Scattered throughout the series are references, both explicit and subtle,
to historical events and literature. The following are some of them (this
list is incomplete;
send me mail
if you've seen others.)
The most obvious reference is historical; the very name of the series
implies a link to
JMS has hinted that the long-term storyline bears much resemblance
to the history of ancient Babylon. Babylon, of course, is frequently
mentioned in the Bible; some of those mentions have been
for easy reference. Also available are introductions to the
There are also several parallels to World War II, especially in the show's
second and third seasons. Sometimes this is acknowledged explicitly; witness
Sheridan's talk about Churchill in
"In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum"
or Lantz's line about "peace in our time" in
"The Fall of Night,"
which echoes a speech by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after
Britain signed a treaty with Nazi Germany.
Garibaldi is named for Giuseppe Garibaldi, a figure from Italian history.
According to "The Columbia History of the World":
The time was ripe for the whole Italian structure to topple. While
north central Italy was in ferment, clamoring for annexation to
Sardinia, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the romantic knight of liberty,
launched from Genoa the picturesque adventure of his Thousand
Red Shirts; he landed in Sicily in May, 1860. His filibustering
expedition may fairly be described as a joyous war. Sicily
overrun, Garibaldi crossed the straits to the mainland; he
entered Naples in September. Garibaldi was a colorful, romantic
enthusiast, an appropriate symbol of Italian nationalist feeling,
but he was no diplomat.
The additional reference here is to the original Star Trek; Trek fandom
uses the term "red shirts" to refer to the (often disposable) security
personnel on the Enterprise, who wear red uniforms. Naming a security
chief after the head of the real Thousand Red Shirts is thus simultaneously
a historical reference and an inside joke for SF fans.
The transport Marie Celeste, mentioned in the background
dialogue in several episodes, is a reference to a sailing ship
found adrift on the sea in 1872 by the crew of the ship Dei
Gratia. The Celeste's crew was missing, as was her
single lifeboat, but there were half-eaten
meals in the mess hall and other evidence the crew had left suddenly.
Investigators found that Captain Morehouse of the Dei Gratia had
dined with Captain Briggs of the Celeste the night before
departure, and Morehouse and his crew were tried for murder. There was no
hard evidence, and they were acquitted. The missing crewmen were never found.
Sheridan's Starfury is emblazoned with the logo of the Flying Tigers (used
with the permission of the real-life group, in fact.)
The liner Asimov is, of course, named after Isaac Asimov.
The Rush Act in
"By Any Means Necessary"
was named after conservative political commentator and talk-show host
Bill Mitchell, Sinclair's wingman in
"And the Sky Full of Stars",
was named after U.S. General Billy Mitchell, who predicted the
rise of air power. A vocal critic of the military hierarchy,
he was court-martialed for insubordination in 1925.
Walker Smith (cf.
was the real name of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
The swearing-in ceremony in
was modeled after the swearing in of Lyndon Johnson after the assassination
of President Kennedy in 1963.
The end of Sheridan's speech in
"Points of Departure"
was from Abraham Lincoln's 1862 address to the US Congress. (The
bracketed part wasn't quoted.)
The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us
down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.
[We know how to save the Union. In giving freedom
to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -
honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.]
We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best,
hope of earth.
Anna Sheridan's ill-fated ship, the Icarus
is named after a figure from Greek mythology. Icarus was the son of Daedalus,
who built a pair of wings from wax and feathers so Icarus could escape the
island on which they were both imprisoned. Despite Daedalus' warnings, Icarus
flew too close to the sun; his wings melted and he fell to his death.
The transport Heyerdahl, on which the ISN reporter arrived in
"And Now For a Word,"
is named for Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian anthropologist and explorer.
Heyerdahl is most famous for his 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, in which he
attempted to prove that South American natives could have crossed the Pacific
by boat and populated the islands of Polynesia.
The assignment of political officers to military units (as in
"Voices of Authority")
was common practice in the Soviet Union, as were the purges of high-ranking
officials alluded to in that episode.
A list of literary references in B5's ship names.
is quoted in
"The Parliament of Dreams".
As it's one of Sinclair's (and JMS') favorite literary works, more
quotes and parallels are likely.
Sinclair's "How sharper than a serpent's tooth" comment in
is a reference to Shakespeare's
Jason Ironheart in
says to PsiCop Kelsey, "You cannot harm one who has dreamed a dream
like mine." This is a Native American (Ojibwe) prayer of protection
against one's enemies.
"The War Prayer"
is a reference to a
Mark Twain story
of the same name.
"A Late Delivery From Avalon"
both make reference to
"There All the Honor Lies"
is a quote from Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Man."
The title of
"A Voice in the Wilderness"
is a Biblical reference:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The
voice of one crying in the
wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
The poem quoted by G'Kar in
is "The Second Coming" by Yeats. The episode's guide page contains the
In Londo's dream in
"The Coming of Shadows,"
G'Kar appears to be missing his left eye. This may be a reference to Norse
mythology, in which the god Odin gives up his left eye for wisdom.
The title of the third-season episode
"Passing Through Gethsemane"
is a reference to the New Testament,
in which Jesus is failed by Peter and betrayed by Judas.
Gethsemane is also referred to, not always by name, in
"Ship of Tears,"
Bester quotes from Edgar Allan Poe's
Cask of Amontillado."
The cult TV series
another favorite work of JMS, is often referenced, such as in
"Signs and Portents".
The bulk of
"And the Sky Full of Stars"
also bears much resemblance to several "Prisoner" episodes.
There are possible parallels between some of B5's storyline and the works of
H. P. Lovecraft.
(That file contains spoilers up to
"Voices of Authority.")
The antagonist in
was named after Alfred Bester, author of "The Demolished Man," a classic
SF work about telepathy. The novel also featured a telepaths' guild similar
in many ways to B5's Psi Corps. Bester's partner Kelsey was named
after a character in an Ursula K. LeGuin story.
The interior of the machine in
"A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 1"
looks like a visual reference to the 1956 film Forbidden Planet,
but according to JMS, it's a coincidence.
Major Krantz says, "We've become unstuck in time," a phrase used by Kurt
Vonnegut Jr. in "Slaughterhouse Five." The episode itself might also be
considered a reference to that story, to some degree.
Elric, the Technomage in
"The Geometry of Shadows,"
is a reference to the hero of the Michael Moorcock series of the same name.
"A Spider in the Web,"
it's stated that Amanda Carter's great-grandfather John piloted the first
colony ship to Mars. "John Carter of Mars" is a classic SF story by Edgar
Rice Burroughs; the character also appears in other Burroughs stories such as
"Princess of Mars."
Project Gutenberg home page.
"In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum,"
among other episodes, the Ministry of Peace, or Minipax, is a reference
to "1984" by George Orwell.
Marcus quotes from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in
In the same episode, he also quotes from "Macbeth."
The title of the Crusade episode
"Ruling from the Tomb"
is a reference to a quote from T.S. Eliot, "Saint and Martyr rule from
References to Tolkien's The Lord Of the Rings abound. For more,
see an article (not part of the Lurker's Guide) titled
"The Mythic Well."
- The Lord Of the Rings takes place at the close of the
Third Age of Middle-Earth.
- The gathering evil is an ancient enemy, once repulsed by the White
Council, one shade removed from grey.
- G'Kar's parting words to Na'toth in
"Expect me... when you see me," are Gandalf's parting words to Frodo in
The Fellowship of the Ring.
- When Elric warns Vir away in
"The Geometry of Shadows"
he uses a line from The Fellowship of the Ring as well.
In the book, Gildor, an elf heading to the Uttermost West, says this to
Frodo (in reference to Gandalf):
"... But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for
they are subtle and quick to anger."
- The Rangers in
"The Coming of Shadows"
and other episodes may be a reference as well. In the books,
the Rangers keep an eye on the growing darkness and report back
to the elves.
- The planet Z'ha'dum, on which explorers discovered an ancient evil
that had been buried for centuries
("In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum")
bears similarity in name and in nature to Khazad Dum, the main kingdom
of the Dwarves. (Try switching the first two syllables.) In Tolkien's
story, the Dwarves uncovered an ancient beast, the Balrog, which had
been buried since the First Age. They fled Khazad Dum; many were
killed, and the place became a gathering point for other creatures
of darkness. See the guide page for
for another possible parallel (a spoiler for the episode.)
- The White Star is perhaps a double reference, both to the Black Star
"Points of Departure")
and to the following passage from Tolkien:
"There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor
high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle
for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he
looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned
to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought
pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small
and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for
ever beyond its reach."
In the Captain Power episode "Final Stand," Tank mentions that he's from the
Babylon 5 Genetic Engineering Colony.
In the Captain Power episode "A Summoning of Thunder Part 2," when Hawk
activates the first power suit, Mentor says, "And so it begins." This has
been confirmed by JMS as a "Koshism" he threw in.
In the JMS novel "Othersyde," Babylon 5 is mentioned as one of the characters'
favorite TV series.
November 5, 1999