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The Real Middle-Earth: Magic and Mystery in the Dark Ages
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50 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2008
This is a fascinating book which is a compelling delight to read, but, like others, I have some serious reservations about the author's accuracy.

For a start, I'd love to know what route he took to the Ankerwycke yew at Wraysbury. I just got off at the railway station, walked straight through the village and beyond it - along the well worn tarmac road - until I saw a road sign to my right bearing the legend "Runnymede." Curious about the name, I turned right and, once among the nearby fields, it only took ten minutes by foot to find the tree (to which people are still tying their offerings, by the way). So much for walking: "for an hour across ancient fields, along trackways and over wooden bridges linking ancient islands once separated by the estuary of the River Thames" (page 42). In any case, you'd have to go back a darned sight further than the Iron Age - when this grand old dear is supposed to have first seen the light of day - to find any part of Berkshire any where near the sea. Estuary? Berkshire and Surrey are nowhere near any river mouths or ocean tides. And it isn't a "small sign from English Heritage," (page 50) it's a small sign from the National Trust. But above all is the really idiotic way he has comes up with a spurious assertion regarding the origins of the place name Runnymede - waffling on that it was coined by ancient Saxons in the deep mists of time to denote an association with runes - and in so doing, completely missed the opportunity to make a far more pertinent observation. In point of fact, evidence relating to the use of the name Runnymede dates no further back than the signing of the Magna Carta. According to the editor of the "Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names" (which you can pick off the shelf of any half-decent reference library) it actually means the meadow in council island, "runieg" being a reference to a council or assembly place. As Eilert Ekwall points out: "Runnymede was evidently an ancient meeting place." Now, the irony here is that his dubious assertion has prevented him picking up on the fact that the parties to the Magna Carta may have recognised Runnymede as a suitable place to assemble and sign a solemn charter based on their knowledge of local traditions which could - indeed - have dated back to those very same deep mists of time.

Equally bogus is the way he sets the Romans up as the rational, polar opposites to their more "mystical" successors who - alone among the peoples of the ancient world - forged the idea of "connectivity." In point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and it may be the case that Bates is guilty here of tendentiously projecting modern concerns onto the past. This idea of "connection," which is such a buzz idea in some circles these days, was by no means exclusive to the Germanic tribes beyond the Danube. Bates obviously hasn't bothered to read Marcus Aurelius: "All things are linked with another, and this oneness is sacred; there is nothing that is not interconnected with everything else" (ed. Mark Forstater, Chapter 4). And then there's: "the thread of causes was from the beginning of time spinning the fabric of your existence...." (chapter 7). The concept of "connection," and being in harmony with Nature, were integral parts of Stoic philosophy and the Romans were just as familiar with these ideas as their Teutonic contemporaries. And, who knows, perhaps the Romans and the Germanic tribes exchanged more than just gold and goodies over the centuries they were trading with each other on the shores of the River Danube. And to top it all, I'm sure that Sir Frank Stenton, in his history of Anglo-Saxon England, actually remarked that Bates's beloved and "connective" ivy-scroll design actually originated in 5th or 6th century Italy!

So, being engagingly readable is all very well, but it helps if you're accurate in all respects too.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2012
Even though the book is a pleasure to read, its' contents are less than accurate. Its' primarily a rehash of popular myth concerning the past. I am an avid enthusiast of scholarly 'pagan books', but - despite fond memories for The Way of Wyrd - I recently chucked Bates' books out due to irritation over their high fantasy percentage. Bates' "The Real Middle-Earth" isn't the real Middle-Earth, but a romantic, stereotyped fantasy written to sell. Try The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England by Stephen Pollington, that's a much better book.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2012
An incredibly detailed, inspiring, imaginative and eye opening insight not only into the every day lives of people growing and living through the so called Dark Ages but also why they believed what they did, how they practiced it, how it related them to the wider world or their local surroundings. Full of facts and snippets from ancient manuscripts covering ancient Germanic Tribes, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Celtic and many other cultural beliefs.
I enjoyed it so much, it really was a pleasure to read and I was saddened when it ended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2013
I'm interested in this era. so much is written about the Romans, the Early Christians and the Tudors with the assumption that nothing good happened else before 1600. Not only is this Middle Earth culture interesting but calls into question whether our present culture's emphasis on seeing ourselves as distinct from and superior to the rest of the natural world, valuing material wealth above all other and subscribing to the cult of the individual is the better option or even if this is at all sustainable. There is much to learn from this book, hopefully changing our view of the natural world to see ourselves as a part and not apart.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2006
I am a Tolkien fan rather than a `historian' and the book gave me some really fascinating insights and snippets of information into that world: `Ah! I see' moments. The author has the ability to draw very vivid descriptions and images for the reader which made the history far more real than a dry history book would have done. Too often when I am interested in a subject I pick up a weighty tome and find that by the 4th page of referenced, footnoted pages I've fallen asleep. The Real Middle Earth by contrast kept me engaged and turning the page from first till last. Loved it and highly recommend it to all!
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2004
Bates spins a good yarn, and creates a rich, organic picture of life in pagan Northern Europe. As others have noted, he is a psychologist moreso than a historian, and he definitely comes across as being in the Jung/Campbell school of broad generalizations and somewhat unsupported claims. Those looking for hard scholarship, rather than convenient groupings of facts and supposition, will probably find that Bates tends toward didacticism and proof-texting here, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable read full of fun bits of Saxon, Norse and Celtic culture. Bates does much to recreate for the reader the worldview of the old pagan everyman, and his efforts make for an enchanting read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2014
An in depth look at how our ancestors lived and saw the world. A great read, if you are off English stock, this is recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2015
Absolutely fascinating book that made me want to go out to visit all the places mentioned.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 18 June 2012
JRR Tolkien's creation of Middle-Earth is a cacophony of fiery Dragons swooping across the skies, monsters haunting the marshes, Elves firing poisoned arrows, Wizards casting healing spells and omens foretelling stories of the Kings of old. All that now remains are the remnants left in folk memory, fairytales and myths and legends, with our belief that has all but disappeared. This book is a study of the Dark Age containing historical and archeological knowledge, which ultimately reconstructs before your very eyes the imaginative world of our past. This insight of a past culture and belief helps us to explore the past, comparing it to our current scientific age where we tend to approach our lives with a more rational perspective. We however still hunger to connect with our ancestors as the love of fantasy fiction in books and films are still strong, being a genre that is universally loved and cherished. This is an historical account of a past culture that is just as magical and enchanting as Tolkien's fictional version, but one with a deeply engrained and more poignant connection with us. Brian Bates' research covers not only Old England but also right across Europe, from the Celts to the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings beginning two thousand years ago. The Norse mythology and tales that the author re-tells, makes this a most fascinating and gripping read that brings the past vividly to life in full color. In the fantasy genre generally there is always something solid and factual behind the creative imaginings, which ultimately adds to its authenticity and realism. This book is a truly intriguing, mesmerizing read that opens a window onto our past and even if you are someone who doesn't tend to read much historical works I grantee that you will enjoy this especially if you are interested in myths, legends, fantasy and authors such as the creator of Middle-Earth himself. A fantastic read that is complimented by some lovely photographs, this is a most singularly unique and must have volume for any bookshelf.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2013
I very much enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to read about the customs of an age known as the "Dark Ages". It seems they are not so dark, and not so different from us today! Recommend this book to anyone with an inquiring mind.
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