July 10, 3018 – Gandalf is Imprisoned at Isengard

Hello and welcome to July 10, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll take a look at Gandalf’s arrival and imprisonment at Isengard by Saruman. In the story, all of this is told to us by Gandalf at the Council of Elrond. Granted, we don’t get Saruman’s side of things, but I think it’s a safe bet to trust Gandalf on this one.

White and Grey and Brown

For the past two posts, we’ve looked at Saruman’s jealousy and bitterness toward Gandalf. Our grey wizard was clearly onto this, and even made light of it here and there. He must have thought it was only a bit of rivalry.

Saruman’s offer to “help” Gandalf, as delivered by Radagast, filled Gandalf with “hope.”

But immediately after arriving at Isengard, he suspected something was up. In the first exchange, he asked for aid, and referred to Saruman as “Saruman the White.” This title, Gandalf thought, “seemed to anger him.” And in almost retaliation, Saruman over-stressed the “grey” in “Gandalf the Grey.” He even mocked him a bit for seeking aid.

“I looked at him and wondered,” Gandalf later explained to the Council. He had gone from uneasy to suspicious. Gandalf told Saruman that the Nazgûl had come forth again and even crossed the Anduin. Rather than addressing that, Saruman pitched into Radagast, even revealing that the Brown wizard played an unwitting roll in bringing Gandalf to Isengard.

Saruman’s Plan: Knowledge, Rule, Order

It’s easy to gloss over everything Saruman says and just get to the gist of it. Saruman wanted the One Ring for himself and Gandalf was standing in his way, so he was just going to imprison him.

But that also leaves out Saruman’s stated plan. After a bit of boasting about white cloth, etc., Saruman “drew himself up and began to declaim, as if he were making a speech long rehearsed.”

Saruman had been waiting for this day, probably for centuries, when he could confront Gandalf.

It was well known that the days of the Elves were drawing to a close, and that Men (that is, humans) were about to control Middle-earth. Saruman was insistent that the Wizards must have “power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.”

Saruman agreed that Sauron was rising, but insisted that neither the Elves nor Men could stop him. He agreed that Sauron must be taken down, but it would be best to take him down from the inside.

“We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”

Saruman stated that the whole reason the Wizards came to Middle-earth in the first place was to provide knowledge, rule and order. But this wasn’t true at all.

In Unfinished Tales we learn that the Istari were “to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt.”

From this passage, it’s not even clear that Sauron was to be defeated. The Istari were sent to guide Men and Elves away from his influence. This was not lost on Gandalf.

After calling Saruman out on this, the formerly-White wizard got to the crux of the matter. He explained that the whole reason he brought Gandalf to Isengard was because he thought he had intimate knowledge of the Ruling Ring. “If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”

Gandalf’s Refusal and Sentence

Gandalf was clear on this. The One Ring could only be held by a single individual. Saruman clearly knew this as well, so it was incredibly obvious that he was trying to do away with Gandalf.

Saruman knew too much of Gandalf’s movements and of the Ring for Gandalf to deny knowledge of it. “Why to the Nine ask for the Shire, and what is your business there?” Gandalf couldn’t wriggle his way out of this, so he called out Saruman for what he was. All cards were on the table now.

Gandalf refused to serve both Sauron and Saruman, and had no clear idea what his fate would be. But Saruman had decided that Gandalf would remain a guest of Isengard “until the end.”

It’s interesting that Saruman wasn’t going to kill Gandalf – at least not personally. Of course, this could be because he wanted knowledge of the One Ring. He wanted to somehow persuade Gandalf to spill it. But if the Ring could be found without Gandalf’s help, Saruman wanted to let Gandalf’s fate up to Sauron.

Saruman would hand Gandalf over to Sauron, for when “the Ruler has time to turn to lighter matters: to devise, say, a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey.”

Gandalf countered: “That may not prove to be one of the lighter matters.”

“He laughed at me,” Gandalf later told the Council, “for my words were empty and he knew it.”

Gandalf was a prisoner, and was taken to the pinnacle of Orthanc, “in the place where Saruman was accustomed to watch the stars.”

The Desolation of Saruman

When he reached the top, Gandalf looked down into the lands around Isengard.

“I looked on it and saw that, whereas it had once been green and fair, it was now filled with pits and forges. Wolves and orcs were housed in Isengard, for Saruman was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service, yet.”

This must have been terrifying. At this point, Gandalf knew that Sauron had an army and that there was a great defeat to the east. Though he didn’t know the specifics, Osgiliath had fallen. He had no idea until that moment that Saruman was also growing an army. Could the Elves and Men battle both Saruman and Sauron? And what if they combined forces?

This was a definitely possibility. Gandalf now understood that Saruman was absolutely prideful enough to believe that he could fool Sauron into a partnership. But he also understood that Sauron would ultimately defeat Saruman – though that hardly mattered. Whichever obtained the One Ring would rule and destroy Middle-earth.

Saruman the Ringmaker

There’s one more thing I’d like to touch on. When Gandalf first meets Saruman, he noticed that “He wore a ring on his finger.” Is there more to this throw-away line?

A little later, Saruman refers to himself as “Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”

Ring-maker? Tolkien never made anything more of this. Hammond & Scull in their Reader’s Companion suggest that “it seems clear that Saruman’s study of the Elven-rings had led him to try to make rings of power himself.”

This idea was (sort of) addressed by Tolkien in the “Forward to the Second Edition.” In addressing the idea that the Lord of the Rings was an allegory for World War II, Tolkien countered that:

“If it had inspired [by WW2] then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron…. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.”

Perhaps Tolkien toyed with this idea, even subconsciously, before abandoning, and these two shards are all of it that remain.

In the first full draft of the Gandalf and Saruman story (which was in the fourth draft of the Council of Elrond), the same line appears: “Saruman was there but he had changed. He wore a ring on his finger.”

However, the second reference – “I am Saruman the Ringmaker” – was not yet a part of the tale. He boasted that he was “Saruman the Wise, Saruman of Many Colours,” but not “Saruman the Ringmaker.” That likely came in the next draft, or even the final draft. Either is curious since it seems to have been added without any backstory at all.

What’s Next?

In about a week, we’ll check in on the Nazgûl and their progress. But be warned, most of July and nearly all of August will be sparse. There’s not much going on in this story then.

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


Tolkien’s Wizards in Middle-earth

Last week, we looked at how the Wizards were selected by the Valar. Today, we’ll dig into their time in Middle-earth prior to the War of the Ring.

Saruman’s Arrival in Middle-earth

The Istari arrived on the shores around the year 1000 of the Third Age – roughly 2000 years before our story began. But they didn’t arrive all at once. Though Saruman was tasked with Radagast, he came first and alone.

Saruman might have traveled with the two Blue Wizards, or perhaps he met up with them after their arrival. Either way, he quickly went east with them, moving basically “off the map.” For around 1500 years they did stuff over there. Then, probably around the year 2500 of the Third Age, Saruman came back and the two Blue Wizards didn’t.

Gandalf’s Arrival in Middle-earth

Gandalf came second, around the year 1100, or “about the same time as the first signs were noted of the re-arising of ‘the Shadow,'” Sauron. For the entire second millennium of the Third Age, little was noted of Gandalf.

“Probably he wandered long (in various guises), engaged not in deeds and events but in exploring the hearts of Elves and Men who had been and might still be expected to be opposed to Sauron.”

Gandalf became friends with Elrond and the Dúnedain, but also became enamored by the Hobbits “because his wisdom had presage of their ultimate importance, and at the same time he perceived their inherent worth.”

What About Radagast?

Well, Tolkien never wrote much about him, really. Radagast arrived around the same time as Gandalf, but not much was known about his travels around Middle-earth. In fact, he probably didn’t travel much at all.

Radagast settled down at Rhosgobel, near Bëorn’s Carrock and the Old Forest Road. From this vantage point, he could keep a watch over Dol Guldur. It was here where Sauron lived beginning around the time of Radagast’s arrival in Middle-earth.

But before too long, this watch slipped a bit. We learn that Radagast “became enamoured of the many beasts and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook Elves and Men, and spent his days among the wild creatures.”

The White Council

The first meeting of the Third Age’s White Council was called by Galadriel in the year 2463. For nearly four centuries there had been “the Watchful Peace,” following Sauron being driven out of Dol Guldur by Gandalf. In the mid-2400s, Sauron began to stir again. It was around this time that Sméagol found The Ring. Things were in motion, new Orcs were being created, and Sauron was becoming active.

This meeting of the greatest powers in Middle-earth would be the first of four. Galadriel wanted Gandalf to chair the meeting, but we learn in the Silmarillion that “he refused the office, since he would have no ties and no allegiance, save to those who sent him, and he would abide in no place nor be subject to any summons.”

Saruman, who had just returned from doing stuff in the east, “begrudged” the White Council for selecting Gandalf -just as Manwë had selected Gandalf so long ago. Because of Gandalf’s refusal, Saruman, their second choice, led the Council.

This actually made a bit of sense, since it was Saruman who had studied Sauron’s old ways and the Rings of Power. But this study didn’t lead Saruman to a very good place. Rather than learning how to defeat the Dark Lord so that Light might triumph, we learn in Unfinished Tales that he became “proud and impatient and enamoured of power sought to have his own will by force, and to oust Sauron; but he was ensnared by that dark spirit, mightier than he.”

Weirdly, we don’t know much about the first White Council meeting. It was probably just a meet & greet with some light snacks and refreshments. Their real work would begin about 400 years later in 2851.

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000
Film: Kodak Ektachrome E200 (x-12/02)
x-pro as C-41

This was probably the most famous of the meetings. It’s here that Saruman countered Gandalf’s call to attack Dol Guldur. Secretly, Saruman wanted the Ring for himself. He knew it was likely still around somewhere, but told the Council that it probably washed out into the sea and nobody would ever find it ever.

When the meeting broke up, Saruman chastised Gandalf for sitting silently apart from the group and smoking “pipe-weed” (a species of tobacco grown by the Hobbits). The smoking was apparently a new habit for Gandalf. This silence and smoking annoyed Saruman.

Gandalf praised the Hobbits, and with a laugh told Saruman that smoking gave him the patience “to listen to error without anger.” He also mocked his “high policies” a bit. Saruman had kept tabs on Gandalf and knew that he enjoyed hanging out with the Hobbits, and while Gandalf could have whichever friends he wanted do basically do whatever he wanted to do, Saruman insisted that “to me the days are too dark for wanderers’ tales, and I have no time for the simples of peasants.”

To that, Gandalf let Saruman know that he was also keeping tabs on him. He “sent out a great ring of smoke with many smaller rings that followed it. Then he put up his hand, as if to grasp them, and they vanished.”

Tolkien wrote in one of the drafts of this story that Saruman grew a little suspicious that Gandalf was on to his his desire to possess the One Ring and control the other Rings of Power. Not only that, but he thought for a second that somehow the Hobbits might be involved.

Of course, at this point, Gandalf had no idea of the future, that the Hobbits would absolutely be involved. But when the events finally played out, Saruman remembered Gandalf’s smoke rings and believed that Gandalf knew how this would play out all along. It would only add to his jealousy.

90 years later, they held another Council, and Gandalf again urged them to attack Dol Guldur. Wishing to move Sauron out of the way so he could search for the Ring himself, Saruman now relented. The attack was made, but Sauron was already planning on moving back to Mordor.

The final meeting of the White Council happened twelve years later in 2953. This was shortly after Sauron openly declared himself. Here Saruman told them almost everything he knew (and some stuff he made up) about the Rings of Power. Unwittingly, this convinced Gandalf that Bilbo’s ring couldn’t possibly be the One Ring (at least, probably not).

Following the final meeting, Saruman locked himself away in Isengard and would see nobody. But 65 years later, Radagast came knocking on his door. This is when Saruman finally made his move to either turn Gandalf to his side (unlikely) or simply imprison him.

And this brings us up to the present.

What’s Next?

Tomorrow we’ll rejoin our story with Gandalf’s arrival at Isengard.

Tolkien’s Wizards Before Middle-earth

Greetings! I’d like to take a bit of time while Gandalf makes his way to Saruman at Isengard to talk a little about the history of the Istari, the Wizards of Middle-earth. I’ll take a look at Tolkien’s texts from both The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

Some were written as he was fleshing out Lord of the Rings in 1948, while others were penned shortly before his death in 1972. It’s an interesting story, so let’s get to it!

Some Writing Background

The Silmarillion quickly touches upon the Istari and the build up to the War of the Ring. That passage was mostly written by Tolkien as part of the Council of Elrond when he was fleshing out certain bits of Lord of the Rings around 1948. In fact, Christopher Tolkien reckons that his father probably intended it to be used in full, but scaled it back for brevity’s sake.

A few years later, in 1954, Tolkien had another go at the history of the Istari. This can be found in Unfinished Tales. This was actually part of a larger work that Tolkien undertook – the building of an encyclopedic index for The Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers. This effort actually delayed the publishing of Return of the King but was itself never finished or published.

It was during this period that Tolkien jotted down random ideas as they came to him. This is likely where the origin story for the Istari came in.

The Wizards in Valinor

Basically it’s this – as Sauron was coming to power in Middle-earth, the Valar got together and formed a plan to ultimately check and defeat him. The wished to send three emissaries, but at first couldn’t figure out who should go.

They had to “be mighty, peers of Sauron, but must forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men.”

Clothing a spiritual being (all of the Wizards were Maiar) in flesh “would imperil them, dimming their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and wearinesses coming from the flesh.”

The first two to come forward were Curumo and Alatar. Curumo was Saruman and Alatar would turn out to be one of the mysterious Blue Wizards. Manwë, the head of the Valar, then asked Olórin “who was clad in grey” to be the third messenger.

Camera: Smena 8M
Film: Kodak Tri-X
Processed: Rodinal 1+50 9.5mins

This was Gandalf, of course, and he was selected specifically because he loved the Elves. In fact, he lived in Lórien in Valinor with the Elves and “walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts.” and But Gandalf confessed that he was too weak and feared Sauron. Manwë insisted, however, that it was those qualities that qualified him to make the journey.

But here a seed was planted. When Manwë suggested that Gandalf be the “third,” Varda, who was known by the Elves as Elbereth, “looked up and said: ‘Not as the third’. We next learn that Curumo, later known as Saruman the White, “remembered it.”

So even before they left Valinor, Saruman was jealous of Gandalf. Saruman volunteered to go to Middle-earth. He wasn’t selected, he wasn’t specifically asked for by Manwë, he certainly didn’t receive a de facto promotion by Varda.

Gandalf was honestly humble, and rather than disqualifying him from the journey, Manwë praised Gandalf for his weakened qualities.

Of course, this left Radagast and the other Blue Wizard. Radagast wasn’t exactly chosen, but Yavanna begged Saruman to take him as a favor to her. Saruman couldn’t refuse, but this might also explain why he had such a grudge against Radagast the Brown.

As for the other Blue Wizard, we learn that “Alatar took Pallando as a friend,” which is pretty heartwarming and sweet.

Much later in 1972, Tolkien wrote that the Istari “were free each to do what they could in this mission; that they were not commanded or supposed to act together as a small central body of power and wisdom; and that each had different powers and inclinations and were chosen by the Valar with this in mind.”

What’s Next?

On Monday, we’ll continue this story with the arrival of the Wizards in Middle-earth.

July 4, 3018 – Boromir Leaves Minas Tirith for Rivendell

There’s a lot of people leaving town now
leaving their friends, their homes
At night they walk that dark and dusty highway all alone

So say goodbye, it’s Independence Day

Greetings, and welcome to July 4th, 3018 of the Third Age. There’s not all that much that happens today, and I won’t keep you long. Let’s get started.

We last checked in with Boromir about three weeks ago. The brothers Boromir and Faramir both had the same dream and asked their father, Denethor, to explain it.

The only thing they could really get out of him was that “Imladris was of old the name among the Elves of a far northern dale, where Elrond the Halfelven dwelt, greatest of lore-masters.”

Apparently, this Elrond character was just the fellow to explain the poem contained within the dream that Faramir had many times (and Boromir only once – never forget that – Boromir only had the dream one single time).

Boromir described the dream at the Council of Elrond:

In that dream I thought the eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice, remote but clear, crying:

Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.

Boromir explained that it was Faramir who wanted to make the long journey from Minas Tirith to Rivendell. He didn’t go, however, because, as Boromir boastfully put it: “since the way was full of doubt and danger, I took the journey upon myself.”

Denethor was “loth” to see his favorite son go, but Boromir had no other choice (apart from letting Faramir do it).

So today is the day when Boromir left. It would take him 110 days to reach Rivendell, and he would do a good bit of wandering in the wilderness over that span since he had no specific idea where Rivendell actually was.

The straight route from Minas Tirith to Rivendell should take about 45 days – the amount of travel-days that it would later take Pippin.

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1960s)
Film: Fuji Provia 100F; x-07/12
Process: DIY ECN-2

What’s Next?

We’ll check back in on July 10th and see how Gandalf’s doing upon his arrival at Isengard. Everything should be fine, don’t worry.

But before that we’ll have two posts looking at Tolkien’s wizards before and after their arrival to Middle-earth.

July 1, 3018 – The Nazgûl Unleashed (Again?)

Hello and welcome to July 1, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’re going to take a bit of a look at the Nazgûls as they set off looking for the Ring. We’ll also speculate as to why it took them so long.

Who Did What Now?

If you’re only reading Lord of the Rings you’ll find that you don’t really have a good feel for when the Ringwraiths started doing their thing.

We first learn about them from Gandalf and then only in relation to the Ring. “It is many a year since the Nine walked abroad. Yet who knows? As the Shadow grows once more, they too may walk again,” says the old wizard.

And until we actually meet one on the road with Frodo there’s only a rumor or two from the Gaffer. And even then, we don’t really know what they are. They were “big people” and looking for Frodo for some reason or another. They were “strange customers” and “black riders.”

Even when they meet Gildor on September 24th, he refuses to say more – “is it not enough to know that they are servants of the Enemy?”

Tom Bombadil, who they meet two days later seemingly can’t tell them much more. “Tom is not master of Riders from the Black Land far beyond his country.”

We learn more of their powers from Strider on October 5th just before Frodo slips on the Ring at Weathertop.

In fact, it’s not until Frodo awakens in Rivendell on October 21st that Gandalf fully connects the dots for us.

The Morgul-lord and his Black Riders have come forth. War is preparing!’

‘Then you knew of the Riders already – before I met them?’

‘Yes, I knew of them. Indeed I spoke of them once to you; for the Black Riders are the Ringwraiths, the Nine Servants of the Lord of the Rings. But I did not know that they had arisen again or I should have fled with you at once. I heard news of them only after I left you in June; but that story must wait.

The full story is explained the next day at the Council.

But it is today – July 1st – that the Nazgûl begin their search for “Shire” and “Baggins.” A full three months will pass before Frodo knows of this.

But Doesn’t Gandalf Already Know?

Yeah, he sort of did, didn’t he. Of course, he knew who the Nazgûl were long before our story began. And he was told by Radagast on Midyear’s Day (two days ago) that they were on the move again.

Map showing (in Blue) Radagast’s possible trek to Saruman in Isengard.

But, you might ask, if they Nazgûl were unleashed just today, how did Radagast tell Gandalf about them two days before? And how long did Radagast know? A couple of weeks? At least!

So what gives? This is certainly a schedule problem that Tolkien tried to deal with, and he never really dealt with it well.

In Unfinished Tales we’re given a few different manuscripts and at least two attempts to figure this all out. Basically, we’re supposed to understand that the Witch-king lead the attack on Osgiliath on June 20th. Sometime shortly after that Radagast went to see Saruman at Isengard. Then, Saruman sent Radagast to find Gandalf, which he did twelve days after the fall of Osgiliath, but two days before the Nazgûl began their search.

Was there time for all of this? No and yes. There really doesn’t seem to have been enough time for Radagast to travel from his home in northern Mirkwood, down to Isengard, and then to Bree in less than two weeks.

It’s 600 miles from northern Mirkwood to Isengard, and another 400 or so from Isengard to Bree. There’s no way he could make 1,000 miles in twelves days (less, actually). That’s over 100 miles a day. And he didn’t go straight from Isengard to Bree, but wandered around a bit looking for Gandalf. So no, that makes no sense.

Radagast’s path (in blue) from Isengard to near Bree where he met Gandalf.

But in another way, yes, there was enough time. More than enough. And this brings up a strange and unexplained point that Tolkien ever discussed. If the Witch-king crossed the Anduin on June 20th, why did the Nazgûl wait fourteen days before moving out?

Tolkien never explains this. Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien, suggests that “perhaps Tolkien has the Nazgûl wait for dark nights and a reduction in the number of Gondor troops before beginning their search for the Ring.”

But that’s not convincing since Unfinished Tales reveals that the Nazgûl were “unclad and unmounted, and invisible to eyes, and yet a terror to all living things that they passed near.”

The Unpublished Manuscript Again?

I hate to keep going back to this Unpublished Manuscript appearing in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion, but the more I think about it, the more it seems to fill in these gaps.

As I’ve written before, Tolkien “remodelled” the story appearing in Unfinished Tales so that the Nazgûl were actually out searching for the Ring before the battle of Osgiliath. In fact, they were sent out “sometime early in April.”

Map showing Osgiliath and the shadowy lands held by the Enemy.

They investigate Anduin’s Vale first then split up to check out Rohan. Radagast spots them and heads straight for Saruman at Isengard. Sauron was at this time communicating with Saruman via the Palantír and sends the Nazgûl to question him in early June. Radagast shows up at Isengard a few days later and leaves on June 15th.

After their visit to Isengard, the Witch-king returned to lead the battle of Osgiliath. A few others remained in Anduin’s Vale, while Khamûl and his messenger Nazgûl remained in Dol Guldur to oversee the attack on Thranduil which freed Gollum.

All of this basically works without messing up the main plot too much. Tolkien wondered “What happens between June 20 and escape of Gandalf which cannot be earlier than night of Sept. 16/17? Some 86 days!”

He apparently never figured that out, but then, that’s not yet relevant to this blog.

This possibly means that the Nazgûl visited Saruman twice – once as above, and then once again on the last day of Gandalf’s imprisonment. But again, we’re not there yet.

What’s Next?

We’ll check back in on July 4th to see what that Boromir fellow is up to.

Camera: Crown Graphic (1962)
Lens: 127mm f/4.7 Rodenstock Ysarex
Film: Kodak T-max 100 (x-09/2003); 64iso
Process: HC-110B; 7.5min
Near Vantage, Washington

Midyear’s Day, 3018 – Gandalf Meets Radagast, Warns Frodo to Leave Shire

Greetings! And welcome to Midyear’s Day, 3018 of the Third Age of Middle-earth! This is an odd little day, but an important one in our story.

Midyear’s Day is not in June or July. It’s in a three-day span called Lithe which falls between June and July. It goes like this: June 30 > Lithe 1 > Midyear’s Day > Lithe 2 > July 1. In our modern calendars, we don’t have Lithe, so for the purposes of this blog, I’m just going to chuck it into the final days of June.

But keep in mind that the events in this post actually took place three days after Gollum escaped the Wood-elves (and even that date was speculation). With a bit of hand-waving, we’ll all be fine.

A Week Without Gandalf

Midyear’s Day is a turning point in the Lord of the Rings story, and we hear all about it at the Council of Elrond. Of course, we’ll remember that Gandalf had left The Shire on June 25. For the next week he rode with a “foreboding of some danger, still hidden from me but drawing near.”

Somehow or another, he had messages coming to him. These likely came from the Dunédine, though if so, they came quickly. The Battle of Osgiliath happened on June 20th, roughly 800 miles to the southeast. But rumors and news can be passed along quickly by horse, so it’s not impossible (though stretches credulity a tad).

Gandalf claims to have heard of the Nazgûl leading the attacking Enemy from “a few fugitives from the South.” This seems incredibly unlikely given the timeline, but I think it hints at the “unpublished manuscript” in which Tolkien toyed with the idea that the Nazgûl were actually unleashed a month or so before the battle. This would give the refugees time to flee those 800 miles.

The important part of this day, however, is Gandalf’s meeting with Radagast the Brown. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Radagast’s Travels and Timeline Ideas

From the text of Lord of the Rings, we learn very little about Radagast’s movements prior to meeting Gandalf (or after meeting Gandalf, for that matter). Tolkien, however, worked out a scenario, which we’ve already covered.

Briefly, around May 15, Radagast saw the Nazgûl. Now, in order for this to have happened then, we’d have to follow the timeline from the “unpublished manuscript” appearing in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion.

Tolkien realized that “On June 29th Radagast could not know this [that the Nine were abroad, etc.], if Black Riders did not cross the Anduin till June 20 [Battle of Osgiliath].” And he was right.

To fix this problem, he decided not only that Sauron had released the Nazgûl to search for the Ring much earlier than Osgiliath; that Osgiliath was merely their coming out party. In actuality, he speculated, they had been called by Sauron around the end of April. They operated in secrecy, taking no forms, but still scaring the hell out of everybody.

Radagast, being a wizard, witnessed what they truly were around May 15. With that, he made his way to Saruman in Isengard, arriving in early June. In this timeline, the Nazgûl have just visited Isengard to suss out Saruman, but their potential and speculative visit doesn’t really play into this (at least, it doesn’t have to).

Radagast arrived at Isengard, and stayed until June 15ish, when he was sent by Saruman to find Gandalf. Of course, he unwittingly played this role in Saruman’s plan to capture Gandalf and ultimately get the One Ring for himself.

Over the next fortnight, Radagast searched for Gandalf, knowing that he “might be found in a wild region with the uncouth name of Shire.” Perhaps exhausted and spent, Radagast plopped himself down along the Greenway somewhere not far south of Bree.

Meeting on the Greenway

Upon their meeting, Radagast tells Gandalf that he has “an urgent errand” and that his “news is evil.” Quietly, he then whispers “Nazgûl. The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black.”

Radagast’s path (in blue) from Isengard to near Bree where he met Gandalf.

In typical Gandalf fashion, he knew about this, though he didn’t actually know about this. He feared it, and now realized that he suspected it, he “dreaded without knowing it.”

The Riders, Radagast explained, were asking “for news of a land called Shire.” He reveals that Saruman sent him with the offer to help Gandalf if needed.

Gandalf reasoned that since Saruman was “the greatest of my order,” and had “long studied the arts of the Enemy himself,” perhaps Saruman had already found a way to “drive back the Nine” just as he drove Sauron into Dol Guldur long ago.

Radagast urged Gandalf to hurry, telling Gandalf that he probably couldn’t reach Isengard “before the Nine discover” the Shire.

Before parting, Gandalf gave Radagast a mission, one that (as we’ll later discover) Saruman didn’t consider. “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.” Radagast assured him it would be done, and they parted.

Never a Greater Mistake!

Because Gandalf was so close to Bree and was already weary from the day’s ride, he decided to stay overnight at the Prancing Pony in Bree. He wanted to return to the Shire to tell Frodo to leave immediately, but thought that leaving a note for him with Mr. Butterbur, in innkeeper, would suffice.

Gandalf (the king of ‘hindsight is 20/20’) would later admit that this was his greatest mistake. And it seems a little baffling how he could make it.

When he arrived at the Prancing Pony, a pub where he was apparently well-known, he took a room and composed a letter to Frodo:

The most important takeaways were that Gandalf wanted Frodo to leave the Shire by the end of July and head to Bree. Prior to this, Gandalf suggested Bree, but basically left it up to Frodo.

In Gandalf’s mind, he would give a quick visit to Saruman in Isengard and then dash back to Bree. By that time, he hoped, Frodo would have already passed through and left a message for him.

Gandalf told Frodo that he would likely meet “Strider” who was actually named Aragorn (neither names meant anything to Hobbits). After Bree, Frodo was to go directly to Rivendell.

In a postscript, Frodo was warned not to use the Ring again. In another, Gandalf admitted that Butterbur had a horrible memory and would possibly forget to send this letter. In that event, Frodo was to confide in Elrond at Rivendell.

On the envelope he wrote: “Mr. Frodo Baggings, Bag End, Hobbiton in the Shire” – a curious address seeing as how the Nazgûl were specifically searching for “Baggins” and “Shire.” Seriously, why would Gandalf write that on the envelope?

With letter in hand, he burst into Butterbur’s office without even knocking.

“Barley, I’m off in the morning,” he said as a greeting. “Will you do something for me?”

Butterbur agreed without knowing even the nature of the favor.

“I’m in a hurry,” said Gandalf, “and I’ve no time myself, but I want a message took to the Shire. Have you anyone you can send, and trust to go?”

Butterbur assured him that he could find someone the following day or maybe the next. Gandalf admonished him to make it tomorrow and handed him the letter. Butterbur “put it by safe.” Not in the safe – by the safe. (I’d love to know what Butterbur’s safe was like. Also, the combination was absolutely 1-2-3.)

It’s a little curious that Gandalf didn’t go directly to the Shire. Of course, if he did, we wouldn’t have as much tension and drama in The Fellowship of the Ring. Still, Gandalf knew this was quite possibly life or death, that the Nazgûl would likely find the Shire in the next week or so (according to Radagast), and that Butterbur was likely to forget to send it.

Ultimately it would take the Nazgûl a little longer than feared, but there’s little excuse for Gandalf’s mistake.

The next morning, Gandalf would leave for Isengard.

What’s Next?

Since we’ve already covered everything that happened tomorrow (Lithe 2), our next stop will be July 1st, which is tomorrow. See how this can get a bit confusing? But tomorrow, we’ll be back on track with the calendar, just in time for the Nazgûl to begin their search for the Ring.

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1956)
Film: Fuji Provia 100F (x-07/12)
Process: C-41
Glendive, Montana

Lithe – A Quick Explanation (And a Bit About the Calendars of Middle-earth)

In Shire Reckoning, the period of time known as Lithe falls between the months of June and July. Typically it consists of three days: Lithe 1, Midyear’s Day and Lithe 2.

Those are the basics. If you want to know more, I’ll try to delve into a bit.

Lithe in the Shire Calendar

Shire Reckoning is probably the most practical calendar ever invented. Basically, its twelve months each contained thirty days. This took care of 360 of the 365 days of the year.

Those extra five days were set apart with two Yule Days falling between December 30 and January 1, and three Lithe Days falling between June 30 and July 1.

The only thing slightly confusing about this arrangement was that it made January 1st the second day of the year – with the second day of Yule being the first day. But since both Yule Days were holidays, that hardly mattered. January 1st was still the first “business” day of the year (though, honestly, the party likely kept going well beyond the Yules).

Lithe had three days: Lithe 1, Mid-year’s Day (also called Midsummerday), and Lithe 2.

Leap Year

Now, as we know, the earth takes roughly 365.25 days to revolve around the sun. This is why we have an extra day in February every four years. Shire Reckoning handled it a bit differently.

Rather than adding a day to some random month, they just gave themselves more holidays.

They called these leap year days “Overlithe”. This came every basically four years and would fall between Midyear’s Day and Lithe 2. This would add an extra day of feasting because why the hell not?

Days of the Week

If you’ve come this far and you don’t already know this, prepare to have your mind blown.

In our calendar, the days of the week never coincide with calendar days. Your birthday could fall on a Sunday one year and a Wednesday a few years later. Throw in leap year, and it’s basically impossible to remember from year to year upon which day that date might fall.

This was not so with Shire Reckoning.

January 1st always falls on a Sunday. Always. July 3rd is always a Tuesday, and October 28th is always a Friday.

Even in leap years, these days do not change. This is accomplished by making Midyear’s Day (and Overlithe on leap years) days all unto themselves and not a day of the week. And since they were festival days, it just didn’t matter.

To be clearer, Lithe 1 was always a Friday. Then came Midyear’s Day – a day in and of itself. The next day was Saturday, Lithe 2.

The Yules always fell on Friday and Saturday, making that Saturday always the 1st day of the year.

This meant that Hobbits had to buy only one calendar ever – which I took the liberty of making:

The Shire Reckoning – good for all years!

The Rest of Middle-earth

And that’s fine for Hobbits, but what about the rest of Middle-earth? If you want to know the gritty details of this, check out Appendix D of Lord of the Rings.

In short, the Elves had a wonky system that even Tolkien didn’t seem to fully grasp. Their year had six seasons, 365 days, and some sort of leap year every dozen years where three days were added. There was also a sort of anti-leap year that took away three days every 432 years. All of this likely varied over different times and regions.

It was the Númenóreans who took the Elvish calendar and folded it into something more like ours. They called this the King’s Reckoning. The year had 365 days across twelve months. Ten of those months had 30 days, and two had 31. The months with the extra days were June and July.

They also had three days that didn’t fall into the months. Loëndë was their Midyear’s Day, coming between June and July (the long months). Yestarë and Mettarë were the first and last days of the year, respectively.

The Stewards’ Reckoning

After the King’s Reckoning was lost with the fall of Numenor, the Stewards’ Reckoning came about. This was in use at the time of Lord of the Rings by basically everyone but the Hobbits.

Like the Shire Reckoning, each of the twelve months had 30 days. The extra five days were dispersed in a bizzare variety of ways.

Like the Númenórean calendar, the first day of the year was Yestarë, with January 1st coming the day after. Then, between the months of March and April, the day Tuilérë was added. Then came Loëndë, their Midyear’s Day. Between September and October another day was added called Yáviérë. And finally, like the Númenóreans, the last day of the year was Mettarë.

Tolkien on the Hobbit Calendar

The Hobbits took the Steward’s Reckoning and made it better. Tolkien ends this portion of Appendix D with a bit of a hurrah for the Shire Reckoning’s “Shire-reform.”

In consequence of this reform the year always began on the First Day of the week and ended on the Last Day; and the same date in any one year had the same weekday name in all other years, so that Shire-folk no longer bothered to put the weekday in their letters or diaries. They found this quite convenient at home, but not so convenient if they ever travelled further than Bree.

Deciding Upon Shire Reckoning

Because the Lord of the Rings was written from a Hobbit point-of-view, all of the days given were translated into Shire Reckoning and it is (basically) consistent throughout.

After the War of the Ring, the rest of Middle-earth would basically revert back to the King’s Reckoning. Except this time it was even more complicated and actually shifted the whole calendar by a week.

The first year of the Fourth Age began with March 25th, the day the Ring was destroyed. This was made the first day of the year with April 1st following, thus skipping March 26th – 30th. There was a three day festival which fell between September and October. In honor of Frodo, September 30th was also made a festival day. On leap years, they tacked on an extra day to that festival, calling it Ringday.

It was still more complicated than Shire Reckoning, and so the Hobbits retained their own calendar because, again, why not?

Camera: Bolsey Jubilee (c1950s) Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-1975); 6iso Process: HC-110; 1+200; 120min Potholes Coulee, Washington

June 28, 3018 – Gollum Escapes the Kindly Wood-elves

Welcome to June 28, 3018, the day (well, night) that Gollum escaped from the Wood-elves. We don’t have a lot of information to go on, but let’s dive on in.

The Back Story

There are two main actors in the backstory of Gollum’s escape – Gollum himself, and Sauron. Gollum had been held captive by Sauron for some indeterminable amount of time (this was discussed here). Sauron allowed Gollum to escape Mordor hoping that he would flap his way back to his homeland where the Dark Lord believed “Baggins” and “Shire” might be found.

This plan was dashed when Aragorn tracked down and captured Gollum in the Dead Marshes in the suburbs of Mordor. After dragging the gross little creature to Mirkwood, Gandalf questioned him, and learned the truth of Bilbo’s Ring.

Unfortunately for everyone, Khamûl, the second-in-command Nazgûl was overseeing affairs in Dol Guldur, Southern Mirkwood. His spies learned that Gollum had been captured by a man and taken to Thranduil’s Realm in Northern Mirkwood. After a bit of making-sure, Khamûl sends word to Sauron.

Tolkien speculated that Khamûl would have waited a bit to be certain that Gandalf was involved. Word, then, didn’t get to Sauron in Mordor until late Aprilish.

Sauron’s Two Strokes

We learn in “The Hunt for the Ring” that when Sauron was told about Gollum’s capture and Gandalf’s involvement, he was “in great haste and fear.” He needed more information, but because of the Dúnedain and Saruman’s own spies were spreading disinformation, Sauron could learn nothing.

Calming some, Sauron decided to basically say “fuck it” and plan an attack. If he couldn’t be all crafty about getting his Ring back, he would just start a war.

His first move was to release the Nazgûl. Though Tolkien toyed with the idea of Sauron releasing the Nazgûl a bit earlier (April), he seems to have mostly decided that they would be unleashed for the Battle of Osgiliath. At the same time, Sauron’s forces would also attack the Wood-elves.

“The Orcs assailed the realm of Thranduil, with orders to recapture Gollum; and the Lord of Morgul was sent forth openly to battle against Gondor.”

Escaped? That Is Ill News Indeed

At the Council of Elrond, Legolas told a little bit about how Gollum escaped. It was “not through lack of watchfulness,” but “perhaps through over-kindliness.”

Under Thranduil’s totally-unfaulty watch, Gollum was guarded all day and night. He was a prisoner, but they would take him for walks in the forest. Gollum had a particular tree that he liked to climb. One day (probably today, June 28), he refused to come down. The elves, being elves, didn’t want to climb up after him. They figured that he would eventually have to come down, so why bother?

The elves kept watch on the tree after nightfall. Curiously, that same night is when Sauron’s Orcs attacked.

“It was that very night of summer, yet moonless and starless, that Orcs came on us at unawares. We drove them off after some time; they were many and fierce, but they came from over the mountains, and were unused to the woods. When the battle was over, we found that Gollum was gone, and his guards were slain or taken.”

It was obvious that the reason Gollum didn’t want to come down was because he believed the Orcs were there to recapture them. Of course, he had no desire to go with them and thus back to Mordor, but he must have figured out that within the confusion he could make his own escape.

Looking a few days into the future (so, into the beginning of July), we learn that the Wood-elves pursued the trail left by the Orcs. It seems that they believed that Gollum was still with the Enemy. The pursuit took them too close to Dol Guldur and it was called off.

Were the Nazgûl Involved?

One of the many things left vague about the early War of the Rings events is the location of Khamûl. We’re told in Unfinished Tales that he and another Nazgûl resided at Dol Guldur. The other Nazgûl is unnamed, but he is referred to as “his messenger.”

It’s not crazy to assume that this “messenger” was the individual who delivered the message of Gollum’s imprisonment by the Wood-elves to Sauron in Mordor. Of course, it’s also possible that Khamûl himself went. Or that they both went. Or neither went. We simply don’t know.

Nowhere in the Lord of the Rings is it even suggested that a Nazgûl was involved in the attack upon Thranduil’s realm. It’s made explicit that at least one (the Witch-king of Angmar) was involved in the Battle of Osgiliath.

Little more is made clear in the main text itself. For further information, we have to look to “The Hunt for the Ring” again. And there, as we know, lies madness. Or at least a bit of confusion.

Though not much is said, we read there that after Osgiliath fell “the Nazgûl were ordered to begin the search for the Ring.” We also read that seven of the Nazgûl lived in Mordor, while two others, Khamûl and “his messenger” lived in Dol Guldur.

Again looking into the future, the seven Nazgûl will meet up with the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur on July 22nd. This makes it clear that when the Orcs attacked Thranduil Khamûl was still at Dol Guldur with his messenger.

Still, no concrete evidence is there for either Nazgûl being directly involved. For that, we have to look to the “unpublished manuscript” ultimately published in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion.

Though this follows a slightly different timeline (concerning just when the Nazgûl began their search for the Ring), Tolkien wrote that just before the Battle of Osgiliath, several of the Nazgûl remained in Anduin Vale while the Witch-king led the attack.

“One or more actually direct the attack on Thranduil when Gollum escapes.”

Of course, this is speculation and was likely abandoned by Tolkien (though who knows for sure). Still, it makes a lot of sense that Khamûl would have directed the attack on Thranduil. It was a basic attack and his actual presence at the battle would have been a hindrance as it would have tipped their hands that the Nazgûl were now active and in the field.

So basically, while the Witch-king personally led the attack on Osgiliath, the other Mordor-based Nazgûl were somewhere else (maybe Anduin Vale, maybe Dol Guldur). Additionally, Khamûl likely planned out the specifics of the Orc-attack upon the Wood-elves, though he was not there in person.

Curing Gollum?

The last thing I want to look at is Gandalf’s idea that Gollum might be cured. The Ring had done a number on him and without its power, Gollum’s days were coming to an end. Before Gollum died, Gandalf wanted to see him turn his life around.

So the Wood-elves decided not to throw him in their dungeons “where he would fall back into his old black thoughts.”

This says a lot. Through Gandalf’s few days with him, Gollum must have been coming out of his dark thoughts. He must have been becoming somewhat more like he used to be before the Ring. Of course, he used to be a pretty nasty Sméagol, so while it was definitely an improvement over being Gollum, it still wasn’t that great.

But maybe the Wood-elves could have cured him of that too. More than likely, Gollum was mostly cured of the immediate effects of the Ring – he was at least on the road to recovery. Unfortunately for everyone, that long road lead him straight back into his pre-Ring days of assholery.

Still, even that was the right decision.

Quick note about the date.

In the June 20th entry in the “Tale of Years” we learn that Thranduil was attacked “about the same time” as the attack on Osgiliath. However, at the Council of Elrond, Legolas tells us that it was a “moonless and starless” night.

In the book Untangling Tolkien, author Michael W. Perry suggests the date of June 28th since the 20th was three days after a full moon. “On June 28 a waning crescent moon did not rise until after 3am, giving the Orcs plenty of time to attack and disappear into the depths of Mirkwood.”

That addresses the “moonless,” but the “starless” is harder to dismiss. Perry suggests that it could have been cloudy, but that the clouds wouldn’t have obscured a nearly full moon. So I suppose he’s suggesting that the 28th is the most likely because a cloudy night would have hidden the stars and the moon wouldn’t have been an issue until 3am.

It’s shaky, but I’ll take it.

What’s Next?

We’re coming up on Midyear’s Day and Lithe! It’s then that Gandalf meets up with Radagast and heads for Isengard. Good news, right?

Camera: Pentax K-1000
Film: Kodak Tri-X (x-80s)
Process: Rodinal 1+50; 9.5min
Crater Lake, Oregon

June 25, 3018 – Gandalf Leaves the Shire

Welcome to “one evening, at the end of June [3018 of the Third Age].” It’s on this evening that Gandalf told Frodo that he was leaving. This is one of the most important events in the entire story, as it sets up nearly everything to come, so it’s worth a good looking into.

I Have Heard Something

Sometime, probably not too long before, Gandalf somehow received news – “I have heard something that has made me anxious and needs looking into.”

For the most part, it seems as if Gandalf had done little more than cloister himself away in Bag End for the past couple of months. He “kept himself very quiet and did not go about by day.” . Gandalf wanted as little attention brought to the Shire as possible. If he popped round the shops every Wednesday, there would certainly be quite a scuttlebutt around Hobbiton.

We’ve already learned that the Dwarves were passing through the Shire in increasing numbers “were the hobbits’ chief source of news from distant parts.” Lately, there were many “of far countries, seeking refuge in the West… some spoke in whispers of the Enemy and of the Land of Mordor.”

These strange Dwarves from “far countries” would not have seemed strange to Gandalf. It’s pretty clear that Frodo knew nothing of their visits (if there were any), but Gandalf was sly enough to catch some passing news.

It’s also clear that Gandalf didn’t receive his news from Aragorn and the Rangers, as we’ll see.

We do know that he kept his May 1st appointment with Aragorn at Sarn Ford, but that was going on two months ago.

What Could Gandalf Have Heard?

This is the big question, isn’t it? Whatever news he received was either not trustworthy enough to act upon or wasn’t that huge of a deal.

Gandalf, we’re told, “looked rather worried,” so it wasn’t nothing. He admitted that he was “anxious” and that the news “needs looking into.” But nothing more is revealed.

It might be tempting to speculate that he heard that the Nazgûl were searching for “Baggins” and “Shire.” Gandalf sets us straight on that account when he finally meets up with Frodo in Rivendell.

“I did not know that they [the Nazgûl] had arisen again or I should have fled with you at once. I heard news of them only after I left you in June; but that story must wait.”

Tolkien was very uncertain, even after publication, exactly when the Black Riders started off in search of the Ring. We’ll try to delve into that later, but for now we know that Gandalf would not have heard anything about them prior to leaving the Shire.

The news couldn’t have been of the Battle of Osgiliath, as it happened only a few days before. It couldn’t have been about the Orcs’ attack upon Thranduil. The news couldn’t have had anything at all to do with the Enemy’s broader and more recent movements.

Whatever news that Gandalf maybe have heard was a rumor carried on foot or horseback, and would have taken weeks at the earliest to arrive.

During the Council of Elrond, Gandalf would shed a bit of light – “At the end of June I was in the Shire, but a cloud of anxiety was on my mind, and I rode to the southern borders of the little land; for I had a foreboding of some danger, still hidden from me but drawing near.”

So Gandalf either “heard something that makes me anxious” or “had a foreboding of some danger.” Take your pick. Or maybe it was both.

In earlier drafts, he had received messages directly from the Rangers, but Tolkien has obviously abandoned that idea.

Down Beyond the Southern Borders

Gandalf’s first stop was to be “beyond the southern borders” of the Shire. That way would lead him back to Sarn Ford and perhaps Aragorn – but at least to the Rangers. Whatever news Gandalf heard could be confirmed by them.

The Hobbits and Men of Bree knew almost nothing of the Rangers guarding their safety. As Aragorn mentions in Rivendell:

“‘Strider’ I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly.”

When Gandalf and Aragorn split up in the second week of April, we learn that Aragorn “often kept watch on the borders of the Shire in the last few years.” Though the Rangers were all over the Shire’s borders, and beyond, it seems Aragorn kept his headquarters near Sarn Ford in the south.

I Shall Come Back Immediately

As has already been established, Gandalf’s sense of time is a bit different than others. Still, he probably did mean to return to Bag End as soon as he found out whatever news it was that he needed to know.

Gandalf promised Frodo that if it were necessary to leave the Shire right away, he would come back “immediately” to make sure it was done. At the very least, he would send word.

The next morning as he was setting off, Gandalf would tell Frodo that he might not be back until September. It’s unlikely that he heard any news overnight, but that he reconsidered and figured that this might take some untangling. Gandalf’s intention, we understand, was to accompany him from the start.

Stick To Your Plan – Don’t Use It!

Whatever danger there might be, Gandalf did not think it was serious enough for Frodo to leave the Shire right away.

He told Frodo to stick to the original plan to sell Bag End and prepare to move to Crickhollow.

The other bit of advice he gave was about the Ring – “Let me impress on you once more: don’t use it!

This bit of advice would eventually come in handy, but until then, Frodo decided to have a fair summer in the Shire.

What’s Next?

Gollum and Wood-elves!

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000
Film: Kodak Ektachrome E200 (x-12/02)
x-pro as C-41
Near Washtucna, Washington

June 22, 3018 – Frodo Baggins Is Selling Bag End!

So where were we? It seems like it’s been years. In story-time, it’s been about six weeks.

When the Hell Are We?

Let’s get you caught up. When last we left Frodo and Gandalf, on April 27, Gandalf told Frodo to “leave soon.”

Frodo decided that “soon” actually meant “in about six months.” I get it, that’s fine. But nothing really happens until about now – in early summer.

Actually, I’m not even sure it is now. Tolkien was pretty vague about this part of the timeline. We learn in Chapter 3, “Three Is Company,” that on “one summer’s evening an astonishing piece of news reached the Ivy Bush and Green Dragon.”

June 22nd is technically “one summer’s evening.” And this date (or somewhere near) is the only time when this works. Probably.

Camera: Pentax K-1000
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-06/74); 6iso
Process: Xtol 1+2; 21C; 9min
Lester, Washington

As we’ve seen, last week was an incredibly busy week in Middle-earth History. It’s possible that Frodo sells Bag End at the beginning of that week. Or even the one after this, I guess. But he definitely (well, probably) sells Bag End after Gandalf leaves – even though it sort of seems that it didn’t happen that way in the book.

Gandalf left the Shire sometime around when Frodo sold Bag End, probably after. We’re told that it was “late June”. The bit about Frodo selling is placed before Gandalf’s departure. Tolkien was vague and the rest of that week was packed with other stuff, so we’ll just have to settle upon Frodo selling today. Though it could have been basically any early-ish summer day.

Essentially this doesn’t matter – Tolkien could have slipped this event in anywhere, even months after Gandalf left.

What Matters?

What matters is the way that Frodo didn’t leave. Gandalf stressed that Frodo not “vanish” – a clear call back to Bilbo’s vanishing, which made news all the way in Bree. Frodo needed a much more boring way to leave Hobbiton.

What could be more boring than a real estate sale? Not much. Sure, it was all the talk down at the pub, but anyone outside of Hobbiton and Bywater probably wouldn’t have heard about it or cared if they did.

Frodo’s story – that he was running out of money and couldn’t afford to keep the house – was believable enough. It would have been a sensible thing to do.

Also important was that Frodo, unlike Bilbo, didn’t announce that he was going on a journey. He made no mention of it at all. We’re told that only Sam knew. To everyone else, “he had already chosen and bought a little house at Crickhollow in the country beyond.”

Frodo had grown up around there, and it just made sense that he would settled down in his old haunts once again.

It was also to the east – the direction in which he was going anyway – so would be on the way. Anyone who saw him on the road as far as Buckland would pay little mind to it. And anything farther east than the borders of the Shire was almost never traveled at all.

Another point is that Frodo knew that the Enemy would eventually find the Shire and would be looking for “Baggins.” If they showed up in Hobbiton, all the townsfolk would know was the he had moved to Crickhollow to the east. If the Enemy figured out where Crickhollow was, all the Bucklanders could say was that Frodo was apparently moving there, but had yet to make it.

Frodo did plan to disappear – he had to leave The Shire – but he planned on disappearing in an incredibly boring and drawn out way.

Where Is the Enemy?

We’ll get into the exact position of the Nazgûl soon enough. But for now, just know that all seven have gathered at Osgiliath. Following the victory in battle, they waited for some untold reason. The battle took place on June 20th, and they wouldn’t head west until July 1st (more on that then, of course).

Osgiliath is roughly 700ish miles southeast of Sarn Ford on the southern borders of The Shire. The Nazgûl would eventually make their way to this ford.

What’s Next?

Well, for the Hobbits, not much until September, I’m afraid. But tomorrow we’ll check in on Gandalf and Radagast.