Who’s There? (1)


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Welcome, dear readers, as always.

We have always been Shakespeare fans, our favorite plays being Macbeth, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, Henry V—and we guess we’d add a few more, too, as we think about it.  Our first love was Hamlet.


It opens with a nervous sentry on the battlements of Elsinore castle.  (Actually Kronborg—the local town is Helsingor—here’s the castle today), in the kingdom of Denmark.


Something uncanny appears to be happening and, when his replacement comes, we have the idea that it’s made the watchmen jumpy:

The Tragicall Historie of

HAMLETPrince of Denmarke.

Enter Two Centinels.

  1. STand: who is that?
  2. Tis I.
  3. O you come most carefully vpon your watch,
  4. And if you meete Marcellus and Horatio,

The partners of my watch, bid them make haste.

  1. I will: See who goes there.

Enter Horatio and Marcellus.

Hor. Friends to this ground.

Mar. And leegemen to the Dane,

O farewell honest souldier, who hath releeued you?

  1. Barnardo hath my place, giue you good night.

Mar. Holla, Barnardo.

  1. Say, is Horatio there?

Hor. A peece of him.

  1. Welcome Horatio, welcome good Marcellus.

Mar. What hath this thing appear’d againe to night.

  1. I haue seene nothing.

Mar. Horatio sayes tis but our fantasie,

And wil not let beliefe take hold of him,

Touching this dreaded sight twice seene by vs,

Therefore I haue intreated him a long with vs

To watch the minutes of this night,

That if againe this apparition come,

He may approoue our eyes, and speake to it.

(The Tragicall History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, from its first publication, the First Folio, 1603)

We love the way Shakespeare begins with two minor characters discussing “this thing”—and we won’t learn till deeper in the scene that what they’ve seen was the ghost of Hamlet’s father:  a wonderful, spooky—and intriguing—opening.

This isn’t a Shakepeare posting, however.  What really interested us recently was, in fact, that it’s with two sentries that the play commences. Their job is to watch for anyone who might try to enter the castle for nefarious purposes (and, try as they might, they can’t do that with a ghost) and it got us to thinking about sentries in The Lord of the Rings and just how many there actually are.

From his experience in the Great War, Tolkien would have been very experienced with such people


and even from simply visiting London.


(The Queen has five regiments of foot guards, by the way.  The buttons in twos on his tunic—as well as the red plume on his fur cap—tell us that he belongs to the second regiment, the Coldstream Guards—here’s a chart so that you, too, can be able to tell them apart.)


His scholarly experience would have added to this, particularly in his long-time study of Beowulf,


in which two such folk appear.  First, Beowulf and his companions encounter a kind of coast guard, when they cross from what is now southern Sweden to Denmark.


On the shore, a Danish watchman


challenges them:

“From rocks up above them
Hrothgar’s sentinel,
whose task was to guard
and patrol the sea-cliffs,
saw strangers who bore
stout battle-gear
and sturdy war-shields
striding down the gangplank;
he needed to know
who these newcomers were.
Mounting his horse
he made for the beach,
brandished his spear
and bluntly challenged
the foreign sailors
with formal words:
‘Who are you, you unknown
ironclad men,
alien troops
armed in mailcoats,
bringing your boat
from abroad, crossing
the sounding sea?’ “

(This is from Section III of  Dick Ringler’s 2005 translation, intentionally designed for recitation aloud.  Here’s the LINK to the full text.  If this is your first experience of the poem, we very much recommend that you visit the site and have a look—our students like the translation and the introductory material is very helpful.)

Beowulf’s response and the look of him and his men so impresses the coastguard that he not only lets them pass, but even says that he will detach someone to keep an eye on their boat while they’re moving inland to visit the king, Hrothgar.

At Hrothgar’s palace, however, they meet with a second guard:

“An eagle-eyed sentry
who stood in the doorway
studied them closely.
‘What country do you come from
with your curved shields,
your meshed war-shirts
and mask-helmets,
your iron spears?
I am the herald
of noble Hrothgar.
I have never seen
so bold or brave
a band of foreigners,
so it is less likely
that you are landless strays
than valiant adventurers
visiting my king.’ “

(from section V of the Ringler)

Again, the look of Beowulf and his men and Beowulf’s humble address persuades Wulfgar, the herald, to agree to take a message about them to Hrothgar—and Hrothgar tells us that he has had dealings long before with Beowulf’s father and remembers Beowulf, as well.

There are no coastguards in The Lord of the Rings, but Wulfgar bears a strong family resemblance to Hama, the Doorward of Theoden, when Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come to Meduseld, but we’ll see more of him in the second part of our look at sentries in our next posting.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, as ever.






Thrones or Dominions (2)


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As always, dear readers, welcome.

In our last, we began to discuss what we called the governments of Middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring, making a kind of Grand Tour using the plot movement of The Lord of the Rings to loosely shape our itinerary.  (And here we’re borrowing from a witty idea, on a site called brilliantmaps.com, where we found “If Frodo and Sam had Google Maps of Middle-earth”.)


Our first stop was the Shire, where we proposed that this was a “government by the few”:  that is, an oligarchy, a certain number of old and established families controlling the state.  From there, we moved on to Bree, where there was so little information that our best guess was that it, too, was probably an oligarchy, some sort of loose-knit one among—or perhaps uniting—the four villages which made up the general area.

Next, we grouped together what we suggested were two Elf kingdoms, Rivendell and Lorien, where Elrond and Galadriel (along with the nearly-invisible Celeborn), clearly were in charge, although neither would claim the title of monarch.

At our next stop, Isengard, Saruman,


who had begun as one of the five Maiar sent to oppose the annoyingly-persistent Sauron, had moved from being what Gandalf called “the chief of my order” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”), to being a kind of dictator—but one in the shadow of Sauron, just as Mussolini (1883-1945), who, from 1922, had been a model for such figures,


had fallen, by the later 1930s, into being the shadow of another, more powerful, dictator.


Like Elrond and Galadriel, he carries no title, but his captain, Ugluk, calls him “the Wise, the White Hand:  the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat”, which probably tells us more than we want to know about his rule. (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)

We believe that this shadow may have been created by Saruman’s growing arrogance (which Gandalf points out to Frodo in “The Shadow of the Past”) combined with his overconfidence in using a palantir he has found in Orthanc and which puts him into communication with Sauron—and Sauron’s ability to seduce.


Sauron himself seems like the primal dictator, but a dictator before the 20th century, when dictators began to have a growing media world to employ to make themselves omnipresent in the lives of their citizens.



Instead, he’s  remote—sitting in the Barad dur, yet


(and we can’t resist this image by “Rackthejipper”)


represented as being like 1984’s Big Brother, always watching.


Or, as it is crudely represented in the Jackson films, literally a giant eye on a tower.


When one thinks of modern dictators, however, one imagines them backed by huge bureaucracies, like the ministries in 1984:

“The Ministry of Truth–Minitrue, in Newspeak [Newspeak was the official

language of Oceania. For an account of its structure and etymology see

Appendix.]–was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It

was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring

up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. From where Winston

stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in

elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:






The Ministry of Truth contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above

ground level, and corresponding ramifications below. Scattered about London

there were just three other buildings of similar appearance and size. So

completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof

of Victory Mansions you could see all four of them simultaneously. They

were the homes of the four Ministries between which the entire apparatus

of government was divided. The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself

with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of

Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which

maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible

for economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv,

and Miniplenty. (George Orwell, 1984, Chapter 1)


Instead, what we can see of Sauron’s government is much more medieval, beginning with the Nazgul, who were once human kings,


who would be like the barons, the chief feudal deputies  of a king in a feudal world of the sort medieval England was and upon which much of Middle-earth, as we’ve suggested in many earlier postings, was based.  The chief of these was then the commander of Sauron’s main attack on Minas Tirith.


To which we would add “the Voice of Sauron” (reminding us, of course, that he is only the spokesperson and Sauron would be presumed to have his eye on him, as well).  If you look for images of him, you will commonly find this:


But, like certain other depictions in the Jackson films (that eye, for example), it is a very literal interpretation for someone JRRT described as:

“The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man…it is told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Numenoreans…” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 10, “The Black Gate Opens”)

Here’s an image possibility which comes a bit closer to the text, in our opinion.


From dictators, we make a final stop at two actual feudal  kings, the first, the ruler of Rohan, Theoden,


is clearly the descendant of earlier kings, as we are told in Appendix A, of The Lord of the Rings, “The Kings of the Mark”, where the line begins with Eorl the Young and continues for about five hundred years.

In the case of our other monarchy, Gondor, the kings who ruled for so many centuries (from SA3320 to TA 2050), have disappeared and, though the fiction is maintained that they will someday return, the actual ruler is their deputy, the Steward, and his role as lieutenant is symbolized literally by his position in the old throne room:

“At the far end, upon a dais [a kind of raised platform] of many steps was set a high throne under a canopy of marble shaped like a crowned helm; behind it was carved upon the wall and set with gems an image of a tree in flower.  But the throne was empty.  At the foot of the dais, upon the lowest step which was broad and deep, there was a stone chair, black and unadorned, and on it sat an old man gazing at his lap.”  (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith)image17throne.jpg

At the same time, Denethor, and all of the previous Stewards, were kings in all but name, having ruled Gondor for twenty-five generations (see Appendix A, “The Stewards” for details).

So, in sum we have:

  1. 2 possible oligarchies (the Shire, Bree)
  2. 4 kingdoms (or at least sort of, in the case of the Elves—Rivendell, Lorien, plus Rohan and Gondor)
  3. 2 dictatorships (eastern Rohan, extending from Isengard, Mordor)

And, just when we were summarizing, the thought came to us:  what about the dwarves?  We can imagine that, considering Thorin’s family, there have been the equivalent of kings among the dwarves, but that’s a posting for another day!

Thanks, as ever, for reading.



Thrones or Dominions, Principalities or Powers (1)


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Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

In a letter to his son, Christopher, of 29 November, 1943, Tolkien wrote:

“Give me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses;  and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers.  And so on down the line.  But, of course, the fatal weakness of all that—after all only the fatal weakness of all good natural things in a bad corrupt unnatural world—is that it works and has worked only when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way.” (Letters, 64)

Monarchs, of course, are all that he had known, when it came to heads of state.  Born during the last years of Queen Victoria (ruled 1837-1901),


he lived under King Edward VII (reigned 1901-1910),


George V (ruled 1910-1936),


Edward VIII (ruled 1936—abdicated in favor of his younger brother),


George VI (ruled 1936-1952),


and died in 1973 during the reign of Elizabeth II (1952—the present).


It’s not that he was very enthusiastic about monarchies—in the same letter he says “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)…”

but even there he couldn’t escape the structure he was a subject of, adding “or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy.”

This made us consider how this conditioning might be reflected in Middle-earth—after all, the title of the third volume of The Lord of the Rings is The Return of the King.  What were the governments of Middle-earth at, roughly, the time of the War of the Ring?  How many were monarchies and what other forms might there be?

Recently, we had looked at the governing structure of the Shire,


about which, as JRRT has told us:

“The Shire at this time had hardly any ‘government’.  (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, 3. “Of the Ordering of the Shire”)

This depends, of course, upon what is meant by “government”.  There is an elected Mayor, the “only real official in the Shire”, and whose job appears, at first, to be only ceremonial, until we are informed  that “the offices of Postmaster and First Shirriff were attached to the mayoralty.”  At the same time, there was an hereditary position of leader, the Thain, controlled by the Took family, and, the more Tolkien explains, the more it appears that what really governs the Shire is an oligarchy—that is, a small group of families who, together, quietly run things.   (There may also be tension just below the surface about which families this oligarchy includes.  When Saruman (aka “Sharkey”) takes over the Shire, he favors not the Tooks, but the Bagginses, suggesting that he is aware of this tension and may be exploiting it.)

As we move across Middle-earth with the Fellowship,


the next settlement we come to is Bree.  The government of this is completely unclear.  All that we’re told is that:

“The Big Folk and the Little Folk (as they called one another) were on friendly terms, minding their own affairs in their own ways, but both rightly regarding themselves as necessary parts of the Bree-folk…The Bree-folk, Big and Little, did not themselves travel much, and the affairs of the four villages were their chief concern.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 9, “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony”)

Their only defense appears to have been “a deep dike [ditch] with a thick hedge on the inner side”, but who maintains it is not mentioned, although there is a gate guard—the evil Bill Ferny, when the hobbits first approach the gate.  Unlike the Shirriffs of the Shire, however, we have no idea what structure might lie behind this position.

As we travel farther eastward, we come to Rivendell.


Here, Elrond is clearly in charge, but seems to have no distinct title—unlike Thranduil, who is called “the King of the Elves of Northern Mirkwood” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”).   The same lack of title seems to be true of Galadriel.


Although Gimli calls her “Queen Galadriel” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 8, “The Road to Isengard”), and she, along with Celeborn, rules Lorien, she does not bear that title—in fact she may be a little anxious about it, as seen when Frodo offers her the ring:

“You will give me the Ring freely?  In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

Along with Frodo’s frightening vision of her, this seems more like a warning than a statement.

We’ve seen that monarchy seems to be linked with inheritance:  the thainship in the Shire is passed down through the Tooks.  Even Elrond and Galadriel appear to hold their positions through seniority.  In our next government, it is self-assumed, as Saruman, once referred to by Gandalf as “the chief of my order” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”), begins to have grander plans.


In contrast to other monarchs in The Lord of the Rings, Saruman, we would suggest,  is not so much a medieval king, as others in Middle-earth  are, but an avatar for modern (1930s-1940s) dictators,


with, as Treebeard says, “a mind of metal and wheels” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”).  In fact, Saruman is a relative newcomer to the business, “setting up on his own with his filthy white badges”, as Grishnakh describes him (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”), in contrast with Sauron, who, although intermittent in his attempts at control, has been involved in the process in Middle-earth for many centuries.

In his role of metal and wheels dictator, Saruman turns Isengard into a factory/fortress, manufacturing everything from orcs to swords within its precinct.  His orc captain, Ugluk, calls him “Saruman the Wise, the White Hand”, but we see him later in his real form, as he works to destroy the Shire, as “Sharkey”—a name he says “All my people used to call me that in Isengard, I believe.  A sign of affection, possibly.”  (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)  This is hardly “His Majesty”.  Rather, it’s more like the kind of nickname a gang-leader in the US in the 1920s-30s might have had, like “Scarface” Al Capone.


“Sharkey” may be derived, as JRRT suggests, from “Orkish…sharku, ‘old man’,” but it also suggests a fishy predator—a very appropriate image for a would-be dictator.

In our next, we’ll answer Grishnakh’s question:  “Is Saruman the master or the Great Eye?” as we continue our exploration of government in Middle-earth.

Thanks, as always, for reading.



Class, Order, Family…(2)


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Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

In our last posting, we began with JRRT stipulating, when selling the rights to The Lord of the Rings, that Merry and Pippin were not to be “rustics”.  The word “rustics” caught our attention and, from its origin—an  adjective from Latin rus, ruris, n., “country” (as in “countryside”)—we began some exploration of how, in The Lord of the Rings, it was possible to distinguish between “gentlehobbits” and “rustics” by their grammar,  word choices,  and speech patterns.  We also talked about the speech of Saruman (don’t listen too long!) in contrast to his Uruk-hai.

In this posting, we want to do a little more exploring to see what else we might find, first in the speech of the  principal representative of “the rustics” in The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee.  Then we’ll add a bit more on the speech of the orcs.

We begin this time with the home of Sam, the Shire.


Tolkien says of it that it “had hardly any ‘government’, but that “Families for the most part managed their own affairs.”  Thus, although there was an actual Shire official “the Mayor of Michel Delving (or of the Shire), who was elected every seven years…As mayor almost his only duty was to preside at banquets given on the Shire-holidays…”(The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, 3, “Of the Ordering of the Shire”),  at the same time, this was not a democracy (JRRT doesn’t appear very comfortable with them—see Letters, 64, among several other references), but, rather, an oligarchy, in which certain families appear to have held all the power—“The Shire was divided into four quarters…and these again into a number of folklands, which still bore the names of some of the old leading families…It is true that the Took family had long been pre-eminent; for the office of Thain had passed to them (from the Oldbucks) some centuries before, and the chief Took had borne that title ever since…The Took family was still, indeed, accorded a special respect, for it remained both numerous and exceedingly wealthy…”

In contrast to the Tooks, it would appear that the Gamgees were not accorded such respect and, from Sam’s speech, it’s clear that he is well aware of the fact.  The first time we meet Sam, he immediately shows both his “rusticity” and his social status.  Gandalf has caught him eavesdropping outside Frodo’s window and demands to know what he’s doing.  Sam replies:

“ Lor bless you, Mr. Gandalf, sir!…Nothing!  Leastways  I was just trimming the grass-border under the window, if you follow me.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)

Here we see pronunciation—“Lor” for “Lord” in “Lor bless you” (which is a Christian exclamation and makes us wonder what it was doing in Sam’s speech to begin with), word choice—“leastways”—and method of expression—“if you follow me”, all of which suggest the nature of Sam’s social class (certainly neither Frodo nor Merry nor Pippin speaks in such a way).  A second marker of class is that both Gandalf and then Frodo are called “sir” along with “Mr.”—“Mr. Gandalf, sir”, and, soon after, “Mr. Frodo, sir”.  Such honorifics are never used when anyone addresses Sam.  He’s always just “Sam”.  And this social distinction is even more marked when Sam believes that Frodo has been killed by Shelob and he addresses Frodo as “Master, dear master” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”—and we note here the irony of calling Sam “Master Samwise”—Sam may, briefly, be the master of the Ring, but it’s not a choice he really wants or relishes.  Sam is most comfortable “knowing his place”, even as he shows that he has a sticktoittiveness without which both he and Frodo would not only have not reached  Mount Doom, but would have died in its wilderness long before.)

When you hear Sam in the P Jackson movies, the actor, Sean Astin, uses the standard “rural British accent” sometimes referred to as “Mummershire”.  This is based to a large extent on the distinctive accents of Southwest England.  We imagine that JRRT, who was himself from the Midlands however, would have heard Sam sound rather more like people from Cheshire.  Here’s Cheshire on a map of England’s shires.


And here’s a brief YouTube LINK to an elderly native speaker (to provide something a little more like that which Tolkien would have heard—the accent, like all accents under the influence of radio, television, and the internet, seems to be changing pretty rapidly).  Notice those Rs—“shap” for “sharp”, for example.

When we think of accents and orcs (a John Howe illustration),


we always imagine their leaders as sounding like classic British drill sergeants—here’s an early nineteenth century example, but we believe that the breed hasn’t changed.  Here’s a LINK to a modern example—with a SILLY WARNING because it’s Michael Palin of Monty Python as the drill sergeant.


Put together the sound of that sergeant—who is speaking in a London-area accent—with this quotation and perhaps you’ll see—hear—what we mean:

“ ‘Put up your weapons!’ shouted Ugluk.  ‘And let’s have no more nonsense!  We go straight west from here, and down the stair.  From there straight to the downs, along the river to the forest.  And we march day and night.  That clear?’ “ (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)

Add that to the whips used by such folk in Mordor and our view, both of Merry and Pippin’s captivity, as well as Frodo and Sam’s being swept up in an orc column, becomes all that much grimmer!

Thanks, as ever, for reading (AT EASE!).



Class, Order, Family… (Part 1)


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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

In Lerner and Loewe’s musical My Fair Lady (1956),


based upon George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion (1913), one major character is Professor Henry Higgins, who studies English dialects.  He is given to musical rants and, in his first, he laments “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?” with the couplet:

“An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him,

The moment he talks he makes some other

Englishman despise him.”

Somewhere—we’ve temporarily lost the quotation—Tolkien, in signing over his rights to The Lord of the Rings to someone, stipulated that Merry and Pippin weren’t to be “rustics”.

This word “rustic” entered English in the mid-15th century, being derived from the Latin rus, ruris, n., “country/farm” and its adjective, rusticus/a/um, “rural/of the countryside”, the adjective then meaning “a country person”—like these Romans


or these, in the medieval world


or these, from JRRT’s childhood.


To JRRT, the linguist, what made the rustic was clearly not so much the look or even the activities which country people did so much as how they spoke. In Chapter One of the first book of The Lord of the Rings, we overhear a group of older hobbits discussing Bilbo and Frodo and Daddy Twofoot says:

“And no wonder they’re queer…if they live on the wrong side of the Brandywine River, and right agin the Old Forest.  That’s a dark bad place, if half the tales be true.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)

Here, we see “agin” for “again”, “dark bad place”, which is more a rhythmic pattern of dialect than the words themselves (although we wonder about the placement of those adjectives together), and the use of the old subjunctive “if half the tales be true”.  And, in the next paragraph, Gaffer Gamgee then uses a dialect form of “drowned”—“drownded”.  The content of this dialogue is gossip, but the sound of it is meant to provide a quick aural sketch of rural people with perhaps the faint suggestion that such gossip is based upon few facts and much “folk wisdom”, such as the idea that, because one lives on the far side of a river, one is “queer”, leading to the conclusion that rustics are, at best, ill-informed, and, at worst, ignorant and potentially bigoted.

And so, we would presume that what JRRT wanted was that Frodo’s cousins should sound like Frodo, who speaks, in Middle-earth, what Tolkien calls “the Westron or ‘Common Speech’ of the West-lands of Middle-earth” and what is in Modern-earth called “Received Standard English”.  Here’s a brief example of that from that same chapter, when Gandalf and Frodo are discussing Bilbo and the Ring:

“If you mean , inventing all that about a ‘present’, well, I thought the true story much more likely and I couldn’t see the point of altering it at all.  It was very unlike Bilbo to do so, anyway; and I thought it rather odd.”

Vocabulary  choice plays a strong part here, with a Latinate element—“altering”—and the use of “odd”, where the Gaffer had earlier used “queer”, plus what we might think of as “higher class” words, like “likely” and “unlike” and “rather” as adjectives.

The Bagginses and their relatives, after all, are looked upon as well-to-do–“a decent respectable hobbit” the Gaffer says of Frodo’ father, Drogo, and calls Bilbo, “a very nice well-spoken gentlehobbit”.  In Middle-earth, dialect—especially here meaning that spoken by what appear to be meant to be “rustics”—can make the difference between gentlehobbits and people like the Gaffer.   As the Henry Higgins mentioned above says to Colonel Pickering, whom he regards as a social equal, of Liza Doolittle, a Cockney (inner London, lower-class girl):

“If you spoke as she does, sir,

Instead of the way you do,

Why, you might be selling flowers, too.”


It’s not just among hobbits that we see what Henry Higgins calls a “verbal class distinction”, however.  Here’s Saruman


speaking to Gandalf:

“I did not expect you to show wisdom, even in your own behalf; but I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly, and so saving yourself much trouble and pain.  The third choice is to remain here until the end.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

We notice here the long compound sentence (long sentence made up of clauses which depend upon each other), from “I” to “pain”.  This is clearly the equivalent of “gentlehobbit” talk.

And here is one of Saruman’s orcs:

“…We are the fighting Uruk-hai!  We slew the great warrior.  We took the prisoners.  We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand, the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat  We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose.  I am Ugluk.  I have spoken.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)


Here, we have a series of simple, declarative sentences (sentences with only one subject and verb)—three in a row– followed by a longer sentence which is built upon a simple sentence, “We are the servants of Saruman the Wise…”, followed by an example of what is called “polysyndeton”—that is, several shorter sentences joined together by a conjunction (a word like “and” or “or”).  All of this is followed by two more simple declarative sentences.

This is clearly not “rustic” speech—just compare it with that of Daddy Twofoot, above.  Instead, it reminds  us of translations of Native American speeches, like this, from the brave and wise Chief Joseph (1840-1904—Native American name in translation, “Thunder Traveling to Higher Areas”),


of the Nez Perce:

“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

How might we characterize this?  It’s clearly very different from the speech of the orc’s master, who tends to speak in longer, more complex sentences, indicating more sophistication in the use of language (we remember the danger of listening too long to him, as demonstrated in The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 10, “The Voice of Saruman”).   We would say that, where the “rustic” dialect—pronunciation (“agin”), odd forms (“drownded”), old verb forms (“be true”)–differentiates the Gaffer and Daddy Twofoot from Frodo (and Merry and Pippin), for the orcs—or Ugluk, at least– it is sentence structure which differentiates the Isengard equivalent of “gentlehobbit” speech from that of the “rustic” orcs.

It isn’t only sentence structure which we would suggest makes orcs sound different, however, and we’ll talk more about this—and about another “rustic”—a real one—in Part 2 of this posting, next week.

Thanks, as always, for reading.



Name, Rank, and…


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As always, dear readers, welcome.

In George Orwell’s (1903-1950)


1949 horrific political novel 1984,


the protagonist, Winston Smith, is attempting to do what are called “physical jerks”, meaning calisthenics, in front of a “telescreen”.  This is, in fact, a two-way device, but it’s impossible to know when, as you are watching it, it can be watching you, until:

‘Smith!’ screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. ‘6079 Smith W.!

Yes, YOU! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not

trying. Lower, please! THAT’S better, comrade. Now stand at ease, the

whole squad, and watch me.’ (1984, Chapter 3)

And so we see just how militarized “Oceania”, Smith’s homeland, has become.  You are not a citizen, but a member of a “squad”, and your name has a serial number attached.

The same is true of Sauron’s Mordor, as Sam and Frodo overhear, desperately trying to conceal themselves behind a “brown and stunted bush”.  Two scouts appear:

“One was clad in ragged brown and was armed with a bow of horn; it was of a small breed, black-skinned, with wide and snuffling nostrils…The other was a big fighting-orc, like those of Shagrat’s company, bearing the token of the Eye.”

(Here’s Alan Lee’s illustration of the two, by the way.)



They are soon quarreling and, when the small one tries to escape, the larger fighting-orc shouts:

“You come back…or I’ll report you!”

To which the smaller replies:

“Who to?  Not to your precious Shagrat.  He won’t be captain any more.”

And the larger answers that with:

“I’ll give your name and number to the Nazgul.”  A threat which soon gets him killed.


When we think about Tolkien in the Great War,


we can see at once where the idea of the “name and number” came from.  Although there had been attempts at serial numbers as far back as 1857,


in 1881, units in the British Army adopted a regimental serial system.


Thus, in JRRT’s army, he would have seen a man in his battalion of his regiment (the Lancashire Fusiliers) identified as “189, Smith, W” (although officers like Tolkien were not issued such numbers).




There is, of course, another identifying mark for the soldiers both of Sauron and Saruman, the heraldic device on helmets or shields, the red eye for Sauron, the white hand for Saruman



When we say “heraldic device”, we mean, as you can see, a decoration on cloth or metal, clothing, armor, and flags, which indicates, in some way, who the wearer is, or to whom he belongs.  On a medieval battlefield, before men wore uniforms, this would help those in charge to understand, at a glance, who was fighting whom.


In this painting of the large and confused battle between English and Scots soldiers at Flodden (1513), a late-medieval, early-Renaissance struggle, you can see how confusing things could be, but some order could be made out of the English standard to the left, and two Scottish flags to the right, the far one being generic Scots, but the near one being the banner of the Scottish king himself, James IV.

Up close, the one of the heraldic badges of the Stanley family (on the English side), the claw, marks this archer.


The science of heraldry is large and complicated, but may be seen at its simplest  in The Lord of the Rings, not only among orcs, but also among the forces of the West—

the white horse of Rohan,


the swan and ship of Dol Amroth,


and the tree and seven stars of Gondor.



Where there is a strong contrast between the two sides, however, and we can only speculate as to JRRT’s intent, was the assignment of numbers to the orcs of Mordor  and not to the soldiers of the West a quiet comment on the facelessness of modern warfare, where a soldier is a number first, before he is ever a name and perhaps all men are reduced to orcs?


Thanks, as ever, for reading.





Orc Arsenal.2


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So, dear readers, welcome, as always.  In this posting, we want to finish our brief overview of orc weaponry which we began in our last.

A famous military illustrator, Angus McBride, (1931-2007)


once said in an interview that there was one thing which he hated about doing such illustrations:  painting chain mail, which he said was the most tedious part of his work.  Considering that he painted it on early Celts


and Renaissance Irish,


and Republican Romans


and medieval Russians,


McBride must have suffered many hours of boredom!  It didn’t stop him, however, as we see in these illustrations for The Lord of the Rings,




from putting armor on Rohirrim and orcs alike.

Chain mail—or simply mail—is made by linking together a series of metal rings.



This is, as you can imagine, a very time-consuming process, especially if you have to make the rings first.  (Here’s a LINK on mail manufacturing, in case you’d like to try it yourself.)

We have seen the number of rings used in a full mail hauberk to be over 20,000, so it’s also metal-consuming, as well as time-consuming.  It also appears to have been expensive.  We once heard an expert say something about the “same price as a two-bedroom house”, but that seems a little excessive.  The always-useful Regia Anglorum website gives the price of a mail shirt in Anglo-Saxon times at 529d (that’s 529 pence), or 10,580 pounds in modern UK money ($13,785.18 US at today’s current exchange rate).  Here’s a LINK to their web page to see the author’s reasoning for his equivalences.

McBride shows orcs wearing mail—does JRRT?   In fact, in the first scene in which we see orcs, we read:

“…a huge orc-chieftain, almost man-high, clad in black mail from head to foot…” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 5, “The Bridge of Khazad-dum”

And, late in the story, when Sam and Frodo are in Mordor and Sam provides clothes for Frodo:

“There were long hairy breeches of some unclean beast-fell, and a tunic of dirty leather.  He drew them on.  Over the tunic went a coat of stout ring-mail, short for a full-sized orc, too long for Frodo and heavy.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”)

(We can attest to the weight of such a coat, by the way, having a modern reproduction ourselves.  It weighs 25 pounds or more—that’s 11.34 kilograms.  When it’s on your shoulders, the weight is displaced, so it doesn’t feel quite so heavy, but, if you have it piled in a box, you really feel the heft.  We would also add that, because of the cost, armor wasn’t commonly left on the battlefield.  This segment of the Bayeux Tapestry shows what must normally have happened.)


McBride, in his illustrations, depicts two other types of body armor.  In these first two depictions, we see the kind of armor the Romans called lorica segmentata.



This is a system based upon a series of broad, overlapping iron strips.



As far as we can tell, this is never mentioned in the text. There may be one mention of our third type:


This is armor made up of a series of small plates, called lamellae, sewn in an overlapping fashion, rather like fish scales.


There may be one mention of this:

“The orcs hindered by the mires that lay before the hills halted and poured their arrows into the defending ranks.  But through them came striding up, roaring like beasts, a great company of hill-trolls out of Gorgoroth.  Taller and broader than Men they were, and they were clad only in close-fitting mesh of horny scale, or maybe that was their hideous hide…” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 10, “The Black Gate Opens”)

But what about helmets?

McBride depicts most of his orcs in something which might be described as wild variations on the later medieval helmet called a sallet.



You can see John Mollo, a costume designer for Star Wars, having fun with this pattern, too.



In the text, in that first scene in which we see orcs, there is a mention of Aragorn’s sword, Anduril, which “came down upon [an orc’s] helm”, but nothing more specific—and that’s true for the second mention, when Aragorn examines the orcs killed by by Boromir:

“…on the front of their iron helms was set an S-rune, wrought of some white metal.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 1, “The Departure of Boromir”)

There is a bit more detail in this description:

“Sam brought several orc-helmets.  One of them fitted Frodo well enough, a black cap with iron rim, and iron hoops covered with leather upon which the Evil Eye was painted in red above the beaklike nose-guard.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”)

To us, this sounds like a kind of spangenhelm, the sort of thing the Normans wear in the Bayeux Tapestry.



To which we can add a couple of types of shields.  The first we see—it’s that same “orc-chieftain”—carries “a huge hide shield” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 5, “The Bridge of Khazad-dum”).  There is no further description.  If it’s only made of hide, this could resemble anything from a Mycenaean “figure-of-eight” shield



to a Mycenaean “tower” shield


to a Zulu shield.


The hill-trolls of Gorgoroth, mentioned above for their possible lamellar armor, are said to carry “round bucklers huge and black” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 10, “The Black Gate Opens”).

A huge buckler, however, is a contradiction in terms, as bucklers are, by definition, small—more a kind of one-on-one fencing defense, as we see in this illustration.


Like their helmets, orc shields commonly carry the sign of their master, Saruman or Sauron—“Upon their shields they bore a strange device” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 1, “The Departure of Boromir”).  (Some of Saruman’s followers, however, seem to have unmarked shields, as the attackers of Helm’s Deep are described as “some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and sable shields”—The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 7, “Helm’s Deep”)  This can also be useful if you’re the authorities and you want to catch deserters, as Sam and Frodo find out when they’re trapped by a column of orcs on the road in Mordor:

“Then suddenly one of the slave-drivers spied the two figures by the road-side…He took a step towards them, and even in the gloom he recognized the devices on their shields.  ‘Deserting, eh?’ he snarled.” ( The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 2, “The Land of Shadow”)


This i.d.-ing leads us towards our next posting:  Heraldry and Serial Numbers, where we’ll see more of orcs and others, too.

Thanks, as always, for reading.



Orc Arsenal.1


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Welcome, dear readers, as always.

“The great shadow descended like a falling cloud.  And behold! It was a winged creature…

Upon it sat a shape, black-mantled, huge and threatening…A great black mace he wielded.”

(The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”)

This is clearly a scene which has caught the attention, over the years, of many artists, starting, we’d guess, with the Hildebrandts.



Then others, like Angus McBride and Ted Nasmith,



And Alan Lee and John Howe,



as well as many very good artists whom we don’t know by name—



Of these, all but Lee and the unknown sixth artist follow JRRT’s description more or less closely.  Number 6—it’s a little unclear– but he might be carrying a war hammer of some sort,


rather than a mace.



(These last two are basic patterns of a mace.)

The Lee is, well, we’re not sure what it seems to be.  It sort of looks like a battle axe


but also like what was called a “morning star”,


which should, we think, belong to the flail family.



This rather fits in with the P Jackson image, shown in this model (and note that sword—definitely not in the original description—which is in his other hand).


This difference made us curious about the weapons the Rohirrim—and the Gondorians—face and, in particular, those of the orcs.  The Hildebrandts



provide us with odd-looking spears and what might appear to be scimitars



but might be the suggestion of a medieval sword called a falchion.


McBride, who spent much of his artistic career illustrating military subjects, gives us weapons (mostly) less fanciful.




and Howe


veer between the practical and the fantastic and the films clearly follow them—


How does JRRT describe the orc weaponry?

The first armed orc we see appears in Moria:

“His broad flat face was swart, his eyes were like coals, and his tongue was red; he wielded a great spear…Sam, with a cry, hacked at the spear-shaft, and it broke.  But even as the orc flung down the truncheon and swept out his scimitar…” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 5, “The Bridge of Khazad-dum”)

The orcs who pursue the Fellowship through Moria have similar weapons:

“Beyond the fire he saw swarming black figures:  there seemed to be hundreds of orcs.  They brandished spears and scimitars which shone red as blood in the firelight.”

After the death of Boromir, however, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas find a different kind of orc:

“There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands.  They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs: and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 1, “The Departure of Boromir”)

So far, we’ve seen spears


and scimitars


and now we can add to that “short broad-bladed swords”.  Perhaps Tolkien is thinking of the medieval “arming sword”


or even the Roman gladius?


When we add “bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men”, we immediately see the classic English longbow.


This doesn’t quite match with the first orc bowman we see in the films, however, “Lurtz”—



who appears to have some sort of recurved bow, possibly composite, of the sort the Mongols used


even though, from the white hand on his face, he is supposed to be one of those “goblin-soldiers” from Isengard.

As we were looking through Tolkien’s text, we wondered where he would have gotten his ideas for weapons from.  If the basis, as we imagine it, would have been his background in medieval literature, then he might have gone to the library and found an old standard work, Sir Samuel Meyrick’s (1783-1848)


An Inquiry Into Ancient Armour, As It Existed in Europe, Particularly in Great Britain, From the Norman Conquest to the Reign of Charles the Second, first published in 1824.  (Here’s a LINK if you’d like to look at this text for yourself.)


Meyrick was the first great English specialist in armor and the later editions of his work (in 3 volumes) have wonderful early hand-colored plates, all based upon surviving armor, tombs, manuscripts, and any other period materials he could gather.


If JRRT wanted to see such things for himself, he would have found more exotic weapons in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford,


or he could have traveled up to London to see the Wallace Collection


or, best of all, he could have visited the Tower of London, with its massive collection (the organizing of which had earned Meyrick his knighthood in 1832) of medieval arms and armor, which had been available to the public in some form even before Meyrick’s time—here’s a Victorian tour.



It could have been all of the above, of course, but it seems to us that the descriptions we’re reading are actually not really very specific—“mace”, “spear”, “scimitar”—only those short swords and bows suggest anything more detailed.  Perhaps, then, Tolkien was inspired by something else—perhaps he had read, perhaps even possessed, as a boy, books like Howard Pyle’s 1903 The Story of King Arthur and His Knights


and been inspired by its illustrations.


There were plenty of illustrated tales like this—Conan Doyle’s The White Company (first published in serial form in 1891),


or Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow (serial 1883, book 1888).


With any and all of that background, we wonder what he might have made of this, however, an orc sword from the films which looks more like something manufactured from a car part than the product of a medieval armorer…


Thanks, as ever, for reading.




If car part weapons don’t bother you, you might be interested in this LINK—it’s an early article on ideas for weapons and armor for the Jackson films.

Speaking Up


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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

We are always interested in linking JRRT and Middle-earth with things of this earth, from Tolkien’s experience in the Great War to English geography vs that of Middle-earth.  In this posting, we begin with an elephant—or, rather, oliphaunt.  Which is an elephant—sort of, only bigger and menacing.


“Big as a house, much bigger than a house, it looked to him, a grey-clad moving hill…his great legs like trees, enormous sail-like ears spread out, long snout upraised like a huge serpent about to strike, his small red eyes raging.  His upturned hornlike tusks were bound with bands of gold and dripped with blood.”  (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 4, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”)

As big as the oliphaunt is, the real subject of our post is actually one small part of what might have been JRRT’s Victorian/Edwardian educational experience and its reflection in the form of Sam Gamgee, who, “stood up, putting his hands behind his back (as he always did when ‘speaking poetry’) and began:

Grey as a mouse

Big as a house

Nose like a snake

I make the earth shake

As I tramp through the grass

Trees crack as I pass

With horns in my mouth

I walk in the South

Flapping big ears

Beyond count of years

I stump round and round

Never lie on the ground

Not even to die

Oliphaunt am I

Biggest of all

Huge, old, and tall

If ever you’d met me

You wouldn’t forget me

If you never do

You won’t think I’m true

But old Oliphaunt am I

And I never lie.”


In the 1890s, when JRRT was a little boy, a mainstay of that education was the combination of memorization and repetition through recitation.


Children were expected to commit to memory—and to be able to perform—any number of poetic works whenever called upon.  In what was probably an extreme example, the poet Alfred Tennyson’s (1809-1892)


father is said to have required him to memorize and repeat to him over four mornings all four books of the Roman poet, Horace’s, ( 65-8BC)


(This is a “traditional” portrait of the poet, but probably isn’t really he.)

odes—a hefty chore—that’s 103 poems—in Latin.

It’s not surprising, then, that one little Victorian girl, finding herself in a strange and distorted world, would try to provide herself with both comfort and stability by returning to the familiar:  reciting.


“I’ll try and say ‘ How doth the little—'” and she

crossed her hands on her lap as if she were

saying lessons, and began to repeat it…”

This is from Chapter 2, “The Pool of Tears”, of Lewis Carroll’s


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865 (this is an 1866 printing).


What Alice will try to repeat is a poem called “Against Idleness and Mischief”, by the clergyman Isaac Watts (1674-1748),


from his 1715 collection, Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children.


This is what Alice thought that she was going to say:

1    How doth the little busy Bee

2    Improve each shining Hour,

3   And gather Honey all the day

4    From every opening Flower!


5    How skilfully she builds her Cell!

6    How neat she spreads the Wax!

7    And labours hard to store it well

8    With the sweet Food she makes.


9    In Works of Labour or of Skill

10   I would be busy too:

11   For Satan finds some Mischief still

12    For idle Hands to do.


13    In Books, or Work, or healthful Play

14    Let my first Years be past,

15   That I may give for every Day

16    Some good Account at last.


What Alice recited, however, was not quite that:

“but her voice sounded hoarse and strange, and the words did not come the same as they used to do :

” How doth the little crocodile

Improve his shining tail,

And pour the waters of the Nile

On every golden scale!


How cheerfully he seems to grin,

How neatly spreads his claws,

And welcomes little fishes in

With gently smiling jaws.”


which was hardly comforting!

Twice, Alice is called upon by others to recite—in Chapter 5, by a hookah-smoking caterpillar,


who demands that she recite “You are old, Father William”—which is, in itself, topsy-turvy, as, instead of the kind of morally-inspiring poem Victorian children were clearly expected to produce, it’s a parody of William Wordsworth’s (1770-1850), “Resolution and Independence” (1802, published 1807), a poem about an elderly pauper who makes a living collecting leeches (and who perks up the previously-despondent Wordsworth with his sturdy view of life).


Instead of that sturdy view, here is what Alice begins to recite on the subject of Father William’s behavior:

” You are old, Father William,” the young man said,

”And your hair has become very white;

And yet you incessantly stand on your head—

Do you think, at your age, it is right ?”


And in Chapter 10, a gryphon


orders her to “Stand up and repeat ‘Tis the voice of the sluggard’, another moral poem by Watts.  It should begin:

‘Tis the voice of the sluggard, I heard him complain,

“You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again.”
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

Instead, out comes:

”’Tis the voice of the lobster; I heard him declare,

‘ You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair!

As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose

Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.””


In each case, what was meant to be comforting or at least dutiful, has turned out distorted and disturbing.  As the Caterpillar says—and Alice answers–

” That is not said right,” said the Caterpillar. ”Not quite right, I’m afraid,” said Alice,

timidly; “some of the words have got altered.”

” It is wrong from beginning to end,” said the

Caterpillar decidedly, and there was silence for

some minutes.


This was hardly the expected effect, either for Victorians in general or for Alice, in particular, but, if the Caterpillar is censorious and Alice apologetic, Sam’s master has a completely different reaction to the hobbit’s recitation:

“Frodo stood up.  He had laughed in the midst of all his cares when Sam trotted out the old fireside rhyme of Oliphaunt, and the laugh had released him from hesitation.”  (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter Three, “The Black Gate is Closed”)

We wonder what the Caterpillar’s reaction might have been if Alice had recited “Oliphaunt”.

Thanks, as always, for reading.



Green and Quiet.2


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Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

The late-Victorian/Edwardian world of JRRT’s childhood and youth was full of stirring stories and illustrations of military adventure, from the 1815 charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo


to the disastrous (but glorious) charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in 1854


to the near-disastrous (but also glorious) charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman (1898)


to the expectation of more glorious attacks in the event of a Great War on the continent.


Such images may have inspired him to join a volunteer cavalry unit at Oxford, King Edward’s Horse,


and may even lie behind the charge of the Rohirrim at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.


To us, however, it also symbolizes something else:  the role of the horse in Tolkien’s world.  Its military role was more than simply carrying the glamorous cavalry, however.


It also pulled the guns,


the supply wagons,


the ambulances,


as well as carried those in control of it all, from the Kings (after 1901)



to the generals,


and it was the same for all of Europe and the US, as well.




All of which simply reflected that, for all that there were railroads


and the West was crisscrossed with railway tracks,


horses still pulled the world,


as they had from Roman times


through medieval


and still did, even beyond the Great War.


In our last posting, we discussed a line from The Hobbit :  “By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green…”

We suggested that, with that phrase “long ago” and that imperfect tense verb form, “was”, all was no longer so quiet or green and that goblins/orcs, or their modern equivalent in the Industrial Revolution, were eating up the green of the world, as well as the quiet, but we would like to add to that that a major change in transport, which removed the horse almost entirely from the picture, also contributed greatly.

First, of course, it was those railways which cut through everywhere, steaming and smoking and hooting.


These greatly reduced the use of horses for carrying things—and people—over distances.



At the turn of the century, however, a new invention would come to so diminish the employment of horses eventually to the point where they would be thought obsolete.


At first, they were few and far between, available only to the rich for personal use.


The massive production needed for the Great War (1914-1918),


however, encouraged both post-war demand and supply.



As we’ve discussed in previous postings, the Romans had been masters of the paved road.



After the Romans, however, the secret (and the massive amounts of cash, as well as the numbers of workers) to such roads was lost and roads declined into, at best, wide paths—dust baths in summer, swamps in winter.


At best, a road might be “metalled”—that is, covered in loose stone (from Latin “metallum”—here, meaning “quarry”).


In the 1820s, the Scots engineer, JL McAdam, created roads with a crushed stone surface over larger inlaid stones.



Each of these was an improvement over a dirt track,


but, about 1900, the next process arrived, with the use of bitumen and then various petroleum substances to cover the surface and, along with the use of concrete, these produced the roads we still drive on today.


Unfortunately for green and quiet, this rapidly multiplied the decay of both, as cars and trucks and the roads they needed began to spread across the landscape.  Imagine, for a man who had been born into the greener and quieter and horsier world of 1892, what this 1930s traffic jam would have been like and you can easily see why he would have believed that goblins and orcs could so harm the peaceful world!


Thanks, as ever, for reading.



Recently, we happened upon this very interesting story, which we had never seen before, from the online BBC New, 3 July, 2006.  The author mentions “Tolkien’s son” by whom he means JRRT’s second son, Michael.

Many years ago I corresponded with Tolkien’s son, a schoolmaster like myself. He said the Dark Riders in his novel were based on a real recurring nightmare from the Forst World War. Tolkien, riding a good cavlary horse, had somehow got lost behind the German lines,and, imagining he was behind his own trenches, rode towards a group of mounted cavalrymen standing in the shade of a coppice.

It was only when he drew nearer he realised his mistake for they German Ulhans, noted for their atrocities and taking no prisoners. When they saw him they set off in pursuit with their lances levelled at him. He swung his horse round and galloped off hotly pursued by the Germans. They had faster steeds but Tolkien’s horse was a big-boned hunter.

They got near enough for him to see their skull and crossbone helmet badges. Fortunately for Tolkien (and us, his readers)he raced towards some old trenches which his horse, used to hunting, took in its stride. The Uhlans’ horses weren’t up to it and they reined in leaving Tolkien to get away to his own side.

He was terrified and the cruel faces of those Uhlans and their badges haunted him in nightmares for a long time afterwards. Years later, when he was writing his novel, the Dark Riders were the result of that terrifying chase.
Revd John Waddington-Feather, Shrewsbury

There are some odd typos, but we think that the basic story might be true except for the details about the German cavalry.  Uhlans are lancers, but lancer cap badges looked like this.


German hussar busbies, however, could have the famous “death’s head” badge.


And German hussars also could carry lances as in this picture from 1915.


German cavalry went to war with covers over their headgear (as in the photo of the hussars), but, if the story is accurate, we might presume that the hussars, for some reason, have shed those covers.