We’re Still Here!

I know that it’s been a bit slow lately – but that’s just how the story goes. In all of August 3018 of the Third Age, not a whole lot is happening. Basically nothing.

Frodo is still in the Shire.
Gandalf is still in Orthanc.
Boromir is wandering around Rohan.
Aragorn is “on business of his own” somewhere.
The Rangers are guarding the Shire.
The Nazgûl are looking for the Shire in Anduin’s Vale (good luck with that).
All the Dwarves are still where they’re supposed to be.
Same with the Elves.

Everything is just on hold.

Things will pick up again on September 1st. That month will be sporadic at first, but by the time Frodo leaves the Shire, we’ll be a daily blog once again!

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000
Film: Seattle Film Works 100 (x-05/01)

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July 30, 3018 – Boromir’s Unlucky Horses and Worst Road Trip Ever (So Far)

Greetings! And welcome to early August, 3018 of the Third Age. Today is a post based purely on speculation. Fortunately, it’s not totally my own speculation, so don’t fully blame me if it’s partially misguided.

Okay, you can blame me. But really, it doesn’t much matter. Except that it almost does. You’ll see. Probably.

Catching Up With Boromir

When last we checked in on the hunky Boromir, he was leaving Minas Tirith. It was July 4th (recall the Springsteen “Independence Day” reference?). Anyway, as we all know, Boromir’s brother, Faramir, was having a crazy dream about a broken sword, a place called Imladris, and Isildur’s Bane.

Their father, Denethor, Lord of Minas Tirith, could only tell them that Imladris was Rivendell and that it was generally over that way somewhere.

With that bit of information, Faramir got ready to make the trip. But Boromir was hunkier and so he made it instead.

At first it seems like we don’t know all that much about his journey. According to Boromir, the ride from Minas Tirith to Rivendell was something around 400 leagues, or 1,200 miles long. On a good horse, that would take around three weeks (at 60ish miles per day).

But while he was in a hurry, he wasn’t interested in burning out his horse to get there. So let’s say he might have ridden at half that pace, or 30 miles per day. Still, that would have taken him about 40 days. He should have been drawing very close to the end of his journey. But he wasn’t.

So what happened? Shouldn’t Boromir have arrived in Rivendell by this time?

Boromir’s Shitty Horse-luck

Following his departure from Minas Tirith, Boromir headed west towards Edoras.

In “The Riders of Rohan” chapter, Éomer tells Aragorn: “Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless.”

We have no idea if Boromir left Minas Tirith with a horse, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for him to have gone on foot. However, we have no idea what became of this possible first horse. And no idea why he lost his possible second.

There was, however, a third horse.

In the chapter “Farewell to Lórien,” Boromir describes a bit of his journey:

“When I was sent out as a messenger, I passed through the Gap [of Rohan] by the skirts of the White Mountains, and crossed the Isen and the Greyflood into Northerland. A long and wearisome journey. Four hundred leagues I reckoned it, and it took me many months; for I lost my horse at Tharbad, at the fording of the Greyflood.”

From Minas Tirith to the Gap of Rohan was 500 miles and two horses. Because we don’t know when or how he lost those horses and for how long he was on foot, it’s basically impossible to know when he covered those 500 miles. It’s likely that he lost his horse before crossing the Gap, since the horse found its way back home.

The 350 miles from the Gap of Rohan to Tharbad on the Greyflood were probably covered with one horse – the horse he acquired somewhere and lost while crossing the river.

Boromir claims that the journey took him “many months” because he lost his horse at Tharbad. He makes no mention of losing any other horses, so they seem to not have been that big of an inconvenience.

To me, this indicates that he was able to keep a fairly steady pace up until crossing the Greyflood. After that, all bets are off.

Shit, Man, I Can Hoof It From Here!

In the end, however, there’s no clue as to why it took Boromir “many months” (July 4th to October 25th). My guess is that in early August, he made it to Tharbad and lost his horse. For the next two and a half months, he was likely on foot. To hell with horses!

This means that Boromir took around 80 days to tramp the remaining 350 miles. Honestly, who knows?

Michael W. Perry, in his book Untangling Tolkien has Boromir in Rohan in late July/early August, with an arrival in Tharbad delayed until late August. Maybe he’s right. He certainly makes a good argument for it.

But Boromir’s “it took me many months; for I lost my horse at Tharbad” gives me pause. Tharbad was the turning point. It’s where his journey when to hell. He was probably dispirited, exhausted and sick to death of horses. Maybe he took some time off in Tharbad to recover.

Also keep in mind that he had no idea where Rivendell was. Or even that it was called Rivendell. He was just some beefy hunk asking about Imladris.

Let’s Involve Saruman, Okay?

There’s something else that needs to be mentioned, and I think this is a bit of speculation. But I like it.

Camera: Argus C3 (1940)
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-12/83); 6iso
Process: HC-110; 1+200; 120min.

This is also from the book Untangling Tolkien, but I’ll paraphrase.

When Aragorn met Éomer, Éomer already knew about Boromir’s dream. When Aragorn showed him the broken sword (that was now reforged), Éomer’s response was: “Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.” This seems like a clear reference to Boromir’s dream, no?

Mr. Perry reasons that if Éomer knew about the dream, Boromir was probably telling everyone. In this way, Gríma Wormtongue might also have heard about it. If Gríma heard about it, he definitely told Saruman. Perry suggests that Saruman would have known by “early September at the latest.”

Saruman would have figured out that “Isildur’s Bane” was the One Ring and that the Ring was in Rivendell (which it wouldn’t be until it arrived with the unconscious Frodo on October 20th).

All of this, it must be remembered, is conjecture from the line “Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.” It basically seems to fit, but it also seems like a bit of stretch.

The Takeaway

If you had to take anything away from today’s post, it should probably be that Boromir was having a very bad trip that was likely to get much worse. It’s so bad that he doesn’t even complain much about it. There’s much we don’t know about the trip, but one thing is certain – Boromir reminded himself every single day that no matter how bad he was at this, his dumbass kid brother Faramir would have been a whole lot worse.

What’s Next?

Well, not much. Basically, all of August is just everyone except Boromir staying put. Frodo and friends are in the Shire, while Gandalf and Saruman are in Isengard. Even the Nazgûl are sort of milling about the Vales of Anduin – scaring people, yes, but not really getting much accomplished.

Chronologically speaking, Tolkien was not in that great of a hurry to get the journey started.

See you in early September!

July 22, 3018 – Let’s Tryst Again: Getting the Evil Band Back Together

Welcome to July 22, 3018 of the Third Age. On our previous post, seven of the Nazgûl crossed to the eastern side of the Anduin. There, they got horses and clothes. Their ethereal bodies now took on more human-like shapes. Today, we’ll meet up with the two remaining Nazgûl.

Hello, Khamûl, How’s the Wife and Kids?

After crossing over the Anduin to the eastern shore, we’re told in “The Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales that they “passed northward seeking for the Shire, the land of the Halflings.”

On this day, July 22nd, “they met their companions, the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur, in the Field of Celebrant.” The Nazgûl of Dol Guldur were Khamûl and his messenger.

The paths of the Nazgûl.
Thick blue line = Witch King.
Thin = Khamûl

Here, the Witch King learned two important things. First, he learned that Gollum had escaped both the Orcs and the Elves. This wasn’t the greatest of news. Khamûl was put in charge of Dol Guldur and thus in charge of the Orcs who made the strike against Thranduil and the Wood-elves in Mirkwood.

On June 28th, the Elves had been holding and even rehabilitating Gollum when the Orcs attacked. In the confusion of battle, Gollum slipped away. Nearly a month later, Khamûl finally told someone about it. This seems like an incredibly long delay.

But Khamûl also had some good-ish news. Sauron had believed that the One Ring was located in what he believed to be Gollum’s homeland. He thought that this was possibly called “Shire.” This, he speculated, was probably in the Vales of Anduin.

We learn in Unfinished Tales that “no dwelling of Halflings could be discovered in the Vales of Anduin, and that the villages of the Stoors by the Gladden had long been deserted.”

Khamûl seems to have discovered Gollum’s homeland. Sméagol, as he was known before becoming Gollum, was one of the Stoors, a sort of cousin of the Hobbits. But those villages near the Gladden Fields had been deserted years before.

A Quick Aside about Gollum

Though it’s not really about today’s post, I’m thinking now of Gollum. After escaping the Orcs and Elves, I wonder if he flapped his way back to his old hometown. With the Elves, he seemed to be making some headway into overcoming the effects of the Ring.

It’s something fortunately hard to fathom. We don’t know much about Gollum’s travels, but after moving south towards Dol Guldur, all he had to do was turn west, head through the Old Forest, and he’d be home.

We do know that he ended up at the western gate of Moria, and so he must have crossed the Anduin somewhere around his old village.

If he returned to his former home only to find it long-abandoned, how lonely he must have felt.

Or Maybe there Were Stoors

In another version of this story, Tolkien had the Nazgûl (probably just Khamûl and his messenger) find that the Stoor villages were still inhabited by Stoors – “and such of the Stoors as dwelt there were slain or driven away by the Nazgûl.”

Years later, Tolkien seemed to split the difference. The Stoors “appear indeed to have died out altogether (except, of course, for Sméagol); or to have fled from the shadow of Dol Guldur.”

Of course, from Gollum’s point of view, by the time he would have gotten to his old homeland, the villages would have been deserted. Rather than simply finding empty homes, however, he would have found scenes of death, bodies and killing all around.

A quick note: It’s possible that in this version all of the Nazgûl attacked the Stoors together. In another manuscript, Tolkien references the Witch King’s “violent onslaught” of the Stoors. But Tolkien was very scattered in these notes, so it’s not easy to tell when what is going on.

And So…

Regardless of how or when it happened, by the time Khamûl met up with the Witch King, there were no longer any Stoors in the Vales of Anduin. And when it came to “Shire” and “Baggins,” they were no closer to figuring all of this out.

Still, the Witch King wanted to push northward “hoping maybe to come upon Gollum as well as to discover the Shire.” This would all take some time. It would take quite a bit of time, actually. And this delay would cost the baddies dearly.

What’s Next?

In a few days we’ll check in with Boromir (very quickly), but after that we’ll take a bit of a hiatus as literally nothing is going on in the story until the end of August. I’m sure there will be a post here and there, but nothing of much substance until then.

After that, however, the posts will be almost daily from here on out (hopefully).

Camera: Ricoh KR-10
Lens: Revuenon f/3.8; 35-105mm
Film: Svema Color 125

July 17, 3018 – Trysting Nazgûl, Darkness and Dread

Hello and welcome to July 17, 3018 of the Third Age! Today we’ll catch up with the Nazgûl. Where have they been? What have they been doing? How many are there now gathered? We’ll sort it all out.

Back to Canon-ish

From here on out I’ll be sticking to the accepted canon when it comes to the Nazgûl. Previously, I jumped around a bit between what’s accepted and a few other manuscripts that Tolkien wrote. That said, it’s important to remember how things became canon.

Obviously any dates in Lord of the Rings are canonical. Concerning the Nazgûl, the “Tale of Years” in Appendix B, tells us that it was June 20 – the fall of Osgiliath – when we last encountered them. The next date given for any Nazgûlish activity isn’t until September 18. If you stick with just Lord of the Rings, their activity across those three months is unknown.

However, Tolkien worked it out in several ways, most of which have been published in Unfinished Tales. There’s another, probably later, manuscript that J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, left out. In that, the elder Tolkien laid out a much different (and frankly much more do-able) timeline. You can read all about that here.

Yet, because Christopher left it out of Unfinished Tales, it’s basically not canon. Even though it probably should be. Anyway, mini-rant over. Let’s get down to business.

Catching Up

Following the Fall of Osgiliath on June 20th, we learned that the Nazgûl were unleashed by Sauron on July 1st. This was somewhat of an odd way of putting it, since at least one Nazgûl led the attack on Osgiliath.

Nevertheless, July 1st was the canonical coming out party for the Nazgûl. Of course, the question is raised (and we’ve raised it before), if the Nazgûl are just coming out July 1st, how did Radagast tell Gandalf about it two days before that on Midyear’s Day? And again, without that unpublished manuscript, the canonical timeline doesn’t makes a lot of sense.

But this far into it, I don’t think it matters.

What matters is what they’ve been up to since July 1st, when the Nazgûl were led “over Anduin, unclad and unmounted, and invisible to eyes, and yet a terror to all living things that they passed near.” Osgiliath is on the eastern shore of the river, and after the battle the Nazgûl were led to the western shore.

Following that:

“They passed slowly and in stealth, through Anórien, and over the Entwade, and so into the Wold, and rumour of darkness and a dread of men knew not what went before them. They reached the west-shores of Anduin a little north of Sarn Gebir, as they had trysted; and there received horses and raiment that were secretly ferried over the River. This was (it is thought) about the seventeenth of July.”

Looking at the map, this seems like an odd route.

The Passage of the Nazgûl

They started in Osgiliath, on the eastern shores of the Anduin, crossed west over the river, and continued west through the region known as Anórien. With the Entwade, which flowed into the Anduin, on their right, the turned towards it and crossed, now moving north into the southern parts of the Wold.

The Anduin was now on their right, and they sort of circled back to reach its western shore just north of Sarn Gebir.

A little north of Sarn Gebir, they received horses and clothing and were taken in secret back across the Anduin.

I’m not sure that this little jaunt makes much sense. Perhaps they just wanted to spread darkness and dread deeper into the Minas Tirith suburbs. If so, they accomplished their mission, which took them over two weeks.

Over seventeen days they traveled around 300 miles. They were, I suppose, on foot, though they were invisible, so I suppose they could have been on ectoplasm or some such stuff. At any rate, they made about seventeen miles a day – not a bad pace.

Let’s Do the Tryst

We’ve learned that at the very least the Witch King was at Osgiliath. He was based out of Minas Morgul with six of his fellow Nazgûl. The two others – Khamûl the Shadow of the East and another Nazgûl known as “his messenger” – lived in Dol Guldur.

We also learn in this passage that the Witch King was en route to Dol Guldur to meet up with Khamûl and his plus-one. However, we also learn that the Witch King’s entourage “trysted” just north of Sarn Gebir. What’s most likely is that they crossed the Anduin on July 1st, split up, caused much darkness and dread, then met back up on the Anduin near Sarn Gebir.

And so it seems that their only goal was the whole darkness and dread routine. There’s no indication that they were actively searching for “Shire” or “Baggins.” It was only after crossing and turning to the north, now on the eastern shores of the Anduin, that they began “seeking for the Shire, the land of the Halflings.”

This seems like an incredibly strange diversion since Sauron wanted desperately to find “Shire” and “Baggins.” Especially if you consider that at this point Sauron had no idea about Gollum escaping yet again. He would have known about the attack on Thranduil and the Wood-elves in an attempt to recapture Gollum, but not the outcome. Certainly he must have been anxious to hear the news of how they went.

But What About Water?

Nevertheless, the Witch King took his pals on a bit of a post-Osgiliath tear through the Wold, a fun run through Anórien.

So from the looks of it, the Nazgûl needlessly crossed the Anduin twice and the Entwash once. That’s a lot of river crossings for a bunch of guys who apparently fear water. We learn later in this passage that “all, again save the Witch-king, feared water, and were unwilling, except in dire need, to enter it or to cross streams unless dryshod by a bridge.”

It’s possible that the Entwash had a bridge over it, but the two Anduin crossings were probably by ferry. Again, this doesn’t make a ton of sense. But it must be remembered that though now considered as canonical, everything we’ve learned today is from notes taken by Tolkien in an attempt to work it out. With a bit more time, it’s possible that he would have addressed this in a more practical way.

Christopher Tolkien confessed in Unfinished Tales that “My father did indeed note that the idea [of the Nazgûl’s fear of water] was difficult to sustain.”

What’s Next?

On July 22nd, we’ll check back in with the Nazgûl – where are they now… what are the doing .. what are they thinking… are they thinking of me?

Camera: Seneca Chautauqua 4×5 (1905)
Film: Ilford Ortho+ @200iso; x-06/2004
Process: HC-110; 1+90; 18mins

July 10, 3018 – Gandalf is Imprisoned at Isengard

Hello and welcome to July 10, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll take a look at Gandalf’s arrival and imprisonment at Isengard by Saruman. In the story, all of this is told to us by Gandalf at the Council of Elrond. Granted, we don’t get Saruman’s side of things, but I think it’s a safe bet to trust Gandalf on this one.

White and Grey and Brown


For the past two posts, we’ve looked at Saruman’s jealousy and bitterness toward Gandalf. Our grey wizard was clearly onto this, and even made light of it here and there. He must have thought it was only a bit of rivalry.

Saruman’s offer to “help” Gandalf, as delivered by Radagast, filled Gandalf with “hope.”

But immediately after arriving at Isengard, he suspected something was up. In the first exchange, he asked for aid, and referred to Saruman as “Saruman the White.” This title, Gandalf thought, “seemed to anger him.” And in almost retaliation, Saruman over-stressed the “grey” in “Gandalf the Grey.” He even mocked him a bit for seeking aid.

“I looked at him and wondered,” Gandalf later explained to the Council. He had gone from uneasy to suspicious. Gandalf told Saruman that the Nazgûl had come forth again and even crossed the Anduin. Rather than addressing that, Saruman pitched into Radagast, even revealing that the Brown wizard played an unwitting roll in bringing Gandalf to Isengard.

Saruman’s Plan: Knowledge, Rule, Order


It’s easy to gloss over everything Saruman says and just get to the gist of it. Saruman wanted the One Ring for himself and Gandalf was standing in his way, so he was just going to imprison him.

But that also leaves out Saruman’s stated plan. After a bit of boasting about white cloth, etc., Saruman “drew himself up and began to declaim, as if he were making a speech long rehearsed.”

Saruman had been waiting for this day, probably for centuries, when he could confront Gandalf.

It was well known that the days of the Elves were drawing to a close, and that Men (that is, humans) were about to control Middle-earth. Saruman was insistent that the Wizards must have “power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.”

Saruman agreed that Sauron was rising, but insisted that neither the Elves nor Men could stop him. He agreed that Sauron must be taken down, but it would be best to take him down from the inside.

“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; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”

Saruman stated that the whole reason the Wizards came to Middle-earth in the first place was to provide knowledge, rule and order. But this wasn’t true at all.

In Unfinished Tales we learn that the Istari were “to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt.”

From this passage, it’s not even clear that Sauron was to be defeated. The Istari were sent to guide Men and Elves away from his influence. This was not lost on Gandalf.

After calling Saruman out on this, the formerly-White wizard got to the crux of the matter. He explained that the whole reason he brought Gandalf to Isengard was because he thought he had intimate knowledge of the Ruling Ring. “If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”

Gandalf’s Refusal and Sentence


Gandalf was clear on this. The One Ring could only be held by a single individual. Saruman clearly knew this as well, so it was incredibly obvious that he was trying to do away with Gandalf.

Saruman knew too much of Gandalf’s movements and of the Ring for Gandalf to deny knowledge of it. “Why to the Nine ask for the Shire, and what is your business there?” Gandalf couldn’t wriggle his way out of this, so he called out Saruman for what he was. All cards were on the table now.

Gandalf refused to serve both Sauron and Saruman, and had no clear idea what his fate would be. But Saruman had decided that Gandalf would remain a guest of Isengard “until the end.”

It’s interesting that Saruman wasn’t going to kill Gandalf – at least not personally. Of course, this could be because he wanted knowledge of the One Ring. He wanted to somehow persuade Gandalf to spill it. But if the Ring could be found without Gandalf’s help, Saruman wanted to let Gandalf’s fate up to Sauron.

Saruman would hand Gandalf over to Sauron, for when “the Ruler has time to turn to lighter matters: to devise, say, a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey.”

Gandalf countered: “That may not prove to be one of the lighter matters.”

“He laughed at me,” Gandalf later told the Council, “for my words were empty and he knew it.”

Gandalf was a prisoner, and was taken to the pinnacle of Orthanc, “in the place where Saruman was accustomed to watch the stars.”

The Desolation of Saruman


When he reached the top, Gandalf looked down into the lands around Isengard.

“I looked on it and saw that, whereas it had once been green and fair, it was now filled with pits and forges. Wolves and orcs were housed in Isengard, for Saruman was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service, yet.”

This must have been terrifying. At this point, Gandalf knew that Sauron had an army and that there was a great defeat to the east. Though he didn’t know the specifics, Osgiliath had fallen. He had no idea until that moment that Saruman was also growing an army. Could the Elves and Men battle both Saruman and Sauron? And what if they combined forces?

This was a definitely possibility. Gandalf now understood that Saruman was absolutely prideful enough to believe that he could fool Sauron into a partnership. But he also understood that Sauron would ultimately defeat Saruman – though that hardly mattered. Whichever obtained the One Ring would rule and destroy Middle-earth.

Saruman the Ringmaker


There’s one more thing I’d like to touch on. When Gandalf first meets Saruman, he noticed that “He wore a ring on his finger.” Is there more to this throw-away line?

A little later, Saruman refers to himself as “Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”

Ring-maker? Tolkien never made anything more of this. Hammond & Scull in their Reader’s Companion suggest that “it seems clear that Saruman’s study of the Elven-rings had led him to try to make rings of power himself.”

This idea was (sort of) addressed by Tolkien in the “Forward to the Second Edition.” In addressing the idea that the Lord of the Rings was an allegory for World War II, Tolkien countered that:

“If it had inspired [by WW2] then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron…. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.”

Perhaps Tolkien toyed with this idea, even subconsciously, before abandoning, and these two shards are all of it that remain.

In the first full draft of the Gandalf and Saruman story (which was in the fourth draft of the Council of Elrond), the same line appears: “Saruman was there but he had changed. He wore a ring on his finger.”

However, the second reference – “I am Saruman the Ringmaker” – was not yet a part of the tale. He boasted that he was “Saruman the Wise, Saruman of Many Colours,” but not “Saruman the Ringmaker.” That likely came in the next draft, or even the final draft. Either is curious since it seems to have been added without any backstory at all.

What’s Next?


In about a week, we’ll check in on the Nazgûl and their progress. But be warned, most of July and nearly all of August will be sparse. There’s not much going on in this story then.

Camera: Argus C3 (1957)
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-1975); 6iso
Process: HC-110B; 6min

Tolkien’s Wizards in Middle-earth

Last week, we looked at how the Wizards were selected by the Valar. Today, we’ll dig into their time in Middle-earth prior to the War of the Ring.

Saruman’s Arrival in Middle-earth

The Istari arrived on the shores around the year 1000 of the Third Age – roughly 2000 years before our story began. But they didn’t arrive all at once. Though Saruman was tasked with Radagast, he came first and alone.

Saruman might have traveled with the two Blue Wizards, or perhaps he met up with them after their arrival. Either way, he quickly went east with them, moving basically “off the map.” For around 1500 years they did stuff over there. Then, probably around the year 2500 of the Third Age, Saruman came back and the two Blue Wizards didn’t.

Gandalf’s Arrival in Middle-earth

Gandalf came second, around the year 1100, or “about the same time as the first signs were noted of the re-arising of ‘the Shadow,'” Sauron. For the entire second millennium of the Third Age, little was noted of Gandalf.

“Probably he wandered long (in various guises), engaged not in deeds and events but in exploring the hearts of Elves and Men who had been and might still be expected to be opposed to Sauron.”

Gandalf became friends with Elrond and the Dúnedain, but also became enamored by the Hobbits “because his wisdom had presage of their ultimate importance, and at the same time he perceived their inherent worth.”

What About Radagast?

Well, Tolkien never wrote much about him, really. Radagast arrived around the same time as Gandalf, but not much was known about his travels around Middle-earth. In fact, he probably didn’t travel much at all.

Radagast settled down at Rhosgobel, near Bëorn’s Carrock and the Old Forest Road. From this vantage point, he could keep a watch over Dol Guldur. It was here where Sauron lived beginning around the time of Radagast’s arrival in Middle-earth.

But before too long, this watch slipped a bit. We learn that Radagast “became enamoured of the many beasts and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook Elves and Men, and spent his days among the wild creatures.”

The White Council

The first meeting of the Third Age’s White Council was called by Galadriel in the year 2463. For nearly four centuries there had been “the Watchful Peace,” following Sauron being driven out of Dol Guldur by Gandalf. In the mid-2400s, Sauron began to stir again. It was around this time that Sméagol found The Ring. Things were in motion, new Orcs were being created, and Sauron was becoming active.

This meeting of the greatest powers in Middle-earth would be the first of four. Galadriel wanted Gandalf to chair the meeting, but we learn in the Silmarillion that “he refused the office, since he would have no ties and no allegiance, save to those who sent him, and he would abide in no place nor be subject to any summons.”

Saruman, who had just returned from doing stuff in the east, “begrudged” the White Council for selecting Gandalf -just as Manwë had selected Gandalf so long ago. Because of Gandalf’s refusal, Saruman, their second choice, led the Council.

This actually made a bit of sense, since it was Saruman who had studied Sauron’s old ways and the Rings of Power. But this study didn’t lead Saruman to a very good place. Rather than learning how to defeat the Dark Lord so that Light might triumph, we learn in Unfinished Tales that he became “proud and impatient and enamoured of power sought to have his own will by force, and to oust Sauron; but he was ensnared by that dark spirit, mightier than he.”

Weirdly, we don’t know much about the first White Council meeting. It was probably just a meet & greet with some light snacks and refreshments. Their real work would begin about 400 years later in 2851.

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000
Film: Kodak Ektachrome E200 (x-12/02)
x-pro as C-41

This was probably the most famous of the meetings. It’s here that Saruman countered Gandalf’s call to attack Dol Guldur. Secretly, Saruman wanted the Ring for himself. He knew it was likely still around somewhere, but told the Council that it probably washed out into the sea and nobody would ever find it ever.

When the meeting broke up, Saruman chastised Gandalf for sitting silently apart from the group and smoking “pipe-weed” (a species of tobacco grown by the Hobbits). The smoking was apparently a new habit for Gandalf. This silence and smoking annoyed Saruman.

Gandalf praised the Hobbits, and with a laugh told Saruman that smoking gave him the patience “to listen to error without anger.” He also mocked his “high policies” a bit. Saruman had kept tabs on Gandalf and knew that he enjoyed hanging out with the Hobbits, and while Gandalf could have whichever friends he wanted do basically do whatever he wanted to do, Saruman insisted that “to me the days are too dark for wanderers’ tales, and I have no time for the simples of peasants.”

To that, Gandalf let Saruman know that he was also keeping tabs on him. He “sent out a great ring of smoke with many smaller rings that followed it. Then he put up his hand, as if to grasp them, and they vanished.”

Tolkien wrote in one of the drafts of this story that Saruman grew a little suspicious that Gandalf was on to his his desire to possess the One Ring and control the other Rings of Power. Not only that, but he thought for a second that somehow the Hobbits might be involved.

Of course, at this point, Gandalf had no idea of the future, that the Hobbits would absolutely be involved. But when the events finally played out, Saruman remembered Gandalf’s smoke rings and believed that Gandalf knew how this would play out all along. It would only add to his jealousy.

90 years later, they held another Council, and Gandalf again urged them to attack Dol Guldur. Wishing to move Sauron out of the way so he could search for the Ring himself, Saruman now relented. The attack was made, but Sauron was already planning on moving back to Mordor.

The final meeting of the White Council happened twelve years later in 2953. This was shortly after Sauron openly declared himself. Here Saruman told them almost everything he knew (and some stuff he made up) about the Rings of Power. Unwittingly, this convinced Gandalf that Bilbo’s ring couldn’t possibly be the One Ring (at least, probably not).

Following the final meeting, Saruman locked himself away in Isengard and would see nobody. But 65 years later, Radagast came knocking on his door. This is when Saruman finally made his move to either turn Gandalf to his side (unlikely) or simply imprison him.

And this brings us up to the present.

What’s Next?

Tomorrow we’ll rejoin our story with Gandalf’s arrival at Isengard.

Tolkien’s Wizards Before Middle-earth

Greetings! I’d like to take a bit of time while Gandalf makes his way to Saruman at Isengard to talk a little about the history of the Istari, the Wizards of Middle-earth. I’ll take a look at Tolkien’s texts from both The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

Some were written as he was fleshing out Lord of the Rings in 1948, while others were penned shortly before his death in 1972. It’s an interesting story, so let’s get to it!

Some Writing Background

The Silmarillion quickly touches upon the Istari and the build up to the War of the Ring. That passage was mostly written by Tolkien as part of the Council of Elrond when he was fleshing out certain bits of Lord of the Rings around 1948. In fact, Christopher Tolkien reckons that his father probably intended it to be used in full, but scaled it back for brevity’s sake.

A few years later, in 1954, Tolkien had another go at the history of the Istari. This can be found in Unfinished Tales. This was actually part of a larger work that Tolkien undertook – the building of an encyclopedic index for The Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers. This effort actually delayed the publishing of Return of the King but was itself never finished or published.

It was during this period that Tolkien jotted down random ideas as they came to him. This is likely where the origin story for the Istari came in.

The Wizards in Valinor

Basically it’s this – as Sauron was coming to power in Middle-earth, the Valar got together and formed a plan to ultimately check and defeat him. The wished to send three emissaries, but at first couldn’t figure out who should go.

They had to “be mighty, peers of Sauron, but must forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men.”

Clothing a spiritual being (all of the Wizards were Maiar) in flesh “would imperil them, dimming their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and wearinesses coming from the flesh.”

The first two to come forward were Curumo and Alatar. Curumo was Saruman and Alatar would turn out to be one of the mysterious Blue Wizards. Manwë, the head of the Valar, then asked Olórin “who was clad in grey” to be the third messenger.

Camera: Smena 8M
Film: Kodak Tri-X
Processed: Rodinal 1+50 9.5mins

This was Gandalf, of course, and he was selected specifically because he loved the Elves. In fact, he lived in Lórien in Valinor with the Elves and “walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts.” and But Gandalf confessed that he was too weak and feared Sauron. Manwë insisted, however, that it was those qualities that qualified him to make the journey.

But here a seed was planted. When Manwë suggested that Gandalf be the “third,” Varda, who was known by the Elves as Elbereth, “looked up and said: ‘Not as the third’. We next learn that Curumo, later known as Saruman the White, “remembered it.”

So even before they left Valinor, Saruman was jealous of Gandalf. Saruman volunteered to go to Middle-earth. He wasn’t selected, he wasn’t specifically asked for by Manwë, he certainly didn’t receive a de facto promotion by Varda.

Gandalf was honestly humble, and rather than disqualifying him from the journey, Manwë praised Gandalf for his weakened qualities.

Of course, this left Radagast and the other Blue Wizard. Radagast wasn’t exactly chosen, but Yavanna begged Saruman to take him as a favor to her. Saruman couldn’t refuse, but this might also explain why he had such a grudge against Radagast the Brown.

As for the other Blue Wizard, we learn that “Alatar took Pallando as a friend,” which is pretty heartwarming and sweet.

Much later in 1972, Tolkien wrote that the Istari “were free each to do what they could in this mission; that they were not commanded or supposed to act together as a small central body of power and wisdom; and that each had different powers and inclinations and were chosen by the Valar with this in mind.”

What’s Next?

On Monday, we’ll continue this story with the arrival of the Wizards in Middle-earth.

July 4, 3018 – Boromir Leaves Minas Tirith for Rivendell

There’s a lot of people leaving town now
leaving their friends, their homes
At night they walk that dark and dusty highway all alone

So say goodbye, it’s Independence Day
-Springsteen

Greetings, and welcome to July 4th, 3018 of the Third Age. There’s not all that much that happens today, and I won’t keep you long. Let’s get started.

We last checked in with Boromir about three weeks ago. The brothers Boromir and Faramir both had the same dream and asked their father, Denethor, to explain it.

The only thing they could really get out of him was that “Imladris was of old the name among the Elves of a far northern dale, where Elrond the Halfelven dwelt, greatest of lore-masters.”

Apparently, this Elrond character was just the fellow to explain the poem contained within the dream that Faramir had many times (and Boromir only once – never forget that – Boromir only had the dream one single time).

Boromir described the dream at the Council of Elrond:

In that dream I thought the eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice, remote but clear, crying:

Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.

Boromir explained that it was Faramir who wanted to make the long journey from Minas Tirith to Rivendell. He didn’t go, however, because, as Boromir boastfully put it: “since the way was full of doubt and danger, I took the journey upon myself.”

Denethor was “loth” to see his favorite son go, but Boromir had no other choice (apart from letting Faramir do it).

So today is the day when Boromir left. It would take him 110 days to reach Rivendell, and he would do a good bit of wandering in the wilderness over that span since he had no specific idea where Rivendell actually was.

The straight route from Minas Tirith to Rivendell should take about 45 days – the amount of travel-days that it would later take Pippin.

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1960s)
Film: Fuji Provia 100F; x-07/12
Process: DIY ECN-2

What’s Next?

We’ll check back in on July 10th and see how Gandalf’s doing upon his arrival at Isengard. Everything should be fine, don’t worry.

But before that we’ll have two posts looking at Tolkien’s wizards before and after their arrival to Middle-earth.

July 1, 3018 – The Nazgûl Unleashed (Again?)

Hello and welcome to July 1, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’re going to take a bit of a look at the Nazgûls as they set off looking for the Ring. We’ll also speculate as to why it took them so long.

Who Did What Now?

If you’re only reading Lord of the Rings you’ll find that you don’t really have a good feel for when the Ringwraiths started doing their thing.

We first learn about them from Gandalf and then only in relation to the Ring. “It is many a year since the Nine walked abroad. Yet who knows? As the Shadow grows once more, they too may walk again,” says the old wizard.

And until we actually meet one on the road with Frodo there’s only a rumor or two from the Gaffer. And even then, we don’t really know what they are. They were “big people” and looking for Frodo for some reason or another. They were “strange customers” and “black riders.”

Even when they meet Gildor on September 24th, he refuses to say more – “is it not enough to know that they are servants of the Enemy?”

Tom Bombadil, who they meet two days later seemingly can’t tell them much more. “Tom is not master of Riders from the Black Land far beyond his country.”

We learn more of their powers from Strider on October 5th just before Frodo slips on the Ring at Weathertop.

In fact, it’s not until Frodo awakens in Rivendell on October 21st that Gandalf fully connects the dots for us.

The Morgul-lord and his Black Riders have come forth. War is preparing!’

‘Then you knew of the Riders already – before I met them?’

‘Yes, I knew of them. Indeed I spoke of them once to you; for the Black Riders are the Ringwraiths, the Nine Servants of the Lord of the Rings. But I did not know that they had arisen again or I should have fled with you at once. I heard news of them only after I left you in June; but that story must wait.

The full story is explained the next day at the Council.

But it is today – July 1st – that the Nazgûl begin their search for “Shire” and “Baggins.” A full three months will pass before Frodo knows of this.

But Doesn’t Gandalf Already Know?

Yeah, he sort of did, didn’t he. Of course, he knew who the Nazgûl were long before our story began. And he was told by Radagast on Midyear’s Day (two days ago) that they were on the move again.

Map showing (in Blue) Radagast’s possible trek to Saruman in Isengard.

But, you might ask, if they Nazgûl were unleashed just today, how did Radagast tell Gandalf about them two days before? And how long did Radagast know? A couple of weeks? At least!

So what gives? This is certainly a schedule problem that Tolkien tried to deal with, and he never really dealt with it well.

In Unfinished Tales we’re given a few different manuscripts and at least two attempts to figure this all out. Basically, we’re supposed to understand that the Witch-king lead the attack on Osgiliath on June 20th. Sometime shortly after that Radagast went to see Saruman at Isengard. Then, Saruman sent Radagast to find Gandalf, which he did twelve days after the fall of Osgiliath, but two days before the Nazgûl began their search.

Was there time for all of this? No and yes. There really doesn’t seem to have been enough time for Radagast to travel from his home in northern Mirkwood, down to Isengard, and then to Bree in less than two weeks.

It’s 600 miles from northern Mirkwood to Isengard, and another 400 or so from Isengard to Bree. There’s no way he could make 1,000 miles in twelves days (less, actually). That’s over 100 miles a day. And he didn’t go straight from Isengard to Bree, but wandered around a bit looking for Gandalf. So no, that makes no sense.

Radagast’s path (in blue) from Isengard to near Bree where he met Gandalf.

But in another way, yes, there was enough time. More than enough. And this brings up a strange and unexplained point that Tolkien ever discussed. If the Witch-king crossed the Anduin on June 20th, why did the Nazgûl wait fourteen days before moving out?

Tolkien never explains this. Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien, suggests that “perhaps Tolkien has the Nazgûl wait for dark nights and a reduction in the number of Gondor troops before beginning their search for the Ring.”

But that’s not convincing since Unfinished Tales reveals that the Nazgûl were “unclad and unmounted, and invisible to eyes, and yet a terror to all living things that they passed near.”

The Unpublished Manuscript Again?

I hate to keep going back to this Unpublished Manuscript appearing in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, but the more I think about it, the more it seems to fill in these gaps.

As I’ve written before, Tolkien “remodelled” the story appearing in Unfinished Tales so that the Nazgûl were actually out searching for the Ring before the battle of Osgiliath. In fact, they were sent out “sometime early in April.”

Map showing Osgiliath and the shadowy lands held by the Enemy.


They investigate Anduin’s Vale first then split up to check out Rohan. Radagast spots them and heads straight for Saruman at Isengard. Sauron was at this time communicating with Saruman via the Palantír and sends the Nazgûl to question him in early June. Radagast shows up at Isengard a few days later and leaves on June 15th.

After their visit to Isengard, the Witch-king returned to lead the battle of Osgiliath. A few others remained in Anduin’s Vale, while Khamûl and his messenger Nazgûl remained in Dol Guldur to oversee the attack on Thranduil which freed Gollum.

All of this basically works without messing up the main plot too much. Tolkien wondered “What happens between June 20 and escape of Gandalf which cannot be earlier than night of Sept. 16/17? Some 86 days!”

He apparently never figured that out, but then, that’s not yet relevant to this blog.

This possibly means that the Nazgûl visited Saruman twice – once as above, and then once again on the last day of Gandalf’s imprisonment. But again, we’re not there yet.

What’s Next?

We’ll check back in on July 4th to see what that Boromir fellow is up to.

Camera: Crown Graphic (1962)
Lens: 127mm f/4.7 Rodenstock Ysarex
Film: Kodak T-max 100 (x-09/2003); 64iso
Process: HC-110B; 7.5min
Near Vantage, Washington

Midyear’s Day, 3018 – Gandalf Meets Radagast, Warns Frodo to Leave Shire

Greetings! And welcome to Midyear’s Day, 3018 of the Third Age of Middle-earth! This is an odd little day, but an important one in our story.

Midyear’s Day is not in June or July. It’s in a three-day span called Lithe which falls between June and July. It goes like this: June 30 > Lithe 1 > Midyear’s Day > Lithe 2 > July 1. In our modern calendars, we don’t have Lithe, so for the purposes of this blog, I’m just going to chuck it into the final days of June.

But keep in mind that the events in this post actually took place three days after Gollum escaped the Wood-elves (and even that date was speculation). With a bit of hand-waving, we’ll all be fine.

A Week Without Gandalf

Midyear’s Day is a turning point in the Lord of the Rings story, and we hear all about it at the Council of Elrond. Of course, we’ll remember that Gandalf had left The Shire on June 25. For the next week he rode with a “foreboding of some danger, still hidden from me but drawing near.”

Somehow or another, he had messages coming to him. These likely came from the Dunédine, though if so, they came quickly. The Battle of Osgiliath happened on June 20th, roughly 800 miles to the southeast. But rumors and news can be passed along quickly by horse, so it’s not impossible (though stretches credulity a tad).

Gandalf claims to have heard of the Nazgûl leading the attacking Enemy from “a few fugitives from the South.” This seems incredibly unlikely given the timeline, but I think it hints at the “unpublished manuscript” in which Tolkien toyed with the idea that the Nazgûl were actually unleashed a month or so before the battle. This would give the refugees time to flee those 800 miles.

The important part of this day, however, is Gandalf’s meeting with Radagast the Brown. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Radagast’s Travels and Timeline Ideas


From the text of Lord of the Rings, we learn very little about Radagast’s movements prior to meeting Gandalf (or after meeting Gandalf, for that matter). Tolkien, however, worked out a scenario, which we’ve already covered.

Briefly, around May 15, Radagast saw the Nazgûl. Now, in order for this to have happened then, we’d have to follow the timeline from the “unpublished manuscript” appearing in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion.

Tolkien realized that “On June 29th Radagast could not know this [that the Nine were abroad, etc.], if Black Riders did not cross the Anduin till June 20 [Battle of Osgiliath].” And he was right.

To fix this problem, he decided not only that Sauron had released the Nazgûl to search for the Ring much earlier than Osgiliath; that Osgiliath was merely their coming out party. In actuality, he speculated, they had been called by Sauron around the end of April. They operated in secrecy, taking no forms, but still scaring the hell out of everybody.

Radagast, being a wizard, witnessed what they truly were around May 15. With that, he made his way to Saruman in Isengard, arriving in early June. In this timeline, the Nazgûl have just visited Isengard to suss out Saruman, but their potential and speculative visit doesn’t really play into this (at least, it doesn’t have to).

Radagast arrived at Isengard, and stayed until June 15ish, when he was sent by Saruman to find Gandalf. Of course, he unwittingly played this role in Saruman’s plan to capture Gandalf and ultimately get the One Ring for himself.

Over the next fortnight, Radagast searched for Gandalf, knowing that he “might be found in a wild region with the uncouth name of Shire.” Perhaps exhausted and spent, Radagast plopped himself down along the Greenway somewhere not far south of Bree.

Meeting on the Greenway


Upon their meeting, Radagast tells Gandalf that he has “an urgent errand” and that his “news is evil.” Quietly, he then whispers “Nazgûl. The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black.”

Radagast’s path (in blue) from Isengard to near Bree where he met Gandalf.

In typical Gandalf fashion, he knew about this, though he didn’t actually know about this. He feared it, and now realized that he suspected it, he “dreaded without knowing it.”

The Riders, Radagast explained, were asking “for news of a land called Shire.” He reveals that Saruman sent him with the offer to help Gandalf if needed.

Gandalf reasoned that since Saruman was “the greatest of my order,” and had “long studied the arts of the Enemy himself,” perhaps Saruman had already found a way to “drive back the Nine” just as he drove Sauron into Dol Guldur long ago.

Radagast urged Gandalf to hurry, telling Gandalf that he probably couldn’t reach Isengard “before the Nine discover” the Shire.

Before parting, Gandalf gave Radagast a mission, one that (as we’ll later discover) Saruman didn’t consider. “Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf.” Radagast assured him it would be done, and they parted.

Never a Greater Mistake!


Because Gandalf was so close to Bree and was already weary from the day’s ride, he decided to stay overnight at the Prancing Pony in Bree. He wanted to return to the Shire to tell Frodo to leave immediately, but thought that leaving a note for him with Mr. Butterbur, in innkeeper, would suffice.

Gandalf (the king of ‘hindsight is 20/20’) would later admit that this was his greatest mistake. And it seems a little baffling how he could make it.

When he arrived at the Prancing Pony, a pub where he was apparently well-known, he took a room and composed a letter to Frodo:

The most important takeaways were that Gandalf wanted Frodo to leave the Shire by the end of July and head to Bree. Prior to this, Gandalf suggested Bree, but basically left it up to Frodo.

In Gandalf’s mind, he would give a quick visit to Saruman in Isengard and then dash back to Bree. By that time, he hoped, Frodo would have already passed through and left a message for him.

Gandalf told Frodo that he would likely meet “Strider” who was actually named Aragorn (neither names meant anything to Hobbits). After Bree, Frodo was to go directly to Rivendell.

In a postscript, Frodo was warned not to use the Ring again. In another, Gandalf admitted that Butterbur had a horrible memory and would possibly forget to send this letter. In that event, Frodo was to confide in Elrond at Rivendell.

On the envelope he wrote: “Mr. Frodo Baggings, Bag End, Hobbiton in the Shire” – a curious address seeing as how the Nazgûl were specifically searching for “Baggins” and “Shire.” Seriously, why would Gandalf write that on the envelope?

With letter in hand, he burst into Butterbur’s office without even knocking.

“Barley, I’m off in the morning,” he said as a greeting. “Will you do something for me?”

Butterbur agreed without knowing even the nature of the favor.

“I’m in a hurry,” said Gandalf, “and I’ve no time myself, but I want a message took to the Shire. Have you anyone you can send, and trust to go?”

Butterbur assured him that he could find someone the following day or maybe the next. Gandalf admonished him to make it tomorrow and handed him the letter. Butterbur “put it by safe.” Not in the safe – by the safe. (I’d love to know what Butterbur’s safe was like. Also, the combination was absolutely 1-2-3.)

It’s a little curious that Gandalf didn’t go directly to the Shire. Of course, if he did, we wouldn’t have as much tension and drama in The Fellowship of the Ring. Still, Gandalf knew this was quite possibly life or death, that the Nazgûl would likely find the Shire in the next week or so (according to Radagast), and that Butterbur was likely to forget to send it.

Ultimately it would take the Nazgûl a little longer than feared, but there’s little excuse for Gandalf’s mistake.

The next morning, Gandalf would leave for Isengard.

What’s Next?


Since we’ve already covered everything that happened tomorrow (Lithe 2), our next stop will be July 1st, which is tomorrow. See how this can get a bit confusing? But tomorrow, we’ll be back on track with the calendar, just in time for the Nazgûl to begin their search for the Ring.

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1956)
Film: Fuji Provia 100F (x-07/12)
Process: C-41
Glendive, Montana