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Welcome, as always, dear readers.
In 1936, the Nationalist forces were marching to attack the Republican government in Madrid, during the Spanish Civil War.
When interviewed, a Nationalist general is reported to have said that, as four military columns were about to assault the city,
a fifth column of loyalists would join the attack from inside.
This phrase “fifth column”, then, was picked up and began to be used world-wide to mean “traitors/betrayers from within” and was popular during the Second World War era.

When the Nazis attacked Norway in 1940,
and the Allies failed to defend their positions there successfully and were forced to surrender or flee
a member of the small Norwegian fascist party, Vidkun Quisling,
declared himself ruler as the Germans marched in.

In time, the Nazis recognized him as the head of Norway and he even had an audience with Hitler.

This time, a specific “fifth columnist” had not only betrayed his country, but also profited greatly from it and, when we looked at the dates—1936 and 1940—we wondered, as we so often do, if the current events of our world may have colored JRRT’s relation of the events in Middle-earth—even as we hasten to say, as we always do, that this is just a suggestion.
In his first meeting with Aragorn, Eomer is troubled and his veiled comments suggest just the same sort of fifth-columnist action:
“But at this time our chief concern is with Saruman. He has claimed lordship over all this land, and there has been war between us for many months…”
His concern, however, as we see, is for more than border security, as he says of Saruman:
“His spies slip through every net, and his birds of ill omen are abroad in the sky. I do not know how it will all end, and my heart misgives me; for it seems to me that his friends do not all dwell in Isengard. But if you come to the king’s house, you shall see for yourself.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)
So, all is not well, not only in Rohan, but in Meduseld itself. When Gandalf and the other survivors of the Fellowship arrive at the gates of Edoras, they are stopped by guards and by a command from Theoden, king of Rohan—or is it? A guard says:
“It is but two nights ago that Wormtongue came to us and said that by the will of Theoden no stranger should pass these gates.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 6, “The King of the Golden Hall”)
“Wormtongue” seems a very odd name—do worms actually have tongues?
But this isn’t a worm, it’s a “worm”—an old term for “dragon”.
And, if Smaug’s speech and its effect upon Bilbo is anything to go by:
“Bilbo was now beginning to feel really uncomfortable. Whenever Smaug’s roving eye, seeking for him in the shadows, flashed across him, he trembled, and an unaccountable desire seized hold of him to rush out and reveal himself and tell all the truth to Smaug. In fact he was in grievous danger of coming under the dragon-spell.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 12, “Inside Information”)
then a person having a dragon tongue might be a real threat, as Wormtongue, seated at Theoden’s feet,
inserts himself between Gandalf and Theoden:
“Why indeed should we welcome you, Master Stormcrow? Lathspell I name you, Ill-news; and ill news is an ill guest they say.”
Gandalf immediately resists this and, in a burst of power, breaks the real “spell”—the dragon’s words which Grima Wormtongue has been pouring into Theoden’s ears, as Theoden says to him of Gandalf’s efforts: “If this is witchcraft…it seems to me more wholesome than your whisperings. Your leechcraft [that is, “medical skill”—obviously ironic here] ere long would have had me walking on all fours like a beast.”
[A footnote here—is JRRT making a quiet reference to the fate of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, mentioned in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament? In Chapter 4, the king is driven mad and spends seven years as a grazing animal to prove the power of the Hebrew divinity. Here is William Blake’s (1757-1827) striking depiction of the mad king.]

Certainly something Grima has been doing has affected Theoden, as he is initially described as “a man so bent with age that he seemed almost a dwarf…” and this shrinking is suddenly reversed when Gandalf strikes Grima down:
“From the king’s hand the black staff fell clattering on the stones. He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight he stood, and his eyes were blue as he looked into the opening sky.”
For all that Grima has been blocked and Theoden restored, the fifth columnist tries once more. When he is told that he must ride with the king and his warriors to battle, he makes a countersuggestion:
“One who knows your mind and honours your commands should be left in Edoras. Appoint a faithful steward. Let your counsellor Grima keep all things till your return…”
But he gives himself away by finishing that sentence with “and I pray that we may see it, though no wise man will deem it hopeful.”
And Gandalf sees all too clearly what is behind Grima’s proposal—and who is behind it:
“Down, snake!…Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price?…”

Although it is said that Grima deserves death for his treachery, he is allowed to flee, and, when we next see him, he is with his true master, acting as his “footman” as Gandalf calls him (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 10, “The Voice of Saruman). And here, as Bilbo’s pity has preserved Gollum for an unseen but vital part in the later story of the Ring, so Gandalf’s mercy to Grima preserves him for two final acts: first, his mistaken use of a palantir as a missile, which puts it into Gandalf’s hands and, ultimately into Aragorn’s, who shakes Sauron’s nerve with it; second, Saruman’s ultimate end:
“[Saruman] kicked Wormtongue in the face as he groveled, and turned and made off. But at that something snapped: suddenly Wormtongue rose up, drawing a hidden knife, and then with a snarl like a dog he sprang on Saruman’s back, jerked his head back, cut his throat, and with a yell ran off down the lane.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)
Grima doesn’t survive this attack, however: “Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three hobbit-bows twanged and Wormtongue fell dead.”
Merry calls these final acts of violence “the very last end of the War”, but we would suggest a parallel with a specific event in our world: the end of Vidkun Quisling–executed by firing squad in October, 1945, for treason. Could we say that Grima’s death—deserved earlier, but deferred—was also a kind of execution for treason, against Rohan, finally carried out?
And a final thought: after World War 2, Quisling’s name became, for a time, an easy synonym for “fifth columnist/traitor”—could we imagine that, in the Common Speech of Middle-earth after the War of the Ring, the same might have happened to “Grima Wormtongue”?
Thanks, as ever, for reading.


Wains, Carts, and… (2)


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Welcome, as always, to our blog, dear readers.

In our last, we began discussing wheeled transport in The Lord of the Rings.  We began with Gandalf’s cart, mentioned in Chapter 1.


The posting took us from the first traces of wheeled vehicles in western Europe, circa 3600BC (literally traces—just a pair of tracks in the clay)


through chariots


to Roman carts


to their descendants, medieval carts,


which led us back to Gandalf.


Continuing our discussion, we move from carts (2 wheels) to wagons (4 wheels) with the wagon Farmer Maggot uses to carry the hobbits to Bucklebury Ferry:

“I was going to say:  after a bit of supper, I’ll get out a small wagon, and I’ll drive you all to the Ferry.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 4, “A Short Cut to Mushrooms”)

There is no description beyond that, really, but wagons are pretty generic things.  We have a few examples of early (600-500BC) Iron Age wagons—very fancy ones, too—from burials,



as well as this later Viking wagon.


And, in between, we have Roman wagons


and their medieval descendants.


Farmer Maggott’s wagon, would probably have looked something like this (without the arms).


Of course, those Roman wagons were meant for paved Roman roads.


Although some Roman roads remained on the surface and continued to be used, most medieval roads were merely dirt and stones—as JRRT illustrates in that picture of the Hill


and as we see in this picture.


In which case, medieval people relied upon pack horses to transport many of their goods.


(Think of Bill the pony as a modest example.)

An old word for wagon is wain and we would like to end this brief exploration with something about wains and Wainriders.  In Appendix A, we find this:

“The third evil was the invasion of the Wainriders, which sapped the waning strength of Gondor in wars that lasted for almost a hundred years.  The Wainriders were a people, or a confederacy of many peoples, that came from the east; but they were stronger and better armed than any that had appeared before.  They journeyed in great wains, and their chieftains fought in chariots.”

We’ve been puzzled by that combination of “great wains” and “their chieftains fought in chariots”.  The only immediate reference we could think of was to the Iceni, a tribe of ancient Britain, who, led by a female chieftain named Boudica, revolted against Roman occupation in 60-61AD.  At the final battle, where they were defeated by Roman troops, they had parked wagons in a crescent formation to their rear, then advanced with their chariots and infantry against the Romans. (See Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXII.12 for a description of this battle—here’s an easy LINK to that portion of his extensive writing.)


There is a problem here, however.  The Britons were not migratory and their wagons were probably no more than farm wagons and carts, hardly the great wains of JRRT’s description.  If we removed the chariots, another candidate for the Wainriders might be the Mongols, however, who were migratory and traveled in something even more splendid than a wagon—a gur—like this one—


The Mongols certainly came from the east and, in a short time, swallowed up territory from China all the way to eastern Europe.


It is more likely, however, that JRRT combined things–it wouldn’t be the first time he synthesized—so much of his so-called legendarium is a mixture of this and that in brilliant profusion.  So, in the same spirit, we asked ourselves what we thought wains might look like and immediately saw the big wagon which was instrumental in colonizing the western part of the US, the Conestoga.


Great, long lines of these and other wagons, packed with people and supplies, crossed the plains from the 1840s on.


Could we then remove the 19th-century settlers and add Celts and their chariots, say?


What do you think, dear readers?

Thanks, as ever, for reading.



Wains and Carts and… (Part I)


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Welcome, dear readers, once more to our blog.
We’ve just been watching the extended version opening of The Fellowship of the Ring, in which Gandalf appears, driving a cart.
(Sorry—we couldn’t resist! We love Legos and the older Playmobil—Vikings, pirates, Roman warship, too. Not to forget the Egyptian pyramid! )
Unlike ordinary medieval carts,
it is quite elaborate.
You can see from our second illustration that both the medieval example and Gandalf’s have wattled sides—that is, the upright spindles below the railing top have pliable sticks (perhaps willow or hazel?) woven between them to make the sides of the cart.
This is also a common method for producing traditional house walls: you just add daub, which is clay plus fibre, as a kind of plaster to fill in around the sticks.
Many buildings, from the Neolithic on, were constructed using the technique,
as well as, without the daub, miles and miles of useful fencing.
What caught our attention, however, was the general look of the cart and the detailing of the wooden railing,
which very much reminded us of this—
a Celtic chariot of the sort one sees both in chariot burials
and in stirring reconstructions.
But that’s not the direction we wanted to take in this post. Rather, we were, as so often, thinking about the medieval world and Middle-earth and, in this case, wheeled vehicles.
The earliest evidence in Europe currently known for such vehicles is not the remains of a vehicle itself, but rather its tracks, found under a burial mound at Flintbek, in Schleswig-Holstein, in northwest Germany.
These have been dated to about 3600BC, during the late Neolithic Era. A bit later, we see this odd thing, the so-called “Trundholm Sun Chariot”, from about 1400BC
which actually appears to be some sort of wagon, or at least its frame.

Perhaps 50 years later, there are Bronze Age Mycenaean chariots
but, at least as far as illustrations go, European domestic vehicle depictions are scarce, especially in contrast to those of military—or sport—vehicles. Here’s a 5th-century BC depiction of a wagon being used for a wedding,
but we could then show you heaps of illustrations of chariots, used in very early Greece for warfare. You see them all over the Iliad, for example,
but chariots in the later Greek world were abandoned for warfare, although retained for racing, which was true for the Romans and for their successors, the Byzantines.
We have lots more depictions of domestic vehicles from the Roman world, both carts
and wagons.
This shouldn’t be surprising, we suppose, given that the Romans built more than 50,000 miles of roads.
Judging by these depictions, it appears that the medieval world simply continued using Roman vehicle patterns, just as, where available, they continued to use Roman roads.
For us, then Gandalf’s cart—which is not really described:
“At the end of the second week in September a cart came in through Bywater from the direction of Brandywine Bridge in broad daylight. An old man was driving it all alone…It had a cargo of fireworks…”
(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-expected Party”)
would follow what we see in manuscript illustrations.
Tolkien might have been thinking of such illustrations, of course, but there is another possibility. In the late-Victorian world into which JRRT was born, horses still powered vehicles and delivery carts like this one
would have been a common site—even after the Great War. Perhaps he was thinking of something he might still have seen outside his window when he was young?
We’ll stop here for now, but will continue in Part II, where we’ll consider Farmer Maggot’s wagon and wains…

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Weaving (Not Hugo)


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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

In our last, we quoted JRRT on the subject of the Rohirrim:

“The styles of the Bayeux Tapestry (made in England) fit them well enough, if one remembers that the kind of tennis-nets [the] soldiers seem to have on are only a clumsy conventional sign for chain-mail of small rings.”  (Letters, 281)

We’ve mentioned the so-called Bayeux Tapestry before and even shown an illustration or two, but we thought that it would be fun to delve a little deeper into the subject—beginning with its name and why Tolkien added “(made in England)” to his sentence.

The first known reference to this approximately 230-foot-long (70.1 meters) by 20 inch high (.5m) piece of fabric dates from the latter part of the 15th century AD, from an inventory at Our Lady of Bayeux Cathedral—commonly known in English as Bayeux Cathedral—in 1476.  There has been much scholarly argument over its site of manufacture, but the evidence appears to us to identify the commissioner of the work as Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and half-brother to William, Duke of Normandy (where Bayeux is situated), aka, “William the Conqueror”.  Odo is depicted and identified three times on the piece, twice in more peaceful settings—once blessing a meal,


once sitting with William and his half-brother, Robert,


and once in a decidedly not peaceful setting, encouraging the troops at the Battle of Hastings, wearing a mail shirt and helmet and brandishing a club.  (The Latin inscription—called a titulus—says “Here Bishop Odo, holding a club, puts strength into the lads”.)


As well, several of the figures on the piece have been identified as vassals (feudal allies) of Odo.  Finally, Odo was not only the Bishop of Bayeux, but also instrumental in rebuilding the cathedral in which the artefact was first known to have been housed, Bayeux Cathedral (elements of which are buried inside this later Gothic version).


It seems natural to us, then, that he, at one time William’s right-hand man, would have been responsible for the creation of the work.  (We might also add that the Norman victory made Odo Earl of Kent—one more reason for commissioning a work which shows that victory in detail.)

We said that there was argument as to where the work was made, but we, ourselves, would agree with JRRT and the idea that it was made in England for, among other reasons, the depiction of people and scenery on it remind us strongly of the Anglo-Saxon artistic tradition—especially embodied in the mid-11th-century manuscript of the “Old English Hexateuch”, with its 394 colored illustrations, which is to be found in the British Library (Cotton MS Claudius B. iv.).


This is a depiction of the construction of the Tower of Babel.  Below is a picture of Normans building ships for their invasion of England from the Bayeux work.


The Bayeux work is much sparer, but there’s that same interest in illustrating motion.

But, when we say that the Bayeux work is sparer, that is not to say that it lacks detail, as there are (at least) four visual levels throughout.  If we take just one scene at random


and go from top to bottom we see:

  1. a narrow band of single figures—in this case, animals
  2. a broader band of action—in this case it’s Normans loading their equipment—and other things—for the attack on England (The titulus says: “These are carrying arms to the ships and here they are dragging a cart with wine and arms.”)
  3. the captions—tituli—for every scene
  4. a lower narrow band—again, here, animals, but there are other possibilities, as in this scene, where we see scavengers removing the arms and armor of the dead after the Battle of Hastings


The images in the “Old English Hexateuch” illustrate individual Bible stories.  Those in the Bayeux work are scenes, all parts of a long historical narrative, which begins in 1064 (it is thought) with Edward the Confessor, the King of England,


sending the powerful nobleman, Harold Godwinson, on what appears (from subsequent panels) to be a mission to France.

The last scenes, at the far end, include the death of Harold on the battlefield of Hastings


and the flight of the English from the field, with Normans in hot pursuit in October, 1066.


Throughout our discussion, we have avoided calling this work by its traditional name because, in fact, the “Bayeux Tapestry” is not a tapestry.  A tapestry is a solid piece of fabric, woven on a loom.


The Bayeux Tapestry is really the Bayeux Embroidery, in which various designs are stitched onto a cloth.


In this close-up, you can see how it’s done, with outlines giving the figures shape, as if they were drawn with a needle, then filled in.  (For more on this, and on the work in general, try this LINK.)


For its size and detail and historical importance, there’s no embroidery like it from early medieval England, and perhaps from Europe, but there was one moment when it almost disappeared for good.  During that period of the French Revolution when the Church (1% of the population which owned 10% of the land), was being nationalized (and plundered),


it was destined to be used for military wagon covers.


It was only saved at the last minute and shipped off to the Musee Napoleon (formerly—and subsequently—the Louvre).


Eventually, it was returned to Bayeux where, today, it can be seen in a museum there, cleverly displayed in a way which allows the entire length to be viewed.



Without a member of Bayeux’ city council, Lambert Leonard-Leforestier, and his quick thinking, however, the last anyone might have seen of it would have been more like this—


destroyed on wagons lost in Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Russia.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.




There is one more detail from the Bayeux Embroidery we’d like to mention.  If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you might remember a passing comet.  In fact, a passing comet—Halley’s Comet—appears on the Embroidery and, for people of the time, portended something big to come…


For more on Halley’s comet, here’s a LINK.

Lost in Space


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.
When you think about Sam, what do you know about him and how do you know?
The first mention of the character is almost a footnote. The narrator is actually talking about Ham Gamgee “commonly known as the Gaffer” (a dialect form of “grandfather”):
“Now that he was himself growing old and stiff in the joints, the job was mainly carried on by his youngest son, Sam Gamgee. Both father and son were on very friendly terms with Bilbo and Frodo. They lived on the Hill itself, in Number 3 Bagshot Row just below Bag End.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)
The Gaffer has been gossiping in The Ivy Bush, mostly in response to conversation about Bilbo and Frodo and he’s attempting to quell a rumor that Bag End is stuffed with jewels and gold and says of its riches:
“But my lad Sam will know more about that. He’s in and out of Bag End. Crazy about stories of the old days, he is, and he listens to all Mr. Bilbo’s tales. Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters—meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it.

‘Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters or you’ll land in trouble too big for you, I says to him.’ ”
So, in about three pages we know:
1. a little about Sam’s family (he is unmarried and lives with an elderly father)
2. his job (assistant gardener)
3. his social class (lower—Gaffer’s speech pattern and word choices indicate “rustic”, as does his talking to Sam about his “betters”)
4. where he lives (as a servant in this semi-feudal world would be expected to, below his master, but near)
5. his interests (“the old days”)
6. his education (he’s literate—and The Gaffer’s “meaning no harm” suggests that this is unusual, at least among his social class)
7. his character (imaginative: “crazy about stories”; perhaps independent-minded—he continues to be enthusiastic about such things even though his father cautions him against them)
In the many chapters to come, we will learn much more about Sam—his practicality, his inner toughness, his flexibility, his ability to stay grounded in the worst circumstances, and that inner resolve which keeps the two hobbits going, even to what appeared to be a terrible end:
“ ‘So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started,’ thought Sam: ‘to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him. Well, if that is the job then I must do it.’
But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 3, “Mount Doom”)
It’s not surprising, then, that Galadriel, with an eerie foresight, has given him the means to help the Shire heal from the terrible industrializing wounds of Sharkey & Co.:
“So Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each. He went up and down the Shire in this labour…And at the end he found that he still had a little of the dust left; so he went to the Three-Farthing Stone, which is as near the centre of the Shire as no matter, and cast it in the air with his blessing…” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)
Recently, we’ve seen Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi. After 7, we were not eager. We are not among those who hold that 4, 5, and 6 are the canon, although we see characters there—particularly Luke and Han—grow over time into people we include in our list of adventure-friends, like Robin Hood and David Balfour and Indiana Jones. We think that George Lucas, having developed the story of Luke and his father, was curious to see if he could reach back in time and show how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, a daring and ambitious project, since, until his attack on the Emperor, Vader seemed less than sympathetic as a character.
For us, the main problem with 7 was that there seemed to be too many characters constantly flying to to too many planets, with no real attempt to develop them. Granted, JRRT had hundreds of pages and as many hours as his readers were willing to grant him to turn out characters like Sam, luxuries a film-maker is denied. At the same time, consider the opening sequence: a mysterious pilot lands on a mysterious planet which is then attacked by people who resemble the storm troopers of 4/5/6. The mysterious pilot is given something by a mysterious elderly man. Then a storm trooper mysteriously deserts his companions after finding one a casualty. And so it goes on. By the end of the film, we had a cast which included (for a short time, at least) old friends: Chewy, Han, and Leia (with minor roles for droids), plus a number of new characters who did not appear to us to be anchored in anything, just there to sustain the action. Who were they? Who knew? And, sadly, for us, who then cared? We had hopes for Rey (although the joke that she is a “Rey/Ray of Hope” is pretty obvious) and still do, but, with nothing to ground them, why, we asked ourselves, should we invest emotionally in FN-2187 and Poe (whose name is just a little too close to “Pooh”—or “Poo” for our taste)?
And then there came 8. It began as 5—evacuation from a newly-discovered base, but without the wampa or those impressive ATATs (even if snow speeders can find weaknesses in them). And then we see the unexplained Poe (the mysterious pilot in 7) once more and soon the unexplained FN-2187 (the mysterious deserter in 7) who, in turn, is soon joined by the unexplained Rose. (In time, we’ll also see the unexplained DJ, although we can’t recall that we were ever given his name, which says something about his development in the story. Why is he in the lock-up? When he betrays FN-2187 and Rose, when did he have the occasion to have set up the betrayal beforehand? And why does he occasionally stutter?) To which we add the unexplained Captain Phasma, who had a brief unexplained appearance in the previous film. (And who in the world is Snoke? And how does he come to fill in for Palpatine? We also wonder, considering the condition of his face, what happens when he eats popcorn—does it get wedged in the cracks or does it all fall out of one cheek?)
We swear by 4/5/6 and, though they are weaker films, we still believe 1/2/3 to be an important part of the story, but what we feel has happened in 7 and even more so in 8, is that character development has been sacrificed for action: instead of seeing more of who they are and why, we are too often shown what they do and this is somehow thought to be the same. Perhaps part of the point of 9 will be to explain at least some of what’s missing from 7 and 8, but imagine seeing Sam through the first five books of The Lord of the Rings simply as somebody who carries the pots and pans (and rope), then, suddenly, in Book Six, becomes the figure we have watched grow through the first five—would you believe in him and would you care?
Thanks, as always, for reading!
We’ve had so much discussion about this that we plan a second review to follow.


In Shining Armo(u)r


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

In a letter to Miss [Rhona] Beare, of 14 October, 1958, JRRT wrote to answer what was clearly a question about dress in The Lord of the Rings:

“Question 4.  I do not know the detail of clothing.  I visualize with great clarity and detail scenery and ‘natural’ objects, but not artefacts.  Pauline Baynes drew her inspiration for F. Giles largely from medieval MS drawings—except for the knights (who are a bit ‘King-Arthurish’)* the style seems to fit well enough.” (Letters, 280)

To which he adds this footnote:

“*Sc. [= “Know/understand”] belong to our ‘mythological’ Middle-Ages which blends unhistorically styles and details ranging over 500 years, and most of which did not of course exist in the Dark Ages of c. 500 A.D.”

In the next paragraph he adds:

“The Rohirrim were not ‘mediaeval’, in our sense.  The styles of the Bayeux Tapestry (made in England) fit them well enough, if one remembers that the kind of tennis-nets [the] soldiers seem to have on are only a clumsy conventional sign for chain-mail of small rings.” (Letters, 280-281)

The Bayeux Tapestry (which should really be called the “Bayeux Embroidery”, since it’s actually a long piece of cloth with hundreds of figures and details stitched on to it, rather than woven into it) presents us with a detailed history of the invasion of England in 1066AD.  The soldiers Tolkien is talking about look like this:


You can see what he means by “tennis-nets”—which should really look like this:


That chain-mail, then, looks like this:


And, at the bottom of this next illustration, you can see how it’s made:


We know, then, how JRRT envisaged the Rohirrim in its eoreds, marching towards Minas Tirith, but how did he imagine other soldiers, we’ve asked ourselves, and, in particular, the knights of Dol Amroth—the only soldiers specifically described as such in The Lord of the Rings?


JRRT writes of them as they enter Minas Tirith:

“And last and proudest, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding grey horses…”(The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith”)

“Full harness” means “complete armor”.  When we think of the term, we think of something later than the Normans, who are, after all, just wearing a kind of very long ringed shirt.  Here’s a useful chart to give you of an idea of what we mean.


So, since “full harness” doesn’t look like the Rohirrim, how might it look?

In Jackson’s films, we don’t believe that we ever see those knights singled out, as we see the Rohirrim.  The best we could find was this picture of Faramir’s men about to mount a cavalry charge against what appears to be Osgiliath.  (We’ve talked about this in a much earlier posting—one of the most unbelievable moments in the whole of Jackson’s work.)


This is a big picture, but the details, unfortunately, aren’t very clear.  There are a few things, however, which we found rather odd:

  1. although there appear to be a few lances with penons among them, most seem to be armed only with swords—a close-up weapon—which is why actual knights also carried lances—heavy cavalry came crashing down on infantry or slamming into enemy mounted men—or intended to—spearing right and left and then drawing swords (or using maces or battle axes)
  2. a minor detail, but everyone seems to be wearing his sword on the right-hand side, which would have made it very hard to draw, unless all were left-handed men!
  3. the helmets and armor seem very standardized, and we would believe that budgetary considerations probably influenced this uniformity—50 identical helmets were probably cheaper to make than 50 different ones—but such sameness reminds us more of Roman imperial troops than of any western medieval army we can think of.


We assume, then, that this is the film’s view of soldiers at least like Imrahil’s men, but when Tolkien wrote “a company of knights in full harness”:  what might he have had in mind?  We think there is a clue in that adjective “King-Arthurish”, which he uses of Pauline Bayne’s illustrations and in his footnote, where he refers to “our ‘mythological Middle-Ages”. What does he mean?

JRRT would have been about ten when Howard Pyle published his The Story of King Arthur and His Knights in 1903.


Here is how Pyle saw Arthur’s knights.


Could this have inspired Tolkien’s view of Imrahil’s men?  (Judge for yourself by following this LINK.)

Tolkien would have been nearly 30 when The Boy’s King Arthur, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, was published in 1922,

Image result for the boy's king arthur

but, if this were in among his children’s books, perhaps these illustrations might have given him ideas.  (And here’s a LINK to your own copy, from the Internet Archive.)


These are two well-known sets of illustrations of Arthurian figures, both available in Tolkien’s early lifetime.  If Arthur was real, of course, he would have lived, as JRRT was well aware, in what is called the “sub-Roman period”, c.500AD—at the beginning of the so-called “Dark Ages”– and he and his men would actually have looked like this:


But this is where “our ‘mythological’ Middle-Ages” comes in—little would have been known, when JRRT was writing The Lord of the Rings, of what such warriors would have looked like, although the spectacular Sutton Hoo find of 1939, with its splendid helmet, would have given an inkling, once restored.




Because such knowledge was lacking, however, the historical Arthur (if there was one) had been moved to the Middle-Ages and re-equipped as a military figure of a much later era, and we believe that, when Tolkien wrote “Arthurish” and “knights”, this is what he meant—and how we’ve always seen Arthur, not only from books (and lots of films) but also from the armor galleries in a number of museums, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York


to the Higgins Armory in Massachusetts


to the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts


to the Tower of London.


And, as we’ve discussed before, Prince Valiant, has been an influence from childhood (talk about ‘mythological’ Middle-Ages!).


And so, in turn, we imagine—and we think that JRRT did, too–the “company of knights in full harness” to have been individuals, brightly clothed in heraldic colors, their armor that, perhaps, of Crecy, in 1346—


or Agincourt, in 1415.


And you, dear readers, what do you think?

Thanks, as ever, for reading!



I Think That I Shall Never See…


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Welcome, dear readers, as always.

In a letter to his aunt, Jane, dated 8-9 September, 1962, JRRT wrote:

“Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate.” (Letters, 321)

We know, from his letters and from interviews, just how passionate he was about trees,


but we were immediately caught by just how very Treebeardish he sounded:

“I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me…” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)


Trees almost seemed to be people to Tolkien—in fact, we know that Treebeard was based in part upon a person—his friend, CS Lewis—at least his voice and manner of speaking.


As near-people, then, to Tolkien, their destruction would have been a kind of murder.  With that in mind, we thought of our last posting, in which we quoted Farmer Cotton talking about Sharkey’s regime in the Shire, including “They cut down trees and leave ‘em lie.”  (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”).  And we wondered whether, behind this, JRRT was talking not only about the orcs’ wanton devastation of trees,


but also reliving the Battle of the Somme, in 1916, and seeing once more the acres of unburied dead (60,000 British casualties alone on the first day, 1 July, 1916).


Certainly Treebeard saw this as murder, as he says to Merry and Pippin about Saruman

“He and his foul folk are making havoc now.  Down on the borders they are felling trees—good trees.  Some of the trees they just cut down and left to rot—orc-mischief that; but most are hewn up and carried off to feed the fires of Orthanc…Curse him root and branch!  Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost for ever now.  And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves.”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)

Saruman, a person with “a mind of metal and wheels”, who was “plotting to become a Power”,


has turned Isengard into a vast factory, where “there is always a smoke rising”.


Thus, just as JRRT may have been recalling the Battle of the Somme, so perhaps he was also suggesting  the industrialization which had been in full swing when he was born and which he disliked intensely and which was reducing much of the part of England in which he grew up to the smoking wasteland Sharkey tried to make the Shire


as we see in this Alan Lee depiction.


Of course the deforestation went back long before the Industrial Revolution began.  Once upon a time, great forests covered much of the northern European world and humans lived in the midst of miles and miles of trees in clearings which they cut for themselves.



And we still have a distant memory of these, we would suggest, in some of our fairy tales.  If you think about the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of “Haensel and Gretel”, for example,




you’ll remember that, not only did the children live in the middle of such forest, as did the witch, but their father was a woodcutter, someone who would have been involved in that very deforestation, if in a very small way.


This memory, collected by the Grimms and others in folktale form in the early 19th century, also provided inspiration for the German Romantics—as you can see in this painting by one of their greatest painters, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).


To those Romantics, the forest was scary—but fascinating, as well—and disappearing, as the industrialism which JRRT disliked swallowed it.


Wood was, however, the plastic of the world for many generations, with infinite uses, from home heating to ship-building, and, wherever humans settled, wood was eaten up.  Here is a telling chart for Britain of the contrast between 2000BC and 1990AD.


It is no surprise, then, that, during the 17th century colonization of what is called New England in the US, a major attraction was the availability of wood and the colonists took full advantage of that availability, as this chart shows—


The forest which Treebeard shepherds is, in fact, rather like the forest depicted in that chart of Britain, as Aragorn says:

“Yes, it is old…as old as the forest by the Barrow-downs, and it is far greater.  Elrond says that the two are akin, the last strongholds of the mighty woods of the Elder Days, in which the Firstborn roamed while Men still slept.”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)

But what would have happened to it had Saruman not lost Isengard to the very trees he was destroying?


In thinking about this, we were reminded of another woodcutter in a children’s story.


Or, if you prefer the film—


He lives in the still-wooded land of Oz


where there are even talking trees (although a lot less friendly than Treebeard).


Dorothy, however, lives in a Kansas seemingly blighted by the so-called “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s.



Would this have been Fangorn’s fate?  We have only to look at Mordor to believe it might have been, when all the trees fell silent.


As ever, thanks for reading.




In 1939, a Russian children’s author, Alexander Volkov, published The Wizard of the Emerald City.  When one compares it with a certain American book of about 40 years before, striking similarities appear, starting with the title character.  And the illustrations, by Leonid Vladimirsky, also have something familiar about them…


There was one very practical change, however:  the Tin Woodman became the “Iron Lumberjack”, which rectifies a mistake in the original.  When Dorothy discovers the Woodman, he has rusted in place, but tin can’t rust!

Mirror Image


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Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

In English, we have the expression “upon reflection”, meaning something like “I’ve looked back at something and have considered (or reconsidered)”.  When we look at the word “reflection”, we see its Latin origin, re “back/again” and flection, from the verb flecto, flectere, flexi, flexum “to bend/turn/bow” (we show all four of what are called the “principal parts” of the verb so that you can see where words like “flexible”—and, together with that re—“reflex” come from) and can imagine that, originally, it was almost a physical act—as if a person were believed literally to have turned back to a thought, event, action, to think about it again.

But that made us wonder about a reflection in a different sense—when an image is repeated, in water, say.


(And here we provide a YouTube LINK for a beautiful piece of music “Reflets dans L’eau”—“Reflections in the Water” by Claude Debussy—1862-1918, from the set entitled, Images, Book One—1905.)

Or in a mirror.


(This haunting painting is by Georges de la Tour, 1593-1652—known for his chiaroscuro—shadow-versus-light effects—style.)

Fancifully, we might ask: does a “reflection” in this sense suggest that the image in the mirror was turning back to look at the viewer?  More realistically, we might say that the image is bent/turned back upon the viewer—but we also wonder if the Latin word from which our word mirror comes might give a certain flavor of the uncanny about it.  Miror, mirari, miratus sum in Latin means “to wonder/be amazed at something” (Put the Latin preposition ad– on the front of this and you’re looking at English “admire”—originally “to wonder at something”—our modern sense of this has lost something of the wide-eyed nature implied in the original, but that’s how language works—sharp things, like knives, become dull with use.  In Spanish, for example, mirar comes to mean “to look at/watch/observe”.)

Certainly, folktales and folk customs once preserved something eerie about mirrors.  Think of the wicked queen’s magic mirror in Snow White.


If you know the Disney version of Snow White, you probably expected us to show this image.


But this so creeped us out as children that it was not our first choice!

In various western European countries, looking into a mirror on New Year’s Eve (lots of extra things to do:  while combing hair, eating an apple, taking a bath first so that the mirror is steamy) will show you the image of your intended spouse.  And breaking a mirror can mean seven years of bad luck.


For Egyptians,








and western Medieval people, as well,


mirrors were not very breakable, however, being commonly made of a piece of polished bronze (although there were attempts, apparently, from late classical times on to do something with glass and a metal backing).  Artists in the classical world, rarely missing a chance to do something more, used the backs of mirrors as surfaces for decoration, as well.  Here’s a very interesting Etruscan mirror back, including an inscription (it’s the story of Icarus and Daedalus).


Mirrors with a silvered back and glass cover, the direct ancestors of modern mirrors, appeared during the Renaissance.


This is a little joke—a self-portrait of the painter—which has been included in Quentin Matsys’ (1466-1530) painting “Portrait of the Money-Lender and His Wife” (1514).


(And, speaking of Renaissance paintings with mirrors, we couldn’t resist including this famous little painting by Parmigianino (1503-1540), a self-portrait painted on a mirror-shaped convex panel.)



If silver-backed, glass-covered mirrors only appeared in the Renaissance, however, what can we say about this object on the left house wall in this picture?


We can tell it’s meant to be a mirror as, looking closely, you can just make out the reflection of a tree which is outside to the right of the open door on its surface.  And is that another mirror, on the piece of furniture in the foreground on the left?  If so, it fits the kind of thing called a “hall stand” which one might see in a later-Victorian house—like this piece from the 1870s.


This makes us wonder once again:  how much of this entryway depicts a Middle-earth based not upon the Middle Ages, but upon the memory of houses JRRT grew up in or perhaps furnishings from his own homes in North Oxford or Headington as an adult?



But we’ll save what appears to be a Gothic Revival chair there on the right for another day…

In the meantime, thanks, as ever, for reading!




We would like to take a moment and turn to the west to thank the Valar for the full recovery of our dear friend and fellow Tolkien enthusiast, EMH, from a serious operation.  Get even well-er soon!



If you enjoyed the Debussy in the link above, perhaps you might also enjoy Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) Miroirs (1906)—here’s a LINK.



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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

Although we think we might have another post or two on things in Bilbo’s hall, we thought it would be fun to take a break and look elsewhere in Middle-earth.

In a posting long ago now, we looked at Saruman and his attempt to ruin the Shire.  Cutting down trees was certainly part of his plan, as Farmer Cotton tells the hobbits:  “They cut down trees and let ‘em lie” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8)  There was much worse, however, as he continues:

“Take Sandyman’s mill now.  Pimple knocked it down, almost as soon as he came to Bag End.  Then he brought in a lot o’ dirty-looking men to build a bigger one and fill it full o’ wheels and outlandish contraptions.”

“Wheels” made us think of two things:

  1. Fangorn’s description of Saruman himself: “He has a mind of metal and wheels” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)
  2. and, secondly, just what level of technology Middle-earth actually has

JRRT himself wrote of Hobbits, in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings:

“They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools.”

As far as authentic depictions, we have one, by Tolkien himself, in this picture of Hobbiton.


Presumably, that’s the Sandyman mill in the foreground.  You can see in the left middleground what appear to be hay stacks (also called “haymows”) which rather resemble these from a painting by Caillebotte (whose work appeared in our posting on umbrellas) and are where the material saved from the growing/reaping cycle is stored.


The whole process for what eventually gets to the mill begins with plowing the land and sowing the seed (and keeping off the birds, if possible).


Then, when the grain is ripe, it is reaped and stacked.


At this point, the grain is still on the stalk and needs to be detached.  This is done by flailing it.


At that point, however, it’s still in its beard


and the kernels of wheat need to be shaken free by the process called winnowing.  This can be done by a number of methods, but the easiest includes using the air currents to help remove the hull (the chaff—and, if you know the expression “to separate the wheat from the chaff”, now you also know where it comes from).


Now, when you finally have the pure grain, the next step is to grind it to a powder.  The most ancient method (still used for crushing grain in some parts of the world) is this—


But the Romans sped this up with a kind of early machine, both slave-driven and animal-propelled—



The flour (pretty coarse and gritty, we understand—which wore down people’s teeth) was then mixed with water and baked


and sold as this.image12.jpg

(This is real Roman bread—abandoned in an oven when Vesuvius exploded and found many centuries later, still in the oven.)  Some bakers liked to label their bread, as you can see, with a special name stamp.


In time, some clever Roman got the idea that there might be a more efficient method than slaves and animals and harnessed water as a power source and even occasionally harnessed it more than once, as here, at Barbegal, in southern France.


This technology does not appear to have been lost along with so much else of the Roman world and continued to be used in later centuries.


As you can see from this illustration, the basic idea is simple:  the water is channeled to pour over the paddles of the wheel, thus turning it.  The turning motion is then conveyed through a series of gears until it spins the upper stone of the two millstones, thus grinding the grain.


There are several types of wheel:  overshot, breast, undershot, and pitchback.


Our research suggests that the overshot is the most powerful—but, as you can see in JRRT’s illustration, the Hobbiton mill is of the undershot variety.


Tolkien’s model for this is assumed to have been the Sarehole Mill, in the village of Sarehole, south of Birmingham, where his mother took him and his brother to live, for about 4 years in the late 1890s, in this house.


From its front door, he could look across and see this mill—here’s a 1905 postcard of the mill.


After a certain amount of searching, we still can’t tell what kind of wheel Sarehole had in Tolkien’s day, but there are certainly some other strong differences visible between it and the Hobbiton mill.  First, of course, there’s that chimney on Sarehole, which was installed in 1852 as part of the addition of a steam engine to the mill’s older water-driven system.  (Is this one of the “outlandish contraptions” Farmer Cotton complains about?)  But perhaps this suggested the tower on the left of the Hobbiton mill?  Second, and a little stranger, might be those round windows—although we might see these as a quiet joke:  just as an older Hobbit hole, like Bag End, had such windows, so it might be fitting for a Hobbit mill to have them, too?

Thanks, as ever, for reading.




Here’s a LINK, by the way, to a 1966 interview with JRRT about his early years in Sarehole.

Throwing Shade


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Welcome, dear readers, as always and, if you’re in the US, we hope you’ve had a happy and not over-stuffed Thanksgiving.

Just when we think we’ve exhausted a topic, we return and, well, here we are.


Just to the left of the door and below what we now see as a barometer, there’s a tall tube-like structure, something once common—we wouldn’t be surprised if there was one in every house in which JRRT ever lived:  an umbrella stand.image2aumbrellastand.jpeg

As a child, one of us was fascinated by having once seen an umbrella stand made out of an elephant’s lower leg and foot—or at least the skin.


The couple we’ve seen are all identified as “Victorian”, so, as we are very fond of pachyderms, we hope that such a use is now long in the past!

Umbrellas, at least as sunshades, appear to have been around since at least before 200BC in China, as this ceramic chariot—with large umbrella—from part of the tomb complex of the Emperor Ch’in Shihuang demonstrates.


The Assyrians had them.


The Persians had them.



The Greeks had them.


As did the Romans.


And so on for centuries, although it seems that the first modern references to them in England date from the early 17th century and appear, by the latter part of the century and into the 18th as part of “ladies’ apparel”, used as much for sun as rain as this 1623 portrait by van Dyck of the Marchesa Elena Grimaldi shows us.


A center for the manufacture of umbrellas was Paris, and the inventor of the modern collapsible model may have been Jean Marius, who received a 5-year monopoly on his invention in 1710.  Here is a later (1772) advertisement for his business


and here is a model, identified by the Palais Galleria in Paris as post-1715 because it has no Marius markings.


If there was a prejudice against men carrying them, being a combination of the association with “feminine things” and perhaps also a long-standing prejudice against the French, how did that so change that, by the 20th century, the umbrella, along with the bowler hat, became the marks of the “city gent” in London,


caricatured in the 20th century by Monty Python in skits like “The Ministry of Silly Walks”?


This change is said to stem from the behavior of one rather eccentric man, Jonas Hanway


who, sometime in the 1750s, began to appear on London streets carrying an open umbrella.


As you, sharp-eyed reader, can tell from our verbs and constructions like “seems”, “appears” and “is said to”, this, like other items of fashion and its changes, hasn’t the firmest of scholarly foundations, but, considering how many illustrations (often mocking cartoons) begin to appear by the 1770s, something happened to alter men’s behavior. Just look at these three, from 1772, 1782, and 1790.




All of this is very interesting, you may ask, but what does it have to do with Bilbo, or with JRRT?  There are, in fact, a couple of references in The Lord of the Rings to umbrellas.  First, there is one of Bilbo’s mocking gifts:

“For Adelard Took, for his very own, from Bilbo; on an umbrella.  Adelard had carried off many unlabeled ones”.  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)

Then there are two to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.  The first is suggestive of her suspicious behavior at the near-auction of Bilbo’s property at the end of The Hobbit (you’ll remember that some spoons never reappeared):

“He [Bilbo] escorted her [Lobelia] firmly off the premises, after he had relieved her of several small (but rather valuable) articles that had somehow fallen inside her umbrella.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)

The second reference is actually rather pathetic.  Once “Sharkey” and his thugs take over the Shire, they evict Lobelia from Bag End and, because she resists, they drag her off to the Lockholes, as young Tom Cotton tells Merry and the others:

“She comes down the lane with her old umbrella…”

When told that “Sharkey” gave the order for her eviction (and the building of sheds at Bag End):

“ ‘I’ll give you Sharkey, you dirty thieving ruffians!’ says she, and ups with her umbrella and goes for the leader, near twice her size.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)

Here’s a little illustration of a defiant Lobelia by John Howe.


By the later 19th century, men with umbrellas seem quite common—even to the point of providing material for social commentary in the public press—


But, in the 20th century, we who love children’s literature see them in a completely different way, either as a mode of transportation


or as part of the origin of a favorite story, when CS Lewis, at 16, had a recurring image of “a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood” (from It All Began with/as a Picture). (We’ve seen the title cited both ways.)


But we want to end this posting not with literature, but with pure art.  There are lots of paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries with umbrellas, but here is what may be our favorite, by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894).  Although he is grouped with the Impressionists, this painting in particular shows the artist’s interest in the hard-edged world of early photography (“Un Jour:  Paris sous la Pluie”—“A Day:  Paris In the Rain”)


Stay dry, dear readers, and thanks, as ever for reading!