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Discussing: How long does a famine last?

How long does a famine last?

Hi! I'm trying to do a Resource Library entry for the Days of Dearth, which is the great famine following the Long Winter, which lasted from November 2758 through March 2759. I'm going to put January 2759 as the starting date: "In Helm's Deep there was a great hunger after Yule...." [Yule is basically New Year's] but I'm unsure how long it would last. I know the crops were late in being planted (the freezing weather lasted until the end of March, and there was great flooding after the thaw -- so bad that the invaders [did I mention that Rohan was being invaded, too?] were killed or driven away.) I'm wavering between putting autumn of that year (2759), assuming that some crops were grown or all the remaining Rohirrim (and Shire-folk) would have died that winter, or early summer of the next year, assuming that even if some crops were grown, it wasn't likely to be enough to feed them well through the winter. The Tale of Years says there was "great suffering and loss of life in Eriador and Rohan", so I'm leaning toward the longer time... assuming that the following year had normal weather, which was neither confirmed nor contradicted in canon. Does anyone have any better ideas? I 'm an urban-dweller in California, so my idea of length of growing season and how long plants need to grow to produce are probably a bit skewed... - Barbara



Re: How long does a famine last?

Hi Barbara, That's a difficult question. There are a lot of variables that play into it. How long did the flooding last? How much of the land suitable for planting was effected by the flooding? Those sorts of questions. I am from a part of the US which is largely agricultural, yet we have a relatively short growing season (April/May-August/September.) Potatoes, carrots, squashes, beans, tomatoes, barley, wheat, corn (for the feeding of livestock) – all those sorts of things can be grown in 90-120 or so days. Hence, I would guess that they would have had a crop in the autumn of 2759, assuming no blight or other such complication, so people likely ate that winter, but they didn’t eat well. One concern would be the physical condition of the population when the flooding cleared off enough to plant and then harvest. Getting ground ready to put seeds into, keeping the growing plants healthy and uneaten (by insects and other starving critters), and harvesting takes an enormous amount of effort – if your population is suffering from starvation, a lot of the people who would otherwise assist in the process are not going to be healthy enough to enable them to take full advantage of the crop. Another concern would be that cereals (wheat, barley) and potatoes can be harvested and stored for winter, but by themselves they are not a very nutritionally sound diet. There was likely a severe lack of necessary supplemental protein sources -- meat, poultry, eggs and dairy – since, if the people were starving to death in the winter of 2759, so were the livestock and the undomesticated game. These critters depend on either sufficient vegetation to see them through winter or sufficient human supplied food. This is a greater problem because it takes longer for these resources to replenish themselves (one year at least, and even then they would have to be slaughtered sparingly if the populations are to recover.) So, the long and short of it, the people might have eaten throughout the winter of that year, but they didn’t eat well. I would think it would be safe to put the autumn of the following year. Karri



Re: How long does a famine last?

Wow, this is incredible, Karri! This is far more than I would have thought of on my own (obviously!). I never even considered the animals! That puts a whole new light on this quote from Appendix A: "The Rohirrim were grievously reduced by war and dearth and loss of cattle and horses" I *really* appreciate you taking the time to answer so thoroughly. Thank you! - Barbara [Edit:] and I will use your estimate of the autumn of the following year.



Re: How long does a famine last?

Hi Babara I was trying to think of a historical parallel - and diving into my books uncovered the Great Famine of 1315-22. This was caused by excess rain rather than snow, but was pretty devastating (and don't forget there would probably be flooding once the snow melted if it melted very quickly....) A fairly short piece on the Great Famine can be found here. There's more detail at this link has a lot of details that may help, although the book I have says that, if anything, this author understates the impact in particular countries, including England. If you want more, I could scan/type up the section in the book I'm reading. Hope that helps. Cheers, Liz



Re: How long does a famine last?

Thanks, Liz! I'll check those references tomorrow. There was indeed enough flooding in the areas around the Entwash to kill or drive off the Easterlings that had invaded Rohan (which just left the Dunlendings and the Corsairs...) - Barbara



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