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re: The Reckoning of Time

From The Reckoning of Time in Valinor and Middle-earth throughout the ages by Lalaith <> (

The Reckoning of Time

The Appendix on calendars (TC) may well be the least often read part of LR. More than others it may appear to the casual reader as a desparate attempt to fill some pages that could have been used for different purposes (say, more hobbit family trees). The extremely compressed and easily confusing account of the described calendar systems may add to passing by this section.

Yet, it ought not to be so. Rather than being a mathematical pastime, the calendar systems form an integral part of the history and chronology of Arda, not only in TC but also in several other documents. It may therefore be helpful to the readers of LR to lay out Arda's different ways to reckon time in a more systematic fashion, including an annual calendar table, where possible.

The Valian Year

Other than the calendars of Middle-earth, the Valian Year never achieved a definite composition. Notes about an early system are spread throughout AV and TE.: here, the Valian Year, valid throughout the Ages of the Trees, equalled exactly 10 solar years. However, it had as well 365 days, and these were divided into 12 months of 30 days each (entry LEP-). Each five days were added to a lemna or week and named in sequence:

Quenya-Noldorin (Sindarin)
(Ar)Manwen-Ar Vanwe*
(Ar)Ulmon-Ar Uiar
(Ar)Veruen-Ar Vedhwen or Ar Velegol
(Ar)Fanturion-Ar Fennuir
Nessaron or Neldion-Ar Nethwelein or Ar Neleduir

* under the entry AR- called Arvanwe

How the months were named is not recorded. Minyen, the first day of the year, and quantien, the last day, seem to have played a special rôle (entry YEN-). The remaining five days to sum up 365 were collected in the centre of the Valian Year by an endien, enedhim or middle week following the 6th month, often called Aldalemnar and Galadlevnar or Week of the Trees. This calendaric conception later reappeared in a draft of the Dunédainic reckoning (PM) which however used the traditional seven-days week. 100 Valian Years were finally added to an age or randa (entry RAN-). There are no informations about leap years or the relation of the year to the seasons.

According to this conception, in the Ages of the Sun seven solar hours corresponded to one former hour of the Trees. A Year of the Sun was initially meant to consist of 350 days, so that it would again have been shorter than the Valian Year by a factor 10. However, the plan of the Valar was double-crossed by the actual movement of the celestial bodies, and a Valian Year finally became equal to 9.582 years consisting of the familiar 365.2422 days that required the introduction of complicated leap-year reckoning.

This appears quite surprising, for some records of AA take rather long if converted into years. One of their consequences is that the Noldor spent about 40 years on flight - as long as the Exodus and certainly not unintenionally so!

But alas: a late statement found in MT (but belonging to AF) says that ultimately, one Valian Year corresponded even to "twelve times twelve mortal years" (MT). This finally toppled the chronology of AA: it is entirely inconceivable that the Noldor would have spent about 700 years to leave Valinor. So the remark that "we may, as did the Eldar themselves, use the Valian unit" (MT) is certainly not referring to the entries of AA as a footnote suggests, but rather to the mathematical definition of the Valian Year. Hence, if the same structure still applied, with 1 Valian Year = 144 solar years we obtain:

· 1 Valian Day = 52.596 d = 1,263.304 h
· 1 Valian Hour = 4.383 d = 105.192 h

If the original plan of the Valar had still been a year of 350 days, one Valian Year would have been equal to 150,271 solar years. It is likely that a more even value of 150 years was intended.

There is still no statement about months or leap-years in the Valian Year of whatever definition; probably neither did exist. However, L347 discusses the „Quenya names of the 6-day week, brought from Valinor", and we thus have specific evidence that at least a reckoning of weeks had been introduced. This concept prevailed in the Calendar of Imladris, see below.

According to AA, the solar reckoning was retained in Valinor even after its removal from Arda.

Note: There is no need to discuss the evolution of the Middle-earth calendars in the changing conceptions of Arda, for this has been done in PM. Nothing could be added to that.

Beleriandic calendars in the First Age

We do not know what kind of calendars were used in Beleriand during the Ages of the Trees. When sun and moon first rose in the sky, the need to design a new calendar must have become evident to everyone who had eyes to see; however, as no one in Beleriand maintained contact to the Valar the diurnal and annual motions of the new celestial bodies had to be traced by observation. This empiric process certainly took a considerable length of time, not at least because the gained ephemerides were soon spoilt by the celestial bodies' deviations and variations from the intended orbit. Thus, many events esp. in the first two centuries of the First Age are probably dated in retrospective conjecture and thus not fully reliable.

There was probably a generally valid calendar established. Even if King Thingol should have initiated a standard reckoning by decree, by the time he could have issued it several regions were already decoupled from events in the outside world. Thus, when Gondolin much later celebrated a festival known as "the Gates of Summer" (S) at the day before the summer solstice, this cannot readily be assumed for all of Beleriand.

However, a few features of the most common Beleriandic calendar are distinguishable: The Noldor had introduced the Valinorean week or enquië, and very early in the Second Age it was adopted - and subsequently altered - by the Edain of Númenor. One enquië, as mentioned before, consisted of six ré or days which were arranged in the following sequence:

Valanya (Tárion)-Orbelain (Rodyn)-Valarday

It seems as well that the first day of the Beleriandic reckoning was called yestarë and the last day mettarë, for both reappeared in the Númenórean calendar and then in the Imladris reckoning. The New Year was probably celebrated in spring by the Eldar, referring to the spring 1 FA when the rising of the sun provoked the Awakening of the Elves (QE). The feast of Mereth Aderthad, held in spring of 20 FA, may in fact have been a New Year's celebration, while the Edain "adhered to the custom of beginning the year in mid-winter." (TC) Like the later Calendar of Imladris did, the Beleriandic reckoning probably did not count months of any kind. About annual cycles, leap-years etc. we have no information.

It may appear surprising that Angband as well heeded this or another astronomically-based calendar: But Morgoth's argument of course was tactical: He initiated p.e. the Dagor Bragollach at the winter solstice (GA) and the attack on Gondolin at Midsummer's Eve because he correctly expected general attention to be low on such occasions (and, as he did so repeatedly, it seems that the Noldorin strategists were quite reluctant to learn from experience...).

The Calendar of Imladris

This is the only Elvish calendar preserved in some detail, but as seen before, it featured many details that were already present in the most common Eldarin calendar of the First Age. The Imladris Reckoning, however, was of course established in the second half of the Second Age - not before it became obvious to the Noldor that there would be no return to Eregion.

Its cardinal unit was the yén, corresponding to 144 coranári "or 'sun-round' when considered more or less astronomically, but usually called loa 'growth'" (TC) for agricultural purposes. The yén, we may add, was also equivalent to one Valian Year in the conception of MT, but some hobbit remarked that it equalled 144 coranári simply because "the Eldar preferred to reckon in sixes and twelves as far as possible" (TC). Also, "for ritual rather than practical purposes" (TC) the Eldar divided a yén into 8766 enquier in consecutive numbering. One yén thus consisted of 52596 ré and one loa of 60.8 enquier or 365 ré; the years then began with the same day of the week again after a 24-year cycle.

The loa was further divided into six units of different length "that might be regarded either as long months or short seasons". (TC) These were called in consecutive order "spring, summer, autumn, fading" or "leaf-fall", "winter, stirring" (TC). The whole year was arranged like that:

· New Year's Day or yestarë
· spring (54 days; this is remarkably close to the length of a Valian Day as given in AA)
· summer (72 days)
· autumn (54 days)
· three holidays called enderi or middle-days
· fading or leaf-fall (54 days)
· winter (72 days)
· stirring (54 days)
· mettarë, the last day.

The New Year was commonly celebrated a few days after the vernal equinox. On the first glance, this seems thus to bear no astronomical significance. The vernal equinox and the solstices had no special position in the Calendar of Imladris, though it is recorded that both "midsummer's eve" and "midsummer's day" (that to the Elves were one single day for they reckoned the ré "from sunset to sunset" (TC)) were celebrated in Rivendell (H, III). A celebration of Yule on the other hand "was not an Elvish custom, and so would not have been celebrated in Rivendell." (GN). But closer scrutiny reveals that the loa centered quite precisely on the autumnal equinox.

Note: One may thus wonder in what condition the Grey Annals (GA) and the Tale of Years of the First Age (YF) were preserved in Imladris. In their published form, they are very clearly based on an Edainic or Hobbitish calendar for they are given in solar years that begin not in springtime but at Yule: This hobbitish term specifically appears in YF. Was then the coranar rather then the yén the standard unit of Eldarin annals?

Imladris introduced required leap years in an unusual manner: 3 additional enderi were inserted into each 12th loa except the last loa of each 3rd yén (in other words, each 432nd loa). This means that most of the time the Calendar of Imladris was dragging behind the astronomical reality by more than a day! The autumnal equinox for example shifted within 12 years from the last day of autumn to the middle enderë. "Of the adjustment of any remaining inaccuracy there is no record." (TC) But there was a further adjustment in the Imladris reckoning, no doubt, for if the calendar had stayed uncorrected since the foundation of Imladris, its deficit would till the end of the Third Age have accumulated four full days.

Unfortunately, one vital information is lacking in the description of the Imladris calendar: There is no hint at which historical event the reckoning was supposed to start, and so, it cannot be satisfyingly calibrated against the other calendars nor its own weekdays properly applied. One possibility is that the foundation of Imladris in 1697 SA was taken as the first coranar of 1 yén. However, in that case 11 cycles of 432 years would just have been accomplished thirty years before the War of the Ring and would have required the dropping of the three leap-enderi. But according to the Red Book of Westmarch "that has not happened in our time." (TC) It may again be likely that the Elves observed the traditional reckoning of Ages: after all, it was them who had introduced it. So, if 1 TA corresponded to 1 coranar 1 yén the Third Age would have lasted almost exactly 21 yén - but again, the dropping of the leap-enderi would have been just due when the Red Book of Westmarch was written! So we have to assume some other event as the initial date of the Imladris Calendar - p.e. 3319 SA when Arda was made round and all earth and heaven changed?

List of Abbreviations

AA "The Annals of Aman", in: The War of the Jewels, 1994.
AF "Atrabeth Finrod ah Andreth", in: Morgoth’s Ring, 1993.
GA "The Grey Annals" in: The War of the Jewels, 1994.
GN "Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings", in: A Tolkien Compass, by J. Lobdell, 1974
H The Hobbit or There and Back Again, 1937 (chapters in roman numerals)
L# Letter No. #, in: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1981.
LR The Lord of the Rings, 1965 ff.
MT "Myths Transformed", in: Morgoth’s Ring, 1993.
PM The Peoples of Middle-earth, The History of Middle-earth, Vol. XII, 1996.
QE "The Quest for Erebor" in: Unfinished Tales, 1980.
S The Silmarillion, 1977.
TC "The Calendars ", Appendix D in: The Return of the King, 1965.
TE "The Etymologies", in: The Lost Road and other Writings, 1987.
YF "The Tale of Years [of the First Age]", in: The War of the Jewels, 1994
FA First Age
SA Second Age
TA Third Age


Alagothrandir of Combe, Ranger of the North // Fangor Golchador Istilben of Lindon, former Warden of Imladris (IG name: Golchador) // Faemagor Fangorion of Imladris, survivor of the War of the Last Alliance // Malfain of Imladris, wandering Minstrel // Faelcham Taurandis Fangorien of Imladris, Esteldin friend (IG name: Taurandis)
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