Jan 10 2011, 12:27am
It’s an audacious title, I know, but I’m actually half serious…
Was Smaug slain October 26, 2941 TA?
Has anyone ever attempted to do a credible timeline for the events in The Hobbit? I want to say, before anything else, that I’m aware that (unlike The Lord of the Rings), Tolkien never gave us a detailed timeline. I also know that no full itinerary of times for specific events are supplied in The Hobbit . Nevertheless, we do know the order of events and we do know – in many cases – how many days some of these events took to transpire. And Tolkien actually does give us a surprising number of specific times, and even more general times.
We know, for example, that Bilbo left the Shire sometime in May, 2941 TA, and that he traveled to Rivendell, which he then left on Midsummer’s Day, which is traditionally toward the end of June. Dates vary. We also know that Bilbo and Gandalf spent Yule (late December, early January) at Beorn’s house on their way back. This means that from the time the story of The Hobbit began until Gandalf and Bilbo were with Beorn once again in Wilderland, was roughly 7 ½ months. (Other dates we know are May 1 of the next year, 2942 TA, when they arrived back in Rivendell, and, after a stay with the Elves, on June 22, 2942 Bilbo arrived back at his home in the Shire.)
Regarding the crucial events of the story, once Thorin and company reached Lonely Mountain, it was late evening (just after sunset) of Durin’s Day when Bilbo first went down to Smaug’s lair. It was late in the afternoon of the next day when he went back a second time, and "the afternoon was turning into evening when he came out again." When it became dark, Smaug attacked the secret entrance. That same night, "he rose in fire and went away south" toward Laketown, and after setting the town aflame, he died that same night. So, from the time Bilbo first stirred up Smaug by stealing a golden cup until the Dragon was dead was almost exactly one 24-hour day.
Toward the end of chapter 14, we read that 5 days after the death of Smaug, the Elves arrived at Long Lake to help the lake men. At the very end of chapter 14 , some 11 days after the death of Smaug and "the ruin of the town," the combined armies of Men and Elves set out from the lake and began to march toward the Lonely Mountain. Back with the dwarves: In the beginning of chapter 15, they learned of the death of Smaug 3 days after it happened. And Tolkien tells us, "As you have heard some of the events already, you will see that the dwarves still had some days before them." He was deliberately giving us a synchronized chronology. (After this time, Fili and Kili spent four days looking for and finding their scattered pack horses – for whatever that’s worth.)
Some more dates: earlier on, Tolkien tells us that after Bilbo and the dwarves escaped the dungeon of the Wood-elves, it took them two days to drift down river to Laketown. (They escaped from the Elves at night, Bilbo spent the next night at the raft-men’s camp, and the next night they arrived at Laketown just after sunset.) During the second day of this journey down river, at the beginning of chapter 10, Tolkien tells us that, "It might have been some comfort to Mr. Baggins ... if he had known that news of this* had reached Gandalf far away, and giving him great anxiety, and that he was in fact finishing his other business … and getting ready to come in search of Thorin’s company." (*Of the disrepair of the east end of the forest path, and the assumed peril of the dwarves he had sent along it.) Doing the math, we find therefore that Gandalf and White Council drove Sauron out of Dol Guldur about one full month before Bilbo and the dwarves even arrived at Lonely Mountain and encountered Smaug.
From the night that they arrived in Laketown, Thorin and company stayed two weeks. ("At the end of a fortnight" – which is two weeks – Thorin told the Master of the town that they would be leaving.) It took them two days to row up the lake to the mouth of the river and at the end of the third day they beached the boats. Tolkien doesn’t tell us how long it took them to make the final leg of the journey with their pack ponies, but we know that they arrived at Lonely Mountain "at the waning of the year," when "autumn was now crawling towards winter."
Here’s where we can possibly come up with some more specific dates.
In Britain where Tolkien lived, naturally, November 1 (All Hallows or Samhain) is considered to be the first calendar day of winter, so if this British reckoning is what Tolkien was going by, then the following quote pinpoints Durin’s Day for us: "‘Tomorrow begins the last week of Autumn,’ said Thorin one day." We then learn that this same day, at sunset, they discovered the secret door which Bilbo entered forthwith. Durin’s Day, therefore, was on October 25 and the next day, the last seven days of Autumn began. Smaug would not live to see winter that year, however. According to this chronology, he died the night of the next day, October 26, 2941 TA.
Certain details can be worked out quite accurately, although we can only guess at when some of the in-between events transpired, and guesstimate how long they took.
Maybe this is just a fun exercise with no particular purpose other than to interest us, but timelines often reveal surprising conclusions – or at least, possibilities. This is true even when you have limited information to work with. And in this case, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many times/dates Tolkien actually supplied. I don’t have the time to develop a full timeline, but here are some of the key events:
Oct. 24—Thorin comments that the last week of Autumn begins the next day
Oct. 25—Durin’s Day (last new moon before winter): this night Bilbo first enters Smaug’s lair
Oct. 26—Smaug attacks Laketown this night, burns it, but is killed by Bard
Oct. 29—The dwarves learn of Smaug’s death 3 days after his demise
Oct. 31—The Elves arrive at the remains of Laketown 5 days after it burns
Nov. 1—The first day of Winter
Nov. 5—The armies of Elves and Men set out 11 days after Smaug’s death
These dates depend on what calendar Tolkien was going by, and whether November 1 was what he understood to be the first day of winter. (It’s unlikely that he would’ve gone with the North Americans holding winter to begin on December 21, the winter solstice. To the British, that date is considered mid-winter.) Just the same, I’m not set on November 1, and if someone wants to come up with what would have been, for Tolkien, a more probable calendar date for the beginning of winter, I’m open to it. My main point is that we can at least have a rough time frame for the events in The Hobbit.
Is anyone interested, and has the time, to develop an overall timeline?
(This post was edited by Auraran on Jan 10 2011, 12:33am)