To put it mildly, the PPC Headquarters’ cafeteria is NOT one of the world’s great dining establishments. It looks like just about any cafeteria that you’d see in an office building or school, with a speckled green-gray tile floor, cheap chairs made of metal and (obviously) fake leather, and equally cheap tables made from equally obvious fake wood. The food is just as nondescript, being, for the most part, the usual cafeteria food: pizza, macaroni and cheese, liver and onions, hamburgers, etc. You know, the usual. The not-so-usual items are mostly for the non-humans who work at the PPC. The Sunflower Official and his ilk like to scarf down what looks like blue-green crystals, for instance.
“How in the hell can you eat that crap?” Joe Bob Brentwood asked me. He and his new partner, Zaneth, were in the Sue department, and they covered the X-Files continuum. Joe Bob was having a burger and fries, while I was having liver and onions.
“Same way he eats whatever that glop is called.”
Zaneth was an illithid, or, less politely, a mind flayer—and as such, his favorite foods were almost all made from the brains of other creatures. His lunch consisted of some mush made from a mixture of brains and milk.
Joe Bob was your not-so-basic good ole boy from Texas. I think he used to be a cop. He was well over six feet tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Zaneth looked like he’d been designed by a committee. His overall form was humanoid, with a slim and wiry build. But his head looked like somebody had taken an octopus, cut off four of the tentacles and arranged the remaining four around the mouth. Then the same insane and/or stoned god had replaced the octopus’ beak with a circular, jawless maw like a lamprey’s, and then perched the finished product atop a slender humanoid neck. To add insult to injury, Zaneth had two-toned, pink and purple skin, rather than the more usual mauve. By anybody’s standards, he was UGLY.
It soon became very obvious that both of them were in a rotten mood. Joe Bob simply made rude remarks throughout lunch. And Zaneth had some novel ways of showing extreme displeasure. Illithids can use their tentacles to express mood, much as a cat uses its tail. Lashing tentacles, for instance, indicate anger—and Zaneth’s were lashing like crazy. Illithids are also high-grade telepaths, and are not above giving people headaches (or worse) when they’re mad—and I could feel a beaut of a headache coming on....
“Mind telling me what your problem is, guys? Or are you giving everybody in the room migraines just for fun?”
“That goddamn weed Upstairs is the problem!” snapped Joe Bob. “Son of a bitch went and TRANSFERRED us!”
“Not out of the Sue Department?! You guys are among the best, from what I hear.”
*We’re still in the Sue Department,* said Zaneth, talking telepathically as always. (By human standards, illithids are mute. They just don’t have the right vocal apparatus for articulate speech.) *We’ve been assigned to a different continuum, though.*
“Uh-oh. Which one?”
“Yeesh. You guys have my sympathies. I’ll bet that one’s in even worse shape than the Lord of the Rings continuum—and Middle-earth’s on its way to becoming an insane asylum.”
“Tell us about it. Harry Potter’s a MESS. Mary Sues galore, bad crossovers—usually with your beat—name it, and it’s got it.”
I grimaced. Crossovers, in which a writer blends two or more continua, can be a ROYAL pain. I’ve heard there were some involving Lord of the Rings, but I’ve never investigated one. I’ve heard horror stories, though.
*Part of the problem with the Harry Potter continuum,* Zaneth said, *is that it draws mostly very young writers, who haven’t yet learned how to write more... sophisticated or interesting works.*
“That’s true,” I said. “LotR does have some older and more experienced writers who can counterbalance some of the bad fics there.”
Then my beeper sounded—loudly. I got up, sighing. “Uh-oh. Duty calls. See you around.”
Oh, joy. ANOTHER “modern-day girl goes to Middle-earth” fic. Well, at least this one doesn’t start with her turning up in Rivendell. No, this one has her going to the Shire—around the time of Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party and subsequent disappearance. Hmmm, that would set the story at something like 17 or 18 years before the time of the War of the Ring.
The fic appears to be a self-insertion job, and is even told in the first person. But the very first chapter, which is written in the third person, begins with the hobbits finding the unconscious protagonist. This writer, it seems, at least has the wit to know that people are attracted to Lord of the Rings fanfic by the prospect of reading more stories about their favorite canon characters—and not by a lot of blather about an OC’s school, family, or friends. (She saves that for chapter two, which tells about how the OC got to Middle-earth. Somehow, she was yanked there, it seems.)
The heroine, Jo, is described as being 16 years old—and around four feet, two inches tall. A teenager about the same height as my seven-year old niece? Uh oh.... This had better NOT be one of those jobs in which the OC claims to be descended from hobbits or something. I truly HATE those. On the other hand, I did once know a Spanish teacher who was 26 years old, and stood four feet six. So it’s not impossible for a fully human person to be that short—just somewhat unlikely. It looks like I’ll have to investigate this one up close and personal.
Going to the Shire does present a few problems, though. First off, it’s an all-hobbit community. As far as I know, no non-hobbits are permanent residents there. The few non-hobbits in the Shire are people just passing through: Gandalf on one of his visits to Bag End, human peddlers from Breeland, plus the very occasional dwarf or elf traveler.
Another problem with the Shire is that it is one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody else—and where everybody knows everybody else’s family tree. This makes it difficult to pose as a hobbit, for I would not be able to explain my presence simply by claiming to be somebody’s long-lost cousin. The genealogy-loving hobbits would uncover that little lie in no time. Consequently, I’m stuck playing a non-hobbit transient of some sort.
I decide to call myself Nan Goatleaf, a human peddler and widow from Archet, a village near Bree. That’s close enough to the Shire to make my traveling there seem plausible, but not so close that my imposture will be immediately discovered. I also decide to bring Alice, the intelligent Rohirric horse, to pull my peddler’s cart.
Alice has proven to be something of a problem for Upstairs—largely because they have no real clue what to do with her. Jay and Acacia brought her to PPC Headquarters a short time ago, after assassinating her Mary Sue owner. There is one tiny problem with using Alice for PPC business: She is a HORSE, and horses do not have hands, tentacles, or anything else that could be considered manipulatory appendages. Hence, Alice cannot use any of the PPC hardware—or any weapons. She could trample or kick a target to death, but that’s about it. Nor could Alice fully communicate with anybody, as she can neither talk nor write.
Since Alice’s arrival, Makes-Things and the rest of the Department of Technical Support have been working overtime to solve these problems. A few days ago, they finally developed a way to solve her communication problem: they injected her with nanites, microscopic machines, which somehow altered her nervous system, making her telepathic. So she can now “talk” to people. Unfortunately, that didn’t change the fact that she has no hands....
Alice’s attitude has also been something of a problem. She’s a meara, which might be described as the Middle-earth equivalent of a thoroughbred. These horses, which are native to Rohan, are stronger, faster, and far more intelligent than ordinary horses. They know it, too—and are therefore notoriously choosy about who they will permit to ride them. Generally, they will not serve anybody who is not royalty. Alice has had to learn to... curb her hauteur since arriving.
That means she pulls that peddler’s cart or else....
Since Upstairs couldn’t really assign Alice to any one department because of her limitations, they made her a “floater” instead. Hence, if anybody from any department has a job that might require a horse, Alice gets assigned to that person for the duration of that assignment. Today, she’s working with me.
The Shire is one of the loveliest places on Middle-earth. It reminds me of Ireland, with its gentle, rolling hills and lush, green countryside. (Unfortunately, you don’t get that kind of greenery without a lot of rain, so the weather can be iffy.) The smials or hobbit-holes are also quite attractive; they’re dug right into the hills and have charming round doors that are typically painted bright green.
Alice and I stake out Bag End, where the girl is supposedly staying. Since Bilbo and his friends are preparing to throw a VERY large party, at least some of them will want to buy things from my well-stocked cart. Of course, the drawback with this arrangement is that it makes it tough to investigate Jo if I’m busy with customers. Fortunately, hobbits eat six times a day, so I can check things out while everybody is eating. (General memo: Hobbits must have phenomenal metabolisms. If I ate six times a day, I’d probably be the size of New Jersey.)
The Plot Hole Detector beeps and I check the readings, which indicate a possible Linguistic Aberration. It’s the usual problem: the protagonist was speaking fluent Westron, when a person from our world shouldn’t know that language at all. The records do show, however, that Gandalf had been present when Jo first awoke. He could have cast some sort of language spell on her while she was unconscious. If that’s the case, however, the writer should have mentioned it, possibly by having Gandalf explain what he’d done. (For the record, PPC agents generally use universal translators or similar devices. We DON’T all know 60 languages apiece, even if it seems that way.)
“I’m in Bag End!” cried an excited girl’s voice.
“Yes, you are, Miss. Are you lost?” said a gruff male voice. “May I ask what you’re doing in Mr. Bilbo’s garden ?”
“I-- I’m sorry-- I’ve been staying here-- I came for a walk-- didn’t mean to disturb you, sir--, ” Jo stammered.
“Oh! Jo-- Miss Jo-- sorry... Well, goodness gracious, since I’ve gone and bungled all the introductions anyhow, I’ll go on then-- I’m Sam Gamgee. So sorry.”
That exchange sounds typical of Sam: suspicion quickly followed by apology. The Canon Analysis Device does not indicate even a trace of a Character Rupture—and OC’s usually have a deleterious impact on canonical characters’ personalities. But Sam Gamgee continues to talk and act the way one would expect him to. One thing troubles me, though, and I touch Alice on the neck to initiate telepathic contact.
*Sam’s around eighteen or nineteen in this time, right? Isn’t he a little young to be working?* I asked her.
*Eighteen is not young for a gardener to begin work. Not here, anyway. Sam’s father doubtless began to teach him the trade when he was even younger. Remember, for families such as the Gamgees, the sooner the children can begin to earn their keep, the better.*
She’s right, of course, and life on Earth had been the same way up until very recently—and was still that way in poor countries. Also, in medieval Europe, many children had begun to serve apprenticeships when they were 12 or 13 years old—and an 18-year-old hobbit was probably comparable to that age.
The following morning, Alice and I tail Jo and her hobbit friends during their outing to Hobbiton. Along the way, they meet up with a tall youth who turns out to be Peregrin Took. Frodo introduces him to Jo—and Pippin, upon learning that Jo is 16, expresses regret that he is still the youngest of the group. Pippin is very tall for a hobbit of around 11—and he would grow even taller. Thanks to to the Ent-draughts that he had in Fangorn, he would eventually have an adult height of roughly four feet, six inches, making him a veritable giant by hobbit standards. (I know perfectly well that “giant hobbit” sounds like a contradiction in terms.)
Hobbiton is a bustling little town near a lake with a dock. There’s a millhouse and scads of shops. Jo and her friends visit some of the shops. It quickly becomes obvious that hobbits are not used to humans, for many of them react to Jo with startlement and even fear. Not only do they stare at her, but some try to ignore her or even hide from her. She also has some trouble with the hobbits’ doors, banging her head on one at least once. The shopping expedition lasts hours, and there is not even a hint of a Character Rupture or Temporal/Spatial Distortion. Jo’s creator plainly knows what she is doing.
After taking care of a number of errands, Jo, Frodo, Sam, and Pippin decide to head back toward the Hill for a late lunch.
They had gotten no further than the town square, when they heard a commotion by the millhouse: Merry Brandybuck was having problems controlling a mule that had backed onto the rickety dock. As the mule was also pulling a heavy cart, this wasn’t good.
Sam, who was the first to see him, called, “Meriadoc Brandybuck! Get yourself away from there, it’s not safe!”
The other hobbits also called to him, begging him to get off that rotten dock, but he wouldn’t leave the mule. Then the inevitable happened: the dock began to collapse, with horrible grating sounds. The mule finally charged forward and made it safely to shore, but Merry wasn’t so fortunate. He fell in, screaming.
Hobbits can’t swim. He’ll drown if nobody does something—and the several dozen hobbits in the area hang back, whispering and murmuring among themselves. Then Jo runs to the lake and wades into it, finally plunging underwater, plainly intent on rescuing Merry. I drive Alice toward the dock, for if Jo doesn’t resurface within a few minutes, I’ll have to go in after her and Merry. I cannot and will not let them drown. Aside from the horrible damage to the canon that Merry’s death would cause, they are both good, decent kids who deserve their chances at full and happy lives.
No sign of either one. Great. Looks like I’ll be giving half of Hobbiton a free show, but there is no way I’m going in weighted down by these skirts. Then, just as I’ve kicked off my shoes, I see two heads clear the surface. I feel almost weak with relief. Jo, at least, is alive. She manages to get Merry to shore, where she performs artificial respiration, quickly reviving him. Praise gods. They’re BOTH okay.
It’s not uncommon for writers to have their OC rescue somebody. But there is a right way to do it, and a bunch of wrong ways. Many of the problems that plague most rescue scenarios hinge on believability: can the reader truly believe that the character is capable of performing the rescue? Too many writers make their characters virtually superhuman: the OC is able to fight off a horde of orcs single-handedly or some such nonsense. Other writers scale down the threat, instead, which accounts for those fics in which the OC beats up on some very wimpy Ringwraiths. But THIS rescue is plausible. I can readily believe that a teen-age girl would be able to swim underwater, find a child, get them to shore, and administer first aid. It’s a hell of a lot more believable than the teenage archer who can outperform Legolas.
As I continue to observe Jo over the next few days, I begin to realize I might be seeing something quite rare: naturalization. She does her best to learn the hobbits’ ways and follow them. She is not always successful, however; Frodo’s efforts to teach her an Elvish dialect fall flat, as might be expected. Most people have trouble learning new languages once they’re much past 8 or 10 years old. But she does her best, and the hobbits repay her efforts by making her feel as comfortable as possible. She learns the hobbits’ names for the constellations and studies their histories. She dresses in hobbit-style clothing (somewhat scaled up, of course). I realize, seeing all this, that she could eventually become a citizen of Middle-earth—and do absolutely no damage to the canon. The only possible problem that I can see is that, like Bilbo, she feels the Ring’s lure. If she becomes a Ringbearer, that could seriously damage the canon, but, so far, that hasn’t happened.
PPC Intelligence Report
Fic: Time Will Tell
Description: A “modern-day girl goes to Middle-earth” fic set during the time just before Bilbo Baggins’ Party and Disappearance. In it, the protagonist, Jo, is whisked away from our world and awakens in the Shire, where she is taken in by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. She becomes close friends with both Bagginses, as well as Sam, Merry, and Pippin. During her stay, she visits many parts of the Shire and learns the hobbits’ ways. The fic is low-key and easygoing, with wonderful descriptions and characterizations.
Plot Holes: Linguistic Aberrations
1) “This is a book written in the Mannish language of Westron, the Common Speech of Middle-Earth. It’s nothing more than a history textbook about the races and geography of this land, but maybe you could find some interest in it.”
Again, the writer seems to be assuming that Jo, the person Frodo is talking to here, will be able to understand and read Westron. Also, logically speaking, if Jo really knows Westron, wouldn’t she recognize the writing as such? Would she really have to be told what language the book is written in?
OC: Jorryn or Jo (no last name given)
Type: Legitimate Original Female Character
Offenses Against Canon: Bringing 21st century knowledge to Middle-earth. Showing an inexplicable knowledge of the Westron language.
Recommendation: Continue to monitor. But terminate subject if she claims hobbit ancestry or becomes a Ringbearer.
Additional Comments: Naturalization may be in progress. Cease monitoring if subject becomes fully acclimated and is accepted as a citizen of the Shire or some other region.
A.N.: As my beta observed, this fic is an example of “How To Do 21st-Century Characters Right.” A couple of other fics with GOOD 21st-Century chars are “Serpent in Paradise” by AEMI and the comedy “Taken Far Too Literally” by GrayLadyBast.
I'd also like to thank Sprite for suggesting that I investigate a good fic.