The Mythic Well III

by Annie Hamilton

Tyr, the Norse god of war and son of Odin, was noteworthy for his courageous daring, his judicial fairness, his nobility of spirit and his heroic stupidity. The gods of Asgard had foolishly allowed Fenrir, the evil son of Loki and father of wolves, to grow to monstrous proportions. Belatedly realising their mistake, they commissioned the dwarves to create a magic chain forged from the sound of a cat's footfall, the breath of a fish, the beard of a woman and other similarly esoteric elements. The chain when wrought, though superlatively strong and sturdy, was as smooth and light as a silken ribbon. Now Fenrir was no dope. He suspected that something was amiss about the gods' proposal to slip this playful device around his person. So, just to be on the safe side, he asked for a demonstration of good faith in order to allay his fears that treachery was afoot. He only agreed to test this trifling hazard, providing one of the gods volunteered to put an arm down his throat.

Which is how Tyr came to be one-armed.

Now this image of Tyr and Fenrir is plainly the basis of the incident in The Silmarillion where Beren loses his hand to the wolf-warden, Carcharoth. Middle Earth's red-fanged father of wolves snapped at the jewel of starlight which Beren had just stolen from Morgoth's crown and took the thief's hand with it.

Beren, like Tyr, was brave, daring, noble and heroically stupid. But there the resemblance ends. Beren had a destiny -- and it was like a shield around him, protecting him as he passed through barriers that stopped all others - mountains infested with evil as well as fences of warding magic that baffled the senses. Beren, moreover, was madly in love with the half-elven princess, Luthien Tinuviel. His affections ran so deep that when her father asked a bride-price of a jewel from the devil's crown, he didn't hesitate. Off he went.

To cut quite a long story very short, Beren lost not just his hand, but shortly thereafter, his life. However, Luthien went to the Halls of the Dead and made such a moving plea to the angelic guardian (who was known as Mandos and who had a brother known as Lorien) that Beren was returned to her and granted a new lifespan of approximately three decades.

The story has, at the point of Luthien's poignant singing to Mandos, a distinct resemblance to the legend of Orpheus. However, the gender roles are reversed and there is a happy ending. Now Straczynski claims that he drew inspiration from this same Greek myth of a visit to the Underworld when he was writing the episode Z'Ha'Dum. As a matter of fact, there are some vague threads of the Orpheus myth in Babylon 5 (even though no one sings or plays the lyre), but they occur in the follow-up episodes to Z'Ha'Dum, rather than the season ending itself. That quibble aside, the odd thing about all this is that when Straczynski and Tolkien dip into the mythic well, they reshape the waters in almost precisely the same kind of way. Orpheus may have been their mutual inspiration, but in both cases the gender roles are reversed and there's a basically happy ending. The very same sort of happy ending, as it turns out. After all, what's a decade here or there? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this is treading a dangerous line.

Because into this melting pot of imagination which includes a pinch of Greek myth, both authors introduce wolves. I guess great minds think alike. How else can this unusual combination be accounted for? That hoary old chestnut - Arthurian romance?

Now I wouldn't want to give the impression that Straczynski has just simply nabbed a storyline here: when it comes to the wolf itself, we find an important and significant divergence. Tolkien used the father of wolves, Straczynski uses the mother. (If you doubt this, you should listen very closely to Ivanova's lengthy metaphor about the wolf in The Hour of the Wolf.) Tolkien's wolf was red-fanged, Straczynski's is red-haired.

The other major difference, of course, is that Beren loses both his hand and the jewel of starlight in the wolf's belly, while Sheridan obviously doesn't. Or does he?

Of course not. Otherwise he'd be missing what the Minbari could (should they be so inclined) call a mi'chael [[*].

But let's not follow that line at this stage. Instead, let's look at this subject of hands in another context. Can it be coincidence that Sheridan has been told in a dream, "You are The Hand."? Well, it could be, but I - strangely enough - doubt it. The episode in question was All Alone in the Night. More than a year passed before the audience became privy to the explanation of the dream and, having heard it, I'm suddenly in agreement with Fenrir: the time has come to be mighty damn suspicious and, if I'm to be mentally shackled by this trivialisation, I'm going to take something with me. Instead of a series of symbols pregnant with meaning, the raven, the dove, the Psi Cop uniform and the statement, "You are The Hand", were all glossed with rationalisations that begged the question of why the dream had been presented as so portentous in the first place.

To be considered, however, is this: why should we take the characters' interpretations as authoritative? After all, there have been several occasions when we've realised in retrospect that some characters have fudged the facts, manipulated the truth and, at times, outright lied. Wouldn't it therefore be possible that we've also seen characters be mistaken - and that this was one of those occasions?

So let's examine the statement, "You are The Hand", ask the `who are you?' question and make the pre-supposition that it might just have some connection to someone in the history of Middle Earth. I apologise to those of you to whom it's obvious that this particular draught of the mythic well is simply and solely an admixture of Norse and Greek legend without an intermediary muse. But I hope you understand why I can't quite rid myself of the notion that this is Tyr and Orpheus by way of plagiarising Tolkien.

Luthien and Delenn have names that share a meaning as do Anna Sheridan and Anfauglir (a name for Carcharoth) and, strangely enough, I suspect a relationship between mi'chael and Michael.

But let's look back at Sheridan's epithet. There are several major characters in Tolkien's writings who could fittingly be called "The Hand".

1. The first is the human hero, Beren Erchamion, who was known as the One-handed, the Empty-handed. Now, the word `Beren' has absolutely no relationship to `Sheridan', though if we stretch a point on `Erchamion' and mix a bit of Narn with Minbari, we can achieve an uneasy fit. The perfect match for `Beren' is - and this probably comes as no surprise - `Valen'. (Basic linguistics would tell you that, even if you can't fathom enough Minbari to find the two possible equivalences of meaning. Of course, if true, this actually indicates that the storyline of Beren, the hero who was almost dogged by a destiny recognisable to others, was originally meant for Sinclair. He, after all, even if nobody but Zathras recognised it, also had a destiny.)

2. The second possibility is Sauron who, on rare occasions, was called The Black Hand. He was the supreme and diabolic malevolence - a tyrant's tyrant - who lusted after the complete domination of Middle Earth. It was he who had the title The Lord of The Rings. Far more commonly, however, he was called The Eye, because after the loss of his power at the end of the Second Age of Middle Earth, he could only take form as a fiery red-rimmed eye forever seeking the Ring which would restore his power. Because The Eye is Sauron's more usual title, I consider that he should be identified elsewhere and not as a point of comparison to Sheridan.

3. The third possibility is Saruman, who was known as The White Hand. Saruman means man of skill or man of craft in Elvish, while if we consider Sheridan to be a Minbari word, it can be translated man of craft; man of spirit; man of blood; man of death. There is also an imbedded meaning of three-in-one which could apply to any or all of the foregoing. Saruman was one of the five Istari - the wizards sent by angelic guardians to Middle Earth to aid the free peoples against Sauron. The angelic guardians forbade the use of force by the wizards, but Saruman formed his own army despite what he had been taught. As the leader of the White Council, he constantly sought to uncover ancient lore and to understand Sauron's mind and strategy. In the end, he simply became like the dark lord. Becoming obsessed with the enemy, he became the enemy. His bands of marauding orcs called him Sharkey. It's a pity that isn't a Minbari word, as it's a pity `Starkiller' isn't. Because there isn't a hell of a lot of difference between them in translation.

4. The fourth possibility is Boromir whose name is a mixture of the two Elvish languages, Sindarin and Quenya, and means jewelled hand. Boromir was the son of the steward, Denethor. He was a great warrior, a respected leader of men and a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. He believed the One Ring should be put to good use, not destroyed. His attempt to wrest it from Frodo led to the breaking of the Fellowship and consequently, to his own tragic death. Despite Straczynski's reference to Boromir in relation to the death of Talia's personality, I think that what's said is largely misleading as there's absolutely nothing to connect the two apart from the fact they both died suddenly.

"The stories I like best are the ones that rachet up the tension and the uncertainty inch by inch until you're screaming. This could apply to any of Stephen King's novels (and recall that a lot of my background is in horror writing). Mother Abigail in thE STAND was supposed to be their hope for the future. So in short order she's vulture-food, JUST when she's most needed. *Because that's interesting*. It makes you say, "Oh, hell, NOW what? (Stephen actually does that a lot in his books, and it's a technique I've learned as well.) Boromir in Lotr was a capable, skilled fighter, deemed absolutely essential to the Company of the Ring... oops, there he is by the tree, full of Orc arrows. Stuff happens. Same here." jms

Now on the `who are you?' question of Boromir, you might remember that Michael contains Minbari elements for hand and jewel, but it also contains the element for star. It's much more likely that if we wanted to find a point of comparison for Boromir, we should look not to Garibaldi or to Talia, but to one of two women: President Santiago's chief of security: Liana Kemmer, whose last name is just the gem in the hand we're looking for, or Lise Hampton, Garibaldi's lover.

"YOU ARE thE HAND." Having looked at the main possibilities, I am more than ever inclined to believe - based on the congruence of names - that a huge chunk of what was to have been Sinclair's story has been shifted to Sheridan. Further I think that, without very much doubt, Sheridan remains primarily a point of comparison to Saruman, the White Wizard. It's an extremely odd choice for a hero, but then Straczynski does seem to enjoy manipulating his audience's perceptions. In fact, at times his presentation of perspective seems slanted to shape perception by promoting one point of view and acknowledging - but discrediting - the alternatives. The civility and tolerance which undergirded the whole series in the first season has long gone. The philosophy has changed and it's interesting to wonder if this was Straczynski's agenda all along. Because even before fourth season, those of us who do remember the lessons of history find that watching Sheridan is a bit like looking at the nation's saviour from the point of view of the desperate German public of the early thirties. Even so, next time I see the Anla'shok perform a ground-shaking fly-by, I'm determined to thrust all thoughts of Tolkien's Rangers and of Himmler's S.S. (which, by the way, was an abbreviation for protection squads) out of my mind and think of Camelot. This, after all, so we've been authoritatively told, is inspired by Arthurian legend. Now what was that about truth being a three-edged sword?

For this third look at the Mythic Well, I used (in addition to all previously cited reference material) the Encyclopaedia Britannica. My thanks this time to Kathryn A, Karen McDonald, Catherine Brown and Linda Mitchell for their patience and assistance.


Annie Hamilton

Here follows the comparison between the Elves and the Minbari in list format.


If you're trying to avoid even the vaguest of fourth season spoilers, don't read this footnote any further. The abrupt disappearance of the mi'chael (translation: hand of the star-jewel) would be followed by a brief period of uncertainty about its fate, and then something of a rampage and a bit of `off-your-brain' frenzy by the affected party. Unfortunately I can't think of anything like that which would apply to a mi'chael. On the other hand (sorrrry! - but only just!), if that apostrophe were to vanish into a Shadowship or the belly of a wolf or whatever, I might just be tempted to report to my local Rorschach testing centre. Particularly in the light of this comment by jms about Z'Ha'Dum on the Lurker's Guide: "It's just a sound of stone grinding on stone. With a slight animal like sound, as though entering someone's maw. Which is what I wanted." Note the use of anthropomorphic 'someone' instead of 'something'. Carcharoth, by the way, was known as 'The Red Maw'.