Dwimordene's fault. Kidding aside, though, this has everything I want to be as a writer. This is the goal, the end, the objective, and the dream. This is characterization at its finest, giving heed to both minor characters and major characters. This is depth of story-telling, exploring what was never meant to be in the context of what was and what could have been. This is breath-taking action that feels as real as if readers were plunged into the midst of it. This is heart-wrenching drama as no character is left unmarked by the unfolding tragedy. This is a fairy tale with just enough elven and Song mystery to tease and tantalize. In a word, this is art. I'm trying to think of a particular scene or moment that encapsulates everything Dwimordene has managed to do with this story, but I can't. The ENTIRE STORY is a work of brilliance. There can be no singling out. If I had name a favorite part, though, it would probably be the Battle of Edoras and the events surrounding it, both before and after. The confrontation between Aragorn and Legolas, the knowledge that this definitely shouldn't have happened and things are spiraling well out of control, Eowyn's sacrifice, Wormtongue's treacher, Gimli's fate...the list goes on. But this moment competes for the place of favorite with the battle in front of the Black Gates (as epic as anyone could ever envision) and Frodo's final moments (as climactic and grievous as all the battles put together).

Reviewed by: Azalais -- Score: 10

I started Lie Down in the Darkness... years ago, but didn't always keep up with Dwim's updates, and tended to have forgotten what had gone before (perennial hazard of the Epic WIP, as I know well from my own!) So when it was nominated for this year's MEFAs I vowed I would re-read whole and entire from the beginning. I hope the author will take it as a compliment if I say that LDID is a gruelling read; gruelling and bleak. All the best AUs - the best fanfic - show us things we had never fully appreciated about the original. What LDID brought home to me was the certainty LoTR has - at least, that the author, the chronicler(s) looking back on the events, and we as readers have, even if the characters while they experienced the events sometimes doubted - that "all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." For by contrast, LDID is the fic in which the Music (nearly) died, and it is very far from clear till the very bitter end(ings) whether anything will be well at all. In LoTR, of course, the characters fear and expect much of what comes all too brutally to pass in LDID. It is entirely plausible that Sam would perish in Mordor, Merry die upon the Pelennor; the utter annihilation the Captains of the West receive is what they ride out expecting to meet in RoTK. But Tolkien's 'verse is ultimately kinder, a universe of *estel*, where the Powers yet see and may still act. LDID asks what the events of LoTR would look like in a world without benevolent gods, few if any moments of eucatastrophe, and barring the Dead, almost no superhuman aid (it's not only 'without Gollum, how does the Quest turn out?' but, at least as significantly for the non-Mordor strand, 'without Gandalf the White...?') and the answers break our hearts over and over again. Dwim is an excellent storyteller, who draws deep and nuanced character portraits and whose powers of description I sometimes wished were *less* vivid (it's hard to imagine worse horror than the severed heads fired over the walls of MT, but Dwim does, and I wish I could get the resulting image out of my head). And the split ending is an ingenious device which keeps the reader asking herself hard questions right to the end. If I had a structural criticism/query, it would be that LDID in fact goes AU in not one but two ways right from the beginning, and that the second is never justified or accounted for; Arwen, crucially, is not in Rivendell but in Lothlorien, and both endings depend on this, yet it's never explained and clearly isn't a result of the shooting of Gollum, since it predates that. A structure in which Arwen's presence in Lothlorien could be shown to be itself somehow a consequence of Gollum's death, or both these changes flowing from a single AU step, would have removed this reader's niggly-loose-end feeling of "but *why* was she...". But niggle is all that is; this fic is a huge achievement, and as someone who relatively recently completed her own eight-year 50-chapter epic, I salute Dwim. If you feel robust enough to take on LDID, be prepared for a powerful and unsettling read, but one that will not leave you for a long time.

Reviewed by: Altariel -- Score: 10

What can one say about this remarkable piece, the product of ten years' labour? It's extraordinary, Dwim, of course: brilliantly conceived and carefully worked through. Taking as its starting point the death of Gollum while in the hands of the Wood-elves, this AU works agonisingly through the terrible ramifications of that act, as the characters that we know and love find themselves in a world without hope. Or is it? Aragorn's desperate act, marrying Arwen when he can because he doesn't believe he's going to survive the Ring War, is ultimately the source of hope. And we have Arwen, who keeps faith in the possibility of joy even in the midst of sorrow, even when she ends up playing the part of Gilraen, mother of a little chieftain who never knew his brave father. Discord is an important theme throughout: the Fellowship struggle on their journey to make the connections that are so important in Tolkien's text, with Legolas struggling against a growing sense of the damage that has been done to the Song, and the death of Gimli made even more grievous for him because the bond has been so difficult to forge. For me, the chief purpose of an AU is the ironies which the situation permits, and this story offers them in abundance. With Eowyn not present to stand between the Witch-king and her brother and future husband, the corpses of both young men end up lying side by side in the Citadel of Minas Tirith. (As an aside, the characterisation of Eowyn is a particular triumph: from courageous young woman to almost-poisoner - it's a completely convincing trajectory.) Throughout, and through the veil of tears, there are echoes of the other song: The funeral boat of Boromir that is turned into a pyre. Gollum haunting Ithilien. Eomer's glimpse of a radiantly happy Eowyn. The connection of the piece to its source is brilliantly handled. And of course the writing is superb. I say all these things, but my main experience of reading "Lie Down in the Darkness" is of crying low-level tears throughout. It's a triumph, Dwim. Well done. Congratulations. Bravissima.

Reviewed by: Rivergift -- Score: 10

It's hard to explain quite what this piece was; it was brilliant, and like many of the best works, leaves one near speechless. But I shall try. Lie Down in the Darkness is probably the closest to the "ultimate" AU that I've ever read, the one trigger and all the resulting tragedies rippling through the world told eloquently and fluidly... It's a triumph of sorrow and blood and battle and hope against it all, not an easy read at all, but so worth it. It makes you think - forces you to contemplate some dreadful ideas that, try as you might, cannot leave you. Or at least, that's what it's done for me. It brings out so much that is dark in all the characters, in all the events, pushing the already precarious position in LoTR even closer to doom and under this new, unrelenting shadow, new, surprising, illuminating truths are revealed. Reading this was a journey - one that was riveting, terrible and defining, that drew to its magnificent, tragic, hopeful conclusion so elegantly. It is no light tale, and to read this you'll probably have to give up several hours, perhaps a day or two, to not only read but take in and understand what this story says, but it leaves you with eyes open to some things never before realised, and is simply fascinating. A truly masterful piece!

Reviewed by: Aliana -- Score: 10

I’ve been sadly absent from the MEFAs for the past few years, and unfortunately I won’t be able to get much reviewing in this year. However, I do feel happily obliged to do a drive-by review of Dwim’s Lie Down in Darkness. It’s the literary equivalent of a 40-chapter punch in the gut for anyone who loves Middle-earth and its peoples, and I mean that in the best possible way. This incredible novel-length fic plumbs depths that Tolkien quite possibly never imagined, and it sets a high, high bar for any and all other LotR AUs, particularly those of the dark variety. Other reviewers have already mentioned the inventiveness of Dwim’s might-have-been plot twists, and the skill with which she uses echoes and symmetries from the original. This is all very true, and I’d also like to tip my hat to the characteristic scrupulous attention to detail with which Dwim invests her AU Middle-earth, especially as the story progresses. Characters and dialogue are true to form, and it’s sort of a thrill to imagine oneself in the blighted halls of Meduseld, in the uneasy quiet of Ithilien, or on the smoking, ravaged Pelennor, as if rediscovering LotR all over again. If Dwim’s Middle-earth and its beloved characters weren’t so immediately believable and recognizable , then this story would not have nearly the compelling power that it has. Because the world they inhabit is more or less pitch-black, individual personalities are thrown into sharp relief, and the friendship and fortitude of the characters shines out the more for it. While keeping our heroes very much in character, Dwim also exposes sides of them that are perfectly plausible, but which are not much highlighted in fanon: Eowyn’s keen political sensibility (she’s a particular favorite of mine in this story), Arwen’s hopefulness and her tough-as-nails mettle, Frodo’s damn-the-torpedoes fortitude, Legolas’s encroaching sense of rage and despair. Really, every cast member is brilliantly and perceptively written, as is their sense of introspection and the choices they make in a world seemingly devoid of hope. Thanks for the ride, Dwim. It’s been well worth the wait.

Reviewed by: The Lauderdale -- Score: 10

I don't know about other people, but I find the best stories some of the hardest to review. Which isn't to say that I haven't reviewed this story extensively on the site where it is hosted, but how does one distill some 31 reviews - 11,096 characters - for a cogent and appealing 10 point MEFA review? I read this over the course of two weeks and took several days off afterward for recovery time, thinking that I would use the time to try and figure out what I was going to say. But we're coming down to the wire now, and I cannot bear for a bad internet connection or a crashing site to stop me now, so I have to write without regard for cleverness or novelty. To start with: I discovered [Lie Down in the Darkness] during the current Awards, and I count myself one of the fortunate ones, since at this point it has been finished for over a year. I can't imagine what it must have been like to read it while it was still in progress, chapter by chapter, with so may of those chapters ending in such dark and unsettling places. This is, as another reviewer put it, [the fic in which the Music (nearly) died]. Which means that, reading this story, you are opening yourself up for heartache. It is true that certain characters live who did not in the original, but it seems that for every life saved, another must be sacrificed. The Author is not merciful, and neither is the Enemy that she depicts, and while an abstract Music (and its dark corollary, a deadening Silence) runs throughout the story, the Powers themselves do not seem to be listening. The characters seem very much alone, to love and limp on together as best they can. Some things I really like: Legolas and Gimli's wonderful friendship, which Dwimordene shows us in a way that Tolkien, simply, didn't. LOTR presented us with an Elf and Dwarf who were not friends, and then, later, who were. Dwimordene, with a deft and satisfying hand, shows how concerns about a member of their party, and a shared sense of racial solitude (the *only* Dwarf and the *only* Elf in a post-Gandalf company of two Men and four hobbits), together with a growing appreciation for one another, come to unite them. Be careful, reader. Be very careful. I will also comment - since I know everyone else is invested in the "good" races - on what Dwimordene does with her Orcs. For an Orc fan, two of the most intriguing chapters in LOTR occur in [The Two Towers]: ["The Uruk-hai"] and ["The Choices of Master Samwise."] But although Merry and Pippin are taken by Ugluk and his merry band, this period is dealt with in a surprisingly passing fashion, with Pippin and Merry coming under the protection of Fangorn seemingly unscathed. Okay, you figure, not everyone likes Orcs, so you write it off and you move on. BE CAREFUL. This is the fic where Grishnákh, most mysterious and under-utilized of characters, comes into his own. Relationships matter in this story, becoming alternately a source of strength and a source of anguish. Aragorn and Arwen. Legolas and Gimli. Eomer and Eowyn. Frodo and Sam. Be careful. As you read, be careful not to love too much.

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon -- Score: 5

A complex and powerful LOTR AU, that takes the road not only less traveled, but far more painful and tragic. Dwimordene spins a web of courage and sorrow, here, that is sometimes beautiful to read and sometimes almost unbearable because one's favorite characters die. Careful attention is paid to politics, Tolkien's thread of symmetry between Denethor and Theoden is preserved but in a harsh, different, way. The alternate endings are a wonderful touch that a lesser writer might not have been able to pull off, but work well with the theme of divergent destiny dominating the story.