Saturday, 22 July 2017


After a very lengthy spell of silence on the subject, George R.R. Martin has finally provided an update (if a short one) on two A Song of Ice and Fire projects, including The One That Everyone Wants To Know About.

Artwork by Chase Stone, from The World of Ice and Fire.

No, The Winds of Winter is not done, and George confirms that completion is still months away, finally ruling out a 2017 release date. The good news is that George thinks that a 2018 release for the book is therefore more likely, but nothing is set in stone.

Interestingly, George also provides a update on Fire and Blood, the once-mooted "GRRMarillion" which was originally planned to come after the series was completed. This book draws on over 300,000 words of new material that GRRM wrote for The World of Ice and Fire, most of which was dramatically cut down in editing for the final book. With something like 80,000 words on the Dance of Dragons alone (from which the novellas The Princes and the Queen and The Rogue Prince have been drawn), this was always going to be a hefty project and, going through it, George and his publishers realised that it was going to have to be a two-volume project, with the first volume (containing well over 100,000 words, probably closer to 200,000) already effectively complete.

As a result, Fire and Blood: Volume I, being a history of the Targaryens from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III the Dragonbane, will be published in late 2018 or early 2019. Fire and Blood: Volume II, which will cover the period from Aegon III to Robert's Rebellion and the death of the Mad King, will follow several years later, presumably after A Dream of Spring is completed. This possibly means that the second half of the history will be a large larger and in more detail than originally envisaged, so for those who've been beginning for a prequel story about the Rebellion, this may be the closest you'll get (I also suspect this will have to follow Spring so George can give the full, "unedited" account of the war without having to worry about any more spoilers).

GRRM concludes his update by saying that we may therefore get two new Westeros books in 2018, if things go well (or maybe none at all, if they do not).

A History of Middle-earth Part 2: The Siege of Angband

Part 1 can be found here.

The First Age of the World began with the rise of the Sun and Moon for the first time, lighting up the skies over the lands of Aman and Middle-earth, making dark creatures fear the light and tremble at the wrath of the Valar. But that wrath was stayed: the Eldar had betrayed the order of the Valar and broken their oath, so for all that the Valar wished to drive Morgoth out of Arda they were bound to stand aside. The elves who had returned to Middle-earth to make war on Morgoth - the Exiles - were on their own.
These were the Elder Days of Middle-earth, when the Great War of the Jewels raged across the western-most part of Middle-earth, that lost land beyond the Blue Mountains known as Beleriand. The First Age is counted as lasting six hundred years from the rise of the Sun to the end of the wars of Beleriand, and in that time much of the scene was set for the following millennia.
A map of Beleriand, from Karen Wynn Fonstad's definitive Atlas of Middle-earth.

The Beginning of the War of the Jewels
After dimming the lights of the Trees, Morgoth and Ungoliant fled over Helcarax­ë, coming to the northern-most regions of Beleriand. There, whilst passing over the mist-shrouded land of Hithlum and drawing near to Angband, Ungoliant turned on Morgoth, demanding recompense for her efforts, but a host of balrogs arrived from Angband and drove her into hiding. Morgoth then entered Angband in triumph. He raised the Iron Mountains above Angband and created a terrible, triple-peaked volcano named Thangorodrim which belched fire high into the skies above the mountains. Thus the elves of Beleriand were alerted to Morgoth’s return.
In the long years since the Great Journey, the Teleri elves who had remained in Middle-earth had not been idle. Elwë, founder of the kingdom of Eglador, had been acclaimed as Lord Elú Thingol Greycloak of the elves of Beleriand, and the Maia Melian was his queen. The Falas became a fortified stretch of coast defended by Círdan from his strongholds of Brithombar and Eglarest, whilst Ossiriand in the east became ever more beautiful and home to increasing numbers of other elves late-come over the mountains from Eriador. The dwarves, meanwhile, had founded the mighty fortress-mine of Khazad-dûm in the Misty Mountains, many hundreds of miles to the east of the Blue Mountains, and some of their number came west, founding Belegost and Nogrod in the Blue Mountains and another, smaller hold under Mount Dolmed on the western face of the range, from where they traded with the elves. 
But the servants of Morgoth had also not been lazy. Sauron had bred orcs uncounted in the pits below Angband and gathered to him such strength of arms as had never been seen before in Middle-earth. When the light of the Trees failed, Sauron sensed that something had changed and that before long his master would return. So it proved. After Morgoth’s arrival he decided to quickly launch an assault against the elves of Beleriand. He knew that Fëanor could not let either the theft of the Silmarils or the murder of his father – the first death of one of the Eldar by violence – pass uncounted, and wished to destroy any potential allies the Noldor would find in Middle-earth.
He did not find the elves of Beleriand unprepared, for skirmishes with the numerous orc forces had already taken place in the foothills of Dorthonion – a raised highland area in the north of Beleriand, not far from Angband – and the mountains of mist-shrouded Hithlum. Thingol had already began gathering strength of arms and sent word to Círdan of the Falas and Denethor of Ossiriand to do the same. Morgoth’s armies then marched, dividing into two great hosts. One passed through the gap between Hithlum and Dorthonion formed by the passage of the mighty River Sirion, aiming itself at the Falas, whilst the eastern army marched on Ossiriand, whilst sending skirmishers to keep Thingol bottled up in Eglador. Morgoth had not expected boldness from Thingol, believing that he would only fight if his kingdom was directly threatened. Instead, Thingol waited until Morgoth’s host had passed and then attacked from the rear, whilst Denethor led a head-on assault from Ossiriand. The eastern host, caught between two armies, was destroyed for all its vast size, although Denethor of Ossiriand was slain in combat. The few survivors retreated northwards, but were intercepted by a dwarven force on the slopes of Mount Dolmed and destroyed almost to an orc.
In the west things went better for Morgoth. With Thingol and Denethor leading the fighting in the east, it fell to Círdan and the less-populous Falas cities to resist this force. A series of guerrilla strikes delayed the advance of the host, but eventually the Falathrim had to retreat to Eglarest and Brithombar and hold them against siege.
So ended the First Battle of the War of the Jewels. The armies of Morgoth had suffered a grievous defeat in the east and failed to win an overwhelming victory in the west. Then the fleet of the Noldor sailed into the Firth of Drengist under the shadow of the mountains of Hithlum, and Fëanor son of Finwë led his people onto the shores of Middle-earth.

Gothmog confronts Fëanor at the feet of Thangorodrim during the Battle-Under-Stars. Art by CK Goksoy.

The Battle-Under-Stars
Fëanor’s troops arrayed themselves in Hithlum and prepared for battle, but Morgoth, fearing that his enemy’s strength of arms was becoming overwhelming, immediately sent his reserves into battle, attacking Fëanor’s army with what forces he had left in Angband. Fëanor shattered the attack and led his forces towards Angband. The western host besieging the Falas cities immediately turned north and hastened to crush Fëanor’s army from behind, but Celegorm, third son of Fëanor, had kept a reserve behind in Hithlum. This force descended from the mountains and destroyed the orcs as they attempted to pass through the valley of Sirion between Dorthonion and Hithlum.
Fëanor’s forces drew nigh to Angband, but, his wrath unrestrained, Fëanor outraced his troops and raced to the gates of Angband. There he was attacked by a host of balrogs led by Gothmog and, despite a valiant stand, was slain. The balrogs would have despoiled his corpse, but the forces of his sons arrived and drove them away. The gates of Angband were sealed against them and they lacked the strength for an assault, so withdrew to Hithlum to plan anew.
So ended the Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the Battle-under-Stars, the Second Battle of the War of the Jewels. Fëanor was slain, but Maedhros, his eldest son, refused to claim the High Kingship of the Noldor, ashamed of his father’s betrayal of Fingolfin. When Fingolfin’s host stepped foot on the shores of Middle-earth after the devastating crossing of Helcaraxë, Maedhros surrendered the High Kingship to his uncle and repented the betrayal of his father. Fingolfin accepted the apology and added his strength to his nephews’, thus strengthening the Noldor’s forces further, and then went forth to meet the elves of Beleriand in parley.

 The Siege of Angband, by John Howe.

The Siege of Angband
King Thingol Greycloak did not welcome the Noldor with open arms, but saw their strength as a way of containing the renewed threat of Morgoth. After forcing them to accept him as overlord of Beleriand, Thingol surrendered control of Hithlum, Dorthonion and the northern foothills of the Blue Mountains to the Noldor, placing them on the front lines whilst keeping his own strength in reserve. To protect his homeland from attack, Thingol and Melian together weaved a magical field around the forests of Neldoreth and Region, known as the Girdle of Melian. Thus Eglador became Doriath, ‘The Land of the Fence’.
Fingolfin chose to take Hithlum as his base of operations, sending his elder son Fingon to fortify Dor-lómin in the south-west and his younger son Turgon to assume control of Nevrast, the stretch of cost south-west of Dor-lómin. Turgon here based himself at the fortress of Vinyamar in the shadow of Mount Taras.
The sons of Finarfin were given control of the weakest point in the forces besieging Angband, namely the Pass of Sirion between the mountains of Hithlum and the highlands of Dorthonion. Orodreth and Finrod fortified the Pass, building the fortress of Tol Sirion (noted for its tower of Minas Tirith, a name later used in history for another great fortress) upon the island of the same name. Angrod and Aegnor fortified the north-western and northern slopes of Dorthonion, from where the fires of Thangorodrim could be seen in the distant north.
The seven sons of Fëanor held the east. Maedhros built a mighty fortress atop the tall hill of Himring, whilst Maglor’s base lay atop Mount Rerir. Caranthir assumed control of Thargelion, the land north of Ossiriand, whilst Amrod and Amras, after gaining the permission of Thingol, fortified Amon Ereb and assembled their hosts in East Beleriand behind their brothers’ forces.
The Sindar held the centre of Beleriand at Doriath, whilst the Falathrim continued to hold the coasts under Círdan’s rule. The dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod agreed to come forward to aid the elves, but kept their strength in their fortresses, keeping only a small force on Mount Dolmed to respond rapidly to an enemy attack.
Morgoth chose to remain in Angband, but in the 54th year of the siege his forces emerged and launched a direct assault on Dorthonion. In the so-called Glorious Battle the elves shattered his forces and sent them reeling back in defeat.
After some additional years both Finrod and Turgon received dreams (actually visitations from Ulmo) telling them to leave their holdfasts and build hidden refuges. Thus Turgon abandoned Vinyamar, though leaving his armour and weapons in the fortress at the dream’s direction, and led his people to a vast collapsed volcano in south-western Dorthonion known as the Echoriath, and there built the immense city of Gondolin, greatest of all cities of the Noldor upon Middle-earth. Meanwhile, Finrod descended into western Beleriand and there built the subterranean fortress of Nargothrond. He won the respect of the dwarves for his hewing of the caverns of Nargothrond and was awarded the title "Felagund", "Hewer of Stone". By the 103rd year of the First Age, both realms were complete and the siege thus strengthened.

The Coming of Men
When three centuries and more had passed since the leaguer about Angband had been set, Finrod Felagund, Lord of Nargothrond, travelled eastwards into the lands of Thargelion and Ossiriand and journeyed awhile among the green-elves. Then he met a strange people, a host of beings like and unlike elves who had descended into East Beleriand from over the Ered Luin. These were the first of the race of men to reach the north-west of Middle-earth, followers of the great chieftain Bëor the Old. Although filled with despair when he learned of their short lifespans upon Arda before they must answer the call of Mandos, Finrod nevertheless saw in them a proud and valiant people, and taught them much of war and craft. The men were amazed, for the dark-elves they had met before in the wilds of Rhovanion and Eriador were unlike this fearless warrior, blessed as one who had seen the Light of the Trees, and grew to love and respect him and his kin. In the years that followed more and more men passed over the Blue Mountains from Eriador and settled in the lands of East Beleriand, and although some such as Curufin and Celegorm mistrusted them, others like Finrod and Turgon and Maedhros saw in them a new ally in the war against the Dark Power of the North. Unbeknown to all, men were the Second Children of Ilúvatar, the second chosen race of Eru.
Bëor’s people became the First House of the Edain (Elf-friends), for they came first to Beleriand and remained true to the cause against the Enemy. They settled in Estolad, the Encampment, between the rivers Celon and Gelion, and there grew numerous and prosperous. Bëor in time passed away in the service of Finrod and his son Bregor arose to leadership of the First House, and after him came his sons Barahir and Bregolas, and of Barahir and his son Beren more is told later.
The Second House of the Edain was the race known as the Haladin, led by Marach. These people came to Beleriand soon after Bëor, and dwelt for a time in Thargelion before removing themselves over Gelion to the wide, rolling countryside south of Estolad, and there was much peace and friendship between the First and Second Houses.
The elven lords took counsel, and the Noldor agreed to take into their services all who would swear loyalty to them. Thus many of the Edain removed to Hithlum and Mithrim to serve Fingolfin himself, whilst others went to Dorthonion to serve Angrod, Aegnor and Orodreth, but Turgon, although recognising the valour of the men, did not allow any to come to Gondolin, and kept the Hidden City secret even from them. But, Finrod aside, none of the Exiles sought counsel with Thingol, whose lands the Edain passed through, and Thingol angrily rejected those Edain who would serve him, and held the Exiles responsible for the Edain’s behaviour in Beleriand.
The Haladin in time migrated west after a great battle against an orc-raid sent from the north, and after many years adopted the Forest of Brethil as their new home. Thingol was again angered, since the Forest of Brethil lay nigh on the borders of Doriath, although it was not included in the Girdle of Melian, but Finrod came forth and after much discussion obtained the grace of Thingol for the Haladin to settle there.
In time there arose a great captain of men, Hador Lórindol, a stalwart warrior and a keen slayer of Orcs. Fingolfin himself embraced him as a brother, and gave to Hador a land to dwell in within Hithlum, the great plain of Dor-lómin. There Hador raised a great host to enforce the Siege, and elves and men mingled greatly, becoming friends and allies against the darkness. In time Hador passed on and the lordship fell to his oldest son Galdor, and Galdor’s sons were Húrin and Huor, of whom more is told later in this history.
Thus the race of men joined the Siege of Angband, and the Noldor recognised them as valiant allies, but the Sindar were less convinced and Thingol and the green-elves of Ossiriand long mistrusted them.

Fingolfin confronts Morgoth during the Battle of Sudden Flame.

The Battle of Sudden Flame
The Siege of Angband endured long over four centuries and the hosts of Morgoth were ever kept at bay by the vigilance of the elves, now greatly bolstered by the arrival of the Edain. Thus reinforced, Fingolfin summoned a great counsel of men, dwarves and elves and suggested that a new assault be launched upon Angband, since now they had the numbers needed to pull down Morgoth from his iron throne and take back the Silmarils he had stolen from the Noldor, and thus vengeance could be claimed for all of those that Morgoth and his servants had slain, man and elf and dwarf alike. But the other captains did not see the need for such an attack, and indeed many had grown used to the peacefulness of the Siege and saw not the necessity for blood to be spilled whilst it endured. Indeed, only the sons and grandsons of Hador, who were closest in alliance to Fingolfin, and Angrod and Aegnor, whose lands lay within sight of blighted Thangorodrim, supported Fingolfin’s proposal, not enough to ensure victory, and the meeting came to naught.
This Morgoth studied from afar, through spies and beasts in his service, and knew then that his foes were divided, softened by the long years of peace. In the mines below Thangorodrim he had forged weapons of war and in the surrounding lands he had bred Orcs innumerable, and the great Dragons and dark Balrogs stilled heeded Morgoth’s call. Now Morgoth knew that the time had come to breach the Siege. Some suggested that if he but waited for a few more years, until his hosts were larger still, then he could have destroyed all of his enemies at one swoop, but once Morgoth had decided upon something, it could not be undone.
In the 455th year of the First Age, Morgoth unleashed his forces at the besieging armies. Channels had been cut underneath Ard-galen, the green plain which encircled Thangorodrim, and these were now filled with fire. At one fell swoop almost all of the troops on Ard-galen were incinerated. Then the Gates of Angband opened and Glaurung, Gothmog and Sauron led forth the armies of Morgoth to battle. Rather than divide their forces as before, the dark host instead marched straight into Dorthonion, catching Angrod and Aegnor’s forces before they could rally. In a week of fire and slaughter the north slope of Dorthonion was put to the flame and the fortresses there cast down and destroyed. Thus perished Angrod and Aegnor and their allies. Then the hosts of Morgoth turned east, besieged Himring where Maedhros had his fortress and destroyed Maglor’s host on the plain of Lothlann, although Maglor survived to seek shelter in Himring. Then the Orcs passed on to the slopes of Mount Rerir and shores of Lake Helevorn, scattering all before them. The Pass of Aglon was taken and Celegorm and Curufin fled to Nargothrond, and Caranthir abandoned Thargelion and fell back on Amon Ereb, where he built new defences with Amrod and Amras.
The slaughter in the north was great, but Turgon refused to risk Gondolin by leading a host forwards. However, Finrod led a great army forwards from Nargothrond and, after being joined by Celegorm and Curufin, reinforced Orodreth’s fortress at Tol Sirion to hold the Pass of Sirion against the Enemy. The battle was won, but Finrod himself was encircled and would have been slain had not Barahir grandson of Bëor come with a great host of men and relieved him. Thus Finrod was indebted to the house of Barahir.
Morgoth’s forces also attacked Hithlum, but these attacks were designed purely to contain Fingolfin’s troops and prevent him from riding to the aid of the Sons of Fëanor, and in this they succeeded, but Fingolfin himself was filled with wrath for the fall of so many of the Noldor. Enraged, he passed alone through all the armies of Morgoth and came to the Gates of Angband itself. There he challenged Morgoth to single combat even as his brother had done, but this time Morgoth accepted the call, bolstered by the victory of his forces. In his confidence Morgoth nearly perished, for Fingolfin was mighty among the Noldor and his cunning blade wounded the Dark Lord in both body and spirit, and Morgoth was horrified for this showed his powers as a Vala were fading as a result of the disfavour of Eru. But still Morgoth had many times the strength of an Elf and in the end crushed Fingolfin under his weapon Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. Thus fell the Lord of the Noldor, but his body was not taken by the Enemy, for Thorondor Lord of Eagles came hither and seized the body in his great claws and bore him south to Gondolin, where Turgon made a great cairn for his father.
Now Fingon, eldest son of Fingolfin, became Lord of the Noldor and hard-pressed was he to re-organise the forces of the Exiles, for they had been scattered and were barely holding the line against the enemy. To safeguard his bloodline, Fingon sent his son Ereinion to join Círdan at the Havens on the south-western coast of Beleriand, though Ereinion bitterly complained. Thus it was that Ereinion met and befriended Círdan, and after many years Ereinion gained the name of Gil-galad ("Spark of Brightlight"), a name famed in legend and in song.
But the ruin of the Siege was not yet complete. Two years after the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) Sauron’s forces put Tol Sirion to siege and then stormed it, driving Orodreth and his kin back to Nargothrond, and Sauron made Tol Sirion into Tol-in-Gaurhoth (Isle of Werewolves), his own stronghold to replace Angband which he had given up to his master. Five years after this the host of Morgoth assailed Hithlum and would have taken it, but Círdan sailed up the coast to the Firth of Drengist and put ashore great strength of arms, and thus halted the onslaught and turned it back. Fingon had held Hithlum, but at great cost.
Other matters of import came to pass also in the years after the Siege. Húrin and Huor were journeying with a great party near the upper Sirion when they were assailed and almost overcome by Orcs, save that a mist arose from Sirion and covered their retreat. Then Thorondor the Eagle and his servants gathered up the party and bore them to Gondolin to recover from their wounds. Under the King’s Law none who set foot on the Hidden Way to Gondolin could leave again, but Húrin and Huor pointed out that they had come by air and knew not where Gondolin was in relation to the rest of Dorthonion. Thus they were allowed to leave again and return to their own people, but their exploits soon became legendary and even the servants of Morgoth came to hear of it. Then Morgoth bent his efforts to locating the Secret City so he could plan against it.

Parts 3-6 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

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BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 15-16

A15: Grail
Airdates: 6 July 1994 (US), 15 August 1994 (UK)
Written by Christy Marx
Directed by Richard Compton
Cast: Aldous Gajic (David Warner), Deuce (William Sanderson), Jinxo (Tom Booker), Ombuds Wellington (Jim Norton), Mirriam Runningdear (Linda Lodge), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Mr. Flinn (John Flinn), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Whilst Garibaldi attempts to ensure a thug and criminal in Downbelow, Deuce, is incarcerated after committing acts of murder, extortion and blackmail, Sinclair is intrigued when a “true seeker” arrives on Babylon 5. Aldous Gajic is a human from Earth, the last of an order whose objective is to locate the Holy Grail. Since Earth has pretty much been investigated in detail, Gajic now turns his attention towards space. Sinclair thinks the idea is far-fetched, but Delenn berates him for his lack of faith. The Minbari revere true seekers, those who live by pure faith alone, unencumbered by the need to know whether an event is true or not.

Meanwhile, Gajic befriends a lurker named Jinxo, who is hiding from Deuce, to whom he owes money. Jinxo is scared to leave Babylon 5, since he worked as a construction worker on the first four Babylon stations. Each time, when he went on leave, the station collapsed or exploded. Working on Babylon 4, he stayed until the station was finished. However, as his shuttle left the station upon completion, it vanished in a strange blaze of light. He now thinks some calamity will befall Babylon 5 if he ever leaves, so stays and makes a living in Downbelow.

Gajic and Ombuds Wellington, who is prosecuting Deuce, are both taken prisoner by Deuce, who plans to feed them to a creature called a Na’ka’leen Feeder he has hiding in a replica of Kosh’s encounter suit. Jinxo, Garibaldi and Sinclair intervene and Deuce is arrested. The Feeder is killed, but so is Gajic. Shortly after, Jinxo returns home to Earth. Babylon 5 remains intact.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

First previews for PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

The first promo material has been unveiled for Pacific Rim: Uprising, the sequel to the 2013 movie where giant robots punched giant monsters in the face and was way more fun than it should have been.

Uprising is set ten years after the first movie, with Earth facing a renewed Kaiju threat. A new generation of jaegars, more powerful and capable than those in the first movie, stand ready to meet them. John Boyega (Attack the Block, the new Star Wars movies) stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) from the first movie, whilst Rinko Kikuchi reprises her role as Mako Maori. Charlie Hunnam, who starred in the first movie, is not returning due to a scheduling conflict.

This sequel will also feature a more international cast, with Chinese actors Jing Tian and Zhang Jin having a large role, a nod to the first movie's enormous success in China and the involvement of a Chinese production company in co-producing the movie.

Guillermo Del Toro is still on board as a writer and producer, but Steven S. DeKnight (Daredevil, Spartacus) is directing this second movie in the series.

Pacific Rim: Uprising will be released on 23 February 2018. You can see a snazzy website with some more info on the world and characters here.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 13-14


A13: Signs and Portents
Airdates: 18 May 1994 (US), 8 August 1994 (UK)
Working Title: Raiding Party
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Lord Kiro (Gerrit Graham), Lady Ladira (Fredi Olster), Morden (Ed Wasser), Reno (Robert Silver), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Raider (Whip Hubley), Customs Guard (Lynn Red Williams), Freighter Pilot (Hector Mercado), Man (Garry Kluger), Pilot 1 (Lee Methis), Pilot 2 (Douglas E. McCoy), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox), Station Three (Anita Brabec)

Date: Wednesday 3 August 2258. It is now closer to eleven years than ten since the Battle of the Line.

Plot:    Lord Kiro and his aunt, the Lady Ladira, arrive from Centauri Prime to see Ambassador Londo Mollari. Londo has recently brokered a deal with a dubious merchant, Reno, to recover the Eye, an ancient Centauri artefact possessed by the very first Emperor of the Republic. The Eye has been lost for a century. The Centauri have paid a huge amount of money to recover the Eye and Kiro and Ladira are to take it back home. Ladira is a seer who has prescient flashes of the future, once telling Kiro that he would be killed by “shadows”. She finds Babylon 5 unnerving and keeps seeing an image of the station under attack by strange forces in the future. Kiro tells Londo that he, and many other nobles, bitterly resent the loss of the Republic’s prestige and power in the Galaxy and wonder when the Centauri lost their will to rule.

A human arrives on the station. Going only by the name Morden, he arranges meetings with Ambassadors G’Kar, Delenn and Londo. He asks each of them a simple question: “What do you want?” G’Kar tells him he wants revenge on the Centauri, to blacken their skies and burn their cities, to kill their parents whilst the children watch and to utterly destroy them, as the Centauri broke the Narn a century and a half ago. However, G’Kar’s ambitions do not extend beyond that. He has no wish to see the Narn rule other races or conquer the Galaxy. Delenn ponders Morden’s question, but suddenly the sigil of the Grey Council appears on her forehead. As she watches, Morden becomes engulfed by darkness. She throws him out of her quarters, horrified at what she has seen: “They are here.” Londo tells Morden that he, like Kiro, despairs of what the Centauri have become and wants a renaissance of power, for the Centauri to be restored to their rightful position as rulers of a huge empire. Morden seems most pleased by this answer.

Sinclair tells Garibaldi about his recent experiences with flashbacks to the Battle of the Line (episode A8). He asks Garibaldi for help and he agrees. Garibaldi quickly comes up with something odd: the Minbari Federation co-funded Babylon 5 on the condition that they could veto the Earth Alliance choice for command. They vetoed everyone but Sinclair, who was way down the list. The reason is unknown.

The Raiders are mounting a major series of attacks on cargo ships headed for the station and Sinclair is determined to wipe them out once and for all, although he is puzzled at how the Raiders are getting in and out of hyperspace so fast when their attacks are taking place hours away from the nearest jump gates. The Achilles, a cargo ship from Earth, reports an attack and Ivanova takes out Delta Wing to investigate. Sinclair notes that the Achilles is two further sectors away than the other attacks and realises it is a diversion. He recalls Delta Wing and prepares Alpha Wing for launch under Garibaldi. A Raider operative on board makes his move, taking Kiro and the Eye hostage and commandeering the Centauri vessel. Sinclair shuts down the jump gate so they can’t escape, but a Raider command carrier – large enough to generate its own jump points – jumps in and launches a large number of fighters at the station. A full-scale battle erupts, but the Raider fighters are decimated when Alpha and Delta wings catch them in a crossfire with Babylon 5’s own defence grid. The Raider carrier jumps out with Kiro and the Eye on board. On the station Morden bumps into Ambassador Kosh, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he must leave at once. The time is not yet right and the lesser races are not ready as yet. Morden doesn’t answer and Kosh becomes more insistent and threatening.

The Raider ship re-emerges in open space and Kiro congratulates the Raider captain on a job well done. However, Kiro’s plans to use the Eye as a rallying symbol to topple the Emperor are ruined when the Raiders plan to just ransom the Eye and Kiro back to the Republic for an immense profit, enough to replace their lost fighters and buy two or three more command vessels. Suddenly an immense alien ship appears out of nowhere and destroys the carrier, precisely dismantling it with massive cutting beams. Kiro and his “friends” die. Ladira feels her nephew’s death back on Babylon 5 thanks to her prescient abilities.

Londo feels dejected, thinking he will be lucky if he isn’t stripped of all rank for this fiasco. Morden appears with the Eye, telling Londo that he has associates who sometimes do him favours. Morden leaves, promising to call back one day. Ladira also takes her leave of Sinclair, but before she goes she leaves Sinclair an image of her vision, showing Babylon 5 being destroyed by unknown forces. She tells him it is only a possible future.


Monday, 17 July 2017

RIP Martin Landau

American actor Martin Landau has sadly passed away at the age of 89.

Landau was an actor with a long and storied Hollywood career, making his major film debut in North by Northwest (1959). In 1966 he began appearing on the television series Mission: Impossible, first as a recurring guest star and then as a series regular. Given that he was still getting Hollywood film roles, his decision to regularly appear on TV, limiting his movie exposure, was unusual for the time. Mission: Impossible ended in 1973, but Landau was almost immediately recruited to star as Commander Koenig on Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999, which ran for two seasons from 1975.

Landau made a career comeback in the late 1980s, earning Academy Award nominations for Tucker: The Man and his Dream (1988) and then Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989). Wood Allen, who directed him in the latter, was enthusiastic about Landau's skills and his professionalism and reliability to deliver the material.

Landau finally won the Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994). Landau watched two dozen of Lugosi's film and became a huge fan of his work, inspiring him to reach deeper to deliver a more worthy performance. In 1998 he also appeared in the first X-Files film.

Landau continued to work right up to his death, earning Emmy nominations for appearances on Without a Trace and Entourage. An actor of range, depth and intensity, capable of playing both standard leading man roles and more artistic, offbeat ones with equal relish, Landau was a tremendous talent, and will be missed.

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 11-12

Earthforce One, clearly inspired by the real-life Air Force One and almost certainly the inspiration for Battlestar Galactica's Colonial One (which was designed by some of the same people).

A11: Survivors
Airdates: 4 May 1994 (US), 25 July 1994 (UK)
Working Title: A Knife in the Shadows
Written by Mark Scott Zicree
Directed by Jim Johnston
Cast: Lianna Kemmer (Elaine Thomas), Cutter (Tom Donaldson), Sergeant Lou Welch (David Crowley), Nolan (Jose Rosario), General Netter (Rod Perry), Young Lianna (Robin Wake), Special Agent (David Austin Cook), ISN Reporter (Maggie Egan), Alien (Mark Hendrickson), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago is due to pay a visit to Babylon 5 to congratulate Sinclair on a job well done and also to present the station with a brand new fighter squadron, Zeta Wing. However, whilst preparing the Cobra Bays to receive the new fighters, a massive explosion rips along the docking arm, killing several workers. Earthforce special intelligence operatives arrive ahead of the President to investigate, one of whom, Lianna Kemmer, is the daughter of an old friend of Garibaldi’s who was killed on Europa when he refused to go on the take. Garibaldi slipped into alcoholism and Lianna’s idealised view of “Uncle Mike” was shattered. Kemmer angrily blames Garibaldi for not helping her father and is quick to pounce on any evidence that Garibaldi himself might be involved in the bombing.

One of the survivors of the blast, Nolan, dies whilst claiming that Garibaldi planted the bomb and a search of Garibaldi’s quarters turns up both a diagram of the Cobra Bay and Centauri ducats, a neutral hard currency (cash) which is untraceable, perfect for paying off assassins. Garibaldi goes on the run to clear his name and receives help from G’Kar and Londo. He is eventually captured by Kemmer after falling back on the bottle, but Sinclair searches Nolan’s quarters and turns up Homeguard propaganda and bomb-making equipment. Nolan must have set the bomb and inadvertently blown himself and the bay up ahead of schedule. Realising that Kemmer’s second-in-command, Cutter, must have planted the evidence in his quarters, Garibaldi manages to convince Kemmer to confront him. Cutter turns out to be behind the attack and has rigged the other Cobra Bays to explode when the B5 fighters launch as an honour guard for the President. Garibaldi manages to get Ivanova to stop the launch and knocks Cutter out himself. Kemmer heads back to Earth, her faith in Garibaldi restored.


Sunday, 16 July 2017

RIP George Romero

George A. Romero, the godfather of the modern zombie story, has passed away at the age of 77.

Romero was born in the Bronx, New York in 1940. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960 and began producing commercials and short films. Night of the Living Dead was his first feature, shot on a shoestring budget in 1968 with Romero directing and, alongside John A. Russo, writing.

Night of the Living Dead was an enormous success, driven by cultural shock at the movie's explicit blood and gore. It was filmed for just $144,000 but made over $30 million at the box office. The success was seismic and transformative for Hollywood: it created both the modern zombie story paradigm and also popularised gory horror as a major franchise in its own right, paving the way for the likes of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween franchises.

Unexpectedly, Romero did not immediately embark on a sequel. Instead, he directed a romantic comedy (There's Always Vanilla), an occult thriller (Season of the Witch), a virus disaster movie (The Crazies) and a vampire movie (Martin) before finally making a sequel to his debut. Dawn of the Dead (1978) was just as seminal as its forebear, featuring only light narrative connections but it was praised for its taut direction and siege storyline. The third film, Day of the Dead, was released in 1985 but Romero showed little appetite for continuing the story, instead putting his stamp of approval on remakes of both Night of the Living Dead (1990) and Dawn of the Dead (2004), the latter marking the directorial debut of one Zack Snyder.

A resurgence of interest in Romero's work took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with Joss Whedon citing him as an influence on his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and Robert Kirkman's comic The Walking Dead (2003 onwards) taking off featuring a fresh, ongoing take on the zombie mythos. The Resident Evil video game series and movies, along with the films From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), 28 Days Later (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), also featured nods and homages to Romero. Romero, inspired, filmed three new movies in his series: Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009).

Romero subsequently semi-retired from film-making, instead passing the reigns for a new sequel, Road of the Dead, to Matt Birman and Night of the Living Dead: Origins, a prequel that will finally explain the origins of the zombie apocalypse, to his son G. Cameron Romero.

George Romero passed away on 16 July 2017 from lung cancer. Few creative minds can claim to have achieved as much as did in completely transforming a genre of film and bringing it to a massive new audience. His influence lives on in the zombie movie and that ongoing fear and fascination with the living dead.

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 9-10

A9: Deathwalker
Airdates: 20 April 1994 (US), 11 July 1994 (UK)
Written by Lawrence G. DiTillio
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Cast: Jha’dur (Sarah Douglas), Ambassador Kalika (Robin Curtis), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Abbut (Cosie Costa), Senator Hidoshi (Aki Aleong), Alien Ambassador (Robert DiTillio), Captain Ashok (Mark Hendrickson), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Sav Farrow) 

Plot:    Na’Toth is sent to the docking bay to await the arrival of a senior Narn diplomat who is coming to the station for reasons unknown. However, Na’Toth instead sees an alien woman she recognises and brutally attacks her. Security guards pull her off as she screams “Deathwalker!” and horrified aliens look at the comatose woman with disgust.

Sinclair quizzes Na’Toth whilst the woman recovers in Medlab. Na’Toth is adamant that the woman is Deathwalker, more properly Jha’dur, a veteran of the Dilgar invasion of thirty years ago. The Dilgar were a brutal, callous race but not without their technological innovations. The Dilgar invaded the non-aligned sectors and committed crimes on an interstellar scale before the intervention of the Earth Alliance saw the Dilgar military defeated at the Battle of Balos. A few months later the Dilgar star went nova, apparently wiping out the entire race, but Jha’dur seems to have survived. Jha’dur herself confirms this, claiming to have taken refuge with the Minbari Wind Swords clan. The Wind Swords are the same clan as the assassin who tried to kill both Kosh and Sinclair last year (PM). Na’Toth’s grandparents were on Hylak IV and were tortured and butchered by Jha’dur’s forces. Na’Toth’s family swore the shon’kar, the blood oath, in response. Na’Toth will not rest until Jha’dur is dead.

Meanwhile, Talia Winters is commissioned to oversee a business meeting between Ambassador Kosh and a strange human named Abbut. The two of them speak in parables and sayings and Talia begins to tire of the secretive nature of the negotiations. Suddenly she suffers a flashback to when she scanned a serial killer four years ago. It was possibly the most terrifying experience of her life. After suffering the flashback, she sees Abbut remove a data crystal from a cybernetic implant in his brain and gives it to Kosh. Kosh tells her it is for the future and departs. When Talia complains to Sinclair and Garibaldi, they respond that the Vorlons seem “nervous” around telepaths, possibly due to the events last year when Lyta Alexander scanned Kosh whilst he was unconscious. Possibly Kosh wanted something he could use against Talia should she prove a threat (PM).

Na’Toth is released to G’Kar’s custody but is incensed when G’Kar asks her to suspend the shon’kar. G’Kar tells Na’Toth that Jha’dur has made a discovery which could benefit the Narn immeasurably. The Earth Alliance also knows about this discovery and orders Sinclair to send Jha’dur on to Earth at once. The discovery turns out to be a serum for virtual immortality. Jha’dur refuses to treat with the Narn unless they deliver Na’Toth’s head to her on a plate, so G’Kar alerts the League of Non-aligned Worlds to her presence on the station. The League demands that Jha’dur be turned over to them immediately to be put on trial for crimes against sentience and a full meeting of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council is convened. The League demand a full trial, but Sinclair has been ordered to turn Jha’dur over to Earth instead. The Centauri used to employ the Dilgar are mercenaries so vote against the League in case any of their secrets get out. G’Kar offers to support the League in return for Jha’dur being tried on the Narn homeworld. When the League refuses, G’Kar withdraws his support and votes against the League as well. Surprisingly, the Minbari join in the “no” vote. Lennier (voting in Delenn’s stead, for she has returned to Minbar) tells Sinclair that the Minbari used some of Jha’dur’s weapon designs during the war against Earth and that the Wind Swords don’t want their part in Jha’dur’s history to be revealed. With no support for the League’s demands, Jha’dur is to be sent on to Earth.

Warships from three of the most powerful spacefaring League races - the Drazi, Ipsha and Vree - arrive and blockade Babylon 5 until Jha’dur is turned over to them. Sinclair manages to arrange a compromise, allowing the League worlds to share all data extracted from Jha’dur and her innovations once they have been analysed on Earth. Reluctantly the League agrees and withdraw their warships. Jha’dur, amused by all this commotion, tells Sinclair in passing that her immortality serum requires one person to die for another to live forever. The legacy of the Dilgar when she is dead will have been to pave the way for a bloodier war than any in galactic history. Her ship proceeds to the jump gate, but without warning a Vorlon heavy cruiser emerges and destroys her vessel with a single shot. Kosh tells the other ambassadors that they are not ready for immortality.


13th actor to play DOCTOR WHO announced

The BBC has announced the identity of the actor who will play the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor. Jodie Whittaker will be the first woman to play the role and is expected to debut at the end of the Christmas special.

Jodie Whittaker is best-known for the role of Beth Latimer on three seasons of Broadchurch, alongside former Doctor David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, whom many fans had favoured for the role (although her busy career made that less likely). She's also appeared on Black Mirror and Wired, as well as a recurring role in the newest version of the St. Trinians movie franchise. She also headlined the excellent 2011 SF movie Attack the Block, alongside John Boyega.

The decision to cast Jodie was taken by Chris Chibnall, the new Doctor Who producer and showrunner who is taking over from Steven Moffatt. Chibnall wrote previously for Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood, but more relevantly also wrote and produced all three seasons of Broadchurch.

Chibnall's own Doctor Who work has been...variable in quality, but there's no denying that he seriously levelled up with his work on Broadchurch, which was well-judged and powerful (a so-so middle season excepted). Intriguingly, there have been rumours that Chibnall has discarded many of the style guides, writing bibles and guidelines built up over the previous ten seasons of Doctor Who (since its return in 2005) and the next series is being written, filmed and directed with a completely different approach, apparently a mandate from the BBC who want to return to having the show on air every year with no more big breaks (blamed for a drop in viewing figures for the latest season) and to take advantage of the show's enormous international popularity.

Casting a woman in the role is bound to be controversial among some viewers, but the show has been teasing the water for a few years with the recasting of the Master, who had been played previously by seven male actors, as Michelle Gomez. Gomez was extremely popular and well-received in the role, suggesting that the audience was ready to at give the idea a whirl.

Peter Capaldi's final twirl as the Doctor - in which he teams up with the First Doctor (played by Game of Thrones and Harry Potter actor David Bradley) to save Gallifrey - takes place on Christmas Day. Whittaker's first full season as the Doctor is expected to air in late 2018.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Peter Parker is a New York school kid who has been bitten by a radioactive spider, developed powers and been recruited by Tony Stark to help out the Avengers with an internal dispute. Promised big things by Stark, Parker is soon dumped back in Queens with a badass spider suit but not much clue about what to do. Investigating an ATM robbery gone wrong, Parker uncovers evidence of a criminal gang selling weapons on the black market. With Stark busy with other projects, it falls to Parker - and Spider-Man - to tackle this threat on the streets of the city.

Oh yay, a new Spider-Man movie. We've had six Spider-Man movies in fifteen years - and sixteen Marvel movies in nine years - and this is the third reboot in that time, which feels a bit extreme. If there was ever a superhero movie which seemed utterly redundant before it even launched, it was this one.

Perhaps perversely, the film refuses to follow expectations and fall flat on its face. Instead, Spider-Man: Homecoming is comfortably the best Spider-Man movie ever made and is easily one of the very best Marvel movies. It's made with a surprisingly light touch, it blends genuine laughs (including the biggest belly laugh I've ever had during a Marvel movie) with a superbly-executed plot twist and, in Tom Holland, it finally finds an actor who can play both Spider-Man and Peter Parker excellently: Tobey Maguire was a fine Peter Parker but a subdued Spider-Man, whilst Andrew Garfield was a great Spider-Man but a firmly unconvincing (and way too old) Parker. Holland straddles both worlds, giving us the wise-cracking Spider-Man that cinema has been looking for but also playing the awkward, shy, teenage Parker to the hilt.

The film also gives us - in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the first time since Tom Hiddleston's Loki - a genuinely outstanding villain. Michael Keaton plays Adrian Toomes as an ordinary hard worker who snaps for a pretty damn good reason: being driven out of business as the head of a clean-up crew picking up the debris of the Avengers' big fight scenes after Tony Stark muscles in (and thus getting paid to clean up the mess he himself is responsible for). Toomes becomes an arms dealer, selling alien equipment (or left-over bits of Ultron) for profit, but it takes quite a while for himself to cross the line into more overt, lethal villainy and become the Vulture, one of Spider-Man's more familiar enemies. Keaton also gets the best scene in the film, a conversation in a car in which he very gradually pieces together clues to uncover Spider-Man's true identity, and it's a masterclass of acting and writing.

Some reviewers have drawn comparisons between the movie and the work of John Hughes, which is a bit of an exaggeration: the move nods to high school/teenage issues but doesn't spend huge amounts of time in that milieu. Instead, Parker's struggles to impress Stark and the Avengers, and vindicate himself as a hero (at one point near-breaking down as he claims - somewhat histrionically - that he has nothing else going on in his life), take centre stage, with nods at his love life, which is more hypothetical than real. However, the high school scenes are quite funny and there's some nice inversion of tropes. An attempt by classmate Flash Thompson to embarrass and bully Parker falls flat because Parker simply doesn't give him the time of time, whilst Ned (a memorable debut performance by Jacob Batalon), Parker's best friend, is quite funny in his quest to be Parker's "chair man" who helps him out from behind the scenes.

The biggest weakness is the typical Marvel one: a slightly muddled concluding fight sequence that is overly reliant on CGI and also a lot of CG stunts and moves which feel out of keeping with the more grounded, realistic feeling the movie is going for elsewhere. This is particularly notable as the film avoids replicating the soaring but obviously fake CG NYC transition scenes from the Sam Raimi movies (highlighting that Parker isn't there yet in his skill set), but in the finale has no trouble suddenly throwing the character around a ludicrously fake situation that should have kill him five times over.

If you can overlook that brief dip in form, Spider-Man: Homecoming (****½) emerges as a terrific slice of entertaining, being funny, emotional and well-judged on just about every level. It is on general release in the UK and USA now.

A History of Middle-earth Part 1: The Sunless Years

In a distant age of darkness – circa 2003, I believe, long before I started blogging – I wrote a history of Middle-earth for another project. Drawing on The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth series, my goal was to put together a concise history of Arda as envisaged by J.R.R. Tolkien.

As always, my idea of "concise" was at variance with others (at over 40,000 words it is close to a third of the length of The Silmarillion itself!) so the project was shelved. But, having recently gone through my archived files, I dusted it down and realised that, with judicious re-editing (it turns out that 14-years-younger Wert had a much greater love of the word "Thus") it stands as a reasonable approximation of a history of J.R.R. Tolkien's world. Or at least as reasonable as my much-younger self could make of it at the time.

The World of Arda. Artwork by Gordon Theobald.


"Canon" is a fluid concept when it comes to the Middle-earth legendarium. The only works that can be considered fully, 100% canon are the two works that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, completed and published in his lifetime: The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). Tolkien died in 1973 with The Silmarillion still incomplete and his son and literary executor Christopher had to create a "best guess" version by drawing on a morass of incomplete outlines, timelines and narratives (aided for a time by Guy Gavriel Kay). The Silmarillion was published in 1977 and it is this book that serves as the inspiration for this history.

However, during the editing of The History of Middle-earth series, which sought to publish every writing and draft J.R.R. Tolkien ever conceived for Middle-earth, Christopher uncovered some other documents not available during the writing of The Silmarillion-as-published which he admits would have influenced the book to go in different directions if he'd known about them at the time.

Unfinished Tales, published in 1981 and consisting of essays and stories not intended for The Silmarillion, but for a vaguely-projected companion volume of Middle-earth miscellany, complicated matters even further. Several of the essays in this book were Tolkien's works-in-progress at the time of his death, most notably a radical reconception of the history of Galadriel and Celeborn (in which they would get a solo adventure in The Silmarillion, leading them to Middle-earth separately to the rest of the Noldor), a much more detailed account of the history of Numenor and more detailed prose accounts of the legends in The Silmarillion (the later-published Children of Hurin and Beren and Luthien draw on these versions). Since Tolkien was unable to complete these rewrites, this narrative history therefore reverts to the traditional Silmarillion versions.

However, some elements from The History of Middle-earth and Unfinished Tales are drawn upon to add flavour or detail, where they do not clash with other sources.

Calendar Systems

Four principal calendar systems are used to chronicle events in the history of Middle-earth. Years are dated in the Ages of the World, also called the Ages of the Sun. Millennia uncounted took place prior to the first rise of the Sun and Moon, but these years, the Sunless Years or Ages Before Sunlight, go uncounted because, with no Sun, there was no way to count the passing of the years (though according to the Valar, whose knowledge outstrips all others, approximately 30,000 years of later reckoning passed between the creation of the world and the first sunrise over Arda). Obviously, the events that took place at this time are recorded here for discussion.

There have been four Ages of the World that have passed since the rise of first sunlight. The First Age began with the rise of the Sun and Moon and ended in the War of Ruin which destroyed the subcontinent of Beleriand and saw the Dark Lord Morgoth cast into the Outer Darkness. The Second Age ended with the downfall of Sauron in the Last Battle of the Last Alliance on the slopes of Mount Doom. The Third Age ended when the last of the high elves departed Middle-earth for Valinor. The Fourth Age then began, after which details of history become unclear. Years counted in SA, TA and FA stand for Second Age, Third Age and Fourth Age, obviously. To avoid confusion between the First and Fourth Ages, dates in the First Age are counted as ED, being part of the Elder Days.

There is another calendar which comes into use near the end of this history. SR stands for Shire-Reckoning and counts the history of that curious country known as the Shire. SR is of interest because it extends across both Third and Fourth Ages and is particularly relevant to many who played a major role in the epic War of the Ring at the close of the Third Age.

Historical Sources

The principal source for any history of Middle-earth is The Red Book of Westmarch. This red-clad volume was written by Bilbo Baggins, partially whilst still in the Shire but mainly during his twenty-year sojourn in Rivendell. Of course, virtually all of the material on the Elder Days, Númenor and the Rings of Power comes from earlier sources, including discussions Bilbo had with Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn (during their occasional visits to Rivendell) and translations Bilbo made from books written in Quenya and Sindarin. Frodo Baggins continued the book back in the Shire after the War of the Ring, filling in his and his companions’ adventures during the conflict. After Frodo departed over the Sea, it fell to Samwise Gamgee to keep the book in order.

Quite separate from this source, numerous books were written in Arnor and Gondor on their histories and the history of Númenor, and many of these survived. Other, rarer records, including many believed destroyed, were recovered from Isengard after Saruman’s departure. The elves contributed many historical accounts and books of legends, as did the dwarves. After the dwarves reoccupied Khazad-dûm following the death of the last balrog, other ancient records were recovered from those halls not spoiled by the orcs’ occupation.

The problem of historical drift is much less reduced by the extreme longevity of the elves: almost 7,100 years passed between Galadriel’s departure from Valinor and her return, for example, whilst by the end of the Third Age Círdan, the Keeper of the Ships at the Grey Havens, had lived for perhaps 15,000 years. With almost perfect memories, the wisdom of the elves has gone a long way to maintaining perfect historical accuracy over the passing of the centuries and millennia.

The Age of Creation

Before time began, the One Eru, whom the elves call Ilúvatar, dwelt alone in the void. From the darkness, he conjured the spirits known as the Ainur, and forged the timeless halls for them to dwell in. For a time, there was peace and light, until Eru called the Ainur together to work on a mighty theme, a tremendous anthem of music, and out of this theme was born the World of Earth, Arda as it is called in the old tongues. But Melkor, mightiest of the Ainur, determined to make his own mark upon this world, and brought his own music into the theme, creating disharmony. Eru perceived this, and he and Melkor strove for control of the theme. The other Ainur, believing it to be but a friendly contest, watched and cheered on, but the result was inevitable, and Eru gained the victory. Melkor accepted graciously, but for the first time his pride was damaged, and his defeat was something he came to dwell on.

Now Eru asked that the Ainur send some of their number down to Arda, and order it in preparation for the coming of his Children, beings devised of his spirit but of a lesser order to the Ainur. Many of the Ainur agreed, and they descended unto Arda in a great host.

Upon the world of Arda, the Ainur became divided into two orders, the Valar or “Powers”, and the Maiar or “Hands”. The Valar were the greatest of all beings upon Arda and the Maiar were their servants. Of the Valar there numbered fourteen: Manwë, Melkor, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Mandos, Lórien, Varda, Yavanna, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána and Nessa. Of the Maiar there was hordes uncounted, including the herald Eonwë, the sorcerer Thû, Ossë Lord of the Coasts, Uinen Lady of Waters, Ilmarë handmaiden of Varda, Melian the gardener and Olórin the wise.

At first the world was in harmony and all the Valar and Maiar worked together in peace, but before long the rage and frustration of Melkor came to the boiling point and he began to despoil all that the Valar had wrought, unleashing fire and destruction, earthquakes and terror, just because he could. The Valar were at first in confusion, then despaired as hundreds of Maiar flocked to Melkor’s banner, among them the dread sorcerer Thû (also called Gorthaur the Cruel), the fire-lord Gothmog and his hordes of Valaraukar, who in later years were called the balrogs. The First War of Arda was a ruinous one, but in the end the Valar rallied. After begging the favour of Eru, the Ainu Tulkas, Lord of Might, gained permission to come unto Earth and join the Valar, and Tulkas’ strength turned the tide of battle, and drove Melkor and all his hordes of darkness into the remotest regions of the north. Thus, Tulkas was welcomed amongst the Valar and counted in their ranks, and Melkor was outcast.

The Shores of Valinor by Tad Naismith

The Age of the Lamps

For a time, peace ruled upon Arda and the Great Lamps of Light were raised, Illuin and Ormal. Between them lay a vast lake, and the Valar built a city called Almaren upon an island in that lake. And again, they returned to the task of transforming Arda into a beautiful garden paradise.

But Melkor and his minions cried out against the light, for already their thoughts turned towards the darkness. Melkor raised a great chain of peaks known as the Ered Engrin or Iron Mountains around the remotest parts of the north of the world, and under their tall peaks he forged the fortress of Utumno, but even from its darkest pits the light of the lamps could still be seen.

Again, Melkor came forth in wrath. He assailed the lamps and cast them down. Darkness filled the world, blocking the Valars’ attempts to fight back, and earthquakes wracked the land. In the end, the Valar decided to remove themselves from Melkor’s evil. They created two vast seas, dividing the world into three great landmasses. In the far east lay the Sunlands, from which only rumour came to the rest of the world, whilst in the furthest west the land of Aman took shape. The Valar retreated to Aman and raised the vast towering peaks of the Pelori to guard against Melkor’s assaults, and made a new home beyond those mountains. The central continent they left to Melkor, and that continent became known as Endor or Endorémma, which in the ancient languages is translated as Midland, the Land in the Middle of the Earth, or Middle-earth.

The Age of Darkness

Now the Valar had peace for many thousands of years. Beyond the tall walls of the Pelori they founded their kingdom of Valinor and forged mighty cities, such as Valmar their capital, but mostly the Maiar dwelt here, for the Valar had their own homes. Manwë, Lord of the Valar, and his Queen, Varda, made their home upon the Taniquetil, the greatest mountain in the range of the Pelori, whilst Lórien removed himself to a great garden in the west of Aman. Aulë the Smith delved into the deep places of the earth to build his forges, whilst Ulmo dwelt in the seas about the shores of Aman. Mandos, Lord of Doom, forged his halls in the furthest west of Middle-earth, before the Door of Morning, and Yavanna planted her fields and pastures beneath the looming peaks of the mountains.

After they first arrived in this land, Yavanna conjured from the Earth the two Great Trees of Light, which were named Telperien and Laurelin, and their radiance filled all of Aman with light, but even their great radiance could not cross the Pelori and the Belegaer, the Great Sea, to Middle-earth. Thus, began the First Age of the Trees in Aman, which in Middle-earth is known as the Age of Darkness.

This was the age of the dominion of Melkor, for his forces ruled over all of Middle-earth with no challenge. To his servant Thû, who some called Gorthaur but who also took the name Sauron, the Accursed, he committed the task of building an armoury, for Melkor suspected that war against the Valar would come again. Sauron went into the west of Middle-earth and there built the fortress of Angband. Fierce were its defences and numerous its defenders, but it was but the palest shadow of the might of Utumno in the east.

In Aman, the long ages of peace passed, and the Valar turned their hands to creation. Up to now they had created animals and other lower-order creatures, but Aulë and Yavanna became more ambitious. Aulë created a race of sturdy, squat humanoids and imbued them with a love of artifice and creation. He named them the Naugrim, which is often translated as “dwarves”. Yavanna imbued with life the very trees themselves, creating mighty, primitive but beautiful entities called the Huorns, and also created a race of shepherds to protect them, the smaller, more intelligent Ents. But Eru the One had forbidden sentient life to come into the world of Arda before the coming of his Children, and he forbade life to the dwarves, huorns and ents. The huorns and ents were placed dormant in the midst of the great forests of Middle-earth, and the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves were placed in deep places far below the surface of Middle-earth.

The Age of Starlight
Thus, the Age of Darkness passed, until Varda, Queen of the Valar and Lady of the Skies, came to weep for the lands of Middle-earth, denied the light of the Trees and shadowed in darkness from Utumno as well as the endless night. She decided to let light flood into Middle-earth and created the Net of Stars to cast across the Outer Airs of the world. The Stars were created, and their light, faint but discernible, blazed down upon the world of Arda, thus ending the Age of Darkness and beginning the Age of Starlight.

The stars shone and the servants of Melkor cowed at this sign of the might of the Valar. But, unbeknown to all, the first shining of the stars had other effects. In the furthest east of Middle-earth, on the shores of the Mere of Cuiviénen, the first shining of the stars awoke the First Children of Ilúvatar. These were the Quendi in their own tongue, but history records them more famously as the elves. Strong, tall and graceful they were, immortal, immune to disease and ageing so slowly as to not be discernible, and only killable in battle. The elves lived for many years in peace in Cuiviénen. Some of their kind became curious and set out to explore the lands to the west and north, but of these few returned.

Melkor’s spies captured some of the elves early on and delivered them to Utumno, where Melkor became disgusted with the nobility and beauty of these creatures, clearly creations of the One. Enraged, he perverted and corrupted the elves, breeding from them a mutilated form of life known as the orcs. Capable of breeding quickly, the orcs began to increase in numbers to tremendous levels. After the Awakening of the elves, Eru awoke the dwarves, huorns and ents also. The dwarves escaped notice for many long millennia, and the huorns were barely recognised as living beings by the orcs, but the ents soon found themselves assailed. Many were captured and taken in chains to Utumno, where from them Melkor bred the evil race of trolls.

Now Oromë the Huntsman, who alone of the Valar often ventured into Middle-earth to hunt servants of Melkor, came across the elves of Cuiviénen. Sensing that these were indeed the First Children who’s coming the Valar had waited for long ages of the world, he dwelt amongst them and learned much of their kind. But Oromë also learned of the evil of Melkor, and in a rage returned to Valinor. He summoned the Valar to the Circle of Doom in Valmar itself, and there presented his findings to all, including Manwë. Then the Valar agreed that the evil of Melkor could not be permitted to harm the First Children. They resolved to go to war.

Melkor had no warning of the sudden, swift strike from across the seas. Barely was he warned before Tulkas the Mighty uprooted the mountains protecting Utumno and tore the fortress apart almost by himself. Melkor’s servants fled in terror and their master was chained. He was then taken captive and delivered to a deep pit below Valmar, to there reflect upon his crimes.

Then the Valar went before the elves and offered them a choice: to remain in Middle-earth and make their own lives, or to journey with the Valar to the Undying Lands and dwell there with the Valar in their paradise homes. A few refused, fearing the unknown, and remained in Cuiviénen, and these became known as the Avari, or ‘Unwilling’. But the overwhelming majority of the elves did agree to pass into the west, and set forth on the long road.

The elves moved in three hosts. The first was led by Ingwë and was known as the Vanyar. The Vanyar were closest to the Valar in thought and deed and hurried quickly to the shores of Beleriand, the western-most part of Middle-earth, where the shores of Aman and Middle-earth drew closest. The second was led by Finwë and was known as the Noldor, or deep-elves. These elves loved artifice and creation, and stopped along the route to talk to the dwarves they met along the way, but they were more intrigued by news of the great smiths and forges of Aulë that awaited them in Valinor, and they did not tarry long.

The third host was the largest, and was led by the brothers, Olwë and Elwë. This host was known as the Teleri, and tarried often upon the road, often splitting into lesser groups, some going their own way only to rejoin the main group later on. The Teleri were divided between staying in Middle-earth and going to Aman, or between rushing to the Hither Shores after the Vanyar and Noldor, or going at a more sedate pace and exploring leisurely other parts of the world. After many years had passed and Ossë, vassal of Ulmo, had already departed for Valinor, pulling a great island with the hosts of the Vanyar and Noldor upon them, the Teleri host at last came before the mighty Hithaeglir, the impenetrable chain of mountains later called the Misty Mountains. Raised in earlier millennia by Melkor to hamper Oromë’s journeys in Middle-earth, the Misty Mountains presented a formidable obstacle to the elves. Some turned back, fearful of the great peaks, and became known as the Nandor, “Those Who Turned Back”. But the bulk of the Teleri pressed on, following the Misty Mountains south to a great gap between its peaks. Thus, the Teleri in their descriptions divided the great mountain chain in two, naming them the Misty Mountains in the north and the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains, in the south. So, they passed into Eriador.

The Nandor passed much further south, eventually coming to the coast of the sea at the mouth of the Great River Anduin. Then they turned west along the sea, crossing the steep foothills of the south-western White Mountains and passing into south-eastern-most Eriador by a different road to their kindred. Some remained in Eriador, finding the vast Huorn and Ent-inhabited woods of the land to their liking, but a few pressed on westwards to the Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains. By chance they found a narrow pass leading down into a beautiful, verdant country fed by the waters of seven rivers, and they remained there, becoming the Laiquendi or green-elves, and they named their new home Ossiriand, which in later ages was called Lindon.

The main Teleri host had already passed into Beleriand ere the Laiquendi arrived in Ossiriand, and were disheartened to find that the ship-isle of Eressëa had departed without them. Knowing it might be many years before the island returned, they spread out along the coasts of Beleriand and explored the interior of this country as well. One of the oldest among the Teleri, Círdan, developed a love of the sea and became a mighty shipwright. He founded the castles of Eglarest and Brithombar, and built many great ships. When the time came to depart Middle-earth for Valinor, he refused and decided to remain in the Falas (the coastlands of Beleriand) with those who would follow him. More serious to the Teleri was the loss of Elwë. He wandered far into the heartland of Beleriand and vanished, and those who sought him also disappeared, but in long years afterwards it was revealed that Elwë had passed into the great twin forests of Neldoreth and Region, and there under the starlight met the Maia Melian, who often visited this spiritual place. They fell in love and Melian adopted elvish form so she and Elwë could be together. They gathered others to them, and founded a kingdom they called Eglador.

In time Ossë returned, towing the mighty island of Tol Eressëa behind him, and those Teleri that remained loyal under Olwë boarded the island-ship and passed west over the Great Sea of Belegaer to Valinor. Many of their kindred they left behind, those who stayed willingly and others who had tarried on the way and become lost, but still the host that set foot in Valinor was still larger than the Noldor or Vanyar. So did the last of the Eldar, the elves of the Great Journey, come to Valinor.

Melkor and Ungoliant by John Howe

The Unchaining of Melkor and the Great Revolt
For many long ages both the Valar and their elven guests in Valinor and the elves of Beleriand had peace, for Melkor was imprisoned in chains, and his servants quailed in fear of the Valar, and made no move against them or their elven allies. But Sauron, in great secret, foresaw that his master would escape the Valar’s clutches if he could and return to Middle-earth, and Sauron gathered to him all of Melkor’s creatures, and Angband he strengthened further, in preparation for that day.

In Valinor the Eldar dwelt in peace. The Vanyar and Noldor took for themselves the city of Tirion, which they built on the great hill of Túna in the midst of the Calicirya, the Pass of Light through the Pelori, linking the inner plains of Valinor to the Bay of Eldamar. In the midst of that bay lay the great island of Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, which had borne the Eldar from Middle-earth, and on the northern shores of the bay the Teleri founded Alqualondë, the Swan-haven, from where their great swan-ships set out to explore coasts of Aman and the seas of Arda.

In time, the Vanyar’s piety to the Valar was rewarded, and they were permitted to move from Tirion into Valmar itself, and Ingwë, King of the Vanyar and Lord of the Eldar, was permitted to build himself a mansion on the lower slopes of the Taniquetil, thus signifying the deep bond between the Vanyar and Manwë Lord of the Valar.

However, the Noldor were not so blessed. They were not permitted to settle in Valmar, but were allowed to build for themselves another city on the inner plains of Valinor, and this they named Formenos. The Lord of the Noldor, Finwë, had three sons, Fëanor from his first marriage to Míriel Serindë and Fingolfin and Finarfin from his marriage to Indis of the Vanyar. Míriel was exhausted by childbirth and went to rest in the gardens of Lórien, but so great had her exertions been that she laid herself down and her spirit passed to the Halls of Mandos, not to return, the first of the Eldar to perish in Valinor. Finwë was grieved, but in time learned to love again and took Indis to wife, and had two more sons. But between Fëanor and his brothers there was jealousy and dislike.

After thousands of years uncounted passed, Melkor begged for an audience before his brother Manwë and Manwë relented. Melkor threw himself on his brother’s mercy, begging to be let loose from his chains and declaring his repentance at his crimes. Manwë eventually agreed, but through true belief that Melkor had repented or through a belief that the Valar could contain Melkor’s evil should it spring forth anew remains unknown. Indeed, if Melkor himself repented truly or merely feigned servitude is also unknown.

In Formenos Fëanor grew to become the greatest of all Noldor smiths, but his jealousy of his brothers continued to consume him. Out of this petty malice many great items of power were forged, and Fëanor was acclaimed when he forged seven seeing-stones of great power, the palantíri. But, although they were wondrous, Fëanor felt they were but minor heirlooms at best, and continued his quest for perfection. Eventually he succeeded in capturing the truth of beauty, for he forged three great jewels of everlasting perfection, and inside he captured the light of the Great Trees themselves. Thus were born the Silmarilli, the Silmarils, the most perfect items ever created by the elves upon Arda. All who saw them, even Manwë himself, were captivated by their beauty. But none were more ensnared by their radiance than Melkor. In great secret Melkor journeyed into the southern-most regions of Valinor and there, under the peak of Hyarmentir, found one of the most ancient forces in the world, Ungoliant the Terrible, a great spider of tremendous strength and avarice, and Melkor bound her to his service once more with a promise of destruction to sate her dark hunger.

A time came when a great feast was to be held in Valmar, and all the Eldar were invited. Even Fëanor forgot his petty jealousies and went with his brothers to the feast, and there most of the Teleri and Vanyar went as well. But Finwë, Lord of the Noldor, did not go. His son Fëanor had been banned from visiting Tirion for a period of twelve years for openly speaking of defying the Valar and returning to Middle-earth. Finwë vowed not to step forth from Formenos until Fëanor was granted pardon.

The great feast of Valmar began, but it had not long been in progress when Ungoliant and Melkor came forth from the southern mountains. With his mighty spear, Melkor cast down the Trees of Light themselves, and Ungoliant defiled the mound where they grew, so never again could they be grown. Then Ungoliant weaved a great shadow around herself and Melkor and they passed northwards at speed. They came to Formenos and shattered the doors of the fortress. There Finwë stood fast, sword in hand, but his valour was in vain, for Melkor slew him, shattered the storerooms of Fëanor, and seized the Silmarils. He and Ungoliant, clad again in shadow, then went forth into the uppermost north of the world and passed over Helcaraxë, the Grinding Ice, and travelled on towards Beleriand.

Now all the Eldar and Valar were dismayed. Fëanor drew his blade and declared that Melkor was now Morgoth, the Great Enemy of All the World, and swore to revenge himself upon Morgoth even if it took to the end of the ages of Arda. He committed his seven sons (Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, Amrod and Amras) to the oath of vengeance, and his brother Fingolfin and his own two sons and one daughter (Fingon, Turgon and Aredhel) also joined the call. Finarfin, most peaceable of the brothers and the closest to the Valar, hesitated, but after much thought joined the oath-swearing, committing his four sons and one daughter (Finrod, Orodreth, Angrod, Aegnor and Galadriel) to the return of the Silmarils. But the Valar forbade the Noldor from leaving. They ordered them not to leave the Undying Lands, for Morgoth was now the concern of the Valar for casting down the Trees of Light and betraying the oath of peace he had sworn before Manwë. But the Noldor did not listen. They gathered their hosts and marched east to Alqualondë. There the Teleri refused to surrender their swan-ships to the Noldor and even burned some rather than defy the Valar. In a righteous fury, Fëanor led his sons into battle against their own kindred in the First Kinslaying and even some of Fingolfin’s troops entered the fray as well. Finarfin held back his host, dismayed at what he had seen, and many of his kin turned back to Valinor in disgust. But at length the slaughter was done and the Noldor had ships enough to carry one half of their host. They sailed north, whilst Fingolfin and Finarfin led their hosts north along the coast by land.

Then, at Araman in the north of Aman, the voice of Mandos prophesied the Doom of the Noldor, cursing them to walk in death’s shadow forever for the evil they had unleashed upon the world. Fearful, Finarfin’s will at last broke and he abandoned the chase, leading his host back to Valinor, whilst his children remained. But Fëanor and Fingolfin would not relent. Fëanor took the ships across the north of the Sea of Belegaer, promising to return them for Fingolfin’s host. But upon reaching the Hither Shores of Beleriand, Fëanor’s wrath took hold of him, and he ordered the ships burnt.

So many ships were destroyed that day that their flames could be discerned even across the wide sea, and Fingolfin knew he had been betrayed. With little other choice, he led his people onto the Helcaraxë, and began the cruel passage of the Grinding Ice, which claimed many of the lives of the host.

In Valinor the Valar gathered around the fallen Trees, knowing they could grow no more, but from the last embers Yavanna kindled two saplings of light, one fierce and burning, one pale and ghostly, and Aulë the Smith fashioned two great orbs to carry and amplify the lights. Arien, maiden of the Maiar, was chosen to pilot the burning orb, Anar they called it, the Sun, and Tilion, the hunter of the Maiar, was chosen to pilot the ghostly orb, Isil, the Moon.

As the Sun and Moon rose into the skies for the first time and brought full-wrought day into the lands of Middle-earth for the first time, so the shadow of the host of Fingolfin fell upon the land of Hithlum in the north-west of Beleriand and, under the light of the Sun, Fingolfin entered Beleriand, vowing vengeance against both his mortal enemy Morgoth and against his treacherous brother Fëanor.

The War of the Jewels had begun.

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