The Long View 2006-04-14: Good Friday

Since a lot of bollocks about Christ traditionally appears in Lent, and really ramps up in Holy Week, this is as good a time as any to remind everyone that the Gospels have withstood a century and a half of higher criticism, with the result that something much like the traditional account has now been re-established.


Good Friday

 

I am reading Raymond E. Brown's posthumously published book, An Introduction to the Gospel of John (Anchor Bible Reference Library) . Fr. Brown was a fair and able exegete (he died in 1998), whose works can be consulted with profit whenever you see headlines proclaiming that our views of the origins of Christianity have just been overthrown by some new documentary discovery. Still, Brown was so much the master of explaining "the state of the question" that to read him is to be reminded of this entry from The Devil's Dictionary:

K is a consonant that we get from the Greeks, but it can be traced back beyond them to the Cerathians, a small commercial nation inhabiting the peninsula of Smero. In their tongue it was named Klatch, which means "destroyed." The form of the letter was originally precisely that of our H, but the erudite Dr. Snedeker explains that it was altered to its present shape to commemorate the destruction of the great temple of Jarute by an earthquake, circa 730 B.C. This building was famous for the two lofty columns of its portico, one of which was broken in half by the catastrophe, the other remaining intact. As the earlier form of the letter is supposed to have been suggested by these pillars, so, it is thought by the great antiquary, its later form was adopted as a simple and natural--not to say touching--means of keeping the calamity ever in the national memory. It is not known if the name of the letter was altered as an additional mnemonic, or it the name was always Klatch and the destruction one of nature's puns. As each theory seems probable enough, I see no objection to believing both--and Dr. Snedeker arrayed himself on that side of the question.

That said, though, one notes how thoroughly the consensus about the Fourth Gospel has recovered from the speculations of the Higher Critics of the early 20th century. Certainly this Gospel now gets high marks both for local knowledge of first-century Palestine and for deriving from sources independent of the Synoptic Gospels. Brown's hypothesis about how the this Gospel was composed is still an apparatus with many moving parts: three stages of composition, during the last of which the text we have now was composed by the Evangelist and edited by the Final Redactor. That process was completed, according to Brown, at Ephesus during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (AD 98-116), which is more or less the traditional view. Brown doubts that the Evangelist was the "disciple whom Jesus loved" mentioned in the Gospel, chiefly because of the lack of the use of the first person by the narrator. Brown does suggest, in effect, that the Evangelist was writing something close to an affidavit from that disciple. So, if you want apostalic witness, John's Gospel has the best credentials.

I have never been completely happy with this conclusion. I much prefer the Gospel According to Matthew to John's Gospel. Matthew's pedantic indirection appeals to me both for its sobriety and a sort of dry wit. John, in contrast, is too excited, too neoplatonic. Bultmann used to argue that the Fourth Gospel was essentially a Gnostic text that had to be heavily edited before the wider Church would accept it.

That view was pretty clearly a mistake. There was nothing arbitrary or tendentious about the choice in the second century of the Four Gospels for the canon. The class of Gnostic literature called "gospels" have, for the most part, no interest in a historical person called Jesus, or indeed in anything but their authors' apprehension of the Other World. Some of them are a little like those television commercials for the July 4 auto sales: the actors are dressed like the Founding Fathers and 18th-century fife music plays in the background, but the characters talk to each other about the merits of a certain brand of SUV. Similarly, the Gnostic literature simply appropriates Christian names and themes to talk about something else. All four of the canonical Gospels, in contrast, are pretty much about the same thing.

And no, I have not read The Gospel of Judas, though I may well do so at some point. However, it would never occur to me to expect such a late and speculative work to tell me anything about primitive Christianity. The touting of this Gnostic curiosity by the media suggests either grave duplicity or a high level of ignorance in the nation's editorial offices. Like Dr. Snedeker, we might be best advised to embrace both hypotheses.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

DUg0In5UQAAjzJU.jpg

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge
By Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Published 2017 by Galaxy's Edge

The Order of the Centurion is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in, or with, the Legion. When such an individual displays exceptional valor in action against an enemy force, and uncommon loyalty and devotion to the Legion and its legionnaires, refusing to abandon post, mission, or brothers, even unto death, the Legion dutifully recognizes such courage with this award.

This is a short story set in Jason Anspach and Nick Cole's Galaxy's Edge universe. I never imagined a Vietnam-inspired story about a re-purposed war bot could make me cry.

Air Cavalry By United States Army Heritage and Education Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Air Cavalry

By United States Army Heritage and Education Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tin Man reminds me of the stories told by my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher, Dale Shewalter. He was a Marine to the end, felled by a cancer that he blamed on Agent Orange. He volunteered for Vietnam, along with his brother. It also reminds me of We Were Soldiers Once...And Young. Ed Freeman and Bruce Crandall flew their unarmed UH-1 Hueys into the Ia Drang valley to deliver supplies and medevac the wounded, even after the actual medevac pilots refused to go. They kept going even after several helicopters they flew had been shot up too badly to take off again. They both earned the Medal of Honor for that stubborn refusal to give up.

What a SLIC looks like in my head

What a SLIC looks like in my head

Tin Man is also about a stubborn refusal to give up, a refusal to abandon his post, or his brothers, from an entirely unexpected source.

"I see no one," rumbled the bot.
"He's coming. Over there. Collecting the dead. Hold my hands up, please. I'm ready now. I'm ready like Mama said I should be. Please...hold them up for me."
The war bot did as requested. Delicately.
Corporal Wash expired a few minutes later.

I love this series, but if you don't know if you'll like it, you should check this one out. It is free.

Yes, free. I can't believe these guys give this stuff away. If you want it, head over to GalaticOutlaws.com and sign-up for their newsletter. I don't have any relationship with Jason and Nick, other than liking their books, so all I get out of this is the satisfaction of introducing people to something new.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! Book Review

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria By Ferdinand Schmutzer - Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria, Inventarnr. LSCH 0029-C, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18361001

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

By Ferdinand Schmutzer - Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria, Inventarnr. LSCH 0029-C, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18361001

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! A World Without World War I
by Richard Ned Lebow
Palgrave MacMillan, 2014
241 pages
ISBN 978-1-137-27853-1

I received this book for free as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

As part of my Lenten penance this year, I am choosing to work through my backlog of advance reader copies that I never quite got around to. I have a dozen or so sitting on my library shelves, quietly gathering dust.

This is another case where I have no idea why I haven't read this book yet. It is alternative history, a subject I find interesting enough that there is an entire static page dedicated to it on my site. My first introduction to the the subject was the volume What if? The World's Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. I think I read it as an undergraduate, and I happened upon John's site shortly thereafter. You see what happens?

Lebow summarizes alternative history thus:

Counterfactual means contrary to facts. A counterfactual describes an event that did not occur. In everyday language counterfactuals can be described as what-if statements. This nicely captures their purpose: they vary some feature of the past to change some aspect of the present. Some people use counterfactuals to imagine different futures, although strictly speaking they pertain only to the past.

Lebow takes the position that the Great War was truly an accident of history. It is not only contingent, it wasn't particularly likely. He lists six ways in which he thinks the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand altered what was an otherwise stable European political order:

  1. The assassination of the Thronfolger created a fear of escalation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The political leaders felt they couldn't let this go without encouraging more of the same.
  2. Franz Joseph and Kaiser Wilhelm were both shocked and offended by an insult to amour propre.
  3. Franz Ferdinand had been the primary advocate of peace in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  4. Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, chancellor of the German Empire, may have been swayed to risk war by the assassination.
  5. The German Socialist party, the Social Democrats, were so appalled by the assassination that they were willing to throw their support to war to punish Serbia.
  6. Created an environment in which Kaiser Wilhelm and von Bethmann-Hollweg could feel like they hadn't actually chosen war.

I'm not enough of a specialist to really evaluate Lebow's list. (4) and (6) seem pretty speculative to me, but I'm not familiar with the character of Kaiser Wilhelm and von Bethmann-Hollweg, which is what Lebow says he based this judgment upon. I could buy the other four without too much fuss.

However, whether this historical judgment is correct isn't really the point of the book, in my opinion. We can learn something from alternative history, even if we think the alternative isn't particularly likely. What is interesting about alternative history is the attempt to understand the mechanics by which history unfolds, which is important in shaping what we choose to do.

Lebow has chosen a somewhat unusual point of departure for his alternative history. WWII is a much more common point of departure for alternative history. As it happens, John J. Reilly chose to investigate what might have happened if the Germans had won the Great War. Lebow went for something far more bold: let us posit that the Great War never happened, and peace really did have a chance. What might have followed?

Peace never had a chance in our timeline

Peace never had a chance in our timeline

Lebow follows this down two paths: the best and worst plausible worlds given his departure from history were true.

Lebow's Best Plausible World

  • The British and Austro-Hungarian Empires survive, but the Russian Empire does not
  • Germany's early lead in science and technology is maintained
  • Europe remains the center of gravity of the world, but is closely pursued in most economic measures by the United States and Japan
  • Israel is never created
  • The rest of the Middle East develops in much the same way as Lebanon in the historical world

This is a more peaceful and multipolar world, but it does have some downsides. Mostly in absence of the many technologies that were created as part of the war efforts in both world wars. It is also less dynamic, staying much the same through the end of the twentieth century as it was in the 1950s.

Lebow's Worst Plausible World

  • The British and Austro-Hungarian Empires survive, but the Russian Empire does not
  • Germany's early lead in science and technology is maintained
  • Europe remains the center of gravity of the world, but is closely pursued in most economic measures by the United States and Japan
  • Israel is never created
  • The rest of the Middle East develops in much the same way as Lebanon in the historical world

If that list looks the same, that is because it is. Lebow's worst possible world is very much like his best, with the difference that the culture evolves in unpleasant ways. The Germans become more militaristic, the United States becomes more isolationist, and the Russians more paranoid.

In this worst possible world, all of the least pleasant features of the countries mentioned are exaggerated, and eventually Cold War between the German and British Empires turns hot. A nuclear exchange follows a breakdown in communication created by a false alarm. 

Lebow's Worst World

Lebow's Worst World

I didn't find Lebow's alternative worlds particularly compelling, or plausible, even given his premise that preventing the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand could have completely prevented the Great War. Our models of history are just too different. This passage in the final chapter sums that difference up:

In an earlier collaborative study of the phenomenal rise of the West in the modern era, my colleagues and I argued that it had many causes, most of them contingent. The same can be said about China's cultural, military, and scientific superiority for almost two millennia. Above all it depended on the creation and maintenance of central authority over a vast land area and population. Nothing was inevitable about this development, and in its absence the landmass we call China would have developed into different political units with different languages.
Map of the Yellow River, whose watershed covers most of northern China and drains to the Yellow Sea By Shannon1 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Yellow River, whose watershed covers most of northern China and drains to the Yellow Sea

By Shannon1 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Everything about the creation of a central authority in the valley of the Yellow River was inevitable. It has now happened three times in the same place, with a remarkable continuity of culture and language. That is as close as we get to inevitable in history. Demography and geography and social dynamics all align to make this happen.

Lebow isn't really interested in these things, and it shows in the kind of worlds he imagines. Lebanon was different than the rest of the Middle East because the Lebanese, Maronite Catholics, were different. Less inbred, and less clannish, which are closely related things, the Lebanese were relatively Westernized and prosperous. Most of the rest of the Middle East lacks the human capital to do that. Banning cousin marriage could help fix both things, but it is unlikely to happen.

The other thing that rang false to me is the Whiggish stance that art would suffer under authoritarianism in the worst world. There have been many, many great artists in regimes that were authoritarian, and even in worse ones. As John Reilly noted in his own alternative history speculation about World War I, Weimar culture, which Lebow praises, and Nazi culture, which he does not, were the same artistic culture. The Nazis made some visually arresting art, in pursuit of horrible ends.

The one thing I truly appreciated was Lebow's attempt to make sense of what the Spanish Civil War would have looked like in the absence of its major outside sponsors in our world. It definitely would have still happened, everybody in Spain hated each other, but it might have had fewer repercussions elsewhere.

In the end, it looks like my reluctance to pick this book up was justified. Memento mori!

My other book reviews

John J. Reilly's Alternative History page

The Long View 2006-04-10: The Iran War; Biography; The Truth about immigration

John Reilly said this in 2006, and I think he's still right:

I am sure I am repeating myself, but there are just three things to keep in mind with regard to the immigration crisis:
(1) The disposition of illegals currently in the country is almost irrelevant.
(2) The key issue is the size of future immigration.
(3) No law or policy will be effective without physical control of the borders.
My own preference would be to grandfather all illegals in country once border security is established. All of them would have to register and decide whether they were interested in eventual citizenship or simply guest-worker status. The latter would get cards allowing them to leave and enter the country. And no more such cards would be issued.

The Iran War; Biography; The Truth about immigration

 

That most wicked Spengler, at Asia Times, is not only egging on the Bush Administration to take preemptive action against Iran's nuclear program, but arguing that such an attack will solve the Administration's political problems:

Just as in the 2004 elections, the Democrats will have a losing hand if the White House orders force against Iran. Americans rally behind a wartime leader; the one exception was Vietnam. America's engagement with Iran would resemble the Bill Clinton administration's aerial attack on Serbia rather than the Iraq wars, for there is no reason at all to employ ground groups.

God takes care of drunks, small children and the United States of America. Improbably, destiny has a surprise in store for George W Bush.

Spengler takes care to cite the long quotation of his own arguments for a attacking Iran that appear in The Weekly Standard. The Bush Administration does not read each issue of that publication with unalloyed pleasure, but it seems that elements of Spengler's thinking have descended from the outer blogosphere and are now looping through the inner system.

The proposal for a short, bloodless, metal-on-metal campaign has its detractors. Several of them have pieces in the Spring issue of The National Interest, notably The Osirak Fallacy, by Richard K. Betts. That article argues that Israel's strike in 1981 against Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor actually accelerated Iraq's nuclear-weapons program (which we should recall turned out to be remarkably far advanced when it was inspected at the end of the Gulf War of 1990-1991). Those merits are mixed. I'm actually inclined to think that an attack on the Iranian sites would help the situation in Iraq. Even among the Shia, Iran has only minority support, and the aid that Iran has given to certain Iraqi militias has not endeared that country to the rest of the political factions. On the other hand, I have no idea how the attack would play in domestic American politics. Certainly the Serbian campaign would be a misleading analogy. The Serbian government publicly capitulated. There would be no comparable way to judge the success of an attack on Iran.

Then there is the legal issue. As I have said before, the Gulf War of 1990-1991 was, if anything, over legitimated, and the Iraq War's legality was at least colorable: fairly cogently regarding prior UN resolutions, and somewhat less so in light of the multinational policy against genocide. Neither factor applies in the case of Iran. Violation of the non-proliferation regime is not a casus belli.

The "strike" would not be an affair of an hour. It would take several days, probably with some input from special forces on the ground. There would be some interaction with the Iranian air force, and with its navy in the Gulf. The aim would be not so much to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program (again, the results of the raids could never be accurately known) but to put Iran on notice.

I would not know how to draft the announcement of such an action.

* * *

At the risk of sounding insensitive, might I suggest that the PBS series, The American Experience, is running out of subjects? Last week it was an unwatchable treatment of Eugene O'Neill, whose plays are pretty unwatchable, too, but don't get me started. This week it's the Boy in the Bubble. Next week it's the Great San Francisco Earthquake: that has possibilities, but disasters are no substitute for the important biographies the series became famous for doing so well.

Are they running out of interesting Americans, or just Americans Who Mean Something?

* * *

The implicit open-borders immigration policy is the product of an alliance made in Hell. The Right wants cheap labor; the Left wants to replace enough of the current electorate to improve its own electoral chances. In both cases, the policy is self-defeating. The pro-business lobbyists are importing not just a low-wage workforce, but political risk. The Left is glad of the political risk, but has not yet quite taken on board just how hostile the illegal population is to the Left's cultural agenda. One would be tempted to stand back and watch both sides lose, were it not for the fact their mutual discomfiture would be accompanied by the end of America.

I am sure I am repeating myself, but there are just three things to keep in mind with regard to the immigration crisis:

(1) The disposition of illegals currently in the country is almost irrelevant.

(2) The key issue is the size of future immigration.

(3) No law or policy will be effective without physical control of the borders.

My own preference would be to grandfather all illegals in country once border security is established. All of them would have to register and decide whether they were interested in eventual citizenship or simply guest-worker status. The latter would get cards allowing them to leave and enter the country. And no more such cards would be issued.

Is this too simple?

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-04-05: Der Linkerstreit

Damon Linker continues to write some interesting things, occasionally sparring with Ross Douthat on Twitter. He is still mostly working the same beat as In 2006, arguing that the liberal state should keep religion at arms length, at least to judge from the title of his most recent book, The Religious Test

John Reilly thought this characterization of Fr. Neuhaus was unfair, but I actually think it was pretty accurate:

Linker's article has produced hostile commentary online: think "auto-da-fe." Perhaps I should mention that I corresponded with Linker a few times when he was at First Things and he's never done me an injury that I know of. Still, I thought the New Republic piece was too personal, particularly his argument that Neuhaus is a natural revolutionary who just switched polarity about 1970 from the anti-war Left to the religious Right.

Fr. Neuhaus really was a natural revolutionary. Much like Jerry Pournelle [1933 - 2017], Fr Neuhaus [1936-2009], Fr. Neuhaus started out as an anti-racist liberal with an axe to grind, but as a man of conviction, found that society's definition of liberal changed, but he didn't. Thus he found himself on the political Right, but he was basically interested in the same causes he always was. 

The process by which the man who busted into Kissinger's office to berate him over Vietnam ended up publicly advocating for the United States to invade Iraq in 2003 is not as incomprehensible than Linker would have us think. Partly he was just older, and thus less given to grandstanding. Partly he was seeking to influence from the inside instead of the outside. But also, I think he really did believe that American power had an opportunity to right wrongs and ensure human rights in Iraq, which is much the same thing that motivated some of the advocates for involvement in Vietnam when Neuhaus was younger. 

Unsaid here, but part of the rift between Linker and Neuhaus [and Rod Dreher and Neuhaus] was the trust Neuhaus had in the Catholic bishops when the sex scandals first became news. Linker and Dreher were appalled by the actions of the Catholic bishops who had covered for priests who had sexual relationships with minors, whereas Neuhaus insisted to them both that the Catholic hierarchy must know what it was doing. Much of this was done in person, rather than in print, so it was less clear to those of us on the outside.

As it turned out, Linker and Dreher were right to be appalled, and Neuhaus defended the indefensible. On the other hand, Fr. Neuhaus tended to be more circumspect in print. On the gripping hand, all of this came out after Neuhaus was dead, and he couldn't defend himself.


Der Linkerstreit

 

Sometimes people don't tell me things, so it was not until April 2 that I learned about the publication in The New Republic on March 24 of Damon Linker's review of Father Richard John Neuhaus's most recent book, Catholic Matters. Damon Linker is, of course, a former editor of Fr. Neuhaus's magazine, First Things. The piece in The New Republic attracted attention because it is not so much a review of Neuhaus's book as a denunciation of the idea behind First Things. As I understand it, that idea is that religion and religious questions are necessary features of public life.

Linker has decided otherwise. He characterizes Fr. Neuhaus as the leader of an ideology that seeks to overturn liberal modernity in favor of a regime of natural law: in effect a Catholic hegemony, in a cultural if not necessarily a confessional sense. Linker has a book coming out later this year in which he expands on these points, entitled The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege.

Again, since no one tells me these things, I did not notice until yesterday that Fr. Neuhaus had actually replied to Linker's review, after a fashion, in a short note posted on March 29 on the First Things blog. He did not mention Linker by name, but observed that the best way to deal with some critics is to try to josh with them. This, of course, recalls Richard Rorty's recommendation that liberals should not try to argue against religious propositions but to josh their proponents out of them.

Linker's article has produced hostile commentary online: think "auto-da-fe." Perhaps I should mention that I corresponded with Linker a few times when he was at First Things and he's never done me an injury that I know of. Still, I thought the New Republic piece was too personal, particularly his argument that Neuhaus is a natural revolutionary who just switched polarity about 1970 from the anti-war Left to the religious Right. (Fr. Neuhaus is, of course, a known Canadian, but that's another issue.) In any case, Linker has responded to his critics in various fora, and perhaps most fully on that commendable blog, The American Scene. This excerpt from that discussion says what he has to say better than the review does:

[L]iberal politics was devised as a rescue operation for European life in the wake of the religious civil wars. The Protestant Reformation, as well as the rise of market economies and scientific skepticism, shattered the unity of political life in the West, and the response was a proposal (made in various ways by, among others, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jefferson, Madison, Smith, Hume, Kant, Mill, and Rawls) to base political life on what Aristotle called the goods of "mere life" (like domestic and foreign peace, economic prosperity, and basic or minimal individual rights). These were the minimal goods on which all human beings, regardless of their views on "bigger" or "higher" questions, could agree on.

By contrast, the goods associated with the "good life" (like happiness, virtue, righteousness, and piety) would neither be presupposed nor explicitly cultivated by the political order. Why? Because in the modern age there was no plausible scenario in which consensus on these matters could be established or assumed. (In fact, with the rise of modern technology and surveillance it did become possible to imagine the imposition of such a monistic order, by totalitarian means.)

I prefer to call this the "liberal bargain" whereby every citizen of a liberal order is given the freedom to worship God as he or she wishes, without state interference, in return for giving up the ambition to political rule in the NAME OF HIS OR HER FAITH -- that is, the ambition to bring the whole of social life into conformity with his or her inevitably partial and sectarian theological convictions. As I said in TNR, short of universal conversion to a single faith community, such attempts will always end up being the imposition of one part of a highly differentiated community onto its other parts.

As a historical point, I might mention that religious peace descended on Europe not because of a consensus that religion was not worth fighting about, but because the confessions everywhere became secure: each regio with its own religio, and what the neighbors did on Sunday was none of one's business. Be that as it may, Linker's argument is essentially the one that Kant and Rawls made: only a political culture based on procedures can command the general consensus needed to conduct public life peacefully together.

This thesis is not naive, but neither is it true. There is a very good argument that the American concept of the separation of church and state is incompatible with what Rawls advocated. There has always been a strong transcendent element in American political culture. Toleration in the American context meant a deference to private conscience, a deference that was itself a religious doctrine. It is, of course, perfectly true that the mechanisms that evolved to facilitate this deference are Kantian procedural clockwork: we are all children of the Enlightenment, after all. Fundamentalist secularism, which is sometimes called "laicism," asserts that the religious presuppositions that underlie tolerance are irrelevant. To that proposition, I don't think I have seen a better answer than the one that William Ernest Hocking gave fifty years ago:

[T]he state depends for its vitality upon a motivation which it cannot by itself command... We have taken it for granted that the state can deal with crime, as its most potent function in maintaining public order. We have believed that it can educate our young. We have assumed that while leaving economic enterprise largely to its own energies, the state can cover the failures of the system, protecting individuals from destitution, caring for the aged and the ill. We have taken it as axiomatic that it can make just laws, and provide through a responsible legal profession for the due service to the people... We are discovering today, startled and incredulous, that the state by itself can do none of these things.

The state of the argument remains as it has been for centuries, but the historical experience of the 20th century has been that the politics of immanence, of neutral principles without a transcendent referent, have not brought peace. If there is controversy in America today about the political role of religion, it's because, for a generation and a half, the secular cultural-left have been the aggressors. Kant and Rawls advocated a politics of procedure because it would be predictable; indeed, that it would be conservative. But that is precisely what the secular-modernist experiment with government has not been. The reality of "the liberal bargain" is that most of the developed world now lives in daily anxiety about what new mutation of the moral sense that bureaucrats and judges will impose upon them with the force of law. Religion can be arbitrary, too, but never so arbitrary as postmodern pragmatism.

* * *

Books to combat the theocratic menace are proliferating. Last year I did a review for Democratization of Michael Northcott's An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire. I just did a review (for Kirkus Reviews: the review is available online only to subscribers) of Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Viewers of the main part of my site will have noted my review of Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy.

That book, by the way, scarcely mentions the Theocon-Neuhaus wing of the theocracy that so exercises Damon Linker; rather, like Goldberg, it focuses on the small world of Reconstructionism, which does at least have the merit of being really theocratic. One is left to wonder, therefore, whether the Theocons and the Reconstructionists are part of the same conspiracy for world domination, or belong to different conspiracies, or perhaps are trying to gain control of different worlds.

Oh, I almost missed one: James Rudin's The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us. That comes out in the fall, but no one has sent me a review copy.

* * *

Speaking of hostile receptions, the recent publication of statements by ecologist Dr. Eric R. Pianka, University of Texas at Austin to the effect that the human race is about to suffer a massive die-off have not been met with universal approbation.

This is old news to those familiar with Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Ringworld Book Review

Larry Niven's Ringworld [not to scale]

Larry Niven's Ringworld [not to scale]

by Larry Niven
Del Rey Books, 1970
342 pages
ISBN 0-345-33392-6

It is kind of strange that it took me so long to get around to reading this book. I've read everything Niven and Pournelle wrote together, and liked it all. I had certainly heard of Ringworld, so that should have been a clue I would like it. I was even a huge fan of the Halo games in the early 2000s, which borrowed heavily from Niven's books for inspiration.

Thus, while I should have read Ringworld sooner, I hadn't. I read The Magic Goes Away in 2012, and my memories of it weren't as good as the review I wrote then, so I tended to shy away from Niven's solo work. This was a mistake.

Ringworld is an amazing book, the hardest of hard sci fi, written by a genuine master of the craft. If you haven't read it, you need to. Go click that affiliate link and buy it now. Or go to the local used bookstore, which will assuredly have a copy on hand. Do it. You won't be sorry.

My introduction to Niven's Known Space was the short story "Fly-by-Night" in There Will Be War Volume X. I found the setting interesting and well done, so I picked up Ringworld on a whim for my birthday. 

First, we must Louis Wu. Thanks to boosterspice, Louis is 200 years old, and still fit, trim, and vigorous. Louis is also celebrating his birthday in every time zone around the world sequentially thanks to cheap teleportation. He is also bored to tears. Cheap transportation has blended every city and culture around the world into grey homogeneity, and an unusually long life doesn't leave one many surprises, even less so in a world that is just one big city with quaint historical neighborhood names like Moscow, Marrakesh, and San Diego.

Niven took some interesting scifi ideas, and extrapolated what life would really be like if they were true. And this is just the first chapter. We also meet some truly alien species. You think you know what they are like, until you start to see the world through their eyes. And then you see the kind of worlds they create for themselves. Even after hundreds of years of contact, trade, and warfare, misunderstandings abound.

Louis, xenophilic for a human, sets sail for the eponymous Ringworld with a Kzin, a giant cat with a warrior culture that fought humans unsuccessfully for almost four hundred years, a Pierson's Puppeteer, a two-headed coward that speaks human languages like a phone sex operator, and Teela Brown, the luckiest woman who ever lived. The four of them routinely puzzle one another, because they are all so different as to be almost incomprehensible.

Hilarity of course ensues.

And then, we get to the Ringworld itself. Ninety-three million miles in radius. The mass of Jupiter. Six hundred million miles long and million miles wide. It has the surface area of three million Earths. You could put trillions of people on it, and they would never see each other. None of the pictures I've attached to this post do it justice. Niven does it in words; everyone who sees it in the book has a hard time wrapping their minds around its scale. It is just too different from our experience [or even the aliens' experience] to readily grasp.

Not Larry Niven's Ringworld, but pretty darn close now that I've read the original

Not Larry Niven's Ringworld, but pretty darn close now that I've read the original

When Bungie made their Halo games, the ring was scaled down to something that would look good on screen. I think they made the right choice for what they were doing. If Niven's ring were accurately represented, players wouldn't be able to tell what it was. It is too alien, too weird to easily process. A novel really is a better medium for this idea, for exploring what it means.

There is a lot of exploring to be done. Ringworld is Niven's best known novel, and now that I've read it, I see why. Niven uses his unique style to extrapolate what it would really be like to build such an artifact as the Ringworld. This is hard scifi at its best. I'm sure I will pick up the others in due course, but even if you have no interest in such things, read this one. It is worth it.

My other book reviews

The Long View: An Angel Directs the Storm

Calm and serene he drives the furious blast; And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform, Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~ Joseph Addison By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~ Joseph Addison

By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

This is a fine example of John's best work. In retrospect, President George W. Bush did some crazy things, but his critics were often even crazier.


An Angel Directs the Storm:
Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire
By Michael Northcott
I.B. Tauris Co Ltd., 2004
200 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 1-85043-478-6

 

The title of this book comes from a famous question that John Page asked his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, about the American Revolution: “Do you not think that an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm?” The book’s author, a Reader in Christian Ethics at the University of Edinburgh, takes this apparently innocent question about the role of Providence in history and uses it as an emblem for this thesis:

“It is a tragic deformation of Biblical apocalyptic that in America for more than two centuries millennialism, far from unveiling [in the sense of unmasking] empire, has served as a sacred ideology that has cloaked the expansionary tendencies of America’s ruling elites.”

Northcott’s argument is compounded, in large part, of the ecclesiology of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, the eschatology of Rene Girard, the geopolitics of Andrew Bacevich, and the postmodern political prose poetry of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Unfortunately, these people are not obviously in agreement about fundamental issues, and the author makes little effort to reconcile them. What holds the book together is a rambling, Soviet-surplus critique of the United States, updated by the propaganda of the antiglobalization movement.

Some of this filler material is amazing. We learn, for instance, that 67% of the children of US veterans of the first Gulf War have some serious birth defect. We further learn that Islamism is, simultaneously, an artifact of American funding; an indigenous reaction to American-imposed post-colonial underdevelopment; and a modern, pseudo-Islamic ideology that mirrors America’s neoliberal globalism in being totalitarian and universalistic. The author even moves the great die-off of elderly people during the European heat wave of 2003 from France to Chicago. By the end of this book, American malefaction has become so ubiquitous as to be virtually unfalsifiable.

This is a shame, since there are real issues here about the nature of American political culture and the interrelationship of eschatology, soteriology, and macrohistory. The author makes a remarkable hash of all of them.

It is true, as Northcott points out, that the principle of “the priesthood of all believers” gave American political culture a bias toward voluntarism and the market. More important, it is also true that the Puritans in America saw their story as a reprise of the Book of Exodus, but on a larger scale, and with world-historical significance. There really is a strong millennialist streak that runs right through American history (the best-known discussion of which remains Tuveson’s “Redeemer Nation”). From the colonial era, and into the 20th century, the dominant model of history was “postmillennialism,” which holds that society would be perfected within history, during the millennium, only after which would the Second Coming occur. After the Revolution, a synthesis of ideological republicanism and Puritanism arose. It assigned an important but subordinate place for the Church, as the institution that would educate citizens in virtues needed to make the polity function. Northcott is not pleased:

“American postmillennial apocalyptic involves the claim that the American Republic, and in particular the free market combined with a sort of marketised democracy, is the first appearance in history of a redeemed human society, a true godly Kingdom. But true Christian apocalyptic, the Christian belief that Christ has come, that the spirit of Christ is present in the Church, and that Christ will come again, points Christians precisely to the temporary and imperfect nature of all efforts to establish the reign of God on earth.”

There are tensions in Northcott’s critique, to put it mildly. He posits, reasonably enough, that the philosophy of John Locke has strongly affected American political culture. The author then asserts that the Lockean understanding of government as essentially a device for protecting property is not orthodox theology, and is indeed postchristian, whatever the denominational affiliation of actual Lockeans may be. Well, maybe, but readers may find it hard to reconcile Northcott’s indictment of the sacralization of government with his antipathy to Locke’s political theory, which was designed precisely to keep government modest, both in its powers and in its ontological status.

Be this as it may, the most important development in the history of American eschatology was the transition to premillennialism, which began about the middle of the 19th century. Premillennialism, sometimes called dispensationalism, holds that the Second Coming will occur before the millennium, preceded by disaster and apostasy. It does not see secular progress as a good thing, if progress is acknowledged at all. Its influence has spread steadily; today, it is perhaps the most widespread historical model among evangelical Christians in the United States (and elsewhere, one might add). It is associated, often if not invariably, with Biblical literalism, and with support for Zionism, which is held to be a fulfillment of prophecies of the Endtime.

We are told that there is a synergy between dispensationalist fatalism and the ideology of the market, since both denigrate the possibility of collective action. This would be interesting, were it not for the fact that freemarketeers are optimists of the most annoying sort. Still, it is certainly easier to make that argument than to suggest, as Northcott also seems to do, that premillennialism is a religion of immiseration. In the US, the key figures associated with the revival of premillennialism were high-status churchmen and laity based in Manhattan. In the 19th century, this eschatology was not particularly popular in those regions that suffered social disruption in the course of industrialization. By the later 20th century, some form of premillennialism was becoming the mark of the rising classes of the Next Christendom outside the West. This only repeated its history in America, where evangelicals of all descriptions tend to be richer and better educated than the population as a whole.

Neither will it do to make premillennialism a religion of capitalism, either international or domestic. Contrary to what Northcott believes, Americans by the later 19th century were not satisfied with their “national Bank” and its capitalist ways. America did not have a central bank from 1836 to 1913 because the people in the states that later became highly evangelical were suspicious of large institutions. In fact, they also made sure that private banks could not operate nationally until relatively recently. High tariffs, restricted immigration, and suspicion of finance are the evangelical political tradition. The current association of evangelicalism with big business in the Republican Party is a historical accident, occasioned chiefly by the decision of the Democratic Party to walk the plank on the abortion issue.

It would be hard to quarrel with the assessment that Woodrow Wilson’s domestic Progressivism and his plan to make the world safe for democracy are manifestations of America’s traditional postmillennialism. That view of the world long lingered in elite circles. In fact, the sentiment never entirely dissipated, even if the theology did. There is a good argument to be made the Bush Administration’s War on Terror is just a revival of Wilsonianism with a Kantian twist supplied by the neoconservatives. However, Northcott’s analysis forces him to make a bad argument:

“[T]he mutation of the American dream into a global war with those who are said to oppose America’s interests and its values is a consequence of Enlightenment rationalism. The universal story of an enlightened humanity progressing toward peace legitimizes a perpetual war to bring it about…However it is not in the name of reason, but of an apocalyptic faith that Bush and bin Laden seek to take charge of the destiny of the world.”

Northcott asserts that Bush’s policy “is consistent” with the abandonment of the attempt to build the postmillennial Zion in America (of which the Puritan Fathers dreamed, however mistakenly), in favor of a premillennial project to aid the construction of a Jewish Zion in Israel. This is an interpretation against the text, since the fact is that the Bush Administration does claim to be acting in the name of reason. Certainly that is how the Administration talks about geopolitics. That is even how the Administration talks about Israel. Only when we dismiss the canard that George Bush is trying to trigger the Battle of Armageddon do we come to the really interesting point: under Northcott’s analysis, Christians would have to oppose any forcible attempt to maintain world order, or indeed national order.

This form of pacifism is based on a reading of the New Testament that retrojects 20th-century underdevelopment theory onto first-century Palestine, thereby turning Jesus into an ardent if peaceful anti-imperialist. To this end, Northcott adopts strange readings of such texts as Mark 12: 13-17. That is the passage in which Jesus, in response to a question about the licitness of paying taxes to the Romans, says to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. As Northcott would have it, that Jesus did not legitimize the payment of the tax:

“… Jesus already steals a march on his opponents because he demands that they show him the imperial coin – the Denarius – in which the tax was paid [since] neither he nor his disciples carried the coinage of empire… The question already names Jesus’ opponents as idolaters since they possess the coin and he does not.”

What we have here is a studied refusal to hear anything from scripture that the exegete does not want it to say (from my limited experience this is characteristic of Girardian exegesis). Northcott does not confine this practice to small points. Here is a broader misreading for you:

“The real meaning of Revelation is that the Roman Empire – variously the ‘beast,’ the ‘dragon’, the ‘whore of Babylon’ – and the Roman emperor – the Antichrist – are already defeated.”

To this, one may say that anyone who thinks that the word “Antichrist” appears in the Book of Revelation could have his license to practice eschatology revoked. In any case, we need to remember that if Revelation really were just an anti-Roman tract, it would not be very interesting, and we would not be reading it today. Anti-Roman sentiment is, of course, present in that book: the Whore of Babylon is Rome. However, she is killed at the behest of the Beast. The message is that, bad as Rome is, it’s really just a front for something much worse: of the archons, of whom St. Paul wrote, who really rule the world, and against whom it is the real business of Christians to struggle.

To be fair, we should note that the author acknowledges that Jesus did not preach political resistance, even of the passive Gandhian variety. We are also told, eventually, that Paul commanded obedience to the state, but then we are also told that Paul meant that the powers of the state were legitimate only when they were used for right purposes. At the risk of getting into a proof-texting contest, I find this hard to square with the remark of Jesus to Pilate that Pilate’s power was “from above,” even when Pilate was about to have Jesus executed. Theocracy is a poor notion, but it should not be confused with the immemorial Christian principle that the state is a part of a providential order, and not simply a feature of a fallen world.

The preferred eschatology of “An Angel Directs the Storm” is an almost complete preterism. Though allowing that the Lord will come again at some indefinite point in the future, under circumstances we cannot now imagine, Northcott repeatedly reminds us that all prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. Indeed, history ended then, with the resurrection. This is why, for instance, the doctrine of Just War is invalid (though Northcott says that George Bush managed to violate it anyway). The New Testament shows:

“[T]here is no more need for war; in the language of the Book of Revelation the war in heaven has already ended, Michael and his angels have already put down the elemental powers and the fallen angels…Christians are called not to fight against them, rather to enact their defeat in the communities of worship and reconciliation.”

Northcott’s pacifism rejects pietism. Pietism, he says, comes from the error of putting the soul in the care of religion, while leaving the body to the control of the state. That error, in turn, comes from viewing the Church as one association among many, rather than as a comprehensive community. The politics of the Christian community is “the non-coercive quest for peace and justice in a sinful world.” Christian community does not require self-segregation: far from it. Christians should pray for the welfare of the city into which they have been sent, and work for its welfare, as Jeremiah advised the exiles from Judea. They must never take charge, but hold those to account who try to take charge, particularly if they try to take charge in God’s name. On the global level, Christians are to reject the temptation to control history’s outcome, which was among the things that the devil unsuccessfully tempted Jesus to do.

The confusion here is obvious enough: Northcott has a divinized concept of history. Hegel did too, of course, but Hegel was trying to replace theology rather than practice it. Perhaps this will clarify the question:

The fate of the modern international system is important, because the international system is a very big thing. The atmosphere is a very big thing, too, but we usually don’t accuse people who study or to try to influence it (by controlling industrial emissions, say) of usurping a divine prerogative. The historical world is different from the atmosphere, of course, particularly in that the historical world consists of human groups in conflict. Northcott says that God does not choose sides between these groups. To that, the short answer may be to stop telling God what to do.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

Peak Oil

Peak Oil

There was a minor panic over theocracy in the United States during the George W. Bush presidency. We'll get to Damon Linker's book on the subject soon, but he was far from the only one to perceive the national mood had shifted from the post-Cold War relaxation that characterized the late 1990s. 

John Reilly's point here was to remind his readers that the "City on a Hill" mode of politics is a perennial in America. It waxes and wanes, but it never leaves us. There has been an effort to retcon contemporary secularism into the Deism of the 18th century, but this attempt very much misses the point of a movement that would seem pretty conservative and religious by modern standards.

One point where I will object to John's critique of Kevin Phillips' book is this:

God’s Peculiar People of Dixie, however, have traditionally been inclined to isolationism, even xenophobia. The recent American attempts to recast the international system are distinctly unsouthern.

By my reading of history, most of the crackbrained exhortations to invade and annex Mexico and Canada in the antebellum era came from the South. The South provided lots of eager soldiers in the the wars of the twentieth century too. The real home of isolationism in the US, at least in the twentieth century, was the heavily German Midwest.

As for Peak Oil, it continues to be the case that God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.


American Theocracy:
The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century
By Kevin Phillips
Viking Penguin, 2006
462 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN 0-670-03486-X

 

Addressing the nominating convention of the Progressive Party in 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt told the audience, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” John Kennedy, in his inaugural address 49 years later, expressed a similar sense of a transcendent dimension in American politics: “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” And of course, in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson began with a statement of principles of natural law and political legitimacy that Thomas Aquinas would have approved. The fact is that Americans have always thought of their country as in some sense elect, even if only as an Awful Example. There has never been a time when theology and morality have not informed the rhetoric of American politics, and sometimes its substance.

With this in mind, we can appreciate the full novelty of the campaign over the past 40 years to laicize the operations of government and to extirpate religion from the common culture. The latest specimen of this endeavor is American Theocracy. The author is Kevin Phillips, a Republican political strategist who achieved fame in 1969 with the publication of The Emerging Republican Majority. That book correctly pointed out that the South was tending Republican, and predicted that the Republican Party would soon have a lock on the presidency and a good chance of taking control of Congress. In American Theocracy, however, Phillips admits that there are features of the Republican ascendancy that he had not anticipated. Indeed, he sometimes sounds like the horrified couple in “The Monkey’s Paw,” who use the last of three wishes to “put it back the way it was!”

The book uses a critique of political religion to tie together parallel critiques of US oil policy, particularly Bush family oil policy, and a set of alarming observations about the growth of public and private debt in America. The upshot is a prediction of national decline. The forecast differs from the similar predictions made in the late 1980s (by people like Paul Kennedy, for instance) chiefly in suggesting sudden and catastrophic decline. To make his macrohistorical points, the author employs lengthy and stunningly inapposite analogies from the histories of Habsburg Spain, the Dutch Republic, and Great Britain. With regard to the last, for instance, he argues that the evangelical revival in Victorian Britain was a symptom of national senescence that promoted irrationality and provoked an apocalyptic climax in the First World War. In fact, of course, religious revival of one sort or another inspired Victorian Britain’s greatest scientists (Faraday, and Darwin in mirror image), its art (the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, whose echoes continued through 20th-century Art Deco), and its remarkably successful social reforms (let’s just cite Gladstone). The interpretation that Phillips gives Victorian religion sets a high standard of historical obtuseness from which the book rarely retreats.

The author makes useful points when he discusses matters he knows something about. He notes that the accident of the Watergate Scandal, which forced Republican President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974, temporarily discredited Nixon’s party and delayed the Republican ascendancy that Phillips had predicted. However, during those years, there was also an offensive by the cultural left that included the constitutionalization of abortion rights, the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (which would have made it illegal for governments to recognize any gender differences), and a drive to ban religious expression from all public institutions. The artificial Republican eclipse ensured that all these developments would be intimately associated with the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, in its revival, naturally attracted the opposition to them. The result was that the Republican Party became something new in American history: “an ecumenical religious party, claiming loyalties from hard-shell Baptists and Mormons, as well as Eastern Rite Catholics and Hasidic Jews. Secular liberalism had become the common enemy.”

This is interesting, though perhaps not incontrovertible. At various times in American history there have been important confessional differences between the parties, sometimes nationally and very often at the state level; and of course, as I write this, the Democratic Party is making mighty efforts to prevent its being branded the Party of Unbelief. However, even if we accept the thesis in the strong sense, the development it describes is not self-evidently objectionable. Most Western countries have some kind of “Christian Democratic Party,” after all. Phillips thinks otherwise, though, despite the fact he knows that political Christianity was not the first aggressor:

“In the 1960s and 1970s, to be sure, liberals grossly misread American and world history by trying to push religion out of the public square, so to speak. In doing so, they gave faith-based conservatism a legitimate basis for countermobilization. But in some ways the conservative countertrend has become a bigger danger since its acceleration in the aftermath of September 11.”

The danger is magnified, in his estimation, by the pervasiveness of petroleum economics and the nature of the Bush dynasty, which benefited from the larger cultural trend. America does not have just a petroleum economy, but a petroleum culture that is both inflexible and stultifying. The Bushes are its avatars:

“The war to expel Iraq from Kuwait was oil-related, undertaken in part to protect the American lifestyle, as President George H.W. Bush acknowledged. Once military power had secured Middle East oil supplies again, television news clips showed the forty-second president roaring along the Maine coast at the wheel of his rakish, high-speed cigarette boat, Fidelity. The broader symbolism leaped out: guilt complexes and hair shirts were gone, and with a Texas Republican at the helm the United States was back practicing gunboat diplomacy and taking what it wanted.”

Kuwait had, of course, been annexed by the Baathist regime in Iraq for the unforgivable offense of lending Iraq more money than the government there was inclined to repay; the characterization of the liberation of Kuwait as “gunboat diplomacy” is what leaps out from that paragraph.

We will not dwell here on the book’s account of the “Peak Oil” scenarios, or on the long, very long, history of the oil business. What struck this reviewer far more was the self-refuting nature of the author’s explanation of the Iraq War of 2003. Phillips does not argue that the war was merely “oil related”: he says the Bush Administration was in cahoots with the major Anglo-American oil producers to seize and privatize Iraq reserves in a short-term scheme to release a flood of oil onto the world market. Most of his sources for this hypothesis date from the run-up to the war. Even when they were new, some people might have been inclined to dismiss them as mere polemics. They look especially fishy in retrospect, since neither the Bush Administration nor the oil companies have seemed much interested in exploiting Iraqi oil. Phillips characterizes the lack of a post-invasion oil boom as another Administration failure. That might be plausible, if the Administration had actually attempted what Phillips says it failed to do.

Phillips may well be right when he says that popular interest among Americans in the Middle East stems in large part from the Bible. For several centuries, a sympathetic predisposition toward Zionism has not been unusual among people familiar with the Old Testament. However, Phillips focuses on people with a keen interest in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, particularly as these are redacted through the eschatology of premillennial dispensationalism. Again, these views are widely and strongly enough held to have some electoral weight, but nowhere do we get an explanation of exactly how. The author repeatedly cites Tim LaHaye and Phillip Jenkins’ Left Behind series as an incitement to a crusading and interventionist policy, but the fact is that the series itself contemplates no such thing. Neither does any other apocalyptic novel of which I am aware. Almost without exception, these books foresee a time in the near future (rather like Phillips himself, oddly enough) when the United States is in decline. The Antichrist conquers or deludes America. One could argue that this eschatology maintains a baselevel of popular American support for Israel, but American crusades just are not part of the scenario.

In The Emerging Republican Majority, Phillips predicted a “southernization” of the United States as electoral heft and economic growth flowed to the South. What surprised him later, he says, was the amplification to national dimensions of the southern versions of patriotism and religion. The United States as a whole has some sense of national election, but the South is a special case because of the Civil War. That war, and the Reconstruction period that followed, created the South. This new subnationality, according to Phillips, joined a very small class of political cultures:

“The reason for spotlighting history’s relative handful of covenanting cultures is the biblical attitudes their people invariably share: religious intensity, insecure history, and willingness to sign up with an Old Testament god of war for protection. To use a modern-day analogy, they are proud, driven people, not ones who would find it easy to get risk insurance. Besides comparing the Boer, Ulster, and Hebrew covenanting mentalities [historian David] Akenson finds other parallels in their shared Old Testament moralities of tribal purity and sacred territoriality. The reasons for the elaboration in these pages have less to do with Ulster and South Africa and more to do with the United States and particularly the South. Israelis and, to an extent, Scripture-reading Americans are on their way to being the people of the covenant.”

To the extent that this is true, it contradicts Phillips’ thesis that the Bluish Administration has harnessed apocalyptic mania for the purpose of conducting crusades. There is a crusading streak in the old elites of the northeast, though it owes less to the Puritan tradition than to Immanuel Kant’s Democratic Peace: that is in fact the logic that chiefly underlies the Bush Administration's foreign policy. God’s Peculiar People of Dixie, however, have traditionally been inclined to isolationism, even xenophobia. The recent American attempts to recast the international system are distinctly unsouthern.

Phillips thesis about the southernization of American religion, and particularly the new importance of the churches associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, simply does not hold water:

“By the late 1980s, after ten years of conservative appointments had remade the bureaucracy, the eighteen-million-member Church of the Southern Cultural memory was on its way to becoming a newly fledged Church of Biblical Inerrancy and Biblical Ascendancy—an extraordinary metamorphosis full of national and even global implications.”

As an example of this importance, we are reminded that in 1996 the President of the United States, the Vice President, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives were all Southern Baptists. But surely the inference is not that the Baptist denomination is hegemonic, but that it is irrelevant. Any denomination that can include Vice President Gore and Senator Strom Thurmond must be a tent as wide as the sky.

Phillips is aware that the premillennialism of many evangelicals militates against casting any social project in theological terms. Historically, the great reform movements of the modern English-speaking world were underpinned by postmillennialism, which holds that the Second Coming will not occur until after Christians have perfected the world in history. In America, postmillennialism has to a large degree melted into the principle of progress. However, there are some theological postmillennialists still. Phillips duly reminds us that some of these are genuine theocrats, with plans for a Christianized world that bears comparison with the Islamist project for a universal caliphate.

Views of this kind are variously called Reconstructionism, Dominion Theology, or theonomy. The problem is that the people who espouse these things are awfully thin on the ground. We are reminded again of the work of the late Armenian-American-Presbyterian R.J. Rushdoony, of his son-in-law Gary North, of the fact that one of George Bush’s favorite social critics, Marvin Olasky, sometimes quotes theonomist writers with approval. As Phillips himself notes, this is all a matter of “ties” and “influence” that are “difficult to measure.” He acknowledges that his description of the shadowy kingdom of Reconstructionism is reminiscent of conservative journals 50 years ago and their exposés of the great Communist conspiracy, but he also points out that the opening of Soviet files after the Cold War proved that many of these conspiratorial ties were perfectly real. That’s a good point. However, the Communist conspiracy was a menace not because of its own aims and powers, but because it existed to support the Fatherland of Socialism that was the Soviet Union. If ever there is a foreign Fatherland of Theonomy, then we should worry.

Then there is Phillip’s treatment of theologically informed social doctrine and its public reception:

“The belief that society can be seriously reformed only by saving souls, not by embracing government welfare or manipulation, has become a tenet of evangelical religion, not just a mere ‘value.’ Values are what society holds; what churches hold is theology and belief.”

How churches and societies, or values and beliefs, could ever be hermetically sealed off from each other is a mystery too great for human understanding. Be that as it may, we should note that the friendlier social-policy reception accorded religion in recent years results from the wide acceptance of the hypothesis that culture counts. The welfare reforms of the 1990s and the successful implementation of the “broken windows” strategy of policing have confirmed this hypothesis about as securely as any sociological hypothesis has ever been confirmed. Similarly with “abstinence education,” which the author repeatedly cites as an example of theocratic obscurantism. In fact, it has empirical support. Studies in the US show that it is helpful, but not a panacea, in preventing teen pregnancy. Similarly, the US promotion of abstinence-based AIDS prevention in Africa is based on the moderately successful AIDS-prevention program developed by Uganda. The author repeats the complaint of international AIDS bureaucrats to the effect that they are not in the business of promoting morality. Surely these are the last people in the world not to get the memo explaining that morality has survival value.

The author alludes to a supposed anti-scientific-bias of religion, and its deleterious effects on public policy:

“The evidence that natural-resource issues are taking on theological as well as political overtones is mounting. As we will see, theology is creeping into ever more nooks and crannies of the national debate. Although the exact portion of the GOP electorate taking an end-times view is unknowable, polls suggest that close to a majority of those who voted for Bush believe the Bible to be literally true.”

We don’t get any actual examples of how evangelicals or pentecostals are undermining the practice of geology, except a report that a visitor-center bookshop at the Grand Canyon sells a book promoting a Young Earth dating of the canyon. The important point about religion and environmental issues, however, is that almost all the mystification has come from the cultural left, by way of the New Age Movement. Public skepticism on these matters has less to due with the Scofield Bible than with the unending parade of food phobias and other alarms that the environmental movement has been promoting for the past 35 years. Most Christians of all descriptions persist in regarding environmental issues as prudential questions, even when their leaders urge them to theologically based “stewardship.”

The author notes correctly that there is quite a lot of junk-science in government circles these days, much of it religiously motivated. He recites the litany of alleged Bush dogmas that includes neglect of global warming, opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, and support for Intelligent Design. These accusations have varying levels of justice. However, we should note particularly the canonization of embryonic stem-cell research as the model of cutting-edge science. This could be a tactical mistake for ideological secularists: the opposition to the research is indeed metaphysical, but there are empirical grounds to suspect the whole approach, already badly tainted by fraud, will turn out to be a dead end. In any case, nothing the Bush Administration has proposed is likely to do as much damage to education as the “self-esteem” campaign of the 1990s.

Evangelicals, to take one loosely defined confessional category, tend to be slightly richer and somewhat better educated than the population as a whole. Their professional degrees are likely to be in engineering and other science-related specialties. The postmodern humanities, in contrast, are not just antireligious but profoundly antiscientific. Skepticism and reason in the early 21st century have become alternatives.

At least for this reviewer, the most disappointing part of this book was its treatment of American debt. The Bush Administration’s fiscal policies makes even its supporters foam at the mouth. Bizarrely, however, Phillips has relatively little to say about the federal budget. Rather, he collects 30 years of warnings about finance bubbles and stock market instabilities without quite taking in the fact that they warn against bubbles that have long since burst and instabilities that stabilized a generation ago. These warnings serve as a backdrop for a critique of the deindustrialization of America. Despite a blizzard of statistics, however, one would never learn from this account that the US industrial sector grew by a third between 1990 and 2005. The finance and service sectors grew by much more, maybe too much more, but then the relative growth of services is characteristic of all advanced economies. This book praises the Japanese and German industrial policies. I don’t think any American has done that since the early Clinton Administration.

No doubt the world really is heading for a period of turbulence as the era of petroleum fuel draws to a close. There are elements of the national financial system that are under-regulated and even abusive. For that matter, the alliance between God and Mammon that we see in the Republican Party really is unstable and will probably prove ephemeral. Does any of this unfit the United States to maneuver through the 21st century? Not at all.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Sometimes I'm So Smart I Almost Feel Like a Real Person book review

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by Graham Parke
No Hope Media, April 25, 2017
ASIN: B072549YLJ

I received a copy of this book for free from the author, Graham Parke, in exchange for a review.

Leverage [AKA Harold] is a loser. He's thirty-something, living at home with his mom, and invests all of his free time in his very low-rent YouTube channel dedicated to finding The One. [not even close to the current 1,000 follower monetization threshold] At the same time, I kind of like Leverage. He is a Millennial everyman, just trying to get by in a world that he didn't create.

I am a respecter of the principle Fake it Until you Make it, which has a venerable pedigree under other names. Leverage is definitely faking it. His YouTube channel, which gives out relationship advice for young men looking for their soulmate, is a comically inept mashup [parody?] of the kinds of things pickup artists say with a sweet innocence and naïveté that really is endearing. The snapshots of the comments on his videos in-between chapters really do have the feel of YouTube comments, a mix of fawning admiration and brutal, but unhinged, honesty.

I found the book a little slow to start. But this may just be a reflection of the quiet desperation of Leverage's life. He has a decent, but soul-crushing, corporate job. He lives with his mom, presumably because he lives somewhere expensive. It wasn't really spelled out in the book, but it felt like Toronto to me. He has also fallen deeply in love with the girl who sells nuts at the store in the mall. 

Unfortunately for him, at the same time that Leverage is documenting his wise-isms about The One on YouTube, Emma, the nut girl, is friend-zoning Leverage so she can use him to test ideas for her dating blog. This is further complicated by the sudden appearance of Leopold, one of Leverage's fans, who since he lacks tact and good sense, simply bulls ahead and uses Leverage's techniques to good effect on Emma.

This is the obvious source of conflict and drama, and while I appreciate the dark humor of it, if this was all there was to the story, I couldn't really recommend the book. I do recommend the book, because Parke has done something far better than this.

Just as Leverage says in the beginning of the first chapter, he really is like moss, he grows on you when you aren't looking. The book, and Leverage, got better with time and reflection. He really is a good kid, and he has a way of looking at the world that allows him to see things afresh, not quite like anyone else. He really does have a gift.

It isn't his fault that his life was made a desolation, and called peace. Leverage's [and Harold's] slow journey to knowledge and wholeness is both devastating and sweet. This ended being a far better book than I expected.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2006-03-28: Social War; 8 x 8 is 64

John Reilly suggests here that the modern transition to Empire will be less grim than the Roman one, because modernity really is more humane than antiquity. I hope he's right.


Social War; 8 x 8 is 64

 

Paul McCartney turns 64 on June 18, according to AARP Magazine, the journal of the American Association of Retired Persons, which has an interest in following these things. McCartney was, famously, a member of the Beatles. The Beatles were a noted rock-and-roll ensemble of the 1960s and '70s. The birthday is significant because he wrote a song that appeared in 1967 on the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: "When I'm Sixty-Four." A ballad rather than rock, that song is still playing in the minds of tens of millions of people who listened to the radio in that era.

The Beatles are substantially older than I am, but once again I get the disorienting feeling that the future has arrived. The model of the future as a receding horizon is less and less credible to me.

Speaking of the arrival of the future, Joseph Bottum at First Things notes with foreboding that protestors have filled the streets of France, once again:

This time it was students complaining about a law that would have established a two-year trial period in which employers could try out the novel idea that their new employees were not guaranteed perpetual employment.

Be that as it may:

A riot really is a riot, after all, and deep in the Western psyche these days, there is something that wants a riot, that goes out seeking an excuse. There is something in the air now that hungers for the cleansing fire, and the purity of destruction, and the certainty that is loss of self.

To put the matter in theological terms:

Something will always function as the apocalypse, in one way or another; if a culture has dismissed the eschatological idea that a final judgment really does wait, they will eventually start to build their own eschatology. “Apocalypse Now,” as someone in our time put it. Or “Best past all prizing is never to have been,” as someone else phrased it, long ago.

* * *

I would not trade America's immigration problem for Europe's, but that does not mean that we might not be in for a rough patch, as this bulletin from a comparable period of the Late Roman Republic suggests:

The Social War: In 91 BC the moderate members of the senate allied themselves with Livius Drusus (the son of that Drusus who had been used to undermine Gaius Gracchus' popularity in 122 BC) and aided him in his election campaign. If the honesty of the father is open to doubt, that of the son is not. As tribune he proposed to add to the senate an equal number of equestrians, and to extend Roman citizenship to all Italians and to grant the poorer of the current citizens new schemes for colonization and a further cheapening of the corn prices, at the expense of the state. [T]he people, the senators and the knights all felt that they would be conceding too many of their rights for too little. Drusus was assassinated.

Despite his eventually loss of popularity his supporters had stood by Drusus loyally. The opposition Tribune of the People, Q. Varius, now carried a bill declaring that to have supported the ideas of Drusus was treason. The reaction by Drusus' supporters was violence.

All resident Roman citizens were killed by an enraged mob at Asculum, in central Italy. Worse still, the 'allies' (socii)of Rome in Italy, the Marsi, Paeligni, Samnites, Lucanians, Apulians all broke into open revolt. The 'allies' had not planned any such rising, far more it was a spontaneous outburst of anger against Rome. But that meant they were unprepared for a fight. Hastily they formed formed a federation. A number of towns fell into their hands at the outset, and they defeated a consular army. But alas, Marius took led an army into battle and defeated them. Though he didn't - perhaps deliberately - crush them.

The 'allies' had a strong party of sympathizers in the senate. And these senators in 89 BC managed to win over several of the 'allies' by a new law (the Julian Law - lex Iulia) by which Roman citizenship was granted to 'all who had remained loyal to Rome (but this most likely also included those who laid down their arms against Rome). But some of the rebels, especially the Samnites, only fought the harder. Though under the leadership of Sulla and Pompeius Strabo the rebels were reduced on battlefield until they held out only in a few Samnite and Lucanian strongholds.

Was the city of Asculum in particular dealt with severely for the atrocity committed there, the senate tried to bring an end to the fighting [by granting citizenship] to all who laid down their arms within sixty days (lex Plautia-Papiria).

The law succeeded and by the beginning of 88 BC the Social War was at an end, other than for a few besieged strongholds.

Note that the year 88 BC was also the year when Mithridates VI ordered a massacre of all Romans in the east. 100,000 people were killed. The Beginning of the Mithridatic War was, of course, the also about the time the Roman Civil War between Marius and Sulla broke out.

As I said, a bad patch, but do not expect these things to play out in quite the same way. As Amaury de Riencourt pointed out, modernity really is more humane than antiquity. Of course, since there are many more people in modernity than in antiquity, the absolute casualty figures tend to be higher.

* * *

Just because the future is not infinitely distant, that does not mean some parts of it have not turned out to be unexpectedly far away. Consider, for instance, this proposal for stratospheric Resorts, essentially airships that take their time about where they are going. I suppose this might be amusing, except that a resort that was really in the stratosphere would have a problem with radiation from space.

I recently learned that what killed the airship was not safety but the economics of staffing them. They were very labor intensive: Hindenburg-type ships carried as many crew as passengers. That meant that not only did the crew have to be paid, but there was less room for paying passengers, too.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-03-25: A Barrage of Trial Balloons

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In an aside on Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's Grand New Party, John Reilly casually mentions that the predecessor to the National Organization for Women was primarily funded by Republican industrialists, and the New Deal was conspicuously pro-natalist. Each one of these political movements considered itself feminist. Which tells us that feminism became a floating signifier a really long time ago.


A Barrage of Trial Balloons

 

Please forgive this rambling recital; I am trying to clarify what may be a trend, or may be just a minor coincidence of publication.

I am old enough to recognize that I don't have original ideas, so I cannot say that it was with much surprise that I read Allan Carlson's piece in The Weekly StandardIndentured Families Social conservatives and the GOP: Can this marriage be saved?, which tied together a number of points I have been making over the past few years. Dr. Carlson is the Director of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society, which is based in Rockford, Illinois. (And why are so many organizations like this based in Rockford? I should know the answer but I don't.) His argument is that the Republican Party uses social conservatives as electoral cannon-fodder, while promoting an economic policy that is in effect, and to some degree by intent, anti-natalist.

The centerpiece example he gives is the new bankruptcy law. As he observes, and as I have remarked here and here, the law prevents the victims of predatory lending, which includes a large fraction of credit-card debtors, from ever discharging their liabilities. Rather, they become indentured workers for the finance companies, which receive an almost unbreakable lock on 20% of their income.

This argument is not so different from the one that Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam made in the "The Party of Sam's Club," a piece which also appeared in The Weekly Standard, and I commented on last November. The focus of their particular ire was the Republican Party's indifference to the increasingly uncertain access to health care for the party's most important constituencies. The burden of Carlson's article, however, is that so many Republican policies have the effect of preventing people from having children.

As he points out, this was explicitly the case through the two middle quarters of the 20th century. The predecessor to the National Organization of Women was funded in large part by Republican industrialist groups with an interest in encouraging women to enter the workplace. The Democratic New Deal, in contrast, was consciously pronatalist. However, it's not really a partisan issue. Laws aiming at gender-equality in the workplace, usually considered a liberal phenomenon, had had the effect of outlawing the "family wage" for families with just one working spouse.

A few weeks ago, I made a throwaway remark at the end of one of these entries to the effect that college loans so overburden young adults that they prevent family formation; Carlson takes the point up at length. Note, by the way, that the same piece in which I make the throwaway remark also discussed "The Return of Patriarchy," an article by Phillip Longman (of the New America Foundation), which appeared in Foreign Affairs. That one argued that cultural liberalism is doomed for simple Darwinian reasons.

* * *

Do these articles prove there is Something in the Works? If this is all being orchestrated from the Presidium of the Neo-Conservative Central Committee, no one thought to send me the memo. Typical. Be that as it may, we should be focusing on Carlson's conclusion:

If the Democratic party remains the party of the sexual revolution, as its open yearning for same-sex marriage suggests it may, such dreams [or recapturing Red State America] will remain just that. However, if a Democratic leader can ever shake that monkey off his--or her--back, and if this occurs in conjunction with an economic downturn, the prospects for another broad political realignment are fairly high. A new economic populism, delivering child-sensitive benefits and skewering predatory banks and bureaucrats, could work politically for a clever Democrat.

I find this acute.

* * *

And what about this Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society? To a large extent, it seems to be doing ordinary advocacy-social-science. It is connected to the Sutherland Institute of Salt Lake City. And it promotes The Natural Family: A Manifesto. You have to provide an email address to read the Manifesto, and yes, they do send you email thereafter. It is written in a kind of strange purple prose, quite different from the text of the Howard Center site. I also note that Manifesto is available in just three languages: English, Portuguese, and Russian. What's that all about?

* * *

The end to mass immigration is the other factor that goes into this new 21st-century politics, if that's what we see gelling here. That is partly because, both in Europe and the United States, immigrants were substitutes for people who were never born locally. There have been significant demonstrations in the last few days by Latino groups against legislation now before Congress that would make undocumented status in the United States a felony (or at least that's one version of what it would so; I have not seen the text of the bills in the House and Senate).

Readers will know that I fully agree that immigration needs to end for a few decades. Once the borders are secure, though, there would be no reason not to regularize the status of illegals already in the US, with an eye either to citizenship or to eventual repatriation. Criminalizing the matter, except perhaps for employers who have most egregiously facilitated violations of the immigration laws, would overwhelm the legal system.

These demonstrations, though, calling for "immigration rights," often in Spanish, may make a rational reform of the current situation impossible. The nitwit attempts to foist gay marriage on the country by judicial fiat provoked a popular and legislative "No!" The attempt to recast open borders as a rights issue will have much the same effect.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-03-21: Villainous VP; Stargate Nostalgia; Holy Schlock; Capitalism & Mechanism

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With the recent rise in popularity of Communism on the American Catholic Left, John's musing on what makes a good businessman is apropos. 

A note about capitalism, the moral import of which is widely misunderstood. Capitalism is not the ideology of greed; quite the opposite. It is a system for making economic decisions based purely on prices. The whole point is to remove emotions and desires from the process. In a capitalist system, entrepreneurs seek to maximize profits over time not because they are rapacious, but for the same reason that engineers try to minimize friction in the machines they design. There is no lack of greedy businessmen, but to the extent that greed governs their actions, they are bad businessmen.
The more profound objection to capitalism would be otherwise.

I'm quite sure that the tradinistas think greedy businessmen are the best businessmen, and hate them accordingly.


Villainous VP; Stargate Nostalgia; Holy Schlock; Capitalism & Mechanism

 

Some readers may be fans of the Fox series 24, in which each hour-long episode is supposed to depict in real time each hour in the day of a federal intelligence agent who thwarts the plans of terrorists. I rarely watch the series, actually, but I happened to tune in last night. What struck me was that the root of all evil, at least within the American government, was the vice president. He was last seen egging on the president to send federal troops into Los Angeles and otherwise to take steps to discredit himself, thus making it easier for the vice president to head his party's ticket in the next election.

It does not require much insight to surmise that we are seeing the effect on popular culture of the vice presidency of Dick Cheney. The Cheney Effect has become a small trend. Readers will recall the film The Day After Tomorrow, in which the VP causes an ice age, or fails to order an evacuation in time for one, or something. A season or two back on Stargate SG1, the vice president was in league with the Illuminati.

May I note that the Cheney Effect marks an important change from midcentury? It used to be that, if you needed a villain for a thriller, you looked to the Senate. A good example is Advise and Consent, a novel by New York Times reporter Allen Drury that was published in 1959; it was made into a memorable movie starring Henry Fonda in 1962. That story involved an attempt by an FDR-like president to appoint an old-fashioned liberal as Secretary of Defense, while being opposed by McCarthy-like tactics on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The book and story are doubly interesting now, because the nominee was supposed to represent the blameless and brilliant Alger Hiss, whom we now know really had been a Soviet agent. In any case, one of the motifs of the story was the modesty and obscurity of the vice president. At a cocktail party, he tries to make conversation with the majority leader of the House (I believe), but realizes that the man is not listening to him. So he says:

"By the way, I murdered my wife last night. Buried her under a kumquat bush. You know what they say: easy come, easy go."

"Hmmm, Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Vice president. You were saying?"

Of course, the president dies toward the end of the story, and the meek little VP turns into Harry Truman. Few people, even Republicans, entertain similar thoughts today.

* * *

Speaking of Stargate and even more of Stargate Atlantis (I find the current cast of Stargate SG1 less congenial than formerly), I have been trying to figure out why I like those series so much. The special effects are sub-par, the plots are incomprehensible, the wisecracks are no better than average. Nonetheless, I find those series as relaxing as watching golf.

I think I have an answer. All that running around in the bushes and pretending to be in outer space was exactly what my friends and I used to do when I was 10. The tools in a basement workshop easily became the equipment on a spaceship's bridge, and any open field could become an alien environment. Actually, we had it easier than the the SG series, which have the handicap of being produced in the neighborhood of lovely Vancouver. My neighborhood, on the other hand, was well provided with the sites of burned-out houses. There was even a huge landfill where the land actually smoked but you could still walk on it: genuinely eerie

This was long before role-playing games, much less videogames. Except for the smoke and the toxins, I think we had it better.

* * *

Yes, I know some Crunchy Cons, and fine folks they are. That Spengler at Asia Times apparently knows a few, too; or at any rate, to judge by his review of Rod Dreher's book, Crunchy Cons, he understands and sympathizes with the large fraction of conservatives who are culturally traditional and have no interest in material wealth beyond that needed for a decent life. However, Spengler notes some important tensions in crunchy-world:

What Dreher envisages, though, is not so much a back-to-nature movement but rather a shift back to tradition. Paradoxically, that is where he is most American. How should an American approach tradition? Judging from his book, in the United States one simply goes shopping for a tradition.

Yes, when people talk about the benefits of tradition, I am reminded of the story about the CEO who was briefed on the importance of corporate culture and turned to his aide to say he wanted a culture by Monday. Actually, this point is particularly important with regard to religion:

Christianity requires tradition less than it does conversion...No US congregation will live through Johann Sebastian Bach's "Passion According to St Matthew" as an inner experience the way German evangelicals once did. But who is to say that black Baptists singing Gospel are further from God? I agree with Dreher that the Chartres Cathedral is more conducive to spirituality than a shopping-mall megachurch, but there is a reason why Chartres is full of tourists and the megachurches are full of worshippers. What if this is as good as it gets?

Again, I generally attend a Latin Mass; I even do some graphics work for the enterprise. The church is a century-old masterpiece (built by Italians, not the Irish) and the music is fit for a concert of ancient music. Nonetheless, it has proven awfully hard to get weekly attendance much over 60, whereas some nearby cinderblock churches are packed to their exposed structural-steel rafters.

You would think that God would have better taste.

* * *

A note about capitalism, the moral import of which is widely misunderstood. Capitalism is not the ideology of greed; quite the opposite. It is a system for making economic decisions based purely on prices. The whole point is to remove emotions and desires from the process. In a capitalist system, entrepreneurs seek to maximize profits over time not because they are rapacious, but for the same reason that engineers try to minimize friction in the machines they design. There is no lack of greedy businessmen, but to the extent that greed governs their actions, they are bad businessmen.

The more profound objection to capitalism would be otherwise.

Fred Saberhagen, I believe it was, wrote a series of stories (the Beserker Series?) based on the premise that an alien species' military system became so automated with the passage of time that it survived the extinction of the species that created it. It would actually be easier to imagine that happening with a market economy created by a society with persistently below-replacement birthrates. Such a society might automate more and more processes, from mining to the care of the dwindling old. When the last citizen died, however, the system would not just shut down. It would continue to send bills and make payments for maintenance and repair. Stock exchanges and banks would continue to function, investing the capital in the estates of the extinct population to best effect, but of course still experiencing the booms and busts inherent in any system with feedback.

Jacques Ellul's critique of Kantian ethics might have some application here: no act can be said to be ethical if it is derived from the sort of mechanical calculus that the categorical imperative requires. The same might be said of some business decisions.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-03-19: Iraq after Three Years; Life's Solution; Reading Habits

Three years later, John was honest enough to find a rather embarrassing prediction he had made about the course of the Iraq war. With the benefit of hindsight, I've found a few more,  but the point of that exercise here is to remind us how easily we can fool ourselves, rather than congratulate our good judgement in hindsight.


Iraq after Three Years; Life's Solution; Reading Habits

 

W.B. Yeats once famously asked whether any man had ever been taken out and shot because of something that Yeats had written. Actually, I suspect that Yeats was more worried about whether he had ever written anything for which he himself should have been shot on stylistic rather than politics grounds. Still, anyone who expresses political opinions in public must wonder from time to time whether anything they have said made the world worse, even in a case such as mine, when the opinions are derivative and whatever effect they have had derives from their having been first expressed by more prominent people.

In that spirit, I have been looking over my blog-postings for 2002 and 2003 to see whether there is anything I would want to unsay about my support for the invasion and my analysis of the situation. Readers are invited to search my Archives for items that now appear ridiculous, but here is the one paragraph that caught my eye. It's from September 26, 2002, in a critique of an article that appeared in The American Conservative. I said there about the course of the invasion still under consideration:

At risk of jinxing the operation, a happy outcome is by far the most likely. The fighting will be short. The country will not break up; it will be cantonized and demilitarized. The Iraqis will sing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and get back to business, which is good: the country's GDP grew 15% last year. The democratic movement in Iran will be bolstered and the Syrians will stop funding terrorist organizations.

Perhaps the allusion to The Wizard of Oz did jinx the operation, but not fatally. Regarding the state of Iraq today, I would say that, if the Iraqis really wanted to have a civil war, they would have had one before now. What we are seeing today is the dying reverberations of the attack on the Golden Mosque, a desperate attempt by the largely discredited Jihadi wing of the insurgency to disable the political process. As for the reasons for launching the invasion, there is nothing to add to Walter Russell Mead's account in Power, Terror, Peace, and War. Here is the summary from my review:

Mead lists three reasons for the Iraq War. The first was that Iraq was cheating on its commitments not to develop weapons of mass destruction. That was a plausible argument, but it was only tenuously verified, and the Administration paid dearly for making this its chief public argument. The second reason, added by the neoconservatives, was the humanitarian argument that the Baathist regime was itself an ongoing human-rights violation, the removal of which would begin the liberation of the Middle East. Mead finds most persuasive the third reason, which is that the “containment” of Iraq was poisoning the region.

Because Iraq never fully complied with the ceasefire terms of 1991, US troops were trapped in the region. Moreover, they had to be stationed in Saudi Arabia. That outraged religious Muslim opinion. Meanwhile, the US and Britain were fighting a low-level air campaign against suspect Iraqi military installations, while UN sanctions were preventing Iraq from recovering from the war. After September 11, the US could not simply retreat from the area, and it could not continue as it had been. There was no other course than regime change.

In retrospect, it is not the pre-2003 assessments that look prescient, but the pre-1991 ones. The cost for Iraq was always going to be around 3000 American dead, spread out over a period of several years rather than several weeks. We deluded ourselves when we thought that all that would be necessary was another end-of-history campaign in which more soldiers were killed in traffic accidents than in combat.

To that grim note, I would add the following points, some of which I have made before:

What is most different now from 2003 is that the Jihad has clearly moved to Western soil. As the witticism has it, the Arab street did rise after the invasion of Iraq, but it rose in Paris. That is one of the reasons the attempt to use the third anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War to mount large protests has failed.

No outcome of the Iraq War will be characterized in the elite media as a victory. Iraq is not going to become a Jeffersonian democracy, but even if it did, that would be called only a mitigation of a general disaster. Similarly, if there is democratic revolution in Iran, the argument will be made that the invasion of Iraq delayed that transformation.

We should be more impressed by the fact that all the pillars of the international system have been discredited to a greater or lesser degree in recent years. Regular readers will be familiar with my thesis that the United States functions as an international utility in the 21st-century world, but a utility whose management has been widely criticized. Similarly, the United Nations has yet to recover from the oil-for-food scandal in connection with Iraq, but also because of its record in Africa. The rejection of the European Union constitutional treaty seemed to be wholly unconnected to events in the Middle East, until the French riots and the Cartoon Jihad showed how irrelevant that institution was to the existential crisis of the eastern half of Western Civilization.

Regarding the whole War on Terror, we are not even at half-time yet, folks.

* * *

Regarding evolution, readers will recall the remarks that Christoph Cardinal Schönborn made in the New York Times last year, and which he later expanded on in First Things. The gist of his position is that Darwinism is theologically and perhaps scientifically insufficient. The discussion has continued in the Letters section of the latter journal, including the April 2006 issue, now on the news stands.

I mention this, not to get involved in the argument (the point of which, I confess, has surpassed my small understanding) but to note that were is an authority whom everyone seems agreed on. Thus, in one of the Letters to the Editor, the industrious and ingenious Edward T. Oakes, SJ., says:

As for Dawkins, I recommend Simon Conway Morris' book Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge) for a full-scale refutation of Dawkins on solid Darwinian grounds

To that the cardinal counters:

First, I respectfully disagree with [Fr Oakes's] characterization of the work of Simon Conway Morris as a "refutation of Dawkins on solid Darwinian grounds." Morris' work on teleological, lawlike evolution is in fact a powerful challenge to Darwinian orthodoxy, which is based in large part on the absolute contingency of the results of variation and natural selection as they drive the purposeless meanderings of phylogeny across an arbitrarily changing fitness landscape.

Such a question is partly a matter of definition, but I think that Fr. Oakes is closer to the mark in regarding Morris's work as a refinement within Darwinian science. In fact, Morris may be said to offer reasons for the teleology that early Darwinism assumed but then abandoned, in part for political reasons.

In any case, I have a long review of Morris's book here. I marvel, frankly, that only now am I seeing the book widely cited. (It was mentioned last year in First Things by Stephen Barr, too.)

* * *

And now for you lazy people: Readers may have noticed that I recently uploaded an allofictional novella to my website, The Gray Havens. About its literary quality, I can only say that I have more reason to worry than did Yeats. The text is divided among 10 webpages, for ease of reading. You must imagine my shock, indeed my horror, to discover from my Activity Report that a third of the people who read the first section simply skip ahead and read the tenth.

Look, you want to know how it ends? The giant spider eats them all. I hope you are satisfied.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Gray Havens

The Gray Havens

John Reilly's 1969 paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring

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The Fellowship of the Ring

An Explanation

The Lord of the Rings is not history, and as readers of that great work are aware, the title of its last chapter is "The Grey Havens," not the "Gray Havens." Nonetheless, the world of Middle Earth that J.R.R. Tolkien imagined for us is so detailed that it is difficult to think of it as pure fiction. Because the events of the War of the Ring have something of the density of factual history, they invite the sort of stretching and speculation that factual history invites. A major genre has grown up in fiction that treats historical scenarios that did not happen. That is what I have done in this novella with the climax of The Lord of the Rings.

John J. Reilly
March 15, 2006


A Disclaimer

The work to which this page links, The Gray Havens, as contained on the pages with URLs tg1.html through tgh10.html, is not a part of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; neither does it purport to be a part of that work or a sequel to it. The Gray Havens does not include copyrighted or trademarked material from The Lord of the Rings or from any other work. The Gray Havens is a new work that alludes to a small set of the ideas and characters that the genius of Professor Tolkien has made the common possession of mankind in a very real and legally binding sense.

(1) The Downfall of Rivendell

“The end of the world is one thing, but missing lunch is serious.”

It was March 25, in the 3019th year of the Third Age, and Arwen was not taking the lack of news from the South well. She needed to get out of her rooms. As for me, being a Hobbit, I would have gone to lunch even if I were on fire.

“Bilbo, you are incorrigible,” she sighed, perhaps genuinely glad of the interruption. “Let us go down to the Lesser Refectory, then.”

She stood up, and I took my accustomed distance. I had long since stopped being uncomfortable around Big People, but a conversation at close quarters was a strain on the necks of both parties.

We passed through the double oak-doors of her suite and headed towards the first stairway, walking down a corridor whose waxed floor gleamed under the long skylight. Like most of the younger members of Elrond’s household, it was in one of the new wings of the Great House of Rivendell, built of wood rather than the immemorial stone of the central villa. We went quite a distance before we met anyone else. Arwen was not the only person in Rivendell who had things on her mind at the moment other than the next meal.

“Lady Arwen,” said Gelmir as we entered the Refectory. He came forward when he spied us at the doorway. He was one of Elrond’s senior advisors; the oily one, I had always thought. Now he was the one who said “I told you so.” The Lesser Refectory was a fine room, used much more these days then the vast and gloomy Great Hall. Today, though, the thin sunlight that shone through the tall, narrow windows cast no shadows; it was the kind of light that seemed to cool rather than warm. The scattered diners were more interested in whispered conversation than in eating. “It is good to see you about again,” Gelmir said. Turning lightly to me, he offered: “And you too, Master Baggins. I hope that even in these stressful times that you find nothing lacking in the table of this House?”

“Even in the best of times, Councilor,” I said bowing low, “the splendid hospitality of Rivendell can be eclipsed by the quality of the company.” I carefully did not look in his eye, but I was fairly sure I heard Arwen choke back a snort. She tactfully took up the conversation.

“I saw a rider enter the eastern courtyard an hour ago, Councilor. Am I correct in thinking that was a messenger from Lorien?”

“Indeed, Lady,” he replied as we took our seats. “As you have no doubt surmised, we have no new intelligence, or we have sent to you immediately. The Ring has passed beyond our knowledge into the Shadow. So have Elessar, and the hosts of Gondor and Rohan. And the Rangers. And the sons of Elrond. It would be comical if it were no so tragic. The flower of the West has offered battle to Mordor. It will be cut down unless the One intervenes.”

“And what would you have done differently, Councilor?” I asked as the servants placed dishes of bread and melted cheese before us. As a matter of fact, the quality of the food on Elrond’s table had declined in these distressful times; the villages of the network that traded with Rivendell were being attacked, or abandoned, or just had no spare produce to sell. I had alluded once to Elrond himself about the decline in quality. He was having a bad day and took the remark with less than his accustomed good humor. Gelmir seemed determined to never let me forget it.

“Perhaps I would have done nothing differently, Master Baggins,” he said as he munched his cheese sandwich philosophically. “We all had a hand in what has been decided, after all. Perhaps all will be well. Perhaps the Enemy will flee from the host of the West, and the Lord Elessar will be greatest King of Men since Ar-Pharazon the Golden. Perhaps, contrary to all appearances, the advent of the Hobbits into the affairs of the world has not been a sign of its downfall.”

Arwen put her hand on my arm. I thought she was cautioning me against making a sharp retort; then I realized she was listening. I heard it too. Far away, someone was screaming.

“It’s coming from the Keep,” she said. That was where her father’s private quarters were.

Without a glance at her companions, she rose from table and walked, and then ran, to the doorway that led to the Keep. Hobbits have long ears, and the elvish aristocracy were, well, sensitive to their blood relatives. Gelmir, who was neither, could not hear the cry. “What is happening, Master Baggins?” he asked.

“Trouble in the Keep, looks like. Perhaps I should see whether I can assist the Lady Arwen,” I said as I rose to follow.

“Yes, that would kind of you.” He said politely. He himself did not move. Several centuries as a courtier had taught Gelmir that it was often better to be available to discuss a mishap later than to be there to stop it from happening.

By the time I had caught up with Arwen, it was becoming clear that something was very wrong. People were not running to the cries for help, which were now audible to even ordinary elvish ears; they were standing stock still. I was not quite sure that I felt a tremor through the stones of the floor.

The noise became louder and louder as we approached Elrond’s private study. We burst open the door. There was Elrond, mighty among elves and men, writhing on the floor. His right hand was bloodied and mangled. It was smoking.

Some of Elrond’s household shook themselves from their bewilderment and ran into the study; doubtless the smell of burning flesh got their attention. On the ring finger of Elrond’s right hand, or what was left of it, there was a ring that glowed white hot. I knew about what it was, though few others did: it was Vilya, the Ring of Air.

Elrond had seemed to be trying to say something like, “Get it off me!” Then, however, he opened his eyes and looked at his would-be rescuers.

It was like being hit with a blast of air from a furnace. Several of us fell. I stood, but for a moment I did not see Elrond, or the room in Rivendell. I saw a space of infinite darkness, and in it I a burning eye, an eye with a slit pupil. I head a voice like thunder say:

“Air is mine; Adamant is Mine; Fire is mine. The One is mine. You are mine.”

The vision passed, and once again Elrond was just screaming and mouthing words. I heard a rabble of advisors, knights, and servants behind me, trying to decide what to do and who should do it. At my side Arwen wept and cried, “Father what is happening!”

Suddenly, none of this was important to me. Without anyone noticing, I slipped to the window that looked to the southeast. The view was the same as it had always been, of rocky pineland that fell away to the hazy feet of the Misty Mountains. Nothing seemed to have changed, but I knew that the view was a fraud. I felt, with a certainty that I could never have achieved with mere vision, that everything had changed. And what I felt was envy and fury. He had it. It was mine, my Precious, but He had it now. I would never get it back.

* * *

The Council was held a week later, in a pavilion in the north of Rivendell. It might have been held earlier, but the Keep and the oldest parts of the complex began to shift off their foundations on the day of Doom. Everyone was evacuated from the oldest structures before they collapsed, but getting everyone billeted and accounted for was challenge enough for the government of the High Elves. Besides, Elrond was not recovering quickly from the amputation.

“My Lords, Lady Arwen, distinguished guests, this is a day that we have long dreaded,” said Erestor, another of Elrond’s advisors. He was a windbag of the first water but not a bad fellow; what he had to say was usually worth hearing, once he got around to saying it. “We have dreaded this chance so much that we could never bring ourselves to plan for it. Now there is no time to plan. The Enemy has triumphed in the field and in the Other World. Our own resources have fallen to nothing more than our lives. As I have said, there is no time to plan. We have only…”

“Yes, yes, you have only to flee to the Gray Havens, if you can reach so far, and if any ships remain to carry you.” So said Gloin the Dwarf, the father of one of the members of the ill-starred Fellowship of the Ring. He had returned to Rivendell as an ambassador from the Lonely Mountain to bring news of the defense there and seek Elrond’s advice about securing increasingly dangerous Forest Road through Mirkwood. Now it seemed he would not be going home anytime soon. Now it seemed there might be no home to return to.

“The Elves have always had the option to flee, and Men, Men seem as happy in the service of the Dark Lord as out of it. But what of the Dwarves, I ask the Council? We have nothing but this Middle Earth. Now it is lost, lost, and where shall we go? Do the Elves know any refuge for my people, for any remnant of the people, before the Shadow covers the whole world?”

“Peace, Gloin,” said Elrond with difficulty. The remains of the right arm were well-bandaged but swollen. The evil was beginning to affect his chest. “The elves do not know just what form the sorrows of these days will take. Also, the elves of my kindred have not yet determined whether to stay or to flee. That is among the things we must decide.”

“But surely there can be no doubt?” said Hador, the Councilor who performed the necessary function of stating the obvious at every meeting. “We have few men at arms, and our powers have waned almost to nothing, or passed to the Dark Lord’s control. We saw this just a week ago when the Keep collapsed. It had been built with the aid of the Ring of Air. When the Great Rings passed to his control, everything ever done with them crumbled. We cannot resist the Dark Lord, even in the near term. We have no choice but to go west. The only question is whether we can still reach the Havens.”

“And whether the Havens still stand,” Gelmir interjected mildly. “Cirdan also wielded a Great Ring, remember. And we see that Lorien is burning, where Galadriel had worn the Ring of Water.”

Actually, all we could see was a darkening of the sky on the southern horizon. When we first saw that darkness, we feared the Shadow of Mordor was spreading over the whole world. Within a few days, though, the last of our scouts reported. They were no longer able to cross the mountains, but they said that the darkness was an immense billow of smoke, almost too big to see, that an east wind blew over the mountains. There was only one explanation. Lorien was burning.

“My Lords, these are craven counsels,” said Glorfindel, the chief of Elrond’s warriors in the absence of the Elrond’s sons. He was a fine Elf, but he was also evidence for the proposition that immortality need not sharpen the wits. “We do not yet know what is happening in the wide world. Are we to flee on the mere rumor of defeat? May we altogether abandon our allies, as the worthy Gloin has hinted that we might? And if the worst has happened, a flight to the Havens would have as little chance of success as a last defense of Rivendell, and far less honor.”

“Master Elrond, may I make suggestion?” I asked.

“I think perhaps that we have heard enough suggestions from Hobbits for many an age,” Gelmir said.

“Gelmir, this is my Council,” said Elrond as sharply as he could. “What is it, Bilbo?”

“Might I suggest that an age has ended, and not the world? We cannot live as we have lived, but we need not assume that no life is possible. We do not know enough to despair, and that means we should avoid a final stand, if we can do so with honor,” I said, nodding to Glorfindel. He might be wrong, but no one had ever called him malicious. Unfortunately, was not true of Gelmir, who interjected again.

“The aged Halfling speaks unexpected good sense,” he said. “Indeed, I think that we have underestimated our remaining resources. The name of Elrond carries great weight in the North and West of Middle Earth. In this time of fear, it might be possible to turn that reputation into power. Also, the power of the Dark Lord remains limited, even now. Only in Gondor and the borderlands of Mordor can he rule like a king. His power in these parts is terror and treason. And he knows this well. He also knows that we have things to trade. We might yet secure from him leave to rule ourselves.”

“What sort of things, Councilor?” asked Arwen in a carefully noncommittal tone.

“Vilya, the Ring of Air, for one. Yes, he now controls it, but he does not have it. He might be persuaded to forgo a raid in force on these lands if he could receive it as tribute.”

“And what other things?” she asked again.

“Rivendell has ever been a center of opposition to his ambitions, and rightly so, for many lives of Men. However, we must now consider whether we can continue to support all the enemies of the Dark Lord, or any of them. The families of the Rangers who disappeared into the Shadow have some call on our charity, perhaps, but we must acknowledge that the people of Isildur have failed. We can no longer aid them in war, even if we would. There may even be some individuals who have the misfortune to be the special enemies of the Dark Lord. We may pity them, but we can no longer shelter them.” He carefully did not look at me.

“Councilor Gelmir has persuaded me to seek the Havens at all hazards,” Arwen said, “if Middle Earth is to be ruled in the way he proposes.”

“Erestor,” said Elrond, “you were about to propose a course when you were interrupted. May we hear it?”

“Lord Elrond, my first advice is that we do not deceive ourselves. We have no power in this world any longer. Our old policies have wholly failed. We have nothing with which to make new ones. The Dark Lord has no need of our bargains. Perhaps he would not trouble to send an army from Mordor to this thinly peopled country, or maybe he would. In any case, he has creatures nearer to hand. And I can only repeat that we have nothing: neither provision, nor magic, or even a decent fort. We can only run. The Gray Havens is the obvious destination, but we should not count on the ability to leave Middle Earth. As we travel, must be alert along the way to the possibility of refuge. And we must leave now. The longer we stay, the worse our case will be.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, Elrond spoke.

“I have no ambition to be the viceroy of Mordor. Neither do I wish to leave Rivendell. For the moment, in fact, I cannot. We are not strong enough to fight. We do not know enough to flee. We will remain where we are, and gather news. That is all for now.”

* * *

And so we did nothing for two months. Actually, we did even less than Elrond had proposed, since news got scarcer and scarcer. We learned that Orthanc had been briefly abandoned and then occupied by a lieutenant of the Dark Tower; then all news from that quarter ceased. The wizard Rhadagast joined us from southern Mirkwood, which was becoming a lawless jungle. He came through a northern pass that, remarkably, the Beornings had managed to keep open. He said that Lake Town had been sacked. However, the Lonely Mountain had come through relatively unscathed. The siege was lifted after King Dain paid a heavy tribute to the Dark Tower and pledged fealty to Sauron. Gloin did not like this news any better than Elrond did, but on the strength of it he risked the journey home. Rhadagast himself, seeing Rivendell had slender hospitality to offer, continued West. From that direction scouts brought sporadic reports of Trolls, Wargs, and even the occasional Orc raid, but worst of all were the Men. Most of the recent immigrants from the South had been simply displaced persons looking for a home. Rumors of the great change in the world, and the influence of the Enemy’s agents, had here and there turned the newcomers into marauding hordes.

Our own situation deteriorated, first slowly and then quickly. Ordinary supplies that had been hard to import in January were unobtainable by the middle of April. Rivendell was self-sufficient in some commodities, notably dairy products, but there was not nearly enough to feed a population of 500. Hunting and fishing supplemented the dwindling stores, but hunting became harder and more dangerous, and fishing at Rivendell could never be more than a sport. Soon we were eating the cattle, and then the horses. Just as bad, the place was literally falling apart. The pavilions and outbuildings had never been meant to be lived in, as a late snowfall proved. There were no materials or enthusiasm for repairs. The softwood ornament beloved by the Elves was designed to be ephemeral; it almost melted in the wet, cold spring. Meanwhile, the new wings of the Great House that had connected to the Keep suffered several major fires, and another major collapse. By May, Rivendell had decayed to a network of encampments, cut off from the outside world and bickering with each other. I myself wound up in a tunnel with straw for a floor, like my remotest hobbit ancestors. I was better off than many.

The end came on half-a-day’s notice. A scouting and hunting party that had ventured as far south as the border of Hollin returned in a panic. “A host is coming this way! Hundreds of them, thousands of them! They are attended by Wargs and evil birds!”

“Hundreds or thousand of what?” asked Arwen. She and Elrond had taken up residence at one of the few decent lodges remaining in Rivendell. I happened to be present when the scouts made their report. Arwen said I cheered up her failing father, and maybe she was right. “We are not sure what kind they are, Lady,” continued the scouts, “but we saw from afar, in the dusk of the morning. We think they were Orcs at the end of a night’s march.”

“Or maybe they Men at the beginning of a day’s march,” I suggested, to no one’s satisfaction, including my own.

“Men or Orcs or wraiths, they are coming this way, and they can be here in a day’s march. They could even arrive tonight!”

“Or they could miss us,” I observed. “You know hard the entrance to this valley is to find, Master Elrond.”

“That obscurity was partly a glamour created by my will, Master Baggins, with the aid of my Ring. We no longer enjoy that protection. If anything, we must reckon that the Ring draws our enemies and guides them. No doubt the Dark Tower has dispatched this force to collect it. And me, I suppose. The simplest course might be to give them both. Then, perhaps, they would overlook the lives of my people.”

“Father, you are talking nonsense,” Arwen said. “The Enemy would not forbear to destroy Imladris and everyone in it once he has it in his power. And if you think to make a quick end, consider that Gelmir was right in this: your name really is known through all these northern lands. If we are to find a new refuge, or fight our way to the Havens, we will need the authority of your House.”

A hurried meeting of the Council was called. No one even suggested that we not flee. Glorfindel might have done had he been present, but he was away south toward Tharbad. We trusted that he would notice our absence when he returned. Nonetheless, the Council still managed to argue for several hours about what to do. Elrond was almost unconscious, and Arwen lost control of the meeting. In the end, with the sun already about to set behind the mountains, the order went out: “Take everything. Go West. Now.”

* * *

There was never a moment when the flight from Rivendell was not a catastrophe. The lack of clear instructions began the evil. “Everything” was interpreted to mean the books and chief treasures that had escaped the destruction of the libraries. The valuables were taken from storage places, where they had been safe from the weather and well hidden against theft, to assembly areas, where they were supposed to be loaded on carts. Arguments and then fights broke out between people trying to load the valuables and those trying to load the foodstuffs. Nothing was properly packed. It started to rain. Books and much grain were spoiled. Maybe it was just as well. There were not enough carts for either, much less for both.

Since there were only a few draught animals, most of the carts were pulled by soggy Elves and the few adult Dunedain whom Elrond still had under his protection (most of the Rangers’ families had drifted off into the wilderness since March 25). We reached the Ford of Bruinen with difficulty, and some injuries. Elrond was one of the few to be riding in a cart; certainly he was too weak stay astride one of the few remaining horses. (I rode in a cart, too: not because I was held in such high honor, but because no one noticed me among the barrels. It was like old times.) Elrond tried to exert his power over the ford, which was submerged in swift-flowing water because of the recent rains. The other Elves of power tried also. It started to rain harder. Arwen, finally, signaled that the train would have to make what headway it could against the flood.

It was not our good luck that the first carts had almost reached the other side before the lead cart overturned, spilling its contents into the water and sending its handlers downstream. Nearly the whole train was stranded in the current. The carts were not linked together (maybe they should have been) but the stream did not seem to grow especially stronger. For whatever reason, three quarters of the carts overturned within a few moments. Mine was among them, but as I said, it was like old times: I latched onto a barrel (of glue, as I later discovered) and quickly washed up on the nether shore. Many of us were not so lucky. An unknown number disappeared into the darkness then. So did most of our goods.

The survivors assembled at the western side of the ford. In the nearly total darkness, there was no way to count noses, but I was sure that Elrond was there, soaking wet and carried on a litter. Arwen was nearby, just as wet. We abandoned the few carts that had reached this side of the ford, and made up backpacks of the remaining goods (we later found out we had left quite a lot of preserved meat and accidentally took several packages of bunting and other festive decorations).

We were on the Great East Road, and many of us knew the lands about it well. This land was almost empty, but to the south of the Road were a few villages that helped provision Rivendell. One of Elrond’s stewards led us west into the dark to what he assured us was a secure refuge perhaps 10 miles distant. Then the really bad part began.

There was movement in the night that was not our own. The enemy did not come from behind: if that army ever reached Rivendell, assuming that’s what it was, it would not have followed us over the ford in this weather. Rather, it was clear that things were moving in the dark to either side of us, both in the forest on the north and the high grass to the south. Some of those things sounded as if they were quite large.

Elves had always had sharp eyes, and did so still in this dark new Fourth Age. Archers and spearmen moved off from the main body of our group, and sometimes found a mark, as some of the gurgling death cries attested every few minutes. What the Elves no longer had was luck; some of those cries had elvish words in them. Our stragglers soon began to be snatched. Later, an intrusion of shadowy shapes from the trees cut our column in half. Elrond was in the rear section, so that was where his guard rallied. Possibly all the Household of Elrond, along with its guests and dependents, would have disappeared into the shadows that night, if Glorfindel had not come up from behind just then.

He was mounted on that magnificent white horse he had refused to let us eat. Accompany him was a small squadron of guards on foot. It was like the old days; like this time last year, in fact. The intruders were beaten off or killed, but the forward group of our column was much smaller when the rear made contact again. I knew this because I was in the forward group. I actually was picked up by something that was very strong and very foul smelling, but it had caught hold of my backpack. The pack came loose and the thing slouched off with it, apparently not noticing I was missing. Or maybe it really was interested only in the backpack.

The march went on so long, or so it seemed, that I had actually forgotten about the refuge; I had been accustoming myself to the assumption that we would always be walking. I felt as if I could have done so. Since the day of the great disaster, I had seen no further visions of the Lidless Eye. The Ring was affecting me, though. I felt, if not younger, then at least of no definite age. I felt quite up to walking forever in the dark, but I did not have to.

We were led down a trail to the south of the road to a sturdy stone doorway. It was set into the end of a low ridge that made two levels of the forest floor. The heavy wooden door itself had been split in half. The doorway led to a burrow that served as a warehouse and a refuge for a nearby village that had sold produce to Rivendell for time out of mind. The burrow had been dug, however, as a shelter for the Rangers and others of Elrond’s household who had need of it. When we lit some torches, we found that the villagers were here, too, along with their butchery tools. The bones had been stripped and cleaned and some had been broken open for that marrow. Any food that had been stored there had been looted. We set a guard outside in the dark. At least the bunting we draped across the entrance allowed us to make a fire without being seen.

Just 200 of us remained. Erestor was with us; and so, for better or worse, was Gelmir. Arwen was with her father. Glorfindel was there, with all his personal guard. It was apparently safer to hunt the nightwalkers than to be hunted by them. Hador was never seen again.

(2) Weathertop

Even Elves needed some sleep after a night like that. In the morning, Glorfindel remonstrated with the remnants of Elrond’s Council. The exchange was actually part of a general meeting, however; elvish culture at its dissolution was retuning to democratic forms of its origins. Glorfindel spoke for almost an hour about the folly of taking off in the night like that, and especially about not taking him. When he had run out of expletives, he answered some questions.

No, he did not know whether Rivendell had been occupied. He had come north on the western side of the Loudwater and found at the ford the wreckage from our passage. He guessed what must have happened. No, very few people were passing through Tharbad now, or heading northwest on the Greenway. He did meet bands of folk fleeing across the countryside, many of them people of Gondor and Rohan, and even Belfalas. Tharbad, the long-ruined city, had briefly been choked with refugees, but they were massacred a month ago by an army of the Great Eye. The army came through the Gap of Rohan, most of the refugees thought.

Yes, they told many tales. Some said that Sauron had moved his capital to Minas Tirith. Some said the city had been besieged twice but still stood. Others still said it had been abandoned without a fight. No one he spoke to, he was sure, had been in a position to know. It was certain, though, that the Host of the West that had gone eastward had disappeared. The only survivors were a small group that had been assigned to guard some islands in the Anduin. They fled after March 25. Many people throughout the South fled then, long before the Enemy appeared.

Elrond could barely speak, but he whispered to Arwen, who finally asked something relevant:

“Glorfindel, is it safe for us to travel on the Road?”

He considered the question with evident care. “No,” he answered. “Of course not: but at least we can know a little about what is happening on the Road. That is not true a hundred yards to either side. If we send scouts before us and behind us, and we don’t do anything suicidally foolish, such as traveling at night, we may hope to arrive at our destination.”

“And what might that be?” asked Gelmir.

The members of the Council groaned. Some of the ordinary Elves gasped: this was the first they learned their leaders still had not decided what to do. Erestor responded almost through clenched teeth.

“Councilor Gelmir, I thought we had decided to head toward the Gray Havens, but also to look for alternatives along the way.”

“That is certainly what we discussed,” Gelmir replied. “I do not recall that we ever decided. We followed that course in any case, and lost more than half our number in less than a day’s march. Perhaps at this point we should reconsider.”

“Do you propose to return to Rivendell, Councilor?”

“I think that we should at least determine the state of things there before we proceed. If the valley of Imladris has not been taken, we should consider reestablishing our position there and maintaining our contacts with the outside world.”

“We were slowly starving in the cold at Rivendell,” Arwen noted. “No one was offering us aid, or asking for it. The only people who were coming to visit were probably Orcs. We might as well ‘reestablish our position’ in any hollow to the side of the Road, if it comes to that.”

“The point, Lady, is not so much where we are, as what we are doing there. We should be seeking an accommodation with the powers of the age. As I noted, we do have things the Dark Tower greatly desires. In any case, I insist that we ascertain the state of our ancient home before we go much farther west.”

“My Lord Gelmir may do so if he insists,” said Erestor dryly, “but I fear he may have to go on foot. I doubt that Lord Glorfindel would consent to lend him his horse.”

The strange thing was Glorfindel almost did lend Gelmir his horse, or ride off himself on the same errand. Glorfindel had not wanted to leave Rivendell, either. In part, that was because he really was willing to make a brave stand, but also because, after living there for so many centuries, he could not easily imagine being anywhere else. Elves often got like that. It was a wonder that so many ever managed to reach the Gray Havens.

In the end, we decided to split the difference. We would go west to Weathertop, Gelmir included, and there set up a camp where we could gather information. Meanwhile, we sent a small party back to Rivendell to see how matters stood there. Glorfindel finally decided not to risk his horse on that trip after all.

That was good, because the Last Bridge, which crosses the Hoarwell, was held by the Enemy. There they were, three Men on the bridge in some dark livery. They had two horses between them. They were not really a guard on the bridge, perhaps, but relay riders. Certainly they fled when they saw us. The much diminished Host of Elrond would have been adequate to deal with this unit even without Glorfindel, but he was able to make sure that none of the Men escaped alive.

We crossed the Hoarwell without further incident. After walking for a few more hours, we camped a short distance to the north of the Road. The land on that side was rising and not heavily wooded. We did not dare risk a fire. In the morning, we continued west, and by noon we were approaching Weathertop. Glorfindel went scouting a mile ahead of the column. The bulk of our party had just left the Road for the trail that led to the peak; then we heard a single horse behind us.

Through the bushes I saw a large black figure on a large black horse. He face was covered, and he was riding the horse hard. One of the elvish archers saw him, too. He launched a single arrow that felled the horse. The rider, who was limping after his fall, tried to run back east, but two spearmen quickly broke from the foliage and killed him. Erestor came out to examine the body. I came with him.

“A messenger, clearly,” Erestor concluded, “and from some force in Mordor, but not from the Dark Tower. Look,” he said, indicating a badge on the man’s shoulder strap that showed the Eye and some elvish characters rendered in an unlovely script. “The Morannon,” I said. Erestor continued searching until he found a round leather case. “The message. We will look at it when we reach safety.” Erestor gave orders to hide the corpse and to butcher the horse.

Horsemeat would not have rendered the evening merry, even if there had been more it, but at least we had some fires. I suspect we were in the same dell where Frodo and friends had been attacked a few months ago. The Elves had rediscovered their skill at scavenging. Arwen and, surprisingly, Gelmir proved particularly adept at finding folk-salad. The result tasted like the hash of weeds it was, but at least it was not poisonous. After supper, a small group gathered around Erestor to examine the message borne by the dark rider. Erestor opened the leather carrying case and extracted a sealed scroll.

The seal, predictably, was impressed with image of an eye. When Erestor broke it, the paper around it began to ignite. He was not the person to whom the message was addressed, evidently. We did manage to put the fire out without losing any text, but the paper was smoking and quickly decaying. “The script is elvish,” Gilmer observed, “but the language is not Elvish or Westron.”

“It’s the Black Speech,” Arwen. “My father can read that tongue, but not now.” We glanced at Elrond, who was flat on his litter a few yards away. His eyes were half open. He was breathing with evident difficulty. He was shivering. “What do you make of this, Bilbo?”

“Here, move aside; let me see,” I said as I bowed over the document.

“You know the Black Speech, Master Baggins?” asked Erestor with evident surprise.

“Some. I made quite a study of it when I first arrived at Rivendell.”

“May I ask why?

“Because it is the language of the One Ring, Councilor. Now give me a moment.”

In Elrond’s libraries, there had been only two kinds of texts in the Black Speech. One consisted of spells and curses, often inscribed in stone to protect hiding places. The document before me fell into the other category: a message of administration. The latter were rare, outside the Black Tower and Dol Guldur, since only the elite of Sauron’s government used the language regularly. The mere presence in the West of the intended reader of such a document was a very bad sign.

“As nearly as I can make out, it says:

“To the Prefect of Ecstasy, now succoring the Ratland, the Second Secretary of the Office of Persuasion of the Ministry of Peace reflects a glint of the Great Eye, and sends this instruction:

“The Prefect is to double and redouble his efforts to find the principal traitor. The Rat People whom the Prefect has dispatched to our Office have proved unsatisfactory patients. They know nothing. Our Office is surprised and displeased that the Prefect supposed they would know anything. Our Office judges that the Prefect has sufficient means at his disposal to induce ecstasy without further taxing the resources of the Ministry.

“The Prefect’s request to remove his seat of operations to Tharbad is denied. The Prefect is to persevere.”

“That sounds as if they are in the Shire,” said Arwen. “Sorry, Bilbo.”

“It also sounds as if there is someone in this land with the authority to treat with us,” said Gelmir.

“Treat with us about what, Counselor?” asked Erestor. “We have nothing they want but our lives.”

“As I have had occasion to remark before,” Gelmir replied, “we have two things they want: a traitor and one of the Three Great Rings.” This time he did not trouble to avoid indicating me.

“Do you have a Great Ring, Counselor?” Arwen asked innocently. “You really should have told us.”

“But your father’s Ring…!” he spluttered.

“…Is still in the lodge at Rivendell. It’s well hidden. I put it under the rug in the study.”

I don’t think I had ever seen Man, Elf, Orc, Hobbit, or Troll so surprised. Gelmir’s mouth made a perfect circle.

“Are you mad!?!?” Gelmir shouted.

“No, and I am the daughter of Elrond, which you should keep in mind when you address me, Gelmir. Look, we could no longer use the Ring. We cannot even pick it up without being burned. We suspect it may draw the Enemy. Also, I suspected that its presence might have been what was keeping my father sick.”

“The ring must be recovered.” he said, a bit more politely.

“You are welcome to try, Councilor, provided you don’t return to us with it. As for Bilbo, he is a thief; no, excuse me: a burglar, not a traitor. The Dark Tower seems uninterested in Hobbits at this time.” And so we went to a night’s uncomfortable sleep. Well, sleep for some of them: I was having increasing trouble telling day from night.

* * *

The next morning, we found that Elrond was dead. There were plenty of shaped stones on Weathertop, so we were able to make a decent burial chamber. We used the last of the bunting as a winding sheet. Still, it was a barbaric end for such a cultured being.

When we returned to the Road, we met the scouts who had gone to Rivendell. No, they said, Rivendell was not occupied. It had been disturbed, probably by no more than a band of robbers, or maybe just refugees foraging for food. Some of the remaining structures had been damaged, though.

“Was Master Elrond’s lodge destroyed?” Gelmir asked.

“There had been a small fire, and part of the roof collapsed, Councilor,” one of the scouts replied. “Most of the house still stood when we left.”

“Lady Arwen, I will take you at your word,” Gelmir said. “I am returning to Rivendell for the Ring.”

“Councilor, why?” she asked.

“Because anyone who follows the road you are on will die in the woods like a sick dog. The Three Rings set us apart from all the other Speaking Peoples. The Ring of Air may have passed out of our power, but only a fool would let it out of our possession without getting something of value in return. The Enemy knows he has defeated us. That means he has nothing to fear from a bargain. I at least propose to try to make one. Will any come with me?”

Ten people did; that was ten more than would have gone if Elrond had still been alive. The small party left the main group after dispirited farewells. We continued westward.

(3) Bree

As we marched, we came upon more signs of habitation, and of former habitation. Columns of smoke rose above the trees to the north, presumably from burning homesteads. On the other hand, sometimes we found farms immediately to the south of the road that had not been touched. Occasionally we found bodies of men and animals. We even saw a few living farmers, but they ran off as soon as they saw us. Obviously, someone had been pillaging the country, but not very systematically.

We met no sign of the Enemy until that evening, when we were bivouacked to the north of the road. It was fortunate that we had put our fire out. Suddenly in the dark, we could hear the clanging tread of iron-soled Orc shoes on the road, and see the glitter of torches through the trees. They were heading east, apparently in a hurry, and did not seem to be looking for victims. Could it be that the Enemy had finally found the leisure to dispatch a force to Rivendell?

The next morning, we arrived at the gates of Bree, or rather the place where the East Gate used to be. Today it was gone, and the hedge that had surrounded the town was smoldering. The fires have gone out in most of the buildings of the town itself. We passed gingerly through the main street, since that was the fastest way to pass from east to west. Then, to our surprise, a hail of arrows came from ruins to either side of the road and struck three of our number dead.

“Take cover!” shouted Glorfindel in Sindarin, so we did. The arrows stopped. Before we could get off any of our own, a voice speaking the same language came from the north of the Road:

“Ahoy! Who are you? What sort of folk are you?”

“Who are you, who murder strangers unawares?” asked Glorfindel.

The rhetoric became heated, but it was immediately clear that neither side was Orcs or allied to the Enemy. By and by, the chief Elves, plus me, were standing in a town square and talking to a young Man and a few companions. They were dressed in the ragged remnants of what must originally have been some fine uniforms.

“I am Faramir, the Steward of Gondor,” the young Man explained after our party had introduced themselves. “I ask what pardon you can give for our ambush. In the past fortnight, an army has passed twice through this town. However, it is the smaller units of the Enemy, no bigger than yours, that do us most damage now. They raid the hamlets and the homesteads to which the people of this land have retreated. I have, of course, heard of all of you, particularly of Lady Arwen and the Halfling.” He bowed to Arwen. He looked as if he were about to pat me on the head, but thought better of it.

“And I have heard of Gondor, Master Faramir, and that its Stewart is named Denethor,” said Arwen. “If you are the Steward, you are far from office. Tells us, does that city still stand?”

“The buildings may still stand, but only as a mirror to Minas Morgul. The people are scattered.”

Then he told a remarkable story: a siege of the city, the lifting of the siege, and the coming of a pretender to the long-vacant throne.

“I might have followed such a one, had he achieved victory over the Enemy, or even restored our defenses, no matter the strength of his claim. Now whether his claim be true or false is no matter. He and the principal lords of Gondor went into the Shadow, and were swallowed up on the Day of Doom.”

“The ‘pretender’ of whom you speak was Aragorn son of Arathorn, Man of Gondor, and his title was more firmly established than yours!” Arwen said with unaccustomed ferocity. “Also he was my betrothed, and I will not hear his memory dishonored!”

“Lady, I meant no disrespect,” he said in the polite tone used by one who plainly believes he has been given every reason for discourtesy. “He fought well and he meant well, but he played a central part in the downfall of my country.”

“The downfall of your county?!” she nearly shouted. “The downfall of your country, Man of Gondor, was the fault of….”

“Arwen,” I suggested, “maybe we should hear the story before we cast the blame.”

Faramir told the story. On That Day, despair flowed from Mordor like a wave. The darkness did not return, but spirits fell lower than they had been during even the worst of the siege. There had been plans to evacuate the Minas Tirith again if the Enemy again crossed the Anduin. Faramir never received a report of such a crossing, but rumors of one spread as quickly as the despair. A trickle of citizens had begun to leave the city by sundown on the day the pretender fell. By morning, there was panic flight, and no order from Faramir could control it.

Perhaps 400 men at arms could be persuaded to remain in the city. Chiefly they were men of Gondor, but also some of the people of Rohan, commanded by Queen Eowyn. She had ascended to that unlucky dignity on the death of her uncle, who had been king for many years, and of her brother, whose kingship ended with the pretensions of the pretender. There was also an intrepid Halfling who had helped to slay the Enemy’s most fearsome commander and lived to tell about it, but not, alas, for long.

The guard and the Rohirrim could not give their whole attention to the defense. A degraded rabble had remained in the city to loot and dishonor it. By the time the Enemy did come, the lowest three levels were already burning. Some of the guard remained occupied, even at the end, with preventing the rabble from pillaging the treasures of the citadel.

The force that Mordor sent was an insult, but more than sufficient. A few thousand Orcs, and some Easterlings who could bear the daylight, entrenched only about the gate. The assault was made with a single siege engine of no great size. The Great Gate fell in a day. Thereafter, the defenders removed to the higher levels as the Enemy took over the city ring by ring. The Halfling fell in the brief defense of the Second Gate; he had never really recovered the wound he took when he attacked the commander of the Dark Tower.

Sometimes the Orcs and Easterlings captured and slew the rabble; sometimes they recruited it. They had no great need of recruits, however, since a leisurely column of the Enemy poured into the city night after night. Finally, the guard realized that the host of Mordor did not distinguish between them and the looters. The city was considered abandoned; it was being repopulated, not conquered. A remnant of the guard and the Rohirrim, no more that 100 fighters in all, quietly abandoned the city by taking secret paths that led into the White Mountains.

“Useless human weasels…” muttered Arwen with no attempt at inaudibility. The tactful Erestor cleared his throat. Faramir continued:

Descending again to the plain of Anorien, Faramir and Queen Eowyn headed northwest. As they moved, they acquired horses at the widely scattered homesteads. Often they found horses riderless in the fields, still saddled with the gear of their luckless owners. In four days they reached Edoras.

In Edoras there ruled Grima, who had taken the title of Protector. He had escaped from his detention at Isengard and returned to Rohan to rally those of the folk who believed that the alliance with Gondor had been folly. That number had never been small, and the return of deserters and survivors from Gondor and Anorien had only swelled their number. Grima, in fact, commanded no fewer than 1000 lances. He immediately took Faramir’s little band prisoner when they arrived at his door, though their capture and imprisonment were framed in the most polite terms. The very next day, he acknowledged Eowyn’s title. He also announced that he would rule with her as her advisor and wedded consort. Grima then sent heralds to the Orkish army in Anorien to seek terms from Mordor, and to offer them Faramir as a token of good faith.

The queen did not survive her murder of Grima on their wedding night, but Faramir and 15 of his men did contrive to escape in the confusion that followed. They stole horses, but no one pursued them. The next noon, when they were well away from Edoras and nearing the gap of Rohan, they looked back and saw smoke rising from the direction from where the town lay. Grima’s heralds, Faramir surmised, had found that the Dark Tower no longer needed to parlay.

The rest of Faramir’s tale was soon told. He and his little band continued to the northwest toward Tharbad. Their first thought was to seek refuge in Imladris, but when they realized that none could tell them where it lay, they continued up the Greenway with the other refugees. Some of these were men of Gondor who held Faramir for their lord; others were simply folk of goodwill who sought any legitimate authority in the chaos. Soon Faramir and his caravan of a few dozen followers reached Bree, which had not yet been sacked and whose townsmen refused to admit any strangers. However, Faramir drove off the outliers of an army of the Enemy, maybe part of the host that had burned Edoras that was coming up the Greenway a few days behind him. Some of the cannier folk of Bree Village surmised that the main force could be not be far behind, so they left with Faramir for the remote and more easily defended village of Archet. Faramir informally assumed command of the defense of Breeland after Bree Village, Combe, and Staddle were destroyed.

When Arwen and her people arrived, he and a few scouts had been in the ruins of the village to reconnoiter the movements of the enemy. When it came to the point, Faramir was not much happier than the Breelanders had been about taking in our contingent of strangers, particularly that aggravating Elf woman. Nonetheless, he agreed to admit us to Archet for a few days. He sent a few of his men with us to show the way.

We did not take the old track to the village. When the army of the Eye left for the West, the Breelanders set about erasing the track as much as possible, so that no one without local knowledge could find Archet by accident. What should have two hours’ walk became an afternoon’s scramble along twisted paths among bushes and ravines. The village turned out to be both heavily fortified and very well camouflaged. We entered through a nearly invisible gate hidden among fir trees. The center of the village was dense with temporary structures to house the new refugees. We were escorted to a long, low shed, evidently used as a sort of barracks. There we were given water and promised food.

Breeland had traditionally been governed by an annual meeting of the householders of all four villages, but now it was ruled by an Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, with six Men and six Hobbits. The Senior Councilor was a Man named Barliman, who had once owned an inn in Bree Village. He owed his position in part to his ability to organize relief for the many displaced Breelanders. Besides, as the keeper of the largest public house in Breeland, he knew everybody.

“Baggins: now there’s a name I remember. Didn’t your nephew stay in my house one night last year, Master Bilbo? He caused quite stir, I can tell you, or at least what we used to call a stir in those days. No time to worry about that sort of thing anymore, of course.”

I was wondering whether to try to explain what Frodo’s visit had meant, but Arwen interrupted me.

“Master Barliman, my people and I are trying to go west, to the Gray Havens, or possibly north, if the Havens no longer exist. Do you get news here from those quarters?”

“Aye, Lady, lots of news; none of it good, but maybe none of it true, either. Many of the Fair Folk have passed through Breeland since the Bad Day, and most don’t come back. A few do, though. They say the Shire is too dangerous to pass through. It’s not just the Enemy, though there’s a proper army of Orcs and Men there, by all accounts, burning or killing whatever they see. The greater danger is the Shirefolk. They now shoot at everyone they see who isn’t a Hobbit, no questions asked. Anyway, the ones who come back say they will head back East over the Mountains until things calm down, or they try to go around north to Fornost and Lake Evendim.”

“Isn’t that the way to the Blue Mountains?” I asked. “Do the Dwarves still have works in the Blue Mountains?”

“Seemingly, Master,” he answered, “some of their traffic even finds its way through Archet these days; but not much, as you can imagine. Some Men and even a few Elves are seeking the Blue Mountains, too. That looks as if it might become the safest place in this part of the world. I’ve been thinking of heading there myself. It’s a dangerous way, though, and a slow one.”

Erestor addressed our party:

“It is not far from the Blue Mountains to the Gray Havens. The wiser course may be to seek shelter there, until we find how things stand at the Havens. We might, perhaps, even make a haven for ourselves there. That part of the world is too remote to be of much interest to the Enemy.”

Arwen thought otherwise. “Councilor, I suspect that time may be of the essence with regard to the Havens. They can be defended longer than almost anyplace in Middle Earth: certainly longer than Imladris could have been, even had we had the fighters to make the attempt. However, if there is an army of the Enemy in the Shire, then can we doubt that the Dark Tower will move against the Havens before the summer is out? We must go now. The Havens may be besieged in a few weeks, if they are not already.”

“And if they are already closed to us?” he asked.

“Then we will know; and as you say, the Blue Mountains are only a few days further north.”

Barliman watched the argument with placid interest. Finally he interrupted to suggest that we need not settle the matter now. We were welcome to stay until tomorrow, and then our further journey would be provisioned through the generosity of the People and the Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, though of course neither the People nor the Council would take it amiss if we cared to contribute trinkets or other valuables to the general fund. Additionally, our leaders were invited to dine with him and the rest of the Council that evening at the inn of Archet, which these days served the small republic as a sort of capitol. The Steward Faramir would also be there, and could advise us further. Arwen did not actually spit.

“Yes, there is room for you in Breeland,” Barliman answered Erestor after a surprisingly sumptuous dinner. One of the few advantages to rapid depopulation is that, briefly, there is more than enough for all the survivors. “There are only about a thousand of us here now. But think: if you stay, you would have to become farmers or gardeners, or maybe hunters. And we might not stay. We are hidden here, but Breeland is right on the Road, and the Road is where the Enemy moves. My thinking is that we will all have to move north. If the Dwarves won’t have us, then maybe we would be left alone at Fornost, or the Hills of Evendim.”

These possibilities interested Erestor, but not me. Pioneering did not appeal to me at my age. I had my reasons seeking the Gray Havens, but it seemed less and less likely that I would ever get there. Still, I had hopes of seeing the Shire before I died. I did not care if I were shot for a Mordor Orc as soon as I crossed the Brandywine; which is what might happen, seemingly.

These possibilities did not much interest Arwen at the moment, either, not when she had Faramir to hand to berate for the fall of Gondor.

“And you say these Nazgul never appeared again after the siege of Minas Tirith was lifted?” she asked him. “I could understand your terror of them, you being a mortal, but it seems to me that your people fled at the mere rumor of the Enemy.”

“Lady Arwen, by your grace, the people had had enough. And speaking of having had enough…”

“I think the Lady has made an important point,” Glorfindel broke in. “If these winged nightmares can fly like the wind and cannot be resisted, then why have they not come here?”

“Perhaps we are not important enough for them,” Barliman suggested.

“The Enemy thought these parts were important enough to send an army here, to look for ‘traitors,’” I interjected. “Why not send a Nazgul? And besides, Gelmir was surely right that the Enemy desires to collect the Three Rings. Perhaps he does not want them urgently, but is it not strange that many weeks passed after the Enemy’s victory before he reached out his hand to Imladris?”

“Would that Aragorn and his kinsmen had escaped,” Arwen said. “The true Men of the West would have found a way even in this dark time.”

Faramir actually slammed the table. “Lady, I am the rightful Steward of Gondor. I am as much of the race of Numenor as the pretender; no, I withdraw that; as the late King Elessar ever was!”

Something clicked in my mind them. I had been trying to place who Faramir reminded me of. It was Strider, obviously. Arwen had made the same connection; her problem was that she didn’t realize it.

Erestor re-imposed decorum in a very loud voice. “Lady, my Lords, Extraordinary Councilors, there is only thing we must decide this evening, and that is what we are to do in the morning. For my part, I think the wisest course would be to follow Councilor Barliman’s wisdom and go north. In that way, we could remove ourselves from the greatest danger, ascertain the possibility of making a new settlement and, with due prudence, determine whether the Havens…”

“Summer would be fading by the time we reached the Havens, if we took such a course,” Glorfindel said.

“Yet if we go directly West, we will lose much or all of our party,” Erestor countered. “So large a company could not hope to pass through the western end of Eriador in these days without serious fighting.”

Arwen said quietly, “If the remnants of the House of Elrond are as cowardly as the Men of Gondor, then I will seek the Havens alone.”

“Look,” I said, “let’s do both. A small party can go through the Shire, avoiding trouble, and determine the lay of the land at the Havens. The larger group should take the northern route. The small party can send word about what they find, either through Bree or the Blue Mountains.”

“As I said, Master Bilbo, the Shire has become dangerous, even for Hobbits,” Barliman warned. “Who would you send on such a mission?”

“Myself, for one, obviously,” I answered. “Like Arwen, in fact, I will say that if no one goes with me, then I will go alone.”

“I will go with the Lady Arwen and the Halfling,” Glorfindel said. “Perhaps no one else should come.”

Arwen decided to make the parting easy:

“Erestor, as the heir of Elrond, I charge you to take lead the remnant of his people north. Seek the possibility of refuge wherever you can, but look for word from me to come from the West. Indeed, if I find the path over the ocean is closed, I will come to you.”

Erestor nodded. “I think this is the best we can do, Lady.”

“I need to scout the region to which Elrond’s people are going in any case,” said Faramir. “With Erestor’s permission, I will accompany them.”

As the meeting broke up, Arwen remained seated with Faramir.

“Lord Steward, please forgive me for what I said in the heat of the moment. In these terrible days…”

“My Lady, you said nothing to me that I have not said to myself. You must see…”

No one saw either of them again until the morning, so apparently they did get a room.

(4) The Old Forest

The Breelanders were actually better than their word. The next morning, they gave backpacks with clothes and food for the westward-bound trio, and the loan of a small pony for as long as we remained on the Road. That would not be long; the Road was not safe, and in any case, to attempt to enter the Shire through the Brandywine Gate would evidently be suicidal. We hoped to travel in reverse more or less the course that Frodo had taken: across the Downs, through as little of the Old Forest as possible, and then into Buckland through the Brandybuck Gate. I knew the Gate, and poor Meriodoc Brandybuck had left some of his small effects with me, for safekeeping, so I also had the key. Faramir would accompany us to retrieve the pony.

As for the rest of our party, they would remain several days in Archet. The Breelanders were outfitting them as pioneers for their own move north. If the members of Elrond’s Household were not torn apart by unnamed horrors in the dark of night, then the Breelanders would follow them. Fair enough.

We four, plus the pony, returned to the Road after taking an even more circuitous route that bypassed Bree Village entirely. There was no one on it, neither armies nor travelers. On the other hand, there was a trail of discarded wrappings, some bones, occasional bits of papers, lots of spit, and fecal matter of various origins. The hardened earth of the Road had been turned to powder by marching feet. Many were prints of iron shoes, but there were as many tracks were of ordinary boots. We noted that more of the Orc tracks were headed east than west.

It was fine morning in late spring, and we made good time. I walked with Glorfindel, who explained that he was still of two minds about making a stand somewhere in Middle Earth or taking ship. He thought those Elves who had turned back east over the Misty Mountains might have made the best choice. The Sylvan Elves of Mirkwood had been as much masters of their domain as any Elves on Middle Earth, including the Elves of Lorien. Now their position was unique, since their magic was close to the ground and little affected by the changes in the great world, unlike the high magic of Galadriel and Celeborn.

“And what do you think happened in Lorien, Glorfindel?” I had never been there, but I had met Elves from there, and I had long been curious about that land.

“I think the Dream Flower burst into flame like a dry leaf. It is a loss beyond tears, Bilbo. Rivendell was a sapling compared to the Golden Wood.”

As we talked in this vein, Arwen and Faramir, and the pony, were walking a little ahead of us. They were taking great care not to look at each other. The lack of shouting between them was deafening.

By midmorning, we came to a place where the plain to the south seemed to flow toward the forest and yet offered us a little cover from enemy eyes on the Road. The pony’s burden was unpacked and divided into bundles according to our capacities. I protested that mine was enormous in comparison to my size. Yes, said Glorfindel and Arwen, but you are also by far the youngest of us three. There’s Elf humor for you.

We said rapid but not wholly despairing goodbyes. I wondered what I would do if Arwen gave Faramir another one of those elf-broaches that seemed to have jinxed so many fine people, but the occasion did not arise. They clasped hands and he bowed lightly. Then he turned east, taking the much-relieved pony with him.

The walk south was a golden reminiscence of my own youth; which, despite the mockery of the Elves, really had been a very long time ago. The land sloped at just the correct angle to help us move swiftly over the short turf. The sunlight seemed to fill me, a feeling that received appalling confirmation when I trotted a little ahead to hop on ruined wall to see the lay of the land.

“Bilbo,” Arwen said tactfully, “you are not casting a shadow.”

This was an exaggeration. A definite darkening of the grass could plainly be seen to the north of me. When I stood in front of a white standing stone, I thought I cast a fairly clear outline, all things considered.

“Bilbo, you’re fading,” Glorfindel said.

A stout fellow, I thought: always so quick on the uptake.

I explained as we continued south.

I was not sure it had not begun to happen even before the Day of Doom. I had given up the Ring, which seemed to slow whatever had been happening to be, but still I was not ageing quite normally. No one ever noticed me fading. I saw no signs of it myself. What I did see, sometimes, was that other people faded for a while. I also needed less and less sleep. After the Day of Doom, the symptoms accelerated. The bad days still came and went, but I was surprised it took so long for someone else to notice. Elves might not be impressed by mortal longevity, but I was the oldest Hobbit alive; soon I will be the oldest Hobbit who ever lived. Did anyone think I could have gone on this journey if my condition had been altogether natural?

I was trying to explain my puzzlement about the indifference of the Eye when we came in sight of a house and garden, with a small stable attached. There was nothing alive or dead in the stable. The straw was clean but old. We knocked politely on the door of the house several times. When there was no answer, we less politely pushed it open. The house was a neat as a pin, but dusty; clearly no one had been here for several weeks. There was a bag of beans in the kitchen, along with some other non-perishable items, but otherwise nothing to eat.

We were farther west than we wanted to be, but the Elves assured me that the land was not trying to mislead us. It did not occur to them not to follow the path down the banks of the Withywindle. It was summer here already, to judge by the warmth, but there was almost no foliage. There was plenty of grass and the bushes were flourishing, but the only leaves to be seen were on this season’s saplings. It was a scene from the dead of winter on a day more than warm enough to take your coat off.

With every step we took, a sense of chill deepened that had nothing to do with the temperature. I began to be surprised that I could not see my breath smoke. Glorfindel and Arwen felt it too, I suppose, but they seemed more puzzled than uncomfortable. As the afternoon began to decline, we came to a wide place in the river where a huge oak stood on the bank. It had not been damaged; its wood seemed to be perfectly sound. However, there was not so much as a green twig in all its canopy of branches.

“Could it all have been poisoned somehow?” I asked as I put a hand gingerly on a root. I drew it back immediately.

Arwen nodded. “See, it is not dead; it is terrified.”

The root had been trembling.

“Are you saying the forest is too frightened to grow?”

“Too frightened to grow; too frighten to move; too frightened even to face the sun with a leaf.”

“Can it stay like this?”

“No,” Arwen answered again, “not for very long; no more than a Man could live if he could never wake up. This is not an enchantment. The forest is insane.”

What insane thing could a vegetable do? I thought. It could deliberately ignore the spring. Of course, considering the sort of things that one might encounter this spring, I was not sure the forest did not have the right idea.

“What about that wood sprite Frodo was talking about? Tom, Tom Bombadil was his name. He had a consort, too.”

“Wood sprites are imaginary, Bilbo. Anyway, Tom is probably hiding in a cave, as terrified as the trees. He and the forest have grown together. When the forest dies, he will die. No doubt his consort has left him.”

We saw a trail that headed west; we began walking again under the blind and barren trees. The path led us to a ridge, which we followed until we could find a way down into a ravine, which brought us a little south. We repeated the process many times in the course of the waning afternoon. I could see how Hobbits alone might have been trapped in this sort of landscape. As it was, Glorfindel set me on his shoulders during the rough parts. We made good time.

The sun was almost setting when we reached the bare top of a tall hill. We could look around us at the forest, from the coldly glinting water of the Withywindle, clearly visible in the crystal-clear air, to the ranks of bare branches that bordered the green downs. I had been in the Old Forest twice before during visits to Buckland, one time at night. I was disturbed by the new silence and light far more than I had been by the groaning of trees invisible in the dark.

“I had thought that the spirit of the Old Forest was akin to the spirit of Mordor,” I said. “Before today, I would have said that the trees would delight in the victory of the Shadow. Now I see otherwise.”

Arwen replied, “So it is. The ancient dark before the Sun rose was innocent; the dark of Mordor is mere nothing. The victory of the Dark Tower was a disaster for everything that lives, but most of all for the dumb things close to the earth. With the return of the Ring, the Great Eye had only to blink to wither the forests”.

The sun just touched the horizon as we completed this sad exchange.

“You know, “I said, “if we don’t start to run right now, I am quite sure I am going to go insane myself.”

So run we did, faster and faster, as the light of the setting sun made the trunks of each of the mad trees into a harlequin pillar of gold and velvet. Overhead, nothing shielded us from the reddening twilight sky that cruelly refused to become dark. I would have given anything for a bit of cover.

We had a bad moment when we reached the hedge. As I said, I had been there twice before, but never alone, and never at this time of day. We almost became lost as we searched for the entrance to the tunnel that led to the gate. The Elves were beginning to panic, something I had never seen an Elf do in the face of the supernatural.

Finally, we did find the gate, and we descended into the blessed dark. I had the key to hand. We passed through the gate without difficulty and closed it carefully. I walked a little ahead of Arwen and Glorfindel to the western end of the tunnel and turned to address them.

“Now you two better wait here for a few hours until I can spy out the lay of the land. Hobbits have always been leery of Big People in the Shire, even Elves, I am afraid, so let….”

An arrow thwanged firmly into the rear of my backpack. I reflected that I had not even reached the Brandywine yet.

(5) Buckland

“I can see plainly enough who you are, Master Baggins,” said Rorimac Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland, “but that does not mean I like what I see.”

The interview was held in what had been the largest parlor in Brandybuck Hall. Now, aside from the Master’s chair at one end of the room, it held racks on which weapons were stored. Maps covered much of the walls. There were also 20 Hobbits in arms. My friends were being held in the Hall’s newly improvised dungeon.

“But Rory, I am so glad to see you after all these years! And I had so many fine times here in Brandybuck Hall!”

Both those statements were true, more or less, but I did not mention how shocked I was when I saw that the Hall had been turned into a network of trenches and gated tunnels. Moreover, those defenses had obviously been tried in the recent past. By and by, I was sure, Rory would tell me what had happened, assuming he did not hang me and my friends first.

“If you liked it the Shire so much, Bilbo, then why did you run off into the blue like that? And now you come back, not much the worse for wear, and at an age when decent folk are long dead.” I was stunned to see how much Rory had aged since he attended my last birthday party in the Shire; evidently he was stunned to see how much I hadn’t. “But that’s not the worst of it: you took poor Frodo to Bag End and made him as cracked as yourself. He ran off too, you know. Now he’s the one I’d like to get news of. Strange folk were asking about him before those devils came from the South, and I’d like to know why.”

I was reasonably sure that Frodo had died horribly, and I knew for a fact why strange folk had been asking about him. Explaining all that would require explaining about the Ring. The Ring was no longer a secret, but I was disinclined to tell the Master of Buckland about it. The tale might raise the suspicion in his mind that the invasion of the Shire had been ultimately my fault; because, after all, it had been.

“What’s done is done, Rory, and I don’t know the half of it, not even about Frodo. Look, I am not even asking for hospitality. All I ask is that I and my two friends be allowed to make our way west. They are Elves on their way to the Gray Havens, Rory. No master of this Hall since the founding of Buckland would have interfered with such a journey.”

“In my time, Bilbo, in these past few years, I have had to things that no earlier Master of Buckland had ever had to do; or I hope will ever have to do in the days to come, if there are any more Masters after me. The Elves have failed, Bilbo, and we no longer think of them as friends. A great crowd of them came up the Greenway just a few days before that army of monsters. They came through Sarn Ford, broad as daylight, and hadn’t a word for anyone. They sure enough did not warn us of what was right behind them.”

“It’s possible they did not know,” I said. “Elves don’t really know everything. You can trust me on this.”

“They also don’t pay for everything they take,” Rory countered, “not anymore, if they ever did. Some of our folk west of the Brandywine have been robbed blind at night. In a few cases, not just the food and gear are gone: the Hobbits are, too. Anyway, we don’t want any more strangers of any sort in the Shire. If you don’t know why yet, you will soon enough.”

That was encouraging. He meant to keep me alive long enough to tell me all the bad news. These days, that could take a month. He considered a moment and then spoke again.

“For old times’ sake, Bilbo, I will make an exception for, and your friends. I would think better of you if you gave a better account of your movement, though, because I can see there are things you are hiding. Anyway, maybe you know that your nephew Frodo bought a house at Crickhollow before he left? Well, that neighborhood is safe again, or as safe as anyplace in the Shire is these day. You and your two Elves can stay there for a few days. And then you can go.”

I thanked him effusively. The guards showed me to the door.

The stay at Crickhollow was the most painful time for me since March 25. It was not just the Shire; it was Bag End, or close enough. It was still filled with the things that Frodo had brought from home. I wanted to stay forever, and I wanted to leave immediately. Glorfindel and Arwen favored the latter option, since grown Elves don’t really fit into a Hobbit house. They spent most of the time in a tent outside that the guard Rory set on us helped to improvise.

At Rivendell, I had heard fragmentary reports from the Rangers about what had been happening in the Shire, but the rumors had had not prepared me for the full story. Apparently, that nitwit Lotho Sackville-Baggins had made himself Tyrant of the Shire, or some such nonsense. At any rate, he tried to: his petty empire did not extend to Buckland, or away in the Tookland around Great Smials. In a way, Lotho’s presumptions had been a blessing in disguise, at least for Buckland. Rory had armed and fortified the country to keep out Lotho’s thieving men and weasely sheriffs. So, when the army of the Eye arrived, not all the Shire was unprepared. Great Smials had been sacked and burned, but it held out for several days. Thereafter the army razed the center of the Shire, and particularly the neighborhood of Hobbiton. No Hobbits had escaped from that farthing, as far as anyone knew. In contrast, the Enemy was not much interested in Buckland. They raided once east across the Brandywine and once south from Bridge, but soon turned back. Lately, most of the Enemy force had dispersed east and west. There was still an Enemy fort of some kind near the center of the Shire, though. There was no peace in the Shire; it was no longer the Hobbits’ country.

After several days, Arwen, Glorfindel, and I consulted at a picnic in the garden of the house. There was actually room for them in the parlor of the house, but it seemed polite to invite Rory’s guards, too.

“We know that some of the army of the Eye went west,” Glorfindel said as we started on the last of the tarts. “That can mean only that they were headed for the Havens. I want to see the Havens as much as the next Elf, but there would be little purpose in pursuing our journey if at the end we find Orcs sitting on the wharf.”

“I don’t think you would find Orcs there, Master,” said one of the guards. “There are still some Orcs at Michel Delving and Bag End, not that we see much of them anymore, even at night. Most went east, though, just a few days before you arrived. There would be Men at the Elf harbor. They are just as bad Orcs, if you ask me.”

“It is not news that the Enemy uses Orcs and Men for different things,” Arwen observed. “But just because the Men went west does not mean that they took the Havens. There has been word of the return of that part of the army of the Eye, has there?”

The guards shook their heads no. The Hobbits might not control what happened in the Shire any longer, but they still knew exactly what was happening in it.

Arwen continued, “That could mean that the Havens are besieged, or even that the Enemy was destroyed. The Havens are far easier to defend than Imladris, remember.”

“It could also mean that the Enemy is simply holding the Havens until they can be relieved,” Glorfindel countered. “And the Havens may have been strong, but they were built and preserved with the aid of Narya, the Ring of Fire. How do we know that what happened to Imladris did not also happen to the Havens?”

“Maybe because Narya has not been at the Havens for centuries,” I interjected. “Poor Gandalf has been wearing it all these years, you know. He did not seem to know that I knew, but of course I had worn the Great Ring, so I could see all the others.”

My skin crawled with rage as I again thought I would never see my precious again: never, never.

Arwen said, “We must find out what happened at the Havens, and the sooner we do the better. The Enemy might not have taken the Havens yet, but he will surely do so soon. We must find out now whether the Elves can still escape.”

None of us had really thought otherwise. The problem now was how to cross the Enemy’s Shire.

(6) The Conquered Shire

Two days later, we stood on the west bank of the Brandywine with new provisions and a plan, if not quite a solution. The provisions came from the Master of Buckland, who did not like his new role as warlord; he had actually offered us as much Hobbit hospitality as he judged the safety of his people would allow. The plan was mostly of our own devising, but with lots of advice from the Master’s scouts and spies about the lay of the land. The fastest way to the Havens was, of course, the Great Road, but to take the Road was out of the question when the Men of the Eye used it every day. Instead, we would take the country road that led through the Woody End to Tuckborough. We would not rejoin the Road until we were well into the West March. The Shire was not such a wilderness that we could not make good time away from the major thoroughfares.

The Buckleberry Ferry was no longer in service, obviously, but we had gotten a lift across the river in the small, swift boats that the Bucklanders still used for trade with the Marish. We waved goodbye to boatman and took a route that would take us around the town of Stock, which had been damaged by the same force that entered Buckland from east. Even more than the Bucklanders, the people of Stock would be inclined to shoot on sight anyone who was not a Hobbit. We set off west.

The walk through the Marish was unreal to me because it was ordinary. Many homesteads along the road had been pillaged, but the neighborhood was still intact, with its tidy Hobbit farm buildings and small fields like the squares of a quilt. (Why was it that people who positively disliked organization would marshal every landscape they farmed like an army camp of the Big People?) I very much wanted to walk up one of the paths to the door of a farmhouse and introduce myself. I knew some of these Hobbits, or at least I had known their fathers and mothers. I was sure they would offer me lunch. As it was, though, my friends and I had to skulk along behind hedges and across the edges of fields, as if we were Gollums of various sizes.

Eventually, we did stop for lunch at a farm house, though it had no roof. It had been overgrown by the neighboring wood, except for a stone path to the door, and seemed to have been abandoned for years. A fire was out of the question, but we were quite secure from prying eyes.

“Bilbo, you’re casting a good, solid shadow today,” Arwen complimented me.

“Fank umb bury mulk,” I say around a bite of one of Rory’s sandwiches. “As I said, it comes and goes. My spirits affect the fading; so do my surroundings. Few surrounding are as solid as the Shire. Please forgive me if I say now that Rivendell may have been a bit too ethereal for my good.”

“Or maybe for its own good, too,” she allowed.

The Shire seemed only to sadden Glorfindel. “The little people do not know what the age has in store for them. They think a storm or a plague has passed over them, but that they will be able to rebuild the lives they knew. They will be hunted like prey at the Enemy’s whim, so that first one and them another polite custom will fall from them. If they survive at all, they will be like badgers in their burrows. Alas.”

I was about to suggest to Glorfindel that it might be better to live like a badger in a burrow than to disappear in a puff of smoke, which seemed to have happened lately to some Elves I could mention, but instead we just finished lunch. When it was time to go, I said:

“Again, I better do any talking that needs to be done. I will walk a little ahead. If you two hear anything on the road, get undercover until I can sort things out. I won’t reveal your presence unless I absolutely have to.”

So we left the ruin, and walked up the short path that led to the road. It was exactly the way we had come a half-hour ago. I was gingerly looking up and down the road from the head of the path when I heard something large behind me fall.

Glorfindel and Arwen were struggling in a net that looked very much like the natural foliage. They were being held down by a dozen Hobbits in hunting clothes with quivers of arrows on their backs. Everyone knew that Hobbits were better in a wood than an Elf. Since these Hobbits had managed to approach the ruined farmhouse and set a trap without being noticed, they must have been very good indeed. Even I was impressed.

“Did these sneaking Elves hurt you, master?” asked a Hobbit. He was betrayed by a feather in his cap as the leader. “We could have just shot them, but we need something to trade to the Prefect. They’ve got another six of our folk at Bag End. The devils are particularly in the market Elves, I hear.”

“Well done, captain,” I said. “May I go along for the exchange? I think that one of those six could be one of my cousins.”

* * *

I was 129 years old, and I had once outsmarted a dragon, but I never lied so frequently, or so well, as I did over the next day and a half. I explained that I was a refugee from the West Farthing (which was true, after a fashion) and that these Elves had kidnapped me and forced me to show them the way across the Shire. I said they were particularly interested in knowing which farmsteads would be worth robbing. Indeed, I painted such a picture of Elvish turpitude that Glorfindel and Arwen would have been hanged if they were not about to be turned over to the Enemy to be tortured to death. The only plan I could make was to stay with the prisoners as they were moved from camp to camp of Hobbit irregulars. Twice I was left alone with them and almost succeeded in cutting their bonds; both times I was discovered. After the second time, the Hobbits would not let me alone with the prisoners again. The Hobbits thought I had been poking them with my penknife (which was also true, but it was an accident).

The upshot was, early one bright and warm day, I found myself peering from the cover of hedges at a flat stone in the midst of a field near Bag End. Arwen and Glorfindel were tied up on the stone. This was one of the locations where the Hobbits sometimes traded with the Enemy’s Men. The commanders of the army of the Eye had not condescended to treat with any of the Hobbits. Once the Enemy was established, however, his forces became notably less aggressive. Here and there, the Men began trading with the natives. They found they could also make a nice little pile for themselves for themselves by collecting ransom for Hobbits who had been enslaved, or sometimes simply taken hostage so they could be ransomed. The kidnappers were paid in food and trinkets. Enough Hobbits were saved this way that it was in no one’s interest to break off the contacts. Very recently, however, the Prefect had discovered the arrangement, and had begun to use it himself to police the Shire for travelers. At any rate, that seemed to be what was happening.

“Here they come,” said the local Hobbit captain, feather and all.

They were six Men, each dressed in a badly maintained version of the livery that had been worn by the Men whom Glorfindel had killed on the Last Bridge. Each led a Hobbit. The Hobbits were in even worse condition than the Men. One, whose head was bandaged to cover the eyes, was barely able to stand. The Men determined that the prisoners on the rock were alive, and apparently were Elves. Then some of our party, including me, stepped out into the clearing.

“This is a fine catch, little folk,” said one of the men, kicking Glorfindel lightly with his boot, “thank you kindly. And here are your kittens in return.” He signaled to the Men to release their prisoners.

The freed Hobbits stumbled into the arms of the Hobbits from the bush, some of whom were obviously kinsmen. “Griffo, Pearl, Saradoc, you’re alive, you’re alive!” they said amidst many hugs. I was glad to see the Hobbits released, too, but I was no closer to saving the Elves. It looked as if I would have to sneak into Enemy headquarters somehow: hard to do, without a magic ring. In the meanwhile, I had picked out one of the released Hobbits whom I could comfort without saying anything too specific about our relationship. Then one of the other prisoners said, “Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins: how dare you show your face here!” I could barely recognize the Hobbit, who of course was much older than the last time I saw him. Finally I placed him. It was Olo, Olo Proudfoot: my cousin.

The Hobbits all looked at me. So did several of the Men. “Why, Olo,” I began, “how delighted…”

“It’s Mad Baggins!” cried one of the Hobbits I had come with.

“Yes,” said Olo, “the one with all the stolen treasure! The one who started the trouble all those years ago. And the one…”

“Baggins!?! Stolen treasure!?!” aid the leader of the Men. My fame had preceded me, evidently. “Take this one, too, boys, and don’t take an argument from the rest!”

It was not actually much of a fight. Some of the Hobbits drew their knives, but only to make sure that the released prisoners got away. All the Hobbits soon scurried into the bushes. They did not stage an ambush on my behalf. Perhaps they thought I could disappear if I needed to.

(7) The Prefect of Bag End

Bag End looked much less like Bag End than the house at Crick Hollow had looked like Bag End. The diggings had been extended and the roof raised to allow for larger occupants. The old hole had become Mordor’s capital in the Shire because Lotho had used it for that purpose, and Lotho had been the first thing in the Shire that the Enemy sought. I never found out exactly what had happened to Lotho, but his family and most of his hired Men had met grisly ends, some of them in public, usually while protesting that they did not have information that the Great Eye urgently wished to have.

In any case, Bag End had become a clerical office, and a prison, and a torture chamber, but most of all it was now a hospital. The new tunnels were occupied by moaning Orcs who looked as if they had been burned. This puzzled me mightily. I had had more to do with Orcs in my time than I care to say, and I knew they did not like the sunlight, but I had never seen anything like this.

The guards and the workers were Men. There were surprisingly few. Four of then led us, with our hands tied, to the Audience Chamber of the Prefect of Ecstasy.

The Audience Chamber was in fact my three best bedrooms, with the walls knocked down and the walls painted sable. Skillfully wrought scenes of mayhem and misery were worked into the darkly stained glass of the windows. The culture of Mordor was irredeemably depraved, but it was also helplessly exquisite; that was one of its insistences, like the tidiness of the Shire.

At Man height, at the narrow north end of the room, a strangely glinting mural of the Great Eye floated in the blackness of the wall. Large iron stands stood at intervals about the room, burning huge candles that had been made from the fat of some fell beast. They produced considerably more smoke than light. It took my eyes a moment to take in the room.

The Prefect himself was unmistakable. All in black, with a high black headdress, he had the look of perpetual, dismayed surprise that characterized all the Men who had knowingly submitted to Sauron. He sat on a low-backed chair (not one of mine, I could see) on a circular dais under the Eye. Before his feet, there seemed to be a little cup in which an ember glowed redly. To his left another figure, dressed in dark brown, sat on the edge of the dais.

The figure in brown was Gelmir.

“Where is he?” the Prefect demanded. He had a surprisingly fine tenor voice, but it rasped with impatience. In fact, he sounded very close to desperate.

“This is the traitor of whom I spoke, Prefect, the Hobbit who stole the Great Ring of the Eye many years ago.”

The Prefect scarcely glanced at me; he glared at Gelmir.

“You know perfectly well, elven fool, that the Eye seeks just one thing in this land of imps. I don’t need another imp, no matter what he has done. I don’t need any more Elves, either, or to hear what they say, unless they know where the traitor is. Do you, Elf Bitch?”

I was shocked to hear Arwen Elvenstar addressed in this fashion. Glorfindel was struck dumb, or perhaps dumber. Arwen herself, however, had not lived to be upwards of 3000 years old without learning a measure of composure.

“I see that victory has not made Mordor forget its accustomed courtesy,” she said. “I normally do not address persons who have not introduced themselves to me, but in this case I will say that I do not know what the Servant of the Eye is talking about. I will further suggest that the Servant does not know, either.”

The Prefect took no further notice of them and turned his attention back to Gelmir:

“We need to find him now, today. I have already had to send most of our Orcs to the Misty Mountains to preserve them from sun poisoning. My Men I have sent west. Then, at your counsel, I sent more west to find what became of the army. The imps will realize our position any day now. Do you not know how cruel they are? But I hear nothing from the Ministry of Peace about relief. The Dark Throne is silent, or its messengers are waylaid by bandits.”

Gelmir said in a reasonable tone, “Perhaps, Prefect, it was a mistake to advise the Throne to send its messages through the eastern route rather than the southern. The imps were not that great a peril to communication.”

“Do not forget, Gelmir, that the span of you life is no longer than the span of your usefulness. If we cannot complete our mission here…”

“But Prefect, have I not brought a great gift?” Gelmir indicated the ember in the cup.

“Gelmir, you flatter yourself, and most of all you flatter your wit. You have brought a useless bauble that the Eye could have whenever it desired.” The Prefect kicked the cup away. “The Eye is sick of rings.”

The cup clattered off the dais, sending the ember skittering across the slate floor. It did not actually come to a stop very close to my feet, but no one was paying much attention to me as the exchange between Gelmir and the Prefect continued. I bent down and picked it up. It was very hot, I knew. I could even feel some of the heat. However, in the unreal darkness of this outpost of the kingdom of nothingness, I was as faded as I had ever been. One of the advantages to that was a degree of immunity to physical forces: such as heat, for instance. I picked up Vilya (Gelmir really had retrieved it; had he been fool enough to bring it here voluntarily, or had he been picked up by one of the Prefect’s sunburned Orcs?) and applied it to the cords on my wrists. No one noticed the small amount of smoke. Then no one noticed that I was free.

Well, my hands were no longer tied: I was still being kept under guard by four large men while the slithery Gelmir seemed to be losing an argument with the viceroy of darkness about whether to just kill the lot of us.

“First, Gelmir,” the Prefect was saying, “I will personally induce the ecstasy of the Eye in all three of them, to see whether they do know anything. And then, Gelmir, before we leave this place, the time will come for you; so much for your ‘offer of negotiation.’”

I took a certain degree of satisfaction in that last bit, but not so much that I did not run from the Chamber.

One of the guards did follow, but no one seemed terribly put out about my escape attempt. After all, where could I go?

Where I did go was into the largest Orc ward (made from my kitchen and my principal larder, the devils!) and tore down the curtains over the south-facing windows. Beautiful bright sunlight streamed into the room, a fair amount of it straight through me. No matter. The Orcs erupted like disturbed bees and ran screaming into the hall. Then I exited a window and walked on my lawn for the first time since my eleventy-first birthday party. When I came to the deliciously horrible stained glass of the Chamber of Audience, I used a rock to clear away the glass before jumping through. I was never a hero.

Inside, I found the situation better than I had hoped. The guards had gone to attend to the riot in the hall, and Gelmir was wrestling with the Prefect. I did to Arwen and Glorfindel’s bonds much what I had done with mine, which hurt the prisoners but not as much as the Ecstasy of Mordor would have. We were hopping through the window when Gelmir yelled, “Wait, take me!” This gave the Elves pause, but I responded immediately with the only weapon we had. The Prefect, whom Gelmir did not quite have in neck hold, could scarcely see me, what with the sudden access of sunlight and the fact I was half invisible anyway. So, he was not prepared to stop me from popping the Ring into his mouth and making him swallow it. Then he ran into the hall, too, but not to call the guards after us.

(8) North & West

Outside on the lawn of Bag End, there was nothing to do but run. There were some Men about, but none had horses, and the Men seemed disinclined to challenge us on foot: three High Elves, even unarmed, are pretty formidable. In any case, the guard concentrated on the chaos in Bag End, which seemed to taking on the aspect of an Orkish uprising. When it was just a matter of speed, Glorfindel carried me. The landscape was one of gently rolling hills, with occasional patches of trees: it lent itself to flight. Long before sunset, we were many miles away.

We had run all the way to the North Farthing. Indeed, we were not far from Bindbale Wood. I had visited here in my younger days, and I knew the people for hospitable folk. Still, the whole Shire had been brutalized, so I did not know how much the rules of hospitality still applied. In any case, I suspected that a little harmless dissimulation about my identity would be prudent.

“We might just spend the evening in the woods,” Arwen suggested.

“And we might miss lunch and dinner and breakfast and cast ourselves into the Encircling Ocean,” I said crossly. “Whatever may suit the Elves, however, I am a Hobbit. I will knock on the first door we see.”

The first door actually took a little finding, but finally we came across a farm just outside the border of the wood, a farm that looked as prosperous as any Hobbit farm ever had. Leaving the Elves at a discreet distance, I knocked on the door just as the sun was about to set.

“Good evening, madam,” I said to the farmer’s wife who answered the door. “My name is Boffo Feathertoes. Would it be possible for you to put up my friends and me for the night?”

“You’re not Boffo Feathertoes.” She answered evenly. “You’re Mad Baggins.”

“Why do you say that, madam?”

“I can see the sun setting through your stomach.”

They put us up anyway, but we had to stay in the barn. Gelmir, who had picked up a few other things besides the Ring Vilya during his expedition to Rivendell, paid quite a lot of coin for our lodging. The story that circulated afterward was that I had appeared at the door with a bang and a sack of gold. I had joined the immortals.

Gelmir was penitent. He had lost his little band of followers to Orkish stragglers or to desertion. Possibly that was just as well: if a band of Elves had approached the garrison of Men at the Brandywine Bridge, they would probably have just been shot with arrows from a distance. As it was, he had no trouble gaining an audience with the Prefect. The Prefect had no interest in Gelmir’s offer of surrender on terms, but he did seem really desperate for information about the outside world.

Mordor was not paying attention to his mission. In fact, Mordor did not seem to be paying attention to anything. The Eye had not been surprised by victory. Mordor had been planning for centuries about the course it would take when Gondor fell. Those plans had not included the recovery of the Ring; that had been pure luck. Something about the recovery of the Ring, however, had deranged even the most straightforward schemes over which the Eye had gloated for so long. Mordor could and did still overawe its near neighbors, but more and more, when the claw of Mordor reached out afar, it closed on nothing. No one at the Ministry of Peace was sure what was happening, except that anything that miscarried in Eriador was certainly the Prefect’s fault. At any rate, that was their attitude the last time he had heard from them.

Gelmir also learned what had happened at Mount Doom on March 25. Two palantiri were found at Minas Tirith, and one came into the possession of the Prefect’s Ministry. They can see through time as well as space, and stories about what they revealed spread like lightening among the Dark Lord’s principal servants.

The Ring-bearer had almost fallen to the temptation of the Ring, but in the end he rallied. He had been about to destroy the Ring when he heard a struggle behind him between his servant and the Gollum-creature. He left the Sammath Naur to help his friend, who was rolling down the path with Gollum at his throat. As the Ring-bearer stood at the entrance to the cave, however, he became aware of the approach of the Nazgul. He raised to rebuke them the hand that wore the Ring; they fell from the sky like sparks from a fire. He followed the wrestling figures down the path. When he reached them, before he speak a word of command, Gollum sprang up and ripped his throat out. The Ring-bearer’s servant eventually slew Gollum, but not before he had himself been mortally wounded. He died clutching the Ring a few yards from the entrance to the Sammath Naur. The Ring was on the Dark Lord’s hand within a few hours.

“Perhaps if he had claimed the Ring for his own, matters would have turned out differently,” Gelmir concluded.

“That is exactly the kind of thing I would expect someone like you to say,” Glorfindel sneered.

I said nothing, but I was not sure I disagreed with Gelmir. Poor, honest, doomed Frodo: if he had understood that he could not possibly achieve the Quest by his own virtue, then maybe, just maybe, a way would have been found that no one could have predicted.

* * *

The last stage of our journey to the West was not without incident. We went northwest to Needlehole, thinking to travel through Little Delving rather than through Michel Delving, which for all we knew was still in the hands of the Prefect’s Men. We discovered, though, that the Hobbits of the northern border of the Shire were no happier to see strangers than the Bucklanders had been. The northerners had not been troubled by Men or Orcs, however: their problem was the Things that Live in the Woods. Wags and trolls and nightwalkers had long haunted Hobbit mythology, for the excellent reason that they also haunted the wastelands to the north of the Shire. All that had kept them from haunting the Shire, too, were the Rangers, and to a lesser extent the sheriffs. Now both were gone. We heard a lot of sentiment that things were better when Lotho was in charge: he at least had kept up the border patrol.

We met some of the Things, on the one night when we unwisely attempted to make camp. After that, we took lodging where we could get it, sometimes without informing the owners of the barns and sheds where we took refuge. Quite often, we also made off with their goods and smaller livestock. (Yes, Elves do steal: I know this because I helped them do it. They don’t kidnap Hobbits, though: Rory had been listening to rumors.) We barely escaped from the neighborhood of Little Delving with our lives. In contrast, we were well enough received in Michel Delving to use the inn. Yes, the Prefect’s Men had been there, but had done no damage beyond some ordinary thievery. Nothing more was heard from them; no one and nothing had come from the West.

While we were at Michel Delving, however, we did hear that the remnants of the army of the Eye had left the Shire through the southward roads. It had not been defeated. When Hobbits cautiously entered Bag End and the other headquarters, they found that most of the army had died.

We stayed on the Road thereafter. We passed through the lightly people White Downs, and the Far Downs, of which I had so often heard but which I had never visited. The Elves told me that the tang in the air and the high haze in the sky were signs of the proximity of the sea. I could just detect these things, but in truth my senses were failing me, or at least my senses for natural things. It was getting so that I had to concentrate to see the ordinary world. I was beginning to be able to see another world all about me, even in the daytime. Some of it was quite alarming. I mentioned it to the Elves. They said yes, they could see that world, if they needed to do so. Usually they preferred to ignore it. I could understand why, but I was having less and less choice about seeing it.

(9) The Tower Hills

I had seen a fair amount of Middle Earth, but the White Tower was by far the most striking building I have ever seen. It rose up like a chalk continuation of the highest of the rolling green hills. It almost glowed against the sky behind it, a sky so blue it was almost black. And the Tower was perfect; no harm had come to this place.

Arwen said, “Bilbo, as you know, we three Elves have been here before. Now come up with us, and you will what you have never seen before.”

The great oaken doors of the Tower were open. No one was inside at ground level. Around the walls of the great tower was a wide stairway, punctuated by small glassed windows. The stairs wound to an aperture in the roof far above us. We climbed.

We were able to see the sea long before we reached the top. It was not the sea’s apparent infinity that astonished me. I was astonished because the sea was the one thing that looked the same in both worlds.

The top of the tower was large. A central chamber took up most of it; doors led off that circular space to other rooms. In the middle of the chamber there was stone pedestal. On the pedestal was a softly glowing white sphere.

“Look, Bilbo,” said Arwen, “here is the great palantir that looks to the uttermost West. The Elves come here in pilgrimage, so that we do not forget our true home. You are worthy to see this vision, too. Come.”

I stood up on the shallow step on which the pedestal stood and gazed into the sphere. The milky glow became clouds. The clouds thinned. And then opaque glow returned.

“I am sorry,” I said, “perhaps I am not worthy enough.”

“I see nothing but clouds and light,” said Gelmir.

“That, too, is all I see,” Glorfindel said.

We were silent for several confused moments. Then we heard a door opening behind us.

The Elves stepped back and drew their knives, but there was no need. Two young Men in gray uniforms stood politely by the head of the stairs. On their right breasts they bore a white emblem with which I was not familiar.

“Lady Arwen, my Elf Lords, Master Halfling, we greet you in the name of Warden Cirdan and his allies. With your permission, we have been sent to escort you to the Gray Havens.”

“Well met, fair-spoken strangers, for the havens are indeed our destination,” said Gelmir. “But can you tell us why the stone no longer looks beyond the sea?”

“I can merely confirm that the stone is as you say for all who try to use it. Why this should be I do not know. However, my master may know. In any case, he desires urgently to speak to you. Will you come down and take some refreshment? We have mounts for you all. We can be at the Havens by sundown tomorrow.”

We looked at each other. There nothing else we could have asked for. The two Men in gray preceded us down the stairs. I kept hopping up to the westward-facing windows to get one more look at the reassuringly solid sea.

(10) The End of the World

In the fine weather, we made better time even than we had hoped. On the journey, our hosts answered direct questions but volunteered no information. We arrived at the Havens by mid-afternoon. The Havens were a small and ancient town of square towers and substantial houses, all built entirely of basalt. The town was almost an island. It was located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula that defined the inner harbor. The Havens were easily defended and impossible to truly besiege without a formidable armada to flank its seaward side. No ships but the town’s own were in evidence when we arrived, however. The town was a perfect as the White Tower had been. Its folk were busy and undisturbed.

In former days, I would have complained that I was not offered a meal after such a long journey, but food was becoming one of those earthly things that meant less and less to me. My horror at this development grew daily, but it did allow me to be as eager as the rest to be led to the quarters of Cirdan the Shipwright, the Warden of the Havens. We came to a long room with windows of leaded glass that overlooked both the inner and the seaward harbors. Long tables along the sides of the room held maps, scrolls, and instrument of observation, as well some products of elvish ingenuity whose function eluded me.

“Arwen, Glorfindel, welcome, welcome!” he said. He gave me a wry look and said, “And welcome to you, Master Baggins, the little fellow who started this big war.” I made a similarly ambiguous expression and bowed low, wishing that I were not just faded but completely invisible already. Then Cirdan addressed the last member of our party.

“Oh, Gelmir, it’s you. You survived, I see.”

Gelmir made much the same sort of bow I had.

Arwen said, “It is good to see again, Cirdan, my friend, and good beyond hope to see your city safe and whole. Many terrible things have happened, and we must discuss them soon enough. But tell me first, if you will, why the palantir of the Hills no longer has the Straight Sight.”

“All in good time, Arwen. Indeed, may mysteries will be made clear before the sun sets. I had asked several other persons with an interest in these matters to be here, but you are a little earlier than we planned, so it will take a few moments to alert them. Ah, here are two now!”

Erestor and Faramir had entered the room. Warm greetings were exchanged. Faramir and Arwen actually embraced; they did not entirely disentangle from each other when they were finished. Erestor seemed a little concerned that there was less to me than when we last met. Gelmir smiled and nodded and overlooked the fact nobody met his eye.

“There were monsters to fight in the Hills of Evendim,” Faramir was explaining, “but no Men, fortunately. The Breelanders think they can make a go of it there. Some of us then continued west and met the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. They are eager to help us. They were beginning to wonder how they would support themselves in a world without farmers to trade with.

“After that, I came south with Erestor and most of the other Elves. When I arrived here and learned the state of things in the Eriador, I was about to head east into the Shire to search for you. Then we heard you were on your way.”

“Yes, better monsters than Men. Would that I had taken that advice earlier.”

Someone unknown to me had joined us, a tall bearded figure in a gray uniform. Like the uniform of the men who had brought us, his bore the symbol of a white hand.

“Saruman!” said Arwen and Glorfindel in dismay. Gelmir said nothing. Perhaps he was struck dumb with happiness at there being someone in the room who was even less popular than he was.

“At your service,” he said with a small bow. “And yours, Master Halfling,” he said, turning to me. “The famous Bilbo Baggins, Esquire, if I am not mistaken?”

I bowed back. “The very same; and my service to you.” I knew enough about Saruman not to like him one bit, but I also knew enough about villains to be polite to them until the last possible moment.

“Cirdan, you know well that Saruman was cast from the White Council,” said Arwen, “and that he was long in secret league with the Enemy. How comes he here, your ally and apparent friend?”

“Lady Arwen, I have done many foolish and wicked things,” Saruman said to Arwen before Cirdan could reply, “yet now I have learned a little wisdom, at an immense price. Cirdan has heard my tale, and has become reconciled with me. I ask that you, too, hear me out.”

It was quite a story. We had heard that Gandalf had imprisoned Saruman with Grima at Orthanc, and set the Ents to guard them. On the Day of Doom, however, the Ents were terrified quite as much as the trees of the Old Forest had been. Unlike those trees, the Ents were mobile. They ran away. Saruman and Grima simply walked out of Orthanc and parted company, with slight expressions of mutual esteem.

I had not heard that Saruman had had dealings with the Shire. Now that he mentioned the matter, I began to understand how someone as clueless as Lotho Sackville-Baggins could cow the country into submission. In any case, Saruman fled to the Shire. He believed he had done so in secret, but the secret was apparently not as tightly kept as he had hoped.

Then something clicked in my head.

“The traitor: you are the traitor that Sauron was seeking in the Shire!” I said. “You were the reason for the invasion!”

“Yes Master Baggins, I was the proximate cause, and I deeply regret the great harm that was done to your beautiful country in the search for me. May I remind you, however, that the Dark Tower had business with the Shire that had nothing to do with me? There were more remote causes for the invasion. How regrettable that your own noble self was among them.”

He was better at innuendo than Gelmir was, I thought. Much better.

In any case, Saruman did not remain long in the Shire, but fled westward when he realized that the hand of Mordor was reaching out for him. Before many days had passed, he was at the Gray Havens. He had an awkward interview with Cirdan, who detained him at first. However, Cirdan was growing desperate. He knew that an army of Mordor was on its way to Havens. He could not defend the Havens indefinitely. He did not have the ships to evacuate its people, either to the West or to some remote place on the shores of Middle Earth. Saruman reminded him of his power of the Voice, and asked Cirdan to let him meet the army marching from the Shire.

“It was the best display of the great Art in my very long career,” Saruman said in a voice that failed to convey modesty. “With an hour’s talk, I stopped their advance. Within a day, I had turned their allegiance. In a week, most of them were reformed characters. Many now choose to continue to serve with me here, though of course now I have little extraordinary power of persuasion: other than reason, of course.”

“And how can that be,” asked Gelmir, “if that is a power that is native to you?”

“This can be, Councilor Gelmir, because what mortals call ‘magic’ is ending.”

This was food for thought for everyone. I thought of an objection.

I stood up on a chair in front of a window that looked out on golden afternoon light falling on the inner harbor. “If that is the case, wizard, than how is it you can see the white sails through my body, and in a week you will be able to see the masts?”

“Bilbo, let us consider your strange case. May we take it as proved that you are indeed fading, as the Nazgul did of old?”

“Just follow my voice if you can’t see me when I climb off the chair. Yes, Saruman, I am fading.”

“But when the Nazgul faded, the disappearance of their bodies was the least grievous matter. Their wills faded, too, Bilbo, until their minds became only puppets of the mind of Sauron. Has anything like that happened to you?”

I considered a moment, but I had already given the matter much thought. “I saw the Eye just once, on the Day of Doom. I am aware of it, like a stove across a room, but no, it does oppress me. The Eye is silent. I had, frankly, been hoping to leave Middle Earth before it began to speak.”

“It will not speak to you, Bilbo. Indeed, even in his bodily form the Dark Lord no longer speaks to his own servants. You may have noticed some of the effects of this silence on the government of his kingdom.”

“Is he then dead?” asked Gelmir.

“By no means. Sauron cannot die. He observes all that passes in Middle Earth. No doubt he sees us here now. He shouts and struggles and tries to affect the course of events, but he is like a man at the bottom of a waterfall who cannot make himself heard. The power of Sauron was Nothing, or rather the control of the flow of power and substance from this world to the absolute void that is not Arda. That is why every exercise of Sauron’s will was always a loss of some kind. His towers rose to the sky, but at the cost of realms that had held much greater substance. The Rings were only valves to give Sauron greater access to the void. When he acquired the Great Ring, the hole he had drilled through the world of substance became too great, a chasm not even he could control. All the magic in the world is flowing through it, and at an ever faster pace.

“I tried once to warn him that this could happen. He would not listen.”

Glorfindel became alarmed. “But what about the Elves?” he asked. “Is even the West safe, and can we still go there? Was the palantir clouded because the West is no more?”

Cirdan reassured him. “The palantir is clouded because Those Beyond the Sea obscured it when they realized the magnitude of Sauron’s victory. They do not wish their secrets spied out, and they know Sauron might well acquire the stone. Perhaps they did wisely, though now they have no way to see what is happening here. In any case, the very fact the palantir is still obscure is proof that the West still exists. The magic will not flow out of all creation, Glorfindel: only Middle Earth.”

“The Elves can still leave Middle Earth,” Erestor said, “but the time is short. The Straight Road to the West is a special grace between two worlds, but it cannot long endure now. As Cirdan can tell you, his ships have ever more trouble traversing the Gulf. I judge that no ship will be able to reach the West after the end of this year.”

“But what will happen to Middle Earth? What will happen to the race of Men?” asked Faramir.

“Some part of the effect you have already seen, Steward of Gondor,” answered Saruman gravely. “The creatures of this Middle Earth that belonged to the elder days are passing away. That would have happened anyway, but what would otherwise have taken centuries will now require only a few months. All of them: Trolls, Orcs, Ents, the good creatures and the bad, all will simply fall apart under the inflexible laws that will order nature in this Fourth Age.”

“So you are saying that Men will have the world to themselves?”

“For the most part. I tried very hard to tell Gandalf this. I tried too hard, and in the wrong way, and maybe I did not deserve to be listened to. In any case, I thought to use my knowledge of the new age for my own benefit. I started as a fool, and I became a tyrant.”

“Yes, you did,” said Arwen.

“O wise persons,” I broke in, “a mere Hobbit is unworthy to learn such great secrets as I have heard in this room. But may I point out that I am still disappearing?”

“You are no longer disappearing for quite for the reasons the Nazgul did, Bilbo,” Saruman said. Gently. “You are disappearing because, in your long and remarkable life, you have become magical. You are one of the immortals, my friend.”

“In that case,” I said, “this is no longer the world for me.”

* * *

Arwen chose to remain with Faramir: no surprise there. He was still calling himself the Steward of Gondor when our ship left, and talking about reconstituting the kingdom. I suspect that is wishful thinking. By and by, Arwen will persuade him to declare himself king of someplace new. Is he is as good a Man as Strider was? Maybe not, but he is willing to try.

Saruman had the option to stay, but chose to submit himself to the judgment that awaited him in the West. Perhaps, in light of what happened to Sauron, he considers that the worst the Valar would do to him is better than the best he would have devised for himself. I still don’t trust him, but he is quite a conversationalist.

Erestor will be coming in one of the last ships, if he comes at all. He was taking about staying in Middle Earth. He would be satisfied with mortality, he says. The fact is that none of the Wise know whether the Elves can long endure in the Fourth Age. The Wisest Wise are not taking any chances.

Gelmir was supposed to come on this ship. I got Cirdan to change the passenger list.

The sea journey itself has been one continuous storm. I really thought we would capsize in the first few days. The winds have quieted a little, but since then there has been rain and more rain.

And as for me, I keep to my small cabin and do what I have done for many years: write an account of my adventures. My first diary is still at Rivendell, probably, unless someone has used it to start a fire already. So much happened between the end of that book and the beginning of this one. Whole lifetimes passed: Merry, Pippin, Sam, Strider, and of course Frodo. They are all gone now, fallen in a crack that opened between one world and the next.

Only I am left to tell the tale, but who will care to hear it? Do they even have memoirs in the uttermost West? We’ll find out. At least, as I write this, I have the satisfaction of seeing that my fist once again casts a shadow.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 332 pages
Published October 25th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B0764948W1

I keep being surprised by Cole and Anspach. I have said that before, but I'm going to keep on saying it as long as it keeps happening. Right now, the Galaxy's Edge series is hot stuff in the "Space Marines" category on Amazon. When I read Legionnaire, I thought I knew where the series was going. It turns out I was mistaken.

Spiral power

Spiral power

Let me explain my continuing surprise regarding the Galaxy's Edge series by recourse to Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann is a 2007 series by GAINAX, one of my favorite Japanese studios. At the beginning, Gurren Lagann is the story of two boys, Simon and Kamina, who are bored with their rote and regimented life, and who act out in predictable ways. Then, Simon stumbles on an artifact of great power, the core drill. This sets in train a sequence of events that culminates in a battle for the fate of the galaxy.

However, none of this is apparent at first. The core drill and its spiral power is a metaphor for what is going to happen. Each revolution of the crank brings you to a higher level, but the spiral itself is unchanged; it simply grows in diameter. Gurren Lagann is a brutal sendoff of mecha anime, and often uses puerile humor to mask its subtlety. Simon and Kamina are teenage boys, after all. But the total effect is a fascinating story that happens on multiple levels simultaneously, while keeping its essence unchanged throughout.

Galaxy's Edge is much like this. You think, space marines, OK, this is Tom Clancy in space! Or Tom Clancy with Star Wars! We will get elite soldiers who kick ass, some political intrigue, and we all get to be heroes in the end, right?

As it turns out, all of the real heroes are dead. [Spoiler alert. I'm not kidding about that.] They don't give out the Order of the Centurion posthumously 98.4% of the time for nothing. Each book in the series feels very different because each one is a turn of the crank, expanding beyond the gripping tale of the survivors of Victory Company in Legionnaire, to something much, much bigger. New secrets are revealed, deeper connections forged to things that seemed incidental at the time. Yet, we are also getting something much the same: space opera competently done, with a touch of dark humor and military action-adventure

And, by the way, I agree: it is never a good idea to give weapons strong AI, even if they make interesting observations about poetry.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

My other book reviews

The Long View 2006-03-14: Spengler, The Darwin Awards, and a Secularist Manifesto

The Hurt Locker
Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes

In general, I think Goldman usually had better arguments than Reilly, but for this specific instance, Goldman's argument that the US should hire foreign mercenaries instead of trying to fill the ranks at home, is deeply mistaken. If there is anything the Forever War started by 9/11 has proved, it is that the US can recruit, train, and deploy quietly competent servants of empire out of the vast American hinterlands.

It isn't clear that we have any grand strategy for deploying them, but it is still true that we can direct rough men to kill people and break things in the service of state as well as anyone.


Spengler, The Darwin Awards, and a Secularist Manifesto

 

That Spengler at Asia Times seems to be losing the old Faustian spirit, at least with regard to the War on Terror, if we may so judge by his most recent column:

Like or not, the US will get chaos, and cannot do anything to forestall it. My advice to President George W Bush: When chaos is inevitable, learn to enjoy it. Take a weekend at Camp David with a case of Jack Daniels and Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest ...

Nonetheless, note that is Spengler is not among those who fear the victory of Islam: he speaks instead of its decomposition:

But the US is in large measure responsible for the chaos that overstretches the world from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. Trade, information and entrepreneurship have turned the breakdown of traditional society in the Islamic world into a lapsed-time version of the Western experience. ...

In any case, he makes bold to offer the US some deeply unsound advice:

The US has the wrong sort of military to engage the enemies it currently confronts, for it has the wrong sort of population whence to recruit soldiers...The cultural lacuna that cripples US arms cannot be filled quickly. As a long-term solution, the US might establish a National Intelligence Academy in parallel to West Point, Annapolis and Colorado Springs, and train the sort of intelligence officers it requires from the outset...The best solution would be to adopt the French model, in the form of a Foreign Legion based offshore. The world still is full of first-rate soldiers with a Russian or South African pedigree who are not suited to civilian life. By extension, Washington might issue Letters of Marque to private entities to deal with enemies at arm's length. .

This Spengler is as misguided as Ferguson.

* * *

The infallible sign of fiscal idiocy in the United States during the 1990s was the advocacy of a Balanced Budget Amendment for the federal constitution. And look: it's back again, among the contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination of 2008:

WASHINGTON, DC – As part of his comprehensive three-point plan for fiscal responsibility, Senator George Allen (R-VA) today introduced legislation that would call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget and restore discipline and accountability in Washington. In a floor speech after introducing the measure, Senator Allen called on his colleagues to join him in the effort to “ensure the next generation of Americans is not burdened with overwhelming debt or higher taxes” as a result of wasteful and irresponsible spending.

“Balancing the budget is not just a matter of making sure that expenditures are equal to revenue; it’s about making sure that the Federal Government fulfills its proper, focused constitutional role—and not expanding into everything including matters reserved to the people or the States. Because, we all know that a big, bloated government stifles innovation, saps initiative and reduces personal responsibility,” said Senator Allen in his floor statement.

Actually, balancing the budget is just a matter of making sure that expenditures equal revenue. That's what budgets are for.

* * *

But here is a good idea, the best concept for a film I have read in a long time. I will certainly see The Darwin Awards:

Over the last few years the Darwin Awards have built up a dedicated worldwide following. Named after evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin the awards are bestowed annually upon those individuals who instigate the most idiotic accidents of the year – thereby doing the human race a favour by removing themselves from the gene-pool!

Now for the first time, this global phenomenon is being made into a motion picture. Finn Taylor, the writer director of DREAM WITH THE FISHES and CHERISH has assembled an all star cast led by WINONA RYDER and JOSEPH FIENNES to pay tribute to some of the very best (or should that be worst) Darwin Awards of all time.

It is a comedy, of course.

* * *

Jyllands-Posten publishes things in addition to cartoons, among them recently a manifesto entitled Together facing the new totalitarianism. [Hat-tip to Cosmophant.] The manifesto as signed by such worthies Bernard-Henri Lévy, Ibn Warraq, and Salman Rushdie: most of the signers are Muslims and ex-Muslims. You can find the text and links here, as well as some criticism to which I will get in a moment. The manifesto itself reads in part:

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.

The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

The criticism comes in part from conservatives (my link is to an American, but the sentiment is not unknown in Europe), who point out this text seems to delegitimize opposition to the Jihad if the opposition is not secular. Indeed, the text might be seen to be as hostile to European tradition as Islamism is hostile to it.

There is also so this: some of the signers seem to be advocates of the "two-poles" theory of evil in the 21st century, which has it that the European Enlightenment is threatened equally by Islamic terrorism and state terrorism from the United States. Marym Namazie, one of the signers and apparently an Iranian Communist, is said to express these sentiments in this interview. (Non-Danish-speaking readers must wait for the English-language section.)

The Enlightenment is a bit beyond our likes and dislikes by this point. All politics, including all forms of conservatism and traditionalism, are as much manifestations of the Enlightenment as are Marxism and post-humanism. Yes, there are western theocrats: they are creatures of the Enlightenment, too, though they are also as rare as hen's teeth.

The Jihad is an assault on the whole of the West. The attempt by secularists to use the Jihad to launch a civil war within the West against their opponents on the Right is worthy of a Darwin Award.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-03-12: Steyn Spiked; The Polarized Circle of Life; No Comment

By National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) / Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) - PIA17202 from the NASA/JPL Photojournal, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44644158

By National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) / Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) - PIA17202 from the NASA/JPL Photojournal, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44644158

John took a lot interest in the moons of the gas giants. Which inspired one of his best stories: Ecumenical Twilight.


Steyn Spiked; The Polarized Circle of Life; No Comment

 

Mark Steyn has been kicked out of Great Britain! Well, his regular columns have been, as we read in this note by Lionel Shriver:

Lastly, let me rue the passing of Mark Steyn's syndication in Britain, for his column has now been dropped by both the Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator. I don't know the inside story, so I can't be certain that the jettisoning of this notoriously conservative Canadian constitutes political self-censorship.

Normally, columns are canceled for the same reason other products are discontinued: because people don't want them anymore. Maybe Steyn has just out lived his welcome. However, if it is really true that his British newspapers dropped him under pressure from radical Islamists, then the press everywhere has suffered a major defeat.

* * *

Was it Steven Spielberg who said recently that the age of the movie blockbuster is over? I don't know; I can't find the quote I am almost sure I heard. In any case, if by a big picture you mean a special-effects extravaganza, there is good evidence for this proposition on Google Video. I just found a feature-length parody called Star Wreck. The film is in Finnish, with English subtitles. The acting is on the "horsing around" level. The special effects, however, are not greatly inferior to the ones that made Steven Spielberg what he is today.

If effects like these are available on a rec-room budget, then what is left for the theaters but films about couples shouting at each other in their kitchens?

* * *

Many worthy persons had overlooked Enceladus until NASA made this announcement last week

NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon.

"We realize that this is a radical conclusion - that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms."

Anyone with the slightest pretensions to nerdliness has already learned everything there is to know about Enceladus, but I raise the matter here to ask a specific question:

Suppose the speculation is true that there are caverns within Enceladus that support lakes or small seas, and that microorganisms live in those waters. Suppose further that Enceladus has been spewing this biologically tinctured water for some significant fraction of its history. Enceladus, apparently, is responsible for a detectable ring of oxygen atoms around Saturn. Shouldn't there also be a ring of biological material? And shouldn't such a ring polarize light in a characteristic way? In other words, if there is life in Enceladus, we should be able to tell from here; or am I missing something?

* * *

There are mysteries nearer to hand, some in New Jersey's own Bermuda Triangle

The mild winter let officials probe Round Valley Reservoir for six men missing for years. By Wayne Parry--Associated Press CLINTON, N.J. - Authorities call it "New Jersey's Bermuda Triangle," a watery place where people disappear. The description held true yesterday after a 41/2-hour search of the Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County failed to turn up any trace of six missing boaters and fishermen, some last seen in 1973.

There had to be a Bermuda Triangle in New Jersey somewhere. I am informed that the stories about the BottomLess Pit of Essex County are exaggerated, however.

* * *

Here is a somewhat misleading headline, which I offer to further sharpen my readers' already acute critical skills: Supreme Court Justice Scalia: Roe Abortion Case May Never be Reversed:

Freiburg, Switzerland (LifeNews.com) -- Speaking to a group of professors and students in Switzerland, pro-life Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the Supreme Court may never overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed virtually unlimited abortion. He said he didn't think the decision would be reversed soon but hoped it would be eventually. Responding to a question as to when, if ever, he thought the high court would overturn Roe v. Wade, Scalia responded, “I have no idea . . . and no idea whether it will be.”

I can only repeat that Rove v. Wade has become like one widely reported version of Oscar Wilde's last words: "Either this wallpaper goes or I do." If the case is not overturned, then the principle of constitutional review is going to break down, possibly in some area we cannot foresee now. In any case, what Scalia seemed to actually be doing here was to avoid prejudging the next case on the issue. If he had said what I said in the preceding paragraph, he would have had to recuse himself.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-03-08: Error, Crime, and Dissimulation

Having walked around John Reilly's neighborhood last summer, I can confirm that it was nicely gentrified.


Error, Crime, and Dissimulation

 

Things are not looking up for cold fusion, alas, as we see from this report:

Purdue University has opened an investigation into "extremely serious" concerns regarding the research of a professor who said he had produced nuclear fusion in a tabletop experiment, the university announced yesterday...[the alleged] phenomenon [is] often called sonofusion or bubble fusion...other scientists at Oak Ridge, using their own detectors, said they saw no signs of neutrons...Instead, Mr. Naranjo said that the pattern of particles seen in the experiment much more closely matched that given off by californium, a radioactive element that is used in Dr. Taleyarkhan's laboratory.

This looks more like mistake than fraud, plus a little wishful thinking.

* * *

But what about the secret spaceships that the government built and then mothballed?

Aviation Week & Space Technology reported that the two-person "Blackstar" space vehicle may have made more than one orbital mission...Aviation Week reported that the "highly classified" project involved a large carrier aircraft called the SR-3, modeled on the XB-70 Valkyrie supersonic bomber of the 1960s, as well as a small space plane called the XOV (for "experimental orbital vehicle"). The mothership would carry the XOV under its fuselage, rise to high altitude, then release the space plane at supersonic speeds. After the release, the XOV would fire its rocket engines to rise into orbit, and the mothership would return to base....Despite the patent, engineers had difficulty developing an engine powerful enough for the small spaceplane, Aviation Week reported. It said that a "fuel breakthrough" was achieved in 1990-1991 when a high-energy, boron-based gel was developed to power the rocket.

If you read the whole piece, you will see that there is reason to suppose that Aviation Week has mistaken a proposal for hardware. That borane fuel, for one thing, is so toxic that someone would have noticed had it been used for even a few flights. And also: if the Department of Defense could do this, then why couldn't NASA, whose contractors were presumably working on the Black Operation anyway? There is no secret science, and there is less secret engineering than you might suppose.

Well, there is no secret science that they tell me about. Maybe they don't want to upset me.

* * *

No, I did not watch the Academy Awards on Sunday. Instead, that evening I viewed a tape of Hal Hartley's No Such Thing. It's about an alcoholic monster of immemorial age who lives in a cave in Iceland but is lured to New York with the promise of a cure for immortality. Think John Gardener's Grendel meets King Kong, except that there is no rampage in this film. It's an Icelandic-American production that seems to have cost about $500 to make. Every penny was well spent.

Now that was a nice little art film.

* * *

"Which side of the telescope was the intelligence on?" asked Carl Sagan about the elaborate 19th-century sketches of the alleged canal system on Mars. The question does not arise so strongly in connection with this information about Candor City. The site uses publicly available photographs of the Martian surface to not only establish the existence of the city, but to define its street grid.

Follow the links, and you will learn all about the Nazi-UFO connection, including the lunar colonies.

* * *

Meanwhile, there is a new Alternative Hitler film in the works entitled Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler:

The film is being backed with €450,000 of public money from film development firm Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg which describes the plot as follows: "Hitler lives and tells the story of what he was really like -- a weakling who only made it to the top with the help of the Jew Grünbaum."

The film is being shot in Berlin, to the appalled surprise of passersby.

I like Alternative Nazi stories as much as the next guy, indeed rather more, but I must ask why public money is being spent on this production.

* * *

I felt a rare twinge of 1970s nostalgia when I read this New York Times story about rising crime in the fantastically gentrified sections of Jersey City that line the Hudson River, where I am writing this. As one irate resident said as she recovered from her injuries:

"They just raised our taxes 15 percent, I can't send our kids to public school, I'm getting mugged, there's trash all in the streets..."

Yes, crime is up about 10% in the past year, this in a state where crime is still generally falling. To some extent, the rise is a function of the presence of more things worth stealing, particularly the eye-popping luxury cars that now line the streets and clutter the parking lots. Unfortunately, more of the people are worth robbing, too. There was a home invasion in my condominium not long back: not a break-in, either, but a tenant accosted at gunpoint on the street and forced to let the robbers in.

There are several reasons for this situation. The police rightly complain that the force has not been allowed to do adequate recruiting for many years. Half the force (of 1000 officers) is eligible for retirement. That happened because the education budget is a state-mandated bottomless pit. On the other hand, the police also seem incline to make the sort of excuses that made the former police chief of New Orleans so memorable:

Chief Troy said that much of the good news about the police department's achievements, such as new narcotics and gang units and a successful gun buy-back program, have not received enough attention..."But the biggest problem we're going to face is the commitment [to] give us the resources we need to become a fully functioning, accountable police department."

I think perhaps the only thing that the people are willing to notice in such a case is more police where they are needed. This is a pedestrian city that lends itself to foot and bicycle patrols, which in fact met with notable success in the recent past.

Again, all this is terribly familiar. In the 1970s, many major cities in America went into a death spiral of degraded services, arbitrarily higher taxes, and fear, fear, fear. That time marked the transition from the old ethnic urban political machines to the sort of professionalized government that gave the term "progressive" a bad name. In either case, local governments had their own priorities that included ordinary governance only as an afterthought. Many people just moved away. Neighboring Newark was largely burned down and abandoned. To this day, to drive through certain neighborhoods there is to meditate on the tag, "They make a desert and call it peace."

Jersey City is not the only place in which this backsliding is happening. Will the old cycle reassert itself? I think not.

As I write this, I hear balloon frames being hammered into place just two blocks south of me by chilly Mexicans for a whole new neighbor of high-end housing. The number of luxury businesses that have moved to the city has become ridiculous, particularly the kind of businesses that feature picture windows and tables on the sidewalk. There are not one but two new business centers within walking distance of each other. This is the flipside of the 1970s, when no one was investing in the cities. Frankly, the politically influential real-estate industry has so much money invested in neighborhoods like mine that they will not allow the collapse of the services needed to support them.

Similarly with the change in the populations: the former ethnic populations were politically timid and unsophisticated in public relations. Neither is true of the young-professional types whose cars are being burgled twice a month.

Let us see what happens this summer.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 Book Review

Goth Sullus claims his throne

Goth Sullus claims his throne

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 340 pages
Published September 14th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07541JBYS

That, was intense.

I keep being surprised by the storytelling of Cole and Anspach. This volume in the Galaxy's Edge series represents only a few hours, yet it is one of the most frenetic things I have ever read. We see the course of a single battle through the eyes of the men and women caught up in it.

Pitched battle is spoken of by its survivors as disjointed and confusing in retrospect. Both an eternity and an instant. The structure of the book recapitulates this in words, switching back and forth between the viewpoints of the combatants on all sides with disconcerting rapidity. Each chapter is grounded by a location and a timestamp. For the most part, the book proceeds in chronological sequence, but the brief intervals between sections serve as a reminder of just how fast everything happened.

When Goth Sullus comes to the shipyards at the Tarrago system, it feels like the Somme, Stalingrad, and Lepanto all at once. This is something of an exaggeration, since the first two were mass conflicts, the nation at war, fought at the pinnacle of state power. War for the Legion, both the Republican forces and Goth Sullus' grimmer copies, is more like the era of heavy cavalry, where the most powerful weapons are wielded only by experts. The loss of life in the battle is astonishing, but the same thing used to happen on the Western Front every day during an offensive.

Since we are allowed to see through the eyes of so many, Attack of Shadows allows us to understand why so many good people would choose to take up arms against the corruption and venality of the Republic. We see their wounded hearts, and share their thoughts, as they seek justice, or vengeance, against their oppressors. On the other hand, we also see the that any revolution will attract its share of psychopaths, malcontents, and adventurers, who just want to watch the world burn.

On the gripping hand, despite its many faults, there are men and women of honor who still fight for the Republic, or perhaps for what they think it should really stand for, instead of what it does. These true sons and daughters of Martha, Captain Thane of the Republic Artillery, Captain Arwen of the Legion, Ensign Fal of the Republic Navy, do their duty despite the odds.

And the odds don't look good. Goth Sullus knows that the Republic is riddled with incompetence, and weakened by self-serving lies. It is easy for him to find recruits in a galaxy characterized by casual betrayal; where money and connections matter more than character or competence. And the Republic clearly deserves everything it is getting, good and hard.

Yet, for all that, I still root for the Republic, or at least for its defenders who retain their integrity. Perhaps I'm not so much pro-Republic as anti-Sullus, whose millenarian cult of personality we see blossoming. I don't yet know what drives Sullus, but I suspect that whatever it is, it has already consumed his humanity long before we ever met him. Most revolutions don't live up to their promises, and I don't have any reason to think that this one will be any different.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

My other book reviews

The Dream of the Iron Dragon Book Review

cover.jpg

by Robert Kroese
Kindle edition, 338 pages
St. Culain Press, January 8, 2018
ASIN: B078WLB2CR

I received this book for free from the author, Robert Kroese, in exchange for a review.

I'm a sucker for the premise of this series: stranded spacemen teach Vikings to build spaceships. Rebuilding civilization from scratch is a venerable conceit in science fiction. This is usually fun, and it overlaps nicely with the method of good hard science fiction, which leaves the reader usefully instructed in certain principles of physics or biology after reading a story that otherwise closely resembles a Western.

The motives of the protagonists vary quite a bit. As do their specialties. Calvin Morrison was an ex-military State Trooper with an interest in history. In the interest of survival, and love, he sets himself up as a warlord. Martin Padway was an archaeologist, and lacking the technical skills common to men in his situation, he uses his excellent memory of pithy quotes and knowledge of distillation to become a kingmaker.

In this case, our protagonists are the doomed crew of the exploration vessel Andrea Luhman. They are doomed because humanity is in the process of slowly losing a war against the only other sentient species humans have encountered, the Cho-ta’an. In desperation, the Andrea Luhman is looking for a refugium against the militarily superior Cho-ta'an.

Human vessel. This is your last warning. We will fire on you. 
 
Mallick managed a chuckle. “If you were going to fire, you’d have done it already, you motherfuckers.” He paused a moment. “Don’t send that.” 
The Dream of the Iron Dragon, p 68

What they find is something else entirely, a McGuffin of lost technology that promises hope for the human race, if only they can somehow return it to what is left of human civilization. This is a bit of a problem, since they find themselves stuck in the 9th century AD in northern Europe. 

O’Brien, the wiry, sandy-haired geologist, nodded. “We’re landing on Earth during the Middle Ages to build a forge to fabricate a spaceship part so we can carry an alien doomsday weapon across the galaxy to save humanity.” Chuckles went up from the group. Slater frowned. “Well, it sounds ridiculous when you say it like that.” 
The Dream of the Iron Dragon, p 88

I admire the setup of this series. We get a collection of scientists and technologists with the crew of the Andrea Luhman, who are actually on a scientific mission when they stumble upon an artifact of great importance to the war effort. Thus, they really do possess the knowledge that will end up being useful in their quest. We also get a nice look at Viking society in the ninth century, which is a subject of interest.

Rollo of Normandy By Imars: Michael Shea. - Own work; transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:MARKELLOS using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9553228

Rollo of Normandy

By Imars: Michael Shea. - Own work; transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:MARKELLOS using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9553228

This is mostly where the "usefully instructed" part comes in for me. As a fan of hard sci-fi, I like learning something new from the books I read. For this series, it is the life of the ninth century. For example, despite my interest in the Normans, frenchified Vikings, I hadn't heard of Rollo, Duke of Normandy.

I had heard of Harald Fairhair, but I didn't know much about his campaign to rule Norway. Not fun, at least for the people on the receiving end, is the answer. This isn't particularly surprising, but Kroese makes it real for me. This is an alternate history, but now I feel like I have a better sense of what our actual history was like.

The descendants of Rollo, and the other Vikings who raided France, would eventually go on to conquer England, as well as Sicily, and parts of the Levant. They still own a large fraction of the United Kingdom. All in all, we should probably consider them one of the most successful ethnic groups in all of history. 

Of course, this is of little importance to the crew of the Andrea Luhman, who are preoccupied with matters of greater importance, like the survival of the human race, and their own. For them, finding a way to return their discovery to the remnants of human civilization in their own time is the only way to prevent extinction at the hands of the Cho-ta'an. The odds are long, but the payoff is enormous. They judge it a risk worth taking, which makes for a fun book for me. I look forward to their future adventures.

My other book reviews