02. Manic Depressive by Cliffhanger

“I feel fine, damn it!”

“I’m the doctor, and I’ll be the judge of that. You know perfectly well that a Nazgûl’s Black Shadow is a particularly insidious attack—and that you’ve been known to ‘feel fine’ when you aren’t.”

“Guilty as charged,” I said, sighing in exasperation, and let Dr. Fitzgerald continue his examination. He was right, of course, both about the Black Shadow and my tendency to deny feeling sick. I must also note that I’m a rotten patient. I hate being sick, and I hate being babied even more. And kingsfoil—the standard treatment for Black Shadow—smells weird.

Fortunately, the examination was both quicker and less intrusive than a conventional examination would have been, since Fitzgerald used a variety of medical tricorders and bioscans. These high-tech gizmos also gave Fitzgerald the means to conduct a more precise examination than most doctors could.

He finished, and said, “You are indeed fully recovered, and can return to active duty. Just out of morbid curiosity, where will you be going next?”


“Lovely. First Mordor, now Isengard. You DO seem to like the vacation spots, don’t you?”

I chuckled at that. “According to the Witch-king, there’s an Extra Ringwraith in Isengard I need to investigate. After that, I’ll see if I can’t arrange a visit to Lorien or the Shire.”


Isengard is a pit. It has got to be one of the most disgusting places in Middle-earth. It’s in a valley called Nan Curunir, which borders the country Rohan. There are mountains to the north and a forest to the west. Isengard itself is a walled fortress with a tower called Orthanc in the middle. (The folks of Middle-earth really seem to like building towers and naming things.)

So far, so good. But there’s also a huge open pit mine in the area, and that’s the gross part. It’s a large muddy, slimy hole with lots of tunnels. Part of the mine is actually a grotesque “birthing area” for newborn Uruk-hai. There is little hard information about how orcs reproduce, although they are sometimes said to spawn. In any case, they bury the egg or whatever, so the newborn has to dig its way out of the dirt. Orcs apparently don’t have much of a childhood, as they seem to be fully grown or close to it at birth. Weird.

The rest of the mine consists of the mine proper, plus the orcs’ living quarters. Saruman himself lives in the tower, along with a few of his favorites among the orcs, like Lurtz and Ugluk—and the Extra Ringwraith, who looks NOTHING like a real Ringwraith. Oh, she’s dressed in the standard issue black robes and whatnot, but she’s visible. She has brown hair, red eyes, and very pale skin, and basically looks more like a vampire than anything else. Nothing against vampires, but Ringwraiths are supposed to be invisible, except for their clothing. She also looks like she’s around 13 or 14 years old, although I’m not the greatest at telling people’s ages.

I’m curious as to how she was transformed. There are only two canonical methods to make somebody into a wraith. The first is to give some overambitious, gullible idiot a Ring of Power and wait a few decades or centuries. Eventually, you get a full-fledged Nazgûl. The other method is far more quick and dirty: stab somebody in the heart with a Morgul blade. The transformation here takes only a few days or weeks, but the resultant wraith is considerably weaker than the other type.

The portal takes me to Isengard just in time to see Gandalf and a teenage girl ride up to Orthanc on Shadowfax. Saruman is waiting for them both.

“‘So,’said the pure white figure, ‘You have finally come to seek my counsel Gandalf...’ Saruman. The White... ‘Saruman, my old friend... the Cliffhangers has been gathered.’ Gandalf smiled upon his back, as a small figure of a child, Clefe, dismounted.”

Oy. As I recall, both these guys used PERFECT grammar in their conversation. (And yeah, I know the writers are 13 or 14, but still....) And Gandalf must be a contortionist, if he can “smile upon his back.”

A few minutes later, the girl Clefe is bonding with Shadowfax—even though Gandalf is supposedly the only one who could tame him. (Gandalf, meantime, is being pounded by Saruman.) It seems she’s something called a “Cliffhanger,” which gives her special abilities. I break out the PPC-issue laptop and look for a definition of the term.

As per the fic’s version of Gandalf, a “Cliffhanger” is a “child who would protect the legend of the Ring,” and is “all-knowing and immortal.” (It’s also the name the two authors are writing under.)

Excuse me while I puke. “Chosen One” plot lines are quite high on my list of pet peeves, and I don’t care what fandom you’re talking about. A HANDFUL are surprisingly good, but most are self-indulgent garbage.

Back to business. Clefe meets Ash, the Extra Ringwraith. My Character Analyzer beeps wildly, indicating a Character Rupture, as Shadowfax apparently did not respond to Ash’s presence, when the presence of a Ringwraith, even a non-canonical one, should have made him panic.

Clefe is similarly far too accepting of Ash’s undead state, telling her “I understand. And as your bestfriend...” she sighs. “I would allow you to choose any path you would love to...as your friend.”

Dumb kid. Her best friend’s now an undead monster in league with Saruman—and she is OKAY with this?!

Then the wraith jokes about chasing Frodo “with large Uzi’s” and scaring him with a “Mortal Blade.” That’s MORGUL blade, nimrod. (General memo: Nazgûl aren’t funny even when they try to be, and the canonical wraiths know better than to try.) Later she describes herself as the “Living Ringwraith.” WTF?! Ringwraiths, by definition, are UNDEAD. You can’t have one that’s alive.

The two finally do fight, after spouting poetry at one another. Unfortunately for me, the fight ends with Clefe jumping on Shadowfax and riding towards Bree. Great. There’s no way I can catch up with him, so I simply return to Headquarters and exchange the Uruk disguise for that of a human Breelander. I also run a background check on Clefe and Ash. Seems they go to the same school and are in the 8th grade. Clefe also seems to have about as many names as Aragorn: Clefe, Cleff, Clef, Cliff, etc. Their fic has been designated as “Humor/Action/Adventure.”

For a long time, there has been a debate at Headquarters concerning the effects of humor on the continuum. Said debate questions whether humor fics have any effect on the continuum at all, and if so, how much? Most people believe that a fic’s impact depends on two things: 1) its subject matter, and 2) its genuine humor content. A well-handled comedy that is genuinely funny is thought to cause little damage to the continuum, regardless of the plot. Some kinds of comedies also do little damage, even if they aren’t all that funny. Stuff like bogus diaries by unlikely individuals, e.g. Bill the Pony, and fics set in chatrooms have little impact on the continuum. List fics also don’t harm the continuum, no matter how inane they are.

The comedy fics that do the most harm are the ones that try to tell an actual story, have serious elements, and aren’t as funny as their creator thinks they are. They also tend to rehash the same jokes that other people have used. (If I have to read one more “comic” account of the Council of Elrond, I swear I’ll scream....)

It seems Clefe and Ash were recruited by Gandalf and Elrond, who gave them, respectively, a book and some pills, and used the latter to bring them to Middle-earth. (Red and blue pills, if you please. I think we all know by now that Hugo Weaving, who played Elrond, was also in The Matrix. So can we dispense with the Matrix references now? Pretty please?) Also, Elrond’s recruiting children would no doubt have been the mother of all Character Ruptures. As per the book, he almost didn’t let Pippin and Merry join the Fellowship because of their youth. Unlike the other members of the Fellowship, Pippin and Merry are adolescents, comparable to humans of around 16 or 17. Given how Elrond felt about letting them join, I REALLY doubt he’d want even younger humans being involved with the Fellowship at all.

I also find some info about Ash’s transformation. It involves one heck of a Temporal/Spatial Distortion, as Ash appears, still human, between Gandalf and Saruman, apparently AFTER Clefe had left Isengard. Later, Ash agrees to become a Ringwraith in exchange for Gandalf’s life, when she sees Saruman apparently killing him. Interestingly, the transformation results in her being invisible, like a proper Ringwraith, while she had been visible during the encounter with Clefe. (A now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t Ringwraith. What is Middle-earth coming to?)

Properly disguised, I step through the portal into Bree, just in time to see Clefe, now Shadowfax-less, collide with Pippin. This almost causes a fight, as the “Cliffhanger” seems to be in a rotten mood. But Frodo manages to get everybody calmed down, and they all head for The Prancing Pony. While there, Clefe ducks the question of where Gandalf is. (The answer is that he’s getting his head handed to him by Saruman.)

I follow them in and order some good strong mead, as I’ve a feeling I’m going to need it before this job is through. Butterbur is bringing it to me, when a blonde girl about Clefe’s age suddenly appears in midair, lands on him, and then tackles Frodo, squealing “Ooooohhhhh! Hobbittts! I luv yooouuuu!” This twerp obviously doesn’t know that hobbits aren’t puppies. They’re sentient beings and should be treated with due respect. Clefe also grabs Frodo, who finds himself in the extremely unfortunate position of being used for a game of tug-of-war. Pippin saves the day by tickling the blonde girl, whose name turns out to be Shea. Shea seems to have some weird belief that she’s a queen—which probably just translates into a desire to be waited on hand and foot by the other characters.

(My drink, of course, is history, but that’s probably just as well. Upstairs frowns on people getting drunk or high while on duty, no matter how tempting it is. Right now, it is REAL tempting....)

Sometime later that night, the Ringwraiths attack, carrying swords and... walkie-talkies. Great. Just great. That means that somebody from PPC (like me) is going to have to get the walkie-talkies away from the Nazgûl—without getting killed or rendered undead—and then neuralyze all nine of them—after assassinating these losers, that is. That little punk of an Extra Ringwraith is SO dead! She even had the gall to take the place of one of the canonical wraiths, who was said to be... “allergic to hobbits.” The other wraiths apparently also wish she were gone. Nazgûl have some peculiar habits, but I don’t think they bean somebody they LIKE with a sword hilt.

By now, I’ve seen enough to make a determination. But morbid curiosity impels me to see just how bad it gets. In the privacy of the room I’ve rented, I break out the PPC-issue laptop—and find it gets even worse. Thanks to a major Temporal/Spatial Distortion, both groups reach Weathertop within hours of leaving Bree. That wretched Extra Ringwraith then attacks Frodo, thereby supplanting the Witch-king himself. He must have blown about five gaskets when that happened. His big moment in Fellowship of the Ring—and that little worm takes it from him! Another Temporal/Spatial Distortion then gets everybody to the Fords of Bruinen in record time, where Clefe then supplants Glorfindel and/or Arwen by being the one to get Frodo away from the Ringwraiths, and discovers that she can somehow speak one of the Elvish dialects, which enables her to summon the floodwaters that sweep the Nazgûl, both canonical and not, away. Before doing this, though, she tries to lure Ash away from Frodo... by offering her the Ring. WTF?! I repeat, DUMB kid. You DON’T offer a Nazgûl the Ring of Power, no matter HOW idiotic the wraith in question is.

Okay. At this point I don’t care if nobody ends up joining the Fellowship; these punks are causing enough damage already! No wonder the Witch-king was complaining about Ash so! I don’t envy whichever pair of assassins gets this job....


PPC Intelligence Report

Fic: Manic Depressive

Description: A comic retelling of much of the plot in Fellowship of the Ring, that centers on two female OCs who are transported to Middle-earth. The two girls are allegedly recruited by Gandalf and Elrond to “protect the legend of the Ring.” Even so, one of them is transported to Isengard and becomes a Ringwraith, while the other is revealed to be a powerful being called a “Cliffhanger.” Hence, this fic is also a “Chosen One” story. The Cliffhanger rides with Gandalf to Isengard, where they respectively confront Ash the Ringwraith and Saruman. The Cliffhanger later joins Frodo and his friends in Bree, and Ash joins the other Ringwraiths in attacking them.

Plot Holes: Temporal/Spatial Distortions, Character Ruptures

Problem Passages:

1) “‘Hold out your hand, Frodo,’ Gandalf muttered under his breath, as he flung the still-burning ring into Frodo’s palm.

“‘DAMN ****** RING!!!,’ Frodo swore. Clef had to stick her fingers into her ears, as Frodo yelped and screamed around, throwing the now-cool ring into a barrel of water. They had ten minutes to scoop it out, Gandalf looking very plussed.”

In the book, one of the Ring’s more ominous traits is its imperviousness to heat. It is this characteristic that made it necessary to throw it into Mount Doom in the first place, for only heat of that intensity could melt it. An ordinary fire would have no effect on it, beyond making the inscription visible. In other words, the Ring would have remained cold. It is also not possible for somebody to “yelp and scream around,” as one does not necessarily MOVE when yelping and screaming. A better way to describe Frodo’s actions might be something like “Frodo jumped around, yelping and screaming.”

The tenses need to agree, too. Writers should not mix past and present tenses in the same paragraph, and certainly not in the same sentence. Thus a more correct way of describing Frodo’s actions might be “Frodo jumped around, yelping and screaming, and then threw the Ring into a barrel of water.”

Why did it take ten minutes for them to scoop the Ring out of the barrel? It would have cooled off in considerably less time than that.

What does “plussed” mean, as in “Gandalf looked very plussed”? Is that simply a euphemism for “pissed”?

2) “Gandalf hushed her and said, ‘Well, my young Cliffhanger, it is best that Frodo and the Ring should be on the way, while you and I take the road to Isengard. You may take your own choice if you must,’ Cliff winced. Cliffhanger? ‘Gandalf ,’ she said slowly, standing up, towering over Frodo, looking worried and impatient. ‘What do you mean by, Cliffhanger?’”

The problem here is that there are two people talking within the same paragraph. Writers should start a new paragraph every time they switch speakers or POVs. Thus, this paragraph should be divided into two.

OC: Clefe McCraig
Type: Mary Sue
Offenses Against Canon: Bringing 21st-century knowledge to Middle-earth. Having a deleterious impact on the canonical characters Elrond, Gandalf, and Shadowfax. Having a less severe effect on the hobbits and Aragorn. Purportedly being a “Chosen One” figure. Purportedly being both immortal and omniscient, when humans are neither. Altering the intrinsic properties of the Ring. Supplanting canonical characters at the Fords of Bruinen.
Recommendation: Terminate with extreme prejudice.

OC: Ashley (Ash) Kennedy
Type: Extra Ringwraith
Offenses Against Canon: Bringing 21st-century knowledge to Middle-earth. Serving the wrong Evil Master. Causing the canonical wraiths to also serve the wrong Evil Master. Supplanting canonical wraiths at the Prancing Pony and Weathertop. Introducing 21st century technology to Middle-earth. Annoying the canonical wraiths.
Recommendation: Terminate with extreme prejudice.

OC: Shea Sandman
Type: Comic Relief
Offenses Against Canon: Bringing 21st-century knowledge to Middle-earth. Treating hobbits with egregious lack of respect. Not being funny or useful.
Recommendation: Terminate.
Additional comments: Retrieve the walkie-talkies and neuralyze all nine Nazgûl. Continue to closely monitor Isengard and Minas Morgul for a week for further signs of cultural contamination.