Assyrians, Charles Goodyear, cyclops, David and Goliath, Death Star, Egypt, Ewoks, Greeks, Hetep Senworset, Hobbits, Jack and the Beanstalk, Kelandry of Mindelan, Lachish, Medieval, Odysseus, Polyphemus, Protector of the Small, Romans, Sling, slingers, Slingshot, Smaug, Star Wars, Tamora Pierce, thrush, Tortall, Vulcanized, Woses, Yoda
Welcome, dear readers, as always.
Sometimes, ideas for posts come from something we’ve seen in a movie theatre or something we’re reading or even from something we’re teaching or studying. Sometimes we employ the Sortes Tolkienses. And sometimes things just seem to fall into our hands. And that’s where this post comes from.
We were moving a bookshelf and something literally dropped into our hands, a boxed set of books by one of our favorite YA authors, Tamora Pierce.
As you can see from our image, the series is called “Protector of the Small” and is about the life of Keladry of Mindelan, who lives in Pierce’s imaginary Tortall, where it is possible—just possible—for a girl to become a knight. Through the four volumes, Kel gradually works her way from pre-page to knighthood and, is always the case with TP’s books, there are both surprises and interesting and not always predictable difficulties along the way, as well as an ultimate humanity which makes her books such satisfying reading.
It wasn’t the actual books, however, which got us to thinking, but the word “small” in the series title. How often, in our favorite adventure stories, it’s a case of small versus big
and, very often, the big thinks that that’s all which counts—think of the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” for example.
For all that the giant is huge and menacing in the story, he’s vulnerable as he climbs down the beanstalk and Jack’s quick thought–to cut down the stalk even as the giant descends–makes quick work of the oversized (but perhaps overconfident—and underbrained?) creature.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we have the Biblical story of David and Goliath.
Goliath is not only huge, but armored, and David is a boy who has only his shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five stones from a river bed, but it’s all he needs.
A sling is an ancient weapon
This is from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom town of Hetep Senwosret, c. 1895BC. The Assyrians were still using the weapon more than a thousand years later, as this scene from one of the Lachish reliefs (c.700BC) shows.
The Greeks had slingers
as did the Romans
as did medieval westerners.
Slings shouldn’t be confused with slingshots, by the way. (Or “catapult” if you’re one of our British friends.)
This is the weapon of choice of the cartoon character, Dennis the Menace.
These are a modern invention which requires a large rubber band (an “elastic”) to propel the missile and such rubber bands can only come from the 1840s and beyond, when the process of heat-hardening rubber (“vulcanization”) was patented by Charles Goodyear.
For us, then, the image of Ori in P Jackson’s film armed with a slingshot
goes into our catalogue of anachronisms, like the steam engine whistle, the popgun, and the tomatoes in The Hobbit.
But, as we were saying, small David has no fear of big Goliath, as one of those stones from the riverbed stuns the giant warrior, allowing David to use Goliath’s own sword to cut off his head.
In ancient Greek tradition, Polyphemus the Cyclops obviously thinks his size will allow him to consume all of Odysseus’ men—and then Odysseus, too, saving him for last as a “guest gift”.
Big body, however, doesn’t necessarily mean big brain as Odysseus gets the Cyclops drunk and then blinds him with his own staff.
Then, he uses the Cyclops’ own sheep as escape vehicles for himself and his men.
Small versus big is a major theme in Star Wars, from the fact that the gigantic Death Star has a single ventilator duct which makes it vulnerable
to attack by a single fighter,
to the ferocious Ewoks,
and, of course, Yoda, with his famous question.
And then there are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, where the world of the small and tough seems to be everywhere, from the hobbits
to the dwarves
and even to the Woses.
Their opponents are suitably large—trolls,
to the biggest evil in Middle-earth (although it’s not clear, really, how big he is, physically).
But there’s someone even smaller in The Hobbit who, because of that size, perhaps, is left behind, but is crucial to the story: the elderly thrush
who informs Bard the Bowman just where to fire that black arrow which never fails him—and doesn’t this time, thanks to the bird.
We were sorry that his part was completely removed from The Battle of the Five Armies, but perhaps this was, in fact, one of the few times when the small hero lost to the big–studio.
Thanks, as ever, for reading.
Here’s a LINK to an amazing demonstration of just how accurate the sling can be.