June 15, 3018 – Maybe Radagast Arrives in Isengard?

Tolkien never settled upon anything specifically happening on June 15th. But then, he never fully settled on a lot of dates that we take as more or less canon. This date, however, I think matches up well with a few different timelines that Tolkien was working on after writing Lord of the Rings.

Radagast Arrives at Isengard?

As Gandalf established at the Council of Elrond, he met up with Radagast on Midyear’s Day. This is a day that’s not on our calendar, but falls between June and July. Think of it as June 32nd. Technically it falls between the first and second days of Lithe. (See the calendar here.)

On that date yet to come, Radagast would Gandalf that the Nazgûl have crossed the Anduin and were moving westward. Because of this, Gandalf would race to see Saruman who sent Radagast with the message.

And it’s exactly here that Tolkien found a problem.

The Problem

Two dates are established for certain:

      1. June 20th, the date the Nazgûl attacked Osgiliath and crossed the Anduin.
        Midyear’s Day (twelve days later), the date that Radagast found Gandalf.

Given that Gandalf would arrive at Saruman in Isengard on July 10th (eleven days later), it seemed pretty unlikely that news of Osgiliath’s fall and the Nazgûl’s return would have spread so quickly.

But those are the dates he had to work with, and since he wasn’t changing them, he had to figure out a way for them to work.

The Solution-ish

We’ve talked for some time now about the “unpublished manuscript” appearing in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, but here is where it all comes together.

Tolkien seemed to figure that there was no real reason why the Nazgûl had to wait until June 20th to cross the Anduin for the first time. They could have, he reasoned, crossed sometime in April.

“The Nazgûl were ordered to steal over Anduin one by one and make enquiries” into “Shire” and “Baggins.” They search Anduin’s Vale (especially the Gladden Fields where the One Ring was lost of Isildur and found by Gollum) and then move on to Rohan.

Here is where Radagast comes in.

“Radagast becomes aware that Nazgûl are abroad in Anduin Vale spreading panic and searching for ‘Shire.’ He becomes very alarmed and can think of nothing but to go and consult Saruman head of order of Wizards. He does so … not long after visit of the Nazgûl to Isengard.”

That was another issue. Tolkien found it necessary for the Nazgûl to visit Isengard. The “accepted” date for that is September 18th or 20th. This would have been the exact day that Gandalf escaped or two days later. Tolkien had reasons for both, but never settled on it. (Most people call it the 20th.)

However, in this timeline, Tolkien had the Nazgûl visit Isengard before Gandalf arrived.

You see, while the Nazgûl searched and Radagast started for Isengard, Sauron was communicating with Saruman via the Palantír. He soon discovered that Saruman wasn’t his ally, but wanted the One Ring as his own. When Sauron discovered this, he sent the Nazgûl to visit him. In this timeline, they show up “not long after visit of the Nazgûl to Isengard.”

The Unpublished Manuscript Timeline

Let’s lay it all out and see how things fall.

April 12 – Gandalf Arrives in the Shire
Late April* – The Nazgûl cross the Anduin
May 1 – Gandalf meets up with Aragorn at Sarn Ford (and returns to Hobbiton)
Early May* – Sauron Suspects Saruman of treachery; Sends Nazgûl to Saruman
Mid May* – Radagast sees that the Nazgûl have crossed the Anduin; heads for Isengard
Early June* – The Nazgûl arrive in Isengard; Leave for Osgiliath, Mirkwood
Mid June – Radagast arrives in Isengard; Leaves with message for Gandalf
June 20 – Nazgûl attack both Osgiliath and Thranduil’s realm; Gollum freed
June 25 – Gandalf leaves the Shire; heads south
Midyear’s Day – Radagast finds Gandalf at Sarn Ford; Gandalf en route to Isengard
July 10 – Gandalf arrives and is imprisoned in Isengard
Mid September* – Nazgûl learn Shire’s location somehow
September 18 – Gandalf escapes Isengard
September 22 – Frodo leaves Shire; Nazgûl arrive in Shire, speak to the Gaffer

* = Dates specific to the “Unpublished Manuscript” timeline

As can be seen, the Nazgûl’s early visit to Isengard fits neatly within the canonical dates. Keep in mind that the dates with an asterisk (*) are not the generally accepted dates.

The Accepted Timeline

April 12 – Gandalf Arrives in the Shire
May 1 – Gandalf meets up with Aragorn at Sarn Ford (and returns to Hobbiton)
Mid June – Radagast arrives in Isengard; Leaves with message for Gandalf
June 20 – Nazgûl attack both Osgiliath; Gollum freed
June 25 – Gandalf leaves the Shire; heads south
Midyear’s Day – Radagast finds Gandalf at Sarn Ford; Gandalf en route to Isengard
July 10 – Gandalf arrives and is imprisoned in Isengard
Mid July* – Nazgul Move across Anduin
July 22* – Nazgul Meet Up at Field of Celebrant
Early September* – Sauron suspects Saruman of treachery
September 18 – Gandalf escapes Isengard; Nazgûl arrive at Isengard
September 19* – Nazgûl learn location of Shire from Wormtongue
September 22 – Frodo leaves Shire; Nazgûl arrive in Shire, speak to the Gaffer
* = Dates specific to the accepted timeline

Defending the Unpublished Timeline

The problem with the “accepted” timeline is the utterly impossible distance the Nazgûl had to travel in four days from Isengard to Hobbiton. This is a distance of 600 miles.

Travel by horseback can be incredibly fast. For example, Pony Express riders did 75 miles a day, changing horses every ten miles at established stations. In four days, they would have made 300 miles. This is only half the distance the Nazgûl were to have traveled, which means that they were making 150 miles a day, which is impossible, even with fresh horses and full support.

This fact alone is enough for me to accept the “unpublished manuscript” timeline. But there’s more.

In the “unpublished manuscript,” Tolkien drifts off around the time of the Battle of Osgiliath (June 20), for which the Witch-king must be present. The book, however, only mentions the Witch-king. Because of this, Tolkien spread out the Nazgûl. Some remained at Anduin Vale, while “one or more actually direct the attack on Thranduil when gollum escapes.”

In this timeline, Tolkien also explored the weaknesses of the Nazgûl. “They are rather timid and ineffectual with the Witch-king. Also they will not cross Greyflood into ‘enemy Elvish country’ without his leadership or express command.”

But Boromir also plays into this timeline! Through rumors flying around Rohan and Gondor, on September 1st, Sauron “learns of Boromir’s mission” to get to Rivendell. It’s this that clues him in to the Wise knowing about the One Ring “and that some tryst is arranged in Rivendell.”

And it’s because of that that Sauron fully begins to suspect Saruman is trying to play him – and apparently catches Saruman in a lie (though Tolkien doesn’t elaborate upon it).

Ultimately, it seems that Tolkien didn’t decide upon this timeline. The one in Unfinished Tales – the “accepted timeline” – is likely his “official and final” version. But I like this one better, as it’s a bit more realistic and make the Nazgûl even more sneaky. It also gives Saruman a lot more time to sweat it out over Sauron’s suspicions.

The “unpublished manuscript” timeline does have a problem, however. It’s the same problem that Tolkien worked on for two other timelines – how do the Nazgûl figure out where the Shire is located.

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

Since this blog will be sticking to the “accepted” timeline (as well), we’ll get into much more detail then. But in this version, he concludes that “… the race of the Black Riders for Shire in September must be due to some new definite information obtained just before Gandalf’s escape.”

It’s likely he would have worked out some definite means as in the other two timelines (Grima Wormtongue or one of Saruman’s spies), but we’ll never know.

As students of Tolkien, we’re fortunate to have all of this background information, even if it is wildly contradictory. Prior to the release of Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth Series, and The Reader’s Companion, we’d have been mostly piecing this together ourselves.


What’s Next?

Putting this “unpublished manuscript” mostly behind us, we’ll head on back to the story. On July 19th Boromir has a dream. We’ll take a look at it.


June 5, 3018 – Looking at an Early Nazgûl Visit to Isengard

Welcome to June 3018 of the Third Age. Or is it September? That’s not really so clear. Let me explain.

After Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he began to notice a few problems with the chronology. Mostly this involved his “head canon” and could likely have been waved away by any normal reader.

One of these issues was with the Nazgûl and their visit to Saruman at Isengard – an event that isn’t even mentioned in the book. Due to the appearance of several manuscripts published in Unfinished Tales, the generally-accepted date for their arrival is September 20th, two days after Gandalf escapes.

Saruman had been playing both sides in the build up to the War of the Ring. But now that Gandalf had escaped, he knew the jig was up. His only way out was to gain the Ring for himself.

The Liar, the Witch-king, and the Wardrobe

In the Unfinished Tales version, the Witch-king, leader of the Nazgûl, arrived at the gate of Isengard. Using the Voice of Saruman™ he was able to talk to the Witch-king without confronting him personally. He told him that he didn’t know where the Ring was, but that Gandalf, who had just escaped, likely knew.

Because it was the Voice of Saruman™, the Nazgûl believed him without question and rode into Rohan searching for Gandalf.

The next day, however, they found Gríma Wormtongue en route to Saruman with word that Gandalf was in Edoras to warn King Théoden that Saruman was a traitor. He told the Nazgûl that Gandalf had come from the “land of the Halflings” and needed a horse to return. He also gave them directions to “the Shire.”

Tolkien wrote that the Nazgûl didn’t kill him because they knew that he was filled with so much terror that he would never speak of this again. Really, he was incredibly integral to the already-written plot and couldn’t die.

The Nazgûl then took off for the Shire, allowing them to join the Lord of the Rings saga already in progress.

The Other Unfinished Tales Version

Tolkien wrote a slightly different version, supposedly taking place on September 18th – the day Gandalf escaped.

When the Nazgûl arrived, Saruman told them that he had Gandalf as a prisoner and wished to hand him over. His real plan, though, was to race up the tower to Gandalf and beg for mercy. With both of them together, they could defeat the Nazgûl.

But when he got to the top, he found that Gandalf had just escaped! Utterly pissed off, he returned to the gate and told the Nazgûl that Gandalf had confessed where the Ring was and gave them directions to the Shire. He told them that he’d let Sauron know himself.

Again, due to the Voice of Saruman™, they believed him and were off. Just after they left, Saruman let loose his spies and Orcs and birds to chase down Gandalf, mess up Rohan and find the Ring.

The Nazgûl made for the Shire, learning along the way that Saruman had known for a long time where the Shire was, but neglected to tell Sauron.

So What Does Any of This Have To Do With Now?

Christopher Tolkien used the first story in Unfinished Tales because it was the “most complete.” He summarized the second as it was of some interest. There was, however, another version a bit less complete that was written, it seems, a little later.

We’ve looked at this “unpublished manuscript” ultimately published in Hammon & Scull’s Reader’s Companion a few times before. And we’ll dip into it again now.

In this version, the Nazgûl visited Saruman before he captured Gandalf. According to the text, “towards early? June.”

As discussed before, the Nazgûl crossed the Anduin soon after Sauron learned that Gollum had been captured by Aragorn and Gandalf (probably in mid-April, as discussed here). They can’t find him in Anduin’s Vale and split up to search Rohan.

Meanwhile, Sauron reads enough of Saruman’s mind to know that he’s playing both sides and wants the Ring for himself. Because of this, the Nazgûl are ordered to Isengard.

Saruman is very frightened at Sauron’s suspicion of himself and his knowledge of the Ring. Though he dislikes Gandalf intensely and is very jealous of him, he believes Gandalf knows something vital about the Ring because the Nazgûl ask of the Shire which has always been a great concern of Gandalf, and because his [Saruman’s] agents have discovered that it is extraordinarily closely guarded; also that Gandalf is now actually there since 12 April. He [Saruman] therefore thinks of getting his [Gandalf’s] help…

This is obviously just Tolkien’s quickly-jotted-down thoughts on the matter, but it does, I think, create a bit more urgency. Later in the manuscript, Tolkien wonders “What happens between June 20 and escape of Gandalf …?” This new story would certainly fill in those details.

Tolkien continues, explaining that Saruman “was helped at this point by good fortune.” This good fortune comes in the form of Radagast the Brown, who noticed that the Nazgûl were poking around Rohan. Radagast headed to Isengard to inform Saruman. In this timeline, he would be on his way there now. The Nazgûl, being on horses, beat him there.

At this point, however, Saruman wouldn’t know that Radagast was on his way, and would be fairly worried. From the time the Nazgûl left (early? June) until Radagast showed up (June 15, according to the manuscript), Saruman must have been freaking out.

What’s Next?

What’s next is that we’ll finally finish the unpublished manuscript and we’ll sort out this whole timeline. I’ll ever try to figure out if I actually like it better because it’s better or because it’s different. Until next time…

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (c1950)
Film: Konica VX100; x-04/2001
Woodbine, Iowa

Were Tolkien’s Changes to The Hobbit Really a Good Idea?

Tolkien made some critical changes to The Hobbit after writing Lord of the Rings. These changes were published in 1951, three years prior to the publication of Fellowship of the Ring. His explanation for this was simple – Tolkien had changed the ring from a “convenient magical device” into the object that held the personality of the Dark Lord himself.

He gave the Ring a will, a history, and a power unthought of during The Hobbit. Because of this, much had to be changed. These changes were scattered throughout the book, but focused mostly upon Chapter 5, “Riddles in the Dark.”

Because most readers knew the original Hobbit story, Tolkien felt that it was necessary for him to write an in-story explanation. From “On Finding the Ring,” from the Introduction, we learn:

This account Bilbo set down in his memoirs, and he seems never to have altered it himself, not even after the Council of Elrond. Evidently it still appeared in the original Red Book, as it did in several of the copies and abstracts. But many copies contain the true account (as an alternative), derived no doubt from notes by Frodo or Samwise, both of whom learned the truth, though they seem to have been unwilling to delete anything actually written by the old hobbit himself.

We’re told that Gandalf never fully believed Bilbo, but that Bilbo stuck tight to his lie. When Gandalf and Frodo talk about it in April of 3018 – 77 years after Bilbo acquired the Ring – Frodo still believes Bilbo’s lie to be true.

Before we go on, I want to make it clear that I don’t mean to question Tolkien’s change to the nature of the Ring. I’m not even suggesting that he shouldn’t have changed Bilbo’s story to a lie. Those are perfect and form the backbone of Lord of the Rings. Without them, the entire tale couldn’t be told at all.

What I wonder is whether the readers of The Hobbit had to be in on it too .

We’ve taken a look at these changes in a previous post, so let’s now explore this a bit farther.

“It Has Been Called That Before… But Not By You”

The story that Bilbo originally told (the one in the original 1937 edition of The Hobbit), he had found the ring on the floor of the cave – an event that remained true through all subsequent changes. However, the original Gollum offered a present if he won at the riddle game. That present, which Gollum was very willing to give away, was the ring (which Bilbo already had). When the original Gollum could not find it, he begged Bilbo’s forgiveness and instead gave him the “gift” of not eating him and showing him the way out.

Gollum from the 1976 USSR edition of The Hobbit.

This is the story that Bilbo told to Gandalf and the Dwarves. It’s the story that Frodo and the other Hobbits knew well.

Gandalf confirmed this for himself right before Bilbo left following the Long-Expected Party. Bilbo recoiled at the idea of giving up the Ring – “It is mine, I tell you. My own. My Precious. Yes, my Precious.” Gandalf knows that it has been called “Precious” before. Bilbo admitted that Gollum said it, but that it didn’t matter, the Ring was still Bilbo’s.

In the original Hobbit (and thus in Bilbo’s lie) Gollum used the word “precious” quite a bit – always referring to himself. “Bless us and splash us, my precioussss!” Many of these references were kept in the revised Hobbit, but take on a darker tone once knowledge of the One Ring is known to the reader.

A short while later, after Gandalf became frighteningly stern, Bilbo defended himself – “I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn’t kept it. I’m not a thief, whatever he said.” This is the first time Gandalf heard anything about “thief Baggins.”

In the original story, Gollum and Bilbo parted more or less amicably. There was no “we hates it forever,” not yet.

At this point, Gandalf did not know the full story. Readers of the revised Hobbit certainly would, however, and that is a bit of an issue.

Of course, it’s fun to see Gandalf piecing it all together, just as it’s great to learn how Gandalf coaxed the full story out of Gollum after he was captured by Aragorn and taken to Mirkwood. But I have to ask, would it have been more enjoyable if we would be learning along with Gandalf and not just waiting for him to catch up?

Frodo Learns the Full Truth About Lies

Bilbo left the Shire in 3001 of the Third Age. Immediately after Gandalf told Frodo what he had just learned. He warned Frodo to “be careful of the ring.” After Frodo told him what he knew of Bilbo’s story, Gandalf mused “Which story, I wonder.”

Of course, Bilbo had told Frodo shortly after he had come to live with him at Bag End. “No secrets between us, Frodo.” Frodo, like Gandalf, found it “rather odd” that Bilbo would alter the story. With that, Gandalf was off.

Seventeen years later, in April 3018, Gandalf arrived at Bag End and discussed what he now knew about the Ring with Frodo.

If the original Hobbit had not been revised, readers would know only a little less than Frodo and Gandalf at this point. The readers would know that Bilbo lied and now about Gollum calling Bilbo a thief. Our curiosity would certainly be up.

Gandalf told Frodo about the Ring’s history with Gollum. When Gandalf told him that Sméagol, who was “of hobbit-kind,” was actually Gollum, Frodo couldn’t believe it – “What an abominable notion!”

Frodo defended against it by insisting that Gollum couldn’t have been hobbit-like because “hobbits don’t cheat,” and that “Gollum meant to cheat all the time.” If he had known the truth, however, he would have seen that Bilbo was also cheating.

This was true even in the original version, and gave Frodo what seems like a bit of authority in the matter. Bilbo wasn’t a thief, he didn’t cheat. Sure, he had the ring, but he would have won it fair and square anyway.

Only knowing this, readers of the original Hobbit would be defending Bilbo and his lie even through Gandalf’s backstory of the murderous Sméagol. In fact, we wouldn’t know a thing about Bilbo’s thievery and his own cheating. We’d be fully on Frodo’s side.

What Did Tolkien Originally Want?

Straying into the realm of guessing what Tolkien “actually” wanted is always uncomfortable territory. He changed his mind a lot, just as he changed his stories a lot. And this bit of the story is no different.

In 1947 (after mostly finishing the basic story of Lord of the Rings) Tolkien wrote a “proposed correction of Hobbit to simplify Sequel (Gollum does not give ring).”

Here, Tolkien sent his publisher a couple batches of basic corrections to the text, but also a new Chapter V (“Riddles in the Dark”) in September of 1947. In his cover letter, Tolkien wrote that he was sending “some notes on The Hobbit; and (for the possible amusement of yourself and Rayner [the publisher’s son]) a specimen of re-writing of Chapter V of that work, which would simplify, though not necessarily improve, my present task [of changing the characteristics of the Ring].”

What Tolkien sent were three batches of manuscripts that were undoubtedly muddled – the new Chapter V and the two bundles of corrections to everything else. From his letter, it seems that Tolkien was sending the new Chapter V only for the amusement of the publisher and his son, and not for actual inclusion.

According to Christopher Tolkien, writing in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, the new Chapter V was “not necessarily intended for publication.”

Nevertheless, in the summer of 1950, the publisher sent Tolkien proofs of the revised edition of The Hobbit. Seeing that the “not necessarily intended” Chapter V was indeed included, Tolkien replied that this “needed some consideration.”

“The thing took me much by surprise. It is now a long while since I sent in the proposed alteration of Chapter V, and tentatively suggested the slight remodelling of the original Hobbit. I was then still engaged in trying to fit on the sequel, which would have been a simpler task with the alteration, besides saving most of a chapter in that over-long work. However, I never heard any more about it at all; and I assumed that alteration of the original book was ruled out. The sequel now depends on the earlier version; and if the revision is really published, there must follow some considerable rewriting of the sequel.”

This is a pretty big deal. Tolkien never intended for the new Chapter V to be published, and wrote the bulk of Lord of the Rings believing it to be only “head cannon.”

That said, Tolkien continued in his reply, telling his publisher that he would “accept the change and its consequences.”

“The thing [The Hobbit] is now old enough for me to take a fairly impartial view, and it seems to me that the revised version is in itself better, in motive and narrative – and certainly would make the sequel [LotR] (if ever published) much more natural.

I did not mean the suggested revision to be printed off; but it seems to have come out pretty well in the wash.”


To the last sentiment, I have to disagree. I feel that Tolkien’s original idea to have Bilbo’s lie come as a surprise to the reader of Lord of the Rings to be stronger. And if not for a mistake at the publisher, this is how the current Hobbit would read.

As we can see, Bilbo’s ring was much different than Frodo’s Ring. Tolkien grew its power and importance as he wrote Lord of the Rings. The revised Hobbit, however, places the reader in the awkward position of knowing more than Gandalf does at the beginning of the story.

If Tolkien would have kept the Hobbit relatively unchanged, the reader would have learned along with Gandalf and then Frodo how it grew from Bilbo’s ring to the One Ring to rule them all.

Camera: Mamiya m645j (1975)
Film: Macophot ORT25C (x-09/2004)
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min
Spiral Jetty, Utah

May 15, 3018 – Radagast Espies the Nearby Nazgûl?

Tolkien had a problem. When nailing down the specific movements and dates through the spring and summer of 3018 – after Gandalf left the Shire, but before he was held captive by Saruman. The problems seemed to swirl around Radagast the Brown.

In an unpublished manuscript ultimately published in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, Tolkien jotted down some notes about his worry.

Those of us who pay attention to the “Tale of Years” know that Gandalf met Radagast on Midyear’s Day – the “holiday” between June and July. Gandalf explains at the “Council of Elrond” that he met Radagast in “late June.” The original “Tale of Years” listed the specific date as June 29, three days before Midyear’s Day.

These three days weighed on Tolkien’s mind a great deal.

“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.”

I realize that we’re getting ahead of ourselves again, but hold tight. This will start to make sense eventually.

Tolkien’s worry made sense. According to his original idea, the Nazgûl wouldn’t cross the Anduin until June 20th, when they attacked Osgiliath, Gondor.

How then would this knowledge get to Radagast in time for him to make it to the outskirts of Bree? Tolkien figured that it would take about two weeks and would have to involve more people than Radagast.

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

“Saruman had to discover it,” he wrote, “tell Radagast; and Radagast had to look for Shire. It must have taken 14 days at least.”

That is what made Tolkien change Gandalf’s and Radagast’s meeting to Midyear Day. That was a pretty simple solution, and one he seemed to finally settle upon.

But before settling, he made it quite a bit more complex. Since I like this alternate timeline as explored in the “unpublished manuscript,” I’ve posted about it twice before.

First, on April 30th, concerning Tolkien’s speculation over the early movements of the Nazgûl. Second, on May 8th, which dealt with Sauron’s suspicion of Saruman. Both of these things (and more) were affected by Tolkien’s uneasiness with his original dating scheme.

The Unpublished Manuscript

Tolkien’s first impulse was to completely change everything. The Nazgûl would be released earlier, and Radagast would be the first to spot them.

To make this happen, Tolkien had the Nazgûl “steal over Anduin one by one and make enquiries” about “Baggins” and “Shire.”

We learn the they first “investigate Anduin’s Vale … but can find no trace of Ring or ‘Baggins’…”

Radagast lived at Rhosgobel, in western Mirkwood near the Gladden Fields, within the Anduin’s Vale. As the Nazgûl poked around, Radagast must of figured it out.

“Radagast becomes aware that Nazgûl are abroad in Anduin Vale spreading panic and searching for ‘Shire’. He becomes very alarmed and can think of nothing but to go and consult Saruman head of order of Wizards. He does so …”

Though Tolkien would ultimately (basically) decide against this timeline, I think this makes a bit more sense. Or at least it explains the flow of information more completely.

This Used To Be The Future

Getting ahead of myself again, I’ll explain.

In this unpublished version, Radagast learned of the Nazgûl nowish – Tolkien is incredibly vague about when, exactly. He sets off for Isengard, but the Nazgûl beat him there, arriving in “early? June.”

After the Nazgûl leave Isengard, Radagast shows up. There, the story follows the published Lord of the Rings version.

“Saruman nows that Radagast is a kinsman of Gandalf’s and wholly trusted by him: he uses him as messenger, and send him off to the Shire. Radagast leaves Isengard about June 15th…”

This would satisfy Tolkien’s original problem – how Radagast got to Gandalf so quickly. Of course, that problem would have been fixed by simply moving the date, but Tolkien didn’t do anything simply. He moved the date and created a story anyway.

But this created another problem.

Tolkien’s Other Nazgûl-based Problem

If the Nazgûl were already at Isengard by earlyish June, how would they get back to Mordor to attack Osgiliath on June 20th (a date very much set in stone)?

We’ll definitely cover this in more detail later, but since you’re here, I’ll give a quick summary: I don’t know and neither did Tolkien.

It was here in the manuscript that he started to drift off. Not completely, of course, but there was definitely a bit more spitballing than usual.

“What happens between June 20 and escape of Gandalf…?” asked Tolkien of himself.

To this he gave a bunch of answers, but basically, he had been treating all of the Nazgûl as a single unit when it came to their “early? June” visit to Isengard. They had been split up before, in Rohan and Anduin Vale, but all came together soon after.

When we finally arrive in “early? June,” we’ll be able to examine the manuscript in a better light. I’ve selected June 5th for that date. See you then!

Camera: Exakta Verex VX (c1951)
Lens: ISCO-Göttingen Westagon 50mm f/1.9
Film: Kodak Vericolor III (x-01/1999)
Coleville Indian Reservation, Washington

Gollum’s Honor Unmade: Tolkien’s Changes to the Creature

The character of Gollum, as read in The Hobbit, matches up perfectly with the Gollum we know from The Lord of the Rings. But this was not always so. In 1951, Tolkien heavily revised his original 1937 version of the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter, completely changing Gollum’s story.

In the original 1937 edition of The Hobbit, Gollum’s motives and demeanor were markedly milder than in Lord of the Rings. In doing this, he made the two Gollums one. The changes, which we’ll be uncovering today, are as curious as they are drastic.

In a Damp Hole There Lived a Glip

It was the summer of 1930, and on a blank page in a student’s exam book Tolkien had written “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He soon followed this mysterious little line, allowing it to lead him where it would: to a wizard named Bladorthin and a brood of dwarves whose leader was named Gandalf (there was still a bit of name-shuffling to do). They took our Hobbit, Mr. Bilbo Baggins, on a quest which soon saw them separated in the caverners under the mountains. This was, of course, where Bilbo met Gollum who “lived on a slimy island in the middle of the lake.”

There’s a small hint, however, that Gollum’s character was based upon one of his own poems from two years prior. “Glip” was the poem’s title, as well as the name of this “slimy little thing.” It was part of a series entitled “Tales and Song of Bimble Bay.”

It is there that Glip steals his bones.
He is a slimy little thing
Sneaking and crawling under fishy stones,
And slinking home to sing
A gurgling song in his damp hole….

– From “Glip” by J.R.R. Tolkien (c1928)

Perhaps with this in mind, when Tolkien brought Bilbo, the Dwarves, and the Wizard into the dark caverns of the Misty Mountains, he might have brought old Glip along too.

His first pen strokes about this odd creature were:

“Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum. I don’t know where he came from or who or what he was. He was Gollum, as dark as darkness except for two big round pale eyes.”

Even in this early draft several features of Gollum’s character can already be found. For starters, we learn that he said “Gollum” when “he swallowed unpleasantly in his throat – that’s how he got his name.” Also, Gollum “only spoke to himself not you,” we’re told. He sometimes referred to himself as “precious” (though in the early versions, never called the ring “precious”).

And there was also the riddle game.

The Riddle Game

Though Bilbo and Gollum played the riddle game, it was much different from the version in the currently-available Hobbit. When originally written in 1931 and originally published in 1937, the riddle game was drastically different than the later revision in 1951 (three years prior to the release of The Lord of the Rings).

While the riddles themselves were basically the same from the beginning, Gollum’s origins were a great deal different.

“Asking (and sometimes answering) riddles had been a game he played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long long ago before the goblins came, and he was cut off from his friends far under the mountains. It was the only game the old wretch could remember.”

This bit from the original manuscript painted a picture of Gollum as having always lived under the mountains. The Goblins came into his home, not the other way around.

When it was published in 1937, the above origin was nearly identical, with Gollum’s home still being the caves and lake under the mountains. The bit about the riddle game being the only game “the old wretch could remember” was cut.

Then, in 1951, Tolkien forced an important transformation:

“…before he lost all his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains.”

This was a completely different origin for Gollum. He was now not born under the mountains, but was from somewhere else. The Goblins did not come and separate him from his friends, rather, he lost his friends and was driven away into the caves.

Of course, readers of Lord of the Rings know exactly why all of this was – Gollum had found the One Ring, murdered his cousin, and was exiled by his family.

Tolkien wished to bring the Hobbit story more in line with its sequel, Lord of the Rings, which was about to be published (1954), so he simply changed it completely.

Honor and Fear

In the original 1937 edition, Gollum promised to give Bilbo a present if he answered the riddles correctly. Of course, Gollum still wanted to eat the hobbit if Bilbo lost, but more than that, he wanted to play a game as he did long, long before.

We were assured that Gollum would honor the results of the game: “For one thing, Gollum had learned long ago that he was never to cheat at the riddle game.” It was more about tradition and fairness than anything else.

In the 1957 revision, Tolkien altered this as well. A similar passage is there, but the subject is Bilbo, not Gollum. It was Bilbo who knew “that the riddle-game was sacred and of immense antiquity, and even wicked creatures were afraid to cheat when they played at it.” Because of this, Bilbo wrongly believed that he could trust Gollum to keep his word.

But what word was that? Again, it depends on the version.

Gollum and the Present

As written in the original edition, Bilbo won the riddle game and Gollum went to retrieve the present he promised him at the start. This present, as Bilbo would find out at the conclusion of the game, was Gollum’s ring.

“Must we give it precious; yes we must – we must fetch it precious, and give it to the thing the present we promised.”

Gollum then paddled over to his island, but couldn’t find the present – “we haven’t the present we promised, and we haven’t even got it for ourselves.”

The narrator then explained that finally “Bilbo gathered that Gollum had had a ring – a wonderful, beautiful ring that he had been given for a birthday present, ages and ages before in old days when such things were less uncommon.”

Gollum begged for Bilbo’s pardon, apologizing profusely. “We are ssorry; we didn’t meant to cheat, we meant to give it our only only pressent, if it won the competition.” Bilbo quickly figured out the this was the same ring that he had picked up and put in his pocket.

Rather than receiving the present, Bilbo agreed to let Gollum off the hook on one condition: “Help me to get out of these places.”

And even though Gollum still wanted to eat Bilbo, he agreed to be his guide in order avoid cheating at the riddle game. Gollum agreed and with a bit of walking, he showed Bilbo the way out.

Gollum and “We Shows It The Way Out”

In the 1951 revision, in order to make it align with the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien changed Gollum’s almost innocent gift-giving to a false-promise to show Bilbo how to escape from the caverns.

“The Game of Riddles” by Cor Blok

When the game was won, Gollum promised to show Bilbo the way out, but had to go over to his island to get something first – as in the first edition, it was the ring.

Except Gollum had not promised to give it to Bilbo as a present. In this new version, Gollum wanted to slip it on, become invisible, and kill Bilbo, just as would catch and kill small goblins from time to time.

This time, when he couldn’t find the ring, rather than apologizing to Bilbo, Gollum decided to attack him, demanding to know what was in his pocket. The ring effortlessly slipped onto Bilbo’s finger, he vanished, and Gollum could not find him.

With that, Gollum guessed for sure that Bilbo had his ring. Bilbo then escaped Gollum and followed some Goblins out of the caverns.

Tolkien wrote some of his best Gollum stuff for this passage – and all of it was written after he finished writing Lord of the Rings. Yet, because of this, it’s here we see Bilbo’s pity, mentioned by Gandalf to Frodo in “The Shadow of the Past” chapter.

Tolkien originally wrote Gollum as a sympathetic creature, willing to give Bilbo his birthday present, an invisibility ring, specifically to honor the rules of the game Gollum himself suggested they play. When he could not keep his promise, he apologized and then willingly lead Bilbo out of the caverns.

Following his writing of The Lord of the Rings, but before it was published, Tolkien returned to The Hobbit and rewrote Gollum in his new, LotR identity.

What’s Next?

In our next post, while Gandalf is still spending most of the spring in the Shire, we’ll take a look at whether these changes were even necessary. We’ll also examine the changes made to the Ring and see if this forced Tolkien’s hand.

Camera: Imperial Satellite II (127)
Film: Ilord FP3 (x-06/1960)
Process: Rodinal 1+100; 60min
Nomade by Jaume Plensa, Des Moines, Iowa

May 8, 3018 – Sauron Begins to Suspect Saruman

Today we’re going to delve again into some of Tolkien’s speculation. He wasn’t always clear about when certain things happened, and left several timelines that he never fully finished or decided upon.

It’s Saruman’s turn today, but practically all we know for sure about his dealings around this time was that he had been in communication with Sauron. We’re told in the “Tale of Years” that by the year 3000 of the Third Age (18 years before the present):

“Saruman dares to use the palantír of Orthanc, but becomes ensnared by Sauron, who has the Ithil-stone. He becomes a traitor to the Council. His spies report that the Shire is being closely guarded by the Rangers.”

There’s no further mention of him until July 10th, 3018 – when Gandalf is captured (which hasn’t happened yet).

So what has he been up to? That would greatly depend upon Tolkien’s mood at the time.

We learn in “The Palantíri” from Unfinished Tales that “Saruman fell under the domination of Sauron and desired his victory, or no longer opposed it.” Tolkien would often write his ideas as if he was hearing them as rumors. It’s an interesting idea, and left him a lot of room for maneuvering. Unfortunately, it was sometimes hard for him to settled upon something.

Tolkien continued, still with no solid date in mind, explaining that Saruman figured out that Sauron likely had a palantír himself. This was likely the Ithil-stone. He believed himself to be powerful enough to resist Sauron. “His trust was not entirely unjustified,” we’re told. “Sauron failed to dominate him and could only influence him by deceits.”

The Unpublished Manuscript

In our April 30th post, we looked to an unpublished manuscript (as printed in The Readers Companion by Hammond & Scull) that offers a slightly different timeline of events concerning the Nazgûl and Saruman. It is from here that we get our unofficial date.

According to this timeline, by the time that the Nazgûl were searching the Gladden Fields for “Baggins,” Saruman was still resisting Sauron. “Sauron is not yet master of him,” wrote Tolkien.

“Yet he reads enough of his mind to suspect (a) that he covets the Ring for himself and (b) that he knows something about it.”

But what could Saruman know about the Ring at this point? That’s not entirely clear. Saruman, being interesting in the Rings of Power, was probably the most knowledgeable person in Middle-earth when it came to ringlore.

I’m not sure that matters. Sauron now knew that Saruman wanted the Ring for himself. Sauron knew that the Ring was out there and that “Baggins” of the “Shire” was likely responsible. Of course, Sauron had no idea who “Baggins” was or where the “Shire” might be located. But he probably had no reason to believe that Saruman was any wiser in that area.

For his part, we learn that “Saruman is very frightened at Sauron’s suspicion of himself and his knowledge of the Ring.

In this version, the Nazgûl will soon pay Saruman a visit (a date that Tolkien gives as “early? June,” and I’ve set at June 5th).

The Hunt for the Ring Story

The version of events available in Unfinished Tales gives some further illumination. We learn there that after Sauron learned about Gollum’s capture by Aragorn and Gandalf, he had a difficult time getting any further information. “This was due largely both to the vigilance of the Dúnedain and to the treachery of Saruman, whose own servants either waylaid or misled the servants of Sauron.”

This makes it seem that the Rangers were spread out over much more ground than simply around the Shire. Also, it’s unlikely that Sauron ever fully trusted Saruman (and certainly Saruman never trusted Sauron). But according to this account, Saruman was getting pretty bold and Sauron likely knew it.

Reading this version further, we see that Sauron waited to call out the Nazgúl. They wouldn’t be dispatched until the end of June – and then only to attack Osgiliath, Gondor.

They will eventually come to Saruman at Isengard, but not until September 20th.

Can the Two Versions Be Reconciled?

So far, yes, I think they can. Once we move further into June, the timelines will split, but for now Tolkien seems to have offered differing viewpoints and details for the same events.

The manuscript published in Unfinished Tales makes no mention of the Nazgúl prior to the coming attack on Gondor. The unpublished manuscript from Reader’s Companion specifically details their travels through Rohan and Anduin Vale. I suppose both can’t be correct, but it’s possible that the Nazgûl could already be on the move.

They were not actually after Frodo and the Ring. They were still searching for “Shire” and “Baggins,” but had no idea where any of that was. They had split up and were spreading terror, but were, we are told, invisible.

Tolkien played around with various sequences, but came to a conclusion about little that wasn’t already written in Lord of the Rings.

What’s Next?

Next week we’ll explore this “unpublished manuscript” further. We’ll even look into the very specific reason why Tolkien wrote it and why it relates to Radagast the Brown. Hand in there, things will pick up soon!

Camera: Pentax K-1000
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-06/74); 6iso
Process: Xtol 1+2; 21C; 9min
Priest Rapids, Washington

So How Big Is Middle-earth, Anyway?

When thinking about just how long it took Frodo to get to Mordor, or even how long the Nazgûl took to get to the Shire, it’s easy to forget just how huge Middle-earth was.

Below are two maps that I quickly threw together. The first superimposes a Middle-earth map over the United States. The second does the same with Europe.

Looking at it, we can see that walking from the Shire to Rivendell is basically like walking from Boise, Idaho to around Sheridan, Wyoming – a distance of around 600 miles. Continuing to Mordor would mean a hike to near Alva, Oklahoma – about 850 miles.

Of course, Frodo would take detours and wouldn’t always go the most direct route. His mileage to Mordor was 1,779 miles (according to the Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstand). This would be like walking from Los Angeles to St. Louis.

It would take Frodo and Sam six months to make the journey from the Shire to Mordor. This was the same amount of time that it took the average settler traveling along the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon back in the 1850s.

Even knowing these things, it’s still difficult to understand mileage in our day and age. Unless you’ve done some thru-hiking, we really can’t grasp what it’s like. Even then, we can’t grasp what it was like to be completely isolated for hundreds and hundreds of miles, to be without help, communications or readily-available food sources – all while being hunted by any number of horrible things.

Hopefully these maps help a little bit in bringing Middle-earth into a more understandable view.

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Orwo UN54 100iso (motion picture film)
Rodinal @68F for 10mins
Original Oregon Trail ruts, near Baker City, Oregon

May 1, 3018 – Gandalf and Aragorn at Sarn Ford (and a Bit of History)

Welcome to May 1, 3018 of the Third Age. Today is the day when Gandalf meets back up with Aragorn at Sarn Ford on the River Baranduin at the extreme southern point of the Shire.

“We last met on the first of May: at Sarn Ford down the Brandywine.” – Aragorn to Frodo at the Prancing Pony, Bree.

The main narrative of Lord of the Rings mentions nothing of Gandalf leaving Frodo at Hobbiton to go meet Aragorn at Sarn Ford. There’s no mention at all of Gandalf ever leaving Frodo’s side during the time he spend there, from April 12th to late June.

The only way we learn anything of it at all is when Aragorn brings it up at the Prancing Pony. There’s not even a mention of it in Appendix B: The Tale of Years.

What Was Discussed?

Aragorn reveals only that Gandalf’s “business” with Frodo had “gone well.” Frodo, Gandalf told Aragorn, “would be starting for Rivendell in the last week of September.”

To discover more, we’ll have to dealve a bit, but that is always risky.

And unfortunately, there’s not much to mine there, either. In The Treason of Isengard we learn that in August of 1939, Tolkien resumed work on his Lord of the Rings manuscript after taking a bit of a break. This was his fourth pass at the material leading up to the Council of Elrond.

In notes quickly taken when trying to figure out Gandalf’s schedule, he wrote: “He [Gandalf] then tells him of Frodo’s intended departure on Sept. 22. Begs him to watch East Road in case anything happens to Gandalf himself.”

While the dates and even the order of the events surrounding the meeting of Gandalf and Aragorn (in this draft, still a Ranger named Trotter), the context is roughly the same.

That’s about it, really. Even in the draft written soon after taking these notes, Tolkien made no mention of Gandalf leaving Hobbiton to meet up with Aragorn.

The Etymology of Sarn Ford

Speaking of notes and drafts, when Tolkien jotted down “He [Gandalf] meets Trotter at Sarn Ford,” this was the first time the name “Sarn Ford” was ever used.

Tolkien wrote about the name in the manuscript for Nomenclature for the Lord of the Rings:

“[Sarn Ford] is a half-translation (of Sarn-athrad ‘stony-ford’), a process frequent in place-names. The [Sindarin] word sarn meant ‘stony’; as a noun a ‘stony place’, an outcrop of rock in softer ground, or in a river-bed. The ancient ford over the Baranduin was so-called because, after passing through the flats of the Eastfarthing, it passed then over a wide area of shingles before turning south-west and falling swiftly down into lower lands on its ways to the sea. (It was named by the Númenóreans after a ford in the River Gelion (in the lost land of Beleriand) famous in legend.)”

Sarn Ford and the Battle of the Gwathló

Historically speaking, according to Unfinished Tales, Sarn Ford was of some note. Nearly 4,800 years prior to the events in Lord of the Rings, the War of the Elves and Sauron (1693-1701 of the Second Age) took place over much of the same ground. Attacking from Mordor, Sauron sacked Eriador, especially Eregion – then ruled by Celebrimbor, the Elf who forged the Rings of Power.

Eriador encompassed nearly all of the land west of the Misty Mountains. Eregion (also known as Hollin), was located near Moria.

After Sauron captured, tortured and killed Celebrimor in 1697, Sauron’s forces laid waste to the entire region. While Elrond’s forces were besieged in newly-created Imladris (Rivendell), other Elves under the command of Gil-galad, and Numenóreans held a strong line along the River Lúhn (or Lune) to defend the Grey Havens from falling.

Now began the Battle of the Gwathló (1700 of the Second Age). Not waiting to Sauron to make his final move, Gil-galad’s forces and the Numenóreans fell upon Sauron’s growing numbers. While the Enemy was engaged and distracted, an additional force of the Numenórean Navy, fresh from Numenór, outflanked Sauron and fell upon his rear.

This action pushed back the Enemy and forced them into a general retreat. But they were not yet defeated. Driving them southeast from the line along the Lhûn, Sauron’s forces put up a fight all through what would later become the Shire.

The Numenórean Navy landed fresh troops up the Baranduin (Brandywine). They quickly made their way to Sarn Ford, where Sauron’s forces were fighting a delaying action while their troops slowly crossed the river. Due to the combined slowness and additional Numenóreans, Sauron’s forces were dealt a heavy blow – perhaps the heaviest of the entire war – at Sarn Ford.

Unable to hold Sarn Ford, Sauron fell back again to the next river, the Gwathló. This would be his final stand. His forces were bolstered by the troops left at the city of Tharbad along the river. However, the Numenórean Navy was able to land still more of their own troops up the Gwathló, once again falling upon Sauron’s rear.

Now utterly defeated, Sauron, with only a few guards left to him, returned to Mordor, vowing revenge.

While the crossing at Tharbad doesn’t play much of a part in Lord of the Rings, Sarn Ford certainly does. It is, afterall, the southern entrance to the Shire.

What’s Next?

The entire month of May 3018 is fairly quiet, so we’ll see what we can do to pass the time. The next bigger event is Frodo selling Bag End in early Summer. See you (hopefully) before then!

Camera: Bolsey Jubilee (c1955) Film: Svema Color 125 Oregon Trail, Crossing of the Green River, Wyoming

April 30, 3018 – The Nazgûl and Tolkien’s Speculation

Welcome to sometime in (maybe?) late April, 3018 of the Third Age. We’ve got some of Tolkien’s wild speculation here, so hang tight.

One might be tempted to think that Tolkien would have known for sure when everything happened. That even if not stated explicitly in the “Tale of Years,” he had notes somewhere that kept track of the movements of the players in his story.

It’s true to an extent. Tolkien kept meticulous notes on these things. However, he could almost never stop himself from wandering off on tangents while writing them. Because of this, we’re left with several versions of the earliest movements of the Nazgûl.

Trailing into Illegibility

According to Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, Tolkien noticed “some problems of chronology” while writing “The Hunt for the Ring.” In an unpublished manuscript (that they published in their book), Tolkien tried to work it all out.

Unfortunately, he wandered off again while, as they put it, “trailing into illegibility…”

For this project, I’m going to try to split the difference. Tolkien worked out much of this, and this manuscript fleshes out some questions that are raised from the published text, especially concerning the Nazgûl.

One unfortunate consequence is that they all cannot be true. What I’m left to do is pluck interesting tidbits from all and hope that it at least fills in some details. The dates may not be perfect, but the actions all probably happened. For the most part. Maybe.

A larger issue arises though. The unpublished manuscript has the Nazgûl crossing the Anduin about nowish, rather than in late July following the Battle of Osgiliath. They arrive at Isengard “towards early July.” In the other, published in Unfinished Tales, they arrive at Isengard in mid-September.

Both make great sense, but I don’t believe that Tolkien settled on one over the other. Probably.

So, What’s Happening Todayish?

In the unpublished manuscript, Tolkien wrote:

“The Nazgûl are ordered to steal over Anduin one by one and make enquiries. This is ordered soon after Sauron learns that Gollum (who disappeared into the Dead Marshes) has been captured and is with Thranduil, and that Gandalf has visited that realm sometime early in April.”

I’m not sure to what “early in April” is referring. It could be when Gandalf was in Thranduil’s realm or it could be when Sauron learned that Gollum was captured. For the first, it’s too late – Gandalf was in Mirkwood from March 23 through March 28. For the second, it’s too early – Tolkien writes in “The Hunt for the Ring” (published in Unfinished Tales) that it wouldn’t be until “late April” that Sauron received the news that Gollum was captured.

For this project, I put the (vague) date at April 24th.

Because of this, it’s not possible to say when the Nazgûl were “ordered to steal over Anduin.” If we keep this date, it would have to be around nowish.

Can Find No Trace

If Sauron sent the Nazgûl out this early, it sort of makes it seem like he’s overreacting. In the Unfinished Tales version of “Hunt for the Ring,” Sauron used his spies to track Gollum and eventually to attack Thranduil’s realm. The Nazgûl were meant as a sort of decoy for themselves – a way to trick the good guys into thinking that they were only called upon specifically for the battle of Osgiliath.

“At length he resolved that no others would serve him in this case but his mightiest servants, the Ringwraiths, who had no will but his own, being each utterly subservient to the ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held.”

In the unpublished manuscript, the Nazgûl are dispatched over the Anduin months prior to the battle.

“At first the Nazgûl investigate Anduin’s Vale … but can find no trace of Ring or ‘Baggins’ … some begin to investigate Rohan ….”

What’s curious is that in the unpublished manuscript, the Battle of Osgiliath still takes place. This means that the Nazgûl, who definitely led the battle, would have had to have traveled north to the Gladden Fields area, as well as into Rohan, and then recross the river to fall upon Osgiliath.

This is all possible because the Nazgûl split up and cover a lot of ground.

Can This Be Reconciled?

Simply put – no. It can’t. Much of how we date this time period is from one of the manuscripts published in Unfinished Tales. Yet, there’s no great reason to assume that one is more valid than this.

Tolkien never figured this out (as far as I can tell).

For the most part, I’m going to stick to the version that most people follow – the Unfinished Tales version. But I’ll dip back into this unpublished manuscript from time to time, as it helps with a bit of understanding here and there.

A good example of this has to do with Radagast and when he learned of the Nazgûl; also his visit to Isengard before meeting up with Gandalf on Midyear’s Day.

What’s Next?

We’ll next check in with Sarumon and dig into his relationship with Sauron and the Shire. This will almost exclusively come from manuscripts – from both Unfinished Tales and The Reader’s Companion.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (1942) Film: Kodak Ektachrome 400 (x-08/1987) Process: C-41 Near Vantage, Washington

April 27, 3018 – Either North, South, West or East

Welcome to later April, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll look at Gandalf’s conversation with Frodo that took place “two or three weeks” after Gandalf first arrived in the Shire on April 12th.

Quietly or Soon – You Can’t Have Both

‘You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,’ said Gandalf.

We’re told that it’s been two or three weeks since Gandalf showed up knocking on Frodo’s window. Today marks two weeks exactly since the wizard’s arrival.

Tolkien throws us into the middle of a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo, with the former coaxing the latter to leave.

But Frodo didn’t want to just vanish, and Gandalf agreed, likely thinking back to Bilbo’s little vanishing trick at the Unexpected Party, which set the entire Shire atwitter.

A Little Delay… of Six Months

Speaking of birthdays, Frodo already has his departure date in mind – his 50th birthday (and Bilbo’s 128th), September 22nd. This was still 149 days away! But what is “soon” to a Maia and a long-lived hobbit?

Actually, the delay makes perfect sense. Middle-earth is huge. There’s no easy communication between towns or kingdoms. There’s horseback and walking and that’s basically it. As far as Gandalf knew, the closest Enemy outpost was Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood – 600ish miles to the east and over the Misty Mountains.

And while Gandalf knew that the Enemy was looking for the Shire, he knew that it wouldn’t be so easy to find. There were no maps, of course. There weren’t travel agents. And who really knew where The Shire was?

There was no reason at all for anyone to think that Sauron could figure any of this out, even with the limited help Gollum gave to him (“Baggins” and “Shire”). All Sauron really knew was that The Shire was to the west of Mordor. But then, basically everything was.

On top of that, Gandalf had no reason to believe that the Nazgûl would be called up by Sauron to find the Ring. Sure, there were spies everywhere, but the Nazgûl were a different thing altogether. In the past, they had been used to wage war, not to do detective work.

The short of it was that Gandalf knew time of of the essence. He just didn’t know how essential it was. This was, of course, a mistake he would regret.

But Where?

‘I have been so taken up with the thoughts of leaving Bag End, and of saying farewell, that I have never even considered the direction,’ said Frodo.

This was a big question, yet it didn’t really seem to matter. The most important thing was for Frodo to leave the Shire.

At first, Gandalf suggested that Frodo should go with Sam and set out in any direction he chose, the important thing was for it to be secret.

But then the wizard mentioned Rivendell, even though “the Road is less easy than it was, and it will grow worse as the year fails.”

The sense of this was that Frodo would be tramping the same Great East Road that Bilbo and the dwarves did 77 years before. Frodo was already familiar with this 400 mile stretch between Hobbiton and the Last Homely House from decades of Bilbo’s stories. He knew all about the Old Forest, Bree, Weathertop, the Trolls, the Last Bridge across the Hoarwell.

Though things were bad, Frodo was not yet pursued. This means that he and Gandalf likely believed that Frodo and Sam could stick to the road itself, just like Bilbo and the dwarves.

And so it was set: they would leave for Rivendell on September 22nd. It took Bilbo thirty-eight days to make the trip. Even though they were on ponies, they took their time. Frodo and Sam would be on foot and would have to move more swiftly.

What’s Next?

Gandalf wasn’t quite ready to leave the Shire – and wouldn’t until late June. But he still had that appointment to keep with Aragorn on May 1st. There’s not much to talk about, but we’ll meet back here then, okay?

*note: I’ve actually scrounged up some fun Nazgûl stuff that will post before that. Stay tuned!

Camera: Crown Graphic (1962); Graphex Optar 90mm f/6.8 Film: Kodak Tri-X @50iso; x-09/1973 Process: HC-110; 1+90; 18mins Wind Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota