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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Bilbo's equinox birthday - significant?

noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 25 2017, 3:44pm

Post #1 of 9 (1446 views)
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Bilbo's equinox birthday - significant? Can't Post

Do we think it's significant that Bilbo's Birthday - 22 September - is on the day that is usually the Autumn Equinox?
(I'm sure the following aren't new observations, but they haven't been discussed for a while, as far as I remember, and might be fun to discuss again).

Bilbo's birthday is of course the day in LOTR on which Bilbo gives up the Ring and leaves Bag End (c.f. his unexpected spring departure in The Hobbit). And it is later the date on which Frodo leaves Bag End - he's having been unable to emulate Bilbo's spring departure, even though leaving swiftly might seem wise. I think that in some way, 22 September seems to Frodo to be the date he's 'meant' to set out.

I note that this start date for the LOTR adventure is one of a set of further interesting dates that line up with the astronomical calendar:

25 December - the Fellowship sets out from Rivendell. It's just an ordinary winter's day in pre-Christian Middle-earth, though it is pretty close to the solstice. That is perhaps an symbolically appropriate day for what the Fellowship are doing - Frodo fled to Rivendell with the Ring but now Sauron's enemies are mounting an unlikely offensive against him. Obviously Tolkien's readers will overwhelmingly recognise 25 December for its Christian connotations, too.

25 March - the Ring is destroyed on Lady Day, a day that was once New Year's Day in England (as it becomes in Gondor), and which has associations with the start of spring and with the Virgin Mary.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Day )

Finally Aragorn makes a triumphant entry into Minas Tirith on May Day, and then marries at midsummer.

There were doubtless lots of reasons why the dates of LOTR worked out (in the end) they way they do. But one effect, if you want to see it like that, is to have the story echo the North Hemisphere seasonal cycle of dipping into darkness then returning to light.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Bracegirdle
Valinor


Sep 25 2017, 5:01pm

Post #2 of 9 (1424 views)
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Agreed, Sept. 22 is an unusual date. [In reply to] Can't Post

The 2017 equinox was on September 22.

But Frodo leaves Bag End on the 23rd (see text & Tale of Years).

And Tolkien selecting December 25th for the Fellowship's departure from Rivendell surely was not accidental.
On December the 25th they say
The Fellowship went questing away.
No way could they tell
As they left Rivendell
For us it would be Christmas Day.
Another significant date that comes to mind is February 14, Valentines Day. The date that Gandalf returns to life on Zirak-zigal.

. . . the rule of no realm is mine . . .
But all worthy things that are in peril . . . those are my care.
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?'

Gandalf to Denethor




Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Sep 25 2017, 6:32pm

Post #3 of 9 (1412 views)
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September 22, 1341 (S.R.) [In reply to] Can't Post

Shire-date September 22 was also the date that the Company of Thorin reached Lake-town after their escape from the Elvenking's Halls. As you point out, on our own Gregorian calendar that date represents the beginning of autumn--though in the Shire Reckoning the equinox would have fallen around the end of the month or the beginning of October.

The date tells us that the season was getting on and Thorin knew that Durin's Day was only weeks away, probably less than a month and a half. Of course the uncertainty about Durin's Day doesn't make a lot of sense if we give it too much thought. The Dwarves did know that the start of their new year followed the last (new) moon of fall. That day would not have been hard to calculate.

"Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall. -- The Doctor


Murlo
Rivendell


Nov 26 2017, 6:59pm

Post #4 of 9 (1005 views)
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September 22, December 25, and March 25 were all observed as New Year's Day at some point in European history [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Do we think it's significant that Bilbo's Birthday - 22 September - is on the day that is usually the Autumn Equinox?


As Otaku-sempai pointed out, September 22 is the usual date of the equinox in our calendar, but the Shire Calendar aligns with the seasons a bit earlier, so Shire 'September' 22 is about a week before the equinox. Likewise, Shire 'December' 25 is about a week before the winter solstice. But I think Tolkien chose those dates for their corresponding importance in our calendar, in spite of the different seasonal alignment of the Shire Calendar.

I recently read an interesting article in Mythlore (Summer 1988) titled "J.R.R. Tolkien's Calendars or The Saga of Hador The Incompetent", where the author, Darrell Martin, points out that September 22 "was used for the start of the short-lived French Revolutionary Calendar".

As a side note, in An Introduction to Elvish James Allan points out that the English translations of the month names in the Gondor Calendar resemble the month names in the "French Revolutionary Calendar" (for example "Windy Month" for the 3rd month).


In Reply To
25 December - the Fellowship sets out from Rivendell. It's just an ordinary winter's day in pre-Christian Middle-earth, though it is pretty close to the solstice.
...

25 March - the Ring is destroyed on Lady Day, a day that was once New Year's Day in England (as it becomes in Gondor), and which has associations with the start of spring and with the Virgin Mary.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Day )


When the Julian calendar went into effect in 45 B.C., Julius Caesar added some 80 days to the end of 46 B.C. in order for the new calendar to align with the seasons in pretty much the same way it's aligned now. I've seen different opinions online that this was done because December 25 was already considered the traditional date of the winter solstice, or because March 25 was already considered the traditional date of the spring equinox. So the Julian calendar was realigned with one of those seasons so that the Roman festivals associated with one of those dates could still align with that season.

Apparently many Western European countries observed the New Year on Dec. 25 in the Middle Ages (of course because of the Christian holiday and not because of any Roman festivals), according to Wikipedia.

So maybe Tolkien chose September 22 for Bilbo and Frodo's birthday so that all of these historical New Year's dates would have a mythological precursor in Middle-earth?

Shire 'September' 22 also became a holiday in King Elessar's Reunited Kingdom in the Fourth Age (in honor of the Ring-bearer's birthday), according to Appendix D.


In Reply To
There were doubtless lots of reasons why the dates of LOTR worked out (in the end) they way they do. But one effect, if you want to see it like that, is to have the story echo the North Hemisphere seasonal cycle of dipping into darkness then returning to light.


This is also how I see it, and one of the reasons I think Dec. 25 and March 25 (or thereabouts) were important dates to pre-Christian cultures as well.


noWizardme
Valinor


Nov 26 2017, 7:22pm

Post #5 of 9 (1001 views)
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Thanks! The French Revolution is an unexpected link! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


squire
Half-elven


Nov 26 2017, 7:59pm

Post #6 of 9 (999 views)
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France's First Republic starting on Sept. 22 had nothing to do with the equinox, however. [In reply to] Can't Post

The elections had been held in early September; the Convention met on Sept. 20. On Sept. 21, it resolved to abolish the monarchy. The following day, news arrived of the national victory at Valmy, and the Convention decreed that the present year was the "First Year of the French Republic", establishing the phrase for the first time. Later editions of the revolutionary calendar, which had earlier set January 1, or July 14, 1789, as the base date, landed on Sept. 22, 1792, as the first day of the Republic and the calendar.

In other words, that the calendrical new year started at or near an equinoctal date was a coincidence. And needless to say, Tolkien was not thinking of this anniversary when he set Bilbo and Frodo's birthdays to September 22!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Nov 26 2017, 8:28pm

Post #7 of 9 (991 views)
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September 22 would not have represented the equinox in the Shire Reckoning though. [In reply to] Can't Post

It might be worth noting that Bilbo's birthday would have fallen at least a week before the autumn equinox on the Shire calendar, where it would have been observed around September 30. Likewise the spring equinox would have fallen approximately on March 30. This gives us good estimated dates for possible spring celebrations and harvest festivals in the Shire and in the North in general.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Nov 26 2017, 8:31pm)


Murlo
Rivendell


Nov 28 2017, 3:17pm

Post #8 of 9 (946 views)
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Can we be so quick to rule it out? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
In other words, that the calendrical new year started at or near an equinoctal date was a coincidence. And needless to say, Tolkien was not thinking of this anniversary when he set Bilbo and Frodo's birthdays to September 22!


It may have been just coincidence at first, but according to the Wikipedia article about the French Republican Calendar, they intentionally designed the calendar to always start on the autumnal equinox from then on, and attempted complicated leap-day rules in order to keep this alignment.

In any case, I don't think Darrell Martin was trying to argue that this French Republican Calendar was the reason that Tolkien chose Sept. 22 as Frodo and Bilbo's birthday (it was included in a longer list of comparisons with real-world calendars), but without a source telling us why Tolkien made this choice, can we really rule this possibility out? Especially since we know Tolkien was already familiar with this calendar because of the similar month names used in the Gondor calendar?

I just thought it was interesting that these 3 important dates in LOTR also corresponded to the New Year's Day of different parts of Europe at different points in history, but I also don't think that necessarily means Tolkien picked Sept. 22 in order to "complete" this list of dates for the story; but once again, can it be ruled out?

It seems like it was chosen for the autumnal equinox association, and I'd be interested if anyone else has more info on this connection; but then again, if it was strictly for the equinox date, then I would think Tolkien would have gone with Sept. 23 instead, since that was the more common date of the autumnal equinox in Europe from about 1800 until about 1950. If you plotted the list of autumnal equinox dates and times on a graph from about 1600 to 2400, it would look similar to this summer solstice graph, only it would be vertically centered just past 12AM of Sept. 23 around the year 2000. So Sept. 22 starts to become the more common date after 2000, as it was in the 2nd half of the 18th century.

I wonder if this could also be a reason why Frodo doesn't leave Bag End until Shire 'September' 23?


Murlo
Rivendell


Nov 29 2017, 3:22pm

Post #9 of 9 (926 views)
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And why not The Hobbit publication date? [In reply to] Can't Post

I also wonder why Bilbo's and Frodo's birthday wasn't September 21, since The Hobbit was first published on September 21, 1937.

 
 

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