Our heroes are beat. As they walk along, Frodo notices how “their back bowed under their burdens. Even Strider seemed tired and heavy-hearted.” There are many miles to go – but how many?
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p199, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Yesterday, I reached the milestone of 250 miles since leaving Hobbiton. And so, by this point in the story, our hobbits had tramped 250 miles. When they got to Weathertop (240 miles from Hobbiton), Merry asked Strider how far it was to Rivendell. Strider didn’t know, and he gave some vague answer like “Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise.” This road was a “strange road,” he said.
He claimed that he could do it in twelve days under the right conditions. With the hobbits, however, he gave himself two extra.
In a project such as this, I need exact measurements. Unfortunately, those do not exist. In some places, Tolkien was just fuzzy. Fortunately, we’ve got two sources – the Atlas of Middle-earth and Journeys of Frodo that contain much of the work we might use to figure it out.
The chart I’m employing for the mileage is based off of the Atlas, which itself is vague in some areas. For example, the mileage given for October 18th, when the proto-fellowship comes across the Trolls, is 34-21 miles (whatever that means – why the larger number is first, I have no idea). The chart I use seems to split the differences.
So to answer Merry’s question, we’ve got to do some math and some estimating. In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien gives the mileage from Bree to Rivendell as 348 miles. The distance from Bree to Weathertop isn’t given, so we have to look at the maps and give it our best guess, which is 95 miles by the East Road. Since the hobbits didn’t stick to the road, their actual mileage was about 106.
Answering Merry’s question is now simple, though not perfect. It’s 253 East Road miles from Weathertop to Rivendell. So then why is it, according to the Atlas, between 196 and 232 miles from Weathertop to Rivendell? I have absolutely no idea. Tolkien was vague, the world is imaginary, and there’s no actual way to tell. If you think about this for too long, you’ll end up in a puddle of frustrations. Repeat to yourself it’s just a book, you should really just relax.
In an early draft (as given in The Return of the Shadow), Tolkien did try to nail it down by having Strider (Trotter, actually) tell Merry that it was 120 miles from Bree to Weathertop by the East Road, and “close on 200 from Weathertop to the Ford [of Bruinen – near Rivendell].” It should tell us something that Tolkien backed off of the specifics. For this part of the story, it’s a detail, but hardly an interesting one (which is why I’m writing about it?)
For my own travels in Middle-earth, I’m sticking by the chart here, and the figure of 218 miles from Weathertop to Rivendell. It’s a nice, middle of the road number. I have no real idea how it was figured out, but that’s okay, as I’m just along for the journey and am perfectly fine with some things just not adding up.
A Few Notes:
- There’s actually a rather large (in distance) mistake in the published Lord of the Rings. At the Prancing Pony, Strider tells Sam that Weathertop was halfway between Bree and Rivendell. This, even according to Tolkien’s own maps, is impossible. What he probably meant to write was that Weathertop was halfway between Bree and the Last Bridge. This is actually a leftover from an early draft where Weathertop really was halfway between Bree and Rivendell (which always seemed to be the same distance away from each other. When he moved the mountain, he forgot to adjust the relative distances.
- I’m really glad that someone before me figured out all this stuff. Even with my unhealthy love of maps, I couldn’t have sussed out the details.
About the Photo
Oh hell, I had to use something, didn’t I? I figure that if the road wasn’t measured beyond the Forsaken Inn, it must have been fairly primitive.
- Day 53
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 256
- 204 miles to Rivendell
- 1,523 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: South of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop (map)