Tolkien Calendar: The Great Years

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September 18, TA 3018

Categories: Tolkien Calendar
Gandalf escapes from Orthanc in the early hours. The Black Riders cross the Fords of Isen.
"Blackriders" by Alan Lee
On September 18, TA 3018, Tolkien begins in earnest, the construction of an amazingly detailed timeline for his sprawling saga, The Lord of the Rings. You see evidence of his commitment to leaving nothing to chance in this Synoptic Time Scheme written in Tolkien's own hand. Following this intricate adherence to calendar, we are going to take you on a Middle-earth journey...just as Tolkien laid it out...covering the entire span of the events in The Lord of the Rings, and beyond. So let's get started. There is much to cover, many unfathomable places to see and many, many new friends to make in our journeys through Middle-earth.

Bilbo has given the Ring to Frodo and left Bag End never to return. Gandalf has not returned to Hobbiton as promised and a nervous Frodo, sensing approaching danger, has decided to leave the Shire in the company of friends...but without the wizard. Little does Frodo know that Gandalf is in a desperate battle of his own, and danger is indeed galloping towards the Shire at terrifying speed.

Perhaps Gandalf is not the only one who underestimated the treachery and ultimately the power of Saruman. It also seems that Saruman, indeed, significantly undermined and disrupted the efforts of Sauron himself, in his quest to reclaim the Ring. All of this comes together with amazing clarity on September 18 if one looks close enough.

Gandalf escapes from Orthanc, but one would have to ask what he was doing there in the first place. One must remember that at the Council of Elrond, Gandalf explains the reason for still trusting Saruman even though his heart warned him otherwise. Recall the message from Saruman who offered council and aid, delivered to Gandalf by Radagast...
And that message brought me hope. For Saruman the White is the greatest of my order...Saruman has studied the arts of the Enemy himself, and thus we have often been able to forestall him. It was by the devices of Saruman that we drove him from Dol Guldur. It might be that he had found some weapons that would drive back the Nine.
It is Radagast who also tells Gandalf that the Nine have crossed the Anduin and headed westward. In his panic to protect Frodo and ultimately the Ring, Gandalf races to Isengard and straight into Saruman's trap. Lest you think his escape from Orthanc was easy, remember that he was imprisoned there on July 10, and did not escape with the aid if Gwaihir until September 18.

Sauron is also moving on this date in his desperation to reclaim the Ring. Being thwarted by the cunning of Gollum, the steadfast watch of the Dúnedain, and the devices of our old friend Saruman, Sauron has sent forth the Nine (apparently the only ones he would entrust this task to) in a frenzied attempt to find the Shire and the Hobbit who holds the Ring. They have been scouring the land for more than 60 days, and just now, on September 18, are crossing the Fords of Isen and approaching Saruman and Isengard...a mere five days before Frodo leaves Bag End with the Ring.
They rode through Rohan in haste, and the terror of their passing was so great that many folk fled from the land, and went wildly away north and west, believing that war out of the East was coming on the heels of the black horses.

...The enemy is moving.
Artwork: "Blackriders" by Alan Lee

September 22, TA 3018

Categories: Tolkien Calendar
The Black Riders reach Sarn Ford at evening; they drive off the guard of Rangers. Gandalf overtakes Shadowfax.
"Blackriders" by Alan Lee
On September 22, TA 3018, Tolkien ratchets up the action and the tension considerably. The Nine have reached the Shire. For so long they have wandered Middle-earth searching for 'Baggins' and 'Shire', and now they are within a hare's breath of their goal. They must also have had a good hunch that they were close to something important because the Rangers were guarding the borders.

The Rangers, however, are no match for them. Indeed, it is said that even if Aragorn had been present, they could not have withstood the Nine all together. It should be remembered that at Weathertop, Aragorn was only able to temporarily drive away the Nazgul, and there were only five.

I have always wondered how Gandalf was able to 'overtake' Shadowfax with all the speed that the Meara had attributed to him. It must have been the way of the wizard, but the timing while not perect, certainly makes for a wonderful tale.

The Nine have reached the Shire. The Enemy is at hand, and at least Gandalf is on the way.

Artwork: "Blackriders" by Alan Lee

September 23, TA 3018

Categories: Tolkien Calendar
Four Riders enter the Shire before dawn. The others pursue the Rangers eastward, and then retrun to the Greenway. A Black Rider comes to Hobbiton at nightfall. Frodo leaves Bag End. Gandalf having tamed Shadowfax rides from Rohan. The hobbits do an evening march in the Green Hill Country.
September 23, TA 3018 is one of those calendar dates when nothing else will do but the words of the Professor himself. The events of this day contain some of the most memorable passages in the entire span of the LOTR books. Sometimes it is wiser to admit that one cannot embellish on the magnificent writings of a true master. Today is one of those days when we should let Tolkien speak for himself, and we shall.

Four Riders enter the Shire before dawn. The others pursue the Rangers eastward, and then retrun to the Greenway. Gandalf having tamed Shadowfax rides from Rohan.

'But fear grew in me as I rode. Ever as I came north I heard tidings of the Riders and though I gained on them day by day, they were ever before me. They divided their forces, I learned: some remained on the eastern borders, not far from the Greenway, and some invaded the Shire from the south.'

A Black Rider comes to Hobbiton at nightfall.

He turned to go back and then stopped, for he heard voices, just round the corner by the end of Bagshot Row. One voice was certainly the Old Gaffer's; but the other was strange, and somehow unpleasant.

Frodo leaves Bag End.

'Good-bye' said Frodo, looking at the dark blank windows. He waved his hand, and then turned and (following Bilbo, if he had known it) hurried after Peregrin down the garden-path. They jumped over the low place in the hedge at the bottom and took to the fields, passing into the darkness like a rustle in the grasses.

The hobbits do an evening march in the Green Hill Country.

A mile or two further south they hastily crossed the great road from the Brandywine Bridge; they were now in the Tookland and bending south-eastwards they made for the Green Hill Country. As they began to climb its first slopes they looked back and saw the lamps of Hobbiton far off twinkling in the gentle valley of the Water. Soon it disappeared in the folds of the darkened land, and was followed by Bywater beside its grey pool. When the light of the last farm was behind, peeping among the trees, Frodo turned and waved a hand in farewell.
Tolkien's magnificent words describing the beautiful Shire belie the powerful events set in motion this day. The Enemy is at hand.

Artwork: "Bag End" by Alan Lee

September 24, TA 3018

Categories: Tolkien Calendar

Gandalf crosses the Isen. The hobbits meet both Black Riders and Elves, and spend the night West of Woodhall.

"Blackriders" by Alan Lee
Today is a day of gentle contrasts for our Travellers, which is perhaps a foreshadowing of the shocking contrasts between good and evil that are to come. Their first encounter with a Black Rider is troubling, but not terrifying. Much more memorable is Sam's first encounter with Elves, led by the enigmatic Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod, singing a hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel.
Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.
This is the beginning of a pattern that Tolkien follows all through The Lord of the Rings, one of movement from a dark and dangerous moment to a light moment, filled with comfort, friendship and beauty. The dialectic between these two moments will drive our Travellers deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Middle-earth.

Artwork: "Blackriders" by Alan Lee

Calendar entry by Merry

September 25, TA 3018

Categories: Tolkien Calendar

The hobbits cross the Marish, meet Farmer Maggot, get a ride on his wagon to the Buckland ferry, and cross over into Buckland. They spend the night at Crickhollow.

"Blackriders" by Alan Lee
Tolkien covers a lot of ground this day and devotes a lot of ink in the two chapters, A Shortcut to Mushrooms and a Conspiracy Unmasked, that span the day. The hobbits themselves cover 27 miles from the time they wake up at the encampment with the Elves to retiring at Crickhollow.

There are passages here. Frodo faces and moves past his childhood fear of Farmer Maggot and his dogs (the result of a misspent youth, stealing the good farmer's mushrooms and apples) and learns to accept help from unexpected places. Sam begins his transformation from the simple man and begins to reveal, to those who look, a depth of spirit that is hidden under the mask of a rustic hobbit. There is the theme of the bonds of friendship here. Frodo knows that the time has come to tell his friends that he does not mean to stay at Crickhollow and he doesn't know how to do it. He is beginning to have a glimmer that things are going to be rougher than he had thought and he thought it was going to be dangerous enough that he would not have asked his friends' help in the first place. His friends save Frodo from this dilemma. They have known all along what the plan was. In fact, Merry has known about the Ring since before Bilbo left. Frodo's friends have been readying themselves for this day. They have a plan. Most are going to go with Frodo, except for Fatty who has a different role to play, and there will be no denying them. Frodo, recognizing that it is hopeless to refuse, accepts this great gift. No-one knows at the time, just how great that gift is.

This theme of the needed, but unasked for gift, freely given is also woven throughout the books. There is a strength that comes from doing something out of generosity rather than obligation that brings endurance and courage.

At the end of the day Frodo slips into troubled dreams of sniffing things, white towers and the sound of the sea.
Calendar entry by elizabeth

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Last edited: 3 July 2022 14:29:05