As our proto-fellowship picked their way through the Trollshaws, east of the Hoarwell River, the weather turned to rain and made everything even more unpleasant. That night, they couldn’t even start a fire.
With Tolkien once again in montage mode, let’s take a look at some of the surroundings. Specifically, let’s look at the Trollshaws. This wasn’t the first time Tolkien had visited this place. In The Hobbit, Bilbo and the Dwarves came this way – it’s where they met the Trolls.
In Chapter Two, “Roast Mutton,” they crossed “the river” (it was not yet called anything) on “an ancient stone bridge” (the Last Bridge, as yet unnamed). It was raining then too, and they camped under some trees to stay dry. Gandalf had just disappeared and everything seemed to be depressing.
In The Hobbit, Oin and Gloin also try to start a fire. Like Strider, they were unable to do it, but they see a light on a hill “some way off.” This is, of course, the campfire of the Trolls.
This is one of the more major geographical discrepancies between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and there’s really no way to bring them into concert. According to the Lord of the Rings distance, it’s about thirty-five miles from the Last Bridge to the place where the Trolls were found. There’s just no way that they could see a camp fire from that distance and then make the trek to the Trolls’ camp in the time given them in The Hobbit.
If you really wanted to reconcile it within the larger story, you could argue that since The Hobbit is Bilbo’s memoir, he might have misremembered or compacted time and distance. Go ahead and do that, but keep in mind that Tolkien was still building the world and it’s really just a discrepancy.
Tolkien wasn’t blind to this inconsistency, and made an attempt to correct it in 1960. He had revisited The Hobbit after writing the bulk of The Lord of the Rings when he penned “The Quest of Erebor” for the Appendices (though the published version was much shorter than he had wished). But that showed him that he could go back and play in the early world of the Shire, connecting it to the larger story of the One Ring.
And so he set about on a complete revision of The Hobbit. Though he had revised it here and there in the 40s, this was something different. In many cases, this was a retelling. He set out to make it completely consistent with the Lord of the Rings, from the moon phases to the geography.
Ultimately, it was a failure. Though it’s an incredibly interesting exercise, the spirit and joy of of the original Hobbit was lost in the more serious tones of the Lord of the Rings speak. Furthermore, as he did in “The Quest of Erebor,” he recast Bilbo in a poor light.
But as far as we’re concerned for the Last Bridge and the Trollshaws, it’s pretty fun to take a look at his revisiting. The passage in this aborted 1960 version is much longer in word count, distance and time.
The chapter named “Roast Mutton” was then renamed “The Broken Bridge,” and featured a bridge that was out. Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves had come from Bree (not mentioned in the original), and spent the next eight days on the road to Weathertop (though the name is weirdly not given in the new text). For another eight days, they continued along the East Road until they reached the Last Bridge.
In the abandoned text, Tolkien writes that they had walked for “many days,” though in other notes he explained the specifics and did his best to reconcile the moon phases. Curiously, in the published version of The Hobbit, Tolkien makes mention of “old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people” as Bilbo and company left the Shire. This, as we’ll delve into later, was itself a post-LotR addition – well, partially.
Anyway, getting back to the future, in the abandoned 1960s version, Tolkien made it so that the bridge across the Hoarwell was out.
“‘Ha!’ said Gandalf, peering through the rain. ‘The bridge! The bridge is broken’ He turned away snapping his fingers and muttering to himself: ‘there is mischief here! Elrond must be told!'”
This was a way for Tolkien to explain the previously inexplicable disappearance of Gandalf. The bridge here was a stone arch bridge with a single arch. In the middle, it was broken. Gandalf suggests that the dwarves rebuild it – “None are better at bridge-building than dwarves.” But this just wasn’t possible.
They decided to ford the rushing river, swollen with rain. Gandalf suggests that they could turn south, but that way would force them to go through the Mines of Moria. They could turn north, but that was Troll country.
Gandalf was the first to ford. Then Thorin, and Fili and Kili, then the rest. Once across, all but Gandalf forgot about Bilbo. “‘Don’t you want your hobbit anymore?’ said Gandalf. ‘I think you may need him.'” Gandalf had to retrieve him.
Unlike the path taken by Strider and Frodo, the company in The Hobbit stuck to the East Road. Crossing it in the morning, Bilbo and company walk the entire day, covering twenty-five miles, according to Tolkien’s notes. During this leg of the journey, Gandalf disappears, apparently to talk to Elrond.
Once again, the dwarves could not start a fire, but saw one “a good way up” the hill. They couldn’t tell if it was a campfire or torches. Now, in this 1960 version, they were much closer to the Trolls. The discussion was a bit longer, but in the end, they decided to send Bilbo the buglar to suss out the situation. From here on, it’s basically the same story as the published Hobbit, though the order of the dwarves’ arrival was altered.
Tolkien worked on and off, trying to match the phases of the moon to reality, but ultimately could not. Additionally, when he sent the work to a friend, it was returned with the advice: “wonderful, but not The Hobbit.” And that’s it, really. It is wonderful. But it’s not The Hobbit.
A Few Notes
- In the abandoned 1960 version, Gandalf rode a white horse name Rohald who “answered his commands, spoken softly in a strange tongue.” Also, once across the river, the freaked out ponies were calmed by the naying of Rohald.
- The broken single-arch stone bridge must have been rebuilt into the triple-arch stone bridge that appears in Lord of the Rings. I couldn’t find any mention of this though.
- When talking about the “published” Hobbit, I mean the one that you can pick up at the bookstore in the present time. There was, of course, the originally published 1937 version, as well as a revised 1951 edition (with the altered “Riddles in the Dark” chapter). To confuse matters more, after the abandoned 1960 version, there was a 1966 edition with a few extra changes to the 1951 edition. This (the 1966 edition) is the one you can buy in the present day.
- All that said, I strongly recommend The Annotated Hobbit done by Douglas Anderson. Not only does it have a whole mess of notes and artwork from various editions across the globe, it features the longest version of “The Quest of Erebor.” This is a slightly earlier version than the one found in Unfinished Tales, but it’s longer and has quite a bit more information (though the two can’t be fully reconciled).
- And if the early (and later) manuscripts of The Hobbit interest you, then do yourself a big favor and pick up John D. Rateliff’s The History of the Hobbit. It clocks in at over 900 pages, but you’re a Tolkien fan and that should make it even more enticing!
About the Photo
This is the triple-arch stone bridge at the Antietam Battlefield in Maryland. One of the things I really miss about the East Coast are the stone bridges. We just don’t have them out here. Many were made in the early 1800s, and at that time, there really weren’t many white people out in the Pacific Northwest.
- Day 76
- Miles today: 6
- Miles thus far: 374
- 84 miles to Rivendell
- 1,405 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. Deeper into the Trollshaws. (map)