My Tribute to Spock

The news of the death of actor Leonard Nimoy has made me sad. Here is a blog I posted at the time of the latest Star Trek film in 2013.

As we are still talking about the revival of Star Trek, it occurred to me that Spock is not from that strange orange planet, Vulcan, after all. Neither is he from the future, as he is portrayed in the film Into Darkness.

No, he is British and from the past.

I make this judgement because of the qualities and values he has. Spock is famous for being logical and for not displaying emotions. As was explained in the film, Spock (and all those from the planet Vulcan) does have emotions but the ideal is to control, thus conceal, them. These are British qualities from the Victorian period. The concept of making decisions based on logic, as opposed to emotion or spirituality, was at its height in Europe during the eighteenth century. This was during an intellectual period known as the Enlightenment, where the emphasis on principle and discovery was based on empirical study, not religious belief, which had preceded this time.

Spock was a ‘mixed-species’ child as his father was Vulcan and his mother was human. In the film we saw him being bullied because of his mixed heritage. So I guess that bullying and racism aren’t just human traits, or perhaps the film makers tried to extend this into other worlds. It is definitely a human thing and has existed for as long as history has recorded. The invasion of the Anglo-Saxons saw battles between the migrant peoples and the indigenous Britons, which was to be expected. However, the Anglos clashed with the Saxons as well, with conflict based on racial lines as much as territorial ones.

The original actor of Spock, Leonard Nimoy, also identified with his character in the television series. Nimoy was a Jew and often felt isolated because of his faith and for being born in America to immigrant parents (from Ukraine). Spock was the only Vulcan on board the star ship Enterprise, as well as being part of an endangered race of people following the destruction of his planet, Vulcan. Nimoy’s personal experiences added to his portrayal of an alien.

Spock’s legacy has been huge. NASA has adopted him as an unofficial mascot but more significantly, he has been inspirational to scientists and engineers. Despite the somewhat silly aspects of the character of Spock, such as the green blood and pointy ears, he has endured in popular culture and not just for the geeky Trekkies. He is a good role model. He is a peaceful, non-violent man: vegetarian so that he can avoid killing. Sounds a bit like compassion to me, but that’s logic, not emotion, surely?

What I have learned from Spock is that nothing really changes: journeys of discovery are the only kind there are, whether in the future or the past.

Why the God of Mischief Remains Popular

The shortest month has the most birthdays, and that’s why I like to call it Cake Month as I eat so much. Actually, that was the Anglo-Saxon translation for Februray (see my previous post Why it’s Good to Eat Cake and Anglo-Saxon Calendar). In the acting world, British actor Tom Hiddleston has his birthday on the 9th. Why is he special enough to appear on my History Blog page? Simple: he has portrayed one of the most significant gods of the Dark Ages: Loki.

In the films Thor and The Avengers, Hiddleston carries the role of the god of mischief with all the charm and cunning the god himself mus have had. He is playful and often dangerous. A joker and a murderer. Shape-shifter and manipulator. Complex indeed.

Many of Loki’s talents are demonstrated on the silver screen, but the films are simply not long enough to show every aspect of the mythology. I do believe that there are many more films in the pipeline and I am interested to see how he is developed.

There was a batch of cats and dogs given the name Loki. I get that – a short, snappy name that is easy for a companion animal to respond to. I expect that a few human babies are named Loki too, but thankfully none in my social circle.

Loki was a key god in Norse mythology. There are many tales where Loki is a pivotal figure, although these vary according to the source.  However, they all agree about Loki’s part in the death of the good guy, Baldur. His mother, Frigg, arranged it so that her beautiful boy would not be harmed by anything in nature. Somehow though, this did not include mistletoe as the gods thought that it was too insignificant to harm anyone. Loki, being the naughty god, made a spear from mistletoe and placed it with other arrows for the blind god, Hod. Loki instructed Hod to to throw the spear at Baldur and Hod did so, unwittingly killing the golden boy, Baldur.

There are many similarities with Odin (Norse) or Woden (Teutonic) with some sources saying that they are half-brothers or father and son. Stories about the Norse gods have existed for more than a thousand years and continue in the guise of comic book heroes (Marvel). In these books, and more recently, films too, Loki is the adopted son of Odin and adoptive brother to Thor. Their adventures keep the wonderful mythology alive. (See my Old Gods page.)

But the enduring appeal of Loki is that he is unpredictable. A fantasy figure who has roots in the belief systems of our ancestors. To some he is as unreal a character as Superman. To others he is a glimpse of the other divine realms we may never see. A door to a new expanse of learning. Or a name for the new puppy.

Happy birthday Tom.