J. R. R. Tolkien

Born on this day: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973). English writer, poet, philologist, and academic best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

Although many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien,[the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. As a result, Tolkien has been widely identified as the “father” of modern fantasy literature or, more precisely, of high fantasy. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”, while Forbes ranked him the fifth top-earning “dead celebrity” in 2009.

Jane Austen

Born on this day: Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817). English novelist best known for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Her plots are noted for their exploration of the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism. Along with her realism, humour, and social commentary, Her use of biting irony, have lead to widespread acclaim among critics, scholars, and popular audiences alike.

Steventon Church, as depicted in ‘A Memoir of Jane Austen’.

George Saunders

Born on this day: George Saunders (December 2, 1958). Multi award winning American writer of short stories, essays, novellas, children’s books, and novels. His writing has appeared in The New YorkerHarper’sMcSweeney’s, and GQ. He also contributed a weekly column, American Psyche, to the weekend magazine of The Guardian between 2006 and 2008.

George Saunders by David Shankbone (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Saunders’ impressive list of literary prizes and recognition includes:

  • National Magazine Award for fiction in 1994, 1996, 2000, and 2004
  • Second prize in the O. Henry Awards in 1997.
  • Finalist for the 1996 PEN/Hemingway Award. In 2006 Saunders received MacArthur Fellowship – 2006
  • World Fantasy Award for his short story “CommComm”.
  • Finalist for the Story Prize in 2007. In 2013, he won the 
  • PEN/Malamud Award
  • Finalist for the National Book Award.
  • Winner of the 2013 Story Prize for short-story collections and the inaugural (2014) Folio Prize. 
  • 2017 Man Booker Prize.

C.S. Lewis

Born on this day: Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963). British writer best known for his series The Chronicles of Narnia.

A series of seven books in total, The Chronicles of Narnia is considered a classic of children’s literature and is Lewis’s best-selling work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages.

Bram Stoker

Born on this day: Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912). Irish author, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula

Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic but completely fictional diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which added a level of detailed realism to the story, a skill which Stoker had developed as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula was considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life. “It gave form to a universal fantasy … and became a part of popular culture.”

Although Bram Stoker’s Dracula is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend, it is worth noting that it was published after Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla

Lest we forget – 11 words that capture the spirit of Remembrance Day

Some astonishing tales should never be forgotten, and perhaps none more so than those of the people who bravely fought for the freedom of their country in WWI, whose voices might fade if it weren’t for those who proudly remember them today.

As the UK prepares to commemorate Armistice Day this Sunday and unites to thank all those who have served and sacrificed, J.Allan Longshadow takes a closer look at some of the words that best capture the meaning and spirit of remembrance for the British.


The poppy is worn by millions every year as a symbol of remembrance and hope. Bright red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are a delicate but resilient flower that grew in the thousands and flourished even in the middle of chaos and destruction of the battlefields of WWI. This poignant image was first brought to the public attention in spring 1915. Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, had lost a friend in Ypres and shortly afterwards was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write a now famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’. 

The poppy is worn by millions every year as a symbol of remembrance and hope. Bright red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are a delicate but resilient flower that grew in the thousands and flourished even in the middle of chaos and destruction of the battlefields of WWI. This poignant image was first brought to the public attention in spring 1915. Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, had lost a friend in Ypres and shortly afterwards was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write a now famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’. 

As documented by the Royal British Legion, McCrae’s poem inspired an American academic, Moina Michael, to make and sell red silk poppies which were brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ raised over £106,000; a considerable amount of money at the time. This was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.


The symbolism of wreaths to honour and celebrate those we have lost can be traced as far back as the time of Ancient Greece, where they were used to represent a circle of eternal life. In Europe, evergreen wreaths were laid at the burial place of early Christian virgin martyrs, the evergreen representing the victory of the eternal spirit over death. 

By the Victorian era, the symbolism of flowers had grown to become an elaborate language, and the symbolism of flowers used to make wreaths was no exception. Today, it is a tradition to lay wreaths of poppies at the tombs of soldiers and at memorial cenotaphs during Remembrance Day.


To commemorate is more than to just remember. The verb ‘commemorate’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as to “recall and show respect for (someone or something)” or to “mark or celebrate (an event or person) by doing or producing something”. It originates from the late 16th century: from Latin commemorat- ‘brought to remembrance’, from the verb commemorare, from com- ‘altogether’ + memorare ‘relate’ (from memor ‘mindful’).


The Cenotaph is a war memorial on Whitehall in London. Its origin is in a temporary structure erected for a peace parade following the end of the First World War. After an outpouring of national sentiment it was replaced in 1920 by a permanent structure and designated the United Kingdom’s official national war memorial. An annual Service of Remembrance is held at the site on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day) each year.

Wreaths being laid at the Cenotaph during the Remembrance Sunday service in 2010. Image from http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk and reused under the OGL

The first wreath was traditionally laid on behalf of the nation by the Queen but, beginning in 2017, Prince of Wales, as the queen’s representative, lays the first wreath. Wreaths are then laid by senior members of the Royal Family. 

Wreaths are then laid by the Prime Minister (and other Commonwealth leaders if they are present), the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the other major political parties; the Foreign Secretary; Commonwealth High Commissioners; the Irish Ambassador (since 2014); representatives from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force; the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets; and finally, the civilian emergency services.

After the ceremony, a parade of veterans, organised by the Royal British Legion, marches past the Cenotaph. Each contingent salutes the Cenotaph as they pass and a great many wreaths are handed over to be laid at it. 


An armistice is defined as a formal agreement of warring parties to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, since it may constitute only a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace. It is derived from the Latin arma, meaning “arms” (as in weapons) and -stitium, meaning “a stopping”.

Today, the word ‘armistice’ is synonymous with the end of WWI. It was the Armistice of 11 November 1918, 100 years ago, that ended fighting on land, sea and air in World War I between the Allies and Germany. Also known as the Armistice of Compiègne from the place where it was signed, it came into force at 11 a.m. Paris time on 11 November 1918 (“the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”) and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not formally a surrender.

Although the armistice ended the fighting, it needed to be prolonged three times until the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on 28 June 1919, took effect on 10 January 1920.


At the conclusion of the two minute silence at the Cenopath, the “Last Post” is sounded by the buglers of the Royal Marines.

The “Last Post” is bugle call within British infantry regiments and is used at Commonwealth military funerals, and ceremonies commemorating those who have been killed in war. Its duration varies typically from a little over one minute to nearly three minutes. For ceremonial use, the Last Post is often followed by “The Rouse”, as during the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph.

The use of the Last Post in Remembrance Day ceremonies has two generally unexpressed purposes: the first is an implied summoning of the spirits of the Fallen to the cenotaph, whilst the second is to symbolically end the day, so that the period of silence before the Rouse is blown becomes in effect a ritualised night vigil.


In common usage, a veteran is defined as anybody who has served in the armed forces. Although the term can be applied to any former serviceman or woman, it is perhaps most frequently used as a respectful title for those who served in the first and second world wars.

The last living veteran of World War I (28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918) was Florence Green, a British citizen who served in the Allied armed forces, and who died 4 February 2012, aged 110.

Today, poppies are worn as a symbol of respect for all veterans.


In observing the various traditions associated with Remembrance – and especially on this centenary year – we are ultimately saying thank you to all who have served for the freedom and peace that they have given us through their sacrifice.


This year, Remembrance Day is particularly poignant as we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, 1918-2018. Led by the The Royal British Legion, this year the nation says Thank You to all who have served, sacrificed and changed our world.


According to the National Archives, more than one million British military personnel died during the First and Second World Wars, with the First World War alone accounting for 886,000 fatalities. In total, around six million men from the UK were mobilised in WWI. Since 1945, there has been a total of 7,186 British military deaths in conflicts, with 1968 being notable as the only year in which no British personnel were killed on operation. 

Over the years, British military personnel have bravely sacrificed their lives not just for freedom here at home, but for the freedom of others around the world. On Remembrance Day, we unite to commemorate the sacrifice of each and every one.


The First Two Minute Silence was held in London on 11th November 1919. It was reported in the Manchester Guardian on 12 November 1919 as follows:

“The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.

The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.

Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.”

Sylvia Plath

Born on this day: Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963). American poet, novelist, and short-story writer.

Plath was clinically depressed for most of her adult life, and was treated multiple times with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). She died by suicide in 1963.

Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for two of her published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel, and The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. In 1982, she won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems.

Dylan Thomas

Born on this day: Dylan Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953), Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”; the ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood; and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.

He became widely popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death at the age of 39 in New York City. By then he had acquired a reputation, which he had encouraged, as a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet”.

Bob Kane

Born on this day: Robert Kane (October 24, 1915 – November 3, 1998). American comic book writer and artist who co-created the DC Comics character Batman. He was inducted into the comic book industry’s Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1996.

Batman has become a pop culture icon, recognized around the world with a presence that has extended far beyond his comic book origins; events such as the release of the 1989 Batman film and its accompanying merchandising “brought the Batman to the forefront of public consciousness”. In an article commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the character, The Guardian wrote, “Batman is a figure blurred by the endless reinvention that is modern mass culture. He is at once an icon and a commodity: the perfect cultural artefact for the 21st century.”

The hugely successful Gotham television series was based on characters published by DC Comics and appearing in the Batman franchise, primarily those of James Gordon and Bruce Wayne.