Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Since today is New Year's Eve, and since the New Year was one of the times given to wassailing, I am posting a song that falls, at least part way into that tradition. It is actually bits of three songs, arranged as one by Peter, Paul and Mary, and which they call A Soalin'.

There are actually three traditions combined here, as well as three songs - there is an old custom, of which I was completely unaware, called souling, in which people would go from door to door on All Souls Day (November 2nd), to sing and pray for the dead, and in return, they would be giving a soul cake The modern custom of trick-or-treating is thought to come from this older tradition. It is very similar to the wassailing traditions, which could take place any time between harvest, to just before early planting, which would be around February, although, it was strongly associated with the New Year. And with God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman tagged on at the end, we've come to the familiar caroling tradition, which we practice now. There is a bit more information to be found here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Candlelight Carol

While old songs with a bit of history attached to them are particularly nice, and are probably my favourite sort of music, sometimes a really lovely modern song turns up, which is every bit as fine and satisfying. Candlelight Carol is just such a song. It was written in 1984 by John Rutter, and has been covered by numerous artists, but I only heard it for the first time this year, sung by the Welsh tenor, Aled Jones, and I have become immensely fond of it:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Scottish Christmas

Well, it is very like me to propose to post daily, and then to become too busy to follow through with it. So today, to sort of catch  up a wee, I am posting two songs - Scottish carols, both of them, one translated from the Gaelic, and one in Scots.

By now, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that I am terribly fond of Christmas - and of history, and traditions and folk-customs - all of which interests come together so beautifully at this time of year, that I tend to spend rather a lot of time in delighted research. Some Christmas traditions are practically universal - the appearance of the St. Nicholas/Father Christmas figure for example - others are peculiar to certain nations - such as the Irish practice of placing a lighted candle in the window to guide the Holy Family to shelter, should they be in need of it. I find it all tremendously interesting. 

Scotland is sort of the odd man out as far as Christmas traditions go. A cursory search on the matter will provide you with the rather sad information that Christmas as a national holiday is a surprisingly recent development in that country; that Christmas was pretty much treated as an ordinary day until about the 50's; that it was the New Year's celebrations that people really observed. It takes a bit of digging to find out that this is only true as far as it goes. Before the Reformation, Scotland marked Christmastide with as much ceremony and celebration as the rest of Europe did. Then John Knox showed up, and while later came Cromwell and the Covenanters, and for a time the celebration of Christmas was against the law throughout all the United Kingdom. However, there always were little groups of people who continued to keep Christmas anyway - in secret, but as fully and as joyfully as could be managed. Eventually, the law was repealed, and in England, the celebration of it was observed with renewed enthusiasm.

That was not the case in Scotland, however. New Year's Day was observed, but the only people who celebrated Christmas, for the longest time, were the Catholics, and some of the more 'papish' sort of Protestant denominations. It is hard to find out too much more about it. The impression one gets is that it was what we would now term a 'fringe' phenomenon. However, I found this very lovely Christmas card from the Great War, from the Cameron Highlanders, so it can't have been all so small as all that:

From the collection of Rev. William White Anderson,
St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh
And both the carols I am posting are from the time in which Christmas was officially not celebrated. The first, The Christ Child Lullaby was originally written in Gaelic during the 19th century and sung during Midnight Mass in the Outer Hebrides. The version I first heard was sung by The Boys of the Lough, and had some really great bass harmonies going for it, but alack and alas, that version is all but impossible to find in any form whatsoever. This is quite nice, though, so you are getting this version instead:

Balulalow, is quite an old carol by comparison. It was translated from German into Scots by the Wedderburn brothers during the 16th century, which puts it squarely during the Reformation. I only heard this song for the first time a few years back, and was immensely taken with it:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Second Day of Christmas

When I was little,  we mostly listened to the sort of Christmas music which, for lack of a better term, I shall call the classics - you know, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, popular carols by the best popular singers of the century. Good music, all of it, and all very familiar. I liked it then, and I am still very fond of most of it. - it wouldn't seem like Christmas without them. However, The first time I heard Gesu Bambino, it was something of a revelation to me. It is an old song, but it was new to me, and the lyrics, being fresh and original, struck me with particular poignancy. In the oddly affecting way of music, it made me feel almost as if I were hearing the story of Christ's birth again for the first time. I was hugely taken with it, and for the longest time, it was my absolute favourite carol, hands down. I cannot say that it single-handedly shaped my taste in Christmas music, but it certainly helped, and it was my first introduction into that vast body of songs, both ancient and modern, which the sheer beauty of Christmas inspires. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Past Three O'Clock, On A Cold and Frosty Morning....

Merry Christmas to us, one and all!

Most years around Christmas, I start a series of posts about various Advent and Twelve Days of Christmas customs. This year, I have mostly neglected my poor blog, however, I sort of intend to make up for it by posting lesser known Christmas songs for each day of the season of Christmas. They are songs that I like particularly, and are usually songs that made an impression on me the first time I heard them. Today, being Christmas, I am going to post two songs which have very little in common, but both are singularly joyous feeling of both:

My family likes to attend Midnight Mass whenever possible, and the nearest Latin Mass for us often involves a 2 hour drive down the mountains and foothills, and into the city. We'd leave at about 9:30 in the evening to get there in time, and we would seldom get home before 4:00 in the morning. I have an old, and much loved tape of Christmas music, ranging from Medieval carols, sung by choirs, to traditional old songs, played on fiddles and bagpipes. I always listened to that tape during the drive, and as often as not, as we left the city and began to climb into the mountains, this song would cycle through... and there are few things more beautiful than driving in the cold, pure winter night, beneath a black velvet sky, thick with stars that glitter with unbelievable brilliance upon the heaped up snows. And if this song is making a soundtrack to the drive, so much the better. It could just be that the wee sma' hours of the morning turn the most prosaic of us into poets, but those early morning drives, shot through with the lingering benediction of Midnight Mass seem to have a touch of heaven itself to them.

And I would often listen to this one too. It is not so beautiful as the first, but it reminds me rather of the way we celebrate Christmas - Mass and feasting, the very essence of a proper Christmas celebration:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Get the Champagne - Today is an Anniversary!

I suppose it is a mark of just how much of a nerd I am, that I am terribly excited to discover, via the Google Doodle, that today marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the crossword puzzle. Yes, I actually do crossword puzzles regularly. I have a huge book of New York Times puzzles that I've been working on for a couple years. I have several smaller books of wordplay games, which I carry about. I am terribly fond of Bananagrams. At present, Google has a crossword puzzle up for you to play with it you want to. And I, to celebrate, shall bestow upon you all, the following bits of trivia about crosswords.

1.) The first crossword puzzle was published in the Sunday New York World - and was created by a Liverpudlian named Arthur Wynne.

2.) Crossword puzzles are based of an older children's game of word square, in which words were entered into a grid, so that the words can be read both horizontally and vertically. For example:

Word squares is, in turn, believed to have come from a Latin tradition, based on carved examples of what is knows as the Sator Square:

File:Sator Square at Oppède.jpg

3.) A crossword puzzle published in the Daily Telegraph was used as a recruiting device by the British Secret Service during WWII. I can't remember which book I read, about Bletchley Park and the breaking of the Nazi's Enigma Code, which had a reprint of the puzzle in it. Potential recruits had to finish it in 12 minutes, and I was only halfway through by that time. However, I shall point out that British crosswords are considerably different from the American puzzles I am used to - there is a lot of punning wordplay involved. Here is one of the clues for an example:

4ac - The direct route preferred by the Roundheads. 

The answer is a short cut. Because, you see, the Roundheads were given that nickname on account of their hair, which was cut very short by the standards of the time, and a short cut is usually the most direct route. So there you are. 

4.) Crosswords became part of WWII history again during the top secret Allied preparations for the D-Day invasions. A number of code words for the operation showed up as answers to the puzzle, causing fears of leaked information. It turned out to be mostly a co-incidence, however. The puzzle's creator had overheard soldiers using some of the words, but since they sounded so harmless - mulberry surely could not mean anything could it? - he had no idea that it was code. 

5.) Although crosswords became a regular feature of most papers during the 1910's, the word crossword did not enter the dictionaries until 1930

Finally, here is a copy of the original crossword puzzle, in case anyone wants to get in on the fun, as solve it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Is Coming...

.... The goose is getting fat.... But we are not quite at Christmas, yet. It is still the season of Advent. 

I love Advent, almost as much as I love Christmas - oh, sure, it is a time of fasting and penance, but Advent is a preparation for the birth of the Christ Child, and the feeling that comes with it is the same sort of suppressed excitement that a household experiences in the days before a baby's birth - that getting-ready, slightly impatient anticipation. Advent, for all the self-denial associated with it, is fun.

And beautiful. There's the Advent Wreath, for example:


The Advent Wreath comes out on the fourth Sunday before Christmas - in all its splendour of evergreens and candles. Every day, before dinner, we light a candle - or two, or three, or four, depending on the week - say a little prayer, and sing, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I love it.

And let's not forget the Nativity set which comes out when the Advent Wreath does. It is just the stable at first, with one or two of the animals. More figures are added as the season progresses. Mary and Joseph go in on Christmas eve, and the Baby goes in first thing in the morning Christmas day. 

When I was younger, we had an empty crib for Mom's beautiful little statue of the Baby Jesus. We'd cut thin little strips of yellow construction paper into straw, and every time one of us kids would do an act of virtue, we could place straw in the crib, so that He would be comfortable when He came. I don't do it now, though my room mate sister has a wee crib very similar to my Mom's and it is waiting for the coming of the Christ Child, just as the rest of us are:

And now.... I go. Here is a lovely arrangement of O Come Emmanuel by the Piano Guys. If I ever come across a sung version of the song that I like well enough to post, I will, but in the meantime, this is quite nice:

 PS. I am behind on all my blog-following, and blog-commenting. I apologise. I do have a reason, which I shall not bore anyone with. Suffice it to say that there is a doctor involved, and bed rest, and that my mind seems to flit off on its own rather more than is usual for it. I shall try to be better.... anon....

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 30

Best Lord of the Rings Picture Ever
First off, I have to thank Melody and Kiri for hosting the 30 Middle Earth Challenge. I have enjoyed it ridiculously much, and can hardly believe that it is over. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to over-indulge in Tolkien this way, to revisit Middle Earth, and to really think about the stories. I am now very much in the mood for epics, written in spare, poetic language, with plenty of battles, and beauty. 

And now, the final challenge. The best Lord of the Rings picture.... Well, honestly, I sort of give up. I am going to be totally nerdy and post my favourite Tolkien picture. This one here, by Donato Giancola:

J R R Tolkien, by Donato Giancola
This is a really, really great picture - just look at it. Tolkien is sitting before a round, hobbit-hole window, with his pipe close to hand. If you look closely at that picture on his desk, you will see that he is painting Barrels out of Bondage - the cover illustration for The Hobbit and behind it, the design for Moria door:

That chair at his desk, it is embroidered with the Tree of Gondor - according to the artist, a gift to Bag End from King Elessar:

The tea cups on the table behind him, bear the devices of Beren (on the right) and Luthien (the left):

There is a copy of Beowulf on the shelf to the left of the window. Beowulf had a great influence on Tolkien - readers of The Hobbit will find Beowulf's dragon to be very familiar:

And lastly, on the shelves to the right, you will observe a copy of The Hobbit in its original green slip cover, and a three volume set of The Lord of the Rings:

All pictures are taken from The Land of Shadow and you should definitely click on the link, and read about the inspiration for the painting. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 29

My Tolkien Collection

So... I have a lot of Tolkien stuff - mostly books, and some movie related items. I didn't actually realise quite how much I had until I took the pictures. Here is all of it, including a nice copy of his Letters, the beautiful red leather copy of The Lord of the Rings and a similarly fine green copy of The Hobbit. I think I own nearly every volume of the The Histories of Middle Earth - i.e. practically every thing Tolkien wrote as he developed his mythology:

So here we have a pile of nice hard backs, including a Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a medieval poem in Middle English, which Tolkien worked on. For lack of a better term, I shall simply call it a bilingual edition, with the Middle English on one side, and Modern English on the other... Um... yes, I have read it in the original. I am a nerd:

And here are some trade paperbacks, with Tolkien's original designs for the covers:

I own several books about Tolkien himself - I highly recommend Tolkien and the Great War, in case anyone is interested:

There are items concerning the Elvish languages, primarily Qenya, the language of the High Elves:

There are books to learn more about Middle Earth itself:

The complete, extended editions of the soundtracks - which means that I have Flaming Red Hair, which is the tune played at Bilbo's party, the lament for Theodred, the song from the Houses of Healing, etc... and copious notes on the music, from the various themes and motifs that reoccur throughout all three movies, as well as information about some of the less common instruments that were used:

I have a set of miniature, pewter Fellowship figures, which I could not get to photograph very well. I believe they were intended to be used in a game of some sort. I just sort of collect little metal soldiers, so these fit right in:

There are bookmarks:

And action figures of my two favourite characters:

This extremely fine miniature reproduction of a Gondorian Guard's helmet:

And last, but not least, this incredibly lovely reproduction of Pippin's scarf, which a very dear friend knitted for me. It is probably my favourite accessory ever, as its colours match nearly everything I own, and... well, its Pippin's Scarf! 

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In Keeping With The Middle Earth Theme


Middle Earth Challenge, Day 28

Most Inspiring Scene

"I cannot carry the ring for you, but that doesn't mean I can't carry you..." WHY NOT?!?! I have never understood this...Sam could've saved a lot of trouble if he just smacked that ring out of Frodo's hand and threw it into mt Doom himself!

Sam: Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries? 

Frodo: No, Sam. I can't recall the taste of food... nor the sound of water... nor the touch of grass. I'm... naked in the dark, with nothing, no veil... between me... and the wheel of fire! I can see him... with my waking eyes! 

Sam: Then let us be rid of it... once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you... but I can carry you!

This scene, both in the book, and in the movie, is probably the one I find most inspiring. They are at the end of their strength, Frodo and Sam - Frodo particularly. The journey into Mordor has slowly stripped them of everything but themselves. They are cold, and hungry, covered with wounds and bruises, utterly alone and defenseless. They have pretty well given up on a return journey, and the only thing left for either of them, is the determination to finish the task, to destroy the Ring, no matter what. They are too beaten down, and wearied to care about anything beyond that. And yet, Sam is able to find hope and strength beyond all reason, and in that black time of near-despair, he is able to bring those virtues to Frodo. There is an awful lot of food for thought in that scene - the power of friendship and love; that there is always hope, not matter how bleak the situation is; that those long, dark periods of suffering are the times when the end is nearest at hand; and that God will always supply for our infirmities, even if that means taking us upon His shoulders and carrying us those last, desperate steps. 

And that is all. If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 27

Coolest Visual Effect
Och! In such a visually stunning movie as The Lord of the Rings it is ridiculously difficult to think of one single effect that impressed you the most. The whole thing is a feast for the eyes, and the CGI is so beautifully integrated into each scene, that you just take it for granted. Oddly enough, it is the less flashy effects that end up impressing me - the forced perspective, for example, which makes Gandalf, sitting at the table at Bag End, look enormous, and Bilbo, pouring tea, look proper Hobbit sized. Or the rain of those perfect autumn leaves falling like gold all over Rivendell. There are two scenes in particular that I can't decided between, so... you're getting them both.

The first involves Boromir's death scene. I am not sure how, exactly, I thought one goes about filming a scene in which a character is repeatedly shot in the chest with arrows. I rather supposed that it involved a clever combination of make up, judiciously placed props, and quick cuts between the characters' actions to suggest the motion of the arrows, and a bit of delicate tweaking via computer animation. I was incredibly taken aback, then, when I watched the behind the scenes footage of that scene. A great big Uruk Hai approaches Sean Bean, lays the bolt upon his bow, pulls the string back.... and a real arrows goes flying off,  hits Sean right in the chest, and sticks there, very realistically. I was astonished. Somehow, the idea of actually shooting the actor never occurred to me. Not fancy, but definitely effective.

And the second... Well, it is very, very silly, but the scene in which Denethor  drags Pippin out of the Halls of the Dead, when he is trying to save Faramir's life. Depending on the angle, you can tell when it is Billy Boyd they are filming, and when it is the size double. It is the size double whom Denethor throws out the door, and you can see him roll once, twice, and never entirely leave the frame, and yet, at the end of the sequence, up pops Billy Boyd's face, looking extremely put out with the man to whom he has sworn fealty. Obviously, I am easily impressed.

And that is all. If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 26

Character You Pity Most
That would probably be Turin Turambor:

Cover illustration for "The Children of Hurin" by Alan Lee

The Children of Hurin is my least favourite of all of Tolkien's stories. It is very bleak, and there is almost nothing hopeful about it at all. I think the original story was written around the time of the Great War, which no doubt influenced the tone of the narrative, but it was a story to which Tolkien returned numerous times throughout his life, so there is obvious something about it that I am missing. 

A quick summary of the story runs like this. Turin's father, Hurin, was a great warrior. His life was dedicated to the battle against Morgoth, who eventually captured him, laid a curse upon his family, and chained the poor man to a chair in a high place, where he is forced to watch it unfold. Turin himself grew to be a great warrior and an "Elf-friend" but he had a terribly temper, was very rash and stubborn and proud, and he repeatedly ignores good counsel, even when it comes from one of the Valar. Nothing Turin puts his hand to turns out right. What friends he is able to make, he ends up alienating, or getting killed - indeed, when his one, true friend, Beleg, is attempting to rescue him from captivity, he mistakes the elf for an orc and slays him with his own hand. The city of Nargothrond was destroyed by Morgoth for sheltering Turin, the elf-maid, Finduilas, with whose safety he was charged, was captured and died before he could save her. His whole life is a series of misadventures of this sort - orchestrated by Morgoth's curse, of course, but greatly acerbated by his own prideful temperament. Eventually, as the failures and misfortunes pile up, and every choice he makes turns ill, Turin falls into a madness of rage and despair, and ends up killing himself.

The tragedy of Turin is not so much that a curse was laid upon him, but that he was a flawed and fallen man, who never really responded to the moments of grace that were given to him. His cousin, Tuor, whose story is told in counter-point to Turin's - a reoccurring devise in Tolkien's writing, when he is exploring the themes of sin and grace - similarly suffers misfortune through out his life, but he accepts those moments of grace, so while his life was rather sad, it is not the black hell which Turin endures. Turin had the potential to be one of the greatest of warriors, in the history of Middle Earth, but through his own fault, simply becomes the most tragic.

And that is all. If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 25

Actors Sayings
So, this is probably the post that has given me the most trouble, as I haven't watched any behind the scenes stuff from The Lord of the Rings since the extended editions first came out - and I never have been the extra-features junkie that some of my younger sisters are. (Casts a virtual eye towards one sister in particular.) However, Dominic Monaghan's story about John Rhys Davis taking a bunch of the cast out to dinner sticks in my mind as being one of my favourite bits:

"John Rhys-Davies… took us to a restaurant. And it was when we’d only just started to get to know John. And we sat down at this huge, long table, and he said, “I think I will order the food for tonight.” And we said, “Oh, ok, on you go John.” And you know, we were having a conversation, and the waitress came over, and John ordered food that would probably have fed 35, maybe 40 people. And there were about 12 of us. And he just said, “We’ll have nine lobster and 15 shrimp, and 12 red snapper, 15 filet mignons, and some grilled mushrooms. I’ll have 12 onions and a wild boar…” You know? All this kind of stuff - just like, “Pheasants, and grouse, and - do you have partridge? Bring the partridge.”

It is just so Dwarvish of him! Gimli, if the opportunity arose, after all the questing was done, and Middle Earth back to itself again, would no doubt have treated visiting erstwhile Fellowship members to such excesses of hospitality... And wild boar? Really? Are there restaurants that serve that still? And if they do, is my mental image of a rather medieval concoction, with an apple in its jaws at all accurate?

Oh, yes, and there was the bit about the body of Sean Bean. I am not sure why, exactly, it was not possible to just put make-up on the man for the funeral of Boromir scenes, but for some reason, Weta Workshop was asked to produce a "lifelike dead Boromir". The resulting prop looked so uncannily like Sean Bean, that some poor, unsuspecting technician stumbled upon, and asked worriedly, whether they ought to get Sean a drink! (At least we know someone cared.)

And then, of course, there is this bit:

This amused us so much that for a while, whenever a helicopter would  fly overhead, we would all wave our arms around like that, and feel very pleased with ourselves.

And that is all. If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 24

Best One Does Not Simply...

I like this one, but I am a little bit of a stickler for accuracy:

Or there is this one:

One Does Not Simply Meme | 15 Things One Does Not Simply Do - Lord of the RIngs Memes and Funny ...

or this:

One does not simply walk into mordor!

And that is all. If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 23

Favourite Soundtrack Song

Well, this one is an easy one. Favourite song? This one of course:

Although, after the trailer for The Hobbit came out last year, and I got to hear - and become, for some weeks, rather hopelessly obsessed with - dwarvish singing, I have to admit that this is such a close runner up to Pippin's song, that I must post it too:

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 22

Favourite In Book Song

I am going to cheat and give you two answers today. When I am reading to myself, the song I enjoy the most, is the one Bilbo sings for the Elves at Rivendell - The Song of Earendil. It has such a fantastic internal rhyming scheme - it isn't just the ends of the lines that rhyme, but syllables within each line have subtle rhymes and alliterations to them as well. It has such a wonderful, sweeping rhythm to it - it is the sort of poem that begs to be read aloud in congenial company. Just give it a try:

Eärendil was a mariner
that tarried in Arvernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan,
and light upon her banners laid.

In panoply of ancient kings,
in chained rings he armoured him;
his shining shield was scored with runes
to ward all wounds and harm from him;
his bow was made of dragon-horn,
his arrows shorn of ebony,
of silver was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony;
his sword of steel was valiant,
of adamant his helmet tall,
an eagle-plume upon his crest,
upon his breast an emerald.

Beneath the Moon and under star
he wandered far from northern strands,
bewildered on enchanted ways
beyond the days of mortal lands.
From gnashing of the Narrow Ice
where shadow lies on frozen hills,
from nether heats and burning waste
he turned in haste, and roving still
on starless waters far astray
at last he came to Night of Naught,
and passed, and never sight he saw
of shining shore nor light he sought.

The winds of wrath came driving him,
and blindly in the foam he fled
from west to east and errandless,
unheralded he homeward sped.

There flying Elwing came to him,
and flame was in the darkness lit;
more bright than light of diamond
the fire upon her carcanet.
The Silmaril she bound on him
and crowned him with the living light
and dauntless then with burning brow
he turned his prow; and in the night
from Otherworld beyond the Sea
there strong and free a storm arose,
a wind of power in Tarmenel;
by paths that seldom mortal goes
his boat it bore with biting breath
as might of death across the grey
and long-forsaken seas distressed:
from east to west he passed away.

Through Evernight he back was borne
on black and roaring waves that ran
o'er leagues unlit and foundered shores
that drowned before the Days began,
until he heard on strands of pearl
where ends the world the music long,
where ever-foaming billows roll
the yellow gold and jewels wan.

He saw the Mountain silent rise
where twilight lies upon the knees
of Valinor, and Eldamar
beheld afar beyond the seas.
A wanderer escaped from night
to haven white he came at last,
to Elvenhome the green and fair
where keen the air, where pale as glass
beneath the Hill of Ilmarin
a-glimmer in valley sheer
the lamplit towers of Tirion
are mirrored on the Shadowmere.

He tarried there from errantry,
and melodies they taught to him,
and sages old him marvels told,
and harps of gold they brought to him.
They clothed him then in elven-white,
and seven lights before him sent,
as through the Calacirian
to hidden land forlorn he went.
He came unto the timeless halls
where shining fall the countless years,
and endless reigns the Elder King
in Ilmarin on Mountain sheer;
and words unheard were spoken then
of folk of Men and Elven-kin.
Beyond the world were visions showed
forbid to those that dwell therein.

A ship then new they built for him
of mithril and of elven-glass
with shining prow; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore on silver mast:
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
to gleam thereon by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him undying doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.

From Evereven's lofty hills
where softly silver fountains fall
his wings him bore, a wandering light,
beyond the mighty Mountain Wall.
From World's End then he turned away,
and yearned again to find afar
his home through shadows journeying,
and burning as an island star
on high above the mists he came,
a distant flame before the Sun,
a wonder ere the waking dawn
where grey the Norland waters run.

And over Middle-earth he passed
and heard at last the weeping sore
of women and of elven-maids
in Elder Days, in years of yore.
But on him mighty doom was laid,
till Moon should fade, an orbéd star
to pass, and tarry never more
on Hither Shores where mortals are;
for ever still a herald on
an errand that should never rest
to bear his shining lamp afar,
the Flammifer of Westernesse.

However - because these sorts of posts always do have an 'however' built into them, there is a BBC production of The Lord of the Rings with Ian Holm doing the voice of Bilbo - part audio book, part narration, in which Sam sings The Song of Gil Galad. I cannot say that I am overly fond of that particular adaption. When it is good, it is very good indeed, but when it is bad.... Well, let's just say that I have a dear friend who is probably more of a Tolkien enthusiast than I am, who refers to that Aragorn as the boring man with The-Sword-That-Was-Broken. This song, however, is brilliantly done, and I love it. So my favourite audio version of an in-book song is the folloing:

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 21

Saddest Death
It should come as no surprise when I say that Boromir's death scene is the one that I find most sad. Boromir is, after all, one of my favourite characters - not only in Tolkien's works, but in general literature as well. There is, however a runner-up: Beleg Cúthalion from The Silmarillion. Beleg is such a great character, rather like an Elvish version of a Ranger. He is technically in the service of Thingol, Luthien's father, but Beleg is very independent. He roamed about the wilds with his strongbow (Cúthalion means strongbow) fighting against Morgoth, sometimes single-handedly, sometimes joining up with bands of Men and aiding them in their battles. He was good friends, and brother-at-arms with a man who is probably Tolkien's most tragic character, Túrin Turambar - a man upon whom Morgoth had lain a curse of truly staggering misfortune. Beleg died rescuing his friend from Morgoth's dungeons. Túrin, who had been grievously tormented during his captivity, mistook Beleg for an orc, and killed him. I had to choose a character from The Silmarillion, whose death had the biggest effect on me, it would be Beleg.

However, getting back to the matter at hand. I always cry over Boromir's death, in the book and in the movie, even though I know full well that it is coming, and you'd think I'd be over it by now. The first time I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, I was devastated by that scene. I bawled by eyes out. I was in practically in mourning for a couple days afterwards. It is, in my opinion, one of the best scenes in the entire trilogy - it is beautiful and heroic, and glorious and tragic... That look on Boromir's face, when he gets hit the first time, and looks up at the hobbits. He knows he is going to die, but he just keeps fighting, until he literally cannot stand up again... Boromir was a never a greater hero - not even when he re-took Osgilioth - than he was at that moment.

Of course, being me, I ended up looking up all the Elvish lyrics in the soundtrack, which both added to my appreciation of the scene, but also made it ever harder to watch than before, because this is what they are singing behind all that action:

Ú-velin i vegil an aegas                              I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness
Egor i bilin a linnas                                    Nor the arrow for its swiftness
Egor i vaethor an aglar                              Nor the Warrior for his glory
Melin i mar i beriar.                                   I love the homeland which they defend.
I alda helda, i ehtelë lína.                          The tree is bare, the fountain still.
Manna lelyalye Voromírë?                         Whither goest thou Boromir? 
Cánalya desse sí massë                              We hear you but cannot find you
Melin i mar, I mar, I beriar                         I love the homeland which they defend.
Ú-velin i vegil                                             I do not love the bright sword

All of which is 'Canon' - that is, all of the lyrics are lifted right out of the books, translated into Elvish, and while the music is quite beautiful on its own, that added depth makes it heartbreaking.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 20

Scariest Moment
First of all.... I can hardly believe that it is the twentieth day of the challenge. It has gone by very quickly, and I have enjoyed it immensely. Of course, now I am in ridiculously epic mood, completely over-indulging on mythology, and all things Tolkien... 

Anyway, back to business. Scariest moment... Well, there was one time, when I was re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring for um-teenth time. I had started the book quite late in the evening, and by the time Frodo and Sam were hiking across the Shire on their way to Crickhollow, where they would pick up Merry and Pippin, everyone else in the house had gone to bed. So when the Black Rider made its first appearance, there was just myself, up far, far too late, reading in the light of a very inferiour bulb. The Black Rider got off his horse and sniffed.... and then... there was a suggestion of movement in the shadows around me, a susurrus, and a sound remarkably like a sniff. I froze, my hands gripping the book in alarm. I no longer saw the words on the page, but the image of the Black Rider was vivid before my eyes.... I cautiously peeked over the top of the pages and looked into a pair of glittering eyes in a dark, grey face.....

It is fortunate that the cat made and lonesome, please-pet-me cat-noise at this junction, because I quite nearly pictched The Fellowship of the Ring into the space between those terrible eyes. I was in no condition to be petting cats at that moment so I shooed the beastie away, and got back to my book.

The point of this story? Tolkien did a fantastic job when he created the Black Riders. They are all vague and shadowy, so that the imagination fills in what it doesn't see, which is worse than a straight-forward look at the things. Just about every scene in which the Riders come into the story gives me the willies - especially in the first part, The Fellowship, when the Hobbits first see them, and before we know too much about them. They are terrifying in the books. They are terrifying in the movies. They tap into that primal fear of the dark that I do not believe anyone truly ever gets over completely. So... I shall go with the very first glimpse of the Black Riders as the scariest scene.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 19

Least Favourite Character
Well... let me see now. The problem with choosing a least favourite Tolkien character, is that most of his baddies tend to be at least somewhat sympathetic. Now, before anyone brings up Melkor, or the Dark Lord Sauron, or the Orcs, let me explain that I am referring to actual, living, breathing characters. There are plenty of archetypal villains in Tolkien's work, and personifications of evil, but those are not strictly characters. They are more the backdrop against which the characters play out their stories. 

Tolkien's actual character are more complex than that. His good characters are not always so good as they ought to be. Just take a look at... well, just about everybody involved in the events leading up to the Battle of Five Armies at the end of The Hobbit. His bad characters don't start off bad; something usually tips them over the edge, which means that, even though there are characters I dislike quite heartily, there is usually a bit of compassion mixed in with it as well. So, I run through my list, looking for someone for whom my dislike is stronger than my compassion. The usual suspects must go. Denethor is a horrible old man, but he is insane. Grima likewise gets marked off, for all his creepiness, for he is under the extremely overwhelming influence of Sauruman. Sauruman himself I discarded reluctantly. He is such a brilliant bad guy, and he came to such a terrible end, that truly do feel sorry for him at the end. I nearly settled on the Master of Laketown, from The Hobbit, because he is too oily and smooth, a horrible, sneaky, money-grubbing coward. I have finally settled on the Mouth of Sauron.

Mouth Of Sauron by Andy-Butnariu
Mouth of Sauron by Andy-Butnariu, Deviantart

Here is what The Return of the King says about him:

The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: ‘I am the Mouth of Sauron.’ But it is told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the BlackNúmenóreans; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron’s domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge. And he entered the service of the DarkTower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord’s favour; and he learned great sorcery, and knew much of the mind of Sauron; and he was more cruel than any Orc.

And he is clever in his cruelty. He knows just how to play on the nerves and sentiments of Gandalf, and the remaining members of the Fellowship, who had ridden to war with the Men of the West.

"I have tokens I was bidden to show to thee - to thee in especial, if thou shouldst dare to come." He signed to one of the guards who came forward bearing a bundle, swathed in black cloths....

...."Dwarf-coat, elf-cloak, blade of the downfallen West, and a spy from the little rat-land of the Shire - Nay, do not start! We know it well - here are the marks of a conspiracy. Now maybe he that bore these things is a creature you would not grieve to lose, and maybe otherwise....

.... "Good, good," he said, "He was dear to you I see. Or his errand  was one that you did not wish to fail? It has. And now he shall endure the slow torment of years, as long and as slow as our arts in the Great Tower can contrive, and never be released, unless maybe when he is changed and broken so that you may come to see what you have done..."

It goes on like that for several pages. He is lying in his teeth as he taunts them, for Frodo and Sam had already escaped Barad Dur, disguised as orcs. It is a bluff, but he takes a savage pleasure in tormenting the company before him. In the movie, Aragorn cuts off his head, but in the book, it is made clear that he is the messenger, and no man may lay a hand upon him, so they are forced to listen to his endless jibes, and thinking all the while that Frodo is lying captive, in bitter torment - that the quest has failed, and that this battle at the Black Gate with be the last stand of men against the darkness.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 18

Favourite Female Character

Like most of the questions in this challenge, I found that I did not have an easy answer to this one either. If I were restricting myself to The Lord of the Rings, Eowyn would be the hands-down winner. Since this is a Middle Earth, challenge, however, this means that I must take in to account characters in Tolkien's other works as well. I considered Galadriel for a while - she roams about the pages of The Silmarillion, a much younger, and less wise elf than she is when she is Queen of Lothlorien. Indeed, she is something of a warrior in those early days. I finally settled on Luthien Tinuviel.

Beren and Luthien - Colours by ~Fumettisto on deviantART
Beren and Luthien - Colours by ~Fumettisto on deviantART

The story of Beren and Luthian is one of Tolkien's most beautiful stories. Luthien was an Elf, beautiful and well beloved, called the Morning Star of her people. She was the daughter of Thingol, King of Doriath. Beren was a mortal man, one the race of Beor - men who fought against Morgoth. At the time of their meeting, Beren was a fugitive - a man whom Morgoth hated enough to put a price on his head. He was lost, and weary, and stumbled upon Thingol's daughter as she danced in the woods. They fell in love, unlikely as that seemed, but the King of Doriath was loathed to give his daughter in marriage to a mere mortal, however noble that man might be. Rather than simply refusing to allow them to marry, Thingol presented Beren with an impossible task: to cut the Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth.

Beren set out, and after many adventures, was captured by Sauron. But Luthien had followed after him, and with the aid of the great hound, Huan, freed him from bondage. They continued on their journey together. Luthien enchanted them into the forms of a bat and a werewolf, so that they might slip into Angband unchallenged, and Luthien stood before the throne of Morgoth, singing a spell of sleep over him, so that Beren might take the Silmaril from his crown. He completed his task, but Morgoth sent a werewolf after them, to bring back the great gem of Feanor. Beren lost his hand to the beast, and though, at the end of their adventures, he was able to present the Silmaril to Thingol, he died of his wounds. But Luthien, in her grief, followed him again and pleaded for his life before Mandos, guardian of the Halls of the Dead. She was granted that special privilege, and Beren was restored to life. Luthien herself was given the choice of remaining in Valinar, as a reward for her actions against Morgoth, or to accept a mortal life, and live out her days as Beren's wife. She chose the latter course - the first of the Elves to do so. The last, of course, was Arwen, who wedded Aragorn, son of Arathorn, of the line of Beren and Luthien.

I like Luthien for many reasons. She was powerful in her own right, but never proud of it. She was lovely, but she was also good. She was a lady, but she was strong, and brave as any warrior. She was sweet, but she was also clever and canny. She was the daughter of a King, but knew the worth of a man such a Beren, and valued it accordingly. Her love for Beren was a true love - not a soft, warm, sentimental thing, but a burning, sharp-edged glorious thing . The sort of love that does not shirk from pain or sacrifice, and that lasts beyond death.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Middle Earth Challenge, Day 17

Favourite Male Character
Och. One of the things this challenge has done for me is the make me think long and hard about Tolkien, and what exactly it is about his writing that I love so much. It has been fun, and stimulating and I have enjoyed it. However, it as also caused me to remember how much I enjoyed reading some of his less popular works, - notably, The Silmarillion. Which means that this post was rather harder than I expected it to be, as there are so many really great characters in Tolkien, whom I like very well. There is Beleg, the dark, Ranger-ish elf, who roams the wild with his great bow; Fingolfin, who engaged Morgoth in single combat; Beren, who cut the Silmaril from the Crown of Morgoth, and went through Death to win the hand of Luthien; Hurin, the Elf-Friend and their staunch ally in the wars against Morgoth; His son, Tuor, who wedded the Elf-Maid, Idril; Their son, Earendil, father of Elrond, who sails his swan-ship, Vingilot through the sky, keeping safe the last of the Silmarils; Glorfindel, who battled a balrog.... If I was as familiar with The Silmarillion as I am with The Lord of the Rings, you would be getting one of those characters for this post. As it is, however, I am falling back on the two characters who have been may favourites from time out of mind: Peregrin Took, and Boromir. 

I have never been able to make up my mind which of those two I like the best. They are both very hopeful and encouraging characters - though for very different reasons - and the two who most make me want to be a better, braver version of myself. I shall start with Pippin first, because he is the easier of the two. 


Pippin is a funny character - the youngest by far of the company, and yes, probably the most foolish. He is plucky enough. In the book, he is part of the "conspiracy" that has pledge to go into danger with Frodo. In the book and the movie, he refuses to be cowed by the black mutterings of Gandalf, or the disapproval of Elrond, and insists upon being included in the quest. For all that, I think it took him longer than anyone else to realise just how much was at stake, and how much it would cost him personally. I rather think he was under the impression that the Fellowship would always stick together, and that the original plan of helping Frodo would be all that would ever be required of him. And yet, he is a perfect illustration of what it is Gandalf so admires about the hobbits. They love food and comfort and stability, and seem soft and helpless, but when they are called upon to be brave, their courage is remarkable. Once the Fellowship is broken, and Merry and Pippin are taken captive by the orcs, the idiotic Took suddenly shows himself to be not only brave, but practical and resourceful. In a very short time, he goes from being somewhat irresponsible, to being a true and gallant knight, worthy to be a Guard of the Citadel. I admire him for that.

Boromir by Amanda TollesonFreehand digital painting on corel with oil paint brushes

Boromir... well, Boromir is almost like the flip side of the coin. He starts out weighed down with responsibility, with worry. His country has been at war with the East for as long as he can remember, and though the men of Gondor are valiant, they cannot hold out forever. Boromir is the eldest son. His life has been one long service towards his country. He is courageous, and noble and true. He is a good man, but a proud one. Pride is a terribly thing, for it makes one trust oneself when it is not wise to do so, and it causes even good men to fall, and fall hard. And so, Boromir fell, harder and faster than anyone else in The Lord of the Rings. And his single act destroyed the Fellowship, and caused Frodo to run off into wild, alone, but for Sam - no warriors to help them, no one to guide them or council them. Yet, Boromir understood what he had done as soon as he did it. His repentance was complete and also practical. He picked himself up again, and died fighting, defending Merry and Pippin to his last breath. If Pippin's bravery encourages me to be brave myself, Boromir's fall and recovery inspire me to virtue. It can be hard, to want to serve God wholly and unselfishly, but to find oneself continually falling away from what God intends you to be. But it is at times like that when we are called upon to be like Boromir - to acknowledge our failings, surely, but to pick up ones sword and continue to fight anyway. 

If you are interested in finding out more about the Middle Earth Challenge, click here.