March 29, 3018 – Gandalf Learns the Truth About Bilbo’s Magic Ring

‘When did you last see Gandalf?’ asked Frodo. ‘Do you know where he is, or what he is doing?’

Strider looked grave. ‘I do not know,’ he said. ‘I came west with him in the spring. I have often kept watch on the borders of the Shire in the last few years, when he was busy elsewhere.’
Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 10.

When the hobbits first met Aragorn, as Strider, in Bree at the Prancing Pony, he explained to them that he “came west” with Gandalf in the spring.

To be specific, Aragorn had captured Gollum, taking him to Mirkwood. Two days later, Gandalf met up with them. After five days – this day, March 29 – they departed Mirkwood, leaving Gollum under the watch and care of Thranduil and the Silvan elves. And while Aragorn didn’t reveal to the hobbits what he and Gandalf had accomplished with Gollum, that story would soon come out at the Council of Elrond.

But that’s far in the future, and much must happen before we get there.

What Gollum Told Gandalf
As it stands now, over the past five days, Gandalf and Aragorn interviewed Gollum. This was clearly a more pleasant experience for the creature than his previous interview with Sauron.

Through torture and abuse, Sauron could get only two words out of Gollum: “Shire” and “Baggins.” But how did Aragorn and Gandalf do?

Aragon, for his part, admitted to putting a halter around Gollum’s neck, gagging him, and depriving him of food and water. It was Gandalf, not he, who “endured long speech with him.”

In the Lord of the Rings chapter, “Shadow of the Past,” Gandalf tells Frodo the story of Sméagol, Déagol and the Ring. The only way he could know any of the more personal details of the story is through Sméagol, Gollum, himself. The only time Gandalf ever had that chance was over the past few days, March 23-28, 3018.

Gandalf will explain a bit more at the Council of Elrond (which wouldn’t take place for another six months): “But I learned then first that Gollum’s ring came out of the Great River nigh to the Gladden Fields. And I learned also that he had possessed it long. Many lives of his small kind. The power of the ring had lengthened his years far beyond their span; but that power only the Great Rings wield.”

This was huge.

Costly Detour

Over the past few months, Gandalf had been in Minas Tirith learning all he could about the Ring of Power, fearing that Bilbo’s Ring was just that. And now he was all but certain.

There was no time to waste. In fact, this little detour had already cost him dearly. Sure, Gollum’s confession was important, but Gandalf was fairly certain that he would be able to tell upon seeing the Ring itself.

If Gandalf would have went straight to the Shire rather than to Mirkwood, he would have saved perhaps no time at all.

Let me try to explain this wild speculation.

The detour to Thranduil’s Caverns took Gandalf roughly 500 miles out of his way. Additionally, it tacked on five days to the journey (the five days spent interviewing Gollum).

It seems that Gandalf was on foot traveling from Minas Tirith through Lórien. Once he received the news of Gollum’s capture, it’s likely that he acquired a horse. But had he not received that news, he probably would have continued to the Shire on foot.

From Lórien to the Shire is a distance of 600ish miles. On foot that would take a able-bodied hiker about three weeks – a time that would have brought Gandalf to the Shire by April 10th-ish.

In actuality, Gandalf made it to the Shire, following the five days with Aragorn and Gollum in Mirkwood, by April 12th (and we’ll go into more detail on that later, but for now let’s just say that he had help). Regardless of which path he chose – to detour to meet Aragorn and Gollum, or to go straight to the Shire – he would have arrived at Frodo’s door at around the same time.

But the meeting with Gollum showed very clearly how time was a factor – something that he wouldn’t have known with any certainty had he went straight to the Shire. It stressed to him that the Enemy was aware that the One Ring was likely in play. He learned that Sauron knew of “Baggins” and “Shire” and that it was only a matter of time before all the pieces would be put together.

What Was Sauron Up To?
At this point, not much. When Sauron let Gollum go he hoped that his spies would keep track of him. He expected him to find “Baggins” and seek some kind of revenge on this thief. We learn in “The Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales that after leaving Mordor Gollum had been followed by Sauron’s spies, but he hid inside the Dead Marshes, “where Sauron’s emissaries could not or would not follow him.” It is near here where Aragorn tracked him down.

“The Hunt for the Ring” doesn’t give any exact dates for when Sauron learned of Gollum’s capture and whereabouts. And from how it seems, he would not learn for several months.

This was also due to the servants of Saruman (the wizard) misleading Sauron’s spies. Also, the Dúnedain, Aragorn’s Rangers, vigilantly kept guard over the Shire as well as, it seems, Mirkwood.

Sauron would soon (or already had by this time) become aware of this, but there was little left to do. We’re told that Sauron’s “arm was not yet long enough to reach Saruman in Isengard.”

Eventually, Sauron would turn to the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, to track down “Baggins,” but this is a decision he couldn’t make lightly. Because of this, he would hesitate, not making any move at all until June.

But now, on March 29th, it’s 177 days before Frodo leaves the Shire.

What’s Next?
April 3rd – Let’s talk a bit about Gollum.

Camera: Pentax K-1000
Film: Mikrat 300; 6iso
Process: Rodinal 1+100; 60min
Minidoka Japanese Interment (Camp Hunt), near Jerome, Idaho

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Today is Tolkien Reading Day! (What You Reading?)

Today is March 25th, celebrated the world over (mostly the internet) as Tolkien Reading Day.

In our timeline, it’s March 25th, 3018 but he celebration commemorates March 25th, 3019 – the day that the One Ring was destroyed.

Obviously, for this project, I’ve been reading Lord of the Rings, along with a few odds and ends.

I’ve been drawn back to The Children of Húrin though. I’d love to start this again, even though I’ve read it three or four times. It’s probably my favorite work of his – definitely my favorite posthumously published one.

How Bout You?
So what are you reading today? Anything? Just continuing on in whatever you’ve already been reading?

March 23, 3018 – Gandalf Arrives in Mirkwood

Welcome to March 23, 3018 (Third Age). On this day Gandalf made it to Mirkwood where he met Aragorn, who was holding Gollum prisoner.

While he’d remain here for about five days, let’s take a look at what he was up to before this. If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going, right?

Gandalf Post-Hobbit – Expecting a Party
When last we left Gandalf, he and Balin the Dwarf were visiting Bilbo “some years” after the Battle of Five Armies. Of course, The Hobbit doesn’t give us any solid dates – those solid dates didn’t even exist when Tolkien wrote it. But while figuring out the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien went back and connected both to the larger framework of his legendarium.

The “some years” later turned out to be seven years – 2949, according to the “Tale of Years” in Appendix B – or 69 years before the Fellowship gathers in 3018. Frodo was not yet even born.

Four years after the visit, in 2951, Gandalf met with the White Council to mull over the Rings of Power. This is where the wizard Saruman lied about the One Ring, telling everyone that it washed out to sea. He also had spies following Gandalf, being suspicious that the gray wizard might have been onto him (he wasn’t).

Five years later still, in 2956, Gandalf meets Aragorn, then merely a pup at the age of 25.

Gandalf doesn’t show up again in the “Tale of Years” until Bilbo’s farewell feast on his eleventy-first birthday, the Long Expected Party, at the beginning of Lord of the Rings.

There must have been some communication between Bilbo and Gandalf shortly before, however. Gandalf asked out of nowhere: “You mean to go on with your plan then?” Bilbo said that he had made up his mind “months ago.”

After Bilbo put on the Ring and disappeared, the two met up back at Bag End. Gandalf made sure that Bilbo followed through with his plan to a) leave and b) leave the Ring with Frodo. Bilbo left for his last adventure (to Rivendell) and Frodo left the party for Bag End, where he and Gandalf both spend the night (Frodo, of course, had been living there for years).

Not So Fast!
Due to the Peter Jackson films, it’s easy to forget that Frodo didn’t just up and leave on the heels of Bilbo’s departure. Seventeen years passed between the Long Expected Party and when Frodo left the Shire. So what was Gandalf up to?

We learn in the “Shadow of the Past” chapter that after Bilbo’s party in 3001, Gandalf was away from the Shire for three years. Then, he dropped by to “take a good look” at Frodo. Every year or so after that, until the autumn of 3008, he had showed up to pay Frodo a visit. After that “his visits had ceased.”

It’s speculated that from the party until 3008 Gandalf was operating nearby, possibly based out of Rivendell, but definitely west of the Misty Mountains. After that, however, he was likely to their east.

We learn in the “Tale of Years” that it was then that Gandalf and Aragorn renewed their search for Gollum in hopes that he would reveal whether the ring he once carried was the Ring. They searched “the vales of Anduin, Mirkwood, and Rhovanion to the confines of Mordor.” They heard rumor of Gollum, but they never found him.

The Search for Gollum and the A-ha Moment
We learn from Gandalf in the Council of Elrond that over the next eight years Gandalf and Aragorn searched for Gollum. Gandalf then recalled that Sarumon once said that the Ring could be read by someone “skilled.” With that, in the year 3017, Gandalf broke off the search for Gollum and went immediately to Gondor to scour the library.

Of course, through much of this, Gollum was held as a prisoner by Sauron in Mordor. He was, however, released around this time. As Aragorn continued the search, Gandalf made his way to search through Denethor’s mass of scrolls at Minas Tirith.

Specifically, Gandalf was looking for the scroll written by Isildur – the last to possess the Ring. Gandalf found the scroll and learned that Isildur had seen the markings on the Ring. Though he couldn’t read them, he copied them down. Gandalf, though, could read them. Now he knew what to look for. All he had to do was go back to the Shire, take a good hard look at Frodo’s ring and see if it was a match.

Not So Fast! (Again)
With this handy bit of knowledge, Gandalf left Minas Tirith in a hurry for the Shire, heading north. But he learned from the Elves at Lórien that Aragorn had captured Gollum. It was a bit of a Battleship Potemkin moment for Gandalf. Did he go towards the northeast to Mirkwood to interview Gollum? Or should he continue northwest to the Shire?

Gandalf chose the latter, but didn’t give much of an explanation. Of course, at this point, nobody knew that every hour was critical. It was, as it turned out, still 183 days before Frodo would leave the Shire on September 23rd.

What’s Next?
Aragorn and Gandalf would remain with Gollum and the Elves in Mirkwood for five days, leaving on March 29th. And it’s then that we’ll take a closer look at what they learned from Gollum and just what this delay might have cost Gandalf.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D Film: Svema Foto 65 (x-04/84) Process: Rodinal 25+1 (6:15mins) Yellowstone National Park

March 21, 3018 – Aragorn and Gollum Arrive in Mirkwood (Probably)

Hello. And welcome to March 21st, 3018 of the Third Age (or 1418 by the Shire Reckoning). Today is a bit of a gray area involving Aragorn, Gandalf and Gollum. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first get you up to speed.

You remember the Hobbit, right? Bilbo won a ring of invisibility from Gollum, and returned to the Shire after the Battle of Five Armies. That was some 77 years before the start of Lord of the Rings – Bilbo returned home to the Shire in 2942. At that time, nobody but he and Gollum knew he had the ring. And nobody at all knew what exactly the ring was.

Sure, folks like Gandalf and Elrond knew of the One Ring, but it hadn’t been seen since Isildur lopped it off Sauron’s hand over 3,000 years before.

Of course, the Ring was found by Déagol the Stoor (a race similar to Hobbits) in the year 2463. He was almost immediately murdered by his cousin Sméagol, later to become Gollum, who wanted the Ring for himself (as a birthday present). Seven years later, Sméagol scurried into the Misty Mountains where he lived with his Precious for nearly 500 years.

In 2939, two years before the events of The Hobbit, Sauron began his search for the Ring. He knew that Isildur was killed in or near the Anduin around the Gladden Fields, and so sent his servants to search for it. The wizard, Saruman, learned of this, but kept the information to himself – a curious choice.

And so Sauron was actively looking for the Ring, which was then in the mines of Mount Gundabad in the Misty Mountains – the same mountain where the Goblin King, a servant of Sauron, was living. In fact, the Orcs had occupied Gundabad for thousands of years (with the possible exception for a few years during the War of the Dwarves and Orcs in 2793).

To be clear, the One Ring, the Ring, was within reach of Sauron’s servants in the Misty Mountains for 450 some years. So close, yet so far.

But following Bilbo’s return to the Shire with the Ring, Sauron moved from Dol Guldur in Mirkwood to Mordor. Two years later, Gollum finally left the Misty Mountains, also searching for the Ring.

Up through this time, Sauron was keeping on the downlow. But that time was soon over. Six years after The Hobbit, Sauron declared himself openly, rebuilding Barad-dûr and even reoccupying Dol Guldur in Mirkwood with three Nazgûls (or two, depending on when Tolkien was writing about it). It was also at this same time that Gollum started for Mordor.

So About Today, Then?
We’re getting there. But it does involve Gollum, so let’s stick with him. Gollum started for Mordor in 2951. Setting out from the Misty Mountains, he flapped 800ish miles over the course of 29 years, reaching Shelob’s lair in the year 2980. It took him a bit longer to finally be captured by Sauron in the year 3009 or 3017 (Appendix B has the earlier date, but “The Hunt for the Ring,” appearing in Unfinished Tales, has the later).

There, he was “questioned and tormented” by Sauron, who could get at least two words out of him: “Baggins” and “Shire.” But he also told Sauron other things – such as the Shire (he didn’t know the word “Hobbit”) was somewhere near where he had once lived – in the Vales of Anduin. In another version of “The Hunt,” it’s Sauron who deduces this somewhat faulty information.

After learning what he could from Gollum, Sauron released him, hoping that his spies could keep an eye on Gollum, who would, no doubt, lead them directly to the Ring. Afterall, Gollum knew that area of Middle-earth better than Sauron. It all just made sense.

Except it didn’t work out that way at all.

Soon, Gollum was captured by Aragorn and interviewed by Gandalf. But when did that happen? Tolkien wasn’t exactly clear, and probably wasn’t all that sure.

So… Not Today, Then?
Okay, let’s get down to it. Appendix B claims that in 3017 Gollum was “released from Mordor” and then “taken by Aragorn in the Dead Marshes, and brought to Thranduil in Mirkwood.”

Though official, this is all incredibly vague (keep it mind, that in Appendix B Gollum was captured in 3009 – so, again, various versions may vary).

The reason I prefer the “unofficial” dates given in “The Hunt for the Ring” and other notes is because Tolkien actually worked out the specific details down to the miles and days. That’s far more interesting than the simple hand-waving given in Appendix B.

In “Hunt for the Ring,” Aragorn captured Gollum at nightfall on February 1st, 3018. Aragorn then dragged Gollum 900 miles, crossing the Anduin twice (with the help of the Beornings!), delivering him to Thranduil in Mirkwood on March 21st (today!).

Aragorn’s roundabout path from the Dead Marshes to Mirkwood.

But Tolkien had a bit of a problem. He knew that Gandalf had to arrive in the Shire by April 12th – a distance of 700 miles. He played around with the dates a bit, and even the miles. In the end, he figured that Aragorn needed 44 days to get Gollum from the Dead Marshes to Mirkwood, and that Gandalf would require 40 days to get from Mirkwood to the Shire.

Though he gave Gandalf a horse for some of the time, he really couldn’t make it work. In one of his notes, he wrote that “Gollum must therefore have been captured [by Aragorn] at beginning of 3018, say about Jan 1-3.”

Hammond and Scull speculate that Tolkien might have removed all of these finer details when publishing Appendix B “in order to begin the section ‘The Great Years’ with an event related in the direct narrative of The Lord of the Rings: Gandalf’s arrival at hobbiton on 12 April 3018.”

They’re probably correct. But it also solved his other problems. He no longer had to worry about when Gollum was released or when Aragorn captured him, how long it took to get from the Dead Marshes to Thranduil or even how Gandalf would get to the Shire. In Appendix B none of those things matter at all.

Of course, none of this could stop what seemed like his error later in the book, when Frodo mentions that Aragorn captured Gollum “some years ago.”

So, setting aside the official canon of Appendix B (which is almost always a bad idea), the March 21st date for Aragorn’s arrival in Mirkwood with Gollum makes the most sense and is generally accepted as canon even though it’s really not.

Regardless, March 21st is 185 long days before Frodo will leave the Shire.

What’s Next?
March 23 – Gandalf arrives in Mirkwood. We’ll dig a bit into that and dig into where the grey wizard has been for the past 77 years.

Side note: It feels really good to get back to Tolkien.

… And Back Again?

I’m kicking around an idea. See, this is the year 2018. The “18” corresponds nicely with the Third Age year 3018 (Shire Reckoning 1418) – the year when the Fellowship set out. Even more fun, the actual days And while the date of their departure isn’t until September, there’s quite a bit of pre-journey shuffling that is about to start.

So my idea is to follow the event taking place in Lord of the Rings day-by-day, as much as possible. True, there is a bit of downtime, especially at first. There’s also a lot going on during some days, and this will require a bit of yadda-yaddaing. I’m fine with that.

And since this is me, I plan on taking a look not just into the story, but into how the story evolved a bit through the writing, especially concerning matters of time.

To assist me, I’ve got “The Tale of Years” from Appendix B of LotR, as well as Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Guide. For the backstory, there’s the History of the Lord of the Rings volumes from the History of Middle-earth series, and finally Untangling Tolkien by Michael W. Perry (which is going to come in very handy when I’m in a hurry).

I have no idea if this will work out or if I’ll just wander off like I did with my other Tolkien projects on this page. But mostly, I’m fine with that too.

Mistakes will be made, dates will be forgotten, and I’ll most definitely stand corrected. I have no idea how I’ll handle dates such as Lithe and Yule, but I’m sure it’ll all work out.

The first date that I come across is for March 21st – tomorrow. No pressure, right? It’s a fairly interesting date. We’ll see if I keep it.