Thirty Days Hath…


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As ever, dear readers, welcome.

Our last posting, which involved, among other things, the French Revolution, made us think of calendars.

The traditional Western calendar has been with us a long time, beginning with the Romans.


They believed that the calendar had originally been devised by the founder of Rome, Romulus.


(Romulus is the one on the right.  If you don’t know Roman mythology, this is part of the legend of Romulus and his twin, Remus, who were, at one time, raised by a she wolf.  Romulus eventually clashed with Remus and killed him.)


Romulus produced a yearly calendar divided into 10 months and it was his successor, Numa Pompilius, who revised it by adding two months.  Romulus and the rulers who followed him were traditionally believed to be seven in number (like the seven hills Rome was built on—or maybe just because 7 has been thought of as a magic number—to read more—maybe too much!—on this, see this LINK).


(If you’d like to improve your knowledge of early Rome—at least as the Romans believed it–here’s a neat way to remember these mythological kings in order.)


When the last of these kings, Tarquinius Superbus (“Tarquinius the Arrogant”) was overthrown in 509BC (as always, according to Roman tradition), he was replaced by two consuls, who were elected annually.


Because of the annual nature of their election, the consuls in time became the marker for each year—the year being designated in documents by their names.  In Latin, this was written as, for example, “L. Sulpicio et M. Canonico consulibus”—“Lucius Sulpicius and Marcus Canonicus being the consuls”—that is, “in the year during which LS and MC were the consuls”.

In time, two events complicated this time-keeping to the point where it was a mess.

First, this calendar was based upon the lunar year of 355 days.  Set against the 365 ¼ days of the solar year, there was always a gap and so the months and the seasons could begin to separate.  To close this gap, an intercalary month of 27 or 28 days was sometimes inserted, but, seemingly, without the strict regularity the marking of time really needed.  Second, the chief priest of Rome, the Pontifex Maximus, with his assistants, the College of Pontiffs, had the legal (and religious) right to change the calendar and, if you think about this in political terms (and the Romans did), you can see what a less-than-neutral Pontifex could do:  add days to the term of consuls he favored and subtract days from those he didn’t, potentially making the synchronization of lunar, solar, and consular years fall apart completely.

When Julius Caesar (100-44BC)


came to power, he ordered the reformation of the calendar, but retained the old lunar calendar of 355 days, dividing the year into 8 months of 29 days and 4 of 31, plus adding an intercalary month of 27 or 28 days every two years.  This meant that, every 4 years, the total number of days, divided by 4, would come to 366 ¼–which meant more regularity, but trouble to come, in time (literally), especially because the College of Pontiffs was still in charge of maintaining things, which it doesn’t seem to have done with the necessary diligence.

In fact, the story is more complicated yet than this, but this at least gives us the so-called “Julian Calendar”, which was in use in the West from Caesar’s time until the Renaissance.  In 1582, by the direction of Pope Gregory XIII,


to correct the seasonal drift which had gradually occurred over the centuries, the Julian calendar was reformatted, adding a full day to the month of February (February 29th) every fourth year.  The first year with such an addition to February was the next year, 1583, but, to help the calendar and actual year rejoin, Gregory ordered the addition of 11 days to October of 1582, so that October 4th became October 15th.  We hope that all of this is clear?

For people who grew up with all of this adding here, changing there, it’s left us with a sort-of rhyme to remember what months now have how many days:

“Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November.

All the rest have thirty-one—”

And then the thing breaks down into something like “Except February, which has twenty-eight, except every fourth year, when it has twenty-nine.”

So, why did the French Revolution remind us of calendars?

One of the main bases of the French Revolution, the thinkers of the Revolution would say, was the idea of REASON.  In fact, for a short time, some revolutionaries attempted to replace Christianity with the worship of a goddess by that name.


Reason brought about the initial attempt to convert France by law to the metric system in 1795.  Even before that, however, there had been a program to decimalize everything possible, including the currency and the time of day—here’s a watch from 1795 with both kinds of time marked on it.


Of course, the calendar would be a target and, between 1793 and 1805, France would mark its years by it in 12 months of 30 days each, each month divided into 3 decades.  To keep the balance between months and seasons, five or six extra days were added to the end of the year.  To remove any trace of the old royal (and religious) past, the new months were renamed—here’s the calendar.  As you can see, the renaming was meant to reflect seasonal weather.


The committee (one major feature of the Revolution was that seemingly everything was created by a committee) even came up with the names for every day, the names being something ordinary to which the day was devoted.


If you look at the column marked “Nivose”, you can see that the first four days are “neige/glace/miel/cire”—“snow/ice/honey/wax” (although those first two make perfect sense in a month called “Snowy”, we’re a little unclear about “honey” and “wax”).

Napoleon participated in a coup which ended revolutionary government in 1799 (18 Brumaire, Year VIII-9 November, 1799).


He tolerated the revolutionary calendar for the next 5 years, but, after he made himself emperor, 11 Frimaire, Year XIII–2 December, 1804,


a decree was issued that, beginning 1 January, 1806, the old Gregorian calendar would be reinstated.

During the days of the Terror


and the Scarlet Pimpernel, however,


when Sir Percy Blakeney put down a rescue date on his calendar in Paris, he would have written January 1, 1794 as “day 2 of the second decade of Snowy, year II, “ a day devoted to “Argile”—“Clay”.

Thanks, as always, for reading.




Death, Within 24 Hours


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As always, dear readers, welcome—and please forgive the rather forbidding title!

It’s just that, recently, we’ve been rereading Charles Dickens’ (1812-1870)


novel of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), which first appeared in serial form in Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round


before being published in book form the same year.


Dickens was inspired in part by Thomas Carlyle’s (1795-1881)


three-volume History of the French Revolution (1837, second edition 1857).


What Carlyle wrote about and Dickens novelized was a very complex event.  France, before the beginning of the Revolution in 1789, was in desperate straits, beginning with its social system.  All of French society was divided into three “estates”.  Here’s a “nice” picture of them.


Here’s a chart to show you what these divisions meant in terms of the economic structure.


And it’s easy to see, from this, why such caricatures as these typified, at the time, the truth of how the estates system worked for the benefit of the top two and very much against that of the third.



(The labeling of the rock in this last image points to some of the elements of the heavy financial burden on the Third Estate.  Taille is a land tax levied upon all land-holding non-nobles.  Impots might be translated as “income tax”, but more complicated (if possible!).  Corvee went back to feudal times and was a system of unpaid labor for a certain number of days per year, to the state and to lords who rented land to tenants.)

This meant that a great deal of the Third Estate, both in towns and in the country, was desperately poor and often on the edge of starvation.


A major problem was that such a tax base, though broad, was always being squeezed beyond its limits, meaning that the royal government (in 1789, this meant Louis XVI–1754-1793) was always struggling to find the money both to pay off back debts and to keep itself in funds in the present.  Then, when there were added expenses—such as the American War for Independence (1775-1783), in which the French played a major role from 1778 to the end—


new loans and new debts were created.

And the expenses didn’t stop there as the French, anxious about the power of the British Navy


and the closeness of many of its ports to Britain,


embarked upon a building campaign to further strengthen its harbor defenses.


(We’ve cheated a little with this last image—it and the previous one are actually from a series of paintings of the major ports of France by Claude-Joseph Vernet—1714-1789–commissioned by Louis XV, the grandfather of Louis XVI, and done between 1753 and 1765, but it gives you the idea of busy French ports in the 18th century.)

(And an interesting little sidelight—if you read us regularly, you know we can never resist these—this Vernet may be a direct ancestor of Sherlock Holmes, who tells Watson in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”–1893 —“My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class. But, none the less, my turn that way is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”)

Finally, in the 1780s, the whole system began to collapse.  Louis’ government (meaning the King and its ministers—there was no elected element in the royal government) tried to call a meeting of representatives of the Three Estates, the Estates General, in the late spring/summer, 1789,


but it was a flop.  Louis had the Third Estate locked out and, instead of going home, they, with a few members of the First and Second, went down the street to an indoor tennis court and founded their own government, the National Assembly.


They soon produced a document, entitled “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen”,


their second step towards changing the whole government and social structure of France.

Meanwhile, the people of Paris carried out their own form of changing things, assaulting the King’s fortress on the eastern side of Paris’ defenses, the Bastille.


You can tell that things are really crumbling when you realize that the men in blue coats and fuzzy hats in the center are actually members of the one of the units of the King’s bodyguard, the Garde Francaise.


Events quickly begin to speed up:  the King gradually lost his royal powers and became “Citizen King”,


wearing the “liberty cap” patriots wore


and drinking toasts straight out of the bottle—like any good “Sans-culotte”.  Culottes were the knee britches worn by people on the rise—


whereas “honest men” wore workman’s clothes with long trousers and, if they could obtain one, that red cap.


As time roared by, it became clearer and clearer that the previous administration was gone for good and that the Third Estate was now in charge.


Louis, terrified, tried to run away with his family, but was caught,


brought back to Paris basically under arrest and, before he knew it, on trial for his life.


The trial lasted most of December, 1792, and the King was executed in January, 1793,


followed by his wife, Marie Antoinette


in October.


But this was only the beginning of a wave of government bloodshed, now called “The Reign of Terror”, (“La Terreur” in French), in which a part of the state—the “Committee of Public Safety”, under Maximilien Robespierre,


sent thousands of people to their deaths, mainly but not entirely by guillotine, a medieval invention revived and used across France.


People who had done nothing or, at most, had made a passing remark critical of the Revolution could be swept up into a court


in which there was little or no defense and the usual sentence, if arrested, was “Death within twenty-four hours”.


One can see that, in England, with its Parliament and increasing wealth and stability, what went on in France, which many in England originally saw in its first—non-violent—stages as a positive thing, soon became nothing but a hideous cannibal feast.


And it’s into this world that Dickens, in the latter part of his novel, moves his main characters, in a story of family revenge entangled in the bloody days of the Terror.

Dickens is not alone in seeing this as a great opportunity for a novelist.  A long time ago, we wrote a post which included the Baroness Orczy (1865-1947)—say that OR-tsee–


who, beginning with a short story, and then a play (1903)


and then the first of a whole series of novels, beginning in 1905,


created the first wimp-who’s-really-a-superhero in Sir Percy Blakeney, AKA, “The Scarlet Pimpernel”.  In London, Sir Percy is an overdressed, drawling clown, but, in France, he is a daring rescuer of endangered noblefolk.  As early film gradually became more sophisticated, the first Pimpernel version appeared in 1917,


followed by what many believe was the classic version in 1934, starring Leslie Howard.


Although we enjoy that one, our particular favorite may be the 1982 version, with Anthony Andrews as the Pimpernel.


The casting for this film actually takes us back to Tolkien in a funny way.  The villain is an agent of the Terror, named “Citizen Chauvelin”.


Put a long white beard on him and age him many years and who is he?


Thanks, as always, for reading!





If you would like to know more about the French Revolution, we can’t recommend highly enough Simon Schama’s Citizens (1990).


It’s a fat book full of all kinds of histories—cultural, political, social—and, with this volume in hand, you can quickly get a good basic grasp of a very large and complicated—and endlessly fascinating—subject.  (And, if you enjoy history, it’s a page-turner.)


And, if you’d like to know more about the Pimpernel, here’s a LINK to the website.



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As always, dear readers, welcome.

The war around Troy was a very complicated thing, with traditions stretching in all directions.  In one, the Greeks actually sailed to Troy twice, the first time missing it entirely and landing in Mysia, to the east of Troy.


There, the Greeks were met by local defenders under their king, Telephus, who was wounded by Achilles


before the Greeks realized their mistake and withdrew.

After they’d gone, Telephus’ wound simply wouldn’t heal, but, after consulting oracles, he was told that there was a cure:  rust from the spear which had wounded him.  The Greeks had gone back to Greece to regroup and to try again, so Telephus went after them to request that Achilles treat the wound which he had made.  For some reason, Achilles refused, so Telephus grabbed the High King Agamemnon’s baby son, Orestes, and threatened to kill him if Achilles didn’t grant his request.


(This  scene bordered on the edge of hilarious to the Greeks and was the subject of parodies in ancient times—here’s a pot with one, Orestes being replaced by a wineskin.)


The threat worked and Achilles healed Telephus.


This isn’t the only example of the wound which won’t heal to be found in the Trojan material.  Philoctetes, who had inherited Heracles’ bow (given to him by Heracles because he helped with Heracles’ funeral pyre), was on his way with the other Greeks to Troy when he was bitten by a snake.  The wound wouldn’t heal and smelled so bad that the Greeks left him—and the bow—behind (this is one version—there are others).


Later in the story, however, a prophecy told the Greeks that they wouldn’t take Troy without the bow.  (By late in the Troy tradition, there had piled up  a number of these conditions—rather like the horcruxes in the Harry Potter books—all to keep the story going.)  Odysseus and Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus, went off to persuade—or steal—the bow (in one version—there are lots of others) and eventually persuaded Philoctetes to come to Troy with the bow, where he was healed and used the bow to aid the Greeks.


The theme of the unhealing wound reappears in western medieval literature in several places.  In the story of Tristan and Iseult,


Tristan is wounded fighting an Irish giant


and, as in the Greek stories of Telephus and Philoctetes, the wound won’t heal.  The theme appears again in the story of the Holy Grail—and like the Troy tradition, it has many versions.  In some, the last guardian of the Grail is a wounded king (sometimes called the “Fisher King”) .


But, if you’re a regular reader, you know where this is leading.  On Weathertop, Frodo is attacked by the Nazgul.


He is wounded with a morgul knife


and the tip of the blade not only remains in the wound, but begins to travel towards Frodo’s heart.  He is saved by Elrond’s healing powers, but, somehow, things are never quite the same and, some time after the hobbits return to the Shire–

“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.’” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)

We began with Greeks and the complex epic of Troy, then passed through a pair of medieval stories to The Lord of the Rings, but something in all of these tales interested us in what seemed a common theme:  protecting something, keeping something, can bring long-lasting harm to the protector/keeper, even if done for the best of reasons.  It’s less clear if this pertains to Philoctetes, but Telephus was defending his country, as was Tristan in fatally wounding the Irish giant, who was leading an invasion force to Cornwall, where Tristan lived.  The Fisher King is the guardian of the Grail.

Frodo clearly has come to understand this and, when the time comes, he goes with Bilbo and Gandalf and others to the Grey Havens and beyond, saying to Sam:

“…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.”image13grey.jpg


(These are two very different versions of the leave-taking at the Grey Havens—first, the Hildebrandts’, second, Alan Lee’s.)

Thanks, as always, for reading.



On the Horns


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Welcome, dear readers, as always.

Our friend, Erik, once said that one of his very favorite passages from The Lord of the Rings began with this:  “And as if in answer there came from far away another note.  Horns, horns, horns.  In dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed.  Great horns of the North, wildly blowing.  Rohan had come at last.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 4, “The Siege of Gondor”)

Of course this brings on the charge of the Rohirrim, one of our own favorite moments in the Jackson films.


And what is more exciting than a cavalry charge (as long as you don’t think too hard about the fate of the horses)?


Those horns begin blowing because Theoden:

“…seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder.  And straightaway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 5, “The Ride of the Rohirrim”)

A number of images immediately come into our minds when reading this.

First, when Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli initially come to Edoras and enter Meduseld,


(This is a particularly fine possible Meduseld by Inger Edelfeldt.)

they look up to see:

“Many woven cloths were hung upon the walls, and over their wide spaces marched figures of ancient legend, some dim with years, some darkling in the shade.  But upon one form the sunlight fell:  a young man upon a white horse.  He was blowing a great horn, and his yellow hair was flying in the wind.  The horse’s head was lifted, and its nostrils were wide and red as it neighed, smelling battle afar.  Foaming water, green and white, rushed and curled about its knees.

‘Behold Eorl the Young!’ said Aragorn.  ‘Thus he rode out of the North to the Battle of the Field of Celebrant.’”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 6, “The King of the Golden Hall”)


Thus, we’re reminded of an earlier rescue, when Eorl brought the Rohirrim out of the north in TA2510 to aid Gondor in defeating a combined army of orcs and Easterlings.

Second, anyone interested in Western medieval literature would be reminded of the early French poem, the Chanson de Roland (c1000AD),


in which Roland, a young warrior and leader of the rear guard of Charlemagne’s army, refuses to blow his horn for reinforcements when his men are ambushed in a pass, saying that to do so would be cowardice.


Rather than his horn exploding, Roland’s head does, from the exertion, but the broken horn makes us think of Boromir’s last stand, where he blows his horn, but no help comes until it’s too late.


All that we know of the horn which Theoden blew was that it was “great”—that is, big—but perhaps it looked like Boromir’s?

“On a baldric he worn a great horn tipped with silver that was now laid upon his knees.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)  Here’s a medieval one from the British Museum.


It should be remembered, of all of these horns, that they have a military use, both in Middle-earth and in our world, as a method of transferring commands from officers to soldiers, both in and out of battle, and what Theoden is actually doing is the musical equivalent of shouting CHARGE! to his 6000-man eored.  Nowhere is the military use of horns made clearer for earlier warfare than in the writing of the late Roman (4th c. AD) author, Vegetius.  In Book II of his De Re Militari (“Concerning Military Affairs”) he describes the use of such instruments:

“The music of the legion consists of trumpets, cornets and buccinae. The trumpet sounds the charge and the retreat. The cornets are used only to regulate the motions of the colors; the trumpets serve when the soldiers are ordered out to any work without the colors; but in time of action, the trumpets and cornets sound together. The classicum, which is a particular sound of the buccina or horn, is appropriated to the commander-in-chief and is used in the presence of the general, or at the execution of a soldier, as a mark of its being done by his authority. The ordinary guards and outposts are always mounted and relieved by the sound of trumpet, which also directs the motions of the soldiers on working parties and on field days. The cornets sound whenever the colors are to be struck or planted. These rules must be punctually observed in all exercises and reviews so that the soldiers may be ready to obey them in action without hesitation according to the general’s orders either to charge or halt, to pursue the enemy or to retire. F or reason will convince us that what is necessary to be performed in the heat of action should constantly be practiced in the leisure of peace.” (This is taken from a 1944 digest of the 1767 translation by John Clarke—if you would like to see the Latin original, here’s a LINK to a text.  The relevant passage is:  “XXII. Quid inter tubicines et cornicines et classicum intersit.”)

The three Latin terms translated as “trumpets, cornets and buccinae” are actually, “tubicines cornicines bucinatores”, meaning “players of tubae, players of cornua, players of buccinae”.   In this ancient relief, we can see, on the left, tuba-players, and, in the center, either players of cornu, or the buccina, as the instruments appear to be rather hard to distinguish in shape.


And here’s a modern reconstruction, by Peter Connolly.


We live in a world of such rapid electronic communication


that it might be easy to forget that, for centuries, any order beyond the sound of a general’s voice had to be transferred by other means.  Like Greek trumpeters,


or Roman


or medieval mounted messengers (the Latin says “messengers of William”).


Drums might be used—


and the early 18th-century British general, the Duke of Marlborough even had his own foot-messenger squad, wearing distinctive clothing (one, in blue, with a jockey cap, is just to the left of the Duke in this tapestry).


But what, we asked above, is more exciting than a cavalry charge (we once did a posting devoted specifically to them)—and what makes that more exciting than the trumpeter at the front, sounding the charge?



Thanks, as always, for reading.



Ring Composition


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

The title of this essay is derived from a technique in heroic literature, in which, in some way, the story/song ends, more or less where it began, just like a ring—or the Midgard Serpent, which encircles the earth in Norse mythology.


Thinking about ring composition made us think, of course, about the Ring


and to ask ourselves a question about the composition of The Lord of the Rings:  where did the idea of a powerful ring come from?

There has been a lot of scholarly work about what influenced JRRT, some of which he himself agreed with, some he did not.  For instance, the suggestion that Richard Wagner’s  (1813-1883)


huge 4-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen,   “The Ring of the Nibelung” (1848-1874)


might have provided a spark was vigorously dismissed by Tolkien—although, to our minds, there is a certain similarity—the ring of the title is a magical one, after all, whose power would allow the owner to rule the world—but it’s accursed and only brings unhappiness—or worse– to anyone who possesses it.  And yet characters in the four operas which make up the cycle struggle over its possession.   There, however, the similarity ends.  The maker of the ring isn’t a semi-divine figure who’s attempting to rebuild his kingdom through a combination of his magical powers and his political abilities, but, rather, a dwarf, named Alberich, who has stolen the gold from which the ring is made from the Rhine Maidens, and, in return, Alberich must give up love, which he renounces.


He soon loses the ring and there is no parallel with the Shire, or with hobbits:  this is a world with gods and heroes, all larger-than-life, and Sam, in particular, would feel very out of place here.  Just contrast the Hildebrandts’ Frodo and Sam meeting Faramir with this children’s theatre character sheet depicting the figures from the last of the four operas, Goetterdaemmerung, “The Gods’ Twilight”.



We would suggest that a stronger influence might be found in JRRT’s interest in Old English literature.  In that literature, Anglo-Saxon kings and lords are known as “ring-givers” and “gold-givers”,




who reward their followers—as well as singers—with precious decorations–as the poet in the poem called Widsith tells us:

Likewise I was among the Eatula with Ælfwine,
he had the lightest hand of all mankind, as I have heard,
to perform his praises, the most generous in the sharing of rings,
the bright bracelets, the child of Eadwine. (68-74)

(translation by Prof. Aaron K. Hostetter of Rutgers University, Camden—here’s a LINK so that you can read the whole poem—and much more—at his website—he has a wonderful project to translate a mass of Old English literature and has done a great deal to make it all accessible in one place.  As for Widsith, there’s a very useful Wiki article, if you’re interested.  Here’s a LINK to it.)

Whereas there might be some distant influence in the making of a powerful ring in Wagner’s operas, the giving of rings makes us think of Sauron, when he reappears in the Second Age.  At that time, he comes in the guise of “Annatar”, “Lord of Gifts” and, to gain power over the Elves, encourages them to make rings, all the while creating his own to overpower and master them.  As his power grows, he collects all of the rings he can (he never succeeds in getting the last three Elven rings) and doles them out, like those Anglo-Saxon kings and lords, to attempt to control dwarves and men, as well:

“But Sauron gathered into his hands all the remaining Rings of Power; and he dealt them out to the other peoples of Middle-earth, hoping thus to bring under his sway all those that desired secret power beyond the measure of their kind.” (The Silmarillion, 288)

The theme in both Wagner and The Silmarillion is that of supernatural control through what appears to be a rather ordinary object, a ring, something which, when Bilbo first finds it, is described as nothing more than “a tiny ring of cold metal” (The Hobbit, Chapter 5, “Riddles in the Dark”).  Tolkien may have been influenced by its appearance in opera, and more likely, by the use of rings in Old English, but there is an older possibility:

“Outside school-room hours his mother gave him plenty of story-books…The Arthurian legends also excited him.  But most of all he found delight in the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang, especially the Red Fairy Book, for tucked away in its closing pages was the best story he had ever read.  This was the tale of Sigurd who slew the dragon Fafnir:  a strange and powerful tale set in the nameless North.” (Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien, A Biography, 31)

Andrew Lang (1844-1912),


who might be considered a perfect example of the Victorian literary figure, having  written novels, poems, criticism, travelogues, and early anthropological works, had also begun publishing a series of collections of stories for children, each one of the series being bound in a different color.


His wife, Leonora Blanche Alleyne (1851-1933), did most of the editing after the initial volumes, publishing, in all, a dozen volumes between 1889 and 1910.  The Red Fairy Book (1890) was the second in the series


and it was in this volume that a little boy


first discovered dragons—and perhaps magic rings, as well, as in the story of Sigurd, we find:

“Now there was at that time a dwarf called Andvari, who lived in a pool beneath a waterfall, and there he had hidden a great hoard of gold. And one day Otter had been fishing there, and had killed a salmon and eaten it, and was sleeping, like an otter, on a stone. Then someone came by, and threw a stone at the otter and killed it, and flayed off the skin, and took it to the house of Otter’s father. Then he knew his son was dead, and to punish the person who had killed him he said he must have the Otter’s skin filled with gold, and covered all over with red gold, or it should go worse with him. Then the person who had killed Otter went down and caught the Dwarf who owned all the treasure and took it from him.

Only one ring was left, which the Dwarf wore, and even that was taken from him.

Then the poor Dwarf was very angry, and he prayed that the gold might never bring any but bad luck to all the men who might own it, for ever.” (Lang, editor, “The Story of Sigurd”)

And this is not the only ring to be found in The Red Fairy Book.

In the “Draft of a letter to ‘Mr. Rang’ ”, dated by Tolkien as “Aug. 1967”, JRRT has this to say about the origin of the name Moria:

“In fact this first appeared in The Hobbit chap.1.  It was there, as I remember, a casual ‘echo’ of Soria Moria Castle in one of the Scandinavian tales translated by Dasent.  (The tale had no interest for me:  I had already forgotten it and have never since looked at it…)” (Letters, 384)

The “Dasent” mentioned here is Sir George Webbe Dasent (1817-1896), lawyer, civil servant, and sometime professor of English Literature and Modern History at King’s College, London, who, in 1859, had published Popular Tales from the Norse, a translation from the Norwegian of a series of pamphlets and books by Asbjornsen and Moe under the general title “Norske Folkeeventyr” (“Norse Folktales”), published between 1841 and 1871.   By the third edition (1888), Dasent had added, among other works, a story entitled “Soria Moria Castle”.  Tolkien may have seen any one of the several different editions of this work as an adult, but, as a child, he would have first read “Soria Moria Castle” in the same Red Fairy Book in which he had encountered Sigurd and the dragon.  (Here’s a LINK to the Lang if you would like to see the two stories as JRRT would have.)

Beyond the title and its hint of Dwarfish mines, however, there is also a magic ring to be found in this story, given to the hero, Halvor, by three princesses whom he has rescued from trolls:

“Then they dressed him so splendidly that he was like a King’s son; and they put a ring on his finger, and it was one which would enable him to go there and back again by wishing, but they told him that he must not throw it away, or name their names; for if he did, all his magnificence would be at an end, and then he would never see them more.” (“Soria Moria Castle”)

JRRT was born in 1893.  We don’t know exactly when his mother may have handed him Lang’s collection, but it was in childhood, according to his own recollection.  Thus, the Ring—disguised as a ring—may have entered his life long before he heard an opera, or studied an earlier form of his native language.

The Lord of the Rings has a ring in its composition and we began this posting with talk of ring composition, but now we’re going to conclude by breaking loose from that ring by suggesting that perhaps that was the ultimate purpose in the original choice of the Ring for JRRT:  to symbolize completion not by circling back, but by the breaking of a seemingly unbreakable circle.  Sauron, once the servant of Melkor, but having great power of his own, has used that power not only to return and return through the ages from defeat, but to fashion a master ring, one which controls all others, giving him even more strength.  At the same time, it had required such strength to make such a ring that, at its destruction:

“ ‘The realm of Sauron is ended!’ said Gandalf. ‘The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest.’  And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky.  Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast, threatening hand, terrible but impotent:  for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 4, “The Field of Cormallen”)


(Another wonderful illustration by one of our favorite Tolkien illustrators, Ted Nasmith)

As Gandalf has said of the Ring:

“If it is destroyed, then he will fall, and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 9, “The Last Debate”)

Thus, after the Ring was destroyed, so was the ring of Sauron’s return in age after age, bringing about what we might then call “ring de-composition”and the story ends not where it began, but going towards old places—the Grey Havens and beyond—for some, and new places—the Fourth Age—for others.

Thanks, as ever, for reading.




Can we resist saying one thing more?  JRRT couldn’t—but was he thinking of a teaser for a sequel when Gandalf added to what he’d said above:

“Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary.”?

A Little Ring, the Least of Rings


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Welcome, readers, as always, and, if it’s part of your culture, Happy New Year!

We’ve recently been reading a book about Napoleon


and his first fall, in 1814.  He was forced to abdicate,


thereby losing the massive empire he had built up in the early 19th century.


His many enemies had a number of possibilities as to what to do with him.  They could, for example, have imprisoned him, as Edmond Dantes is in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (serialized 1844-46), in a fortress like the Chateau d’If.


Or, more radically—but certainly very effectively—they could have permanently removed him by the same means by which revolutionary France removed his predecessor, Louis XVI.


Instead, they allowed him not only to live, but even to continue to be a kind of monarch—although only of a tiny island, Elba, off the west coast of Italy.


They thought they’d seen the last of him, leaving him to spend the rest of his life as a sovereign of a ragged collection of fishermen and farmers.


For Napoleon, however, who always saw himself as destined for only the greatest things, being king of Elba must have felt to him rather like the way the genie in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) expresses the contrast in his life–


That being the case, Napoleon lived on Elba for less that a year before he planned and accomplished his escape.


Back in France, he was welcomed by the very soldiers sent to stop him,



raised new armies,



marched north to deal with his nearest enemies, Prussia and England, and was finally—and permanently—defeated at Waterloo, 18 June, 1815.



This time, his enemies, having learned their lesson, sent Napoleon as far away from Europe as they could and to a much less hospitable place, the island of St Helena, in the South Atlantic,


where he died in 1821.


From his first success, at the siege of Toulon in 1793,


Napoleon had climbed and climbed until, by 1801, he was the real ruler of France (as “First Consul”)


and then, in 1804, Emperor.


And yet, it was never enough, which reminds us of so many of the “great conquerors” of history, from Alexander,



to Jinghiz Khan and his successors,



to Hitler.



In every case throughout history, no conqueror has ever had enough and, if we move out of this earth to Middle-earth, we find Sauron, a figure in many ways like all of these earthly conquerors, who, although defeated by an alliance of Elves and Men in the past, has returned and, in time, reacquired immense power.  To begin with, he has the entire realm of Mordor.


He has also somehow gained the means to create giant fortifications (sometimes based upon older constructions), like the Barad-dur


and the Morannon and all of the other inner and outer works of Mordor.


He also controls the Nazgul,


massive armies of orcs,


as well as allies from the Harads and Umbar.


All of which he has done, it seems, by whatever innate powers he possesses—without the Ring.  And this made us wonder:  what is it that the Ring actually does for its wearer that Sauron wants it back?

Certainly, the only power Gollum appears to have gotten from the Ring is that of invisibility (and the side-effect of longevity).


This is true for Bilbo, as well,


and for Frodo–


although, when Frodo puts on the Ring on Weathertop, he is plunged into a kind of alternate dimension, seeing the Nazgul as they really are


and, again, on Ammon Hen, he is put into direct contact with the Ring’s real owner.


Does this suggest that the Ring’s power is only as powerful as the Ring’s current wearer? Galadriel confirms this when Frodo asks her about the other rings: “why cannot I see all the others and know the thoughts of those that wear them?”

To which she replies:

“Did not Gandalf tell you that the rings give power according to the measure of each possessor?”

(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

This then accounts for Gandalf’s almost violent explanation when Frodo offers it to him:

“’No!’ cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.’ His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. ‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great, for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.’” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)

Or when Frodo offers it to Galadriel:

“You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)


Sauron has been able to accomplish so much without the Ring—what would happen should he ever wear it again?  In “The Shadow of the Past”, Gandalf tells Frodo that it controls the other rings—even the three long-concealed from Sauron:

“The Three are hidden still.  But that no longer troubles him. He only needs the One; for he made that Ring himself, it is his, and he let a great part of his own former power pass into it, so that he could rule all the others.  If he recovers it, then he will command them all again, even the Three, and all that has been wrought with them will be laid bare, and he will be stronger than ever.”

And, just as important—maybe even more so—Sauron has based his place of power and refuge, his sure foundation in Middle-earth, upon it, as Elrond tells the council:

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

So, then, just as Napoleon, exiled on Elba, could plot and accomplish return, given the Ring, Sauron, defeated before, could return and, with a greed for conquest as insatiable as that of the French emperor, reappear again and again in Middle-earth, where there was no St Helena to keep him for good.


Thanks for reading!






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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

At the end of Star Wars 1:  The Phantom Menace, the Gungan leader, Boss Nass, raises a large crystalline globe and shouts, “Peace!”


After all of the chaos which comes before, including the death or capture of many of the Gungans in battle with the forces of the Trade Federation,


this declaration, including that mysterious globe, sounds a happy and satisfied note.

As a young man, just finished with university, Second Lieutenant Tolkien



saw a great deal of the effects of war upon western Europe




and must have rejoiced as both soldiers and civilians did at the news of the armistice, 11 November, 1918.



He then went on with his life, having married during the war, eventually produced four children, and worked his way rather rapidly up the academic ladder during the 1920s and 1930s.


Along with various scholarly works, he published, in 1937, The Hobbit.


The Great War (the First World War to people in the US) was supposed, in HG Wells’


1914 book title,  to be “The War That Will End War”.


Instead, combined with everything from financial disasters in the 1920s and ‘30s to the rise of dictators during that same period,


there was a Second World War, with even more destruction.



The end of this brought more relief and rejoicing.


It did not, however, bring an end to war, either, and Tolkien’s England—along with much of western Europe—had suffered horribly through the six years of this second war, damage which lasted for years after its end.


During the same period, however, he continued both his academic and creative work,


and, of course, the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings appeared in the mid-1950s.


Since then, the world has suffered war after war—so many that we would have difficulty listing them all, even if we wanted to—and massive destruction by weapons which are increasingly more effective.


It is so in the Star Wars galaxy, of course.  Boss Nass’ cry would be a short-lived one.  The victory on Naboo was only the beginning of a massive war between the Republic and the Separatists.


This was then succeeded by the First Galactic Empire,


during which at least one planet, Alderaan, was destroyed.


But, when the Empire was eventually defeated,


the cycle seemed to begin all over again with the rise of The First Order.


None of this, fictional or real, would, we think, have surprised JRRT.  After all, not only had he seen the real horrific destruction of two World Wars, but he had imagined and depicted scenes of similar violence and destruction, especially in The Lord of the Rings.  We have only to remember the ruin of Isengard,


the wreckage at Minas Tirith,


and, of course, the decimation of the Shire.


But what cure—even temporary—would he have suggested for such savagery and waste?  We would suggest that, although as a firm believer, he would assume that a return to the Garden of Eden


was permanently out of human reach—


yet gardens and the trees within and around them were not.  And we remember Galadriel’s gift to Sam:

“For you little gardener and lover of trees, …I have only a small gift… Here is set G for Galadriel,…but it may stand for garden in your tongue. In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it. It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you. Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there. Then you may remember Galadriel, and catch a glimpse far off of Lórien, that you have seen only in our winter. For our spring and our summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory.”

(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 8, “Farewell to Lorien”)

For Tolkien, who loved trees more than almost anything,


perhaps this would have been enough.


Thanks, as always, for reading.  At the turn of the Western year, we wish you peace and prosperity in the year to come.



Hands Down


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As always, dear readers, welcome.

Recently, we quoted the leader of the Uruk-hai, Ugluk:

“We are the fighting Uruk-hai!  We slew the great warrior.  We took the prisoners.  We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand:  the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat.”  (The Two Towers,  Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)

That White Hand is, of course, Saruman’s


special badge (in our contemporary world, we might say that it was his “logo”), which we see for the first time on the shield of a dead orc:

“There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands.  They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs; and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men.  Upon their shields they bore a strange device:  a small white hand in the centre of a black field… (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 1, “The Departure of Boromir”)


We can imagine why Sauron has that red eye


for his emblem—fiery to indicate Sauron’s turbulent nature (and perhaps relation to Satan—another fallen angel/Maia), plus unblinking, to show that, like Big Brother,


he’s always watching—a fact rather broadly expressed in the Jackson films, where the eye has been turned into a searchlight—or, at best, a lighthouse beacon.  (And yes, this is a Barad-dur desk lamp.)


But why does Saruman use a white hand?  And which direction should it face?  In the films, it seems to be applied upside down


which, to us seems like the wrong way up—besides being more difficult to apply as face paint.  What is the meaning of the symbolic use of that hand?

This put us to thinking about hands in The Lord of the Rings in general.  We considered the Ring on and off various hands and even those who lost a finger wearing it, but these all seemed rather passive and, thinking of what Ugluk says, we imagine Saruman’s hand as active.  That being the case, the first prominent hand we could think of was that of the Barrow-wight:

“[Frodo] heard behind his head a creaking and scraping sound.  Raising himself on one arm he looked, and saw now in the pale light that they were in a kind of passage which behind them turned a corner  Round the corner a long arm was groping, walking on its fingers towards Sam, who was lying nearest, and towards the hilt of the sword that lay upon him.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 8, “Fog on the Barrow-downs”)


This is certainly a menacing thing and reminds us of something from the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments, where to indicate the deaths of the first-born of Egypt (from the Book of Exodus, Chapter 11, in the Hebrew Bible), the film makers showed viewers this—


a kind of spindly green hand, which can still creep us out as its function is to grasp things—in this case a sword which will be used to sacrifice the hobbits.

Our next hand—or hands–were those of Galadrielimage8galadriel.jpg

when she takes Frodo and Sam to her Mirror and tells them about the struggle with Sauron:

“She lifted up her white arms and spread out her hands towards the East in a gesture of rejection and denial.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

Long ago, we did a posting on that gesture, which comes right out of 19th-century rhetorical and theatrical practice.  As this plate illustrates, such gestures were stylized and memorized for their effect on the speaker’s platform, as well as the stage.


We were reminded of our final hands by Galadriel’s gesture:  the Argonath,


described as:

“Upon great pedestals founded in the deep waters stood two great kings of stone:  still with blurred eyes and crannied brows they frowned upon the North.  The left hand of each was raised palm outwards in gesture of warning; in each right hand there was an axe…” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 9, “The Great River”)

So far, we’ve seen hands which grasp, hands which reject, and hands which warn and perhaps we can imagine that all of these might be part of the message of Saruman’s white hand.  Saruman, in taking up the role of “Mini-Sauron”, has rejected the West he was sent to protect.  In his desire to build his own empire, he has allied himself with Sauron and made war on Rohan, attempting to grasp more and more territory while sacrificing his honor and purpose as one of the Maiar.  That he is not now what he seems to have been in the past should also be a warning of what he intends in the present and what, even maimed, he might be capable of in the future, as the Shire will learn when Saruman becomes Sharkey.

Is there more to this image?  We wouldn’t be surprised:  Sauron is intentionally kept off-stage, we believe to make him that much more menacing, so the real evil we see is, literally, in the hands of Saruman.


Thanks, as ever, for reading.



Baruk Khazad!


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As always, dear readers, welcome.

Ever since we saw the original Lord of the Rings films, we’ve been thinking about Gimli and his major weapon.


In The Hobbit, it would appear that the dwarves had not been armed until they used what was in the Lonely Mountain after Smaug had gone:

“Now the dwarves took down mail and weapons from the walls, and armed themselves.  Royal indeed did Thorin look, clad in a coat of gold-plated rings, with a silver-hafted axe in a belt crusted with scarlet stones.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 13, “Not at Home”)

This is where the mithril coat which eventually protects Frodo in Moria and turns up in the hands of the Mouth of Sauron comes from, when Thorin gives it to Bilbo.


Not long after we first meet Gimli, at the Council of Elrond, however, we see Gimli already kitted out for war:

“Gimli the dwarf alone wore openly a short shirt of steel rings, for dwarves make light of burdens; and in his belt was a broad-bladed axe.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 3, “The Ring Goes South”)

Certainly, the axe in Gimli’s right hand in the photo wouldn’t fit through a belt and allow for comfort or freedom of movement and we note that, in that same photo, Gimli appears to have another—but that looks too long for comfort, as well.


That the two axes fit in with the general persona of dwarves, however, seems to be true—after all, the translation of our title for this post is “Axes of the dwarves!”  (to be followed by Khazad ai-menu!  “the dwarves are upon you!”), which is the dwarves’ rallying cry.  What kind (or kinds) of axes these are doesn’t seem so clear, then.  Alan Lee, for example, shows us a dwarf with something which isn’t really an axe at all, but looks more like an adze, which is a tool used in woodworking to smooth and shape wood.


the Broad Axe vs. the Adze - Handmade Houses... with Noah ...



Because JRRT describes Gimli’s axe as being tuckable, we wondered whether he was thinking of the kind of throwing axe, a francisca, used by Frankish warriors (and which gave them their name).



When we actually see Gimli in battle, however, he isn’t throwing, but swinging his axe.  At Helm’s deep he says to Legolas, “Give me a row of orc-necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me!”  And then he swings that axe:  “An axe swung and swept back.  Two Orcs fell headless.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 7, “Helm’s Deep”)

This leads us to ask if perhaps JRRT himself wasn’t clear about Gimli’s weapon.  He never throws it, using it always as a chopper, and, when we thinking of axes with a haft—that is, handle–long enough to do that, we don’t think of that odd item in the image above—which doesn’t look substantial enough to cut through cervical vertebrae—


but rather of the long-hafted axe, or “Dane axe”  perhaps carried by the giant Viking who defended Stamford Bridge single-handedly against the Anglo-Saxons on 25 September, 1066,



with its razor-sharp blade.


This was the kind of axe that we see carried by the huscarl, the bodyguards, of the English king, Harold Godwinson, in the depiction of the Battle of Hastings, 14 October, 1066, on the so-called Bayeux Tapestry.



One of which Harold may himself been carrying when he was killed, if the caption on the cloth is referring to Harold being cut down by the mounted Norman in this part of the tapestry.


These same axes also appear to turn up as part of the armament of the Varangian Guard, the bodyguard of a number of Byzantine emperors from the 10th to 14th centuries, as depicted in the 11th-century  Skylitzis Chronicle.


Much of this guard was made up of Norsemen and Anglo-Saxons, so the pattern of axe, we imagine, was something which both groups brought with them from their original homes.


This is clearly the sort of thing to whack off heads, even two at a time, and so, if we can quietly detach it from Gimli’s belt and have him stand, perhaps even leaning on it, we have the Gimli who competes with Legolas at Helm’s Deep in the number of orcs each has dispatched.


Thanks, as ever, for reading.



Who Goes There? (4)


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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

This post will complete our series on watchmen, sentries, and patrols in The Lord of the Rings and how confrontations with such figures may change the action.

In our last, we’d gotten as far as Edoras and, within, Meduseld, with Hama, its doorwarden.


(This is actually from John Howe’s painting of Heorot, the mead hall in Beowulf, but, as Meduseld is meant to mean “mead hall” in Rohirric—the language of Rohan—we figure that we can justify the substitution.)

From Edoras, we’ll follow Gandalf and Pippin to Minas Tirith,


passing through the Rammas Echor, the old barrier wall protecting the fields of the Pelennor, where Gandalf talks  with Ingold, who appears to be in charge of repairing a section of that wall fallen into disrepair.  (See The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith”)  We don’t have a illustration of this—although we think that it would make a good one—so, as we think of the Rammas Echor as a cousin of Hadrian’s wall, here’s an illustration of that wall under construction, just to give the idea.


But we said we will follow Gandalf and Pippin.  First, we have to double back to Isengard, where the Ents have wreaked justifiable havoc.


(A T Nasmith we’ve used before)

When Gandalf and crowd come to call upon Saruman, they meet with very different doorwardens from Hama:

“The king and all his company sat silent on their horses, marvelling, perceiving that the power of Saruman was overthrown; but how they could not guess.  And now they turned their eyes towards the archway and the ruined gates.  There they saw close beside them a great rubble heap; and suddenly they were aware of two small figures lying on it at their ease, grey-clad, hardly to be seen among the stones.  There were bottles and bowls and platters laid beside them, as if they had just eaten well, and now rested from their labour.  One seemed asleep, the other, with crossed legs and arms behind his head, leaned back against a broken rock and sent from his mouth long wisps and little rings of thin blue smoke.”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 8, “The Road to Isengard”)


It’s Merry and Pippin, of course, and, for Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, after their long, grim march across northern Rohan in search of their missing companions, only to have Eomer suggest that they’ve been killed with the orcs, this is certainly a change of mood, as well as a change of plot—not only are the two restored, but Pippin will help to rescue Faramir from his mad father and Merry will save Eowyn from the Nazgul.

Now, however, having picked up Pippin, we’ll continue on to Minas Tirith,


where, at the approach of Shadowfax:

“So Gandalf and Peregrin rode to the Great Gate of the Men of Gondor at the rising of the sun, and its iron doors rolled back before them…Then men fell back before the command of his voice…” (The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith”)

Passing up through the seven levels of the city, they dismounted at the gate of the Citadel, where:

“The Guards of the gate were robed in black, and their helms were of strange shape, high-crowned, with long cheek-guards close-fitting to the face, and above the cheek-guards were set the white wings of sea-birds; but the helms gleamed with a flame of silver, for they were indeed wrought of mithril, heirlooms from the glory of old days.  Upon the black surcoats were embroidered in white a tree blossoming like snow beneath a silver crown and many-pointed stars.”

This was an image surprisingly difficult to find.  Here’s a depiction (sort of) from the Jackson films.


The helmet might be right, but the black surcoat is missing—here’s Pippin, also from the films, wearing one.


We add to this an image by a Russian illustrator, Denis Gordeev.  Here, the helmet may not be quite what we’d expect, but the rest of the ensemble works.


It says much for Gandalf’s influence in Minas Tirith that neither does Ingold, at the Rammas Echor, challenge him, nor the guards at the main gate of Minas Tirith, nor those at the Citadel—as Ingold says:

“Yea, truly we know you, Mithrandir…and you know the pass-words of the Seven Gates and are free to go forward.”

Our next sentries, are not so easily passed however, as Frodo and Sam discover, when:

“Four tall Men stood there.  Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads.  Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows.  All had swords at their sides, and were clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien.  Green gauntlets covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes, which were very keen and bright.” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 4, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”)


Their outfits immediately made us think of NC Wyeth’s Robin Hood and his men


from Wyeth’s 1917 Robin-hood.


Their leader, Faramir, questions Frodo and Sam closely before letting them go—and this meeting gives Faramir news of the end of Boromir, a view of Boromir’s character from Frodo, as well as providing us with a view of Faramir, who says of the Ring:

“I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway.  Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory.  No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.”  (The Two Towers, Book Four,  Chapter 5, “The Window on the West”)

Once he knows their purpose, Faramir lets them go—to much worse sentries.  First, there are orc patrols, like those of Shagrat and Gorbag.

Image13:  shag and bagimage13shagnbag.jpg

There is no conversation here between hobbits and orcs, but we certainly gain a better view of orc loyalty, as one orc leader, Gorbag, says to another, Shagrat:

“What d’you say? –if we get a chance, you and me’ll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there’s good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”)

Then there are the Watchers at the Tower of Cirith Ungol:

“They were like great figures seated upon thrones.  Each had three joined bodies, and three heads facing outward, and inward, and across the gateway.  The heads had vulture-faces, and on their great knees were laid clawlike hands.  They seemed to be carved out of huge blocks of stone, immovable, and yet they were aware:  some dreadful spirit of evil vigilance abode in them.  They knew an enemy.  Visible or invisible none could pass unheeded…” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”)


And here are the last sentries and perhaps a last sign for Frodo and Sam before their terrible and near-fatal trip across Mordor that there is still power for good in a world grown dark.  Having rescued Frodo from his orcish imprisonment, Sam and Frodo have come up against the Watchers, who seem to block their way until:

“ ‘Gilthoniel, A Elbereth!’ Sam cried…

Aiya elenion ancalima!’ cried Frodo once again behind him.

The will of the Watchers was broken with a suddenness like the snapping of a cord, and Frodo and Sam stumbled forward. “

There are no more sentries, although the two hobbits will be passed by a small search party and will then be swept up into an orc marching company before being on their own on the way to Mount Doom, where we will leave them and this set of postings.

As always, thanks for reading and