From the very first time I read the Lord of the Rings, the scene with Sam and Aragorn after the Orc attack on the Anduin always felt odd to me. This is my attempt to sort it all out.
Shortly after Legolas shot the Nazgûl out of the sky, the scene shifted to Sam tapping the hilt of his sword as if he were counting. Noticing the Moon, Sam remarked that it seemed as if they had spent no time at all in Lothlórien. Remembering when they were on the flit just after leaving Moria, he remarked that the Moon was “a week from the full,” meaning that it had been waning for about a week.
That’s true enough. On January 15th, the Moon was 82% illuminated and waning. It was now February 23rd, and Sam saw that the Moon was “as thin as a nail-paring” and nearly New. Given that the Fellowship had left Lothlórien eight nights before, Sam reasoned that it was “as if we had never stayed no time in the Elvish country.” This would have made it, in Sam’s mind, seem like January 23rd, when the moon would have been a thin crescent. For this to be true, the Fellowship would really have had to have spent no time at all in Lórien.
Of course, Sam knew well enough that they had been among the Elves for “three nights for certain” and maybe “several more” – perhaps a week. In Sam’s mind, then, the Moon should have been around the First Quarter. This made no sense at all! He swore up and down that there was no way they could have spent an entire month there, and so was about to conclude that time on the outside somehow stopped. That, “time did not count in there.”
Frodo agreed, though obviously hadn’t given it much thought. He couldn’t remember seeing the moon at all while they were there: “only stars by night and sun by day” as if every night was the New Moon.
With that, Legolas chimed in, proving the adage – “Ask not the elves for advice, because they will tell you both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.” Though he corrected them by saying that “time does not tarry ever,” he also said that “change and growth” is different in different places. For Elves, the world moved “both very swift and very slow.” Since they were immortal, everything mortal around them seemed to be continuously dying, especially Men, making the changes of the world seem swift. But since they essentially lived forever, things also seemed to drag on and on.
Though this gives us a wonderful peek into what it’s like to be an Elf, it helped Sam not at all. Aside from that, it’s a bit confusing. The Elves, originally, were supposed to live in Middle-earth. That the passing of time messes with them so much, making it seem both swift and slow, doesn’t make a lot of sense. For the Elves who had been to Valinor, fine, that’s understandable. But for the many who remained behind, Legolas included, why would time effect them in such a way? If anything, it should be Men who were effected, since, for them, Middle-earth wasn’t meant to be their home (which was why they were mortal).
But none of that is the point of this passage. The point is that time in Lórien was different. Frodo understood that it was because of Galadriel’s power and not because whatever the hell Legolas was going on about. “Rich are the hours, though short they seem, in Caras Galadhon, where Galadriel wields the Elven-ring.”
After a bit of chastisement from Aragorn for mentioning the “R”-word, Sam is corrected. They were simply caught up in Lothlórien where “time flowed swiftly by us, as for the Elves.” In saying this, Aragorn lamented that “Time flows on to a spring of little hope.”
Sam had missed the entire month of February. They had entered Lórien on January 16th, and departed exactly a month later. After a week on the water, it was the 23rd of February, not the 23rd of January.
Apart from the look into the life of an Elf, this whole passage turned out to not matter at all. It added a bit to Lothlórien’s mystique, but as readers we were already pretty convinced of that. So where did this come from, and why?
In the first draft of this chapter, Sam actually explained more clearly what he’s trying to say, and Legolas’ unhelpful bit was missing. But the biggest difference was Aragorn’s answer: Whether we were in the past or the future or in a time that does not pass, I cannot say….” It’s not fully confirmed that time in the outside world didn’t pass at all, but it’s heavily implied that that was the case in Tolkien’s first draft. The second draft makes it even clearer when Aragorn says, “In that land, maybe, we were in some time that elsewhere has long gone by.”
If the concept of time stopping in Lothlórien would have been something he pursued, that would hardly have been something that could have been explained away simply by the Elvish Ring. After all, both Elrond and Gandalf had one too, and Elrond’s was supposedly more powerful. It would than have fallen on Galadriel herself to produce this power. Why he ultimately decided to make it clear that time had passed as normal was never said.
Tolkien wasn’t at all sure what he wanted to do with this, and so made a few different schemes of how it might work. This is where Legolas’ bit came in, and also where Frodo’s mention of the Elvish Ring becomes more bold. In one, Frodo believes that time exists in Lothlórien, but at a different speed. Most of the lines given to Frodo, Aragorn, and Legolas were swapped and reswapped before settling down to the published version.
Additionally, there is a short passage spoken, which was cut entirely, but sheds even more potential light on the matter:
“‘But Lothlórien is not as other realms of Elves and Men,’ said Frodo. ‘Rich are the hours, and slow the wearing of the world in Caras Galadon. Wherefore all things there are both unstained and young, and yet aged beyond our count of time. Blended is the might of Youth and Eld in the land of Lórien, where Galadriel wields the Elven Ring.'”
In the end, it’s just not satisfactorily explained. Did time seem to pass more slowly because of the Elvish Ring, as Frodo suggests? Or did it pass slowly because that’s how time is to Elves? Legolas, who hadn’t spent much time at all around Rings of Power didn’t seemed freaked out by they way time passed, so that it was the Elvish Ring seems unlikely. Was it Galadriel? The land? Was it the Elves? Did they think they had Mono for an entire month, but it just turned out that they were really bored? We may never know.
A Few Notes
- The moon phases and percentages come from Michael W. Perry’s Untangling Tolkien, which goes through LotR day-by-day with such calculations and chronology. This guy was sued by the Tolkien estate (and ultimately settled/won) for writing this book. You can learn more about it here.
- Curiously, many of Frodo’s lines after Legolas’ explanation were originally Aragorn’s (well, Trotter’s, but you know who I mean).
- This particular New Moon doesn’t just cause Sam some problems, it actually seems out of place chronologically. Here’s an incredibly detailed page about it.
About the Photo
Making it seem that time has stopped is sort of what I try to do with my photography. The photo was taking this past summer in Helper, Utah, though it could easily have been shot in 1946 (when Anna and the King of Siam was released). Oddly, the camera that I used to take the shot predates the movie by seven years.
- Miles today: 20
- Miles thus far: 1254 (360 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
- 49 miles to the Falls of Rauros
- 519 miles to Mt. Doom
Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 23, 3019 TA. (map)