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Timeline/Chronology for "The Hobbit"

Chronology and Timeline of The Hobbit

Reference: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, George Allen and Unwin, 1937.

There are two critical dates given in the Hobbit which severely constrain the possible design:

First, we must refute the time lime given by Karen Wynn Fonstad who places the opening of the opening of the door on the last day of October. First, she has the door opening on October 31st. Because the lunar month is 29.5 days, it follows that the calendar would appear as in Figure 1.


Figure 1. The moon projected back from a New Moon on October 31st.

This has two failings: the crescent moon on Mid Summer Eve could hardly described as broad. Second, this puts the last day of Autumn on November 7th.

Last Day of Autumn

According to Tolkien's usage, seasons appear symmetrically around the solar events of the solstices and equinoxes. This would therefore suggest that the first day of Winter on the Hobbit's calendar is November 16th and the last day of Autumn is November 15th. This would put the day of the opening of the door on November 8th. Unfortunately, this does not work, either, as is shown in Figure 2, because this puts a waning gibbous moon on Mid Summer Eve.


Figure 2. The moon projected back from a New Moon on November 8th.

Another point is what would the Dwarves use as the last day of Autumn? It seems unreasonable, at best, that the dwarves would refer to a calendar used in the Shire. As they did not track Durin's Day, it follows that they they did not use their own calendar, either. The Numenorean calendar is similar to the Shire calendar, at least, close enough that there would be no possibility of a new moon appearing a week before the middle of November and a crescent appearing on Mid Summer Eve.

The one last possibility is that they used the Elven calendar:

Is this what Thorin mean when he said "Tomorrow begins the last week of Autumn"? That is, did he mean "Fading"? Bifur followed this with "And winter comes after autumn" and in the elven calendar, the season after fading is Autumn.

Only the last of the three days puts a waxing broad crescent on Mid Summer Eve: the first two put waxing gibbous moons on Mid Summer Eve. This is demonstrated in Figure 3 (click to enlarge).


Figure 3. The moon projected back from a New Moon on November 18th. (Click to englarge.)

You will notice that Mid Summer Eve (highlighted in yellow) has what would easily be called a broad crescent moon.

There are, however, problems with this format: this puts only 42 days between the opening of the door and Yule when they get back to Beorn's hall. Assuming seventeen days of travel back from the Lonely Mountain to Beorn's hall (it took them approximately three days to get from Beorn's hall to the elven path and multiplying this out on the map suggests twenty days—out of haste, this could have been reduced to maybe seventeen days). Supposing that "some days" is three, this would have the Battle of Five Armies just under three weeks after the door was opened. Given the distance that Gimli traveled out of need in the Lord of the Rings but adding to the burden the extra that the dwarves of the Iron Hills had, it is possible that they could have, under a forced march, covered the distance in under twenty days.

From the Map in the Lord of the Rings

The distance from where the Carnen reaches the Iron Hills (as water is needed for any civilization, we may assume that most dwarves lived in that area of the Iron Hills) to the Lonely Mountain is 200 miles and assuming the dwarves required a few days to prepare and then trekked 18-20 miles per day, they could have reached the Lonely Mountain in fifteen days. Recall that there were only five hundred dwarves coming with Dain.

Similarly, the distance from the Lonely Mountain to Beorn's hall is less than 400 miles and at 24 miles per day (reasonable if mounted), this too could be traversed in 17 days. This would leave at a week between the Battle of Five Armies and Bilbo setting off.

Please note: this is for entertainment purposes only. Tolkien made mistakes in the Hobbit. This is an attempt to graft corrections onto those mistakes.

First, to be clear, the calendar used is not the Shire Reckoning: otherwise the unexpected party would not be on a Wednesday: the 27th of April in the Shire Reckoning is always on a Thursday. I am assuming a Gregorian calendar.

Skip Down to the Calendar

There are two constraints within the Hobbit which determine the dates and times:

  • The seasons are centred around the solstices and equinoxes. This differs from our seasons which begin with these astronomical events. For example, autumn begins approximate 45 days before the autumnal equinox and ends 45 days later. This places autumn from the first week of August to the first week of November.
  • There was a "broad crescent" on Mid-summer's Eve (the day before Mid-summer's Day or the Summer Solstice) and the door is opened on a new moon before the start of Winter. As a lunar month is 28.53 days, this gives us a good estimate as to when the door opened.

The moons given in this timeline are very regular, as they are only meant as a guideline.

Mid Summer's Day is either June 20th or June 21st.

If the seasons are centred around astronomical events, the first day of Winter must be around the 5th through the 10th of November. On the day the door opened, Thorin said "Tomorrow begins the last week of Autumn". This, however, if Thorin actually means a day between the 5th and 10th of November, this would be impossible as there is no possibility for a crescent moon to be seen over Rivendell in June. It can only mean, therefore, that Thorin meant the "Tomorrow begins the last week of October". As the Irish season goes from November 1st to January 31st, it seems reasonable that dwarves may have simplified their seasons by the time of Thorin. Recall that in An Unexpected Party, Thorin indicated that there was confusion as to the actual starting dates of Autumn: "The first day of the dwarves' New Year," said Thorin, "is as all should know the first, day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter. We still call it Durin's Day when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together. But this will not help us much, I fear, for it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again." Also, to demonstrate further confusion: They had thought of coming to the secret door in the Lonely Mountain, perhaps that very next first moon of Autumn--" and perhaps it will be Durin's Day" they had said. Perhaps the dwarves, in their wanderings, adopted a simplified set of seasons based on the months.

Therefore, it follows that a full moon must have occurred on the 13th of June, and Mid Summer's Day must have been the 21st. This would allow a moon which is just after the third-quarter phase to be visible after midnight on Mid Summer's Eve which could be described as a broad crescent. If the third quarter occurred near the start of the day of Mid Summer's Eve, then by the evening, there would have already been a slight crescent (360/29.53/2 ≈ 6 degrees per half day). Figure 1 shows a moon half a day after the third quarter.

Figure 1. A moon twelve hours after the third quarter.

I could make the third-quarter moon one day earlier; however, this would put the day of opening the door one day earlier, too, and I will argue that when Thorin says "Tomorrow begins the last week of Autumn," he really means that "Tomorrow begins the last week of October." It is not possible to have a crescent moon appear on Mid Summer's Eve if Thorin meant anything else closer to the actual last week of Autumn.

I have chosen June 21st, September 22nd, and December 21st as the three relevant astronomical events.

The following are phases of the moon and the times the moons are visible.

  • New Moon New Moon: In the sky from sunrise to sunset.
  • First-quarter Moon First-quarter Moon: Visible from noon to midnight.
  • Full Moon Full Moon: Visible sunset to sunrise.
  • Last-quarter Moon Third-quarter Moon: Visible from midnight to noon.

With respect to the two elven fests: they fall incredibly close two two days of interest. The first fest appears to have been a welcoming of the Autumn and the second fest appears to be a celebration of Mid-Autumn's Eve.

Trolls

It was not yet June and there was a waning moon. When they escaped the next morning, there were at least three days of no singing. Given that in the Lord of the Rings, they managed to get to Rivendell more quickly, it can only be assumed that wet dwarves may be slower.

Rivendell

They arrived near the end of May and left on Mid Summer's Day which would be either June 21st or June 22nd. Given that there must be a crescent moon the day before, Mid Summer's Day must be the 21st and no later.

Goblins and Beorn

The time line between them being captured by goblins (a Monday night or Tuesday morning) and reaching forest path is well documented; however, the most significant statement is "Yet in the night he woke: the fire had now sunk to a few embers; the dwarves and Gandalf were all asleep, to judge by their breathing; a splash of white on the floor came from the high moon, which was peering down through the smoke-hole in the roof.". If they were captured on the morning of the 28th, then they would be at Beorn's hall when the moon was still a young crescent and Bilbo would certainly not have woken up to see it peering down through the smoke-hole in the roof. Consequently, they must have been captured on the 5th of July.

From Queer Lodgings: The fire burned low and he fell asleep. Yet in the night he woke: the fire had now sunk to a few embers; the dwarves and Gandalf were all asleep, to judge by their breathing; a splash of white on the floor came from the high moon, which was peering down through the smoke-hole in the roof.

The Enchanted Path

Assuming that the celebration of the elves was the first day of Autumn (after all, the king changed his crown on that date), this would put the day of celebrations on or around the 6th of August. Autumn traditionally starts anywhere between the 3rd and the 10th of August. We can work backward to determine the day they crossed the Enchanted River. Beorn had provided them food for "weeks" and the time between July 11th and August 7th is four.

The Escape from the Elves

Mid Autumn's Day would be September 22nd or 23rd. Seeing that Bilbo reached Lake-town on the 22nd, this means that this party was on the 20th of September. One suggestion for the celebration would be that there was an evening of celebration on the evening before Mid Autumn's Eve.

Death of Smaug

A crescent after a new moon does not "rise" after dark: It would have been approximately 12.4 degrees from the sun and would have set approximately 49 minutes after the sun set. Tolkien made a mistake here and probably should have used the increasing fires in Lake-town to illuminate the body of Smaug.

On the Lonely Mountain

They explored the treasure two days after Smaug was killed "As a matter of fact two nights and the day between had gone by (and not altogether without food) since the dragon smashed the magic door."

The Return Home

One period not really discussed in the books is the time that they spent with Beorn: waiting for the winter snows to melt from the mountain passes, they stayed with Beorn for approximately four months. Note that they spent the Yule with Beorn: consequently, they must have been at Beorn's hall at the time of the winter solstice or Mid Winter's Day.

The trip back is well defined: they reached Rivendell on May 1st, left a week later, and returned to Bag-End on Jun 22nd or 46 days. The trip home was probably more leisurely than the trip out.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
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Gandalf visits Bilbo.
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The unexpected party.
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Departure from Hobbiton.
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May 1
 
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Full Moon
 
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Last-quarter Moon
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They are captured by trolls. "To think it will soon be June" and it was a waning moon.
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They escape from the trolls. 
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New Moon
They reach Rivendell.
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June 1
 
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First-quarter Moon
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Full Moon
 
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Last-quarter Moon
Mid Summer's Eve
Elrond reads the rune letters on the map.
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Mid Summer's Day
They depart from Rivendell.
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New Moon
 
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July 1
 
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First-quarter Moon
They are captured by goblins in the early morning or possibly the night before.
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Bilbo escapes through the Goblin gate ("Thursday"). They are trapped by wolves.
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They are rescued by eagles and arrive at Beorn's hall. Bilbo sees the moon at night.
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Beorn returns. They set out that afternoon.
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Full Moon
They reach Mirkwood and the entrance to the path.
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They start down the path.
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Last-quarter Moon
 
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New Moon
 
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They reach the Enchanted River.
August 1
 
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First-quarter Moon
They reach an area of beech trees.
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They are in a valley of oak trees.
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First Day of Autumn.
Bombur wakes up and they stumble upon the elven celebrations. They are captured by spiders.
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They escape from the spiders and are caught by the elves.
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Full Moon
 
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Last-quarter Moon
 
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Bilbo discovers Thorin is being held.
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New Moon
 
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September 1
 
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First-quarter Moon
 
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Full Moon
 
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Last-quarter Moon
 
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They escape from the escape from the elves.
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Mid Autumn's Eve
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Mid Autumn's Day
They enter Lake-town.
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New Moon
 
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October 1
 
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First-quarter Moon
 
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Thorin talks to the Master after a fortnight about leaving.
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Horses and ponies had are sent ahead.
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They depart from Lake-town.
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Full Moon
They reach the mouth of the River Running.
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They disembark this evening and are joined by the ponies.
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They reach Ravenhill by evening. They set up their first camp.
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Balin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo explore the Main Gate.
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The set up their second camp in the western valley.
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Last-quarter Moon
 
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Bilbo finds the door.
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They move camp.
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New Moon
They open the door, Bilbo steals a cup, and Smaug finds it missing: "Tomorrow begins the last week of Autumn"
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Bilbo visits again. Smaug attacks Lake-town and is killed.
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They explore the treasure and reach the guardroom of Ravenhill.
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They learn of Smaug's death.
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The elven host reaches Lake-town.
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First-quarter Moon
 
November 1
 
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The host reaches the north shore of Long Lake.
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First Day of Winter
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Full Moon
The host reaches Dale.
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First approach on the Gate.
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First parley with Bard and the Elven King.
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Last-quarter Moon
 
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A thief in the night.
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Second parley with Bard and Gandalf.
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The Battle of Five Armies.
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Thorin dies.
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New Moon
 
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Bilbo, Beorn, and Gandalf depart with the elves.
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First-quarter Moon
 
December 1
 
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They reach the Forest River.
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Full Moon
 
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Last-quarter Moon
 
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Mid Winter's Eve
They reach Beorn's hall.
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Mid Winter's Day
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New Moon
 
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First-quarter Moon
 
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January 1
 
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February 1
 
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March 1
 
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April 1
 
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Gandalf and Bilbo depart from Beorn's hall for Rivendell.
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May 1
They reach Rivendell.
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They leave Rivendell "after a week".
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June 1
 
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They return to Bag-End.
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July 1
 

The Dwarves

DwarfBeardHoodBelt
Thorin sky blue 
Dwalinbluedark greengold
Balinwhitescarlet 
Kiliyellowbluesilver
Filiyellowbluesilver
Dori purple 
Nori purple 
Ori grey 
Oin brown 
Gloin white 
Bifur yellow 
Bofur yellow 
Bombur pale green