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The two chapters that describe the Company’s passage through Moria, ‘A Journey in the Dark’ and ‘The Bridge of Khazad-dûm’, are very generous with chronology, usually specifying a duration in hours for both marches and rests.
Although at one point the Company feels that they ‘have been tramping on, on, endlessly to the mountains’ roots’, in reality it only takes them about 42 hours—less than two full days—to pass through Moria from its West-door to its East-gate.
We are not told the exact duration of the Company’s first march. They enter Moria ‘after nightfall’ on January 13th and start walking after ‘only a brief rest’. When they stop, Gandalf says:
We had better halt here for what is left of the night. You know what I mean! In here it is ever dark; but outside the late Moon is riding westward and the middle-night has passed.
The Moon on this date is nearly at its last quarter and so doesn’t pass from the eastern into the western sky until around 4:30 am. Let’s assume the Company halted soon after that, having made an impressive march of perhaps nine or ten hours.
Over the Company’s first few hours in Moria, Frodo discovers that the Morgul-wound has left him better able to see in the dark. His sharp hearing catches the sound of soft footfalls behind them—Gollum, who probably entered Moria in August to hide from both both Elves and Orcs.
The Company reach an arch with three passages, of which Gandalf has no memory. They move into a side chamber to rest. Pippin drops a stone down a well at the room’s centre. From far below they hear a hammer: tom-tap, tap-tom.
The others sleep while Gandalf smokes his pipe.
Pippin is given the first watch. ‘After an hour’ Gandalf takes his place, and the wizard ‘sat and watched all alone for about six hours.’ So it’s around seven hours later that the Company wake.
The rest of the Company wake. Gandalf has decided that they should take the right passage, which he hopes will climb east towards the main halls of Moria. They set out behind the dim light of Gandalf’s staff for a second long march through the dark.
‘For eight dark hours, not counting two brief halts, they marched on.’
After an eight hours’ walk, the long passage brings the Company into a vast hall. Gandalf lights it for a moment with his staff. ‘If I am right, tomorrow we may actually see the morning peeping in. But in the meanwhile we had better go no further. Let us rest, if we can.’
‘There must have been a mighty crowd of dwarves here,’ says Sam, ‘busier than badgers.’ Gimli answers only with a song.
‘The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone…’
Frodo, on watch as the other members of the Company sleep, sees two glowing eyes peering out of the dark—his very first glimpse of Gollum. When the eyes quickly disappear, Frodo thinks they must have been a dream.
When Frodo wakes he sees sunlight, which is reaching the hall through shafts in the ceiling. So it must be near or after sunrise, which on this date is around 8 am.
The Company wake to find faint sunlight illuminating the hall in which they’ve slept. ‘We are high up on the east side of Moria,’ says Gandalf. ‘Before today is over we ought to find the Great Gates and see the waters of Mirrormere lying in the Dimrill Dale before us.’
How quickly do the morning’s events unfold? It’s not until the Company have escaped Moria and are standing in Dimrill Dale ‘out of bowshot from the walls’ that we’re next told the time— ‘It was but one hour after noon.’ So we will have to work backwards from there:
The confrontation at the Bridge would have taken place only a few minutes before the Company reach the Dimrill Dale—running at top speed, they shouldn’t have needed much time to cover the length of the passage, cross the First Hall, and make it out through the Gates to the distance of one ‘bowshot’ (which we may assume to be less than a quarter mile, if bows in Middle-earth had roughly the range of medieval bows).
They reach the Bridge after what sounds like only a few minutes’ walk from the stair where Gandalf sits down to rest. Note the words before long and soon in the narrative: ‘They now went on again. Before long Gimli spoke… Soon the light became unmistakable, and could be seen by all.’
The conversation during their halt at ‘the bottom of the seventh flight’, in which Gandalf recounts his ordeal at the door of the Chamber of Mazarbul, includes maybe four minutes of dialog.
The conversation follows ‘an hour’ of walking the corridor that runs south and down from the chamber’s east door.
Adding these together, we can place the battle in the Chamber of Mazarbul at something like 11:30 am. Breakfast and their exploration of the chamber will have consumed the rest of the morning.
The Company follows a passage north and finds a brightly lit side-chamber where bones and broken weapons are scattered. A tomb stands at the centre. ‘These are Daeron’s Runes,’ Gandalf says, ‘such as were used of old in Moria.’ The tomb reads:
Balin Son of Fundin
Lord of Moria
A search has turned up the remains of a book. Gandalf reads aloud. They learn this is the Chamber of Mazarbul, where Balin’s dwarves made their last stand. It ends:
‘The Watcher in the Water took Óin. We cannot get out.
The end comes.
Drums, drums in the deep.
THEY ARE COMING.’
Moria begins to echo with a series of rolling booms, like a vast drum. The Company hears Orcs running towards the chamber. They draw their weapons. Aragorn wants to bar both doors but Gandalf insists they leave the east door open, in case they can escape that way.
The chamber door is breached and the Company fights two short battles before they can flee. Orcs are felled by Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, and even Sam—but an orc-chieftain drives through them and pins Frodo with a spear. Frodo survives thanks to his secret mithril-coat.
Gandalf stays behind to lock the chamber door with a spell. He is nearly broken when a Balrog of Morgoth opposes him from the other side of the door. Gandalf speaks a word of Command. The door shatters, the wall collapses, and the chamber ceiling buries his opponent in rubble.
With the light of his staff for the moment extinguished, Gandalf leads the Company along the passage in the dark. He taps with his staff and warns them each time they reach stairs. The passage leads down and to the south—hopefully, towards the Great Gates.
The Company reaches the Second Hall of Old Moria. Fire is burning in a fissure across the centre of the room, but they have come out on the same side of the fire as the exit.
‘Now for the last race!’ says Gandalf. ‘If the sun is shining outside we may still escape. After me!’
Orc-arrows fall among the Company as they cross Durin’s Bridge single file. A dark figure with whip and sword stalks behind them—of which even the Orcs are afraid. It leaps the fire, its mane bursting into flame: a Balrog.
Gandalf stands on the bridge alone.
‘You cannot pass.’
‘You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.’
After a clash of swords, Gandalf strikes the bridge, breaking his staff but shattering the stone beneath the Balrog’s feet. As the Balrog falls it catches Gandalf’s legs with its whip.
Gandalf offers the Company one final command—‘Fly, you fools!’—and falls into the darkness.
After racing though the First Hall and routing the orcs on guard, the Company escape into Dimrill Dale.
Aragorn turns and lifts his sword. ‘Farewell, Gandalf! Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?’
The text gives us several clues about the timing of the day’s remaining events. We’re told that ‘It was now nearly three hours after noon’ when they stop to tend Frodo and Sam’s wounds. They start walking again but ‘had not gone far before the sun sank behind the westward heights’—at which point sunset would be drawing near, which on this date is at 4:20 pm. ‘With only one brief halt Aragorn led the Company on for nearly three more hours’, then they arrive at the Falls of Nimrodel.
As the Company passes Durin’s Stone, Gimli leads Frodo off the trail to see the Mirrormere. Though the early afternoon sky is blue, the pool is dark and reflects the stars. Wheeling above the reflected mountain peaks are the seven stars of the Crown of Durin.
Legolas looks back and sees Frodo and Sam falling behind, so Aragorn and Boromir carry the two wounded Hobbits. Once the trail reaches level ground, Aragorn puts leaves of athelas in hot water and tends them both. The Company discovers that Frodo is wearing Bilbo’s mithril-shirt!
The Company reach the edge of Lórien. Weariness washes away as they wade across the Nimrodel. They stop to eat by its waterfall. Legolas talks and sings.
‘An Elven-maid there was of old,
A shining star by day:
Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,
Her shoes of silver-grey…’
The Company move off the trail to find a tree in which to sleep, but are stopped by Elves who have been on guard since Orcs were seen marching north to Moria. The Elves welcome Frodo, thanks to messages from Elrond, and allow the Company to sleep on high flets for the night.
A description of Gandalf’s long struggle with the Balrog underground could really be placed on any of the eight days over which it extended, but it seems more tidy to go ahead and provide an update on the wizard while it’s still January 15th.
The Balrog’s fire was extinguished when it fell finally into deep water, but it writhed and grappled as Gandalf struck again and again with Glamdring. Now the Balrog is fleeing. Gandalf, lest he be lost forever underground, clutches its heel as it climbs secret tunnels.
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