Themes: Season

squire: Tolkien very deliberately set his story in a certain time of the year to evoke images of death and rebirth. How does our early spring in Ithilien fit into his scheme?

weaver: I have a request... Squire, I think YOU should answer at least some of your incredible questions for this chapter.

I might take a crack at the Food one (later) since that seems a bit easier. But I need some help from the teacher on the rest, I'm afraid ...

Besides, I'd really enjoy reading a discussion between squire and squire... How about it?

squire: oh dear I do ask leading questions, don't I?

Of course I have developed opinions on most of these topics (but not all) -- but right now I'm really enjoying reading everyone's responses that shatter my preconceptions and expectations.

Maybe I'll join in in a bit, after I finish preparing the next two days' worth of stuff.

Thanks for your thoughts, Weaver!

weaver: to clarify... I never thought of your questions as "leading" -- more like just really intriguing.  What I was really trying to say was that I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on them, and that you should join in on the fun of responding to your very finely crafted posts.

Does that make more sense?



Early spring, late winter


…not until now in this more sheltered region had the hobbits felt the change of clime. Here Spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing.




South and west it looked towards the warm lower vales of Anduin, shielded from the east by the Ephel Dúath and yet not under the mountain-shadow, protected from the north by the Emyn Muil, open to the southern airs and the moist winds from the Sea far away.

squire: A. Why does Tolkien identify Ithilien’s climate with the Sea? What does it mean that to Gondor, the Sea is South, not West?

N.E. Brigand: Fasting for Lent, with Lorien as Mardi Gras? Moist winds mean warm rains.  The Mountains of Shadow catch the rains (thus Mordor is dryer) and the water that falls on them is relatively untainted -- note that Sam isn't properly in Mordor and unable to wear the Ring till he crests the pass.  The Morgul pass is a gash of evil through the neutral mountains.





Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass

squire: B. Does Tolkien use such sleep imagery anywhere else?

Wynnie: Sleep imagery Found a few other references to sleeping/waking plant life (mostly trees):


in the Old Forest:

"I [Merry] have been in several times: usually in daylight, of course, when the trees are sleepy and fairly quiet."

Old Man Willow:

"What be you a-thinking of? You should not be waking. Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water! Go to sleep!"


in Fangorn:

"Some of us are still true Ents, and lively enough in our fashion, but many are growing sleepy, going tree-ish, as you might say.  Most of the trees are just trees, of course; but many are half awake. Some are quite wide awake, and a few are, well, ah, well getting Entish."

Could it be that the trees of Fangorn were awake, and the forest was rising, marching over the hills to war?


leaving Ithilien:

"The land dreams in a false peace, and for a while all evil is withdrawn."

About them lay long launds of green grass dappled with celandine and anemones, white and blue, now folded for sleep ...


the White Tree sapling:

For it is said that, though the fruit of the Tree comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none can foretell the time in which it will awake.


Another unlikely object that "wakens" is Isildur's Bane.

N.E. Brigand: In the Withywindle valley, perhaps?


‘I'd make him look for turnips and carrots, and taters too, if it was the time o’ the year….But you won't find any, so you needn't look.’

squire: C. What time of year is the right one?

Wynnie: As for the right season for turnips & carrots & taters, they're all root crops and need some time to grow after the ground has thawed.

N.E. Brigand: Summer.


Here they decided to rest and pass the day, which already promised to be bright and warm. A good day for strolling

squire: D. What does this remind you of?

N.E. Brigand: The Green Hill country in the Shire.  Roads go ever on, but not without lunch, etc.



Where are we in the story and the year


squire: Tolkien originally set this chapter in early February. Without altering a word, he reset it into early March (more HoME discussion on Friday, by the way).

E. Should such a change have affected the seasonality of this chapter, with its flowering plants and warming airs, and stronger sun?

N.E. Brigand: It was probably too nice for February.


squire: F. To the degree that Tolkien wrote his story to work with the seasons, isn’t this Ithilien sequence a bit of a ‘false spring’? Or am I going too far?

N.E. Brigand: Lothlorien was similarly springlike.  Not false so much as temporary.  Something to work for?  Like life vs. heaven?


When is Lent?  

[Old Eng. lencten, =spring], Latin Quadragesima (meaning 40; thus the 40 days of Lent). In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter . Observance of Lent is as old as the 4th cent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday , the 40th weekday before Easter. From the 5th to 9th cent. strict fasting was required; only one meal was allowed per day, and meat and fish (and sometimes eggs and dairy) were forbidden. During and since the 9th cent. fasting restrictions were gradually loosened. By the 20th cent. meat was allowed, except on Fridays. The Christian observance of Lent may have a parallel in the fasting practiced in Greco-Roman mystery religions, in which it was considered an aid to enlightenment and often preceeded prophecy. 

squire: G. Would anyone care to work out how this information does, or does not, apply to Tolkien’s story?

N.E. Brigand: Forty days before the destruction of the Ring (Tom Shippey has noted that March 25th was traditionally thought of as the first Easter) would be February 15, which the Encyclopedia of Arda tells me was the last full day in Lothlorien, and the day that Frodo looked in the Mirror of Galadriel.  The day they got serious again, if you will.  Shortness of food is a subject in this chapter, and there'll be fasting in Mordor, for which Tolkien in letters identified religious significance.  I have no idea what day was Friday.


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