Welcome to the presentation for the Strangest Character Silmaril Award for 2021, part of the fantasy character awards hosted on silmarilawards.com
And now that you know the purpose of this unusual post, on with the ceremony.
On the best of days, the Old Forest is a den of shadows riddled with gnarled, twisting shapes and limbs that sway in the absence of a breeze.
This was not one of those days.
Old Mad Bloke knew how to navigate dark alleys and sordid streets, but this forest was another matter. To walk here long was to feel the presence of hidden watchers, like wandering through a portrait gallery in the deep of night. He imagined drop bears hanging from every tree looming in the corner of his vision.
“Surely there are no drop bears in this world,” he told himself. But one could never be sure. So he kept his eyes sharp and his head on a swivel.
A rustling nearby made him jump in spite of himself. His eyes penetrated the dappled shadows of an ancient-looking fern, the largest he had ever seen. The plant shook more the longer he stared at it, as if it were just as afraid of him as he was of it, or whatever was inside it. Was it a razorback? A dark shape emerged as his eyes adjusted. It was certainly large enough to be a wild boar.
Though he had no weapons, Old Mad Bloke knew enough about beasts to know that it was best not to show fear. He held his ground and waited. Fae he could handle, but he did not like his chances with a maddened predator at close range. If only he had a pie…
But the beast—or whatever it was—quivered all the more during several agonizing moments in which Old Mad Bloke cursed himself for trading for that magical mirror. He should have known that fae was pulling a trick on him. But he never expected it would land him here.
A bloke’s best friend
A flurry of motion snapped his train of thought as a whimpering, bawling, bundle of fur erupted from the fern and bowled him over. Before his mind could process what was happening, he found himself drenched under an avalanche of musky, hot tears and pinned to the ground by the strangest creature he had seen in quite some time.
“Don’t hurt Gurgi! Please, please, Gurgi will help! Gurgi will give food if only you don’t hurt Gurgi’s poor tender head with bashings and smashings!” the creature said. It was hard to get a good look at the creature while pinned under its bristly, shivering body, so Old Mad Bloke shifted shiftily and got out from under the burden. He always seemed to find a way out of tight spots such as these.
“Have no fear, my friend,” he said in as soothing a voice as he could muster after being nearly shocked out of his threadbare clothes. “I can see that you mean no harm. You’re only frightened, that’s all. The name’s Old Mad Bloke. If I may ask, who or…what exactly are you?”
The creature calling itself Gurgi was roughly the size and shape of a small man, but covered in prickly fur and with a rather homely, dog-like face.
“Gurgi is, well…Gurgi. Gurgi is friendly. Gurgi has food. Old man look hungry. Gurgi is useful. Gurgi gives him eatings and treatings. Oh, please, let Gurgi help!” The poor creature was indeed quite frightened but looked rather harmless after all. He held forth a sort of small satchel made of dark worn leather. Gurgi shoved his hand in and pulled out a large, juicy pear. Gurgi’s eyes widened in surprise. “Oh, my, Gurgi never pulled fruit from his wallet before!” The pear looked particularly juicy and Old Mad Bloke was thinking a bite or two might be just the thing to settle his nerves when Gurgi wolfed it down in a single bite, smacking his teeth together, apparently forgetting his offer from a moment before. The creature offered a sheepish grin in apology. “Never worry, Gurgi can give as much food as old man wants.” And he proceeded to make good on his promise by pulling out a roasted chicken leg, an ear of buttered corn, a baked potato with cream cheese, a cluster of grapes, a thick slice of bread, and a cheese soufflé.
The two strangers shared a quick meal in silence, though Gurgi ate most of it, all the while expressing the utmost surprise at the quality of the food in his wallet, though not the quantity, for it was apparently a magical wallet that never ran out of goods. “There must be strange magic in this place,” he mumbled while munching down the last of the flaky soufflé.
“Indeed. Well, whatever the reason, you have my thanks. That was quite generous of you,” said the old man, wiping his fingers on his tattered shirt. “Now I’m afraid I must be off. I never like to stay in one place for long and this forest, especially, is one I’m anxious to be free of.”
“Yes, yes, Gurgi wants to leave too, wants to go home. Please take Gurgi with you. Please show Gurgi the way out of the twistings and turnings.”
Old Mad Bloke eyed him one last time. He had an honest face. The old man had found it to be the case that the more ugly the face the more honest the soul behind it. “Very well. I could use some company in a place like this, to be honest.”
Gurgi jumped up and danced a circle around the old man and, clapping his hands with delight and relief. And feeling the need to press on as quickly as possible, the two strange companions ventured down the faint trace of a path that lay before them.
They had not traveled long when an eery green light glimmered off in the distance. At first it might have been a shaft of light breaking through the canopy, but it grew brighter and brighter by the moment. Not only that, it was growing larger.
“Fire, fire!” Gurgi pointed. “Gurgi hates fire. Leave the path, old friend, please! Hurry! Don’t make Gurgi stay where the fire will ruin Gurgi’s fur with smokings and chokings!”
But the path in that place dropped steeply off on one side into a muddy grotto, and into a tangled mess of roots on the other. Old Mad Bloke did not like their chances in either the muck or the roots. And the fire was coming too fast. Was it…was it hopping up and down? Yes, it was bounding towards them on top of a…on top of a large pole with, were those arms? Crickey! It was a scarecrow with a flaming blue-green head! And the head was talking!
“Wait, wait, hold up! We come in peace! Don’t run away,” said a voice from a purple mouth in the midst of the flames. It was more whiny than the fearsome face would have suggested. It also had bright orange eyes. Despite the scare-thing’s assurances, Gurgi clung to Old Mad Bloke like a wet dish rag.
“Halt. Come no further or I’ll…I’ll” Old Mad Bloke whispered to Gurgi, “Say, you don’t think you could pull a pie out of that bag, could you?” But Gurgi was a miserable, blubbering mess of fear. With a dash he abandoned the old man and hid himself among the roots. Oh, bother. “I’ll use my magic mirror on you!” he cried, suddenly remembering the tiny little item that had gotten him into this mess and producing it with a flourish. It had rainbow colored gems encrusted around the edges (which he was pretty sure were fakes) and was in the shape of a koala. In spite of its ludicrous appearance it seemed to have some affect on the flaming-headed scarecrow.
“Oh, put that thing away. I look awful!” said the scare-thing. “You don’t know the indignity I’ve had to suffer being attached to this thing. It’s bad enough without having to look at myself in this condition.”
A tense moment passed, but Old Mad Bloke sensed from the thing’s expression that it meant no harm. In fact, his instincts told him this thing was just as lost as they were.
“Fine, I’ll put my mirror away if you promise not to douse my friend and me with your flaming hair. I say, mate, how in the world is all that hay on you not up in flames as well?”
“It’s magic, of course. Magic gone all wrong, but at least that part worked. Listen, I’m Calcifer and this body I’m on is called Scarecrow. At least that’s what we all call him in the castle. We don’t know his real name since he can’t talk. Anyway, I found a loophole in the contract keeping me in the castle and used my magic to fuse myself onto Scarecrow—don’t worry his old head was pretty useless anyway. But somehow this new form fouled up my control of the castle and even though I got free, I ended up here and I don’t know how to get back!”
“Oh, how unfortunate. I suppose we’re in the same lot, then. My friend and I are lost as well. We’re trying to find our way out of this place.”
“I think your friend may have given up on you. I’m sorry if I scared him off. I’m not having my best day.”
Sure enough, Gurgi was nowhere to be seen. He must have hidden himself a little too well. In his haste, he had left his wallet behind.
Another old man appears
“Oh dear, now where’s he gone off to? Gurgi! Gurgi!”
Calcifer, despite his frightful appearance, proved quite helpful, pitching in to search for the wayward creature, hopping about among the roots and bringing a considerable amount of light to the endeavor.
The two lurcched and scrambled about the knobby tangle of threaded wood but could find no sign of Gurgi. The roots seemed endless and there were dozens of places a creature Gurgi’s size could have hidden. Above, the twisted old willow tree to which the roots belonged swayed haughtily in a non-existent wind, as if resenting the intrusive search into its innermost sanctums.
“I’ve spotted him! Or at least I think it’s him,” Calcifer shouted, jumping about with glee. “Oh, no, it’s just his foot. Poor fellow. Must have stepped in a bear trap and that’s all that’s left.”
Old Mad Bloke hurrried to where Gurgi’s shaggy foot lay squeezed between two fat, cantankerous roots. The sole lay face up and their worst fears appeared to have come true. “Oh, dear, I only just met him, but that’s no way to go. The remarkable thing is that I didn’t even hear him cry out, did you?”
“No, not a peep.”
Old Mad Bloke bent down to scoop up the foot. The least they could do was bury what was left of the poor creature. Only the foot wouldn’t budge. No matter how he huffed and strained the foot wouldn’t come free.
“Why, I think he’s buried somehow—inside the tree!”
Then began a barrage of furious pounding and pulling of the roots to get Gurgi free. Calcifer jabbed about like a jack-hammer on loco-weed. But nothing helped. Gurgi was stuck fast.
“I have an idea. Ten to one says this is an enchanted tree—and not a very nice one. Full of spite and malice, I’d say. Perhaps it needs a bit of sweeting up!”
He ran to the wallet and stuck his hand inside, imagining the sweetest, creamiest lemon meringue pie he could think of. Obedient to his wishes, the satchel yielded a lovely and enormous pie just as he’d pictured it. He flung it at the tree where it burst on a gnarled whorl and splattered up and down the trunk. When that had no effect, Old Mad Bloke produced another, and then another. Pretty soon he was making and hurling pies faster than a windmill in a hurricane.
The great old willow tree was covered in lemon meringue, but the most the tree did was to give an undignified quiver.
“Stand back,” Calcifer announced dramatically, his big head flaring. “What will really get this tree’s attention is fire!” He dove head-first into the willow trunk, singeing through the sweet cream coating and lighting into the bark. The tree gave a furious shake at this and from deep inside, the muffled voice of Gurgi let out a scream. His little foot trembled in pain.
“Wait, Calcifer! You better not. The willow might squeeze poor Gurgi to death if we try that route. We need to think of some other way.”
“I think you’re right. But the magic in this place is too strong for us. We don’t belong here. I don’t think we’re going to free him without help.”
No sooner had the words left Calcifer’s fiery lips than a strange, nonsensical song came drifting through the forest.
Hey, merry dol!
Hey, ho, cream and pie! So low the rill-oh!
Sigh so! Hop so strong! Ill will the wiillow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!
Strolling around the bend with happy, merry, jaunting strides was a plump little man with a battered hat and bright green clothing that could have been fashioned from the curtains or the tablecloth of some rustic inn. His nose and cheeks shone with a ruddy gleam, and his eyes sparkled like moonlight on the water.
As strange as he was, in his hand he held something that made the others forget about all about him and even about Gurgi. For he held in his hand a great leaf which lay flat like a platter. And in the midst of the leaf was a multicolored prismatic stone that was so beautiful it gave everyone an ache just to look at. Only it was the good kind of ache, like remembering your favorite birthday gift or seeing someone you thought you’d never see see again, or remembering the time your best friend picked you up when all the world had run you down.
In truth the light was so beautiful, no words can approach its splendor. But it was a clean light, a pure light, a light so brilliant and fresh and abundant. To look upon it was as though to see light for the very first time, realizing that all other lights before had been hollow and meek and mere shadows of this, the greater light, the first light, the light of the West undying. The light of the silmarils.
“Ho, there, strangers, why the sad faces? Do you not see there’s new light in the old woods and laughter just around the bend? For I’ve come to gift this strange medalli-o! Hey, ho, hurry now, the dum drums roll, and my Goldberry’s a-waitin’.”
“Tom, Tom, we need your help.” Old Mad Bloke came to his senses. Crikey, that light had struck him half dumb! “Our friend is trapped inside this mean old willow!”
“We tried fire and pies, but we can’t get him free!” Calcifer hopped excitedly, hoping for help from this strangest of strangers.
“Oh, fire’s not the way. No no, deery-o’s. Old willow-man needs Tom’s song to make him stand up straight again. Never you worry outlanders, I’ll sing your fellow free and make the mean old willow behave!”
Pressing his mouth into a split in the bark, Tom bellowed a song so glad and free it buried itself into every vein of the willow’s spiteful body. The words were lost inside the deep woody innards of the tree, and it was not long before the willow gave a shudder and out came Gurgi, flying through the air to land in the middle of the path like a cat coughing up a fur ball.
While the others swarmed in to be sure the little woolly fellow was all right, Tom hummed to himself and turned around. His beard was coated with pie filling, but with one sweep of his tongue he swallowed every last bit of it, swift as you can spin around.
“Ummm,” Tom rumbled in satisfaction. “Almost as good as Goldberry’s gooseberry tarts!”
“Thank you, Tom,” Old Mad Bloke said. “We’re in your debt. I’m glad you happened along.”
“Happened along? Happened? Why my dear fellow, old as you are have you not learned that nothing ever happens on its own? But that’s a lesson for another day. Today I’ve come to honor you. All five of you are invited to my home. Goldberry’s a-waitin’ with a table and a feast for all. Ho, yes! Just after I bestow this silmaril on the winner, my merry dols!”
“We are honored and most grateful, especially if you can show us the way home afterwards, but did you say five? I’m afraid there’s only three of us here.”
“Four, counting Scarecrow,” Calcifer said, giving a little double hop.
“Four, well, so right you are merry dols! And yet Tom’s eyes are sharper than you think. He sees by starlight and moonlight and the light that was once was and one day will be again. He sees by the light of the silmaril what your world-weary orbs have missed! Though don’t fret much, for Tom almost missed it himself!”
The final companion
And half-skipping he carried himself over to another, much smaller tree. It looked rather old and withered, but its leaves were as green as any others. Several creatures scurried up into its branches at Tom’s approach. As he had done with Old Man Willow, Tom pressed his mouth to the side of the tree and sounded forth his merry song.
The tree rustled its leaves and shivered and the bark melted away into the body of an ancient, somewhat dreary-looking wizard. His eyes fluttered open as if waking from a nap.
“Oh, dear, terribly sorry. Did someone need a spell? Or a grammar lesson? And, oh, my, what in heaven is that light? I’ve never seen a stone so beautiful…” said the newly awakened wizard in a foggy voice.
“Hey, ho, Fenworth you are named. Welcome to the wood! You’re the fifth! And Tom must gift. He’s held out far too long. For of ye five the honor falls, like light through the boughs, upon our friend, Old Mad Bloke!”
Here Tom grew oddly solemn and the light of the silmarils seemed to dim so that a mere mortal might bear it. Tom draped the medallion with its ribbon and fantastic, peerless gem around Old Mad Bloke’s neck. And for the first time that day, Old Mad Bloke had no words to say, for he was utterly captivated by the weight of light which gleamed in glory upon his breast.
Gurgi unleashed a furious burst of applause and Calcifer tapped out his enthusiasm on the path and let out half-a-hundred “hurrahs!” Fenworth clapped demurely, though not for lack of enthusiasm, but so as not to distrub—
Oh, it was no use! A rascally squirrel bounced from the folds of fabric bunched between his arm and stomach. It took off running in five directions at once, its little eyes momentarily dazzled by the blinding radiance.
Gurgi’s neck snapped to attention. “Squirrel!” he shouted, and then was off to the races, darting around Calcifer’s pole and Fenworth’s legs. He was just about to collide into Old Mad Bloke, and might have upturned the whole ceremony when Tom’s hands flew up and the poor fellow froze in his fur, still as a snowman.
“Whoa now, fellow. Mind your manners and watch your step!”
Gurgi’s ears pitched forward and he hung his head. “Gurgi’s sorry. Gurgi forgets himself sometimes. He won’t chase the silly squirrel again.”
“Don’t fret, my fellow. Even Tom can dilly-dally-o. But no harm’s done, and our business here has run. It’s high time we retired to the side of my sweet river daughter. Though you have sweets and treats and meats in your own pack, wolf child, my Goldberry has delights you’ve only dreamed of dreaming of! So let’s be off, my merry dols!”
“Oh, yes! Gurgi is ready for more chewings and stewings, slurpings and burpings! Gurgi follows Tom and fire-head and tree-beard and old man wherever they go. Gurgi is faithful. Yes, the most faithful of all!”
Tom gave a broad smile and everyone shared a pleasant moment of silence, bathed in the many-hued light of the otherworldly silmaril. All were content and even the Old Forest itself was more quiet and subdued than before, though a fretful twitch seized Fenworth’s brow as they departed for the home of Tom Bombadil.
“Please tell me not everyone in this wide wood refers to themself in the third person?” He said.
But Tom’s laughter drowned out any intelligible answer anyone might have given.
Just the beginning…
A huge, Middle-earth thank you to you for stopping by, commenting, voting, and making these awards what they are. These awards would be nothing without the enthusiastic participation of the small, but dedicated community that makes them possible each year.
But though our ceremony and our story may have ended for today, the awards are only just getting beginning! Here are the links to all the other awards, which will become active as they go live. Visit E.E. Rawls website tomorrow for the Epic Heroine presentation and be sure to stop by each award site to see who wins and to revel in all the shenanigans of each ceremony!
Here is the schedule:
- Monday, Sep 20 – Silver Tongue
- Tuesday, Sep 21 – Strangest Character (you are here)
- Wednesday, Sep 22 – Most Epic Heroine
- Thursday, Sep 23 – Most Mischievous Imp
- Friday, Sep 24 – Wisest Counselor
- Monday, Sep 27 – Most Faithful Friend
- Tuesday, Sep 28 – Most Magnificent Dragon
- Wednesday, Sep 29 – Least Competent Henchman
- Thursday, Sep 30 – Most Nefarious Villain
- Friday, Oct 1 – Most Epic Hero
- Saturday, Oct 2 – Most Magnificent Ruler
May your life be filled with wonderful stories, characters, and adventures, both inside the pages and out.