, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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



and certainly late medieval people had them and employed them,


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



But the quotation was “like drums and guns”.

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

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

In 1749, George II of England


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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