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Flouting the rules of the cosmos: Austen, Tolkien and Rowling
LJ is still playing tricks on me. Pictures come out huge, letter types and sizes are not as I want them, and whole posts suddenly disappear. I need more practice. So, here goes. The lengthening days, the first catkins on the hazel and the sickle of the new moon I see from my window inspired me to the following post.

A fantasy writer creates his or her own universe and the success of the story depends on absolute internal consistency. Three of my favorite authors are Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. I love Austen for her subtle irony and biting sarcasm and, let’s be honest, because her books have a 'happy ending'. Tolkien is my all time favorite because he writes about deep moral issues and I can lose myself in Middle Earth every time I go there. Rowling appeals to me because her world is so hilarious (and meaningful) to the high-school-kid in me.

Austen stays closest to reality but the fact that her books are still so readable in the 21st century means that the early 19th century social environment she wrote about has become its own fictional and enduring universe. Tolkien and Rowling went much further. Tolkien by creating Middle Earth with new continents, landscapes, plants and animals and, most of all, new rational species. Rowling by creating Hogwarts and the whole wizarding community and ignoring the laws of gravity, the unity of space and time and so much more. But even in their invented universes these authors still adhere to the astronomical rules of the cosmos, the natural rhythm of day and night, the changing seasons and the waxing and waning of the moon.

Tolkien is the most meticulous in keeping it real. He follows the changing seasons closely, even accounting for differences in latitude (e.g. Ithilien vs. The Shire).  He is also very “moon-conscious”. He is known to have rewritten whole sections of The Two Towers because the moon was behaving differently in different parts of Middle Earth. In a letter to his son Christopher, dated Sunday 14 May 1944, he wrote: “…. trouble with the moon. By which I mean that I found my moons in the crucial days between Frodo’s flight and the present situation (arrival at Minas Morgul) were doing impossible things, rising in one part of the country and setting simultaneously in another. Rewriting bits of back chapters took all afternoon.”

The moon sets over Gondor: Faramir and Frodo at Henneth Annûn. Bottom pics: Frodo gazes at the moon (l),
turns away (m) and notices Gollum (r) (screencaps from LOTR: The Two Towers) (NOTE: I couldn’t resist putting
in some pictures of Frodo here!)

Tolkien also struggled with the phases of the moon in The Hobbit. In this drawing of the death of Smaug he drew a full moon but made a remark in the margin that reads: “The moon should be a crescent: it was only a few nights after New Moon on ‘Durin’s Day’.”

Death of Smaug. Drawing in pencil, coloured pencil, black and red ink; taken from: J.R.R.Tolkien: Artist and
Illustrator by W.G. Hammond and C. Scull, HarperCollins publishers 1995 (ISBN 0-261-10322-9). This drawing was
used as book cover for the 1966 Unwin paperback edition of The Hobbit.

Jane Austen also keeps it real. I admire the way in which the mood and outlook of her characters changes with the changing seasons. But she did slip up once. In Emma she allows an orchard to blossom in midsummer, when the flowering season is well over. She must have felt that orchards should actually blossom longer than they do because she didn’t change the text when this error was pointed out to her.

Jane Austen's Emma. Left: Jane Austen painted by her sister Cassandra in 1804.
Right: Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse and Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith
in Andrew Davies’s film adaptation of Emma (1997)

Rowling seems to slip up a bit more. Hogwarts is obviously located in the north. We read about the long winter nights and the long days of summer. But in the last part of The Deathly Hallows day-lengths are behaving strangely. At Hogwarts the days seem to be shorter than they are further south, which doesn’t fit in with the time of year (March to late April). For instance, when Harry slips into Voldemort’s mind after arriving at Shell Cottage he sees Voldemort “in the predawn” at Hogwarts but quite a bit earlier he has already seen “a bright gold rim of dazzling sun rising over the horizon” at Shell Cottage in the south. Does this mean that there is a time-lapse between Voldemort’s action and Harry’s perception of it? Another example is when the three friends disapparate from the place where they have landed after their dragon ride “the lake, deep-blue shot with gold from the failing sun” to Hogsmead and Harry says to Hermione: “It’ll be dark, no one’s going to notice our feet”.  This is late April when days are already quite a bit longer in the north than in the south. Does this imply that the dragon actually flew them to a spot north of Hogwarts? All in all, I'm confused and it bothers me a bit. And that is strange because so many other confusing points in this weird story don’t bother me at all. Perhaps I am too firmly adhering to the rules of the cosmos.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Book cover of the Bloomsbury edition (2007)

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Fascinating stuff!! Thank you so much!!

Thank you for stopping by Rakshi. Glad you liked it.

I enjoyed reading this. I've been peering at the crescent moon through my telescope this week.

Right now I can see the crescent moon above the horizon as well as Venus high up in the sky. Later this week Venus will be closer to the moon and I might try for some pictures. Fortunately I don't have much citylight-background-noise here. Just a few streetlights. The sky is mostly black, very lovely.

The text in you LJ post is different in my view, too. Which it shouldn't be as I have my flist set to 'View in my style'.

Interesting observations.

I have really been struggling with font sizes. Perhaps it's because I write the texts in Word and then paste them into the LJ post. But when I copy them from LJ and paste them back into Word, the font size has suddenly changed. It's a mystery to me.

Edited at 2012-01-27 07:42 pm (UTC)

It might be, but when I copy and paste to LJ from Word the text is still the same on LJ as when I type directly onto LJ.

Good luck!

Interesting... I've read all three authors but not noticed these anomalies, thank you!

Thanks Jane, That icon is hilarious. Elijah as Tarzan. Wonderful idea!

Thanks, the icon was made for me by Ladysnaps, she's very clever!

PS Elijah is Ben Gunn here from Treasure Island, have you seen it?

Edited at 2012-01-28 05:05 pm (UTC)

Yes, I have just watched the second film. I should have started with the first one, of course, but you may understand why I decided to watch the second one first. ;)
I LOVED Elijah as Ben Gunn. The goat slaughter scene and the cheese craving scene are quite spectacular. He can do anything with his face. And he is so athletic.

No, I quite understand why you watched the second one first!

Elijah was great as Ben Gunn, his facial expressions and athleticism are *spectacular* ;-)

This is so fascinating! You know, it's funny that I've never considered paying attention to the details of time and nature in these authors (three of my favorites, too -- no surprise, right? :D). I work most often with Priestly literature in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus, parts of Exodus and Genesis, Ezekiel). The cyclic nature of times and seasons is of paramount importance in those texts, because time and space can be sacralized, so I'm used to looking for details like these. But I've never noticed how "moon-centric" (I like that phrase) Tolkien is, nor how slipshod Rowling can be about times & seasons.

Very cool indeed.

As I told you before, I'm a marine biologist by training and I did some research on photoperiodicity and circadian rhythms. So, I'm tuned in to such things. At one time I read about the "creps-factor" (=crepiscular activity) because I wanted to know how dark it has to be before you perceive it as "night". That's where this criticism of Rowling first came from. Could you recommend a book for beginners on the cyclic nature of times and seasons in a biblical context?

That's really cool. Did you find the results differed from species to species, or even individual to individual? I find marine science both fascinating and frightening. The ocean itself scares me more than the beasties that live in it. There's something terrifying about a body of water that's so unbelievably vast, that has so much power, that seems sometimes even to have will, but is not in fact sentient. Spooky.

I can't think of any books off the top of my head that address the cyclic nature of times and seasons in a pan-biblical context (and AHA! A RESEARCH NICHE TO BE FILLED!). But it's probably most important for the Priestly literature, so as to a primer on that, the book I most often assign my introductory students is Richard D. Nelson's Raising Up A Faithful Priest. The material on sacred time and space is not the majority of the book, but Nelson does a wonderful job of clarifying how different ideas and ways of understanding reality fit together for the ancient Israelite priesthood.

The other biblical voice that particularly emphasizes the cyclic quality of times and seasons is Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth in the Hebrew Bible). If you're familiar with the Byrds' famous song, "Turn! Turn! Turn!," that's the passage I'm talking about -- it takes its lyrics from Ecclesiastes 3. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven...." To my knowledge, though, no one's ever undertaken a study of Qoheleth's theology of time -- probably because it's such a singular biblical voice.

Oh, wow... *rereading*... that was so incredibly geeky, lol!

Thinking about your own sleeping rhythm? Yes, it does differ a lot between species and also a bit among individuals.

Of course I know the Byrds' song. When I hear it I always have to think of Marquez's Ursula Iguaran: "Time is running in circles" (can't vouch for the exact quote as I read the book in Dutch).

Will try to find Nelson, thanks! :)

Interesting!. I don't think I pay attention to this kind of details when reading. I guess I'm a shallow reader.

It's my own preoccupation with times and seasons. I miss other things. :)

An interesting post. I certainly have noticed and appreciated JRRT's attention to these details (if i recall correctly, there was even something about the moon-phases vis a vis LOTR at the Fordham exhibit in NY a couple of years ago). In all honesty, though, I likely would not have noticed a 'slip-up' unless it were really blatant (ie: in one paragraph, Frodo says the moon is full....three paragrapshs later, in another part of ME, Aragorn observes that it is waning. But we are saved from any such closeness by the nature of the books themselves.....)

Never noticed the Austen mistake and have never read Rowling....but I daresay that what you yourself said in answer to Elijah'sMumble is the truth in your case. You have been trained to take note of such things. And so you do.

Just wanted to say, re the question you asked of Newleaf: i actually did a google search just to see what would turn up. Here's a link to the page:


I thought the first and third offerings very interesting, esp. the TS Eliott one. Not sure if this sort of thing is what you are looking for, but it's interesting in any case.

It's the time of year when you first notice the lengthening of the days and that's always special. I'm glad I don't live in the tropics.
Thanks for your comments jan_u_win, and for the yahoo references. Guess I'm hopelessly oldfashioned asking for a book instead of googling.

What a thought provoking post. I'm afraid that i just don't notice these things. I've only read LOTRs the once although i plan to read it again, but i have to confess that i've never read Austen, and while i loved the Harry Potter books it's not something that crossed my mind as i read them.

"(NOTE: I couldn’t resist putting
in some pictures of Frodo here!)"

Ha.. i quite agree! A post isn't the same without him ;)

Thanks for your comments Belle. You kow, Frodo's face at Henneth Annun is so expressive again. Dreamy when looking at the moon and alarmed when looking at Gollum. I only noticed that transition when doing the screen captures. I'm going to do more! :)

I have not read Pride and Prejudice but I am still a fan through the wonderful A & E production. My mom, dad, and sisters are fans too because of that. We've also see two or three plays based on it. We watched a couple weeks ago a great film called Lost in Austen that is based on a modern girl who is as obsessed with Darcy and Elizabeth and the whole thing as we are of Frodo - could definitely relate to her! And she gets to go back to that time with the Bennetts, etc etc etc. It's a lot of fun to watch her interact with her beloved characters and true for the most part to the people there. Have you seen it?

Namarie, God bless, Antane :)

"Have you seen it?"
No, I haven't. "Lost in Austen": I can certainly relate to that! Judging from what I could find on IMDb, it looks like a lot of fun; I'll certainly check it out. Jane Austen is one of my all time favorite authors. And some of the films made of her books are just fantastic. I simply love the BBC series of Pride and Prejudice (from 1995, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). And the film Persuasion (also from 1995, with Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth) is just wonderful.
These actors come close to my top favorite: Frodo in LOTR!

I didn't know that was originally BBC - that's the one I mean. Darcy drove me up a wall the first time I saw him - all those brooding looks and everything but then I loved him and Elizabeth and Mr. Bennett the most. I've seen Sense and Sensibility too but don't remember it really as it was years ago.

For something completely different, I also highly recommend the HBO series John Adams. I don't have cable but my parents found by accident on Amazon and it is just marvelous.

Namarie, God bless, Antane :)

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