Both The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring involve traveling to Rivendell; however, although approximately the same route is taken, the journey took longer in The Hobbit.

In The Hobbit, Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves departed from the Shire at the end of April and arrived in Rivendell about June 7. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo, Samwise, Meriadoc, and Peregrin left Bag End September 23 and arrived in Rivendell on October 21.

Thus, traveling from the Shire to Rivendell took more than thirty-eight days in The Hobbit, but twenty-eight days in The Fellowship of the Ring. Why did it take longer in The Hobbit?

  • Maybe there has to be added that the Dwarves didn't want to go to Rivendell. But for Frodo, it was his goal to just go there (because he his mission was to deliver the ring to Rivendell). – Frezzley Dec 23 '16 at 10:45
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    Being pursued by Nazgul is probably an incentive to be quite speedy. – davidjwest Dec 23 '16 at 12:23
  • @Frezzley: in the book, the visit to Rivendell was planned from the start. The whole "elves have cooties" thing is strictly Jacksonverse. – Harry Johnston Dec 23 '16 at 23:04
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    @HarryJohnston in the book, Gandalf seems to gave planned Rivendell from the start; the dwarves apparently aren't aware that he's leading them there, though, and Gandalf speaks to them as though they may not all know what Rivendell is, or even where exactly they are. – Matt Gutting Dec 24 '16 at 21:10
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    @MattGutting: that's true (although I would assume that Thorin, at least, had discussed their travel plans with Gandalf in advance) but there's no indication that there were any objections to the idea, nor that they had originally planned to take a different route. – Harry Johnston Dec 25 '16 at 19:20

I hate just dumping a quote on you, but The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad explores this question in intricate details:

As Frodo and friends later travelled between the same two points, the map west of Rivendell lists for comparison the distances covered in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Even on ponies the dwarves appeared to be travelling at snail's pace, while Frodo was in a continual forced march. Only once did the Dwarves seem more speedy than the Hobbits: in the Trollshaws.

The inconsistency arose from the distance between the rushing river and the clearing where Bilbo met the Trolls. The river was not named in The Hobbit, although the revised version of the story specifically mentioned that it had a stone bridge. As the Last Bridge crosses the Hoarwell, then the distances disagree. The Trolls' fire was so close to the river that it could be seen "some way off," and it probably took the Dwarves no more than an hour to reach; whereas Strider led the Hobbits north of the road, where they lost their way and spent almost six days reaching the clearing where they found the Stone-trolls.

Lost or not, it seems almost impossible that the time-pressed ranger would have spent six days reaching a point the Dwarves found in an hour. The History series helps explain the discrepancy: the addition of the stone bridge was made as part of an elaborate rewriting done in 1960, which was never published. The proposed revision was that Thorin and Company cross the Last Bridge early in the morning and only reach the campsite near the Trolls in the evening after travelling several miles.

Unfortunately, even this revision does not significantly improve the situation of Frodo and Company while drastically altering the story line of The Hobbit. Perhaps the most effective solution is that shown by Strachey: interpreting the events to have occurred by a lesser stream (unmapped by Tolkien) closer to the Bruinen, and ignoring both the presence of the bridge and the statement that the river's source was in the mountains.

The alternate route shown is based on a sketch map in The History, with the stream added. This is the clearest indication of Tolkien's true intent, but even it is not ideal, as the distance to the Ford is short given the time and mileage covered after Frodo and friends met Glorfindel. Consistently the Dwarves went slower in all their travels than the Hobbits did in the later story.

We can only surmise reasons for such variance. It is possible Tolkien had longer distances in mind for The Hobbit travels, and either did not check the effect of the scale placed on the map in the later book or chose to ignore it. Had the scale of the Wilderland map been about twice that of the rest of Middle-earth, the Dwarves' pace would have been nearer normal. Tolkien "was greatly concerned to harmonise Bilbo's journey with ... The Lord of the Rings ... but he never brought this work to a definitive solution." Rather than analyze too closely, it is preferable we merely gain a general impression of the seemingly endless toil necessary to reach Lonely Mountain.

So it seems to be a combination of errors by Tolkien and changes between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that were never harmonized.

Here's a map that goes from Bag End to Rivendell. I've split it in two so it's a bit easier to see.

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There are two paths that go from left to right: one black on top and one orange at the bottom. The black one is from The Hobbit while the orange one is from The Lord of the Rings. Every point is a campsite.

The first thing to notice is that Bilbo has a lot more campsites than Frodo. What Bilbo travels in ten days up to the Last Bridge, Frodo does in only four.

You'll also notice that Frodo (in orange) is taking his sweet time in the Trollshaws, right after the Bridge, and goes very far north before coming back. This is what Fonstad means when she says that "it probably took the Dwarves no more than an hour to reach [the Trolls]; whereas Strider led the Hobbits north of the road [..] and spent almost six days".

Past the Trolls, both paths seem to mostly agree, taking about four days to reach Rivendell.

  • Hmmmm, I wonder if Christopher Tolkien has ever considered publishing the "elaborate" Hobbit rewrite. I was under the impression that elements of The Hobbit had indeed been updated in later printings to fit better with LotR. I'm intrigued by this third possible version. – SynchronizeYourDogma Feb 14 '17 at 13:31
  • @Withywindle There was a second edition published in 1966, which changed what happened between Bilbo and Gollum in the cave, but also introduced minor elements from LotR, such as the Last Bridge, which broke The Hobbit's geography. CT says: "This highly uncharacteristic lapse is no doubt to be attributed simply to the haste with which my father worked under the extreme pressure imposed on him in 1965 [to publish the new edition]." As for the "elaborate rewrite", it was published in The History of The Hobbit by John D. Rateliff. – isanae Feb 14 '17 at 17:57

There are a few possible reasons. One is simply the size of the respective parties: in The Hobbit there were 15 people, whereas in The Lord Of The Rings there were never more than 5. Even with ponies, a large party will make slower progress.

The second factor is the presence of Aragorn. Having a Ranger who was familiar with the country could have greatly added to their speed, especially after the attack on Weathertop on October 6, when Aragorn (and later Glorfindel) was trying to speed them along as quickly as possible.

Finally, as an out-of-universe answer, Tolkien was much clearer on the geography of the trip in The Lord Of The Rings than in The Hobbit, and as an author he was "watching the time" much more carefully.

  • I need to add some supporting quotes. I usually try not to post an answer unless I have my quotes together but I wanted to make sure I put something down here while I thought about it. – Matt Gutting Dec 23 '16 at 4:37
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    Yet another factor is the ponies. If you do long-distance travel with horses, you have to spend time finding food for them or letting them graze, tacking them up in the morning and untacking them in the evening, caring for their hooves &c... Unless you have multiple remounts (like Mongol armies), you are not going to travel for hours, let alone all day, at anything more than a walk. A well-conditioned human can walk at a horse's pace all day, and keep up at the trot for a good while, especially if the horse is carrying a pack and you're not. – jamesqf Dec 23 '16 at 18:55

Possibly the east-west road had two different routes in that section of Eriador, a northern branch and a southern branch. If Bilbo's trolls who ate up a village and a half were followed by other evil creatures travelers might stop using the northern branch of the road and start using the safer southern branch by the time of Frodo's trip.

Possibly the river also had a northern and a southern bed, like the Yellow River, and sometimes switched between them. Perhaps it split into two streams - the main stream and an anabranch - to go around a large river island and then rejoined farther down stream. Perhaps beaver dams sometimes blocked and dried up one or the other bed of the river.

It is possible that The Tale of the Years m omitted the Eriador earthquake in about Third Age 2990 that changed the course of the river.

  • Where is the Eriador earthquake mentioned? – Adamant Dec 25 '16 at 6:07
  • None of this makes sense. – isanae Dec 28 '16 at 0:01

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