September 7, 3018 – Glóin and Gimli Set Off For Rivendell

Welcome, won’t you? Welcome to September 7, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll look into a bit of a coincidence concerning the Dwarves and everything else.

Ding Dong, Sauron Calling

In the Autumn of 3017 (so a little less than a year ago), a messenger from Mordor rode up to the Lonely Mountain and spoke to Dáin Ironfoot, King Under the Mountain. It’s not made totally clear, but it seems likely that this was one of the Nazgûl.

The messenger told him that Sauron wanted their friendship. He promised rings (which was Sauron’s go-to line for basically everything) if they’d give it.

He also asked about hobbits. He asked about “what kind they were.” Dwarves? Men? Certainly not Elves. Sauron knew, said the messenger, “that one of these was known to you on a time.”

He spoke with a breath that “came like the hiss of a snake.” He wanted to know where this hobbit, this “thief” was. They were to “get from him, willing or no, a little ring, the least of rings, that once he stole.”

This ring was “but a trifle that Sauron fancies, and an earnest of your good will.” If they did, the three Dwarvish Rings would be returned to them.

But even if they only found a bit of news about this thief “whether he still lives and where,” they would have great rewards and Sauron’s undying friendship. If they refused to help “things will not seem so well.”

Shire and Baggins and… ?

Okay, so let’s put this in a bit of timely perspective. This happened in, say, October 3017. That would have probably been shortly after Gollum escaped from Sauron. As we all know, Gollum only said “Baggins” and “Shire” and nothing more, right?

But apparently Gollum did say more. In The Hobbit, the first thing Bilbo said to Gollum was: “I am Mr. Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don’t know where I am….”

Gollum obviously recalled this to Sauron – so it was “Shire,” “Baggins,” and “Dwarves,” I suppose. I wonder if Gollum mentioned “the wizard” to Sauron, too.

Through this, Sauron must have figured out that the closest Dwarves were at the Lonely Mountain. Gollum wouldn’t have known much, if anything, about all of that, so it would have fallen on Sauron’s wits to deduce it. He couldn’t have made any connection to the Dwarves from just “Shire” and “Baggins.”

And We’re Off

The Dark Lord’s messenger returned twice to the Dwarves for an answer, but none was forthcoming. He even visited other Dwarf communities in other outposts. At last, he promised to return again for a final time before the end of 3018.

With that warning, Dáin made a decision not to betray Bilbo. Why it took him so long is a bit of a wonder, but here we are.

It was on or around this day that Dáin sent Glóin to warn Bilbo “that he is sought by the Enemy, and to learn, if may be, why he desires this ring, this least of rings.” The Dwarves also wanted the advice of Elrond.

Glóin chose to take his son, Gimli, along with him and started off on the journey to Rivendell on this date. They’d arrive just in time – just like everyone else.

What’s Next?

On September 10th we’ll meet back up and talk a bit about the Nazgûl! Chilling!

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


September 5, 3018 – Aragorn Returns (From a Journey of His Own?)

Hello again, and welcome to September 5, 3018 of the Third Age. Actually, I have no real idea if it’s September 5th. Or even September. But I know that it’s around this time that Aragorn comes back. Did you miss him? Did you even know he was gone?

No, of course not. At this point in the book, we’ve not even met Aragorn (or Strider, for that matter). His work was all behind the scenes stuff.

Fast Forward to Look Back

As is so often the case, we get the story in a bit of a flashback. Actually, it’s not even a flashback as much as it’s an aside.

Fast forward about three weeks to September 29th when the Hobbits meet Strider who seems pretty worried about Gandalf.

He tells them that he last saw Gandalf on May 1st. The Wizard told him that he and Frodo would be leaving the Shire in the last week of September (which is how Aragorn wound up at the Prancing Pony when he did).

With that in mind, Aragorn “went away on a journey of my own.” He returned to the borders of the Shire “many days ago” whatever that means.

I suppose it means that it wasn’t more than a few weeks, and definitely less than a month. So let’s call it about three weeks. In other words, today-ish.

A Journey of His Own?

I don’t believe that Tolkien gave us any idea at all where Aragorn went or what he was doing. We do learn that he was apparently out of reach through most of the summer. That’s three long ass months without Aragorn.

Sure, he believed that Gandalf had things under control. I get that. But Aragorn royally wizzed this down his leg.

So What Does Aragorn Know At This Point?

Honestly, not a hell of a lot. Since he was completely out of contact for three whole months, he didn’t learn about Gandalf’s disappearance or even about the Nazgûl until right now.

Let that sink in a bit.

Here’s a timeline to help:

May 1: Aragorn and Gandalf part ways at Sarn Ford. Aragorn leaves pretty directly after this.
June 20: The Battle of Osgiliath takes place and the Nazgûl cross the Anduin.
June 25: Gandalf leaves the Shire.
June 28: Gollum escapes from the Mirkwood Elves.
July 1: The Nazgûl begin their search in earnest.
July 10: Gandalf is imprisoned at Isengard.
September 5: Aragorn shows up.

So Where the Hell Was He?

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. He was visiting Arwen. And sure, he probably was. But that’s just in Rivendell. Are we supposed to believe that Elrond had no idea that the Nazgûl were out? Even Radagast knew this by mid to late June.

No, this doesn’t cause the story to disappear in a puff of logic, but it does make you wonder. Clearly Tolkien had some idea (right?) but never said. Even Hammond & Scull don’t touch this one in their Reader’s Companion.

I get that Rivendell is like another world, but with Gildor flitting in and out of the place, they could certainly have heard of the Nazgûl around the time Radagast did.

So basically we’ll never know. I personally hope Aragorn had an amazing summer, and that his broken sword wasn’t too much of a hindrance to whatever he was up to.

What’s Next?

On the 7th we’ll do a quick peek in at the Dwarves! Stay tuned!

Pentax Spotmatic F (c1973)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor 55mm f/1.8
Film: Ilford Delta 400 (x-03/07); 200iso
Process: HC-110B; 7.5min

September 3, 3018 – Sauron Knows Way More Than He Should

Hi. Welcome to September 3, 3018. Or something. Really, I have no idea. But this will be quick. Let’s talk about Sauron.

No wait. First, let’s talk about Saruman. Remember a couple of days ago when Saruman learned all that stuff about Boromir and the dream from Gríma? Well, as it turns out, Saruman wasn’t the only one listening.

Taking a peek into Unfinished Tales, we learn that Sauron also had his ear to the ground.

“Sauron had now learned of the words of prophecy heard in Gondor, and the going forth of Boromir, of Saruman’s deeds, and the capture of Gandalf.”

Now, we aren’t given a clue as to exactly how the Dark Lord learned all of this stuff. It certainly wasn’t through the Nazgûl who were trampsing around Anduin’s Vale looking for Shire and Baggins (still!).

And it wasn’t from Saruman, even though he was in a bit of communication with Sauron. The capture of Gandalf was definitely something he’d rather keep to himself (for now anyway).

But however Sauron learned of this stuff – all of which was accurate – he drew a few logical conclusions.

1) None of the Wise actually had the Ring.
2) Saruman probably knew where it was hidden.
3) “Speed alone would now serve, and secrecy must be abandoned.”

Wait… So Who Told Sauron?

It’s a good question, and I’m honestly not sure. It would have to have been someone pretty connected. I believe Tolkien played around with the idea of the information coming from Gríma through the Nazgûl, but that’s not possible with the timeline that he finally settled upon.

This person would have to know of Boromir, of the specifics of Boromir’s dream, of Saruman’s deceptions, and of Gandalf’s capture. Really, the only person it could be was Gríma. But it definitely wasn’t him because at this time the Wormtongue was with King Théoden in Edoras.

There’s a bigger reason why it can’t be Gríma as Tolkien was saving him for a future meeting with the Nazgûl that wouldn’t happen until September 20th.

Other Notes

Tolkien wrote a few other notes about this. These are published in Scull & Hammonds’ Readers Companion. By reading these, it’s clear that Tolkien had no idea how Sauron knew.

“Belated Sept. 1 he [Sauron] has learned of the ‘oracular words’ and of Boromir’s mission (July 4). How? The words became widely? known in Gondor and Rohan, and Boromir’s [?departure] was also known. This is enough to make S[auron] suspect that the Wise know abou tthe Ring, and that some tryst is arranged in Rivendell. His suspicions of Saruman are redoubled. He has caught S[aruman] again in palantír.”

Again, more handwaving. Basically everybody knew about Boromir. Which, honestly, knowing Boromir, that was probably the case.


Let’s face it, looking at the many conflicting notes taken by Tolkien about this time in the chronology, he had absolutely no idea what happened between June 20th and the escape of Gandalf.

From his notes:

“What happens between June 20 and escape of Gandalf which cannot be earlier than night of Sept. 16/17? Some 86 days!”

Tolkien tried to work this out and just didn’t. He never got it all sorted. In some versions, the Nazgûl actually showed up at Isengard before Gandalf’s escape! We’ll cover that in a bit, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So my conclusion is this – Tolkien probably wanted it to be Gríma who told Sauron via the Nazgûl, but couldn’t get it to work out. And with a bit of handwaving (“For Sauron had now learned of the words of prophecy heard in Gondor….”) it didn’t really matter.

What’s Next?

In a couple of days we’ll check in on Aragorn!

Camera: Ricoh KR-5 (1979)
Film: Kodak Vision2 200T (5217); expired

September 1, 3018 – Saruman Almost Knows the Whole Thing

Greetings and welcome to September 3018 of the Third Age. I’ve got a feeling things are going to start picking up pretty soon. But right now, we’re still kind of just coasting out the last bits of summer.

Frodo is still in the Shire, of course. Gandalf is imprisoned by Saruman at Isengard. The Nazgûl are somewhere vaguely over there [gestures wildly]. And Boromir is somewhere in the other direction, probably around Tharbad or something.

And Speaking of Boromir…

Okay, this isn’t exactly complex by Tolkien’s standards (and we kind of already covered it), but it does require some explaining. I’ll get to the point.

Saruman knows about Boromir’s dream. You know, the one about Isildur’s Bane. That dream. And while Boromir has absolutely no idea what Isildur’s Bane might be, Saruman does.

How does he know this? Did Gandalf let it slip? No, of course not. This all goes back to Gríma Wormtongue.

Shortly after Boromir stepped off on his journey to Rivendell, he visited Rohan. While there, he clearly wasn’t coy about his dream.

What News From the North, Riders of Rohan?

Later (on February 30th, 3019 to be exact – I still have no idea how I’ll handle that one), when Aragorn talks to Éomer of Rohan, Éomer off-handedly remarks: “These are indeed strange days. Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.” He continues, saying “Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer…”

If Éomer heard that Boromir was seeking an answer to his dream, then it’s pretty likely that Boromir stopped off at the court of Théodin, the King of Rohan and Éomer’s adopted father (actually his uncle).

And if Éomer heard Boromir’s tale, then the “servant” Gríma Wormtongue no doubt heard it too. Gríma was actually serving Sarumon, and as they old saying goes: from Gríma’s wormy tongue to Saruman’s fuzzy ears.

So What Does Saruman Think He Knows?

Saruman knows that Isildur’s Bane is the One Ring. Prior to this, he knew that the One Ring was probably still out there. He knew that Sauron wanted it, and he knew that whomever found it first would rule Middle-earth.

Because the dream mentioned Imladris, he almost certainly believed that the One Ring was being held and protected by Elrond.

At this time, Saruman had Gandalf imprisoned for about a month and a half. So it seems like this news came to him while Gandalf was there. It’s not surprising that he didn’t mention this to him.

And though Gandalf didn’t know the Saruman had designs on Rivendell, he could see that his old frenemy was raising quite an army for some sort of mischief or another.

That’s It? What’s Next?

Yep, that’s it. We’re still pretty dull here. What’s next is September 5th, and it’ll be a quick blip about Aragorn.

Camera: Mamiya m645J (1979)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor Macro C 80mm f/4
Film: Kodak Vericolor 160; x-09/83; 50iso
Process: DIY ECN-2

We’re Still Here!

I know that it’s been a bit slow lately – but that’s just how the story goes. In all of August 3018 of the Third Age, not a whole lot is happening. Basically nothing.

Frodo is still in the Shire.
Gandalf is still in Orthanc.
Boromir is wandering around Rohan.
Aragorn is “on business of his own” somewhere.
The Rangers are guarding the Shire.
The Nazgûl are looking for the Shire in Anduin’s Vale (good luck with that).
All the Dwarves are still where they’re supposed to be.
Same with the Elves.

Everything is just on hold.

Things will pick up again on September 1st. That month will be sporadic at first, but by the time Frodo leaves the Shire, we’ll be a daily blog once again!

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000
Film: Seattle Film Works 100 (x-05/01)

July 30, 3018 – Boromir’s Unlucky Horses and Worst Road Trip Ever (So Far)

Greetings! And welcome to early August, 3018 of the Third Age. Today is a post based purely on speculation. Fortunately, it’s not totally my own speculation, so don’t fully blame me if it’s partially misguided.

Okay, you can blame me. But really, it doesn’t much matter. Except that it almost does. You’ll see. Probably.

Catching Up With Boromir

When last we checked in on the hunky Boromir, he was leaving Minas Tirith. It was July 4th (recall the Springsteen “Independence Day” reference?). Anyway, as we all know, Boromir’s brother, Faramir, was having a crazy dream about a broken sword, a place called Imladris, and Isildur’s Bane.

Their father, Denethor, Lord of Minas Tirith, could only tell them that Imladris was Rivendell and that it was generally over that way somewhere.

With that bit of information, Faramir got ready to make the trip. But Boromir was hunkier and so he made it instead.

At first it seems like we don’t know all that much about his journey. According to Boromir, the ride from Minas Tirith to Rivendell was something around 400 leagues, or 1,200 miles long. On a good horse, that would take around three weeks (at 60ish miles per day).

But while he was in a hurry, he wasn’t interested in burning out his horse to get there. So let’s say he might have ridden at half that pace, or 30 miles per day. Still, that would have taken him about 40 days. He should have been drawing very close to the end of his journey. But he wasn’t.

So what happened? Shouldn’t Boromir have arrived in Rivendell by this time?

Boromir’s Shitty Horse-luck

Following his departure from Minas Tirith, Boromir headed west towards Edoras.

In “The Riders of Rohan” chapter, Éomer tells Aragorn: “Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless.”

We have no idea if Boromir left Minas Tirith with a horse, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for him to have gone on foot. However, we have no idea what became of this possible first horse. And no idea why he lost his possible second.

There was, however, a third horse.

In the chapter “Farewell to Lórien,” Boromir describes a bit of his journey:

“When I was sent out as a messenger, I passed through the Gap [of Rohan] by the skirts of the White Mountains, and crossed the Isen and the Greyflood into Northerland. A long and wearisome journey. Four hundred leagues I reckoned it, and it took me many months; for I lost my horse at Tharbad, at the fording of the Greyflood.”

From Minas Tirith to the Gap of Rohan was 500 miles and two horses. Because we don’t know when or how he lost those horses and for how long he was on foot, it’s basically impossible to know when he covered those 500 miles. It’s likely that he lost his horse before crossing the Gap, since the horse found its way back home.

The 350 miles from the Gap of Rohan to Tharbad on the Greyflood were probably covered with one horse – the horse he acquired somewhere and lost while crossing the river.

Boromir claims that the journey took him “many months” because he lost his horse at Tharbad. He makes no mention of losing any other horses, so they seem to not have been that big of an inconvenience.

To me, this indicates that he was able to keep a fairly steady pace up until crossing the Greyflood. After that, all bets are off.

Shit, Man, I Can Hoof It From Here!

In the end, however, there’s no clue as to why it took Boromir “many months” (July 4th to October 25th). My guess is that in early August, he made it to Tharbad and lost his horse. For the next two and a half months, he was likely on foot. To hell with horses!

This means that Boromir took around 80 days to tramp the remaining 350 miles. Honestly, who knows?

Michael W. Perry, in his book Untangling Tolkien has Boromir in Rohan in late July/early August, with an arrival in Tharbad delayed until late August. Maybe he’s right. He certainly makes a good argument for it.

But Boromir’s “it took me many months; for I lost my horse at Tharbad” gives me pause. Tharbad was the turning point. It’s where his journey when to hell. He was probably dispirited, exhausted and sick to death of horses. Maybe he took some time off in Tharbad to recover.

Also keep in mind that he had no idea where Rivendell was. Or even that it was called Rivendell. He was just some beefy hunk asking about Imladris.

Let’s Involve Saruman, Okay?

There’s something else that needs to be mentioned, and I think this is a bit of speculation. But I like it.

Camera: Argus C3 (1940)
Film: Tasma Mikrat 300 (x-12/83); 6iso
Process: HC-110; 1+200; 120min.

This is also from the book Untangling Tolkien, but I’ll paraphrase.

When Aragorn met Éomer, Éomer already knew about Boromir’s dream. When Aragorn showed him the broken sword (that was now reforged), Éomer’s response was: “Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.” This seems like a clear reference to Boromir’s dream, no?

Mr. Perry reasons that if Éomer knew about the dream, Boromir was probably telling everyone. In this way, Gríma Wormtongue might also have heard about it. If Gríma heard about it, he definitely told Saruman. Perry suggests that Saruman would have known by “early September at the latest.”

Saruman would have figured out that “Isildur’s Bane” was the One Ring and that the Ring was in Rivendell (which it wouldn’t be until it arrived with the unconscious Frodo on October 20th).

All of this, it must be remembered, is conjecture from the line “Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.” It basically seems to fit, but it also seems like a bit of stretch.

The Takeaway

If you had to take anything away from today’s post, it should probably be that Boromir was having a very bad trip that was likely to get much worse. It’s so bad that he doesn’t even complain much about it. There’s much we don’t know about the trip, but one thing is certain – Boromir reminded himself every single day that no matter how bad he was at this, his dumbass kid brother Faramir would have been a whole lot worse.

What’s Next?

Well, not much. Basically, all of August is just everyone except Boromir staying put. Frodo and friends are in the Shire, while Gandalf and Saruman are in Isengard. Even the Nazgûl are sort of milling about the Vales of Anduin – scaring people, yes, but not really getting much accomplished.

Chronologically speaking, Tolkien was not in that great of a hurry to get the journey started.

See you in early September!

July 22, 3018 – Let’s Tryst Again: Getting the Evil Band Back Together

Welcome to July 22, 3018 of the Third Age. On our previous post, seven of the Nazgûl crossed to the eastern side of the Anduin. There, they got horses and clothes. Their ethereal bodies now took on more human-like shapes. Today, we’ll meet up with the two remaining Nazgûl.

Hello, Khamûl, How’s the Wife and Kids?

After crossing over the Anduin to the eastern shore, we’re told in “The Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales that they “passed northward seeking for the Shire, the land of the Halflings.”

On this day, July 22nd, “they met their companions, the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur, in the Field of Celebrant.” The Nazgûl of Dol Guldur were Khamûl and his messenger.

The paths of the Nazgûl.
Thick blue line = Witch King.
Thin = Khamûl

Here, the Witch King learned two important things. First, he learned that Gollum had escaped both the Orcs and the Elves. This wasn’t the greatest of news. Khamûl was put in charge of Dol Guldur and thus in charge of the Orcs who made the strike against Thranduil and the Wood-elves in Mirkwood.

On June 28th, the Elves had been holding and even rehabilitating Gollum when the Orcs attacked. In the confusion of battle, Gollum slipped away. Nearly a month later, Khamûl finally told someone about it. This seems like an incredibly long delay.

But Khamûl also had some good-ish news. Sauron had believed that the One Ring was located in what he believed to be Gollum’s homeland. He thought that this was possibly called “Shire.” This, he speculated, was probably in the Vales of Anduin.

We learn in Unfinished Tales that “no dwelling of Halflings could be discovered in the Vales of Anduin, and that the villages of the Stoors by the Gladden had long been deserted.”

Khamûl seems to have discovered Gollum’s homeland. Sméagol, as he was known before becoming Gollum, was one of the Stoors, a sort of cousin of the Hobbits. But those villages near the Gladden Fields had been deserted years before.

A Quick Aside about Gollum

Though it’s not really about today’s post, I’m thinking now of Gollum. After escaping the Orcs and Elves, I wonder if he flapped his way back to his old hometown. With the Elves, he seemed to be making some headway into overcoming the effects of the Ring.

It’s something fortunately hard to fathom. We don’t know much about Gollum’s travels, but after moving south towards Dol Guldur, all he had to do was turn west, head through the Old Forest, and he’d be home.

We do know that he ended up at the western gate of Moria, and so he must have crossed the Anduin somewhere around his old village.

If he returned to his former home only to find it long-abandoned, how lonely he must have felt.

Or Maybe there Were Stoors

In another version of this story, Tolkien had the Nazgûl (probably just Khamûl and his messenger) find that the Stoor villages were still inhabited by Stoors – “and such of the Stoors as dwelt there were slain or driven away by the Nazgûl.”

Years later, Tolkien seemed to split the difference. The Stoors “appear indeed to have died out altogether (except, of course, for Sméagol); or to have fled from the shadow of Dol Guldur.”

Of course, from Gollum’s point of view, by the time he would have gotten to his old homeland, the villages would have been deserted. Rather than simply finding empty homes, however, he would have found scenes of death, bodies and killing all around.

A quick note: It’s possible that in this version all of the Nazgûl attacked the Stoors together. In another manuscript, Tolkien references the Witch King’s “violent onslaught” of the Stoors. But Tolkien was very scattered in these notes, so it’s not easy to tell when what is going on.

And So…

Regardless of how or when it happened, by the time Khamûl met up with the Witch King, there were no longer any Stoors in the Vales of Anduin. And when it came to “Shire” and “Baggins,” they were no closer to figuring all of this out.

Still, the Witch King wanted to push northward “hoping maybe to come upon Gollum as well as to discover the Shire.” This would all take some time. It would take quite a bit of time, actually. And this delay would cost the baddies dearly.

What’s Next?

In a few days we’ll check in with Boromir (very quickly), but after that we’ll take a bit of a hiatus as literally nothing is going on in the story until the end of August. I’m sure there will be a post here and there, but nothing of much substance until then.

After that, however, the posts will be almost daily from here on out (hopefully).

Camera: Ricoh KR-10
Lens: Revuenon f/3.8; 35-105mm
Film: Svema Color 125

July 17, 3018 – Trysting Nazgûl, Darkness and Dread

Hello and welcome to July 17, 3018 of the Third Age! Today we’ll catch up with the Nazgûl. Where have they been? What have they been doing? How many are there now gathered? We’ll sort it all out.

Back to Canon-ish

From here on out I’ll be sticking to the accepted canon when it comes to the Nazgûl. Previously, I jumped around a bit between what’s accepted and a few other manuscripts that Tolkien wrote. That said, it’s important to remember how things became canon.

Obviously any dates in Lord of the Rings are canonical. Concerning the Nazgûl, the “Tale of Years” in Appendix B, tells us that it was June 20 – the fall of Osgiliath – when we last encountered them. The next date given for any Nazgûlish activity isn’t until September 18. If you stick with just Lord of the Rings, their activity across those three months is unknown.

However, Tolkien worked it out in several ways, most of which have been published in Unfinished Tales. There’s another, probably later, manuscript that J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, left out. In that, the elder Tolkien laid out a much different (and frankly much more do-able) timeline. You can read all about that here.

Yet, because Christopher left it out of Unfinished Tales, it’s basically not canon. Even though it probably should be. Anyway, mini-rant over. Let’s get down to business.

Catching Up

Following the Fall of Osgiliath on June 20th, we learned that the Nazgûl were unleashed by Sauron on July 1st. This was somewhat of an odd way of putting it, since at least one Nazgûl led the attack on Osgiliath.

Nevertheless, July 1st was the canonical coming out party for the Nazgûl. Of course, the question is raised (and we’ve raised it before), if the Nazgûl are just coming out July 1st, how did Radagast tell Gandalf about it two days before that on Midyear’s Day? And again, without that unpublished manuscript, the canonical timeline doesn’t makes a lot of sense.

But this far into it, I don’t think it matters.

What matters is what they’ve been up to since July 1st, when the Nazgûl were led “over Anduin, unclad and unmounted, and invisible to eyes, and yet a terror to all living things that they passed near.” Osgiliath is on the eastern shore of the river, and after the battle the Nazgûl were led to the western shore.

Following that:

“They passed slowly and in stealth, through Anórien, and over the Entwade, and so into the Wold, and rumour of darkness and a dread of men knew not what went before them. They reached the west-shores of Anduin a little north of Sarn Gebir, as they had trysted; and there received horses and raiment that were secretly ferried over the River. This was (it is thought) about the seventeenth of July.”

Looking at the map, this seems like an odd route.

The Passage of the Nazgûl

They started in Osgiliath, on the eastern shores of the Anduin, crossed west over the river, and continued west through the region known as Anórien. With the Entwade, which flowed into the Anduin, on their right, the turned towards it and crossed, now moving north into the southern parts of the Wold.

The Anduin was now on their right, and they sort of circled back to reach its western shore just north of Sarn Gebir.

A little north of Sarn Gebir, they received horses and clothing and were taken in secret back across the Anduin.

I’m not sure that this little jaunt makes much sense. Perhaps they just wanted to spread darkness and dread deeper into the Minas Tirith suburbs. If so, they accomplished their mission, which took them over two weeks.

Over seventeen days they traveled around 300 miles. They were, I suppose, on foot, though they were invisible, so I suppose they could have been on ectoplasm or some such stuff. At any rate, they made about seventeen miles a day – not a bad pace.

Let’s Do the Tryst

We’ve learned that at the very least the Witch King was at Osgiliath. He was based out of Minas Morgul with six of his fellow Nazgûl. The two others – Khamûl the Shadow of the East and another Nazgûl known as “his messenger” – lived in Dol Guldur.

We also learn in this passage that the Witch King was en route to Dol Guldur to meet up with Khamûl and his plus-one. However, we also learn that the Witch King’s entourage “trysted” just north of Sarn Gebir. What’s most likely is that they crossed the Anduin on July 1st, split up, caused much darkness and dread, then met back up on the Anduin near Sarn Gebir.

And so it seems that their only goal was the whole darkness and dread routine. There’s no indication that they were actively searching for “Shire” or “Baggins.” It was only after crossing and turning to the north, now on the eastern shores of the Anduin, that they began “seeking for the Shire, the land of the Halflings.”

This seems like an incredibly strange diversion since Sauron wanted desperately to find “Shire” and “Baggins.” Especially if you consider that at this point Sauron had no idea about Gollum escaping yet again. He would have known about the attack on Thranduil and the Wood-elves in an attempt to recapture Gollum, but not the outcome. Certainly he must have been anxious to hear the news of how they went.

But What About Water?

Nevertheless, the Witch King took his pals on a bit of a post-Osgiliath tear through the Wold, a fun run through Anórien.

So from the looks of it, the Nazgûl needlessly crossed the Anduin twice and the Entwash once. That’s a lot of river crossings for a bunch of guys who apparently fear water. We learn later in this passage that “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’s possible that the Entwash had a bridge over it, but the two Anduin crossings were probably by ferry. Again, this doesn’t make a ton of sense. But it must be remembered that though now considered as canonical, everything we’ve learned today is from notes taken by Tolkien in an attempt to work it out. With a bit more time, it’s possible that he would have addressed this in a more practical way.

Christopher Tolkien confessed in Unfinished Tales that “My father did indeed note that the idea [of the Nazgûl’s fear of water] was difficult to sustain.”

What’s Next?

On July 22nd, we’ll check back in with the Nazgûl – where are they now… what are the doing .. what are they thinking… are they thinking of me?

Camera: Seneca Chautauqua 4×5 (1905)
Film: Ilford Ortho+ @200iso; x-06/2004
Process: HC-110; 1+90; 18mins

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.