See-r (2)


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Here we are again, dear readers, welcoming you to the second half of that posting with the odd name—or at least the odd spelling.

In the first half of this, we began with questions about Galadriel’s mirror: where did it come from? What was it doing in the text?


We saw that it had begun life in a manuscript note as the mirror of “King Galdaran”, but then became the mirror of “Galadrien” as JRRT smoothed and polished both the scene and the character.   In that earlier note—a kind of shorthand plot summary—it’s stated that, “King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and the skill needed to decide which…”—that is, one needs skill to decide which might be past, present, or future. Such skill, especially to read the future, led us to thinking about the history of attempting to read the future, and we briefly discussed the use of turtle plastrons (the underside of a turtle) and ox shoulder blades, then number patterns, in ancient China, dreams in Egypt, and the insides of certain animals in Babylon.

In this posting, we want to take that history a bit farther.

Just as the Babylonians practiced extispicy—the examination of the intestines of certain animals or birds—so did the Etruscans, whom we think of as Rome’s “big brothers”, as many Roman practices and customs appear to have been borrowed from them. In our last, we showed a Babylonian model of a sheep’s liver,


presumably used as a guide to reading an actual liver. Here’s a bronze Etruscan model, with various areas marked off and labeled.


And here’s a fourth-century bc bronze model of an Etruscan priest, a “haruspex”, the Romans would have called him.


(Sometimes, even though we spend a great deal of time in the classical world, there are things which will always seem a little odd—the hat on this fellow can’t help but remind us of something from Dr Seuss,


just as that on a Roman flamen—a kind of priest—makes us think of a certain propeller helmet…)



Romans borrowed the custom from the Etruscans, it seems, and also read bird-signs. In fact, it was a disagreement over the interpretation of a flight of birds which may have sparked the murder of one of the founders of Rome, Remus, by his twin brother, Romulus.


Besides Etruscan and home-grown methods of trying to find out about the future, the Romans also continued the Greek tradition of visiting prophetic shrines. The most famous were dedicated to Apollo


and were located (see map below—west to east)


at Delphi




and Didyma.


There was also a well-known shrine dedicated to Zeus at Dodona,


but the oracle at Delphi was perhaps the most famous.



It’s not always clear how these places worked. The oracle at Dodona, for example, may have used two methods: sacred doves and the wind in the leaves of the enclosed grove you see in the picture. At Delphi, a pilgrim waited to pose a question to the priestess, called the “Pytho”


and, if she chose to respond, it was in the standard Greek epic metre, dactylic hexameter. Her answers were famously riddling and ambiguous, as when she told Croesus, the king of Lydia that, if he went to war with the Persians, a kingdom would fall (guess whose!).   To interpret such a response correctly would have taken King Galdaran’s response that, to interpret what his mirror told, one must have skill to decide just what the future might be.

When it comes to Galadrien/Galadriel, it’s not skill which she lacks, but rather she practices a kind of caution in interpretation:

“Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal…and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that may yet be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

(We can’t resist a footnote here. In the early Greek poem, Theogony, the poet Hesiod tells us that he was a shepherd on a hillside when he was visited by the Muses, who told him that they could say many false things as if they were true, but could also speak the truth when they felt like it. They then gave him a staff and inspired him to make songs about things in the future, as well as things in the past, all of which sounds rather familiar here. Here’s a LINK if you’d like to read the story. And here’s a rather over-the-top painting by Gustave Moreau, (1826-1898.)


What Sam sees he finds deeply disturbing—the industrialization of the Shire—and it so disturbing that he leaps up and shouts that he must go home. What Frodo sees is more complex—perhaps Gandalf, what looks to be the arrival of the Numenorians to found Gondor, and, finally, the Eye, ever restless, ever searching.

So why is the Mirror here? We would suggest, tentatively, for several reasons:

  1. first, because this is a kind of turning point in the story: after the pursuit through Moria and the death of Gandalf (as far as the Fellowship knows), this is the first breathing space which the company has had and it’s a very safe and peaceful one—for the moment. As Celeborn says:

“Now is the time…when those who wish to continue the Quest must harden their hearts to leave this land. Those who no longer wish to go forward may remain here, for a while. But whether they stay or go, none can be sure of peace.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 8, “Farewell to Lorien”)

After so much struggle and the loss of a major figure, it’s clearly a good moment to rest, take stock, and look towards the future.

  1. second, Galadriel had earlier probed each of the company, testing their minds and finding out just who they were—sometimes to their discomfort, if not distress. Now the company is narrowed to just two: the ring-bearer and his servant, and here at her Mirror, she offers them a final test, but we can imagine that, unlike her earlier probing, this is much more free-form and ambiguous, as if she had allowed the two to make up their own tests. For Sam, it’s the possible ruination of what he loves most in the world, the Shire, and he almost fails, until Galadriel gently upbraids him:

“You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire.”

Frodo’s test is less focused upon a place or event. Rather, it was a kind of suggestion of the past (Gondor), with the implication that that past’s continuation depends upon confronting the present danger, which is not to be underestimated. Galadriel’s words to Sam underline this:

“Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them.”

Shaken, both pass the test, it seems.

  1. by implying that what Sam and Frodo see might actually happen, the author adds an extra note of urgency to the story, something always to be felt after that moment: the Shire could be in danger, Frodo may have to confront Sauron, directly or indirectly.

But you’ll notice that, taking Galadriel’s lead, we wrote “could be” and “may have to”, rather than “will be” and “must” and here we hear the voice of a wise person from another epic adventure.



Thanks, as always, for reading, and, as ever,




See-r (1)


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

You’ll notice our odd title.  Which came from a puzzle.  We had been thinking about Galadriel and her mirror:  when did it enter the story and, more important for the narrative, why was the episode there?


In an earlier sketch for the text, JRRT had written:

King Galdaran’s mirror shown to Frodo.  Mirror is of silver filled with fountain water in sun.

Sees Shire far away.  Trees being felled and a tall building being made where the old mill was.  Gaffer Gamgree turned out.  Open trouble, almost war, between Marish and Buckland on one hand—and the West.  Cosimo Sackville-Baggins very rich, buying up land.  (All/Some of this in future.)  King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and skill needed to decide which.  Sees a grey figure like Gandalf [?going along] in twilight but it seems to be clad in white.  Perhaps it is Saruman.

Sees a mountain spouting flame  Sees Gollum?”  (The Treason of Isengard, 249-250)

Interesting to see that the scene we know from The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, was once very different, beginning with the fact that Galadriel’s mirror had no Galadriel—and Sam’s nightmare vision of the Shire was, originally, Frodo’s.  (There was once more potentially more of that nightmare—on a surviving scrap of paper is:  “Cosimo has industrialized it.  Factories and smoke.  The Sandymans have a biscuit factory.  Iron is found.”  Treason, 216.  We wonder, by the way, if, since he lived and worked in Oxford, JRRT’s choice of a biscuit (US:  cookie) factory might have been influenced by the Oxford Biscuits company, founded in Denmark in 1922.)

Galadriel was in the narrative at this time, and she even performs her emotional x-ray on the company (Treason, 248), but it’s in the main draft that she gains the mirror (although her name is “Galadrien” at this stage—reading the various manuscripts, we often see many characters have everything from complete name-changes—the Aragorn-as-ranger figure was once called “Trotter”—to slight adjustments). And, as Christopher Tolkien writes,

“It is seen that it was while my father was writing the ‘Lothlorien’ story ab initio [“from the beginning”] that the Lady of Lothlorien emerged…and it is also seen that the figure of Galadriel (Rhien, Galadrien) as a great power in Middle-earth was deepened and extended as he wrote.”  (Treason, 250)

All of which is true, but doesn’t help us with the second part of our question:  why is the episode there?

Seeking for clues, we looked at that early sketch, in which “King Galdaran says the mirror shows past, present, and future, and the skill needed to decide which…” which then made us think about that skill.  At first, we considered that deciding that an event was in the past would be rather easy—after all, events which had happened leave a history, and often consequences.  Suppose, however, that that history came from another place, or was never written down—after all, this is medieval Middle-earth, not our 21st-century world.  In our own western Middle Ages, literacy was limited, there was almost no long-distance communication, and people lived on rumors.  Would Middle-earth be any different?  The same would be true for the present in Middle-earth:  what would someone in the Shire know of someone in Rohan?

This brought us to the future and, speaking of history, the attempt to understand the future spreads far back into recorded time and perhaps beyond.

Shang Dynasty China (c.1600-1046BC) has provided us with an extensive archaeological record for this in the form of a vast archive of rather unusual objects, the two main ones being bundles of these


and piles of these.


The first of these is the plastron or breastplate of a turtle.


The second is the shoulder blade of a cow.


These were used for a number of spiritual contact purposes, including finding out about the future, but the method was always the same:

  1. once the surface was cleaned, a series of shallow holes was carved or drilled into the surface
  2. blood was applied to the surface (for purification? Or perhaps to attract a spirit?)
  3. questions were written to one side of each hole
  4. a hot iron was applied to the hole
  5. the surface would then crack under the heat
  6. the officiator would interpret the crack, then write his interpretation on the surface, as well

During the next dynasty, the Zhou (1000-221BC), another method was added and, in time, this became more popular.  This used the stalks of a plant of the family Achillea


for the practice of cleromancy, which, basically, means using a series of random numbers to try to understand something about the spiritual world.  This is a very complicated process, as far as we can see, including not only the stalks, but a book called the I Ching.


If you would like to know more, here’s a LINK which explains the practice in 12 steps.

A method of telling the future in ancient Egypt was by interpreting dreams (oneiromancy) and we have a dream manual dated to the time of Ramesses II (1279-1213BC).


This lists common patterns in dreams, identifies whether they are bad or good, then goes on to interpret them.  Because dreams are universal, this is a world-wide method and all one has to do is to google “dream interpretation book” to see just how much is available in English alone.


Babylonians used dreams, among other methods, as well as haruspicy, in which a specially-trained priest examined the entrails of certain animals, birds and sheep being especially useful.  Here’s a model of a sheep’s liver (2050-1750BC) used to help in the process.


The holes were for pegs, to help the priest makes comparisons between the actual liver and the model.

In our next, we’ll discuss a few other early methods of attempting to see the future and, if we play our cards right,


we’ll circle back to Galadriel’s mirror and its place in The Lord of the Rings.


Thanks, as ever, for reading and—this part of the future we can read—



Bloody Vikings!


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Welcome, dear readers, and, if you’re a Commonwealth English-speaker, please excuse the mild  blasphemy.  (For those without any idea about that last remark, please follow this LINK.)

In fact, it isn’t really our fault, but, rather, it comes from a line in a very famous Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch, the notorious “Spam” skit.


In this sketch, two people are lowered into a café, whose breakfast menu


appears to be entirely based upon a tinned/canned ham product called Spam.


(If you would like to become deeply learned on the subject of this product, please follow this LINK.)

With no explanation, we find that the rest of the customers are Vikings, but, when a professor is suddenly inserted into the scene, we learn that they have mustered at the Green Midget Café in Bromley, a southeastern town within Greater London, (see the LINK here for important information about Bromley, in case you’re considering a holiday), for a surprise attack on England.

In the course of the sketch, the word “spam” is repeated again and again and, as it is, the Vikings begin to sing its praises in chorus, causing the waitress


to shout “Shut up!  Shut up!” repeatedly and once, on the original LP, to mutter, “Bloody Vikings!”—hence our title—although, as you’ll see, reading on, she might have said “Not so bloody Vikings!”

Some time ago, we did a posting on a specific Viking custom, burial, but, unlike the depictions, in everything from 19th-century paintings


to the well-known 1958 film,


we discussed the latest understanding, that prominent Vikings might be cremated (we see this custom as early as the poem Beowulf –7th-8th- century AD?), but then were subsequently buried—if they were especially important, in their own ships, as was the case with the prominent figure who would have been in the famous Sutton Hoo burial, with its wonderful metal work.




This revision has extended far beyond the sensational flaming ship, however.  To begin with, 19th-century illustrations of Vikings


have been replaced with more accurate depictions, based upon the surviving physical evidence.



(This last is a picture of a famous warrior, Onund Treefoot Ufeighson, from Grettir’s Saga—we think that you can guess where that nickname came from!)

As well, Vikings are shown as domestic—after all, their ancestors and relatives had all been farmers and fishermen in Scandinavia.



And their fine craftsmanship was recognized, including their great skill as shipwrights.


They were certainly raiders.


(This is a picture of a Viking attack in Ireland, as can clearly be seen from, in the foreground, the distinct haircut—called a “tonsure”—of the fallen monk—this particular cut being the typical Irish pattern–and, in the background, the distant form of a round tower.  Here’s an image of a real one, at Glendalough.  And a LINK, if you’d like to know more.)


Raiding, however, was only part of some Vikings’ lives.  Numbers were traders, not only of items like furs, but humans.


Others were soldiers in foreign rulers’ bodyguards—these are Varangians, who, for a time, protected Byzantine emperors.


In their handy ships, the Vikings not only raided and traded, but colonized, spreading their culture from western Russia all the way to Iceland and northern North America, settling or resettling places like Dublin and York.




Their settlements were not always successful, as we may see in this scene, where the locals—whom the Vikings called “Skraelings”, were not comfortable with having Norse neighbors.


All of this makes the Vikings, on the one hand, more ordinary—just one more Germanic people with many occupations and a desire to find trade and lebensraum—but, on the other, it leaves us, dear readers, with a small sense of loss, as they seem not quite the flaming force which brought about this prayer:

“Summa pia gratia nostra conservando corpora et cu[s]todita, de gente fera Normannica nos libera, quae nostra vastat, Deus, regna!

“Our highest, pius, Grace, by preserving our bodies and the things in our charge, free us from the fierce/beastly Northmen who, O God, lay waste our kingdoms!

or inspired this early tombstone from Lindisfarne (devastated by the Vikings in 793AD).


Thanks, as ever, for reading and





We want to credit the “Viking Answer Lady Webpage” for the Latin quotation (translation and correction in brackets, ours).  Here’s a LINK, in case you need Viking answers, too.


If you would like to read a first-hand account of what appears to be the burial of a prominent Viking, please see this LINK: Risala of Ibn Fadlan.  It is James E. McKeithen’s translation of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan’s account of his 10th-century travels, and it includes his visit among the Rus, who are the Norsemen and descendants of Norsemen who traded with and settled in what is now (mostly) the Ukraine.  Warning:  this is not a description for the faint-hearted.



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As ever, dear readers, welcome.

After standing and reciting his “party piece”, and stewing two rabbits, Sam is about to see his first—and only—oliphaunt.


Before he does, however:

“Four tall Men stood there.  Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads.  Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows.  All had swords at their sides, and were clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien.  Green gauntlets covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes, which were very keen and bright.”  (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 4, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”)


The chief of these men soon identifies himself as “Faramir, Captain of Gondor” and the men with him are rangers, a term which first appears in 14th-century English to mean “game keeper”, which seems appropriate for Faramir and his men, as far as their dress is concerned.  One might expect that those who spend their days in the woods would only naturally want to blend in, especially if part of their job is to apprehend poachers—trespassers who illegally hunt game.  Faramir’s and his men’s clothing could also be that of poachers, if we match that description—the green and brown part—with some very familiar figures from another famous story—


If you read us regularly, you will probably recognize them, especially if we add one of our favorite illustrations.


If you still don’t recognize them, we’ll add a book cover.


This is the 1917 publication of the retelling of the Robin Hood stories, with illustrations by NC Wyeth and it’s clear that his depictions of Robin and his men—just like his illustrations of pirates—have influenced story-tellers and costume-designers long after that initial 1917 publication.  Just look at Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s 1922 Robin Hood,


or the 1938 Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood




or even Disney’s 1973 animated Robin Hood


and even the 1993 parody, Robin Hood:  Men in Tights.


Tolkien, we presume, would have known the Wyeth illustrations and perhaps the Errol Flynn, and might have had them in mind when he was describing the basic dress of Robin and his men.  Beyond the basic outfit, however, these men are clearly dressed for more than poaching and apprehending—and it isn’t just the weapons, but also the gloves and the face-coverings.  These men are soldiers and rangers have been soldiers, or the models for them, since at least the 18th century, when certain German states, including Prussia and Hesse Kassel, employed forest rangers as light infantry—men trained as sharpshooters and skirmishers, called jaeger (“hunter” in German).


In the 19th century, increasing numbers of ordinary troops of many western nations were given similar training, but the jaeger continued to be allowed special uniforms, usually green.


This is an illustration by one of the greatest (and one of our favorite) German military/historical artists of the late 19th-early-20th centuries, Richard Knoetel, dated 1910.

When the Great War began in 1914, all the soldiers of many of the countries involved were already moving away from the bright-colored uniforms of past years and dressing more like hunters.  The British put off their parade uniforms


and dressed in a mud-color, that color being called “khaki” (originally a Persian word meaning “dust”).


The Germans, whose parade dress was blue,


dressed in a color called feldgrau (“field grey”).


Only the French began the war still on parade,


but even they gradually changed into something which blended in better with the terrain.


And blending in was absolutely necessary in a world in which war was being fought not with muskets and cannon, as in Napoleon’s days


but with machine guns which could fire 600 rounds per minute


and guns so big that some had to be transported on railroad trains.


Whenever possible, soldiers dug in, spending their days below ground level, in trenches.


When they had to go above ground level, they wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible.  Here’s what 2nd Lieutenant Tolkien might have looked like in 1916 (notice that, by 1916, British soldiers had put aside caps in the trenches and used helmets which looked positively medieval).



The term for this blending-in was “camouflage”, which entered English from French in 1917 and it was used not only by infantry, but the practice was extended to everything on the battlefield and beyond– to the new tanks


and even to ships, where the goal was to conceal or sometimes simply to confuse the eye.


Some of the most extreme varieties take us back to the rangers of South Ithilien, like this sniper, whose job was to pick off unsuspecting soldiers (officers were a special prize) from complete concealment.


This makes us wonder what Faramir and his men would have done if they had been armed with magazine rifles,


instead of bows as, after all, they are there for an ambush…


As always, thanks for reading and



Heil, Sharkey!


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As ever, welcome, dear readers.

Some time ago, we did a posting on The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”.


At that time, our emphasis was upon its reflection of JRRT’s dislike for the effects of the Industrial Revolution on rural England



and the importance of the chapter to closure in The Lord of the Rings.

In this posting, we want to look at it from another direction and to view Sharkey’s Shire as a kind of proto-fascist state.

Although the word “fascist” is now used pretty loosely as a verbal attack on politicians and political parties with a rightward-lean, it had a more specific meaning in the 1920s and 1930s.  Then, fascists were believers in a kind of militarized state, in which the economy might be in the hands of the government, and the government in the hands of a few (a kind of oligarchy) or even of one, a dictator.  (Here’s a LINK if you want to know more.)

Benito Mussolini


was the first of these who actually succeeded in coming to power.  In Italy, in 1922, he organized a march on the capital, Rome, which would lead to his becoming the head of state (although Italy remained a monarchy, the monarch, Vittorio Immanuele III, was brought out for state occasions only).



Mussolini, to make his power look like a natural historical progression, began using ancient Roman symbols.  One of these was the mark of the escorts to Roman magistrates, the fascis, a bundle of birch rods with an axe in the middle, the sign that a magistrate had the power to inflict not only corporal punishment—the rods—but even death—the axe—on citizens.  This bundle was carried by a lictor, a minor officer of state.  The number of these lictors who marched in front of the magistrate signaled just how important the magistrate was.


Mussolini had his bullyboys, the “Blackshirts”


To emphasize this connection with the imperial past, he went so far as to impress the old initials of ancient Rome, SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus—“the Roman Senate and People”) on everything public in sight—even manhole covers (they’re still there to this day).


And his use of the symbol of the fascis was the basis of the term fascism—they’re even all around his tomb.



Mussolini might have been the first of these leaders—or would-be leaders—during this pre-war era, but there were plenty more.  There was Eoin O’Duffy in Ireland, leading his thugs, called “Blueshirts”,


to Vidkun Quisling, with his Nasjonal Samling (“National Party”), who, after the Nazis conquered Norway, actually became leader there,


to Francisco Franco, in Spain,


to Hitler, in Germany,


whose original goon/enforcers were the SA—Sturm Abteilung (“Storm Detachment”) or “Brownshirts”.


In England, Tolkien would have been well aware of Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists.


Hitler had been mocked by the famous silent film comedian, Charlie Chaplin, in his 1940, The Great Dictator,


but, closer to home, Mosley had become a figure of fun in the comic novels of PG Wodehouse


as “Sir Roderick Spode”.  Here he is, memorably portrayed in the 1990-1993 television adaptation, Jeeves and Wooster, by John Turner—much of whose posture was a direct imitation of Mussolini,



even down to his pathetic followers, the “Black Shorts”.


His first appearance was in Wodehouse’s 1938 novel, The Code of the Woosters,


where he is described as:

“About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment…

“I don’t know if you have ever seen those pictures in the papers of Dictators with tilted chins and blazing eyes, inflaming the populace with fiery words on the occasion of the opening of a new skittle alley, but that was what he reminded me of.”  (The Code of the Woosters, Chapter One)

(Here’s a LINK to a free edition of the book, in case you’d like to read it—and why wouldn’t you?  And this is a “plaid ulster” in case you’ve never seen one.)


Everything in the “Scouring” chapter, from the “great spiked gate” on the bridge over the Brandywine, to the “Chief’s Men”—who should be wearing brown tunics—to the very name “Chief”, instead of the old Shire title, “Mayor”, reeks of fascism, and, combined with:

“The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank on the north side of the Pool were deserted, and their little gardens that used to run down bright to the water’s edge were rank with weeds  Worse, there was a whole line of the ugly new houses all along Pool Side, where the Hobbiton Road ran close to the bank.  An avenue of trees had stood there.  They were all gone.  And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they saw a tall chimney of brick in the distance.  It was pouring out black smoke into the evening air.”

links that political movement to the despoliation of the old natural world by the Industrial Revolution.

Behavior in this new Shire is based upon “orders” and here we really see the hand of Sharkey, who is, of course, Saruman.  Here’s what he says to try to seduce Gandalf into joining him:

“A new Power is rising…As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow…We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose:  Knowledge, Rule, Order…”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

And the most important element in that purpose is “Order”.  It’s no wonder that Saruman is murdered.


Thanks, as always, for reading and




On Time.3


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Once upon a time, dear readers (and welcome, as always), this series began with this:


As you can see, it’s a reproduction of the first page of a draft of JRRT’s The Lord of the Rings chronology, which we found in a display case in Reading Adventureland at the marvelous Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, NY (the original is in the Tolkien papers at Marquette University).



We had seen the eventual complete version of this long ago in Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings, in the section entitled “The Great Years”, but, as with everything original, there’s a special thrill to seeing something much closer to the author than the printed page–like this, a leaf from a draft of what would become The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 8, “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”, illustrated by Tolkien.  If you compare it with the final text, it’s very interesting to see all of the kinds of changes JRRT made between it and that which we now read.


(We found this on a site called Biblioklept.  As this means “book thief”, we were a little hesitant, at first, but it turned out to be a very interesting place—here’s a LINK to it so that you can see for yourself.)

The Hobbit (about which we wrote in parts 1 and 2 of this little series) was quite simple in its chronology.  It’s all of a piece, the narrative being focused solely on Bilbo and the dwarves until Smaug flies off to devastate Lake-town (Chapter 14, “Fire and Water”).  Even Gandalf’s disappearance in Chapter 7 (“Queer Lodgings”) is never really gone into.  The opposite is true in The Lord of the Rings.  In the opening chapters of Book One alone, Gandalf appears, Bilbo disappears, years pass and Gandalf reappears and disappears, and it’s only in Book Two that both reappear and we are told by Gandalf what happened between his last disappearance and his present reappearance (“The Council of Elrond”), even though some of what happened to him was occurring at the same time as Frodo’s packing up and leaving the Shire.  Here’s a useful chronology from something called “” (and here’s a LINK to it).


It’s not surprising, then, that JRRT needed to make very careful notes of who went where and when.

This didn’t always work out, however, as has been pointed out more than once, in the matter of phases of the moon.  This is a complicated story (here’s a LINK to help), but, basically, JRRT, as meticulous as he always was, based the moon phases on a calendar from 1941-2


and mistook the marker for “new moon” to mean “the second day of the new moon”, which would have allowed for just the faintest of crescents in the sky, rather than the astronomical definition, “the full dark of the moon”.

Here’s a moon phase chart to help.


We know from a note in Christopher Tolkien’s The Treason of Isengard that JRRT was working from such a calendar (or almanac) because:

“Either while the making of Time-scheme I was in progress or at some later point my father wrote at the head of the first page of it:  Moons are after 1941-2 + 6 days.  (p. 369—if you happen to consult the Tolkien Gateway:  User:  Gamling/Hobbitdates on the subject, you will be puzzled at its footnote 2, which cites this volume, and, within it, “The Great River”, note 23, as note 23 says nothing about this)

For us, to focus upon such a detail is to miss the bigger point, however, which was, in fact, encapsulated in W. H. Auden’s review of The Fellowship of the Ring


in 1954:

”Of any imaginary world the reader demands that it seem real, and the standard of realism demanded today is much stricter than in the time, say, of Malory. Mr. Tolkien is fortunate in possessing an amazing gift for naming and a wonderfully exact eye for description; by the time one has finished his book one knows the histories of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and the landscape they inhabit as well as one knows one’s own childhood.”  (The New York Times, October 31, 1954)

Where does such sense of reality come from?

We once read that, before science-fiction authors SM Stirling


and David Drake


began their 5-volume series of the adventures of Raj Whitehall, The General, in 1991 (see LINK—and here’s the first volume book cover),


they created a many-page description of the world, Bellevue, upon which those adventures are set.  We thought that that was a great idea and it certainly made Bellevue and all of its events more believable and the narrative more engrossing.

On a much more massive scale, there are the 13 volumes of Christopher Tolkien’s


publication of his father’s papers and his own notes (this is obviously just a few of the books).


For us, however, there is a small, but equally revealing image of what lies behind JRRT’s work.


This is another item from that display case at the Strong Museum (and the original is also from the Tolkien collection at Marquette).  As you can see, it’s a menu card, for a formal dinner, and we don’t know whether an always-paper-hungry Tolkien tucked it into a coat pocket to use at a later date, or whether it was a very boring dinner and he whiled away the time till the “cheese straws” by creating a neat little measurement system based upon hobbit physiognomy (we hope it was the latter).

What particularly catches our attention is the detail that “6 toes = 1 foot” (odd—do hobbits have six toes, like certain cats?)—but added to that, in a gloss to the right, is the translation into English measure that this hobbit “foot” equals 9 inches.  The standard English measure of a foot is 12 inches, but in the days before the English conquest of Wales in the 13th century, (under Edward I, 1239-1307), something called the “Venedotian Code” provided the measurement system in northern Wales, and, in that system, the foot was 9 inches—could it be that JRRT thought of the hobbits as Welsh?

Thanks, as ever, for reading.



Over the River…


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As ever, dear readers, welcome.

Two postings ago, we had been discussing how time is marked in The Hobbit.  After a one-post interlude—a book review—we were intending to extend our discussion (as our original plan was) to The Lord of the Rings, but something caught our attention and, in this posting, we’re still interluding—although it is about The Hobbit.

We had just set off from Bag End with Bilbo and the dwarves and noticed this:

“At first they had passed through hobbit-lands, a wide respectable country inhabited by decent folk, with good roads, an inn or two, and now and then a dwarf or a farmer ambling by on business.  Then they came to lands where people spoke strangely, and sang songs Bilbo had never heard before.  Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse.  Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees.  On some of them were old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 2, “Roast Mutton”)

The company passes over an ancient bridge:

“Somewhere behind the grey clouds the sun must have gone down, for it began to get dark as they went down into a deep valley with a river at the bottom.  Wind got up, and willows along its banks bent and sighed.  Fortunately the road went over an ancient stone bridge, for the river, swollen with the rains, came rushing down from the hills and mountains in the north.”

They go on till Bilbo and the dwarves reach the trolls.



(drawings by JRRT)

Here, though, we want to pause for a moment and look back, and, like any careful—and curious—traveler, consult a map.


First—and this is something we noted in that previous post—there is really no hard evidence for just how long this leg of the trip took.  All we are given are  “At first”, “now and then”, “Then”, and “Now”, and the sense of distance comes to us as much through landscape changes as from those vague words:  from “hobbit-lands” to “lands where people spoke strangely…” then “Now they had gone far into the Lone-lands”.

Second, looking at that map, there are certain puzzling words in that description of travel.  The description twice says “roads”, at first “good roads”, then, as the journey goes eastwards, “the roads grew steadily worse”.  Our map, however, shows only one road, the East or East/West Road, the history of which goes far into the history of Middle-earth and which we have always imagined that JRRT modeled on the remains of Roman roads one could still walk in England in his time—and even today.


(Here’s a LINK to a very good basic article on constructing roads in Roman Britain.)

And then there is this:

“Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees.  On some of them were old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people.”

As far as we know, there are no “castles” in Middle-earth—the East Road does skirt Weathertop.  As Aragorn says:

“The Old Road, which we have left far away on our right, runs to the south of it and passes not far from its foot.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”)

And perhaps his description might—very roughly—fit a (ruined) castle:

“…in the first days of the North Kingdom, they built a great watch-tower on Weathertop, Amon Sul they called it.  It was burned and broken, and nothing remains of it now but a tumbled ring, like a rough crown on the old hill’s head.”

As it was destroyed in the conflict against the Witch King of Angmar, we would certainly agree that “wicked people” had once been involved in its history.

Our puzzlement is not just about what appears in the text, however.  There is also what’s missing (most of it shown on the map):

  1. the bridge over the Brandywine which appears in the first paragraph of “The Scouring of the Shire”
  2. any mention of the Greenway, which crosses the East Road at Bree
  3. and then there is Bree itself

Of course, this is back-reading.  We are looking at a map which is descended from one which JRRT gradually built up over time in the years after The Hobbit, when Middle-earth continued to grow and grow in his imagination and hence in his fiction.  (For an extensive view of his work as a world-creator, see this intelligent and extremely useful volume by Karen Wynn Fonstad,


which deals with the whole history of Middle-earth in chronological order.  For The Lord of the Rings, we would recommend this, by Barbara Strachey,


which has been our guide on a number of trips along Frodo’s route.)

As well, it’s good to remember that, for the most part, the company in The Hobbit is traveling at its own speed, a speed determined primarily by the countryside they cross and their trip seems—if occasionally miserable—almost leisurely, especially in comparison with The Lord of the Rings, in which so much of the first volume in particular lays out a route along which several of the main protagonists are driven by evil pursuers.  The journey itself, in the latter, becomes, day by day, the focus of the narrative as they attempt to escape the Nazgul and that day-by-day quality is intensified after the wounding of Frodo on Weathertop, as he begins to fade and his friends are desperate to reach Rivendell.


The contrast between the two stories is especially striking here, as Bilbo and company are mocked and sung to by invisible elves in The Hobbit (Chapter 3, “A Short Rest”) as they ride down into the valley, whereas, in The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 12, “Flight to the Ford”), we see this (by the excellent Ted Nasmith)—


This change in the narrative emphasis, from discrete events along a route in The Hobbit, to an emphasis upon the journey itself, will bring us back to our original discussion on the marking of time—moving now from the earlier book to The Lord of the Rings in our next posting.

Thanks, as always, for reading and





We would guess, by the way, that that “ancient stone bridge” mentioned above is the so-called “Last Bridge”, which Glorifindel  calls “the Bridge of Mitheithel” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 12, “Flight to the Ford”) and which crosses the River Hoarwell (“Mitheithel” to the elves) on the East Road.


If you grew up, as we did, hearing the song we hinted at in our title, you might want to learn more at this LINK

Roses—War of, Cranes—Mon


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Welcome, as always, dear readers.

If you read us regularly, you know that, in general, we tend to write about the past—a lot of the past, including not only our own historical past and the past of Middle-earth, but also about past authors, as well.  Today, we’re doing something slightly different in that we are writing a review of a novel, The Rose and the Crane (2017)


by someone who is definitely of the present, Clint Dohnen, although his book is set in the period 1483-1485.


Like our own Across the Doubtful Sea (2015)


this is a self-published book, available at, and we found it as an Amazon recommendation.

The title interested us immediately for its juxtaposition of two things one would normally not think of at the same time:




That cover, however, with its crossing of medieval sword and katana, suggested that those two things weren’t plant and bird, but something heraldic, as in the Tudor rose


and the badge (mon) of the Mori clan of Japan.


That rose was, in fact, a piece of political symbolism, being the combination of two separate house badges, the white rose of York


and the red rose of Lancaster,


which noble houses, along with their allies, fought an on-again off-again civil war mostly through central England from 1455 to 1487.  This struggle later came to be known as “The Wars of the Roses” because of those two flowers.


The protagonist of this novel is Simon Lang, a young refugee from that conflict as, at the beginning of the novel, in 1483, his family’s side, the Lancastrians, have suffered what apparently had been a decisive defeat at Tewkesbury, 4 May, 1471 and the heavy hand of the Yorkist government had been upon them since.


(This is by Graham Turner, who has done a whole series of dramatic paintings of battles of the Wars of the Roses for Osprey, one of our favorite publishers of military history.)

Simon has become an exile, currently working on a Venetian trading ship off the coast of Japan.  (We were a little puzzled by this, we must admit, as, to our knowledge, the first Renaissance ships in that part of the world would only appear–after a strenuous trip around Africa—under Vasco da Gama in 1499—but, once the novel got under weigh, we put this puzzlement aside and let the plot carry us away.)  This ship is armed with cannon, which might seem a little surprising in 1483, but the first known use of guns on European ships actually dates all the way back to the battle of Arnemuiden, 23 September, 1338.


When we think of early ships’ guns, however, we always think of those of the Mary Rose,


which sank, with virtually all hands, during a naval battle with the French, on 19 July, 1545, was rediscovered in the late 20th century, raised, and now is on display in Portsmouth, England.


As you can see, about half the ship has survived and, with it, an enormous quantity of wonderfully-preserved artefacts, including a number of its guns.


It’s while on board this ship that the Rose, so to speak, meets the Crane, the samurai Kojiro Takeda


in the time in Japanese history known as Sengoku Jidai, the “Era of the Warring States” (1467-1600), when the country went through its own complex period of civil wars before the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) brought repression and peace simultaneously.

Takeda is rescued, along with a friend, from the ship of an enemy family and the first part of the novel deals with adventures in Japan (including a battle to defend the village of Takeda’s friend, which is very clearly and convincingly described—as are all the battles in the book—and there are several of them).

The merchant ship is on a trading venture, however, and the second major episode involves the main characters in an expedition south from Japan to the Molucca Islands (now known as the Maluku), a group which is situated between New Guinea and Borneo.


There—this is an adventure novel after all—they are attacked by cannibal headhunters.  These headhunters are not given a name, but, from the description, we imagine that they could be Sea Dayaks from Borneo,


known for collecting heads.

M0005506 Punan's heads taken by Sea Dayaks

From there, it’s back to Venice—but this is not a breather because there is another plot—a meanwhile.

After the death of the Yorkist king, Edward IV, in 1483,


the crown should have passed to his two sons, but, instead, Edward’s younger brother, at first regent for the two boys, then takes the crown, the two boys are declared illegitimate—and, well, never seen again.


Much of what was thought to be known of this younger brother, who became Richard III,

The Richard III Society Reveal A Facial Reconstruction Of Richard III

originally came from sources employed by his enemy and eventual replacement, Henry Tudor, aka Henry VII,


but, over the years, the image of the hunch-backed monster of Shakespeare


has gradually been changed to that of a successful administrator and more-than-competent king and soldier, but this is an adventure novel with both a young late-medieval knight and a ronin (masterless samurai) as main characters, so Richard is put back into his old role—and even more so, being clearly a psychopath.


Simon is distantly related—half of noble England seemed to be—to the heads of the Lancastrian family and Richard is determined to remove any possible threat to his position as king, so Simon is a marked man—a situation which will continue to be the case till the very end of the book, when, in one final battle scene, Simon and his friends fight in the army of Henry Tudor at Bosworth, 22 August, 1485.


Richard III is killed in the struggle

King Richard III in battle: Was Richard Really Evil?

and, in the aftermath, Henry—now Henry VII—returns Simon’s ancestral lands to him and suitably rewards the samurai and the other members of Simon’s fellowship (a familiar scene from the end of Star Wars IV, to “The Field of Cormallen” in The Return of the King).

We hope that you can tell from our summary that this is a fine example of just what we enjoy:  a wild adventure set in an actual historical era which the author has taken pains to reconstruct, with the kinds of characters one would hope for:  exiles with murderous talents, cheerfully making their way through hair-raising situations.  We would add to this three more items:

  1. the descriptions of scenery and actions are clear, precise, and persuasive
  2. the language barrier—after all, in the space of the book, characters move from England to Venice to Japan to the Moluccas and back—is handled with some care—if we have to suspend our disbelief, we only have to do so briefly and some games are played with language throughout
  3. which leads us to our third point—this is—we’ll use an old-fashioned word here—a rollicking book—it’s just plain fun and, like all of the best adventure stories, could easily be read more than once

We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.

Thanks, as ever, for reading and,




That image of Richard III has its own interesting story.  After Richard was killed at Bosworth, his body was quickly buried in a religious installation—Greyfriars Priory–in the city of Leicester.  Over the years from 1485 to the early 2000s, the Priory had long disappeared and the body with it (although there was another tradition that the bones had been dumped into the local river and lost).  In August, 2015, however, a joint project of the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council not only located the site, but almost immediately found the skeleton of a man of the right age who seemed to have suffered a battlefield death.  Subsequent DNA matching with descendants, plus the site itself, confirmed that the bones were that of the last Yorkist king and, before he was interred in Leicester Cathedral, measurements were taken and this image made.  Here’s a LINK, if you’d like to learn more.

On Time (2)


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As always, dear readers, welcome.

Some years ago, we visited the Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, New York.  (Highly recommended!)


There, we had found this in one of the display cases–


It’s a reproduction of the first page of a chronology of The Lord of the Rings by JRRT, covering the end of September and the beginning of October of SR1418, from the Marquette University collection.  Looking closely we could see just how detailed it was and, recently, we looked at the page again and it made us wonder just how visible such detailing was in the actual work:  do we really see each day portrayed?  Are there moments when days—or more—go by unmarked?  If so, when?  And why?

To answer our questions, we turned first to The Hobbit, as a kind of test case, and, in our last posting, had, by the end, reached the western edge of Mirkwood.


This, as the caption says, is a work by Ted Nasmith, one of our favorite Tolkien illustrators, but here’s JRRT’s version.


(As we’ve pointed out some time ago, Tolkien’s version would appear to owe something to the work of the early-20th-century Swedish illustrator, John Bauer (1882-1918).)


As Gandalf waves a good-bye and shouts a final warning, the company plunges in—and immediately time seems to blur:

“All this went on for what seemed to the hobbit ages upon ages…days followed days, and still the forest seemed just the same…” (The Hobbit, Chapter 8, “Flies and Spiders”)

They reach a dangerous stream, one of their company falls in—and immediately drops into a deep sleep, forcing them to carry him as they move away from the stream and, although their journeying continues to seem endless:

“About four days from the enchanted stream they came to a part where most of the trees were beeches…A few leaves came rustling down to remind them that outside autumn was coming on…Two days later they found their path going downwards.”

Soon after that, Bilbo is sent up a tree to see where they are—and, it appears the next day they are tormented by visions of feasting elves.  The next morning?  the scattered dwarves and Bilbo are attacked by outsized spiders.


As we said, this is all rather blurry—not many time words are used and, like the forest itself, the passage of time appears almost featureless.  In the confusion around the elvish torment and the spiders, however, Thorin has disappeared, only to be made captive by those very elves and taken to the palace of their king.


And then time moves forward—a little:  “The day after the battle with the spiders Bilbo and the dwarves made one last despairing effort to find a way out before they died of hunger and thirst…Such day as there ever was in the forest was fading once more into the blackness of night, when suddenly out sprang the light of many torches all round them…” (The Hobbit, Chapter 9, “Barrels Out of Bond”)

The other dwarves are captured by the elves, but Bilbo, using his ring, escapes–and then manages to slip into the elves’ underground world—and into what appears to be another nearly-timeless place:

“Poor Mr. Baggins—it was a weary long time that he lived in that place all alone…Eventually, after a week or two of this sneaking sort of life, by watching and following the guards and taking what chances he could, he managed to find out where each dwarf was kept.

He found all their twelve cells in different parts of the palace, and after a time he got to know his way about very well.”

The chance discovery of the use of an underground stream as a method of shipping goods—and wine in particular—provides Bilbo with the final means to escape the elves, but how long does all of this, from the capture of the dwarves to that escape, take?

“For some time Bilbo sat and thought about this water-gate, and wondered if it could be used for the escape of his friends, and at last he had the desperate beginnings of a plan.”

If you are familiar with the story, you know that the plan entails escaping in barrels,


bobbing and rolling all night down the river till they were snagged and collected and, the next morning, moved on towards Lake-town, which they reached in the evening (“The sun had set when turning with another sweep towards the East the forest-river rushed into the Long Lake.”).


(This reminds us to mention crannogs—lake houses—of which there is a very convincing reconstruction on Loch Tay, in Scotland.  Here’s a LINK if you’d like to know more.)


The dwarves and Bilbo had stayed in Lake-town two weeks when:  “At the end of a fortnight Thorin began to think of departure.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 10, “A Warm Welcome”)  When they actually departed, however, is unclear:  “So one day, although autumn was now getting far on, and winds were cold, and leaves were falling fast, three large boats left Lake-town, laden with rowers, dwarves, Mr. Baggins, and many provisions.”

They land “On the Doorstep” (the title of Chapter 11) of the Lonely Mountain.  It has taken them three days to get there by boat.  (“In two days going they rowed right up the Long Lake and passed out into the River Running…At the end of the third day, some miles up the river, they drew in to the left or western bank and disembarked.”   The Hobbit, Chapter 11, “On the Doorstep”)


But how long do they spend on that doorstep?

We know, from Elrond’s reading of the moon runes on Thror’s map, that there is a kind of deadline:

“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks…and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 3, “A Short Rest”)

Thorin himself is hard-pressed to say exactly what day this is, but the dwarves and hobbit continue their journey to find the hidden back door.

After camping where their supplies have been left, they begin their actual explorations the next day.  (“They spent a cold and lonely night…The next day they set out again.”)  Bilbo and several of the dwarves make a brief expedition to the front door and back, seemingly within a day.

We now enter into another blurry period, for, as the dwarves and Bilbo search for the hidden door, all we read is “day by day they came back to their camp without success” until:  “ ‘Tomorrow begins the last week of autumn,’ said Thorin one day.”  And the next day—which is, in fact, the Durin’s Day of the map—they find and open the door.


Thorin sends Bilbo down into the dark, which, we presume takes some time because we are told that “It was midnight and clouds had covered the stars” when Balin carried him out. (The Hobbit, Chapter 12, “Inside Information”)  He has taken a cup from Smaug’s hoard, however, and this rouses the dragon, forcing the dwarves to take shelter in the tunnel within the hidden door where they remain as Bilbo returns a second time—the next day—to visit Smaug again. (“The sun was shining as he started…”)  That same day, they take shelter within the tunnel and Smaug seals them in.

How long they are sealed in isn’t initially clear:  “They could not count the passing of time…At last after days and days of waiting” Chapter 13 begins, but, with the addition of “as it seemed”, suggesting that not much time—perhaps even only hours—had actually passed.  (The Hobbit, Chapter 13, “Not at Home”).  This is made clearer, however, when we are told:  “As a matter of fact two nights and the day between had gone by…since the dragon smashed the magic door…”).    After Bilbo makes another foray—followed by the others—down into Smaug’s lair, they find it empty, press beyond it, and, eventually, the same day, move their camp to an old watchpost on the southwest corner of the mountain.


(We presume that the post is at the left-hand edge of this JRRT illustration.)

Smaug, of course, has gone off to destroy Lake-town and is killed there


and soon a combined force of forest elves and men from the ruined Lake-town set off for the Lonely Mountain (“It was thus that in eleven days from the ruin of the town the head of their host passed the rock-gates at the end of the lake and came into the desolate lands.”  The Hobbit, Chapter 14, “Fire and Water”)

The narrative then moves back once more to the dwarves, who, by means of an ancient raven, have heard what is approaching and begin to fortify the main door of the Mountain when:  “There came a night when suddenly there were many lights as of fires and torches away south in Dale before them.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 15, “The Gathering of the Clouds”)  Presumably, this is some days after the invaders have reached the desolate lands, though how many is not said, but, “The next morning early a company of spearmen was seen crossing the river…”

Thus begins the last big event in The Hobbit:  the siege of the Mountain by elves and men and the following Battle of the Five Armies.  With the arrival of the besiegers and the stalemate caused by Thorin’s stubbornness, time is blurred once more:  “Now the days passed slowly and wearily.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 16, “A Thief in the Night”)  It is suddenly marked, however, by news:

“Things had gone on like this for some time, when the ravens brought news that Dain and more than five hundred dwarves…were now about two days’ march of Dale…”

This sparks Bilbo into attempting to use the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip and “Next day trumpets rang early in the camp” (The Hobbit, Chapter 17, “The Clouds Burst”) as the allies try to deal with Thorin and here we see time, from being blurred, begins to be more clearly stated:  after the “for some time”, we see “the next morning” and then, with the parley discouraged by dwarvish arrows, “That day passed and then the night” and, that following day, everything falls apart:  Goblins and Wild Wolves appear and the allies, Dain and his Iron Mountain dwarves, and Thorin & Co, are all involved in a massive struggle which only ends when the Eagles arrive—and Beorn–, Bilbo is knocked unconscious, and Thorin is mortally wounded.


(This is by Justin Gerard—here’s a LINK to a really interesting website dedicated to fantasy illustration where we found it.)

The story hasn’t ended, however, though time goes back into its biggest blur yet.  The dragon dead, the Mountain recovered by the dwarves, Bilbo “started on his long road home” .  Long it is, as “by mid-winter Gandalf and Bilbo had come all the way back…to the doors of Beorn’s house: and there for a while they both stayed…It was spring, and a fair one with mild weathers and a bright sun, before Bilbo and Gandalf took their leave at last of Beorn…”  (The Hobbit, Chapter 18, “The Return Journey”)  We see them reach Elrond’s Last Homely House “on May the First”, though “after a week…[Bilbo and Gandalf] said farewell to Elrond” (The Hobbit, Chapter 19, “The Last Stage”).  It is June, however, while the two are still on their journey (“for now June brought summer”) and, in fact, we are told that it is precisely the 22nd of June that they arrive at Bag End, as, on that day, “Messrs Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes” are about to auction off “the effects of the late Bilbo Baggins, Esquire”.

The book goes on a little further, into Bilbo’s future, but this seems like a good place for us to end this posting.  What have we discovered with our investigation?  We guess we would say that, in The Hobbit, time comes in two forms:

  1. there is passing time—those blurs when people are traveling or waiting—this can be simply marked as time passing, or it may be described in weeks
  2. there is slowed time—this is around important events in the narrative and is always specific to days

And, unless one keeps a very detailed journal


perhaps this can be seen as a kind of imitation of everyone’s life:  long stretches of just “doing things” broken up by short patches of intense, memorable activity.  What do you think, readers?

And, while you’re thinking, thanks for reading.



On Time (1)


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Welcome, dear readers, as ever.

Our last two postings were all about calendars of various sorts and, as we thought about those, it brought us back to something we’d seen some years ago at the wonderful Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.


In the part of the museum called “Reading Adventureland”,


there was a small exhibit on JRRT, and, in the middle, was this:



This is a reproduction of the first page (from the collection of JRRT’s papers at Marquette University) of a highly-detailed chronology of Book One of The Fellowship of the Ring, covering, day by day, the movements of major characters from the end of September, SR1418, through the first half of October.

It doesn’t surprise us that there would be such a thing—considering how many names there are:  Frodo, Tom Bombadil, Aragorn, Gandalf, Elrond, and Glorfindel (not to mention the Nazgul)—and all are potentially in play in this short time, something almost like a train schedule would seem necessary.


This made us wonder if, when reading the text, we’re always as aware of time passing as the author.  Are there moments when we can almost literally hear the clock ticking (there’s one on Bilbo’s wall—but I don’t think we ever see another)?


Are there times/places where it seems to move at a different speed or we forget time completely?

And what about The Hobbit?  Is there the same sense of time there as in The Lord of the Rings?

On the very first page of the latter, we’re given a date:

“Bilbo and Frodo happened to have the same birthday, September 22.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)

And this date then forms a central point in that first chapter.  In contrast, The Hobbit presents us with:

“By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world…”  (The Hobbit, Chapter One, “An Unexpected Party”)

So how is time then marked, say, from that moment


to the first real incident on the way to the Lonely Mountain, the adventure with the trolls?


To begin with, Gandalf gives us a hint at least as to the month Bilbo left the Shire with the Dwarves, saying to Thorin:

“And Thrain your father went away on the twenty-first of April, a hundred years ago last Thursday…”

It is the end of April, then.  The next suggestion of a date comes as they are about to come upon those trolls, when Bilbo says to himself, “To think that it will soon be June!” (The Hobbit, Chapter Two, “Roast Mutton”).  This makes us think that they’ve been traveling east for about a month.  How long, then, from there to their first stop, Rivendell?

Here, things become vague.  The next chapter, “A Short Rest”, begins:

“They did not sing or tell stories that day, even though the weather improved; nor the next day, nor the day after.”

And then the text says, “One morning”, though no day or month is specified.  Presumably, they are now at the beginning of June.  It seems that, that same day, “Morning passed, afternoon came…”, then “Tea-time had long gone by, and it seemed supper-time would soon do the same.  There were moths fluttering about, and the light became very dim, for the moon had not risen.”  At this point, Gandalf discovers the way down to Rivendell.


In a mocking song which the elves sing to Bilbo and his companions, they confirm that it’s June:

“No knowing, no knowing

What brings Mister Baggins

And Balin and Dwalin

Down into the valley

In June…”

How long do the travelers stay in Rivendell, now that they’ve reached it?  Here we have a bit more concrete information:

“They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least…”

And we also know when their stay ended:

“So the time came to midsummer eve, and they were to go on again with the early sun on midsummer morning.”

In Tolkien’s England Midsummer’s Day is the 24th of June, so we now know that Bilbo and the Dwarves have been on the road at least a month and a half.

On Midsummer’s Eve, we are given a more fixed point to their journey when Elrond reads the “Moon-letters” on Thorin’s map.

“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks…and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 3, “A Short Rest”)

This would mean that, at the end of the expedition to the Lonely Mountain, the Dwarves, to enter the back door, must be at a specific location at a specific time.  Unfortunately, though Thorin can identify what “Durin’s Day” is, he then says, “But this will not help us much, I fear, for it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again.”

Without that knowledge, they still set out on Midsummer’s Day and we wonder if we will be told how long it will take to reach their next adventure, capture by the goblins?


Unfortunately not.  Instead, we are only told:

“Long days after they had climbed out of the valley and left the Last Homely House miles behind, they were still going up and up and up.”  (The Hobbit, Chapter 4, “Over Hill and Under Hill”)

We know that the summer is passing, however, because Bilbo says to himself, “The summer is getting on down below…and haymaking is going on…They will be harvesting and blackberrying…”

This is a little uncertain.  Wheat planted in September, our sources tell us, is usually harvested in August of the following year and blackberrying in England begins in August.  If the travelers have set out from Rivendell on 24 June (Midsummer’s Day), have they been climbing into the Misty Mountains for a whole month?

Our first bit of concrete data for this part of the journey comes from Gandalf, who tells them, as they stand on the far side of the Misty Mountains:

“You lose track of time inside goblin-tunnels.  Today’s Thursday, and it was Monday night or Tuesday morning that we were captured.”  (The Hobbit, Chapter Six, “Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire”)

Thus, although their flight from the goblins has been “miles and miles” and they’ve come out on the eastern side of the Mountains, they’ve taken between two and three days to do so—but we still don’t know what month we’re now in.

From their current location, it seems like a quick trip to Beorn’s house.


Rescued from goblins and Wargs by eagles, they have an overnight stay in the eagles’ nests before being dropped at the Carrock, a huge rock set in the river Anduin.image11carrock.jpg

It appears to be no more than a day’s walk from there to Beorn’s, so the question is, how long do they stay?  Counting by wakings and meals, it appears that they were at the shape-shifter’s house, basically two days and left on the morning of the third, then, when leaving, they traveled for three days to the edge of Mirkwood:

“That third evening they were so eager to press on, for Beorn had said that they should reach the forest-gate early on the fourth-day, that they rode still forward after dark and into the night beneath the moon.” (The Hobbit, Chapter Seven, “Queer Lodgings”).

They camp overnight at the edge of the forest and we’ll camp here, too, before continuing to investigate the measurement of time further in the second part of this posting, next week.

Thanks, as always, for reading.