The other day, we posted an essay by Ringer DarkJackal over at Heir of Durin exploring the confusion surrounding exactly when Durin’s Day occurs. But even more widely, star lore — and astronomy — plays a significant role in the shaping of Middle-earth, both figuratively and literally.
In this fantastic essay, first presented at the RingCon Tolkien convention in November 2002, Dr. Kristine Larsen, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Central Connecticut State University discusses the evolution of Tolkien’s star lore, and its links with our own stars and constellations. It’s a long read, but quite worthwhile.
The astronomy of Middle-earth
One question we might ask ourselves when embarking on a critical study of Tolkien’s work is “are we just reading too much into a story?” Christopher Tolkien argued for the authenticity of such analysis: “Such inquiries are in no way illegitimate in principle; they arise from an acceptance of the imagined world as an object of contemplation or study valid as many other objects of contemplation or study in the all too unimaginary world.” Continue reading “The astronomy of Middle-earth”
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During the first month of this century, Tolkien fans were asking the following questions to our Green Books staff at TheOneRing.net…
Q: Dear Everybody, I was just curious as to when it is Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthday according to our calendar? I really enjoy your site, keep up the great work.
A: Frodo and Bilbo shared their birthday on September 22nd, as stated in “The Long-Expected Party.” The Hobbits called this month Halimath. The duration of the solar year for Middle-earth was the exact same as that of our Earth; namely 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds (see Tolkien’s note in The Return of the King, Appendix D, “Shire Calendar”). So we are basically measuring the same span of time but with a different enumeration of days. Small differences in each month’s duration make it a little tricky to compare the Shire Calendar to our Gregorian Calendar. We have months with 28, 30, or 31 days, but every Shire month is exactly 30 days. But look very closely, and you’ll see Tolkien added days like 1 Yule, 2 Yule, the Midyear’s Day, etc. It’s enough to cross your eyeballs!
I managed to do a simple overlay of our current year 2000 (which is a Leap Year here in the United States) with the Shire Calendar table. I added the Overlithe holiday the Hobbits would have used for their Leap Year (as we would add February 29th) and counted forward to find the equivalent of Halimath 22nd. It turns out Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday falls on the day we call September 23rd… at least this Leap Year. Any other year it would fall on September 22nd. But don’t ask me to calculate for the Chinese or Hebrew calendars, I claim no talent in mathematics!
I saw the question you answered about Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday in relation to our calendar, and looked it up in Appendix D. I noticed that it says that the hobbits’ Midyear’s Day corresponded to the summer solstice, making our New Year’s Day the hobbits’ January 9. Therefore, Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday would be September 12th (13th in leap years).
– David Massey
Interesting process of calculation, David! I am afraid I’ve spent too many years counting my own branches and little else, leaving me ill-equiped for higher forms of algebra.