Thank God It’s Not Christmas – Rivendell, Tolkien and Yule

The Fellowship had just left Rivendell on a date which just happened to be December 25th. Since that seems pretty late in the season, let’s find out why. What was the timeline of events when they were in Rivendell?

Frodo was rescued from the Nazgul by the flood on October 20. He was moved to Rivendell that same day – it was only an eight mile trot. Three days later, on October 23, Elrond was finally able to extract the sliver of Morgul-blade from Frodo’s wound.

In the morning on October 24th, Frodo finally awoke. Gandalf told him that he had been out for four nights and three days and that he had bore the sliver for seventeen. Now awake, he reunited with his friends as well as Bilbo. That night, Boromir arrived in Rivendell and the Council of Elrond was ready to begin.

This meeting lasted all day of the 25th. But then Tolkien almost loses track of time. “So the days slipped away” as they apparently do in Rivendell. The Hunter’s Moon waxed and then it was December 18th.

On this day, Elrond finally chose the members of the Fellowship and told Frodo that he must prepare to leave.

Then, on the evening of December 25th, the Fellowship stepped off. Since this seemed like quite a bit of unaccounted-for time, I thought I might look into it to see how this came about. Sure enough, the original idea was a bit different.

In the original draft, Tolkien had the Fellowship departing Rivendell on November 24th. He gave two reasons for changing this. First, (and somewhat incomprehensibly) “too much takes place in winter.” Secondly, “this would have additional advantage of allowing Elrond’s scouts and messengers far long time.”

At first, he just pushed it back a month to December 24th, but then changed it to the 25th so that each of the dates would be the same number of days before the ends of their respective months. When he later made it so that all months (in the Shire reckoning) had thirty days, he simply never changed it back.

This date has, of course, given rise to ridiculous speculation that Frodo = Jesus because some people think they see Jesus stuff everywhere. And to this Tolkien had two answers.

The first, given in Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings, which was a sort of glossary he wrote and gave to translators of the book, explains that the date meant nothing at all. The Elves did not celebrate any midwinter festival, and besides, if they had, “the Yule, or its equivalent, was then the last day of the year and the first of the next year.” Yule, in the Shire reckoning was after December 30th (the last day of the month), but before January 1st. It lasted two days. The first day of Yule was the last day of the year, and the last day of Yule was the first day of the next year.

In the Spring of 1967, he gave an interviewer another answer, though it mostly just fortified the first. When asked: “How do you feel about the idea that people might identify Frodo with Christ?” Tolkien said:

“Well, you know, there’ve been saviours before; it is a very common thing. There’ve been heroes and patriots who have given up for their countries. You don’t have to be a Christian to believe that somebody has to die to save something. As a matter of fact, December 25th occurred strictly by accident, and I left it in to show that this was not a Christian myth anyhow. It was a purely unimportant date, and I thought, Well, there it is, just an accident.”

So apparently Tolkien made the mistake of not changing the date to December 24th and left it in to show that it’s not a Christian story, only to have to interpreted as meaning something Christian.

A Few Notes

  • The title of the post came from a Sparks song. See?
  • I’ve found that a huge number of people who are into Jesus are also into Tolkien (or maybe that’s the other way around). I’m not so much, but here’s a quick dipping of my toes into the baptismal font.
Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: Fujichrome Provia 400 (RHP) (expired 8/94)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: Fujichrome Provia 400 (RHP) (expired 8/94)

About the Photo
I didn’t think I’d get to use any church photos on this blog (since they didn’t have churches/temples in Middle-earth)! I’m really thrilled to be able to share with you a lovely Spanish church in Montana. That’s right, Montana. Why is there an old Spanish style church in Montana? I have no idea. This looks like something from New Mexico. We actually turned around to go back to it.

  • Day 96
  • Miles today: 6
  • Miles thus far: 474
  • 446 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,304 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Along the Bruinen! (map)


9 thoughts on “Thank God It’s Not Christmas – Rivendell, Tolkien and Yule

    • They really stretch things to make it fit, too. I mean, I realize that Tolkien was a Catholic, but I struggle to find how any of that should either matter or fit into his particular non-narrative beliefs. Or anyone’s for that matter. Why does Gandalf have to be an angel? Or Morgoth be Satan? Or even Illuvatar be God? Why can’t they just be taken as they are: Gandalf, Morgoth and Illuvatar.

  1. Reminds me of the post when The Return of the King was released in theaters about the religious right wing getting up in arms because it wasn’t about Jesus. I really hope it was an onion article I read then, because if not, wow.

  2. Well, of course the Elves don’t celebrate Christmas. If you think about it, it’s because Christ has not arrived yet, since Lord of the Rings essentially takes place on Earth. And the Elves, being monotheistic, don’t really celebrate solstices and equinoxes; their celebrations tend to be about people rather than dates, and their worship is very grounded and in every action.

  3. Christian allegorising, hunting for “Christ-figures”, and making the whole thing into a Catholic allegory, ruins the book as a story. (I’m Catholic myself, so not being anti-religious or anything.) How could Tolkien have been clearer that the book is not an allegory ? Some people just can’t read. Allegorising the book turns it into it heavy-handed and artistically tactless sermonising – but that would limit its appeal only to Catholics, other Christians,or people of similar beliefs – which is not what’s happened. It succeeds, or fails, as a *story*

    IIRC, December 25 in TLOTR is equivalent to 27 Dec. in our “Primary World” in any c\ase – which is the feast-day of St John the Apostle, admittedly, but not of any interest to Hobbits, so totally irrelevant to TLOTR.

    This weblog is a real find. The idea of re-tracing the journey is a real good one 🙂

    • I totally agree. I was raised Southern Baptist (and left it a long long time ago), so any mention of magic or witches was automatically Satanic. It’s weird to me that people try to draw those connections. And anything having to do with C.S. Lewis just freaks me out. Then, seeing a book about the Gospel According to the Hobbit or something makes no sense at all to me. It simultaneously lessens the gospels and Tolkien.

  4. “Well, you know, there’ve been saviours before; it is a very common thing. There’ve been heroes and patriots who have given up for their countries. You don’t have to be a Christian to believe that somebody has to die to save something.”

    ## If one follows Tolkien’s line of reasoning, and connects it to his early discussions with a (still-atheist) C. S. Lewis, this would suggest that, instead of Frodo (or Aragorn, or Gandalf) being a Christ-figure, Christ is instead fitting into, and acting as the supreme exemplar of, a familiar pattern – that of “somebody has to die to save something”, or to renounce something for the good of others. Which would make “Christ-figure-spotting” in TLOTR a back to front reading of Frodo, etc. Tolkien’s rejection of allegory has the further advantage – as Roger Sale pointed out* – of allowing the reader to see the courage of these characters against seemingly hopeless odds as the kind of courage depicted in some Old English poems (& in the Silmarillion).

    *His essay “Tolkien and Frodo Baggins” appeared in “Tolkien and the Critics (ed. by Neal Isaacs and Rose Zimbardo) in 1968.

    • I’ve always liked Tolkien’s explanation as to why people saw Hitler or Satan in his depictions of Morgoth or Sauron – that’s just how evil works. I guess the same can be said for good.

      And yes, rejecting the allegorical Christ bits allows the characters to stand on their own. Frodo is heroic because he is, rather than because Christ was, etc etc.

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