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Start of the Fourth Age
The Third Age was held to have ended when Master Elrond left Middle-earth on 29 September of T.A. 3021. However, not all calendars in use in Middle-earth at that time reset their count of years to Fo.A. 1 in the same year, on the same date, or indeed at all. As such, years given for certain events in the Fourth Age differ according to the calendar used.[note 1] Tolkien Gateway follows Shire usage for all Fourth Age dates.
Reckoning of years
The Shire Reckoning is the calendar system used for all dates in the Red Book; its epoch S.R. 1 corresponds to T.A. 1601. The Shire Reckoning did not reset its count of years with the end of the Third Age, rather it continued uninterrupted from S.R. 1421 to S.R. 1422, and "in so far as the Hobbits took any account of the change of Age, they maintained that it began with 2 Yule 1422." This means that S.R. 1422 is also T.A. 3022 and Fo.A. 1 as far as dates in the Red Book are concerned.
In Gondor and the rest of the Reunited Kingdom outside the Shire, the New Reckoning calendar entered use starting in T.A. 3019. Under this calendar, the year that began on 25 March as T.A. 3021 is also Fo.A. 1. As such, T.A. 3022 corresponds to Fo.A. 2 in the New Reckoning, so for roughly three-quarters of the year, a given date in the Shire will be accounted part of the following year elsewhere in the Reunited Kingdom.[note 2]
This partial overlap is due to the fact that the Shire Calendar and the New Reckoning begin their years on different days: 2 Yule for the Shire and 25 March for the rest of the Reunited Kingdom (as these days are named in the Shire Calendar; their New Reckoning equivalents are 7 Narvinyë and Yestarë respectively). Dates on or after 2 Yule and before 25 March count as taking place in the same year of the Fourth Age according to either calendar, but dates on and after 25 March belong to the next year outside the Shire. As such, the death of King Elessar recorded in the Red Book on 1 March S.R. 1541 is accounted as having taken place in Fo.A. 120 in both calendars (the New Reckoning names that day 8 Súlimë).
There are few dates given in the Legendarium that require the reader to account for this difference, because most dates of the Fourth Age are already explicitly expressed in terms of the Shire Reckoning. For example, Legolas and Gimli's departure from Middle-earth is given as S.R. 1541, so it can be stated with confidence that their departure took place in Fo.A. 120. (There is ambiguity when determining the year of their departure under the New Reckoning because the day is unknown, but we have no need to make that determination.) The exceptions are both from the Note on the Shire Records and are as follows:
- Tolkien explains that the text of The Lord of the Rings descends from a copy of the Red Book made in Gondor that bore the note "Findegil, King’s Writer, finished this work in IV 172." The accompanying text notes the equivalent year S.R. 1592, which is Fo.A. 171 in the Shire Reckoning, so this note must have been written with regard to the New Reckoning calendar before 7 Narvinyë.
- In the same paragraph, Tolkien refers to Peregrin Took's retirement to Gondor in "IV 64." We are told elsewhere that Peregrin and his companion Meriadoc Brandybuck arrived in Gondor sometime between the autumn and the ending of S.R. 1484, which is Fo.A. 63 in the Shire Reckoning. As such, the stated "IV 64" must be in reference to the New Reckoning calendar, again, prior to 7 Narvinyë.
There is no information on more than the first few centuries of this age, so it is not known when it ended, if it ever did, although it was probably shorter than 3 millennia.
This age was (presumably) marked by the recovery of the Númenorean kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, and a flourishing of their subjects, including the Shire and the Hobbits, while the House of Durin retook Moria until the race of Dwarves failed. Eventually that would lead to the final Dominion of Men over Arda, coming together with the total waning of the Elves and other dwindling races, such as the Ents and probably the Dwarves.
Tolkien said that he thought the distance between the end of the Third Age and the 20th century A.D. was about 6000 years, and that in 1958 it should have been around the end of the Fifth Age if the Fourth and Fifth Ages were about the same length as the Second and Third Ages. He said, however, in a letter written in 1958 that he believed the Ages had quickened and that it was about the end of the Sixth Age/beginning of the Seventh.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix D, "The Calendars"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Concerning Hobbits"
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "Later Events Concerning the Members of the Fellowship of the Ring"
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Note on the Shire Records"
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211, (dated 14 October 1958).
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "Of Dwarves and Men"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 338, (dated 6 June 1972)