on May 21, 2014
I picked this up in a university library (seemingly a safe venue) after a cursory glance at the chapter titles and pictures. If that glance had noted the publisher (iffy Palgrave) I could have saved the trip. This is not a book (though it claims to be) about the correlation between Tolkien's Middle Earth and pre-Norman Conquest Europe. Tolkien is just an excuse to sell a few more copies. The book is another New Age Shaman retelling of history and at that a charmless and pedantic one.
Bates proposes with a straight face that 1,000 years of non-Roman European history (Celt, Pict, Gaul, Goth, and Finn) constitutes a "culture" which he relentlessly calls "the Real Middle Earth" (one eventually yearns for an acronym). For a moment, consider the difference between the United States of 2012 and North America in 1012, if you can, or the evolution of England since the Battle of Hastings (about 1,000 years ago). Really? Your culture and Finland of 1015: Pas difference?
Bates decides that there really were dragons in England because people wrote about them. Evidence? Who needs evidence? There is a whole book waiting to be researched and written about British dragons; this isn't even a related activity.
The author somehow finds Grendel's "pit" in Essex -- forgetting for the convenience of the moment that Beowulf is set in Denmark and ignoring the fact that "grendel" is an Old English term that means "drain" ("swamp", "drain," get it?). He concludes that Essex was overrun with "Grendels" of "a kind of material reality" (whatever that means). I think his source is Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, although it's hard to imagine anyone sitting through the entirety of The 13th Warrior.
He proposes that the White Horse of Uffington is "a depiction of Epona," the Celtic maternal god who was mistress of horses, in defiance of the fact that the chalk horse predates the Celts by not centuries but by millennia. And conveniently ignoring the fact that Eporna is represented in "Celtic depictions" as a "mistress of horses," NOT a horse (and the fact that Tolkien vehemently denied any connection between LotR and Celts -- misleadingly, as it turns out).
This book is precisely the sort of pseudo-history that Tolkien loathed as it sprang up like greasy weeds around his beloved Middle Earth. Not only does it distort and misrepresent history routinely to buttress its own specious counter-history, but it never even bothers to establish that Tolkien would have known about Bates' Celtic shamans, Teutonic lightsabers, and laurel-addled Dionysus wannabees.
On the rare occasions when Bates references Tolkien, one suspects that Bates hasn't read LotR at all, and drifted off in the films. Aragorn is "the Strider," for example, in a paragraph that thoroughly garbles Frodo's wound on Weathertop (Tolkien actually refers to Aragorn once, in 1,000 pages, as THE Strider, and it isn't at Weathertop). He's also pretty thick about folklore, and his Beowulf is stale. After quoting a bit of wisdom on using mugwort (one assumes Bates is busy compiling "The REAL Hogwarts"), he explains the "She" reference in the recipe by telling us that elves were called "She" because they were associated with "the Weird Sisters." "She" is of course the common spelling of "Sidhe" and "Si," Gaelic words often used to refer to elves (in other words, unrelated homophones to 'she'). He also mentions awefully that the Celtic interlace pattern "looks uncannily like DNA"... because those Celtic shamans and dwarven smiths, they were SOOOOO wise. (To me it looks more like a Boston roadmap, which is hardly a proof of Celtic wisdom.) As for Beowulf, he makes the case for Beowulf as a berserker (were-bear) on the "fact" that he kills Grendel with a "bear hug." Not. He rips Grendel's arm off (which would make him at best a were-orca). Even in the movie. Bates must have been getting more popcorn when that happened.
When I return this thing, I intend to point out to the respectable university library that shelving it with legitimate books about Tolkien and Anglo-Saxon England is a skidmark in the school's undies.
on December 20, 2003
Reviewer: A reader from England This is a superb book. Vividly written, it explores the magical and spiritual beliefs of people who lived in the 'real' Middle-earth. This was the Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures of a thousand years ago and more, which so inspired Tolkien. The author Brian Bates is well-known for previous books on this subject (especially his best-selling novel The Way of Wyrd). It is different from other books purporting to compare Tolkien with ancient mythology, because the world it reveals is one in which people saw their EVERYDAY LIVES as being charged with a mysterious power they called Wyrd. It was manifested by a magical landscape, in which trees, plants and animals all had powerful symbolic presences. Elves, dragons, giants and dwarves were encountered in reality as well as in dreams and stories. Shapeshifting, spellcasting and healing are explored as they happened in real life.
Bates also explains really well how such a magical outlook on life relates to our own perspectives. In a time where The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter confirms the potency of magic for our lives, we see how we once had a wisdom lost over the centuries as first Christianity and then science became dominant world views. But Bates does not paint a utopia - he makes clear that life was hard in Anglo-Saxon times. Yet he shows what the usual history or mythology books are missing - the magic at the heart of life in those times.
The book is refreshingly written, free from academic pomposity and dry argument. He offers vivid anecdotes, examples, and beautiful descriptions which make the reader feel present in those times. And for those readers who want to follow up topics in more detail, there is an excellent list of sources, with guidance for the specialist academic books that cover the material best.
I agree with previous reviewers that the book is not a lot about Tolkien directly. But I and other Tolkien fans who have read it, found it very illuminating about the source of his ideas, and much more original than the many books that just endlessly discuss The Lord of the Rings.
on August 21, 2004
As a practitioner of the Old Ways, this book is far more informative than many titles out there today. It helps to reconstruct the spiritual ways of our pre-Christian European ancestors as well as give a better understanding of what Germanic Heathens and Celts believed.
They were very deeply spiritual people who were quite connected to the Otherworld. The Divine, including magic, was an integral part of everyday life.
I have LOVED Tolkien since I was a child, not only because he was such a magnificent writer, but because of the genuine Pagan/Heathen beliefs he incorporated into his works. For instance, it is amazing how much Gandalf is like the god Woden/Odin. ("Gandalf" means "magic wand/staff elf" in Old Norse, by the way.)
This book reveals much about what these people believed and has much excellent information contained within. A gem!!!!
on July 9, 2004
First of all this book talks relativly little about Tolkien or any of his books. What it does is try to capture the "magic" of the places and time periods that Tolkien drew inspiration from for his work, namely post Roman to pre Norman Great Britain, and to a slightly lesser extent Scandinavian and Icelandic society and culture from the same time periods using historical sources, so called "myth", namely the pagan beliefs of the Celts, Norse and Anglo-Saxons and other assorted folk beliefs and tales.
From what I can gather from reading this book the author seems like he has a similar belief that I have always had that Tolkien on one level was conciously trying to help to write a missing part of our (assuming you are of anglo-celtic-norse ancestry) heritage due to our own ancestors poor job of writng down and recording their own history, and in part to the fact that much of what is known of our pre christian history was written by outsiders to the culture, or people with a biased political agenda, and above all Christian church hierarchy who were more or less under orders to discredit our whole culture as of being of the Jewish satan and to force this demonic alien Jew Yahweh/Jesus god upon our people. Even though Tolkien himself was a devout Catholic, I believe he was conciously trying to "fill in the blanks" in a sense, even though the inspiration and the imagination of the Hobbit/LOTR came from his subconcious ancestral memory as well as the written sources of the time that we have.
So enough of my pschoanalyzing, on to the book itself. Bates goes into most everything that was "magic" about those times and is very entertaining in doing so talking about the warrior culture, the concept of wyrd and destiny, shapeshifting, the pre christian gods and how the people related to them, how people related to nature, animals, the forest, the land, the use of spells and magic, dwarves and elves, whether you take these things as real or imaginary superstitions they were 100% real to the people of those times.
This is a great book for anybody who wants to look into the "magic" of those times or for anybody who wants to get a better understanding of where Tolkien got his ideas, both on the concious and subconcious levels.
on March 9, 2009
okay, first of all, the title is not misleading. the book is about the cosmology, society and spiritual beliefs of dark age northwestern europe. it is not an encyclopedia of tolkien's middle earth, like some reviewers hoped it would be. it is about the "real" middle-earth, the one that tolkien loved and created a mythology for. i highly recommend this book. brian bates is well-read and really knows his history. if you want to learn more about teutonic and celtic beliefs other than the names of their gods, read brian bates! he explains the concept of wyrd, which is as important to true heathenism as god is to christianity. it is like a huge cosmic web that everything is attached to. when you tremble it, beware. think of it as a combination of karma/free will/ and a vague sense of destiny. also you will learn why binding, weaving and fettering terms are used when describing magic spells. you will learn how important "totem" animal spirits were(beorn), bird messengers, and the magic power of water, springs, trees, stones, and ruins. the valknot is explained, as is the real meaning behind the interlaced designs of celtic and germanic artwork. along with the vast amounts of information about ancient europe, brian bates points out where those ideas appear in tolkien's work, thus giving you a greater understanding of tolkien's middle earth, and at the same time, the real middle-earth. this book is comprehensive, and if you want to get into heathenism, it's a good place to start. i also recommend "the way of wyrd" by the same author. it's about a monk who follows an anglo-saxon sorcerer around to learn about heathens. you will never fully understand either middle-earth until you read this book.
on February 5, 2013
A non-fiction follow-up to the classic "The Way of Wyrd", this book describes the culture of the Anglo-Saxon and Norse peoples during the first millennium AD, and even on into the second. Not the whole of their culture, but that part of it which was governed by their belief-system. And it is aptly called The Real Middle Earth, for this was the world where:-
"The gods and goddesses lived in the bright spaces of the Upperworld, along with the light elves. Far beneath, in the cavernous shadows of the Lowerworld, lurked the spirits of the dead; they were accompanied by dark elves and the dragon called Nidhog. And in between, reached by a bridge formed of a rainbow called Bifrost (Trembling Pathway), lay the enchanted landscape of Middle-earth."
Middle-earth was a world of forests and seas, which had to be traversed, opposed, lived with, known. In the sea, we learn, were great serpents, and also 'the people of the sea' - mermaids, seals that were shapeshifters; and in the forest were dragons and elves and spider-monsters. Those who understood and foresaw events on the web of wyrd were the seers and seeresses; those who could cast binding spells and control events were the wizards and witches.
We meet the ents, which ranged from the "immense ice-giants, the first beings after the formation of the cosmos, down to smaller ents which stood like mighty oaks, rooted to the ground but with their heads in the clouds, like Tolkein's Treebeard. [...] The old English word "ent" carries the connotation of a fallen race of wise and faithful giants, whose passing was spoken of regretfully in the later Norse Prose Edda at the end of the age of Middle-earth."
We meet the dwarves, who lived in the lower world, working as "magical smiths". They made knives, swords and beautiful jewellery, and "magical objects for the gods and goddesses", including of course Freya's famous girdle or necklace, "the necklace of the Brisings". (The Brisings were the four dwarves Freya had to sleep with in order to pay for the necklace!)
A fascinating book, and great background reading for those who feel at home in the world of the so-called Dark Ages (and for those who would like to feel more at home there) as well as for those addicted to Tolkein.
on November 26, 2012
The Middle Earth was a real place or should I say time and place. Most readers have head the term before as the mythical setting for the Lord Of the Rings and the Hobbit and assume it was a fiction that existed in J.R.Tolkien's mind. Tolkien often admitted that his sources of inspiration came from different mythologies. One of his main sources was Norse Mythology.
The Middle Earth occupied Northern Europe and parts of England. It was a time and place occupied by Vikings ,Norse Tribe s and Celtic tribes. Their mythologies and beliefs have many overlapping points in common. To these residents of the Middle Earth the forest and land was a place infused with vital lifre force and imagination. These people lived close to nature and liked being in close proximity to the spirits of nature.
Dragons as we know it are huge scaly creatures who guard treasure buried in a cave. It cannot be taken as there is no getting a gift without owing something in return. Dragon did not give it away in fact it could be said that they represented greed. One never knew when they would step on a dragon. They were underworld creatures. Who were feared even if they could not be seen. Often times Romans were seen as dragons. They violated nature's codes and were thus punished as a result. That is why when the Norse came they avoided the remaining Roman villas despite their relative comfort.
The Earth was a place of enchantment. Rivers, trees, nights and well were all places of magic imbued with particular spirit. Elves were nature beings supposedly made of starlight. They were believed to inhabit the other world or underworld. To mess with their dwellings or run against a ley line could incur sickness or wrath. Elves infected people with elf arrows small tiny pin like objects. This would make a person sick. Some times this was combatted with a chanting of psalms and some herbs. Herbs or [plants had spirits that could help heal a person when combined with incantations and prayers. Wells often led to underground and were scene as portals to the underworld. People prayed there for health and future spouse. They left offering of food and sometimes needles so the elves could make use of them.
There were many creatures mentioned in the Lord of the Rings and in the Middle earth in general. Ravens who ate the remains of the dead were seen as being able to fly to both this world and the underworld. They were also seen as messengers. For the Celts , Ravens were associated with Morrigan and for the Anglo-Saxon they were associated with Odin. Wolves were sometimes viewed as a threat a they would attack if hungry enough and they often ate the same food as men did. Bears were supposedly a lot like humans. They walked and had round head. They would die for the winter and then revive. They were considered underworld animals and also the strongest in battle. Boars also had lots of repsect. Shape shifters would don a wolf hide or wear a token of the animal that served to connect them to the animals energy. There spirit would change shape byt not the body. Sibnce berserkers often shape shifted into a bear they could prove to be very dangerous fighters on the battle field. Odin it was said went on a wild rade to collect souls to take to the underworld.
Certain of the creatures in Tolkien's mythos were showcased in the ancient world. Ents represented giants of the world who had fallen. We must remember that the giants gave birth to the gods and that eventually the Gods waged war on the giants and exiled them to an island on the outer reams of midgard. Dwarves made jewelery and craftsmanship, in fact they did it so well that the gods even came to them for stiuff. The giant spider Shelob has an ancient counterpart. In North Europeans Shamanism the spider is the one who takes the future shaman to the other world . A rather positive role.
Many of the elements discussed in this article were somehow featured in Tolkien's classic works. They maybe altered a bit but if you study both the text and the Middle Earth chronicles you will see the parallels. Excellent work.
on January 3, 2004
My sense on reading this book was that the author already had a manuscript in preparation on the Dark Ages, and included references to Tolkien in order to help sell it. After reading several pages, one comes across the occasional, out-of-place paragraph with a loose connection to Tolkien's work, as though it was dropped in after the manuscript was already completed. Many of his references to Tolkien are actually somewhat forced and occasionally off the mark.
Bates is a psychologist, and I found his overview of history rather general, to say nothing of his familiarity with Tolkien. Moreover, he suppresses certain terminology (such as the Norse term "Midgard" which he replaces with "Middle-Earth") in order to drive the point home. This might be forgiveable if his point was academic, but the reader begins to suspect a marketing strategy instead.
While some of his insights are informative, I felt this book suffers from trying to accomplish something that may not have been the author's original intention.
on February 10, 2004
This book never claims to be about Tolkein - it is about the Real Middle Earth that Tolkein uses as a background for his fantasy work.
This book is engaging and filled with lots of wonderful information that leads us to the truth about the time in which our ancestors lived. It communicates to us how they viewed the world.
If one looks at Brian Bates other book "THe Way of The Wyrd" you begin to realize this is fundamental to his life work not a rip off of Tolkein.
I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to understand our indigenous backgrounds - or just likes a good book to read for that matter.
on January 27, 2004
This excellent book turns the anthropological magnifying glass back on the West. This is about "our (if you are of anglo celtic ancestry) Dreamtime". If we understood our cultural heritage as well as this book articulates it then may be we wouldn't have treated others (such as indiginous peoples) so poorly. A very important book that should be studied in High Schools...