(Failed) Rewards and (No More) Fairies

As ever, dear readers, welcome.

Although Tolkien enjoyed a fast-paced production of Hamlet in July, 1944, (letter to Christopher, 28 July, 1944, Letters, 88), one gets the general impression that he was not a big fan of W. Shakespeare.  Certainly his school-days experience had not been a happy one, (letter to W.H. Auden, 7 June, 1955, Letters, 213), but his frustration with the Bard (an archaic Celtic term perhaps first used of Shakespeare in  David Garrick’s “The Ode, Dedicating the Town Hall, and Erecting a Statue to Shakespeare”, of 1769, in which Garrick calls him “Sweetest bard that ever sung”—if you’d like to read more, follow this LINK:  https://ia800207.us.archive.org/4/items/historyantiquiti00whel/historyantiquiti00whel.pdf to Robert Bell Wheler’s History and Antiquities of Stratford-upon-Avon, 1806, and see pages 175-185) did produce two positive results:

1. his annoyance at Shakespeare’s treatment of Birnam Wood spurred him (eventually)  to create the march of the Ents upon Isengard (see JRRT’s footnote to his letter to W.H. Auden, 7 June, 1955, Letters, 212)

(a favorite Ted Nasmith)

2. his equal annoyance over Shakespeare’s treatment of elves

(a Victorian illustration by Richard Doyle, 1824-1883, depicting the stormy meeting of Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1—you can read the first printing from the First Quarto, 1600, here:  https://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/doc/MND_Q1/scene/2.1/index.html  )

brought him to the borders of Faerie, which he understood to be a very different place from that miniaturized world imagined by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. 

In his writings, Tolkien sees fairies and elves as basically the same (“Fairy, as a noun more or less equivalent to elf”, “On Fairy-Stories”):   beings of a different order from humans, but not supernatural ones.  As he writes:

Supernatural  is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter.  But to fairies it can hardly be applied…For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature);  whereas they are natural, far more natural than he.  Such is their doom.” (“On Fairy-Stories”, 110 in The Monsters and the Critics)

Tolkien’s elves, as we see them particularly in The Lord of the Rings, are far from small and not at all magical as in Shakespeare, but they do seem doomed.  Even in the Prologue, they are depicted as already something about to pass from the scene of the story–“For the Elves of the High Kindred had not yet forsaken Middle-earth” –and this melancholy tone persists throughout the text, not only to be found in groups of elves moving westwards to the Grey Havens, like that which Frodo and his companions meet in their journey eastwards towards Crickhollow (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 3, “Three is Company”), but also in statements like Galadriel’s, when she has refused the Ring:

“I pass the test…I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

to the affecting scene in the last chapter of all, when Galadriel and Elrond, along with Frodo and Gandalf, take ship for the West. (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)

(another beautiful Ted Nasmith)

But why do the elves want to—or have to–leave Middle-earth?

There are various explanations, with citations to The Silmarillion and to passages in the volume of JRRT’s manuscripts called Morgoth’s Ring, but I would suggest another influence, which actually takes us back to that time which Tolkien blames for the other diminishment of the elves:

“Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of ‘rationalisation’, which transformed the glamour of Elf-land into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass…it was largely a literary business in which William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton played a part.”  (“On Fairy-Stories”, 111)

The title of this posting comes (in its unedited form) from a short story collection by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).

Published in 1910, Rewards and Fairies

(You can have a copy here:  https://archive.org/details/rewardsfairie00kipl/page/n5/mode/2up )

was a sequel to Kipling’s previous collection (1906), Puck of Pook’s Hill.

(Here are two copies for you with very different illustrations:  the first American edition of 1906, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/26027/26027-h/26027-h.html   ; or a British reprint of 1911 of the original 1906 British edition, illustrated by H.R. Millar:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15976/15976-h/15976-h.htm )

The title of this book is derived from the first line of a poem, “The Fairies’ Farewell” by Richard Corbet,  (1582-1635)—

Or, as it is actually entitled:  “A proper new Ballad entitled The Faereys Farewell”.  Here’s the first stanza:

“FAREWELL, rewards and fairies,
Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they.
And though they sweep their hearths no less
Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?”

You can see the whole poem in Octavius Gilchrist’s 4th edition (1807) of the poems of Richard Corbet here on pages 213-217:  https://archive.org/details/poemsofrichardco00corbiala/page/n3/mode/2up  (This is based upon the original printings of 1647, 1648, and 1672—the last till Gilchrist.  Some modern editions have removed the final three stanzas.)

 Corbet wrote that this could be sung to “Meadow Brow” or to “Fortune My Foe”—here’s Ged Fox, who sings all of the verses in Gilchrist to “Meadow Brow”:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMj7O9LZpU8  If you’d like to hear “Fortune My Foe:  here’s version with the original lyric:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZkFUSUZH8Y 

It is, in fact, a lament, and the tunes to which it is to be sung very much underline that tone.   The point of the lament is explained by the Puck

of Kipling’s previous book:

“The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest—gone, all gone! I came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.”  (“Weland’s Hill”, the first part of Puck of Pook’s Hill)

Corbet, in his poem, offers an explanation why:

“Witness those rings and roundelays

of theirs, which yet remain,

Were footed in Queen Mary’s days

On many a grassy plain;

But since of late, Elizabeth,

And later, James came in,

They never danced on any heath

As when the time hath been.

By which we note the Fairies

were of the old Profession.

Their songs were ‘Ave Mary’s’,

Their dances were Procession.

But now, alas, they all are dead;

Or gone beyond the seas;

Or farther for Religion fled;

Or else they take their ease.”

In 1534, Henry VIII  (1491-1547)

had himself made head of the Church of England and created a new Protestant domination, the Church of England, which was perpetuated by his son, Edward VI (1537-1553),

but which Henry’s elder daughter, Mary (1516-1558),

tried to restore to its previous, pre-Henry form.  It was only after her death, in 1558, when Henry’s younger daughter, Elizabeth (1533-1603),

took the throne that Henry’s version of Protestantism became the state church once more and which continued under the reign of her successor, James I (1566-1625),

as mentioned in Corbet’s poem.  The fairies, then, in Corbet’s playful explanation, were followers of pre-Henrican English Catholicism, driven away in the change to the new Protestantism—and we know that it was meant to be playful, as the author, in his later years, was a senior clergyman of that Protestantism, being first Bishop of Oxford, then Bishop of Norwich.

 There is no mention of Corbet or his poem in Carpenter’s biography or Tolkien’s letters, nor any reference even to Kipling, but might I suggest that this explanation by a contemporary of Shakespeare the Shrinker as to why the band of what Puck calls “the People of the Hills” had departed  might have appealed to a someone who once wrote that The Lord of the Rings “is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision…” (letter to Robert Murray, SJ, 2 December, 1953, Letters, 172) and thus added to his own thinking about the Doom which he said belonged not only the fairies, but to his own later elves, as well?

Thanks, as ever, for reading,

Stay well,

Leave a bowl of milk out for the Good Folk,

And remember, as well, that there’s always




If you read those verses of the Corbet which have been deleted in some printings, the explanation for the reference to “William Chourne” may be found in “Letter Six” of Sir Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft… (1830)  to be read at this LINK:  https://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281b/Philosophy%20of%20Magic/Arcana/Witchcraft%20and%20Grimoires/scott/lodw06.htm

Stretching Back (II)

Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

In the previous posting, JRRT was quoted as saying of Tom Bombadil that he was:  “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside”  (letter to Stanley Unwin, 16 December, 1937, Letters, 26)

In that last posting, I was employing that phrase with the emphasis upon “spirit”, attempting to show  how JRRT was using Tom in The Lord of the Rings to add greater depth to the story.  Within the narrative, we might be shown the ruins of ancient buildings, like Weathertop,

(Alan Lee)

built by Elendil after the founding of Arnor in SA 3320, but Bombadil

(the Hildebrandts)

was far older, saying to the hobbits that:

“Eldest, that’s what I am.  Mark my words, my friends:  Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.  He made paths before the Big people, and saw the little People arriving.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil”)

Ruins were mute testimony to Middle-earth’s ancient past.  Tom was the living witness to that past—almost the spirit of Middle-earth itself–and beyond it, practically to its creation.

In that posting, I suggested that there was a second living witness in the text and, in this posting, I want to think out loud about him—but let’s begin with the rest of that first phrase:  “the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.”

In 1892, Tolkien was born into what we might think of as the second wave of the Industrial Revolution.  The first, the foundational wave, had begun in the 1760s, in northern England, where the pressure of the increased demand for British wool products had inspired men like James Hargreaves (1720-1778) and Richard Arkwright (1732-1792)

to invent new machinery to speed up production.  Water and then steam were applied to the increasingly sophisticated machinery and spinning and weaving factories began to spring up in various parts of England.

By the mid-Victorian period, a second wave was converting entire towns into factories,

and not just those which produced woolen or cotton materials—virtually anything could be made, in large quantities, in all kinds of factories.

Birmingham, when JRRT was a boy, was just such a place

and even the then-rural village, Sarehole, just south of Birmingham, where he spent part of that boyhood, had a mill with an auxiliary steam engine.

By the turn of the 19th century, Britain was laced with railways—by 1914, there were 20,000 miles (32,000km) of track.

Trains, and their urban cousins, street cars and metros, spread people out beyond the old centers of towns, producing larger and larger urban/exurban areas.

After the Great War (1914-1918), automobiles began to appear in ever-greater numbers, adding to that spread, as well as crowding lanes made for carts and wagons.

For Tolkien, this was the end of “the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green…” (The Hobbit, Chapter One, “An Unexpected Party”)

when the world, in his mind, looked more like this.

But Britain had been moving towards less green for a very long time.

It had been Neolithic farmers, in fact,

perhaps about 1000BC,

who had begun the shift, cutting down large numbers of trees not only for building, but to clear acreage for their crops and pastureland for their animals.

This began the deforestation of Britain—and you can see it here as a general European trend.

(To watch someone very efficiently using a stone axe

to cut down a tree, see:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN-34JfUrHY )

And we might see this deforestation mirrored in the behavior of the invading Numenoreans, suggesting that even Middle-earth had become less green than it had once been:

“The fellings had at first been along both banks of the Gwathlo…but now the Numenoreans drove great tracks and roads into the forests northwards and southwards from the Gwathlo…” (Unfinished Tales, “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”, Appendix D, “The Port of Lond Daer”)

As someone with a strong attachment to trees,

JRRT could express his feelings quite passionately, as in this letter to The Daily Telegraph of 30 June, 1972:

“It would be unfair to compare the Forestry Commission with Sauron because as you observe it is capable of repentance; but nothing it has done that is stupid compares with the destruction, torture and murder of trees perpetuated by private individuals and minor official bodies.  The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing.”  (Letters, 420)

Those words, “destruction, torture and murder of trees”, can easily sound like an echo of this second living witness as he speaks about Saruman and his orcs:

“Curse him, root and branch!  Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost for ever now.  And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves.  I have been idle.  I have let things slip.  It must stop!”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)

This is Treebeard, of course, even if it almost seems to echo the author and his letter to the editor.

(an Alan Lee)

And we might see a small puzzle here between what Tom Bombadil says of himself:

“Eldest, that’s what I am…Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.”

and what Gandalf says of Treebeard:

“Treebeard is Fangorn, the guardian of the forest; he is the oldest of the Ents, the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 5, “The White Rider”)

Even if this suggests a small contradiction, reinforced when Celeborn, parting from Treebeard, calls him, “Eldest” ( The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 6, “Many Partings”), we might understand Tom and Treebeard, in fact, as a complementary pair:  Tom is the witness for humans over all the ages of Middle-earth, while Treebeard stands (and walks) as witness for the land itself.

It is, perhaps, a sad thought then that, with Sauron gone, there appears to be no threat to Bombadil, but, without the Entwives, there is only extinction ahead for Treebeard and his kind, when that land will lose its final witness and no one will remember the Willow-meads of Tasarinan.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Be thankful for trees,

And know that, as always, there’s




You can listen to JRRT himself remembering those Willow-meads here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO7QRVqLv40

And you can hear Donald Swan’s well-known setting (sung by the appropriately-named William Elvin) here (at 28:25):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5cN7R2-wQI

Stretching Back (I)

Welcome as always, dear readers.

One of the reasons I’ve read and reread The Lord of the Rings has to do with its depth.  The story itself is set in a present time:  TA3018-19, but, of course just writing “TA” immediately places it in a greater context:  this is the Third Age of registered time and we’re now in the 31st century of it.  That’s 3,000 years of history right there and back 3000 years of history in our Middle Earth would put us, for example, in the Egyptian 21st Dynasty, when artisans could still create this

 or during the so-called Greek “Dark Ages”, when Mycenaean civilization had mysteriously collapsed after creating things as beautiful and sophisticated as this–

If we walked the landscape of Middle-earth with the hobbits, however, as described in The Lord of the Rings, we could be struck again and again by the monuments of its past.  Weathertop dates to the time of Elendil, in the Second Age, who, himself, was born in SA3119.

(Alan Lee)

When the hobbits reach Rivendell, they enter a place which had been founded even earlier, in SA1697,


and, coming to the west gate of Moria,

(Alan Lee)

they approach a structure which dated somewhere post SA750, which led them into mines in which the dwarves had been laboring since before the First Age.

(Alan Lee)

Further on their travels, they encounter Amon Hen, built perhaps in the 14th century of the Third Age,

(by Scott Perry)

as was the Argonath.

(the Hildebrandts)

And yet JRRT has created something even older, providing us not just with physical monuments, but with two actual survivors.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying a re-listening to the 1981 BBC radio series of The Lord of the Rings.

It’s compact, of course—certain moments disappear, usually minor details, but there is one major one casualty:  no Tom Bombadil.

He’s an odd character, certainly.  According to Humphrey Carpenter, he was originally inspired by “a Dutch doll that belonged to Michael”.  That inspiration almost vanished from history when John, who didn’t like it, “one day stuffed it down the lavatory.”  (Biography, 181—in case you’re worried, the doll was rescued in time).  The inspiration for his name is also a mystery, various suggestions include

1. Captain Bobadilla, a braggart soldier, in Ben Jonson’s (1572-1637) 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour

(This is from the 1616 Workes, published by Jonson himself, which, as you can imagine with such a title, got him mocked at the time.  Here’s the play:  https://archive.org/details/everymaninhishum030338mbp/page/n5/mode/2up )

2.  Boabdil, the last ruler of Moorish Granada—actually Abu ‘abd  Allah Muhammad XII (1460-1533)—that “Boabdil” is the Spanish corruption of his name—

(A grand Spanish historical painting by F.P. Ortiz, from 1882:  “The Surrender of Granada”—as there doesn’t appear to be an authenticated portrait of Abu ‘abd Allah Muhammad, this is an imaginary one.)

I understand that JRRT might have come across Bobadilla in his education, but Boabdil? 

In Anglo-American literature, he turns up in John Dryden’s (1631-1700) 1672 The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards,

where he is called “Mahomet Boabdelin”.   Here’s Volume IV of Sir Walter Scott’s edition from 1808 (the play being retitled “Almanzor and Almahide”—Almanzor is the play’s hero and Almahide the heroine):    https://archive.org/details/worksofjohndryde04dryduoft/page/n9/mode/2up    As there is caveat emptor!, “Let the buyer beware!”, I would add my own “caveat lector”, “Let the reader beware!”  The play is actually 2 plays, totaling over 200 pages and is in rhymed couplets in, as Victorians might say, a rather florid style.  Dryden was aware that this might be attacked (it was) and ended the play with an epilogue critical of the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson’s time, then followed that with a 17-page “Defence of the Epilogue”. 

In Washington Irving’s  (1783-1859) Tales of the Alhambra (1832), he is “Boabdil”, where he makes several appearances, including “Mementos of Boabdil”, which you can find in this 1910 reprint of the revised 1851 edition on page 124 here:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/49947/49947-h/49947-h.htm   

As there is no trace of Dryden or Irving in Carpenter or in Letters, however, the origin of Tom’s last name will remain a mystery, pending further research.  (Hammond and Scull even suggest that “it may have been one of the Tolkien sons or daughter who chose its name rather than Tolkien himself…”  The Lord of the Rings:  A Reader’s Companion, 124)

Tolkien once described Tom as an “enigma” (Letters, 174) and as “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside” (Letters, 26), and, in an earlier posting here, it was pointed out that, without him, there would be no Barrow-wight

(Ted Nasmith)

and so no ancient sword which had the power to pierce and begin the destruction of the chief of the Nazgul,

(Angus McBride)

a fact which has to be glossed over in any production which avoids him—in the Jackson film, he disappears entirely, taking the Barrow -wight with him, and Aragorn just hands around swords at Weathertop with no explanation of where they came from (The Fellowship of the Ring, Scene 19).  And, in the BBC 1981 radio version, the hobbits are in Frodo’s new home in Buckland at one moment, and in Bree, the next, and the swords don’t appear at all.

And yet, considering that the chief of the Nazgul still falls, both in the old BBC radio version and in the Jackson film, this is clearly not a major plot point and therefore no major justification for the keeping of Tom in a story which has been stripped to what the script writers believed to be the most dramatic elements.  (Jackson is quoted as saying almost exactly that.)

In the many pages of The Lord of the Rings, however, although Tom rescues the hobbits twice, I think that his real role is what I began with:  to provide depth—and not just the depth of monuments or Ages as they display Middle-earth’s history.  He, in a sense, is Middle-earth’s history, having been living witness from before its very beginnings.  As he tells the hobbits:

“Eldest, that’s what I am.  Mark my words, my friends:  Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.  He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving.  He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights.  When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent.  He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil”)

As Goldberry says, “Tom Bombadil is the Master.”—of time and memory in Middle-earth.  But, as the ghostly voice of Obi-Wan says to Yoda, “There is another”—whom we’ll see in Part 2 of this posting.

Thanks for reading, as ever.

Stay well,

Think, if the past is another country, where can you find its maps?

And remember that, as always, there’s



Loathing, If No Fear

Dear readers, welcome, as always.

There is an odd little anecdote in the essay  “On Science Fiction” in the posthumous collection of C.S. Lewis’ (1898-1963)

essays and short fiction, Of Other Worlds

“A lady…had been talking about a dreariness which seemed to be creeping over her life, the drying up in her of the power to feel pleasure, the aridity of her mental landscape.  Drawing a bow at a venture, I asked, ‘Have you any taste for fantasies and fairy tales?’ I shall never forget how her muscles tightened, her hands clenched themselves, her eyes started as with horror, and her voice changed, as she hissed out, ‘I loathe them.’ “

Lewis then goes on to suggest that “we here have to do not with a critical opinion but with something like a phobia” and such a violent reaction certainly suggests to me that there is something in the woman’s reaction which goes beyond a simple polite reply, like “They’ve never interested me.”

Lewis himself had a very different reaction to fairy tales, as expressed in “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” in the same volume and his view is involved with what I feel is a wonderful way to think about growing up :

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so.  Now that I am fifty I read them openly.  When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth.  They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood.  But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things?  I now like hock, [an old term for German white wine] which I am sure I should not have liked as a child.  But I still like lemon-squash. [a kind of lemonade-ish thing—here’s a recipe:  https://pennysrecipes.com/3528/fresh-lemon-squash ]  I call this growth or development because I have been enriched:  where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two.  But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change.  I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth:  if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed.  A tree grows because it adds rings:  a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next.  In reality, the case is stronger and more complicated than this.  I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists , for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood:  being now able to put more in, of course I get more out.”  (This is a very rich essay and, if you’d like to read it in full, see:  https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9117 )

For the very beginning of this blog, back in 2014, a goal for it was always that it would not be like so much of the material to be found on the internet:  harsh, even negative to the point of gushing hatred.  And we all see the effects of that sort of material all too often.  Over almost eight years, the blog has offered positive views and praise and, on only a handful of occasions, has it taken a negative turn, in part, I would say, because it has always tried to be based upon something which Lewis said in another essay, “On Science Fiction”, discussing negative reviews of early 20th-century science fiction:

“…many were by people who clearly hated the kind they wrote about.  It is very dangerous to write about a kind you hate.  Hatred obscures all distinctions.  I don’t like detective stories and therefore all detective stories look much alike to me:  if I wrote about them I should therefore infallibly write drivel.”

I enjoy detective stories myself, having grown up on Sherlock Holmes, but Lewis’ point has been a guide:  don’t write about things you don’t enjoy.

Fairy tales, whether of the Western or Eastern varieties (and they often blend) were some of the very first stories which caught my attention as a child, really memorable ones being those from “The Arabian Nights” of Aladdin and Ali Baba, as well as those familiar from the Grimms, Perrault, Mesdames D’Aulnoy and Leprince de Beaumont, and Andersen.  In my current project of reading all twelve of Andrew Lang’s fairy books,

I have rediscovered many old friends and some new ones, but then there was “The Master-Maid” in The Blue Fairy Book (1889)

and, in this story, I found something which, for me, could explain that seemingly-disturbed woman’s reaction to such tales—and here bear with me while I make a brief descent into the negative.

The story originally comes from a collection entitled, Norske folkeeventyr (“Norwegian Folktales”), first published in 1841, with subsequent editions through 1852,

(a much later edition—1914—but, at the moment, I’m having trouble finding a first edition)

by Asbjornsen and Moe (Peter Christen Asbjornsen, 1812-1885; Jorgen Engebretsen Moe, 1813-1882), two folktale collectors who became the Grimm brothers of Norway.

But if I’ve loved fairy tales since childhood, what is there about this one which—momentarily, I hasten to add—alienated my affection?

In the words of a modern fairy tale character, however, I would have to say:

The story begins with the youngest son of a king, who sets off to make his fortune in the world.  He gains employment with a giant:

1. who sets him tasks, but tells him not to look into any rooms except the one in which he slept

2. of course, he looks into 3 rooms, each with a boiling cauldron, the contents of which cover anything dipped into them with copper, silver, or gold, in succession (never mentioned again)

3. in room number 4 is a beautiful young woman (the title’s “Master-Maid”) with a never-explained knowledge of how to fulfill all of the giant’s obviously impossible tasks:

  a. a stable which can’t be cleaned unless you use the other end of the dung fork

  b. a fire-breathing horse, who can only be tamed with a certain bridle

  c. some sort of troll who has to pay the giant’s tax (the prince needs a special club to knock on the troll’s cave door)

4. the giant then decides to kill the prince and orders the young woman to make him into soup

5. Instead:

   a. the young woman takes all sorts of household waste and plops that into the pot

   b. she draws three drops of the prince’s blood to fall upon a stool

  c. then she gathers up:

   1. a chest of gold dust

   2. a lump of salt

   3. a water flask

   4. a golden apple

   5. two golden chickens

 d. and escapes with the prince

6. they somehow obtain a ship—and even the story says, “but where they got the ship

from I have never been able to learn” and sail off, the giant soon in hot pursuit (he’s been delayed because, having napped while the prince soup was cooking, he would wake briefly to ask if it were ready, only to be told–by talking blood drops–that it was still in the process—and when he finally fully awakes, he quickly discovers that the soup was definitely not worth waiting for)

7.  arriving at the sea, the giant produces

   a.  a “river-sucker” to lower the sea so that he can spot the escaping couple, but he is foiled when the young woman uses the lump of salt to swell up to such size that “river-sucker” can’t lower the sea any further and the giant can no longer spot them or approach them—the text is a little foggy here

   b. a “hill-borer” to put a hole in the salt barrier so that the “river-sucker” can go back to work, but the young woman then tips out a couple of drops from the water flask (remember that?) and suddenly the sea is so full that the “river-sucker” doesn’t have another chance to slurp before the couple has finally reached dry land

And that’s only the first half of the story.  To sum up even farther, the prince abandons the young woman at the seashore, promising to return, but is tricked into forgetting her (a magic apple—one bite and…), she then lives briefly with a crone/troll, escapes three suitors, sees elements in the crone’s hut employed to repair the coach in which the forgetful prince is traveling to his wedding, finally gets to the palace, and uses that golden apple and the gilded chickens (you’d almost forgotten those in all the excitement, hadn’t you?)  to bring back the prince’s memory and they live happily ever after (although the person who supplied that apple of memory lapse is torn apart by horses, so probably doesn’t enjoy the ending as much as the others).

C.S. Lewis is once quoted as saying, “You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  (from a transcript of a lecture given by Lewis’ sometime editor and biographer, Walter Hooper—here’s the whole piece:  https://www.historyspage.com/post/cs-lewis-inklings-memories-walter-hooper )

That this seems rather a long story for a fairy tale—pages 120-135 in The Blue Fairy Book—is hardly a drawback.  “The Yellow Dwarf”, of which I’ve written in an earlier posting, and which is in the same volume, is even longer (30-51), and I’ve certainly read things infinitely longer and more than once—

And it’s not that some things, like the young woman’s knowledge of the solutions to the giant’s tests, are unexplained—part, I would say, of what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale is that some things will simply be…inexplicable.

Rather, I think it’s that, as with Inigo Montoya’s attempt to explain past events to Westley, there is simply too much:  too many boiling cauldrons, too many ready solutions to tricky problems, too many magic objects, too many suitors, all in one story.  It’s as if the teller were trying to cram 20 stories into one, which, for me, perhaps paradoxically thins the telling and I find myself wearily trudging from one incident to the next, which is, I think, hardly what Lewis would have wanted his enormous cup of tea for,

and makes me wonder just what books of fairy tales that angry woman had read?

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Consider the dangers of an overflowing cup,

And remember that there’s always




The translator of “Master-Maid” was said by Andrew Lang to be “Mrs Alfred Hunt”, a very interesting woman in her own right.  The author of “Lang’s Fairy Blog”, who seems to have done a good deal of research on the series, suggests that, although she was proficient in German (consult this page to see why he/she says so:  https://langsfairyblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/26/mrs-alfred-hunt/ ), she probably translated it from a German source.  If you’d like to have a look at the German text she may have used, see:  http://www.zeno.org/M%C3%A4rchen/M/Norwegen/P.+%5BC.%5D+Asbj%C3%B8rnsen+und+J%C3%B6rgen+Moe%3A+Norwegische+Volksm%C3%A4rchen/Die+Meisterjungfer  –this is from volume 2 of Friedrich Bresemann’s Norwegische Volksmaerchen, 1847.  The first English translation of Asbjornsen and Moe’s collection was by Sir George Dasent, as Popular Tales from the Norse, in 1858.  Comparing the Hunt with Dasent and the German translation, it seems to me that Hunt may first have read the Dasent, but used the German as the basis of her version.  Here’s the Dasent, if you’d like to compare:  https://archive.org/details/populartalesfrom00daseuoft –this is a later edition, from 1904.  For a very early review of Dasent’s work, see this, from The Atlantic for September, 1859:  https://cdn.theatlantic.com/media/archives/1859/09/4-23/131866450.pdf   (A brief comparison of the opening of the original Norwegian version of the story with Dasent’s translation, by the way, suggests that Dasent was rather a casual translator, aiming less for perfect accuracy than for the general feel of the story.)

Black and Ominous?

Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

Unlike The Hobbit’s narrator’s description of the mouth of the River Running with its “every now and then a black and ominous crow”, I like crows. Perhaps it’s because of their elegant, almost regal, look–

and recent scientific studies have turned the crow from one of a noisy gang of scavengers

to something more than a birdbrain. 

(This is a late rag—1959—by Joseph Lamb—1887-1960

and here’s a recording so that you can hear how Lamb conveyed the idea:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYlPM0TJ9XY    For me, Lamb is one of the best among the many ragtime composers and “Nightingale Rag”, 1915, performed here by William Oegmundson, is perhaps my favorite of his rags:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnzoBXDL0Qw  –just to keep the bird theme which is developing here. )

Instead, crows are extremely intelligent.  Just look at this from the BBC series “Inside the Animal Mind”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbSu2PXOTOc

For Tolkien—at least for Tolkien’s dwarves in The Hobbit—even if crows showed avian genius, however, they were not the preferred bird:

“ ‘I only wish he was a raven!’ said Balin.

‘I thought that you did not like them!  You seemed very shy of them, when we came this way before.’

‘Those were crows!  And nasty suspicious-looking creatures at that, and rude as well.  You must have heard the ugly names they were calling after us.  But the ravens are different.’ “ (The Hobbit, Chapter 15, “The Gathering of the Clouds”)

Ravens are physically different to some degree from crows (size, feathering, calls, flying methods, basically),

but there is also one strong similarity:  they both talk, as do birds throughout The Hobbit.

In succession, there are the Lord of the Eagles,

(one of my favorite Michael Hague illustrations)

and the eagle who carries Bilbo to the Carrock,

(a Ted Nasmith)

the thrush who not only signals the moment when the keyhole to the backdoor of Erebor will appear, but

(an Alan Lee)

who also told the archer, Bard, about Smaug’s weak spot,

(one version of Tolkien’s well-known drawing)

the ancient raven Roac, the son of Carc,

(another Alan Lee)

and, finally, the unnamed ravens who provide information on affairs outside the Lonely Mountain to the dwarves.

All of these feathery folk speak the Common Speech but one, the Thrush, and here it’s interesting to see that there is a linguistic tie between thrushes and the men of the now long-ruined Dale, as Bard discovers:

“Suddenly out of the dark something fluttered to his shoulder.  He started—but it was only an old thrush.  Unafraid it perched by his ear and it brought him news.  Marveling he found he could understand his tongue, for he was of the race of Dale.”  (The Hobbit, Chapter 14, “Fire and Water”)

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m always interested in where JRRT’s ideas come from.  Sometimes, as in the theft of the cup from Smaug in The Hobbit, it’s obvious:  Beowulf, 2278-2306.  (If you’d like to see this in the original Old English, along with a more literal translation, visit:  https://heorot.dk/beo-intro-rede.html   For another very interesting translation into modern English, see:  https://oldenglishpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/beowulf/  This is an excellent site for reading Old English texts in translation, of which the site has a wide selection.)

In Bard’s understanding of the Thrush’s speech, I’m immediately reminded of something from Andrew Lang’s (1844-1912) The Red Fairy Book (1890).

(If you don’t own a copy, here it is:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/540/540-h/540-h.htm )

From the title of a story early in the volume, “Soria Moria Castle”, some have believed—and I’m among them—that JRRT had either read this book or had it read to him as a child, but it seems that there’s much more evidence from “The Story of Sigurd” for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including a broken sword whose pieces, collected, can be reforged (although it’s not called “Narsil”, “Firey Flame”, or “Anduril”, “Flame of the West”, but Gram, “grief/sorrow”), a sensitive ring  (it changes temperature with dawn), as well as a ring with a curse on it, a horse “swift as the wind” (descended from Sleipnir, Odin’s horse, as Shadowfax was one of the chiefs of the Mearas, horses brought to Middle-earth by Orome, a Vala), a warrior maiden, and a human, who gaining the speech of birds, is then given a warning.

Even The Red Fairy Book might remind us of The Red Book of Westmarch, from which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are supposedly translated, but I want to go back to the human, the hero of the story, Sigurd, and his acquired ability to understand birds.  He does so inadvertently, having sucked on a finger burnt while roasting the heart of Fafnir, a dragon he has killed.  (This is, in fact, cousin to an Old Irish story, in which Fionn Mac Cumhaill—that’s “FEEN mac COO-vuhl” in Old Irish—after burning his thumb while cooking a salmon, sucks it and begins to gain all of the knowledge in the world.  Here’s a quick reference for that story– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salmon_of_Knowledge  and some other parallels, as well.)

As Sigurd has gained his comprehension through his burned fingers, Bard has his understanding  of the Thrush because , as Thorin tells Bilbo:

“The thrushes are good and friendly…They were a long-lived and magical race…The Men of Dale used to have the trick of understanding their language, and used them for messengers to fly to the Men of the Lake and elsewhere.”  (The Hobbit, Chapter 12, “Inside Information”)

In an earlier posting, I’ve suggested that Tolkien had been influenced not only by The Red Fairy Book, but also by its predecessor, The Blue Fairy Book (1889),

(Find your copy at:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/503/503-h/503-h.htm#link2H_4_0017 )

citing, for example, the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (called only “The Forty Thieves” here) and the fact that it requires a worded command to open a thieves’ cave, just as it requires the word “Mellon”, “Friend”, to enter the west gate to the Mines of Moria.

(a lovely Ted Nasmith)

On the subject of bird speech, as well, there are two main examples.  In both cases, as with many of the birds in The Hobbit, the birds in these two stories can be understood and prove helpful to a major character.

In “Trusty John”, the John of the title saves the king and his queen three times, after he overhears three passing ravens discussing magic snares laid for them.  In a second story, “The Water Lily” (also called “The Gold-Spinners”) the heroine, the third of three enchanted princesses,  is able to employ a raven to help her to escape because “as a child she had learned to understand the speech of birds”.  The raven, in turn, flies to a palace where the prince, her would-be rescuer, lives, and there finds “a wind wizard’s son in the palace garden, who understood the speech of birds”.  Later in the story, it seems that, either some birds have acquired human speech, or the prince has somehow gained knowledge of theirs as he now understands and converses with a thrush, a magpie, a swallow, an eagle, and a crow, the latter reminding the prince that, having rescued the third princess, he must also rescue the other two princesses, whom he appears to have forgotten.

One hopes from this that at least one fairy tale figure admires crows as much as I do and does not regard them as Balin does, as “nasty, suspicious-looking creatures”.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Think about holding a conversation with that interesting bird outside your window,

And remember that, as always, there’s




In case you’re still confused between crows and ravens, have a look at this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9-wTnqIidY


“Trusty John” comes to Lang from the Grimms, but “The Water Lily” is derived from a somewhat obscure source, an Estonian story, which you can read in English here:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/503/503-h/503-h.htm#link2H_4_0017  It’s in a two-volume collection called The Hero of Esthonia, published by W.F. Kirby in 1895, where it appears in Vol. 1, pages 208-236, under its alternate title, “The Gold-Spinners”.  My reference for this comes from a very helpful site on the Lang fairy books:  https://langsfairyblog.wordpress.com/  which annotates many of the stories from the various volumes.


That last bird image is from Ukiyo-e, the world of Japanese block prints.   If you love them as much as I do, and you don’t know this site, I recommend:  https://ukiyo-e.org/

(Un)happily Ever After ?

Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

I might blame this posting on Madame D’Aulnoy (1650-1705).

After all, she wrote “Le Nain Jaune” (“The Yellow Dwarf”) and included it in her 1697/8 collection, Les Contes des Fees, (Stories of the Fairies—from which our expression “fairy tales” appears to come—oh, and Fees, although it looks like English“fees”, is actually French “FAY”).

Of course, I’m to blame, too, as I’ve launched into this long-term project of reading all twelve of Andrew Lang’s fairy books in more-or-less chronological order.

(I say more or less because I had already read the Red Fairy Book for an earlier posting—and I’ll be writing about it again soon.)

Madame D’Aulnoy appeared through the translation of the aforementioned “The Yellow Dwarf” in Lang’s first volume, The Blue Fairy Book (1889).

(Here’s a copy for you:  https://archive.org/details/bluefairybook00langiala )

This was a fairy tale I wasn’t familiar with, but seemed at first like something which I’d read before:  princess raised to be spoiled by over-doting mother rejects all suitors.   Then, however, it involved an unusual turn.  That mother, attempting to consult a fairy in an effort to un-spoil the princess, falls into the hands of a loathsome dwarf,

and, in turn, so does her daughter, the mother, to save her own life, promising her daughter to the dwarf, and the daughter, in turn, swearing that she’ll marry the dwarf.  In the midst of all of this is the dwarf’s powerful friend, the Fairy of the Desert.

(These two illustrations are from Walter Crane’s  (1845-1915) The Yellow Dwarf , 1875, which you can have your own copy of here:  https://ia801205.us.archive.org/5/items/yellowdwarf00Cran/yellowdwarf00Cran.pdf )

A king (the King of the Gold Mines) is involved, who attempts to rescue the princess, and here there is an even darker turn:  he doesn’t.  Instead, there’s this:

“ ‘ Now,’ said the Dwarf, ‘ I am master of my rival’s fate, but I

will give him his life and permission to depart unharmed if you,

Princess, will consent to marry me.’

‘ Let me die a thousand times rather,’ cried the unhappy


‘ Alas !

‘ cried the Princess, ‘ must you die ? Could anything be

more terrible ‘?

‘ That you should marry that little wretch would be far more

terrible,’ answered the King.

‘ At least,’ continued she, ‘ let us die together.’

‘ Let rne have the satisfaction of dying for you, my Princess,’

said he.

‘ Oh, no, no!’ she cried, turning to the Dwarf; ‘rather than

that I will do as you wish.’

‘ Cruel Princess !

‘ said the King, ‘ would you make my life

horrible to me by marrying another before my eyes ? ‘

‘ Not so,’ replied the Yellow Dwarf; ‘ you are a rival of whom I

am too much afraid : you shall not see our marriage.’ So saying,

in spite of Bellissima’s tears and cries, he stabbed the King to the

heart with the diamond sword.

The poor Princess, seeing her lover lying dead at her feet, could

no longer live without him ; she sank down by him and died of a

broken heart.”  (“The Yellow Dwarf” from The Blue Fairy Book, 49)

In Crane’s version, this has been changed to a happy ending (although the princess has her original D’Aulnoy name, “Toute-Belle”, literally “Completely Beautiful”, returned to her):

“The Princess uttered a loud shriek, which luckily caused

the King to turn suddenly round, just in time to snatch up the sword.

With one blow he slew the wicked Dwarf, and then conducted the

Princess to the sea-shore, where the friendly Syren was waiting to convey them to the Queen. On their arrival at the palace, the wedding took place, and Toutebelle, cured of her vanity, lived happily

with the King of the Gold Mines.”  (Crane, The Yellow Dwarf, 6)

(If you’d like to see the original French—although in an edition from 1878, which also includes the stories of Perrault and others—see https://ia600901.us.archive.org/32/items/bnf-bpt6k65671811/bnf-bpt6k65671811.pdf  pages 277-296 )

I can see why Crane changed the story—the evil Dwarf won?  Even though I’ve long been aware of the darkness possible in older collections like the original Kinder- und Haus-Maerchen (“Children’s and Domestic Wonder Tales”) of the Grimm brothers  (Jacob 1785-1863, Wilhelm 1786-1859),

(first edition, 1812, but ballooning in size in subsequent editions)

it was still disturbing.  

From childhood, I had lived with all of those Disney versions, after all, where wicked witches and their ilk were suitably punished

and heroine and prince rode happily off.

This ideal was crystallized for me in a lament from one of my favorite musicals, Once Upon a Mattress (1959).

This is based (somewhat loosely) upon Hans Christian Andersen’s (1805-1875)

“Prinsessen paa Aerten” (“The Princess Upon the Pea”) from his 1835 collection Eventyr, fortalte for Born (“Fairy Tales Told for Children”).

(a slightly later printing)

In this retelling, Princess Winnifred the Woebegone

 has come to the castle of King Sextimus and Queen Aggravain in search of a prince, but, worried that things don’t seem to be going as she hoped, she sings this (after finishing reading aloud a fairy tale in which the usual happens):

“They all live happily, happily, happily ever after.
The couple is happily leaving the chapel eternally tied.
As the curtain descends, there is nothing but loving and laughter.
When the fairy tale ends the heroine’s always a bride.
Ella, the girl of the cinders did the wash and the walls and the winders.
But she landed a prince who was brawny and blue-eyed and blond.
Still, I honestly doubt that she could ever have done it
without that crazy lady with the wand.
Cinderella had outside help!
I have no one but me? Fairy godmother, godmother, godmother!
Where can you be? I haven’t got a fairy godmother.
I haven’t got a godmother. I have a mother?
a plain, ordinary woman!
Snow white was so pretty they tell us
that the queen was insulted and jealous
when the mirror declared that snow white was the fairest of all.
She was dumped on the border but was saved by some men who adored ‘er;
Oh, I grant you, they were small.
But there were seven of them!
Practically a regiment!
I’m alone in the night.
By myself, not a dwarf, not an elf, not a goblin in sight!
That girl had seven determined little men working day and night just for her!
Oh sure! The queen gave her a poisoned apple.
Even so she lived happily, happily, happily every after!
A magical kiss counteracted the apple eventually?
Though I know I’m not clever I’ll do what they tell me I hafta!
I want some happily ever after to happen to me!
Winnifred maid of the mire, has one simple human desire
Oh, I ask for no more than two shoes on the floor next to mine.
Oh? Someone to fly and to float with
to swim in the marsh and the moat with as for this one?
Well, he’d be fine.
But now it’s all up to me?
And I’m burning to bring it about.
If I don’t I’ll be stuck with goodbye and good luck and get out!
But I don’t wanna get out! I wanna get in!
I want to get into some happily, happily ever after.
I want to walk happily out of the chapel eternally tied.
For I know that I’ll never live happily ever after ’til after I’m a bride!
And then I’ll be happily happy,
Yes, Happily happy!
And thoroughly satisfied!
Satisfied! Satisfied!
Oh Yeah!”

(Here’s the original Winnifred, Carol Burnett, singing a slightly different version:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7q_wgLa2AQ  

Trained by Disney, as well as by all of the Bowdlerized fairy tales read to me before I could read them for myself, could an ending like that  of  “The Yellow Dwarf”  ever be as satisfying for me as being married would be for Princess Winnifred?

This brings me back to remembering finishing The Lord of the Rings for the first time. 

If you’re a Tolkien reader—and I imagine that most, if not all of those who regularly visit this blog are—perhaps this was your experience, as well.  Bilbo, at the end of The Hobbit, is able to return home, continue to have adventures (stuff for fan fiction here), but to lead a comfortable domestic life for many years.

(an illustration by Alan Lee)

Frodo, however, comes home and never settles, is ill and haunted, and finally, joining elves and Gandalf to sail west from the Grey Havens,

says, in reply to Sam’s:

“ ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

‘So I thought too, once.  But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam.  I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger:  some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)

And so I was as shocked as Sam.  As he says to Frodo, to leave so soon “after all you have done”, which includes everything from narrowly escaping a Nazgul in Book One to nearly being consumed by Mt Doom in Book Six, was, well, disturbing, like the death of the King of the Gold Mines at the hands of the Yellow Dwarf. 

I suppose that part of that disquiet comes from the fact that, at the conclusion of The Return of the King, there is no human—or dwarf—to remove Frodo with a stab as happened to the King of the Gold Mines.

He was once stabbed, by a Nazgul, on Weathertop, of course.

(An interesting image, suggesting not only hobbit versus human scale, but also perhaps the larger-than-life feel confronting such a figure must have had for Frodo.)

And this stabbing, although saved from its consequences by Elrond, does seem to have had some later effect upon Frodo:

“One evening Sam came into the study and found his master looking very strange.  He was very pale and his eyes seemed to see things far away.

‘What’s the matter, Mr. Frodo?’ said Sam.

‘I am wounded,’ he answered, ‘wounded; it will never really heal.’

But then he got up, and the turn seemed to pass, and he was quite himself the next day.  It was not until afterwards that Sam recalled that the date was October the sixth.  Two years before on that day it was dark in the dell under Weathertop.”

And yet Frodo did get up and was “quite himself the next day”.

Could it be that, in a sense, Frodo is the last victim of the Ring?  After all,

“On the thirteenth of that month [in 1420] Farmer Cotton found Frodo lying on his bed; he was clutching a white gem that hung on a chain about his neck and he seemed half in a dream.

‘It is gone for ever,’ he said, ‘and now all is dark and empty.’ “

When Frodo tries to explain to Sam about sacrifice for others, however, I just didn’t find that especially convincing.  Elrond had healed Frodo and the Ring was an ancient evil and its disposal was the salvation of all of Middle-earth from the potential tyranny of Sauron.  Frodo had certainly felt the terrible effect of it, to the point where he refused to destroy it, requiring the mad and vengeful Gollum to  bring about its end,

but he had survived, even if maimed in a echo of what Isildur had done to Sauron many centuries before.  And he had come home, just as Bilbo had, many years before, although to the mischievous destruction of the Shire brought about by Saruman,

which must have been even more traumatic than Bilbo finding himself declared legally dead and his house and possessions being auctioned off, but the Shire was being healed, much of it thanks to the work of Sam, much changed from the timid assistant gardener of only a year or two before.

My initial reaction to the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, although revived for a recent moment by a sinister Yellow Dwarf, was some time ago:  just today I reread “The Grey Havens” once more:  am I still uneasy?

Since that first reading, much more information has come to us about the author, and here I’m thinking especially of John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War.

After that war, the UK was seemingly filled with monuments commemorating the dead

and Tolkien

himself had lost two of his three dearest school friends,

 Gilson and Smith, in the fighting.  Gilson was killed on the first day of the vast and terrible Battle of the Somme, 1 July, 1916, a battle in which JRRT’s unit was also involved.  Smith died from a wound in early December, 1916, and, since my original reading of The Lord of the Rings, I’ve come to wonder whether, when Tolkien had Frodo say

“It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger:  some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”

it was his way of trying to explain his own understanding of what had happened to those friends and maybe why.  “Survivor’s guilt” is a common term these days, and, though I’ve seen no evidence in what we have in the way of Tolkien autobiographical material so far, I also wonder whether he bore his own scars from the War and, although a devout Christian, part of him hoped, with the fatally-wounded Frodo, to experience

“…a sweet fragrance on the air and…the sound of singing that came over the water.  And then it seemed to him that…the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Departure at the Grey Havens, by Ted Nasmith

If that were so, I could live with Frodo’s end, even if the Yellow Dwarf has still spoiled the ending for Toute-Belle and the King.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Be aware that all dwarves are not like Gimli,

And know that, as always, there’s




Here’s a LINK to the second edition of J.R. Planche’s version of Mme D’Aulnoy’s fairy tales (1856):   https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Fairy_Tales_by_the_Countess_d%27Aulnoy   This includes not only those stories in Les Contes des Fees, but also those from her second collection, Contes Nouveaux ou Les Fees a la Mode (“New Fairy Tales or The Fairies in Fashion”) of 1698.  Planche himself is worth knowing more about.  To get a start, see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Planch%C3%A9


If you’re not familiar with that adjective “Bowdlerized”, it refers to Dr Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who, with his sisters, produced in 1807 (with several subsequent editions) The Family Shakspeare [sic].

This removed or changed anything which they thought might offend female and child readers (basically, for them, both in the same category), so that the works might be read aloud at family gatherings.  From this initial work, the term came to mean any tampering with or censoring of a text. 

Riddles in the (Not So) Dark

As ever, dear readers, welcome.

We all know just how perilous that Ring of Power is—


won’t take it:

“Do not tempt me!  For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself…Do not tempt me!  I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)


offered it, like Gandalf, is aware of its seductive strength, regretfully declines it–

“I pass the test…I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)


who only has a dim understanding of it, won’t touch it:

Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said.  Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.”  (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 5, “The Window on the West”)

There are others, however, with a different view—and it corrupts them:

“ ‘And why not, Gandalf?’ he whispered. ‘Why not?  The Ruling Ring?  If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

And that power has its effect, as well, on the author himself.

I don’t mean, of course, that Tolkien turned into Saruman or even Gollum,

(by Alan Lee)

but the Ring had its influence over him, as I discovered when reading, for the first time, the 1937 Hobbit.

and, in particular, the original Chapter 5, “Riddles in the Dark”.  I had read the sections quoted in the margins of Douglas Anderson’s The Annotated Hobbit,

which I can’t recommend highly enough, if you’re interested in more than just Tolkien’s story, but it was only in reading the whole chapter in the reprinted facsimile edition that I was struck by what a different book, potentially, it was.

It’s not that the Ring is different—it’s still just the little circle of gold with the power to make one disappear which Bilbo picks up and puts into his pocket at the beginning of the chapter—it’s that Gollum is different. 

So much is just the same, riddles and all, but note the initial conditions of the contest:

“ ‘Does it guess easy?  It must have a competition with us, my preciouss!  If precious asks, and it doesn’t answer, we eats it, my preciousss.  If it asks us, and we doesn’t answer, we gives it a present, gollum!’ ”  (“Riddles in the Dark”, 1937, 85)

Then the contest proceeds, including “What have I got in my pocket?” and Gollum’s attempt to cheat with two guesses, but then things go in a completely different direction:

“ ‘Both wrong,’ cried Bilbo very much relieved; and he jumped at once to his feet, put his back to the nearest wall, and held out his little sword.  But funnily enough he need not have been alarmed.  For one thing Gollum had learned long long ago was never, never, to cheat at the riddle-game, which is a sacred one and of immense antiquity.  Also there was the sword.  He simply sat and whispered.” (91)

In the later, 1951, edition, the condition if Gollum lost was that he was then obliged to guide Bilbo out of the goblin tunnels and, while actually thinking to use the Ring to come back, avoid that sword, and kill and presumably then eat Bilbo, he says that he has to go to his island “…[to] go and get some things first, yes, things to help us.”

In 1937, Gollum has, surprisingly, a fragment of a conscience, saying to himself:

“ ‘Must we give it the thing, preciouss?  Yess, we must!  We must fetch it, preciouss, and give it the present we promised.’ ” (91)

He finds the Ring gone, of course, and he is upset, but it seems that his emotional disturbance is more about not being able to fulfill the conditions of the contest than the loss of the Ring itself:

“I don’t know how many times Gollum begged Bilbo’s pardon.  He kept on saying:  ‘We are ssorry; we didn’t mean to cheat, we meant to give it our only only present, if it won the competition.’  He even offered to catch Bilbo some nice juicy fish to eat as a consolation.” (92)

Bilbo declines the fish, and, instead, requests that Gollum guide him out of the tunnels—but that tone of abject apology now has an undertone which reminds us of the later Gollum:

“Now Gollum had to agree to this, if he was not to cheat.  He still very much wanted just to try what the stranger tasted like; but now he had to give up all idea of it.  Still there was that little sword; and the stranger was wide awake and on the look out, not unsuspecting as Gollum like to have the things which he attacked.  So perhaps it was best after all.” (93)

Gollum then leads him through a complex pattern of lefts and rights until:

“So Bilbo slipped under the arch, and said good-bye to the nasty miserable creature; and very glad he was.  He did not feel comfortable until he felt quite sure it was gone, and he kept his head out in the main tunnel listening until the flip-flap of Gollum going back to the boat died away in the darkness.” (94)

This is a far cry, of course, from that moment in the later version, when the frightened Bilbo, invisible and sword in hand, thinks:

“He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left.  He must fight.  He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it.” (1951)

We know that Tolkien rewrote whole sections of this chapter as early as 1944 and “sent [them] to Allen & Unwin in 1947 as a way to bring the earlier book into harmony with its sequel…” (Rateliff, The History of the Hobbit, “The 1947 Hobbit”, 731—this whole section of Rateliffe’s book, 731-762, is worth careful study to understand how, as he was deep in The Lord of the Rings, JRRT was thinking how to create a greater whole, using the earlier work.)  And, if you grew up reading the later version of the story (as well as Bilbo’s falsifications as noted in “The Shadow of the Past”), it’s a shock to see Tolkien’s original version, but it’s a good shock, as it shows so clearly not only the growth of the story, but JRRT’s growth as a writer, as well.  The Gollum of 1937 is small and spiteful and, for one chapter, dangerous, but, aside from providing the Ring which Bilbo uses again and again in his role as “burglar”, he is more the agent for providing that Ring than a major character.  In the revised version, perhaps his most important role is to provoke the inherent—and saving—humanity first of Bilbo and then, in turn, of Frodo.  When, wearing the Ring, Bilbo fleeing Gollum, has the opportunity to do away with his pursuer, this comes into Bilbo’s mind:

“No, not a fair fight.  He was invisible now.  Gollum had no sword.  Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet.  And he was miserable, alone, lost.  A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart:  a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.  All of these thoughts passed in a flash of a second.  He trembled.”  (1951)

And, instead, he leaps over Gollum’s head and is on his way to escape—perhaps in more ways than one.

 As Gandalf replies when Frodo says “…I do not feel any pity for Gollum” and that “He deserves death.”—

“ ‘Deserves it!  I daresay he does.  Many that live deserve death.  And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?  Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.  For even the very wise cannot see all ends.   I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.  And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring.  My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many—yours not least.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)

Besides that humanity, what would have happened if Gollum had remained that small agent when  Frodo, in the depths of Mount Doom, had been allowed to go through with his terrible statement:

“  I have come…But I do not choose now to do what I came to do.  I will not do this deed.  The Ring is mine!” ?  (The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 3, “Mount Doom”)

At the Cracks of Doom, by Ted Nasmith

Thanks, as always, for reading,

Stay well,

Look –and think—before you leap,

And know that there’s always




For a very useful side-by-side comparison of 1937 and 1951 , see:  https://www.ringgame.net/riddles.html

Feeling Blue (II)

Welcome, dear readers, as always.

In my last, I had noticed that Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

appeared to have been influenced by the fairy tale of Blue Beard in certain details of his novel, Dracula (1897).

In that fairy tale, a young woman, newly married to a very odd man, is given a key she’s not supposed to use for a room she’s not supposed to enter. 

She does use it and almost loses her life because of it.

In Stoker’s novel, a young man, staying as a guest in a ruined castle is cautioned about doors and even more about sleeping in strange rooms:

“ ‘Let me advise you, my dear young friend—nay, let me warn you with all seriousness, that should you leave these rooms you will not by any chance go to sleep in any other part of the castle. It is old, and has many memories, and there are bad dreams for those who sleep unwisely. Be warned! Should sleep now or ever overcome you, or be like to do, then haste to your own chamber or to these rooms, for your rest will then be safe. But if you be not careful in this respect, then’—He finished his speech in a gruesome way, for he motioned with his hands as if he were washing them.” (Dracula, Chapter III)

Like the young woman, the young man disobeys, falls asleep in a room he should never have entered, and is nearly attacked by three voluptuous female vampires.

From these details, I would suggest that Stoker knew the story, but, remembering Stoker’s background, it may not have been that he had read either the original source—Charles Perrault’s  (1628-1703)

Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe avec des Moralites (“Stories or Fairy Tales of Time Past with Some Moral Lessons”) of 1697,

or its first appearance in English, in 1719,

or its many later publications or republications, including one Tolkien might have read, in Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book (1889).

(It’s clear, from certain references, that, as a boy, JRRT had read, or had  had read to him, The Red Fairy Book, its sequel,

and, in a previous posting—“Roll Out the Barrel”, Wednesday, 13 April, 2022—I suggested a possible link between his work and the earlier Lang volume.)

Stoker had been interested in the theatre from his student days in Dublin and later became  the business manager of Sir Henry Irving, one of the most distinguished English actors,

at his theatre, the Lyceum.

There had been theatrical productions of the Blue Beard story from at least 1789, when Andre Gretry (1741-1813)

presented his opera, Raoul Barbe Bleue in Paris, just on the eve of the Revolution.  Gretry billed it as a comedy, and, though later successful, initially it appears that critics had had a very mixed view, at least one suggesting that such a story was hardly a subject for joking.  (For an interesting, but not always quite accurate, essay on the subject, see:  https://repertoire-explorer.musikmph.de/prefaces/2116.html  And you can hear the overture with its what I think rather creepy opening, here:  https://repertoire-explorer.musikmph.de/prefaces/2116.html  

In England, it was a subject for joking, in the form of pantomime, a traditional entertainment often based upon popular fairy tales.  As early as 1791—just 2 years after Gretry’s comedy—Karl Friedrich Baumgarten  (c.1740-1824) premiered Bluebeard, or The Flight of Harlequin at Covent Garden.

(For more on pantomime, see:   https://sites.google.com/site/ibworldtheatreresearch/english-pantomime )

And, throughout the 19th century, Bluebeard became a common subject for such entertainment.

The French, in the form of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880),

even returned to the comic side of Bluebeard with Barbe-bleue in 1866. 

This is my favorite of the various treatments, in part because Bluebeard is, for all that he’s a bloodthirsty serial killer (or so he thinks), such a cheerful fellow, as one can see in the first verse of his introductory song.  Here’s that verse in French and then my prose translation, which gives no sense of the merriment in the song, although  Bluebeard’s carefree attitude about the disappearance of those to whom he was presumably attached comes through—I hope!

Bluebeard enters with some of his troops and addresses them in a kind of lament–

Encore une, soldats, belle parmi les belles !
Pourquoi donc le destin les mets-il sur mes
Ces femmes qu’aussitôt des morts accidentel-

Arrachent de mes bras !

but then breaks into a very cheerful tune.

              Ma première femme est morte,

Et que le diable m’emporte,

Si j’ai jamais su comment !

La deuxième et la troisième,

Ainsi que la quatrième,

Je les pleure également.

La cinquième m’était chère,

Mais, la semaine dernière,

À mon grand étonnement,

Sans aucun motif plausible,

Les trois Parques, c’est horrible !

L’ont cueillie en un moment…

Je suis Barbe-Bleue, ô gué !

Jamais veuf ne fut plus gai !

Once again, soldiers, a beauty among the beauties!

Why then does Destiny put them in my way,

These women whom soon some accidental deaths

Tear from my arms!

My first wife is dead

And devil take me

If  I’ve ever known how!

The second and the third

As well as the fourth

I wept for equally.

The fifth was dear to me

But, last week,

To my great astonishment,

Without any plausible cause,

The three Fates—it’s horrible!—

Have plucked her in a moment…

I’m Blue Beard, hooray!

Never was a widower more merry!

Here’s my second translation which tries to stick to the French rhythm, if not to every French word:

My first wife was quickly hist’ry,

But how she died’s a myst’ry—

Devil take me if I see!

Then the second and the third one

And  then the fourth was soon done–

I mourned them equally!

The fifth to me was just as charming,

But, just last week there came alarming

News—no cause at all to see–

That the Fates—it’s horrifying—

In a moment she was dying—

Had plucked that wife from me!

I am that Blue Beard—hooray!

No widower more merry today!

And here’s a performance, so that you can hear both the French and the jolly tune to which it’s set.

Offenbach’s operetta was first performed in England within the same year as its premiere in Paris, and, as pantomimes and that 19th-century English dramatic art form called the “burlesque”—here’s F.C. Burnand’s 1883 “Blue Beard or the Hazard of the Dye”—

continued to employ the Blue Beard plot throughout the later 19th century,  I think that it can be easily seen that, surrounded as he was by so many theatrical treatments, even if he had never read a page of the French or an English translation, the story, in some form, must have been readily available to Stoker. 

(For more on 19th-century English burlesque, see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_burlesque    W.S. Gilbert got his start writing such things, the first being Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack, 1866.  In one of those odd coincidences which sometimes turn up in these postings, Henry Irving, Bram Stoker’s boss at the Lyceum, was the stage director for this early Gilbert effort.)

Blue Beard as a subject lived beyond its possible influence upon Stoker’s novel and even beyond pantomime and burlesque, moving into the 20th century and film, his first appearance  being in a short film by the Lumiere Brothers in 1897-8.

I can’t give you a link to that, but here’s Georges Melies’ (1861-1938)

nearly 11-minute-long version from 1901: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uMctQFV3JI ,t

just over 20 years before the first Dracula film, F.W. Murnau’s (1888-1931)

wonderfully creepy Nosferatu of 1922.

(And here’s a LINK to it:  https://archive.org/details/Nosferatu1922 )

And there are more films, including Charlie Chaplin’s 1947 Monsieur Verdoux,

as well as more operas beyond Gretry’s—Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-bleue (1907)

and Bela Bartok’s Blue Beard’s Castle (1918),

but, it appears that I could talk till I’m blue in the face on the subject, doesn’t it?

DocuImage 620s

(This is from Gustave Dore’s 1862 illustrated edition of Perrault.  So far, I’ve only been able to locate a 1921 German translation with Dore’s pictures, but, even if you can’t read German, the stories are so familiar that you can simply follow the illustrations:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42900/42900-h/42900-h.htm )

Stay well,

Avoid locked room mysteries,

And know that, as ever, there’s



Feeling  Blue (I)

Welcome, as always, dear readers.

I’m teaching Dracula again,

Bram  Stoker’s  (1847 -1912)

wonderfully-imagined novel of 1897,  and, as always when I teach a work more than once, something new pops out at me.   This time it was a passage from Chapter II.  Jonathan Harker, clerk for Peter Hawkins, a solicitor, who has an office in Exeter, in southwest England, has been sent by his employer  across Europe to Transylvania (now part of Romania), to help  the new owner of an English estate with the necessary paperwork.  This owner is a nobleman of the region and lives in a semi-ruined castle.  At first, he seems a charming host, saying to Jonathan:

“You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go. There is reason that all things are as they are, and did you see with my eyes and know with my knowledge, you would perhaps better understand.”

And this is what caught my attention.  Where had I read something like this before?  And then Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book (1889)

fell off the shelf, opening to this:

“Here,” said he, “are the keys of the two great wardrobes, wherein I have my best furniture; these are of my silver and gold plate, which is not every day in use; these open my strong boxes, which hold my money, both gold and silver; these my caskets of jewels; and this is the master-key to all my apartments. But for this little one here, it is the key of the closet at the end of the great gallery on the ground floor. Open them all; go into all and every one of them, except that little closet, which I forbid you, and forbid it in such a manner that, if you happen to open it, there’s nothing but what you may expect from my just anger and resentment.” 

The speaker here is rather unusual in appearance, in regard to his facial hair.

Portrait of a Blue Beard, a colour illustration. Bluebeard a French literary folktale written by Charles Perrault. The tale tells the story of a nobleman who murders his wives.’ Author Charles Perrault, Illustrated by John Orlando Parry.

So—Stoker also knew Blue Beard

Although the story has earlier antecedents, including folktales, the modern form first appears in Charles Perrault’s (1628-1703)

Histoires ou Contes de Temps Passe avec des Moralites (“Stories or Fairy Tales of Time Past with Some  Moral Lessons”) with a subtitle:  Les Contes de ma Mere L’Oye (“The Fairy Tales of My Mother Goose”)

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the main points are:

1. a wealthy nobleman tries to marry one of two sisters, who are put off by his beard and by the fact that, although the nobleman is known to have been married before—and more than once–no one seems to know what happened to those former wives.

2. eventually, the younger of the two, having seen the nobleman’s lavish life style, is persuaded to accept him.

3. after the wedding, he tells her that he must leave for a time, on business, entrusting her with a set of keys for various rooms in his castle.

4. he tells her that she may use any key to enter any room but one—and then sets off on his trip.

5. she invites female relatives, including her sister, Anne, to visit and see what luxury she now commands—but can’t stop thinking about that one room.

6. she slips away from her relatives, key in hand, opens the door, and steps into a room the floor of which is covered in congealed blood and at the walls are the bodies of those previous wives.

7. In her surprise and terror, she drops the key and it’s immediately coated with blood.  She desperately tries to clean it, but it’s a magic key and, when the nobleman returns and demands his keys, he discovers the blood and says that she must now join the other wives.

8. she begs for a few moments of prayer with her sister, which he reluctantly grants, and is rescued at the very last moment by the arrival of her two brothers,

who kill the nobleman, leaving her a widow with a large fortune—and a back room in need of a drastic cleaning.

It’s interesting that Stoker, having, it seems, made use of the idea of locked rooms in Chapter II, continues the idea of danger in forbidden rooms in Chapter III, where he warns Jonathan:

“ ‘Let me advise you, my dear young friend—nay, let me warn you with all seriousness, that should you leave these rooms you will not by any chance go to sleep in any other part of the castle. It is old, and has many memories, and there are bad dreams for those who sleep unwisely. Be warned! Should sleep now or ever overcome you, or be like to do, then haste to your own chamber or to these rooms, for your rest will then be safe. But if you be not careful in this respect, then’—He finished his speech in a gruesome way, for he motioned with his hands as if he were washing them.”

Needless to say, Jonathan goes exploring, forces a door which is not actually locked, spends time in the room within, and—but perhaps, like Stoker, I should maintain the suspense and we’ll continue this in our next post…

Thanks, as always, for reading,

Stay well,

Avoid temptation, when possible,

And know that, as ever, there’s




(If you’d like to see Perrault’s original French text, here it is:  https://fr.m.wikisource.org/wiki/Histoires_ou_Contes_du_temps_pass%C3%A9_(1697)/Original/La_Barbe_bleue    Here’s the Blue Fairy Book, as well:   https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/503    )

Not In Fane(s)

Welcome, dear readers, as always.

Although Tolkien maintained that there was religion—and monotheistic religion—under the surface of The Lord of the Rings, saying to one correspondent:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

yet he added:

“That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world.”

Those “practically all references” usually pointed to are:

1. when attacked by a mumak, Damrod the ranger of South Ithilien calls upon the Valar (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 4, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”)

(by Alan Lee)

2. when Faramir and his men, before eating, face west in silence (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 5, “The Window on the West”)

(a Ted Nasmith)

3. mentions of the Vala Varda (Elbereth), to whom the Elves seem to feel especially devoted, and to whom Sam almost instinctively appeals when he battles Shelob (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”)

(the Hildebrandts)

Tolkien goes on to explain:

“For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” (letter to Robert Murray, SJ, 2 December, 1955, Letters 172)

Because this is what the author tells us, we must, of course, accept it and, although he claims that “that is very clumsily put”, behind that explanation is JRRT’s wariness of overt religion appearing in stories like The Lord of the Rings, as he writes:

“For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal.  Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary “real” world.”  (The Silmarillion, xii)

To emphasize this “in solution” method of setting religion into Middle-earth, as Tolkien explained in a footnote to a draft of a letter to Peter Hastings from 1954:

“There are thus no temples or ‘churches’ or fanes in this ‘world’ among ‘good’ people.” (draft of letter to Peter Hastings, September, 1954, Letters, 193)

Again, the author makes his intentions clear—and yet I am always haunted by the remains of previous ages still apparent on the surface in the Third Age.  There are the East Road and its bridge over the Brandywine, which the King of Arnor has charged the hobbits to maintain (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, I, Concerning Hobbits),

(This is the Pont Julien, a surviving Roman bridge in France—I always imagine that Numenorean structures in Middle-earth had an imperial look to them),

there’s the Greenway,

(a bit of Roman road)

and Weathertop,

(an Alan Lee)

and Amon Hen,

(not sure of the artist here—Scott Peery?)

and, grandest of all, the Argonath.

(the Hildebrandts—although I could easily have picked others, this being a subject which has inspired a good number of excellent artists)

So, if for a moment we might put aside JRRT’s remarks, why might we not see at least the remains of temples or fanes (another word for “temple” or “shrine” from Latin fanum) in Middle-earth?

In our world, Greco-Roman temples survive, either as now remote ruins, like the temple of Apollo at Bassae, in Greece,

or as a fragment, like this corner of  the “ temple of Iupiter Tonans” (actually the one surviving piece of a temple dedicated to the emperor Vespasian and his older son, Titus) in the Roman Forum.

(Abandoned for centuries, the Forum had gradually become so silted up and overgrown that it had become known as the “cow pasture” (Campo Vaccino ).  This is how the temple looked in the 18th century, long before the beginnings of the official excavation of the Forum in 1898.  Here’s what it looks like today–)

Other shrines had been repurposed as Christian churches, like this temple originally dedicated to the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius and his wife, Faustina, but now the Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda, also in the Forum,

or the temple at the edge of the Agora in Athens, originally a temple of Hephaistos, but, in later times, dedicated to Saint George, which is why it has survived so beautifully.

After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, most Christian churches in Constantinople were converted to mosques, like that dedicated originally to Saints Sergius and Bacchus,

or the grand Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia).

It’s a nice fantasy, then, and would go very well with the genuine fallen monuments of Middle-earth,

(a favorite Ted Nasmith)

but, realistically, we have to accept the author at his word, when he talks about the later peoples of Middle-earth:

“They had little or no ‘religion’ in the sense of worship.  For help they may call upon a Vala (as Elbereth), as a Catholic might on a Saint, though no doubt knowing in theory as well as he that the power of the Vala was limited and derivative.  But this is a ‘primitive age’ and these folk may be said to view the Valar as children view their parents or immediate adult superiors, and though they know they are subjects of the King he does not live in their country nor have there any dwelling.”  (draft of letter to Peter Hastings, September, 1954, Letters, 193)

As ever, thanks for reading.

Stay well,

Revere the Valar,

And remember that there’s always




That image of the temple of Vespasian and Titus is by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) and one of a long series of striking engravings of Rome which he made through his later creative years.  If you would like to see more of them, here’s a LINK to a useful collection from 1779:   https://ia803406.us.archive.org/7/items/piranesi-vedvte-di-roma-t.-1-2-1779/Piranesi%2C%20Vedvte%20di%20Roma%2C%20t.1-2%2C%201779%2B.pdf   

 A mild warning:   Piranesi often does things like distort perspective, shrinking people and swelling buildings in order to make his depictions more dramatic.  In fact, they could be so dramatic that 18th-century tourists, having first seen his engravings, sometimes found themselves a little disappointed that the real sites weren’t quite so impressive as Piranesi’s views of them!