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Welcome! In this posting, we plan to talk about the Ring Wraiths (probably in hushed voices).

This entry was initially inspired by looking out the window (and no, we weren’t daydreaming—really!).

There was a harsh call from the sky.

Red-Tailed Hawk Scream (YouTube)

Peering out, we saw the local hawks, who are nesting on a tall building across the road, circling, balancing high on a thermal in that amazing way, something like a kite


combined with the nimbleness of an 18th-c. frigate.


Red-Tailed Hawks Circling (YouTube)

And suddenly we were looking up at something completely different—



In contrast to those very convenient Tolkien eagles, traditionally admired as a fierce and noble bird


the Wraiths appear to be riding a cross between a flying dragon


and a pterodactyl.



Of course, we first encounter the Nazgul on the ground


in their invasion of the Shire and their subsequent pursuit of Frodo.

And here, at the final moment, at the Ford of Bruinen, where the Wraiths are swept away,


perhaps we can catch a glimpse of one of the origins of a very dramatic scene.

The Scots poet, Robert Burns


wrote “Tam O’Shanter” in 1790 and published it the following year.

Tam O’Shanter Poem and Translation

It’s the story in verse of a farmer who stays too late at his local.


Then, on the way home, he is attracted by light in a local abandoned (and, of course, haunted) church


where a witches’ Sabbath is going on.

(c) City of Edinburgh Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Still quite tipsy, he cheers it on and, of course, the witches and other otherworldly creatures are immediately in hot pursuit.

(c) Cutty Sark Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Tam can escape, but only if he can reach the nearby river Doon and cross its bridge.


He just manages to do this, but his poor horse, Meg, loses her tail.


If this plot has a familiar ring, it’s because the American author, Washington Irving,

Portrait of Washington Irving

used the poem as a major source for his short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (published in 1820). We begin with a very different story: in 1790, a poor schoolmaster with the poetic name of Ichabod Crane comes to the Hudson River valley town of Sleepy Hollow and, in the course of his stay, becomes such an annoyance to the local bravo, that he uses the local legend of a headless horseman to frighten Crane off.


To do this, he convinces Crane that, should he be pursued by such a creature, he can only escape it by crossing running water. (And here we can see the strong influence of Burns.) In the subsequent narrative, as the horseman, the bravo chases Crane to a bridge, and there the story stops. Crane disappears, never to be seen in Sleepy Hollow again. Irving_Sleepy 


Unfortunately, neither the Carpenter letters nor the Hammond/Scull volumes provides any reference to Burns or Irving, but the idea that crossing the ford might stop the unearthly has, to us, a definite suggestion that, somewhere in the leaf mould, there may have been a tiny acorn of memory…

Thanks, as ever, for reading!




You might know “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” from this–