The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

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Greg
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The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

Post by Greg »

The wearing of the cloak is not only commonplace in Middle-earth, but indeed is nearly a necessity for a Northern Ranger interpretation due to the sheer number of references given to the use of cloaks. The Grey Company wears them, and Aragorn himself is rarely without one. The most efficient, effective, and/or appropriate-looking cloak design has been discussed, debated, and re-hashed thoroughly at middleearthrangers.org, and I have been a part of this ongoing discussion for quite some time. I have gone through three different cloaks, all of different designs and materials, seeking something that would work best for a Ranger’s needs, and all have fallen short in one area or another. Tolkien himself stated “I visualize with great clarity and detail scenery and ‘natural’ objects, but not artifacts” (Letters, No. 211). He did not describe many garments in much detail, so design cues have been limited mostly to colors and textures; little is known of structure or pattern. For this reason, I began taking a new approach to my research on cloaks. Little can be extrapolated from direct descriptions, but so much more can come out of reading into how these cloaks were used. To quote every reference made to a cloak throughout his works would take many pages; indeed, more than would be practical for this publication. Instead, I’ve selected a short list of references from a wide range of his writings with which to present my case.

Material/Color:
“He will never need to stretch his legs again; and I find your cloak too hot in the sun.”(1) This is clearly suggesting the use of somewhat heavier materials; likely wool or similar, and a primary purpose of a cloak being warmth. “A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.”(2) “They were clad in cloaks of dark grey, and their hoods were cast now over helm and head.”(3) Here, we encounter two differing colors, but both on Rangers. However, Aragorn is the only Ranger specifically described wearing a green cloak; the Rangers in the North who join him (the Grey Company) come in grey cloaks, while the Rangers in ithilien are never described as wearing cloaks, only Hoods and Masks. Precious few other colors are mentioned, but the vast majority of cloaks described across all cultures are grey.

Use:
“…his hood was dripping into his eyes, his cloak was full of water…”(4) The use of the cloak and hood during this rainstorm indicates the intended purpose of keeping the wearer protected (or at least insulated somewhat) from the weather, regardless of its failure to succeed in this example. Wool certainly fits the bill here again as the material of choice, as no other material available can keep the wearer remotely warm when it is wet. “Throwing back his cloak, he laid his hand on the hilt of a sword that had hung concealed by his side.”(5) “"‘Now the sword shall come from under the cloak. I will risk death for mastery of that fire, and even the meat of Orcs would be a prize.’”(6) Here we have two distinct mentions (and these are not alone!) of using a cloak to conceal a sword. Aragorn’s use of it in Bree may have merely been for purposes of keeping the locals from getting nervous or for concealing the legendary Narsil, but in the Unfinished Tales, it sounds more to me like it is a common practice, rather than an isolated instance. The statement comes across like a Middle-earth equivalent of “The gloves are coming off” and other such expressions, suggesting one’s aggressive intent. Such statements are always based on common truths, if we assume it to be a generally known or widely used phrase. A cloak on a Ranger, then, should be full enough to conceal--at least in part--a sword at the hip.

Design:
“As for a hat, I have got a spare hood and cloak in my luggage.”(7) Hood and Cloak are listed here as distinctly separate items. This is but one of dozens of references that support this (though it is possible that not all cloaks were intended to be so.) “…save only that each cloak was pinned upon the left shoulder by a brooch of silver shaped like a rayed star.”(8) This line has been interpreted in a number of ways. I have seen cloaks clasped at the throat with a pin or clip, with a rayed star hanging decoratively on the shoulder, like a badge. I have also seen cloaks that were intended to be clasped at the shoulder
with the star. Still many (myself included) have at one time or another ditched the star entirely for lack of a clear understanding of the text. The one thing this reference doesn’t give us is whether it was intended as a form of closure or merely decoration. I’ve chosen to argue for neither. The rayed star notwithstanding, there is a historical cloak and hood design that fits the bill of every reference here (and many, many more) which also provides all the function needed for a Northern Dunedain Ranger impression. I’m rather embarrassed it took me this long to come around to liking it.

Years ago, the middleearthrangers.org forum owner (who is responsible for the stitching guides every newsletter) began posting information regarding the construction of the cloak found on the ‘Bocksten Man’ in Sweden in 1936. The cloak was interesting due to the ‘patchwork’ construction methods utilized due to the scarcity of fabric in-period, but I really didn’t find it very intriguing for my own uses. It seemed too much like a poncho to me, and I was far too locked into the cloak aesthetic seen in the New Line Cinema films to be open-minded about a more period design at the time. Interestingly, though, the Bocksten cloak (and separate hood) fit the descriptions found on Tolkien’s Rangers strikingly, if you follow the references above. For starters, the Bocksten cloak is made of wool. We can, of course, make our cloak out of anything, but this corroborates the references to personal temperature management. Moving forward, though, we have use- and design-cues as well. The Bocksten cloak is designed to be worn with the stitched closure on one shoulder, allowing the cloak to nearly completely cover the wearer if desired, front and back. More “typical” cloaks in the fantasy realm are somewhat difficult to close in the front, but this design is very adept at covering both front and back against cold or weather. This design feature is further justified by the fact that one side is completely covered with the cloak, allowing a sword, perhaps even a large one, to be entirely hidden (or pretty close), corroborating the several references to Aragorn and others having significant weapons concealed but quickly accessible by “throwing back” the cloak. The fact that the Bocksten Man wore this cloak with a separate but matching hood supports historical function as well as the practical ability to wear the hood in somewhat warmer weather with the cloak set aside because, after all, they are “too hot in the sun.” None of these are stunning revelations. One of the strongest supports I came across for the use of this cloak, however, came with my idea that the star-shaped brooch pinning the cloak “at the left shoulder” had nothing to do with holding the cloak together, but the context in which the Ranger found themselves in. In no situation that a Ranger wore a sword underneath the cloak were they also described as wearing the star. After comparing notes, these were all found to be “incognito” situations of one sort or another, in which the Ranger in question would not have desired to be noticed, or seen as armed. On the other hand, the Rangers that are wearing their stars are riding openly to war, where their line of ancestry and their wearing of the sword are no longer things to be hidden. In short, I believe the star-shaped brooch can be used as an identifying mark of status and lineage that also serves the dual purpose of holding the cloak open/out of the way of the arms and general motion, as well as giving easier access to the sword itself (and thus would not be worn until the cloak was needed out of the way of the sword). Rather than pinning the cloak together, the star is there to hold it open.

To add to this from practical experience (regrettably without references, because there are no concrete references given for quivers worn on the back) I can also safely state that a cloak which is open at one side rather than the front is much easier to manage with things like quiver straps, bedrolls, etc. without cutting any slits in the body of the garment. All of this comes together to provide one with a very full, warm, and functional pair of garments that can be used interchangeably to manage one’s body temperature and as part of a bedroll setup (such as adding additional insulation underneath). Now one question remains: would Tolkien have ever encountered the Bocksten cloak during or before his writing? Would he have been familiar with the design at all? I would guess that he was not familiar with the design when The Hobbit was first published in September of 1937, which includes the descriptions of separate cloak-and-hood, but the possibility that the design entered his mind before the completion of The Lord of the Rings cannot be denied. The Bocksten Man was discovered June 22nd, 1936, just fifteen months before the initial publishing of The Hobbit, and went on display in a Swedish museum in 1937. Being a learned man interested in similar historical matters and lore, I have little doubt that, though it most likely had little influence on The Hobbit, the professor became acquainted, even briefly and/or secondhand, with the discovery before or during the process of writing The Lord of the Rings. It would have been big enough news within the educated community to reach his ears and pique his interest. There are a lot of ways that this conjecture could be incorrect, and that is acceptable. I have chosen to content myself in knowing that a historical design with a wonderful, extant example lines up superbly with every description of a Ranger’s cloak the professor blessed us with.

-G. Lammers, 2016
Now the sword shall come from under the cloak.
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Greg
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Re: The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

Post by Greg »

Greg wrote:
J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter XI: A Knife in the Dark, Pg. 186 wrote:Frodo and his companions huddled round the fire, wrapped in every garment and blanket they possessed; but Strider was content with a single cloak, and say a little apart, drawing thoughtfully at his pipe.
I set aside this quote from my article because I knew a question that merited it would come up in some form or another. Here's where I'm at with it: I do intend to dart my left shoulder. It will reduce the number of wrinkles of fabric under my bedroll strap, keeping it a bit more comfortable, as well as the closer fit helping to prevent the cloak shifting around.

Strider's ability to handle the cold with just a cloak has to do, largely, with his personal acclimation. Go read Austin's article in the Winter Edition for ideas on improving your own. In the meantime, I think the dart would be more help than harm. Proper sleeping protocol in the wilds is having something over and under you, so I believe that warmer conditions (or a well-acclimated traveler in early October, as was the case) could easily make use of the original Bocksten design by actually wearing it for sleeping, unpinned from the shoulder. Colder weather? Now we're talking a bedroll with a dedicated blanket.
I decided to go ahead and copy this post from Caedmon's original Bocksten cloak discussion thread to make its relevance to the rest of my research on the topic obvious. I've begun cutting into my wool (finally) for this project, and am rather excited about it. Test fitting with my old cloak as a mock-up was slightly awkward, but current test-fitting with the purpose-built cloak pattern is corroborating my suspicions about its versatility with gear carriage straps, sword wearing, and etc. very well. Progress!
Now the sword shall come from under the cloak.
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Re: The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

Post by Elleth »

I really loved this article - it's got me thinking I'm probably going to just start over with my cloak. The more artwork I look at - historical and good Tolkien inspired alike - the more unhappy I am with the choice I made creating a rounded hemline. This one's still perfectly serviceable and *almost* done, so once I get another batch of thread out of the dyebath I'll still finish it up. Then make a new one. Better than six versions I guess. :)

I'm wandering with this version Greg - do you think a sewn-on hood would still work, provided the right shoulder was sewn rather than hemmed? Or are there functional problems going down that road?
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Greg
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Re: The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

Post by Greg »

The attached hood is certainly still doable, even with the shoulder sewn shut like in the original...you'd just have to make up the hood and cloak separate, wear the cloak and have someone help you mark the functional center at the base of your neck. I'd just shy away from recommending it because of things like...summer. ;)
Now the sword shall come from under the cloak.
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Re: The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

Post by Straelbora »

Does anyone here have a Bocksten-style cloak? I'm wondering if it can be rotated, that it can be worn comfortably with the opening in the middle of the body, as well as worn to the side, allowing for one arm to be free.

I'm in the process of having a gray wool cloak made, but I want something with a fur collar (one of my options is coyote).

Although completely unrelated, I'm thinking of a 'Game of Thrones' style cloak, with the dual straps to hold it in place. I've attached a photo of a really bad one from Amazon, but it clearly shows how the straps function.
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Re: The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

Post by caedmon »

Straelbora wrote:Does anyone here have a Bocksten-style cloak? I'm wondering if it can be rotated, that it can be worn comfortably with the opening in the middle of the body, as well as worn to the side, allowing for one arm to be free.
Ok, this begs a few questions. Do you really want a dual purpose cloak, or just like the design?

Yes it can be rotated. But it will choke you. To wear it comfortably you would need some sort of GOT style straps. This not without historical precedent, the Eastern Orthodox phelonian has such a strap.

I am working on, and have been teasing a Bocksten inspired watch cloak for a while, it's still not done, but there so much interest, I've posted an intro-topic: Budget Authenticity: Watch cloak inspired by Bocksten.

Straelbora wrote:
Although completely unrelated, I'm thinking of a 'Game of Thrones' style cloak, with the dual straps to hold it in place. I've attached a photo of a really bad one from Amazon, but it clearly shows how the straps function.
GOT cloaks are dead easy. As flippant as I sound, I'm not joking here. It's just a curtain with a belt switched out for the curtain rod. Then a dead animal is thrown over the top.

[edit]

I'm really not being flippant here. Here's an example of Jora Mormont's cloak without the collar. Image
-Jack Horner

----------------------------
Impression: Boater Wesman ( Balku'npâ Adúnerama ) bronze founder living in Archet, Breelander of mixed dúnedain descent. c. 3017
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Re: The Ranger's Cloak - From Winter 2016-17

Post by Elleth »

I think it's perfectly possible to make a Bockston-style cloak that can be turned either way: just leave off the dart and cut the neck opening fairly wide.
It wouldn't sit quite as smooth as one tailored to one position or the other, but it should be perfectly serviceable. (play with a muslin first of course)

FWIW, once upon a time I riffed off the "prologue elven army" cloak pattern - same idea as the GoT there with a back closure, but the straps go over the shoulders "backpack style" then fasten in back. It's surprisingly comfortable, but I think better suited for a costume piece than something one actually expects to protect from inclement weather.
Persona: Aerlinneth, Dúnedain of Amon Lendel c. TA 3010.
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