Of Unchanging Flatlands and Phases (Day 36)

Camera: Kodak Duaflex II Film: FujiChrome Velvia 100 cross-processed as C-41.

Camera: Kodak Duaflex II
Film: FujiChrome Velvia 100 cross-processed as C-41.

Strider brings out hobbits out of the Chetwood and into a “wide flat expanse of country.” Sounds good, except that it’s somehow “much more difficult to manage.”

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p182, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Wide flat expanses should be easier to manage than the tangled paths of the Chetwood forest. But then, Strider knows all the best paths. In this wide flat expanse, there’s nothing at all but undergrowth. It’s a “pathless wilderness” out there. To make it worse, they’re closing in on the Midgwater Marshes and the ground is getting soggier.

Strider wisely had them leave the road about twenty miles back, but took them far to the north. This was probably to get around (to the north of) the marsh. Smart move, plus it kept the Nazgul off their back. This was a good thing as the Nazgul at this point were scouring the East Road looking for them. Gandalf was also on the East road, chasing down the Nazgul.

This seems like as good a place as any to talk about Tolkien’s phases of writing the Lord of the Rings. I’ve hit on the changes that he made prior to this post, but it’s been sort of scattershot. Let’s clear some things up here.

Tolkien started writing his Middle-earth material in 1916ish. This was mostly things that would later wind up (in some for or another) in the Silmarillion. He began working on The Hobbit in the early 30s, and the Lord of the Rings not long after. In 1937 the first strings of the story began to take shape. All of this is detailed in Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth series.

Tolkien would write in “phases.” He would write out as much of the story as he could manage and then let it simmer, thinking of changes and taking notes. When it was sufficiently mulled over, he’d then go back and start at the beginning. Over and over, he did this until it was, in his mind finished. This is an over simplification, but that’s basically how it worked.

The “First Phase,” started in 1937, consisted of only the “Long-Expected Party” chapter. He wrote four drafts before he was satisfied enough to continue on to the second chapter. This First Phase took him all the way to Rivendell, which means that our stopping point in the story (just coming out of the Chetwood) was there from the start.

This chapter, then, was called “Trotter and the Journey to Weathertop.” In many ways, some already discussed, it was wildly different. Apart from everybody’s names being something else, Strider (then called Trotter) was a hobbit. As was everybody in Bree – at least Butterbur and Bill Furny. Even the squinty-eyed southerner was a hobbit.

In the First Phase, the text for the five miles we’re covering today was:
“On the third day out from Bree they cam out of the woodlands. Their way had trended downwards all the time, and now they cam to flatter and more difficult country.”

Towards the end of writing the First Phase, Tolkien began to think his story was too complicated. And so he went back to see if he couldn’t simplify it a touch. One of the problems was The Ring. In the first published version of The Hobbit, the Ring was more like a ring. It had some magical powers, but was really nothing more.

However, the more Tolkien wrote this new story, the more this ring because The Ring. He wondered: “Why did the Dark Lord desire it so?” And so, he had to figure this out as well. Thus began the Second Phase, when he went back to the very beginning and started over.

For the most part, the chapters he already covered were just outlined, the changes noted as they came. But he simply couldn’t do simple, and all through the writings are notes on genealogy and minutia. Also, he wrote a completely new second chapter (the precursor to “The Shadow of the Past,” called “Ancient History.”) This bumped everything up a chapter, to which he added more and more details. With these changes, he got only to Tom Bombadil’s house before starting over yet again.

This was the Third Phase, which started with the sixth version of the Long-Expected Party chapter. Through the writing, Tolkien made oodles of changes on the fly, though many chapters, like Tom Bombadil’s and the Barrow-downs, were mostly left as-is. This stopped at Bree.

In a Second Phase note, Tolkien decided that the people in Bree were not to be hobbits after all. And so here we see the first appearance of Men to the story. Trotter (Strider), however, was still a hobbit. He also fleshed out some of the geography, adding Chetwood, for example, as well as mapping out Bree. So many changes were made and canceled, that I have an incredibly difficult time keeping up.

For instance, it was Pippin (here named Odo) who stayed back at Crickhollow. There, he was attacked by Nazguls and then traveled with Gandalf to Bree, only to be a day ahead of Frodo (no longer called Bingo).

The chronology is also a bit different, and the distances seem to be compacted some. Also, Pippin, traveling with Gandalf ahead of them, was kidnapped. See? Lots of changes. But as far as today’s passage is concerned, it remained mostly the same from the First Phase.

With the Fourth Phase (the last for these chapters), Tolkien settled upon why Gandalf was delayed, and made extensive notes and revisions to everything from the first chapter through Rivendell. Much of our present chapter was like the published Fellowship, but for the names.

This would mean that the First Phase’s idea of the land between the Chetwood (which was then unnamed) and the Midgewater Marshes was nearly identical.

And so this:
“On the third day out from Bree they cam out of the woodlands. Their way had trended downwards all the time, and now they came to flatter and more difficult country. They were on the borders of the Midgwater Marshes.”

Became this:
“The land had been falling steadily, ever since they turned aside from the Road, and they now entered a wide flat expanse of country, much more difficult to manage. They were far beyond the borders of the Bree-land, out in the pathless wilderness, and drawing near to the Midgewater Marshes.”

So did I really just take you through four phases of Tolkien’s writing just to tell you that he changed a bunch of stuff, but not really this? Yes. Yes I did. And maybe someone out there will just love it. I know that I do.

About the Photo
In today’s passage, the train ended and brought our heroes out to a difficult, flat sloping terrain. Pretty obvious, really.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 170
  • 44 miles to Weathertop
  • 290 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,609 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Just leaving the Chetwood, thanks. (map)


7 thoughts on “Of Unchanging Flatlands and Phases (Day 36)

    • Thanks! When I took this photo, I did so in a cranky disposition. The sign, I thought, was too new-looking. I almost didn’t take it. I’m glad I did, of course, but I still wish it were more aged.

      • I kind of like the juxtaposition of the new sign with the aged pole its attached to. It makes me think the sign has had to be replaced (probably more than once), and feels like there’s a story there.

        • I’m usually a sucker for juxtaposition, but it really bothered me. I remember being unnecessarily cranky about it. I’m sure there’s a story – maybe even an interesting one that involves someone falling to their death (there was a cliff right behind me when I took the shot). Thankfully, the photo doesn’t really show how new and shiny the sign actually was.

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