News and Views: Obscure Side Character Fiction

Originally Posted April 2005

Gentle Readers,

Part 11 and 12 of Magweth Pengolodh: The Question of Pengolod are posted. At last, 8 months after beginning it, it is done. And here I thought I'd finish it in four months. That'll learn me. Part 12 includes an epilogue to bring our story back around to where it begins. There is also a PDF download available of the entire story formatted as a book, complete with a ravishingly gorgeous color cover, courtesy of artist Silke - visit her web site here! Again, thanks to everyone who took the plunge into this obscure tale.

Tolkien's deep world-building creativity created far more characters than he could fit inside his narratives. Those of us who read the LOTR Appendices and the HoME volumes often discover these characters. Which, with fanfic readers, leads to the question: “Gosh, I sure would like to see a story about Character Q, who sounds pretty cool and important in the Return of the King footnotes. Why doesn't anybody write about Q?”

Nobody is writing about Q because Q is an Obscure Side Character, or OSC. Q may have one comment in the story, or may even only be listed in a family tree, or be involved in events hundreds of years before the main narrative. Thus Q does not appear in the LOTR movies; even most readers of Lord of the Rings will not immediately recognize Q. Most fanfiction writers recognize that a story about an OSC is a good way to get very little feedback. I've done all I can to encourage folks to read about obscure characters by writing about nothing but for eight months.

And then there's writing them. What's the good part of writing about an OSC? With an OSC as a character, you can escape the “fanon” conventions and present a fresh viewpoint. There's a lot of room for creativity with an OSC –weirdly, readers will allow an OSC more leeway than an original character in a fanfiction story. This applies even though many OSCs are, by necessity, practically original characters. It's a useful loophole. Working on an OSC brings you to the heart of what fanfiction is all about; self-indulgence as a writer and a fan, and the tiny spark of hope that maybe someone, somewhere, is interested in what you were thinking, how you pictured it.

If you are curious to see what else is out there for OSC stories, a great source is this site, Third Age, which specializes in fiction about the humans of Middle-Earth, be they Aragorn or Arvedui. You can reference the stories by historical period and kindred, a nice way to see what's available for more obscure periods. I believe the webmistress is going to be running a Third Age fic challenge soon, so perhaps it's time to write about that OSC you always wanted to flesh out. There's also this speculative essay/story about Tolkien's Aelfwine who shows up in Tol Eressea, which starts out with canonical information and ends up as a story, complete with Kingly dialogue and elvish scuba-diving devices.

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