I’ve been working in Madrid for most of the last month, so I’m a bit behind on everything, but took a long weekend in Valencia at the end of it.
They reckoned that each person needed five horses to live well, which meant that a family of five would need twenty-five riding horses and four to six pack horses. A ger containing five people that had more than ten horses was considered rich. A horse was valued as being equal to five head of cattle or six sheep or goats. A two year-old counted as half a horse and a yearling as one-quarter. The Mongols used mainly mares, as these were more docile and yielded the vital milk for making koumiss. If short for food, they had a technique for making an incision in the animals vein, drinking the blood, and then sealing up the wound.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Genghis. He always seemed like a man who did not understand the word no, who simply did not know how to give up, who would take what he wanted, preferably when he wanted, but if not, he would come back later and take it. Apart from the basic knowledge, one of my earliest experiences of Genghis was in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, not a classic historical study, but a film that did make me think about figures of the past that I would love to meet if I had the chance.
Next up was Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series, a fictional series of Genghis’s life, although largely based on fact, it gave me a much broader understanding of Genghis, although from what I remember, and correct me if I’m wrong Conn, painted him in an entirely flattering light.
But I heard rumours, I saw odd excerpts of his more dastardly actions, the mass killings and destruction of cities, he was, they claimed, terrible. A cruel despot who sated his blood lust with an orgy of death.
The Man Who Conquered The World is a detailed, richly painted narrative of Genghis’s life. From his early days of Temujin to the ruler of the biggest empire in the world.
The sheer number of names to remember means as a casual reader it can be difficult to keep up, there is a list of names at the beginning, and although I started flicking back to it at first, I soon gave up and lost myself in the endless stream of people, going back only occasionally if someone popped up who seemed of interest.
If you can put up with his tendency to use elaborate terms when more simple ones would suffice, which irritated me a lot more than I thought it would, McLynn’s book contains an abundance of information, set down in an informative if not mostly entertaining way. He details the sources of his information, pointing out where they are likely to be accurate or biased and the reasons for this, and where there is no information available, his assumptions seem well founded and reasonable.
Genghis took a fractured nomadic people and united them into an unstoppable war machine that conquered and subsumed entire populations, separating the artists from everyone else, but absorbing the existing administration into the Mongol whole. The initial struggle to besiege Chinese cities was remedied by learning from and incorporating Chinese siege tactics and machines into the Mongol arsenal. From the beginning, his inclination to promote based on merit rather than heritage set him apart from the other Khans, including his childhood friend Jamuga, and also built him up an incredible group of generals and leaders, as well as administrators and vassals.
Chinqai’s administrative genius was twofold. First, he had to solve problems caused by the Mongol’s ignorance of sedentary populations. The Mongols were nomads and warriors and had no one trained for the task of administration. Nor were they linguists, and in their raw state they knew nothing of a money economy. They therefore had to depend on literate, multilingual members of the very nations they had conquered. Like the British in the nineteenth century, they had to rule vast numbers with a tiny bureaucratic force and like them depended on quislings and converts to the Mongol vision of global conquest
After his ascendancy to Genghis Khan, Genghis built his empire on reward, knowing if he kept his army and his subjects in booty they were less likely to rebel or scheme against him. It was the main reason for the ever increasing expansion, and the main reason why, at times he massacred populations, it removed the risk of attack once his army had moved on, deeper into what was at the time, enemy territory, and also reduced the administrative burden on the relatively small native Mongol population. Cold? yes, Calculated? Certainly, but here was a man whose vision was black and white, there was little room for grey, and if there was, it wasn’t tolerated for long.
For me, perhaps the greatest achievement of Genghis was the promotion of the those who showed talent, regardless of where they came from. He was a great reader of men, and had no racial or religious prejudice. Effectively delegating the conquest of China to his favourite general Muqali, while taking his sons to conquer central Asia and the middle east, and sending Subedei and Jebe on a great raid that introduced Europe to the Mongols.
Subedei may have been the master strategist but there is no reason to dissent from the view that Jebe was ‘probably the greatest cavalry general in the history of the world’. Eight hundred years later the scale of his achievement with Subedei on their great raid is still astonishing. In three years the two captains and their men rode 5,500 miles – history’s longest cavalry raid – won seven major battles (always against superior numbers) and several minor engagements and skirmishes, sacked scores of cities and revealed the world of Russia and eastern Europe to Genghis. Subedei made sure that this would be no evanescent achievement by leaving behind him a whole cadre of spies and secret agents who would keep the Mongols informed of all future developments in the West.
These generals were given great power and responsibility by Genghis, and although he could be paranoid and capricious, he rewarded handsomely those who served him well. There were times when some were rewarded perhaps more than they should have been and others, inexplicably not given the rewards they deserved. There were other flaws of course, Genghis was by no means perfect, and there were a few he indulged a little too much or for a little too long, particularly his family. Although he was furious with them if they did not do as instructed or rebelled against him, in some cases they were given leeway to repeat their transgressions two or three times.
Despite his abilities as a tactician, leader and strategist, his detail on organisation of his army, down to the night guards that protected him as he slept, the operation of the army, that could be split in two but regroup in less than a day, McLynn posits that potentially the ‘Mongol’ empire or conquest was likely to fail, in that they had to always expand and conquer due to their nomadic lifestyle and Genghis’s reward system. Eventually they would have run out of territory to conquer or would have had to become sedentary, giving up the nomadic lifestyle which had given them their tactical advantage. After his death, the empire was divided between his sons, which went on to cause civil war as, growing up in a world where the strongest take what they want, they jostled for the top position.
So, after reading a good 500 pages, is my soft spot still there? Yes. Genghis was someone who had vision, and an unwavering belief in what he wanted, and felt, he was meant to, achieve. Ultimately he achieved it all, at great cost to those in his way, but to great reward for those that aided him. McLynn’s book does well to reveal the man behind the legend.
Genghis’s brother Qasar was famous for his skill with the bow, but his son Yisungge was even more talented: at an archery contest in 1225 he shot an arrow 550 yards. The combination of archery and horsemanship that made the Mongols so formidable came from their being put on horseback almost before they could walk. This resulted in the piece de resistance whereby juvenile archers were trained to release their arrows at the precise moment when all four of their horses’s hooves were off the ground – so that the jolt of hooves hitting the ground would not throw off their aim.
A mellow mellow selection inspired by Hode Baba by Invisible System.
Includes tracks from Slovo, Rosinha de Valencia, Andrew Bayer, iZem, Le Motel and Moon Ate the Dark.
‘Agreed,’ said Fred. ‘So, people, let’s try and calm down a bit. Things are bad enough without inventing stuff as well. For instance, this new idea that You-Know-Who can kill with a single glance from his eyes. That’s a Basilisk, listeners. One simple test: check whether the thing that’s glaring at you has got legs. If it has, it’s safe to look into it’s eyes, although if it really is You-Know-Who, that’s still likely to be the last thing you ever do.’
So. It’s here. Book 7. The finale. Can Harry defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (you can’t say it now as the Death Eaters will instantly know where you are!), save the world and bag the girl?
After Dumbledore’s death at the end of book 6, I was really hoping it wasn’t really the end, that he would come back in this book, to guide Harry as he had done before. But no, instead his legacy is tarnished as Rita Skeeter brings out a book that airs a few skeleton’s in the old wizards closet, was he really responsible for his sisters death?
As Harry finally reaches 17, the charm that has protected the Dursley’s house lifts, and so the Order of the Phoenix assemble to try and move Harry to the safety of the burrow. As you can imagine, someone (and I think we all know who) spills the date and time and the party is ambushed.
Once those that make it are safely at the burrow, there’s preparation for Bill and Fleur’s wedding, a time for hope in these dark times. Except that half way through Kingsley Shacklebolt sends a message through that the ministry has fallen, and the spells protecting the Weasley’s home are lost. The Dark Lords followers pounce. Harry, disguised as a distant Weasley cousin, Ron and Hermione escape and have to prematurely start their quest. Yes, Harry has a mission, and his 2 closest friends are up for the ride. Their summer has been spent preparing and packing, there will be no return to Hogwarts this year for our hero’s.
Which is just as well because Snape is headmaster! Snape! That snake…That treacherous, sneaky little…well, it matters not, he’s in charge and Death Eaters are on the staff! As the ministry roll out an anti muggle agenda and try to clear out all non-pure wizards the wizarding population feels the cold fingers of You-Know-Who wrap around them. The book almost becomes the Empire Strikes Back of the series, as it looks more and more bleak for the good guys.
It’s not all rosy for Harry, Ron and Hermione either. No plan, no idea where the horcruxes are, hunted down they struggle to go on, until Ron, desperately worried for his family’s safety abandons Harry and Hermione.
The two of them receive help from unexpected quarters, and as they close in on a Horcrux, Ron returns in the nick of time. As usual Harry’s uncontrollable rage lands them in trouble, and they are captured and taken to the Malfoy’s mansion. Lucikly the Dark Lord is away, hunting for a wand that will beat Harry’s, which apparently is the fabled elder wand, of the Deathly Hallows. As Hermione is being tortured by Bellatrix, they are rescued by someone who has the same piercing blue eyes as Dumbledore and Dobby!
Finally there is one Horcrux left, and it’s at Hogwarts. Harry even knows where it is! But going back there will certainly mean being captured..or will it? Dumbledore’s Army reforms, Professor McGonnogal and the other teachers drive out Snape and the Death Eaters and the stage is set.
Voldemort brings his army to the gates of Hogwarts, protected by it’s eternal guardians, but Harry has to face his destiny, as there is another, unknown Horcrux. Before it’s done though, Voldemort realises how he can control the wands, and that’s bad news for Snape.
With his hated teacher gone, Harry finally learns the truth, and with the final horcrux is destroyed, it’s time for the final battle, good versus evil. Once for all the world will know who the greatest wizard is, as Molly Weasley takes on Bellatrix. Only kidding, she does, but while that’s going on, Harry and Voldemort finally square up and there can only be one winner..
And then it was over, the wounded patched up and the dead honoured. After I finished, I didn’t look at another book for over a week, I didn’t want to leave Hogwarts, to say goodbye to Harry and Ron and Hermione, to Ginny and Neville and Molly and Arthur Weasley, Hagrid, Professor McGonnogall, Luna Lovegood and even Kreacher.
So, Thank you, J.K. Rowling. Thank you for Harry Potter. I enjoyed reading the books when they first came out, and I have enjoyed them even more now, 20 years after the first book came out. The books transported me to Hogwarts, made me wish I was a wizard, so I could give the password to the fat lady (I’d have to be in Gryffindor), run up staircases that moved, got to cast spells, drunk butter beer and saw dragons and Hippogriffs and all manner of wondrous creatures from my imagination. That you weaved it into a story that compelled children and adults alike is a testament to brilliant, wonderful storytelling.
Hands, softer than he had been expecting, touched Harry’s face, pulled back an eyelid, crept beneath his shirt, down to his chest and felt his heart. He could hear the woman’s fast breathing, her long hair tickled his face. He knew that she could feel the steady pounding of life against his ribs.
‘Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?’
The whisper was barely audible; her lips were an inch from his ear, her head bent so low that her long hair shielded his face from the onlookers.
‘Yes.’ he breathed back.
He felt the hand on his chest contract; her nails pierced him. Then it was withdrawn. She had sat up.
‘He is dead!’ Narcissa Malfoy called to the watchers.
The Prime Minister drew himself up to his fullest height and replied, ‘I am perfectly happy with the security I’ve already got, thank you very -‘
‘Well, we’re not,’ Scrimgeour cut in. ‘It’ll be a poor lookout for the muggles if their Prime Minister gets put under the Imperius Curse. The new secretary in your outer office -‘
‘I’m not getting rid of Kingsley Shacklebolt, if that’s what you’re suggesting!’ said the Prime Minister hotly. ‘He’s highly efficient, gets through twice the work the of them -‘
‘That’s because he’s a wizard.’ said Scrimgeour, without a flicker of a smile. ‘A highly trained Auror, who has been assigned to you for your protection.’
So the world has finally woken up to the fact that Volde- “He-who-must-not-be-named” is back and Dumbledore realises it’s time for Harry, still grieving over the loss of Sirius, to learn about the dark wizard whose destiny is linked to his. He turns up himself, complete with a shrivelled blackened hand to pick up Harry from the Dursleys. En route back to Hogwarts they stop by to hire Professor Slughorn as a Professor at Hogwarts.
Meanwhile, somewhere else, Snape is making an unbreakable oath, that he will help young Draco Malfoy complete the task set to him by the dark lord. Unbreakable eh? What are you going to do about that Snape? This far in and no one really knows what side you’re on.
And so back to Hogwarts, Slughorn is introduced as the new potions master at the welcoming feast. But hang on, if Slughorn is potions master, then what’s Snape going to do? You don’t mean? Yes, Finally, Snape is the Defence against the dark arts teacher! This is obviously bad news for Harry but great news for Draco. It’s not all bad though for Potter, in his first potions lessons, which are much more bearable without Snape, Harry is given an old potions book that has been heavily annotated by the Half-Blood Prince. Despite having no idea who he is Harry benefits from his excellent potions knowledge, much to the annoyance of Hermione.
As the terms roll around Harry (and us) finally learn about Voldemort’s (that’s right, I said it) past and the awful truth about Horcruxes. There’s one bit missing though, and Slughorn is the key. If only there was some way Harry could wheedle the truth out of him. Luckily, quite literally, Harry won a vial of luck potion from Slughorn in his first lesson, that should come in handy.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, in keeping with accommodating the hormones raging through most of the protagonists, Harry finally gets a girlfriend!
A roar of celebration erupted from the hole behind her. Harry gaped as people began to scream at the sight of him; several hands pulled him into the room.
‘We won!’ yelled Ron, bounding into sigh and brandishing the silver Cup at Harry. ‘We won! Four hundred and fifty to a hundred and forty! We won!’
Harry looked around; there was Ginny running towards him; she had a hard, blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her.
But the time for celebrations is soon over, It’s time for Dumbledore and Harry to start destroying old Vordy’s Horcruxes. The first one they find is well protected and Dumbledore and Harry only just escape back to Hogwarts…where Draco is waiting with a group of Death Eaters! Luckily the order of the Phoenix are also on hand but they are too far away. Even a severely weakened Dumbledore seems to much for Draco, then more death eaters burst through. But just when it looks like all is lost, Snape arrives…
It’s no secret now what happens, and as you hit the end of the book, knowing there’s only one book left you can barely see how Harry is going to do it, and surely he must do it? Surely Voldemort has it coming?
Rowling seems to accelerate the story in volume 6, we learn how Voldemort became the greatest dark wizard in the world, and how he has protected himself against death and the daunting task ahead of Harry. But Rowling as sprung out hope throughout, as always though the book is shot through with humour to offset the tension. Ron and Hermione’s cat and mouse with each other continues, the Order of the Phoenix’s continuing resistance, Dumbledore’s searching for a way to finally defeat the Dark Lord . Even as the Half-Blood Prince closes at the series darkest moment, and the hero is a rage driven teenager full of testosterone, you still believe that he can pull it off.
Bring on the Deathly Hallows!
Ginny and Demelza scored a goal apiece, giving the red-and-gold-clad supporters below something to cheer about. Then Cadwallader scored again, making things level, but Luna did not seem to have noticed; she appeared singularly uninterested in such mundane things as the score, and kept attempting to draw the crowd’s attention to such things as interestingly shaped clouds and the possibility that Zacharias Smith, who had so far failed to maintain possession of the Quaffle for longer than a minute, was suffering from something called ‘Loser’s Lurgy’.
‘Seventy-forty to Hufflepuff!’ Barked Professor McGonagall into Luna’s megaphone.
‘Is it, already?’ said Luna vaguely. ‘Oh, look! The Gryffindor Keeper’s got hold of one of the Beater’s bats.’
Dudley lay curled up on the ground, whimpering and shaking. Harry bent down to see if he was in a fit state to stand up, but then he heard loud running footsteps behind him. Instinctively raising his wand again, he spun on his heel to face the newcomer.
Mrs Figg, their batty old neighbour, came panting into sight. Her grizzled grey hair was escaping from its hairnet, a clanking string shopping bag was swinging from her wrist and her feet were halfway out of her tartan carpet slippers. Harry made to stow his wand hurriedly out of sight, but –
‘Don’t put it away, idiot boy!’ she shrieked. ‘What if there are more of them around? Oh, I’m going to kill Mundungus Fletcher!’
Or Harry Potter and the raging teenage hormones as this should be called.
Voldemort’s back! Harry knows this because he saw him, duelled with him after jointly winning the Tri-wizard tournament with Cedric Diggory. But Harry has spent the whole summer with the Dursleys, laying in the flower bed trying to listen to the news, surely when he murders loads of people even the Muggles will know about it?
But then Harry and Dudley are attacked by Dementors in Little Whingeing and after seeing them off with his Patronus, Harry is whisked away to the head quarters of the order of the Phoenix while awaiting trial for the underage use of magic. Harry’s rage at being kept in the dark while everyone else was doing something boils over upon his arrival as he takes it out on Ron and Hermione, but he’s with Sirius and Mrs Weasley amongst others, and Sirius’s somewhat ghastly mother, who berates everyone from her portrait.
After Mrs Figgs somewhat shaky testimony sees him cleared of all charges Harry returns to Hogwarts after learning that the Daily Prophet has been smearing him all summer. What’s worse (and it really is bad) is that Dolores Umbridge has been made the new defence against the dark arts teacher, which means the ministry of magic is interfering with Hogwarts (Thanks Hermione). Hem Hem. But who is Dolores Umbridge? Well, you will all find out won’t you, just don’t let that smile and sickly sweet voice fool you, this is a witch very much in the Wizard of Oz mould.
As Umbridge issues ministry approved decrees left, right and centre, Harry’s rage and anger grow as Dumbledore stays strangely aloof and he starts sharing the mind of the Dark Lord culminating in him seeing that Ron’s dad had been attacked while on guard for the Order of the Phoenix. Harry is horrified to learn that Professor Snape is assigned to help Harry protect himself against Voldemort.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Cho Chang agrees to go to Hogsmeade with Harry on Valentines day, nothing could go wrong there. What’s that Hermione? you want to meet Harry on Valentines day for something important? Oh, well, we’ll see how that goes.
Utterly unimpressed with Umbridge’s teaching of the defence against the dark arts (“Read chapter two, there will be no need for talking”) Hermione persuades Harry to teach a group of fellow students who call themselves Dumbledore’s Army.
And it’s a good job too, because You-Know-Who has been after something during all this time, using up people in an attempt to get his hands on it. When Sirius’s life is threatened Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville and Luna Lovegood risk their lives to save him, and after being rescued themselves, the world finally learns that Voldemort is back.
An epic size book, the Order of the Phoenix sees Harry in full sulky, angry teenager mode, possibly making him one of the least likeable characters throughout. But it is credit to Rowling that she handles his hormones so well, so that as annoying as he becomes you completely understand why. Hermione comes into her own because of this though, and there are some great funny moments as she patiently picks her way through Harry’s moods and tantrums to make him see, as well as more poignant moments when Harry realises his own self absorption. Indeed, if the teenagers reading this listen to Hermione, Rowling will have managed to do what countless parents and teachers still fail utterly to do, reach through the thick cloud of fog covering teenage boys brains.
The real character though is Umbridge. Everyone will know someone like her to some degree, the blinkered over-eager zealot who’s blind prejudice serves to distance and anger everyone else around her. The other teachers reactions to her, particularly Professor McGonagall’s are superb.
I finished this in a sleepless night, and after 4 hours of solid reading it was 7am when I poked my head out, the ending completely gripping me as much as any action movie as it reaches it’s conclusion, and it feels that with this one Rowling has delicately prodded the series to an older audience while at the same time maintaining her younger readers.
Also, well done to Fred and George Weasley, whose shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes is now open in Diagon Alley.
Hermione sighed and laid down her quill.
‘Well, obviously, she’s feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she’s feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can’t work out who she likes best. Then she’ll be feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she’ll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry. And she probably can’t work out what her feelings towards Harry are anyway, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that’s all very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she’s afraid she’s going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she’s been flying so badly.’
A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then Ron said, ‘One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.’