Never That Willow


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As always, dear readers, welcome.

In our last post, we had:

  1. begun with a willow tree


  1. moved to the English Renaissance association between willows and melancholy


  1. and, in particular, the play Hamlet (1599-1601), in which a disturbed girl, Ophelia, falls from a willow into a stream and drowns


  1. as well as Desdemona, in Shakespeare’s Othello (1604), who sings a song with “Willow” as a kind of lamenting chorus—just before she’s murdered by her jealous (and misled) husband.


Melancholy comes from an imbalance of the humors, so medieval and Renaissance people thought, from those substances which control the body and its moods.


Too much black bile and you might be plunged into a depression.


(Although his posture suggests that he’s grieving, this young man’s armor says that he’s involved in a medieval sport that certain Tudor noblemen still engaged in, jousting.  Perhaps he just lost?)

As this was considered a serious problem, English Renaissance authors created texts which analyzed the condition, like Timothy Bright, a physician, who published his treatise in 1586,


(if you’d like to see what was believed medically in 1586, here’s a LINK to the work.)

or Robert Burton, a philosopher, who published his in 1621.


One way of dealing with that imbalance was by bleeding—the idea being that, since the humors influenced the blood, by opening up a blood vessel and letting some of the blood pour out it might act as a kind of safety valve.


Another treatment was playing or listening to music.


This therapeutic idea led to the title of one of the first great collections of Renaissance and post-Renaissance lyrics and tunes, Thomas D’Urfey’s, Wit and Mirthe, or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1698-1720).


(The National Library of Scotland has a complete edition of all six volumes of this.  Here’s a LINK, so that you can download them for yourself.)

Melancholy and willows became even more bound together in the early 19th century, when the tree, along with other images, such as urns, was used as a symbol of mourning on tombstones.


Willows, then, have moved from being associated with an Elizabethan ailment to an expression of grief at the death of a loved one, which could certainly bring on melancholy.


For us, willows have another association, however, but one which includes death–and the Elizabethan use of music as a cure.  In The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and his friends try to cut through the Old Forest to escape the pursuing Nazgul,


they are confused by the hostile wood and eventually brought to the bank of the Withywindle, where Old Man Willow


sings a spell:

“They shut their eyes, and then it seemed that they could almost hear words, cool words, saying something about water and sleep.  They gave themselves up to the spell and fell fast asleep at the foot of the great grey willow.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 6, “The Old Forest”)

This was more than just a sleepy-spell, however, as the tree attempts to drown Frodo, swallows Pippin, and half-swallows Merry (his upper half).

When Sam and Frodo (whom Sam has rescued) threaten the tree with fire, it threatens to kill Merry and Pippin and it looks like a standoff until Frodo simply runs off, shouting for help, and the very odd figure of Tom Bombadil appears.


He has a very distinctive look—

“there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck to the band…there came into view a man…stumping along with great yellow boots…He had a blue coat and a long brown beard; his eyes were blue and bright, and his face was red as a ripe apple, but creased into a hundred wrinkles of laughter.”

As well, he has distinctive speech and this is where music as cure reappears.  Commonly, Tom’s speech is either actual song or short declarative sentences, which fall into a metrical pattern reminiscent of song:

“What’s the matter here then?  Do you know who I am?  I’m Tom Bombadil.  Tell me what’s your trouble!”

DUM-tee-DUM-tee-DUM-DUM.  DUM-tee-DUM-tee-DUM-DUM.  DUM-DUM-DUM-tee-DUM.  DUM-tee-DUM-tee-DUM-DUM.

He shows no fear of the fearsome willow, breaking off one of its branches and smacking the tree with it while employing this characteristic chanting—

“You let them out again, Old Man Willow!…What be you a-thinking of?  You should not be waking.  Eat earth!  Dig deep!  Drink water!  Go to sleep!  Bombadil is talking!”

Who this figure is, is only ever explained in the vaguest way.  His companion, Goldberry,


says of him simply, “Tom Bombadil is master.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil”)  And, when he receives the Ring from Frodo, even when he puts it on, it has no effect upon him.


As a character in the book, he has proved awkward both for audio adapters and P Jackson and his writers, virtually all of whom have tended, over the years, simply to leave him out of their versions of the story.  This leaves a gap, of course, especially when it comes to Tom’s second rescue of the hobbits, from a barrow-wight (illustration by one of our favorite Tolkien artists, Ted Nasmith),


not only because it’s a wonderfully spooky part of the story, but because Tom ransacks the barrow and gives the hobbits short swords “forged long years ago by Men of Westernesse:  they were foes of the Dark Lord, but they were overcome by the evil king of Carn Dum in the Land of Angmar”” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 8, “Fog on the Barrow-Downs”).   With one of these swords, because of where and when it’s from, Merry is able to wound the chief of the Nazgul who is, in fact, that evil king of Angmar mentioned by Tom Bombadil, allowing Eowyn to finish him off.

Tolkien himself was less than concrete in his explanation of Tom, writing to Naomi Mitchison in April, 1954:

“Tom Bombadil is not an important person—to the narrative.  I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’.  I mean, I do not really write like that:  he is just an invention (who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933 [1934]), and represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely.” (Letters, 178)

Considering our theme of melancholy and, later, death, associated with willows, as well as the Elizabethan idea that music might cure or at least ameliorate that melancholy, our feeling is that Tom, in the first book of The Lord of the Rings, is a counterbalance, with his singing and chanting, to all of the darkness we’re gradually being shown.  As JRRT says in that same paragraph to Naomi Mitchison:

“I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function.  I might put it this way.  The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side…”

Tom, then, in our view, is not only on the good side, but the antidote to the bad, twice, dealing not only with a living tree, but with a dead and murderous wight.  In both cases, he uses song, making him rather like an Elizabethan cure for the melancholy associated with willows—and, in the 19th-century, willows associated with death–brought to life.  It’s no wonder that, when Sauron is defeated and Middle-earth is beginning to heal, Gandalf tells the hobbits:

“…I am turning aside soon.  I am going to have a long talk with Bombadil:  such a talk as I have not had in all my time.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 7, “Homeward Bound”)

For Gandalf, Tom is the humors back in balance.

As ever, thanks for reading and




For another willow, you might try George Lucas’ fantasy film, Willow (1988).  It has a complicated plot, all about an abducted infant who will fulfill a prophecy, a valiant dwarf, white and black magic, and a rather ragged warrior.  Here’s the LINK for the first trailer (there’s a second, as well).

Although not quite, for us, of the same level as The Princess Bride, being perhaps more like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal or Time Bandits, like all of those, it has its moments of fun.



Never a Willow


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As always, dear readers, welcome.

In our last posting, although we were talking about 18th-century highwaymen, somehow—we blame the “Dennis Moore” sketch—


we included mention of a willow.



In Anglo-American culture, the willow has long suggested melancholy, perhaps being somehow linked with Psalm 137, which laments the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586BC and the so-called “Babylonian captivity” of the Israelites?

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Under all of that heavy-handed Babylonian mockery is the simple fact that willows are water-lovers, so it would be natural that they would grow near the Euphrates and Tigris, the two major rivers of Babylon.


If the Israelites are no longer singing, we would guess that parking their harps on the willows would be as good a place as any.  Certainly medieval manuscript illustrators had no trouble envisioning it.  This is from the 9th-century Chludov Psaltery (a collection of psalms).


“Melancholy”, medieval/Renaissance people believed,


came from an imbalance of the four “humours” which ran the body and its emotions and people in Shakespeare’s day and beyond appear to have so suffered from it that they consulted a famous and popular text, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up.  That this was a pressing matter for the people of this age is clear from the length of the first edition of 1621—it’s nearly 900 pages—and later editions, which appeared within the next few years, were even longer.  This is the frontispiece of the 1638 edition–


A common treatment for the problem (too much black bile in the system—the “melan-“ part is Greek for “black”—the “-choly” is the “choler”, or bile) was to listen to music, but clearly not all music was soothing, as we see in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1599-1601) , where Hamlet’s girlfriend, Ophelia, goes mad and spends her time drifting around the castle singing bits of unhappy songs and handing out flowers with significant meanings.  As music can be involved with melancholy, so, as we said, can willows and the two come together when Ophelia trusts a willow–

“There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”  (Hamlet, Act IV, Sc 7)


(This is a painting by JE Millais, 1851/2.  That “dead men’s fingers” should have been enough, we think!)

The melancholy continues in Shakspeare’s Othello (1604), Act IV, Scene 3, where the soon-to-be-murdered-by-the-title-character Desdemona sings a sad little song, beginning:

“The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,(45)
Sing willow, willow, willow.
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans;
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones”—

(It seems like this posting can’t escape including even more trees.  Sycamores are another water-loving tree,


but the emphasis here is upon that willow and we’ll stick with it.)

Perhaps it’s the slumping shape, which might suggest despair, or at least grief, but the willow began to appear on tombstones here in the US at the beginning of the 19th century, sometimes by itself,


sometimes shading other symbols of mourning, like an urn.


It could appear in other funerary art, as well—as in pictures


and even as part of another funerary—and life—custom of the time, the giving/exchanging of locks of hair.  In this mourning brooch, one can see a willow made from such a lock.


With such a grim history, it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a willow familiar to readers of The Lord of the Rings might have a sinister purpose.


He’s not alone in being hostile foliage.  As Merry tells Frodo, Sam, and Pippin:

“But the Forest is queer.  Everything in it is very much more alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than things are in the Shire.  And the trees do not like strangers.  They watch you.  They are usually content merely to watch you, as long as daylight lasts, and don’t do much.  Occasionally the most unfriendly ones may drop a branch, or stick a root out, or grasp at you with a long trailer.  But at night things can be most alarming…  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 6, “The Old Forest”)

Their journey through the Forest, intended to put some space between them and the danger of the Nazgul, provides its own dangers, as the place seems to move about of its own accord, confusing travelers—or worse:

“Suddenly Frodo himself felt sleep overwhelming him.  His head swam.  There now seemed hardly a sound in the air.  The flies had stopped buzzing.  Only a gentle noise on the edge of hearing, a soft fluttering as of a song half whispered, seemed to stir in the boughs above.  He lifted his heavy eyes and saw leaning over him a huge willow-tree, old and hoary.  Enormous it looked, its sprawling branches going up like reaching arms with many long-fingered hands, its knotted and twisted trunk gaping in wide fissures that creaked faintly as the boughs moved…”

We are a far cry from Monty Python here.  The willow then tries to drown Frodo, swallows Pippin completely, and the upper half of Merry, and, were it not for the appearance of perhaps the oddest character in The Lord of the Rings, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened next.


What will happen in our next posting, however, you will see next week (hint:  the posting is entitled, “Never This Willow”).  In the meantime,

Thanks, as always, for reading and




To treat any melancholy you might feel from reading this posting, please see below for a very merry Elizabethan song ably performed by the Baltimore Consort.



And here’s a LINK to a set of lyrics c. 1590 so that you can follow along.  You’ll notice that it includes melancholy, trees, and music, all in one.



Further Crime


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After our last posting, where we were in southeast England with 18th-century smugglers, we’ve found ourselves traveling inland, but still on the same theme:  interesting evil-doers.

Dr. Syn, aka “The Scarecrow”


was a fictional character created in 1915 by Russell Thorndike,


but based upon actual smuggling gangs who worked along the coast of the area called Kent.



Such people robbed the government of revenue, removing goods which would have been taxed, sometimes heavily, at legitimate ports of entry.  Our next 17th-18th-century evil-doers use the more personal approach, behaving in the tradition of Robin Hood,


the difference being that, rather robbing the rich and giving to the poor, highwaymen robbed from the rich—or almost anyone they caught on the public roads—and kept it.  This could mean an individual on foot,


or on horseback,


or in a carriage,


or in a coach.


These men could become quite well-known in life, like Dick Turpin, who had biographies written about him.



Turpin, and a few others, like Claude Duval,


even entered contemporary folklore.  This painting, by William Powell Frith (1819-1909), depicts a piece of what appears to be that very folklore.  The story goes that, once, when he had stopped a coach, Duval offered to reduce the amount taken from the gentleman inside if his pretty wife would dance with him.  She did so, and Duval did as he offered.

Such behavior, real or no, may have impressed ordinary people, but the law saw highwaymen as a menace and one to be dealt with severely.  Any one caught was tried and quickly sentenced to be hanged.  If taken in the London area, the execution was done at a standard execution place, Tyburn.


This engraving is by William Hogarth (1697-1764), a famous artist and caricaturist of the first half of the 18th-century.  It’s from a series entitled, “Industry and Idleness” (1747) and you can see who is about to suffer from the sheet of paper held in the hand of the woman in the foreground.  It reads:  “The Last Dying Speech and Confession of the Idle [Apprentice]”.

People in other times, from Roman gladiatorial combat to Elizabethan bear-baiting, had very different ideas from most contemporary folk when it came to open violence as spectacle.  Here, we see, as was common in England at this time, a huge crowd all gathered to witness the Idle Apprentice’s death.  (Public executions were only abolished in Great Britain in 1868.)

One can see part of the entertainment in what that woman is holding.  A common souvenir of the event was a printed broadsheet, with a title like “Trial, Last Words, and True Confession of…”, which purported to be the dying statement of the person about to be executed.


Often these began with a generic woodcut of a hanging and might also contain other illustrations, like the one below, from 1835.


Once the execution was over, the punishment was not.  The executed person’s corpse (we think that this was only males) might be displayed publicly in a kind of iron cage on a frame, called a gibbet, sometimes till the body had crumbled away.


Or, worse, it might be turned over to a medical school and used for instructional purposes.


(This is from another Hogarth series, “The Four Stages of Cruelty”, 1751.  The skeleton in the background, on the right, is labeled, “MacLeane”, who was a highwayman hanged in 1750.)

We had first learned about highwaymen from a famous poem, “The Highwayman”, by Alfred Noyes (1880-1958).


The Highwayman

Here’s a LINK so that you can read it for yourself.

But, because we can’t end on a grim note, there’s one more highwayman we want to mention.  This is Monty Python’s John Cleese, playing the highwayman Dennis Moore.  Moore doesn’t take money from his victims in the sketch.  Instead, he robs the “Lupine Express”.


Lupines are an edible flower and, as you can see, at least the dwarf variety comes in multiple colo(u)rs.


We can’t show you the sketch, unfortunately, but we can give you the LINK to the audio recording, in which there is not only the robbery, but also a good deal of discussion about tree identification, with argument over a willow…


Considering penal laws in 18th-century England, where over 200 crimes were punishable by death, we don’t imagine that even a flower thief would have escaped the gallows, even if he did give the lupines to the deserving poor


Thanks, as ever, for reading—and, if attacked by highwaymen, try to be as well-armed as these people clearly were—


And thanks, as ever, for reading.




And how about a highwayman music video featuring Dick Turpin, brought to you courtesy of Horrible Histories?  Here’s the LINK.




Smugglers, or Pub Crawl 2


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

In our last, we were talking about inns and pubs, both in Middle-earth and in 1930s Oxford and we thought we had finished with the subject until there arrived in the mail/post a book from our good friend, Michael, in England.


Pubs anywhere are, we believe, immediately understandable, but why Kent and smugglers?

Since the royal government, under King John at the beginning of the 1200s, had begun to tax exports and imports, the best way around those taxes was either to smuggle or to deal, at some level, with smugglers.

Although such dealings had gone on for centuries, it appears that things intensified by the late 17th century and France was the reason.

From the late 17th-century, throughout the 18th century, and into the early 19th, England was at war with France, on land and sea.  In governmental terms, this meant that this warfare went through the reigns of Louis XIV,


Louis XV,



Louis XVI,



the French Revolution and its multiple governments,


and Napoleon.


In English terms, this meant William and Mary, Anne, and Georges I, II, and III, basically from 1690 to 1815.

During each one of those wars, there were laws in England about the importation of goods from the enemy.  That being the case, if those with the money to pay for such things wanted prohibited goods, they would have to rely upon the same smuggling used in peacetime, which they did.

Although the south coast of England in general had its smugglers, a map will show us why Kent would have been a very good place for such smuggling to go on.


As you can see, Dover, here, is only about 25 miles from the coast of France—a very easy trip and one not requiring large merchant ships to do it.


Smaller local boats, called luggers, could do the job and were also handy for offloading goods from larger English or foreign vessels, as well.


The government, seeing not only its laws violated, but revenue lost to the treasury from all the taxes not collected, tried to stop smuggling, using the navy


and occasional army units.


Success was very uncertain, however, as the officers of the law and their assistants were usually vastly outnumbered by the locals, whether smugglers or the many people in the area somehow complicit in smuggling operations.  Because pubs were social meeting places, they were obviously useful as headquarters for smugglers.

In 1915, Russell Thorndike (1885-1972),



an English actor and writer, published the first of a series of books about the adventures of a leader of one gang of smugglers, “Dr Syn”, in Doctor Syn, A Smuggling Tale of the Romney March.


(If you’d like to read a first edition, here’s a LINK.)

“Dr. Syn” looks like an easy joke on “sin”, but it may also be inspired by a figure from early-19th-century English comic literature, “Dr. Syntax”, a clergyman whose rhymed adventures, began with The Tour of Dr. Syntax:  In Search of the Picturesque, published in 1812 and written by William Combe.



The smuggler, “Dr. Syn” is actually a retired pirate, named Clegg, who masquerades as an Anglican priest, which is what “Dr. Syntax” actually is.  As well, we might imagine that “Dr. Syn” the smuggler, finds it a sin to pay the import taxes the government charges and has therefore joined the local smugglers.

If Clegg is masquerading as a clergyman by day, by night he takes on another mask:  as the leader of the gang which is based in Dymchurch, he becomes “The Scarecrow”.  Dymchurch is at the edge of Romney Marsh.  Here’s a map of the Marsh to give you an idea of its location and extent.


And, to give you an idea of the Marsh itself, here’s an image of a church on the Marsh, St. Thomas a Becket, which was originally in the village of Fairfield.  The village has disappeared, but the church remains.  (You can see it depicted on the left-hand side of the map of the Marsh.)


Thorndike’s character has appeared several times in films, the first time in 1937, where Dr. Syn was played by a famous character actor of the time, George Arliss.



If you would like to see this film, here are two links.  The first LINK is to the Internet Archive version.

The second LINK is to that on YouTube.

In 1963, the Walt Disney studio released their own version, Dr. Syn,


starring Patrick McGoohan as “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” and we think he’s pretty creepy in his mask.



Both movies are worth seeing, the Disney, in color, is full of Marsh and red coated dragoons, but the earlier film has a Dr. Syn who has the original pirate just below the surface—not so much hero, perhaps, as trickster.

But, you may be asking by this point, what about the pub?  To which we answer, here it is—the Ship Inn, in Dymchurch, headquarters for “The Scarecrow” and his gang.


And, right across the way, is the Church of St Peter and St Paul, where, in his other disguise, the ex-pirate, Clegg, appeared each Sunday as “Dr. Syn”.


Thanks, as ever, for reading and




Pub Crawl


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As ever, dear readers, welcome.

After a very disturbing evening with a group of vengeful and determined dwarves,


Bilbo wakes to a wreck of breakfast dishes and, soon after, the appearance of Gandalf, who prompts him to see that he has a note from Thorin (& Co.).  It makes an appointment for 11am that morning at the Green Dragon Inn, in Bywater.


With Gandalf harrying him, Bilbo barely makes it, but, a moment later, the journey eastward of The Hobbit begins.

It is ironic, of course, that a trip which focuses upon removing a dragon


should commence with a place named after one, but, judging by the number of Green Dragon pubs in Britain one might find by googling right now, it may be nothing more than a common name—





although, as Douglas Anderson points out in The Annotated Hobbit, 61, we know that JRRT had been interested in dragons, especially green ones, from childhood, as he wrote to WH Auden:

“I first tried to write a story when I was about seven.  It was about a dragon.  I remember nothing about it except a philological fact.  My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out out one could not say ‘a green great dragon,’ but had to say, ‘a great green dragon.’  I wondered why, and still do.” (Letters, 214, 7 June, 1955)

The countryside east of the Shire and the story itself are empty of pubs (short for “public houses”, originally meaning simply a place open to the general public, but, in time, it came to mean a place licensed by the government to sell alcoholic beverages) after this, but, until we reach Bree, there are a certain number mentioned in The Lord of the Rings.  We meet the first, The Ivy Bush, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “An Unexpected Party”, where we see a group of hobbits gossiping about Bilbo and Frodo.  In the next chapter,  “The Shadow of the Past”, The Green Dragon makes its second appearance in Tolkien when Sam Gamgee has a verbal tussle with Ted Sandyman on the subject of things seen and unseen, as well as on the sanity, or lack of it, of Bilbo and Frodo, there.

The Ivy Bush will only appear once more, linked with The Green Dragon, in the succeeding chapter, “Three Is Company”, but we will see The Green Dragon (mentioned by Sam in hopes that The Prancing Pony in Bree will measure up to it in Chapter 8, “Fog on the Barrow-Downs”) close to the end of The Lord of the Rings.  In The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”, it appears as an emblem of the endless ruin by Sharkey and gang of the old ways of the Shire:  “When they reached The Green Dragon, the last house on the Hobbiton side [of the Water], now lifeless and with broken windows…”

This is in great contrast to The Prancing Pony Sam worried about earlier


as we see it in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 9, “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony”.  At first, the place seems menacing, especially to Sam, who:

“…stared up at the inn with its three storeys and many windows, and felt his heart sink.”

But then—

“As they [the hobbits] hesitated outside in the gloom, someone began singing a merry song inside, and many cheerful voices joined loudly in the chorus.  They listened to this encouraging sound for a moment and then got off their ponies.  The song ended and there was a burst of laughter and clapping.”

Pubs, and their upscale cousins, inns, would have been vital to people traveling before motels, hotels, and b&bs, as we can see in Book One of The Fellowship, and, for most of the rest of the novel, with the exceptions of Rivendell, Lorien, Edoras, and Minas Tirith, accommodation for the night would have meant a blanket on the ground.  For Tolkien and his friends in the writers’ group called The Inklings,


they were vital meeting points—not for the reading of new work, which appears to have been done in one member, C.S. Lewis’, rooms at Oxford,


but for socializing and discussion, which was equally important for such a group of intelligent, educated, and highly-creative men.  (No women, alas!  One of our favorite mystery novelists and Dante-translator, Dorothy Sayers, 1893-1957, was friends with several members but, with the short-sightedness of the 1930s-50s, was never invited to join.)


They met during the week not only at the best-known of their watering holes, the Eagle and Child,


but at The Mitre,


The King’s Arms,


and at The White Horse.


The one which caught our eye in particular is the first, which, as we said, is probably the one most closely associated with Tolkien and his friends.  Here’s its sign—


The explanation of the pub’s name is, to us, a bit murky, supposedly coming from an element of the crest of the Stanley family which portrays an infant stolen by an eagle,


but found alive and unharmed.  (Here’s a LINK so that you can judge for yourself.)

For ourselves, the idea of a child stolen by a raptor makes us think of a really awful 19th-century song, “The Vulture of the Alps”, a poem set to music about 1842 by a famous American vocal group of the 1840s-1870s, the Hutchinson Family Singers.  The title pretty much says it all.


If you’d like to know more, here’s a LINK.

When we think of eagles and Tolkien, however, we remember them as rescuers—of Gandalf, the dwarves, and Bilbo from the goblins and Wargs


and as providers of air assault in The Hobbit.


And, in The Lord of the Rings, rescuer of Gandalf from Saruman,



as allies of the West at the battle at the Morannon,


and as saviors of Frodo and Sam on Mt Doom.


And it may be a crazy idea, but it makes us wonder—although Tolkien had abandoned The Hobbit unfinished in the early 1930s, he had picked it up again in 1936, just about the time the Inklings were meeting regularly (the first documented mention of them, apparently, is in a 1936 letter from CS Lewis to the novelist, Charles Williams, inviting him to join—see The Collected Letters of CS Lewis, Vol.2, 183—in a letter to William Luther White 9/11/67, JRRT dates the origins of the Inklings as “probably mid-thirties”—Letters, 387).  Could he have found his inspiration for these heroic birds and their habit of picking people up from the name of his pub?

As ever, thanks for reading.




If you haven’t read CS Lewis’ wonderful essay, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”, here’s a LINK.


We have no illustration of Tolkien’s Green Dragon, but here’s a Tudor example from Wymondham in Norfolk which we think would do quite well.


Orc Logistics


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

In August, 1914, as the German army was pushing through Belgium


in its attempt to sweep to the west of Paris and drive the French armies


eastwards towards the Germans waiting for them there (the so-called Schlieffen Plan),


they were met by the small (70,000 man) BEF, British Expeditionary Force,


a few miles north of the Franco-Belgian border, near the town of Mons, where the British fought a delaying action.


The Germans were in such strength that the British were forced to pull back, retreating southward with the Germans pursuing so closely that the commander of one half of the British army (2nd Corps), Horace Smith-Dorrien,


decided that it was necessary to fight a second delaying action, at Le Cateau.


A major reason to do so was not just that the German pursuit was so close, but that it was necessary to protect the trains.  This doesn’t mean the railways, but the endless lines of wagons


which carried all the food and ammunition for the soldiers and stretched for miles behind them..


It was also primarily horse-drawn and, on narrow roads, mostly unpaved, the trains moved very slowly, which was a major reason why armies in earlier centuries rarely ever campaigned during winter.


This was a problem, all the way back to the Romans.  In the 2nd century BC, the Roman general, Marius, in an attempt to do away with as much of a baggage train as he could,


ordered his men to carry as much of their equipment as possible, thus cutting down on baggage wagons and pack animals.  His men were less than pleased at being so loaded down and began to call themselves “Marius’ mules”.


In the late 18th to early 19th century, when French revolutionary armies swelled beyond the ability to pay to supply them, the order was to travel lightly and to live off the land.  This may have reduced baggage—and even, perhaps, speeded up movement—but it made local people very hostile to the French and, in Spain, the response was to ambush the French whenever possible, which is where the word “guerilla” (originally meaning “little war”) comes from.



This could happen, particularly to Union supply trains,


during the American Civil War.


So, such trains were utterly necessary—if a large army had to cross miles of territory and perhaps fight on the way, they would need everything a train could carry.  At the same time, trains could be both vulnerable and thus draw off numbers of soldiers to protect them when such soldiers might be better employed on the battlefield, as well as cumbersome, because they were slow-moving, forcing armies to march at their speed (and in dry summer weather, the dust they raised could give away the direction of an army’s movements).


In The Lord of the Rings, we see two invasions:  that which attacks Helm’s Deep


and that which attacks Minas Tirith.


The mass of invaders is vividly described:

“For a staring moment the watchers on the walls saw all the space between them and Dike lit with white light:  it was boiling and crawling with black shapes, some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and sable shields.  Hundreds and hundreds more were pouring over the Dike and through the breach.”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 7, “Helm’s Deep”)

“The numbers that had already passed over the River could not be guessed in the darkness, but when morning, or its dim shadow, stole over the plain, it was seen that even fear by night had scarcely over-counted them.  The plain was dark with their marching companies, and as far as eyes could strain in the mirk there sprouted, like a foul fungus-growth, all about the beleaguered city great camps of tents, blac or somber red.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 4, “The Siege of Gondor”)

And yet there is no hint of what will supply them in their assaults and beyond.  We could argue, of course, that, as in so many things, JRRT is interested in the movement of his narrative and its effects:  masses of orcs are much more menacing than long lines of wagons, and we’re sure that this is actually the case, but there is another possibility.  The Great War began in Belgium as a war of movement, huge armies attempting to outflank and block each other like chess players.  For better or worse, those armies needed such baggage trains, as we’ve said.  By the time Tolkien had arrived at the Western Front, in mid-1916, the war had become static, as if both sides had dug trenches and were besieging each other.



Supply was clearly still necessary, but it was a complex combination of ports and ships and railway lines and wagons and mules and even human mules, close to the front.


In a way, the whole business of supply had begun to look like just that:  a business, like importing bananas from the Caribbean, having them arrive in London, then passing them on by train to cities and towns across Britain.


So, instead of being part of long marching columns,image23marching.jpg

their even longer lines of wagons lagging behind, Second Lieutenant Tolkien would have seen long lines of men and animals, lugging endless boxes and cans and bundles—



necessary for war, but hardly dramatic, and so best left to the imagination of certain readers, those who can never see a battle without wondering, “When it’s time for lunch, who feeds all of those soldiers—or orcs (and never mind what certain people might eat)?”


As always, thanks for reading and



Dragon Economics 101


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Here is a postcard of the town of Ypres, in southern Belgium, in the years before the Great War, with its famous Cloth Hall and cathedral.


The Cloth Hall was begun in 1200 and finished in 1304, being a center of the woolen trade in the region.


The cathedral was begun in 1230 and finished in 1370.


Then the Great War began and Ypres was just behind Allied lines.


Artillery had begun in the Middle Ages, as something which looks like a high school science experiment (plus armor).


By 1914, it was much bigger and much more efficient.


(The German says, “Our Growlers!”—perhaps a soldier’s slang word for heavy howitzers like these?)

And, as the war progressed, bigger and more efficient yet.


And even more so—to the point where some guns became so big and heavy that only railways could move them around.


Needless to say, when shells from such guns hit Ypres, the damage they caused was enormous.




And not only to Ypres, but to the whole region—entire villages disappeared, as did forests, landscapes became moonscapes.


For some months in 1916, Second Lieutenant Tolkien walked through, lived through, this devastated world,


which took many years to be repaired.


And, in the meantime, the economies of Europe suffered, with so much damaged or shifted to war work, and governments left with enormous debts, both the victors and the vanquished.

This devastation made us think about another devastation, first described by Thorin in Chapter One of The Hobbit, and, of course we wondered if JRRT thought of the damage caused by the endless, pitiless bombardments as he wrote about the ruin brought by a dragon.

Thorin begins, as we did at the opening of this posting, showing a peaceful, prosperous world:

“Altogether those were good days for us, and the poorest of us had money to spend and to lend, and leisure to make beautiful things just for the fun of it, not to speak of the most marvellous and magical toys, the like of which is not to be found in the world now-a-days.  So my grandfather’s halls became full of armour and jewels and carvings and cups, and the toy market of Dale was the wonder of the North.”

But, just as the Great War came to the ridges north of Ypres, so Smaug came down upon the town of Dale just below the Lonely Mountain and to the Mountain, as well:

“Then he came down the slopes and when he reached the woods they all went up in fire.  By that time all the bells were ringing in Dale and the warriors were arming.  The dwarves rushed out of their great gate; but there was the dragon waiting for them.  None escaped that way.  The river rushed up in steam and a fog fell on Dale, and in the fog the dragon came on them and destroyed most of the warriors…Then he went back and crept in through the Front Gate and routed out all the halls, and lanes, and tunnels, alleys, cellars, mansions and passages…Later he used to crawl out of the great gate and come by night to Dale, and carry away people, especially maidens, to eat, until Dale was ruined and all the people dead or gone.  What goes on there now I don’t know for certain, but I don’t suppose any one lives nearer the Mountain than the far edge of the Long Lake now-a-days.”


Thorin is correct about this:  Dale is ruined and abandoned (you can see the remains of the town on the right hand side of this illustration) and the Mountain has only one inhabitant.


When Bilbo disturbs him and steals a cup, Smaug goes on a second rampage, flying as far south as Lake-town:

“Fire leaped from the dragon’s jaws.  He circled for a while high in the air above them lighting all the lake…Fire leaped from the thatched roofs and wooden beam-ends as he hurtled down and past and round again…Flames unquenchable sprang high into the night. “  (The Hobbit, Chapter Fourteen, “Fire and Water”)


And, even when Bard’s arrow brings him down, Smaug causes a final wave of destruction:

“Full on the town he fell.  His last throes splintered it to sparks and gledes.  The lake roared in.  A vast steam leaped up, white in the sudden dark under the moon.  There was a hiss, a gushing whirl, and then silence.  And that was the end of Smaug and Esgaroth…”

Just as certain parts of Europe were destroyed and their economies stunted by the Great War, we can hear, in Thorin’s words, that the same has happened to Dale and the Lonely Mountain:  with no dwarves and no men to make the “armour and jewels and carvings and cups”, not to mention the “most marvellous and magical toys”, the whole economy of the area to the north of the Long Lake was completely destroyed.  Survivors built up Lake-town, but no one dared to revive the trade which had once enriched an entire region.


And, as for the few remaining dwarves:

“After that we went away, and we have had to earn our livings as best we could up and down the lands, often sinking as low as black-smith-work or even coal-mining.” says Thorin.

Although Thorin dies in the struggle to regain what was lost, there is a happy ending of sorts for the dwarves.  With Smaug dead, they can finally return, as can men, and rebuild, just as Europe began to rebuild—Ypres restored both Cloth Hall and cathedral in time.




But the dragon would return and all too soon…

Thanks, as always, for reading and



Out of Touch


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

Recently, we were charging our cell/mobile phone and completely forgot it when we walked out of the house.



We were down the road when we realized it and the thought came to us:  how times have changed!  Before people could carry their little, flat phones in their pockets, away from home, if you had an emergency, you looked for a pay phone/call box.



When JRRT was born, in 1893, the main forms of long-distance communication were the post


and the telegram—brought to your house by a specially-uniformed messenger.


The telephone had been invented in 1875, but was still far from common–


London’s first telephone directory, issued in 1880, listed about 300 customers in a city of 5,000,000 and, when the first actual phone book arrived, in 1896, it had 81,000 numbers for the whole of Britain, with a population of perhaps 30,000,000.  (To give you a literary example, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1896 and, although telegrams are common in the book, no one ever mentions or uses a telephone.)

When Second Lieutenant Tolkien


became his battalion’s signals officer in 1916, there were, in fact, a surprising number of forms of communication available, although most of them would not have ever appeared in civilian form.

There was the telephone, which, with its miles of wire, could be extremely vulnerable to enemy shellfire.



There was what would be called “wireless telegraphy”, an early form of radio, but not very dependable.



There was actual telegraphy which, again, used miles of wire.


There was the military post—mostly used not to transmit orders, but to maintain contact with home.



And then there were the more specifically military methods.  At the most basic, there was the runner.


Then there was the motorcycle messenger,


the signal lamp,


and even the semaphore.


Beyond the human, there were the messenger dog,


and the messenger pigeon.


So, we asked ourselves, what were Tolkien’s Middle-earth equivalents?  First of all, we see Bilbo in Chapter One of The Hobbit, reading his morning’s mail when Gandalf appears.


This is expanded upon in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, where we hear about the post as being one of the few actual public services in the Shire.  (Here’s someone’s wonderful creation of a postal map of the Shire, complete with regional divisions.)


This service clearly doesn’t extend beyond the Shire as Gandalf is forced to leave a letter for Frodo at The Prancing Pony


in Bree, to be given to the first person going westwards.  The innkeeper, Butterbur, completely forgets it, with serious consequences.

Because this is a pre-industrial world, none of the electronic means would be available, of course.  Gondor used mounted messengers, as two are discovered ambushed by the Rohirrim on the road to the Rammas Echor (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 5,“The Ride of the Rohirrim”).


(This image is, of course, from the Bayeux Tapestry, the caption saying “Nuntii Wilielmi”, “William’s Messengers”, but the only illustrations of Gondorian mounted men we’ve found are all heavily-armored, something you wouldn’t expect a courier to be, so we’re suggesting this possibility, instead.)

A second method is by the chain of beacon fires along the mountains to the west of Gondor.


As for their opponents, we suppose that one might imagine the Nazgul as the airborne equivalent of mounted messengers, since they seem, when not pursuing Frodo and leading attacks on Gondor, to be couriers for Sauron.


Sauron’s main communication device, however, appears to be the palantir, whereby he controls the actions of Saruman and, to a degree, of Denethor, the Steward.



It’s rather surprising, we suppose, that Gandalf, who is powerful enough to deal with a palantir (although it’s Aragorn who is its rightful owner), can be so easily trapped by Saruman and left on top of Orthanc, completely isolated when he is so needed in the north.


In P. Jackson’s film, he uses what looks like a fancy moth to call for help,


which appears in the form of one of those eagles, so conveniently available when someone really gets into trouble (Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves in The Hobbit, as well as dwarves, elves, and men vs goblins and Wargs, Frodo and Sam on the edge of Mt Doom in The Return of the King).  Suppose, instead, if Gandalf had reached into this robe and pulled out his cell phone–


which he would never have left behind after charging it…

Thanks for reading and




A Tale of Two Swords


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So we were reading this really interesting book, Christopher Tyerman’sngcce How to Plan a Crusade, when, on pages 244-5, we came across this:  “While Louis prayed to the relics of the Passion, Richard had carried the sword Excalibur.”  And we said, “What?  Excalibur?”

Welcome, as always, dear readers.  In this post, we want to talk a bit about two historic—or mythical– swords, inspired, as we were, by that reference and by two kings involved with them.

The “Louis” in the passage above is Louis IX (1214-1270) of France,


aka St Louis, a saint of both the Catholic and Anglican churches, who led several crusades in the mid-13th century, but not very successfully, being taken prisoner during the first (1250) and dying of a fever during the second (1270).

The “Richard” is Richard I of England (1157-1199), also called “Lionheart”.


He was also a crusader, having been one of the dominant figures in the earlier Third Crusade (1189-1192).


But how do we know that Richard had “Excalibur”?  And how did he acquire it?

We begin with the passage from a contemporary of Richard’s, Roger of Howden (?-1201?), who has left us a history known as Gesta Henrici II et Gesta Regis Ricardi, “The Deeds/Acts of Henry II and the Deeds/Acts of King Richard”.  This begins in the 8th century and covers the period up to 1201, which is presumed to be the year of Roger’s death.  Roger went on the Third Crusade with Richard, although he left it early.  He either observed or heard about this event, which took place in 1191:

“Et contra rex Angliae dedit regi Tancredo gladium illum optimum quem Britones Caliburne[m?] vocant qui fuerat gladius Arthuri quondam nobilis regis Angliae.”

“And, in return, the King of England gave to King Tancred that best of swords, which the Britons call ‘Calibern’, which had been the sword of Arthur, the one-time noble king of England.”

(The Latin text comes from page 392 of a collection of earlier English historians, entitled “Rerum Anglicarum Scriptores Post Bedam Praecipui”,–something like, “Writers of/on English Affairs in Particular After Bede”–which was published in London in 1596).

“King Tancred” (1138-1194) was the Norman ruler of Sicily from 1189-1194, just when Richard and his fellow Crusaders had reached that part of the world on their way eastward.


Tancred gave Richard a number of ships to help with transport and we might suppose that this was part of a reciprocal process.  Remarkably for this early time, we have what appears to be concrete evidence not only that King Arthur was a well-known figure in southern Italy, but perhaps known to Tancred himself.

Tancred had been born in 1138 in Lecce (on the right-hand side of the map, just inland)


and just a few miles south is Otranto, with its cathedral (below Lecce on the map).


The main floor of that cathedral is covered by an enormous mosaic, installed between 1163 and 1165.



In that mosaic is a figure labeled “Rex Arturus”.


We’ve answered our first question, sort of:  “How do we know that Richard had Excalibur?”  But, again, how did he acquire it?  Unfortunately, the only reference to Richard and the sword is the one we’ve quoted.

One thought, however.  About 1191, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey


excavated a grave which


supposedly included a lead cross which read:

“Hic jacet sepultus inclytus rex Arthurius in insula avallonia cum Wennevereia uxore sua secunda”

“Here lies buried the renowned king Arthurius on the Avalonian island with Guinevere his second wife”

(Latin text from Giraldus Cambrensis, Speculum Ecclesiae, Chapter IX.)

Giraldus himself had been shown this cross by the Abbot, as he tells us.  (For a more complete version of this story, in an English translation, please see this LINK.)

Modern research suggests that this was a fake, intended to boost the fortunes of a fading religious site, badly damaged by fire in 1184, but suppose that, to increase their patronage, the monks had added another level to their sham and “found” a sword, which they had then sent to Richard, who carried it off on his journey to the East.

(For more on the fakery, see, for example, this LINK.)

Louis IX, as we mentioned, died on campaign in 1270.  His son, Philip, was with him at the time, but sailed back to France after his father’s death and was crowned Philip III in 1271.  Our sources are vague here (they don’t always get the year right, for example), but all report that, for the first time, a special sword was used in the coronation ceremony.  This was the so-called “sword of Charlemagne”, named “Joyeuse” (the “happy one”), which is mentioned in the 11th-century Chanson de Roland:

Si ad vestut sun blanc osberc sasfret,
Laciet sun elme, ki est a or gemmet,
Ceinte Joiuse, unches ne fut sa per,
Ki cascun jur muet.XXX. clartez.”

“[Charlemagne] was wearing his fine white coat of mail and his helmet with gold-studded stones; by his side hung Joyeuse, and never was there a sword to match it; its colour changed thirty times a day.”

(The translator for this was not identified at the site and we would make one small change—“clartez” might be better as “sheen/brightness” instead of “colour”.)


This, one of the few remaining pieces of the royal regalia, is, in fact, a mixture of a number of different periods, all the way up to Charles X (reigned 1824-1830), and experts argue over whether it is actually possible to date any part of it as early as Charlemagne’s time (see this LINK for more).

What isn’t questioned is that some version of this sword, at least, was used as part of the crowning ritual of French kings for centuries and its association with Charlemagne was as important for French history as linking something to King Arthur for English.

We haven’t managed to locate any medieval manuscript illustration which depicts a French coronation with the sword in place, but, when it comes to “The Sun King”, that is, Louis XIV, you can see that’s its hanging from his left side.


The same is true for Louis XV


and for that most unwarlike monarch, Louis XVI.


The French Revolution brought the crowning of kings to a halt, of course,


but Napoleon, all too aware both of the past and of his need to establish himself as the legitimate heir to the previous kings, brought it back, as you can see in this really over the top portrait.


When the younger brothers of the executed Louis XVI, Louis XVIII (1755-1824)


and Charles X (1757-1836)


became king successively in 1814 and 1824, one can still see the sword—although apparently Napoleon’s craftsmen had fiddled with it, as did those of Charles.   His successor, Louis Philipe (1773-1850), who belonged to a cousin branch of the royal family, broke the tradition for good and the sword disappeared into history—and the Louvre, where it’s now on display.

And this brings us back to Excalibur.  The tradition is a little murky, but the medieval sources are pretty clear that Excalibur had come from “The Lady of the Lake” and, as Arthur lay, gravely, perhaps fatally wounded, he commanded one of his knights, Griflet or Bedivere, according to the tradition, to return it to the Lady, which he finally, and very reluctantly, did.


With this, Excalibur disappears from the story—until Richard is reported giving it to the king of Sicily and our story—briefly—begins again.

Thanks, as always, for reading and



Water Which?


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Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

Just today, our English friend, Michael, sent us an interesting CD set, “Old English Poems, Prose & Lessons”.  We turned the jewel box over and our eye was immediately caught by #12 of the listings on the back, “Charm Against Waterelf Sickness”.

In Old English, “waterelf sickness” is a compound which can be read two ways:  “waeteraelf-adl” (“water-elf sickness”) or “waeter-aelfadl” (something like “watery elf-sickness”).  Alaric Hall, in his extremely informative dissertation, “The Meaning of Elf, and Elves, in Medieval England” (2005), 116, leans towards the second possibility, but, with our western classical background, we immediately imagined a “water elf” and, from there, we thought of naiads—female water spirits–in fresh water, like streams and pools.  (If you would like a comprehensive listing of all the subvarieties of such spirits, here’s a LINK to an article on the subject.)

Probably the most famous story about such creatures appears in Apollonius of Rhodes’ 3rd-c. BC, Argonautica, the story of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece.


Two of Jason’s crew on the Argo are Heracles (seen here dealing with the Nemean Lion)


and his companion, Hylas (seen here about to get into trouble).


Ancient travel in the Mediterranean often meant coasting, with frequent stops for water, and, in Apollonius’ story, Hylas had gone ashore and found a pool, but was ambushed by a group of naiads, who pulled him under.


(This is John William Waterhouse’s famous 1896 painting of the scene.)

We meet woman waterfolk in much of western folk tradition—and this is excluding those on salt water, including mermaids,


selkies/silkies (who are shape-changers, between seals and humans),


and even sirens.


For fresh water, we had those naiads, but also swan-maidens, often enchanted into water bird forms.


(Here’s a LINK to a whole little collection of stories about such creatures.)

As well, we have the Rhine Maidens,


who, in Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, guard the Rhine gold, deep under the river, but who lose it to the craftsman dwarf, Alberich, with whom they flirted—with evil consequences.


We mentioned mermaids as salt water creatures and, in Hans Christian Andersen’s (1805-1875)


“The Little Mermaid” (1837), we have the story of the mermaid who falls in love with a handsome prince and trades her voice for human form.



(This is the first page of Andersen’s original manuscript.)

There had been an earlier Romantic version of the water spirit and the human (in this case, a knight) in Friedrich de la Motte Fouque’s (1777-1843) novella, Undine (1811).



This, in turn, became an early Romantic opera, Undine (1816), the text by the author, the music by another famous Romantic author, E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822).



The theme which runs through all of these meetings of water spirit and human is the uneasy relationship which seems the only possibility for them, virtually always leading to unhappiness, and this is true of our last water spirit, Rusalka, the subject of an opera, Rusalka, (1901) by the Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)


Like Andersen’s Little Mermaid, the water spirit (“rusalka” can mean “water spirit” in Czech) falls in love with a prince, trading her immortality for human love.


(This is an image of the original Rusalka, Ruzena Maturova.)

If we said “leading to unhappiness” is the usual conclusion to such romances, Rusalka is even worse.  When she is betrayed by the prince, Rusalka becomes a water demon, luring people to their deaths in her pool—a far cry from the happy ending of the Disney movie!


So, what about our charm against waeteraelfadl?  Here’s a translation:

“If a man is in the water elf disease [waeter aelfadle], then the nails of his hand are dark and the eyes teary, and he will look down. Give him this as medicine [laecedome]: everthroat, hassock, the lower part of fane, yewberry, lupin, helenium, marshmallow head, fen mint, dill, lily, attorlathe, pulegium, marrubium, dock, elder, fel terre, wormwood, strawberry leaves, consolde. Soak with ale; add holy water to it. Sing this gealdor over it thrice:

I have bound on the wounds the best of war bandages, so the wounds neither burn nor burst, nor go further, nor spread, nor jump, nor the wounds increase [waco sian?], nor sores deepen. But may he himself keep in a healthy way [halewaege?]. May it not ache you more than it aches earth in ear [eare?].

Sing this many times, “May earth bear on you with all her might and main.” These galdor a man may sing over a wound.”

(translation from Karen Louise Jolly, Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996)

Unfortunately, this looks more like a cure for a skin disease than for an ill-fated affair between water spirit and human!

Thanks, as always, for reading and, also as always,




You can find Alaric Hall’s dissertation (now a book) at:


Child Ballad 113, “The Great Silkie of Sul Skerry” is about the male version of such a creature.  For a haunting performance of this, with a modern tune, sung by Judy Collins (with Tommy Makem on pennywhistle), here’s a LINK.


The most famous aria from Dvorak’s opera is a song sung to the moon by Rusalka, “Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém“, and we find it one of the most beautiful arias we know.  Here’s a LINK so that you can hear it, too.

pppps (we think that this is a record, even for us)

In 1909, the publisher Heinemann released a translation of de la Motte Fouque’s Undine with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.  Here’s a LINK so that you can download it and add it to your library.