April 30, 3018 – The Nazgûl and Tolkien’s Speculation

Welcome to sometime in (maybe?) late April, 3018 of the Third Age. We’ve got some of Tolkien’s wild speculation here, so hang tight.

One might be tempted to think that Tolkien would have known for sure when everything happened. That even if not stated explicitly in the “Tale of Years,” he had notes somewhere that kept track of the movements of the players in his story.

It’s true to an extent. Tolkien kept meticulous notes on these things. However, he could almost never stop himself from wandering off on tangents while writing them. Because of this, we’re left with several versions of the earliest movements of the Nazgûl.

Trailing into Illegibility

According to Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, Tolkien noticed “some problems of chronology” while writing “The Hunt for the Ring.” In an unpublished manuscript (that they published in their book), Tolkien tried to work it all out.

Unfortunately, he wandered off again while, as they put it, “trailing into illegibility…”

For this project, I’m going to try to split the difference. Tolkien worked out much of this, and this manuscript fleshes out some questions that are raised from the published text, especially concerning the Nazgûl.

One unfortunate consequence is that they all cannot be true. What I’m left to do is pluck interesting tidbits from all and hope that it at least fills in some details. The dates may not be perfect, but the actions all probably happened. For the most part. Maybe.

A larger issue arises though. The unpublished manuscript has the Nazgûl crossing the Anduin about nowish, rather than in late July following the Battle of Osgiliath. They arrive at Isengard “towards early July.” In the other, published in Unfinished Tales, they arrive at Isengard in mid-September.

Both make great sense, but I don’t believe that Tolkien settled on one over the other. Probably.

So, What’s Happening Todayish?

In the unpublished manuscript, Tolkien wrote:

“The Nazgûl are ordered to steal over Anduin one by one and make enquiries. This is ordered soon after Sauron learns that Gollum (who disappeared into the Dead Marshes) has been captured and is with Thranduil, and that Gandalf has visited that realm sometime early in April.”

I’m not sure to what “early in April” is referring. It could be when Gandalf was in Thranduil’s realm or it could be when Sauron learned that Gollum was captured. For the first, it’s too late – Gandalf was in Mirkwood from March 23 through March 28. For the second, it’s too early – Tolkien writes in “The Hunt for the Ring” (published in Unfinished Tales) that it wouldn’t be until “late April” that Sauron received the news that Gollum was captured.

For this project, I put the (vague) date at April 24th.

Because of this, it’s not possible to say when the Nazgûl were “ordered to steal over Anduin.” If we keep this date, it would have to be around nowish.

Can Find No Trace

If Sauron sent the Nazgûl out this early, it sort of makes it seem like he’s overreacting. In the Unfinished Tales version of “Hunt for the Ring,” Sauron used his spies to track Gollum and eventually to attack Thranduil’s realm. The Nazgûl were meant as a sort of decoy for themselves – a way to trick the good guys into thinking that they were only called upon specifically for the battle of Osgiliath.

“At length he resolved that no others would serve him in this case but his mightiest servants, the Ringwraiths, who had no will but his own, being each utterly subservient to the ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held.”

In the unpublished manuscript, the Nazgûl are dispatched over the Anduin months prior to the battle.

“At first the Nazgûl investigate Anduin’s Vale … but can find no trace of Ring or ‘Baggins’ … some begin to investigate Rohan ….”

What’s curious is that in the unpublished manuscript, the Battle of Osgiliath still takes place. This means that the Nazgûl, who definitely led the battle, would have had to have traveled north to the Gladden Fields area, as well as into Rohan, and then recross the river to fall upon Osgiliath.

This is all possible because the Nazgûl split up and cover a lot of ground.

Can This Be Reconciled?

Simply put – no. It can’t. Much of how we date this time period is from one of the manuscripts published in Unfinished Tales. Yet, there’s no great reason to assume that one is more valid than this.

Tolkien never figured this out (as far as I can tell).

For the most part, I’m going to stick to the version that most people follow – the Unfinished Tales version. But I’ll dip back into this unpublished manuscript from time to time, as it helps with a bit of understanding here and there.

A good example of this has to do with Radagast and when he learned of the Nazgûl; also his visit to Isengard before meeting up with Gandalf on Midyear’s Day.

What’s Next?

We’ll next check in with Sarumon and dig into his relationship with Sauron and the Shire. This will almost exclusively come from manuscripts – from both Unfinished Tales and The Reader’s Companion.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (1942) Film: Kodak Ektachrome 400 (x-08/1987) Process: C-41 Near Vantage, Washington

April 27, 3018 – Either North, South, West or East

Welcome to later April, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll look at Gandalf’s conversation with Frodo that took place “two or three weeks” after Gandalf first arrived in the Shire on April 12th.

Quietly or Soon – You Can’t Have Both

‘You ought to go quietly, and you ought to go soon,’ said Gandalf.

We’re told that it’s been two or three weeks since Gandalf showed up knocking on Frodo’s window. Today marks two weeks exactly since the wizard’s arrival.

Tolkien throws us into the middle of a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo, with the former coaxing the latter to leave.

But Frodo didn’t want to just vanish, and Gandalf agreed, likely thinking back to Bilbo’s little vanishing trick at the Unexpected Party, which set the entire Shire atwitter.

A Little Delay… of Six Months

Speaking of birthdays, Frodo already has his departure date in mind – his 50th birthday (and Bilbo’s 128th), September 22nd. This was still 149 days away! But what is “soon” to a Maia and a long-lived hobbit?

Actually, the delay makes perfect sense. Middle-earth is huge. There’s no easy communication between towns or kingdoms. There’s horseback and walking and that’s basically it. As far as Gandalf knew, the closest Enemy outpost was Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood – 600ish miles to the east and over the Misty Mountains.

And while Gandalf knew that the Enemy was looking for the Shire, he knew that it wouldn’t be so easy to find. There were no maps, of course. There weren’t travel agents. And who really knew where The Shire was?

There was no reason at all for anyone to think that Sauron could figure any of this out, even with the limited help Gollum gave to him (“Baggins” and “Shire”). All Sauron really knew was that The Shire was to the west of Mordor. But then, basically everything was.

On top of that, Gandalf had no reason to believe that the Nazgûl would be called up by Sauron to find the Ring. Sure, there were spies everywhere, but the Nazgûl were a different thing altogether. In the past, they had been used to wage war, not to do detective work.

The short of it was that Gandalf knew time of of the essence. He just didn’t know how essential it was. This was, of course, a mistake he would regret.

But Where?

‘I have been so taken up with the thoughts of leaving Bag End, and of saying farewell, that I have never even considered the direction,’ said Frodo.

This was a big question, yet it didn’t really seem to matter. The most important thing was for Frodo to leave the Shire.

At first, Gandalf suggested that Frodo should go with Sam and set out in any direction he chose, the important thing was for it to be secret.

But then the wizard mentioned Rivendell, even though “the Road is less easy than it was, and it will grow worse as the year fails.”

The sense of this was that Frodo would be tramping the same Great East Road that Bilbo and the dwarves did 77 years before. Frodo was already familiar with this 400 mile stretch between Hobbiton and the Last Homely House from decades of Bilbo’s stories. He knew all about the Old Forest, Bree, Weathertop, the Trolls, the Last Bridge across the Hoarwell.

Though things were bad, Frodo was not yet pursued. This means that he and Gandalf likely believed that Frodo and Sam could stick to the road itself, just like Bilbo and the dwarves.

And so it was set: they would leave for Rivendell on September 22nd. It took Bilbo thirty-eight days to make the trip. Even though they were on ponies, they took their time. Frodo and Sam would be on foot and would have to move more swiftly.

What’s Next?

Gandalf wasn’t quite ready to leave the Shire – and wouldn’t until late June. But he still had that appointment to keep with Aragorn on May 1st. There’s not much to talk about, but we’ll meet back here then, okay?

*note: I’ve actually scrounged up some fun Nazgûl stuff that will post before that. Stay tuned!

Camera: Crown Graphic (1962); Graphex Optar 90mm f/6.8 Film: Kodak Tri-X @50iso; x-09/1973 Process: HC-110; 1+90; 18mins Wind Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

April 24, 3018 – What Did Sauron Know and When Did He Know It?

Welcome to late April, 3018 of the Third Age! One of the things that our heroes have to deal with in the Lord of the Rings story is a race against the clock. As we’ll see in the time ahead, the Nazgûl will be closing in, the Dark Lord’s hand will stretch out, and basically all hell will break loose.

But none of this is known to them just yet. At this time, Gandalf is in the Shire with Frodo and Aragorn is keeping watch somewhere on the borders. They plan to meet up on May 1, but Gandalf will be hanging out with Frodo until then.

So What Does Sauron Know?

Up until this point, the Dark Lord Sauron doesn’t know much at all. He learned only “Shire” and “Baggins” from Gollum. He had sent his spies to keep track of Gollum after letting him go from Mordor. They lost him in the Dead Marshes. Gollum was then captured by Aragorn, but Sauron’s spies did not see this.

Aragorn ultimately took Gollum to the Wood-elves in Mirkwood, and was likely off of the Enemy’s radar completely until then.

In Mirkwood there were spies from Sauron’s outpost at Dol Guldur, which was commanded by the Nazgûl named Khamûl, who was second to the Witch King. Though his power extended only as far north as the Forest Road, his spies were stealthy enough to creep closer to Thraduil’s caves.

Aragorn and Gollum arrived in Mirkwood on March 21st, and it’s probably at or around that time that Khamûl’s spies learn about it. Just how they knew why he was important is never discussed.

At any rate, they told Khamûl, but Khamûl wanted to be sure it was Gollum. After a bit of investigation, likely taking place before Gandalf arrived in Mirkwood (March 23rd), and possibly even before Aragorn settled in Thranduil’s rhealm. Khamûl then sent word to Sauron.

This means that Khamûl’s news was old news and inaccurate. First, Khamûl had no idea who Aragorn was or where he was going (though he probably figured it was Thranduil’s realm. All he knew for certain was that Gollum had been captured by a man. The Enemy’s spies never saw Gandalf, as they certainly would have recognized him.

Having to travel by hoof, word would not have reached Sauron until now (at least, according to Tolkien).

The distance from Dol Goldur to Barad-dûr is maybe 500 miles as the Carrion Birds fly. There are no major waterways between the two places to slow up the messengers, so it’s not clear why it took the message so long to get to Sauron.

This could be explained by Khamûl double-checking on Gollum. Maybe he learned about Gollum and the man (Aragorn) in late March, but didn’t get full confirmation until early April – after Gandalf and Aragorn left Mirkwood. This would explain how he didn’t know about Gandalf, and also why it took so long or the information to reach Sauron.

Sauron Waits…

Tolkien insisted that Sauron would not learn of Gandalf’s part in this for another month – so, late May at the earliest. Because of this, he didn’t feel there was much urgency to wrest Gollum from Mirkwood.

So it seems that Sauron waited. And this makes some sense. The Wood-elves were his enemies, but it wasn’t like Gollum was at Rivendell or with Saruman the White. He was with isolationists who mostly kept to themselves. The Wise were seemingly unaware of Gollum’s importance.

Because of this, Sauron felt he had some time. There was no real hurry.

Why Does Anyone Care About Gollum?

It’s obvious why Gandalf was interested in Gollum, but why was Sauron? After all, didn’t he just release him from his year-long (or whatever) stay in Mordor?

The reason Sauron let Gollum go was so that he could track him. Sauron figured that Gollum would wander back to the place of his birth, which he figured was basically near the “Shire” and “Baggins”. He figured that Gollum would seek out some kind of revenge against Baggins. This would, in turn, lead Sauron to Baggins and the Ring.

Gollum’s imprisonment with the Wood-elves in Mirkwood was a huge hindrance to Sauron’s plan to find the Ring. As long as Gollum was held captive, he was no use to the Dark Lord.

And yet, Sauron saw no urgent need to break him free – not yet anyway.

What’s Next?

Though Sauron is waiting a bit, Gandalf is a little more anxious. Maybe not as anxious as he should be, but still, anxious. We’ll check back in on them around April 27.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D (1914) Film: Ilford HP4 (x-10/1979) Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min Goblin Valley, Utah

So What *Did* Gandalf Know About the Ring? (And Why Didn’t He Do Anything About It?) [Part 2 of 2]

How is it possible that Gandalf failed to connect the dots pointing to Bilbo’s ring being the One Ring – Sauron’s Ring of Power? In our previous post, we looked at Gandalf’s history with the One Ring through the Silmarillion and The Hobbit. In this post, we’ll delve into the Lord of the Rings-era material to finally figure out when Gandalf knew it was the One Ring and why he seemed to do nothing about it.

Gandalf and the Ring Between the Stories

There are 59 years between the ending of The Hobbit (2942) and the Long-Expected Party kicking off the Lord of the Rings (3001). Across those nearly six decades, Gandalf learned much more about the Ring.

At the final White Council in 2953, Gandalf asked Saruman about the One Ring. Details about why he asked are sketchy, but it could possibly be that he finally began to seriously consider the idea that Bilbo’s magic ring was the One Ring. In the Silmarillion, however, we’re told that Gandalf wanted to attack Sauron before the Dark Lord found the One Ring again.

If Gandalf had any fears of this, they were (maybe) set aside by the assurances of Saruman who had studied the Rings of Power in depth. “Into Anduin it fell, and long ago, I deem, it was rolled to the Sea. There it shall lie until the end, when all this world is broken and the deeps are removed.”

Elrond, who was also at the White Council, was still a bit nervous that the One Ring might be found. Gandalf, however, likely took Saruman’s position, not knowing that Saruman had invented the story of it washing out to sea and was looking for the One Ring for himself.

Meanwhile, Gandalf kept an eye on Bilbo and noticed that he was not aging. A shadow fell on Gandalf again, but he pacified his fears – Bilbo came from a long-lived on his mother’s side. So he waited.

Let’s review. While the Three Rings of the Elves are accounted for, the location of the remaining Rings of Power are not all known. It’s assumed that at least four of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves are destroyed, but the Nine Rings for Men are definitely still in play.

It’s not clear whether Gandalf ever knew their location. Tolkien stated a good number of times that Sauron held the Nine Rings after turning the Men into Ringwraiths. There’s no reason for Gandalf to just assume that Sauron couldn’t disperse the Nine Rings again to make more wraiths. The same is true for the Seven Rings (which are probably identical to the Nine). The same would not be true for the One Ring, though it would be fairly obvious if Sauron possessed that again.

But here’s the rub – the Seven and Nine Rings all had jewels. However, can we assume that Gandalf definitely knew this? His hardcore research on the Rings of Power wouldn’t happen until 3017. Whether this was common knowledge among the Elves is unknown. Regardless, the chances of Bilbo’s ring being the One Ring, which to his knowledge was sunk in the sea, were slim. How would it have wound up in the caves under the Misty Mountains?

The Long-Expected Suspicion

Gandalf attended Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday/going away party in 3001 of the Third Age. Bilbo wanted to play a final joke on the Hobbits by slipping the Ring on his finger and disappearing. But as he did, Gandalf created a “blinding flash” in hopes of giving the guests a more or less logical explanation for how Bilbo “vanished.” He was worried that they’d be talking about it for years to come. Gandalf also noticed that Bilbo had hardly aged, which was certainly a known effect of the Rings of Power.

At this point, Gandalf is nearly certain that Bilbo’s ring is one of those Rings. “That was the first real warning I had that all was not well.”

Bilbo had agreed to leave the ring with Frodo, but put up quite a fight, acting exactly like Gollum. Gandalf picked up on this immediately and saw that it was likely his ring that was causing this behavior.

After Bilbo left and Frodo took possession of the Ring, Gandalf warned him not to use it. “But keep it secret, and keep it safe!”

This was when Gandalf knew “knew at last that something dark and deadly was at work.”

“The Shadow of the Past”

Three years after Bilbo’s departure, Gandalf visited Frodo “taking a good look at him.” Then, over the next few years, he checked back in asking about Frodo’s health. He was obviously paying close attention to how the Ring was or wasn’t changing Frodo.

Realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere with Saruman, who still held that the One Ring was lost at sea, Gandalf searched for information on his own. He went to Minas Tirith to read Isildur’s own writings about how he acquired the Ring and its effects on the bearer. He then interviewed Gollum, who had been captured by Aragorn. From Gollum he learned where Bilbo’s ring was found – in the River Anduin along the Gladden Fields – right where Isildur was killed.

This perfectly explained how the Ring could have gotten from Sauron to Isildur to Gollum to Bilbo and finally to Frodo.

With this knowledge, Gandalf hurried to the Shire where he made one final test. The Scroll of Isildur explained how to see the inscription on the Ring. When Gandalf set it in the fire, the writing could be read. It was only then that he knew for sure.

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000 (c1970)
Film: Fuji Super HG 1600 (x-2/2001); 800iso
Community of Christ Temple, Independence, Missouri

Why Gandalf Didn’t or Couldn’t Act

The morning after Gandalf arrived in the Shire, Frodo asked him how long he had known that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring. Gandalf avoided the question and Frodo had to ask again. He tried once more to evade it, and then gave an incredibly long explanation of the history of his doubts before finally coming around to his answer.

Gandalf basically knew that the One Ring was in the Shire for seventeen year, and many ask why he did nothing.

To this there are two answers.

First, what could he do? Bilbo would not willingly give up the Ring to Gandalf. To get it, Gandalf would have to steal it – which is exactly how both Gollum and Bilbo acquired the Ring. Further, Gandalf would have to steal it from a dear friend, just like Gollum. This would be playing into the Ring and its will.

Second, if Gandalf had taken the Ring, as he told Frodo the night of the departure, he would become “like the Dark Lord himself.”

Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.

Leaving it with Frodo, in the safety of the Shire, was the best possible solution. Nobody even knew of the Shire in 3001 – not Sauron, not Saruman (probably). Regardless, there’s no reason at all that anyone would even consider a Hobbit to be the ringbearer.

In the end, as we see by the conclusion of the story, Gandalf made the right decision – knowingly leaving the One Ring with Frodo in the Shire was his action. Any other decision would likely have ended with either Sauron or Saruman holding the Ring and destroying the world.

What’s Next?

Playing off this little motif, we’ll take a look at what Sauron knew about the One Ring, Gollum, Baggins, the Shire and Gandalf. Coming up next week!

So What *Did* Gandalf Know About the Ring? [Part 1 of 2]

How is it possible that Gandalf failed to connect the dots pointing to Bilbo’s ring being the One Ring – Sauron’s Ring of Power? Everything seemed to be screaming out loud that it was the Ring, and yet Gandalf seemed to only “guess” at it while bumbling around Middle-earth, right?

Some have suggested this as a huge plot hole – if Gandalf was so incredibly wise, and the clues were so obvious, how could have had no idea? Today (and tomorrow) we’ll figure this all out.

A Quick history of the Rings of Power Before Gandalf (Silmarillion-era)

In the middle of the Second Age, roughly 4,800 years before the events of Lord of the Rings, the Rings of Power were forged. The Elves, under the guidance of a convincingly-friendly Sauron, first started by making many “lesser rings” as a way to work up to the greater rings. Once up to speed, and as the old poem goes, three rings were made for (and by) the Elves, nine were made for Men, seven were made for Dwarves, and one was made for (and by) Sauron alone – the One Ring to control them all.

The Elves refused to use their Rings, quickly figuring out that this was Sauron’s plan. The Dwarves used theirs to amass wealth, but due to the way the Dwarves were created, they could not be controlled. Men were the most easily ensnared, and their rings worked as intended upon them.

From The Silmarillion:

Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron.

And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and under the domination of the One, which was Sauron’s. And they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death.

For the next century there was war, with Sauron losing in the end – though he retained the One Ring. Peace came over most of Middle-earth, lasting nearly 1700 years (with some squabbles therein, to be sure).

This peace was broken when Sauron attacked Gondor in 3429 of the Second Age. This saw the Last Alliance of Men and Elves rise up against the Enemy. Finally, they defeated Sauron after a dozen years of conflict.

The war culminated with Isildur cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s finger. Sauron’s power, invested almost fully in the Ring, was diminished to nearly nothing. The Nazgûl dispersed into the shadows, and the Second Age came to an end.

Gandalf and the Rings Before Bilbo (Late-Silmarillion-era)

Gandalf arrived in Middle-earth with Saruman and Radagast. They were known as the Istari, the Wizards, and they were sent “to contest the growth of the Shadow, and to move Elves and Men to beware of their peril.”

The Istari arrived in Middle-earth around the year 1000 of the Third Age. It must be assumed that upon their arrival everything stated above was more or less known to them.

At this time, a shadow had begun to creep over Mirkwood. There was a strong evil power in the southern end of that forest. The Wise believed it to be one of the Nazgûl.

The location of only three of the Rings – the Three Rings of the Elves – was definitely known. Two were held by the Elves and one was held by Gandalf. Four of the Dwarves’ Seven Rings were said to have been swallowed and/or destroyed by dragons. The Nine for Men were basically unknown. Sauron would eventually hold all Nine again, but it’s not known when this happened.

It was also known that all of the Rings of Power had jewels with but two exceptions: the One Ring and one of the lesser rings made before. This was most definitely known because the Elves made all of the Rings of Power, except for the One Ring.

In 2850 of the Third Age, less than a century before Bilbo acquired the Ring, Gandalf entered Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood to investigate the evil presence growing through the forest. There, he learned that Sauron was gaining power and that he was “gathering all the Rings and seeking for news of the One.”

The next year, Gandalf urged the White Council to attack Dol Guldur, but Saruman overruled him. Gandalf did not realize that Saruman wanted the One Ring for himself. In truth, Gandalf isn’t all that concerned about the Rings. That was more Saruman’s territory. Gandalf just wanted to rid Middle-earth of Sauron, Rings or no Rings.

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000 (c1970)
Film: Fuji Super X-tra 400 (x-12/2014)
Community of Christ Temple, Independence, Missouri

Gandalf and Bilbo and the One Ring (The Hobbit-era)

This was basically the situation when Bilbo acquired the Ring from Gollum in 2941. After leaving Gollum’s lair and arriving back with Gandalf and the Dwarves, Bilbo told them about the riddle game and Gollum, but purposely failed to mention the bit about the Ring. He suspected that Gandalf “guessed at the part of his tale that he had left out.”

Gandalf told Frodo in “The Shadow of the Past” chapter of Lord of the Rings that when Bilbo told the story of how he “won” the Ring, he didn’t believe him (and probably figured he stole it). Gandalf deduced that Bilbo made up the story “to put his claim to the ring beyond doubt.”

We then learn that this was “the first real warning” that Gandalf had “that all was not well.” We’re told later, in the same chapter that a shadow fell on Gandalf’s heart when he learned Bilbo found a ring, though he didn’t understand why.

So let’s break away here for a second and look at the broader picture. Gandalf knew that Bilbo has a magic ring of some sort. Since rings and ring lore aren’t his specialty, he didn’t quite know what to make of it. He certainly knew of the many lesser rings, as well as the Rings of Power – many of which weren’t exactly accounted for. He also knew of the One Ring, which was, to his knowledge, also unaccounted for (that would soon change – sort of).

At this point – 77 years before Frodo left the Shire, the only thing that Gandalf knew for sure was that Bilbo’s new ring, which he probably stole, made him sort of dickish and also invisible. With lots of magical rings in the world, there’s basically no reason at all for Gandalf to suspect that this was the One Ring.

(To be continued in our next post… )

Book Review: Flora of Middle-earth

I’m not really one for book reviews. Generally my recommendations go something like “It’s good, read it.” But I’ll draw that sentiment out long enough for sharing.

The book Flora of Middle-earth by the father and son duo Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd didn’t really seem like something in my wheelhouse, to be honest. When it comes to plants, I’m generally at a loss. I prefer deserts to forests and dry dirt to lush soil.

When I’m reading Tolkien, it’s rare that I even notice when he mentions this plant or that. I can’t usually even tell you which trees Gandalf and the Dwarves climbed up to escape the wogs (it was the larch… the larch…). And prior to this book, I had no idea that fire-weed was actually a real thing, and only the slightest idea that the flower elanor was not (though it’s closely related to the pimpernel – which I always thought was a bird – I’m really bad at this).

Which is why I figured that the illustrations would be my only appreciation. Here I was wrong. But let’s talk about the illustrations for a bit.

Walter S. Judd (the son) is a printmaker and teaches at Augsburg College. Looking at the illustrations, they appear to be woodblock prints. That is certainly the idea. Yet, they’re not. They are digital, and for some reason, that’s even more impressive.

I have some very limited experience with woodblock (and linoleum block) printing, and the fact that it can be so perfectly mimicked in a digital medium is mindblowing.

There are 160 or so illustrations throughout the book and every single one of them is beautiful and worthy of careful looking. All depict the flower or leaf or root in the accompanying text, but most also contain a sliver of the story as well.

Treebeard makes an appearance in the illustration of moss. Samwise is with hemp, and a purposely small Fëanor can be picked out of the two trees of Valinor.

The text of this 400+ page book was written by Walter S. Judd (the father). He “is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biology, University of Florida. His research focuses on the systematics and evolution of the flower plants. He has published over 200 refereed articles and has described numerous new species of plants.”

So what is he doing writing about fake plants, then?

Well, most of the 140 or so plants mentioned in the Legenarium are real. And most of the rest are quite like real.

In the introduction, it’s explained that “the genesis of this book began years ago, when we, as father and son, enjoyed reading The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings together…” They go on to say that each time they read Tolkien “the experience is not so much merely reading words on a page, but actually finding ourselves immersed in Middle-earth, as if we had awoken from sleep and found ourselves transported to a wondrous land.”

That is something we can all understand.

The Flora of Middle-earth provides insight into not just the plants that can be found in Tolkien’s writings, but pages of background.

For instance, the entry for “daffodils” reminds us of Sam’s description of Galadriel to Faramir – “Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like.” Judd waxes philosophical, wondering if we might be reminded of Lent – the season associated with daffodils and springtime. Lórien is in eternal spring, and Galadriel denied the ring as if in perpetual Lent.

“In that moment of decision, as she raised up her arm, she alone was illuminated and seemed ‘tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terribly and worshipful’ – as if she were a great tree – but then she lowered her hand and laughed. She had relinquished her pride and desire for power and was not diminished, merely an elf-woman in a simple white gown – a slender white-flowered daffodil.”

The entries all continue on, describing the etymology of the word – most devoting a paragraph at least to the subject. Then we delve into “distribution and ecology,” which are more science-minded than the other bits. Here, Judd returns us to the real world so that we might learn something about our own ecology. Then, with a brief overview of “economic uses” and a description of the plant itself, we’re onto the next.

In addition to the 140 or so entries, there’s a chapter on “plant communities of Middle-earth,” as well as one very short and technical chapter on what makes a plant a plant. Another on “plant morphology,” which I suppose is handy, and still another on how to properly identify a plant (I think, I’ll admit, I’m pretty lost there). Finally, we’ve a small chapter on Telperion and Laurelin, the Two Trees of Valinor.

This one surprised me. I’m far from even an working knowledge of Tolkien, but Florda of Middle-earth reminds me just how much I don’t know. It’s rare to find a book so stocked with things we’ve never even considered – things that are simultaneously familiar and new. This is a beautiful volume, and I can’t recommend it enough.

So, I guess what I’m saying is – it’s good, read it.

April 13, 3018 – Gandalf Tests the Ring, Dishes to Frodo

Welcome to April 13, 3018, and welcome back to Gandalf!

The night previous, he and Frodo stayed up late talking over old times. Gandalf began to tell Frodo about the Ring given to him by Bilbo seventeen years before.

The Rules of the Ring

Gandalf told Frodo the basic nature and rules of the One Ring.

  • A mortal who keeps any of the Rings of Power becomes immortal. More specifically, he doesn’t die – “he merely continues, until at last every minute is weariness.”
  • If he uses any of the Rings to become invisible too often “he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the Dark Power that rules the Rings.”
  • “Sooner or later the Dark Power will devour him.”

Some of this Gandalf certainly picked up through lore, but much of it must have learned this at his time studying in Minas Tirith the year before. He probably also saw the effect it had on Gollum.

Tolkien Changes His Story

It’s important (or at least fun) to remember that when Lord of the Rings was written, starting in 1937, The Hobbit was still in its first edition. Gandalf told Frodo that from the start he flat out didn’t believe Bilbo’s story about winning the Ring from Gollum.

First Edition of The Hobbit

Of course, in the version of The Hobbit available now, we know the full story of “Riddles in the Dark.” But this chapter was drastically changed in 1951 – three years before the release of Fellowship of the Ring.

The original version, published in 1937, told of how Bilbo won the Ring fair and square and Gollum seemed not not care much at all about it. They parted on basically friendly terms.

The second edition, still available today (with only slight alterations done by Tolkien in the 60s) tells the “Riddles in the Dark” story we know now – the “Thief! Baggins! We hates it forever!” story.

Wishing to advance the story of the Ring, Tolkien had to ret-con the Gollum story, changing Gollum into something much more sinister, and transforming the Ring from just another magic ring into the One Ring.

Gandalf has now figured out the second edition story and broke the news to Frodo (who already knew much of it anyway). Perhaps we’ll take a look at the specifics of the changes soon enough.

Gandalf Tells Frodo a Bunch of Stuff

This chapter is basically all exposition – much of it covered here before. It deserves a very close reading, the details of which can’t really be covered here as well as I’d like.

Frodo is told about Saruman the White, and how Gandalf had been uneasy about him. He learned that Sauron didn’t know about hobbits or the Shire. He learned a bit about how the Ring was made, and about the other Rings of Power as well. Gandalf told him about the Nazgûl – “shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”

Camera: Zenit 11
Film: Fuji Super HG 1600; 800iso
Reactor B, Hanford Site, Washington

They talked of Isildur, Gil-galad and Elendil, Sauron’s overthrow and how the Ring was lost. He also spoke of Gollum’s story – gleaned from Gollum only two weeks before. Gandalf explained to him how Gollum both hated and loved the Ring.

Building on the “Riddles in the Dark” story, Gandalf told Frodo that Gollum didn’t give Bilbo the Ring, but that the Ring decided on its own to leave Gollum. “There was more than one power at work,” Gandalf said to Frodo. There was the power of the Ring – Sauron. But there was also another power – “I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

Of course, Gandalf could have put it much plainer if he had really wanted to.

Frodo Learns What Sauron Knows

Through Gollum, Sauron learned where Isildur lost the Ring, learned where Gollum found the Ring and was easily able to deduce that it was the One Ring.

Gandalf could not be completely sure, but was fairly certain that Sauron also knew about hobbits and of the Shire – though thankfully did not know much about either. He also knew “Baggins.”

The Mission Ahead

Gandalf explained that the Ring would have to be destroyed, but he himself could not do it. No simple fire or furnace could melt it. Dragon-fire, maybe, but since there were no dragons around anymore, it would have to be taken to the Cracks of Doom – in the volcano in Mordor where it was forged.

Frodo wasn’t exactly drafted for the job, but Gandalf told him that he was chosen. He also assured him that “I will help you bear this burden, as long as it is your to bear.”

However, he cautioned that something had to be done soon as “the Enemy is moving.”

Frodo Basically Decides

Though Frodo wanted Gandalf to find someone better suited than him to keep the Ring, he understood that at the very least, he had to save the Shire by leaving it, by exiling himself.

Gandalf agreed. “The Ring will not be able to stay hidden in the Shire much longer; and for your own sake, as well as for others, you will have to go, and leave the name of Baggins behind you.”

Conscripting Sam Conscripting Himself

Sam was listening in, of course. He heard of the enemy and rings, dragons, a fiery mountain and Elves.

“Lor bless me, sir, but I do love tales of that sort. … “Elves, sir! I would dearly love to see them.”

Sam asked Frodo if he could take him to see Elves on his way out of the Shire. But Gandalf had a better idea. While Frodo implored Sam to keep this all a secret, Gandalf found the perfect traveling companion for Frodo.

“I have thought of something better than that. Something to shut your mouth, and punish you properly for listening. You shall go away with Mr. Frodo!”

Gandalf suggested that they leave quietly and soon. But how long would it be?

What’s Next

We know now that Frodo and Sam wouldn’t leave for months. In the story, not much more happens until May 1st, when Gandalf and Aragorn meet back up at Sarn Ford. But we’ll check in again soon to talk about this and that. On Monday, we’ll have a book review and Wednesday and Thursday we’ll discuss what Gandalf knew and when. Stay tuned!

April 12, 3016 – There’s Only One Dragon in Bywater; Gandalf Arrives!

“The conversation in The Green Dragon at Bywater, one evening in the spring of Frodo’s fiftieth year, showed that even in the comfortable heart of the Shire rumours had been heard, though most hobbits still laughed at them.”

On this date it seemed like a fine enough time for hobbits of the Shire to sit around chatting at The Green Dragon. At any rate, today is when we’ll take a look at it.

We learn in the “Shadow of the Past” chapter that Gandalf hadn’t visited the Shire in nine years, and Frodo had to get his information where he could find it. Lately, however, the information seemed to be finding the Shire first.

Are Tree-men Ents?

I suppose that avoiding Ted Sandyman while living in the larger Hobbiton/Bywater metropolitan area is a fruitless endeavor – especially since there’s but one tavern worth visiting – the Green Dragon, located conveniently close to that Rosie Cotton. Taverns are for drinking and rumors, and it can certainly be assumed that one naturally follows the other.

Urban legends can usually be dismissed for being just that. Typically someone’s cousin Hal might hear about someone who saw something mysterious. In this case, Sam Gamgee’s cousin Hal claimed to see “Tree-men.”

Tree-men? Sure. “They do say that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors not long back.”

Of course, knowing what we know of Middle-earth, it’s tempting to just assume that these are Ents or Huorns or something like Old Man Willow. But Sam was likely just referring to giants. In an early draft of this chapter, Tolkien had Sam telling of “Giants .. nigh as big as a tower or leastways a tree.”

In The Return of the Shadow from the History of Middle-earth series, Christopher Tolkien doesn’t believe these are Ents at all. He reminds us that his father had written about “Tree-men” before, in the Eärendel stories.

They’re mentioned twice (in The Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 2), neither, of course, referring to Ents. Though Tolkien would not come up with Ents until a few months after he wrote the Green Dragon scene, in their first incarnation, Treebeard (called a Tree-giant) had Gandalf imprisoned. Obviously much would change before Tolkien was finished.

But it should also be remembered that Old Man Willow – a tree with a human-like and nasty disposition – predated the first writings of Lord of the Rings by five or so years, bring published in 1934.

Sam soon explained that this giant was as big as an Elm tree, with a stride of seven yards. Tolkien, however, actually figured out how long an ent-stride would be – four feet (according to his notes as presented in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion).

So if Hal can be trusted (never trust anything named Hal), this Tree-giant was much larger than an Ent.

The Bounders Have Never Been So Busy

Sam continued, telling Ted that “queer folk” have been crossing the Shire, with many more turned back by the Bounders – a special police force stationed at the boundaries of The Shire. Also known as “Shirriffs,” they wore a feather in their caps and were usually more worried about animals than people.

There were only twelve Shirriffs, three per farthing. However, there seemed to be a sort of Shire Reserve to guard the borders when need be. This was a fluctuating number and was of late “greatly increased”.

We learn in the Prologue that “There were many reports and complaints of strange persons and creatures prowling about the borders, or over them: the first sign that all was not quite as it should be, and always had been except in tales and legends of long ago.”

While most hobbits seemed to shrug this off, clearly the Shirriffs and Bounders were taking notice.

It should also be of note that Ted Sandyman seemed a bit too defensive about these “queer folk.” Was he already making shady deals with Sharkey?

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000 (c1970)
Film: Kodak Eastman 250T (5294); x-mid 1980s
Glendive, Montana

Sailing, Sailing, Sailing over the Sea

One of my favorite parts of the book is this section, where Sam is dreamily telling that unworthy bastard Ted Sandyman of the Elves.

Sam’s tone completely changes. Before this, he was speaking in a very distinct rural accent. But now it was all different, and you can see the change as it happens:

“And I’ve heard tell that Elves are moving west.” The “heard tell” is colloquial and is pure hobbit – especially Sam. But after that, Sam’s voice sounded more like Frodo’s or even Gandalf’s.

“They do say they are going to the harbours, out away beyond the White Towers.’ Sam waved his arm vaguely: neither he nor any of them knew how far it was to the Sea, past the old towers beyond the western borders of the Shire. But it was an old tradition that away over there stood the Grey Havens, from which at times elven-ships set sail, never to return.”

Then Sam hit us: “They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us.” Tolkien explains that Sam was “half chanting the words.” He was sad, solemn.

And Ted laughed (because he’s a right asshole).

But Sam’s connection to the Elves is intense. “They are leaving us.” He says it like they’re a normal part of his life. We learn that Sam might have seen one at some point, though honestly, that seems like wishful thinking.

After Ted rips him from his revery, Sam slips back into his normal speech, our dear old Sam.

The White Towers (and How Far to the Shore?)

In the Silmarillion we learn that Elendil, the father of Isildur and the first king of Arnor and Gondor, established a kingdom in Eriador – a land which encompassed all of the Shire and much more. On the Emyn Beraid, the Tower Hills, Gilgalad build three towers as a gift to Elendil’s faithful people, called the Númenorians.

One of the towers housed a Palantír – a seeing stone, the Palantír of Elostirion, also called the Elendil Stone. The Palantíri come up quite a bit in the Lord of the Rings, but this one was a little different.

The Elendil Stone wasn’t able to communicate with other stones, but could be used by Elendil to see into the West, toward the Undying Lands where they Elves would later be “sailing, sailing, sailing.”

Of interesting note, none of the hobbits at the Green Dragon had ever been to the sea. Nobody there even knew how far away it was.

So let’s figure it out.

The Elves left out of Mithlon – the Grey Havens – in the Gulf of Lune, well back from the Sea by about 150 miles. The Havens themselves, however, weren’t too incredibly far from Hobbiton.

All Hobbits knew where Michel Delving was, as many had visited. It’s about fifty miles west of Hobbiton. To put that in perspective, Buckland and the bridge over the Brandwine was about fifty miles east of Hobbiton.

Seventy-five miles farther west past Michel Delving were the “old towers” mentioned by Sam. From the towers, it was maybe twenty-five or thirty more miles to the Grey Havens.

In all, we’re looking at a quick trip of 150 miles from Hobbiton to the Grey Havens. And to put that in perspective, Bree is only about 120 miles east of Hobbiton. (Note: All mileage is grossly estimated by me from The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad.)

Gandalf Arrives in the Shire

Later, towards evening, as Sam was walking home from the Green Dragon, Frodo heard a knocking on his window. It was Gandalf, whom he hadn’t seen or heard from in nine long years.

After an exchange of tidings, they talked late into the night. Gandalf began to tell Frodo about the Ring and Sauron, but stopped, insisting matters such as this should be discussed in the daytime. All that Gandalf would tell Frodo was that the Ring was dangerous – “far more dangerous” than Frodo could guess.

And what’s next?
April 13, 3018 – Gandalf and Frodo hang out all day. So will we.

April 9, 3018 – Gandalf and Aragorn En Route to The Shire

“Beorn may be your friend, but he loves his animals as his children. You do not guess what kindness he has shown you in letting dwarves ride them so far and so fast, nor what would happen to you, if you tried to take them into the forest.”

Welcome to April 9, 3018 – three days before Gandalf arrives in The Shire. I thought I’d take this opportunity to look into the travels of Aragorn and Gandalf after they left Gollum in Mirkwood.

There is no solid account for how they managed to make 800 miles in two weeks, so a bit of guessing had to be done. We do have some clues, however.

All Aragorn has to offer is: “I came west with him in the spring.”

However, Tolkien himself jotted down some quick notes while working out various versions of the account Gandalf gave to Frodo concerning the Black Riders (as given in “The Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales).

“After the Carrock he had a horse, but he had the High Pass over the Mountains to cross. He got a fresh horse at Rivendell, and making the greatest speed he could he reached Hobbiton late on the 12th of April, after a journey of nearly eight hundred miles.”

From this we have to assume that Gandalf was on foot through all of Mirkwood. Coming out of it he must have gotten a horse from the Beornings.

This echoes nicely back to The Hobbit when Gandalf made it clear that the Dwarves return their ponies to Beorn lest there be a world of trouble. The horse given to Gandalf at the Carrock was almost definitely one under the care of Beorn’s son, Grimbeorn.

After riding from the Carrock to Rivendell – a distance of 150ish miles – Gandalf borrowed a fresh horse from Elrond. He apparently rode this the remaining 500 miles.

But What About Aragorn?

Aragorn told the hobbits that he traveled west with Gandalf, though he doesn’t make clear when they split up. He also tells them that he had “often kept watch on the borders of the Shire in the last few years” so it’s possible he went back to that post and awaited news from Gandalf.

We also learn that they would meet up again on May 1st at Sarn Ford, so it’s also likely that they set that up before parting.

And if they did part as they approached The Shire, they were still together on this date – April 9th – and wouldn’t part until the 11th or even the 12th.

What of Gollum?
At this point, Sauron did not yet know of Gollum’s capture by Aragorn. But that didn’t mean nobody knew. The chain of messages would run from the Orcs and spies based out of Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood to Khamûl, the Nazgûl second in command to the Witch King, who commanded the outpost.

Tolkien speculated in “Hunt for the Ring” that Khamûl wouldn’t tell Sauron immediately, but would try to find out Gollum’s exact location first. This would take time, and Sauron would have no idea of Gollum’s capture until the end of April. But we’ll get to that then.

By this time, however, it’s a safe bet that the Nazgûl knew that Gollum was held not too far away by the Wood-elves in northern Mirkwood.

What’s Next?
Gandalf alone will arrive at Frodo’s doorstep on April 12th. Also, Sam has a bit of a chat with that insufferable Ted Sandyman. We’ll meet back here then.

Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (c1950)
Film: Kodak Tmax 100 (x-03/2000)
Process: HC-110B; 7min
Near Vantage, Washington

April 3, 3018 – Gollum’ s Story: A Look Back

Welcome to April 3, 3018! Gandalf and Aragorn are still making their way to the Shire from Mirkwood and there’s not a whole lot to talk about yet. So let’s take a look back at the various rough drafts and revisions to the story of how Gandalf learned what he learned from and about Gollum and the Ring.

In Lord of the Rings we learn that Gandalf has two sources for his knowledge about the Ring’s history. First is Isildor’s scroll he discovered in Minas Tirith and second was Gollum himself.

Gandalf spend four or five days talking one-on-one with Gollum, the gist of which was discussed in the previous post.

Today, however, as Gandalf and Aragorn are on their way to the Shire, I’d like to take a look at how Tolkien evolved Gandalf’s Ring story with Gollum as he wrote it.

Spring 1938 – ‘I Guessed Much’
After finishing a few drafts of the first chapter, Tolkien moved on to getting proto-Frodo out of the Shire. By the third chapter Tolkien introduced an elf named Gildor – a name recycled from his earlier Silmarillion writings. Much of this idea would go on to become the Frodo/Gildor exchange from the “Three Is Company” chapter.

The conversation with Gildor is the first time Tolkien explored Gollum’s past. “We don’t know where Gollum comes in – certainly not elf, nor goblin; he is probably not dwarf; we rather believe he really belongs to an ancient sort of hobbit.”

Seemingly in mid-thought, Tolkien began writing a conversation between proto-Frodo and either Gildor or Gandalf. Much of this later became “The Shadow of the Past” chapter.

It is in this conversation where (ultimately) Gandalf explained Gollum’s history.

“There was long ago living by the bank of the stream a wise, cleverhanded and quietfooted little family. I guess they were of hobbit-kind, or akin to the fathers of the fathers of the hobbits. the most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Dígol. He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived in deep pools, he burrowed under trees and growing plants, he tunnelled into green mounds, and he ceased to look up at flowers, and hilltops, or the birds that are in the upper air: his head and eyes were downward.”

Gandalf explained that Gollum (then named Dígol – Sméagol was not yet a thing) found the Ring in the mud by a riverbank. When Gollum was visible, which wasn’t often, he was shunned by his family. “They kicked him, and he bit their feet.” Because of his muttering and gurgling, they called him “Gollum,” cursing and exiling him.

In the published Lord of the Rings, Gandalf basically tells Frodo that he’s not going to explain how he learned all this stuff about the Ring. All he says is that the Wise know about the Isildur stuff and of the Gollum bits: “What I have told you is what Gollum was willing to tell – though not, of course, in the way I have reported it. Gollum is a liar, and you have to sift his words.”

Gandalf learned all of this directly from Gollum between March 23 – 28, 3018. But in the original draft, we don’t have any real idea how Gandalf knows any of this information. “I have heard a little, and can guess more,” he tells proto-Frodo. He also throws around a few “it is said”s. Clearly Tolkien had no real idea how Gandalf learned this – he just knew because he was Wise.

Summer 1938 – ‘Creeping into Houses to Find Cradles’
After getting the hobbits to Rivendell, Tolkien decided to rewrite everything he had written to that point. Though most of the Gollum and Ring bits remain only slightly changed, Tolkien gave a little more backstory.

Through an odd reading of the first riddle from the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter of The Hobbit, Gandalf tells proto-Frodo that “I found Gollum.”

Gollum had “crept into Mirkwood, which is not surprising,” explained Gandalf.

“Yes – I followed him there: he had left a trail of horrible stories behind him, among the beasts and birds and even the Woodmen of Wilderland. He had developed a skill in climbing trees to find nests, and creeping into houses to find cradles. He boasted of it to me.

“But his trail also ran away south, far south of where I actually came upon him – with the help finally of the Wood-elves. He would not explain that. He just grinned and leered, and said Gollum, rubbing his horrible hands together gleefully. But I have a suspicion – it is now much more than a suspicion – that he made his slow sneaking way bit by bit long ago down to the land of – Mordor….”

[Quick note: at this time, Tolkien had not expanded the map at all beyond the map from The Hobbit. Mordor was in southern Mirkwood.]

With this draft, Tolkien introduced the idea that the Wood-elves of Mirkwood helped in Gollum’s capture. In the published version, of course, Aragorn captured Gollum near the Dead Marshes and dragged him to the Wood-elves in Mirkwood. But still, even in this early version it is Gandalf who interviews Gollum in that same spot.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D (1914) Film: Svema Foto 250 (x-10/88) Process: Rodinal 1+25; 8.5mins Cedar Bluffs, Kansas

Autumn 1938 – ‘Even to the Land of Mordor’
As he was wont to do, Tolkien restarted the story yet again in late 1938. And though most of the Gollum story was the same, Tolkien changed Gandalf’s relation to it slightly.

“I have seen Gollum. I have journeyed even to the Land of Mordor. I fear that the Enemy is searching. You are in far graver peril than ever Bilbo dreamed of.”

Along with the added urgency, Gandalf explains much less about his meeting with Gollum, but does say that he himself went into Mordor.

Late 1939 – Back to Work
Tolkien set aside the “Hobbit sequel” for a bit around the start of World War II, but picked it up again in late 1939. He had kicked around a bunch of ideas that summer, but finally got more comfortable with the original story as a whole.

By the end of the year, he was writing a full first draft of what would later become the “Council of Elrond” chapter. In this chapter we learn how Aragorn tracked down Gollum in the Dead Marshes.

But at this early stage, Aragorn did not exist – sort of. We had Trotter – a hobbit who wore wooden shoes – who would later become a much more serious Aragorn.

At this stage of the writing, the Council of Elrond chapter is much more brief. There’s little dialog and mostly just summary of what was said.

Bilbo then gave an account of the finding of the Ring in the cave of the Misty Mountains, and Trotter described his search for Gollum that he had made with Gandalf’s help, and told of his perilous adventures in Mordor. Thus it was that Frodo learned how Trotter had tracked Gollum as he wandered southwards, through Fangorn Forest, and past the Dead Marshes, until he had himself [Trotter] been caught and imprisoned by the Dark Lord.

‘Ever since I have worn shoes,’ said Trotter with a shudder, and though he said no more Frodo knew that he had been tortured and his feet hurt in some way. But he had been rescued by Gandalf and saved from death.

This was the first mention of Trotter (later Aragorn) finding Gollum, as well as the first mention of the Dead Marshes. We can see here that Tolkien was growing his little Hobbit world into a much larger Middle-earth.

Later 1939
Tolkien then stopped his work on the “third phase” of writing and tried to get into the details of the timeline of how all his ideas might fit together. It’s in this phase where he first figured out that Gandalf and Trotter/Aragorn wrapped up their time with Gollum in April – a date that would basically remain through the published version.

He also rewrote much of the Frodo/Gandalf conversation that would eventually show up in the “Shadow of the Past” chapter. Here we’re introduced to the Smeagol/Deagol relationship that would also remain through to the end nearly word-for-word.

To Frodo, Gandalf was even more coy than in previous drafts concerning his interview with Gollum. He does, however, go into finer detail over Gollum’s reason for lying about it being Deagol’s birthday.

Tolkien continued writing, and by the time he got to the Council of Elrond, the character of Trotter the hobbit was gone and Aragorn was almost fully formed. Again, this version is still a brief summary.

“Then Aragorn took up the tale and spoke of the hunt for Gollum, in which he had aided Gandalf, and of their perilous journey through southern Mirkwood, and into Fangorn Forest, and over the Dead Marshes to the very borders of the land of Mordor.”

With the loss of Trotter we also have the loss of the torture at Mordor – a shame, really.

By the next draft of the “Council of Elrond,” Aragorn’s Gollum story was basically identical to the published version.

Few, if any, changes were made for the final draft.

What’s Next?
At this point – April 3, 3018 – Aragorn and Gandalf were making their way to the Shire. They left Mirkwood on March 29 and will arrive at the Shire on April 12.

Next we’ll check in with Gandalf and Aragorn on April 9th – a few days before the former reaches the Shire. We’ll take a closer look at their journey and what it took for them to travel 800 miles in a fortnight.