Saturday, 23 January 2016

Mythical Earth - Miniature Figurines and Middle Earth

Mythical Earth was an unofficial range of Lord of the Rings figures that helped kickstart fantasy wargaming and fantasy role playing. JRR Tolkien and his estate were always very jealous of minding the interests of Middle Earth. Rights to produce figures as well as the rights to produce media such as films were firmly under lock and key, away from grubby commercialism and the misrepresentation of Tolkien's intellectual property. Well, eventually they gave in, and the rest is history.

Pauline Baynes' cover art for the combined volume of Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings

Miniature Figurines, a go getting company of industry bad boys, in 1972  just went off and did their own thing. Everyone knew what the range was all about, surprisingly the lawyers never appeared knocking on the door. For a range of figures, it's fairly comprehensive, covering nearly everything except Gollum and Galadriel for instance.

                                                  Elf on a horse,      

The figures are classic Minifigs, detail is implied rather than gouged out, and the poses are a little stiff, bearing in mind the moulding process. The design process for the figures draws heavily on the artwork of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, specifically the illustrator Pauline Baynes. The horses are indicative of this period of Minifigs, graceful and delicate, just like Baynes pictures.

Illustration taken from Once Upon a Time Blogspot

Pauline Baynes also illustrated the Chronicles of Narnia. Both writers were at Oxford, Baynes worked with Tolkien and then with Lewis, becoming friendly with both authors. Her work with Tolkien was felt by some to have captured the essence of what Middle Earth was all about, the words descriptors for her artwork. Tolkien did not consider her for an illustrated Lord of the Rings edition though, writing that she would have been unable to rise up to his noble and awe inspiring work. What an self improtant arse.

The Narnian Army, Giant Bombrdom and Centaurs, Illustration from

                        Painted models from

The Minifigs giant bears a remarkable resemblance to the Baynes representation of a giant, as do many of the figures, such as the Centaur and Pan. I have to think it is more than reasonable to look at the artwork and see parallels in the figures, but I believe there is more connection than that. The Mythical Earth range goes up to 60, then next goes to 100 and 101, for the Centaur and Pan. I think this was an unfinished project, and that the last 2 figures were seen to be outside the Middle Earth canon, and which were I feel, the start of a range of Narnian figures. The Giant can also be considered to be crossing between both genres. Giants feature heavily in Narnia. The only instance of Giants featuring in Lord of the Rings, is when the Fellowship are forced off the mountain to take the route through Moria. I hope I have not put a target on my back for this remark!

from The Silver Chair,

Where are the figures now? Two of the figures have turned up on the Minifigs site care of Caliver Books, along with the beautiful and exotic range of figures in Valley of the Four Winds. The ranges were sold for licence by Minifigs to the USA for strictly sale in the US. The original moulds did not go, but masters for production did. However, the moulds were made using silicone, instead of vulcanised rubber, and consequently, the figures produced are between slightly and noticeably smaller than the original UK figures!! Some of the metal used is different as well, as it has a high pewter/tin content for a slightly lighter figure. With the advance of e-commerce, restrictions on sale to specific geographic regions were effectively unenforceable. There are relatively a lot of US produced figures around as generally, Minifigs tanked and US traders baled out of them, disposing of stock.

Original advert  October 1974, from deartonyblair.blogspot

Minifigs advert, not dated, from deartonyblair.blogspot

The original master moulds are somewhere in the Minifigs stash, held by Caliver, and indications are that Valley of the Four Winds UK produced figures are being collected to produce fresh masters for new production, leading some people to dispose of collections before they are made worthless. No such moves have been noted for the Mythical Earth range, but the figures are generally available over time, as collections surface and are traded out. 

Useful and interesting sites

interesting analogue history of miniature figures in the uk

Friday, 22 January 2016

Teeth of the Hydra - Untune the string, and see what discord follows.

The alternative history of Teeth of the Hydra, is hopefully more than just missing a taxi when you cross the road.


If you believe the idea that the universe has an infinite number of possibilities, then Teeth of the Hydra has already happened, and the consequences are playing out as I write this, realising their potentiality in the Multiverse. Somewhere in a South Atlantic, the turbines on the Sea Kings are starting to whine, as the Commando's do final check before load up.


Teeth of the Hydra is my excuse for a geo-politico romp around the globe, armed with the nascent 'Thatcher Doctrine', a revitalised post Falkland Great Britain takes the place in the world Lord Palmerston would have wished for it. 


This series of post's - I hope there will be more, have the Senior Service leading the way. The Commando Brigade, has become the Naval Division, still with a Dutch component, one of the two brigades acting as strategic reserve, the other with its three Commando's committed to Artic, Jungle and Special Operations. This allows for a more integrated command and homogenous force compliment, than the addition of 5 Brigade to the Commando's and Para's did in the Falklands. However, I see the Commando's operating with the Gurkha's or Para's as a regular force deployment.


One of the most fascinating things of the Falklands, was the impact of STUFT on the logistics and support operations of the armed forces. STUFT is the Navy acronym of  Ships Taken Up From Trade. The Atlantic Causeway and Conveyor, show what can be done in 8 days in a Naval Dockyard with a clear plan and determination.


The above picture shows what you can not do. Amongst many things, the ships needed close in protection,  but perhaps more importantly, a robust fire main and emergency power system. Part of the difference in cost with a Navy ship, compared to a Merchant ship for example, is the water mains - being able to draw on salt water for hoses, which can ruin a mains system. Duplication and redundancy built into the spec, means cost.


Close in protection could have been provided by Phalanx systems, available as surplus from the US Army in Europe, as well as chaff projectors for terminal defence against missiles. A number of ships received 20mm Oerlikons. The 20mm are too large and slow to do anything other than scare the bejessus out of trawlers and their like.


Two of the ships to sail, ex Soviet container ships able to handle heavy military equipment, were equipped with armoured cables for power line protection and a damage control centre built as standard specification. These were the MV Laertes and MV Lycaon, built at the Kherson yard in the USSR.


One of the problems with regard to Stuft at the time of the Falklands was, for the MOD, the legal definition apparently. Armed Merchant Men or not however, this does not preclude you from being a target. 


Designs for container ships that could be used are not that difficult to adapt to the dual demands of merchant marine requirements and that of the navy. The main requirements are for good seaway and seakeeping, space and structure for helicopter operations  and the efficient operation of the stores in the container spaces. And built in resilience and redundancy. These are key points raised in the Falklands aftermath analysis.


Its not that I have a fascination with Stuft, to the detriment of other, clearly defined units of force. They are  a cheap alternative for naval platforms to project force, a makeshift though effective unit. They are not able to operate in an environment where they would face up enemy fleet units. They are really over the horizon force projectors. They are there, until the regular, RN equivalents, are built and in service. Or not.

            A Sea Harrier takes off from HMS HERMES, crowded with helicopters and weapons stores, during the Falklands War,

 A clear focus on strategy, and the wherewithal to do it, with efficiency savings, would mean that a 2 brigade Naval Division is within reach, as well as the infrastructure to support it. It also allows for a more active foreign policy that is more than words and good intentions. I would see this supporting Commonwealth and UK policy, the 'Thatcher Doctrine' . Intervention against anti British forces in Africa, following on from action in the Falklands, where, in Teeth of the Hydra, the Soviets flew reconnaissance out of Angola for the Argentines ( as did the US satellites for the Brits, but what is 
the point of having a special relationship, if you can't use it)

                                           Everylittle action.wordpress

The 'Thatcher Doctrine' sees Britain involved with medical, emergency and infrastructure support for former colonies of Great Britain, now part of the Commonwealth, as well as police activities against post colonial insurgency, again lead by the Commonwealth. There is also a part of this that is receptive to appeals from the UN, but is essentially distrustful of such an organisation. The spearhead for this are the Commonwealth Overseas Service Volunteer's. National Service, certainly not, but everyone under 25 has to do 18 months, or join the armed forces. 

                   Navy News

COSV allows entitlement to benefits and housing. This is the core of the Doctrine, public service, for the greater good is its own reward, but is recognised by the government with access to welfare payments, training, free higher education and housing. 


This is enough of the 'politics', the echo box that holds our string. I think I can see it happening, a soak for the unemployment that the industrial realignment brought. an ideal to be harnessed to the energy of youth. Could it have avoided a racist, colonial smell? Could it promote British values, a small c conservative nature, with a small l liberal morality, without becoming neo fascist. What it can do is provide the basis of wargaming the British Army of the 1980's. 

Cheers and thanks for looking. I have written the attribution of the photo's to the right of the photo. Some of the photo's have more than one source., I have merely plundered the image from the interweb thingy. Thanks and acknowledgement to the listed source.