September 25, 3018 – More Nazgûl and Farmer Maggot

Today we meet Farmer Maggot, but there’s a bit to dig through before that, so let’s get going!

Good Heavens! At Breakfast?

Our Hobbits woke to no Elves, but to a wonderful breakfast, fully approved of by Pippin. He wanted to eat the whole thing, but Sam (dear Sam) stopped him.

Frodo is the last to wake (he was first the day before). Freaked out by the Black Riders, Frodo’s plan was to “walk to Bucklebury as quickly as possible.” In fact, he wasn’t even going to stop for a full day at Crickhollow. He was done with the Shire.

Pippin asked if Frodo and Gildor discussed the Nazgûl’s sniffing – they didn’t. Pippin was disappointed, “I’m sure it is very important.”

It’s a fair question. As discussed yesterday, Tolkien originally wrote the first rider, including the sniffing, as Gandalf. And even though he later had Pippin ask what that was all about, he never seems to have fully answered it.

Sam’s Change

Travel can give the traveler an entirely new outlook on life. Typically it happens after weeks or months on the road, but for Sam, it happened on the second night out. His meeting with the Elves. He was still Sam, of course. But there was an “odd change that seemed to have come over him.” He was, Frodo realized, thoughtful.

Sam said that he seemed “to see ahead, in a kind of way.” This change, when it happens, is hard to describe. Sometimes it’s even hard to notice. And while Sam noticed it, he couldn’t figure out how to put it into words. At first anyway.

“I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want – I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.”

Frodo didn’t understand him, but understood that Gandalf “chose me a good companion.” It almost seemed like Frodo was following Sam’s lead. At the beginning of the morning, Frodo was cranky and sort of an ass to Pippin (which is pretty understandable). But Sam seemed to settle him.

It was another late start, but Frodo wanted to cut across fields to make it quicker. Mostly it was in a hope to avoid seeing other people. This did not work so well. By noon, they had only made a few miles. Frodo was in a hurry, but nobody really seemed all that interested in speed.

There Were Words in That Cry

Morning for the Nazgûl who retreated from the Elves the previous night was spent searching for a scent of the Ring. Tolkien, in notes finally published in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, had Khamûl (of Dol Guldur, the second-in-command) reach the ridge above Woodhall and was “aware that the Ring has been there.” This is where Sam saw the “black figure.”

Map taken from Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey (long out of print).

Frodo wanted to cut across fields to make it quicker. Mostly it was in a hope to avoid seeing other people. This did not work so well. By noon, they had only made a few miles. Frodo was in a hurry, but nobody really seemed all that interested in speed.

They stopped for lunch, had a drink, and were soon laughing and singing.

Searching, the Black Rider could not find the bearer. Fearing that the Ring was slipping away, he cried out and called his companions to him.

This cry was heard by the Hobbits who quickly figured out two things. First, this was the Black Rider, and second, they were moving far too slowly.

When Khamûl’s companions arrived, they headed east riding over the fields.

Farmer Maggot and the Nazgûl

After a bit more walking, the Nazgûl could no longer be seen on the ridge. This put them at ease, and soon enough they were their old selves again.

This brings us to Farmer Maggot.

Tolkien seemed to have no idea what to do with him, and several interesting characters were created and slashed in the process. Was Farmer Maggot really a hobbit? Or was he kind of like a Tom Bombadil sort of fellow? In another version, Maggot was vicious and threatened to murder Bilbo.

Farmer Maggot had two guests on this day. First was a Black Rider – probably Khamûl. Though the conversation is likely translated through Maggot’s colloquialism, it’s odd to think of a Nazgûl saying “I come from yonder” before asking about Baggins. He offers to give Maggot gold if the farmer keeps an eye out for Baggins. Maggot sent him away.

Khmûl, according to Tolkien’s notes, here makes a mistake. He believes that the Ringbearer is a strong man (or whatever he thinks Hobbits are). The Rider “does not look near the farm, but sends [his companion] down Causeway towards Overbourn, while he goes north along it towards the bridge.”

The second visitors to Maggot’s place were, of course, were the Hobbits. Tolkien does a wonderful job of depicting small town rivalry. Before leaving the Shire, Gaffer Gamgee calls the hobbits of Buckland “queer folk.” Here, Farmer Maggot says that “folk are queer up there” in Hobbiton.

Maggot also mentions that it’s “no accident” that the Rider and Frodo showed up on the same day. In-story, this is obvious. But Tolkien was keen on these sort of coincidences, and it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for them.

Following a bit of supper, Maggot helped the Hobbits get across the Brandwine River – though not before yet another encounter with a Black Rider. This was the Hobbits’ third direct contact with one.

The two Riders agreed to meet after nightfall, but do so too late. “Frodo crosses by ferry just bofore [Khamûl] arrives.”

After crossing, the Hobbits, now accompanied by Merry who met them upon their arrival, see a figure searching the ground, even crawling upon it. Tolkien concludes this section of his notes, writing: “[Khamûl] is now well aware that the Ring has crossed the river, but the river is a barrier to his sense of its movement.”

Water and the Nazgûl

I don’t really feel like going into this web of stickiness any more than Tolkien seemed to want to settle his mind on it. But here’s a short stub.

In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien wrote:

“All except the Witch-king were apt to stray when alone by daylight; and all, again save the Witch-king, feared water, and were unwilling, except in dire need, to enter it or to cross streams unless dryshod by a bridge.”

It was clear that the Nazgûl couldn’t cross at the ferry as the Hobbits had, and they speculated on how far they’d have to go to the next bridge. It was “ten miles north to the Brandywine Bridge.” Tolkien apparently made a mistake in his calculations, first writing “twenty.” It was later corrected (in 2004) by his son.

According to Christopher Tolkien, his father admitted that the idea that the Nazgûl couldn’t cross water “was difficult to sustain.”

Water and the Hobbits

The Hobbits spent that night at Crickhollow, in the house that Frodo had bought. After a couple of nights without a bath, they figured it was a fine time for one – and another song. And another supper.

Frodo, I think, nearly tells Pippin and Merry (and Fatty, I guess) about the Ring. Really, he has two secrets, but only one is on his mind – The Ring. The other, that he is leaving the Shire for good, seems like something set in stone to him (and Sam) that it’s pointless even pretending that it doesn’t exist.

But Merry says knows what Frodo is about to say and goes off on the secret of leaving the Shire. It’s actually kind of sweet.

“You meant to leave the Shire, of course. But danger has come on you sooner than you expected, and now you are making up your mind to go at once. And you don’t want to.”

Frodo doesn’t want to leave the Shire, doesn’t know how to say good-bye to it. But must because of the danger. Merry picks up on the danger, but at this point everyone is being so vague that they lose track of which secret they’re talking about.

Merry promises to keep this a secret, a “conspiracy.” He was worried that they’d try to stop him, but they’re all coming along (well, not Fatty). They understand, Merry assures Frodo. “We know the Ring is no laughing-matter; but we are going to do our best to help you against the Enemy.”

As it turns out Merry knew about the Ring for years due to Bilbo not being careful enough about it. Merry caught Bilbo using it to escape the Sackville-Bagginses. Here is when Frodo learns that Sam is “head” of the conspiracy. It’s all quite surprising.

After a bit of thought, Frodo decides to cut through the Old Forest. A plan was in place to leave the next morning (not Fatty – he was staying behind). We’ll see how early they get on the road.

That night, Frodo dreamed of the sea and “a tall white tower”. In an early version, this dream was much longer and described Gandalf’s delay. When he settled upon Gandalf being imprisoned in Isengard, he slashed the dream down to this. You can read the rest of it in The Return of the Shadow.

Oh, and the Hobbits likely traveled 27 miles today. Seven were in Farmer Maggot’s cart.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper (c1950)
Film: Kodak Gold 100 (x-12/96)


September 24, 3018 – Of Walking, Nazgûl and Elves

Welcome to September 24, 3018 of the Third Age. Today the Hobbits (Frodo, Pippin and Sam) begin their first full day on the road. They’ve not fallen into any rhythms yet, and are just getting to know what their bodies can handle. Like most travelers, they overdo it, tramping 28 miles on the first full day out!

Slow Start to a Busy Day

The Hobbits were awake by dawn, yet didn’t get on the road until 10am! A seasoned hiker might try to get in 10 whole miles before 10am (10 by 10). Not so for these chaps.

I don’t think that we have a very good idea what sunrise/sunset times. Actually, it’s not even clear how the narrator knew it was 10am. Since the date is fairly close to the Autumnal Equinox, however, we can assume that they have about twelve hours of daylight to work with.

Still, on the road by 10am is not good.

We learn that the Hobbits stop “after some miles” as it was “high time for lunch.”

During the lunch, Frodo recites one of Bilbo’s old poems, “The Road Goes Ever On and On.” His version, whether purposely or accidentally, swapped out Bilbo’s “eager feet” with “weary feet.” I certainly get not being so eager for the task ahead, but weary already? That’s also not good.

In the conversation that follows is the line where I grabbed the title of this blog. Frodo is recalling the words of Bilbo:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?”

Gandalf the Rider in Black?

After a rest, some lunch, and a bit more rest, the Hobbits are off again. It is well into the afternoon by this point.

This is where they are nearly tracked down by one of the Nazgûl. At first, the Hobbits thought it might be Gandalf catching up to them.

As a curious aside, in the first draft of this chapter, it was Gandalf! And with only a few minor changes, Tolkien turned the wizard into one of the Black Riders.

Both the first draft and original had the Hobbits hearing hoofbeats behind them. Frodo, in each, warned his two companions to hide as he would rather not be seen by anyone.

The following paragraph describing either Gandalf or the Nazgûl is practically identical in each.

The text of the original draft read:

“Round the turn came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a bundle, or that it what it looked like: a broad squat man, completely wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the stirrups showed below: his face was shadowed and invisible.

When it came on a level with Bingo [Frodo], the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quiet still, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.”

While the published version reads:

“Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.

“When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.”

With just a few alterations, Tolkien transformed Gandalf into the Black Rider. Even the sniffling was first Gandalf’s!

Frodo and the Ring

Not only was this the first full day on the Road, it was Frodo’s first real urge to use the Ring after Gandalf specifically warned him against it. It’s clear that the Ring (or Frodo’s mind) is attempting to rationalize its use. It was, he thought, the only way to be safe. “The advice of Gandalf seemed absurd.”

Of course, using the Ring in front of the Nazgûl would have ended the story right quick. Remember, at this point in the story, Frodo has no idea about the Nazgûl, let alone that they were in the Shire looking for him.

Sam was the only one who had any inkling about the Riders, and it’s here that he tells Frodo of the conversation between the Rider and the Gaffer from the night before.

Tolkien, after getting his story more or less settled, worked out which of the Nazgûl went where after entering the Shire.

The Nine split up. Four, including the Witch-king, went east. The remaining five, including Khamûl, split up further. One went east, another northwest, two through the central Shire, and one accompanied Khamûl. It is Khamûl who spoke to the Gaffer and who overtakes the Hobbits. He became “uneasily aware of the Ring, but is hesitant and uncertain because of the bright sun. He turns into the woods and waits for night.”

Because of this encounter, they leave the road and travel alongside. They’re Hobbits and can do this pretty silently.

Elves, Sir!

Their night-walk turned into a song, and then another near-encounter with the Black Rider. Tolkien sorted all of this out, and he concluded that the Rider here was Khamûl, the Nazgûl second to the Witch-king. With another desire to put on the Ring, the scene was interrupted by Gildor and the Elves.

About the second encounter, Tolkien wrote: “After dark, becoming acutely aware of the ring, [Khamûl] goes in pursuit; but is daunted by the sudden appearance of the Elves and the song of Elbereth. While Frodo is surrounded by the Elves he cannot perceive the Ring clearly.”

Map taken from Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey (long out of print).

As the Elvish singing drew nearer, the Nazgûl “retreated.”

I love the use of the word “retreated” here. He didn’t just gallop away or fade back, he “retreated.” While Frodo, the Hobbits and even the Elves were unaware of the specifics, the Nazgûl understood that they were at war.

As the Elves sang, Frodo listened and understood that these were “High Elves.” Tolkien speculated that the Elves lived around Rivendell and that they were returning from the palantír of the Tower Hills near to the Grey Havens.

Frodo, like Bilbo, had traveled quite a bit for a Hobbit. “Merry and Pippin suspected that he visited the Elves at times, as Bilbo had done.”

Tolkien seemed to enjoy introducing Elves in ways that made them seem pretty dickish. In The Hobbit, they pretty horrible to Bilbo at first. And in this chapter, while they seem thrilled to see “three hobbits in a wood at night,” they riff that “we have no need of other company, and hobbits are so dull.”

Anyway, dickishness aside, Gildor and the Elves were completely taken by surprise at the mention of the Black Riders. They understood how bad this was, and refused to talk of it just then and there.

If they were frightened at all, they set it aside to be dicks to Frodo again. After he spoke in the “High-elven speech,” they teased that “here is a scholar of the Ancient Tongue.” Whatever.

Advice is a Dangerous Gift

The Hobbits and Elves walked for quite a few more miles before stopping. After a bit of rest, they ate a meal with the Elves.

Tolkien described what each of the Hobbits could later remember about the night. Pippin couldn’t recall much about the food or drink “for his mind was filled with the light upon the elf-faces.” He remembered there was bread though, so there’s that.

As for Sam, he could “never describe in words, nor picture clearly to himself, what he felt or thought that night…” He could later remember the apples and the singing, which “went to my heart, if you know what I mean.” Dammit, Sam, you are perfect.

After everyone retired, Frodo and Gildor spoke for maybe hours. Frodo asked about Bilbo, about leaving the Shire, and the reason why he was traveling. Gildor didn’t know much, but could guess. When Frodo asked about the Black Riders, Gildor questioned by Gandalf didn’t say anything about them, and followed that lead. “Is it not enough to know that they are servants of the Enemy?”

Sometime during the night, Sam and the Elves had a bit of a talk. They urged him to not leave Frodo. He seemed off-put (in a very Gaffer Gamgee sort of way) that they’d even suggest such a thing.

“I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon; and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with.”

The Elves laughed. Mostly because they’re dicks.

Gildor and his company would be gone before the Hobbits woke the next morning. He would travel to Rivendell and clue them in on Frodo’s journey.

And as a quick aside, Gandalf on this day reached the Isen River. He was 500 miles away from Frodo.

What’s Next?

The third day on the road, of course!

Camera: Argus C3 (1940)
Film: Adox KB-21 (x-1959); 10iso
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min

September 23, 3018 – The Strange Customer Meets the Gaffer’s Guff; Frodo’s Departure

Greetings! The day has finally come! It’s September 23rd, 3018 of the Third Age and Frodo is leaving the Shire! Let’s go!

The Last Evening in the Shire

Frodo was packing up some carts for his move to Crickhollow. Merry and Fatty Bolger headed off with the cart, while Pippin remained behind.

Frodo spent most of the morning worrying about Gandalf, but knew that he couldn’t wait much longer. He had to leave.

To make matters worse, the Sackville-Bagginses showed up in the afternoon to cause more commotion than anyone needed.

That night, the S-Bs left and Frodo had tea with Pippin and Sam. It was decided that Sam would accompany Frodo at least to Buckland. Pippin went out for a walk, and Sam disappeared.

Bag End, now emptied of all Frodo and Bilbo’s possessions seemed “sad and gloomy and disheveled.” Frodo wandered around the empty place, like one does right before moving.

He stepped outside to the gate and heard the Gaffer talking to a “strange, and somehow unpleasant” voice.

As we now know, the Gaffer is talking to one of the Nazgûl – which we’ll get to in a moment.

The Nazgûlish Movements Upon Entering the Shire

In the previous post we learned that the Nazgûl entered the Shire after defeating the Rangers at Sarn Ford.

On the morning of this date, according to notes taken by Tolkien when trying to sort out of “Tale of Years,” he attempted to sort out which Nazgûl went where.

“[One] keeps to the east, passing northwards towards the Marish and Bridge. [One] takes the road leading northwest to Michel Delving, and [another] goes with him, but there ?fares on and traverses the North Farthing. [The other two] go through the central Shire, until they reach the East Road, probably near the Three-Farthing Stone. ([These] were probably Khamûl and his companion, form Dol Guldur; and [Khamûl] [is] the most ready of all (save [the Witch-king])to perceive the presence of the Ring, but also the one whose power was most confused and diminished by sunlight).

“Drawn to the Ring [Khamûl] goes to Hobbiton which he reaches at evening on Fri. Sep. 23rd. [his companion] keeps an eye on the East road and Stock Road lurking probably between the two, just south of Whitfurrows.

This is quite the story! It also gives us a lot of of an understanding at how the Nazgûl discovered Bag End – Khamûl sensed the Ring. Even so, the Gaffer gives him some guff.

Guff By Gaffer – The Strange Customer

In the story, at first we hear only the Gaffer’s end of the conversation. Soon after, however, Sam fills us in with a bit of the rest.

Khamûl first asked the Gaffer where Mr. Baggins was. The Gaffer told him that “Mr. Baggins has gone away. Went this morning, and my Same went with him: anyway all his stuff went. Yes, sold out and gone I tell’ee.”

The Nazgûl, “mighty put out,” as the Gaffer soon told Sam, then asked why Mr. Baggins had left. But the Gaffer slaps back: “Why? Why’s none of my business, or yours.”

When Khamûl asked where Mr. Baggins had moved to, the Gaffer gave him what was considered to be public knowledge: “That ain’t no secret. He’s moved to Bucklebury or some such place, away down yonder.”

The Black Rider then asked how far away it was. The Gaffer confessed that it was “a tidy way.” And one wonders if the Nazgûl had any idea how far a “tidy way” might be. He explains that he’s never been so far himself, “there’s queer folks in Buckland.”

Curiously, the Nazgûl seems to ask if he could leave a message for Mr. Baggins, in case he comes back. The Gaffer refuses and bids him a very short “Good night to you!” And with that, the Black Rider leaves.

Every bit of this is strange, but the strangest and most wonderful part is that the Gaffer seemed completely unaffected by the Nazgûl, who even “hissed at me, he did.” Sure, it gave him “quite a shutter,” but this was the same dreaded Rider that sent hundreds running away in fear by his very presence.

True, they were probably trying to keep a low profile, but how low of a profile can these guys actually keep? Especially at night!

Tolkien closed this day’s notes with:
“[Khamûl] just misses Frodo, and misled by the Gaffers starts out east again.”

Well, Now We’re Off At Last!

With the stranger gone, Frodo calls to both Sam and Pippin. It’s time to leave. “They shouldered their packs and took up their sticks, and walked round the corner to the west side of Bag End.”

Map taken from Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey (long out of print).

For the most part, they paralleled the road by walking in the fields, single file and silent. After about three hours, they rested and ate a bit of supper. It was then more walking. And more.

Finally, they find a patch of woods and set up camp, setting no watch. They were, after all, still in the Shire. What danger could there be?

Here is where Tolkien inserts the Fox. It was there in his very first draft of this chapter and somehow lasted through to the published version. It’s incredibly out of character, but it’s one of my favorite pieces that Tolkien ever wrote:

“A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.

“‘Hobbits!’, he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was right, but he never found out any more about it.”

The Hobbits walked about 18 miles before stopping for the night. That’s a hell of a start.

Gandalf Check!

The “Tale of Years” tells us only that “Gandalf having tamed Shadowfax rides from Rohan.” In notes, Tolkien expanded only slightly:

“…not until the 23rd that he [Shadowfax] is tamed and will allow Gandalf to ride off. Gandalf sets off at 6pm 23rd September.”

A Quick Note About Future Posts

Things are really starting to get moving, and Tolkien is no slouch when it comes to writing voluminous passages. For instance, the passage for tomorrow’s entry takes us from page 72 to page 85 (in the 50th Anniversary one-volume edition). Forthcoming days are much longer.

Because of this, I won’t be able to dig into the details like I want to. I knew this going into it, and I’m okay with it. I just want everyone to understand that this is basically a Lord of the Rings Day-By-Day, not a Lord of the Rings Exploration of Minutia.

What’s Next?

Well, our journey has finally begun! We’re going to stick with Frodo and company as much as possible, detailing other stuff along the way as we find it. Tomorrow is next! Stay tuned!

Camera: Zorki 4 (1960)
Film: Mitsubishi MX-111; 200iso (expired)

September 22, 3018 – The Nazgûl At Sarn Ford!

Greetings and welcome to September 22nd, 3018 of the Third Age. Today the Nazgûl battle the Rangers and enter the Shire! Also, happy birthday, Frodo (and Bilbo)! Let’s go!

At Sarn Ford

No matter which version we’re talking about, the Nazgûl arrived at Sarn Ford, “the southernmost borders of the Shire,” on the night of the 22nd.

As we learn in Unfinished Tales, the Riders guarded the Ford. Aragorn was not with them (he was on the East Road near Bree), but they kept up a steady defense through the night.

“Some fled northward, hoping to bear news to Aragorn, but they were pursued and slain or driven away into the wild. Some still dared to bar the ford, and held it while day lasted, but at night the Lord of Morgul swept them away, and the Black Riders passed into the Shire….”

Shire Check!

Happy Birthday, Frodo! Very little happened for most of the day. In the evening, Frodo threw his own farewell dinner. We’re told that “it was quite small, just a dinner for himself and his four helpers; but he was troubled and felt in no mood for it.”

His near future troubled him greatly. And where the hell was Gandalf? Still, they sung songs and toasted Bilbo (it was his birthday, too!). After that, they went out to smell the night air and look at the stars.

“Frodo’s party was over, and Gandalf had not come.”

Gandalf Check!

All we learn in the “Tale of Years” is that “Gandalf overtakes Shadowfax.” That’s great. Good job, Wizard.

In notes for this date, we learn a tiny bit more, but it doesn’t jive with the “Tale of Years.” Anyway:

“It is not until late on 22 that S’fax will allow Gandalf to come up and speak to him; and not until Sept 23rd that he is tamed and will allow Gandalf to ride off.”

Tolkien ultimately changed the date to the 22nd, though he still had him leaving with Shadowfax on the 23rd.

What’s Next?

Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Camera: Mamiya m645j (1975)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor C 45mm f/2.8
Film: Svema Foto 250 (x-10/1988)
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60mins

September 21, 3018 – The Nazgûl Meet a Shady Fellow

Hello, and welcome to September 21, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll look at the Nazgûl’s meeting with certain fellow with whom we’re all familiar (no, not the Wormtongue).

Getting Back to the Story

Over the past day or so, we’ve had a bit of a diversion into some speculative notes Tolkien wrote down which were eventually published in Unfinished Tales. They were certainly interesting, but ultimately didn’t jive with the “Tale of Years.”

We’ll now return to the more-canonical version. This means we’ll pick up the tale with the Black Riders having been convinced by Saruman’s “skilful speech” that he was a “faithful ally, high in Sauron’s confidence.” They quickly road for the Fords of Isen, crossing them that night (the 18th, as per the “Tale of Years.”)

The Nazgûl made their way from Isengard on the early morning of the 18th. They would arrive at Sarn Ford and the Shire on the 22nd. Along the way they met a man. It’s difficult to say when exactly this event occurred, but let’s just say it was on this day. Tolkien is incredibly vague here.

We learn in “Unfinished Tales” that the Riders came across a man “whom they captured and found to be bearing maps of the Shire.”

Tolkien was referencing a character he had recently created in a previous draft of this story. In that draft he was a spy and servant of Saruman. He “had charts prepared by Saruman which clearly depicted and described the Shire.”

This was Tolkien explaining how the Nazgûl learned exactly where the Shire was located. They sent this man on to Bree “but warned him that he was now in the service of Mordor, and that if he ever tried to return to Isengard they would slay him with torture.”

In the final version of this story, Tolkien used this character, but expanded it a bit. It’s explained that due to Saruman’s interest in Gandalf’s interest in the Shire, he had sent spies there to keep an eye on things. This was how he got hooked on the “Halflings’ leaf.”

The Rangers were suspicious of these spies, but since Saruman was still technically on their side, there wasn’t much they could do.

Anyway, Tolkien continues:

“Some while ago one of Saruman’s most trusted servants (yet a ruffianly fellow, an outlaw driven from Dunland, where many said that he had Orc-blood) had returned from the borders of the Shire, where he had been negotiating for the purchase of ‘leaf’ and other supplies. […] He was well supplies with maps, lists of names, and notes concerning the Shire.”

I love it when Tolkien takes one of his ideas and expands upon it. This is a perfect example of that. Originally, it was just a servant of Saruman. Now, however, you can tell he’s got something in mind. Let’s see where he’s going.

“This Dunlending was overtaken by several of the Black Riders as they approached the Tharbad crossing. In an extremity of terror he haled to the Witch-king and questions. He saved his life by betraying Saruman. The Witch-king thus learned that Saruman knew well all along where the Shire was, and knew much about it, which he could and should have told to Sauron’s servants if he had been a true ally. The Witch-king also obtained much information, including some about the only name that interested him: Baggins. It was for this reason that Hobbiton was singled out as one of the points for immediate visit and enquiry.

This explains quite a bit. We now know how the Nazgûl figure out that Saruman was lying and how they so quickly found not only the Shire, but Hobbiton and Bag End!

“Seeing that his Master [Sauron] suspected some move between the Shire and Rivendell, he saw also that Bree (the position of which he knew) would be an important point, at least for information. He put therefore the Shadow of Fear on the Dunlending, and sent him on to Bree as an agent. He was the squint-eyed southerner at the Inn.”

So did that pay off? Hell yes! Tolkien spun it all around into a callback! I love it!

As for when this happened exactly, I’m not sure. The Riders passed through Dunland enroute to Tharbad, which they reached pretty quickly. Since they reach Sarn Ford on the morning of the 22nd, it seems likely that this happened on the 21st.

Shire Check!

Let’s quickly check in on the Shire. All that’s really said about today is that “Frodo became really anxious, and kept a constant look-out for Gandalf.”

Gandalf Check!

According to the “Tale of Years,” Gandalf “meets Shadowfax, but the horse will not allow him to come near. He follows Shadowfax far over the fields.”

In notes marked “official & final,” ultimately published in Hammond & Scull’s Readers Companion Tolkien delves a bit deeper, though the days don’t quite match up:

“Wormtongue reappears. It was really for him that Théoden waited (since he has become enthralled by his counsel). Wormtongue now opposes Gandalf as Théoden bids him begone next morning: it then being last in the day. (W’tongue (as G. guesses or knows) sends off a messenger to Isengard that night. But the messenger even with utmost haste does not reach Saruman until late on 24 [September]. It is about 250 miles from Edoras to Isengard.)

It’s interesting to see Tolkien working out distances in the middle of all of this. He did it quite a lot, actually. You can also see him trying to connect the frays and notes of the stories into something solid.

He continued:

“Gandalf says that this is ill-treatment which Théoden will rue. He does not understand the urgency of the times. He mentions the dreadful rumours of the passage of the Black Riders which have terrified all Rohan. Now said Gandalf if no one else dare oppose these evil things, I dare. But not on foot. One might look for aid in such business from a great king, lord of horses.”

Tolkien was vague with the use of pronouns here, but I think you should be able to figure out which he is who.

“Then Théoden rashly exclaims: why take any horse you wish – and begone! There is much to dislike of W’tongue but Théoden is reluctant to take back his word, and Théodred [his son] opposes W’tongue, saying that a king cannot do so even to a beggar, but that for his part he thinks more honour and heed should be paid to Gandalf Greyhame.”

Since Gandalf (in the final & official) notes hasn’t even met Shadowfax yet, this clearly wasn’t as “final & official” as Tolkien was anticipating, but still, I think the basic ideas were there. And I like the more fleshed out version better.

What’s Next?

Tomorrow is a pretty big day for the Nazgûl. It’s also Frodo’s birthday!

Camera: Zorki 4 (1956)
Film: Konica VX200 Super (expired)

September 20, 3018 – The Nazgûl and Wormtongue? Gandalf Receives Shadowfax

Hello, and welcome to September 20, 3018 of the Third Age. Though today is the day that Gandalf received Shadowfax (I’ll get to that later), we’ll be focusing mostly upon an idea that Tolkien kicked around, abandoned and yet is still taken as canon-adjacent by many readers. I’m not a huge fan of this idea, and you’ll see why. Let’s go!

The Problem

In the book, the Nazgûl cross the Fords of Isen on the 18th – the same day Gandalf was rescued by Gwaihir. They then appeared at Sarn Ford on the 22nd to fight the Rangers and made their way into the Shire the next morning.

Somehow or another they quickly figured out not only where the Shire was located, but where Hobbiton was within the Shire. This speed must have bothered Tolkien as he devised at least three schemes as to how it happened.

In his notes, you can tell that he wasn’t even fully sure when Gandalf was to be rescued. For the first (and second) attempts, he had the date set for the night of the 16th/17th – a day before what he would later solidify in the “Tale of Years.”

Regardless of exactly when it happened, he wished to solved this overly-wise Nazgûl issue by having them show up at Isengard. This would take care of the other issue of Saruman’s lies to Sauron.

Saruman’s Convenient Voice

And so, on this day – two days after Gandalf’s escape – Tolkien originally wished for the Nazgûl to show up. This account was later published in Unfinished Tales as part of the “Hunt for the Ring” chapter.

When the Nazgûl showed up, Saruman realized the danger of “standing between enemies, a known traitor to both.” He understood that now he would have to gain the Ring for himself, that from this point on, he could no longer hope to stay in Sauron’s good graces if the Dark Lord of victorious.

In this version, Saruman never met personally with the Witch-king, now at the Gate of Isengard. Instead, the Nazgûl “received only the answer of the voice of Saruman, that spoke by some art as though it came from the Gate itself.”

Saruman knew that the Witch-king wasn’t just looking for the Shire and Baggins, that he was searching for the Ring, and told him as much. But while he neither had it or knew where it was, he told the Nazgûl that he knew who might have this knowledge: “Mithrandir, enemy of Sauron” – Gandalf. He even told the Nazgûl that the Grey Wizard had departed two days prior.

And though it seems incredibly difficult to believe, the Nazgûl believed it because of the “power of the voice of Saruman.” It’s a handy little hand-waving device that Tolkien employed here and there.

Anyway, the Riders immediately abandoned their search for the Shire and went looking for Gandalf in Rohan.

Enter the Wormtongue

Because this “never happened,” I’m going to write about the rest of this version here, even though it jumps ahead a bit. A day after leaving Isengard (and thus three days after Gandalf’s escape on the night of the 16th/17th), the Nazgûl ran into none other than Gríma Wormtongue!

Gandalf had made it to Edoras “and had warned King Théoden of the treacherous designs of Isengard.” Out of terror, Gríma told the Witch-king everything he knew, including that Gandalf was asking for a swift horse to take him to the Shire. Gríma also told them how to get there: “West through the Gap of Rohan yonder, and then north and a little west, until the next great river bars the way….”

To make matters worse for Saruman, he told the Witch-king that Saruman knew all along about the Shire as he engages in trade with them.

How the Wormtongue Must Live

Now we come to perhaps the most unbelievable thing that Tolkien ever wrote down. And while he quickly abandoned it, I’m still unsure how he ever thought this was a fine idea.

The issue with Gríma meeting the Nazgûl was that he needed Gríma to survive this encounter as he appeared later in the main story. But what reason might the Nazgûl have to keep someone so unfaithful and so treacherous? They certainly couldn’t use him for their own as he flipped and waffled as the mere breath of danger.

Tolkien wrote that the Witch-king “spared the life of the Wormtongue, not out of pity, but because he [W.K.] deemed that so great a terror was upon him that he would never dare to speak of their encounter (as proved true), and he saw that the creature was evil and was likely to do great harm yet to Saruman, if he lived. So he [again, W.K.] left him lying on the ground, and rode away, and did not trouble to go back to Isengard. Sauron’s vengeance [upon Saruman] could wait.”

So, the Nazgûl didn’t bother to tie off a loose end because that loose end was scared and evil. Obviously, that didn’t sit well with Tolkien, but this version of the story isn’t quite finished.

Even Nazgûl Need Maps

They didn’t just meet Gríma on the road. Shortly after, they divided into four pairs, with the Witch-king traveling with the fastest of them to Tharbad. Near Minhiriath, they encountered “two spies and servants of Saruman.” One of these “had been used much in the traffic between Isengard and the Shire.”

Not only that, but this spy and servant “had charts prepared by Saruman which clearly depicted and described the Shire.” The Nazgûl took the maps and sent the spy to Bree, warning him that he was now “in the service of Mordor, and that if ever he tried to return to Isengard they would slay him with torture.”

In the final version of the story, this spy turned out to be the “squint-eyed southerner at the Inn.”

In Other (Actual) News…

In the “Tale of Years,” we learn that Gandalf was finally allowed to enter Edoras. Théoden commands him to “Take any horse, only be gone ere tomorrow is old!”

It’s not much to go on, but in notes marked “official & final”, Tolkien expanded a bit.

“It is not until Sept 20 that his [Gandalf’s] persistence (and growing anger which alarms the doorwards) gains him entrance to Théoden warning him against Saruman. Wormtongue (secretly in Saruman’s service , and with great influence over the king) is absent for some reason and Théodred (the king’s son) is more favourable to Gandalf; so Théoden is troubled but will not make up his mind. He says he will speak of it again next day.”

Gríma’s absence seems to jive with the Nazgûl story as above, though Tolkien probably abandoned it at some point (honestly, who knows).

What’s Next?

Tolkien never settled upon a story about the Nazgûl and their meeting with Saruman. In fact, Tolkien went on to write “a large number of unfinished accounts of Saruman’s earlier dealings with the Shire.” In Unfinished Tales we are given one of those version, the most complete. We’ll discuss this as “the final version” in tomorrow’s post.

Camera: Mamiya m645j (1975)
Film: Macophot ORT25C (x-09/2004)
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min

September 19, 3018 – Gandalf the Beggar

Welcome! Today is September 19, 3018 of the Third Age – the day after Gandalf’s rescue from Orthanc. He’s in Rohan now, but will that even matter? Also, what’s going on with the Nazgûl? Can we ever know? Let’s find out!

Gandalf’s Off-Day

Rohan is known for one thing: horses. They’re like the Cayuse of their day (look it up). They’re practically filthy in horses. And not just any old horses. No! As Gwaihir always says: “There are no horses like those that are bred in that great vale between the Misty Mountains and the White.”

Splendid! So Gandalf is set down in Rohan and just given a horse because he’s Gandalf, right? Not exactly.

If you follow Gandalf’s story in the “Council of Elrond,” it seems that as soon as he was plopped down by the Eagle, he was riding away on a kick ass horse.

But if you wander your way to the “Tale of Years,” we see that it wasn’t so easy. On this date: “Gandalf comes to Edoras as a beggar, and is refused admittance.”

In additional notes published in Hammond & Scull’s Readers Companion, we learn a tiny bit more:

“[Gandalf] does not come to Edoras until Sept 19 – in a beggarly guise on foot. He cannot get an audience with Théoden [the king], and is treated as a beggar at the doors.”

Where do you suppose he slept that night? Does he have pals with a couch in Edoras?

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for Gandalf today.

Nazgûl Check!

They’re still riding hard for the Shire, and are probably more than half way to Tharbad by now.

Shire Check!

No date is really given for this, but Tolkien quickly summarizes what’s been going on with Frodo over the past few weeks.

He had recently begun to worry about Gandalf – there had been no news of him for some time. Bag End was getting busy, what with the move to Crickhollow coming up in a few short days.

A few of his friends (Fatty Bolger, Folco Boffin, Pippin and Merry) were staying over helping him pack up the place. By the 20th, they’d have two whole carts of Frodo’s stuff ready to roll.

What’s Next?

Check back tomorrow to find out!

September 18, 3018 – Gandalf is Rescued! The Nazgûl at Isengard?

Welcome to September 18, 3018 of the Third Age. Today is one of the most important days in the story – the day Gandalf was rescued from Orthanc. We’ll take a look at it from two perspectives and see where that takes us.

Gandalf’s Fortunate Rescue

Gandalf told everyone at the Council of Elrond how he escaped from Isengard. He unknowingly planted the seed even before his capture.

“Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf. Let messages be sent to Orthanc.”

Though Gandalf didn’t fully trust Saruman, he had no idea that he would betray the Wise and imprison him. But even better, Radagast had no idea either. So when Radagast got to wherever he was going, he told all his beast and bird friends to bring news to Gandalf and Saruman.

Gandalf continued:

“So it was that when summer waned, there came a night of moon, and Gwaihir the Windlord, swiftest of the Great Eagles, came unlooked-for to Orthanc; and he found me standing on the pinnacle. Then I spoke to him and he bore me away, before Saruman was aware. I was far from Isengard, ere the wolves and orcs issued from the gate to pursue me.”

Gwaihir took Gandalf to Rohan before the dawn of this date.

A Quick Aside

What Gandalf didn’t know was that the Nazgûl were drawing close. Just how close Tolkien never really figured out.

Among readers, it’s generally accepted that the Nazgûl paid a visit to Saruman at Isengard sometime shortly after Gandalf was rescued. Just when that was Tolkien never figured out.

In Appendix B, the “Tale of Years,” the date given for when “The Black Riders cross the Fords of Isen” (real close to Isengard) is September 18th – the same day Gandalf escaped. This would mean that if they dropped by Saruman’s place at all, it had to be immediately after Gwaihir took him away. Gandalf knew nothing about the Nazgûl, so it had to be post-departure.

And so with this in mind Tolkien wrote some side stories that were published in Unfinished Tales a few years after his death.

The most complete version of the story was unfortunately not his final version (which was never finished). This means that what’s typically held as canonical-adjacent was probably not considered so by Tolkien himself. Another sticking point is that it happened “two days after Gandalf had departed from Orthanc.”

And though that would put it at odds with the “Tale of Years,” we’ll talk about it on the 20th.

The Accepted Timeline (Quickly)

What we accept at true is that on September 18th two things will happen:

1) Gandalf escapes from Isengard
2) The Nazgûl cross the Fords of Isen (50ish miles away)

The next we hear about the Nazgûl in the “Tale of Years” isn’t until September 22nd when they reach Sarn Ford and the Shire.

Tolkien established that the Nine would ride towards Isengard in mid-ish September. This means that he could have them show up in Isengard while Gandalf was still there! It’s like Middle-earth’s very own wacky 80s sitcom plot! Awkward!

Full House (TGI Nazgûl!)

In this version, the story went like so:

“Saruman is terrified and desperate. The full horror of service to Mordor is perceived by him. He suddenly resolves to yield to Gandalf, and beg for his pardon & help.”

This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but Saruman is basically a brave coward. How brave?

“Temporizing at the gate, he admits he had Gandalf within, and says he will go and try to discover what he knows. If that is unavailing he will deliver Gandalf to them.”

To buy a bit of time, he tells one last (okay, not the last) lie to the Nazgûl. This will give him a few extra minutes of groveling at Gandalf’s grey feet.

“Saruman then hastens to Orthanc. He goes to the summit – and finds Gandalf gone!”


“Away south against the setting moon he sees a great Eagle apparently making for Edoras.”


Time for some quick thinking on Saruman’s part.

“Now his case is worse. If Gandalf has escaped there is still a real chance that Sauron will not get the Ring, and will be defeated. In his heart Saruman recognizes the great power and the strange ‘good fortune’ (we might say divine blessing and succour) that go with Gandalf.”

Ya think?

“But now he is left alone to deal with the Dreadful Nine. His mood changes and his pride reasserts itself in anger at Gandalf’s escape form impenetrable Isengard, and in furious jealousy.”

Saruman is a roller coaster of emotions. From fear to humility to surprise to wonder to anger and finally to jealousy, he rides up and down and loops back around to confront the Nazgûl.

“He goes to the Gate and says (lying) that he mae Gandalf confess. He does not admit that this is his own knowledge, not being aware of how much Sauron knew of his mind and heart!”

So basically, Sauron knew the truth and was testing Saruman, trying to capture him in that dreaded “perjury trap”!

“‘I will report this myself to the Lord of Barad-dûr,’ he said loftily, ‘to him I speak from afar on great matters that concern us. But all that you need to know on the mission that he has given you is where “the Shire” lies. That, he says, is north-west from here, some 600 miles, on the borders of the sea-ward Elvish country.'”

We learn in Unfinished Tales that this jive talk convinced the Witch-king. He wasn’t particularly thrilled that he had to go near that sea-ward Elvish country, but if that’s where the Shire was, that’s where the Witch-king wanted to be.

Tolkien also tells us that Saruman released wolves and Orcs to not only track down Gandalf but to usher the Nazgûl away. They also served to do some damage to Rohan and put a bit of fear into Theóden’s heart.

From this point on, these notes and what’s accepted as canonical match up again – the Riders cross the Ford of Isen on the 18th.

What’s Next?

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at Gandalf’s first day in Edoras, Rohan. We’ll also continue following the Nazgûl as they meet up with Gríma Wormtongue.

Camera: Exakta Exa IIb
Lens: Isco-Gottinggen 50mm f/1.9
Film: Polypan F (x-12/2006); 100iso
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min

September 11, 3018 – Nazgûl Ordered to Isengard

Okay, maybe I’m cheating a little bit here. Technically this happened at the same time as yesterday’s post. Or, really, before it. But it’s acted upon on this day (probably), so we’ll go with this. Okay? Okay.

Welcome to September 11, 3018 of the Third Age. Let’s go.

When the Nazgûl returned to the Field of Celebrant and/or The Wold (not the same place, but in the same general area), they found a pile of angry messages waiting for them. Messages from Sauron. He was pissed. Remember?

In these messages he told the Nazgûl that Saruman had betrayed him (I suppose – it wasn’t like Sauron gave much of what Saruman said any credence, but he didn’t appreciate the ruse).

Anyway, he ordered the Nazgûl to go to Isengard.

And that’s it. That’s really all I have to report. I guess the post is over. See ya next time!

Um… What’s Next?

We’ll meet back up on September 18th. Some big things are happening on the back of a certain Windlord!

Camera: Argus C3 (1957)
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-1975); 6iso
Process: HC-110B; 6.5mins

September 10, 3018 – The Return of the Nazgûl!

Welcome to September 10, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll catch up with the Nazgûl. It’s been awhile. Certainly they’ve been busy and have such tales to tell.

Catching Up with the Nine

To find out about the wanderings of the Nine Riders we have to consult Unfinished Tales. Tolkien wrote quite a bit about this, much of it contradictory, but since the only easily-available stuff is in the “Hunt for the Ring” chapter, that’s what we’re going with. Mostly.

When last we left them (way the hell back in July), they were gathered in the Field of Celebrant. They had just learned that Gollum had managed to escape both the Orcs and Elves. The Riders also figured out that the Hobbits didn’t live in Anduin Vale. Basically, they were back to square one.

The Witch-king still wanted to search towards the north. Remember, they still hadn’t crossed the Misty Mountains. So all through the summer they traveled north.

The Lórien Problem

Looking at a map, the land of Lórien is directly north of the Field of Celebrant. Lórien and Dol Guldur are practically neighbors. Obviously the Shire wasn’t in Mirkwood to the northeast, and there was no Shire anything north through Anduin’s Vale, so why the Witch-king wanted to poke around farther north rather than west isn’t really clear.

And while going west would solve the Lórien problem, the Witch-king figured that Galadriel and Lórien were likely involved with the Shire. Perhaps it was even part of her queendom.

“But the power of the White Ring he would not defy, nor enter yet into Lórien.”

So that’s the issue – Nenya, Galadriel’s Ring [note: insert “nenya business” joke somewhere around here]. The Nazgûl were not (yet?) powerful enough to take on Galadriel.

Naturally, the next-best thing to finding out where the Shire was located was finding out where the Shire wasn’t located – and apparently that meant another trip north.

“Passing therefore between Lórien and the Mountains the Nine rode ever on into the North; and terror went before them and lingered behind them; but they did not find what they sought nor learn any news that availed them.”

And on this-ish day, they returned with no clue as to anything.

Aaaaand We’re Back

Okay, finally we’re at the present. September 3018. Maybe around the 10th.

All we really know date-wise was that “September had come” and Sauron was pissed. There were messages from the Dark Lord waiting for the Nine upon their return. That’s not good.

It’s like getting back from an extended vacation only to find that your voicemail is full with angry messages from your boss. Playtime is over, Mr. Witch-king.

Remember when Sauron learned about Boromir, his dream and all that other stuff? Well, none of it thrilled him and he wasn’t one to control his anger. Poor W.K. apparently received the brunt of it.

What’s Next?

Tomorrow we’ll be back to conclude this exciting Nazgûl story. Thrilling!

Camera: Zorki 4 (c1956)
Film: Fuji Pro 160S (expired)