Thursday, 27 February 2014

Feasting and Fasting (part 2)

In my last post in this series, we examined the concept of feasts: a large and abundant meal shared by many individuals, usually to mark a celebration or significant occasion. In the case of Théoden's funeral, the food and wine at the feast not only helped to bring physical comfort and pleasure to the mourners, but brought them together in celebration of his life and of a positive future for Théoden's surviving children.

Théoden's funeral is the final feast mentioned in the Lord of the Rings series. Though it is made clear that all remaining members of the party led relatively peaceful, comfortable lives following their return to their respective homes; the extravagance of the event serves to close a large chapter of their lives. Their days of struggle and starvation on their quests are over, but so are their victories. Life is to continue as before they knew about the ring.

It is the struggle to safely take the ring to Mordor during which the brunt of the story takes place. Tolkien whisks his hobbits away from safety, from second breakfasts and suppers and large round bellies and throws them in the face of adversity and deprivation. They must learn from and rely on the endurance and wisdom of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas to make do with what little they have in what is a state of war in Middle Earth.

"Down in the lowest and most sheltered corner of the dell they lit a fire and prepared a meal. The shades of evening began to fall, and it grew cold. they were suddenly aware of great hunger, for they had not eaten anything since breakfast; but they dared not make more than a frugal supper.


'I don't see how our food can be made to last,' said Frodo. 'We have been careful enough in the last few days, and this supper is no feast; but we have used more than we ought, if we have two weeks to go, and perhaps more.'"(248)

The above excerpt from Fellowship of the Ring is one of many similar examples: the fellowship must travel miles and miles on difficult terrain, from town to town, evading capture and injury as best they can. There is very much a sense of uncertainty throughout: 'perhaps more' is indicative of Frodo's pessimism about the future of the quest, and of their safety. It provides evidence that the hobbits, at the very least, do not see far ahead, and yet they must if they are to ration their food adequately. In contrast with the feast, company, and solid shelter at Théoden's funeral later in the series, there is no comfort to be found for the fellowship here. 'The lowest and most sheltered corner of the dell' is they closest they have: a corner of an open valley, exposed to the cold and the elements is not adequate, but it must do. Indeed, for the hobbits it is a far cry from the comforts of the shire.

The concept of safety is also disregarded completely; Frodo's speech repeatedly focuses on being frugal, careful, planning ahead, and depriving themselves of what is needed at the time with what they will need in the future. The idea that the travellers do not 'dare' prepare a more filling supper is interesting, that they cannot take risks in what is an already dangerous journey. Taking care and preserving their resources is absolutely paramount.

Tolkien's Middle Earth, during the Lord of the Rings series, is a world under threat from an evil, powerful and power-hungry ruler, with resources and armies seemingly unparalleled throughout the land. Tyranny forces the inhabitants - be them human, hobbit, dwarf, elf or otherwise - to be careful in everything they do. As we have seen, this extends to food. In discussing food of the wartime periods, Nicki Humble explains that, "where people's choice of food had previously involved issues of tradition and habit, social status and style, it was now hedged with questions of patriotism and morality..." (23). This applies both to the home front and the battlefield. One can see these same problems and questions posed to the inhabitants of Middle Earth, the most marked being the change the hobbits face from a relatively carefree life at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring to being forced to resist temptation and be self-sacrificing for the greater good of the quest. Furthermore, the wandering and hunger the fellowship feel is not unlike those narratives of frontline soldiers, both in reality and in fictitious works as Ian McEwan's Atonement (2003).

The theme of struggle and deprivation, such as that felt by the fellowship, is not uncommon for a children's novel. Indeed, Tolkien uses it as a tool for moral education. Through being careful with resources and grateful for whatever food they may be given, and through creativity, there is food for all and strength throughout the arduous journey. Furthermore, it gives them a greater sense of appreciation for feasts in the future. For those children born following the two World Wars, for whom The Lord of the Rings was a formative series, the hunger pangs felt by Frodo and co. give a taste of the experience of those first readers' parents and grandparents lives, and perhaps a greater appreciation for the relative feasts they then got to enjoy.

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien (1955) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. London: HarperCollins (2007) pp. 248
  2. Nicola Humble (2006) 'Mock Duck and Making Do' Culinary Pleasures: Cookbooks and the Transformation of British Food London: Faber & Faber.
  3. Image courtesty of weheartit:
  4. Image courtesy of

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Gobblin' with Gollum: an ode to fish

Alive without breath;
as cold as death;
never thirsting, ever drinking;
clad in mail, never clinking.
Drowns on dry land,
thinks an island
is a mountain;
thinks a fountain is a puff of air.
So sleek, so fair!
What a joy to meet!
We only wish
to catch a fish,
so juicy-sweet!' (811)


 Gollum is fanatic about fish: it is the food source most significant to his life. The riddle above with its detail of the exterior of the fish, "clad in mail, never clinking [...] so sleek, so fair!" shows the true appreciation and consideration Gollum has for them. His love of fish influences his choice of dwelling in The Hobbit, he sings about them when he, Frodo and Sam starve on their way to Mount Doom; he was fishing on the fateful day -his last as Sméagol - he first spotted the ring. His hunger for them is insatiable and he does not waste time bothering to cook or prepare them, for he does not need to. Any characteristics of civilisation he once had were obsolete when he found his precious, and as such he degenerated from them.

For those readers for whom biting the head off a freshly caught fish is not quite to their taste, with time on their hands and no magical rings to fall powerless to, I have created the following recipe.

Envelope fish.

Serves one.


  • One portion of frozen flaky fish - cod, salmon or trout all work well.
  • Half a ripe lemon (or 3tbsp lemon juice)
  • Knob of butter
  • 1/2 thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • Small sprinkling of ground chilli (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of green beans
  • 1/2 cup of sweetcorn
  • 1/3 cup of rice
  • 1/2 cube of vegetable stock
  1. Preheat your oven to 200˚C
  2. Cut a piece of tinfoil or baking parchment to cover a standard size oven tray. On it, place the fish in the middle and spread the knob of butter over the top of it.
  3. Finely grate the ginger and press on top of the butter, do the same with the chilli and parsley.
  4. Slice up the lemon and place along the top of the fish. 
  5. Take the two longest sides of foil/paper and bring them to the middle over the fish. Fold over one way twice. Fold over each short side twice, bringing them towards the middle of the tray (towards the fish). You have now enveloped your fish. Pop in the oven to bake.
  6. Bring a pan of water to the boil. First stir in the vegetable stock cube, and when dissolved, add the rice. Leave to simmer.
  7. When the rice is half done top up the water in the pan. Stream the beans and sweetcorn for approx 6 minutes. 
  8. Serve the drained rice and vegetables on a plate. Open the envelope - the fish should be paler than before, flaky and moist. Discard the lemons and serve.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien (1954) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers London: HarperCollins (2008) pp. 811
  • Image coursesy of (2013)

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Feasting and Fasting (part 1).

'Feasting' as a concept has its roots, like many other aspects of secular life, in religious festivities. The  word in its present form originates from the Old French, 'feste' (now 'fête'), which we can see is also the root of 'festival'.  As we can see, feasting has close connections with festivals and celebration. Its dictionary definition, to have an abundance of food usually for a celebration is the antonym of fast, to consciously abstain from food (adapted from OED 2000).

In this post, the first of two, I will consider feasting as a celebration: "An unusually abundant and delicious meal; something delicious to feed upon; fig. an exquisite gratification, a rich treat." (OED, 2000)

The creatures of Middle Earth engage in feasts whenever possible in The Lord of the Rings: the saga begins with a feast in celebration of Bilbo Baggins' eleventy-first birthday; and closes with a feast to commemorate the life of King Théodin at his funeral. The latter is of particular interest: while the main funeral procession is one of sorrow and solemnity, the end of the burial marks the commencement of the feast, held in honour of the King's life.

When the burial was over and the weeping of women was stilled, and Théoden was left at last alone in his barrow, then folk gathered to the Golden Hall for the great feast and put away sorrow; for Théoden had lived to full years and ended in honour no less than the greatest of his sires. And when the time came that in the custom of the Mark they should drink to the memory of the kings, Éowyn Lady of Rohan came forth, golden as the sun and white as the snow, and she bore a filled cup to Éomer. (1279)

Much like the way at a Christian funeral it is customary to have a wake following the funeral, in which family members and friends discuss the life and character of the deceased over sandwiches and tea; in Rohan (land of men) food and wine is at the centre of the ritual. With plentiful food mourners are able not only able to have some physical comfort - to dissuade hunger (a physical loss) and have some pleasant tasting thing to enjoy - but emotional comfort from others as the goods upon the table are shared amongst the party. The (emotional) void left by Théodin's death is thus filled if not with joy, with peace at having one's other needs for food, comfort, and companionship. The making of a toast to past kings' memories - now including his - is a mark of closure for the mourners.

By drinking to his memory, mourners are able to not only celebrate his life but move on to happier news:

At the last when the feast drew to an end Éomer arose and said: 'Now this is the funeral feast of Théoden the King; but I will speak ere we go of tidings of joy [...]. Hear then all my guests, fair folk of many realms, such as have never been gathered in this hall! Faramir, Steward of Gondor, and Prince of Ithilien, asks that Éowyn Lady of Rohan should be his wife, and she grants it full wiling. Therefore they shall be troth plighted before you all.'
And Faramir and Éowyn stood forth and set hand in hand; and all drank to them and were glad.(1280)

Thus, the final feast of the series commemorates not only the passing of a valued life, but symbolises incoming prosperity at the union of two powerful families from Rohan and Gondor, of new beginnings for the men of Middle Earth.

Tolkein does not go into much elaboration on the type of food and drink served at this feast. As with many other instances in the novel, it is not the food that is appreciated at the ceremony as much as the company and ritual. With the entire party finally at peace, they are no longer deprived of food, rest and comfort: it is the ritual of the feast that is important.


  • Oxford English Dictionaries Online (2000), feast,
  • J. R. R. Tolkien (1955) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King London: HarperCollins (2007)
  • Image URL:

Monday, 3 February 2014

Dwarves' Dinner (#1)

Tonight, I bring you a hearty, belly-filling, blow-your-socks-off recipe inspired by Tolkien's dwarves. With their "short stature with long beards, love for treasure, skill as smiths, and bad temper, " Thorin and his contemporaries are inspired by Eddas and Norse sagas of old (St Clare 1995:64). To maintain a gruff and hardy nature, the most fitting meal imaginable for a dwarf is a delicious, bulky stew.

While Tolkein's inspiration comes from the North, mine comes from the Americas. In my house this dish has become legend for its strengthening and medicinal properties.

Magic Chilli

Recipe is my own. Serves 6.

  • 400g minced beef OR 1 1/2 cups red lentils**. 
    • **Prior to cooking, boil in 6 cups boiling water until absorbed. Drain and rinse thoroughly, then put aside. 
  • 1/2 a large onion, diced
  • 6 decent-sized cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
  • Olive oil
  • One tin chopped tomatoes
  • One tin kidney beans
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • Sprinkling of crushed chillies
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • Sprinkling of mixed herbs
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • Worcester sauce
  • 2tsp cornflour mixed with 1tsp juice of chopped tomatoes.

1. In a large saucepan or cast-iron dish, heat up 3tbsp oil and gently fry the onion and garlic until clear.
2. Add the tomato puree, let it heat up, and then add the beef/lentils. Stir until the meat is browned/the lentils are coated in tomato puree.
3. Add the cumin, mixed herbs and chillies, and stir through. Then pour on the tinned tomatoes and bay leaves. Let simmer on a moderate heat for 10 minutes.
4. Splash in some Worcester sauce, and then add the cornflour mix.
5. Serve with boiled rice or jacket potato, and top with sour cream and cheese. Best enjoyed with a side of garlic bread and a tankard of the finest ale.

Your magnificent beard and swordsmith shop await you!


  1. Gloriana St. Clare (1995) 'An Overview of the Northern Influences on Tolkein's Works' University Libraries Showcase, issue 99, p. 64