Across Dark Waters

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Title: Across Dark Waters
Author(s): Zimraphel
Date(s): 2003
Length: ~2750 words
Genre: drama, dialogue, fusion, gen
Fandom: The Silmarillion
External Links: @HASA;; @SoA; @Open Scrolls; @Armenelos

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Across Dark Waters is a short story in the Silmarillion fandom by Zimraphel, published in August 2003. Set in Mandos, the Elvish afterlife, it is a conversation piece between Maeglin, Námo, the Lord of Mandos, and an Elf whose identity is concealed. Zimraphel fuses in elements of Greek myth and warns in an author's note that the story could be considered AU:

This is a very AU look at the journey to Mandos that is based partly on Greek mythology and on an old Gypsy folktale. Therefore, do not expect the story to conform 100% to everything Tolkien said about Mandos.

Not all readers agreed with the AU label. Espresso Addict, writing at Crack Van, says: the author terms it AU, but I didn't feel the label was essential -- after all, post-death experiences need not be experienced in the same way by everyone.[1]

The author's summary is: A look at the passage to Mandos, based partly on Greek mythology and Gypsy folklore, in which Maeglin gets what's coming to him.

Reception and Awards

'Across Dark Waters' was well received and widely recommended. Most readers enjoyed the element of fusion with Greek myth and didn't nitpick over discrepancies from canon. Other features which received praise include its originality, the characterisations, the clever dialogue, the atmospheric scene setting, and the story's unusual combination of creepiness and dark humour.

The story won the Races: Elves category of the Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards in 2004.[2] It was the runner up in two categories of the Mithril Awards 2004, Best Drama & Best Silmarillion.[3] It was also the runner up in the Finrod's Choice category of the Galvorn Awards 2003.[4]


Some reviews reveal the identity of the mystery character.

"Across Dark Waters" is a short two-part story by Zimraphel based on the events of the Silmarillion, in particular the hours following the fall of Gondolin.

Although the story is short, what it lacks for in length it more than makes up for in punch. This is a potent tale woven with great expertise because the author gives us just enough information to form a picture of the stygian world she has crafted without being overly descriptive. While she states early on in the story that the concept is in part based on Greek mythology's Charon and the passage across the Styx, her depiction of this elven equivalent is so well formed that one hardly remembers this. It is such a plausible and apt scenario that one could be forgiven for thinking that if Tolkien had intended to describe the journey to Mandos, it would resemble this.

The tale follows the Ferryman who has been bound to this duty for many ages, serving a sentence for a crime that is not immediately revealed. He feels no repentance for what he has done but he does feel sorrow and this is reflective in the sadness of his words even when he is debating the healing power of laughter with Namo. I particularly enjoyed the bantering between the Ferryman and the lord of the Underworld, as it resembles that of a stubborn child accepting that his teacher might know more but not necessarily everything. One gets the sense this is only the latest debate between the two and that their arguments have been an ongoing process for many ages. It is rare that we get a glimpse of the Valar and here in particular, Zimraphel shines in her characterization of Namo. While he is a disembodied voice we never get to see, his personality is formed by his conversations with the Ferryman. Dialogue like this is a delight to read:

"I take what I find," he chortled. "I never hear you laughing."

A dark mist coalesced on the quay above him. *Laughter is not my business, Elda. The Halls are a place of reflection, repentance and healing*

The second part of this story comes from the Ferryman's discovery of his final passenger across the dark river and here we are introduced to Maeglin, freshly hurled over the wall of Idril and Eärendil's home by Tuor. Once again, thanks to Zimraphel's deft handling, we are shown just what kind of person Maeglin is and there is a sense of foreboding that despite the arrogant streak he bandies about in his discussions with the Ferryman, he is about to get his comeuppance in a big way.

Once again it is the dialogue in this story that is so remarkable, we find that Maeglin is far from remorseful over his infamous end and his arrogance fills anyone who reads his thoughts with an intense sense of dislike. We can see by his comments why Idril chose to shun him. It is clear from their conversation across the river and Zimraphel's excellent use of understated characterization, that the Ferryman regards Maeglin with bitter recognition and understands now why Namo has paid particular attention to this elf.

The conclusion of this story is a treat and I won't spoil it but to say that it is very poetic. The Ferryman is revealed and in the revelation the reader discovers what fate is to befall Maeglin. Even Maeglin himself is unable to bear it but bear it he will because he has no choice in the matter. The sorrow he never felt for his victims makes its presence felt and one almost feels sorry for him. However, it is the Ferryman's departing speech which I enjoyed most of all. It is filled with the fire one expects from his character when it is revealed, as well as an understanding of why he did what he did and what he was learnt since becoming the Ferryman. "Across Dark Waters" is really his story.

This is a tale driven by clever dialogue and well depicted atmosphere. Zimraphel has given us a deeply potent story, full of darkness and yet filled with hope because you are left with the feeling that one day Maeglin will make the Ferryman's final journey and he will be the better for it. One can come away from the story feeling very satisfied that justice was done and that Namo's will is wise. I applaud Zimraphel for her wonderful characterization and giving much-deserved closure to one of the Silmarillion's greatest characters. (Open Scrolls)[5]
Yet another look at everyone's favourite Bad Boy -- but from a rather different viewpoint. Zimraphel's Greek mythology-inspired take on the Halls of Mandos works surprisingly well; the author terms it AU, but I didn't feel the label was essential -- after all, post-death experiences need not be experienced in the same way by everyone. The setting is depicted sparingly yet atmospherically. It's really a dialogue piece, and the dialogue between Maeglin & ... I shan't spoil the suspense ... is sharp & meaningful. I felt Maeglin's antagonist is particularly well characterised. Maeglin's final comeuppence, and his attitude to it, are simply inspired! Original & memorable, 'Across Dark Waters' deserves the attention that's been heaped upon it. (Espresso Addict at Crack Van)[1]
"Across Dark Waters" is a cunning reworking of a well-known legend. (Stultiloquentia)[6]
For some reason, I didn't see the ending coming. Well, I saw one of them, but I didn't think to guess at the identity of the boatman until he started hinting that Maeglin should know him. At that point, I figured out who he was, but I was very clueless for the first half of this story, and I loved it. This is what good story telling should be about. I was so unnerved by the images and by the utter arrogance and presumption of Maeglin that I completely missed the fact that Fëanor was the one doing the rowing. But knowing his identity, I love the prologue to the piece all the more. And I love the fact that Fëanor can annoy Namos. That seems very appropriate to me and I got quite a kick out of it. There's a very wry humor and a sense of just rewards about this piece that makes it supremely enjoyable. (Thundera Tiger)[2]
Beautiful! And a fitting penance, it seems, for Maeglin. I quite enjoyed this adaptation of the Greek myth to Tolkien's world. Both main characters were rendered well, and the original ferryman very sympathetically. Namo's characterization was also excellent-inhuman, without attachment to those things that tie embodied beings to a narrow point of view; his idiosynchrasies are a part of his nature and so a part of nature, in a broad sense, unlike our own, which allows for some humorous bits in the prologue. I had a very clear (if rather grey and dreary) picture in my mind the entire time. Well done! (Dwimordene)[2]
Wow. Do I say that about all Zimraphel's stories? I probably do, but each time it's sincere. This was just…wow. I only got who the first ferryman was when he described himself to Maeglin, and it was so fitting of him, after millenia, of course. Feanor is the Elf I least like, with all of his sons tying for second, but the Feanor here is one made calmer, serene even, by his long pennance at the oars. Perhaps he was ready finally to enter Mandos halls. And Maeglin, he's just beginning. She weaves earthly myths with that of Tolkien in this story, but does beautifully so, and helped me come to terms with Feanor. (Ainaechoiriel)[2]
This story chilled me I first read it, and it still does now. Maeglin takes over from Feanor as The Ferryman and has to transport those that he betrayed to their deaths. A very appropriate punishment for the greatest betrayer of them all, to ferry the dead for all time. (Jilian)[2]
Fabulous. Wonderful pacing and style. Characterizations are extraordinary. (Sulriel)[2]
Feanor and Maeglin forced to row the dead across the dark waters to Namo's realm as the boatman who rowed continuously across the River Styx. A fitting punishment for both elves, but even more for Maeglin, who is mocked by Feanor before he is forced to take his place at the oars, ferrying those whose death he caused by his traitorous acts. Feanor at least, feels sorrow for those who suffered at his hands, but we are left to wonder if Maeglin ever will. Zimraphael weaves a bit of dark humor into the tale in the prologue banter between Namo and Feanor, and in the underhanded way that Maeglin is coerced into becoming the ferryman. (Mirasaui)[2]
What deliciously creepy just deserts! To think that Maeglin would eventually replace Fëanor as the most deserving of the punishment of watching his multitudes of victims! And to think that Fëanor finally began to show some remorse -- which, obviously, Maeglin is nowhere near having yet. "when I hear now the word kinslayer I shall hear a name other than my own." -- what divine justice and amazing irony at the same time! (Elena Tiriel)[2]
Ferrying the dead to the afterlife is a hard task, one given to those deserving of it. (The RCK)[7]


  1. ^ a b "Crack_van: Across Dark Waters by Zimraphel (PG)". Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards: Archive: Across Dark Waters". Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  3. ^ "Mithril Awards: Award Winners 2004". Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "The Galvorn Awards". Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  5. ^ "Open Scrolls review". Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  6. ^ "Stultiloquentia's Ardaverse Recs". Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  7. ^ "The RCK: Tolkien Recs". Retrieved 13 September 2012.