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As always, dear readers, welcome.

Recently, we’ve been examining anachronisms in The Hobbit.  These are always such minor things that JRRT, before its initial publication in 1937,


doesn’t appear even to have noticed them (see our recent postings for more on them) and only corrected some in succeeding editions.

In our last, it was “guns”, but, in this, our last, at least for the present, it’s this:

“After some time he felt for his pipe…Then he felt for his pouch…Then he felt for matches…”

(The Hobbit, Chapter Five, “Riddles in the Dark”)

Others have noticed this before—Anderson in his invaluable The Annotated Hobbit even has a footnote on it (page 116), adding the detail from Chapter Six that “…Oin and Gloin had lost their tinder-boxes.  (Dwarves have never taken to matches even yet.)”

Why are matches an anachronism?  Tolkien, a life-long pipe smoker,


would have used them without thinking—perhaps these, “Swan Vestas”, long sold as “the smoker’s match”.


(The name “Vesta” comes from the Roman goddess of the hearth,


a fragment of whose temple still stands in the Roman Forum in Rome.


Inside was a hearth—a fire pit—which symbolized all of the hearths in Rome.)


Matches, however, are a nineteenth-century invention, with a complicated history—and, at the beginning, a complicated ignition.  For example, these, from 1828, had a tip of sulphur which burst into flame when dipped into a container of phosphorus.


This was hardly a practical way to strike a light and soon matches were made by which friction could be used to light them.  After 1830, the tips of these were coated with white phosphorus, which was rather unstable and could be set off by everything from rubbing against each other to strong sunlight.  They were made by the millions in factories (many employing young women and girls)



and sold on street corners everywhere, commonly by children and the very poor.


Considering this made us think of a Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)


story we can’t bear to read.  In English, it’s called “The Little Match Girl” and was first published in 1845.  Here’s an illustration for it by Vilhelm Pedersen (1820-1859), Andersen’s favorite illustrator.


(If you would like to read it—we’ve warned you!– here’s the LINK to a very rich site, which has all of Andersen’s fairy tales both in the original Danish and translated into English, along with all of the rest of Andersen’s extensive literary work.)

But, if Bilbo lives in a sort of medieval world, where, presumably, matches wouldn’t be available, then what can he use?  The answer, of course, is what Oin and Gloin have lost (and Sam will have in The Lord of the Rings–see The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 6, “The Old Forest”):  a tinder box.


Such a box would contain three basic items:  a dry material in which to catch a spark (bark, dry moss, linen rags), a piece of steel and a piece of flint to make sparks.


And here’s how it works—


Long before the invention of matches, this was the common way in the western world to strike a light (literally) with “flint and steel”, as it was called—and it’s what the dwarves use in The Hobbit.

It’s also the title of another Hans Christian Andersen story, but a jollier one, called, in English, “The Tinder Box”, first published in 1835—and here’s another Pedersen illustration.


In this story, a soldier on the way home from war is stopped by an old lady on the side of the road.


She tells him that there’s treasure below a tree and, if he will climb in, he can take all that he wants and all that she wants in return is a little tinder box to be found there.


He climbs in and discovers rooms full of riches, as well as three dogs of increasingly enormous size.


The tinder box is, of course, not a little nothing, but the key to the dogs and to the magic beyond, although the soldier doesn’t know that at the time.  When he climbs out of the tree, and the old woman (a witch, of course), demands the box, however, he grows suspicious and, instead of handing her the box, the soldier hands her her head.


(We said that this was a jollier story—but clearly not if you’re a witch.)

We refer you to the LINK we mentioned earlier for the rest of the story—SPOILER ALERT:  it does have a happy ending.  As does The Hobbit, except for goblins and wargs, of course.  Oh, and Thorin.


And then there’s Smaug, whose fire goes out—dare we say it?—like a burnt match.


Thanks, as always, for reading and, as ever,




Gun Control?


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Welcome, dear readers, as always—and with our apology if you googled “gun control” and are a bit puzzled as to what has turned up (this often happens with us, making us wonder how googling images of “Saruman” suddenly produces a picture of sardines).

It’s our last posting which got us into this.  We had spotted another anachronism in The Hobbit (clarinets) and had written about it, but then, as a teaser, had concluded with another, referring to Beorn’s joining the Battle of the Five Armies:  “The roar of his voice was like drums and guns…” (Chapter 18, “The Return Journey”)

“Guns” had, of course, stood out.  Some time ago, we had written about Saruman’s use of some sort of explosive at Helm’s Deep


as well as the destruction by a similar force of portions of the causeway forts of the Rammas Echor, of which no one has seemingly produced an illustration.


Whatever this force was, it only seems to be used in siegework, suggesting things like a petard


an explosive device used to blow holes in gates and doors.

Guns, however, do not appear in any form in Tolkien’s world—except here.  Of course, when one thinks about it, there isn’t much of a step from using a blast to destroy a door to funneling that force to propel a missile—as we first see in the Millemete Manuscript of 1326-1327.


This doesn’t appear to be portable, but the basic object is simply a tube on a stick, easy to make, easy to carry



and certainly late medieval people had them and employed them,


so, presumably, they might have appeared in Middle-earth (we once wrote a “what-if” posting on the subject).  Why not?  As JRRT introduced explosives, that seems to provide an opening, but we wonder if he had seen all too often and all too clearly the effect of thousands upon thousands of gunpowder weapons on real people in 1916 and, somehow, the idea of lances and swords seemed more appealing—or, at least, more “heroic”.



But the quotation was “like drums and guns”.

As we pointed out in our last, drums certainly appear in The Lord of the Rings—there is that disturbing reference to “drums, drums in the deep” in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 5, “The Bridge of Khazad-dum”, for example.  But what about “the roar of his voice was like drums and guns”?

When we thought about this, we asked ourselves, what would this actually sound like?  A possible answer appeared from 1749.

In 1749, George II of England


had been one of the winners of what would become known as “The War of the Austrian Succession” (1740-1748).


He was definitely in a party mood, so he decided to throw a giant fireworks celebration in London.  To provide the soundtrack, he commissioned George Frederick Haendel (say that “HEN-del”, not as people commonly mispronounce it, “HAHN-del”) (1685-1759).


George was the last English king actually to see battle, at Dettingen, in 1743,


and wasn’t interested in anything sweet and soft, with lots of violins.


Instead, he wanted bangs and booms, starting with kettle drums.


Then he hired someone to design a giant framework for the fireworks,


and threw in 101 cannon, just to make sure that it wasn’t too quiet.


And, on the evening of 27 April, 1749, perhaps as many as 12,000 people (London had perhaps between 600,000 and 700,000 people in 1750) stood around the Green Park to watch.


Here’s a LINK, if you’d like to hear the music (you’ll have to supply your own cannon and fireworks).

But fireworks brings us back to Tolkien, doesn’t it?  When Gandalf first appears to Bilbo in the first chapter of The Hobbit,


it seems that almost all that Bilbo knows about Gandalf is his fireworks:

“Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks!  I remember those!  Old Took used to have them on Midsummer’s Eve.  Splendid!  They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!”  (Chapter One, “An Unexpected Party”)

And, when Gandalf reappears in the Shire, to celebrate Bilbo and Frodo’s joint birthday, what does he bring?


Thanks, as ever, for reading (and listening).



Bilbo’s Clarinet


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

Tolkien scholars have long noticed that the 1937 Hobbit has a certain number of anachronisms—as did JRRT himself.


As have we, too, in past postings, including one on popguns


[Gandalf speaking to Bilbo:  “It is not like you, Bilbo, to keep friends waiting on the mat, and the open the door like a pop-gun.”  “An Unexpected Party”)]

and tomatoes


[Gandalf:  “And just bring out the cold chicken and tomatoes!”  “An Unexpected Party”]

and steam engines.


[“At may never return he began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel.”  “An Unexpected Party”]

In the 1966 edition, Tolkien changed “tomatoes” to “pickles” and considered changing that engine whistle to “like the whee of a rocket going up into the sky” (see Douglas A. Anderson, The Annotated Hobbit, 47, note 35) but decided against it.  And the popgun—remained the popgun.

Recently, we fell upon another:

“Kili and Fili rushed for their bags and brought back little fiddles; Dori, Nori, and Ori brought out flutes from somewhere inside their coats; Bombur produced a drum from the hall; Bifur and Bofur went out too, and came back with clarinets that they had left among the walking-sticks.” (“An Unexpected Party”)


Hmm, we thought.  Well, Middle-earth is more or less a medieval world and medieval musicians played stringed instruments and drums and flutes, both transverse (like a modern flute) and recorders, as well as certain other wind instruments, but clarinets?




When we think of clarinets, the first thing which comes into our minds is the famous 20th-century clarinetist, Benny Goodman (1909-1986)


with his Bflat clarinet,


playing the opening of George Gershwin’s (1898-1937)


Rhapsody in Blue (1924)



in a 1942 recording.  (Here’s a LINK so you can hear that recording for yourself.)  Even if you don’t read music, you can see (and hear) that it begins with a clarinet doing a long trill, then playing a glissando, meaning a slide, up several octaves.  We wonder if Bifur and Bofur could play like that!

(We also recommend a very unusual rendition of the piece.  In 2000, Disney Studios released a film called Fantasia 2000,



which was their modern take on the 1940 Fantasia


which consisted of a series of piece of classical pieces with Disney animation interpretations.  Here’s a famous moment from Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.


The 2000 version features a very lively performance of Rhapsody drawn as if it’s taking place during the Great Depression—and even features a cameo appearance by Gershwin himself.


Here’s a LINK to the scene so that you can enjoy it for yourself.)

But we were wondering about those clarinets, so we did a little research and found this, the ancestor of the clarinet, the chalumeau.


About 1700, it is thought, this man, Johann Christoph Denner, (1655-1707)


a famous wind instrument maker, extended the range of the chalumeau and thus made it a more flexible instrument.


The (presently) first known use of clarinets in an orchestra is in Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741)


1716 oratorio, Juditha Triumphans.


And, with that, we thought:  “Hmm.  Yep.  Another anachronism” and were about to move on when our eye was caught by this about Beorn at the Battle of the Five Armies:

“The roar of his voice was like drums and guns…” (Chapter 18, “The Return Journey”)

Drums—well, of course.  Bombur had one.  And, in The Lord of the Rings, there’s that mention of “drums, drums in the deep”, but…guns?

Thanks, as ever, for reading and—as you can see—



A What?


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“It was a Zombie Jamboree,
Took place in the New York Cemetery.
It was a Zombie Jamboree,
Took place in the New York Cemetery.

Zombies from all parts of the island
Some of them were great calypsonians.
Since the season was carnival,
They got together in bacchanal
HUH! And they were singing:

Back to back, belly to belly
Well I don’t give a damn
‘Cause I’m stone dead already!
Back to back, belly to belly
It’s a Zombie Jamboree.” (Conrad Eugene Mauge, Jr., c.1953)

What in the world are we doing, dear readers? Are we about to launch into a posting about The Walking Dead?


Well, no. Unless we mean the “walking-again dead”, which we do. And how did we get here?

It all began with our last two postings, on see-ers—that is, seers–and so many different ways of telling the future, like oneiromancy (dream interpretation) and cleromancy (using numbers), but, among them, we think the most sinister is necromancy—and this brought it to mind:

“Some here will remember that many years ago I myself dared to pass the doors of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, and secretly explored his ways and found thus our fears were true: he was none other than Sauron, our Enemy of old, at length taking shape and power again.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

This is Gandalf recounting his adventure in Isengard. What he’s relating here happened somewhat before the action in The Hobbit, followed by the White Council’s attack on Dol Guldur (“The Hill of Dark Sorcery”), in the southern part of Mirkwood.


That was parallel in time to the travels of Bilbo and the dwarves towards the Lonely Mountain.


Here’s how John Howe thought Dol Guldur might have looked.


And here’s how it appears in The Hobbit films


although why it’s a ruin is unclear—Gandalf has said above that Sauron is “taking shape and power again”, and so we would imagine that, just as he’s reconstituting himself, there’s been a rebuilding campaign at his headquarters in the forest. So, rather like Howe, we see the place as more imposing, perhaps like Bran castle, in Romania, which is advertised as “Dracula’s castle” in tourist literature.


Just as cleromancy means “telling the future by lots” (that is, by casting lots—think of throwing dice–giving you a supposed “random” result) and oneiromancy means “telling the future by dreams”, so a necromancer uses the dead to find things out, suggesting something really horrible about someone with that title.

The process of questioning the dead goes back a long way in western literature. In the Odyssey, Circe,


who once turned part of Odysseus’ crew into pigs, tells him that, before he can go home, he must sail south, to the Otherworld, to consult Teiresias, who is a seer (see our last two postings for more on people like this)


for current information about his home on Ithaca and for coaching about his future behavior. To deal with the dead, Circe tells Odysseus in detail how to make a kind of drink offering of animal blood in a pit.


Then, because all of the dead will be drawn to the blood (we’re back to Dracula here, aren’t we?), he is to draw his sword and stand over the pit, only allowing those he would question to sip the blood.

But why would a sword threaten ghosts? one might ask. We think that the answer is that it’s iron and iron, in folklore, is a protection against evil magic. Odysseus has used his sword earlier to threaten Circe, who is a very powerful sorceress. See this LINK for more.



Odysseus is successful in his quest, but King Saul, in First Samuel, in the Hebrew Bible, who has already banished necromancers and magicians from his kingdom, is not. Saul is anxious about a battle to come and, when he is not answered via prayers and cleromancy about its outcome, he consults a kind of witch, who may (scholars argue over this) produce the spirit of the prophet Samuel.


When Samuel appears, his response to Saul is not what Saul had hoped for. Instead, Samuel scolds Saul and gives him a fortune-telling he’d rather not hear, that he will lose the battle, his army, and his life the next day, all of which comes true.

Saul had hoped that he could make Samuel do his bidding, which was less than successful, but what if one might make the dead one’s slaves? This is where our opening comes in. The tradition of zombies is complex, including the word itself. At the moment, the earliest reference to the word in English is found in 1819, in volume 3 of the poet, Robert Southey’s (1774-1843),


History of Brazil, Part the Third, page 24:

They were under the government of an elective Chief, who was chosen for his justice as well as his valour, and held the office for life : all men of experience and good repute had access to him as counsellors : he was obeyed with perfect loyalty; and it is said that no conspiracies or struggles for power had ever been known among them. Perhaps a feeling of religion contributed to this obedience ; for Zombi, the title whereby he was called, is the name for the Deity, in the Angolan tongue.”

The subsequent history of zombies is complex, but a recurrent theme is that they are the dead, brought back to serve the living, usually by an evil magician, called a bokor. Among the possible tasks for such a slave is telling the future, thus making a bokor a necromancer, like Sauron.


We’ve done an extensive image search under “zombie” and the weirdest things turn up, none of which we would put into a posting, so this is the best we can do.


If, however, this is the best a bokor can manage, we can’t imagine what news of the future one of these zombies might possibly give Sauron—and it’s no wonder that he loses the Ring.

But thanks for reading!





If you’d like to see “Zombie Jamboree” performed, here’s a LINK to our favorite version, by Rockapella.





See-r (2)


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Here we are again, dear readers, welcoming you to the second half of that posting with the odd name—or at least the odd spelling.

In the first half of this, we began with questions about Galadriel’s mirror: where did it come from? What was it doing in the text?


We saw that it had begun life in a manuscript note as the mirror of “King Galdaran”, but then became the mirror of “Galadrien” as JRRT smoothed and polished both the scene and the character.   In that earlier note—a kind of shorthand plot summary—it’s stated that, “King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and the skill needed to decide which…”—that is, one needs skill to decide which might be past, present, or future. Such skill, especially to read the future, led us to thinking about the history of attempting to read the future, and we briefly discussed the use of turtle plastrons (the underside of a turtle) and ox shoulder blades, then number patterns, in ancient China, dreams in Egypt, and the insides of certain animals in Babylon.

In this posting, we want to take that history a bit farther.

Just as the Babylonians practiced extispicy—the examination of the intestines of certain animals or birds—so did the Etruscans, whom we think of as Rome’s “big brothers”, as many Roman practices and customs appear to have been borrowed from them. In our last, we showed a Babylonian model of a sheep’s liver,


presumably used as a guide to reading an actual liver. Here’s a bronze Etruscan model, with various areas marked off and labeled.


And here’s a fourth-century bc bronze model of an Etruscan priest, a “haruspex”, the Romans would have called him.


(Sometimes, even though we spend a great deal of time in the classical world, there are things which will always seem a little odd—the hat on this fellow can’t help but remind us of something from Dr Seuss,


just as that on a Roman flamen—a kind of priest—makes us think of a certain propeller helmet…)



Romans borrowed the custom from the Etruscans, it seems, and also read bird-signs. In fact, it was a disagreement over the interpretation of a flight of birds which may have sparked the murder of one of the founders of Rome, Remus, by his twin brother, Romulus.


Besides Etruscan and home-grown methods of trying to find out about the future, the Romans also continued the Greek tradition of visiting prophetic shrines. The most famous were dedicated to Apollo


and were located (see map below—west to east)


at Delphi




and Didyma.


There was also a well-known shrine dedicated to Zeus at Dodona,


but the oracle at Delphi was perhaps the most famous.



It’s not always clear how these places worked. The oracle at Dodona, for example, may have used two methods: sacred doves and the wind in the leaves of the enclosed grove you see in the picture. At Delphi, a pilgrim waited to pose a question to the priestess, called the “Pytho”


and, if she chose to respond, it was in the standard Greek epic metre, dactylic hexameter. Her answers were famously riddling and ambiguous, as when she told Croesus, the king of Lydia that, if he went to war with the Persians, a kingdom would fall (guess whose!).   To interpret such a response correctly would have taken King Galdaran’s response that, to interpret what his mirror told, one must have skill to decide just what the future might be.

When it comes to Galadrien/Galadriel, it’s not skill which she lacks, but rather she practices a kind of caution in interpretation:

“Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal…and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that may yet be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

(We can’t resist a footnote here. In the early Greek poem, Theogony, the poet Hesiod tells us that he was a shepherd on a hillside when he was visited by the Muses, who told him that they could say many false things as if they were true, but could also speak the truth when they felt like it. They then gave him a staff and inspired him to make songs about things in the future, as well as things in the past, all of which sounds rather familiar here. Here’s a LINK if you’d like to read the story. And here’s a rather over-the-top painting by Gustave Moreau, (1826-1898.)


What Sam sees he finds deeply disturbing—the industrialization of the Shire—and it so disturbing that he leaps up and shouts that he must go home. What Frodo sees is more complex—perhaps Gandalf, what looks to be the arrival of the Numenorians to found Gondor, and, finally, the Eye, ever restless, ever searching.

So why is the Mirror here? We would suggest, tentatively, for several reasons:

  1. first, because this is a kind of turning point in the story: after the pursuit through Moria and the death of Gandalf (as far as the Fellowship knows), this is the first breathing space which the company has had and it’s a very safe and peaceful one—for the moment. As Celeborn says:

“Now is the time…when those who wish to continue the Quest must harden their hearts to leave this land. Those who no longer wish to go forward may remain here, for a while. But whether they stay or go, none can be sure of peace.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 8, “Farewell to Lorien”)

After so much struggle and the loss of a major figure, it’s clearly a good moment to rest, take stock, and look towards the future.

  1. second, Galadriel had earlier probed each of the company, testing their minds and finding out just who they were—sometimes to their discomfort, if not distress. Now the company is narrowed to just two: the ring-bearer and his servant, and here at her Mirror, she offers them a final test, but we can imagine that, unlike her earlier probing, this is much more free-form and ambiguous, as if she had allowed the two to make up their own tests. For Sam, it’s the possible ruination of what he loves most in the world, the Shire, and he almost fails, until Galadriel gently upbraids him:

“You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire.”

Frodo’s test is less focused upon a place or event. Rather, it was a kind of suggestion of the past (Gondor), with the implication that that past’s continuation depends upon confronting the present danger, which is not to be underestimated. Galadriel’s words to Sam underline this:

“Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them.”

Shaken, both pass the test, it seems.

  1. by implying that what Sam and Frodo see might actually happen, the author adds an extra note of urgency to the story, something always to be felt after that moment: the Shire could be in danger, Frodo may have to confront Sauron, directly or indirectly.

But you’ll notice that, taking Galadriel’s lead, we wrote “could be” and “may have to”, rather than “will be” and “must” and here we hear the voice of a wise person from another epic adventure.



Thanks, as always, for reading, and, as ever,



See-r (1)


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

You’ll notice our odd title.  Which came from a puzzle.  We had been thinking about Galadriel and her mirror:  when did it enter the story and, more important for the narrative, why was the episode there?


In an earlier sketch for the text, JRRT had written:

King Galdaran’s mirror shown to Frodo.  Mirror is of silver filled with fountain water in sun.

Sees Shire far away.  Trees being felled and a tall building being made where the old mill was.  Gaffer Gamgree turned out.  Open trouble, almost war, between Marish and Buckland on one hand—and the West.  Cosimo Sackville-Baggins very rich, buying up land.  (All/Some of this in future.)  King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and skill needed to decide which.  Sees a grey figure like Gandalf [?going along] in twilight but it seems to be clad in white.  Perhaps it is Saruman.

Sees a mountain spouting flame  Sees Gollum?”  (The Treason of Isengard, 249-250)

Interesting to see that the scene we know from The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, was once very different, beginning with the fact that Galadriel’s mirror had no Galadriel—and Sam’s nightmare vision of the Shire was, originally, Frodo’s.  (There was once more potentially more of that nightmare—on a surviving scrap of paper is:  “Cosimo has industrialized it.  Factories and smoke.  The Sandymans have a biscuit factory.  Iron is found.”  Treason, 216.  We wonder, by the way, if, since he lived and worked in Oxford, JRRT’s choice of a biscuit (US:  cookie) factory might have been influenced by the Oxford Biscuits company, founded in Denmark in 1922.)

Galadriel was in the narrative at this time, and she even performs her emotional x-ray on the company (Treason, 248), but it’s in the main draft that she gains the mirror (although her name is “Galadrien” at this stage—reading the various manuscripts, we often see many characters have everything from complete name-changes—the Aragorn-as-ranger figure was once called “Trotter”—to slight adjustments). And, as Christopher Tolkien writes,

“It is seen that it was while my father was writing the ‘Lothlorien’ story ab initio [“from the beginning”] that the Lady of Lothlorien emerged…and it is also seen that the figure of Galadriel (Rhien, Galadrien) as a great power in Middle-earth was deepened and extended as he wrote.”  (Treason, 250)

All of which is true, but doesn’t help us with the second part of our question:  why is the episode there?

Seeking for clues, we looked at that early sketch, in which “King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and the skill needed to decide which…” which then made us think about that skill.  At first, we considered that deciding that an event was in the past would be rather easy—after all, events which had happened leave a history, and often consequences.  Suppose, however, that that history came from another place, or was never written down—after all, this is medieval Middle-earth, not our 21st-century world.  In our own western Middle Ages, literacy was limited, there was almost no long-distance communication, and people lived on rumors.  Would Middle-earth be any different?  The same would be true for the present in Middle-earth:  what would someone in the Shire know of someone in Rohan?

This brought us to the future and, speaking of history, the attempt to understand the future spreads far back into recorded time and perhaps beyond.

Shang Dynasty China (c.1600-1046BC) has provided us with an extensive archaeological record for this in the form of a vast archive of rather unusual objects, the two main ones being bundles of these


and piles of these.


The first of these is the plastron or breastplate of a turtle.


The second is the shoulder blade of a cow.


These were used for a number of spiritual contact purposes, including finding out about the future, but the method was always the same:

  1. once the surface was cleaned, a series of shallow holes was carved or drilled into the surface
  2. blood was applied to the surface (for purification? Or perhaps to attract a spirit?)
  3. questions were written to one side of each hole
  4. a hot iron was applied to the hole
  5. the surface would then crack under the heat
  6. the officiator would interpret the crack, then write his interpretation on the surface, as well

During the next dynasty, the Zhou (1000-221BC), another method was added and, in time, this became more popular.  This used the stalks of a plant of the family Achillea


for the practice of cleromancy, which, basically, means using a series of random numbers to try to understand something about the spiritual world.  This is a very complicated process, as far as we can see, including not only the stalks, but a book called the I Ching.


If you would like to know more, here’s a LINK which explains the practice in 12 steps.

A method of telling the future in ancient Egypt was by interpreting dreams (oneiromancy) and we have a dream manual dated to the time of Ramesses II (1279-1213BC).


This lists common patterns in dreams, identifies whether they are bad or good, then goes on to interpret them.  Because dreams are universal, this is a world-wide method and all one has to do is to google “dream interpretation book” to see just how much is available in English alone.


Babylonians used dreams, among other methods, as well as haruspicy, in which a specially-trained priest examined the entrails of certain animals, birds and sheep being especially useful.  Here’s a model of a sheep’s liver (2050-1750BC) used to help in the process.


The holes were for pegs, to help the priest makes comparisons between the actual liver and the model.

In our next, we’ll discuss a few other early methods of attempting to see the future and, if we play our cards right,


we’ll circle back to Galadriel’s mirror and its place in The Lord of the Rings.


Thanks, as ever, for reading and—this part of the future we can read—



Bloody Vikings!


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Welcome, dear readers, and, if you’re a Commonwealth English-speaker, please excuse the mild  blasphemy.  (For those without any idea about that last remark, please follow this LINK.)

In fact, it isn’t really our fault, but, rather, it comes from a line in a very famous Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch, the notorious “Spam” skit.


In this sketch, two people are lowered into a café, whose breakfast menu


appears to be entirely based upon a tinned/canned ham product called Spam.


(If you would like to become deeply learned on the subject of this product, please follow this LINK.)

With no explanation, we find that the rest of the customers are Vikings, but, when a professor is suddenly inserted into the scene, we learn that they have mustered at the Green Midget Café in Bromley, a southeastern town within Greater London, (see the LINK here for important information about Bromley, in case you’re considering a holiday), for a surprise attack on England.

In the course of the sketch, the word “spam” is repeated again and again and, as it is, the Vikings begin to sing its praises in chorus, causing the waitress


to shout “Shut up!  Shut up!” repeatedly and once, on the original LP, to mutter, “Bloody Vikings!”—hence our title—although, as you’ll see, reading on, she might have said “Not so bloody Vikings!”

Some time ago, we did a posting on a specific Viking custom, burial, but, unlike the depictions, in everything from 19th-century paintings


to the well-known 1958 film,


we discussed the latest understanding, that prominent Vikings might be cremated (we see this custom as early as the poem Beowulf –7th-8th- century AD?), but then were subsequently buried—if they were especially important, in their own ships, as was the case with the prominent figure who would have been in the famous Sutton Hoo burial, with its wonderful metal work.




This revision has extended far beyond the sensational flaming ship, however.  To begin with, 19th-century illustrations of Vikings


have been replaced with more accurate depictions, based upon the surviving physical evidence.



(This last is a picture of a famous warrior, Onund Treefoot Ufeighson, from Grettir’s Saga—we think that you can guess where that nickname came from!)

As well, Vikings are shown as domestic—after all, their ancestors and relatives had all been farmers and fishermen in Scandinavia.



And their fine craftsmanship was recognized, including their great skill as shipwrights.


They were certainly raiders.


(This is a picture of a Viking attack in Ireland, as can clearly be seen from, in the foreground, the distinct haircut—called a “tonsure”—of the fallen monk—this particular cut being the typical Irish pattern–and, in the background, the distant form of a round tower.  Here’s an image of a real one, at Glendalough.  And a LINK, if you’d like to know more.)


Raiding, however, was only part of some Vikings’ lives.  Numbers were traders, not only of items like furs, but humans.


Others were soldiers in foreign rulers’ bodyguards—these are Varangians, who, for a time, protected Byzantine emperors.


In their handy ships, the Vikings not only raided and traded, but colonized, spreading their culture from western Russia all the way to Iceland and northern North America, settling or resettling places like Dublin and York.




Their settlements were not always successful, as we may see in this scene, where the locals—whom the Vikings called “Skraelings”, were not comfortable with having Norse neighbors.


All of this makes the Vikings, on the one hand, more ordinary—just one more Germanic people with many occupations and a desire to find trade and lebensraum—but, on the other, it leaves us, dear readers, with a small sense of loss, as they seem not quite the flaming force which brought about this prayer:

“Summa pia gratia nostra conservando corpora et cu[s]todita, de gente fera Normannica nos libera, quae nostra vastat, Deus, regna!

“Our highest, pius, Grace, by preserving our bodies and the things in our charge, free us from the fierce/beastly Northmen who, O God, lay waste our kingdoms!

or inspired this early tombstone from Lindisfarne (devastated by the Vikings in 793AD).


Thanks, as ever, for reading and





We want to credit the “Viking Answer Lady Webpage” for the Latin quotation (translation and correction in brackets, ours).  Here’s a LINK, in case you need Viking answers, too.


If you would like to read a first-hand account of what appears to be the burial of a prominent Viking, please see this LINK: Risala of Ibn Fadlan.  It is James E. McKeithen’s translation of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan’s account of his 10th-century travels, and it includes his visit among the Rus, who are the Norsemen and descendants of Norsemen who traded with and settled in what is now (mostly) the Ukraine.  Warning:  this is not a description for the faint-hearted.



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As ever, dear readers, welcome.

After standing and reciting his “party piece”, and stewing two rabbits, Sam is about to see his first—and only—oliphaunt.


Before he does, however:

“Four tall Men stood there.  Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads.  Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows.  All had swords at their sides, and were clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien.  Green gauntlets covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes, which were very keen and bright.”  (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 4, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”)


The chief of these men soon identifies himself as “Faramir, Captain of Gondor” and the men with him are rangers, a term which first appears in 14th-century English to mean “game keeper”, which seems appropriate for Faramir and his men, as far as their dress is concerned.  One might expect that those who spend their days in the woods would only naturally want to blend in, especially if part of their job is to apprehend poachers—trespassers who illegally hunt game.  Faramir’s and his men’s clothing could also be that of poachers, if we match that description—the green and brown part—with some very familiar figures from another famous story—


If you read us regularly, you will probably recognize them, especially if we add one of our favorite illustrations.


If you still don’t recognize them, we’ll add a book cover.


This is the 1917 publication of the retelling of the Robin Hood stories, with illustrations by NC Wyeth and it’s clear that his depictions of Robin and his men—just like his illustrations of pirates—have influenced story-tellers and costume-designers long after that initial 1917 publication.  Just look at Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s 1922 Robin Hood,


or the 1938 Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood




or even Disney’s 1973 animated Robin Hood


and even the 1993 parody, Robin Hood:  Men in Tights.


Tolkien, we presume, would have known the Wyeth illustrations and perhaps the Errol Flynn, and might have had them in mind when he was describing the basic dress of Robin and his men.  Beyond the basic outfit, however, these men are clearly dressed for more than poaching and apprehending—and it isn’t just the weapons, but also the gloves and the face-coverings.  These men are soldiers and rangers have been soldiers, or the models for them, since at least the 18th century, when certain German states, including Prussia and Hesse Kassel, employed forest rangers as light infantry—men trained as sharpshooters and skirmishers, called jaeger (“hunter” in German).


In the 19th century, increasing numbers of ordinary troops of many western nations were given similar training, but the jaeger continued to be allowed special uniforms, usually green.


This is an illustration by one of the greatest (and one of our favorite) German military/historical artists of the late 19th-early-20th centuries, Richard Knoetel, dated 1910.

When the Great War began in 1914, all the soldiers of many of the countries involved were already moving away from the bright-colored uniforms of past years and dressing more like hunters.  The British put off their parade uniforms


and dressed in a mud-color, that color being called “khaki” (originally a Persian word meaning “dust”).


The Germans, whose parade dress was blue,


dressed in a color called feldgrau (“field grey”).


Only the French began the war still on parade,


but even they gradually changed into something which blended in better with the terrain.


And blending in was absolutely necessary in a world in which war was being fought not with muskets and cannon, as in Napoleon’s days


but with machine guns which could fire 600 rounds per minute


and guns so big that some had to be transported on railroad trains.


Whenever possible, soldiers dug in, spending their days below ground level, in trenches.


When they had to go above ground level, they wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible.  Here’s what 2nd Lieutenant Tolkien might have looked like in 1916 (notice that, by 1916, British soldiers had put aside caps in the trenches and used helmets which looked positively medieval).



The term for this blending-in was “camouflage”, which entered English from French in 1917 and it was used not only by infantry, but the practice was extended to everything on the battlefield and beyond– to the new tanks


and even to ships, where the goal was to conceal or sometimes simply to confuse the eye.


Some of the most extreme varieties take us back to the rangers of South Ithilien, like this sniper, whose job was to pick off unsuspecting soldiers (officers were a special prize) from complete concealment.


This makes us wonder what Faramir and his men would have done if they had been armed with magazine rifles,


instead of bows as, after all, they are there for an ambush…


As always, thanks for reading and



Heil, Sharkey!


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As ever, welcome, dear readers.

Some time ago, we did a posting on The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”.


At that time, our emphasis was upon its reflection of JRRT’s dislike for the effects of the Industrial Revolution on rural England



and the importance of the chapter to closure in The Lord of the Rings.

In this posting, we want to look at it from another direction and to view Sharkey’s Shire as a kind of proto-fascist state.

Although the word “fascist” is now used pretty loosely as a verbal attack on politicians and political parties with a rightward-lean, it had a more specific meaning in the 1920s and 1930s.  Then, fascists were believers in a kind of militarized state, in which the economy might be in the hands of the government, and the government in the hands of a few (a kind of oligarchy) or even of one, a dictator.  (Here’s a LINK if you want to know more.)

Benito Mussolini


was the first of these who actually succeeded in coming to power.  In Italy, in 1922, he organized a march on the capital, Rome, which would lead to his becoming the head of state (although Italy remained a monarchy, the monarch, Vittorio Immanuele III, was brought out for state occasions only).



Mussolini, to make his power look like a natural historical progression, began using ancient Roman symbols.  One of these was the mark of the escorts to Roman magistrates, the fascis, a bundle of birch rods with an axe in the middle, the sign that a magistrate had the power to inflict not only corporal punishment—the rods—but even death—the axe—on citizens.  This bundle was carried by a lictor, a minor officer of state.  The number of these lictors who marched in front of the magistrate signaled just how important the magistrate was.


Mussolini had his bullyboys, the “Blackshirts”


To emphasize this connection with the imperial past, he went so far as to impress the old initials of ancient Rome, SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus—“the Roman Senate and People”) on everything public in sight—even manhole covers (they’re still there to this day).


And his use of the symbol of the fascis was the basis of the term fascism—they’re even all around his tomb.



Mussolini might have been the first of these leaders—or would-be leaders—during this pre-war era, but there were plenty more.  There was Eoin O’Duffy in Ireland, leading his thugs, called “Blueshirts”,


to Vidkun Quisling, with his Nasjonal Samling (“National Party”), who, after the Nazis conquered Norway, actually became leader there,


to Francisco Franco, in Spain,


to Hitler, in Germany,


whose original goon/enforcers were the SA—Sturm Abteilung (“Storm Detachment”) or “Brownshirts”.


In England, Tolkien would have been well aware of Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists.


Hitler had been mocked by the famous silent film comedian, Charlie Chaplin, in his 1940, The Great Dictator,


but, closer to home, Mosley had become a figure of fun in the comic novels of PG Wodehouse


as “Sir Roderick Spode”.  Here he is, memorably portrayed in the 1990-1993 television adaptation, Jeeves and Wooster, by John Turner—much of whose posture was a direct imitation of Mussolini,



even down to his pathetic followers, the “Black Shorts”.


His first appearance was in Wodehouse’s 1938 novel, The Code of the Woosters,


where he is described as:

“About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment…

“I don’t know if you have ever seen those pictures in the papers of Dictators with tilted chins and blazing eyes, inflaming the populace with fiery words on the occasion of the opening of a new skittle alley, but that was what he reminded me of.”  (The Code of the Woosters, Chapter One)

(Here’s a LINK to a free edition of the book, in case you’d like to read it—and why wouldn’t you?  And this is a “plaid ulster” in case you’ve never seen one.)


Everything in the “Scouring” chapter, from the “great spiked gate” on the bridge over the Brandywine, to the “Chief’s Men”—who should be wearing brown tunics—to the very name “Chief”, instead of the old Shire title, “Mayor”, reeks of fascism, and, combined with:

“The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank on the north side of the Pool were deserted, and their little gardens that used to run down bright to the water’s edge were rank with weeds  Worse, there was a whole line of the ugly new houses all along Pool Side, where the Hobbiton Road ran close to the bank.  An avenue of trees had stood there.  They were all gone.  And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they saw a tall chimney of brick in the distance.  It was pouring out black smoke into the evening air.”

links that political movement to the despoliation of the old natural world by the Industrial Revolution.

Behavior in this new Shire is based upon “orders” and here we really see the hand of Sharkey, who is, of course, Saruman.  Here’s what he says to try to seduce Gandalf into joining him:

“A new Power is rising…As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow…We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose:  Knowledge, Rule, Order…”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

And the most important element in that purpose is “Order”.  It’s no wonder that Saruman is murdered.


Thanks, as always, for reading and




On Time.3


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Once upon a time, dear readers (and welcome, as always), this series began with this:


As you can see, it’s a reproduction of the first page of a draft of JRRT’s The Lord of the Rings chronology, which we found in a display case in Reading Adventureland at the marvelous Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, NY (the original is in the Tolkien papers at Marquette University).



We had seen the eventual complete version of this long ago in Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings, in the section entitled “The Great Years”, but, as with everything original, there’s a special thrill to seeing something much closer to the author than the printed page–like this, a leaf from a draft of what would become The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 8, “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”, illustrated by Tolkien.  If you compare it with the final text, it’s very interesting to see all of the kinds of changes JRRT made between it and that which we now read.


(We found this on a site called Biblioklept.  As this means “book thief”, we were a little hesitant, at first, but it turned out to be a very interesting place—here’s a LINK to it so that you can see for yourself.)

The Hobbit (about which we wrote in parts 1 and 2 of this little series) was quite simple in its chronology.  It’s all of a piece, the narrative being focused solely on Bilbo and the dwarves until Smaug flies off to devastate Lake-town (Chapter 14, “Fire and Water”).  Even Gandalf’s disappearance in Chapter 7 (“Queer Lodgings”) is never really gone into.  The opposite is true in The Lord of the Rings.  In the opening chapters of Book One alone, Gandalf appears, Bilbo disappears, years pass and Gandalf reappears and disappears, and it’s only in Book Two that both reappear and we are told by Gandalf what happened between his last disappearance and his present reappearance (“The Council of Elrond”), even though some of what happened to him was occurring at the same time as Frodo’s packing up and leaving the Shire.  Here’s a useful chronology from something called “” (and here’s a LINK to it).


It’s not surprising, then, that JRRT needed to make very careful notes of who went where and when.

This didn’t always work out, however, as has been pointed out more than once, in the matter of phases of the moon.  This is a complicated story (here’s a LINK to help), but, basically, JRRT, as meticulous as he always was, based the moon phases on a calendar from 1941-2


and mistook the marker for “new moon” to mean “the second day of the new moon”, which would have allowed for just the faintest of crescents in the sky, rather than the astronomical definition, “the full dark of the moon”.

Here’s a moon phase chart to help.


We know from a note in Christopher Tolkien’s The Treason of Isengard that JRRT was working from such a calendar (or almanac) because:

“Either while the making of Time-scheme I was in progress or at some later point my father wrote at the head of the first page of it:  Moons are after 1941-2 + 6 days.  (p. 369—if you happen to consult the Tolkien Gateway:  User:  Gamling/Hobbitdates on the subject, you will be puzzled at its footnote 2, which cites this volume, and, within it, “The Great River”, note 23, as note 23 says nothing about this)

For us, to focus upon such a detail is to miss the bigger point, however, which was, in fact, encapsulated in W. H. Auden’s review of The Fellowship of the Ring


in 1954:

”Of any imaginary world the reader demands that it seem real, and the standard of realism demanded today is much stricter than in the time, say, of Malory. Mr. Tolkien is fortunate in possessing an amazing gift for naming and a wonderfully exact eye for description; by the time one has finished his book one knows the histories of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and the landscape they inhabit as well as one knows one’s own childhood.”  (The New York Times, October 31, 1954)

Where does such sense of reality come from?

We once read that, before science-fiction authors SM Stirling


and David Drake


began their 5-volume series of the adventures of Raj Whitehall, The General, in 1991 (see LINK—and here’s the first volume book cover),


they created a many-page description of the world, Bellevue, upon which those adventures are set.  We thought that that was a great idea and it certainly made Bellevue and all of its events more believable and the narrative more engrossing.

On a much more massive scale, there are the 13 volumes of Christopher Tolkien’s


publication of his father’s papers and his own notes (this is obviously just a few of the books).


For us, however, there is a small, but equally revealing image of what lies behind JRRT’s work.


This is another item from that display case at the Strong Museum (and the original is also from the Tolkien collection at Marquette).  As you can see, it’s a menu card, for a formal dinner, and we don’t know whether an always-paper-hungry Tolkien tucked it into a coat pocket to use at a later date, or whether it was a very boring dinner and he whiled away the time till the “cheese straws” by creating a neat little measurement system based upon hobbit physiognomy (we hope it was the latter).

What particularly catches our attention is the detail that “6 toes = 1 foot” (odd—do hobbits have six toes, like certain cats?)—but added to that, in a gloss to the right, is the translation into English measure that this hobbit “foot” equals 9 inches.  The standard English measure of a foot is 12 inches, but in the days before the English conquest of Wales in the 13th century, (under Edward I, 1239-1307), something called the “Venedotian Code” provided the measurement system in northern Wales, and, in that system, the foot was 9 inches—could it be that JRRT thought of the hobbits as Welsh?

Thanks, as ever, for reading.