Dienstag, 30. Mai 2017

Tuesday, 30 May: An arithmetic trap

The first two editions of "The Hobbit" scheduled the encounter with the trolls on the last day of May, which was originally meant to be 31 May according to the Gregorian calendar but shifted to 30 May when Tolkien decided that the Shire Reckoning had to be retconned into the book (where May, like all months, has 30 days). Next, he went at stakes to align the lunar phases, i. e. a "waning" moon described on 30 May and "a broad silver crescent" on midsummer's eve. 

Bilbo put his little hand into William's huge pocket:
Illustration by Évelyne Drouhin, 1969
John Rateliff, in "The History of the Hobbit", has published several sets of notes in which we witness Tolkien repeatedly pondering how to reconcile these two observations. He has not interpreted them thoroughly from an astronomical point of view, that's why I have done it in "The Moon in 'The Hobbit'". The entire discussion takes up a whole chapter in the book but briefly, the result is as follows

In the whole discussion, Tolkien consistently committed two errors, one minor, the other significant: (1) He assumed the "broad silver crescent" to be 3 or 4 days old. Check it out tonight, the moon is currently 4 days old. You will see that there is still some way to go until the crescent is really broad, say, to the 6th day. (2) Inexplicably, he assigned to the period of a lunation (full moon to full moon) the rather biblical value of 28 days instead of correct 29.5 days. This value, as unfounded as it is, seems to be a zombie of English folklore - even the BBC perpetuates it till today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks3/science/environment_earth_universe/astronomy_space/revision/6/

Unfortunately, both his errors added up to a calamity from which Tolkien found no escape: his "arithmetic trap", as I have called it in my analysis. Whenever he tried to calculate backwards from Midsummer Eve to the encounter with the trolls, he got a new moon for this very night - irreconcilable with the waning moon he had described!

We have seen as we went through the 1960 timetable that his problem would have been solved if only he had applied the astronomically correct values. Even when he decided in 1966 to retain 30 May as the day of the troll encounter, it would have been enough to exchange one character: substitute "waning" with "waxing". But since it never occurred to him to check his aberrant premises, his ultimate emergency escape - as published in the 1966 Hobbit and ever since - was to simply camouflage the problem and hope it would remain unnoticed: The "waning" became a "wandering" moon, "tomorrow will be June" mutated into "soon it will be June", and from then on, the troll encounter had no specific date any more. 

Of course, this was of no help when it came to that other discrepancy: from 30 May or whatever other day in late May on, the Company would still have two sloppy weeks ahead to crawl to the Ford of Bruinen that is otherwise a mere three day-trips away.

Freitag, 26. Mai 2017

Friday, 26 May: A starry, moonless night

A new moon over Middle-earth

On this day, in 2941 T. A., a new moon passes over Middle-earth.

This may not seem like news worth recording. But it is, as we will see in a few days. For Tolkien's failure to recognise this bit of trivia sent him into what I called "an arithmetic trap" from which he found no escape - to the detriment of the finally published, 1966 "Hobbit".

Mittwoch, 24. Mai 2017

Wednesday, 24 May: Straining Elrond's hospitality

Arrival in Rivendell. Illustration by Horus Weber for
the first German edition of "The Hobbit", 1957.
After a journey of 27 days, the Company arrives in Rivendell on this day in 2941 T.A., according to Tolkien's 1960 timetable. He notes that the progress across the final 12 miles was slow and difficult and it was already near nightfall when at last they reached the path that leads to Rivendell. The night was moonless and starry, as might be expected, since we are close to new moon.

I think you will agree that the 1960 timetable is a solid concept, both with regard to internal consistency and, though unintentionally, with the phases of the moon as derived from data in the published "Hobbit" (set down in detail in my "The Moon in 'The Hobbit'"). If criticism ought to be applied, it is this that Tolkien was straining Elrond's hospitality beyond all measure because the familiar fortnight that the Dwarves would spend in Rivendell has here expanded into two and a half fortnights: Tolkien was adamant that the departure from Rivendell on Midsummer's Day should be retained. Also, for some reason, the obvious solution to postpone the Unexpected Party by a month was never an option in spite of Bilbo's aberrant reference to "that May morning long ago" in "The Hobbit", chap. VIII.

We may wonder what the 1960 Rivendell chapter would have looked like if Tolkien had continued it: Was the stay so long because Gandalf went away on a different mission and no one wanted to leave before his return? Would other Elves have been introduced: Elladan and Elrohir, Glorfindel or Erestor? Would Bilbo in this version have first met young Estel/Aragorn? Alas, at this point, both the timetable and the entire project of retconning the "Hobbit" into the "Lord of the Rings" came to an abrupt halt. The reason, according to John Rateliff, was that an unidentified beta-reader had seen the revisions and turned them down, which caused Tolkien to immediately abandon them. Rateliff does not speculate who this reader might have been, but I suspect without evidence that he was at least a close acquaintance of Rayner Unwin who may have been horrified by the prospect of taking up these revisions - that was long before preprints could be digitally uploaded with little effort, remember. This happened just a few years before the infamous copyright issue with Ace came up, which required a revision of the "Hobbit", anyway. But by that time, the 1960 material had apparently been misplaced and, pity, nothing of it entered the final version of 1966 that we all know.

That's why, from today on, we will have to switch to a different timetable to follow the 1966 "Hobbit" in which Bilbo, Gandalf and the Company are still traveling somewhere in western Rhudaur today, for whatever reason their progress might have been so slow. The encounter with the trolls is going to take place at the end of May - and two weeks before they will arrive in Rivendell, otherwise a mere five day trips away from the Trollshaws. 

Dienstag, 23. Mai 2017

Tuesday, 23 May: The last fences of the Westland

The mountains had drawn close: no more than a day's trip away
On this day, in 2941 T. A., the Company finally reaches the river Bruinen. The day is hot and clear and there is no mist. They halt on the west bank for a long midday break (which we learn only from the 1960 timetable and not from any narrative text), and then continue across the ford. Their progress in the heathlands beyond the ford is slow, but Bilbo notices how close the mountains have drawn now. They stop at sunset about 10 miles east of the ford. Rivendell is still 12 miles ahead: another daytrip, if they are lucky.

"You have now come to the last fences of the Westland," those are Gandalf's words as they have all safely reached the yonder side of the Bruinen.


Montag, 22. Mai 2017

Monday, 22 May: Leaving the Trollshaws

The river Bruinen in the distant sunset
(painting by Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902)
On this day, in 2941 T. A., the 1960 timeline reports better weather but increasing shortage of feed for the exhausted ponies. "The Company starts late and has a long midday halt", hence, they cover only 15 miles till sunset. At last, they see the Bruinen glimmering in the setting sun, still about 10 miles to go. Slightly deviating from the timetable, the fragmented chapter III of the 1960 Hobbit revision suggests that they got the first glimps of the Bruinen on the morning after.

"They go no further that day, for they have passed out of the shadow of the Trollshaws, and feel safer."

In Hobbiton, the sun rises at 04:02 and sets at20:01. The thinly waning moon rises at 2:42 in the night and sets at 15:28.
(How do I know? Hobbiton is at the latitude and - most likely - longitude of Oxford ...)


Sonntag, 21. Mai 2017

Sunday, 21 May: Moving towards Bruinen

Onwards on the Great East Road
This day, in 2941 T.A., is of generally depressing mood. The proximity of the Trollshaws strains everybody's nerves, and the weather is invariably bleak. According to the 1960 timetable, The Company covers 18 miles before they camp with still 25 miles left till the river Bruinen.

Samstag, 20. Mai 2017

Saturday, 20 May: Burying the troll-hoard

On this day, in 2941 T.A., the 1960 timetable records a very late rise for the Company, at about 15.30. The morning had of course been spent with investigating and securing the troll-hoard. It is interesting to note that Tolkien's 1960 revisions, intended to align "The Hobbit" with LotR in style and content, retains magic spells that the Dwarves use to secure their left-behind booty - though Tolkien is unspecific about whether they really had an effect are were just a superstitious ritual. It may allow us to ask what happened to the shares of Thorin, Kili and Fili in 2942 T.A., when they were unable to recover it. 

The Company traveled till 20.00, including one break. This advanced them by 12 miles only; they still had 43 to go till the Fords of Bruinen.

Freitag, 19. Mai 2017

Friday, 19 May: Encounter with the Trolls

All previously published versions of "The Hobbit" had scheduled the encounter with the trolls on the last day of May, whether Gregorian or Shire Reckoning. (Bilbo was heard musing, 'Tomorrow will be June'.) But in the 1960 timetable, Tolkien dated the event forward to reduce the absurd travel times of the published book and achieve consistency with the LotR map.

This entry in the 1960 timetable is very detailed: Early rise in wind and rain. They find the Last Bridge broken (see yesterday's entry), and Gandalf (in the 1960 revision of chap. 2) considers that an evil sign which he will have to discuss with the Rangers. They ford the Mitheithel at 10.30, have foodless halts at 12.00 and 16.00, then continue till darkness.. The sun sets at about 20.00. 'Ponies become more and more reluctant to proceed, so that in spite of the improved road they are slow' and cover only 17 miles from the Last Bridge till dusk. The hiding place of the trolls is about 25 miles from the Mitheithel and 55 from the Fort of Bruinen.

In all published versions so far, and also in the 1960 revision, the moon is described both as waning and as rising above the hills. Remember that a full moon had been on 11 May, hence, we have now reached last quarter. While the phase is consistent with Tolkien's invariable key date, the crescent of Midsummer's Day, its early rise is an impossibility. Checking any astronomy app will show you that today, 19 May 2017, we will have the last quarter moon rising on about 2.40, long after midnight! The Company (minus Gandalf) would in fact have had to spend much of this night out in the open before they even saw the light of the fire between the trees.

After much of arguing back and forth that Rateliff has published in 'History' (which I further annotated in 'The Moon in 'The Hobbit"'), Tolkien merely camouflaged the problem by amending 'waning' into 'wandering' in the final 1966 revisions, and thus it has stayed ever since. This was a cheat that did not provide any physically plausible solution, however. We will further discuss that on 30 May.

(Bill, Bert, and Tom: Illustration by Horus Weber for the German "Hobbit", 1957)

Donnerstag, 18. Mai 2017

Thursday, 18 May: Camp near Mitheithel

On this day, in 2941 T.A., the 1960 timetable records that Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves have crossed 106 miles from Weathertop and camp 3 miles west of the banks of Mitheithel (Greyflood). Since the river runs in a deep narrow valley, they cannot yet see the Last Bridge ahead of them, and they are not aware that it is broken; but they see the Trollshaws beyond. In the night, the weather becomes very unpleasant.
The Last Bridge is broken (19th century illustration, unknown artist)

The episode was fleshed out in the abandoned 1960 revisions of "The Hobbit" but did not make it into the final, 1966 revision and is thus found only in Rateliff's "History". The 1960 timetable is by now ten days ahead of Fonstad's computations: Based on the 1966 Hobbit, she assumed the camp west of the Last Bridge to have occurred on 28 May.

Coincidentally, shifting the scene forward to 18 May had brought the lunar phases given in the first three chapters of "The Hobbit" in accordance with each other. The moon is now actually waning, as all published editions before 1966 described it, which is consisted with the lunar phase of 1 Lithe, when Elrond reads the moon-runes. In 1966, the reference was quite needlessly changed to "wandering" and has stayed that way. At this point, Tolkien went at length to argue with himself about an incoherence that he had already solved, without noticing, and he would catch himself in an arithmetic trap, ignoring all available solutions (see Rateliff, "History", and my own "The Moon in 'The Hobbit'"). More about that on 30 May. 

Donnerstag, 11. Mai 2017

Thursday, 11 May: Bilbo, Gandalf and the Company enter Rhudaur

On this day, in 2941 T. A., the Company awakened in its camp on the east side of Weathertop, 80 miles east of the Last Inn, to slowly progress into Rhudaur. This is the next entry in the 1960 timeline quoted in full by John Rateliff in "The History of the Hobbit".

Karen Fonstad, in "The Atlas of Middle-earth", scheduled the camp on the east side of Weathertop on 15 May, rather: a compromise between the LotR map and the incongruent revisions of the 1966 Hobbit that are, alas, not based on the consistent 1960 timeline.

My own calculations published in "The Moon in 'The Hobbit'" add that a full moon was shining on Weathertop that night, agreeing with (most of) the observations of the lunar phases reported in the published Hobbit and with the real syzygy of about 29.5 days, which young Mr. Tolkien for some reason believed to be 28 days long only, according to Rateliff. I find it wondrous that a man who romantisised Nature so much would be so ignorant of the way it works. 

Bilbo no doubt asked about the significance of the facilities seen on Weathertop's summit, which may have inspired Gandalf to give a brief lecture on Arnorian history. It can be summarised in the way my illustration shows.

Donnerstag, 4. Mai 2017

Thursday, 4 May: Thorin & Co near the Midgewater Marshes

The Midgewater, Icelandic Mývatn,was named for good reason
On this day, in 2941 T. A., Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin's Company left the Last Inn to immerse deep into the wilderness near the Midgewater Marshes.

According to the 1960 timetable, "their progress is now very slow, owing to the badness and dangerousness of the road, esp. in the marshy region. They barely manage 12 miles a day" - which would still have been a better value than the 8 miles a day which Karen Fonstad calculated based on the 1966 Hobbit. At any rate, they will spend the next few days in the marshy lands - but then, they don't have a Ranger with them, do they? And then, there is this Hobbit who has used his chance to replenish himself in Bree with lots of Second and Third Breakfasts ...

Mittwoch, 3. Mai 2017

Wednesday, 3 May: The Last Inn

The Last Inn
(Actually: "The Cat and Fiddle", near Buxton,
illustration by Charles G. Harper, 1906)
On this day, in 2941 T.A., the Company leaves Bree very early, according to the 1960 timetable. It travels for 20 miles, reaches the Last Inn in the early evening and, to the disappointment of everyone, finds it deserted (hence, we know it from LotR as the Forsaken Inn). According to my own computations published in "The Moon in 'The Hobbit'", there was a first quarter moon setting over the Last Inn that evening.

From this point on, entries in the 1960 timetable become rarer, and it increasingly deviates from both Fonstad's "Atlas" and the published "Hobbit". Tolkien's purpose had been to reshape Bilbo's travels to match the LotR map, and he had succeeded in that, even achieving consistency with the attested lunar phases. The price paid was that the stay in Rivendell had to be extended from about fourteen to thirty-six days since it was already reached on 24 May instead of 16 June. The obvious solution to postpone the Unexpected Party by a month had never occurred to Tolkien, despite Bilbo's casual reference to "that May morning long ago" in chap. VIII.

John Rateliff, in "The History of the Hobbit", believes that the abandoned 1960 revisions were not available to Tolkien when he revised the "Hobbit" again to secure US copyright in 1966. Thus, alas, even the final version has been left with inconsistencies to the internal chronology that had already been satisfactorily solved, and the 1960 timetable is inconsistent with references to dates in the published story up to 1 Lithe.

Dienstag, 2. Mai 2017

Tuesday, 2 May: Thorin & Co. in Bree

The Prancing Pony, by Andreas Möhn 1996
On this day, in 2941 T.A., Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves arrive in Bree and, for the last time, buy provisions ("including pipe-weed") before they are going to set out into the wild. According to the 1960 timetable, they had camped on 1 May somewhere north of the Old Forest, having had only three meals during the day (no second breakfast!).

At this point, Karen Fonstad's reconstruction begins to deviate from the 1960 timeline that, so far, is still consistent with the final, 1966, "Hobbit". Based on the average travel times, she had reckoned the arrival in Bree on 4 May, assuming that the Company had traveled 10 miles per day. In fact, it was twice that distance each day because this part of the Great East Road was still well maintained.

The illustration shows my sketch of The Prancing Pony, an excerpt from a hand-painted cover of "The Fellowship of the Ring".

Essays collected in printed or electronic books:


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Middle-earth seen by the barbarians: A compilation of Tolkien's references to the Middle Men of Eriador and Gondor: the pre-Númenóreans and the Dunlendings; the concealed history of Dorwinion, the fate of king Bladorthin and the origin of the Lossoth, the culture and history of the peoples in the east and far south of Middle-earth, with special consideration of the Wainriders, the Black Númenóreans and the Corsairs of Umbar. The appendix discusses the name Bladorthin and gives a new interpretation of this enigmatic king, shows how to apply a grid of latitudes and longitudes to the map of Middle-earth and in a previously unpublished essay discusses various comments by Tolkien on Pauline Baynes' recently recovered LotR map. This volume includes updated versions of “The Indigenous Peoples of Eriador and Gondor”, “The Lossoth and the Forodwaith”, “The Men of Darkness”, “The Third Realm in Exile”, “The mysterious King Bladorthin” and “A meridional grid on the map of Middle-earth” from these Science Pages.

The Moon in ‘The Hobbit’: A discussion and digital simulation of the lunar phases stated in ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The History of The Hobbit’ and their astronomical background, with special regard to the identification of Durin's Day and the threshold of winter; including an analysis of the various calendar systems in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Many hints are given on how to use the moon and the seasons as plot elements in your own stories. This book has updated versions of the essays “The Moon and Durin’s Day, 2941 TA”, “Midsummer’s eve and the Moon-letters“, “The Reckoning of Time”, “An ephemeris for Bilbo Baggins” and “(Flawed) Astronomy in the History of the Hobbit” from these Science Pages.

Words of Westernesse: A light-hearted introduction into the grammar of Adûnaic, based on Arthur Lowdham's spiritual research in HoMe IX, and (tentative) etymologies of Adûnaic and Westron as far as the corpus of vocabulary has been established. This volumes includes updated versions of the essays “Lalaith’s Guide to Adûnaic grammar” and “Etymologies of the Atani Languages” from these Science Pages.

Dynasties of Middle-earth: Genealogical tables and comments on the lines of the kings of Númenor, Arnor, Gondor, Rohan, Dale and the Princes of Dol Amroth. A shorter version of this volume had been previously presented here as “Genealogies of the noble Mannish houses”.