So, in my chief essay for my 15th anniversary, 'Defender Rising,' I displayed and discussed the pictures where he first came onto the 'stage' of my mind, and how he developed in the subsequent years. My 18th anniversary in 2011 brings me to the 'half-life' mark of knowing t'DoL--he's been with me now over half my life, as I've not yet reached 36 years of age.
But acting as if he just started back then in 1993 is a gross oversimplification of the reality. In this essay I will touch upon some of the chief precursors or 'earlier incarnations' of t'DoL throughout my life. (This leaves aside the parallel influence of other stories, people, and movies, which I've covered elsewhere.)
It's hard to date things, going back so far. I don't have handy pictures in most cases to get a date from (and I was notoriously bad about dating pictures anyway, just like I was with putting my name on homework assignments!). So a bit of guesswork, and therefore inaccuracy, is unfortunately unavoidable.
1980-1983?: the creature in the void
This, in my memory, is the first forerunner. It was, I'm pretty sure, based off a dream. In it was this creature, inhumanly beautiful, thoroughly inhuman in appearance, and utterly alone, out in the dark and cold void of space amid the planets. My memory is of trying to draw it, and because I knew I could not do it justice in the slightest, I drew it on the black of space. I put 1983 as a late date for this one, as the McDonald's calendar for that year looks quite like the black with planets image that I drew it on, though I have a hard time believing I was already 7 (going on 8) when I had the dream of that creature. It 'feels' older, but that's how it is with this one. However, it wasn't really an ongoing character in its own right, just a very strong impression from that dream, imbued with longing to see it more, know it better.
1983-1988: Cutie Pie
Now this one is more certain, and covered a good chunk of my childhood. Cutie Pie comes about somewhere in that time after my parents forbid us watching the Smurfs anymore, and before my coming home from school to find my father had thrown out the little black-and-white TV completely, and we would be without television for a good 6-plus years. To console us for having all our Smurfs toys taken away, we got to pick out a toy animal at the Target store on Suburban. I still remember rather clearly--I wanted an eagle and picked it out, but it cost too much, I guess. So instead I chose a white bear with blue in his ears and on his feet. And gave him the very eloquent name of 'Cutie Pie.' Just because he did not have wings did not mean he could not fly; in my mind he still had the wings of the eagle which I had chosen first.
When we weren't in school, or playing outside, exploring, messing about by the pond, sledding, etc, the favorite pastime of my brother and I was with our plethora of stuffed animals (that is what we called them, not knowing the term 'plushie'). We had quite a few, and they had all different characters, preferences, friends and rivals, groups, lodgings, rankings, and so forth. Cutie Pie was my favorite, and second strongest of them all (my brother's lamb, named 'Lambie' was the mightiest of all). Though he was a bear, Cutie Pie did not run with the bear gang led by Big Bear (you can see how very creative our names were!) Nor was he top leader, for that was my brother's medium-sized dressed Snoopy Dog named 'Kingie,' who invariably got 'reelected' to the office of 'king' every few years, and donned a new pin with beads on it for a new term in office. Ah, the memories!
Anyway, these games were a great practice at storytelling, making characters, imaginary worlds of sorts, especially as we got older, and just good creativity exercise in general. Cutie Pie himself tended to be rather aloof but not unkind, kept to his own friends which tended to be the opposite of the hedonistic bear gang, fairly respected by the others, had a great passion for flying, but that came directly from me and my childhood longing, of course! I lost interest once I hit my early teen years and the hormones started kicking in. But certain things about Cutie Pie, his character, characteristics, and abilities, would stay with me.
Those were the childhood years. Things shifted in the teenage years. For one, I wasn't doing as much making of my own 'worlds' in my head or through play, or not so much. A great deal of my energy was turned toward other worlds instead. For a few years, from early 1988 through 1990 was my big Star Trek (OS) craze, and since television was limited, and old episodes not that readily come by, my outlet was mostly with dozens of spin-off novels. And then in the great year of 1990, a release from my three-year 'exile' and a return to the world that meant the most to me: J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth. With my imagination caught up in the fertile fields of both those rather disparate realms, and my art focused on illustrating them, I didn't do as much of my own world-building.
There was another strengthening force during that time as well. The happy years of elementary school were past, the nearly friendless times of junior high and high school were upon me. That had a definite effect on the attributes of the following t'DoL-precursors. They were similar to me in their uniqueness or aloneness, whether because they were the last of a sub-species or thrust into a truly unique position by unfortunate circumstance. But in other regards, they were my polar opposite. I think it was born of a fascination with what I didn't possess, and also a wanting to convince myself that having those wonderful things would bring troubles of their own! Possessed of glamour or charisma, not my own ugly 'unglamour.' Capable of rousing great support and affection, as well as bitter opposition, not disregarded and ignored. Sought-after, not taken for granted. Influential, not a non-entity. Admired, and powerful, and potent...my opposite.
1987-90?: The Creature
This one came about because of a very vivid dream. I still have the piece of paper in which I strove to write it down. Alas, this 'world' was doomed from the start, because it came from a dream, and I just kept on trying to remember more details of the dream, and would not stray beyond them. The creature was last of his race, but it was a subspecies, for there was another fairly similar race that dwelt near the south pole, while his kind came from the north polar regions. (And yes, he could fly, though it might be more accurate to say that he was strong glider with levitation abilities.) The dream revolved around his encounters with the native forest animals, and the struggle that developed between those who followed his teaching and lifestyle as opposed to the humans and those who joined their school and took up human ways and human knowledge. But the ending was unknown, and I would not guess at what it was. Which meant all I could do was work backwards. Make maps, work out the physical attributes and variations between the two subspecies. Work on a back-story of how he had come there. But it was eventually abandoned, as it could not go anywhere. And right now I can't find any of those drawings, unfortunately.
1992-3: The cursed Prince
Looking back on these last two worlds before t'DoL's world, as I often did in my college years, I pondered on the variance between these two final precursors. The Creature, to me, felt like a t'DoL-Shado composite. I can't remember what he ate, to be honest, but he was largely feline overall, and 'Shado-like' in certain attributes, but with the avarii wildness too, no doubt. No shutting him up in a windowless classroom, ever!
This last precursor, however, feels like a t'DoL-Geren 'hybrid' instead. This was the last world, which I was still playing in when I drew that first fateful picture of fledgling t'DoL in February of 1993. This is the story of a young prince, who for some reason I can't recall (it might have been pure malicious whimsy) was cursed by a witch and transformed into a cougar. It was a far more fairytale setting, with the witch and kings and kingdoms and spells and rabid bears and fantastic gardens and so forth. I can't say it got very far--the story was too focused on his wanderings and attempts to revenge himself and get his true form back, the friends he makes and troubles he meets along the way.
Again I abandoned the story-world because I found it too small. Once he cornered the witch and won back his true life, what else was there to say? Subsequent treaties, weddings, alliances would just be too boring. So I kept putting off finishing the tale. I also was less than satisfied with the Prince as a character. He was too passive for my liking. Not that he wasn't continually acting, planning, struggling toward his goal, but he was too much at the mercy of the other forces out there, too bounded perhaps, too powerless and just focused on one goal. Too 'small' maybe, or simple. But the whole world was too small in the end, and got abandoned.
So I found t'DoL next, and I have certainly never regretted it since! Just wondered, at odd times, what might have happened if I hadn't abandoned one of these earlier worlds, or what might have come next if I hadn't run after t'DoL.
But that is mere idle curiosity, and I have no intention of ever finding out.
Note added Jan 2018: This essay ended up triggering huge revelations and blessings in my life, which can be read about here.