First Make a Map

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As always, welcome, dear readers.

We have just said goodbye to an old friend, E, who stayed all too briefly with us on his way to and from a conference.  E, like us, is a big fan of maps and we had a lot of conversation on the topographical charting of Middle-earth, particularly as seen in The Lord of the Rings.

A map forms the basis of the plot of The Hobbit, of course.

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And the need for an accurate depiction of (fictional) geography haunted its author as he expanded his story, as he says in a letter to Rayner Unwin, 11 April, 1953:

“Maps are worrying me.  One at least (which would then have to be rather large) is absolutely essential.  I think three are needed:  1. Of the Shire; 2. Of Gondor; and 3. A general small-scale map of the whole field of action.  They exist, of course; though not in any form fit for reproduction—for of course in such a story one cannot make a map for the narrative, but must first make a map and make the narrative agree.”  (Letters, 168)

(If you would like to see an interesting selection of Tolkien maps, here’s a LINK to the Tolkien Estate website, which has a number of them, including the first map of the Shire.)

The idea of making a map, rather than a story, first reminded us of an earlier author, who once said much the same thing.

In the summer of 1881, Robert Louis Stevenson

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was on an extended tour of central and eastern Scotland with his parents, his wife, and his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne.

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From early August to late September, they stayed in Braemar

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in this cottage.

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Then the weather intervened:

“There it blew a good deal and rained in a proportion…and I must consent to pass a good deal of my time between four walls…There was a schoolboy [his stepson, Lloyd]…home from the holidays…He had no thought of literature; it was the art of Raphael that received his fleeing suffrages; and with the aid of pen and ink and a shilling box of water colours, he had soon turned one of the rooms into a picture gallery.  My more immediate duty towards the gallery was to be showman; but I would sometimes unbend a little, join the artist (so to speak) at the easel, and pass the afternoon with him in a generous emulation, making coloured drawings.  On one of these occasions, I made the map of an island; it was elaborately and (I thought) beautifully coloured; the shape of it took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance ‘Treasure Island’.”  (RL Stevenson, “My First Book:  ‘Treasure Island’”, The Idler, August, 1894)

In fact, as Stevenson writes earlier in this essay, it was not, in fact, his first book, or even his first novel, but it was his first published novel.  After its inspired beginning as a map, it first saw publication not as a novel, but as a serial in 17 installments in a magazine called Young Folks, from 1 Oct, 1881 to 28 Jan, 1882, under a pen name, “Captain George North”.  Its first appearance as a novel was in November, 1883, with the title, Treasure Island, or, The Mutiny of the Hispaniola.

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This has produced many subsequent republications over the years, our favorite being the 1911 edition,

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with its wonderful, atmospheric illustrations by NC Wyeth.

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But what about the map which started it all?

“But the adventures of Treasure Island are not yet quite at an end.  I had written it up to the map.  The map was the chief part of my plot.  For instance, I had called an islet ‘Skeleton Island,’ not knowing what I meant, seeking only for the immediate picturesque, and it was to justify this name that I broke into the gallery of Mr. Poe and stole Flint’s pointer [a sprawled skeleton, if you don’t know the book].  And in the same way, it was because I had made two harbours that the Hispaniola was sent on her wanderings with Israel Hands.  The time came when it was decided to republish [that is, from magazine to book form], and I sent in my manuscript, and the map along with it, to Messrs. Cassell.  The proofs came, they were corrected, but I heard nothing of the map.  I wrote and asked; was told it had never been received, and sat aghast.  It is one thing to draw a map at random, set a scale in one corner of it at a venture, and write up a story to the measurements.  It is quite another to have to examine a whole book, make an inventory of all the allusions contained in it, and with a pair of compasses, painfully design a map to suit the date.  I did it; and the map was drawn again in my father’s office, with embellishments of blowing whales and sailing ships, and my father himself brought into service a knack he had of various writing, and elaborately FORGED the signature of Captain Flint, and the sailing directions of Billy Bones.  But somehow it was never Treasure Island to me.”

So here is that second version.

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From his experience, Stevenson drew the same conclusion as JRRT would nearly 60 years later:

“I have said the map was the most of the plot.  I might almost say it was the whole…It is, perhaps, not often that a map figures so largely in a tale, yet it is always important.  The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like his hand; the distances, the points of the compass, the place of the sun’s rising, the behavior of the moon, should all be beyond cavil…But it is my contention—my superstition, if you like—that who is faithful to his map, and consults it, and draws from it his inspiration, daily and hourly, gains positive support, and not mere negative immunity from accident.  The tale has a root there; it grows in that soil; it has a spine of its own behind the words.  Better if the country be real, and he has walked every foot of it and knows every milestone.  But even with imaginary places, he will do well in the beginning to provide a map; as he studies it, relations will appear that he had not thought upon; he will discover obvious, though unsuspected, short-cuts and footprints for his messengers; and even when a map is not all the plot, as it was in Treasure Island, it will be found to be a mine of suggestion.”

(If you would like to read this little essay in full—and we recommend it—here’s a LINK.)

We will end here as, inspired, we’re off to redo the map for our imaginary medieval Russia, Cherna.

MTCIDC

CD

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In a Pukel

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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

After their mustering and rapid journey to the aid of Gondor, the Rohirrim

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have been stopped:

“Scouts had been sent ahead.  Some had not returned.  Others hastening back had reported that the road was held in force against them.  A host of the enemy was encamped upon it, three [4.8km]] miles west of Amon Din, and some strength of men was already thrusting along the road and was not more than three leagues [about 9 miles/14.5km] away.”  (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 5, “The Ride of the Rohirrim”)

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And so they are camped temporarily in the murk which has fallen over the West—a sign of Sauron on the move.

As they remain there, Merry gradually hears a sound like distant drums and, when Elfhelm, the Marshal of the eored [Rohirrim unit of horsemen] in which Merry and his mysterious companion, Dernhelm, are riding, stumbles over him, Merry asks if it’s the enemy:

“Are those their drums?”

Elfhelm replies:

“You hear the Woses, the Wild Men of the Woods…They still haunt Druadan Foest, it is said…But they have offered their services to Theoden.  Even now one of their headmen is being taken to the king.”

Merry follows Elfhelm and soon sees:

“A large lantern, covered above, was hanging from a bough and cast a pale circle of light below.  There sat Theoden and Eomer, and before them on the ground sat a strange squat shape of a man, gnarled as an old stone, and the hairs of his scanty beard straggled on his lumpy chin like dry moss.  He was short-legged and fat-armed, thick and stumpy, and clad only with grass about his waist.”

This, we find out, is Ghan-buri-Ghan, leader of the Wild Men, who, as Elfhelm has said, has come to offer his and his people’s aid to Theoden.

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(We note, by the way, that this Hildebrandt illustration has taken certain liberties with the scene as described in the book:  it appears to be daylight—no lantern—if Eomer is there, he isn’t seated, and there is more than one Wild Man–oh, and the Wild Man’s beard has suddenly sprouted.)

What Ghan-buri-Ghan offers Theoden is a long-forgotten road which would provide a way around the soldiers of Sauron who are blocking the direct route to Minas Tirith:   the path through the Stonewain Valley.

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What caught our attention here was the connection Merry made between Ghan-buri-Ghan and something he’d encountered only recently:

“Merry felt that he had seen him before somewhere, and suddenly he remembered the Pukel-men of Dunharrow.  Here was one of those old images brought to life, or maybe a creature descended in true line through endless years from the models used by the forgotten craftsmen long ago.”

Dunharrow

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was a mysterious place—

“…the work of long-forgotten men.  Their name was lost and no song or legend remembered it.  For what purpose they had made this place, as a town or secret temple or a tomb of kings, none in Rohan could say.  Here they labored in the Dark Years, before ever a ship came to the western shores, or Gondor of the Dunedain was built; and now they had vanished, and only the old Pukel-men were left, still sitting at the turnings of the road.

Merry stared at the lines of marching stones:  they were worn and black; some were leaning, some were fallen, some cracked or broken; they looked like rows of old and hungry teeth.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 3, “The Muster of Rohan”)

For a moment, this description reminded us of something one sees in Brittany, on the west coast of France, the so-called “Carnac Stones”, a vast field of Neolithic upright stones, now called menhirs (Breton for “long stone”) in long lines in and around the village of Carnac.

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And, just as the use or meaning of Dunharrow is lost, so is that of the elaborate construction of the Carnac Stones.

Once the Carnac Stones—and others like them, both in France and in Great Britain—came into our heads, we were whirled away to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and all of those puzzling outsized heads on less-developed torsos, the moai.

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It was not the size or placement of those figures like “rows of old and hungry teeth” however, which made us think further about Ghan-buri-Ghan and his stony cousins, but how the figures were carved:

“At each turn of the road there were great standing stones that had been carved in the likeness of men, huge and clumsy-limbed, squatting cross-legged with their stumpy arms folded on fat bellies.  Some in the wearing of the years had lost all features save the dark holes of their eyes that still stared sadly at the passers-by.  The Riders hardly glanced at them.  The Pukel-men they called them, and heeded them little…”

As the Rohirrim are translated as speaking among themselves a sort of Tolkien-adapted Old English, so “pukel” appears to be derived from “pucel” = “goblin/demon”, which suggests perhaps a quasi-religious or magical use, but, if they once represented spirits, they are now spiritless, with no ability to frighten.  Rather, as the narrator tells us:

“…no power or terror was left in them; but Merry gazed at them with wonder and a feeling almost of pity, as they loomed up mournfully in the dusk.”

The narrator’s elaboration then reminded us of something else:  balbal.

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These are carved stone figures with a history probably as long as that of the Pukel-men.  They appear to be the product of Turkic peoples in Central Asia—with even older relatives, perhaps, to the west, as well.  Some may have been tomb guardians or monuments themselves—as with the Pukel-men, their origins and use/s are lost to us.  We ourselves have stolen them for use in our series of novels based in an imaginary medieval fairy tale Russia, called Cherna, “The Black Land”—but please don’t think “Mordor?”  In our case, the reason it’s named that is that it is steppe country with extremely fertile black soil.  So rich, especially as pasture-land, that it’s worth invading and fighting over, which is what the villains of our trilogy, the Vsadniki, modeled on the Mongols, do.

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Unlike Pukel-men and menhirs and moai, however, there is no mystery about what the Vsadniki are up to with their stones:  every time they conquer a new land, they set such stones up at their new far-western border to say not only “what’s behind these is ours”, but also “and we’re looking at your lands next”.

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Thanks, as always, for reading.

MTCIDC

CD

ps

In the Tolkien volume Unfinished Tales, we find further connections between the Wild Men/Woses and carvings.  We use a paperback edition and this has somewhat different pagination from the hardbound, but, should you be interested, you can find it in either form in Part Four, I The Druedain.

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Here is a drawing of Ghan-buri-Ghan by Denis Gordeev, who has done a good deal of work illustrating a wide selection of JRRT’s fiction, rather as Ted Nasmith has, along with many other classics as well as modern fantasy fiction.

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Gordeev has clearly been trained/trained himself in drawing as people did in that golden age of children’s writing and illustration, the 1880s to 1920s, and, once you get used to his very distinctive style, you may come to like it as we do.  Here’s Gandalf arriving in Hobbiton, fireworks and all, just to give you a taste.

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Small Talk

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Welcome, dear readers, as always.

Sometimes, ideas for posts come from something we’ve seen in a movie theatre or something we’re reading or even from something we’re teaching or studying.  Sometimes we employ the Sortes Tolkienses.  And sometimes things just seem to fall into our hands.  And that’s where this post comes from.

We were moving a bookshelf and something literally dropped into our hands, a boxed set of books by one of our favorite YA authors, Tamora Pierce.

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As you can see from our image, the series is called “Protector of the Small” and is about the life of Keladry of Mindelan, who lives in Pierce’s imaginary Tortall, where it is possible—just possible—for a girl to become a knight.  Through the four volumes, Kel gradually works her way from pre-page to knighthood and, is always the case with TP’s books, there are both surprises and interesting and not always predictable difficulties along the way, as well as an ultimate humanity which makes her books such satisfying reading.

It wasn’t the actual books, however, which got us to thinking, but the word “small” in the series title.  How often, in our favorite adventure stories, it’s a case of small versus big

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and, very often, the big thinks that that’s all which counts—think of the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” for example.image3ajackgiant.jpg

For all that the giant is huge and menacing in the story, he’s vulnerable as he climbs down the beanstalk and Jack’s quick thought–to cut down the stalk even as the giant descends–makes quick work of the oversized (but perhaps overconfident—and underbrained?) creature.

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In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we have the Biblical story of David and Goliath.

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Goliath is not only huge, but armored, and David is a boy who has only his shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five stones from a river bed, but it’s all he needs.

A sling is an ancient weapon

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This is from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom town of Hetep Senwosret, c. 1895BC.  The Assyrians were still using the weapon more than a thousand years later, as this scene from one of the Lachish reliefs (c.700BC) shows.

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The Greeks had slingers

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as did the Romans

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as did medieval westerners.

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Slings shouldn’t be confused with slingshots, by the way.  (Or “catapult” if you’re one of our British friends.)

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This is the weapon of choice of the cartoon character, Dennis the Menace.

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These are a modern invention which requires a large rubber band (an “elastic”) to propel the missile and such rubber bands can only come from the 1840s and beyond, when the process of heat-hardening rubber (“vulcanization”) was patented by Charles Goodyear.

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For us, then, the image of Ori in P Jackson’s film armed with a slingshot

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goes into our catalogue of anachronisms, like the steam engine whistle, the popgun, and the tomatoes in The Hobbit.

But, as we were saying, small David has no fear of big Goliath, as one of those stones from the riverbed stuns the giant warrior, allowing David to use Goliath’s own sword to cut off his head.

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In ancient Greek tradition, Polyphemus the Cyclops obviously thinks his size will allow him to consume all of Odysseus’ men—and then Odysseus, too, saving him for last as a “guest gift”.

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Big body, however, doesn’t necessarily mean big brain as Odysseus gets the Cyclops drunk and then blinds him with his own staff.

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Then, he uses the Cyclops’ own sheep as escape vehicles for himself and his men.

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Small versus big is a major theme in Star Wars, from the fact that the gigantic Death Star has a single ventilator duct which makes it vulnerable

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to attack by a single fighter,

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to the ferocious Ewoks,

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and, of course, Yoda, with his famous question.

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And then there are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, where the world of the small and tough seems to be everywhere, from the hobbits

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to the dwarves

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and even to the Woses.

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Their opponents are suitably large—trolls,

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dragons

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wizards

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to the biggest evil in Middle-earth (although it’s not clear, really, how big he is, physically).

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But there’s someone even smaller in The Hobbit who, because of that size, perhaps, is left behind, but is crucial to the story:  the elderly thrush

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who informs Bard the Bowman just where to fire that black arrow which never fails him—and doesn’t this time, thanks to the bird.

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We were sorry that his part was completely removed from The Battle of the Five Armies, but perhaps this was, in fact, one of the few times when the small hero lost to the big–studio.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

MTCIDC

CD

 

PS

Here’s a LINK to an amazing demonstration of just how accurate the sling can be.

A Power

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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

Some time ago, we did a post on Saruman as a “Mini-Me” version of Sauron

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but, since that time, one of us has used The Hobbit in a class.  Mirkwood

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and the Necromancer

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came up and we began to think about him again, this time to consider his strategy:  how long has he been planning something and what might be the elements within that plan?

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Although there is no hard evidence for just how long Saruman has been at work, it seems like his scheme has been under construction for at least 80 years.  We base that upon Gandalf’s description of the White Council’s meeting on the subject of Sauron and what to do when it’s discovered that he is in Dol Guldur, calling himself the Necromancer:

“Some, too, will remember also that Saruman dissuaded us from open deeds against him, and for long we watched him only.  Yet at last, as his shadow grew, Saruman yielded and the Council put forth its strength and drove the evil out of Mirkwood and that was in the very year of finding this Ring…”

(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

Almost 80 years before the story of Bilbo and the Ring, then, it appears that one element in Saruman’s plot was shielding Sauron—a fact clearly not lost on Treebeard:

“He was chosen to be the head of the White Council, they say; but that did not turn out too well.  I wonder now if even then Saruman was not turning to evil ways.”

(The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)

From something Saruman says to Gandalf we might guess the obvious reason for helping Sauron to escape action by the White Council:

“A new Power is rising.  Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all.  There is no hope left in Elves and dying Numenor.  This then is one choice before you, before us.  We may join with that Power.  It would be wise, Gandalf.  There is hope that way.  Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it.”

(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

But being a lackey to that Power is not quite his ultimate design, as we see:

“As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it.  We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose:  Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish…”

As is well-known, Saruman, as one of the Istari, was sent into Middle-earth as a counter to Sauron, not as an ally, and their purpose was:

“…coming in shapes weak and humble were bidden to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavor to dominate and corrupt.”

(Unfinished Tales, 406)

Knowledge, yes, but Rule and Order?  Emphatically not!  But if that Power (and we note that even Saruman won’t just come out and say “Sauron” at this point, rather like the use of “He Who Must Not Be Named” in the Harry Potter books)

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can be used as a tool in Saruman’s hands—which may show us one element in his grand design.

First, however, it would seem that he needed a base.  As Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin:

“He gave up wandering about and minding the affairs of Men and Elves, some time ago—you would call it a very long time ago; and he settled down at Angrenost, or Isengard as the Men of Rohan call it.”

(The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)

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Saruman even then was already thinking of something, though the purpose was intentionally shrouded:

“There was a time when he was always walking about in my woods.  He was polite in those days, always asking my leave…and always eager to listen.  I told him many things that he would never have found out by himself; but he never repaid me in like kind.  I cannot remember that he ever told me anything.  And he got more like that; his face, as I remember it…became like windows in a stone wall:  windows with shutters inside.”

Although he was powerful, Saruman needed allies—or, rather, servants—and he wasn’t too particular who or what they were:

“He has taken up with foul folk, with the Orcs…Worse than that:  he has been doing something to them; something dangerous.  For these Isengarders are more like wicked Men.  It is a mark of evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide the Sun; but Saruman’s Orcs can endure it, even if they hate it.  I wonder what he has done?  Are they Men he has ruined, or has he blended the races of Orcs and Men?  That would be a black evil!”

With the help of these servants, Saruman has turned his base into a factory and storehouse for his scheme, as Gandalf says:

“…it had once been green and fair, it was now filled with pits and forges.  Wolves and orcs were housed in Isengard, for Saruman was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service, yet.”

(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

In fact, it would appear from what Saruman has told Gandalf, that he actually never intends to offer his service to Sauron.

From his base, he has been extending his own power into Rohan, in the south.  In his encounter with Aragon and his companions, Eomer says:

“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.  He has taken Orcs into his service, and Wolf-riders, and evil Men, and he has closed the Gap against us, so that we are likely to be beset both east and west.”

(The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan”)

His attacks aren’t always military and Eomer hints at another possibility:

“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.”

We know that this is “fifth-column” work—Grima Worm-tongue, who has been slowly poisoning King Theoden with defeatism.

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And now we can see, in broad outline, what Saruman is up to:

  1. establish a base
  2. recruit an army
  3. build up an intelligence network (birds, spies, even wandering himself to pick up information)
  4. use your strength to expand power into the next land, Rohan
  5. at the same time undercut the King of Rohan’s ability to resist by subversive methods

So far, so good, as long as all that Saruman wants is to be the ruler of the land south of the Gap of Rohan and north of Gondor, but we’ve already seen that he’s more ambitious yet, suggesting to Gandalf that they—really he, as Gandalf knows—can take over that unnamed Power and use it for their—his– purposes, Knowledge, Rule, Order.  When he sees that Gandalf is unconvinced, Saruman lets slip the capstone of his scheme:

“Well, I see that this wise course does not commend itself to you…Not yet?  Not if some better way can be contrived?…And why not, Gandalf?  Why not?  The Ruling Ring?  It we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”

And here is the real heart of Saruman’s design:  to obtain the One Ring.

He has been searching for it for a long time, even traveling to Minas Tirith to examine ancient records.

“In former days the members of my order had been well received there,” says Gandalf to the Council of Elrond, “but Saruman most of all.  Often he had been for long the guest of the Lords of the City.”

His purpose is now easy to guess.

Gandalf had been aware that Saruman had seemed to know a great deal about the Ring, even to its appearance, as Saruman had said to the White Council:

“The Nine, the Seven, and the Three had each their proper gem.  Not so the One.  It was round and unadorned, as it were one of the lesser rings; but the maker set marks upon it that the skilled, maybe, could still see and read.”

How had Saruman known that since, as Gandalf says, “What those marks were he had not said.  Who now would know?  The maker.  And Saruman?  But great though his lore may be, it must have a source.  What hand save Sauron’s ever held this thing, ere it was lost?  The hand of Isildur alone.”

Gandalf discovers the truth of this in the dusty records of Gondor:

“…there lies in Minas Tirith still, unread, I guess, by any save Saruman and myself since the kings failed, a scroll that Isildur made himself.”

And, with the discovery and reading of that scroll, Gandalf knows not only about much more about the Ring, but how Saruman knew about its appearance and now, in Orthanc, pressed by Saruman to join him, he understands the last element in Saruman’s design—and also why Saruman has summoned him:

“That is in truth why I brought you here.  For I have many eyes in my service, and I believe you know where this precious thing now lies.  Is it not so?  Or why do the Nine ask for the Shire, and what is your business there?”

So here, lacking only one element, the real element under all, is Saruman’s long plan—but lacking “this precious thing” (a telling phrase!), we will see how successful the rest will be.  Treebeard has said of him,

“He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.”

What will happen when, without the Ring, Saruman will find that growing things, instead of serving him for the moment, might unseat him forever?

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As always, thanks for reading!

MTCIDC

CD

Boom

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Welcome, dear readers, as always.

When Gandalf first arrives at Bilbo’s door “in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green”, Bilbo’s memories of him are hardly those of someone aware who Gandalf really is:

“Gandalf, Gandalf!  Good gracious me!  Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered?  Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons?  Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks!”  (The Hobbit, Chapter 1, “An Unexpected Party”)

And it’s the fireworks in particular which made a strong impression:

“I remember those!  Old Took used to have them on Midsummer’s Eve.  Splendid!  They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!”

[Here, by the way are the three flowers he mentions, in case, like us, you live in a climate where such things won’t appear for months yet!]

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And, although he alludes to an edgier side of Gandalf (“Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures?”), he concludes as if Gandalf were merely some sort of superior tradesman:

“I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business!”

Gandalf is patient, however, only replying:

“Where else should I be?… All the same I am pleased to find that you remember something about me.  You seem to remember my fireworks kindly, at any rate, and that is not without hope…”

Perhaps the idea of linking Gandalf and fireworks is pardonable, however, when we see how, after being associated with them at the beginning of The Hobbit, he appears at the opening of The Lord of the Rings actually bringing fireworks to Hobbiton:

“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.  He wore a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, and a silver scarf.  He had a long white beard and bushy eyebrows that stuck out beyond the brim of his hat.  Small hobbit-children ran after the cart all through Hobbiton and right up the hill.  It had a cargo of fireworks, as they rightly guessed.  At Bilbo’s front door the old man began to unload:  there were great bundles of fireworks of all sorts and shapes, each labeled with a large red G…and the elf-rune…” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-expected Party)

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(This is from a site called “Llama’s War of the Ring”, which has all sorts of interesting figures and conversions—here’s a LINK.)

Those great bundles turned into spectacular entertainment at the joint birthday party:

“The fireworks were by Gandalf:  they were not only brought by him, but designed and made by him; and the special effects, set pieces, and flights of rockets were let off by him.  But there was also a generous distribution of squibs, crackers, backarappers, sparklers, torches, dwarf-candles, elf-fountains, goblin-barkers and thunderclaps.  They were all superb.  The art of Gandalf improved with age.”

We ourselves enjoy fireworks, and, for the sake of our readers who might not be familiar with some of the types mentioned, we add here a few images—although some, like “dwarf-candles, elf-fountains, goblin-barkers” no longer seem to be available.

A squib is a small firecracker, like these.

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Crackers seem to come in sets.

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Backarappers—we don’t have an image, but here’s a definition (and it sounds like the previous image):

“A firework made from multiple firecrackers folded together so that they will explode one after another”.  (from G.F. Northall’s Warwickshire Word-book, 1896)

Sparklers are metal rods or bamboo sticks whose upper part has what is called “pyrotechnic composition”—which means something which shoots out sparks when it’s lit.

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Torches may be these—which, when lighted, change color as they burn down (or so the manufacturer’s description says).

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Although there are no “dwarf-candles”, there are Roman Candles.  These are built in stages and, as the fire burns down, they shoot out star-patterns—as you can see.

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There are no “elf-fountains”, either, but there are fountains and they look like this—

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Finally, we can date a “thunderclap”, made by Benwell, back to this advertisement from about 1950,

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but we wouldn’t be surprised if Pain’s (not the best name for fireworks, we would say!) carried them, as they have something called “Laburnum Blossoms” in this 1903 listing

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Gandalf’s productions were clearly quite spectacular—which was undoubtedly why Bilbo remembers them:

“There were rockets like a flight of scintillating birds singing with sweet voices.  There were green trees with trunks of dark smoke:  their leaves opened like a whole spring unfolding in a moment, and their shining branches dropped glowing flowers down upon the astonished hobbits, disappearing with a sweet scene just before they touched their upturned faces.  There were fountains of butterflies that flew glittering into the trees; there were pillars of coloured fires that rose and turned into eagles, or sailing ships, or a phalanx of flying swans; there was a red thunderstorm and a shower of yellow rain; there was a forest of silver spears that sprang suddenly into the air with a yell like an embattled army, and came down again into the Water with a hiss like a hundred hot snakes.”

And then there was the finale.  Pain’s, in that 1903 listing, could make claims to baskets of elaborate pyrotechnics, but this?

“And there was also one last surprise, in honour of Bilbo, and it startled the hobbits exceedingly, as Gandalf intended.  The lights went out.  A great smoke went up.  It shaped itself like a mountain seen in the distance, and began to glow at the summit.  It spouted green and scarlet flames.  Out flew a red-golden dragon—not life-size, but terribly life-like:  fire came from his jaws, his eyes glared down; there was a roar and he whizzed three times over the heads of the crowd.  They all ducked, and many fell flat on their faces.  The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.”

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the fairy king, Oberon, says to his spirit-servant, Puck, these rather mysterious lines:

“My gentle Puck, come hither.  Thou rememberest

Since once I sat upon a promontory

And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back

Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath

That the rude sea grew civil at her song

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres

To hear the mermaid’s music?”

(Act 2, Scene 1)

In 1575, Queen Elizabeth I

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visited Kenilworth Castle,image15kenilworth.jpg

the home of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester,

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and a close friend (and maybe more).  To entertain her, Dudley spent thousands of pounds.

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(This is actually a gold sovereign—worth 20 shillings—that is, a pound, but there were no actual pound coins till after 1583.)

Among the entertainments was a big fireworks display (as well as at least one mermaid—see the LINK here for Robert Langham/Laneham’s contemporary “letter” in which he describes these entertainments in detail) and some scholars have theorized that those falling stars mentioned by Oberon are, in fact, Shakespeare’s boyhood memory of having seen the fireworks display (and the mermaid).  Kenilworth is only 14 miles from Stratford and Shakespeare was 11 and living at home—we presume—at that time, so we can imagine that this is possibility.  We know that JRRT had seen fireworks shows as a boy—as he tells us in a letter to Donald Swann, 29 February, 1968 (Letters, 390)—but we wonder:  did he ever, in those early years, see Goblin-barkers, or a red-golden dragon?

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

MTCIDC

CD

ps

We almost forgot–in case you’d like to make your own fireworks (definitely not recommended–and definitely illegal in some places!), here’s an 1878 manual on the subject.

 

Psalters and Psalms

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As always, dear readers, welcome.

In past posts, we’ve occasionally used images from a very famous medieval manuscript, the Luttrell Psalter.  One fairly recent one, on carts and wagons in Middle-earth, included this, for example—

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A medieval psalter is a collection of psalms—religious poems which were traditionally attributed to King David of Israel–

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(This is, in fact, from the Westminster Psalter, c.1200)

plus other Christian religious material.  It was clearly a place which offered lots of opportunities for illustrations because a number of them have them, some of them very generous in just how many, like the Utrecht Psalter, from the 9th century, which has an illustration for every psalm.

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The Utrecht Psalter has been digitized—here’s a LINK so that you can see all of this wonderful book.

Such books were created in the medieval equivalent of copy-centers, called scriptoria (singular = scriptorium).  For many years, it was said that this was a specific room in a monastery in which teams of monks worked on writing/copying books.  More recently, this view has been challenged (see this LINK for discussion on the subject), but certainly monks made and copied books, as this manuscript illustration of the 12th-century English priest and Latin poet, Lawrence of Durham reminds us.  In fact, this illustration may be more accurate than other medieval illustrations as it shows Lawrence working on a single sheet, which was the standard method.  All sheets were then gathered up and bound into a book—a very different scene from this Spanish medieval illustration, in which at least the monk on the right seems to be writing in a book (the figure on the left looks to be a lay person and may be painting—hence, illustrating).

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Illustrated books—especially heavily-illustrated books like the Luttrell Psalter—would have been very costly, and so only the wealthy would have commissioned such a work.  We know the name of the person who commissioned this book because that name and a suggestion of a portrait are at Psalm 109 of the manuscript.

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As it says just above the illustration:  “DNS Galfridus Louterrell me fieri fecit” = The Lord Geoffrey Luttrell had me made”.

Sir Geoffrey (1276-1345) was descended from an earlier Sir Geoffrey, who had been a supporter of King John (1166-1216), the dodgy character of the Magna Carta and from the Robin Hood story.

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Here’s King John forced to sign the Magna Carta, designed to lessen the king’s power and increase that of the nobles—

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which, of course, he didn’t do, since the sign of royal approval in 1215 wasn’t a name, but an official seal.

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Sir Geoffrey’s descendant, also Geoffrey, held land, among other places, around Irnham (probably from the Old English for “Georna’s settlement”, Geornaham) in Lincolnshire (yes, when it comes to England, we can never quite escape the Shire, can we?).  Here’s where Lincolnshire is on a map of England.  (It’s interesting that Nottingham, notorious for its sheriff and Prince John in the Robin Hood stories, is only about 40 miles west of Irnham.)

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This Sir Geoffrey’s manor house has long disappeared, but we imagine that the area called a manor might have looked something like this.

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Its church, St Andrew’s, survives, however, and, though rebuilt in 1858, dates from the 12th century.

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Inside, is a monumental brass for Sir Geoffrey’s son, Andrew, (died 1390).

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There is no tomb for his father, Sir Geoffrey, but there is what’s called an “Easter Sepulchre”, which was commissioned by him and which may have been based upon such a tomb.

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This piece of architecture was used in an elaborate ceremony connected with the celebration of the Christian Easter in the Middle Ages.

Beyond the church, our monument to Sir Geoffrey is the psalter, over whose date there has been lots of scholarly discussion, so we’ll go with the general area of dating, c.1320-1340.  The book is about 14.5 inches by 10.5 (368.3mm x 266.7mm) and contains 309 pages made of vellum (fine calfskin), with illustrations on more than 200 pages.  The text was written by a single scribe, it is thought, but at least five artists were involved in the illustrating—and what illustrations!

In fact, it seems a crazy variety, and, unlike the Utrecht Psalter, the illustrations don’t match the psalms.  Instead, the scenes depicted vary from the high religious—like the three Wise Men/Kings/Magi following the star to Bethlehem, from the New Testament

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to all sorts of grotesque creatures

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to what we love most, the agricultural and domestic scenes.

These can show a whole town

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or mills, both water and wind-drivenimage18mill.jpg

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or even controlling the pests who would eat the grain.  (Is this a screencap from the first cat video?)

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Here’s a LINK to a selection of images from the British Library, but there are more if you google “Luttrell Psalter”.  See what your favorites might be.

And thanks, as always, for reading!

MTCIDC

CD

 

ps

Let’s add here a LINK to a short film based upon the psalter, which we think you might enjoy.

Middle-under-earth

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As always, dear readers, welcome!

One of us is currently teaching The Hobbit and, is always seems to be the case when we are teaching an old friend, we are struck by something new.  In this case, it’s the idea of “what lurks beneath” and where it might come from.

What occurred to us now was that, virtually every time there is trouble for Bilbo and the dwarves, it is strongly linked with caves and hollowed-out places:  trolls who came out of a cave (“Roast Mutton”), goblins who live in caves (“Over Hill and Under Hill”), Gollum (“Riddles in the Dark”), hostile elves (“Flies and Spiders” and “Barrels Out of Bond”), and, of course, Smaug (“On the Doorstep”, “Inside Information”, and “Not At Home”).  Only the wargs, the overgrown spiders, and the men of Lake-town in the Battle of the Five Armies have above-ground origins, as, after all, the other forces—goblins, elves, and even Iron Hills dwarves (we assume), have subterranean dwellings.

We knew that JRRT thought to become a classicist early in his academic career and we can imagine right away that one influence upon him for this underground menace would have been Polyphemus the Cyclops, who, after all, lives in a cave.

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Before he read that part of Odysseus’ story in Greek, he might have seen it in Andrew Lang’s 1907 Tales of Troy and Greece—

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Tolkien tells us that, as a child, he had read other Lang works and a story in one, The Red Fairy Book (1890), might even have influenced some Middle-earth geography, from “Storia Moria Castle”.

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Another childhood favorite (although he appears to have changed his mind later in life) were the fantasy novels of George Macdonald

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and his The Princess and the Goblin (1872),

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as its title suggests, is full of goblins and their underground world.  These goblins are powerful, but have one fatal flaw—tender feet—which JRRT said that he never believed (see Letters, 178)—although Tolkien’s first published poem was entitled “Goblin Feet” (Oxford Poetry 1915).

Beyond possible childhood reading, there is his career focus, which includes two other potential underground influences.

First, there is Beowulf.  Grendel, the monster in this poem,

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lives in a cave at the bottom of a pool with his mother and, in the second part of his monster-slaying, Beowulf has to dive into that pool to deal with her.image9beowulfandmama.jpg

This illustration comes from another Andrew Lang book, The Red Book of Animal Stories (1899).

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(The picture of Grendel is by Brian Froud.  We found it on the website of K.T.Katzmann, I Write Monsters.  Here’s a LINK.)

Then, of course, there’s that dragon, against whom Beowulf fights and dies—and which is the direct ancestor of another famous and familiar dragon…

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We are told that it lives in an abandoned tumulus—that is, an ancient grave mound, like this one.

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(This is, in fact, a famous Neolithic burial at Gavrinis, in Brittany.)

JRRT worked in Middle English, as well as Old English, and here we find one more possible source in his own edition (with E.V. Gordon) of the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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The Green Knight who challenges King Arthur’s court to a mutual head-chopping contest, is said, in the fourth part of the poem,  to inhabit a “green chapel” and to appear out of a hole when Sir Gawain, who has accepted the challenge and cut off the Green Knight’s head, makes his appearance there to fulfill his half of the contest.

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This chapel has sounded like a tumulus to generations of scholars and here’s John Howe’s 2003 illustration, complete with chapel as tumulus (not to mention a very large green man).

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Tumuli also make their appearance, of course, in The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and his party go astray on the Barrow Downs.

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We can’t finish this posting without at least suggesting one more source, something even more personal than JRRT’s scholarly work:  his experiences in the Great War.

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By the time Tolkien entered the service in France, the Western Front was, basically, a 500-mile trench, from Switzerland to the North Sea.

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Much of the entrenching was simply deep, reinforced ditching.

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But some—particularly on the German side—could be elaborate, even built with stone or concrete, and set far enough into the ground as to be almost impervious to bombardment.

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And we imagine that, with all of that earlier literary work in his mind, JRRT might have faced such defenses wondering whether what was inside them would be Germans

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or something much worse.

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And did this haunt his later writing as much as the Great War haunted the minds of soldiers all over the world?

Thanks, as ever, for reading!

MTCIDC

CD

Legionnaire, But No Disease

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As always, dear readers, welcome!

Although we do a lot of Tolkien, we set up this blog for adventure in general and, in this posting, we’ve gone to a completely different world—as you’ll see.

When we think of the Sahara, we immediately see:

a. a satellite map, which shows us just how huge it is

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b. and camels—although they aren’t native, they’ve been there a long time, having been introduced from Arabia perhaps about 300Ad

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c. and, of course, desert warriors

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d. and, also, of course, their opponents, the French Foreign Legion

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e. or, with a bit of a trim—and in color—

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The Foreign Legion were hardly the first foreigners in the service of France.  Medieval French kings had used Genoese crossbowmen.

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And the later kings of France had, as part of their household guards, the Garde Suisse.

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The Foreign Legion was raised in 1831 and used, at first, during the French conquest of Algeria.

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As Algeria was exotic, so were the soldiers there, beginning with the dashing Zouaves, originally locals, but gradually mostly French.

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Along with these were the Chasseurs d’Afrique,

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who formed the background for what we think is the first North African adventure novel in English, Ouida (Louisa de Ramee)’s Under Two Flags (1867)

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which became a film twice, in 1922

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And in 1936.

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Oddly, the Chasseurs d’Afrique of the novel were replaced, in the 1936 film by the Foreign Legion—perhaps because the script writers thought that the Foreign Legion would have been a more familiar unit to their audience?

If so, it may have been because of P.C. Wren’s 1924 novel, Beau Geste,

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which has appeared a number of times on the screen, initially in silent form in 1926,

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and again as a “talkie” in 1939

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and again in full color in 1966.

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The book—and the film’s—popularity—the story was all about noble sacrifice—and exotic desert adventure—did not escape satire.  As early as 1931, two of our favorite early film comedy stars, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy,

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appeared in their longest short (37 minutes—but it which sounds like a contradiction in terms), Beau Hunks.

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This title is based upon what appears to be a double ethnic slur, Bo- from “Bohemian” + Hunk- from “Hungarian”, so a disparaging reference to a central European—a lower class one, at that.  (It makes us thankful that it appears to have disappeared entirely as a slang term:  in our current world, we don’t need any more ethnic attacks—we have plenty already.)

This was remade in 1939 as Flying Deuces.

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This wasn’t the end of such cheerful assaults, however.  In 1967, there was Follow That Camel (from the British comedy series “Carry On…)

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and, appropriately, in 1977, came The Last Remake of Beau Geste.

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All the same, we still love the old movie, with its last-ditch defense of Fort Zinderneuf,

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where, borrowing from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers,

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in desperation, the defenders prop up dead legionnaires to make their numbers appear greater than they are.

How could people with a passion for adventure not find that appealing?

Thanks, as ever, for reading

and, as always,

MTCIDC

CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Dragons, Other”

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As always, readers, welcome.

One of us is currently teaching a class where our present focus is upon The Hobbit.

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At the center of the book is the Lonely Mountain and at the center of that is Smaug.

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This got us to thinking about other dragons in our experience, and some of those are not quite of the same breed as the hoard-sitter faced by Bilbo and the dwarves.  That dragon is closely related to the Beowulf variety

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which, unlike Smaug, has neither a name nor (it seems) human speech, but it certainly has the same suspicious streak:  when an escaped slave steals a cup from its hoard, it’s almost immediately aware that it’s missing and suspects a human.

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And they are both vengeful.  As Smaug devastates Esgaroth, even if he dies for it,

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so Beowulf’s dragon scorches the countryside in revenge for the theft.

But what about those other dragons?

First, we thought of Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days (1898),

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a collection of short stories, the next-to-last of which is “The Reluctant Dragon”.

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This is the story of a beast the very opposite of Smaug—no hoard, no suspicion, no flaming violence, and, in fact, a poetry lover.  This story was then converted into a Disney cartoon of 1941.

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Needless to say, although the core of the plot is the same, what makes the Grahame distinctive is the language.  All of the major characters:  the dragon, the little boy who finds him, and St. George, who is brought in as a dragon-slayer, are thoughtful and articulate late Victorians who would rather discuss literature than do battle—a far cry not only from Beowulf’s encounter, but also from every other earlier depiction we could think of.

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The sword in this last one looks like it actually belongs in the hands of the jabberwock-slayer

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in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1872).

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Here’s a LINK to Dream Days so that you can enjoy the story for yourselves.

Nearly sixty years later, the comic verse writer, Ogden Nash,

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produced not a literary dragon, but a timid one in “Custard the Dragon” (1959).

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This is a poem in 15 stanzas and is a story about Belinda and her pets, including a dragon, who is taunted by the other pets as being less than brave.  To underline this, the last line in a number of stanzas is a variation upon the first version of the line, “But Custard cried for a nice safe cage”.  (Here’s a LINK to the poem.)

The surprise is that, when a pirate climbs in through the window (this happens all the time here—possibly they escape from dreams?), Custard promptly eats him—and the cries of “Coward!” disappear immediately.

In contrast to the unnamed dragon in “The Reluctant Dragon” and in “Custard the Dragon”, our next dragon is a talker—like Smaug, but also like Smaug, potentially malevolent.  This is Chrysophylax in JRRT’s 1937/1949 Farmer Giles of Ham.  (JRRT is having a quiet joke here—“Chrysophylax” is Ancient Greek for “Goldguard”.)

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The artwork is by Pauline Baynes (1922-2008).

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If, like us, you’ve loved the Narnia books, then you know her as their original illustrator.

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She was also the artist for an early Middle-earth map.

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Her 2008 obituary in The Daily Telegraph tells of how they came to work together:

“In 1948 Tolkien was visiting his publishers, George Allen & Unwin, to discuss some disappointing artwork that they had commissioned for his novella Farmer Giles of Ham, when he spotted, lying on a desk, some witty reinterpretations of medieval marginalia from the Luttrell Psalter that greatly appealed to him.  These, it turned out, had been sent to the publishers “on spec”by the then unknown Pauline Baynes.”   (The Daily Telegraph, 8 August, 2008)

JRRT was then so impressed with her work that it appeared both in other later publications and his recommendation led to her being engaged by CS Lewis’ publisher for the Narnia books, as well.  (And here’s a LINK to that obituary, which has more on Tolkien and Baynes, as well as Lewis.)

And the Baynes connection leads us to one further dragon, that in Rumer Godden’s  (1902-1998) 1981 The Dragon of Og, for which Baynes provided the cover art.

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It’s not our practice to discuss work we haven’t read, but we’ve just discovered this novel and have already put it on our spring reading list.  The little we know about it comes from a blurb or two, but it looks promising:  this is more of the reluctant dragon, but one who is in danger of being provoked by a new local lord until his wife steps in and cleverly changes the situation.

Before we close, however, we want to look back for a second at the Tolkien/Baynes connection and add two further things.  First off, here’s the first page of JRRT’s graceful letter of thanks and praise to Baynes for her work in illustrating Farmer Giles.

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Second, as the Telegraph obituary says, Tolkien was impressed with her versions of the marginalia from the Luttrell Psalter, which is high on our list of favorite medieval manuscripts.

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In our next, we want to spend some time looking at that work, thinking about marginalia, and not only there, but also in the work of another favorite illustrator, Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).

Till then, thanks, as always, for reading.

MTCIDC

CD

 

Many Woven Cloths

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Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

Not long ago, we visited Meduseld for a look at Grima, the fifth-columnist.  Today, we’re back, but, instead of scrutinizing the staff, we’re examining the décor—

“Many woven cloths were hung upon the walls, and over their wide spaces marched figures of ancient legend, some dim with years, some darkling in the shade.  But upon one form the sunlight fell:  a young man upon a white horse.  He was blowing a great horn, and his yellow hair was flying in the wind.  The horse’s head was lifted, and its nostrils were wide and red as it neighed, smelling battle afar.  Foaming water, green and white, rushed and curled about its knees.

‘Behold Eorl the Young!’ said Aragorn.  ‘Thus he rode out of the North to the Battle of the Field of Celebrant!’” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 6, “The King of the Golden Hall”)

By “woven cloth”, we presume that JRRT means a tapestry, a decorative wall-hanging, like these—

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In the western Middle Ages and Renaissance, even wealthy walls—like those in castles—could simply be stone and such tapestries could act both to decorate and to act as a barrier between cold wall and (potentially) shivering inhabitants.

For those making such things, the possibilities for using them as story-telling spaces inspired such works as the famous “Hunt of the Unicorn” series of tapestries, now housed in the Cloisters, a museum in New York City.

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The description of Eorl makes us think of medieval stag hunt illustrations, where hunters may be seen blowing horns—like this one.

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But the fact that he was riding to battle also made us think of wall decorations of a military/historical nature through the centuries, starting with ancient Egypt, where Rameses II (1303-1213BC) had himself depicted on walls in various military actions—

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Or the Assyrians, who were not only enthusiastic (gross understatement) about war, but also about depicting themselves engaged in it.

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As you can see, although these appear on walls, they are not hangings, but reliefs—that is, shallow carvings.  The Egyptian reliefs could be brightly painted, as is that reconstruction of Rameses and the Nubians, the first of the two Rameses illustrations.  It appears that some of the Assyrian reliefs were also colored—here’s a PDF: BMTRB 3 Verri et al, of an interesting article from the Technical Research Bulletin of the British Museum on the subject.

From colored reliefs, we can jump to colored tiles (called tesserae), with the famous Alexander Mosaic.

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This depicts Alexander the Great nearly confronting the Persian king, Darius III, at the Battle of the Issus (333BC) and what amazes us is that this was originally not on a wall, but on a floor, in the so-called “House of the Faun” in Pompeii.

 

It is believed that this was based upon an early 3rd-century BC painting and, to our eye, it still looks very much like the painting it may have come from (which was, presumably, on a wall, not a floor).

For battle scenes on cloth, we return to the medieval world and something we’ve mentioned before, the so-called “Bayeux Tapestry”.

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We say so-called because it’s not really a tapestry—which would have been woven on a loom—but, instead, a giant (230ft/70metres) embroidery.  Here’s a detail so that you can see how an embroidery is made up of stitching on a (in this case) plain linen strip.

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This is really an astonishing piece of work—so far as we know, nothing else like it has survived from medieval western Europe:  a massive history of the invasion of England in 1066, including events leading up to it, in 50+ scenes.  We see everything from architecture

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to ship-building

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to feasting

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to battle

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at its grainiest

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and even includes Halley’s Comet.

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JRRT certainly knew about the Bayeux piece—he mentions it in his letters—but the richness of his description doesn’t really match the relative spareness (for all its detail) of that embroidery, so we wonder what he might have had in mind?   Late medieval tapestries would have had the lush look—

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This is one of a set of 15th-century tapestries illustrating the Trojan War.  You’ll notice that, like the Bayeux Tapestry 3 centuries earlier, there are labels (tituli, they’re called).  In the case of the Eorl tapestry, it’s Aragorn who provides the explanation, suggesting that there is no caption and Aragorn, being Aragorn, simply knows the story.

For an eye-popping battle scene, however, we would point to the set of 7 tapestries of the Battle of Pavia (1525) woven in Brussels between 1528 and 1531 and now in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples.  Here’s just one example—can you imagine the same having been woven for the assaults on Minas Tirith or Helm’s Deep?  (Here’s a LINK, by the way, to a very detailed article on the subject of these wonderful works.)

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But such pieces as these are so elaborate that, for all of their great art, they don’t provide quite the parallel we’re looking for, perhaps because all of the larger ones seem to be filled with people and movement and what JRRT describes is a single figure—almost like a standard, rather than a tapestry—something like this one (although we imagine the original to be facing to the right and the field to be green—oh, and of course he has that horn, but you get the idea).

 

And we do have this example.  It comes from a site called “Elvenesse”.

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It looks more like a religious triptych than a tapestry to us,

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but it certainly is going in the right direction.  What do you think, dear readers?

And thanks, as always, for reading!

MTCIDC

CD