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If you are a reader/watcher of Shakespeare, you’ll immediately recognize the title, dear readers, as coming from King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4, where a character named Edgar, pretending to be mad, babbles (among other things):

“Child Roland to the dark tower came.

His word was still ‘Fie, foh, and fum,

I smell the blood of a British man.’ “

“Child Roland” belongs to a Scots ballad, “Burd Helen”, first cited in detail in Robert Jamieson’s Illustrations of Northern Antiquities (1814), page 397 and following. (“Burd” is an old Scots term for a young woman.) [If you’d like your own Jamieson, here’s the LINK to obtain a free copy: https://archive.org/details/illustrationsofn00webe]

That “Fie, foh, and fum” may also be familiar to you from the story of Jack the Giant Killer/Jack and the Bean Stalk, which first appeared in Round about our Coal Fire (1734), in “the story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean” on page 45, with the words in a slightly different form:


I smell the Blood of an English-Man;

Whether he be alive or dead,

I’ll grind his Bones to make my Bread.”

[A copy of the whole pamphlet may be had at this LINK: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/98/Round_about_our_Coal_Fire%2C_or%2C_Christmas_Entertainments%2C_4th_edn%2C_1734.pdf]

It wasn’t about Jack or his beanstalk, that we began writing this, however, but about that “dark tower”.

And, when we write that, we think, at once, of the Barad-dur—although not perhaps as the Hildebrandts saw it—image1hild

or Alan Lee


or John Howe


or Ted Nasmith,


as much as we respect their ideas and enjoy their work. It’s interesting to see how Tolkien imagined it.


Oddly, to us, this doesn’t look like anything western, but rather like a Japanese castle, such as Kumamoto, originally built in the 15th century.


There is no long description of Sauron’s fortress in The Lord of the Rings, but there are a few bits here and there–

“The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed, for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

“Then at last his [Sam’s] gaze was held: wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant, he saw it: Barad-dur, Fortress of Sauron.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 10, “The Breaking of the Fellowship”)

“…that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dur, the Dark Tower…” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 8, “The Road to Isengard”)

“…towers and battlements, tall as hills, founded upon a mighty mountain-throne above immeasurable pits; great courts and dungeons, eyeless prisons sheer as cliffs, and gaping gates of steel and adamant…” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 3, “Mount Doom”)

The last description, in particular, with its mention of “towers and battlements, round as hills”, makes us think of medieval fictional castles built on rocks, like Andelkrag, from the stories of Prince Valiant,


or historical castles, like “Dracula’s castle”—actually Bran Castle–in Rumania,


or even the mock-medieval Neuschwanstein, built in the 19th century.


All of these have the “towers and battlements” necessary, suggesting that the Barad-dur may be called “the dark tower”, but is, in fact, like many medieval castles, a conglomeration of towers


and therefore perhaps even Hogwarts might be a candidate for a model.


In one respect, however, we agree with the Hildebrandts’ view.


The Barad-dur is built in what is clearly a volcanic world—rather like this—


so what is it built from? The volcanic area we have some experience of is in northern Arizona, a place called Sunset Crater, the site of a volcanic eruption about 1085AD.


It’s obviously a bit overgrown in comparison with our first image, but in the area are the remains of a number of buildings—ancient buildings from a culture called “Puebloan”—which date from after the eruption and they are made of the local sandstone. The most imposing is this—


Imagine, then, a many-towered castle, with a central tower (perhaps darker than the others, and taller?), built of a ruddy local stone, set on a rocky outcropping in a wide volcanic valley and you have our idea of the Barad-dur. What do you think, dear readers?

Thanks, as always, for reading and





While we were thinking and doing a little looking around about this, we happened on two very different views of that 19th-century castle, Neuschwanstein,



and we suddenly wondered whether it hadn’t been an inspiration for Minas Tirith?



By the way, welcome, dear readers!