Calendars, Chronology, Marquette University, Reading Adventureland, Strong National Museum of Play, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Time, Tolkien
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
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.
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.