Driven with Slaughter (Saturday Simmerings)

I guess the biggest news for me this week is that I finally finished my (nearly) five-year Civil War blogging project! This is pretty important for me. I started it in the summer of 2010 and just wrote the last post on Thursday (which will appear on May 30th). The object was to take each day of the conflict and write 1,000+ words about what happened on that day, 150 years before. It was incredibly difficult and rewarding. Also, it was time consuming, taking up about two hours each day to research and write the posts.

It should come as no real surprise that one of the biggest impediments to its completion was my discovery of Tolkien after about a year into it. Sure I had read The Hobbit and seen the Jackson movies multiple times, but I had never really delved into the stories at all.

When I finally got around to Tolkien, I read everything that I could. And when I got to Unfinished Tales, and read some of the pieces describing war and battle, I really wanted to incorporate some of Tolkien’s phrasing into the Civil War blog.

I always tried to maintain a fine writing style over there, and I thought throwing in phrases that Tolkien used to be a good idea. And so I went through Unfinished Tales and a few other books, I bet, jotting down phrases as I found them.

Here are some of them. I have no idea if they’re verbatim or where exactly they came from within Tolkien’s works.

-Encountered their vanguard and scattered it with loss.
-The main strength (meaning the main body of the army)
-Brought to a stand and was almost surrounded
-Descried other forces hastening forward, though their strength could not be guessed.
-Stiffened with reinforcements
-With reckless ferocity and slashing
-Came to a stand on a low rise
-Heedless and set no guard
-Massing but not yet arrayed
-Hurled a great mass
-Piles of the fallen
-Victorious, though not without great loss
-Assailed the enemy in flank and rear
-Taking care that their approach should be well known to the enemy
-At length, the battle was joined
-Driven with slaughter

9656994201_9303a52867_bOf course, I didn’t use them word-for-word, I didn’t plagiarize. I just wanted fresh idea for how to put things. Tolkien gave me that. Also, I used the word “espied” every chance I got.

Actually, the lack of this is what turned me off to the Silmarillion when I first read it. Lord of the Rings had it in many parts, but the Silm didn’t. Unfinished Tales, however, did (as did part of the Children of Hurin.

I really can’t remember which phrases were used, though I think I managed to sneak in something like “the regiment was heedless and set no guard”. Many of the phrases (or something quite similar) were used with frequency in the official reports written by many of the officers. “Assailed the enemy in flank and rear,” for example, was pretty common.

So anyway, with that project at an end, I’ve got myself a whole mess of free time. I’m going to do everything in my power to enjoy that. For now, this blog will remain as it is, posting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – with a bit of something on the weekends. With summer quickly approaching (in the Pacific Northwest) my photography blog will get busier, though. Feel free to follow me there, if you like.

In other news (meaning pizza), I’ve had a few weeks of bad luck. I’ve found a new recipe, though, and hope to make that tomorrow. If it turns out well, you’re all invited to a pizza party in Seattle. Huzzah!

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The Ancient Defenses of Amon Sul (Day 47)

Camera: Holga 120N Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 (x-pro as C-41)

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 (x-pro as C-41)

The Micro-Fellowship now reaches the top of the ridge and finds “the remains of green-grown walls and dikes,” as well as other ancient ruins.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p184 50th Anniv. Ed.)
These dikes, as I’ve talked about before, were built about 1600 years before Strider and the hobbits found them atop the Weather Hills. They were not dikes in the watery sense, but built as defenses – breastworks, escarpments, works, whatever you want to call them.

They were built out of stone and were clearly more of a line of defense than a fort, though the main structure on Weathertop itself was probably just that during the war against the Witch-king of Angmar. Though formidable, the defenses didn’t work in the end.

The Weather Hills form a line facing northeast, conveniently toward Angmar. What was incredibly inconvenient was that Weathertop, the prize sought by the Witch-king (and by others before him), anchored the right flank. It was the extreme right, with nothing protecting it on that side.

Here’s a map of the area.

Tolkien gives no details on the assault, but it can easily be imagined that the forces of Angmar mostly ignored the defenses on the left of Weathertop. Perhaps there was a feint here and there along the line, but it would have been much more advantageous to simply assail the defenses of Weathertop.

But not that this would be easy. The East Road runs along the southern base of Weathertop. If held by Angmar’s column, the attack itself could have been made from the south, even though they were originally coming from the north. Scaling the heights would have been a huge problem. The East Road climbs to just over 600 feet above sea level. The summit, where Amon Sul and the Palantir resided, was around 1000 feet. The climb, while only 400 feet in altitude, would have been a rough one.

However it happened, Amon Sul, Weathertop, fell in 1409 of the Third Age (it’s now 3018). Over those 1600 years, the dikes have deteriorated, the buildings made ruins.

A Few Notes:

  • Discovering old breastworks and defenses is really a bit of fun. In the States, the earliest of these dates from the late Civil War (1864, typically). Around Richmond and Petersburg, they’re the most prevalent, and incredibly interesting to come across while tramping through the woods.
  • In Washington (state), we have one place, San Juan Island, that has an earthen redoubt constructed in the 1850s for the so-called Pig War. This was when we nearly went to war with England (on the eve of our own Civil War) over a wandering and hungry pig. Seriously. I did a write up about it in my Civil War blog a few years back.
  • In America, we don’t have ancient European things like this, but we like to pretend that we do. (Also here.)
  • Back in Washington, we do have eskers, which appear to be like escarpments, but were actually formed by glaciers. Both words come from the Old Irish word “escir,” which means “a ridge between two plains.” Mostly, they’re smaller rocks piled on top of each other in an incredibly long line (we’re talking miles and miles). These date to maybe 20,000ish years ago. I don’t talk about it much here, but I have absolutely fallen in love with Washington’s glacial history.

The book The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad and Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey were both incredibly helpful here.

About the Photo

You’d think I’d have photographs of eskirs, huh? They’re not exactly easy to photograph, though I’m going to try again this spring. Instead, we have another photo from atop Rocky Mountain National. The elevation is obviously way off, but I think this captures how the Weather Hills might have looked at their summit.


  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 226
  • 15 miles to Weathertop Summit
  • 234 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,553 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Now atop a ridge (the Weather Hills) leading to Weathertop.(map)

I Apparently Approach Tolkien like History (Day 28)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100  Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

After passing the dike through a gap in the wall, they travel across open land, where their ponies can gallop them northward. With the sun setting, they make it to the top of a ridge and see the East Road winding its way toward Bree.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 8 (p147, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Another day, another five miles, and another paragraph down! Rather than write trying to wring words out of a somewhat vaguely descriptive few lines, I thought I’d take the time to tell you how I’m approaching Tolkien. This isn’t some policy that I have, or anything. It’s just something I’ve noticed.

Take yesterday’s post as an extreme example. While many people approach Tolkien as a mystery to solve through philosophical speculation, I generally don’t. Not that wildly speculating isn’t a barrel full of fun – it certainly is! But it’s hard for me to go in that direction, and I miss out on the fun.

This is probably because of my other daily blog, the Civil War Daily Gazette, in which I write about 1500ish words each day on what happened each specific day 150 years ago during the Civil War. Daily, I spend around two or three hours researching both primary and secondary sources to build upon writings that I started in 2010. The blog has taken off (more or less) and I get between 1,000 and 1,500 hits per day, on average. It’s got over 2,000 followers on Facebook. I’m not really sure how that happened.

But that’s my mood, so to speak. I’m approaching Lord of the Rings in the same way. I’ll read the passage for the miles that I exercised, think a bit about the larger story and the writing style, and then I’ll hit the books.

The History of Middle-earth series is a great resource for discovering the early drafts of the story. They’re edited by Christopher Tolkien and he provides a bit of commentary here and there. I also delve into Tolkien’s letters to see if he’s got something to say on the subject – this book came in handy for the Old Forest bits.

I also religiously employ the Reader’s Companion by Hammond and Scull. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. It’s a wonderful resource. If you take anything away from this post, it’s that you need the Reader’s Companion. And if I’m looking for something a bit more scholarly, I’ll crack open the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia edited by Michael D.C. Drout – Routledge just released this in paperback! I also have at hand Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth. It’s been indispensable for keeping track of place names.

So while others might debate Sam’s motives or Gandalf’s origin or Tom Bombadil’s place in the cosmic order, I tend to lean toward the books and try to go to the source. This might be the “logical” thing to do, but I do miss out on the philosophical discussions.

And when I do take part in them, I’m afraid that I’m not very fun. For example, there was a little debate going on a few days ago in the comments section of The Leather Library blog about freewill in Tolkien’s legendarium. After a bit of fun and exciting back and forth, I went to the books, found what Tolkien said about it and sort of drew the whole thing to an utterly boring conclusion. (Sorry about that, by the way.) I try not to be “that guy,” but I’m afraid, I am that guy.

I came to Tolkien late, having picked up the Hobbit only two years ago. I was never able to join my friends in the wandering conversations about all things Middle-earth. Like so many things, I was reluctant. I never really got into the fantasy genre, always staying close to history and various non-fictions. Even when I owned a bookstore, I never really read novels.

But when I finally got to Tolkien, I discovered that I could treat it like I treat history! Not only history in the sense of the narrative itself, but history into how and when Tolkien wrote it. It’s all so wonderfully documented and right there for the picking. Understand, I live for this kind of stuff. It’s mind-numbingly dull for most, but it’s my bread and butter.

So I guess that’s it, really. I realize that it discourages discussion – something I wish I had more of. Right now, I’m trying to strike a balance, but I’m still finding my way. So my apologies if I post awkward comments on your blog or don’t know how to reply to your comments on mine. I’m still trying to figure this out.

Here’s the arsenal as it stands today:
books

About the Photo
As the hobbits continued northward, they could see the line of the East Road in the distance. It’s not really the same as this, but this photo came to mind.

Thoughts on the Exercising
Today my calves hurt, which is unexpected as mine are freakishly muscular for no reason. It was hot and kind of exhausting, but I got a break about halfway through because my cat, Juniper Pürrito, decided to take the large blanket draped across the couch into her tiny kitty mouth and drag it behind said couch. She’s been trying to do this for a couple of days now, and I really don’t get it. But, for Frith’s sake, it’s adorable. After rescuing the blanket, I got back to work and here I am. The break did nothing for me, I think, but it was the first break I’ve taken since the first day or so of this project. Huzzah.


  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 130
    • 5 miles to Bree
    • 84 miles to Weathertop
    • 330 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,649 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Almost at the East Road (map)