Christianity and Middle-Earth

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A Great Dark Wave

(A warm welcome to any readers come by way of Steve Bragg’s generous mention of this site over at Double Toothpicks.)


Fox News: BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Cargo planes touched down with aid Wednesday, bearing everything from lentils to water purifiers to help survivors facing the threat of epidemic after this week's quake-tsunami catastrophe. The first Indonesian military teams reached the devastated west coast of Sumatra island, finding thousands of bodies and increasing the death toll across 12 nations to more than 76,700.


In his fascinating book Exodus to Arthur: Catastrophic Encounters with Comets, Professor Mike Baillie (no relation) of Queens University, Belfast, presents to us a possible interface between seemingly mythological events in mankind’s ancient literature and the growth-rings of long-deceased trees such as the ‘bog-oaks’ of Britain and Ireland. Preserved in peat (like the more well-known bog-bodies) cross-sections of such trees speak to the trained eye of wet summers and harsh winters long ago – and occasionally of something out of the ordinary.

From the last chapter:

The conclusion therefore is that a very strong case exists for the contention that we do not inhabit a benign planet. This planet is bombarded relatively often – if the story in this book is correct, we have been seriously bombarded at least five times since the birth of civilization, that is, in the last five millennia. As should be apparent from Tunguska, and the rapidly increasing number of recent terrestrial craters being identified and dated, we have probably been less seriously bombarded at least fifty times in the same period. If we include the fact that the bulk of the planet is covered in water, and that too many serious impacts will be virtually undetectable airbursts, then the actual numbers of less serious events may be many more that 50. But even working with this number would imply, as astrophysicists have already pointed out, that we can expect a Tunguska class of impact on average at least once a century. Our problem is that as an intelligent species we have taken our eye firmly off the ball; most scientists and historians have opted for a non-catastrophic world….

…If the story is true, the oak trees, particularly the oak trees in Ireland and Britain, are pointing us to events where the planet has been bombarded in the not too-distant past; a concept which had, until recently, all but disappeared from mainstream human consciousness.
The validity or no of his argument is outside the reach of this blog, my knowledge of dendrochronology and ancient history being strictly layman-level (and my view of events described in Scripture from a different school of thought entirely), but it sounds reasonable and definitely appeals to the iconoclast in my soul - the “oh, yeah?” streak in me that reacts to smug scientific dogma with ears-back contrariness.

That catastrophic events suggested by atypical tree-rings may have been caused not by volcanic activity disturbing the environment (acceptable to 20th century science) but by an over-abundance of comets (loonybiscuit stuff smacking of Immanuel Velikovsky et al) is, of course, the moral of Professor Baillie’s very sober story; my purpose in quoting him is merely to illustrate the point of mine: we don’t know as much about the world as we think we know.


For a more apt take on the past, Charles Pellegrino’s chatty archaeological ramblings about Minoan Crete and the doomed island of Thera (modern Santorini) tell of the effects of seismic activity thousands of years ago, both wrought by and engendering the volcanic explosion that laid waste to a good part of the ancient Mediterranean

“On the west coast of Turkey, just north of the island of Rhodes, is a small body of water whose shoreline is like an ever-narrowing funnel. Its open mouth faces west, toward Thera, and anyone living behind that mouth might just as well have been a flea located in the throat of a cannon. As the shock wave surge east between increasingly confided shorelines, the waters piled higher and higher until at last they became a foaming white mountain eight hundred feet tall. The wave penetrated thirty miles inland, in the general direction of Mount Ararat; and when it receded, it dislodged house-sized boulders, scoured the soil and carved out channeled scablands. Elsewhere, on a strip of Turkish coast only ninety miles north of the funnel, the wave seems to have risen barely twenty feet high...”
Twenty feet is quite high enough if you and those you love are in the way.
”Tsunamis are like that—capricious. In ancient Greek literature there survives a tradition of devastating upsurges from the sea…the ruins of Attica, much like the Turkish scablands, lie behind the Thera-facing mouth of a funnel. An epic poem of the period provides what looks for all the world like a scientifically accurate account of an approaching tsunami.“
And he goes on to quote Euripides:
There came a sound, as if from within the Earth
Zeus’ hollow thunder boomed, awful to hear…
…To the sea-beaten shore
We looked, and saw a monstrous wave that soared
Into the sky, so lofty that my eyes
Were robbed of seeing the Scironian cliffs.
It hid the isthmus and Asclepius’ rock.
Then seething up and bubbling all about
With foaming flood and breath from the deep sea
Shoreward it came to where the chariot stood.


Before hobbits and before the Shire, there was Numenor, "the land of Westernesse that foundered."

“In an hour unlooked for by Men, this doom befell…there came a mighty wind and a tumult of the earth, and the sky reeled and the hills slid, and Numenor went down into the sea…its laughter, its mirth, its music, its wisdom and its lore; they vanished forever. And last of all the mounting wave, green and cold and plumed with foam, climbing over the land…

…Nine ships there were: four for Elendil, and for Isildur three, and for Anarion two; and they fled before the black gale out of the twilight of doom into the darkness of the world…”

A poignant moment comes in Peter Jackson’s version of The Return of the King when Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin ride back into their little land and, as it were, back in time as well. The ordeal they have endured cannot be seen in their fine clothing and well-fed ponies; their reward for saving the Shire is a snort of grumpy disdain from a complacent elder intent upon his housekeeping.

Even Frodo had felt the same before his journey, for all his book-learning and the warnings of Gandalf. The Shire was the Shire and the disasters of the greater world didn’t come into it, because…well, because it was the Shire, cocooned and inviolate, brigadooning its respectable hills and hobbit-holes blissfully through Forever.

Oh, there might be the occasional difficulty due to some Outsider’s impertinence and some need of Bounders, but utter catastrophe lay out of living memory, sound asleep in another time, forgotten by the Shirefolk much as we in our current prosperity have forgotten the year without a summer.

But no tsunami brought upon the world by Sauron’s mischief had come to wash the Shire from the face of Middle-Earth.

A terror such as burst onto the wide-scattered shores of the Indian Ocean brief days ago is deeply unsettling in a way that a carefully monitored hurricane, however catastrophic, can never be. Even apart from the nearly incomprehensible loss of life and the despair and suffering of survivors, it lays a brutal blow to our trust of the planet that we living yet inhabit.

By means of the Weather Channel and Headline News we prosperous moderns set a sort of emotionally protective Shire-boundary about our daily lives. Trouble comes to others, sometimes to us, yes; thus we send checks to the Red Cross, attend a funeral, buy plywood, stand in line for ice - and life goes on. Even the arguing about global warming and war gives us a sense of being in control, able to affect the course of future events to a lesser or greater degree. At least we have some say in it all.

But this – the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable – rips the protective blanket of illusion from our frailty with hands of unfathomable horror, exposing the terrible things that our ancestors knew and which we in our forgetfulness have attributed to primitive superstition and stories told in the night.

Because we comprehend all at once to the very marrow of our bones that this earth we tread does not really lie domesticated beneath our feet, obedient to our science and our textbooks about the long-ago.

Because the legends of sea-monsters from the night-black deeps are come suddenly true.

And because now we understand, now we truly know, that darkness unescapable can sweep, all unforeseen, from a dominion that is not our own.


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