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 19, TA 3018

Gandalf comes to Edoras as a beggar, and is refused admittance.

In the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, the story begins where a young prince refuses to shelter what appears to be an old beggar woman, only to discover that she is not what she seems.

On September 19, TA 3018, Tolkien uses this same story device when he has Gandalf arrive at Edoras seeking the aid of the King of Rohan on the wings of the magnificent Gwaihir...yet knocks on the door of the Golden Hall and is turned away because he is perceived to be a beggar. Even though it is obvious that Gandalf has visited Edoras before, he is unrecognized and refused entry, thus delaying his flight to the Shire where Frodo frets over his whereabouts and seems to sense his impending peril.

The Enemy is moving and Gandalf is ignored in Rohan.

Artwork: "Edoras" by Alan Lee

September 20, TA 3018

Gandalf gains entrance to Edoras. Theoden commands him to go: 'Take any horse, only be gone ere tomorrow is old!'.

On September 20, TA 3018, Gandalf finally gains entrance to the Golden Hall, only to find hostility and suspicion within. His warnings are brushed aside as he is almost literally bounced out the door, but not without the fateful "take any horse..." command, that creates the unique pairing of Wizard and horse which plays such a significant part in Tolkien's tale.

Here also, is one of the places where you learn not to take even the slightest detail that Tolkien has written into his story for granted. You learn that every single time that Gandalf has a bad feeling or premonition about something...that premonition will undoubtedly play a major part somewhere along in the upcoming story. Here...this little hint that things are not right in Rohan, portends the near catastrophic events that will play out in the Land of the Horse Lords in the coming story.

The Enemy is moving.

Artwork: "Edoras" by Alan Lee

September 21, TA 3018

Gandalf meets Shadowfax, but the horse will not allow him to come near. He follows Shadowfax far over the fields.

September 21, TA 3018 is a strange and almost fruitless day, and it serves to heighten the anxiety of the reader as we watch Sauron's tenacity and his treacherous plot unfolding...and Gandalf, it appears, is wasting all this time chasing some horse in Rohan. It is only after one does a little research that one discovers that Shadowfax was so strong and swift that he could indeed outrun the black horses of the Nazgul.

So, even if we didn't know it, Gandalf did have this knowledge and must have understood that if he were to have any chance of finding Frodo before the Enemy could, he would need to befriend this greatest of horses, one of the Mearas.

'And there is one among them that might have been foaled in the morning of the world. The horses of the Nine cannot vie with him; tireless, swift as the flowing wind. Shadowfax they called him.'
Gandalf chases Shadowfax and the Enemy is moving.

Artwork: "Rohan" 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

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Last edited: 3 July 2022 14:29:05