“Lemma the Librarian – Tricks of the Trade”


Published: November 19, 2016


…So, uh, that happened.

When The Fuck Are We? 🤷

We’re in Munn, which is pretty obviously the Isle of Man. It’s independent and Celtic, which means any time up until it was conquered by Vikings in the 9th C CE. Not much help there.

Man, like Sardinia or Hainan, is one of those places which takes part in history but doesn’t really play an active role much. So let’s talk about Thomas the Tank Engine instead! After the Vikings conquered Man, it was incorporated into a colonial Viking state, like Dublin or York or Normandy, called the Kingdom of the Isles. It had two parts: the Isle of Man, and Suðreyjar, the “southern isles”, which is to say the Hebrides*. The kingdom managed to last all the way into the 13th C CE, when the Hebrides were conquered by Scotland and Man, by England.

In the interim, the Vikings converted to Christianity, and the Kingdom of the Isles got its own independent bishop (“Suðreyjar and Man”), as any good Christian kingdom would want**. When the Kingdom was divvied up, the cathedral seat (in Man) ended up in England. The Scots promptly got the Hebrides reassigned to a mainland Scottish diocese, but the English kept the bishopric around, gradually anglicizing it to “Sodor and Man”, even though it now only covered Man. Things stayed like that down to the present day (the Anglican Church still has a diocese of Sodor and Man, covering the Isle of Man).

However! Shortly after the Second World War, Anglican reverend and trainspotting enthusiast*** Wilbert Awdry decided to write a children’s book for his young son. Being a trainspotting enthusiast, he decided to make it about talking, sentient trains having adventures; well, weirder concepts have become beloved children’s classics. However, being a trainspotting enthusiast, he didn’t want to put it in a real part of the British train network, because you can’t just make things up about real places, jeez****. Being an Anglican clergyman, he noticed that the church had a Dicocese of Sodor and Man covering only an island called Man. So, if you’re going to invent a place to put trains on, why not “give the poor deprived Bishop the other half of his diocese”*****? 

Thus, Thomas the Tank Engine, beloved children’s story, gateway drug to George Carlin, Ringo Starr, and trainspotting, is set on the Isle of Sodor.

…That all had nothing to do with Lemma, and barely anything to do with Munn, but let’s be honest: there’s no better story than this one to strike off on a wild tangent with.

*The Hebrides manage to count as “southern” by comparison with Norðreyjar, the “northern isles” of the Orkneys and Shetlands.

**The “squabbling with the Church” I mentioned re Mercia a few reviews ago included, for instance, Offa’s briefly-successful attempt to get the tiny little town of Lichfield promoted to an Archdiocese so that Mercia, like Kent (Canterbury) and Northumbria (York), would have its own archbishop. The conversion of the Bulgars was accompanied by a bidding war between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches over who would offer them a higher-ranked office; the Orthodox won with an autocephalous archbishop, but when the Bulgars won some military victories over the (Orthodox) Byzantine Empire a few decades later, one of the concessions they extracted (along with territory and tribute) was the upgrading of their top office to a patriarch. And so on, and so forth.

***Anglican clergymen have the weirdest damn hobbies.

****I have just had the sudden uncomfortable realization that Awdry is basically me, looking at the Lemma stories. “No! You can’t get from Bronze Age Greece to the British Isles! That’s centuries of ship technology and exploration later! You can’t just make things up about real places, jeez!” :/ 😉

*****Quote sourced from wikipedia, fountain of all lies. I’m not sure, based on my cursory internet research, whether Awdry was aware of the Suðreyjar business. I assume he probably was; it hardly matters to the origin story, anyway.


Next time: Scottish con artists, a pokémon trainer, and Christianity makes another attempt to sneak into the series.

I was wondering what the fuck Thomas the Train Engine had to do with anything! I know basically nothing about Thomas except (a) my nephew was obsessed with it when he was about 3, and (b) the TV show at least depicts a terrifying totalitarian capitalist hellscape in which your value is determined entirely to the degree to which you are useful to the owner of the means of production, who rules all with an iron fist.