Forum: Writing Mary Sue: the Mother of Challenges

Discussing: And Nine shall be the number...

And Nine shall be the number...

This is largely copied over from the "The REAL Mary Sue" forum, 'cause it's not specific to the nuzgul they're trying to defang over there, but it's been preying on my mind, and I wanted to get some general discussion going about it if possible. 'Cause I'm really, really curious about this.

It's the "Naturally Nine" brigade.

I don't get it.

---crosspost---
Sure, Elrond said there'd be nine, but pragmatist Rachel thinks it'd be better to outnumber the enemy. Nine Ringwraiths? Geez - they're hard enough to kill. Let's have a couple dozen in the Fellowship. I mean seriously! What is it about the number nine that requires us to play fair and only have as many in the Fellowship as there are people (well, things) trying to hunt them down and kill them? And four of the Fellowship are Hobbits! This just seems woefully unfair to me.

Is it written (and this is not a rhetorical question) why there can only be nine in the Fellowship? Or was it just that little throwaway line about "The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and Nine shall be the number of the Company. Ten shall it not be, neither shall it be -" Oh, wait, no, that's not right. Sorry. *cough* "The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil."

I mean, is that the only canonical reason that "10th member" fics are so reviled?

---end crospost---

Can anyone help clear this up for me? What is it about the number nine?

I mean for crying out loud, not only are they matched up in numbers, but our heroes have to walk the whole way! How is this fair? How is this wise? I say, the more the merrier, especially if they can fight and have spare horses.

Thoughts?

Thanks ever so!
-Rachel
from the outer darkness

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

Well, aside from the fact that they would have been able to elude the wolves more easily, made better time over Caradhras, and avoid all the dramatic tension of Moria? ;-)

I think there's two questions here:

1. Why did JRRT make the Fellowship into 9 walkers, four of whom are Hobbits, instead of a somewhat larger, better armed & outfitted group? Dramatic tension and his interesting look at the role of the common & ordinary (Hobbits) in the unfolding of the grand fates of the high and heroic (Aragorn most of all, but also the other noble men & elves that are encountered). And he did like symmetry in his writing, so 9 walkers against 9 riders would appeal. Doubling and mirroring of significant things (numbers, names, prominent characteristics) is one way he establishes the presence of the divine (and of evil) in Middle-earth.

2. Why do fanfic writers become rabid at the presence of a 10th member of the fellowship? This one has any number of details and examples, but the big reasons are (as I can tell) it's a Mary-Sue and it's badly done. These two are usually interchangeable: Mary Sue == bad 10th member fic == Mary Sue == and so forth.

There does appear to be an "add-an-Elf" sub-genre where another Elf or two (usually Glorfindel) gets tossed into the mix. Sometimes he's an addition, sometimes he replaces Legolas.

These stories, to me, demonstrate what the fundamental problem of introducing a new character is - the new charater goes around kicking butt and saving the day in a way that does not give the other characters a full play to their own abilites, doubts, flaws, strengths, wishes, and so forth. Super-elf saves the day.

Readers resent having their beloved characters shoved to the side or altered in significant ways for the sake of the new character. I think what grates most is that the point of having the new character often is no more than to be the center of attention (Wouldn't it be cool to have Glorfinddel take on the Balrog? Yeah!) without any thought given to how that character is going to affect the entire story arc.

JRRT did a very cruel thing to us. He wrote a story that grabs us by the throat and won't let go, and which we want to be a part of. He also wrote it so well that it is nearly impossible to change any one element without having the rest thrown hoplessly out of whack.

Anyway, my thoughts on why the 10th member is such a problematic form.

Ang,
writer of just such a tale

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

I think there's two questions here:

1. Why did JRRT make the Fellowship into 9 walkers, four of whom are Hobbits, instead of a somewhat larger, better armed & outfitted group?


Well, there are all kinds of reasons for JRRT to have done so - he's the author, and in no danger of having to kill wolves or carry hobbits down from mountains. Indeed, I'm very glad he did give us Nine Walkers against the Nine Riders. I, too, love the symmetry and the dramatic appeal of it.

But when it comes to fanfiction, well, if we're only going to do WJRRTWHD, it's going to cut way back on our writing. Way, way, way back. So, when considering the question of whether a fanfic writer can add a character, I don't know that the reasons JRRT had for using nine should necessarily prevent us from using more - or less - than nine.

These stories, to me, demonstrate what the fundamental problem of introducing a new character is - the new charater goes around kicking butt and saving the day in a way that does not give the other characters a full play to their own abilites, doubts, flaws, strengths, wishes, and so forth. Super-elf saves the day.

The new character may do that, in which case it's likely to be a crappy story. But there's nothing to force a writer to write a bad story, or to write a new member in such a way that the others are pulled out of character or are forced into a secondary or tertiary role.

I guess I just don't buy the idea that adding another member will by the nature of the act throw the whole thing out of whack. It's the execution that may, or may not, do so.

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

I guess I just don't buy the idea that adding another member will by the nature of the act throw the whole thing out of whack. It's the execution that may, or may not, do so.

Ah, the Devil's in the details!

As someone who routinely warps & twists Arda for my own nefarious pruposes, I'm not going to pay much attention to "He didn't add another person, so you can't either!" arguments. However, as I've argued elsewhere, there is factual canon and there is substantive canon. Is the author merely changing things because it would be "cool" to see a particular thing happen, or is the author doing a thoughtful reinterpretation - adding a particular element (or taking one away) to see how the rest of the Ardaverse will be affected.

Strict canonistas don't write terribly interesting stories becaues they rarely bring anything new or insightful to the table. My usual reaction is "Oh, that was...nice. Next!" Conversely, simply throwing stuff in or changing a significant part does not mean an author has anything to add. It might make for a "cute" story, and is probably of interest to the author, but there is a quality of interpretation that has to be present for a radical change to work. It can be (and is) done; it is simply a more difficult writing task. Thus, the stakes are higher and it is more likely that the project will not succeed. Inserting a 10th member is one of the most prominent and dramatic changes an author could attempt.

Point to one example of it being well done. I can think of a couple of AU's where the story is changed but there is not an additional member (Julie's Steward & King with Faramir instead of Boromir comes to mind) but I would be hard pressed to name one where there is a 10th person *and* it is well done.

I think it can be done, but that it is extraordinarily difficult because of the tension between foregrounding the new character (which is the point of the AU re-write) and of not distorting story-line and/or canon characters to the point where the reader goes off in a huff.

It might be the ultimate Challenge - write a 10th member fic that works.

Gotta run!

Ang

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

I think it can be done, but that it is extraordinarily difficult because of the tension between foregrounding the new character (which is the point of the AU re-write) and of not distorting story-line and/or canon characters to the point where the reader goes off in a huff.

Well, I guess it depends on how you define "10th member" fics. If the tenth member has to join early in the process, I'm at a loss. I've seen parodies that work, but I don't recall seeing a serious 10th member fic where the new member joins at Rivendell that I thought worked. But that doesn't mean I don't think it can be done.

However, if the 10th member can come along at any point in the story, then my deep and abiding hope is that there's at least one that's at least mostly working.... My own has a 10th member turning up at Amon Hen, but she and the member who would have been dead otherwise depart at Isengard, so she arrives at what would have been the breaking of the Fellowship anyway, leaves again, and doesn't interact with the Fellowship characters again (except the isn't-dead-after-all one) until after the Battle of the Pelennor. And she has yet to interact at all with Frodo or Sam.

Actually, most of her interaction is with the isn't-dead-after-all guy, his family, and the other OCs who turn up.

Anyway, it's throwing much out of whack in one sense, but I still like to think it's working. At least, my intention was to do a thoughtful ... not reinterpretation, exactly, but exploration of some themes that interest me. Things like the nature of surrender, and the ethics of warfare and violence.

In any event, the goal was not to have someone come along and kick all the bad-guys' butts, but to have a catalyst through which to explore these questions and themes.

I also dispute the idea that the point of the AU re-write is necessarily to foreground the new character. I think for many stories that is the point, but I think that's just because it's what people have done, not because of anything in the nature of an AU or even a 10th member fic. I think it's entirely possible to write a 10th member fic in which the 10th member does blend seamlessly in with the other nine, not pulling them out of character, nor being the focus of all attention, nor even saving the day.

After all, people write characters in original fiction all the time that don't do those things. Why should the mere fact that they're in a pre-defined space force an OC to do those things in a work of fanfiction?

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

Isn't there a symbolic significance to number nine? In mythlore at least.

And it being three threes. I heard once that it's the number of creation and destruction. We know Tolkien doesn't use allegories, but he inserts stuff like this..e.g. Grima (Visor) etc..

Therefore, the Tenth member fic destroys the whole meaning of the quest?

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

Therefore, the Tenth member fic destroys the whole meaning of the quest?

See, I just don't buy that. There's nothing in the text to indicate it, as far as I know, so while the number nine may have significance in various places in mythology and mysticism, so do lots of numbers. I could probably look at the number of kids commanding ships in Ender's Game and arrive at a mystical reason that there had to be that many kids commanding ships, but that doesn't make it true. A friend of mine once sent me email saying that she'd just opened the story she was working on and it was on page 111/111, section 1, column 1, line 19, which is nine ones and one nines. Weird! Cool! But - IMO - utterly meaningless except as a nifty little bit of freakishness.

And there's just too much other stuff going on in these books for me to accept the idea that adding a tenth member is going to destroy anything other than a sort of pleasant symmetry.

If someone can show me textual evidence that having nine in the Fellowship is that significant, I could change my mind, but it's all just too vague right now for me to understand why folks get so het up about it.

But, as I think I've mentioned before, I'm woefully disrespectful. ;)

Cheers!
-Rachel

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

Ang said:

It might be the ultimate Challenge - write a 10th member fic that works.

And basically, I'm taking a go at it. I think it's about time I sicced this Nuzgul on the general population here.

Maybe you're interested in frustrating my efforts? (Vikki begs on her hands and knees.) If so, please amble on over to my forum ...

The REAL Mary Sue
http://www.henneth-annun.net/members/forums/threads.cfm?confid=2&forumid=225

Still not expecting anyone,
~~Vikki

 

 

Re: And Nine shall be the number...

I like your 10th member fic, I also like Ang's. Maggie and Laure are both interesting characters that are sometimes foregrounded and sometimes (because things go differently) interesting stuff gets talking about that isn't in the original. Sometimes it's a reinterpretation, sometimes it's gapfilling, sometimes it's allowing something to happen differently -- without canon charcters acting out of character.

I also dispute the idea that the point of the AU re-write is necessarily to foreground the new character. I think for many stories that is the point, but I think that's just because it's what people have done, not because of anything in the nature of an AU or even a 10th member fic.

Right. Maggie's important, but the real payoff (for me) is Certain Scenes that happen, mostly involving canon characters, that couldn't have happened in the original. And I'm rather happy there's an AU I can buy into wherein this stuff happens.

And maybe I have a high tolerance for "10th member" fics, because my AU (S&K) is, bottom line, the same kind of story: I'm mucking with the Fellowship. To a certain extent, my Boromir -- who doesn't go searching for Rivendell -- becomes an OMC. Because part of my motivation for writing was a postuation that "Boromir would act differently if he never gets close to the ring. " But also (and in some ways more importantly) I'm making comments about JRRT's plot choices. Parts of the timeline stay essentially the same; other stuff changes majorly.

Julie
fan of AUs

 

 

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