The Chronology of The Lord of the Rings
The Chronology of The Lord of the Rings is a lengthy article that comprises the majority of Tolkien Studies vol.19 supplement, a special volume of the scholarly journal Tolkien Studies. The article is edited by William Cloud Hicklin, published on July 31, 2022.
For the first time, the article publishes the complete document of the time-scheme, titled "Chronology", used by J.R.R. Tolkien when he was writing the The Lord of the Rings. The document is consist of 14 pages, each containing a synoptic timeline over a certain period in the story, they together covers the entire time span occurred within the book: from Bilbo's birthday party to Sam's return to Bag End.
Some excerpts from this document were previously published in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (2005), and a few manuscript pages had been displayed in certain exhibitions, such as Voyage en Terre du Milieu (2019). The full manuscripts were finally revealed to the public in The Art of the Manuscript exhibition (2022), and were printed in its accompanying catalogue.
Out of the 14 pages, 9 are written in a spreadsheet form, with columns representing characters or character-groups and rows representing days, while other pages are in a more linear form. Tolkien used Shire Reckoning.
The timelines presented in these pages are as follows:
- page 1: 22 September, S.R. 1418 - 15 October
- page 2: 16 October - 15 January, S.R. 1419
- page 3: 15 January - 22 January
- page 4: 23 January - 16 February
- page 5: 17 February - 25 February
- page 6: 26 February - 29 February
- page 7: 30 February - 3 March
- page 13: 14 August - 22 September
The article in the vol.19 supplement contains:
- A 30-page introduction, by the editor William Hicklin and several other Tolkien scholars.
- 50 pages, the document of the time-scheme itself, transcribed, together with extensive notes by William.
- 50 pages of commentaries on the development of the time-scheme.
- There are three versions of the time-scheme. Two earlier versions were made by Tolkien when he was developing the story, which were later proven insufficient. The third one (the one presented here) was made in late 1940s after he had completed the first draft, and was used by him for the revisions in the text.
This time-scheme is significant because it includes information that does not appear in the published text. For example, concerning the fate of Shagrat, Orc Captain of the Tower of Cirith Ungol, the scheme states that on Saturday March 17th,
- "Shagrat brings the mithril coat and other spoils to Barad-dȗr; but is slain by Sauron".
Another hidden fact shows that, while the Fellowship is resting in Lothlórien on Tuesday, January 24th, Gollum lurks on the borders of that country; and there he is captured by Uglúk and the Isengarders. The time-scheme entry reads under the heading Gollum:
- "Gollum captured by Uglúk, but escapes after revealing that Hobbits of Shire were with Gandalf, and enough is said to make Uglúk certain that Ring was with the Company".
While under the heading of Enemies it reads:
- "Isengarders capture Gollum, and torment him for news. Uglúk sends news to Isengard of Hobbits; but not of the Ring".
Comments from the editors
As Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings he became preoccupied with time and distance, resulting in some archival gems. Among the manuscripts are synoptic time-schemes where Tolkien tracked the movements of different characters in the story. . . . Before I saw this time-scheme I never fully appreciated the importance of January 15th to the course of events. On that day Gandalf the Grey fought the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dȗm and fell into the shadow of Moria. It was also the day when, to use an anachronism, the clock started ticking on the Fellowship. We learn from the time-scheme that when night fell on January 15th messages were sent forth from Moria to Isengard and to Mordor, setting evil forces in motion. Suddenly questions confronted Tolkien such as how long would it take for the message to reach Barad-dȗr? How exactly would it get there? When would Grishnákh and company be sent from Mordor? How quickly would they travel? The need for such a day-by-day reckoning intensified on February 26th with the Breaking of the Fellowship. Suddenly this tight group of characters that had moved together through Book II splinters in different directions, and Tolkien must track their every move.
- The Chronology of The Lord of the Rings at Project Muse
- Reddit "Ask me Anything" with Bill Hicklin
- A forum post with images of the manuscripts
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Fliss, William M. (2017), "Things That Were, and Things That Are, and Things That Yet May Be: The J.R.R. Tolkien Manuscript Collection at Marquette University", marquette.edu (accessed 21 March 2023)