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Did the date of Frodo's rescue out of the fire of Mordor have any particular meaning in The Lord of the Rings?

We read in The Return of the King (Book 6 Chapter 4) that Gandalf states to Frodo and Sam:

The fourteenth of the New Year, or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin on the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King.

Did Tolkien have any particular reason for choosing this date for Sauron's fall and Frodo's rescue out of the fire of Mordor, either allegorically or otherwise?

We are aware that Tolkien was not a fan of allegory, but preferred the term applicability instead.

  • Not a fan = hates the dammed thing according to his own foreward – IG_42 Jul 17 '16 at 23:49
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    Why is this question asking about Mar 25 as the date Frodo was rescued, as opposed to the far more important event of the Ring's destruction and Sauron's downfall? You know, the thing that made the fire Frodo had to be rescued from in the first place? It's akin to asking about the day the Carpathia picked up some people in lifeboats. – Spencer Jul 18 '16 at 23:53
  • @Spencer Actually, in light of my answer based on the basic information (not reading into things like this initially), if we accept it as messianic symbolism, when I now re-read the part that says ",and when you were brought out of the fire to the King." it appears to be very "biblical" language. But I agree, its the date of both Sauron's fall and Frodo's rescue, both defeat of evil and individual salvation. – Joshua Jul 19 '16 at 4:11
  • You're under no obligation to change your acceptance of Joshua's answer, but it's worth noting that I've updated my answer with new information I stumbled across – Jason Baker Sep 2 '16 at 22:29
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As it has been observed, Tolkien does not directly say anything that would connect it within Middle Earth. However, there are several clues that, if I may be permitted, I would connect to present a theory:

The 14th of the New Year

First if all, the 14th of the first month in the Jewish calendar is Passover. It would land roughly around early April give or take a couple weeks since it is based on a semi lunar system.

Christianity believes Jesus to have died on Passover, thus securing our salvation as the Messiah.

Christian Passover Dates

Early Christians continued to observe Passover but as remembrance for the entire Passion weekend (both Jesus death and resurrection) but as the first two centuries of the church went on, churches celebrated it increasingly differently. Different times, days, oh the Jewish Passover, on a different day using different calcification. The whole ordeal became a bit of a mess until the ecumenical Council of Nicea declared the rules for Easter. There was still some disagreement but that's all that's relevant.

No longer was "Easter" held on the same day or even by the same calendar system as the old Jewish Passover, instead:

In 325CE the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. 1

Interestingly, the result is a wide range of possible dates, but the average, by median, is April 7.

March 25th

Not only that, but in Catholic tradition, the date for the first Good Friday, the day of Jesus's crucifixion, is March 25. It is true this is primarily the date of the Annunciation, but it is also connected in legend to his : Did the Annunciation and Good Friday coincide?

Though Tolkien did not like obvious allegory, he frequently uses themes and symbols that are analogous to real world ideas, concepts and history. The Messianic theme in The Lord of the Rings is impossible to miss. The title Return of the King itself hints at this as well as the recurring prophetic symbolisms such as the reforging of the sword and the details around the White Tree (sadly lost in the movies). So though Tolkien may not have intentionally or even consciously included them, allegory does exist, by Tolkien's own admittance.

Conclusion

So while Gondor was saved on the 14th of the new year, that they later historically shifted from 14th of first month to a fixed date in their own calendar would be nearly perfectly analogous to Christianity's fixing of Easter's date apart from the old Jewish calendar. It being placed on the 14th of the new year AND March 25th is simply too great a coincidence to ignore for an educated Christian mind (which Tolkien certainly had).

Further more, Tolkien also marks this as the beginning of a new Fourth Age of Middle Earth, much like the Christian calendars understood post Christ history as a new era.

I am not the first to make this connection to the Catholic day of Christ's death, either: J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, By Tom Shippey

Tolkien's reasons for this cannot be known for sure, if they were even known to him, but it certainly reinforces the Messianic theme of salvation and the defeat of evil and likely was a small and perhaps private homage to his Catholic faith.

If I was forced to guess, I would say it started unconsciously or coincidentally, but, upon realization, was later developed within his own calendar system to allow the event to synchronize in Middle Earth calendars and to parallel our Earth's calendars as the precision of it all defies coincidental or subconscious means.


When writers were asked about intentional symbolism in their writing, Ray Bradbury had this to say:

“No, I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural."

And Isaac Asimov replied:

Isaac Asimov: “Consciously? Heavens, no! Unconsciously? How can one avoid it?

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    @KenGraham Hopefully this makes us even in regards to answering each other's questions as related to Good Friday (oh the irony, I did not see this was your question until I was halfway through writing my answer) see: christianity.stackexchange.com/a/50689/24841 – Joshua Jul 18 '16 at 16:33
  • Fascinating history; you have my +1 – Jason Baker Jul 18 '16 at 17:31
  • @JasonBaker Initially I noticed the connection to the fourteenth, but it was your answer that reminded me of the Catholic legend that Christ died the same day as the Annunciation: 25th. From there it was just connecting the dots. So thank you! – Joshua Jul 18 '16 at 18:12
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Apparently yes

In his translation guide for The Lord of the Rings1, Tolkien wrote:

Dec. 25 (setting out) and March 25 (accomplishment of the quest) were intentionally chosen by me.

The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion "Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings"

There are two interesting things to note about March 25:

  • It's the date of the Feast of the Annunciation, which in Catholicism celebrates Mary being informed that her child was the son of God; although I'm not a Catholic myself, it's my understanding that this date has special significance in that faith, in a way not dissimilar to the significance the destruction of incarnate evil would have to the people of Middle-earth
  • Historically, March 25 was the first day of the new year in the Christian world, just as it became the first day of the new year in Gondor following this

I'm not sure which of those Tolkien (claimed to have) intended, but either or both would suffice for subtextual purposes.

However

I'm not sure how far we should trust Tolkien's word on this. In particular, it contradicts a statement he made in a March 1966 interview, saying that the December 25 departure from Rivendell was choice coincidentally; as Hammond and Scull quote in Reader's Companion:

To the question 'How do you feel about the idea that people might identify Frodo with Christ?' Tolkien replied (emphasis mine):

Well, you know, there've been saviours before; it is a very common thing. There've been heroes and patriots who have given up for their countries. You don't have to be Christian to believe that somebody has died to save something. As a matter of fact, December 25th occurred strictly by accident, and I left it in to show that this was not a Christian myth anyhow. It was a purely unimportant date, and I thought, Well, there is is, just an accident.

The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion "Book II Chapter 3: The Ring Goes South"

This isn't the first time Tolkien has flip-flopped on his stories; as I've mentioned before, he did the same thing with the story of his usage of "dwarves" vs "dwarfs".


1 This commentary was produced by Tolkien in the mid 60's, a response to his frustration with translation in foreign editions of his books. It was first published in 1975, and an edited version was published in Hammond & Scull's Reader's Companion in 2005

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    I always assumed the connection to the traditional New Year was the reason. However, while the date is the same, March 25 of the Lord of the Rings calendar is more than just two days off from our March 25, because the two calendars do not begin "at the same seasonal point." The Lord of the Rings calendar begins at the winter solstice, while the Gregorian calendar begins more than a week later. – Buzz Jul 18 '16 at 0:52
  • @Buzz Source? Robert Foster claims this in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, but Appendix D only says that the King's Reckoning counted the start of the year "in mid-winter", which could refer to the solstice but could also refer to some time in January – Jason Baker Jul 18 '16 at 14:28
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    "Midwinter" and "midsummer" are just traditional English words for the solstices (or a handful of days around the solstices). I would be very surprised if Tolkien would use the terms in a more vague fashion. Ironically, the fact that March 25 was one of the quarter days of the traditional English calendar was exactly because it was close to an equinox. It may be stated The Hobbit that the midsummer's eve when they meets Elrond was the shortest night of the year, but I don't have the book to check. The Annotated Hobbit has a careful discussion of the dates of the journey. – Buzz Jul 18 '16 at 15:19
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I don't know what Joshua means when saying:

So while Gondor was saved on the 14th of the new year, that they later historically shifted from 14th of first month to a fixed date in their own calendar would be nearly perfectly analogous to Christianity's fixing of Easter's date apart from the old Jewish calendar. It being placed on the 14th of the new year AND March 25th is simply too great a coincidence to ignore for an educated Christian mind (which Tolkien certainly had).

Further more, Tolkien also marks this as the beginning of a new Fourth Age of Middle Earth, much like the Christian calendars understood post Christ history as a new era

The Tale of the years says that Gondor was saved at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields on March 15, 3019, and saved again by the Fall of Sauron on March 25. Appendix D The Calendars says that in Numenor and Gondor and the Shire the year began in mid-winter. Thus March 14 or 15 would be in the third month, not the first month. The Shire and Gondor used the King's reckoning or the Steward's Reckoning, not the Jewish calendar which hadn't been invented yet. The only correct part is that in Middle earth in the fourth Age the year now began on March 25.

In England Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 was the New Years Day from 1155 AD to 1752 AD. Other Medieval societies began the year on a number of different days until January 1 was adopted as the New Years day by many countries in the 16th century. Beginning the year on March 25 was not a universal early Christian custom and several other dates were also used for the New Year.

  • While what you say appears to be correct, it is not an answer to the question. It appears to be a comment on Joshua's answer. – Blackwood Sep 3 '16 at 3:13
  • Wait, no you confused me! I was never pointing to the 14th of the King's Reckoning, I was pointing to the 14th in the Shire calendar, as referenced by Gandalf in the OP's quote. The Pelennor Fields being 14/15 is coincidental. And like you said, England once used March 25th as its New Year as well as many other Catholic influenced medieval countries. – Joshua Feb 22 '17 at 3:15

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