Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

[id: album cover for an evening in rivendell with the tolkien ensemble featuring artist’s rendering of the one ring and elvish script. (fair use) /end id]

Tolkien Reading Day takes place annually on March 25th, the anniversary of the destruction of the One Ring and the Fall of Sauron.

In celebration of this momentous literary occasion, here’s an expanded update of my previous Tolkien music playlist “Hobbit Day 2021”.

This takes us through the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with some references to the Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales 1 & 2.

Tolkien Reading Day 2023 YouTube Playlist


Fare thee well, Twitter!

Let us go hence, my songs; she will not hear.
Let us go hence together without fear;
Keep silence now, for singing-time is over,
And over all old things and all things dear.
She loves not you nor me as all we love her.
Yea, though we sang as angels in her ear,
She would not hear.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, “A Leave-taking”
[id: screenshot of my farewell tweet on twitter which reads: well folks, twitter has become something i no longer recognize as home. so i’ve moved to tumblr. i’m just posting this for any of my mutuals who may have done so as well and want to reconnect. as to the rest, i bid you all a very fond farewell. under the text is a still image of the animated gif of elderly bilbo from peter jackson’s the fellowship of the ring at the conclusion of his farewell speech, right before he puts the ring on and disappears, with the subtitle underneath reading: goodbye. /end id]

Long ago I washed up on the shores of Twitter, a lonely bitter refugee from Tumblr (though I wore a different face and bore a different name), and much for the same reason: my favourite hellsite had been bought by a bag of dicks (in that case, Verizon and in this case the worst POS imaginable aside from TFG, but the names and faces matter little).

Anyway, I enjoyed my stay there for a time, but then for whatever reason suddenly I had little to no engagement (as did a great many of my mutuals), for which I and a few others suspected the insidiousness of dastardly changes to the algorithm, or some other manipulation behind the scenes, perhaps in the form of shadowbanning. But regardless of the culprit, I steadily began to lose interest in this so-called social media platform which had clearly lost interest in me and my friends. And then to top it off, the unthinkable happened.

So, ’tis not with a heavy heart that I bid Twitter adieu in the end, any more than I would be the least bit saddened upon leaving a desert isle, even if sailing into uncharted waters. In fact, I am gladdened by it, because at last I am returning home. To Tumblr! And I hope some of you will join me there on this new/old exciting journey. I’ll be mostly blogging (and reblogging) about D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games, Critical Role, and anything Tolkien or fantasy-related, including books, video games, movies, and shows. There won’t be a lot of text posts, though. I’ll leave that for this blog, which I hope to begin contributing to in a meaningful way once more round St. Patrick’s Day. Till then, may the road rise to meet you, and the wind always be at your back.

Escape Routes (Novel Excerpt)

This is the fourth excerpt from my upcoming novel tentatively titled “Elder Rites” which was begun on November 1st, 2020 for National Novel Writing Month and is intended to be the first volume of an as yet unnamed dark fantasy series set in a world of myth and magic which now finds itself on the brink of a bizarre apocalypse.

For anyone who has already read the previous excerpt she was in, the rogue witch Maera is still trying to catch the sorcerer known as the Puppeteer, who stole her magic dagger, when she runs into some officers of the City Watch who attempt to question her. She opts to turn and flee.

As crossbow bolts rained down upon the shingles, Maera scrambled up the sloped roof, vaulted over the ridge, and slid down the other side onto the lower flat roof of a neighbouring building she already knew was there. The City Watch knew this area well, but not as well as she. At street level, they’d have to hop a few fences to get to the narrow alley between the two buildings before they could even ascertain where she was headed next. One might’ve thought she was going to run in the same direction to get to the next roof, but not so. While she was momentarily unseen, she veered right, got to the eastern edge of the building, and lithely shimmied down a drainpipe she also knew was there—but not all the way to the bottom where another side alley connected to the one she could even now hear the Watch clambering into. Rather, halfway down she twisted her body a bit to the left in order to quickly and quietly slip feet first through a burnt-out open window so dark it was hard to see from the shadowed alley below.

This was one of her favourite escape routes. She was now on the second floor of an abandoned building that had been mostly gutted by fire, but there were still a few stout beams for her to lightly run across in order to get to the building’s western side, where a stairwell had been largely untouched by the blaze. It had been a while since she’d used this particular getaway but so far it was exactly as she remembered it, so she was reasonably certain the stairwell would still be intact.

In the meantime, the poorly paid officers of the City Watch, if they even figured out she’d somehow gotten inside the building without them seeing her, and then proceeded to discover her entrance, and then took it upon themselves to climb up the drainpipe or use a rope and grapple to get there and follow her, would have to negotiate these narrow beams and take a wild guess as to which ones could hold their weight. Indeed she thought perhaps not even the ones she relied upon now could do so, given that her current pursuers generally had heavier builds and much heavier armour, and certainly would only be able to hold them one at a time if at all, slowing their progress considerably. But that’s if they even chose to risk falling into the shadowed lower storey and injuring themselves or even possibly getting themselves killed depending on what sort of debris lay below. More often than not, she’d seen them give up pursuit in the face of simpler, far less dangerous obstacles, and could almost hear their thoughts as they did so: Ah, she ain’t worth the trouble.

As she got to the top of the stairwell, finding it far from empty but at least not full of foes, she didn’t hear any of the officers attempting her recent gymnastics, but loathe to waste any time just in case she hopped lightly over the sleeping vagrants who lay each upon his or her own step with one or two between them for courtesy’s sake, so swiftly and so quietly that they didn’t so much as stir in their slumber.

It was a switchback staircase, and the next flight down was void of sleepers due to the top half of it being covered with slimy green mould and the bottom half being completely underwater. The basement of the building was flooded long ago, and the stagnant water stank awfully, but she knew she wouldn’t need to wade through it. When she got halfway down the stairs she leapt forward into the darkness, reaching out and up with both hands toward where she recalled that a long thick pipe running along the ceiling horizontal to her was waiting, grabbed onto it, swung a bit back and then a bit forward, and reached out for the next pipe with one hand, grabbed that, and repeated the process.

Thus swinging from pipe to pipe hand over hand she crossed the room until she was back on the southern side of the building, where another burnt-out window waited. It was a small, high, rectangular basement window level with the ground outside, and she knew from experience that she could just barely squeeze through it. So now she swung toward it, grabbed the sill with one hand, let go of the pipe with the other, and was soon hanging from the window ledge with both hands. She slowly lifted herself up just enough to stick one arm all the way out the window, then used her elbow to lift herself more so she could stick the other one out. Then it was just a matter of wriggling and worming her way through the narrow aperture until she was crawling out of it into yet another narrow alley, but one closed off from any of the others and partially concealed by fallen debris from the fire that had gutted the building she’d just emerged from. In fact, she could probably get away with hiding here until the heat was off. But she decided she’d better not chance it, and so made her way stealthily and cautiously along the alley westward, since she knew that at the end of it there was a hidden entrance to yet another abandoned building she could sneak through in order to get to High Street.

Once she was through that, avoiding with expert stealth the shabbily dressed squatters who inhabited it, she found herself in another small alley, this one a cul-de-sac that smelled strongly of garbage, vomit, spilled ale, and stale piss. But there at the opposite end of it was, as far as Maera was concerned, the entrance to paradise: A tavern’s back door. It led out into this alley for the benefit of the sort of patrons who often needed an escape route. She knew this tavern well, as it was famed throughout the city. The Old Black Cat it was called, after the landlady’s beloved pet. Its back door was bolted from the inside, so she’d have to wait until someone opened it. Luckily she didn’t have to wait long. A drunken middle-aged man soon came stumbling out to take a piss. She slipped through the open door behind him unnoticed.

The tavern was busy tonight, as she’d figured it would be. That was a good thing, as it made it easier for her to slip through the raucous crowd almost completely unnoticed. It was also dimly lit, which she had expected as well, and a little smoky from the torches. All these things made it ideal for lying low for a bit, and there was also the added boon of being able to knock back a few drinks as she did so. She picked a dark corner at the end of the bar farthest from the entrance, and waited for the tapster to notice her.

As she did so she started working out a plan in her head. High Street was heavily patrolled, especially at night. Applebough would no doubt have its own safeguards as well, from high walls to literal guards, and probably a few traps as well. Over the course of her highly lucrative career as a professional cat burglar she’d been obliged to plunder such high security estates a couple of times in the past, but she’d done so with a team. This was not the sort of job one attempted solo, if one was smart, which she was. Contrary to what most people believed, even the most skilled and accomplished of thieves tended to avoid heavily guarded prizes, except in rare occasions when the value of the prize vastly outweighed the risk involved in obtaining it. But even then they rarely attempted a stunt like that on their own.

She sighed, even as she caught the tapster’s eye. There was nothing for it. If she wanted to corner this Puppeteer in his den she needed a team of specialists. This was a situation that called for a heist, and yet there was no known treasure to be gained, with which she might lure her accomplices in despite the obvious dangers. She needed something more specific than “chests of gold and gems and jewels,” though there likely would be that, and more. She could easily make something up, but she’d rather not. Underworld folks were, for the most part, not to be trifled with.

The tapster, an elderly fellow with a few wisps of white hair on his head and about as many teeth, shuffled over and asked her what he could get her. She ordered a dark, bitter stout they made on the premises, appropriately called Old Black Cat Ale.

As the old man tapped the keg behind the bar and handed her a tankard full of the nearly black yet beige-headed beverage, she ran through a mental list of possible partners in crime, ticking off each one she would try to enlist, based on availability, reliability, probable willingness to be recruited, and of course, expertise.

She’d only come up with three when she realised she wasn’t going to be able to think in this joint. In the middle of the room at a large round table sat a party of oddly dressed travellers who, while not overly loud, were saying outrageous things, and sometimes it was hard to understand everything they were saying due to the hostile crowd surrounding them drowning out their feeble voices, so she found herself straining to hear even though most of it sounded like doomsayer nonsense she ordinarily wouldn’t have paid any mind. So she left the way she came, slipping out the back door, taking her nearly full tankard with her but leaving more than enough coin on the bar to pay for the vessel as well as the fine brew it contained.

It was a nice night. She hadn’t really noticed before, because first she’d been chasing someone, and then she was being chased. But the waning gibbous moon had risen high in the blue-black winter sky, the bright little twinkling starlets that made up the moonfleet trailing prettily behind it, and of all the true stars arranged in their various constellations, only a smattering were obscured by what few clouds drifted across the heavens. And these were themselves beautiful, being of the puffy white cumulus variety, some of them great galleons to challenge the moon itself, others like smaller sailing ships such as fishing boats or sloops. The air was crisp and cold, and as a light breeze wafted into her face it smelled pure and clean, as if it were entirely capable of washing away the stench of the alleyway she stood in.

Speaking of which, she thought, as unpleasant as it may be, I think our next stop ought to be the Reek. It was in that foulest of neighbourhoods, after all, that she would be most likely to find anyone from her old gang.

Little Finger of Vecna: A Neutral Evil Rogue of Some Question

[image description: screencap of part of the neverwinter nights player character record for one “dedo menique”, a human neutral evil rogue at fifth level, including a portrait of a handsome barefaced young man with short jet black hair in dark clothing. the record lists his stats as strength: 8, dexterity: 17, constitution 10, intelligence 15, wisdom 12, and charisma 14. his current AC is 14 and he has 27 of 27 total HP, and 12,067 experience points with a total of 15,000 required to gain the next level.]

I can’t imagine that anyone is at all interested in my not-so-original D&D character creations, especially when they only exist in an ancient video game hardly anyone plays anymore, but I do enjoy writing about them, so there’s that. This time around my inspiration comes from Petyr Baelish, a character from HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones who is also known as “Littlefinger”. I haven’t really read far enough into George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels to claim them as much of an influence, or to know if the character from the books differs significantly from Aidan Gillen‘s portrayal of him on the show, but that hardly matters because I wasn’t aiming to re-create the character so much as come up with a new one loosely based on him. With that in mind, I named him Dedo Menique, which is Spanish for “little finger” (except that due to the disallowance of special characters in the character name field it’s missing a tilde, but that hardly matters either since the Spanish language itself doesn’t exist in Faerûn, which is the setting of the Neverwinter Nights base game in which our boy happens to currently reside).

For some time now I’ve wanted to make a Rogue PC that was a little less typical of the ones I usually play, and had previously experimented with several different types but they never really held my interest long enough to get very far in the game (incidentally, for those of you who weren’t aware, I seem to be addicted to creating new PCs for the purposes of re-playing the first chapter of the NWN default campaign, with the unfortunate result that I’ve never once completed the second chapter). Anyway, I guess you could say that the idea has been simmering in my brain for a while, even though I haven’t recently given it any conscious thought. At least, not until the sudden inspiration to use Littlefinger as a template came to me unbidden a couple days ago seemingly without any external prompting, when out of the blue I had the thought that it would be fun to play someone who was a complete rotter and had only taken on Aribeth’s quest for his own gain, and Petyr Baelish immediately sprang to mind. His alignment would be Neutral Evil, but he’d have a high Charisma as well as Dexterity and Intelligence, relying more on charm, persuasion, cunning schemes, and the use of magical items than skill in combat.


The first thing I set out doing, before I even started up the game, was to create a custom portrait using the one from the Game of Thrones Wiki, but due to failing eyesight I messed it up in Photoshop just slightly enough not to notice until I’d installed it, ran the game, and entered character creation that there was a thin white line at the bottom of the portrait where there absolutely should not be one, so I was about to abort character creation and fix it when I noticed that I had already installed a custom portrait as part of a pack I’d downloaded which was apparently based on a similar image of Petyr Baelish, only this version was even better because it more resembled a painting and the subject looked younger (as would befit a character just beginning their adventuring career), and also less blatantly like a character stolen directly from a show which, I have to admit, I no longer have the fondest of feelings for.

As is often the case when I create a PC solely for the fun of roleplaying them rather than any notion of “beating the game”, I didn’t follow all of the expert advice out there (such as is laid out in this excellent guide to playing a rogue in NWN) to optimise my character. Instead I made him physically weaker and slightly more frail than is usually recommended for a rogue in order to increase his Intelligence and Wisdom, since I consider cunning to be a combination of these. A higher INT also means more skill points as well as access to higher levels of Wizard spells once I multiclass him into a Necromancer. Also, with that future in mind I made him a follower of Vecna. Perhaps his ultimate goal is to become a lich himself, but for now he just hungers for power, and as the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” And since in this AU he doesn’t have a Cersei to disabuse him of that notion, he will continue to live by it.

Since Dedo Menique is a commoner with pretensions to nobility, much like Petyr Baelish himself, I chose the rapier as his favoured melee weapon (the light crossbow would become the main instrument of his ranged attacks), because of its in-game description as “a light, thrusting sword popular among nobles and swashbucklers”. This will eventually be upgraded to the Namarra rapier (Neversleep) which is a nice little magical weapon that has a chance to daze an enemy on a successful hit. I also chose to have him go without armour, relying instead upon his high dexterity and the use of magical items such as the Amulet of Natural Armour to avoid getting hit, as well as feats such as Dodge and Mobility. For his considerable wardrobe I selected the Rogue’s Tunic, Assassin’s Garb, Necromancer’s Robe, Noble Outfit, Noble’s Tunic, and Noble Guardsman Tunic. He has since also acquired on his own quite by chance a Robe of Cold Resistance followed by a Robe of Fire Resistance, which I thought was interesting given that I based him on a character from A Song of Ice and Fire.

For Dedo’s in-game voice I chose the only suitable option available to me in my current bare-bones base game from ancient CD installation, the one named “Mature Swashbuckler“. It doesn’t exactly fit Littlefinger’s character, who as soft-spoken as he is in the series might have been better represented by the voiceset named “Stealth Specialist” which I no longer have access to, but in the end it just serves to differentiate my character from the original inspiration so I’ve come to embrace it. Besides, the Stealth Specialist is a bit too American-sounding, and there’s just something about the Mature Swashbuckler’s occasional outburst of “Haha, that’s it for you! Take that!” which seems very apropos for this sort of rogue, even if he sounds a bit more jovial than I’d like.


Though Dedo is not a lawful character, he is currently working with the forces of law and order, and would much rather do so than become a known outlaw, as a chaotic character might, because that will get him nowhere in life–or at least, nowhere that he wants to be. Now, that’s not to say he’s averse to engaging in criminal activity, however. After all, the real Littlefinger was a crimelord in addition to being Master of Coin, a pimp and owner of a string of brothels. And to quote another of Littlefinger’s sayings, “chaos is a ladder.” As it happens, the city of Neverwinter’s current misfortune–the chaos brought on by the Wailing Death–has proved very much to Dedo’s benefit, so he is not so much working to assist the current power structure in maintaining itself as he is to position himself for a rapid rise within its ranks, but at the first opportunity he would betray his employers if it meant gaining even greater wealth and power.

This, I feel, is the crux of the neutral evil alignment. A great example of this sort of character is one Louis Bloom played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the excellent film Nightcrawler. Though he does occasionally exhibit the sort of behaviour usually associated with a chaotic evil alignment, for the most part he only goes as far as he needs to in order to get ahead in his newfound career, which is why he gets away with the things he does so easily, since he’s more or less operating under the radar. Chaotic evil characters are less inclined to rein themselves in, tending to give themselves over to their basest impulses, often on a whim, and glorying in murder, mayhem, and destruction for its own sake. That’s not to say that they can’t make plans and follow through with them (Batman’s Joker proves otherwise), but whereas a chaotic evil character might just want to watch the world burn, a neutral evil character usually only seeks to destroy whatever stands in the way of their success, even if it means that countless others will suffer in the process.

So when Dedo convinces Judge Oleff Uskar to let him search for the tomb of Halueth Never, the semi-legendary founder of the city of Neverwinter (even after blackmailing Oleff earlier for his involvement in a “sinful operation”, namely the bordello known as the Moonstone Mask), the rogue almost immediately agrees to deliver any holy artifacts he finds into the villainous hands of Gilles, a cleric of the evil deity Talona, not because he personally feels any allegiance to the abstract concept of evil, or even to any of the deities that might ally themselves with his own patron Vecna, but simply because Gilles offered him more money.


For a rogue such as this, with such low scores in Strength and Constitution, a tank is required for a henchman. I chose the dwarven monk Grimgnaw, partly due to him being lawful evil. I could’ve just as easily gone with Daelan Red Tiger, the half-orc barbarian, but apart from the issue of alignment, Grimgnaw with his monk abilities is virtually unstoppable. Also, he has a shared interest in getting to the bottom of the undead infestation that has lately overtaken the Beggar’s Nest, though for very different reasons. Little does he know that he is being used, not to rid Neverwinter of the scourge of undead (though that will inevitably happen as a consequence of their quest), but rather for his employer to be able to gain more knowledge about the dark arts of necromancy.

[image description: screenshot of the player character dedo menique’s 3D avatar in his rogue’s tunic, standing with his henchman the dwarven monk known as grimgnaw in one corner of the moonstone mask in chapter one of the default neverwinter nights campaign module.]

With Grimgnaw at his side to fearlessly wade into every battle ahead of him, Dedo has become what the rogue guide I linked to above calls a “Gunship”:

The "Gunship" references the military combat helicopters of today, which strike from the edges of the battle and can change tactics mid-battle with ease. Gunships are the most versatile of the Rogues, already a versatile class, and often add spell-casting or other arcane or divine abilities to the Rogue mix. Gunships are usually the Rogues with the lowest number of hit points and the worst armor class, but make up for it in mobility, speed, and terrifying combat capabilities. They can't stand in a fight for long, but they make an impact out of all proportion to their size for as long as they ARE there.
Ross Glenn, “Neverwinter Nights Rogue Character Guide”

Hanging back in order to repeatedly shoot down the monk’s assailants with his crossbow means Dedo gets a sneak attack on virtually every enemy, and can often take down spellcasters before they even have a chance to finish casting their first spell, or at the very least interrupt some of their spells, causing them to fail from loss of concentration. If cornered by foes who happen to slip by Grimgnaw, as can sometimes occur when there are just too many for the dwarf to handle, Dedo will fight back using his magic rapier with Finesse, a feat which allows his attack bonus to be based on his high Dexterity rather than his much lower Strength, and if need be he can borrow time using his Parry skill (augmented by the Gloves of Swordplay) to hopefully fend off the attacks until Grimgnaw is able to come to his rescue.

However, as is the case most of the time in this campaign module when playing characters who are not themselves tanks, boss fights are the real problem. But since I’ve played through chapter one multiple times I already know how to fight every battle in my mind. You can call this metagaming, and technically you’d be right, but I rationalise it as my character having done an enormous amount of information gathering as he goes about his business, much the way Petyr Baelish with the help of his network of spies seemed to know almost everything that was going on in Westeros before anyone else did (except Varys, of course). This line of reasoning will continue to hold up in chapter two, assuming we get there, because he’ll be out of his element and for the most part flying blind (I did make some progress in chapter two with a couple of prior PCs but it’s been so long my recollection is a bit hazy).

Needless to say, so far I’m enjoying playing this character with all his subtlety, which allows me to roleplay a villain even as the game requires advancing him on a hero’s quest, which to my mind would make a lot less sense for a chaotic evil character. Dedo’s neutrality when it comes to law and chaos also makes for more versatility than a lawful evil character which is typically played as a more principled villain, even if their principles don’t always align with those of society at large. It also renders inconsequential the annoying fact that nothing your character does in this campaign will ever impact their alignment along the law versus chaos axis. Only choices deemed good or evil have consequences in this game unless you’ve installed a later module.

Happy Hobbit Day!

My sister and I put together a playlist of festive hobbity music for our celebrations that I just had to share with you because honestly I think it’s just perfect. Well, we worked long and hard on it so it better be!

This year we wanted to combine the pagan celebration of the autumn equinox (what some call Mabon) with Bilbo and Frodo’s Birthday, so the theme is just as the title suggests: a Hobbit Day Harvest Fest. Enjoy!

Hobbit Day Harvest Fest YouTube Playlist

How We Got Here: the History of Rings Of Power — Lord of the Rings Rings of Power on Amazon Prime News, JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit and more | TheOneRing.net

The debut of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime Video is in many ways a new age of Middle-earth adaptation. Set firmly in the Second Age, thousands of years before the events of the The Hobbit. This TV series sets out to explore the the age of settlements in Middle-earth […]

How We Got Here: the History of Rings Of Power — Lord of the Rings Rings of Power on Amazon Prime News, JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit and more | TheOneRing.net

Where Eagles Dare

As any fan of the Misfits can tell you, many (or even most) of their songs are about, or at least have titles inspired by or taken from, horror films. But “Where Eagles Dare” appears to be one of the exceptions. There is a movie called Where Eagles Dare but it’s not a horror film, and judging by the lyrics the song doesn’t seem to be about it–with the possible exception of one verse which I’ll get to in a bit.

[image description: movie poster for the 1968 brian g. hutton film “where eagles dare” starring clint eastwood and richard burton, featuring an artist’s over-the-top reimagining of the ciimactic cable car scene. (Fair Use).]

The most memorable line in the song is what brought it to mind the other night when my sister, slightly drunker for my birthday than I was, suddenly burst into my room laughing and shout-singing “I AIN’T NO GODDAMN SON OF A BITCH!” I hadn’t thought about that song for a while, so we put it on and listened as we poured another round, and that’s when it occurred to me that there was this movie I had heard about but never seen, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, about a Secret Intelligence Service paratroop team raiding a Nazi castle in the Alps, and I wondered if maybe that most memorable line from the song of the same name came from the film itself. So I looked it up on Wikipedia only to discover that it seemingly wasn’t related to the song at all… unless it was not so much the premise of the movie itself, but the antics that went on behind the scenes (especially the drunken exploits of Burton) that inspired some of the lyrics:

“Richard Burton, well known for his drinking binges, disappeared for several days with his friends Peter O’Toole, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris (who were not even in the movie), [causing delays in filming]. In the meantime, as part of his deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Clint Eastwood took delivery of a Norton P11 motorcycle, which he ‘tested’ at Brands Hatch racetrack, accompanied by Ingrid Pitt, something that he had been forbidden from doing… for insurance purposes in case of injury or worse. At one point during production, Burton was so drunk that he knocked himself out while filming and [his stunt double] had to quickly fill in for him. Derren Nesbitt observed that Burton was drinking as many as four bottles of vodka per day. At one point during filming, Burton was threatened at gunpoint by an overzealous fan, but fortunately danger was averted” [ibid].

Anyway, I ended up watching the film on HBO Max, and no spoilers, but even though it’s set during WWII and Wikipedia calls it a war movie, to me it’s not really a war movie. It has none of the heaviness or dreariness of a war movie. It’s more of an action-adventure espionage thriller, and even has some elements of a heist or caper. As such it sacrifices realism in favour of thrilling Bond-style stunts and almost super-human heroics, but for the most part this is a stealth mission in which a small team of special agents are chosen to infiltrate “Schloß Adler“, the Castle of Eagles, which is being used as a Nazi base, in order to rescue a high-ranking American officer before he talks under torture. Which brings me to the one verse in the Misfits song that sort of fits:

Let’s test your threshold of pain
Let’s see how long you last
That tappin’ in your retina
Unbosoms all your past
With jaded eyes and features
You think they really care?
Let’s go where eagles dare
We’ll go where eagles dare

Interestingly, the title of the movie was originally going to be “Castle of Eagles” before it was wisely changed to its current one, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Richard III: “The world is grown so bad/That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.” In the end I’m still not sure whether the Misfits song was inspired by the movie or not, but I’m glad that my curiosity about that possibility led me to watch it because it was a really good movie with some gorgeous scenery and sets that I would’ve most likely missed out on due to its having been labelled a war movie (which I’ve never been that much of a fan of, though there are always exceptions, like Full Metal Jacket, which is one of my all-time favourite films, period). I especially enjoyed the scenes on the cable cars, which reminded me of one of my favourite parts of the game Return to Castle Wolfenstein, only a lot more exciting for reasons I won’t get into so as to avoid spoiling it for those who have yet to see this classic film.

Misfits – Where Eagles Dare

EDIT (2/05/23): My sister pointed out in the comments that Iron Maiden also recorded a song titled “Where Eagles Dare” which was definitely about the movie. Check out this fan made music video I found (SPOILERS):

Iron Maiden – Where Eagles Dare (Fan Video)

The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground

[image description: detail from “the lieutenant of the barad-dûr” by john howe. a grim armoured figure with horned helm and a face like a skull, bearing a lance and wearing a sword at his side, rides upon a hellish steed fitted with metal barding including chanfron and criniere, having demonic red glowing eyes and a greenish tint to its rotting hide (Fair Use)]

As my fifty-first birthday approaches I’ve been waxing nostalgic and so, at the suggestion of my sister, have laboured long and hard putting together a retrospective metal playlist to serve as a soundtrack for the coming celebrations. I wanted it to sort of tell the story of how I became a headbanger thirty-six years ago and also help me reminisce about metal’s profound impact on my life, so I arranged the tracks in order of what I was listening to at various times in my life, and ended up finding it necessary to include so many that I finally had to settle for it being only half evil by capping it at 333. A musical odyssey that spans from 1986 to 2001, though it certainly didn’t end there, it took me nearly a week to finish and will likely take a few days of partying for us to listen to the whole thing. Anyway, this playlist got me thinking about how I discovered one of my favourite bands, Summoning, especially since I just bought a back patch of what I and many other fans consider to be their seminal album, Minas Morgul, with the intention of making a new battle jacket for myself.

As I recall one early autumn back in the late 90s I was browsing in a small leather shop in Greenwich Village when I noticed on a shelf off to one side a cardboard box full of CDs for sale. Curious, I started flipping through them, and quickly realised that they were all black metal albums. By this time I had heard and liked a few tracks from Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, but I was mostly into thrash and death metal so I didn’t recognise nor was I particularly interested in any of the bands whose names were printed on the seemingly endless succession of amateurish album covers in barely readable fonts, so I can’t even tell you today what obscure and ancient treasures I might’ve passed over. But one CD in particular did catch my eye, mostly because of the artwork.

[image description: cover art for Summoning’s 1995 LP “Minas Morgul” (Fair Use)]

Its quaint fortified medieval city surrounded by high walls nestled between majestic soaring misty mountains was what got me, along with the implication of the title with its Gothic blackletter font–namely that this was the very citadel of Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. As I flipped the CD over and perused the song titles on the back cover I was enticed by the following track listing, also printed in the same font:

Soul Wandering
The Passing of the Grey Company
Marching Homewards
Dagor Bragollach
Through the Forest of Dol-Guldur
The Legend of the Master-Ring
Dor Daedeloth

From this I surmised that, unlike those of many black metal bands and artists who assumed Tolkien-ish names, these songs were actually about and/or set in Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle-earth. So I bought it, brought it home, and listened to it… and my heart sank a little as the first song, “Soul Wandering” began electronically, turned out to be instrumental and without guitars, and then ended much the same way it began. It sounded like something one of my Goth friends might’ve produced in their basement using only an electronic keyboard and a mixing console, and I was immediately worried the whole album would turn out to be like that. Not that I don’t enjoy that kind of music now and then, it just wasn’t what I expected based on the packaging. But then the next song, “Lugburz” came on, with a freezing black rain of metal guitar and growling of orcish vocals, followed by the even better “The Passing of the Grey Company”, and I knew right then that I had discovered something special. The entire album sounded like a horde of orcs singing battle hymns as they marched off to war, to music that was at times slow and melodic, evoking the medieval, and at times fast and uproarious, like the most frenetic of black metal tracks, and at all times something I wouldn’t hesitate to use as background music for one of my D&D or MERP campaigns.

After that, Summoning, which turned out to be a duo from Austria, became my favourite band, and over the years I would collect every single one of their CD releases (except for their latest which I plan to order soon), including their debut album, Lugburz, which was more like traditional black metal in style. As each successive LP or EP came out, there seemed to be a progression, or evolution of their sound, and yet they always kept to that medieval/folkish style of their second LP, Minas Morgul, which has earned them the distinction of being labelled as “medieval atmospheric black metal”. Still, each new album was unique, and today if you ask eight different Summoning fans which is their fave you’re likely to get eight different answers. But best of all, I was right about their songs mostly being about Middle-earth, and in fact much of their lyrics are taken directly from Tolkien’s poetry. And they didn’t draw inspiration only from The Lord of the Rings, but The Book of Lost Tales and The Simarillion as well.

Now there are quite a few tracks from several different Summoning albums that I could pontificate about, but the one that’s been on my mind the most recently, partly due to certain current events, is the one that gives us the title of this blog entry. “The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground” is the sixth track off their 1999 LP Stronghold, and I won’t be talking about the music but rather the lyrics, because they’re the reason I’m finding the song particularly relevant today. But I’ll link to the song at the bottom of this post so you can appreciate the musical aspects as well.

[image description: screengrab of the lyrics entry on darklyrics.com for summoning’s “the rotting horse on the deadly ground” (Fair Use)]

As depicted in the image above, the text of the song lyrics when centered forms the unmistakeable shape of a mushroom cloud, making this an instance of concrete poetry. In such poems, the shape the lines form is usually a clue revealing what the poem’s (usually unnamed) subject is, so I think it’s safe to say that this hidden feature of the song is letting us know what it’s actually about. The bulk of the lyrics themselves, as with many Summoning songs, is a composite of Tolkien’s poetry, but added to this is a refrain I believe to be all their own:

Take a ride on, ride on,
on your rotting horse
on that deadly ground
Take a ride, ride on,
on your rotting horse
with a pounding sound.

I remember when I first listened to this song I wondered what that part meant, but it wasn’t until I saw the lyrics centered as shown in the previous image that I at last began to understand. The lyrics taking the shape of a mushroom cloud are a clue that this song with its added refrain is about nuclear war, giving new meaning to the lines from Tolkien’s poetry which were by themselves simply about conventional war and the loss it brings:

Wars of great kings and clash of armouries
Whose swords no man could tell, whose spears
Were numerous as wheat field’s ears
Rolled over all the great lands, and seas
Were loud with navies, their devouring fires

Behind the armies burned both fields and towns
And sacked and crumbled or to flaming pyres
Were cities made, where treasuries and crowns
Kings and their folk, their wives and tender maids
Were all consumed. Now silent are those courts
Ruined the towers, whose old shape slowly fades
And no feet pass beneath their broken ports

I heed no call of clamant bell that rings
Iron tongued in the towers of earthly kings

Here on the stones and trees there lies a spell
Of unforgotten loss, of memories more blest
than mortal wealth.
Here undefeated dwell the folk immortal
under withered elms,
Alalminore once in ancient realms

Seen in this light, there are three explanations for the added refrain that I can come up with and they aren’t mutually exclusive. Firstly, as I touched upon in an earlier post, the horse is a symbol of the cavalry, which in medieval times were the noble knights who sought honour and glory in war. So one thing we might glean from it is the message that unlike with conventional warfare, there is no possibility of honour and glory in a nuclear war, only the senseless destruction of all life. Hence in this nuclear age the noble horse of chivalry is not only doomed to rot, but in a sense, already rotting.

Another take on it is that the rotting horse refers to the point of view some hold that we must have nuclear weapons in order to avoid getting nuked by others who have them, a well-known argument on which the military doctrine of “mutual assured destruction” is based. In other words, as the reasoning goes, the very fact that a nuclear war can have no winners should serve as a deterrent to the use of nuclear weapons on both sides. This is often used as a apology for the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, so the lyric may be a critique of that. The metaphor of a horse as someone’s point of view or political position is not such a stretch, given that we have such idioms as “beating a dead horse”, “come down off your high horse”, and “fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

Lastly, what the lyric “rotting horse on that deadly ground” evokes for me most vehemently, especially in connection with that image of the mushroom cloud that the lyrics form when the text is centered, is this oft-quoted line from the Book of Revelation:

 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.

Revelation 6:8 (KJV)

Not long ago I finally got to see the film The Green Knight, which I found to be a beautiful if overly long and convoluted take on the 14th century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and now one scene comes to mind featuring a conversation about the colour green and how it can represent not only life, as with the verdancy of living and life-giving vegetation, but also death and decay. I mention this because the original Greek wording of Revelation 6:8 literally translated is not “pale horse”, but “green horse”. The word used for “green” in this case is chloros (χλωρός), whence comes our word “chlorophyll”, the pigment plants use for photosynthesis which gives them their green colour; as well as “chlorine”, named for its yellow-green hue. But in this context it refers to the sickly green or greenish-yellow of disease and putrefaction (and it is for this reason that in some more modern Biblical translations, the phrase in question is rendered as “a pale green horse”). The implication is therefore that Death rides upon a rotting horse, which of course makes perfect mythopoetic sense.

Yet my sense is that the speaker is not literally addressing Death, the actual figure who is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; though the metaphorical image is certainly of him riding his “rotting horse” over “that deadly ground”–an obvious reference to ground zero, being that long after a nuclear detonation the affected area remains deadly from radioactive fallout–“with a pounding sound”–which could also be a reference to the multiple detonations that a full-scale nuclear attack would entail, since one might imagine that from afar the successive explosions would resemble the pounding sound of hooves, as of some monstrous warhorse galloping across the land. Rather I think the target of this sardonic admonishment is altogether human.

Theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, after having witnessed the successful detonation of the first atomic bomb he helped to create, famously said that it brought to mind a line from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Perhaps Summoning had this in mind when they wrote the refrain of “The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground”, which to me only makes sense within the context of the rest of the lyrics if it is directed at those mere mortal scientists, politicians, and military officials who would themselves become Death, the destroyer of worlds, by continuing to engage in a foolish arms race which can only lead to our utter annihilation.

Anyway, here’s the song if you’d like to hear it:

Summoning – Stronghold – The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground

Though here we stand/In darkest night

[image description: A light display shines from where the World Trade Center used to be. The two beams of light are illuminated each year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton – Public Domain)]

I dreamt earlier this morning that I was writing these lyrics to music, to be sung by a choir. Though it was a simple tune, I couldn’t remember it upon waking, but I started jotting down as many of the words as I could recall as soon as I woke up, and I think I not only came close to a complete transcription of it, I may have even improved on it a little. It’s clearly inspired by Sam’s Song in the Orc-Tower, which impressed me at an early age, well before I ever heard it set to music. Though not composed with the September 11th attacks specifically in mind, I thought the above image of the Tribute in Light a fitting one for this poem.

Though here we stand
In darkest night
Our hope will rise
A shining light

To pierce the veil
Of cloud above
To never fail
On wings of love

A helping hand
A hopeful sight
A healing word
A beacon bright

Though here we bide
Deep in the dark
The light inside
Ignites a spark

With starkest wings
Against the night
Our song it rings
And takes to flight

To pierce the veil
Of cloud above
To never fail
On wings of love

© 2022 by Strider Lee

I Love Horses!

[image description: a pair of horses stand side by side in a green pasture under a blue sky. attribution: Nokota_Horses.jpg: François Marchalderivative work: Dana boomer, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons]

Today is “National I Love Horses Day” so I’m taking a break from working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project to express my own love of horses, which began in my early childhood—despite having never ridden one. Does a pony count? I recall a pony ride from when I was around four years old, and that’s one of my oldest memories, but the closest I’ve ever been to horseback riding was when a New York City mounted police officer nearly trampled me with one once upon a New Year’s Eve at Times Square back in the late 1980’s (in his defence, someone had thrown a Champagne bottle at him, which probably startled the poor horse).

Anyway, according to NationalToday.com, a website that explains all these weird and wonderful “national day of’s” which modern society seems to have proliferated in recent decades, “National I Love Horses Day was created to highlight the importance of the animal in human history and development. Horses have been around for around 50 million years and they were domesticated by nomads in 4000 B.C. The animal is believed to have originated from North America, with increased traveling and globalization taking it to other parts of the world…. As human populations increased and commercialization started taking over, horses began being used to cultivate the land and other general agricultural settings. Because of the strength and endurance they displayed, horses were also being used for the transportation of goods and people over long and short distances. Over the years, horse racing and show-jumping contests also gained the attention of the public.”

Horses also appear to have been important religiously in many cultures that had contact with them. There is evidence of horse worship, for example, in Europe and the Mediterranean dating as far back as the Bronze Age. The worship or at least veneration of horses was probably also practiced by the early Anglo-Saxons, which is perhaps why the eating of horsemeat is still taboo in England as well as in cultures derived therefrom today. It has even been suggested (perhaps erroneously) that J. R. R. Tolkien invented the fictional race of Rohirrim, or Riders of the Mark, a horse-centred culture whose language is based on the Mercian dialect of Old English, as an answer to traditional history’s claim that the early Anglo-Saxons were defeated by the Viking cavalry because they themselves did not fight on horseback. At any rate, there is plenty of evidence that these early English settlers did have a strong horse culture, and the mythical brothers said to have led the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes into their newfound land according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, were even called Hengest and Horsa, whose names mean respectively “stallion” and “horse”.

I think I first became fully conscious of my love of horses when I read Black Beauty as a child. Then it was not long afterwards that I became fascinated by all things medieval, and of course the knight on horseback has always been a very prominent symbol of the Middle Ages. Of the few occasions that I got to see a horse up close, the most memorable were at the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park, and the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, New York, both of which have always featured jousting. There were of course, numerous cinematic influences as well. One of these which I’ve already blogged about twice was Excalibur, a film adaptation of early Arthurian romances and the literature inspired by them, central to which is the concept of knighthood, which at its most basic is the culture of mounted warriors or soldiers. After all, a knight is almost always a member of the cavalry (a word derived from the French “cheval” meaning “horse”, which also gives us “chivalry”), as opposed to the foot soldiers, or infantry, of which the root word “infant” is not a coincidence, for it originally referred to soldiers considered “too inexperienced for cavalry“. So we see that from early on, the mounted fighting force was considered a class above the ones obliged to fight on foot, and this is even reflected in the lowly status of the pawn in chess. It is of course also telling that the chess piece known as the knight is represented by a horse’s head.

It was not so much that I wanted to own a horse (though I certainly fantasised about it as a child), but that my heart soared whenever I saw one, especially if it happened to be running. I wasn’t even particularly keen on riding one, or else I should have done so long ago—there were, after all, reasonably-priced horseback rides in Central Park until 2007, and I was surely making enough money in the early aughts to be able to afford one. That’s not to say that I don’t regret having never ridden a horse, and it is in fact on my bucket list—just that it’s not one of the things I prioritise in connection with my personal appreciation for these majestic animals. In fact, my love of horses once even prompted me to Google the question “Do horses like being ridden?” It had suddenly occurred to me that they—at least when domesticated—were very much at our mercy. Perhaps they would prefer to be roaming free? The answers I got were frustratingly inconclusive, but here’s the most comprehensive one, for what it’s worth.

The history of the horse is every bit as fascinating as the history of humankind, not the least because they are so intertwined (or at least, have become so in relatively recent times). I could go on and on about this subject, but then by the time I was done it would no longer be National I Love Horses Day, and I wanted this post to be timely. So I’ll conclude with this video that I’ve posted to the blog in the past, but which bears repeating. It’s a fascinating look into the origin and history of horses and their domestication for all those who are interested in such things.

First Horse Warriors

Then once you’re done watching that, take a gander at this excellent music video from Of Monsters and Men featuring a hypnotic continuous animation of running and jumping horses:

Of Monsters and Men – Mountain Sound (Official Lyric Video)

Still need more horse love? Check out this list of the 50 best horse movies according to HorseNetwork.com.