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Various systems of keeping time in the fictional Middle-earth devised by J. R. R. Tolkien are described in The Lord of the Rings. Because Middle-earth was intended to be our world in the distant past, the basic structure of the calendar is similar to ours. Tolkien uses his various fictional calendars as a means to present his fiction as an edition and compilation of ancient records from Middle-earth itself.[1]

In Appendix D to the The Return of the King, the system is explained. There Tolkien also notes that all the dates in The Hobbit and the trilogy are given in "Shire terms or equated with them in notes".[2]

Elven calendar[edit]

The Calendar of Imladris is a calendar used in J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth by the Elves of Rivendell. (Imladris is the name of that place in Sindarin.) It is apparently the only Eldarin calendar described by the Hobbits in the Red Book of Westmarch.[3]

Often translated "year" the word yén is equivalent to 144 of our years. The Elves also have a regular 365-day solar year called coranar meaning "sun-round" or more commonly loa meaning "growth". An Elven day is called a of which a yén contains 52,596. An Elven week, used for ritual rather than practicality, contains six days and is called enquië; and a yén contains 8,766 of these enquier. The Elven year, which began near the northward equinox, is divided into six seasons or 'months' which consist of four 54-day months and two 72-day months. Five or eight extra days outside the seasons make the length of the loa 365 or 368 days. Most years are 365 days, but every twelfth year is 368 days, except for the last year of every third yén (once every 432 years), for an average year length of 365.243056 days.

In Rivendell, the loa began on the spring equinox and was divided into six "months" or seasons, as follows.

Quenya name Sindarin name English translation Duration
tuilë ethuil spring 54 days
lairë laer summer 72 days
yávië iavas autumn 54 days
quellë firith fading 54 days
hrívë rhîw winter 72 days
coirë echuir stirring 54 days

Five other days, two between coirë and tuilë and three between yávië and quellë, meant the calendar added up to 365 days. Irregularities were allowed for by adding another three days every twelve years, except the last year of a yén.

Númenórean calendar[edit]

The calendar adopted by the Men of Middle-earth was called the King's Reckoning, and was very similar to our own. It had a week of seven days, and divided the 365-day year of the Elves into twelve months (astar), ten with 30 days and two with 31. They retained the two days between the end of one year and the start of the next (mettarë and yestarë), but reduced the mid-year days to one (loëndë, essentially adding the other two to the mid-year "long months"). Leap years had two mid-year days. In the Second and Third Ages, years were reckoned from the beginning of the Age.

Various irregularities occurred in this calendar, especially following the Downfall. In T.A. 2060, Mardil Voronwë revised the calendar, and the new version became the Steward's Reckoning. The months of Steward's Reckoning all had 30 days, and there were two additional "extra" days at the equinoxes, tuilérë and yáviérë. The five extra days (the equinoxes, midsummer and two at midwinter) were holidays.

In T.A. 3019, the Reunited Kingdom adopted a New Reckoning, which began the year on March 25, the date of the downfall of Sauron. This made it correspond more closely to the spring beginning of the Elven calendar.

The months of the Reckonings were in Quenya (or Sindarin among the Dúnedain) and were:

Quenya name[4] Sindarin name[4] Meaning
Narvinyë Narwain new sun[5]
Nénimë Nínui watery[5]
Súlimë Gwaeron windy / wind month[5][6]
Víressë Gwirith new / young / budding? [5]
Lótessë Lothron flower month[5]
Nárië Nórui sunny[5]
Cermië Cerveth cutting?[7]
Urimë Urui hot[8]
Yavannië Ivanneth fruit giving[5]
Narquelië Narbeleth sun-fading[9]
Hísimë Hithui misty[10]
Ringarë Girithron cold / shivering month[5]

Relationship to the French Republican Calendar[edit]

According to Jim Allan in An Introduction to Elvish, the Númenórean Calendar was similar to the French Republican Calendar. For example, the names of the third month of Winter, Súlìmë and Ventôse, both mean 'Windy'. When lined up in this way, most of the month names have matching or similar meanings.[7]

Hobbit calendar[edit]

The Shire Calendar was a calendar used in J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth by the Hobbits of the Shire. It was different from that used by the Men of Middle-earth, Dwarves and Elves. Use of this calendar in Middle-earth is referred to as Shire-reckoning.[11]

It is closely based on the Germanic calendar. Year 1 of the Shire Calendar corresponded when the Shire was founded by the Bree Hobbits Marcho and Blanco in the year 1601 of the Third Age. Therefore, years of the Third Age can be converted to Shire-years by subtracting 1600. The last year of the Third Age was year 1421 on the Shire calendar. A year in the Shire was the same length as our year - 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds. The Shire's calendar year was also divided into 12 months but all of 30 days. Five additional days were added to create a 365-day year. The months followed the lunar cycle.

For the names of the months, Tolkien used reconstructed names derived from the Anglo-Saxon calendar; in other words, they are Tolkien's take on what English would be actually using now if it had not adopted Latin names for the months (January, February, March, etc.).

Month number Name Approximate relationship to Gregorian calendar
2 Yule 22 December
1 Afteryule 23 December to 21 January
2 Solmath 22 January to 20 February
3 Rethe 21 February to 22 March
4 Astron 23 March to 21 April
5 Thrimidge 22 April to 21 May
6 Forelithe 22 May to 20 June
1 Lithe 21 June
Mid-year's Day 22 June
Overlithe Leap day
2 Lithe 23 June
7 Afterlithe 24 June to 23 July
8 Wedmath 24 July to 22 August
9 Halimath 23 August to 21 September
10 Winterfilth 22 September to 21 October
11 Blotmath 22 October to 20 November
12 Foreyule 21 November to 20 December
1 Yule 21 December

The Yuledays were the days that signify the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one, so 2 Yule was the first day of the year. The Lithedays are the three days in the middle of the year, 1 Lithe, Mid-year's Day, and 2 Lithe. In leap years (every fourth year except centennial years) a day was added after Mid-year's Day called Overlithe. All these days were placed outside of any month. These days were primarily holidays and feast days. Mid-year's Day is meant to correspond to the summer solstice, which Tolkien describes as being 10 days earlier than the middle day of our year. However, since then the summer solstice has shifted slightly so it falls on a different date now, rendering the difference between Mid-year's Day and the middle day of our year eleven days, instead of ten.

There were seven days in the Shire week. The first day of the week was called Sterday and the last day of the week was called Highday. The Mid-year's Day and, when present, Overlithe had no weekday assignments. This arrangement was used because it caused every day to have the same weekday designation from year to year (instead of changing as in the Gregorian calendar).[4]

Day Name Meaning Relationship to Gregorian calendar
Sterday Stars of Varda Saturday
Sunday Sun Sunday
Monday Moon Monday
Trewsday Two Trees of Valinor Tuesday
Hevensday Heavens Wednesday
Mersday Sea Thursday
Highday Valar Friday

Highday was a holiday with evening feasts. Tolkien states that Highday was more equivalent to our Sunday, and so translated the names of days used one of Bilbo's songs as "Saturday" and "Sunday" rather than Mersday and Highday.

In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the names of months and days are given in modern equivalents. For instance, Afteryule is called January and Sterday is called Saturday.

Lithe[edit]

Lithe is a Midsummer holiday in the Shire. It is mentioned in The Fellowship of the Ring. Lithe fell between Forelithe, the sixth month of the year, and Afterlithe, the seventh month. In most years there were three Lithedays: 1 Lithe, Midyear's Day, and 2 Lithe. In Leap-years there was a fourth Litheday called Overlithe between Midyear's Day and 2 Lithe. Midyear's Day and Overlithe were not assigned any weekday, while 1 Lithe always fell on a Friday and 2 Lithe was a Saturday. Lithe and the Midwinter holiday called Yule were the two major holidays in the Shire. Lithe was a time of great feasting and merriment. During Lithe, the Free Fair was held on the White Downs, where Hobbits gathered to celebrate and to buy and sell goods. Every seven years at the Free Fair during Lithe, an election was held for the office of Mayor of Michel Delving. In the years that Overlithe occurred, it was a day of special celebration. Overlithe fell during the Great Year of Plenty in 3020 after the War of the Ring, and it was the merriest holiday in the history of the Shire.

The word lithe is from the Old English líða. This may have been the name for Midsummer, while ærra Líða and æftera Líða were used for the months June and July. The word lithe means "mild, balmy" in relation to the weather.

The Hobbits, who had adopted the King's Reckoning, altered it in a different way from the Steward's Reckoning. Like the Steward's Reckoning, they had twelve months of thirty days, and five holidays outside the months. However, they had three "extra" days in midsummer and two in midwinter, similar to the Elven calendar. In the Shire the three days of midsummer were called Lithedays, and the two days of midwinter were the Yuledays. In leap years, the extra day was added to the Lithedays and called Overlithe. The other innovation in the Shire calendar was to make Midsummer's Day (and the Overlithe) outside the week, as well as the month, meaning the days of the week would not change in relation to the days of the year. The Shire Reckoning is the calendar used in the Red Book of Westmarch, and hence in The Lord of the Rings. It counts from the founding of the Shire in T.A. 1600.

The Hobbit names of the months came from names used in the vales of Anduin in antiquity, and their meanings were often obscure or forgotten. They were:

Shire name Bree name
2 Yule 2 Yule
Afteryule Frery
Solmath Solmath
Rethe Rethe
Astron Chithing
Thrimidge Thrimidge
Forelithe Lithe
1 Lithe First Summerday
Midyear's Day Second Summerday
Overlithe Third Summerday
2 Lithe Third/Fourth Summerday
Afterlithe Mede
Wedmath Wedmath
Halimath Harvestmath
Winterfilth Wintring
Blotmath Blooting
Foreyule Yulemath
1 Yule 1 Yule

(Given the decidedly Old English sound of these names, it can be assumed that this is Tolkien's "translation" of the archaic Westron.)

Overlithe only occurred in leap years. 2 Yule corresponds with December 22.

Yule[edit]

Although Yule is celebrated in the midwinter in the Shire, it is in some ways different from the more recently historical Yule practices in England.

The Shire's fictional Yule consisted of two days called 1 Yule and 2 Yule. The last day of the year was 1 Yule and the first day of the next year was 2 Yule. The Yuledays fell between the months called Foreyule and Afteryule and were not part of either month. 1 Yule was always on a Friday and 2 Yule fell on Saturday.

Yule was one of the two chief holidays in the Shire—the other being the midsummer holiday called Lithe. The Yule celebrations lasted six days in total, including two days before and two days after the Yuledays. This six-day period was called Yuletide. It was a time of feasting and merriment.

After the War of the Ring, it was feared that the Yule feasts would be rather meagre due to shortages of provisions in the Shire. But large stores of food and beer were found in the tunnels of Michel Delving and in the quarries at Scary and in other places, so the Yuledays were a time of great cheer.

The Elves did not have a celebration at midwinter. It appears that the Rohirrim maintained the custom of celebrating the midwinter holiday as their ancestors the Northmen had done. The name of the holiday in Rohan is not known but it was most likely similar to "Yule."

Durin's Day[edit]

Durin's Day is a rare event noted by Dwarves. The first day of the Dwarves' year is the day that begins the last cycle of the Moon, starting with a New Moon, to begin in Autumn. When on this day both the Sun and Moon may be seen in the sky together, it is called Durin's Day. Each lunar cycle takes about 29.5 days. When Autumn in the northern hemisphere is assumed to start on the autumnal equinox, generally on September 22, the season runs until about December 21. The first day of the last new moon of Autumn could thus take place any time between about November 22 and December 21.

However, the seasons in Tolkien's work have the four solar markers at the centre of the seasons, not the beginning. For example, Midsummer occurs on the summer solstice, Midwinter on the winter solstice, etc. Autumn would therefore begin midway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, around August 6, and end midway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, around November 6. That places the Dwarves' New Year, anytime between about Oct. 7 and Nov. 6, on the last day before the astronomical new moon as the moon sets just before the sun.

In The Hobbit, the writing on the map that Gandalf had received from Thráin II mentioned Durin's Day. It predicted that on Durin's Day the last light of the Sun as night fell would reveal the secret door into the Lonely Mountain.

Reception[edit]

Astronomer Bradley E. Schaefer has analysed the astronomical determinants of Durin's Day. He concluded that, as with all real-world lunar calendars, the calculation of the date of Durin's Day is dependent on the visibility of the first waxing crescent moon, which in turn depends on haze. He states that even for modern real-world astronomers predicting the first visibility of the new moon each month is a difficult task.[12]

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ Kocher, Paul (2005). "Middle-earth: An Imaginary World?". In Zimbardo, Rose A.; Isaacs, Neil D. Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. Houghton Mifflin. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-618-42253-1. 
  2. ^ Tolkien The Return of the King Harper Colllins (2001) p485
  3. ^ "Reckoning of Rivendell". Encyclopedia of Arda. Mark Fisher. 17 August 2002. 
  4. ^ a b c Return of the King, Appendix D
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Salo 2004, Appendix 6
  6. ^ Silmarillion, Appendix, s.v. sul
  7. ^ a b Allan, Jim (1978). An Introduction to Elvish. Grahaeme Young. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-905220-10-9. 
  8. ^ Silmarillion, Appendix, s.v. ur
  9. ^ Lost Tales I, Cottage of Lost Play, pg 41
  10. ^ Silmarillion, Appendix, s.v. hith
  11. ^ "Shire-reckoning". Encyclopedia of Arda. Mark Fisher. 31 January 1998. 
  12. ^ Schaefer, Bradley E. (1994). "The Hobbit and Durin’s Day". The Griffith Observer (Griffith Observatory) 58 (11): 12–17. 

External links[edit]


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