Babylon 5 influences

Science fiction television series Babylon 5 draws upon many cultural myths and historical influences to inform and illustrate its characters and storylines.

Cultural influences


The most prominent influence is presented by the title itself. According to J. Michael Straczynski:

I picked "Babylon" for the station, because a lot of what happens in the Babylon 5 story comes out of Babylonian creation myth, which says that the universe was born out of the conflict between order and chaos.

Unusual for a television series, this central theme, planned well before the show's production, develops only slowly and takes several seasons to become clear.

The Lord of the Rings

Several elements in B5 seem a lot like elements in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel (first published in six volumes), The Lord of the Rings. For instance, in the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, the Black Riders first appear singly, then in progressively larger groups; B5 repeated this tension-building pattern early in its first season, when enemy forces known as the Shadows appear first singly, and then in vast numbers. These similarities were acknowledged by Straczynski.

Additionally, the Shadows, like the Black Riders, strike a deep primal fear in everyone who sees them. The way the Shadows are spoken of, as the Darkness and the Enemy is reminiscent of how Sauron is spoken of in The Lord of the Rings.

The most obvious reference from the book is the Rangers, who share their name and mission with one group of Tolkien's Rangers. Both are secretive orders that work covertly to protect a populace that is either unaware or openly hostile to them, and both are led by individuals of mixed race — Aragorn, who had blood of Men, Elves, and Maiar, and the half-human, half-Minbari Delenn. Just as the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen reunited the Humans and Elves, whose blood flowed through them both, the marriage of John Sheridan and Delenn reunited the Humans and Minbari, who shared each other's souls.

The code of the Rangers, as stated by Marcus Cole in the episode "Grey 17 is Missing", is: "We walk in the dark places that no one else will enter. We stand on the bridge, and no one may pass." This is reminiscent of two scenes from The Lord of the Rings. The first is Aragorn's description of his Rangers during the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring: "Lonely men are we, Rangers of the North, hunters — but hunters ever of the servants of the Enemy"; and the second is Gandalf's confrontation with the Balrog over the abyss in Moria, in particular his cry of "You cannot pass!" before he shatters the bridge. (Though similar lines could be drawn between the US Army Rangers, too) Furthermore, Gandalf has previously been warned (by Aragorn, no less) that he will die if he enters Moria (also known as Khazad-dûm); in B5, captain John Sheridan is warned that he will die if he goes to a planet called Z'ha'dum. Both men sacrifice themselves, fall into an abyss, and return in an altered form to unite the forces of good against the forces of evil. Kosh could also be compared to Gandalf, in that both are powerful beings who help gather the forces of Light together and act as a mentor towards the main heroes, Sheridan and Aragorn. Both also die in their duties, and both return, though Kosh's return was brief. In early declarations JMS also mentioned that there would be parallels between the trajectories of some characters.

Also, B5 takes place at "the dawn of the third age", and the defeat of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is considered to be the ending event of the Third Age of Middle-earth.

The third season of Babylon 5, the Shadow War, is depicted less as a typical science-fiction war than as a conflict between Darkness and Light comparable to the War of the Ring. The Shadows, like Sauron, were defeated before, but over time regained their strength and returned to start a new war. The First Ones were leaving the Galaxy to out beyond the Rim, just as the Elves were leaving Middle-earth to go to Valinor. After the Shadow War, all the First Ones leave for beyond the Rim. Likewise, after the War of the Ring, the Elves leave for Valinor. Both universes have difficulty getting all the various races to work together to stop the Enemy, since many of these races are suspicious and distrustful of one another.

Aragorn was the rightful heir to the thrones of the sister realms Arnor and Gondor. Arnor had long since fallen, and Gondor's own royal line (Aragorn's relatives by blood) had ended. He was hated by the Steward Denethor who ruled Gondor in lieu of a king, and feared for his position if Aragorn returned to claim his birthright. Sheridan, comparatively, had to breakway from Earth and was declared a traitor by President Clark. Both Denethor and Clark committed suicide at their end.

The Shadows, like Sauron, also have many servants and races working for them, that they summoned when they prepared to make war again. Both also infiltrated and influenced other rulers and nations, through Emperor Cartagia, President Clark, just as Sauron worked through Saruman and other forces of evil. The Shadow's Mr. Morden is their smooth-tongue advocate, just as Gríma "Wormtongue" was in Rohan for Saruman. Additionally, the Shadows use living beings as the central operating system of their warships. This theme of domination and alteration if similar to Sauron's desire to dominate life in Middle-earth and bend all to his will.

Delenn's role is not dissimilar from Arwen's. Also, the Centauri and the Narns stand at different technological levels, just as Gondor and Rohan do in The Lord of the Rings. Gondor itself is described in Roman-like terms, whereas Rohan is more Anglo-Saxon. Gondor and the Centauri Republic are soldier states with organized standing armies and established government bureaucracies, whereas Rohan and the Narn Regime are more warrior-oriented, having an ad-hoc military and political structure in which the highest leadership is the only constant. The former are older civilizations and the latter are younger civilizations, still imbibed with a spirit of dashing, even reckless, bravery and warrior heritage that is lacking in the former.

Another parallelization that can be made between Babylon 5 and The Lord of the Rings is that of John Sheridan and Frodo: in the end of The Return of the King Frodo appears to carry too much of a burden to stay in Middle-earth, so he is honored by the elves who take him with them to Valinor inside the last ship. At the end of Sleeping in Light, Sheridan goes to Coriana 6 to die where he meets Lorien who apparently honors him by taking him to join the other First Ones beyond the Rim.

The Shadows utilize an "Eye of Z'ha'dum" that has the ability to see across space. The exact mechanics and workings of the Eye are left somewhat vague, and its inner workings were only explored somewhat in the Technomage trilogy novels. The Eye is like a supercomputer which drives "the will" of the Shadows and also oversees the operation of Shadow technology (i.e. planetary defenses of Z'ha'dum), as well as acts as a long-range sensor of some sort. Like the Eye of Sauron, the Eye of Z'ha'dum also has a metaphysical form, as witnessed by Cmdr. Susan Ivanova when she was using the great machine to locate First Ones. However, unlike the Eye of Sauron which is only one eye, the Eye of Z'ha'dum (like those of the Shadows themselves) have fourteen eyes.

The name Narns might be derived either from C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, or from Tolkien's Narn i Chîn Húrin in The Silmarillion which was itself almost certainly the inspiration for the name Narnia. The name of Tolkien's heart of elvendom, "Lórien" (or "Lothlórien") is given to the first of the First Ones in B5. (See "Lorien") The name of the Shadows' agent, Mr. Morden, may also reflect Tolkien's Mordor. The similar nature of the names Khazad-dûm and Z'ha'dum has been noted earlier.

The creator of B5, J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), acknowledges Tolkien when a "techno-mage" loosely quotes The Fellowship of the Ring, where the character Gildor Inglorion says, "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."

JMS has stated that people misunderstandthe similarities between the two different stories.

He often says that B5 is "greatly informed by" but "is not" any particular preceding work of fiction or history.

However, there is strong evidence that the mythology created by Tolkien in The Silmarillion as a whole (and not just The Lord of the Rings ) was used by Straczynski as a reference. .

It seems that Babylon 5 used Tolkienian myths as a "not isomorphic template" or a "detailed guide"..

Within the universe of B5 the story of the TV series has an analogous position with that filled by Lord of the Rings in the context of Tolkien's Legendarium: it is a transitional step between two eras, describing what can possibly be viewed as a "childhood's end" ,the maturing process of a younger race and its struggle to gain freedom of its predecessors.

Thus the thematical importance of this common element of the two narratives: the pivotal "Third Ages". This is made explicit in a dialogue between Sheridan and Delenn of Into the Fire (Babylon 5). Their words have echoes of Gandalf's speech to Aragorn in The Steward and the King one of the chapters of the final book of The Lord of the Rings.

Also,there is some persons that think that Babylon 5 can be viewed as an "atheistic mirror image" of Tolkien's mythology and, more specifically, of The Lord of the Rings. .

The Silmarillion

The story of Sheridan and Delenn bear a great resemblance to the lives of Beren and Lúthien. The story of Arwen and Aragorn mentioned in the previous section repeats several of the same elements presented in Beren and Lúthien's story. However, it is in Beren and Lúthien's tale that there is a dead mortal man resurrected, with a diminished life expectancy and who marries a female of another species that becomes human/mortal in order to stay with him.

The Vorlons, the Shadows, and the First Ones as ancient races of the universe, are quite similar to the Valar and the Maiar; both the First Ones and the Valar/Maiar can present themselves with several appearances/forms to a viewer, as occurred in the case of the Vorlons (and Lorien). The visible forms chosen by the Valar and Maiar were "fanar", or radiant, translucent "raiments" very akin to the "angelic" forms presented by the Vorlons.

The name of the First One Lorien is a homage to the Vala of Tolkien's mythology. The true name of the Vala was Irmo. Lórien, strictly speaking, was the name for his habitation, his gardens in Aman the Blessed Realm. The name was given also to the forest of Middle-earth that was the kingdom of Galadriel and Celeborn.

The Centauri God of the Underworld mentioned by Londo Mollari in The Parliament of Dreams is called Mogath, a name that resembles the epithet given to the first Dark Lord of The Silmarillion, Morgoth. Morgoth, in the first stages of Tolkien's mythology, was also a ruler of a particular version of the Underworld.

In Tolkien's books, Morgoth was a rebellious Vala (an angelic quardian of the world that could be seen as a "god") In The Book of Lost Tales, which contains the earliest form of the complex of mythological material that would eventually make up The Silmarillion, Morgoth, with the old form of his name, Melko (preceding "Melkor") was a ruler/tormentor of the evil spirits of the dead.

Morgoth was banished to the Outer Dark beyond the Door of Night, in "The Silmarillion"'s conclusion.And the Outer Dark can be equated both with the darkness of the starry "night" that is outside of Arda, the Earth, or with the Outer Darkness, The Night or Void that is beyond the confines of Time itself. The Galactic Rim of Babylon 5 seems to have a similar function to the Void of "The Silmarillion". Both of them are places of exile to the disruptive forces of the universe: Morgoth in Tolkien's work, and the Shadows/Vorlons in B5. The Galactic Rim is also akin to Aman The Blessed Realm of Tolkien's mythology, as a place of enlightenment, transcendence and the voluntary exile of the elder races.

The Shadow Planet Killers or Death Clouds, giant machines capable of destroying worlds that were created and used by the Shadows, have a strong resemblance to the Unlight. The Unlight is a dark emanation of Ungoliant, an evil creature of The Silmarillion incarnated in the form of a giant spider. She helped Morgoth in a crucial moment of the narrative. Like the Planet Killer's shadow cloak, the Unlight resembles a cloud of inscrutable darkness, capable of strangling the very will of any living thing ensnared by it, and capable of obliterating all light. It can be woven like a web. Ungoliant used it to satiate her infinite hunger for luminous energy, and also to hide herself and Morgoth, making both of them invisible to the Valar. This Unlight was also what provoked the Darkening of Valinor. The cloud surrounding the Shadow Planet Killer has the same attributes, generating opaque darkness and draining the energy of all that are entrapped within it: star vessels, power sources, etc. This dark cloud conceals a "web" or "net-like" matrix of numerous destructive mechanisms which make up the Planet Killer itself.

The "physical" forms of the Shadows and the general appearance of their starships are very similar to spiders, making the Shadows themselves and their technology possible homages to Ungoliant and all her progeny (which includes Shelob of The Lord of the Rings).

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales was the name given by Straczynski to the anthology show set in the Babylon 5 universe. Straczynski has described the stories as ones he had for the Babylon 5 television series, but never had the time to produce.

Thus, the name itself, is, probably, a homage to The Book of Lost Tales.


A plethora of Shakespearian quotes and misquotes peppers Babylon 5 dialogue, Macbeth being a notable favorite.

The legend of King Arthur

Two episodes highlight the influence of the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Battle of the Line is an analogy of King Arthur's final battle. Delenn is associated with the Lady of the Lake. Sheridan is unquestionably King Arthur, gathering the disparate alien races under one alliance. Lennier reveals himself as Lancelot when he betrays the Rangers over his feelings for Delenn, and Kosh may literally or figuratively be Merlin. Marcus Cole suggests that Kosh, like Merlin, might see the future by remembering it, and that Kosh may have visited Earth and modeled the Round Table after his acquaintances on Babylon 5.

In fact Kosh may not have needed to remember the future through some unusual unexplained means as Marcus theorises: it is well established that Kosh knew Valen, the Minbari religious leader responsible for founding the Grey Council. Valen was in fact Jeffrey Sinclair, a Human sent back into the past, and Kosh may easily have become aware of future events through Valen/Sinclair, especially since he was a telepath.

Excalibur appears three times in the series: once as a ship involved with the battle against General Hague, an actual sword and again as the ship charged with finding a cure for the Drakh plague and saving Earth, the second Victory class destroyer (the Victory herself, and the shipyards to construct more vessels of her class, were destroyed shortly after Victory was launched). Note the episode: "A Late Delivery from Avalon."

Finally, there also is the obvious reference to the Holy Grail in the eponymous episode.

JMS himself indicated another arthurian influence

{Similarity to La Morte D'artur: Arthur's and Mordred's armies are poised for battle but make one last attempt to negotiate, but a soldier raises his sword to kill a snake and everyone attacks.Compare this to the emperor's peace overture in "The Coming of Shadows."} There's another applicable metaphor for the sword story; you'll see it a little later this season. Very good catch, btw.


The scene described in the post is also the inspiration to the incident in the first contact between the human race and the Minbari that resulted in the killing of Dukhat. The Minbari open their gun ports in a signal of respect towards the humans and were misinterpreted as if they were preparing an attack. This fact occurred in Babylon 5: In the Beginning movie

Many of the supposed Lord of the Ring references could be more easily applied to the Arthurian myths. The Ranger's quote about 'standing on the bridge and none may pass' is a direct reference to Arthur's first meeting with Lancelot. However since much of the Tolkien works were heavily influenced by Arthurian legend, the threads of storytelling archetypes are easy to trace.

Forbidden Planet

The Great Machine on Epsilon 3 in the episode "A Voice in the Wilderness" appears to be an homage to the ancient Krell machine in the movie Forbidden Planet (1956), especially in the overhead shot of a narrow bridge that runs through a vast space surrounded by alien machinery. However, JMS said that he did that because it looked right, and it would not have mattered if it wasn't the shot from Forbidden Planet.

Ancient Greek myth

Many of the Earth Alliance ships in B5 are named after characters from Greek or Roman myths, such as Sheridan's command prior to Babylon 5, the Agamemnon. JMS has said repeatedly that G'Kar is his Cassandra character, who predicts the future but whose warnings go unheard. The frequent quotation of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Ulysses in the series could also be seen as a reference to Greek myths.

The ship that begins the Earth-Minbari war is called the Prometheus, thus setting the stage for the reason for Babylon 5's existence, also draws from Greek mythology.

Childhood's End

The concept of "younger races" like humanity growing past its early, primitive stages and ascending to some higher plane of existence is reminiscent of Childhood's End of Arthur C. Clarke. The fourth-season finale of Babylon 5, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars", depicts the mankind of one million years in the future as having physically evolved past mortal, "corporeal" bodies into true beings of energy, similar to the conclusion of the book . The first season episode "Mind War" also touches on this theme, through the fate of Jason Ironheart. The novel is one of the favorite books of Straczynski.

Alfred Bester

Science fiction writer Alfred Bester provided the inspiration for Babylon 5's telepathic Psi Corps in his 1953 novel The Demolished Man. In the novel, telepaths band together under the control of the "Esper Guild", which is very similar to the Psi Corps -- with the exception that they are a benevolent society of telepaths, and not sinister like the Psi Corps. Straczynski paid homage to Bester by naming a main telepath character, Alfred Bester, after the author.

The chronicles of Dune

JMS noted in the DVD release of Babylon 5 that one of his favorite science fiction stories is Frank Herbert's Dune. There may be analogies between the Padishah Empire and the Centauri, the Psi Corps and the Bene Gesserit, the Vorlons and the Spacing Guild, and the Narn and Fremen.

Other cultural influences

Historical and political influences

Churchill and World War II

Neville Chamberlain at Heston Airport in September 1938. He said:

"My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time."

"There will be peace in our time," remarks a human diplomat after signing a treaty with the Centauri, who later invade many planets surrounding their own territory.

Sheridan ponders Churchill's Coventry dilemma. This is the classic 'Do I save lives now, knowing that it will give away to the enemy, that we have broken their code/have spies in place and will likely cost lives in the future and extend the war' dilemma. Churchill himself only faced this dilemma generally. After all, how would he know how bad the Coventry raid (14 November, 1940) would be, beforehand. Unfortunately for Sheridan, this widely believed tale is an urban myth - the truth is that Churchill was made aware that a German bombing raid was planned but it was assumed that the target would be London. It was only minutes before the attack took place that Coventry was identified as the true target.

The EAS Churchill is the rebel ship lost defending B5 during the Earth civil war. Destroyed on 4-15-2260 when her captain rammed her into the EAS Agrippa after taking heavy damage.

In addition, there is a reference in the season 4 episode The Face of the Enemy by William Edgars to a genetically-engineered plague targeting telepaths as a Holocaust; "The telepath prob-- the telepath problem.. will finally be over."

Roman history and I, Claudius

The Centauri Emperor Cartagia believes himself a god. His demise leads to Londo's unlikely ascension to the throne, and then ultimately to Vir's even more unlikely succession. This parallels the story of Claudius (never seriously considered a contender; a stammering cripple), who is made Emperor of Rome when mad Emperor Caligula (another self-appointed god, and note the similarity of the names) is killed.

Caligula is probably the most obvious comparison, hence why I had that name reflect that sound a little bit. I wanted someone who you would be very much in fear of, not because he was rampaging around screaming all the time, but because he was completely and totally arbitrary.

J. Michael Straczynski, quoted in Jane Killick, Babylon 5: No Surrender, No Retreat (New York 1998), p. 36

The Centauri also traditionally use murder (especially by poison) as a political tool, almost as frequently as described in the novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves.

Other historical and political influences

  • Dark Ages. The idea of monks preserving technology (knowledge) in a Dark Age can also be link back to real history and the preservation & production of manuscript in the libraries & scriptoriums of monasteries in the Dark Ages.
  • One of the Nightwatch members in the third season quotes Thomas Jefferson: "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom," to support the concept of Nightwatch, whereas Jefferson meant it as a warning against the idea.
  • The diplomatic set-up on Babylon 5 is clearly modeled on the United Nations with the five member Babylon 5 Advisory Council roughly analogous to the Security Council and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds representing the General Assembly.
  • Another historical reference is the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, pre-figuring the assassination of Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago. Following the assassination, the swearing in of Morgan Clark is designed to re-create the scene aboard Air Force One when Lyndon Johnson was sworn in. Filming of this scene occurred on November 22, which added a layer of somberness to the cast and crew reactions. In fact, the pilot movie, The Gathering, was originally intended to open with a voiceover taken from news coverage of JFK's assassination.

Other influences

Carl Sagan

In S02-E04 (A Distant Star) Delenn expresses to Sheridan the perspective that we (all living beings) are created from the same elements that make up the B-5 station, and the stars (ie. nitrogen, iron, hydrogen, etc). She says we are made of 'star stuff'. We are the universe itself, become conscious, and trying to figure itself out. This perspective is almost taken verbatim from Carl Sagan's Cosmos (episode 1).

Joseph Campbell

JMS has remarked that B5 doesn't deliberately follow Joseph Campbell's myth-arc but he acknowledges that many of its elements are present.

Religious and Astrological references

Throughout the show numerous references are made concerning astrology and Sheridan's analogous role in history to that of a messiah. After the defeat of the Shadows in season four episode Into The Fire, Sheridan comments to Delennn "This is a new age Delenn, the third age". The third age is the age of Aquarius, the first and second being Aries and Pisces. An Astrological age is approximately 2160 years. The age of Pisces is generally regarded to have started at year 1 AD. That would make the year 2162 the first year of Aquarius, which is exactly when the shadow war takes place. Also a number of religious phrases are used to refer to Sheridan: messiah, messianic, and The second coming. In Season four episode 17, The Face of the Enemy, When Geribaldi speaks with William Edgars about capturing Sheridan, Geribaldi says "I don't know, but I think the last guy got 30 pieces of silver for the same job" a reference to Judas' betrayal of Jesus. John Marco Allegro is the main propenet of a theory about a number of historical messiah being analogies for astrological phenomena including Attis, Krishna, Dionysus, Mithra, Horus and Jesus. The theory says that Moses was the personification of the age of Aries, and Jesus was the personification of the age of Pisces. Thus the next messiah or the second coming of Jesus would be in the age of Aquarius.

Another interesting event is when Sheridan falls and is caught by the Vorlon Kosh in season 2 episode The Fall of Night. Kosh, not wanting to reveal his true form, appears as a different religious figure depending on the onlookers homeworld. Because Sheridan is Human, he perceived him as being an angel. Matthew says "To his heavenly messengers he will give orders about you, and with their hands they will catch you". Which was the devil telling Jesus that if he were to fall, angels would catch him saving him from his death.

Sheridan was also resurrected twice by Lorien. The first time on Z'ha'dum in season four: Whatever Happened To Mr. Garibaldi, right after Sheridan askes Lorien "If I fall how will I know if you'll catch me", and the second was on Babylon 5 during a fight with Ulkesh in episode Falling toward Apotheosis further solidifying his parallels with historical messiah.


Despite JMS's professed atheism, Babylon 5 contains many references to Christian ideas. Several episode titles refer, directly or indirectly, to elements of the Christian faith, notably the third season episode "Passing Through Gethsemane", but also "A Voice in the Wilderness" and "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place" (which is also the title of a lively gospel song). Moreover, the monks led by Brother Theo who take up residence on Babylon 5 belong to the the Dominican Order, a Roman Catholic monastic Order. Overall, Babylon 5 strove for even-handedness in its treatment of religions, notably in the multi-faith gatherings in the episodes "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place" and "The Parliament of Dreams", although arguably the appearance of Kosh in the guise of a Christian angel could be seen as subversive even though many religions share the concept of "angels" or "beings of light".


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