Welcome, dear readers, as always.
This posting is an example of…fan-tasy fiction, I’d guess. I’ve always thought that it was good for people to admire a writer so much that they wanted to write in her/his style, or use her/his characters in a new adventure. On the one hand, it can help in the development of a writer’s own style, and, on the other, it can, perhaps, produce something fresh about people I’ve followed through books. For myself, I would certainly like to know how Eowyn was trained as a shield maiden, for example, or what happened to Long John Silver after he escaped from Treasure Island, or why Sherlock Holmes, in retirement, really took up beekeeping!
It’s becoming real winter here in the northern US, with some snowfall about once a week or so, and, probably from reading too much 19th-century Russian fiction, I always imagine moonlight and wolves at this time of year.
Unfortunately, we don’t actually have local wolves, but we do have coyotes, a pack of which I heard just the other night,
and snow and coyote calls, brought to mind this detail from “The Ring Goes South”:
“No living hobbit (save Bilbo) could remember the Fell Winter of 1311, when white wolves invaded the Shire over the frozen Brandywine.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 3)
So, I thought, the Baranduin can freeze. And, if it can freeze, but there aren’t any white wolves, what might you do with it? Clearly some hobbits thought there was fun to be had there in warmer weather—until it went all wrong, as Gaffer Gamgee tells it:
“And Mr. Drogo was staying at Brandy Hall…and he went out boating on the Brandywine River; and he and his wife were drownded, and poor Mr. Frodo only a child and all.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)
Although the Gaffer’s Hobbiton audience disapproves, it seems that the “queer folk” along the river thought that “messing about in boats”, as Ratty refers to the sport in the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows,
was a perfectly normal activity.
So, putting together:
a. the river being capable of freezing
b. hobbits having fun on the river,
I wondered: perhaps they could have winter entertainment on the water, as well?
As far as I currently know, there is no reference in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings to ice skating,
but, as I said at the opening, this is a bit of fan-tasy, so why not?
Because so much of Middle-earth is based upon events and details of our world, and, in particular, of our medieval world, I thought that perhaps I might find historical authority for speeding across the ice here, if I could discover no scriptural authority there.
If, dear readers, you’ve ever learned to skate, you won’t be surprised to learn that what appears to be one of the earliest illustrations of ice skating, which dates from 1498, is this–
from a biography of Saint Lidwine (or Lydwine–you see both spellings), 1380-1433, of Schiedam, in the Netherlands. (She was actually knocked over by someone else who came barreling up behind her.)
But skating, it turns out, is much older than 1498. In fact, the earliest skates appear to date from about 1800BC, from Finland. Although these are a later archaeological discovery, from Viking Dublin, they probably looked something like this—
Certainly nothing like modern ice skates,
and the technique for using them was also very different, as we can see from this 1539 Swedish map.
Instead of using their legs to move them along, as modern skaters do, early skaters poled themselves. Here’s a LINK to a very interesting article about one man’s experiments in trying to figure out how to fashion such skates and to use them: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/ice_skates.htm
The skates themselves were made of horse or cow bones and, rather than cutting into the ice, slid across it.
The first use of metal blades appears to date from about the 13th century and to come from the area of the Netherlands. Here’s an illustration from a psalter (collection of psalms) made in Ghent in the 1320-30s.
(This is from Ms.Douce 5, in the collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It has many wonderful illustrations—there’s someone sledding on the same page—as you can see for yourself, if you follow this LINK: https://medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/catalog/manuscript_4476 )
You can see that poor St Lidwine was using these later skates when she had her accident.
Such skates clearly also changed the method of propulsion, from a pole to a leg, and seem to have added another reason for skating from simple movement across icy ponds and down frozen streams to having fun on the ice, as these late-Renaissance Dutch paintings show.
The first book in English on skating was published in 1772: Robert Jones, A Treatise On Skating, with a number of editions up to the 1850s, but, to look at these two portraits, Gilbert Stuart’s “Portrait of William Grant” (1782)
and Henry Raeburn’s “The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch” (1790’s—and there’s some discussion about Raeburn being the artist—see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Skating_Minister )
skating had become as popular an entertainment in the UK as it had been in the Renaissance Netherlands.
And so, in my fun-fan-tasy, I’m imagining those rascals, Merry and Pippin, joining others along the frozen Brandywine to slap on their skates—the metal variety—to zoom across the ice, perhaps to the disapproval of the Gaffer and his cronies in The Ivy Bush, when they hear of such behavior among those “queer folk” in Buckland.
Thanks for reading, as always,
Stay well—be sure to test the ice beforehand—
And trust that there will be
I case you haven’t read that last Sherlock Holmes adventure in which he has taken to bee-keeping,