legolas and eowyn

Yule traditions

Information taken from various websites.

Yule, according to the Venerable Bede, comes from the Norse Iul meaning 'wheel'.

Traditional activities included carolling, wassailling , burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging presents, kissing under the mistletoe, and feeding animals and birds with grains and seeds.

Traditional foods included cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail or lamb's wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).



Ancient wassailing. A group of wassailers would take bowls filled with wassail (originally mulled ale, curds, apples, and sometimes nuts) from house to house and 'wassail' the apple and cherry trees with songs and loud noises to ensure a good crop from the orchards the next year.

The Yule log was brought in on Mother Night, set ablaze and left to burn for all Twelve Nights (the log was nearly an entire tree and was burned in the long pits of a long house). The burning stems from the old custom of the Yule Bonfire, burned to give life and power to the Sun, which was thought to be reborn at the Winter Solstice. As the Oak Tree was considered to be the Cosmic Tree of Life by the ancient Druids, the Yule Log is traditionally Oak.

Different areas had different customs concerning the Yule log. Everywhere it was garlanded and decorated with ribbons prior to the joyous procession to the longhouse. Once it was burning, barefooted women were not allowed near it. In Yorkshire, England, children would go begging and singing from house to house as the log was brought in. In other areas, the children were allowed to wassail the log on the first night and drink to it.

Riddles. Sagaluthien emailed me to say that, in Sweden, riddles are still attached to Christmas gifts. The riddle describes what is inside the wrapping, and the recipient guesses the answer before he or she opens the gift! The person giving the gift tries to come up with an original rhyme, and there are books to help.

Mistletoe was held sacred by both the Celtic Druids and the Norseman. Once called Allheal, it was used in folk medicine to cure many ills. In Scandinavian antiquity it was the plant of peace: if enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day. Five days after the New Moon following winter solstice, the Druid priests cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle, catching the branches before they touched the ground because they were believed to hold the soul of the host tree. The druids divided the branches and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils. A sprig placed in a baby's cradle would protect the child from faeries. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd.

Mistletoe was believed to give mortal men access to the underworld. The living plant was thought to be the genitalia of the great God, whose sacred tree is the Oak: its white berries were drops of the God's Divine Semen, whilst the red berries of the Holly were equated with the Sacred Menstrual Blood of the Goddess. Mistletoe was therefore a symbolic divine substance, suggesting the God's life-giving essence, and provided and a sense of immortality to those who hung it at Yuletide. In ancient times, ecstatic sexual orgies frequently accompanied the rites of the Oak King; in modern times, however, the custom of kissing under the mistletoe is all that remains.

Dreams experienced during the Twelve Nights of Yule were believed to predict the events of the coming year.



A festival of lights is celebrated in Northern countries and seems to be an ancient holiday in connection with Yule. Candles, torches, and other forms of light were left burning to light up the night skies.



Homes were decorated with ivy, holly, boughs of evergreens and ribbons; the entire home was covered with garlands and wreathes. The tradition of the Yule tree comes from Germany. Originally it is believed the trees were decorated outside and gifts left for the land wights. This custom can still be observed in parts of Northern Europe. With Christianity, the trees were hidden indoors. Modern tradition uses a Yule wreath as an oath ring. This wreath is oathed upon as well as wished upon, and then burned at the Twelfth Night.



The killing of the wren acts out the vanquishing of the Holly King, God of the Waning Year, by the Oak King, God of the Waxing Year. The wren, 'little king' of the Waning Year, is killed by his counterpart, the robin redbreast, who finds him hiding in an ivy bush (or sometimes in Ireland in a holly bush, as befits the Holly King). The robin's tree is the birch, which follows the Winter Solstice in the Celtic Tree calendar. In the acted-out ritual, men hunted and killed the wren with birch rods.



19 Girithron: Legolas, Eowyn and friends leave Eryn Carantaur
21 Girithron: They spend Mother Night at The Four Alls tavern where they celebrate the Lighting of the Yule Log and the Rising of the Sun.
23 Girithron: Legolas and Eowyn find the body at Osgiliath, then reach Minas Tirith; Aragorn and Eomer spend the day hunting and the night sheltering in the cave.
24 Girithron Aragorn and Eomer discover three more bodies. The Dressing of the Yule Tree. Eowyn seduces Legolas. Legolas, Gimli and Haldir visit the brothel.
25 Girithron: Fidelin tells his story; Legolas receives his father's letter; Eowyn and Haldir go shopping; Gimli meets Admant; Dinendal questions Master Cuthbert; Legolas visits the old lady's house; Eowyn discovers that she is not pregnant.
26 Girithron: Haldir raids the thieves' hideout; Eowyn practises with her staff; Aragorn, Eomer and Eowyn question the assassin; Legolas is captured; Gimli attends the Killing of the Wren. Eowyn and Gimli, Haldir and Dinendal, and Eomer join forces to rescue Legolas; Haldir, Gimli, Eomer and Berkin spend the night at the Golden Goose.
27 Girithron: Haldir, Gimli, Eomer and Berkin escape through the caves. The true extent of Lord Berodin's villainy is exposed.
1 Narwain: Twelfth Night. The Burning of the Yule Wreaths

Girithron is the equivalent of December; Narwain is January.I don't know if Tolkien intended for them to fall on the same days as the modern months, but I have assumed that they do.


Elven sleep

Do elves sleep?

Legolas and Gimli slept and Aragorn lay flat, stretched upon his back; but Gandalf stood, leaning on his staff, gazing into the darkness, east and west. The King of the Golden Hall, The Two Towers

It must be potent wine to make a wood-elf drowsy; but this wine, it would seem, was the heady vintage of the great gardens of Dorwinion, not meant for his soldiers or his servants, but for the king's feasts only, and for smaller bowls, not for the butler's great flagons.

Very soon the chief guard nodded his head, then he laid it on the table and fell fast asleep. The butler went on talking and laughing to himself for a while without seeming to notice, but soon his head too nodded to the table, and he fell asleep and snored beside his friend. Barrels Out of Bond, The Hobbit


Extracts from The Art of Mediaeval Hunting: the Hound and the Hawk, by John Cummins, which I bought on holiday in Vancouver, and which inspired the hunting scene.

Medieval man saw the stag and the boar as polarised extremes … In contrast to the timid, elegant, wily deer, thought to have a special bone in its heart which alone saved it from dying of fear, the boar is massive and ugly, black in appearance and character, the archetype of unrelenting ferocity. Completely fearless, unmoved by pain, it is capable of killing dog, horse or man. In imaginative literature it is the quarry of the epic hero; less subtle and evasive than the stag … 'he tresteth not wel myche on his rennying, but only on his defence and his despitous dedes'. The boar is able to draw on extremes of bravery and pride or orgueil in its own nature, and demands a like response from the hunter in the single combat in which its pursuit ends.

For Gaston Phoebus, the boar is the most dangerous animal in the world:

…I have seen him strike a man and split him from knee to chest, so that he fell dead without a word … he has often brought me to the ground, horse and man together, and killed my horse.

… The huntsman … found the boar's bed, felt it with his hand, and, if it was warm, blew for the release of the hounds. Even at this early stage, scorning the evasive crafts of the stag, the boar might face the hounds and attack them, and later in his flight he might do this repeatedly and then run on with striking stamina, 'and flee from the sonne rysing to the sonne goyng doun if he be a yonge boar of III yere old' … The difficulty of bringing the boar finally to bay made it essential to organize one's relays of hounds, 'for a boar will run far, and also he kills and injures many hounds. If there were no fresh hounds he could well escape, so have at least two or three relays posted.'

[When facing the boar on foot] the hunter's time was short, quick reflexes and calmness essential. 'The eyes roll in rage, and it takes two or three steps towards him, ears pricked. As soon as the hunter sees this, he must prepare himself, for let him be sure that the boar will come so quickly that it will seem that not an instant elapses between the beginning of his charge and his arrival on the spear; or, if the hunter misses his aim, on the man himself.' … Gaston Phoebus is very specific about the hunter's grip on the spear:

His spear should be crossed [i.e. with a crosspiece a little way back from the point; this could be a detachable bar bound on with a thong, or could be forged as part of the blade or riveted to it], sharp and keen; he must hold the shaft in the middle, with as much in front of him as behind, for if he held it too short in front, when he struck the boar, which has a long head, the snout would reach him, for the spear would go deep and the boar … could wound or kill him. So as to be able to put more force into the blow and to move his hand wherever necessary, he must never grip the spear in his armpit, but after the impact he should put it there and thrust hard. And if the boar is stronger than him, he must jump about retaining his hold, and push and push until God gives him aid or help arrives.

… The death of the boar was followed by the unmaking or cutting-up of the body, and by the 'reward' or
fouail, a ceremonial sharing of the benefits with the dogs … some hunters looked on the boar's testicles as a prized addition to their diet [which would increase their own virility] and removed them as the first act after the kill.

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'extreme sports'!


Mediaeval brothels

A scan of the article about mediaeval brothels that inspired the Golden Goose. Please be patient whilst it loads!



The inspiration for Berodin's house: a view of Minas Tirith by Alan Lee.

Berodin's house; drawing by Alan Leespacer


Berkin's father's desk, by William Burges, in the Manchester City Art Gallery, England.

Desk by William Burgesspacer


The Caves of Nottingham


Caves at Nottinghamspacer

There are no natural caves in Nottingham. A visitor of 1639 stated that, A great many of the inhabitants, especially of the poorer sort, dwell in valts, holes or caves which are digged out of the rock, so that anyone possessed of a mattock could easily provide himself with a house.

The earliest caves would have been cut into the face of the rock and used mainly as dwellings. Entrances would, where possible, be above ground level to avoid the regular flooding of the river Leen. The early caves had one entrance, leading to a short passage that opened into a small chamber with a vertical shaft that acted as a chimney.

The caves proved to be the ideal premises for certain types of trade because they were easy to extend; had a near constant temperature (of fifty three to fifty four degrees, winter or summer, which just happens to be the ideal temperature for malting); were dark, which made it possible to malt barley all the year round; provided a constant supply of clean water (filtered through many feet of rock) as long as there were no cesspits nearby; and were relatively safe because sandstone does not burn.

The caves were made to be lived and worked in, and are of human size with ceiling heights in excess of 6ft 6in, and doorways no smaller than in a house. Tunnels tended to be short and to connect together caves or areas owned by the same person or group. An example of a longer tunnel is Western Passage in the Castle Rock, which is believed to have been a back way out, or Sally Port, from the old castle. Along its length are the remains of what would have been defensive stations, small rooms that could only be entered from the back, like pill boxes. The occupiers of the castle would have used the tunnel as an emergency exit in time siege.

'The Park', one of the more expensive areas of the town, originally had seven levels, each interconnected by steps and underground passageways. The area also had a giant tunnel, the Park Tunnel, intended for horse drawn traffic.

The caves that can be visited by the public include: the Pillar Cave & Tannery (Nottingham was an important leather producer during the 15th and 16th centuries and the Pillar Cave features the remains of Britain's only medieval underground tannery); Sam Hancock's Cave (formerly a pub cellar in which the constant cool temperature provided the perfect conditions for the brewing and storage of Nottingham's celebrated ales).



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The lady vanishes
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Story 4

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Legolas sleeping
Do elves sleep?

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Boar hunting
Snow boarding is for wusses!

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Mediaeval brothels
A scanned article about mediaeval brothels. Please be patient whilst it loads!


Lord Berodin's house; Berkin's father's desk

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The caves of Nottingham

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