Through the Mill

As always, dear readers, welcome.

This posting began with a question from my friend Erik, who was currently reading Dracula and had come upon this:

“Then we walked home with some, or rather many, stoppages to rest, and with our hearts full of a constant dread of wild bulls. Lucy was really tired, and we intended to creep off to bed as soon as we could. The young curate came in, however, and Mrs. Westenra asked him to stay for supper. Lucy and I had both a fight for it with the dusty miller; I know it was a hard fight on my part, and I am quite heroic. I think that some day the bishops must get together and see about breeding up a new class of curates, who don’t take supper, no matter how they may be pressed to, and who will know when girls are tired.”   (Dracula, Chapter VIII)            

“What’s a ‘dusty miller?’ he wrote, knowing that I’d taught the novel a number of times.  (And, if you haven’t read it, here it is in its original 1897 American first edition:    )

 He then went on to mention a plant by that name, of which there are a number of varieties, like this one (senecio bicolor cineraria)

but that hardly fit the context of Dracula—unless it were related to garlic.

I replied that I’d always assumed that said Miller was a close relative of the Sandman.

(No image unless you want to see Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman or Neil Gaiman himself.  For a much earlier and very creepy Sandman story, see E.T.A. Hoffmann’s (1776-1822) 1817 Der Sandmann, in the collection Night Pieces—Nachtstuecke—

which you can read in translation here: )

And so Lucy and Mina, after their long day out along the coast, were struggling to stay awake.

Millers were dusty, of course, because they worked all day with flour, which could easily cover them as in this very atmospheric painting by Paula McHugh.

Ms McHugh has a very interesting approach:  she bases her paintings on the titles of folksongs and you can see more of her work–and her at work–(and hear her banjo) at:

The song by which she must have been inspired  is this:

Hey, the dusty Miller,
And his dusty coat,
He will win a shilling,
Or he spend a groat:
Dusty was the coat,
Dusty was the colour,
Dusty was the kiss
That I gat frae the Miller.

Hey, the dusty Miller,
And his dusty sack;
Leeze me on the calling
Fills the dusty peck:
Fills the dusty peck,
Brings the dusty siller;
I wad gie my coatie
For the dusty Miller.

(Robert Burns, 1759-1796)

(Burns was a competent poet in the standard English of his time, but a brilliant poet in Lallans, his own Scots–“win” here means “to gain” and “leeze me” is a corruption of “lief is me”—“dear is to me”  See: for more–this is from The Scottish National Dictionary at: )

The miller in this song (you can hear a lively version sung by Rod Paterson here: ) appears somewhat flirtatious, but, in another mill song we see—

“The maid gaed to the mill by nicht,
Hey, hey, sae wanton!
The maid gaed to the mill by nicht,
Hey, sae wanton she!
She swore by a’ the stars sae bricht
That she should hae her corn ground,
She should hae her corn ground
Mill and multure free

Then oot and cam’ the miller’s man,
Hey, hey, sae wanton!
Oot and cam’ the miller’s man,
Hey, sae wanton he!
He swore he’d do the best he can
For to get her corn ground,
For to get her corn ground
Mill and multure free

He put his hand about her neck,
Hey, hey, sae wanton!
He put his hand about her neck,
Hey, sae wanton he!
He threw her doon upon a sack
And there she got her corn ground,
There she got her corn ground
Mill and multure free.

When other maids gaed oot to play,
Hey, hey, sae wanton!
Other maids gaed oot to play,
Hey, sae wantonly!
She sighed and sobbed and wouldna stay
Because she’d got her corn ground,
Because she’d got her corn ground
Mill and multure free.

When forty weeks were past and gane,
Hey, hey, sae wanton!
When forty weeks were past and gane,
Hey, sae wantonly!
This lassie had a braw lad bairn
Because she got her corn ground,
Because she got her corn ground
Mill and multure free.

Her mither bid her cast it oot,
Hey, hey, sae wanton!
Her mither bid her cast it oot,
Hey, sae wantonly!
It was the miller’s dusty clout
For getting’ a’ her corn ground,
Gettin’ a’ her corn ground
Mill and multure free.

Her faither bade her keep it in,
Hey, hey, sae wanton!
Her faither bade her keep it in,
Hey, sae wantonly!
It was the chief o’ a’ her kin
Because she’d got her corn ground,
Because she’d got her corn ground
Mill and multure free.”

(Here’s one version of the tune used—this by Ewan MacColl  and Peggy Seeger:    “multure” is a fee paid to the miller for grinding the grain)

We can see millers having a bad reputation  in English literature all the way back to Chaucer’s (c.1340-1400) Canterbury Tales, in that called “The Reeve’s Tale”,

(from the early 15th-century Ellesmere Manuscript of Chaucer—a reeve was, in Chaucer’s time, a kind of estate manager)

in which Symkyn the miller is shown to be a cheat—and it’s easy to see how suspicion of millers arose just by looking at the structure of the mill.

Someone would bring bags of grain to the mill to deliver to the miller.  He—or an assistant—would pour the grain in at the top, it would be ground in the mechanism, and come out as flour at the bottom. 

But suppose the miller didn’t dump in all of the grain—how would you know?  And how could you be sure that the flour which the miller kept was indeed the proper multure (1/16 of the total was a common measure) when the whole business was overseen by the miller?

As for the licentious side of millers, my guess is that:

a. unlike most men, who worked outside all day, millers worked within the closed structure of a building, meaning that they had a kind of  daytime privacy others didn’t

b. should a girl or woman come to a mill with a sack of grain—well, the songs above—and there are more—suggest that there could be all sorts of goings-on

Whether the cheating or other things were true, we can imagine that rumors spread, as rumors will and Chaucer’s story has a parallel in Boccacio’s Decamerone  IX, 6, among other sources, suggesting that England—and Scotland, whence the songs above come—were not the only places where millers were suspect. 

And this brings me to a suspect miller in the Shire, Ted Sandyman,

whom we meet in the very first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, where, replying to the Gaffer’s story about the tragic death of Frodo’s parents in a boating accident on the Brandywine,  says:  “And I heard she pushed him in, and he pulled her in after him.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-expected Party”)

Already he’s an unsavory character, with this cynical remark.

I had always assumed that Tolkien had taken against Sandyman because of his own experience with the millers of Sarehole, just south of Birmingham, where he had spent part of his childhood.

As Humphrey Carpenter tells it:

“There were two millers, father and son.  The old man had a black beard, but it was the son who frightened the boys with his white dusty clothes and his sharp-eyed face.  Ronald named him ‘the White Ogre’ .”  (Carpenter, Tolkien, 22)

But perhaps  there’s another influence here.  In 1931, JRRT presented a paper to the Philological Society in Oxford on dialects in “The Reeve’s Tale” (published 1934—Carpenter, 154) and, in 1939, he had impersonated Chaucer,

(a second illustration from the Ellesmere Manuscript—there are no actual portraits of Chaucer)

reciting an edited version of “The Reeves’ Tale” at the Oxford “Summer Diversions”.  (Carpenter, 242)

(This is from the ever-helpful  Tolkien Gateway)

Could Tolkien not only be imitating Chaucer himself, telling the Reeves’ story, but perhaps imitating an attitude which Chaucer repeats in that story about dusty millers and what they’re up to?

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Stay well,

If you’ve got grain, consider investing in a quern (your multure will then always be free),

And remember that there’s always



Obi:  Won? (Two)

Welcome, dear readers, as always.

In Part One of this two-parter,  I began by thinking aloud about “both tinkering with something already available and how one might fit it into something more”, to immodestly quote myself.

I was prompted to this by seeing the new Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that what I was really doing was beginning a review of this new series.

I began by going back through what we’ve seen of Obi-Wan up to this point.  In Part Two, I want to consider the program itself.

As I did when I wrote a series of posts which covered all of Star Wars from I to IX, (“Three Times Three”, beginning on 8 January, 2020), I intend to react not by attacking what I may not have liked or agreed with, but by trying to understand what it was that the director/writers wanted me to see and understand. 

If you visit this blog regularly, you know that I dislike the very negative—sometimes downright vicious—kinds of reactions one can read on the internet and I’ve always tried to avoid writing such criticism myself, which quickly closes down more flexible thinking when it comes to what we see or read.  On the whole, I begin with the premise that those who created whatever I’m reviewing were honest artists, devoted to their work, and determined to provide their audience with the best which they could produce. 

I also tend to avoid other reviews, good or bad, preferring to have my own reactions to what I see.  In the case of Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, after I finished the series, I was puzzled enough as to what I had just seen that  I made an exception, reading first a number of positive reviews, then a number of negative ones, as well as watching the series a second time and consulting the very helpful  WIKI article, with its summary of the 6 episodes —which you can read, too, here: .

And, as I don’t read reviews, I also avoid the comments of directors/writers as, before a film is created, they tend to be very vague and full of promise, and, afterwards, when responses to their work aren’t all positive, they tend to be very defensive.

In this case, the positive reviews were a mixed lot, from those which suggested that the production had quality, but also might lack something, to others, which were such raves that they sounded like they had been written by the promotional department of the film company, rather than by independent reviewers.  Praise was generally accorded to three categories:   the story, the acting, and the look of things.

In general,  I would agree to the acting—Ewan McGregor, in particular,

who, in the title role, has to bear the most weight, does a wonderful job, from portraying the beaten-down ex-Jedi in the opening scenes to someone once more committed to Jedi ideals by the end of the last episode.  The range of his reactions, from a kind of sad tenderness to fierce determination, would, in my opinion, recommend this series in itself.

I would also agree with praise for the settings, something which Star Wars has gotten right all the way back to Star Wars I, in 1977.

(Although those who praised Daiyu without noticing that it owes something to Blade Runner’s depiction of  Los Angeles in 2019—the film originally came out in 1982, so 2019 then seemed far in the future—should perhaps reconsider and write a second draft.)

This leaves the story.

The title by itself really tells us nothing other than that the story will presumably be about Obi-Wan Kenobi, but Obi-Wan when?   Doing what?  With whom?   In the previous posting, I suggested that it could be about any point in Obi-Wan’s life, my own preference being either for his days as a padawan before Star Wars I,

or for his later romance with Duchess Satine of Mandalore, a powerful character in her own right, as we see in several seasons of The Clone Wars until her murder by Darth Maul in Season Five (Episode 16 “The Lawless”).

Instead, the opening, although the place is initially not identified, is Tatooine,

Specifically, Anchorhead and its environs (far lower right on this map).

With this choice, I immediately assumed that we were going to be shown something beyond that moment when Obi-Wan has turned the new-born Luke over to Owen Lars and his wife, Beru.

This brought to mind six questions about what we were to be shown:

1. what has happened to Obi-Wan after he’s taken Luke to Tatooine?

2. remembering the trauma of that duel with Anakin, what is Obi-Wan’s mental state?

3. also remembering what Yoda has told him at the end of Star Wars III, how has his training with Qui-Gon gone?

4. what is the state of the world beyond?—we know that, as this is in the years between 3 and 4, the Empire is growing, although the final stroke only comes in Star Wars IV with the announcement that the Senate has been dissolved and that regional governors, like Grand Moff Tarkin,

will now control things, employing the new Death Star as an enforcer.

5. that being the case,  what has happened to Darth Vader?  As Darth Sidious’ padawan-equivalent, what’s he been doing all of this time?

6. and there is the question of  Leia, now in the custody of Senator Bail Organa and his wife, Breha,

 on the eventually-doomed planet of Alderaan,

the assumption about her being  that, as the adopted child of the Organas, she’s safe—hidden in plain sight like the letter in Edgar Allen Poe’s 1844 short story, “The Purloined Letter”.   (If you don’t know this early detective story, here it is: )

(Before I go on, I’m assuming that SPOILER ALERTS are unnecessary as, by this time, probably all of the devoted, and even the curious, have seen the series, and maybe more than once, as I did.)

The answers to these questions form the basis of the context of the series and provide certain elements of the plot, so let’s tackle them first.  This is, in fact, a synthesis, as none of this is laid out in a straightforward fashion, like those crawlers at the beginnings of the 9 films.

1. After the bleak opening on Tatooine, we’re shown Obi-Wan working at what seems to be a fish-processing plant, cutting up the remains of something which we must presume dates from the days when the planet had oceans.  I don’t have an image from the series, so the closest I can come at present is this—

which comes from a fascinating  but short-lived site, “Sketchfolio” at:

The proprietor is Trevor Crandall, an extremely talented 3D artist.  You can see much more of his work at:   In the blog, he says that he was making a kind of combination of Coccosteus and Dunkleosteus.  To see more on such creatures, go to:  I wonder, by the way, if this fish is thousands of years old, why the meat which Obi-Wan slices continues to be as pink as fresh salmon.

Beyond his gritty day job, he lives in a cave which appears to be not far from the farm of Owen Lars, where he keeps his distance, but also keeps watch over the now 10-year-old Luke (we’re not told Luke’s age directly, but it can be inferred from Obi-Wan’s explanation, at one point, that it’s been ten years since he’s seen action and the fact that Leia tells him that she’s ten). 

2. Obi-Wan’s mental state is precarious.  He is haunted both by dreams and visions of his relationship to Anakin Skywalker, much of the content being  based upon their last encounter, when he left Anakin for dead on Mustafar.

As well, he has become convinced that the Jedi cause is lost, refusing to help a young Jedi on the run, telling him to bury his light saber and blend in—which is impossible, as he’s already experienced a run-in with pursuers and will soon appear as a display of what the Empire does to Jedi.  This also presents an inconsistency, and inconsistencies are one of the main points of criticism in the more thoughtful negative reviews:  although Obi-Wan has become a defeatist, he still insists to Owen Lars that Luke should go through Jedi training.  At best, I suppose that we are to assume that old habits die hard and that, as Obi-Wan was entrusted with Luke as a Jedi’s child, part of him still works under his previous promise to Yoda.

3. Obi-Wan appears never to have made contact with Qui-Gon and, at various moments, mostly of desperation, he appeals for help to his old master, receiving no reply.

4. The Empire has been spreading throughout the galaxy and seems to have garrisons everywhere, but, 10 years into its existence, it still doesn’t exert control everywhere, as a woman who should have kept quiet points out to an Imperial—and loses her hand as a consequence in the opening episode of this series.

5.  Darth Vader, assisted by the Inquisitors (which sounds a bit like an old backup group)

(Here some of them are in their previous incarnation in Star Wars Rebels.)

looks to have become over-focused on dealing with the last of the Jedi and Obi-Wan in particular, something for which the Emperor surprisingly mildly chides him later in the series.

6.Finally, we see Leia as a somewhat feckless child on Alderaan, intelligent and active, but worried, at some level, that she’s not really what she seems to be.

With all of that background, we have, potentially, two main characters, just as at the end of Star Wars III:   a dutiful but tormented Obi-Wan, living a grim life on a grim planet; an equally tormented Anakin/Vader who is obsessed with finding and destroying his old master.  The writers’/director’s job, then, will be to bring them together somehow.

And here they have set themselves two problems, both brought about by what we already know from Star Wars IV and that brings us back to my original question about inserting something into what already exists.  First, because, in another ten years, these two will face each other again, on the Death Star,

there can be no neat ending to this series.  If they do meet now, that meeting can only be inconclusive and somehow Obi-Wan must return to his current anonymity—for another ten years.  Secondly, if Obi-Wan has dealings with either Luke or Leia now, this will potentially interfere with what we know of their contact at the end of those ten years.  After all, in Star Wars IV, Luke displays no knowledge of Obi-Wan—as Obi-Wan– when talking with his uncle:

“You know, I think that R2 unit we bought
might have been stolen.
What makes you think that?
Well, I stumbled across a recording
while I was cleaning him.
He says he belongs to someone
called Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I thought he might have meant old Ben.
Do you know what he's talking about?
I wonder if he's related to Ben.
That wizard's just a crazy old man.
Tomorrow, I want you to take that R2 unit
to Anchorhead and have its memory erased.
That'll be the end of it.
It belongs to us now.
But what if this Obi-Wan
comes looking for him?
He won't.
I don't think he exists anymore.
He died about the same time
as your father.
He knew my father?
I told you to forget it.”
Here, Owen is intentionally trying to muddle things, separating Obi-Wan from Ben, then removing Obi-Wan entirely.  It’s suggested from the words above that Luke is aware of a Ben Kenobi, and, at their  later meeting  in the Jundland Wastes , it becomes clear that Luke actually knows him—
Ben Kenobi?
Boy, am I glad to see you.”
 If Luke had had an adventure with Obi-Wan at ten, he certainly wouldn’t be wondering if Ben and Obi-Wan were related.
 The same would be true for Leia.  Anything complicated with Obi-Wan now and her rather formal appeal to him via R2D2 ten years later will seem odd:
 “General Kenobi, years ago

you served my father in the Clone Wars.

Now he begs you to help him

in his struggle against the Empire.”

(And it is odd, of course, after their time spent together in this series, which has led some critics to suggest that he’s used an old Jedi mind trick to erase her memory.)

The bringing together happens through a third party, a newish Inquisitor named Reva,

who has a secret:  she is the sole survivor of the Younglings massacred by Anakin and his troops at the Jedi Temple late in Star Wars III,

who has now spent years working her way up through the Imperial ranks just so that she can take revenge upon Anakin in his incarnation as Darth Vader.  To do this:

1. she discovers a connection between Obi-Wan and Bail Organa “through the archives”

2. and then decides to kidnap Leia under the supposition that Organa will call Obi-Wan for help

3.  when he responds, she will  capture him, informing Vader

4. Vader will then come to pick up Obi-Wan, which will give her the chance to kill Vader

And here I think that the story line falters a bit. 

To begin with, we might ask:

1.  why Vader,  who, as Anakin, would have fought through those same wars with Obi-Wan, wouldn’t already know about that connection?

2.  if the archives mention such a connection, surely there should also be archives on the Jedi , including detailed information about Younglings?  That being the case, how has Reva so concealed herself—she clearly has Jedi-like powers—that Vader wouldn’t at least wonder about her?  (She is, after all, a member of a tiny organization run by Vader himself.)  And, in fact, Vader later reveals that he’s known what she’s been up to all along and that he’s used her to get to Obi-Wan. 

Once Leia is kidnapped, however, the moment when Obi-Wan and Vader are to meet is set in motion. 

In fact, there are two such meetings.  In the first, Obi-Wan is quickly defeated by Vader’s superior strength and, in fact, is briefly tortured by Vader by being plunged into fire, as Anakin had been, 10 years before.

In the second, Obi-Wan, now revived, defeats Vader, even after being buried  alive by his opponent.  This leads to a scene which Anakin has been longing for and Obi-Wan dreading, in which, rather than simply slugging it out once more—and inconclusively, at that—they talk.  The result is that Anakin admits that, in becoming Vader, he has destroyed his former self and, Obi-Wan, admitting—not for the first time—that he has failed Anakin, but seeming to understand that there’s nothing he could do, at least at the moment, then exits—but the series isn’t quite over.

Reva has failed in her plan—as I wrote above, Vader had known her intent all along and has simply allowed her to carry it out in order that he might lay hands on his old master.   She has clearly overestimated her powers and, in a brief combat, has easily been bested and run through by her opponent.

Being run through by a light saber has been the end of Qui-Gon,

but doesn’t seem to have the same effect here.  (Earlier, Reva had apparently run her boss, the Grand Inquisitor, through with her light saber, but he makes a cheerful reappearance after her defeat.)  Reva seems to survive this and makes for Tatooine.

And here we see a definite problem with the story, something I call “plot by fiat”.

Fiat (not to be confused with the legendarily undependable Italian car) is Latin for “let it come into being” as in Jerome’s translation of Genesis 1,3:  “dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux”—“and God said, Let light come into being and light was made”.   It is a danger for script writers—you want something to happen in order that something else may happen and, if you can’t find a way to create this, you simply have that something else occur without the necessary link.

This has happened before in the series.  After Darth Vader has plunged Obi-Wan into flames at the end of their first combat, Obi-Wan is easily rescued and Vader, rather than stop the rescue or even pursue, simply stands, gazing into the fire, as if his battery has run down.  The writers wanted Obi-Wan to escape and so simply made a fiat.

And this happens again here.  Why does Reva, who, if the death of Qui-Gon is anything to go by, should already have perished anyway, go to Tatooine?

If she thinks of Leia as the (adopted) daughter of Bail Organa, why would she then assume that there is a Luke and how would she know where he might be?  And,, if she was traumatized by her experience at the massacre of the Younglings, as we’ve been shown, why would she possibly want to kill children herself?

But it seems that Reva must be redeemed (more than one very cynical critic has already suggested that there is a Reva Sevander spin-off series tentatively planned but, if it’s an account of how she got to her recent position, I would certainly  want to watch it) and another fiat—two, in fact, make it so:

1. she isn’t killed

2. she plans to kill Luke, but then relents and rescues him, instead, from a convenient tumble

And the series ends with Leia restored to her family, a visit by Obi-Wan, now looking younger and refreshed, and another visit, to the Lars farm, where Owen allows him to greet Luke before Obi-Wan trots off into the Wastes, where Qui-Gon greets him, asking “What took you so long?”

An impatient critic might perhaps ask the same of the series, but, it seems to me that, although the plot suffers here and there (there are more questionable details which I haven’t mentioned), what we have been given, especially through the fine acting, is a convincing portrayal of Obi-Wan as a man who begins the story a ruin, believing himself a failure in a cause which is lost, but who gradually gains strength and a confidence in himself, while being brought to the bitter truth that the Anakin he believes he has failed has, in fact, failed himself. 

Thanks, as always, for reading,

Stay well,

Believe in the Force—but only if you remain active in it,

And know that, as ever, there’s




For a comic but very cynical review, see:    the “Honest Trailer” here: 

Obi:  Won? (One)

As always, dear readers, welcome.

When Tolkien was in the midst of the composition of The Lord of the Rings,

he began to have second thoughts about Gollum.

(an Alan Lee)

He revised the chapter in The Hobbit entitled “Riddles in the Dark” and sent the new version to his publisher, whereupon it seemed to disappear for years—and then turned up in the proofs for the 1951 edition of the book.

This was a very different Gollum from the 1937 cringing, apologetic character of the earlier text, setting up the Gollum so entangled with the Ring, even to its—and his–destruction in the later work.

(a Ted Nasmith)

I’ve just finished watching the new Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi

and I found myself thinking about questions both of tinkering with something already available and how one might fit it into something more.

For Tolkien, this would have been relatively easy (and, remembering all of the drafts behind everything JRRT wrote, let me stress that word relatively):  the point wasn’t to remove or replace Gollum, but rather to bring him into line with the later vengeful, but tormented, character Tolkien now imagined.

As Star Wars followers, we’ve been watching Obi-Wan for a long time and, in a rather curious way, as, if we follow the film series as it originally appeared,  we see his end before his beginning.  When the original series began, he was already an older man,

mysteriously secluded on a bleak planet at the very edge of a galaxy.

(To find Tattoine, locate Corellia, then head due south till you come to the bottom of the map—and you can see why Luke says of his home world, “Well, if there’s a bright center to the universe…you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.”)

We will then see him meet his end at the hands of his one-time padawan, Anakin Skywalker, now become the fearsome Darth Vader.

In Star Wars I, we’re then sent back in time to when Obi-Wan himself is the padawan to his master, Qui-Gon Jinn.

In Star Wars II, Obi-Wan has his own padawan, Anakin Skywalker,

and we then see him as a grownup fighting in two animated series about the Clone Wars, often accompanied by the character who will become his ex-padawan, Anakin,

with his own padawan, Ahsoka Tano (one of my favorite characters in all of the various series).

In Star Wars III, we see Anakin as a kind of post-graduate, but then gradually lured into the Dark Side of the Force by “Chancellor Palpatine”,

who is, in reality, the center of the disturbance in the Force, Darth Sidious, the Dark Lord of the Sith.

While the Clone Wars seem to be playing themselves out with success for the Republic, Chancellor Palpatine has been revealed as Darth Sidious and the complexity of his plot to overthrow the government and make himself emperor has him initiate Order 66, which entails the destruction of the Jedi, even down to the youngest—this part of the plan being carried out by the now-corrupt Anakin.

By the film’s end, Anakin Skywalker, defeated in a duel with Obi-Wan,

and badly mutilated, will reappear as the helmeted Darth Vader, the follower of Darth Sidious.

In the meantime, Anakin’s secret wife, Padme Amidala,

dies after giving birth to twins, who, to be protected from the now-monstrous Vader, are separated, the daughter, Leia, given to a sympathetic senator, Bail Organa,

the son, Luke, taken by Obi-War to Tattoine, to the home of Anakin’s mother’s husband,  Clegg Lars, where he’ll be raised by Clegg’s son, Owen, and his wife, Beru.

Before I go on, I admit that my knowledge, such as it is, is derived entirely from the films and the animated features.  I’m aware of the mass of other material, in the form of novels, comic books, and graphic novels, but, as I began with the films, I’ve preferred to stay there.  If you, being more knowledgeable than I (likely), read this and shake your head, please forgive me—and read on.

When I first heard about this new series, I was immediately intrigued:  what would it be about?  My first hope was that it would be set on Mandalore

(look just above and to the right of “Inner Rim” to find Mandalore)

 and be about something I only know as a rumor:  the romance between the Duchess Satine

 and Obi-Wan that almost made him quit the Jedi order.

Or perhaps it could be about Obi-Wan’s beginnings—who is he?  From where?  How did he become Qui-Gon’s padawan?  Did they have earlier adventures before they are nearly killed by the Trade Federation off Naboo?

(And this event always brings back Weird Al Yankovic’s song, “The Saga Begins” with these lines:   “A long, long time ago/In a galaxy far away/Naboo was under an attack/And I thought me and Qui-Gon Jinn/Could talk the Federation into/Maybe cutting them a little slack/But their response, it didn’t thrill us/They locked the doors and tried to kill us…”  To see/hear this, go to: )

And then there was that preview, which clearly suggested that what we would see would be set in that 20 year gap between Star Wars III and Star Wars IV and that preview, like all good previews, had an energy and menace which made me ready for that possibility.  (Here it is: )

I very much looked forward, then, to what we were about to see.   And I hope that you’ll be looking forward to what I write in Part 2.

Thanks , as always, for reading,

Stay well,

Don’t attempt to contact Qui-Gon at the moment,

And remember that, as ever, there’s




Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

In a footnote to the draft of a letter to Peter Hastings, Tolkien wrote:

“There are thus no temples or ‘churches’ or fanes in this ‘world” among ‘good’ people.  They had little or no ‘religion’ in the sense of worship.  For help they might call on a Vala (as Elbereth), as a Catholic might on a Saint…” (draft of letter to Peter Hastings, September, 1954, Letters, 193)

We see this calling on the Valar, of course, when Faramir’s men ambush a column of Haradrim and are suddenly confronted with a mumak (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 4, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”)

(an Alan Lee)

and when Sam, facing Shelob,

(the Hildebrandts)

calls out

“A Elbereth Gilthoniel

O menel  palan-diriel,

Le nallon si di’nguruthos!

A tiro nin, Fanuilos!”

(The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”).

As for actual worship, the closest we come is the custom, which Faramir explains to Frodo and Sam, about facing west at mealtime (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 5, “The Window on the West”).

And yet, JRRT, writing to Robert Murray, SJ, could say: 

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

He explains this by adding:

“That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world.  For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” (letter to Robert Murray, SJ, 2 December, 1953, Letters, 172)

This blog has discussed the absence of churches and temples in two previous postings (see “Ships, Towers, Domes, Theatres, and Temples” 10 June, 2020 and “Not In Fane(s)” , 20 April, 2022), but, recently, I found a disturbing reference to their presence—or at least the presence of one—in Numenor,  in The Silmarillion

“But Sauron caused to be built upon the hill in the midst of the city of the Numenoreans, Armenelos the Golden, a mighty temple; and it was in the form of a circle at the base, and there the walls were fifty feet in thickness, and the width of the base was five hundred feet across the centre, and the walls rose from the ground five hundred feet, and they were crowned with a mighty dome.  And that dome was roofed all with silver, and rose glittering in the sun, so that the light of it could be seen afar off; but soon the light was darkened, and the silver became black.  For there was an altar of fire in the midst of the temple, and in the topmost of the dome there was a louver, whence there issued a great smoke.”   (Akallabeth)

This descripton of a giant round building with a hole in its roof immediately reminded me of this—

the Pantheon, in Rome.  Its construction history is extremely complex (you can read about it here:,_Rome ), and it’s an imposing building, but, unlike Sauron’s temple, with its 50-foot (15m) thick walls, the Pantheon’s walls, at the base, are only about 21 feet 6.4m) thick.  Instead of being 500 feet (152m) high, its walls are only about 100 (30m) high and the general width under the dome is about 140 feet (43m).

Imagine, then, a building 5 times the height of this and over three times as wide—and the dome of the Pantheon is the single largest such unreinforced concrete dome in our Middle-earth.

This reminds me, in fact, of the Volkshalle (“the Hall of the People”), which Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, planned as a centerpiece for the dictator’s expanded capital—after the war.

As far as we currently know, clouds of smoke didn’t issue from the oculus (that’s the hole in the center of the roof of the Pantheon), but would have from a much smaller round building in ancient Rome, the temple of Vesta.


was the Roman goddess of the hearth, and her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, symbolically kept all Roman hearths blazing by tending the one in her temple.

The smoke from that fire came from the burning of sacred grain—what came from Sauron’s temple was an entirely different matter:

“And the first fire upon the altar Sauron kindled with the hewn wood of Nimloth, and it crackled and was consumed; but men marveled at the reek that went up from it, so that the land lay under a cloud for seven days, until slowly it passed into the west.”

Nimloth was the original White Tree, symbol of Gondor many centuries later, and had been given by the elves to Numenor as a symbol of friendship.

Sauron had so corrupted Ar-Pharazon, the Numenorean king, that he agreed to the destruction of that symbol—but there was much worse to come:

“Thereafter the fire and smoke went up without ceasing; for the power of Sauron daily increased, and in that temple, with spilling of blood and torment and great wickedness, men made sacrifice to Melkor that he should release them from Death.”

Although there were very occasional stories of human sacrifice in the ancient classical world—that of the possible death of Iphigenia at the hands of her own father, Agamemnon, being perhaps the most famous example—

(but there’s an alternate ending to this in which Iphigenia is rescued at the last moment by the goddess Artemis, and carried off to become her priestess far from her father—who is himself murdered later on by his own wife, Klytemnestra)—these are rare.  I wondered, then, where Tolkien had gotten the idea. 

There is, of course, that story in Caesar’s Gallic Wars (Book 6, Section 16), which we can assume that JRRT, the potential classicist, would have read, where people are placed in large figures made of willow (the Latin says, “… simulacra quorum contexta viminibus membra …”  “images whose limbs, woven of willow”) and then burned to death (“…circumventi flamma exanimantur homines…”) as a kind of sacrifice.

(This well-known and surprisingly civilized image is from Aylett Sammes’  (1636?-1679?) Britannia Antiqua Illustrata, or the Antiquities of Ancient Britain derived from the Phœnicians (1676), Volume I, a work which the author did not live to complete.  You can read the text of this, unfortunately without the image, on pages 104-105, at: )

Perhaps this was one inspiration for Tolkien, although it seems rather far removed from what was done in that giant temple.  Could we find any clues in the “god” to whom people were sacrificed?

Melkor, later known as Morgoth, is the original Satan of JRRT’s legendarium.  In the volume Morgoth’s Ring, Tolkien explains why, having been the servant of Melkor long before, Sauron now creates a religion based upon him:

“Sauron was not a ‘sincere’ atheist, but he preached atheism, because it weakened resistance to himself (and he had ceased to fear God’s actions in Arda)…But there was seen the effect of Melkor upon Sauron:  he spoke of Melkor in Melkor’s own terms:  as a god, or even as God. This may have been the residue  of a state which was in a sense a shadow of good:  the ability once in Sauron at least to admire or admit the superiority of a being other than himself…but it may be doubted whether even such a shadow of good was still sincerely operative in Sauron by this time.  His cunning motive is probably best expressed thus.  To wean one of the God-fearing from their allegiance it is best to propound another unseen object of allegiance and another hope of benefits; propound to him a Lord who will sanction what he desires and not forbid it.  Sauron, apparently a defeated rival for world-power , now a mere hostage, can hardly propound himself, but as the former servant and disciple of Melkor, the worship of Melkor will raise him from hostage to high priest.”  (Morgoth’s Ring, Part Five, “Myths Transformed”, 397-398)

Although Melkor’s name is explained as  Quenya for “One Who Rises in Might” (see for more on this: ), Tolkien once said that he had initially derived the name from an Akkadian word, malku, with its Hebrew parallel, melekh’, meaning “king”, both being Semitic languages.  (see John Garth, “Ilu’s Music:  the Creation of Tolkien’s Creation Myth” in Honegger and Fimi, eds, Sub-creating Arda, 135). 

I might suggest that perhaps there’s another Semitic possibility for Melkor in a Semitic god, Melqart.

I should point out right away that I’m not an expert in Semitic languages, but I can see that there are certain potential connections.

This deity’s name appears to be a compound of mlq, “king” (just like malku/melekh’ ) and qrt, “city” (as in qrt-hdst, “New City”—that is, Carthage), “City-king”, which would be appropriate if he is seen, as he seems to be, as the patron god of Tyre, where Herodotus mentions him in Greek form as “Tyrian Herakles” (the Greeks it seems eventually regularly equated Melqart with Herakles).  In Tyre,  he is also equated with Ba’al  Hammon, who was considered to be the chief god of Carthage.

And here, if we may presume upon Tolkien’s knowledge of the Old Testament, the two Books of Kings have a story about Ba’al which bears a certain resemblance to that of Sauron and his new religion.  King Ahab of Israel had married a foreign princess, Jezebel (note—that Ba’al again), the daughter of the king of Tyre. 

(by John Liston Byam Shaw, 1872-1919)

She brought with her the worship of her city’s main god, Ba’al and so prevailed upon King Ahab that he abandoned his own god, Yahweh, in favor of her god, which eventually caused the fall of Ahab’s kingdom, his death in battle, and Jezebel’s death by defenestration.

(see First Kings 16.31-22.53; Second Kings 9.30-35—it’s a very long and complicated story, including miracles by the prophets Elijah and Elisha)

And so here’s the story of a kind of seduction:  as Sauron seduced Ar-Pharazon from the worship of Eru, so Jezebel seduced Ahab from the worship of Yahweh.  This will lead to disaster for Ahab, just as it will for Ar-Pharazon,  who will lose his massive fleet and his life attempting to assault the home of the Valar, and, as well, should he have survived, of  seeing all of Numenor destroyed, with the exception of a few fleeing survivors.

And there’s one more similarity:  as Carthage (qrt-hdst) had been founded from Tyre, one of its main gods was Ba’al, and one form of worship of Ba’al was human sacrifice (see, for example, Diodorus Siculus’ The Library of History, Book XX, Section 14—you can read it in translation here:*.html#3 )  In Sauron’s new religion, it’s clear that the same holds true—and perhaps the memory of that is another reason why there are no temples in the later Middle-earth.

Thanks, as ever, for reading,

Stay well,

Make your sacrifices only in flowers,

And remember that there’s always



(Failed) Rewards and (No More) Fairies

As ever, dear readers, welcome.

Although Tolkien enjoyed a fast-paced production of Hamlet in July, 1944, (letter to Christopher, 28 July, 1944, Letters, 88), one gets the general impression that he was not a big fan of W. Shakespeare.  Certainly his school-days experience had not been a happy one, (letter to W.H. Auden, 7 June, 1955, Letters, 213), but his frustration with the Bard (an archaic Celtic term perhaps first used of Shakespeare in  David Garrick’s “The Ode, Dedicating the Town Hall, and Erecting a Statue to Shakespeare”, of 1769, in which Garrick calls him “Sweetest bard that ever sung”—if you’d like to read more, follow this LINK: to Robert Bell Wheler’s History and Antiquities of Stratford-upon-Avon, 1806, and see pages 175-185) did produce two positive results:

1. his annoyance at Shakespeare’s treatment of Birnam Wood spurred him (eventually)  to create the march of the Ents upon Isengard (see JRRT’s footnote to his letter to W.H. Auden, 7 June, 1955, Letters, 212)

(a favorite Ted Nasmith)

2. his equal annoyance over Shakespeare’s treatment of elves

(a Victorian illustration by Richard Doyle, 1824-1883, depicting the stormy meeting of Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1—you can read the first printing from the First Quarto, 1600, here:  )

brought him to the borders of Faerie, which he understood to be a very different place from that miniaturized world imagined by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. 

In his writings, Tolkien sees fairies and elves as basically the same (“Fairy, as a noun more or less equivalent to elf”, “On Fairy-Stories”):   beings of a different order from humans, but not supernatural ones.  As he writes:

Supernatural  is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter.  But to fairies it can hardly be applied…For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature);  whereas they are natural, far more natural than he.  Such is their doom.” (“On Fairy-Stories”, 110 in The Monsters and the Critics)

Tolkien’s elves, as we see them particularly in The Lord of the Rings, are far from small and not at all magical as in Shakespeare, but they do seem doomed.  Even in the Prologue, they are depicted as already something about to pass from the scene of the story–“For the Elves of the High Kindred had not yet forsaken Middle-earth” –and this melancholy tone persists throughout the text, not only to be found in groups of elves moving westwards to the Grey Havens, like that which Frodo and his companions meet in their journey eastwards towards Crickhollow (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 3, “Three is Company”), but also in statements like Galadriel’s, when she has refused the Ring:

“I pass the test…I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

to the affecting scene in the last chapter of all, when Galadriel and Elrond, along with Frodo and Gandalf, take ship for the West. (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)

(another beautiful Ted Nasmith)

But why do the elves want to—or have to–leave Middle-earth?

There are various explanations, with citations to The Silmarillion and to passages in the volume of JRRT’s manuscripts called Morgoth’s Ring, but I would suggest another influence, which actually takes us back to that time which Tolkien blames for the other diminishment of the elves:

“Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of ‘rationalisation’, which transformed the glamour of Elf-land into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass…it was largely a literary business in which William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton played a part.”  (“On Fairy-Stories”, 111)

The title of this posting comes (in its unedited form) from a short story collection by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).

Published in 1910, Rewards and Fairies

(You can have a copy here: )

was a sequel to Kipling’s previous collection (1906), Puck of Pook’s Hill.

(Here are two copies for you with very different illustrations:  the first American edition of 1906, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham:   ; or a British reprint of 1911 of the original 1906 British edition, illustrated by H.R. Millar: )

The title of this book is derived from the first line of a poem, “The Fairies’ Farewell” by Richard Corbet,  (1582-1635)—

Or, as it is actually entitled:  “A proper new Ballad entitled The Faereys Farewell”.  Here’s the first stanza:

“FAREWELL, rewards and fairies,
Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they.
And though they sweep their hearths no less
Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?”

You can see the whole poem in Octavius Gilchrist’s 4th edition (1807) of the poems of Richard Corbet here on pages 213-217:  (This is based upon the original printings of 1647, 1648, and 1672—the last till Gilchrist.  Some modern editions have removed the final three stanzas.)

 Corbet wrote that this could be sung to “Meadow Brow” or to “Fortune My Foe”—here’s Ged Fox, who sings all of the verses in Gilchrist to “Meadow Brow”:  If you’d like to hear “Fortune My Foe:  here’s version with the original lyric: 

It is, in fact, a lament, and the tunes to which it is to be sung very much underline that tone.   The point of the lament is explained by the Puck

of Kipling’s previous book:

“The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest—gone, all gone! I came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.”  (“Weland’s Hill”, the first part of Puck of Pook’s Hill)

Corbet, in his poem, offers an explanation why:

“Witness those rings and roundelays

of theirs, which yet remain,

Were footed in Queen Mary’s days

On many a grassy plain;

But since of late, Elizabeth,

And later, James came in,

They never danced on any heath

As when the time hath been.

By which we note the Fairies

were of the old Profession.

Their songs were ‘Ave Mary’s’,

Their dances were Procession.

But now, alas, they all are dead;

Or gone beyond the seas;

Or farther for Religion fled;

Or else they take their ease.”

In 1534, Henry VIII  (1491-1547)

had himself made head of the Church of England and created a new Protestant domination, the Church of England, which was perpetuated by his son, Edward VI (1537-1553),

but which Henry’s elder daughter, Mary (1516-1558),

tried to restore to its previous, pre-Henry form.  It was only after her death, in 1558, when Henry’s younger daughter, Elizabeth (1533-1603),

took the throne that Henry’s version of Protestantism became the state church once more and which continued under the reign of her successor, James I (1566-1625),

as mentioned in Corbet’s poem.  The fairies, then, in Corbet’s playful explanation, were followers of pre-Henrican English Catholicism, driven away in the change to the new Protestantism—and we know that it was meant to be playful, as the author, in his later years, was a senior clergyman of that Protestantism, being first Bishop of Oxford, then Bishop of Norwich.

 There is no mention of Corbet or his poem in Carpenter’s biography or Tolkien’s letters, nor any reference even to Kipling, but might I suggest that this explanation by a contemporary of Shakespeare the Shrinker as to why the band of what Puck calls “the People of the Hills” had departed  might have appealed to a someone who once wrote that The Lord of the Rings “is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision…” (letter to Robert Murray, SJ, 2 December, 1953, Letters, 172) and thus added to his own thinking about the Doom which he said belonged not only the fairies, but to his own later elves, as well?

Thanks, as ever, for reading,

Stay well,

Leave a bowl of milk out for the Good Folk,

And remember, as well, that there’s always




If you read those verses of the Corbet which have been deleted in some printings, the explanation for the reference to “William Chourne” may be found in “Letter Six” of Sir Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft… (1830)  to be read at this LINK:

Stretching Back (II)

Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

In the previous posting, JRRT was quoted as saying of Tom Bombadil that he was:  “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside”  (letter to Stanley Unwin, 16 December, 1937, Letters, 26)

In that last posting, I was employing that phrase with the emphasis upon “spirit”, attempting to show  how JRRT was using Tom in The Lord of the Rings to add greater depth to the story.  Within the narrative, we might be shown the ruins of ancient buildings, like Weathertop,

(Alan Lee)

built by Elendil after the founding of Arnor in SA 3320, but Bombadil

(the Hildebrandts)

was far older, saying to the hobbits that:

“Eldest, that’s what I am.  Mark my words, my friends:  Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.  He made paths before the Big people, and saw the little People arriving.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil”)

Ruins were mute testimony to Middle-earth’s ancient past.  Tom was the living witness to that past—almost the spirit of Middle-earth itself–and beyond it, practically to its creation.

In that posting, I suggested that there was a second living witness in the text and, in this posting, I want to think out loud about him—but let’s begin with the rest of that first phrase:  “the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.”

In 1892, Tolkien was born into what we might think of as the second wave of the Industrial Revolution.  The first, the foundational wave, had begun in the 1760s, in northern England, where the pressure of the increased demand for British wool products had inspired men like James Hargreaves (1720-1778) and Richard Arkwright (1732-1792)

to invent new machinery to speed up production.  Water and then steam were applied to the increasingly sophisticated machinery and spinning and weaving factories began to spring up in various parts of England.

By the mid-Victorian period, a second wave was converting entire towns into factories,

and not just those which produced woolen or cotton materials—virtually anything could be made, in large quantities, in all kinds of factories.

Birmingham, when JRRT was a boy, was just such a place

and even the then-rural village, Sarehole, just south of Birmingham, where he spent part of that boyhood, had a mill with an auxiliary steam engine.

By the turn of the 19th century, Britain was laced with railways—by 1914, there were 20,000 miles (32,000km) of track.

Trains, and their urban cousins, street cars and metros, spread people out beyond the old centers of towns, producing larger and larger urban/exurban areas.

After the Great War (1914-1918), automobiles began to appear in ever-greater numbers, adding to that spread, as well as crowding lanes made for carts and wagons.

For Tolkien, this was the end of “the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green…” (The Hobbit, Chapter One, “An Unexpected Party”)

when the world, in his mind, looked more like this.

But Britain had been moving towards less green for a very long time.

It had been Neolithic farmers, in fact,

perhaps about 1000BC,

who had begun the shift, cutting down large numbers of trees not only for building, but to clear acreage for their crops and pastureland for their animals.

This began the deforestation of Britain—and you can see it here as a general European trend.

(To watch someone very efficiently using a stone axe

to cut down a tree, see: )

And we might see this deforestation mirrored in the behavior of the invading Numenoreans, suggesting that even Middle-earth had become less green than it had once been:

“The fellings had at first been along both banks of the Gwathlo…but now the Numenoreans drove great tracks and roads into the forests northwards and southwards from the Gwathlo…” (Unfinished Tales, “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”, Appendix D, “The Port of Lond Daer”)

As someone with a strong attachment to trees,

JRRT could express his feelings quite passionately, as in this letter to The Daily Telegraph of 30 June, 1972:

“It would be unfair to compare the Forestry Commission with Sauron because as you observe it is capable of repentance; but nothing it has done that is stupid compares with the destruction, torture and murder of trees perpetuated by private individuals and minor official bodies.  The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing.”  (Letters, 420)

Those words, “destruction, torture and murder of trees”, can easily sound like an echo of this second living witness as he speaks about Saruman and his orcs:

“Curse him, root and branch!  Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost for ever now.  And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves.  I have been idle.  I have let things slip.  It must stop!”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)

This is Treebeard, of course, even if it almost seems to echo the author and his letter to the editor.

(an Alan Lee)

And we might see a small puzzle here between what Tom Bombadil says of himself:

“Eldest, that’s what I am…Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.”

and what Gandalf says of Treebeard:

“Treebeard is Fangorn, the guardian of the forest; he is the oldest of the Ents, the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 5, “The White Rider”)

Even if this suggests a small contradiction, reinforced when Celeborn, parting from Treebeard, calls him, “Eldest” ( The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 6, “Many Partings”), we might understand Tom and Treebeard, in fact, as a complementary pair:  Tom is the witness for humans over all the ages of Middle-earth, while Treebeard stands (and walks) as witness for the land itself.

It is, perhaps, a sad thought then that, with Sauron gone, there appears to be no threat to Bombadil, but, without the Entwives, there is only extinction ahead for Treebeard and his kind, when that land will lose its final witness and no one will remember the Willow-meads of Tasarinan.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Be thankful for trees,

And know that, as always, there’s




You can listen to JRRT himself remembering those Willow-meads here:

And you can hear Donald Swan’s well-known setting (sung by the appropriately-named William Elvin) here (at 28:25):

Stretching Back (I)

Welcome as always, dear readers.

One of the reasons I’ve read and reread The Lord of the Rings has to do with its depth.  The story itself is set in a present time:  TA3018-19, but, of course just writing “TA” immediately places it in a greater context:  this is the Third Age of registered time and we’re now in the 31st century of it.  That’s 3,000 years of history right there and back 3000 years of history in our Middle Earth would put us, for example, in the Egyptian 21st Dynasty, when artisans could still create this

 or during the so-called Greek “Dark Ages”, when Mycenaean civilization had mysteriously collapsed after creating things as beautiful and sophisticated as this–

If we walked the landscape of Middle-earth with the hobbits, however, as described in The Lord of the Rings, we could be struck again and again by the monuments of its past.  Weathertop dates to the time of Elendil, in the Second Age, who, himself, was born in SA3119.

(Alan Lee)

When the hobbits reach Rivendell, they enter a place which had been founded even earlier, in SA1697,


and, coming to the west gate of Moria,

(Alan Lee)

they approach a structure which dated somewhere post SA750, which led them into mines in which the dwarves had been laboring since before the First Age.

(Alan Lee)

Further on their travels, they encounter Amon Hen, built perhaps in the 14th century of the Third Age,

(by Scott Perry)

as was the Argonath.

(the Hildebrandts)

And yet JRRT has created something even older, providing us not just with physical monuments, but with two actual survivors.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying a re-listening to the 1981 BBC radio series of The Lord of the Rings.

It’s compact, of course—certain moments disappear, usually minor details, but there is one major one casualty:  no Tom Bombadil.

He’s an odd character, certainly.  According to Humphrey Carpenter, he was originally inspired by “a Dutch doll that belonged to Michael”.  That inspiration almost vanished from history when John, who didn’t like it, “one day stuffed it down the lavatory.”  (Biography, 181—in case you’re worried, the doll was rescued in time).  The inspiration for his name is also a mystery, various suggestions include

1. Captain Bobadilla, a braggart soldier, in Ben Jonson’s (1572-1637) 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour

(This is from the 1616 Workes, published by Jonson himself, which, as you can imagine with such a title, got him mocked at the time.  Here’s the play: )

2.  Boabdil, the last ruler of Moorish Granada—actually Abu ‘abd  Allah Muhammad XII (1460-1533)—that “Boabdil” is the Spanish corruption of his name—

(A grand Spanish historical painting by F.P. Ortiz, from 1882:  “The Surrender of Granada”—as there doesn’t appear to be an authenticated portrait of Abu ‘abd Allah Muhammad, this is an imaginary one.)

I understand that JRRT might have come across Bobadilla in his education, but Boabdil? 

In Anglo-American literature, he turns up in John Dryden’s (1631-1700) 1672 The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards,

where he is called “Mahomet Boabdelin”.   Here’s Volume IV of Sir Walter Scott’s edition from 1808 (the play being retitled “Almanzor and Almahide”—Almanzor is the play’s hero and Almahide the heroine):    As there is caveat emptor!, “Let the buyer beware!”, I would add my own “caveat lector”, “Let the reader beware!”  The play is actually 2 plays, totaling over 200 pages and is in rhymed couplets in, as Victorians might say, a rather florid style.  Dryden was aware that this might be attacked (it was) and ended the play with an epilogue critical of the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson’s time, then followed that with a 17-page “Defence of the Epilogue”. 

In Washington Irving’s  (1783-1859) Tales of the Alhambra (1832), he is “Boabdil”, where he makes several appearances, including “Mementos of Boabdil”, which you can find in this 1910 reprint of the revised 1851 edition on page 124 here:   

As there is no trace of Dryden or Irving in Carpenter or in Letters, however, the origin of Tom’s last name will remain a mystery, pending further research.  (Hammond and Scull even suggest that “it may have been one of the Tolkien sons or daughter who chose its name rather than Tolkien himself…”  The Lord of the Rings:  A Reader’s Companion, 124)

Tolkien once described Tom as an “enigma” (Letters, 174) and as “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside” (Letters, 26), and, in an earlier posting here, it was pointed out that, without him, there would be no Barrow-wight

(Ted Nasmith)

and so no ancient sword which had the power to pierce and begin the destruction of the chief of the Nazgul,

(Angus McBride)

a fact which has to be glossed over in any production which avoids him—in the Jackson film, he disappears entirely, taking the Barrow -wight with him, and Aragorn just hands around swords at Weathertop with no explanation of where they came from (The Fellowship of the Ring, Scene 19).  And, in the BBC 1981 radio version, the hobbits are in Frodo’s new home in Buckland at one moment, and in Bree, the next, and the swords don’t appear at all.

And yet, considering that the chief of the Nazgul still falls, both in the old BBC radio version and in the Jackson film, this is clearly not a major plot point and therefore no major justification for the keeping of Tom in a story which has been stripped to what the script writers believed to be the most dramatic elements.  (Jackson is quoted as saying almost exactly that.)

In the many pages of The Lord of the Rings, however, although Tom rescues the hobbits twice, I think that his real role is what I began with:  to provide depth—and not just the depth of monuments or Ages as they display Middle-earth’s history.  He, in a sense, is Middle-earth’s history, having been living witness from before its very beginnings.  As he tells the hobbits:

“Eldest, that’s what I am.  Mark my words, my friends:  Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn.  He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving.  He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights.  When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent.  He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil”)

As Goldberry says, “Tom Bombadil is the Master.”—of time and memory in Middle-earth.  But, as the ghostly voice of Obi-Wan says to Yoda, “There is another”—whom we’ll see in Part 2 of this posting.

Thanks for reading, as ever.

Stay well,

Think, if the past is another country, where can you find its maps?

And remember that, as always, there’s



Loathing, If No Fear

Dear readers, welcome, as always.

There is an odd little anecdote in the essay  “On Science Fiction” in the posthumous collection of C.S. Lewis’ (1898-1963)

essays and short fiction, Of Other Worlds

“A lady…had been talking about a dreariness which seemed to be creeping over her life, the drying up in her of the power to feel pleasure, the aridity of her mental landscape.  Drawing a bow at a venture, I asked, ‘Have you any taste for fantasies and fairy tales?’ I shall never forget how her muscles tightened, her hands clenched themselves, her eyes started as with horror, and her voice changed, as she hissed out, ‘I loathe them.’ “

Lewis then goes on to suggest that “we here have to do not with a critical opinion but with something like a phobia” and such a violent reaction certainly suggests to me that there is something in the woman’s reaction which goes beyond a simple polite reply, like “They’ve never interested me.”

Lewis himself had a very different reaction to fairy tales, as expressed in “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” in the same volume and his view is involved with what I feel is a wonderful way to think about growing up :

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so.  Now that I am fifty I read them openly.  When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth.  They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood.  But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things?  I now like hock, [an old term for German white wine] which I am sure I should not have liked as a child.  But I still like lemon-squash. [a kind of lemonade-ish thing—here’s a recipe: ]  I call this growth or development because I have been enriched:  where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two.  But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change.  I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth:  if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed.  A tree grows because it adds rings:  a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next.  In reality, the case is stronger and more complicated than this.  I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the fairy tales as when I read the novelists , for I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood:  being now able to put more in, of course I get more out.”  (This is a very rich essay and, if you’d like to read it in full, see: )

For the very beginning of this blog, back in 2014, a goal for it was always that it would not be like so much of the material to be found on the internet:  harsh, even negative to the point of gushing hatred.  And we all see the effects of that sort of material all too often.  Over almost eight years, the blog has offered positive views and praise and, on only a handful of occasions, has it taken a negative turn, in part, I would say, because it has always tried to be based upon something which Lewis said in another essay, “On Science Fiction”, discussing negative reviews of early 20th-century science fiction:

“…many were by people who clearly hated the kind they wrote about.  It is very dangerous to write about a kind you hate.  Hatred obscures all distinctions.  I don’t like detective stories and therefore all detective stories look much alike to me:  if I wrote about them I should therefore infallibly write drivel.”

I enjoy detective stories myself, having grown up on Sherlock Holmes, but Lewis’ point has been a guide:  don’t write about things you don’t enjoy.

Fairy tales, whether of the Western or Eastern varieties (and they often blend) were some of the very first stories which caught my attention as a child, really memorable ones being those from “The Arabian Nights” of Aladdin and Ali Baba, as well as those familiar from the Grimms, Perrault, Mesdames D’Aulnoy and Leprince de Beaumont, and Andersen.  In my current project of reading all twelve of Andrew Lang’s fairy books,

I have rediscovered many old friends and some new ones, but then there was “The Master-Maid” in The Blue Fairy Book (1889)

and, in this story, I found something which, for me, could explain that seemingly-disturbed woman’s reaction to such tales—and here bear with me while I make a brief descent into the negative.

The story originally comes from a collection entitled, Norske folkeeventyr (“Norwegian Folktales”), first published in 1841, with subsequent editions through 1852,

(a much later edition—1914—but, at the moment, I’m having trouble finding a first edition)

by Asbjornsen and Moe (Peter Christen Asbjornsen, 1812-1885; Jorgen Engebretsen Moe, 1813-1882), two folktale collectors who became the Grimm brothers of Norway.

But if I’ve loved fairy tales since childhood, what is there about this one which—momentarily, I hasten to add—alienated my affection?

In the words of a modern fairy tale character, however, I would have to say:

The story begins with the youngest son of a king, who sets off to make his fortune in the world.  He gains employment with a giant:

1. who sets him tasks, but tells him not to look into any rooms except the one in which he slept

2. of course, he looks into 3 rooms, each with a boiling cauldron, the contents of which cover anything dipped into them with copper, silver, or gold, in succession (never mentioned again)

3. in room number 4 is a beautiful young woman (the title’s “Master-Maid”) with a never-explained knowledge of how to fulfill all of the giant’s obviously impossible tasks:

  a. a stable which can’t be cleaned unless you use the other end of the dung fork

  b. a fire-breathing horse, who can only be tamed with a certain bridle

  c. some sort of troll who has to pay the giant’s tax (the prince needs a special club to knock on the troll’s cave door)

4. the giant then decides to kill the prince and orders the young woman to make him into soup

5. Instead:

   a. the young woman takes all sorts of household waste and plops that into the pot

   b. she draws three drops of the prince’s blood to fall upon a stool

  c. then she gathers up:

   1. a chest of gold dust

   2. a lump of salt

   3. a water flask

   4. a golden apple

   5. two golden chickens

 d. and escapes with the prince

6. they somehow obtain a ship—and even the story says, “but where they got the ship

from I have never been able to learn” and sail off, the giant soon in hot pursuit (he’s been delayed because, having napped while the prince soup was cooking, he would wake briefly to ask if it were ready, only to be told–by talking blood drops–that it was still in the process—and when he finally fully awakes, he quickly discovers that the soup was definitely not worth waiting for)

7.  arriving at the sea, the giant produces

   a.  a “river-sucker” to lower the sea so that he can spot the escaping couple, but he is foiled when the young woman uses the lump of salt to swell up to such size that “river-sucker” can’t lower the sea any further and the giant can no longer spot them or approach them—the text is a little foggy here

   b. a “hill-borer” to put a hole in the salt barrier so that the “river-sucker” can go back to work, but the young woman then tips out a couple of drops from the water flask (remember that?) and suddenly the sea is so full that the “river-sucker” doesn’t have another chance to slurp before the couple has finally reached dry land

And that’s only the first half of the story.  To sum up even farther, the prince abandons the young woman at the seashore, promising to return, but is tricked into forgetting her (a magic apple—one bite and…), she then lives briefly with a crone/troll, escapes three suitors, sees elements in the crone’s hut employed to repair the coach in which the forgetful prince is traveling to his wedding, finally gets to the palace, and uses that golden apple and the gilded chickens (you’d almost forgotten those in all the excitement, hadn’t you?)  to bring back the prince’s memory and they live happily ever after (although the person who supplied that apple of memory lapse is torn apart by horses, so probably doesn’t enjoy the ending as much as the others).

C.S. Lewis is once quoted as saying, “You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  (from a transcript of a lecture given by Lewis’ sometime editor and biographer, Walter Hooper—here’s the whole piece: )

That this seems rather a long story for a fairy tale—pages 120-135 in The Blue Fairy Book—is hardly a drawback.  “The Yellow Dwarf”, of which I’ve written in an earlier posting, and which is in the same volume, is even longer (30-51), and I’ve certainly read things infinitely longer and more than once—

And it’s not that some things, like the young woman’s knowledge of the solutions to the giant’s tests, are unexplained—part, I would say, of what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale is that some things will simply be…inexplicable.

Rather, I think it’s that, as with Inigo Montoya’s attempt to explain past events to Westley, there is simply too much:  too many boiling cauldrons, too many ready solutions to tricky problems, too many magic objects, too many suitors, all in one story.  It’s as if the teller were trying to cram 20 stories into one, which, for me, perhaps paradoxically thins the telling and I find myself wearily trudging from one incident to the next, which is, I think, hardly what Lewis would have wanted his enormous cup of tea for,

and makes me wonder just what books of fairy tales that angry woman had read?

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Consider the dangers of an overflowing cup,

And remember that there’s always




The translator of “Master-Maid” was said by Andrew Lang to be “Mrs Alfred Hunt”, a very interesting woman in her own right.  The author of “Lang’s Fairy Blog”, who seems to have done a good deal of research on the series, suggests that, although she was proficient in German (consult this page to see why he/she says so: ), she probably translated it from a German source.  If you’d like to have a look at the German text she may have used, see:  –this is from volume 2 of Friedrich Bresemann’s Norwegische Volksmaerchen, 1847.  The first English translation of Asbjornsen and Moe’s collection was by Sir George Dasent, as Popular Tales from the Norse, in 1858.  Comparing the Hunt with Dasent and the German translation, it seems to me that Hunt may first have read the Dasent, but used the German as the basis of her version.  Here’s the Dasent, if you’d like to compare: –this is a later edition, from 1904.  For a very early review of Dasent’s work, see this, from The Atlantic for September, 1859:   (A brief comparison of the opening of the original Norwegian version of the story with Dasent’s translation, by the way, suggests that Dasent was rather a casual translator, aiming less for perfect accuracy than for the general feel of the story.)

Black and Ominous?

Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

Unlike The Hobbit’s narrator’s description of the mouth of the River Running with its “every now and then a black and ominous crow”, I like crows. Perhaps it’s because of their elegant, almost regal, look–

and recent scientific studies have turned the crow from one of a noisy gang of scavengers

to something more than a birdbrain. 

(This is a late rag—1959—by Joseph Lamb—1887-1960

and here’s a recording so that you can hear how Lamb conveyed the idea:    For me, Lamb is one of the best among the many ragtime composers and “Nightingale Rag”, 1915, performed here by William Oegmundson, is perhaps my favorite of his rags:  –just to keep the bird theme which is developing here. )

Instead, crows are extremely intelligent.  Just look at this from the BBC series “Inside the Animal Mind”:

For Tolkien—at least for Tolkien’s dwarves in The Hobbit—even if crows showed avian genius, however, they were not the preferred bird:

“ ‘I only wish he was a raven!’ said Balin.

‘I thought that you did not like them!  You seemed very shy of them, when we came this way before.’

‘Those were crows!  And nasty suspicious-looking creatures at that, and rude as well.  You must have heard the ugly names they were calling after us.  But the ravens are different.’ “ (The Hobbit, Chapter 15, “The Gathering of the Clouds”)

Ravens are physically different to some degree from crows (size, feathering, calls, flying methods, basically),

but there is also one strong similarity:  they both talk, as do birds throughout The Hobbit.

In succession, there are the Lord of the Eagles,

(one of my favorite Michael Hague illustrations)

and the eagle who carries Bilbo to the Carrock,

(a Ted Nasmith)

the thrush who not only signals the moment when the keyhole to the backdoor of Erebor will appear, but

(an Alan Lee)

who also told the archer, Bard, about Smaug’s weak spot,

(one version of Tolkien’s well-known drawing)

the ancient raven Roac, the son of Carc,

(another Alan Lee)

and, finally, the unnamed ravens who provide information on affairs outside the Lonely Mountain to the dwarves.

All of these feathery folk speak the Common Speech but one, the Thrush, and here it’s interesting to see that there is a linguistic tie between thrushes and the men of the now long-ruined Dale, as Bard discovers:

“Suddenly out of the dark something fluttered to his shoulder.  He started—but it was only an old thrush.  Unafraid it perched by his ear and it brought him news.  Marveling he found he could understand his tongue, for he was of the race of Dale.”  (The Hobbit, Chapter 14, “Fire and Water”)

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m always interested in where JRRT’s ideas come from.  Sometimes, as in the theft of the cup from Smaug in The Hobbit, it’s obvious:  Beowulf, 2278-2306.  (If you’d like to see this in the original Old English, along with a more literal translation, visit:   For another very interesting translation into modern English, see:  This is an excellent site for reading Old English texts in translation, of which the site has a wide selection.)

In Bard’s understanding of the Thrush’s speech, I’m immediately reminded of something from Andrew Lang’s (1844-1912) The Red Fairy Book (1890).

(If you don’t own a copy, here it is: )

From the title of a story early in the volume, “Soria Moria Castle”, some have believed—and I’m among them—that JRRT had either read this book or had it read to him as a child, but it seems that there’s much more evidence from “The Story of Sigurd” for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including a broken sword whose pieces, collected, can be reforged (although it’s not called “Narsil”, “Firey Flame”, or “Anduril”, “Flame of the West”, but Gram, “grief/sorrow”), a sensitive ring  (it changes temperature with dawn), as well as a ring with a curse on it, a horse “swift as the wind” (descended from Sleipnir, Odin’s horse, as Shadowfax was one of the chiefs of the Mearas, horses brought to Middle-earth by Orome, a Vala), a warrior maiden, and a human, who gaining the speech of birds, is then given a warning.

Even The Red Fairy Book might remind us of The Red Book of Westmarch, from which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are supposedly translated, but I want to go back to the human, the hero of the story, Sigurd, and his acquired ability to understand birds.  He does so inadvertently, having sucked on a finger burnt while roasting the heart of Fafnir, a dragon he has killed.  (This is, in fact, cousin to an Old Irish story, in which Fionn Mac Cumhaill—that’s “FEEN mac COO-vuhl” in Old Irish—after burning his thumb while cooking a salmon, sucks it and begins to gain all of the knowledge in the world.  Here’s a quick reference for that story–  and some other parallels, as well.)

As Sigurd has gained his comprehension through his burned fingers, Bard has his understanding  of the Thrush because , as Thorin tells Bilbo:

“The thrushes are good and friendly…They were a long-lived and magical race…The Men of Dale used to have the trick of understanding their language, and used them for messengers to fly to the Men of the Lake and elsewhere.”  (The Hobbit, Chapter 12, “Inside Information”)

In an earlier posting, I’ve suggested that Tolkien had been influenced not only by The Red Fairy Book, but also by its predecessor, The Blue Fairy Book (1889),

(Find your copy at: )

citing, for example, the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (called only “The Forty Thieves” here) and the fact that it requires a worded command to open a thieves’ cave, just as it requires the word “Mellon”, “Friend”, to enter the west gate to the Mines of Moria.

(a lovely Ted Nasmith)

On the subject of bird speech, as well, there are two main examples.  In both cases, as with many of the birds in The Hobbit, the birds in these two stories can be understood and prove helpful to a major character.

In “Trusty John”, the John of the title saves the king and his queen three times, after he overhears three passing ravens discussing magic snares laid for them.  In a second story, “The Water Lily” (also called “The Gold-Spinners”) the heroine, the third of three enchanted princesses,  is able to employ a raven to help her to escape because “as a child she had learned to understand the speech of birds”.  The raven, in turn, flies to a palace where the prince, her would-be rescuer, lives, and there finds “a wind wizard’s son in the palace garden, who understood the speech of birds”.  Later in the story, it seems that, either some birds have acquired human speech, or the prince has somehow gained knowledge of theirs as he now understands and converses with a thrush, a magpie, a swallow, an eagle, and a crow, the latter reminding the prince that, having rescued the third princess, he must also rescue the other two princesses, whom he appears to have forgotten.

One hopes from this that at least one fairy tale figure admires crows as much as I do and does not regard them as Balin does, as “nasty, suspicious-looking creatures”.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Think about holding a conversation with that interesting bird outside your window,

And remember that, as always, there’s




In case you’re still confused between crows and ravens, have a look at this:


“Trusty John” comes to Lang from the Grimms, but “The Water Lily” is derived from a somewhat obscure source, an Estonian story, which you can read in English here:  It’s in a two-volume collection called The Hero of Esthonia, published by W.F. Kirby in 1895, where it appears in Vol. 1, pages 208-236, under its alternate title, “The Gold-Spinners”.  My reference for this comes from a very helpful site on the Lang fairy books:  which annotates many of the stories from the various volumes.


That last bird image is from Ukiyo-e, the world of Japanese block prints.   If you love them as much as I do, and you don’t know this site, I recommend:

(Un)happily Ever After ?

Welcome, as ever, dear readers.

I might blame this posting on Madame D’Aulnoy (1650-1705).

After all, she wrote “Le Nain Jaune” (“The Yellow Dwarf”) and included it in her 1697/8 collection, Les Contes des Fees, (Stories of the Fairies—from which our expression “fairy tales” appears to come—oh, and Fees, although it looks like English“fees”, is actually French “FAY”).

Of course, I’m to blame, too, as I’ve launched into this long-term project of reading all twelve of Andrew Lang’s fairy books in more-or-less chronological order.

(I say more or less because I had already read the Red Fairy Book for an earlier posting—and I’ll be writing about it again soon.)

Madame D’Aulnoy appeared through the translation of the aforementioned “The Yellow Dwarf” in Lang’s first volume, The Blue Fairy Book (1889).

(Here’s a copy for you: )

This was a fairy tale I wasn’t familiar with, but seemed at first like something which I’d read before:  princess raised to be spoiled by over-doting mother rejects all suitors.   Then, however, it involved an unusual turn.  That mother, attempting to consult a fairy in an effort to un-spoil the princess, falls into the hands of a loathsome dwarf,

and, in turn, so does her daughter, the mother, to save her own life, promising her daughter to the dwarf, and the daughter, in turn, swearing that she’ll marry the dwarf.  In the midst of all of this is the dwarf’s powerful friend, the Fairy of the Desert.

(These two illustrations are from Walter Crane’s  (1845-1915) The Yellow Dwarf , 1875, which you can have your own copy of here: )

A king (the King of the Gold Mines) is involved, who attempts to rescue the princess, and here there is an even darker turn:  he doesn’t.  Instead, there’s this:

“ ‘ Now,’ said the Dwarf, ‘ I am master of my rival’s fate, but I

will give him his life and permission to depart unharmed if you,

Princess, will consent to marry me.’

‘ Let me die a thousand times rather,’ cried the unhappy


‘ Alas !

‘ cried the Princess, ‘ must you die ? Could anything be

more terrible ‘?

‘ That you should marry that little wretch would be far more

terrible,’ answered the King.

‘ At least,’ continued she, ‘ let us die together.’

‘ Let rne have the satisfaction of dying for you, my Princess,’

said he.

‘ Oh, no, no!’ she cried, turning to the Dwarf; ‘rather than

that I will do as you wish.’

‘ Cruel Princess !

‘ said the King, ‘ would you make my life

horrible to me by marrying another before my eyes ? ‘

‘ Not so,’ replied the Yellow Dwarf; ‘ you are a rival of whom I

am too much afraid : you shall not see our marriage.’ So saying,

in spite of Bellissima’s tears and cries, he stabbed the King to the

heart with the diamond sword.

The poor Princess, seeing her lover lying dead at her feet, could

no longer live without him ; she sank down by him and died of a

broken heart.”  (“The Yellow Dwarf” from The Blue Fairy Book, 49)

In Crane’s version, this has been changed to a happy ending (although the princess has her original D’Aulnoy name, “Toute-Belle”, literally “Completely Beautiful”, returned to her):

“The Princess uttered a loud shriek, which luckily caused

the King to turn suddenly round, just in time to snatch up the sword.

With one blow he slew the wicked Dwarf, and then conducted the

Princess to the sea-shore, where the friendly Syren was waiting to convey them to the Queen. On their arrival at the palace, the wedding took place, and Toutebelle, cured of her vanity, lived happily

with the King of the Gold Mines.”  (Crane, The Yellow Dwarf, 6)

(If you’d like to see the original French—although in an edition from 1878, which also includes the stories of Perrault and others—see  pages 277-296 )

I can see why Crane changed the story—the evil Dwarf won?  Even though I’ve long been aware of the darkness possible in older collections like the original Kinder- und Haus-Maerchen (“Children’s and Domestic Wonder Tales”) of the Grimm brothers  (Jacob 1785-1863, Wilhelm 1786-1859),

(first edition, 1812, but ballooning in size in subsequent editions)

it was still disturbing.  

From childhood, I had lived with all of those Disney versions, after all, where wicked witches and their ilk were suitably punished

and heroine and prince rode happily off.

This ideal was crystallized for me in a lament from one of my favorite musicals, Once Upon a Mattress (1959).

This is based (somewhat loosely) upon Hans Christian Andersen’s (1805-1875)

“Prinsessen paa Aerten” (“The Princess Upon the Pea”) from his 1835 collection Eventyr, fortalte for Born (“Fairy Tales Told for Children”).

(a slightly later printing)

In this retelling, Princess Winnifred the Woebegone

 has come to the castle of King Sextimus and Queen Aggravain in search of a prince, but, worried that things don’t seem to be going as she hoped, she sings this (after finishing reading aloud a fairy tale in which the usual happens):

“They all live happily, happily, happily ever after.
The couple is happily leaving the chapel eternally tied.
As the curtain descends, there is nothing but loving and laughter.
When the fairy tale ends the heroine’s always a bride.
Ella, the girl of the cinders did the wash and the walls and the winders.
But she landed a prince who was brawny and blue-eyed and blond.
Still, I honestly doubt that she could ever have done it
without that crazy lady with the wand.
Cinderella had outside help!
I have no one but me? Fairy godmother, godmother, godmother!
Where can you be? I haven’t got a fairy godmother.
I haven’t got a godmother. I have a mother?
a plain, ordinary woman!
Snow white was so pretty they tell us
that the queen was insulted and jealous
when the mirror declared that snow white was the fairest of all.
She was dumped on the border but was saved by some men who adored ‘er;
Oh, I grant you, they were small.
But there were seven of them!
Practically a regiment!
I’m alone in the night.
By myself, not a dwarf, not an elf, not a goblin in sight!
That girl had seven determined little men working day and night just for her!
Oh sure! The queen gave her a poisoned apple.
Even so she lived happily, happily, happily every after!
A magical kiss counteracted the apple eventually?
Though I know I’m not clever I’ll do what they tell me I hafta!
I want some happily ever after to happen to me!
Winnifred maid of the mire, has one simple human desire
Oh, I ask for no more than two shoes on the floor next to mine.
Oh? Someone to fly and to float with
to swim in the marsh and the moat with as for this one?
Well, he’d be fine.
But now it’s all up to me?
And I’m burning to bring it about.
If I don’t I’ll be stuck with goodbye and good luck and get out!
But I don’t wanna get out! I wanna get in!
I want to get into some happily, happily ever after.
I want to walk happily out of the chapel eternally tied.
For I know that I’ll never live happily ever after ’til after I’m a bride!
And then I’ll be happily happy,
Yes, Happily happy!
And thoroughly satisfied!
Satisfied! Satisfied!
Oh Yeah!”

(Here’s the original Winnifred, Carol Burnett, singing a slightly different version:  

Trained by Disney, as well as by all of the Bowdlerized fairy tales read to me before I could read them for myself, could an ending like that  of  “The Yellow Dwarf”  ever be as satisfying for me as being married would be for Princess Winnifred?

This brings me back to remembering finishing The Lord of the Rings for the first time. 

If you’re a Tolkien reader—and I imagine that most, if not all of those who regularly visit this blog are—perhaps this was your experience, as well.  Bilbo, at the end of The Hobbit, is able to return home, continue to have adventures (stuff for fan fiction here), but to lead a comfortable domestic life for many years.

(an illustration by Alan Lee)

Frodo, however, comes home and never settles, is ill and haunted, and finally, joining elves and Gandalf to sail west from the Grey Havens,

says, in reply to Sam’s:

“ ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

‘So I thought too, once.  But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam.  I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger:  some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)

And so I was as shocked as Sam.  As he says to Frodo, to leave so soon “after all you have done”, which includes everything from narrowly escaping a Nazgul in Book One to nearly being consumed by Mt Doom in Book Six, was, well, disturbing, like the death of the King of the Gold Mines at the hands of the Yellow Dwarf. 

I suppose that part of that disquiet comes from the fact that, at the conclusion of The Return of the King, there is no human—or dwarf—to remove Frodo with a stab as happened to the King of the Gold Mines.

He was once stabbed, by a Nazgul, on Weathertop, of course.

(An interesting image, suggesting not only hobbit versus human scale, but also perhaps the larger-than-life feel confronting such a figure must have had for Frodo.)

And this stabbing, although saved from its consequences by Elrond, does seem to have had some later effect upon Frodo:

“One evening Sam came into the study and found his master looking very strange.  He was very pale and his eyes seemed to see things far away.

‘What’s the matter, Mr. Frodo?’ said Sam.

‘I am wounded,’ he answered, ‘wounded; it will never really heal.’

But then he got up, and the turn seemed to pass, and he was quite himself the next day.  It was not until afterwards that Sam recalled that the date was October the sixth.  Two years before on that day it was dark in the dell under Weathertop.”

And yet Frodo did get up and was “quite himself the next day”.

Could it be that, in a sense, Frodo is the last victim of the Ring?  After all,

“On the thirteenth of that month [in 1420] Farmer Cotton found Frodo lying on his bed; he was clutching a white gem that hung on a chain about his neck and he seemed half in a dream.

‘It is gone for ever,’ he said, ‘and now all is dark and empty.’ “

When Frodo tries to explain to Sam about sacrifice for others, however, I just didn’t find that especially convincing.  Elrond had healed Frodo and the Ring was an ancient evil and its disposal was the salvation of all of Middle-earth from the potential tyranny of Sauron.  Frodo had certainly felt the terrible effect of it, to the point where he refused to destroy it, requiring the mad and vengeful Gollum to  bring about its end,

but he had survived, even if maimed in a echo of what Isildur had done to Sauron many centuries before.  And he had come home, just as Bilbo had, many years before, although to the mischievous destruction of the Shire brought about by Saruman,

which must have been even more traumatic than Bilbo finding himself declared legally dead and his house and possessions being auctioned off, but the Shire was being healed, much of it thanks to the work of Sam, much changed from the timid assistant gardener of only a year or two before.

My initial reaction to the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, although revived for a recent moment by a sinister Yellow Dwarf, was some time ago:  just today I reread “The Grey Havens” once more:  am I still uneasy?

Since that first reading, much more information has come to us about the author, and here I’m thinking especially of John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War.

After that war, the UK was seemingly filled with monuments commemorating the dead

and Tolkien

himself had lost two of his three dearest school friends,

 Gilson and Smith, in the fighting.  Gilson was killed on the first day of the vast and terrible Battle of the Somme, 1 July, 1916, a battle in which JRRT’s unit was also involved.  Smith died from a wound in early December, 1916, and, since my original reading of The Lord of the Rings, I’ve come to wonder whether, when Tolkien had Frodo say

“It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger:  some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”

it was his way of trying to explain his own understanding of what had happened to those friends and maybe why.  “Survivor’s guilt” is a common term these days, and, though I’ve seen no evidence in what we have in the way of Tolkien autobiographical material so far, I also wonder whether he bore his own scars from the War and, although a devout Christian, part of him hoped, with the fatally-wounded Frodo, to experience

“…a sweet fragrance on the air and…the sound of singing that came over the water.  And then it seemed to him that…the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Departure at the Grey Havens, by Ted Nasmith

If that were so, I could live with Frodo’s end, even if the Yellow Dwarf has still spoiled the ending for Toute-Belle and the King.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Be aware that all dwarves are not like Gimli,

And know that, as always, there’s




Here’s a LINK to the second edition of J.R. Planche’s version of Mme D’Aulnoy’s fairy tales (1856):   This includes not only those stories in Les Contes des Fees, but also those from her second collection, Contes Nouveaux ou Les Fees a la Mode (“New Fairy Tales or The Fairies in Fashion”) of 1698.  Planche himself is worth knowing more about.  To get a start, see:


If you’re not familiar with that adjective “Bowdlerized”, it refers to Dr Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who, with his sisters, produced in 1807 (with several subsequent editions) The Family Shakspeare [sic].

This removed or changed anything which they thought might offend female and child readers (basically, for them, both in the same category), so that the works might be read aloud at family gatherings.  From this initial work, the term came to mean any tampering with or censoring of a text.