Astronomy in “The Hobbit”
J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth is populated by many unusual races, for which the author created elaborate panoply of languages, poetry, cultures, and back-stories.
BY: Jay Ryan
As the sun turned west there was a gleam of yellow upon its far roof, as if the light caught the last pale leaves. Soon he saw the orange ball of the sun sinking towards the level of his eyes. He went to the opening and there pale and faint was a thin new moon above the rim of Earth.
The sun sank lower and lower, and their hopes fell. It sank into a belt of reddened cloud and disappeared. The dwarves groaned, but still Bilbo stood almost without moving. The little moon was dipping to the horizon. Evening was coming on. Then suddenly when their hope was lowest a red ray of the sun escaped like a finger through a rent in the cloud. A gleam of light came straight through the opening into the bay and fell on the smooth rock-face...
A hole appeared suddenly about three feet from the ground.11 [Just barely in the nick of time, Thorin was able to fit the key into the hole and open the door.]
The gleam went out, the sun sank, the moon was gone, and evening sprang into the sky.12
The reader can see from these instances that the key events of the story of The Hobbit turn closely upon astronomical appearances in the sky. A greater understanding of astronomy can enhance our appreciation of Tolkien’s wonderful story. There is also quite a bit of astronomy in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that’s another story .
Jay Ryan is a homeschooling father of five in Cleveland, Ohio. For more information about telling time by the Sun and Moon, check out Jay’s Moonfinder, a storybook for children, and Signs & Seasons, a homeschool astronomy curriculum. Both are available from many homeschool vendors, as well as Christianbook.com and www.ClassicalAstronomy.com.
1. Ch. 2, “Roast Mutton,” p. 42 (all citations are from the Ballantine paperback edition, 1973).
2. Ibid., p. 43.
3. Ch. 3 “A Short Rest,” p. 57.
4. Ibid., p. 59.
5. Ibid., p. 60.
6. Ibid., p. 61.
7. Ibid., p. 62.
10. Ch. 11, “On the Doorstep,” pp. 200–201.
Copyright, 2012. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, December 2012. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.