A Sword Upstairs

When I was young,
I had not given a penny for a song
Did not the poet Sing it with such airs
That one believed he had a sword upstairs…

WB Yeats “All Things Can Tempt Me” from Responsibilities and Other Poems (1916)

Welcome, dear readers, as always.  In this posting, we want to think out loud about swords—actually, about one in particular, as named by Bilbo Baggins in Chapter Eight of The Hobbit (“Flies and Spiders”), when having killed a giant spider, he says to it “I will give you a name…and I shall call you Sting.”  As it appears in The Hobbit, and then in The Lord of the Rings, we wondered whether we might see its use or abandonment as somehow symbolic of stages of growth in the lives of its owners, defining or redefining those who wield it.

From his childhood and beyond, Tolkien would have been familiar with swords, as they appear in virtually every fairy tale and heroic story he had ever read:  what heroic character would be without one?

There’s the sword “made by giants” which Beowulf pulls down from a wall in Grendel’s lair to put an end to Grendel’s mother.


There’s the sword which Arthur pulled out of a stone/anvil and the very pulling of which proved his right to rule England.


(See here TH White’s wonderful 1938 novel about the young Arthur, The Sword in the Stone,


which, adapted, would later form part of his longer volume The Once and Future King (1958).  There’s also a Disney animated feature based upon the book, but we’ve never found it so good as the book itself.)





And there’s the second Arthurian sword, Excalibur, which comes from a lake and must be returned at Arthur’s death.


(For another view of Arthur’s heritage and power, revealed by his sword, see this LINK, in which characters from another version of the Arthur story have something to say:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2c-X8HiBng )

Then there is the sword Gram, which appears in the story of Sigurd and the dragon, Fafnir, a story which Tolkien probably first encountered in Andrew Lang’s The Red Fairy Book (1890), which we know that he read as a child.


You can have your own copy of this book—from which Tolkien may also have unconsciously gotten the name “Moria”, as well—at this LINK:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/540/540-h/540-h.htm.

As a medievalist, Tolkien could hardly have escaped the story of Tristan and Isolde, in which Tristan wounds an Irish knight and is identified later in the story by the fact that a piece of Tristan’s blade has remained in the knight.


(There are a number of early versions of the Tristan and Isolde story, but a familiar one would be that in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485), Volume I, Book VIII.  Here’s a LINK:  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1251/1251-h/1251-h.htm)

Even into the age of gunpowder, there are still swords everywhere in literature—in Shakespeare (this is from Romeo and Juliet, c.1595)


and in 19th-century fiction, like The Three Musketeers (1844-45).


and Kidnapped (1886).


Although they were by then antiquated (and then prohibited by regulation from the battlefield), even British Army officers were still required to purchase them in the Great War—this is the model 1897 with which Tolkien in 1916


would have had to outfit himself


so that he would have looked like these officers.


Bilbo’s Sting was acquired in a much more casual way.  After the trolls had been tricked by Gandalf to expose themselves to sunlight and therefore were turned to stone,


Gandalf prodded the dwarves into locating the trolls’ hideout.  Inside, among other things, they found:

“…several swords of various makes, shapes, and sizes…Gandalf and Thorin each took one of these, and Bilbo took a knife in a leather sheath.  It would have made only a tiny pocket-knife for a troll, but it was as good as a short sword for the hobbit.”  (The Hobbit, Chapter Two, “Roast Mutton”)

There is more to this knife, as Bilbo discovers when, after being left behind in the hollows under the mountains, he draws it:

“It shone pale and dim before his eyes.  ‘So it is an elvish blade, too,’ he thought.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 5, “Riddles in the Dark”)

As the story continues, Bilbo finds more uses for it—to keep Gollum at a distance


and to deal with the giant spiders of Mirkwood,


and it’s here that we see Bilbo at his boldest physically—which makes it an appropriate moment to give his little sword a fierce little name.

Bilbo has an heroic moment with his weapon in his struggle with the spiders, rescuing the dwarves, but it’s clear that, although heroes in literature traditionally have swords, swords do not make heroes.  In the Battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo makes a disappearance, rather than an appearance, and we hear no more of Sting in The Hobbit until, in the last chapter of the book, we learn that, finally returning to Bag End, “His sword he hung over the mantelpiece.” (The Hobbit, Chapter Nineteen, “The Last Stage”)

This is not the end of the story of Sting, however, which will have a second—really third life, as it appears to have been made in Gondolin for the Goblin Wars many years before, since it is associated with Thorin’s (and Gandalf’s) sword, which “had killed hundreds of goblins in its time, when the fair elves of Gondolin hunted them in the hills or did battle before their walls.” (The Hobbit, Chapter Four, “Over Hill and Under Hill”)


(Gondolin by Kenneth Sofia)

This third life, in the hands of Frodo, parallels, to a degree, Bilbo’s experience, but the little sword’s ultimate fate is more complex than the act of simply being hung up at the story’s end.

It begins this life, however, with its previous owner, Bilbo, about to depart from the Shire after his notorious birthday party vanishing act:

“Then he put on quickly some old untidy garments, and fastened round his waist a worn leather belt  On it he hung a short sword in a battered black-leather scabbard.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter One, “A Long-Expected Party”)

Sting, then, will travel to Rivendell with Bilbo, but not remain there.  As the new Fellowship is about to leave Rivendell years later, Bilbo:

“…took from the box a small sword in an old shabby leathern scabbard.  Then he drew it, and its polished and well-tended blade glittered suddenly, cold and bright.  ‘This is Sting,’ he said, and thrust it with little effort deep into a wooden beam.  ‘Take it, if you like.  I shan’t want it again, I expect.’

Frodo accepted it gratefully.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 3, “The Ring Goes South”)

Although he has gladly accepted it, Frodo, like Bilbo before him, will not be a very active fighter with Sting.  He will stab a goblin in the foot (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 5, “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum”), but, otherwise, it will be Sam who will employ it, temporarily defeating and driving off Shelob with it, (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”) then wounding an orc named Snaga, who falls through an open trapdoor to his death. (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”)

Sam continues to carry Sting all the way to Mt Doom, but something has happened to Frodo during that long journey and it reveals itself in “The Scouring of the Shire”, the next-to-last chapter in the story.  Things in the Shire have not gone well in the year Frodo and his friends have been away.  It has been taken over by what Pippin calls “half-orcs and ruffians”, who owe allegiance to someone they call “Sharkey” and all seem bent on turning the place into a miniature fascist state.  And yet, when Pippin says that they’ll have to be fought, Frodo replies:

“Fight?…Well, I suppose it may come to that.  But remember:  there is to be no slaying of hobbits, not even if they have gone over to the other side.  Really gone over, I mean; not just obeying ruffians’ orders because they are frightened.  No hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire, and it is not to begin now.  And nobody is to be killed at all, if it can be helped.”  (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)

Frodo persists in this approach to violence even after “Sharkey” turns out to be Saruman, who then attempts to knife Frodo.  Saruman is thrown to the ground and Sam, drawing his sword (perhaps Sting?  it never appears that he returns it to Frodo), seems to be about to stop him from trying again when Frodo says:

“No, Sam!…Do not kill him even now.  For he has not hurt me.  And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood.  He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against.  He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.”

We have seen a progression in the life of Sting, from its initial finding by the timid Bilbo, who then becomes the battler of spiders, even if later, involved in an actual battle, he chooses to be less a participant than an observer.  He passes the sword on to Frodo, who uses it aggressively only once, before it comes into the hands of Sam for the rest of the story.  And we can understand that, even offered it, Frodo will never touch it again.  Instead, he will be as Saruman then says:

“You have grown, Halfling…Yes, you have grown very much.  You are wise—” but Saruman goes on to add “and cruel” and this shows how little Saruman himself has grown.  “You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness in debt to your mercy.  I hate it and you!”

Saruman’s bitterness is not long-lasting, however, as, a moment later, his now-lackey, Grima Wormtongue, uses another blade to cut his throat, dying a moment later himself, pierced by several hobbit arrows.

From what we can tell, at this final stage, unless it’s in Sam’s hands—and even if it is–Sting has completely disappeared from the story.  Considering how Frodo has changed into the wiser, non-violent, person whom Saruman recognizes, we suppose that it’s not surprising that it has.  And, with Sauron—and his Ring– gone and the King reestablishing control over much of western Middle-earth, we expect that there will no longer be any need for such weapons.

Then again, Sauron has been defeated before and returned…

Thanks, as always, for reading and



One World, Two Wars

Welcome, as ever, dear readers.  In this posting, we are taking a break from fictions about wars among the stars to look at wars a little closer to home…

In 1871, there was a new power in western Europe:  the first German Empire.


Until 1871, this had been the Kingdom of Prussia and its allies, a series of small and large German states.  In the late summer and fall of 1870, this coalition had plowed through the armies of Napoleon III’s France, forcing Napoleon to abdicate and capturing Paris.


Such a near-sudden change in the world and especially the rapid defeat of what had been considered one of the major players in western European politics alarmed the rest of Europe:  what would this new German Empire do next?

A fictional answer came almost immediately in a serial first published in the same year in Blackwood’s Magazine.  Written by a British Army Engineer officer, Captain George Tomkyns Chesney (1830-1895)


and entitled “The Battle of Dorking”, it was so popular that it soon appeared in pamphlet form


and then as a novel.


Dorking is a town to the south of London


and, in the story, the site of the climactic battle in which Britain is defeated by those same Germans who had so quickly defeated France.


This never happened, of course, and Britain had suffered invasion jitters before—during the Napoleonic Wars, when the soldiers of Napoleon I sat at Boulogne and the emperor planned an attack


and at the beginning of the 1860s, when there was a fear that Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, might be about to try his own version of his uncle’s plan.


Somehow, however, the idea of a German invasion caught on and persisted, spawning a whole generation of such books, such as this, from 1897—


Not everyone believed in this, as this 1910 cartoon suggests—


(Once the Victorian train network was in place, people went crazy for seaside visits in summer, but, for the more modest, that craziness did not extend to exposing themselves to public view while dipping in the sea.  The invention to save people’s modesty was this, a “bathing-machine”, as they were called.


You climbed into this fully clothed at one end, changed into bathing attire (still ridiculously overmodest by modern standards), then, when attendants had rolled the device into the water, you stepped out into the water (presumably up to your neck, to continue to preserve your modesty), splashed about, then climbed back in, were rolled back onto the beach while drying off and redressing, then stepped out again with, at most, damp hair to show that you’d been in the sea at all.  The obvious joke here is that the German invaders would be landed somehow in the ocean already in bathing dress, then climb into bathing machines to disguise the attack they would then launch on the beach.  This cartoon is by W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944), who was popular then and beyond for the wackily improbable inventions he regularly contributed to the press.)


In that same year of 1897, however, one author took the idea of invasion in a somewhat different direction.  First appearing that year in serial form in Pearson’s Magazine,


this is the first book printing (1898) of HG Wells’ (1866-1946)


The War of the Worlds.

The idea that Mars might be able to support life—or had supported life—was popularized with advances in the development of telescopes, brought about in part by a mistranslation.  In 1877, the Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910),


had observed on Mars what he believed to be canali.  What he meant by this was “channels”, but, when the word appeared in English, it was soon (mistakenly) understood to be “canals” and, once one has canals, the next step is canal builders,


which quickly leads to the idea of civilizations and soon there were all sorts of speculation—including detailed maps—of who—or what—might inhabit the Red Planet.


In his novel, Wells took this one step farther:  suppose those canals were drying up—what would a sophisticated civilization do?  One answer—and we can suppose that the rapid expansion of the still-new German empire, now attempting to become an international power,


along with what was now a quarter-century of invasion fiction (this is Louis Tracy’s 1896 novel on the subject—you can get your own copy at:  https://archive.org/details/finalwar00tracgoog/page/n13/mode/2up)


might have supplied some of his inspiration—was the invasion and conquest of a nearby planet, in this case, Earth.

Although Britain in 1897 was at its peak as a world manufacturing power, when confronted with the Martians and their array of machines,


heat rays,


and “black smoke” (clearly a forerunner of the Great War’s poison gases),


it appears that the Martians will be victorious—until they are suddenly defeated, not by armies and their weapons, but by our diseases, of which they have no knowledge and to which they have no immunity.


(This is an illustration by Henrique Correa from a 1906 French translation of the novel.)

This is hardly the end of invasion fiction, which will continue to be published and popular up to the Great War, one of the most popular works being William Le Queux’s (1864-1927) The Invasion of 1910 (1906).  (And here’s the LINK for your copy:  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/51905/51905-h/51905-h.htm)


If we consider that all of this may have started at least in part because of the success of the Prussians and their allies in 1870, it doesn’t surprise us that Wells’ story should gain a new level of, if not popularity, then at least notoriety, in 1938.

Throughout the later 1930s, Hitler’s Germany, brought back from its total defeat in the Great War, was beginning to stir again on the international stage.  On March, 12, 1938, its Eighth Army invaded Austria


and, on March 15, its Third Army invaded Czechoslovakia.


Although some of the Western allies had signed a kind of peace agreement with Hitler at the end of September, 1938, one can only believe that the uneasiness was still strong:  could Hitler be trusted when he seemed determined to acquire more and more of central Europe?

Then, on October 30, 1938, at 8PM (Eastern Standard Time), the CBS broadcast network put on a version of The War of the Worlds dramatized for radio by another Wells, the young actor/director, Orson Wells.


In his dramatization, Wells had updated the story to 1938, setting it around New York City, and turning it into an ordinary radio program interrupted by a series of bulletins about some sort of strange landings and subsequent events in nearby New Jersey.  Anyone who had tuned in at the opening knew, of course, that this was simply fiction.  Anyone who came in later—and seemingly many people did—had no idea and took it for the real thing:  an invasion, of the US, not by a European power, but by those Martians who had nearly conquered Britain in 1897—in fiction.  Needless to say, even in a pre-internet age, this turned into mad rumors and spread through the telephone network, frightening people across the entire country.


Calm returned fairly quickly, but it made us wonder:  with worldwide communication so much faster and easier in 2020, and in a world so prone to violence (alas!), what would happen now, should the fiction of HG Wells return in some new form to disturb us once more?

Thanks, as always, for reading and—barring a Martian invasion—




For your own copy of The Battle of Dorking, go to:  https://archive.org/details/battleofdorking00chesrich/page/n8/mode/2up

For a first-class website on such things as early invasion fiction, there’s:  http://www.theriddleofthesands.com/the-historical-background/

And the Hobbitry-in-Arms

As always, dear readers, welcome.

Just what does JRRT have in mind when he says “The Thain was the master of the Shire-moot, and the captain of the Shire-muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms”?

The “Thain” had appeared in the Shire as a title at a time of political upheaval, when the last king in the North, Arvedui, had been lost and the hobbits “chose a Thain to take the place of the King”.  (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Section I, Part iii)  Tolkien derived the title from the Old English word thegn, a kind of lesser nobleman, perhaps—and this is a guess we’ve seen elsewhere–with the idea that the Thain would act as a kind of stand-in for the missing monarch.


The “shire-moot” is another Old English term for a kind of assembly held in a shire, a kind of province or county (from Old English scir).  “To muster” is “to gather together” and can be used either as an intransitive verb, meaning it doesn’t need a direct object:  one can say “the Shire mustered”; or as a transitive verb, one which takes a direct object, as in “they mustered all of the armed hobbits.”  And the adjective “armed” is appropriate since, commonly, the verb is used in a military sense.  This leads us to the last term, “Hobbitry-in-arms”.

In the period before the Norman conquest in 1066,


the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms could, by law, call out freemen (as opposed to slaves of various sorts) for a temporary army.  This was called the fyrd (say the y like the u in French tu).


The Normans brought the beginnings of feudalism to England.  Feudalism was all about control, with the armed, mounted man in charge, just below the king, the nobles in this chart being mostly armed, mounted men, as well,




but, to fill out his backup, that man could call on those who lived on his land, freemen and peasants/villeins, to serve for a time.


By the Elizabethan period, these part-timers were required to serve in towns and counties as militia.


This was a tradition carried on in their North American colonies, as well,


and, at the beginning of the American Revolution, these were the first men to face the soldiers sent by the government in London.


At the end of the 18th century, there were fears that the Revolutionary French planned to invade Britain, and many volunteer units were raised to flesh out the small number of professional army units available in the UK.  The cavalry regiments of these volunteers were called “yeomanry” and we imagine that Tolkien derived his “hobbitry” from those “yeomanry”.


For a time after 1815, when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, some units were retained and used as a kind of police force, mostly to put down the unrest which came from poor labor conditions and the general lack of political power for most people.  The most infamous act of suppression was the so-called “Peterloo” massacre of 1819, when some demonstrators were killed and many more wounded by a yeomanry unit which made a charge into a peaceful crowd.


Yeomanry units remained part of the volunteer establishment throughout the 19th century, gaining a new prominence with the raising of the Imperial Yeomanry in 1900,


part of the eventually very large armed forces sent by Britain to defeat the Boers


in the Second Boer War (1899-1902).

Tolkien, who had been a cadet at King Edward’s School,


joined a yeomanry unit, King Edward’s Horse, when he reached Oxford in 1911,


before eventually being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, in 1915.


But what was the “Hobbitry-in-arms”?

And now we step into complete guess-work.

If it resembled the yeomanry, it was an organization of volunteers, raised to defend the Shire against invasion.  We know that something like this must once have existed, as we have several mentions of armed groups of hobbits, the archers who were sent off to aid the last king of the North Kingdom, Arvedui (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Section I, Part iii), as well as those who fought at the Battle of Greenfields “In which Bandobras Took routed an invasion of Orcs.” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, I, “Concerning Hobbits”)

From the very beginning, British yeomanry units were uniformed and uniformly armed, often being patronized by upper class gentlemen, who then became the senior officers of the units.



The only uniformity we have any knowledge of in the Shire comes from this:

“The Shirriffs was the name that the Hobbit gave to their police, or the nearest equivalent that they possessed.  They had, of course, no uniforms (such things being quite unknown), only a feather in their caps…” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, Section 3)

As for weapons, as that same section of the Prologue says:

“So, though there was still some store of weapons in the Shire, these were used mostly as trophies, hanging above hearths or on walls, or gathered into the museum at Michel Delving.”

(We also remember that Bilbo had sent his mithril coat to “a museum”, which we presume was this one.  The Hobbit, Chapter 19, “The Last Stage”.)

With no uniformity of dress or arms, what’s left of our definition is the idea of volunteers raised to defend the Shire against invasion.  And, thus, as in “The Scouring of the Shire”, we see the hobbits in two battles defeating Sharkey’s “big men” , we imagine that this must have been what JRRT had in mind when he created the “Hobbitry-in-arms”:

“When Sam got back he found the whole village roused.  Already, apart from many younger lads, more than a hundred sturdy hobbits were assembled with axes, and heavy hammers, and long knives, and stout staves; and a few had hunting-bows.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)


Thanks, as ever, for reading, and, of course,





Wait—isn’t that “Halloween”—or, as it used to be spelled “Hallow E’en”, rather old-fashioned English for “Holy Evening”?

And a second wait–isn’t this a little late–or a little early?  When we realized that this 2019 Halloween edition was never posted, we wondered where we should put it.  With a slip of the keyboard, we had posted the last part of our review of Star Wars IX for last Friday, rather than this Wednesday, so we took that as a nudge from the Force and are (temporarily) declaring an early Halloween, 2020 and posting this.  We hope you enjoyed last Halloween and this will add to your happy memories!

And yes, dear readers, “Holloween” is not the correct spelling, but it’s a common US (mis)pronunciation.  And an inspiring one, too, as we thought about it.

It’s a “Holy Evening” because it’s the night before November 1st, All Saints Day in the western Christian calendar.

But, for us, it’s also hollow—because, in the calendar of an older religion,


it marked the end of SAM, “summer”, and the beginning of GAM, “winter”—an emptying of one season before the beginning of the other.

If you lived in a Neolithic


to Iron Age farm


in the Celtic world, now–late October–meant crops were already gathered and now it was time to bring in the herds, especially of pigs (who were allowed to roam forests full of nut trees in the late summer),


choose a few to continue the herd, and slaughter the rest, smoking or salting the meat for the winter.


Because the summer was dying along with the herds, somehow the belief arose that this was a time when the wall between the living and the dead, and between this world and the Otherworld, was so thin that it could no longer act as a barrier.  The spirits of the dead might come to visit the living—



and the Aes Sidhe (AH-es SHEE-thyeh), the people of the Otherworld,


might leave their dwellings and enter our world through the portals of “fairy mounds” (actually tumuli—graves–from earlier peoples)


in later belief, or simply step through the open doorways of the time of the feast of SAMHAIN (SA-vuhn, in older pronunciation) in the older stories.

These are the people who, already miniaturized in Shakespeare’s time, became a staple of children’s book illustrations and sentimental paintings in the Victorian era.


In older times, however, they were seen as looking just like the humans they could move among,  powerful, even menacing, stealing children, enticing away girls and young men who, if they ever returned, would come back hundreds of years later, but think that they’d only been gone a night, as in the story of Oisin (OH-sheen) in the Land of Youth (the basis of WB Yeats’ early “The Wanderings of Oisin”, 1889).




Here, we see Oisin in one version of the story, having returned and turned into the ancient man he really is, talking with St Patrick.

The Scots ballad of “Tam Lin” shows us a young man rescued by a young woman from his ultimate fate:  abducted earlier, he is to be the victim in a sacrifice to Satan.


It being a time between worlds, it seems like a good moment for those who can see between times—which brings us to witches, who are very much part of Halloween.



Well, not this one.


Or these—somehow we can’t imagine witches having afternoon tea—unless there is eye of newt for dessert.

We mean those three witches who surprise Macbeth with a greeting, that, although he doesn’t know it, he is already Thane of Cawdor and, even more astonishing, he will be “king hereafter”.


In an earlier posting, we suggested that the witches are three in number because they might represent the Celtic figure of the Badb (BAHTH-V), who appears in three forms, including a crow,




and who was drawn to fighting and to battlefields, the very place where Macbeth and his comrade Banquo, have just been.


In early stories, she was the mortal enemy of Cuchulain, the great Irish hero, and caused his death by tricking him into undoing the magical spells which protected him.  In this famous sculpture (in the old General Post Office in Dublin), there she is, sitting on the dying Cuchulain’s shoulder.


As well as the Badb, we could see them as the ancient Greek Fates, the Moirai, each having a role in an image based upon likening life to the making of cloth:  Clotho, who spins a person’s life thread, Lachesis, who marks out the length, and Atropos, who cuts that thread.


And here we see a set of three magical figures, like Macbeth’s witches, all associated with time (we’ll come back to that), to which we would add another possibility, which takes us to a different form of Greek goddess, the Muses, inspirers of art.  They are three times three in number, and, when they first appear to the ancient Greek poet, Hesiod, to announce to him that he will be a poet,



it is said of them that they speak of “the things [now] being, the things about to be, and the things being before” (Hesiod, Theogony, line 38—our translation).  So, they are also associated with time.




To which we add a third possibility, the Norns, Germanic figures rather like the Moirai.



In the Voluspa, the first poem in the Icelandic Poetic Edda (10th century?), there are three of these, with names which appear to indicate, like the Muses, their link to time:  Urd (Old Norse “urdr”, “the past”), Verdandi (Old Norse “verdandi”, “the present”), and Skuld (Old Norse “skuld”, “it will be”).

Imagine, then, that Macbeth’s witches are three in number because, speaking as they do, they, like the Moirai, the Muses, and the Norns, all represent time.  And, like the Muses and Norns, the witches are the stages of time:  one witch is Macbeth’s past (he’s already the Thane of Glamis—said “GLAHMS”), a second is his present (he doesn’t know it yet, but the king, Duncan, has made him Thane of Cawdor to replace the rebel thane, just defeated), and the third is his future, that he will be king of Scotland.  (See Macbeth, Act I, Scene 3)  [Here’s the LINK for the First Folio, the first printing of the play, in 1623.]

Hallow E’en, then, is the perfect moment for witches to appear.  After sunset, we are in the hollow of the old Celtic year:  summer is done, winter will begin tomorrow, but now, being in neither, is a good time to think of what’s happened in the year past, where we are currently, and where we will be in the next year.  If three witches appear to us and hail us as future kings, however, we’ll try to remember another quotation from Shakespeare, from Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2 (again, from the First Folio), in which that word “hollow” is a warning:

For Heauens sake let vs sit vpon the ground,

And tell sad stories of the death of Kings:

How some haue been depos’d, some slaine in warre,

Some haunted by the Ghosts they haue depos’d,

Some poyson’d by their Wiues, some sleeping kill’d,

All murther’d. For within the hollow Crowne

That rounds the mortall Temples of a King,

Keepes Death his Court, and there the Antique sits

Scoffing his State, and grinning at his Pompe,

Allowing him a breath, a little Scene,

To Monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with lookes,

Infusing him with selfe and vaine conceit,

As if this Flesh, which walls about our Life,

Were Brasse impregnable: and humor’d thus,

Comes at the last, and with a little Pinne

Bores through his Castle Walls, and farwell King.

And so perhaps it’s best if we stick to a witch we can melt with a pail of water before we begin to think too hard about her vision of our future.


Happy Hollow—Halloween.  The candy corn is on us






This was just too spooky—and inventive—not to add!


Three Times Three (4)

As ever, dear readers, welcome.

In this posting, we come to the end of what we’ve been calling our slow-motion review of Star Wars:  The Rise of Skywalker.


If you’ve been following along, you will know that we began with Stars Wars:  The Phantom Menace,


and have worked our way through all the films in the first trilogy


and then the second.


In this approach, our main idea was to try to trace what the original creator, George Lucas, intended to do in what, in time, became a duology of trilogies



but has now, with the release of IX, has become a trilogy of trilogies.  In a brief summary from the conclusion of our last posting, we would say that, by the end of VI:

“But that new hope, promised in the first episode of the trilogy, has come true, it seems.  The Emperor is gone, Anakin has been saved, and, with the general celebrations throughout the galaxy, the suggestion is, at least, that the Empire is gone, as well. “

We then asked the question:  “What more is there to do?”

Over time, George Lucas produced several answers.  One was a complete negative:  VI is the end.  Then there was the implication that there might be more films, but not with the characters we knew from the second trilogy.  And then there has been, through interviews over a number of years, the idea that, in a third trilogy, we would see a kind of back-story to the back-story, in which we would learn that the “midi-chlorines” of the first movie—that something in the bloodstream which seems to be involved with the Force and which the boy, Anakin, is so full of, as Qui-Gon reports to Yoda—are actually the agents for something else, a group of entities called the “Whills”.  The little bits about this scheme have, in our experience, received reactions from critics which have ranged from vague interest to sweaty condemnation and, when Lucas sold his company to the Walt Disney Corporation in 2012, the Whills simply sank from sight.

This brings us back to our question:  “What more is there to do?”

That Lucas himself once considered that six was the magic number would suggest that his answer might be, “Nothing.”  And yet, more recently, he has lamented the fact he didn’t get the chance to make that third set.  Someone else did, however, and this could lead to real difficulties with the approach.  As we hope that we have shown in our last two postings, Lucas had gradually developed several main ideas over the first six films:

  1. that there were two elements to a power which somehow stood behind the Galaxy, the Force and the Dark Side, and that, at least at the beginning of The Phantom Menace, this power was out of balance
  2. in the physical world, these powers were represented by the Jedi and the Sith
  3. at some point, the Dark Side had won, the Jedi were nearly exterminated, and the Galaxy was being ruled by a Sith
  4. the chief agent of that ruler, Darth Vader (originally Anakin Skywalker), was a Jedi who had been seduced to join the Sith
  5. unbeknownst to Vader, his children, fraternal twins, had survived their traumatic birth and had grown up on different worlds, both unaware of the other
  6. in time, however, they would join together and, with other characters, bring down the Sith and save their father from what we might imagine was a kind of eternal damnation (although this last is never directly stated)

From what little we know about what might have happened if Lucas had been in charge, the next step was something to do with the midi-chlorines and the Whills.  As Lucas produced six adventure features in which the Force always appeared, but only as part of the background, we don’t believe that the final trilogy would have been a series of animated lectures on the spiritual science behind the Galaxy.  Rather, we imagine that there would have been the usual adventure element, combined, as in the case of the Force, with the Whills.  At the moment, at least, we know nothing more.

Lucas was not in charge, however, of this third trilogy, so we are left to try to understand:

  1. did the creators continue the themes of the first two?
  2. or did they head in other directions and, if so, how might they be understood in relation to those first two trilogies?

This brings us to VII, The Force Awakens.


With that title, no matter what else happens, there is clearly some link with the first two trilogies.  And a great deal happens, the central focus of which is that a young girl, called Rey,


who looks to be a kind of scrap-metal scavenger on a desert planet called Jakku,


and who rescues a small droid


which turns out to be carrying secret information.

So far, this has a very familiar ring and we’re suddenly back in A New Hope 


There is a switch, however.  Instead of plans for the Death Star, the information is part of a map to where Luke Skywalker has taken refuge.  As we haven’t in the past postings, we don’t intend to do a plot summary here (but here’s a LINK to one, in case you need it:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_The_Force_Awakens).

We would briefly say that other characters participate, both new, like Poe Dameron and Finn,


and old friends, like Chewy and Han.


The opposition, something called “The First Order”, is led by a mysterious figure named “Snoke”,


who has for his enforcer a Darth Vader-wannabe, Kylo Ren,


who is actually Ben Solo, son of Leia and Han.

The main story then becomes a quest for Luke, the protagonists, with Rey in the lead, vs the antagonists, led by Kylo Ren.  In the process, Rey gradually discovers that she is strong with the Force, which will lead her, by the film’s end to meeting a hooded figure on a distant world.


And so we see certain elements which appear to be built upon the past:  Luke and the other characters from the second trilogy, a no one (or a seeming no one, as we’ll eventually see) with the Force, the Dark Side and its followers, all about 20 years after Return of the Jedi and the destruction of the Empire.

Nothing has really been resolved in VII, although this new version of the Empire has suffered a set-back when its new Death Star—now an entire planet—has been blown up, and so VIII


begins with another echo from past, this time from The Empire Strikes Back:  the evacuation of a rebel base.  In this case, however, there is no ground assault and the rebels appear to have escaped, but, with a tracking device involved, they are pursued and a driving element of the plot is the rebels’ dwindling fuel supply.  (Again, if you need a plot summary, here’s a LINK:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_The_Last_Jedi)

Meanwhile, Rey’s hooded figure is, indeed, Luke, but a Luke who rejects anything to do with the Jedi and refuses to train her, which presents us with another echo, but this time a mirror opposite:  Luke and Yoda.


When he reluctantly relents, she has moments of contact with Kylo Ren, who explains to her why Luke has gone into self-exile—at least, his version of events.  In time, he captures her and brings her to Snoke, who attempts to turn her to the Dark Side, but dies instead, killed by Ren, who then declares himself Snoke’s replacement—and here we see another opposite:  Darth Vader killed the Emperor, but, instead of claiming Palpatine’s power for himself, dies, becoming Anakin Skywalker once more.

By the film’s end, the rebels have escaped once more, Kylo Ren distracted in a duel with what is rather like the astral projection of Luke (who dies peacefully at its end), and the scene is set for a final confrontation of Ren vs Rey (who believes that Ren can be redeemed—and, once more there is an echo, this time of Luke and Vader).

So far, then, what we’ve seen in this third trilogy has continued the story into the next generation with Kylo/Ben and Rey and the Force and with a number of echoes and mirror moments from the previous trilogy.  The first trilogy ended with disaster for the protagonists, the Emperor having won and the Jedi nearly destroyed.  The conclusion of the second trilogy showed us the opposite:  the Emperor gone and the Jedi—at least one Jedi—restored.  How will this third trilogy—the ultimate part of the story—conclude?


With all of the previous films, we’ve had the advantage of owning dvds and therefore seeing them all a number of times.  We’ve only seen The Rise of Skywalker once, several weeks ago, in a movie theatre, so we’re going mostly on a first impression and a summary (LINK:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_The_Rise_of_Skywalker).

With that in mind, using VII and VIII, we would say that the writers/directors have, as Lucas did when he finished the first trilogy, set up the following problems:

  1. is Rey now to become a Jedi?
  2. if so, should we presume that she will confront Ren?
  3. and, that being so, is Rey the ultimate “chosen one”, come to bring “balance to the Force” at long last?

All of the above, if we replaced the names with those from the second trilogy, could be questions we might have asked after The Empire Strikes Back:  1. Luke; 2. Vader; 3. Luke.  As long-time watchers of the series, we could take this in at least two directions:  a. not really knowing what to do, the writers have fallen back upon the very successful second trilogy; or, b. because they are trying to give the third trilogy the kind of closure such an elaborate series requires, they draw upon the strength of the narrative of the second trilogy as a basis, but then add to it—as perhaps we shall see.

As The Force Awakens had, as a major theme, the search for Luke, so this final film has its own search, for the revived Emperor Palpatine, who lets Kylo Ren know that he’s been behind everything, from Snope to the drawing of Ren to the Dark Side.  Recognizing that Rey is the only real opposition, he orders Ren to remove her.  In the process of searching for her, he makes the same kind of contact we had seen in the second film, but this time he reveals that she is, in fact, the Emperor’s granddaughter.  There is no explanation of who her parents were and only a flash of a scene in which they were murdered, so we know no more than what Ren tells Rey at the moment.  We also know that there have been some negative critical reactions to this, but we have tried to remain neutral, under the idea that, if Rey is really the “chosen one”, then her ancestry could be an important and powerful part of the rebalance of the Force.

The confrontation between Rey and Ren takes place


and Rey, whose experience with the Force has grown and grown since her original encounter with Ren in the first film of the trilogy, actually kills him—but then, in something we haven’t seen before (but Palpatine had once implied something about it to Anakin as a  power of the Dark Side, in fact), she brings him back.  Instead of then continuing with the search for Palpatine, however, she returns to the island where she had found Luke at the end of The Force Awakens.  There, Luke’s spirit sends her off once more on her quest and, in the last big scene of the film, she meets her grandfather, who tells her that she must kill him in order to inherit his power.  She refuses and, joined by the now-reformed Ren, is nearly drained of her life force by the increasingly-powerful Emperor.  Ren brings her back, however, in the mirror of the previous scene in which she does so for him, and finally she defeats and destroys her grandfather, only to kiss Ren as he dies from the effort to revive her (and we might wonder why she doesn’t try bringing him back again, but that might turn the serious to the silly).

We’ve given a bit more summary here than we would like, but we’re trying to make this as clear to ourselves as we can, seeking to understand just what the creators were attempting to do in this final episode.

In answer to our earlier questions:

  1. Rey has clearly become a Jedi
  2. she has not only confronted Ren, but, through her actions, actually rescued him from the Dark Side
  3. is she the ultimate “chosen one”? that, we can’t answer. It’s true that she appears to be the Last Jedi, of the second film’s title and that she has great powers and even that she’s defeated and destroyed the Emperor at last.  As Yoda would say, “Unclear!”,  but, in the final short scene of the film, we are left with what is perhaps a clue.

Rey is seen returning to Tatooine, where she reverently buries not a person (Luke and Leia have disappeared into the Force, after all), but two light sabers, Luke’s and Leia’s.  Then, when asked by an old woman who’s been watching her, for her name, she says “Rey”, but then adds “Skywalker”, thus explaining the title of the film, but also suggesting a kind of continuity:  granddaughter of the Sith, but taught by the final Jedi, Luke, and, for a little while, Leia, and now on the rise…


And, with that, the film ends and we end this extended review.  We hope that you found it interesting and we’d be glad for any and all comments and questions.

In our next posting, we’re returning to JRRT—but more about that next time.  In the meantime, thanks again for reading and




Has anyone else noticed a passing resemblance between Kylo Ren and a major figure from another epic?


Three Times Three (3)

Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

We had been progressing through our big review of the final Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker,


when we paused to post a brief elegy for one of our heroes, Christopher Tolkien,


who died, age 95, earlier in January.

We continue now with the third part of our review.

We began with the idea of literary trilogies, like The Lord of the Rings,


although, as we know, it wasn’t conceived as such, it has come to be considered so.

In such groupings, the pattern tends to be that a situation is set up in the first, is developed in the second, and is resolved in the third, in a pattern familiar throughout the western world, from wishes to fairy tales.

The first Star Wars trilogy–The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith—


has brought us several situations, in fact:

  1. a galaxy in turmoil—revolt which becomes civil war


  1. a turmoil secretly created by a figure who originally posed as a defender of order, Senator Palpatine, who, in reality, is the evil Sith, Dark Sidious,


  1. and who has done this not only to achieve power, but to destroy the opposite of the Sith, the Jedi.


In the process, he has turned what some of the Jedi hoped was their savior, who was to bring “balance to the Force” (the mystic power which forms the universe), Anakin Skywalker, into his monstrous apprentice, Darth Vader.



So, we begin the second trilogy, the original trilogy and, in some people’s opinion, the most successful.


For ourselves, as we’ve already expressed, we are very reluctant to be judgmental.  Huge amounts of creativity and just plain hard work went into the whole process, and, because it’s meant to be seen as a series of nine films, we will continue to try to understand it as just that:  a trilogy of trilogies.

So here we are, at the opening of the second trilogy, with IV, tantalizingly subtitled, A New Hope.


The third of the first trilogy, The Revenge of the Sith,


ended with what seemed like the total success of the new galactic emperor, Darth Sidious.


He was now sole ruler (although the Senate still seemed to exist for the moment), had almost totally destroyed the Jedi, and had turned the hope for balance into his enforcer.


At the same time, that enforcer’s children have survived, unbeknownst to him, or the emperor, growing up to be, on the one hand, a princess, Leia,


and, on the other, Luke, a farmhand.


Their paths cross when Leia, a spy for the rebellion against the Empire, hides a message in a droid, R2D2,


and, while she is captured, the droid escapes to the home planet of the farmhand, Tatooine, along with another droid, C3PO.


Luke is intrigued by the message (cunningly broadcast by R2D2)


and the story sets off on a rescue mission, picking up, along the way, one of the few surviving Jedi, Obi-wan Kenobi,


as well as two smugglers, Han Solo and his friend, Chewbacca.


Obi-wan reveals that Luke is, in reality, the son of an old friend, a Jedi, who was “murdered” by his apprentice, and gives Luke his father’s light saber.  And, at that moment, we see the beginning of the prophecy suggested in the title:  if Leia, the princess and spy, and Luke, the farmhand and possible Jedi, can be brought together, they may then become the basis of a turn in the plot and the emperor and his minion, Darth Vader, may not be so secure as they believe.

The princess is rescued, of course, from the technological threat to the galaxy, the Death Star,


and Luke sees Darth Vader for the first time, apparently striking down Obi-wan.


The story does not, however, now bring Luke and Leia into direct confrontation with Darth Sidious and Darth Vader.  Instead, we see Luke, feeling the effects of the Force, become the agent of the destruction of the Death Star.


And so we see, as well, that that subtitle may be true.

In the second film of this trilogy, however, The Empire Strikes Back,


although the Emperor’s plans have been pushed back, the rebellion has not yet succeeded.  Instead, its forces, hunted by imperial fleet elements, have fled to a tiny planet on the edge of the galaxy, in the area called the Outer Rim.  Their hiding place is discovered, however, and, in a desperate rearguard action, they’re forced to flee.


As they do so, Luke doesn’t join the retreat, but, instead, heads off to Dagobah, where he is to be trained as a Jedi by Yoda, one of the tiny number of surviving Jedi.


This would seem to continue the pattern of the previous film:  Luke will be the “new hope” which will successfully confront the Empire.  Then, in mid-training, Luke has a vision of his friends in trouble on another planet, Bespin, and he leaves Yoda to rescue them.  It’s a near-disaster, as, although with the aid of a new character, Lando,


some of his friends are rescued, Han is captured


to be sent off to his one-time employer, Jabba the Hutt,


and Luke is faced with Darth Vader, who not only defeats him in a duel, cutting off his right hand, but reveals that he is Luke’s actual father.


And so, the promising build of the first film has come nearly crashing down at the end of the second.  This is a trilogy, however, so that “new hope” is still there.  After all, although Han is a prisoner, Luke has been rescued and given a bionic hand, and, in the third film, The Return of the Jedi,


we see that new hope once more as Luke works out the retrieval not only of Han, but of all his friends, as well as the destruction of Jabba the Hutt.


When Luke attempts to return to Yoda to complete his training, however, he finds a dying teacher


and, soon, a resurgent Death Star.


The conclusion of this trilogy isn’t so predictable as its destruction and the eventual death of Darth Vader, however.  Luke, unlike his father, doesn’t suffer from the same flaws of fear and anger.  Instead, he confronts his father in a scene in which, ultimately, his insistence that there is still good in him comes true and Darth Vader turns back into Anakin Skywalker while destroying the Emperor, dying in the process.


But that new hope, promised in the first episode of the trilogy, has come true, it seems.  The Emperor is gone, Anakin has been saved, and, with the general celebrations throughout the galaxy, the suggestion is, at least, that the Empire is gone as well.

All of that being the case, what is there to do in the third trilogy?

As always, thanks for reading and




And that second Death Star was destroyed, of course, but by a secondary character.





The Halls of Awaiting


Welcome, dear readers, as always.

This was meant to be the next in our slow-motion review of Star Wars IX:  The Rise of Skywalker, but the news of Christopher Tolkien’s death on January 15th made us stop to think of and to be thankful for him.


Tolkien had celebrated a birthday in November and, whereas he had not, like Bilbo, who, at 131, had managed to outlive the Old Took (Gerontius, who died at 130), still, at 95, had long surpassed Frodo, who traveled to the Grey Havens at 53.  (Picture by one of our favorite Tolkien illustrators, Ted Nasmith.)


Bilbo’s long life had allowed him to compile and edit not only his diary of his days on the expedition to the Lonely Mountain with the dwarves (There and Back Again), but also “many loose leaves of notes”, which he left for Frodo, along with three volumes of “Translations from the Elvish”.  (For more on all of this, see “Note on the Shire Records” in the Prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring.)

Like Bilbo, Christopher Tolkien had also been a compiler and editor during his long life, as well as the first reader for much of his father’s work while he was serving in the RAF (Royal Air Force), much of the time in South Africa, during World War 2 and the original cartographer for that same work, collaborating with his father.

After JRRT’s death in 1973, Tolkien went on to edit and publish what sometimes appear to be countless of his father’s unpublished manuscripts, allowing us to see into the complex creative process which gave us not only the material around The Lord of the Rings, but so much more of the history of Middle-earth in general.


Beyond those, there were other works, some of them quite early, including Beren and Luthien, the first draft of which JRRT had written in 1917.


In that story, Luthien, after Beren’s death, having died and gone to the Halls of Mandos (also called the Halls of Awaiting, where men and elves went after death) on Valinor,


sings a song which is so powerful that it persuades Mandos to restore both her and Beren to life.  To JRRT, Luthien was his wife, Edith,


and, although he laments to Christopher, after her death:

“But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.” (Letters, 420)

we hope that something of the power of that song will take Christopher to his own Valinor, with our thanks for the riches he has left with us.

Thanks, as ever, for reading, and



Three Times Three (2)

Welcome, dear readers, as we continue our slow-motion review of Star Wars IX:  The Rise of Skywalker.


As we said in our last, we thought that it might be useful, and we hope, interesting, to review it by seeing it as we imagine the creators did, as the final installment of something which began almost as “long ago” as that well-known subtitle says the story took place.

We begin with the idea of trilogies.

In Western story-telling, three is a kind of magic number—almost an embodiment of the English proverb, “Third time pays for all”, where the third of three things completes something.   Fairy tales, for instance often involve three wishes.  Sometimes that third wish is a corrective, when the first two take the story in a bad direction.  In the story of “The Fisherman’s wife”, one of the tales in the Grimm Brothers’ collection of German fairy tales, the greedy fisherman’s wife even asks for a fourth wish–and loses everything the first three have given her.  (If you don’t know this story, here’s a LINK to the 1868 edition of the first English translation (1823) of it, by Edgar Taylor:  https://ia600907.us.archive.org/12/items/germanpopularsto01grim/germanpopularsto01grim.pdf).

When we think of books written to be read in a three, we might think of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games,


or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials


(if you’ve read these in the US, you’ll know that first volume, Northern Lights, by another title, The Golden Compass)

or, of course, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings


(although it was never designed to be such—early 1950s British printing demands broke what was thought of as a single work into three).

In the case of Star Wars, however, there is not one trilogy, but three.


(actually 2 and 2/3s—IX is not yet commercially available, but here it is for completeness).


Reading about the problems the original director/main writer, George Lucas,


faced in gradually developing the story, we learn that, for a time, his plans kept changing until he finally settled on beginning the big story not with I, but with IV.


Instead of returning to I after that, however, he went on to make his first trilogy of IV, V, and VI.


Ultimately, the two main characters of this trilogy are Luke Skywalker and his antagonist, Darth Vader.


In this second trilogy—although really the first in the series—Lucas had set his audiences what seemed to be several puzzles:

  1. who was Darth Vader—and why/how does he turn out to be (no spoiler alert here, we’re pretty sure!) Luke’s father? (and, we’d add, “Who’s his mother?”)
  2. what is the more general context—among other things, there’s talk of a republic and its senate, of “Jedi”, and then of the galaxy being ruled by an evil emperor who, when we see him, employs powers he derives from the “dark side” of “The Force”—so where does all of this come from?

And so, in this first trilogy (shown here with the second, as images of the first trilogy seem hard to find),


not only has the author given us several puzzles, but he’s seemingly set himself what might prove to be a very difficult task.  If he tells the story of Darth Vader in the first set of three films, Vader has already appeared as such a monster that it might be impossible to generate any sympathy for him, making him simply a two-dimensional villain of the sort the emperor appears to be in the second trilogy, and any films in which he is a main, if not the main, character, could be mostly just a series of repetitions of his evil behavior.  Instead, Star Wars I


begins with two of those Jedi, a master (as he’s called by the other), and an apprentice (called a “padawan”), Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan.


During their adventures, they encounter the Queen of Naboo, Padme,


and what appears to be a kind of child prodigy, Anakin.


Qui-Gon decides that Anakin is something called “the Chosen One”, who is to “bring balance to the Force” and proposes to adopt him as his next padawan/apprentice.  The difficulty with this, as we are told in time, is that Jedi:

  1. must be without fear or anger
  2. must renounce all attachments

Anakin, still a little boy, must leave his mother, Shmi (short for Lakshmi, after the Hindu goddess of good fortune?)


and is obviously troubled about this:  a possible serious flaw in his becoming a Jedi, let alone “the Chosen One”.

Qui-Gon is killed in a duel with a mysterious figure called “Darth Maul”,


who is, in turn, cut in two by Obi-Wan,


and, at the conclusion of this first film, Obi-Wan, now a Jedi himself, pledges to become Anakin’s master,


much against the will of a senior Jedi, Yoda, who has examined the boy and seen very clearly that flaw, along with his possibilities.


So far, then, the story is about promise, that Anakin will grow into a Jedi, but also a threat:  will Yoda’s doubts be proved correct?  And who was Darth Maul and why was he despatched on what looks like an assassination attempt?  We are briefly told that he was a “Sith” and the equivalent of a padawan, with the addition that, where there is one Sith, there is always one more…

The second film, Attack of the Clones,


seems to take place about 10 years later:  Obi-Wan is now a settled Jedi (with a beard) and Anakin is a sort of senior apprentice, who nurses a growing sense of resentment that he’s never recognized as he believes he should be for his abilities.


At this point, Padme, now a member of the Galactic Senate, reappears,


having just survived an assassination attempt.  Anakin confesses his attraction for her and, added to his anger, we see the very beginnings of what Yoda has always feared.


This is only intensified when Anakin discovers that his mother has been captured on his home planet of Tatooine by Sand People and, basically, tortured to death.


Beyond the personal, we see that the Republic is falling apart:  a number of planetary systems within the Galaxy are struggling to separate themselves.  The current Supreme Chancellor is forced to step down and, in his place, another senator from Naboo, Palpatine, is his replacement.  We saw Palpatine briefly in the first film and we see him again here and he seems like a sympathetic, if minor, figure.  Fatherless himself, and increasingly estranged from Obi-Wan, Anakin is drawn to him.

By the end of the second film, developments have come in quick succession:  the rebellion of the Separatists is being fueled by a one-time Jedi, Count Dooku; to defend itself, the remaining members of the Senate vote to form an army—only to find that there already is one, an army of clones; and Padme has fallen in love with Anakin and they secretly marry.


We now come to the last of this first trilogy with Revenge of the Sith.


In a way, the title says it all:  Senator Palpatine is revealed as the Sith lord, Darth Sidious, and Anakin, corrupted by his fears for Padme’s death in childbirth and Sidious’ suggestion that, as a Sith, he knows ways to deal with death, joins him as his apprentice, Darth Vader, as Sidious activates Order 66.  It seems that, behind that mysterious clone army is Sidious himself, who has also been behind the Separatists, all to overthrow the Republic and become Galactic emperor.  This, however, is only one of two goals.  The other is the complete destruction of the Jedi order and Order 66 is the command, implanted in the clones, to murder all of the Jedi without question.




This then leads to the climactic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin/Darth Vader,


in which Obi-Wan reluctantly defends himself but eventually defeats Anakin, who is left sprawled and mutilated, while Obi-Wan escapes with Padme, whom a jealous Anakin has nearly murdered.  She dies, however, just as Anakin feared, in childbirth, leaving behind twins, Luke and Leia, who, to protect them from the murderous Darth Sidious, are to be raised on separate planets, Leia on Alderan and Luke on Tatooine.


Meanwhile, the dying Anakin is rescued by Sidious and reconstructed within the black armor in which we know Darth Vader, Sidious assuring him that he has killed Padme in his rage.


Yoda and Obi-Wan, two of the very few surviving Jedi, both disappear into exile, and we are left with the image of baby Luke in the arms of his foster parents, Beru and Owen, initiating a scene we will view again in the first film of the second trilogy.


So, in the three films of this first trilogy, we see:

  1. the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Sith Darth Sidious as Galactic emperor
  2. the destruction of the Jedi, with two notable exceptions
  3. the failure of Anakin as “the Chosen One” and his rebirth as the apprentice of the greatest enemy of the Jedi
  4. and yet we also see Anakin’s children, who will reappear in the fourth film, perhaps optimistically titled A New Hope?

We shall see in our next, even as we thank you for reading this posting, with a promise, rather than a hope, that




Three Times Three (1)

Welcome, dear readers, as always.

Recently, we saw Star Wars IX:  The Rise of Skywalker


and we’d like to talk with you a bit about it.  If you follow this complex world, you’ve probably read reviews and even seen the film, as we have.  If so, you know that the reviews have been a wild mixture, although the tone among many has been dismissive and disappointed.

For us, the feelings were much more complicated.  After all, our first view of this world was with Star Wars IV:  A New Hope,


the subtitle of which, to us, who loved adventure stories—especially long, complex ones—was true.  Suddenly, we were in “a galaxy far, far away” in a time “long, long ago”:  phrases which sounded as traditional as “once upon a time” or “a king there was upon Ireland”, but phrases which indicated a hope for many new stories about new characters in new places.

And that hope has been fulfilled, over and over–




And not just with the slow but steady building of the main story, but with stories around the edges, from animated features like the Clone Wars


and Rebels


to Rogue One



to Solo.


And this is not to mention all of the novels, comic books, graphic novels, games, costumes, toys—some of the toys being our favorites…





as well as the bits of dialogue like:


“She’s rich.”


“Rich, powerful.  Listen, if you were to rescue her, the reward would be…”


“Well, more wealth than you can imagine!”

“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.”



“Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Thinking of all of those things and much more and how they all began with one film, made us think of the long, complex history of the story of Troy.  Unlike Star Wars, this didn’t begin with one identifiable man,


but with an oral tradition of singers, aoidoi, in Greek,


who gradually spread and embellished upon what was probably once a song about a raid


but which, as it grew, included not only Greek adventures, like the homecoming of Odysseus,


but even Roman, with the escape from the collapsing city of the Trojan prince, Aeneas, who then, in Italy, will begin the process which will lead, in time, to the founding of Rome.


The same could be said for the King Arthur story, which may have begun with a tale about a kind of vague post-Roman historical figure,


and became, in western Europe, the center of a web of medieval stories and spin-offs


up to the present (and who can forget Monty Python and the Holy Grail?).


Here’s a LINK to some—and it’s only some—of those treatments and spin-offs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_based_on_Arthurian_legends#Film

Because the story is so complicated and because our reactions to IX are also so complicated, we thought that we’d tackle our review a little like the original, by moving in three postings, one to cover each trilogy, leading up, at the end of the third, to our reaction—reactions, really—to the final episode (with a spoiler alert:  we will not grumble, complain, or condemn IX, only try to understand what it is trying to do and what we are feeling about what we understand, with a huge amount of gratitude for all that the series has given us along the way).

So, thanks for reading, as always, and definitely




If you haven’t seen it, we definitely recommend the Camelot Project sponsored by the University of Rochester (the US one) at this LINK:  https://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/arthur




As All Should Know?

“ ‘Then what is Durin’s Day?’ asked Elrond.

‘The first day of the dwarves’ New Year,’ said Thorin, ‘is as all should know the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter.’ “ (The Hobbit, Chapter Three, “A Short Rest”)

Welcome, dear readers, to our end-of-the-year posting.  It will be posted on January 1, 2020—which is hardly Durin’s Day.

But when is Durin’s Day?

It seems that that is as much a puzzle for Thorin as it might be for us, as he says:

“ ‘We call it Durin’s Day when the last moon of Auturm and the sun are in the sky together.  But this will not help us much, I fear, for it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again.’ “

Thorin and Gandalf have consulted Elrond over the map of the Lonely Mountain made by (or for) Thror, Thorin’s grandfather, and Elrond has discovered that the map has more to tell than would first appear.

image1map.jpgAs, in the light of a crescent moon, Elrond

“held up the map and the white light shone through it.  ‘What is this?’ he said.  ‘There are moon-letters here, beside the plain runes…’ “

Those briefly-readable lunar runes (highlighted in white on our image), say:

“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks…and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.”

Like the first day of the dwarves’ New Year, the first day of the Western New Year has been a bit of a mystery over the centuries, too.

Ultimately, our calendar comes from the Roman calendar and that calendar, at its beginnings, was already in trouble, and all because of that same moon which illuminates Thror’s map.


Roman tradition said that this calendar had been edited by the founder of Rome, Romulus, here depicted murdering his twin brother, Remus, before introducing


his ten-month lunar calendar.  His successor, Numa Pompilius,


attempting to combine a solar with a lunar calendar, added two months, but was forced to add another, shorter, month, every two years so that the seasons and the calendar didn’t drift too far apart.  As this still caused difficulties, Julius Caesar, many centuries later,


recently made “Dictator for Life” by the Senate, consulted an Alexandrian astronomer, Sosigenes, and redesigned the calendar with 12 months with a total of 365 ¼ days, an extra day being added every four years to fill out that ¼ day—that is, more or less, a solar year.  There are a lot of complications in this which we ourselves would roll our eyes over, so, if you would like more information, here’s the WIKI LINK:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_calendar.

The difficulty with this, as we understand it, is that that ¼ day is fractionally longer than a quarter and that, over many years, the seasons and the calendar still managed to drift apart, so that, by the early 1580s, there was a 10-day gap.  This was adjusted by a new calendar, authorized by Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582, which recalibrated things in such a way that we’re still using that system in 2019.


But what about the first day of the Western New Year?

Originally, Romans, with a ten-month calendar (which is why we the names “Septem-ber, Octo-ber, Novem-ber, and Decem-ber”, even though, now, those names/numbers can no longer be correlated with the modern 12-month variety), marked the beginning of the New Year as late in March, at the time of the vernal equinox.   This was one of two days a year when day and night are approximately equal (the other is on the autumnal equinox, which, as the name suggests, is in the fall).  In 2020, that will be on March 20th.

Although the Roman Republic had established 1 January as the beginning of the civil year, when their two chief magistrates, the consuls, took office,


that late March date was still being used until, along with his 12-month reform, Caesar permanently moved the beginning of the year to the first day of the extra month named after the god of endings and beginnings, Janus.


This shift also nicely fit in with the season of traditional Roman year-end festivities (which seemed to go on no matter what the calendar might be doing), including the Saturnalia,


and the later addition of the festival of Sol Invictus (the “unconquered sun”), all from mid-to-late December.


This worked until 567AD, when Christian clergy, meeting at the Council of Tours, decreed that 1 January still reeked of paganism and shifted the beginning of the year back to late March—March 25th, in fact, where it remained until Pope Gregory XIII (remember him?) revised the calendar and moved it back to 1 January.  Most of the West adopted this new version of the calendar rather speedily, except for Great Britain, which didn’t make the change until 1752.  (So, when you see that George Washington, for example, was born on 22 February, 1732, until he was about 20, he must have believed that he had been born on 11 February, 1731.)

But what about Durin’s Day? we asked some time ago.

We know that Thorin seems a bit unsure and that would appear to be true for his creator, as well.  The best guess (with the author sort of behind it) would be 19 October, but, if you want to pursue it farther than that, see this LINK:  http://thorinoakenshield.net/confusticate-and-bebother-these-dates-the-durins-day-dilemma/  The author does a very good job of, well, trying to deal with something JRRT once wrote in a note at the top of a page of revisions for the projected 1966 edition of The Hobbit, “Hobbit Time table is not very clear”.

In this world, however, in the West, 1 January remains the beginning of the year and we wish you a happy and prosperous one, no matter when/how you celebrate.

With thanks for reading, as always, and, as always




The traditional New Year’s song in the English-speaking world is Robert Burn’s “Auld Lang Syne” (literally, “Old Long Since”) and our favorite version is that of Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818).


Here’s a LINK so that you can hear it for yourself:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INzME1iKkGE