"The sleep of reason breeds monsters" -- Goya? Or was it... Descartes?
Dreamed 1989/6/26 by Chris Wayan
I'm a newsman, in Middle Earth. The story of the year is that Sauron, the Lord of the Rings, has been cast down, and the Ring destroyed. We're entering a postwar era--time for reconstruction. While Aragorn, the newly crowned king, cleans up the west, an immortal lady, Elbereth herself, has been sent from the Blessed Isles to clean up Mordor, the core of Sauron's realm. A site that toxic really requires a specialist, but... Elbereth! Never thought to see her in mortal realms, let alone in a necromantic waste dump.
She's a busy woman, but I just have to meet her, and I won't take no... til at last she grants an interview.
I find Lady Elbereth, like Galadriel, has a streak of wry humor in her. She tells me "Some wizards and kings, north, east, and south, will love their new neighbor no more than the old. Sauron was power-mad, but I am moral, which is more annoying! I'll not condone dark schemes; if they're wicked enough, I'll intervene."
One thing grates. She sounds a bit condescending, even disapproving, toward mortal sorcerers, especially the kind who Pore In Musty Tomes For Arcane Lore. The Eldar and Valar have always had a standoffish streak toward mortals. Racism? Or is it sexism? She sniffs at wizards, but I never hear her bad-mouthing witches. Yet the powers men seek (and sometime DO acquire) are ones she has herself, naturally. She's a heart-stopping beauty, forever young, yet she scorns men who seek perpetual youth, or love potions to make them irresistable. Mortals are cheating--yet she takes just such advantages for granted. Hey, she's Elbereth!
One neighbor she has her haughty eye on is a mortal man who exploded from obscurity to become a great enchanter--a master of shapeshifting. Anyone who visits his castle, he transforms into animals, as Circe did. Well, not quite: for he asks what his visitors want to be. And his stairs go up as well as down: he's turned as many beasts and monsters into men or elves as the other way round.
Word has gotten round. His victims, or patients, or whatever you want to call them, say that strange creatures now camp on his doorstep every night, to find him, grumbling and sleepy, in the morning, opening the door to ask "What do YOU want, as if I can't guess?"
And so counterfeit elves, small gods, not-quite-men, and whimsical little monsters trickle out of the wilds of Rhun. A trickle of change and trouble, like a sewage outfall tainting a lake.
Elbereth decides to pay this thaumaturgical polluter a visit. I ask to tag along and see her at work. With a gesture, we rise above her cottage in Ithilien. The green world falls away; the River Anduin gleams to the west, below the White Mountains. But we turn and fly north over the ashy ranges bordering Mordor, curving northeast past Mt. Doom and the stony shapeless mound that once was the Dark Tower. Cresting the northern hills, I gasp as the land drops away into hazy immensity. We skim over endless dun steppes, till at last the horizon shimmers and humps into the mountains of Rhun above the Inland Sea.
On a high slope, a stone house stands, forest above, meadow below, its winding stream not far from the door. A lovely place, if lonely. We settle on the wizard's doorstep like birds hoping for bread. The silence grows loud.
I ask Elbereth, "So. Do you call him evil? Reckless, aye: for wishes wise, or foolish, or indeed stark mad, he grants them all the same. But evil?"
"I fear him evil in result, if not intent," says Elbereth, "but I concede, to judge the fruit blighted ere the tasting is a fool's leap. I may but indulge my disdain for dabblers of his sort."
Dabblers of his sort, eh? How about me? How about all of us mortals? I think. Wait, she's new to this, after all. For seven thousand years, she lived in the Blessed Realm... and now she's stuck in a toxic desert full of dying little creatures. Us. It must be hell for her.
"I heard that!" snaps a voice from an upper window. An instant later the front door opens. A swift fellow indeed! Perhaps he thought himself to the door, this young, skinny fox of a man. No Gandalf, but a sharp look in his eye says he's no fool dabbling idly in lives, either. What IS his purpose? Is he climbing toward power? What do his victims owe him?
He bows curtly. "Greetings to you too, O Elbereth Gilthoniel. Nice you could come by. So tell me--what SHOULD "dabblers of my sort" do with these uninvited visitors sick of their lives? How'd you like a pile of worms on your doorstep wanting to be dragons? I do tone down their worst wishes, even lie now and then, deny I could make them the monsters they believe, in their bitterness, they most desire to be. But when I do bestow the innocent core of their dreams, they leave! A fair bargain: they go and ask no more, giving me what I most want, solitude. And in trade, I make their bodies match their souls.
"For YOU, O Blessed One, merely clear the Shadow off a cursed land. I deal in lives. In misfit lives. In sorrow. In pain, that comes to me, and cries to me; and if I can, I heal it. The land never begs; but these do.
"So forbid me, Elbereth, and I'll obey you. What choice? Your power can strip me back to a man.
"But mage, or mouse, or man, if I can't grant their wishes, I'll tell them all who can. And where to go. Your doorstep, Elbereth.
"And then... you tell them no."
And for the first time, possibly SINCE the First Time (for her memory, if not mine, goes back to the primal moment), Elbereth Gilthoniel Varda, the Kindler, the Lady who set the stars alight in the sky, looks... uncertain.
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