Welcome, as ever, dear readers.
Perhaps I’m of what Victorians might call “a morbid disposition”, but I can never watch the Star Wars films, especially IV-VI, without seeing storm trooper helmets
as having the suggestion of a skull about them.
This, in turn, has led me to pay closer attention, in Star Wars VI,
to the Ewok xylophone we see there.
It’s a row of Imperial storm trooper helmets, of course,
and, considering that the Ewoks have just won a major victory over their wearers,
perhaps it’s a sort of trophy, of the sort soldiers have always displayed when they triumph over their enemies. When the British 14th Light Dragoons , for example,
captured the carriage of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph (1768-1844),
at the battle of Vittoria, in 1813,
among the loot was his silver chamber pot–
a thoughtful gift from his brother, the Emperor Napoleon. It’s been a proud possession of the regiment—and its descendants–ever since.
A detail from earlier in the film hints at something else, however. When Han, Luke, and Chewbacca are captured by a party of Ewoks,
it’s clear that they are not just prisoners, but will form part of an Ewok feast.
That being the case, perhaps that helmet xylophone is meant to suggest another fate for its former wearers?
Certainly, western adventure stories have included the consumption of humans by others from the very beginning. In Book 9 of the Odyssey, Odysseus and a dozen of his crew face the giant Cyclops, Polyphemus,
and only half of those men (plus Odysseus, of course) survive the Cyclops’ appetite, and, in Book 10, the Laistrygonians destroy eleven of Odysseus’ twelve ships and their crews clearly disappear into the pantries—and stomachs—of the Laistrygonians.
In Beowulf, the monster, Grendel, spends twelve years snacking on the subjects of the Danish king, Hrothgar, before Beowulf arrives to put an end to his midnight picnicking.
My first encounter with such behavior in literature must have been in Robinson Crusoe (1719),
where I read:
“When I was come down the hill to the shore, as I said above, being the SW. point of the island, I was perfectly confounded and amazed; nor is it possible for me to express the horror of my mind at seeing the shore spread with skulls, hands, feet, and other bones of human bodies; and particularly I observed a place where there had been a fire made, and a circle dug in the earth, like a cockpit, where I supposed the savage wretches had sat down to their human feastings upon the bodies of their fellow-creatures. “ (Robinson Crusoe, Chapter XII, “A Cave Retreat”—if you haven’t read the book, here’s a LINK: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/521/521-h/521-h.htm It’s an amazing story, so full of wonderful details that its original audience believed it to be a true account and some were not pleased to discover that it was a very vivid fictional narrative.)
Real cannibal behavior had appeared in modern western literature as early as 1557, in Hans Staden’s (c.1525-c.1576) comprehensively titled: Warhaftige Historia und beschreibung eyner Landtschafft der Wilden Nacketen, Grimmigen Menschfresser-Leuthen in der Newenwelt America gelegen ([A] True History and Description of a Country of Wild, Naked, Fierce Cannibals Situated in the New World, America).
Staden, after being shipwrecked, like R. Crusoe, had been taken captive by the Tupinamba of Brazil and spent time among them, combining observation of their occasional diet
with striving to keep himself from becoming part of it. (If you’d like to read about this for yourself, here’s the LINK to a later Victorian translation: https://archive.org/details/captivityhansst00burtgoog )
Such behavior turns up in more recent literature in two places extremely familiar here. In the first of these, the protagonist finds himself deep under a mountain, facing a peculiar character who speaks his language and even recognizes certain of his customs,
but who has plans to eat said protagonist, even while promising to maintain the social norms understood in his agreement to abide by the rules of a riddling game:
“Gollum did mean to come back. He was angry now and hungry. And he was a miserable wicked creature, and already he had a plan…He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring…He wanted it because it was a ring of power, and if you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible…’Quite safe, yes,’ he whispered to himself. ‘It won’t see us, and its nassty little sword will be useless, yes quite.’ “ (The Hobbit, Chapter 5, “Riddles in the Dark”)
And then there’s this from The Lord of the Rings:
“We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the great warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)
It’s no wonder, then, that, even though starving, Pippin has this reaction:
“An Orc stooped over him, and flung him some bread and a strip of raw dried flesh. He ate the stale grey bread hungrily, but not the meat. He was famished but not yet so famished as to eat flesh flung to him by an Orc…”
As ever, thanks for reading,
When buying luncheon meat, always read the label carefully,
And remember that, as ever, there’s