Apr 8, 2019

Warhammer 40,000: Beakies!

Since we don't actually have space in our apartment to play Warhammer, our campaigning season is restricted to the months when we can make use of our summer cottage. Therefore, I'll be doing a series of posts on modelling and painting while I wait for next summer.


First, some Space Marines. Last summer, I found these guys stowed away in the attic, and after a little light cleaning with a soft toothbrush, they were fit for service.

They are what I think was originally a 1,000 point Space Marine army in 3rd edition Warhammer, which is the last time I played 40k before last summer! We're bringing them into the Imperial army as a Vanguard detachment to represent the Marines who took part in suppressing the Ignatian rebellion. I originally painted them up in the colors chosen for the rec.games.miniatures.warhammer chapter; we'll be fielding them as Raven Guard successors.

Punishers Space Marines


I had an old Tech-Marine model I made back in the day, but to be honest it was kinda boring. So I made a new one.

The body and backpack are from an old Devastator Sergeant; the axe, servo-arm and head are from Zealot Miniatures. I'm really happy with this model!

Sternguard Veteran Squad

With an Imperial Guard battalion detachment already finished and plans to upgrade it to a brigade underway, we decided that my old tactical Marines would be more useful as Veterans. The other option would have been to field them as Troops choices and take a patrol detachment, but a vanguard detachment gets the Imperial army a command point, and it feels more in character to have the Marines be a small elite force bolstering the much bigger Imperial Guard formation.

Vanguard Veteran Squad

By the same logic, my old Assault Marines were upgraded to Vanguard Veterans.

Terminator Squad

Our third and last elite choice is some Terminators. The 1993 Space Hulk video game was such a formative influence on me that there was simply no way that any Space Marine army I collect wouldn't have Terminators in it.


I have always unapologetically loved Vindicators. The reason my original 500pt army existed was that I realized I could fit a Vindicator and a Whirlwind into that amount. Obviously I hate that the 3rd edition ordnance template, i.e. the pie plate, is gone, and the Vindicator just isn't what it used to be. I hope we'll have a chance to find out what its current incarnation is like this summer.


Full disclosure: I love artillery. Space Marines don't get a lot of it, which made it all the more important to get a Whirlwind. Again, I desperately miss the ordnance template, but I'm trying to think positively and remember that these days, I'm on the receiving end of this thing!


So now we have almost 700 points of Space Marines to add to our Imperial army! Marines are in kind of a weird place; on the one hand, they're the most iconic representatives of Warhammer 40,000; on the other hand, they really are kind of boring. But we have good reason to be grateful to 8th edition: because nothing is as unimaginative and boring as Primaris Marines. Also, I want to complain: wargear choices for characters are more restricted in 8th edition than they were in 3rd, which means I can't use one of my favorite conversions:

Yes, a Librarian with lightning claws and a jump pack. If I remember correctly, in 3rd edition psychic powers like Smite were basically shooting attacks, so there was no point in taking a gun for a Librarian because they'd be using Smite anyway; hence the lightning claws. They're off some miniature I can no longer name, but it was a kind of dwarf with a single claw that our friendly local gaming store had on a clearance sale when they moved, so I got two and stuck the claws on an Assault Marine.


I've still got some old and new loyalist miniatures to go through, and I'm also working on something new for the Ruinous Powers!

Apr 1, 2019

Let's Read Tolkien 55: The Black Gate is Closed

Before the next day dawned their journey to Mordor was over.

As commanded, Gollum leads the hobbits to a hollow where, at dawn, they can see the Black Gate that bars the northern entrance to Mordor. Heavily fortified and completely impregnable, it's clearly hopeless for them to enter Mordor this way.

Frodo, however, is determined to try, but Gollum tries to talk him out of it with the promise of an easier way into Mordor, through the valley of Minas Morgul to the south. Hilariously, when challenged by Sam, Gollum has a Trump moment:

"Sméagol has talked to Orcs, yes of course, before he met master, and to many peoples: he has walked very far. And what he says now many peoples are saying."

The hobbits spend most of the day sitting in the hollow, with Frodo trying to figure out what to do. At one point, they're disturbed by a column of Sauron's soldiers marching by. Gollum reports that they're black southerners, which prompts Sam to ask if they had an Oliphaunt with them. When Gollum asks what that is, Sam recites a poem that seems to describe an elephant. Frodo is cheered by this, and decides they'll head south and attempt Gollum's route into Mordor.


This is a very short chapter where nothing much happens; one of the few points of real interest is our first encounter with southern men in Sauron's service.

"Dark faces. We have not seen Men like these before, no, Sméagol has not. They are fierce. They have black eyes, and long black hair, and gold rings in their ears; yes, lots of beautiful gold. And some have red paint on their cheeks, and red cloaks; and their flags are red, and the tips of their spears; and they have round shields, yellow and black with big spikes. Not nice; very cruel wicked Men they look. Almost as bad as Orcs, and much bigger.

Tolkien was, by our standards, very much a racist, and it's hardly a coincidence that in Middle-earth we find noble men from the north and west as the good guys, fighting the deluded and primitive easterners and southerners; Mordor may not be the Soviet Union, but it is most definitely the evil Orient. The black men marching to Mordor are very clearly described as evil, and compared to orcs.

Still, it's instructive to compare Tolkien's description of the southerners with some of his more hysterically racist contemporaries. Start with H.P. Lovecraft, two years Tolkien's senior, in The Horror at Red Hook:

It would not be the first time his sensations had been forced to bide uninterpreted—for was not his very act of plunging into the polyglot abyss of New York’s underworld a freak beyond sensible explanation? What could he tell the prosaic of the antique witcheries and grotesque marvels discernible to sensitive eyes amidst the poison cauldron where all the varied dregs of unwholesome ages mix their venom and perpetuate their obscene terrors?

Lovecraft shared Tolkien's ideas of pure blood and race, but again, it's worth remembering both that Tolkien's protagonists are of mixed descent themselves, and that he never expressed such a shrill horror for the racialized Other as Lovecraft did. Similarly, nothing in Tolkien's writings even remotely approaches the leeringly racist caricatures of the slightly younger Robert E. Howard in The Vale of Lost Women, or Conan the Barbarian's defiant white supremacy in that story:

"I am Conan, a Cimmerian, and I live by the sword's edge. But I am not such a dog as to leave a white woman in the clutches of a black man -- If you were old and ugly as the devil's pet vulture, I'd take you away from Bajujh, simply because of the color of your hide."

Again, this is not to make excuses for Tolkien's racism and orientalism, but to put them in their proper context. Read alongside his pulp contemporaries, it's worthy of note that Tolkien very rarely engages in the sort of abjectly racist exposition that they deployed. You might argue that it was his Christianity, but even the most cursory look at the history of racism will disabuse anyone of that notion.


Next time: cooking.