Forged in Fire!

by Mary Jo

Taming fire was surely one of the most significant developments in human history.  Probably the discovery happened numerous times and numerous places, but the results were profound. Fire provided warmth, hot food, the ability to fire pottery and bricks. Fire made it possible to venture out at night, and to drive predators away from the campfires.  It enabled early humans to move from the tropics to cooler areas.

It could also be a tool for long distance communication.  There’s a marvelous scene in The Return of the King, the third Lord of the Rings movie, where signal fires are lit to summon the troops to battle.  It’s breathtaking to watch the fires catch on distant peaks.

Humans are the only species that learned to create fire, probably after eons of time when fire keepers carefully fed and nurtured blames because if they went out, the tribe would have no fire until a wildfire was found, which could take a long time.

But though humans may be the only species that can create fire, we’re not the only species that uses it.  Have you ever heard of Arson Birds?  In Australia, they’re called  Firehawks.  Raptors like to hang out near bushfires because the little critters fleeing the fire make tasty little snacks.  They’ve been observed stealing burning twigs and taking them up to half a mile or so away to start new fires, and presumably produce more snacks.

But fire has always been a dangerous friend that could destroy homes and whole cities. Wildfires cause massive destruction of property and wildlife and human lives.  In the era of open fireplaces and long skirts, women sometime burned to death when their skirts caught fire.  (I had a scene like that in my book Shattered Rainbows, though naturally my hero pulled the heroine away from the hearth and managed to put the flames out before she was hurt.)  But the threat was very real in those days.)

Modern homes are generally warmed and lit with electricity, but the fascination with fire seems inherent, which is why kids have to be told DON’T PLAY WITH MATCHES!

Yet fire is a powerful element of many social rituals. Think of the campfires that are so much a part of many childhood memories, of ghost stories and s’mores.   Think of barbecues, which allow manly men to burn meat and drink beer! <G>

I have some cherished fire memories of our two visits to South African and Botswana.  There the “boma” is a fire pit that people gather around to eat, drink, and socialize.  It’s such a cherished of social life that I was in several restaurants that featured indoor bomas.

Of course fireplaces are common in Western homes and restaurants as well. They’re a selling point in real estate listings.  It’s also now possible to buy electric fireplaces that create a very good illusion of flames without the danger of real fires–perfect for apartments.

Which is good, because fires are wonderfully social.  They offer peace, relaxation, and fellowship.  Watching a fire can even lower blood pressure,  Watching flames can be rather hypnotic (as is watching wave roll in on a beach.) Sitting with friends by a fire can be conducive to deeper, more intimate conversations.  They’re romantic, too, because who doesn’t like the idea of curling up in front of the fire with a loved one?  I’ve written a few scenes like that as well.

Heck, as soon as I finish this post, I’m going to go down to our (gas) fire to read and sip Sleepytime tea with a cat on my lap. (Princess Flufferbella, to be precise.)  It’s a wonderful way to end a cold, gray January day!

Can you think of a favorite scene in a book where a fire is the inspiration for good things happening?

Mary Jo





15 thoughts on “Forged in Fire!”

  1. What an interesting question, Mary Jo, and I am sadly drawing a blank. I look forward to learning how others will comment.
    I’ve just spent three days sitting in front of candles and oil lamps while our power was out. Fire truly is a wondrous thing!

  2. Interesting post, Mary Jo. What first comes to my mind is Jane Eyre, doesn’t end well for her but Bertha burns down Thornfield and Rochester and Jane get to marry and live happily ever after. But it is not a favorite book or story line by any means and on second thought a terrible example.

    I love that scene in LOTR with the bonfire/signal fires. As part of Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee in 2022 fires were lit across Great Britain and the Commonwealth in celebration. We had a large bonfire (and cake!) here in north central PA and it was fun to think of being linked to that wonderful celebration of a woman I so admired.

  3. Oh yes! That scene with the beacons in LOTR! I gotta get out my dvd and watch it again today, here on a snowy day when I am cozy at home making cookies! How lovely. Thank you for the reminder. I have neighbors who do firepit/tamale/chatting parties in the back yard and they are sweet to invite me, so I get to play with fire that way. Also we have a Finnish fireplace up in the mountains and we sit and stare at the flames, totally mesmerized. No scenes from books come to mind, though they certainly are vital in all your stories. I always wonder how warm that fire actually made the room, and I feel sorry for the maids having to sneak in and clean up and build a new fire in the chilly predawn hours while our heroine lies abed!

    • Sadly, Jeannette, most of us would probably have been the ones cleaning out the ashes! I’m not sure what a Finnish fireplace is, but watching the flames, mesmerized, sounds delightful. And a gold star for the producers of LOTR for creating such a powerful, evocative signal fire scene.

  4. Right off hand no book scene comes to mind. But, I love being at a fire outside with a group of people who are enjoying it as much as I. Thanks for the post. And, aren’t we fortunate that humans found the value of fire? Just think, there would be no market for fire place screens or pokers without this wonderful discovery. Or what about those scenes in cheesy TV shows, with a couple in front of a fire – right before a fade to black.
    But, I digress….I thank you for the reminder of who we are and how blessed we are for the brilliance of our ancestors.

  5. As I’m reading this I’m sitting in front of an open fire. I’m enjoying the last few weeks of it as we’re changing it to a stove which are nearly in all homes now. I will miss it. Tradition in our house on Christmas morning is fire lighting, tree lights on and present opening.
    Open fires are frowned on here now. Also coal is very, very expensive.
    I enjoyed this post.

  6. Living in a home with no fireplace has given me a huge appreciation for candles. A wick, or two of three can raise my spirits tremendously. Not enough for warmth, but the illusion of it is real!
    I loved the fireplace scene of Portia and Bright in the Marque of Rothigars study, Tempting Fortune by Jo Beverley. The coziness of the fire, cushy rugs under bar toes, made me want to curl up in one of the chairs, of course the book goes elsewhere! Thank heaven for locked doors!
    Lovely post, it’s minus 35C here with snow on the ground, very chilly!

  7. I loved even more than you will get done right here. The overall look is nice, and the writing is stylish, but there’s something off about the way you write that makes me think that you should be careful what you say next. I will definitely be back again and again if you protect this hike.


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