J. R. R. Tolkiens great tale, The Lord of the Rings, is wonderfully complex. Within its pages, readers meet a marvelous array of creatures from little Hobbits to giant Ents. Its narrative sweeps across a territory roughly the size of western Europe and draws on events spanning thousands of years. But for most readers, however enthralled, making sense of it all is not easy. Fortunately, there are encyclopedias to help us understand the people and places, as well as an atlas to sort out the geography. This book will do the same for the chronology and should become a must have for all serious Tolkien fans.
No one, however, should see this book as a substitute for The Lord of the Rings. It most emphatically is not. If you are reading this and havent yet read Tolkiens great epic, stop and read no further. Read his book at least once from cover to cover before you even look at this book. Enjoy one of the best-written and most widely popular books of modern times and leave details such as the chronology for later. The first rule in reading is always "Enjoy!"
Only after you find yourself wanting to know more about the intricacies of this complicated tale, should you use this book in tandem with other reference books. Remember that the description of events given here is deliberately terse. It is in no way a substitute for Tolkiens much more engrossing narrative. It intended to give you a concise description of what happened on a particular date, along with chapter references to the places where those events described in books such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Without at least the first two books (and preferably all four), this book is of little value.
Readers would also do well to heed the advice of Gandalf when he rebuked Saruman, warning that "he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." Do not focus overmuch on the minutia and forget the wonder of the story as a whole. Use this book as a tool to better understand all that Tolkien is saying.
Like most reference works, you can use this book several ways. The most obvious is as a chronology, letting you go from a date to what happened on that day. This is particularly important if, for instance, you want to know what Merry and Pippin were doing when Frodo and Sam entered Mordor. As careful as Professor Tolkien was about the time line of events that lay behind his story, he rarely gives us an actual date. Events are typically described as the third day after some event or the fifth day of a journey whose start date may not even be given. Here you will find the actual day in the Shire calendar when almost everything happens. Try doing that yourself, and youll discover the work that went into this book.
You can also use this book to go from an event to both a date and a reference to where that event is described by Tolkien. In many cases you will find that the sidebar reference is not to one passage but to several. Tolkien liked to spread his story around. Details about an particular event are often given hundreds of pages apart and even in different volumes. With this chronology, youll be able to put everything together, perhaps for the first time.
In addition, many time-related details have been added to increase the books value. When Sauron darkens the sky, the days of darkness are numbered. When Rohan races to Minas Tirith, the days of their ride are counted. When someone enters the story, his age is given. When one event is closely linked to another weeks or even months later, a reference to that other date is given. A computer-generated calendar of the times when the sun and moon set and rise was consulted and included when useful. The same is true of phases of the moon, which play a critical role in parts of this story, particularly the night journeys.
Finally, because Tolkien placed so much stress on the realism and historicity of his tale, the plausibly of his narrative is repeatedly tested. "If Middle-earth really existed," the book asks, "could what he described have actually happened?" Put another way, "Where there are problems, can a reasonable answer be found?" Tolkien often did that, treating difficulties as if they were discrepancies in ancient historical records.
With this book, I release the fruits of my labor to the world, quite aware that, as the pioneering study, it has at least its share of imperfections. Anyone who thinks they have found a mistake is encouraged to contact me through the Internet web site referenced on the copyright page. Anyone with the proper expertise who would like to see editions brought out in other languages should contact me also.
Finally, there is only one reason why a book like this is possible. Tolkien spent untold hours getting the chronology of his tale just right, making charts and calendars describing where each person was on each day. In my writing, I had none of that to consult. Instead, the chronology was recreated, one detail at a time, from the story on which it is based. In the end, I was left awed the wealth of detail that underlies the narrative and is unseen by most readers. Tolkiens account isnt perfect and there are a few discrepancies that I discuss. But few books this long could survive this level of scrutiny and come out as well. For that, each of us should be grateful.
Michael W. Perry, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. On J. R. R. Tolkiens Eleventy-First Birthday Friday, January 3, 2003