Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 24 – The Ultimate Computer

And yet another iconic episode.  Dr. Richard Daystrom is the genius who as a very young man invented the computer systems that are currently used on all Federation star ships.  Now Daystrom has progressed to a new computer the M-5 that can run a star ship without a human captain or almost any crew at all.  Commodore Bob Wesley has selected the Enterprise to test out the new system by setting up a war game between the Enterprise and four other star ships.

Daystrom comes aboard to set up the M-5 and continuously antagonizes Kirk and McCoy by stressing the fact that the M-5 will eliminate the need for a star ship captain and most of the crew.  Spock on the other hand is very familiar with Daystrom’s work and once the testing of the system commences, he agrees that the M-5’s performance far exceeds the results expected from a human crew and captain.

But in route to the second war game trial, the M-5 randomly attacks and destroys an ore freighter that luckily had no crew.  In addition, when Scotty’s engineering staff attempts to de-energize the M-5 the machine vaporizes one of the red shirts and employs a force field to prevent any human intervention in its control of the Enterprise.  After unsuccessfully trying to outwit the machine and disconnect it from the ship’s controls they are forced to watch in horror as the M-5 attacks the four star ships with full powered weapons.  One ship is completely incapacitated and its entire crew killed.  Commodore Wesley gets permission to use his remaining ships to destroy the Enterprise.  At this point we learn that the M-5 is acting illogically because it was constructed from the “engrams” of Dr. Daystrom’s own brain who as it turns out is mentally unstable.  This explains Daystrom’s very personal relationship with the machine and his erratic behavior now reinforces the fact that M-5 is quite mad.

In a final attempt to prevent the M-5 from destroying the remaining star ships Daystrom attempts to reason with the computer.  He attempts to convince M-5 that killing humans is murder and against the laws of man and God.  But Daystrom begins to identify with his creation and begins justifying self-preservation as the M-5’s right.  He begins ranting about the unfairness of how he was treated after his initial successes and finally he starts to gloat over M-5’s superiority over its human opponents.  Finally, he has to be sedated and hauled away to sick bay.

Kirk takes over and finishes the job of convincing M-5 that it is guilty of murder.  Unfortunately, he does too good a job and the computer decides to commit suicide by deactivating itself and thereby leave the Enterprise vulnerable to destruction by the Star Fleet squadron.  Scotty is able to restore only the shields but not communications.  Kirk orders the shields to remain lowered and he gambles that Bob Wesley will break off the attack rather than destroy the defenseless ship at least until the situation can be clarified.  When this succeeds Kirk explains to Spock that he gambled on Wesley’s humanity.  McCoy then uses this human virtue to assail Spock’s seeming preference for machines over humans.  Spock reiterates his already stated preference for humans over machines but states that a computer that has McCoy’s mental makeup would spout so much illogic that it would be a great source of amusement.  The End.

Everybody loves this episode.  When the M-5 flawlessly passes the first war game against the star ships, Commodore Wesley congratulates the M-5 on its performance and also sends his greetings to Captain Dunsail.  When he hears this Kirk storms off the bridge while the rest of the bridge officers look shocked.  When McCoy asks “who the blazes is Dunsail?”  Spock explains that dunsail is a term used at Starfleet Academy to describe a part serving no useful purpose.

McCoy goes to Kirk’s cabin to give him some medicinal alcohol.  Kirk admits to feeling useless and asks McCoy whether he himself is guilty of vanity, fearing the loss of his prestige as captain  McCoy tells him to ask Jim Kirk because Jim Kirk is an honest guy.  But sixty million Americans were yelling that night at their tv’s saying, “Yes you conceited blowhard, you strutting prima donna, that’s what this is about!”

But Kirk does have one great line.  When the M-5 shuts itself off.  Kirk yells to Scotty to go down to engineering and permanently deactivate the M-5.  His final words to the engineer are to shout, “PULL THE PLUG ON IT!”

The other attraction in this episode is the characterization of Doctor Daystrom.  He has both delusions of grandeur and a persecution complex.  At one point while he was reasoning with the M-5 he attempted to salve the computer’s feelings about being in error and when the machine stated its record of achievement Daystrom concurred stating, “Yes, I am great, you are great.”  Then when he went completely bonkers, he started reciting his grievances against his colleagues, “They laughed behind my back at the boy genius and got rich on my invention, my work!”

I really like this episode.  Two blowhards sharing the stage, Daystrom and Kirk.  Wonderful.

9  //  6.

Update:  Chemist had some good feedback that I thought I’d share:

“With all due respect Photog, you missed the best line in the show. It was McCoy’s to Kirk:
“Did you see the love light in Spock’s eyes? The right computer finally came along.”
Epic.”

 

Battle Ground – A Novel of The Dresden Files – by Jim Butcher – An SF&F Book Review

Spoiler Alert.  All my reviews are spoilers.  If you wan to avoid them go down to the end and just read my recommendation.

For anyone coming to this review without any background to the Dresden Files, Battle Ground is I believe the seventeenth book of that series.  Jim Butcher has created quite a complicated and very entertaining world that centers on a Chicago that is embedded in a reality that has several kinds of vampires, two faery realms, werewolves, sasquatches, Norse mythological characters, Knights of the Cross, Fallen Angels and wizards.  And in particular Harry Dresden is the extremely conflicted and always wise-cracking Wizard of Chicago.  If you want to delve into the series, I guess it would be much more sensible and fun to start at book one but to each his own.

Battle Ground is the conclusion of the story arc begun in the previous book, Peace Talks.  And for all intents and purposes this book is taken up by the Battle of Chicago.  A really angry Titan named Ethniu has decided to destroy Chicago as a way to turn the human world against the supernatural groups that were parties to the “Unseelie Accords” that acted as a council to ensure that humans do not discover the hidden creatures all around them.

Along with her amphibious allies the Fomor who have a settlement under Lake Michigan they attack the city and with the power of the “Eye,” that Ethniu wields, they begin destroying the city and killing the population.  Standing against this systematic destruction and murder of Chicago is Harry and his allies.  I won’t say friends because many of them fear and/or hate him.  He has an Italian American mobster turned supernatural power broker named Marcone providing significant infrastructure, manpower and significant strategic support.  He has his current boss the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab the Winter Queen, providing her troops and her own very considerable magical powers.  There are Harry’s nominal brothers in arms, the White Council of Wizards that are always right at the edge of expelling him for all the unorthodox and insubordinate actions he takes.  This includes his grandfather Ebenezar McCoy who is more or less the head of the Council and who always seem on the edge of either throttling Harry or apologizing to him.  There are the Knights of the Cross who are Harry’s friends and possess power that can stand against the evil that the enemy represent but even with these allies Harry and his friends are hopelessly overmatched.

But Harry has one ace in the hole.  He has a magical resource that if he can lure the Titan to a certain spot would allow him to capture her permanently.  But in order to do that Ethniu would have to be lured in by targets that she wanted to destroy and the destruction that she would accomplish would be ruinous.  And that is what the book is about.  As Harry and his allies go block by block saving civilians and battling monsters the Titan levels the city skyscrapers on her way to confronting Mab and the other powerful leaders.  And it’s a long book, over four hundred pages and the overwhelming majority of the book is this battle.

If you’re a fan of the series, and obviously if you’re still reading at book seventeen then you are, you will like this book a lot.  Sure, there are parts of the battle that seem kind of repetitive or at least maybe overkill.  And I have never been a big fan of Harry’s romantic attachment to Karren Murphy.  For whatever reason it never seems to keep my interest.  And there are a few scenes where some of the characters sound a little too touchy feely with too much “I’m here for you,” and all that.  But there is plenty on the battle side and on the personal side of this story to satisfy fans of the books.  Some questions from Peace Talks get answered and some things that were left hanging remain that way.  Some old friends and enemies die.  Others change their relation to Harry and further complicate his life.  And some characters that do not have a major part in the action still provide a needed presence.  I always enjoy the character of Michael Carpenter.  He’s the retired Knight of the Cross who is probably the most grounded character in the series and also provides sanctuary for Harry’s young daughter when horrible things come looking for Harry.  And Harry reaches a kind of crossroads with respect to his stature in the supernatural world.  He is now a heavy hitter and has gained respect and even some wisdom.

What can I say?  You’re going to like most of this book. And there will be few things that you won’t care for.  But if you’re a Dresden fan you will have to read it.

Something to Raise My Spirits

I was writing a post about what might be going on this year.  It was coming out pretty depressing and so I put it aside.  As I mentioned yesterday the Mid-Winter Blues have reached me.  Adding depressing predictions is just something I can’t justify at the moment.  I need something light to move me through my day.

So, I checked my almanac and sure enough we’re over the hump of winter. There are approximately thirteen weeks in winter and we’re in week eight. and the days are about 90 minutes longer than they were at Winter Solstice.  So, by any measure of sidereal momentum, we’re on the upswing.  In honor of this milestone, I will put all doom and gloom aside.  After all, the human soul needs hope and light to carry on.  That’s what I’ll do.

Here’s a video that lists the ten most conservative cities in the US.  The narrator is a little bit snarky, probably a liberal jerk but I still found it interesting.  I’m sure there are alternate lists but it’s a good starting point.  If you want to add a city to the list leave it in the comments.

And because I’m always looking for good science fiction movies here’s a video that claims to do that.  CineFix Top 10 Science Fiction Films of All Time  I agree with some of these picks disagree with a couple and have never seen a few others so I’ll check them out and maybe find something good.  If you disagree with any feel free to say.

And this just in, the idiots in the Senate have finally finished the farcical impeachment theater with seven cretinous Republicans voting with the Democrat creeps.  These were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.  Burr was a bit of a surprise.  I wonder if he’ll join Romney and Sasse in being primaried out by their states when they come up for re-election.  Let’s hope.

Well, look at that.  Now my spirits have lifted.  I’ll get on with reading the accounts of the farce and wait for President Trump to comment on it and then tell us what the future will hold.

Well see there now, seek and ye shall find.  Ask and ye shall receive.  A nice reward and we can hope that serious people will now step forward to start discussing what our side can do to sidestep what’s going on in Washington DC and begin to return our lives to something resembling the better world we lived in just one long year ago.  I only hope the smart and powerful decide to come to our aid.  They can make this easier and less ugly.  If the little people have to do it ourselves it’s going to be very painful and so ugly that I don’t even want to imagine it.  No one wants the United States to go through something like the fate of Yugoslavia.  But more and more it’s looking like that is how it will play out.  But that’s a discussion for another day.  Today I’ll just bask in a good ending for a mid-winter day.

Update:  Now it can begin.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 23 – The Omega Glory

In the highest circles of the Shatner-Khan hierarchy there is no more sacred text than “Eed plebnista” and “norkon forden perfectunun.”  One of my oldest acquaintances has been heard to spontaneously break out into this phrase with no visible rationale.  Because of these tendencies I tackle this review with great trepidation.  If I get it wrong there could be serious blowback.

The Enterprise is sent to planet blah,blah,blah to find out what has become of the Starship Exeter.  It’s found circling the planet and Kirk, McCoy, Spock and a redshirt fully primed for certain death beam over to the Exeter.  There they find a bunch of empty uniforms dribbling rock salt from the sleeves and pant cuffs.  Surprise, surprise, everybody’s dead and a video clip tells them that a disease brought up from the planet was the cause.  Being warned to beam down to the planet immediately they do so and find out that the lone survivor is Captain Tracey of the Exeter and he is engaged in Prime Directive defying aid to the Kohms in their war with the savage Yangs.  And unsurprisingly the Yangs are the descendants of the defeated white Yankees and the Kohms are the victorious Chinese Communists who won a biological weapons war and occupied the Yangs homeland.

But the Yangs are finishing off a long reconquest of their homeland and even with Captain Tracey’s fire boxes (phasers) the Kohms are in big trouble.  Tracey captures the Enterprise party and demands that Kirk provide him with ten more phasers with three extra power packs for each.  When the redshirt reaches for his phaser Tracey disintegrates him.  We also find out tha the disease that killed off the Exeter would have been harmless if the crew members had stayed just a short time longer on planet blah,blah,blah and now all of them could return to the Enterprise without risk to the ship or themselves.  But Tracey has discovered that the inhabitants live to be over a thousand years old and he is convinced that the secret to this amazing longevity can be discovered by McCoy and then sold by Tracey to the highest bidder once he’s beaten of the Yangs.  McCoy debunks the theory and says the longevity is just a natural byproduct of the survival after the bioweapon ordeal.

Meanwhile there is all this tuh-doing between Kirk and Tracey and a Yang prisoner who we find out is the Yang Chief Cloud Williams and his wife.  Finally Spock and Kirk escape from jail.  But eventually the Yangs attack the Kohms and we get to hear Tracey makes his horrified report of the battle, “They sacrificed hundreds just to draw us out in the open and then they came and they came.  We drained four of our phasers and they still came.  We killed thousands and they still came!”  Good times, good times.

So the Yangs capture all of the Federation personnel.  When the Yangs break out an antique American flag and Cloud Williams starts reciting a really garbled version of the Pledge of Allegiance Kirk completes the pledge and now Cloud wants Kirk to explain how he knows their sacred words.  But whereas Kirk wants to explain that they are from another world Tracey claims that Kirk and his crew are devils.  He uses as proof the fact that Spock has pointed ears and no heart.  Cloud Williams is unclear who to believe and asks if  Kirk can complete the most sacred of their texts which only a chief would know.  He starts it with “Eed plebnista.”  But Kirk can’t figure out what it is.  So instead he claims trial by combat against Tracey to the death.  Spock uses Vulcan mind games to get one of the Yang women to trigger a communicator and an armed landing party arrives with Sulu in command just as Kirk defeats Tracey but refuses to kill him.

Now hearing a few more of the words, “norkon forden perfectunun,” Kirk figures out that it’s the preamble to the Constitution and recites it and then gives Cloud and his tribal circle a civics lesson.  And then somehow they head back to the Enterprise, even though Sulu and the others are now infected with a disease that will dehydrate them down to bath salts within minutes.  The End.

“Eed plebnista” indeed.  There’s just so much to love about this episode.  Tracey beats up Kirk several times in the episode.  Shatner’s overacting while giving the Yangs their civics lesson.  And Tracey is so great in his angry intensity.  He wants that immortality drug and the power it will give him.  He comes up with that great “He has no hearrrrt!” line about Spock and finally he has his great narration of the Yang attack.

This gets a    10   //   7.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 22 – By Any Other Name

We’re now deep, deep into Season 2 and the amount of “humor” employed by some of the principal characters is obvious to see.  And the costume department has obviously run out of ideas.  In this episode the aliens are dressed as if they found their clothes in a dumpster behind a second-rate department store.  The men are wearing some kind of polyester leisure suit-like apparel while the women are wearing jump suits from which the backs have been cut off from the waist up.

The Enterprise is summoned by a distress signal to an uninhabited planet.  Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and two red shirts beam down to the planet.  There they find a man and a woman, Rojan and Kelinda, who claim they are creatures from the Andromeda Galaxy seeking new worlds because their own galaxy will become uninhabitable within ten thousand years.  They announce that they will commandeer the Enterprise to return home in order to begin an invasion of our galaxy by their people, the Kelvans.  It will be a multi-generational voyage taking three hundred years even at Warp 11 speed.

And using their neural paralysis field devices they disarm and capture the landing party while the other three Kelvans beam aboard the Enterprise and take over the ship.  In addition to the paralysis field, they can also freeze dry humans down into polyhedral bricks, about the size of a softball, made of what appears to be poorly made porous Styrofoam.  When the landing party attempts to escape Rojan has one of his associates turn the two red shirts into these efficient and stackable human pellets.  Rojan then crumbles one of the blocks with his bare hands and restores the other one to inefficient but mobile form.  We then find out that the crumbled crewman was the pretty young girl.  When he realizes this Kirk appears devastated.  Apparently, he hadn’t yet had a chance to put the moves on this yeoman and now he never would!

Back on the ship, the whole crew except for Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty are freeze dried for easy storage.  It’s especially pleasurable to see Uhura and Chekov singled out for treatment.  In one scene Kirk rounds the corner in a corridor of the Enterprise and sees the blocks strewn along the floor along with the odd computer tablet and i-pod.  When Spock had unsuccessfully attempted to mind meld with Kelinda in a scene that I have left out of my plot summary he got an image of a huge hundred-tentacled creature that is the true form of the Kelvans.  Realizing that the Kelvans were unused to sensory stimulation or emotions in their original forms he speculates that if the humans can overstimulate the Kelvans’ senses and emotions they might become vulnerable to attack.  And so much hilarity ensues during this plan.

Scotty takes one of the Kelvans, Tomar, to his cabin and starts introducing him to the wonders of grain alcohol.  Eventually Tomar becomes stupefied and collapses, as does Scotty.  McCoy takes another of the Kelvans, Hanar, aside and under the subterfuge of a medical examination starts giving him “vitamin” injections that are actually some kind of stimulant that raises his anxiety levels to monumental levels.  This has him complaining bitterly to Rojan about the incompetence of that commander’s plan.  This gets him confined to his cabin.

Meanwhile Kirk makes a beeline for Kelinda and starts pouring on the old Shatner charm.  He’s pawing her and kissing her all around the rec room.  I forgot to mention that Kelinda is played by Barbara Bouchet who is a very attractive looking actress.  She played Miss Moneypenny in one of the Bond films and is at the very high end of attractive female Star Trek guest stars.  While playing three-dimensional chess with Rojan Spock mentions that Kirk is putting the moves on Kelinda and this really ticks Rojan off.  So, he hunts them down and gets into a really spastic fistfight with Kirk.  During the fight Kirk keeps up a line of argument to the effect that by the time the three-hundred-year voyage to the Andromeda Galaxy is complete, the descendants of Rojan and his crew will no longer be Kelvans.  They will be completely human and have no desire to help the Kelvans.

He convinces Rojan to give up their voyage to Andromeda and allow the Federation to find uninhabited worlds in our galaxy for the other Kelvans to colonize while Rojan and Kelinda and the other three Kelvans will somehow form a very small colony on the uninhabited world that the Enterprise found them on.  The fact that there are only two female Kelvans and three male Kelvans is not explored further on this episode.  But to my way of thinking there is bound to be trouble in that very small paradise.

To my way of thinking the two highlights of the show are Rojan crushing the polyhedral salt lick made out of Yeoman Thompson with his fingers and Scotty hugging his empty centuries-old bottle of Scotch whiskey to his face and crooning to it, “we did it” after Tomar collapses in a drunken stupor.  And one small note, in the new enhanced graphics of the DVDs I have the Andromeda Galaxy image is very nice.

Now that nuttiness and hilarity is the order of the day on the Enterprise it’s much easier to enjoy the episodes.  Hopefully the people making the show are going along with the joke because adventure certainly isn’t the point.  Kirk wrestling with the pretty alien and McCoy and Scotty providing comic relief sort of works.

As far as Shatner mockery points, he gives some of his patented pathos when the yeoman is crumbled but it isn’t very extreme.  I’ll give this episode an     8  //  5.

Mutiny in Space – The Thousand Worlds – A Science Fiction Book Review

Back in 2015 and thereafter there was a titanic struggle to liberate science fiction and fantasy books from the iron grip of the social justice school of fiction writing that controlled the publishing and awards for writing in these genres.  You can read about these things here.

Vox Day has a publishing firm called Castalia House and he has attempted to promote authors who practice old time science fiction and fantasy story writing.  Mutiny in Space is published by Castalia House and is the first volume in the author, Rod Walker’s “The Thousand Worlds” series.

In the description on the back cover of the paperback edition Castalia House explicitly states that Mutiny in Space is written in the style of Robert A Heinlein’s series of books for young adults (or juveniles, as they were described in the old days).  Now Heinlein wrote some really excellent fiction back in his day.  Here’s a link to my thoughts on his writing.  In a nutshell if someone were to successfully write science fiction in the style of Heinlein’s juveniles, I would think these stories would be very sought after.  So I bought Mutiny in Space intending to see if it lived up to this representation.

I’ll cut to the chase.  It does.  Now I don’t mean it reads exactly like Heinlein.  In fact, far from it.  Rod Walker has different characters and different plots and a different voice.  There are similarities in the universe that he has built.  The way that his interstellar drive works approximates the multi-jump method used by Heinlein in his book “Starman Jones.”  And the emphasis on technical skills among his heroes as opposed to the dependence on rhetorical ability among his villains is also reminiscent of Heinlein’s style.  And the pairing of a father figure and an orphaned young man is also familiar to Heinlein readers.

The story is the adventure of sixteen-year-old Nikolai Rovio leaving his unhappy life on New Chicago for the promise of a new life as a technician on an interstellar freighter the Rusalka.  But the unsettled politics of New Chicago aren’t left behind when he boards his ship and he quickly learns that trouble can find you even after you stop looking for it.

I won’t dig into the plot details.  The book is short by today’s standards, about 180 pages.  But that is actually very much like the length of Heinlein’s juveniles.  It isn’t deathless prose but it is a straight up adventure story very much in the tradition of the older style of science fiction from the nineteen thirties, forties and fifties.  I can recommend this book for a young reader or anyone who like the old style of science fiction that I grew up on.

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 3 – The Various Races or Peoples of Middle Earth

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 1

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 2 – Tolkien’s Creation Story

In the Lord of the Rings and his other writings Tolkien speaks of races and peoples to mean what we would call different species.  The major division between the Children of Illuvatar was between the Elves and Men (the Eldar and the Edain).  Within these two groups there were further subgroupings that I guess could best be described as tribes or nations.  But the differences between Elves and Men are profound.  The Elves do not grow old.  Therefore, unless they are killed by accident or illness they can live indefinitely.  And even when they die their spirit is constrained to remain within the Realm of Arda which is under the control of the angelic powers, the Valar.  In fact, it is hinted at by Tolkien that eventually the spirits of Elves that have died will be returned to life in Arda after some very long time.  Men are mortal just as humans are on Earth.  In Tolkien’s theology men do not remain in Arda after they die.  Their spirits leave Arda altogether and return to Illuvatar outside of the jurisdiction of the Valar.

What Tolkien seemed to be mirroring with the Elves and Men was the distinction between men who lived before the Christian era who had no chance of redemption from the Christian perspective and those who lived after.  The Elves would be like the Valar in a way.  They could serve Illuvatar and share in the smaller creation that was Arda but within Arda they were not in direct contact with Illuvatar.  Men were meant to escape Arda after their lives and then return to Illuvatar.  Despite the profound differences between Men and Elves Tolkien allowed for the possibility of love and even children between Men and Elves.  But what would the children be, deathless Elves or mortal Men?  Tolkien decided that they would be permitted a choice.  If they chose to be Men then that was a final choice for them and their children.  But if they chose to be of Elven-kind then their children also had the choice to make and in the same way.  Now what this means to me is that any child of a Man would always have the choice to choose to be Human.  And I think this is because the Fate of Man is the higher fate.  The Elves are halfway between Valar and Men.  And despite the tremendous power of the angelic Valar their fate is less than that of Men.

Then there are the Dwarves.  According to the Silmarillion the Dwarves were not created by Illuvatar but instead were the unsanctioned creation of Aulë, one of the Valar.  When Illuvatar spoke to Aulë about what he had done Aulë realized that what he had created weren’t independent beings but only shadows of himself, puppets.  Aulë was about to smash them when he saw that Illuvatar had turned them into living beings with souls of their own.  This makes the Dwarves sort of adoptive children of Illuvatar.  I believe they are like the Elves in being bound to Arda and under the authority of the Valar.  And they are odd in other ways and always seem to be at odds with the natural children of Illuvatar.  They are not naturally evil but the properties that Aulë endowed them with put them at odds with Men and Elves.

The Hobbits are sort of like nature spirits that inhabit English folklore like Puck or Robin Goodfellow but based on Tolkien’s characterization in his books I have to say I believe the Hobbits are human.  They are mortal and beside their stature they are in all ways human.  Maybe Tolkien intended to make them bound to Arda like the Elves and Dwarves but based on the Hobbits we meet I wouldn’t think they should be left out of human heaven.  They’re just too human.

In the Silmarillion Tolkien tells us that the Orcs were made by Morgoth by capturing Elves and corrupting them through his evil influence.  This always made me wonder then if Orcs also did not die of old age.  We are never shown any female Orcs which is probably a blessing but I assume they must exist.  The idea of a corrupted race is a little hard to understand theologically.  For instance, it seems possible that just by chance, an Orc might be born that wasn’t particularly evil.  And if he managed to escape the evil influence of his tribe might live a virtuous life.  I’ve heard people talk along these lines and mock the idea of “good Orcs” and based on what we see in the Lord of the Rings it does seem patently ridiculous but since Tolkien was a Christian writer, I’m sure he thought about that possibility.  Suffice it to say that no “good Orcs” ever show up anywhere in the Tolkien tests.

Dwarves and Elves are pretty standard creatures of Northern European folklore and Tolkien adapted as needed for his use but one of the most original characters that Tolkien place in his Middle Earth was the Ent.  They are the “Shepherds of the Trees.”  They resemble trees.  They are gigantic in size and have great physical strength.  Their ability to rend stone is compared to a much-accelerated version of the action that roots have for infiltrating and cracking stone that they come in contact with.  Ents also appear to live indefinitely unless killed by violence.  But they can become senescent and become completely tree-like.  It seems that the Ents must be another race of creatures like the Elves that are restricted to Arda forever.  But from their description in the Silmarillion, they are never described as Children of Illuvatar.  Possibly Tolkien never left any notes about the status of the Ents because he invented them later on than the Elves and Dwarves.  Whatever their place in the theology of Middle Earth Tolkien designed them with a distinctive and entertaining character.  They are extremely slow and methodical in their actions and extremely long winded in their method of speech.  They think of normal action by any other race as extremely hasty.  This must be to mimic the immobility and permanence of trees in the landscape.

And finally, the last of the other major peoples of Middle Earth are the Trolls.  Trolls are a well-known creature of legend but how Tolkien fits them into his creation is not well defined.  I can remember hearing the explanation that they were Ents that were twisted by Morgoth into evil creatures just as the Elves were turned into Orcs.  Honestly this seems singularly unconvincing.  There doesn’t seem to be much Ent-like character to Trolls.  But I haven’t heard any other explanation so I’ll just leave this as a loose end.  In addition to being evil the main character trait of Trolls seems to be stupidity.  But they are enormously strong and tough so they come in handy for war scenes when something special is needed.

Based on the status of the various races of speaking peoples in Middle Earth what it seems is that Tolkien has Christianized the folklore creatures of Norse mythology by giving them a place in the Genesis story of his world, Middle Earth.  It is not at all clear what the final status is of the Elves, Dwarves, Ents or even the Orcs and Trolls.  They seem to have souls like men and are judged on their deeds, good and evil.  But it is far from clear whether even the Elves can gain Paradise in this theology.  Instead, they seem to be permanently attached to sub-creation of the Valar, the Kingdom of Arda.  And that may be Tolkien’s intention.

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 2 – Tolkien’s Creation Story

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 1

 

J. R. R. Tolkien was a devout Christian. He was a member of an informal Christian writer’s society called The Inklings that also included the likes of his old friend C. S. Lewis. In fact, Lewis and Tolkien had planned to divide between them a project to write fantasy and science fiction stories with a Christian world view.  Tolkien decided his story would go back to an earlier time and Lewis decided to go into outer space.

Getting back to Tolkien, when he started writing the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, he was able to set it in a world for which he had long ago written the Genesis story.  All of this background was finally published after his death by his son Christopher as the Silmarillion.  In this pre-history we are told that God (or as Tolkien called him Eru (The One) or Illuvatar (Father of All)) created the angels (the Ainur which are divided between the archangels (Valar) and the lesser angels (Maiar)).  Then He created the Universe (Ea) and particularly our world (Arda) and allowed the Ainur to build out the place where His children, the Elves and Men, would live.  Some of those Ainur were loyal to Illuvatar and some were corrupted with the idea of power over lesser beings.  The chief of these renegades was Melkor, originally the most powerful Valar, the equivalent of Lucifer.  He leads the fallen Ainur against the Valar and is defeated.  Later on, he is thought rehabilitated and brought back into the fold by the leader of the Valar, Manwe.

The Valar are supposed to teach the children of Illuvatar about Him and help them reach their potential in goodness.  And they attempt to do this with the Elves, the firstborn of the two races.  They bring them into the Blessed Realm where the Valar live and teach them the knowledge that they possess.  But even in this Blessed Realm, Melkor plots to destroy the happiness of the Elves and Valar.  He destroys the Trees that give light to Arda and steals the jewels, the Silmarils of Feanor, that contain the light of the trees.  Feanor, who is the most powerful and proudest of the Elves, disobeys the command of Manwe and sails from the Blessed Realm back to Middle Earth to defeat Melkor (or as he now names him Morgoth, Black Enemy of the World) and regain the Silmarils.  For this rebellion all of the Elves and Men in Middle Earth are left to the nonexistent mercy of Morgoth.  Essentially, they fight without the help of the Valar.

And in this rebellion of the Elves against the Valar is the start of the downfall of the world of Elves and Men.  For when Men appear, they too are drawn into wars against Morgoth and in these wars they all are thoroughly defeated and immiserated by the powers of evil beings.  Finally, a representative of Elves and Men, Earendil sails back to the Blessed Realm and successfully begs the Valar to defeat Morgoth and allow the peoples of Middle Earth to reclaim their lives.  And this is done.  Morgoth is defeated and cast out of Arda forever.

But in time evil reappears in the person of Morgoth’s lieutenant, Sauron.  He pretends to mend his ways but instead corrupts some of the Elves with the lure of knowledge and power and teaches them to forge rings of power.  Then he creates the One Ring to rule all of these lesser rings and makes war on Men and Elves for the mastery of Middle Earth.  But he is defeated by the Numenoreans.  These are the descendants of the Men who fought against Morgoth in that earlier war and were rewarded with a great island home, Numenor, halfway between Middle Earth and the Blessed Realm.  They were also rewarded with a lifespan three times that of mortal men.  They come to Middle Earth with a great army and defeat Sauron and take him captive.  But Sauron corrupts his captors too.  Fear of death was always the weakness of the Numenoreans.  They were friends of the Elves but they envied their virtually endless lifespan.  When the King of Numenor began to feel the end of his life approaching he gave heed to Sauron who told him he could wrest eternal life from the Valar by conquering the Blessed Realm.  When he attempts this war, the Valar, rather than be forced to kill Illuvatar’s children themselves, call on Him to act directly.  Illuvatar alters the world to remove the Blessed Realm from the physical plane of the world.  In fact, instead of a flat plane, the Earth now becomes a spherical globe from which only ships with special dispensation can any longer sail to the blessed Realm.  But this power is still reserved to the Elves in Middle Earth.  When they grow weary of the mortal lands, they can sail off the western shore of Middle Earth and find their way to the Blessed Realm which is now considered the proper home for the Elves.

As part of this reshaping and as a direct punishment for their sin, Numenor sinks below the sea.  Only the Numenoreans that had settled in Middle Earth and a few ships of the faithful who were not party to the King’s blasphemy were able to escape the downfall.  It is this remnant along with the remaining Elves in Middle Earth who now have to deal with Sauron.  Because when Numenor sank he lost his material form but his spirit returned to Middle Earth and joining to the One Ring which he had left in Middle Earth he was able to reform his body and then renew his war against Elves and Men.  And once again Elves and Men were victorious against him, though at a terrible cost.  The Kings of the Elves and Men, Gil-galad and Elendil are slain by Sauron along with the remaining strength of the Elves.  But Elendil’s son Isildur cuts the One Ring from Sauron’s hand, causing him to lose form again.  But Isildur refused to destroy the One Ring and it was lost in the Great River, Anduin.  And because it was not destroyed Sauron retuned and plagued Middle Earth until the time of the War of the Ring which is the subject matter of The Lord of the Rings.  And all down their long history the descendants of Elendil recreated the sins of their ancestors in Numenor and sought power and long life rather than wisdom and happiness.

Wow, that’s a long prologue.

If you look over that history what you’ll notice is that it parallels the Old Testament.  Of course, there are differences.  Fantasy elements like elves, and silmarils don’t occur in the Bible.  But you can find analogs for both types of angels, good and evil.  There is a flood sent to wipe out transgressors.  And the majority of the text describes a chosen people who forget their responsibilities and choose power and lust for earthly possession over wisdom and love.  And behind all of the misery stands Lucifer and his successful temptation of Adam and Eve.  And that is the basis for the story of Morgoth and Feanor and also the story of Sauron and the elven ringsmiths.  They were tempted by the lure of forbidden knowledge to trust the devil.

Tolkien wanted a fantasy history of the world that would allow him to incorporate the elves, goblins, dwarves and other creatures that inhabit European folklore.  But he wanted it to be a Christian universe.  And that is what he built.  In this world men must contend with a world in which evil is always present but can be defeated by the good people if they stand up against it and don’t allow the evil within themselves to corrupt their intentions.

And in the Lord of the Rings this can be seen in the fact that all of the greatest of the leaders of the good are afraid to even touch the Ring lest it corrupt them too.  It is only the simplest and least sophisticated of creatures, the hobbits, that can resist the ring the longest.

Casting this worldview behind the story allowed Tolkien the direction he needed to expand the Lord of the Rings into the epic length story it is.  In each of the chapters it is the challenge to ignite in each of the allies they meet, the determination to fight the evil no matter how impossible the odds may seem.  Often it is the simple hobbits declaring their simple-minded faith in doing the right thing that shames the sophisticated and jaded leaders who up until that point are almost relieved to surrender and allow evil to win the day.

And having the Christian framework behind the story also gives a sense of the familiar world that most of us have grown up with.  And also allows it to act as a contrast to the monstrous evil that Frodo and the other hobbits encounter.  So, although Tolkien’s story may resemble other fantasy worlds with respect to the creatures that inhabit it and the magic that exists, he has added a spiritual dimension that he believed would render the stories valid in a deeper sense.  From his point of view, they were in a sense true stories because they conveyed his understanding of how God interacted with mortals and angels in the actual world.  Interesting idea.

 

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 3 – The Various Races or Peoples of Middle Earth

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 1

Tonight, I was looking through my old posts to see if I had any unfinished series that I should continue on.  About three and a half years ago I wrote the first part of a review of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie series.  I called it “Tolkien: A Very, Very Long Story – Part 1 – On the Screen vs. the Mind’s Eye.”  That’s a good name for a review of the Jackson films.  But going over it, I realized that starting with the films would short circuit an enormous amount of material in the books that I would much rather discuss first.  So that is what I’m going to do.  When I get back to the movies, I’ll reference these posts on the books as a baseline for my opinions on Tolkien and his remarkable creation.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I read the Lord of the Rings over fifty years ago.  Over time some of my opinions of the work have changed somewhat.  But my enjoyment of the story remains intact.  The world building that Tolkien did provides the reader with depth and scope to enjoy the story on several levels.  There is the quest for the destruction of the Ring.  There is the story of Aragorn.  There is the fading of the elves and the other non-human beings.  There is the mission of the wizards.  There is the Shire.  And most of all there is the War of the Ring.  And under all these themes we have the panorama of Middle Earth.  The quaint Shire, the lonely wilds of Eriador, the harrowing heights and abysmal depths of the Misty Mountains.  The grassland of Rohan, the grandeur of Gondor and the shadowy horror of Mordor.  Tolkien brings all these things alive in our minds.  And he populates this world with a crowd of characters of all manner of creatures.  We have several kinds of men and we have several kinds of elves.  We have dwarves and hobbits.  There are wizards and orcs and trolls and ents.  There are undead creatures and intelligent animals of several types; wargs (a kind of wolf), eagles and even an ancient and giant spider.

All of these creatures, wizards, elves, dwarves and orcs are now common characters in all the fantasy books and movies around.  But people forget that Tolkien was the one who resurrected these creatures from fairy tales and returned them to the level of mythical creatures full of menace and wonder.  The Lord of the Rings was the template for every epic fantasy, both well-written or awful that has emerged in the last half century.  And not taking anything away from some well-crafted creations that some talented writers have produced, none of them has displaced Middle Earth as the touchstone of this particular type of fantasy world.  Because Middle Earth is the creation of a worldview that incorporates the myths of northwest Europe and imbues them with the moral philosophy inherited from medieval Christianity.  The Shire is Britain.  Rohan is the Germanic Tribes.  Gondor is the legendary Roman Empire, once spanning Middle Earth from Britain to the Near East now ceding territory to younger tribes and hedged in by Eastern and Southern foes.  Mordor is the infidel barbarism at the edges of the world.  Tolkien was a gifted philologist and historian of medieval Europe with a deep and wide knowledge of its literature and folklore.  And he was a devout Christian.

This re-imagining of European history with the non-human peoples and the angelic and demonic creatures that are analogs of Christian theology make a very powerful mythic background to fill out the story of Frodo and his friends.  And that is the point I want to make in this introduction.  In future installments I’ll give my thoughts on various aspects of Tolkien’s story.  Since they’re my opinions I won’t apologize if I commit any sins against the Tolkien orthodoxies.  I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a very long time so I feel I have the right to have my say.  But I also welcome comments both agreeing and disagreeing with my opinions.

 

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 2 – Tolkien’s Creation Story

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 21 – Patterns of Force

Space Nazis!  In the immortal words of Dr. Zachary Smith, “Oh the pain, the pain.”

The Enterprise is headed for stellar system blah, blah, blah where there are two planets with humanoid life.  One planet, Zeon, is more advanced and peaceful.  The other, Ekos, is less advanced and warlike.  The Federation sent an observer ten years earlier name John Gill who was an historian that Kirk knew from back at the Academy.  Nothing has been heard from him for years.  Their mission is to establish communications with Gill and find out how conditions on Ekos are progressing.  As the Enterprise nears Ekos a missile with an H-bomb approaches and has to be destroyed.  Ekos should not have that level of technology so Spock and Kirk go down to the planet expecting trouble.

When they beam down they find that the Ekosians are dressed as Nazi soldiers and they are treating the Zeonians as the Nazis treated the Jews during their time in power.  We get several episodes of Kirk and Spock dressed as Nazis trying to infiltrate the Nazi headquarters to reach John Gill who they learn is the Führer of the Ekosian Nazi state.

They are captured, jailed, whipped and threatened.  Eventually they escape by manufacturing a laser out of the transponders that were subcutaneously emplaced under Kirk and Spock’s skin as a way to locate and rescue them if their communicators were lost.  They escape to the sewers where they join up with the underground resistance of Ekosians and Zeonians.  Eventually they reach John Gill.  They find he’s been drugged and he eventually explains that he used the Nazi model as one that could overcome the disorganized nature of Ekosian society.  It worked but then Melakon, his deputy, drugged him and seized power with the intent of going full tilt Nazi.  At this point the final solution is about to be unleashed on the Zeonians.  Kirk rouses Gill and forces him to make a speech denouncing the treatment of the Zeonians and blaming Melakon.  Melakon shoots Gill and is himself shot by the soldiers present.  The Ekosians renounce Nazism and focus on manufacturing high end automobiles.

What can I say?  What can anyone say?  Space Nazis!

So let’s get down to it.  Shatner has moments where he embraces his Kirkian magnificence.  At the beginning when McCoy is rambling on about what could have happened to Professor Gill Kirk very good naturedly reminds him that that is exactly what he and Spock are heading down to the planet to find out.  Later on when he is being whipped in the Gestapo dungeon he does a great Shatner pain face.  Not full intensity, but more as if an annoying hemorrhoid were flaring up.  Later on Spock has to climb on Kirk’s recently whipped back to reach a light bulb placed high on the prison cell wall to work his Rube Goldberg laser device.  Kirk reminds him very pointedly about the high quality of the whipping he had received and stresses that time is of the essence to finish the maneuver before Kirk collapses in pain.  The exchange may actually be the humorous high point of the episode.  A few funny non-Shatner lines are thrown in.  When Kirk and Spock are first disguising themselves in Nazi uniforms Spock notes that Kirk will make a very convincing Nazi.  Later on when Spock is brought before the deputy Führer, he has to stand passively by as the high ranking official gives a very insulting description of Spock’s physiognomy in pseudo-scientific terms that highlight the supposedly degenerate aspects of his distinctive ears and eyes.  Spock’s expressions while listening to the lecture are amusing.

Space Nazis!

I give this episode 4 // 7.