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.