Sonntag, 29. Oktober 2017

Friday, 28 October 2941 T. A.: Aid for the Lake-men

The quickly raised huts were certainly not comfortable.
But it was a beginning. (Erwin Vollmer, 1904)
On this day, in 2941 T. A., Bard's messengers finally arrived with Thranduil's host at the shore of the Long Lake where the surviving Lake-men were still desperately hoping for help. Much appreciated goods had already arrived by boat but the Woold-elves did not have sufficient watercraft to follow and had to march the distance on bad paths. Thranduil would not give humanitarian aid for free, though, and a bargain had to be achieved (which the Master was all ready to conclude). Then a new place further north was begun to be cleared, to provide space for closed huts at least. Many of the refugees from Esgaroth were in rather bad condition.

This delay gave Thórin ample time to fortify the main gate of Erebor - the only one that Smaug had left accessible - against things to come.

Freitag, 27. Oktober 2017

Wednesday, 26 October 2941 T.A.: Hail, Roäc, son of Carc

Roäc claimed to have lived 153 years
(by Kyosai Kawanabe, 1887)
On this day, in 2941 T. A., Bilbo and the Dwarves were finally informed about Smaug's demise. By a raven, honourable Roäc, son of Carc, who boasted to have hatched in 2788 T. A. and thus, was a contemporary of late Thrór who had died in 2790. Thorin immediately sent Roäc off to the Iron Hills to request the support of Dain and his fellow Dwarves. 

At the Forest River meanwhile, Thranduil's host chanced upon Bard's messengers. Hearing of the desperate situation of the Lake-men, he dediced for a detour and provide the much needed humanitarian aid. Erebor could wait.

Donnerstag, 26. Oktober 2017

Tuesday, 25 October 2941, T. A.: Forth marched the king

Forth marched the king
(Excerpt from "Oberon & Titania"
by Arthur Rackham)
On this day, in 2941 T. A. - the third of the new dwarvish year -, Bilbo and the Dwarves finally found the courage to investigate Smaug's lair and found it deserted. Bilbo located the Arkenstone in Smaug's hoard and pocketed it before any of the Dwarves noticed. The Company left Erebor via the main entrance, trodded down the River Running past Dale and, near sunset, made their new camp in the guardroom on the south spur. The following night was reportedly cold, and many birds were on the move in the south.

At the Long Lake, the survivors of Lake Town were desperately hoping for humanitarian aid by the Wood-elves. There was no report yet from the messengers Bard had sent out the day before, and none was to be expected under the given circumstances. While Thranduil, being well informed, had already mustered a host of spearmen and bowmen and was leading them down the Forest River to claim his share of Smaug's hoard.    

Mittwoch, 25. Oktober 2017

Monday, 24 October 2941 T. A.: The darkest of days

On this day, in 2941 T. A. - the second day of the new year of the Dwarves - looked bleak for everyone involved. Since Smaug had destroyed the Doorstep and blocked the Secret Door, Bilbo and the Dwarves spent all the day sitting in that corridor in absolute darkness, losing their sense of time and waiting for something terrible to happen that would never come.

News of Smaug's demise was rapidly carried westward by talkative birds, eventually reaching Thranduil's ears who at once began plotting his own benefit from the new situation.
The fiery end of Esgaroth
(Burning city, unknown 17th century Dutch artist)
Meanwhile, the survivors of the cataclysm of Esgaroth had spent a miserable night without protection in the cold, and though Bard, just appointed king, did his best to get some provisional shelters and care organized, many had taken ill till the next sunset. 

Dienstag, 24. Oktober 2017

Sunday, 23 October 2941 T. A.: R.I.P. Smaug

Lucky for him, Bilbo was separated from Smaug ...

On this day, the second day of the new dwarvish year, in 2941 T. A., Bilbo emulated Nienor, the tragic heroine of the First Age, and actually talked to the remote descendant of Glaurung. Fortunately, he was backed by two more ages of dragon-lore and managed to avoid falling under the dragon-spell. Much to Smaug's regret. 

... by the turn of a page
Bard is evidently left-handed.
Look where he carries his sword.
(Illustrations by Horus Engels, 1957)
Smaug was angered so much that he felt inspired to attack Lake-town. Bard the Bowman found the most vulnerable spot and shot the dragon down from the sky, giving a lesson in ballistic dynamics: Don't aim an arrow vertically up because your target may come as vertically down. Which, alas, sealed the fate of Lake-town.   
There are many recordings of the lunar phase of that night. Soon after nightfall, ‘The men of the lake-town Esgaroth were mostly indoors, for the breeze was from the black East and chill, but a few were walking on the quays, and watching, as they were fond of doing, the stars shine out from the smooth patches of the lake as they opened in the sky.’ Strangely, Manwe's EagThrush informed Bard that ‘The moon is rising.’ Later, as he was taking aim, ‘the moon rose above the eastern shore and silvered his great wings.’ Then ‘The dragon swooped once more lower than ever, and as he turned and dived down his belly glittered white with sparkling fires of gems in the moon.’ As Smaug fell, ‘the waxing moon rose higher and higher’ (chap. XIV). It is even confirmed one more time that Smaug was slain ‘at the rising of the moon’ (chap. XV).

Well, the actual phase of the moon is shown in the following simulation run on Stellarium.

The actual moon at the day of Smaug's death

"Here we witness the tragic result of a story-teller being ignorant of the motions of the skies at its worst. There cannot have been any moon shedding light on Smaug’s demise because it should have set before the dragon even left its abode. Since the Company had seen a narrow crescent on 22 October, celestial mechanics require that the situation was not that much different one day later; you do not need an astronomy simulator to tell that. Second, a waxing moon, in whatever phase, cannot be climbing above the horizon after nightfall, only full and waning moons do that. Alas, the numerous references to the lunar phase of this day are too tightly woven into the narrative to be appropriately amended without severely revising the storyline."
(Excerpt from "The Moon in 'The Hobbit'", slighlty amended for brevity)

It is really peculiar that Tolkien described the view of the evening sky so accurately in one chapter and so absurdly in the next. Even in the latest revisions of 1966, this most serious of all defects in the plot chronology has not been addressed.

Discussing this scene in "The History of the Hobbit", John Rateliff soberly commented that Tolkien's friend C.S.Lewis had commited the very same mistake in one of his stories. As if rising crescents in the evening were somehow an Inklings' thing.

Montag, 23. Oktober 2017

Saturday, 22 October 2941 T. A.: HAPPY NEW (dwarf) YEAR!

"He issued from the Gate, the waters
rose in fierce whistling steam ..."
(Dragon awakens, by Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914))
On this day, the first day of the last week of autumn in 2941 T. A., the last young moon of autumn and the sun were visible in the sky together, announcing Durin's Day, the Secret Door opened, Bilbo made his investigations and aroused Smaug from his slumber. This was also, unbeknownst to him, the last full day of Smaug's life.

Soon [Bilbo] saw the orange ball of the sun sinking towards the level of his eyes. He went to the opening and there pale and faint was a thin new moon above the rim of Earth. ... The sun sank lower and lower, and their hopes fell. It sank into a belt of reddened cloud and disappeared. ... The little moon was dipping to the horizon. Evening was coming on. Then suddenly when their hope was lowest a red ray of the sun escaped like a finger through a rent in the cloud.’ ("The Hobbit, chap. 11)

The constraints of celestial mechanics, communication speeds and atmospheric conditions suggest that Durin’s Day did not mean the same thing for any dwarf in the world. Consider that next time you decide to set up your residence at a place that is called the Misty Mountains for a reason.

(Maybe that was why Khazad-dûm installed the outpost on Zirak-zigil, called – wonder why - ‘Durin’s Tower’. Even dwarves may have been aware that the best place for watching the heavens is high up in the mountains.)

"In theory and under ideal conditions, Durin’s Day could have been observed as short as 12 hours after conjunction. But the sun’s brightness and the moon’s proximity to its disk would forbid this daring adventure most of the time. Experienced observers have reported that they managed to descry a crescent 1.5 to 2 days after conjunction under exceptionally good conditions, i. e. high transparency of the atmosphere and favourite positioning of the celestial luminaries. But only a crescent that is at least 3 days old would have been easily visible to a layhobbit like Bilbo in autumn. 

Gandalf’s remark after Thorin had confessed his lack of astronomical education, ‘That remains to be seen’, was certainly made with some restraint not to insult the honourable dwarf. Wizard and half-elf may have thought of the ephemeris that Elrond no doubt kept in his house and that would have predicted the last new moon of autumn rather accurately. However, Elrond may have preferred to keep his head low that shortly after revealing that despite having lived since the Elder Days he had never heard of Durin’s Day before, inadvertently providing Thorin with the chance to retort his ‘as all should know’."
(Excerpt from "The Moon in 'The Hobbit', slightly amended for clarity)

A simulation of the view from the Doorstep on Durin's Day.
The yellow line marks the ecliptic. Notice the position of
the young moon to the left of the image.

The ‘thin new moon’ of Durin’s Day would not have been more than three days after new moon, set by Tolkien to have occurred on 19 October though more coherent with the other recorded observations is an early 20 October. The visibility of such a young moon is supported by the fact that in autumn, the crescent of a two days old moon is thicker than in, say, early summer.

With these data in hand, it is possible to set time and place precisely. Accepting that Hobbiton is at the latitude of Oxford, Erebor is located at about 54°N. This permits running a simulation of the configuration of the heavens at Durin's Day with a modern planetarium software. "Stellarium" was used to generate this image.

The simulation reveals a surprising fact that Tolkien could not have been aware of: At the northern latitude of Erebor, the crescent moon and the setting sun are almost at the same height of the horizon!

"This may seem hard to understand at first. The reason is the orientation of the ecliptic, which is the projection of the earth’s orbit on the sky or the virtual path that the sun seems to travel on. In October, the ecliptic assumes a very low angle respective to the horizon .... Even worse, the moon’s orbit is tilted against the ecliptic by 5°, and in autumn, it is located in the lower section of its course. Fortunately for Bilbo and the dwarves, the sun takes as well a very long time to vanish beneath the horizon.
This example should demonstrate that an almanac of lunar phases is not fully sufficient for a story-writer who wants to use the moon as a plot element. Any modern astronomy simulation software will do, though, but such tools had not been available in Tolkien’s time. And if he had known about them, he would probably have abhorred them."
(Excerpt from "The Moon in 'The Hobbit'")

It is not clear from the description whether or not Tolkien was aware of this particular constellation of the celestial luminaries. His wording does not conflict with that view. 

Sonntag, 22. Oktober 2017

Friday, 21 October 2941 T. A.: The last day of the Dwarvish year

The first sighting of the young moon
brings joy to the Elves as well
On this day, in 2941 T. A., Thórin Oakenshild had the courtesy to look into a calendar and to inform us that the day after would be the first day of the last week of autumn. Once Tolkien's decision is accepted that all data given in "The Hobbit" follow the Shire Reckoning, this helps to identify the date on which this happened, and contrary to what John Rateliff thought, the dating is consistent.

We know that in the Shire, Saturday is the first day of the week, so Thórin checked his pocket calendar on a Friday. His statement leaves two possible interpretations: since winter begins on 1 November according to all statements given in "The Hobbit", either the first day of the last week of autumn refers to the last full week, which begins on 22 October and ends on 28, or it refers to the last week begun, commencing on 29 October. Only 22 October is consistent with the first sighting of the young moon that Bilbo observes on that day - the rosh chodesh as the ancient Jews put it, or first day of the lunar month according to the testimony of its observers, and remember that the Dwarves are in some ways the Jews of Middle-earth. Hence, 21 October was definitely the last day of this Dwarvish year.

(Can someone help identify the artist of today's image choice? Google image search only relates to its re-use as a CD cover.)

Samstag, 21. Oktober 2017

Thursday, 20 October 2941 T.A.: The last new moon of autumn

Two men observing the first light of the new moon
Caspar David Friedrich, 1819/20)
Which is not Durin's Day!

Not yet. On this day, in 2941 T. A., the moon was for the last time in autumn closest to the sun, but it was of no help for Bilbo and the Dwarves. For the occurrence of Durin's Day - and, hence, the possibility of opening the Secret Door - was dependent not on the astronomical event but of the first actual sighting of the moon and the sun in the sky together. English does not seem to have its own term for that event: in German it is called Neulicht "new light" and distinct from Neumond "new moon".

Since the weather is a factor here, too, this might of course mean that Moria would at times celebrate a different Durin's Day than Erebor or the Iron Hills. Strange enough that this tradition had been forgotten by Thorin's people. Maybe, like in the ancient Jewish culture, the pronunciation of the new Dwarvish year had been left to a few selected specialists (priests) - all of which Smaug had burnt up?   

Donnerstag, 19. Oktober 2017

Tuesday, 18 October 2941 T. A.: Snails on the Doorstep

The thrush that was going to be Eru's agent in driving the plot
(Illustration by Horus Engels for the first German edition, 1957)
On this day, in 2941 T. A., The whole company but two took the effort to climb up to the Doorstep and establish their by now third base camp there. For the time being this was a dead end, though, for the Secret Door was magic enough to defy any conventional tool - clearly, Dwarves were able to construct devices that no other Dwarves could hack.

Bilbo meanwhile set back and counted. Snails on a stone, a favourite diet of thrushes around Erebor. For now he was as much at a loss to pinpoint Durin's Day as was his maker, J. R.R. Tolkien, as we shall see in our next entry.  

Mittwoch, 18. Oktober 2017

Monday, 17 October 2941 T. A.: What was the word for "Friend" in Dale?

Were the Dwarves of Erebor as trusting as those of Moria?
About this time, in 2941 T. A., Fili, Kili and Bilbo finally managed to locate the Secret Door. It was midday when they began their ascent, and it may have taken them about two hours or more until they reached the cliff that would become known to them as the Doorstep. The afternoon was wasted with vain attempts to open the door, even including uttering "fragments of broken spells". (Say "Friend" and enter would not work here?)  They left for their base-camp in the evening, returning there probably in the early dark and bringing a lot of excitement there.

Freitag, 13. Oktober 2017

Thursday, 13 October 2941 T.A.: In the shadow of Erebor

A rather Tolkienish impression of Menelvagor over Erebor
(Janet Johnson: Orion above the Matterhorn, undated)
It was probably on this day, in 2941 T. A., that Bilbo already suggested to relocate the base camp from the slope of Ravenhill to the western side of the Lonely Mountain. The published "Hobbit" does not imply specific dates but Tolkien's jotted notes as published by Rateliff suggest that the events between establishing the camp at Ravenhill and opening the Hidden Door were more compressed than the text suggests: nine days altogether, which complies with the timeline derived from the lunar phases.
The last moon of autumn was approaching its last quarter.  

Donnerstag, 12. Oktober 2017

Wednesday, 12 October 2941 T.A.: The base camp at Ravenhill

"Out of it too there came a steam and a dark smoke"
(Albert Bierstadt: Storm at the Matterhorn, 1886)
On this day, in 2941 T. A., Bilbo and the Dwarves finally reached the spurs of Erebor. Apparently they reached the outlying height called Ravenhill at about noon, for there was still enough daytime left to investigate the cliffs of Ravenhill, pass by the ruins of Dale and have a look at the main gate of the Lonely Mountain from which not only the River Running but also steam and smoke emanated.

Bilbo contemplated that "autumn was now crawling towards winter", another clear indication that the seasons in "The Hobbit" are not those that we are used to.

Mittwoch, 11. Oktober 2017

Tuesday, 11 October 2941 T. A.: The end of the boat trip

The Devastation of Smaug may have been inspired
by the No-Man's Land of Flanders

On this day, in 2941 T. A., the Lake-men finally set the Dwarves and the hobbit ashore at the right bank (the text says, on the left and western bank, but since the current was coming from the north, it was actually the right bank) of the river Celduin where the pack-horses and riding ponies sent ahead were already waiting for them. Since the Lake-men refused to camp such close to Erebor, they left even in the late evening, drifiting and riding rapidly downstream, and may have reached the Long Lake before midnight again. 

They left a tent for fourteen, though, which provided for a dry (if noisy) but "cold and lonely" night at the edge of the Devastation of Smaug.  

Dienstag, 10. Oktober 2017

Monday, 10 October 2941 T.A.: Up the river Celduin

Bilbo did not like that view of Erebor
(The Matterhorn, painter and year unidentified)
The second day of the voyage upstream from Lake-town, on this day in 2941 T.A., ended unequivocally in a camp at the banks of the River Running. Bilbo much disliked the view of Erebor looming over their site. It was pointed out that the current of Celduin was rather swift and progress slow. That explains why it took four days by boat to travel a distance that Smaug covered in the air within an hour or two.

Montag, 9. Oktober 2017

Sunday, 9 October 2941 T.A.: Towards the River Running

Near the mouth of the River Running, looking north
(Thomas Cole: Schroon Lake, 1830s)
On this day, in 2941 T. A., the three boats were approaching the place where the River Running widened into the Long Lake.

On this occasion, a minor ambivalence in the text might be noted. Tolkien recorded that "in two days going they rowed right up the Long Lake and passed out into the River Running". Karen Fonstad - who also assumed 8 October as the day of departure from Esgaroth - marked the camp of 9 October right at the place where the River Running widens to create the Long Lake. But Tolkien's statement may also be interpreted to mean that it took two days to actually reach the rive.In that case the first camp should be assumed at the western shore of the Long Lake.   

Sonntag, 8. Oktober 2017

Saturday, 8 October 2941 T. A.: Leaving Lake-town

Boat of the Lakemen
(dated 1909, author unknown)
Latest on this day, but maybe also a day or two before, in 2941 T. A., a well-provided expedition left Lake-town north along the Western shore of the Long Lake. The Dwarves and Bilbo were aboard three boats rowed by Lake-men. Clearly, the current from the north was weak enough that the boats did not need to be pulled at ropes; it is interesting to note, though, that sailing was either unknown or not an option despite Bilbo reporting cold winds and falling leaves that day.

"Autumn was now getting far on." Just a few more weeks to go until winter would begin according to the old Anglo-Irish reckoning that Tolkien adhered to.

Donnerstag, 5. Oktober 2017

Wednesday, 5 October 2941 T. A.: Shall we go to Erebor?

Full moon over the Long Lake
(Georg Emil Libert, 1820 - 1908)

On this day, in 2941 T. A., the Company had spent "about a fortnight" in Lake-town. Thórin Oakenshield went to the Master and asked for help to continue the voyage upstream, towards the Lonely Mountain. The Master was willing to assist - also to return to the usual business at last -, and while the requested horses and ponies may have been sent up the shore of the Long Lake on the very same or the next day, probably another two or three days were spent with collecting provisions and preparing the boats that would set the Dwarves and the hobbit on the final stage.

There was a full moon that night: the last full moon of autumn, 2941. Unbeknownst to Thórin, this year of the Dwarvish reckoning was rapidly drawing to its end.