Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Précis of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the End of the First Age - Part II: From the Arrival of the Noldor in Middle-earth to Awakening of Mortals


Today marks what would have been the 121st birthday of the South African-born English author, J.R.R. Tolkien. To mark the occasion, here is the second installment of the précis of the early history of Tolkien's fictional universe. If you're looking what has come before, please scroll down and read Part I. The forward to that blog entry also has a few conditions I've set for reading. Don't worry -- they mostly involve being civilized, which I'm sure all of you are. I hope your 2015 is going well.
The symbol of J.R.R. Tolkien. Professor Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 and passed away on September 2, 1973. The Hobbit was published in 1937, The Lord of the Rings in 1954-55 and posthumously The Silmarillion in 1977.  
Map of Beleriand by Christopher Tolkien and featured in various editions of The Silmarillion
The Noldor’s Arrival in Middle-earth

The arrival of the Noldor into western Middle-earth (Beleriand) was not entirely a happy occasion. A curse called the Doom of Mandos existed upon them because of their actions in the Undying Lands; remember the Kinslaying in Alqualondë. It is worth quoting in its entirely here: 

Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.

But it wasn't just the Doom that caused consternation when the Noldor arrived: like has happened in (subsequent) human history, the people who lived in Middle-earth were weary of the newcomers as well. Turgon, the son of Fingolfin was guided by Ulmo, who, while not being able to lift the curse from his friends, guided Turgon to a secret place in the middle of the mountains of northern Beleriand which was surrounded and safe, and could only be seen by the Eagles. There, Turgon built the city of Gondolin, which sat upon an island-hill in the middle of that protected space. Initially, Turgon had settled in a coastal area of Nevrast and had built a city called Vinyamar, but he was encouraged by Ulmo to find a more protected place. Gondolin would become a central place in the history of the First Age and, until it fell, Morgoth was driven to find it and use any means necessary to destroy it. However, for much of its history it lay secluded and secret from almost everyone and in it great treasures were made, including the swords found by Gandalf and Bilbo in the troll cave in The Hobbit.

Finrod Felagund, the son of Finarfin and brother of Galadriel, set up a kingdom called Nargothrond, a deep cavernous location along the River Nargog in West Beleriand. There, his sister stayed for a short time before she went to live in Doriath, the forested realm in the middle of Beleriand. You might recall, Doriath was ruled by Thingol, who was also known as Elwë, one of the earliest elven ambassadors to the Valar. Thingol was strong willed and had married the Maiar, Melian. When they received Galadriel, Melian was especially inquisitive and deemed something was wrong: the Noldor were first thought to be emissaries of the Valar but it soon became apparent this was not the case. Melian inquired, asking Galadriel about what happened in the West, noting "woe that lies upon you and your king" and asked what they were hiding as there were no messages from Manwë, Ulmo or even Thingol's brother, Olwë (who was also Galadriel’s grandfather). It was at this time that Galadriel revealed the story of Fëanor and the Silmarils and all that had happened. Then, Thingol announced that while the Noldor (and specifically Fëanor’s kin) would be helpful in the battle against Morgoth, there would be much trouble in their coming to Middle-earth and when he later hosted Finrod in Doriath, Thingol confronted his guest about the slaying of his fellow Teleri and what had happened in the Aman.

The Story of Aredhel, Eöl and Maeglin

Fingolfin's daughter Aredhel, first lived in Vinyamar with her brother Turgon, before settling in the hidden kingdom of Gondolin. At first she was happy in that place, but soon became constricted and wanted to travel in the wide spaces of Beleriand. She eventually got her wish (much to Turgon’s dismay) and left to visit her friends of old, the sons of Fëanor. After finding some of them, she came to the forest of Nan Elmoth, where she encountered a dark elf named Eöl. While elves are generally considered good and wise, Eöl was angry and had a malevolence to him. That was in great part to his resentment of the Noldor for their invasion of Beleriand, but also because he was always more at home with the dwarves, who had made their kingdoms in the Blue Mountains to the east. He was a great smith and craftsman and forged two great swords out of a meteorite that were named Anglachel and Anguirel and will feature later in the story. When Eöl saw Aredhel in his forest, he feel in love with her and used magic to entice her deeper into his realm. Eventually they were wed, and while it cannot be said that Aredhel loved him, she did not hate him either, and their marriage bore the fruit of a son named Maeglin. Maeglin grew into a powerful elf, with the dark hair of the Noldor and the skill of his father with whom he would often travel to visit the dwarves. But above all he loved listening to the stories of his kindred Noldor as told by his mother and came to know of Turgon (and his lack of a male heir) and mighty Gondolin. Despite his wife and son’s heritage however, Eöl came to hate the Noldor and when his wife expressed an interest to return to her home he forbade it.

One day, when Eöl was away, Maeglin took one of his father’s swords and escaped with his mother. At first, they went north to meet the sons of Fëanor and upon returning Eöl was furious and followed them. When Eöl tracked them to Celegorm and Curufin, it became clear that their ultimate destination was not Himlad, but Gondolin and Eöl set off on their trail. Turgon, meanwhile, was very happy to see his lost sister, and was impressed by his nephew. Maeglin, in turn, was in awe of this magnificent fortress, but above all it was his cousin, Idril, whom he came to admire the most.

Tuor reaches Gondolin by Ted Nasmith. Tuor will be discussed in future editions of the feature. 
Eöl eventually found his way to the city and when he declared himself husband to Aredhel and was allowed entry, much to the consternation of those within. When he was informed of the laws of Gondolin and that he would never be allowed to depart, he refused them and ordered Maeglin to leave with him. When it was clear that Eöl would be leaving empty-handed, he grabbed a javelin and threw it at his son, in hope of killing him. With this, Aredhel threw herself in front of the flying missile and was hit in the shoulder. Turgon became furious even as Aredhel and Idril plead for the life of the Dark Elf. Later that night, Aredhel’s wound festered and she died. In the subsequent trial, Eöl was judged guilty by the king and thrown off a black rock on the north side of the city. But before he did this, he cursed his son saying he wished the same ill fate upon him. With both his parents gone, Maeglin, became close to the king, but always kept secret about his true desire for the kingdom and his unhealthy (and unrequited) feelings towards his cousin.

The Mortals Arrive!

In Tolkien’s world, the last of the major races to awaken are the mortals (Men). These men and women also awoke in the East, with many marching west to escape the troubles experienced there. But in other respects, they are very peculiar. Of the two Children of Ilúvatar, their mortality has long led to a certain level of estrangement between their elder siblings, who largely saw them as weak and frail, and did not understand what happened to them after they passed on. In Tolkien’s legendarium this is called the Gift of Men, which, very much in keeping with the author's orthodox Catholic beliefs, said that when mortals die, they left the confines of the world to go dwell with Ilúvatar (God). Of course, over the course of larger story, this gift loses its lustre and with the encouragement of the evil powers, soon becomes a mystery and then a curse to be avoided.

When the mortals arrived in Beleriand, they were met by Finrod Felegund. They had come a long way, and had learned to speak like elves as they met others on their journey. Morgoth had also heard about the new race, and left his northern fortress of Angband under the control of Sauron to investigate. The first chieftain of the mortals mentioned in The Silmarillion was named Bëor and it was Bëor who gathered the mortals and lead them across the Blue Mountains into Beleriand, where they eventually found a home in the area called Estolad south of Nan Elmoth, the forest in which Eöl had lived. However, When Finrod wanted to return to Nargothrond, Bëor sought to follow him and remain in his service, as would many others.   

While mortals became plentiful and reproduced at a rate that the elves found astonishing, it was the group that became known as the Edain or the “Elf-friends” that would play a role in both The Silmarillion as would their descendants ages later in The Lord of the Rings. But many elves were weary of the newcomers too, as was especially the case for King Thingol. Indeed, Thingol dreamt about their coming and both forbad men from entering Doriath, decreeing that they live in the north and that any elf who had a mortal in his service, would have to answer for his mistakes. Melian, perhaps understanding what her husband considered would later say to Galadriel about a certain mortal:  

Now the world runs on swiftly to great tidings. And one of Men, even of Beor’s house, shall indeed come and the Girdle of Melian shall not restrain him, for a doom greater than my power shall send him; and the songs that shall spring from that coming shall endure when all Middle-earth is changed.   

We'll learn about that mortal, a man named Beren, in the next installment.

In Part III: The Houses of the Edain, the Tale of Beren And Lúthien Tinúviel and the great battle known as the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Précis of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the End of the First Age - Part #1: From the Earliest Times to the Crossing of the Noldor


In a conversation after we both watched Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies my brother asked me about the First Age of the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his High Fantasy epics centred around Middle-earth. Wanting both to oblige my brother and to do a quick review of The Silmarillion (1977), the posthumously published account of the earliest stories of of Tokien's world, I wrote him the below précis. Later I got the idea: as we approach what would be Tolkien's 121st birthday on January 3rd, it might be a neat idea for followers of this blog to read my little account of the First Age as well. That said, there are a few caveats: firstly, it's not intended to come anywhere close to the detail and beauty of The Silmarillion. If you want to know the real story, please pick up that magnificent book, as well as others such as the The Children of Húrin, Unfinished Tales and (if you're really ambitious) the 12-volume series The History of Middle-earth, all of which were edited by Christopher Tolkien. This measly blog post is not a substitute for reading the stories themselves and only hopes to pass as a helpful synopsis. Secondly, rude nerd rage will not be tolerated. I'm not a Tolkien scholar, and if I've missed anything you believe is important, please politely remind me in the comment section. I have also omitted some items and have not included dates or years so as to not clog the entry with numbers. Thirdly, the presentation will be made in parts and currently I have about 2.5 ready for posting. So while the first two should appear in short-order, I'm not entirely sure when I'll get the whole thing finished; sometime in January 2015 for sure. Oh, and have a very happy new year!
The Silmarillion (1977) by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien (Unwin Paperbacks). Most of the information taken from this blog post is from this book. It was the first posthumous work by Tolkien, who passed away in 1973. The cover is from the 1990 edition and features Alqualondë, the port city of the Teleri.

Map of Arda -- for as Tolkien himself once said: "I wisely started with a map." It was taken from the website and while it's off in some places, it's nevertheless gives a good "big picture" representation of the world as Tolkien created it.

Who are the Valar?

When Arda (Earth) was created, Ilúvatar (God) created the Valar, the greatest of the Ainur who were angelic beings that entered the world and helped shaped it. The world composed of three principle continents, Aman in the West, Middle-earth in the middle and a distant continent in the East. The most powerful of the Ainur was named Melkor, who after being created sought to compete with Ilúvatar during the creation and make themes of his own. But as all creation can only come from God, Melkor’s creations were actually distortions and flawed. However, because he was mighty, he was able to corrupt other Ainur spirits to his side, which included Balrogs and the greatest of his servants, Sauron. The Valar followed Melkor in this music of creation, and remained (mostly) loyal. The Valar were:

Manwë: King of the Valar and lord of air and skies. 

Varda: Queen of the Stars and spouse of Manwë. She rejected Melkor from the very beginning and was hated by him the most. The elves revere here especially. 

Ulmo: The Lord of Waters, he is unmarried and kept to the oceans rather than live in Valinor with the majority of the Valar. As water is his element, he is aware of what happens in Middle-earth and was active there.

Aulë: The Master of Smiths, he created the dwarves before Ilúvatar's first children, the elves, awoke. But the dwarves were not intended to come first, and were put back to sleep by Ilúvatar before this happened. The dwarves were to be destroyed, but because there was no malice in Aulë’s heart, they were allowed to live; but because of this, they are estranged from the elves. 

Yavanna: The spouse of Aulë, Yavanna is the Queen of the Earth and is most happy in nature. She created the Two Trees, which were the light of Valinor in the early days and she loves all beasts and plants. 

Oromë: He is the huntsman of the Valar and a great warrior and rider. He remained in Middle-earth when the Valar retreated to Valinor and discovered the Elves. He hates Melkor and is both quick to anger and fierce in battle. 

Vána: The Queen of Blossoming Flowers, she is the younger sister of Yavanna and the spouse of Oromë. She is perpetually young and beautiful and loves flowers and gardens. 

Mandos: The Judge of the Dead and the Master of Doom. He lives in the Halls of Mandos in the far west, where the souls of elves go when they pass from their bodies. He is an advisor of Manwë and never forgets. He spoke of the Noldor before they committed their crimes and advised that they never be allowed to return. He never speaks unless commanded by Manwë. 

Vairë: The wife of Mandos, she is the Weaver and weaves the stories of Arda in her tapestries, which decorate the Halls of Mandos. 

Nienna: Lady of Mercy, she was the tutor Olórin who would later travel to Middle-earth in the Third Age and become known as the wizard Gandalf. She weeps constantly, but her tears are full of pitty and endurance and will heal those affected by Melkor. 

Lórien: The Master of Visions and Dreams, he works closely with Mandos and has gardens in the land of the Valar, where those who visit them are given rest and refreshment. 

Estë: is the spouse of Lórien and is the healer of hurts and weariness. She lives with her husband in the Gardens of Lórien. 

Tulkas, the Strong is the Champion of the Valar. He is big, brave and the strongest of them all. He only fights with his hands and has laughed in the face of Melkor. He does not get angry, but once he is moved to fight, is almost unstoppable. 

Nessa: is the Dancer and is swift and agile. She is married to Tulkas and loves to dance and run.

Along with Melkor and the Valar, the Ainur also included the Maiar. These are lesser than the Valar, but alike in spirit and origin and still quite powerful. They generally work closely with the Valar in all things, and can alter their appearance to look like an elf, or in the famous example mentioned above, a wise old man. Other Maiar include the Balrogs, Sauron, Saruman, Radagast the Brown, Melian and possibly Tom Bambadil. Those who are not Maiar include: dragons, eagles, ents, elves or Shelob, the spider. It is also noteworthy that, while there is superficial resemblance between the Greco-Roman pantheon or other non-Abrahamic faiths, the Ainur (both Valar and Maiar) are more accurately discribed as angels or arch-angels rather than gods.      

The Awakening of the Elves and their Clans

The elves awoke in distant east and were Ilúvatar’s first born children. The first to awake of the elves were three named Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë and as they wondered under the stars in the East they invented language and music. The elves soon began to multiply and were met by the Vala, Oromë, who brought them tidings from the Valar in Aman. The elves were given the name Eldar meaning "People of the Stars" by Oromë.

Elves awake! This work was painted by Ted Nasmith.
The Valar summoned the elves to come and join them in the light of the Two Trees (more on them later) but not being sure, sent their leader-emissaries, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë to investigate. When these great elves returned, they convinced the others to return with them. In this there was not unanimity however, and the first to travel were those who became known as the Vanyar with their leader, Ingwë. They were (are) considered the fairest of the elves and once they left Middle-earth to live with the Valar were rarely seen again.

The next clan became known as the Noldor. They were equally beautiful, but especially talented in the crafts of knowledge, warfare and especially in creating things. Much of the story of the elves in Middle-earth from the First to the Fourth Age involves their kin, including the problems, and both the Silmarils of the First Age and Rings of Power Second and Third Age have their literal and figurative fingerprints all over them. The leader of the Noldor was named Finwë.

Finwë’s first wife was named Míriel who gave birth to a son named Fëanor. However, after Fëanor was born his mother wanted to die because she gave all her strength to him. But because death was not permitted for elves (they cannot leave the bounds of Arda) her soul departed to the Halls of Mandos in a quasi-suicide which was unprecedented. Fëanor was ill-tempered, strong-willed but immensely talented, and would go on to create both the Silmarils and the Palantíri, the magical stones used to communicate that were featured in both Lord of the Rings and the Peter Jackson feature films. Fëanor married Nerdanel who gave birth to seven sons: Maedhros the Tall, Maglor the Singer, Celegorm the Fair, Caranthir the Dark, Curufin the Crafty and twins Amrod and Amras, both of whom were hunters. Curufin the Crafty’s son, Celebrimbor, would in the Second Age, settle in the Elvish region of Eregion near Moria and south of Rivendell, and would encounter Sauron who, disguised as Annatar, Lord of Gifts and claiming to have been sent by the Valar, duped him into forging the Rings of Power.

Finwë would remarry and have two more sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin, and two daughters, Findlis and Irime. The second wife of this High King of the Noldor was Indis, a Vanyar and these younger sons were of a much different temperament than their half-brother.  Fingolfin would marry Anaire and give birth to Fingon, Turgon, Aredhel the White Lady and Argon. Finarfin, the youngest of the sons of Finwë, was a pacifist and never returned to Middle-earth. He would marry Eärwen, the daughter of Olwë, the younger brother of Elwë of the Teleri and had four children: Finrod Felagund, Angrod, Aegnor and Galadriel, the latter whom features prominently in the Third Age.

The third and largest clan of the elves to travel to(wards) the Aman were named the Teleri. They were subdivided into many groups, with a large group of them staying in Middle-earth and becoming the Avari, those who refused to travel. The Avari were lesser than their Valar-encountering kin and had became fearful when they arrived at the Misty Mountains. However, when Elwë returned, he convinced many Teleri to join him in the West and many did. But they always moved slower, having lived in Middle-earth and having grown to love it. Many also arrived at the sea and became skilled as ship-building and eventually, Ulmo, the Lord of Waters, pushed an island back to Middle-earth called Tol Eressëa and many of the Teleri would travel on this island-ferry, which was eventually planted off the coast of the Undying Lands. The Teleri would build a city on the northern part of Aman called Alqualondë, and it would become a major ship-building haven.  

By this time, the eastern portion of Middle-earth become known as Beleriand and – when Elwë returned to gather more Teleri – he met Melian, a Maiar, and fell in love. He would eventually court and marry her and they would become King and Queen of a large realm of Beleriand called Doriath. He would eventually become known as Elu Thingol, with his younger brother taking up the kingship of the Teleri in the Undying lands in Alqualondë. The daughter of Thingol and Melian was named Lúthien Tinúviel and was said to be the most beautiful of all the children of Arda. Her name is on gravesite of Edith Mary Tolkien (née Bratt), the wife of the author.

The Creation of the Silmarils

After Arda was created, the Valar lived in Middle-earth and Aulë made two giant Lamps, on top of two giant pillar-like mountains which were named Helcar in the north and Ringill in the south. These Lamps of Arda illuminated the world and this period was known as the Spring of Arda. During this time birds, beasts and plants started to grow in the world, but Melkor seeing this light, hated it all and came back from the Walls of Night (outside Arda, in the void [space?]) and broke the lamps down, making Arda dark. The Valar and their host then moved west to the continent of Aman.

Then, at the behest of Aulë, Yavanna, made the Two Trees which were named Telperion, the silver tree and Laurelin, the golden tree. These were intended to replace the Pillars and illumined Aman, but left Middle-earth in darkness. The first ten ages of the Years of the Trees were known as the Years of Bliss and it was at this time eagles, ents and the dwarves awoke (and were subsequently put back to sleep until the elves awoke). When this age past, the Years of Bliss became the Noontide of the Blessed and it was then that Varda rekindled the stars and Middle-earth once more had light. Then the Elves awoke and this marked the beginning of the First Age, which could more accurately be rendered as the First Age of the Children of Ilúvatar. Interestingly, the Ages in Tolkien’s work are marked by the beginning of the lives of the Children of Ilúvatar and is not Lamp, Tree or the Sun. 

Back to the elves: when they awoke, Melkor wanted to rule them and approached and kidnapped many possibly turning them into Orcs, although this is still debated. Seeing this, the Valar sought to stop Melkor and made war against him, eventually capturing him and bringing him back to Aman to answer for his crimes. This was called the War of the Powers, and it was after this that the elves began their journey westward.

Soon Melkor appeared to be repentant, although there were some amongst the Valar who never trusted him. But he was eventually freed after a sentence of three ages (not those mentioned above) in the Halls of Mandos and immediately set about causing strife between the Noldor, especially the king’s sons, Fëanor, Fingolfin and Finarfin. At this time Fëanor created the Silmarils, three magnificent jewels that he used to capture the light of Two Trees. These jewels would become unique, and not even Aulë was able to create something that matched their power and beauty. They also could not be copied and even the Valar understood their superlative nature with Varda making them so: “no mortal flesh, nor hands unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them, for they would be scorched and withered.”  

During this time Melkor had the Noldor in his sights. First he told Fëanor that his younger, half-brother was planning to take the throne from their father, Finwë. However, when it became clear that Melkor was never actually an ally, the Noldor started to forge weapons, while at the same time, Fëanor threatened his younger brother’s life. When the Valar heard of this, they summoned him to their home at the top of Mount Taniquetil to answer for his actions. With his father at his side, Fëanor did this, but soon started to believe that the Valar also coveted his Silmarils, which supported what Melkor had told him. When he returned to the Noldor, his half-brother Fingolfin had taken up the leadership of the Noldor, which also went along with Melkor’s lies. Shortly afterwards, the Valar exiled Fëanor to Formenos, a city in the north of Aman and this became Fëanor’s stronghold and treasury, and many of the Noldor (including his father, the king) went with him. 

Melkor and Ungoliant attack the Two Trees. Painting by John Howe. 
When the Valar finally understood what Melkor was doing, they sent Tulkas to capture him, but he had fled south to find an ally. While there, he enlisted the support of Ungoliant, a giant spider of unknown origin and profound evil. The two of them then attacked the Two Trees, and Ungoliant sucked the life and light out of them, gorging herself to the extent where even Melkor feared her. Thus, the light in the Silmarils were the only remaining source of the light of the Two Trees, although saplings where saved which would feature later in Tolkien’s stories. 

With the Two Trees destroyed, the Valar asked Fëanor for the jewels so they could use the bejewelled light to rekindle them. But Fëanor refused and the trees were not healed. As Fëanor was refusing the Valar, Melkor went north to Formenos and killed Finwë and stole the Silmarils, escaping to his fortress in far north of Middle-earth. When Fëanor realised what was done, he rallied his people against the Valar and sought to go after Melkor and recover the Silmarils. He also named Melkor "Morgoth" or "the Black Enemy" and swore, along with his sons, the Oath of Fëanor, which said they would pursue anyone – Valar, Maiar, Elf or Mortal – who stood between them and the jewels. This would bring a long-lasting doom on all of those who swore it, and would feature prominently in the latter stories of the First Age.   

The host of the Noldor soon left the north of Valinor and came upon the shores of Aman at the Teleri city of Alqualondë. There they asked for ships to go to Middle-earth and when the Teleri resisted (not wanting to displease the Valar), the Noldor attacked and the result was the First Kinslaying, where elf killed elf for the very first time. The Valar eventually causes the seas to swallow many of the stolen ships in punishment of the Noldor, and Finarfin (the youngest of the sons of Finwë) and a small group (although not all of his children) returned to Valinor where they were welcomed by the Valar and he ruled as High King of the Noldor in Valinor. Fëanor, however, and many of his close kin were able to make the long crossing to Middle-earth, and when they arrived they burnt the Teleri ships. Still wanting to remain with the main host of the Noldor, the host of Fingolfin who had not arrived in time to board the ships, had no choice but to go north and cross the grinding pack ice which was called the Helcaraxë (which had also been crossed by Morgoth and Ungoliant). There, many of the Noldor perished, including Elenwë, the wife of Turgon and daughter-in-law of Fingolfin.

Next in Part II: From the Noldor in Middle-earth to Awakening of the Mortals. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Star Trek Franchise: 1966 to 1979

We appreciate your interest in “Star Trek” and are sorry we have to continue to disappoint you. NBC, however, has no plans for the return of the series.

As reported in recent press stories, our Program Department does have under consideration a two-hour-science fiction film. Several concepts have been proposed for this project – one of which is “Star Trek”. While no decision has been made — nor can we tell you when one will – we are aware of your own high regard for “Star Trek” 

 NBC Audience Services

Title of Star Trek: The Original Series which aired from 1967 to 1969.
This short statement is what those who wrote letters to NBC received in reply to their correspondence. It was written on a post card and was most certainly read by thousands of disappointed fans in the immediate years after the cancellation of the first Star Trek television show. Of course, what came before this is one of sci-fi fandoms best known results a letter writing campaign that saw NBC receive almost 116,000 letters between December 1967 and March 1968 which kept Star Trek from being cancelled after its second season. However, what you might not know is that while Star Trek was on life-support almost as soon as NBC first aired the show on television, there were also licenced and Paramount-owned products that further enriched the fan's overall experience with the franchise, almost from its very beginning. This short piece will look at early Star Trek licenced and spin-off products and hopefully give you a sense of how fans were able to consume Star Trek in the earliest days of this now venerable franchise. 

The crew of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Animated Series.This show featured the voice talents of the Original Series actors but only lasted two seasons.
In 1972 NBC went to Filmation and Norway Productions which working with Desilu Studios who produced the live-action show in the early seasons, and using the same actors who portrayed the original crew produced two seasons, one of 16 episodes and the other of six of Star Trek: The Animated Series which expanded the in-canon universe and filled the void felt by an increasingly vocal fanbase. Since the last airing of an episode in June 1969, the 79 episode show almost immediately went into syndication. Indeed, as its popularity started to grow, fans started to organize and the very first Star Trek convention was organized in 1971 by Elyse Pins, Devra Landsam and Al Schuster and took place on the weekend of January 21-23, 1972 at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in New York City. This event was covered by Variety, the trade publication, and featured sci-fi legend Issac Asimov, along with the king and queen of Star Trek themselves, Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett. 

The cover of the Gold Key Comics' Star Trek #4 (June 1969) with a reprint as Star Trek #35 (November 1975). Written by Dick Wood with art by Alberto Giolitti. Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent images are from Star Trek #4.
Comic book fans will appreciate that Star Trek comics started to appear on the shelves of stores in July 1967, shortly after the first season had completed. They were published by Gold Key Comics, an imprint of Wisconsin-based Western Publishing and interestingly, these books didn't come out with the frequency of other, more established comic publishers. The first was available in July 1967 and called the The Planet of No Return; the second called The Devil's Isle in Space and not available until March 1968. From there The Invasion of the City Builders appeared in December 1968; The Peril of Planet Quick Change in June 1969; The Ghost Planet in September 1969; When Planets Collide in December 1969; The Voodoo Planet in March 1970 and The Youth Trap in September 1970, the latter five issues having been produced after the television show ceased filming in January of 1969. The early comics universally featured a still photo of the television crew (usually Kirk and Spock) on the cover, but the similarities ended there. Have a look: from June 1969's Star Trek #4 The Peril of Planet Quick Change

Sulu beams down the crew to "Metamorpha", a quickly changing planet. Where's the Redshirt?

When you special effects budget is limited to what the mind can imagine, Star Trek can get kinda crazy... 

... and even use heavy machinery which was rarely seen on the television show. In the comics they were common place. How did they beam this tank down?

Splash from Part II of Star Trek #4.The comics were divided into chapters.
Not beholden to budgets or technology, the comics were much more detailed in their depiction of alien life and worlds. And the Enterprise crew always seemed better equipped with tools and rucksacks too. In a similar vein, the comics also make it clear that the artists had very little contact with the television show, with the backgrounds and crew tools being very different from the set designs of the television show.   
Splash from Gold Key's Star Trek #31 (July 1975). The writer of unknown but the art is by Alberto Giolitti.

Star Trek #31 was titled The Final Truth and had a Gamesters of Triskelion feel to it  but with robots! 
First piece of licenced original Star Trek prose fiction was titled Mission to Horatius and was written by author Mack Renolds and published by Whitman Books (which was also owned by Western Publishing). It was the first original piece, as there had been previous Star Trek "novels" but they were actually adaptations of the television series from Bantam Books starting in early 1967. Following Mission to Horatius, Spock Must Die! by James Blish which as the title suggests, was targeted more at adult readers was released in 1970. Interestingly, despite the growing popularity of Star Trek and hints from Gene Roddenberry himself that the show might come back (which were most pronounced in the lead up to the failed launch of Star Trek: Phase II in 1978), the next Star Trek novel was Spock, Messiah! which was released in 1976 and written by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano Jr.  After the second novel, the Star Trek universe took off and novels based on the franchise proliferated. 

Cover of Spock, Messiah! by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano Jr. Published by Bantam Books.
Both Star Trek novels and comic books would bounce from publisher to publisher, in the latter case with Marvel Comics picking up the licence for a short period beginning in 1979 with the comics adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, that will be discussed later in the next installment of this ongoing mission based on the Star Trek Franchise where we will look at the 1980s and 1990s, covering the bulk of the Star Trek feature films as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation. Thanks for reading and have a great day!   

Saturday, November 22, 2014

SuperSoundtracks #8: Robotech: Macross & Daft Punk

For a little over a year in the early 2000s, I lived and worked in Tokyo, Japan. At a train transfer on my commute home there was a department store that had on its sixth floor a store called Hobby Base: Yellow Submarine. This store (and others like it in Japan) was awesome but while visiting I was always drawn back to the mecha models, especially those I identified as belonging to Robotech. So for WGTB's SuperSoundtrack #8 I'm going to focus on Robotech: Macross and what I think is the best track of the 2013 hit album by French electronic duo Daft Punk

The Cover of the Robotech Role Playing Game by Palladium Books.
Robotech was one of the earliest mecha-based Japanese programs to be consumed in large numbers by Western audiences. The whole thing started when Jim Rocknowsky, a product director for the US company Harmony Gold, discovered three Japanese programs: Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada and decided to licence and merge them into one 85 episode saga, combining remarkable science-fiction visuals with mature and often very personal stories. Upon getting the licence Harmony Gold's president, Frank Agrama, set about  assembling a team that would make this Japanese story enjoyable for Western audiences. This wasn't easy and included not just dubbing the dialogue, but also finding skilled actors to bring the characters to life, writing an appropriate musical score and tying these three desperate stories together into one plausible back story. The first of the three parts or Robotech would become known as the The Macross Saga and is the one I'm most familiar with.
Image from Comico's Robotech: The Macross Saga #13 (August 1986).
The story went as follows: In the year 1999, humanity was not doing well. Global war was ravaging the planet and it was against this backdrop that astronomers discovered an alien spacecraft heading towards Earth. When the alien ship eventually collides with Earth, it ends up on the fictional Macross Island located in the south Pacific. Miraculously, the ship survives and remains intact, which spurs forth a human effort to reform our ways and soon afterwards a United Earth Government is formed. Simultaneously, a team of researchers and scientists arrive at the island to investigate and learn from the alien ship. 

Image from Comico's Robotech: The Macross Saga #5 (August 1985).
Over time, Macross Island grows from a sparsely populated island to a bustling hive of humanity. Macross City becomes its metropolis, which grows up around what becomes known as the Super Dimension Fortress One (SDF-1). By 2009, it's decided that humanity will launch the ship and command is given to a Frenchman named Captain Henry J. Gloval. His First Officer is a woman named Lisa Hayes and a leader of the robot-fighter aircraft that defends it is Commander Roy Fokker. During the launch ceremonies, a young hotshot pilot named Rick Hunter crashes the party, but his actions are also interrupted when the Zentradi, the previous owners of the SDF-1 arrive to reclaim their property. The Zentradi are a warrior race of green giants who are genetically bred for fighting and when they arrive the First Robotech War begins!
Roy Fokker and Rick Hunter. While not brothers in a biological sense, Rick would call Roy his "Older Brother" and much of the early Macross story centred around Rick going from talented young hotshot to mature military commander -- much of which was the result of Roy's death. Image from Comico's Robotech:The Macross Saga #5 (August 1985).
The humans make a valiant effort to defend themselves and Rick Hunter soon finds himself in a Veritech fighter, the mainstay of the SDF-1's fighter wing, itself a piece of "Robotechnology" which was inspired by the SDF-1. In the heat of the battle, it becomes clear that while the Zentradi have both greater technology and numbers, they also want their ship back and this means using restraint when fighting the humans. In the course of the battle, the humans hyperspace jump to Pluto, and then begin the voyage home, harangued by the alien invaders and isolated from their home planet. 

The SDF-1 transformed. The choice of word is intentional. From Comico's Robotech:The Macross Saga #5 (August 1985)
The faux-technology of Macross was the centre-piece of this part of Robotech and was quite cool. On humanity's side, there was the Veritechs. There was a number of different models of these fighters but the key element to them was they were spacecraft that could transform into a "Battloid" robot, which stood 42 feet high. If the technology sounds familiar to the Transformers line of toys, this is because both were designed by Shōji Kawamori. Indeed, both the Veritechs and Optimus Prime (and many of the early Autobot) molds came from this prolific designer. Indeed, the Autobot "Jetfire" was a VF-1 Valkyrie Veritech fighter. 

Vertiechs and battlepods in Comico's Robotech: The Macross Saga #13 (August 1986)
Eventually the two sides fight to a standstill and when the Zentradi leader, an alien named Exedore, seeks peace with Gloval, it is made known that a new Zentradi fleet is en route to Earth. When it arrives, the SDF-1 is destroyed after it rams the enemy flagship. Earth, however is left in ruins and the remains of the SDF-1 land in the middle of North America, where they once again form the basis for a new city. With this, the Macross Saga ends. 

While Robotech was at its most visible as a cartoon show, it would go on to spawn a multi-media empire with a role playing game, novels, toys and comic books: all of which provided young audiences with multiple means to devour this fictional universe. The comic book licence has its own interesting story. Starting with a short two-issue DC Comics mini-series, which used the model sets made by Revell and not the Japanese anime, it was the Pennsylvania-based Comico that published an initial graphic novel and then the ongoing series based on the Marcoss, Masters and New Generation series. In 1989 the licence went over to a Malibu Comics imprint named Eternity Comics, who published black and white stories until the licence moved over to the obscure Antarctic Press for only two years in the late 1990s. The licence would bounce back to DC Comics in the early 2000s, this time to the Wildstorm imprint in a effort to reboot the entire line. Then, in late 2013 (and partially reviewed on this blog) DC and Harmony Gold licenced it to Dynamite Entertainment where it was featured in a Robotech/Voltron crossover. 

Cover of Random Access Memories by Daft Punk.
For SuperSoundtrack #8 I've decided to pair Robotech: Macross with a song off the 2013 Grammy Awards Album of the Year Random Access Memories by the French electronic band Daft Punk. Now you may remember the massively popular single Get Lucky with its electronically fused funk beats and Pharrell Williams' catchy lyrics, but that isn't the chosen song.   

Daft Punk is a musical duo consisting of Frenchmen Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. Their first album Homework (1997) was a club staple in the late 90s, but I started to love them when I purchased their 2001 release Discovery, which was featured in the Franco-Japanese anime film Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. Human After All (2004) wasn't a favourite but Random Access Memories has more than made up for it. They also wrote the soundtrack for the 2010 film Tron: Legacy. The robot personae has been a feature of the group from their earliest days.    
No, the honour of SuperSoundtrack #8 goes to the track named Touch. Like its sibling, Get Lucky, Touch has funk-infused beats and melodies, but it's also orchestral and space-like/electronic in places as well. Because of this, it really plays to the operatic aspect of Macross and at times, the lyrical refrain "If love is the answer you're home" along with the electronically-fused, cosmically reaching melodies, which themselves are followed by a beautiful arrangement of strings, makes this track the best on an already outstanding album. The lyrics are provided by the versatile Paul Williams, and it's so good, that although it's over eight minutes long, it seems to finish quite quickly. Have a listen and see for yourself if you can picture Roy Fokker, Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes doing what they can to save humanity. 

Robotech wasn't the first Japanese cultural export to find its way to North American shores, nor will it be the last. Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, Mobile Suit Gundam, along with live-action exports like the Power Rangers have also been very popular here. (And this isn't even including original Japanese concepts like the Diaclone that were, um, transformed upon reaching North American markets.) But Robotech was special and remains, for me at least, a first contact point with Japanese sci-fi culture; something I would enjoy very much when living and working in Tokyo. Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions for a SuperSoundtrack please leave it in the comment section below.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day.

This is the day Canadians stop our busy lives to commemorate -- each in our own way -- the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918: the moment the guns of the Great War fell silent. Equally, we also use this moment to remember all who have served and died in the service of our country, including Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, two servicemen who were murdered last month because they were members of the Canadian Armed Forces. 

Image from 2 Name Books' The Eternal Glimpses of War (2014) Written by Jarrett Mazza with art by Dave Franciosa and letters by Chistopher Barrett.
To mark this solemn day I have assembled some images from a comic I purchased in the Small Press Section of this year's FanExpo in Toronto. Written by Jarrett Mazza, drawn by Dave Franciosa and lettered by Christopher Barrett, it is a self-published eight page book detailing a poem called The Eternal Glimpses of War.  

A close up of the above image.
This book is both a touching tribute to those who have fought and died for our country, but also a well-crafted example of the power of graphic storytelling. It does not glorify war, rather it protrays equally, both the horror that Canadian soldiers experienced in those distant lands, as well as the important role each of us has in remembering them. It's also an example of some of the gems one can find in the Small Press Section of a convention and I wish the creators of Eternal Glimpses a very successful future in the industry.  

The horrors of war in The Etnernal Glimpse of War.
Thank you for reading, and above all, thank you to the women and men who have served Canada and its allies through the course of our history. We are forever in your debt. 

Lest We Forget

Monday, October 20, 2014

Get Well Soon, Foggy Nelson!

Having waited for the trade paperback of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Daredevil, I was late in learning that Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, Matt Murdock's longtime friend, legal partner and confidant was recently (that is to say in March 2013) diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare sarcoma, which is a form of cancer that affects bone or soft connective tissue. Being a sarcoma survivor myself, this obviously struck me as something I might use to raise awareness of sarcoma cancers and ask that you keep reading and perhaps consider helping in our fight against this nasty disease.  Below are the panels of the doctor with Foggy and Matt Murdock. 

Foggy Nelson's Matt Murdock's best friend, legal partner and confidant receives the news: it's Ewing's Sarcoma. From Marvel's Daredevil Vol. 3 #24 (May 2013) Written by Mark Waid with art by Chris Samnee, colouring art by Javier Rodriguez and letters by VC's Joe Caramagna.  
There are over fifty forms of sarcoma cancer, which originate in connective tissue such as bone, cartilage, muscle and fat. Osteosarcoma, the form of sarcoma that I survived over nineteen years ago, has increasingly become more treatable, but sadly people still pass away because of it. Indeed, you might recall that the the comic book world has not been immune from pains caused by sarcoma, with Sam Loeb, the son of Marvel creative executive and writer, Jeph Loeb, passing in 2005 from the disease at only 17 years old. Our sympathies remain with the Loeb family.
The five-year survival for Ewing's sarcoma 70% to 80% when treated with chemotherapy. However, if metastasized (moved from it's original location to another), the survival rates fall to less than 10% to 25-30% depending on the source. Like all cancers, its important to get it early. 
If you would like to support a sarcoma related charity, please consider a donation to one of the following links. Because most of the readership of this blog comes from either the USA, UK or Canada, I have named the respective sarcoma charities from these countries. Recently, when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was diagnosed with a sarcoma cancer, in my capacity as a board member of the Sarcoma Cancer Foundation of Canada, I took to the airwaves to speak on Canadian television about my own experience with the disease. Please feel free to watch what I had to say here and here. Thank you for reading and have a great week.