American food in the Lord of the Rings

Denethor eating a tomato

When I originally had this idea, it was going to be the start of a larger blog about imported foods in films. It was going to be a big discussion about what food was available when and where. It was also partly inspired by Jeff Mummert’s ‘Modding Skyrim’ piece on Play the Past, which I have already mentioned on this blog.

Unfortunately, right now I can’t seem to get past all the food in Lord of the Rings.

Lord of the Rings is set in our world, long ago. In the films this is never explicitly stated, but it’s there in the books. This is why they filmed in New Zealand; because it looks like Europe before the industrial revolution hit. Exactly when is never stated either, except that it finishes in the Fourth Age, which is the ‘Age of Men’. It is set in the fictional prehistory of the old world. Middle Earth is Europe.

I make this point because a lot of the food consumed in the films actually comes from the Americas. Take, for example, the prime pumpkin specimen being polished in the following scene from the Return of the King. It’s a member of the squash family, and it’s from North America. They weren’t introduced to Europe until significantly after European colonisation of the continent. For what it’s worth, turnips were used for Hallowe’en lanterns before this .

Sticking with the third film in the series, there is the tomato that Steward Denethor nibbles his way through after sending his son Faramir off to near-certain death. Nice one Denethor. The tomato is originally from the area surrounding the Chilean Andes, and spread to Europe much later. While I’m throwing interesting facts out there, did you know that Chile translates to ‘cold winter’? You do now!

Then there are of course Samuel ‘Samwise’ Gamgee’s beloved taters.

Potatoes are also from the Andes and, like the other foods in this blog, have become so popular in the wider world that most people don’t even make the association. It might be the strong association with Irish history that has done this. In a tragic irony, ‘Conies’ were introduced  to Great Britain by the Romans, and to the Americas by later European settlers, probably about the same time they were taking potatoes back in the other direction. Having said that, mashed potato, rabbit and a good rich gravy does work very well, so perhaps there is a silver lining.

Finally, let’s talk about pipe weed. Tolkien is pretty explicit that this is tobacco. Unfortunately, you will probably remember this as another one of the things Sir Walter Raleigh was supposed to have brought back. JRR mentions it as ‘a variety of Nicotiana’, which, knowingly or unknowingly, contains the name of Jean Nicot; the guy who introduced the plants to France and saddled them with his name.

Peter Jackson decided to go the ridiculous route, and some have argued that this is a reference to Marijuana.

The purists may not like it, but I have to give the nod to the stoners here. If they were smoking anything in prehistoric Europe, it was more likely to be marijuana than tobacco. There’s some pretty conclusive evidence that members of the cannabis family were used across Europe even in prehistory.

So there you have it, Peter Jackson can gobble carrots all day, but he still won’t know anything about the historical accuracy of foodstuffs in continental Europe. If you have spotted any other foods in films you’d like me to dissect, please give me a shout in the comments below.

Historical Etsy by @HistoricalHoney

This week I have arranged a blog swap with Historical Honey, which is a cracking site with loads of bitesize bits of history. It is particularly good if you are a fan of Anne Boleyn. Here they give us the rundown on what Etsy has on offer for history buffs.

Have you come across Etsy yet? NO! That’s mental! So, Etsy brings you the very best handmade and vintage supplies, made by real people, alongside collectables and vintage memorabilia! I have trawled the site, and sifted through the very weird and very wonderful; to showcase some of the ingenious and most-creative historically themed items you can buy on Etsy. Credit cards at the ready!

1. The Curious Printery

Why So Fun?

Their prints are beautifully winsome; all printed on antique book pages from old Victorian books. Illustrations range from elephants, magic top hats and krakens. Prints have golden decorative borders and some of the designs have authentic age spots that add to the whimsical charm.

2. Woody & Switch

Why So Cool?

For all you guys out there, I know you’re going to love this shop! Lads love gaming and what better way to deck out your bachelor pad than with a vintage video game lamp or charging dock! Yes…you can buy a charging dock made out of an Atari 2600 joystick!

3. Kindling Vintage

Why So Great?

If your home lacks in historical elegance, visit Kindling Vintage to cash in on some of their bargain bygone ornaments. From candlesticks and bookends, to vintage books and wall hooks; this store brings you the best of vintage shops from the comfort of your own home!

4. Wills Attic

Why So Amazing?

If you are a fan of vintage comics, coins or figurines, then Wills Attic is the shop for you. There is even the occasional trading card or dollar bill from the early 1900’s.

5. ProjectBunny

Why So Immense?

Who doesn’t want to see a portrait Henry VIII or the Bronte sisters with an added set of bunny ears?

6. PunsIntended

Why So Fab?

Does exactly what it says on the tin. Cool art with great puns: ‘Monroe Your Boat’ and ‘Toulouse LauTrek’. They have added some really fun ones recently too. A favourite: Jackson Five (Andrew Jackson, US President)!

On the Origin of Fuck

so long as it's words

One origin story for fuck is that it comes from when sex was outlawed unless it was permitted explicitly by the king, so people who were legally banging had Fornication Under Consent of the King on their doors, or: F.U.C.K. But obviously that’s wrong. And if you do believe that, stop it. Stop it right now.

But right now there’s a post going round with a lovely image of a manuscript from Brasenose College, Oxford, proudly declaring it’s the earliest instance of fuck in English (although, it notes, that is apart from that pesky one from Scotland and that one that says fuck but is written in code). But even if we DO agree to discount those two little exceptions, it’s still not the earliest instance. I think the Brasenose fuck was considered the earliest in 1993, and that’s quite out-dated now.

So, for your enjoyment and workplace sniggering, here’s…

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The Mystery of George Clooney and the Elgin Marbles

This story has been developing through the week, and I thought it was about time we featured it on History Mine.

On Saturday, at a press conference for his new film ‘The Monuments Men’, Clooney was asked by a Greek journalist whether he thought the Elgin Marbles should return to Greece. He agreed that he thought they should. George! What have you done? The dispute over the marbles has been rumbling on for decades, if not centuries. With the official position being that they aren’t about to go anywhere, the argument isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon, so all this does is remind us that there is an argument in the first place.

My initial reaction was something along the lines of ‘Why the hell does George Clooney, an American actor, feel the need to make his opinion on this subject heard?’ But maybe that was a bit unfair of me. After all, here I am expressing an opinion on the subject and I don’t possess anywhere near the antiquarian and diplomatic expertise needed to resolve the issue. Plus he was asked his opinion by a journalist instead of forcing it upon the world.

Plus he was at a press conference for a film which deals with the subject of the destruction and relocation of artworks during the Second World War. It’s not an exact analogy, but the reason the marbles were in the UK in the first place is because the British Ambassador to Greece two centuries ago, Elgin, ‘rescued’ them from the Ottoman Empire. Clooney spent several weeks portraying a guy who did something similar. So maybe he does have an insight into this subject that is worth hearing.

Anyone who has a passionate argument in this debate tends to be sitting on the ‘send them back to Greece’ side of the fence. This is mainly because, as adults, it’s hard to really get behind a counter-argument that seems to amount to ‘Shan’t!’

Yes I appreciate that there are all sorts of patronising arguments about whether the Greeks are ready to have them back. Frankly I couldn’t care less about the rocks. It’s not like someone is living on them (which is more than can be said for the time Sean Penn said Britain should give the Falklands ‘back’ to Argentina). Even if this isn’t the destruction of their culture on the same scale that the Jews faced during the holocaust, I can see why it gets them riled.

The real reason behind the ‘keep them’ argument actually seems to be very similar to the one relating to Britain’s overseas territories. If we give one back it will set an ugly precedent. We give the Marbles back and suddenly the British Museum will be half empty, because most of the stuff inside it isn’t actually British at all. But if we’re talking about giving things back to people whose ancestors owned it a couple of hundred years ago, why not start with the US, and the Native Americans?

La Moustache, 1815

Well spotted Emily

The History of Love


As it turns out, waiting until someone falls asleep and then drawing a fake moustache on them is not a new phenomenon – still hilarious after 200 years. Nice to see some immature nineteenth-century behaviour immortalised in print…


(not entirely relevant but couldn’t resist sharing – a Movember double whammy)

Image: Detail from ‘La Moustache’ (c.1815-45)

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A Quiet Word With: Shakespeare’s Star Wars writer Ian Doescher

Last week we interviewed Nice Peter from Epic Rap Battles of History and, continuing the trend of talking to lovely Americans who are doing interesting things with history, this week we are talking to Ian Doescher, the man behind ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’. Just so you can revel in that a little bit more, let me hit you with some play titles; ‘Verily, a New Hope’; ‘The Empire Striketh Back’; ‘The Jedi Doth Return’. Seriously, this is awesome, and if I need to tell you that, you definitely need to read this blog more.

Shakespeare's Star Wars writer Ian Doescher
Shakespeare’s Star Wars writer Ian Doescher

History Mine: How much additional research into Shakespeare and Star Wars did you have to do for this project?

Ian Doescher: Not a lot — almost all of the Shakespearean references I used were stored in my head from having read or seen the plays. More research actually went into getting Star Wars right. I used the online script to get the names of minor characters correct, and to make sure some of the lines were right. When it was time to write the educator’s guide, I also did some checking into the terms for various literary devices used by Shakespeare.

HM: You are quite irreverent with the source material where other authors might have been tempted to play it straight-faced and let the humour come from the contrast. How important was that editorial freedom to you?

ID: All along, this was a project that was meant to be fun. I don’t know that you could write a straight Shakespearean take on Star Wars and expect it to come off seriously. But the editorial freedom you’re referring to was also a gift given to me early on by Lucasfilm. When I wrote the first draft of the first act, I stayed very close to the original movie in terms of plot line, dialogue, and so on. Lucasfilm reviewed that first act and responded by saying that they liked what I had done so far, but wanted me to feel free to have some fun with it and take the book outside the bounds of the movie. What a great gift to give a writer! After that, I added in more soliloquies and asides, and things like R2-D2 breaking into English.

HM: Why did you decide to publish as a script rather than in any other medium (for example, as a book or a touring play)?

ID: My inspiration was really just the way that Shakespeare’s plays appear in print. I’m a big fan of the Arden Shakespeare series, so I wanted the book to approximate that look as much as possible. Arden isn’t a version of the plays that is meant to be performed; they are meant to be read. Similarly, as I wroteWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars I actually never thought of it as a play to be performed. In my mind, it was always going to be a book. But I wanted that book to look like a Shakespearean play as much as possible (for that reason, adding in the line numbers was very important to me!).

HM: How did you manage to square copyright?

ID: Dumb luck. After I had the idea for the book, I approached Quirk Books because I knew they had published several mash-ups. Once they were on board, they took that first version of act one to Lucasfilm. Once I had satisfied Lucasfilm that I could play with the script more and have fun with it, Lucasfilm was prepared to work out the licensing deal with Quirk. From there, I’m pretty much blissfully unaware of the details. But I do know I am lucky to have had Quirk trying to make the deal on my behalf instead of approaching Lucasfilm myself, which would have been more difficult.

HM: Where will you go after the original trilogy?

ID: I don’t know how many more Shakespearean parodies the world has interest in. That said, if someone approached me to do something like William Shakespeare’s Star Trek or William Shakespeare’s The Godfather, I would probably say yes. In the meantime, I’m working on a new project that is in some ways a natural next step from William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, but is also very much its own thing.

HM: You are now a bestselling author; could you ever have imagined doing it this way?

ID: Absolutely not. I always hoped I might publish a book, but because of my academic background I thought it might be an academic book. I never would have guessed I would end up on the New York Times bestseller list, and certainly not in the hardcover fiction category. It has been both an exciting and a humbling experience.

Thankyou Ian! If anyone know’s anyone else I should interview, please get in touch (particularly if they aren’t male, white or American – represent yo)!