Taking Inventory: Lantern

In the spotlight

The quickest way to tell the difference between a Minecraft player who cares about the aesthetics of their builds and one who doesn’t is the quality of the lighting in their home. 

Are their walls adorned with torches? *Gasp*, are there even torches on the floor? Turn around, walk out of that house, and vow to never return until they’ve replaced their torches with something more thoughtful and elegant. If they’re short of ideas, then may I humbly suggest our item of the week – the lantern?

Lanterns were first mentioned as a possibility in October 2010. The original plan was that torches would go out after a while and need to be re-lit, but lanterns would be permanent. This wasn’t popular with the players, however, so they were shelved and other kinds of lighting – redstone lamps and glowstone – were added instead.

Fast forward to 2018, and lanterns popped up again in a tweet from LadyAgnes. They were subsequently added to the game in version 1.14 – the Village & Pillage update, which also included bamboo, foxes, berries, and pillagers.

As you might guess, lanterns emit light. A light level of 15, to be precise, which is slightly more than torches and on par with glowstone, campfires, redstone lamps, and jack-o-lanterns. 

They’re pretty easy to make – just surround a torch with iron nuggets. They also generate in snowy tundra villages, and in bastion remnants in the Nether.

Speaking of the Nether update, it actually introduced a new kind of lantern – the soul lantern, made in the same way as a regular lantern but with a soul torch. 

Not only are soul lanterns a different colour to regular lanterns (blue instead of orange), but they also give off slightly less light – just 10, compared to 15 for a regular lantern. That might not sound so good – but if you like living in a snowy biome then you’ll love them.

Why? Well, a light level of 10 is enough to prevent monsters from spawning but not quite enough to melt snow and ice. You’ll be able to light your ice fortress or igloo palace with no issues. You’re welcome, Ice King.

In the real world, lanterns have been used by humans since at least Roman times. Most of them were basically a candle in a box, but there are a few early examples that consisted of oil with a burning wick. 

From the Middle Ages, cities would hire watchmen to carry lanterns through the streets at night to prevent crime. But it wasn’t until the 1500s or so that cities began to light public spaces with lanterns. This dramatically changed the character of those cities, allowing for some semblance of public life to continue during the evenings. 

It may even have changed how we sleep. Historian A. Roger Ekirch believes that in the past, adults typically slept in two chunks – waking up for an hour or so in the middle of the night to pray, reflect, and interpret dreams, and in some cases to even visit neighbours. Lanterns allowed us to stay up later, turning this period of wakefulness into a full night’s sleep instead.

So if you ever find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, then don’t worry – it may actually be quite natural. But I don’t recommend that you go visit your neighbours – that kind of thing is frowned upon these days.

Duncan Geere
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Duncan Geere
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