The Lord of the Rings is the crowning achievement of Tolkien’s literary career, and the one narrative by which he is chiefly remembered and admired. In the more than 50 years since the trilogy’s initial publication, it has been republished several times, most notably in a second, revised edition with a new preface in 1965. It has also been translated into virtually every European language, as well as most major Asian languages. It is one of the best-selling books in the world, having sold an estimated 150 million copies since its first inception. Precise figures are impossible to come by because of the text’s many translations and editions, but the trilogy undoubtedly ranks with a handful of texts just below the Bible, the works of Chairman Mao, and the Koran in sales. At least a third of the books’ sales have been recently inspired by Peter Jackson’s enormously popular film adaptations of the narrative.
The text began as a sequel to the very successful The Hobbit, which Allen & Unwin had published in 1937. Tolkien had tried to interest his publisher in The Silmarillion, but they were not enthusiastic about that unwieldy text; instead, they were looking for “a new Hobbit.” In 1938, Tolkien presented them with the opening chapter, “A Long-Expected Party,” and they were eager to see more, though at that time even Tolkien was unsure what shape the narrative would take. By the time he was invited to give his Andrew Lang lecture “On Fairy-Stories” in 1939, he was more sure of the serious direction the narrative was about to take.
During the first years of World War II, Tolkien worked on his manuscript, juggling his other responsibilities until he was completely bogged down in 1943 and ceased working on the manuscript altogether. He took it up again in 1944, sending bits of it regularly to his son Christopher Tolkien, who was serving in the Royal Air Force. By the end of the war, he had finished book 4. When Rayner Unwin, his publisher’s son—who, as a 10-year-old, had recommended that his father publish The Hobbit—came to Oxford in 1947, Tolkien was comfortable enough to let him read the nearly finished draft of the whole work. Rayner told his father that the book was “brilliant” and, though he was not sure who would read it, it needed to be published. Still, Tolkien took another two years to edit and revise the manuscript to remove any inconsistencies, so that it was not until the fall 1949, a full dozen years after its inception, that the book was ready. By this time, however, he had become convinced that he wanted The Lord of the Rings published with The Silmarillion as a companion piece, and since Unwin had no interest in the latter text, Tolkien began negotiations with Collins to publish both books. But when Collins discovered that The Silmarillion was projected to be as long again as The Lord of the Rings, they dropped their interest in the project. Finally, in 1952, Tolkien gave up on the idea of The Silmarillion’s publication and went back to Allen & Unwin, offering them the rights to The Lord of the Rings if they were still interested.
In fact, they were, though how to package and market the 1,200-page behemoth of a book was a problem. The expense of the publication would be significant, and there were a good many doubts about the books’s ability to find an audience. Rayner Unwin, now a part of the business, decided to publish it in three volumes with separate titles, to be sold at 21 shillings apiece, hoping in that way to at least recover the cost of the printing, although he indicated he would be willing to lose perhaps £1,000 on the venture just to see the book in print. Tolkien himself was unhappy with the three-volume approach and, in a letter to M.A. student Caroline Whitman Everett, wrote that “[t]he only units of any structural significance are the books” (qtd. in Chance, Tolkien’s Art, 145). Each of the six books had its own title in Tolkien’s manuscript. But to further mitigate anticipated financial losses to the firm, Tolkien signed an unusual contract, in which he agreed to forgo any advance or royalties until the company had made a profit on the book, in exchange for receiving a hefty 50 percent of profits as royalties. This proved in time to be one of the most lucrative publishing contracts ever signed.
When the books appeared—The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in 1954 and The Return of the King in 1955—they received mixed reviews, though C. S. Lewis and W. H. Auden both wrote enthusiastic endorsements. The hardcover editions sold steadily until the mid-1960s when, appalled by Ace Books’ American publication of an unauthorized paperback edition of the trilogy, Tolkien and his publisher negotiated with Ballantine books and Houghton Mifflin to bring out a second edition, including a paperback edition, with a U.S. copyright in 1965. Almost immediately, the book became popular with the student and counterculture movement of the late 1960s, who were attracted most likely by Tolkien’s aversion to capitalism and his environmental views, and who began sporting pins reading “Frodo Lives” and “Go-Go-Gandalf.” From that point on, the books became a phenomenon, and their popularity has never waned, reaching another peak early in the 21st century with the production of the acclaimed films from New Line Cinema that grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide.
Praise for the books has been effusive of late. In 1999, Amazon named The Lord of the Rings as the “Best Book of the Millennium.” A 2003 reader’s poll in Britain conducted by the BBC named The Lord of the Rings the nation’s “best-loved book,” and the same result was reached in similar polls in Australia and in Germany the following year. Scholars and critics have been much more divided in their opinions, however. Literary scholars have sometimes dismissed the work as escapist, the characters as flat and undeveloped, the theme as cliché, and the language as overwrought and archaic. But such scholars are generally making the mistake of evaluating not what Tolkien wrote but what they believe he ought to have written.
In fact, the difficulty of The Lord of the Rings for some modern readers is that it is not a novel in the modern sense at all. As biographer Charles Moseley writes:
The Lord of the Rings ignores the whole development of the novel . . . from Conrad through Joyce and Kafka and Woolf, from Hardy through Lawrence. It ignores the extraordinary strengths of that form in the delicate exploration of the self, drawing on the work of Freud and his successors. It does not even ground itself in the realist conventions of the nineteenth-century novel. (33)
In fact, the book is not a novel in this limited sense. Rather, it is a “fairy-story” of the sort that Tolkien defines in his famous essay on the genre: It presents a world invented through an act of imagination that asks for a “secondary belief” on the part of the reader; it allows us to see the world in a new way and allows us to escape from the ugliness of contemporary industrialization and the woes of the universal human condition; and it ends with a eucatastrophe (a sudden happy turn of the plot) that reflects what Tolkien considered the transcendent truth of miraculous grace. Clearly, these are not the characteristics of the modern novel. Instead, Tolkien’s work is much closer to medieval romances such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and, to an even greater degree, to Germanic epics such as Beowulf. Calling The Lord of the Rings Tolkien’s “epic,” Jane Chance has noted that epics such as Beowulf are common in periods of historical transition. Citing Tolkien’s own famous essay on Beowulf, Chance goes on to find in his text a tension between “Germanic heroism and Christianity” similar to that which Tolkien finds in Beowulf itself. Certainly both of these value systems are important in The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien does not seem to present them in conflict: Middle-earth is a pre-Christian society, but those figures like Frodo and Sam, Aragorn and Théoden, who most clearly embody what Tolkien called in his Beowulf lecture the Northern heroic code—the courage to fight on in a hopeless cause rather than yield to the enemy—are also those who seem to be in touch with a kind of transcendent spirituality that recognizes a power for good beyond Middle-earth, often embodied in the Eldar—the high elves who have had some glimpse of the Undying Lands to the west.
Tolkien uses Beowulf as a model for The Lord of the Rings in other ways as well. For example, the Beowulf poet will often give good and bad examples of historical or legendary figures in contrast with one another, as he does in lines 883–901, where he contrasts the heroic deeds of the dragon slayer Sigemund with the evil Danish king Heremod; or lines 1,925–1,941, where he contrasts the virtuous Geatish queen Hygd with the wicked queen Modthryth, destroyer of warriors. Tolkien includes the examples of the heroic and the recreant kings in Théoden and Denethor, of the good and evil wizards in Gandalf and Saruman, of the steadfast and the unfaithful warriors in Faramir and Boromir. Most important of all, perhaps, are Tolkien’s two Ring-bearers—the stalwart Frodo and the corrupted Gollum—since Frodo must consistently see in Gollum the image of what he may become, and must hope that there is in Gollum some human spark that may still be redeemed. Charles Moseley compares this relationship to other literary doubles—the kind of doppelgänger figures common especially in 19thcentury texts such as Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer. Modern psychological readings of such characters regard them as representations of hidden or repressed aspects of the protagonist’s personality— aspects that the protagonist must acknowledge and struggle against. Moseley states:
Gollum is in something very like this sort of relationship to Frodo: he is a shadow. Both bearers of the Ring, they are curiously attracted to each other. . . . The motif of the divided self runs pretty deep in Tolkien’s life and work . . .” (58)
Jane Chance is particularly interested in this theme of the divided self, seeing Frodo as a divided “hero and monster” who in the course of his quest finds “the landscape of the self to be a harsher terrain than that of Mordor” (Tolkien’s Art 182).
These are only a few of the themes dealt with in the complex narrative of The Lord of the Rings, though they might be helpful to keep in mind for a reader working his or her way through the text for the first time. Only in a very small way do they help explain the fascination that the text has had for readers worldwide.
Synopsis for The Fellowship of the Ring
Book 1: The Ring Sets Out Chapter 1: A Long-expected Party
Bilbo Baggins, hero of The Hobbit, has lived for 60 years in the Shire since his return from his travels, and most hobbits are fascinated by his legendary wealth as well as his apparent perpetual youth, although they also find him very “queer” because of his interest in dwarves and elves and life outside the Shire. On the occasion of his 111th birthday, Bilbo decides to throw a huge party, sharing the celebration with his favorite cousin, Frodo Baggins, who shares his birthday (September 22) and whom Bilbo had adopted as his heir years before and brought to live with him at Bag End. Frodo will turn 33 the same day Bilbo turns 111, and 33 is the age of maturity among hobbits. The party is a great success, in part because of the spectacular fireworks that the wizard Gandalf provides.
What most of the partygoers do not know, for Bilbo has revealed it only to Gandalf and Frodo, is that Bilbo has been feeling restless lately and wants to leave the Shire. He has chosen this party to say good-bye to his friends and relatives. After a magnificent dinner, Bilbo addresses 144 of his relations. He tells them that he is fond of them all, and then announces that he is leaving. He says good-bye, slips on his magic ring, and disappears, much to the astonishment of the assembled crowd. The ring, of course, is the one that had belonged to the creature Gollum but that Bilbo had found in the caverns under the Misty Mountains and kept for himself in The Hobbit. Bilbo goes to Bag End and removes the ring, placing it in an envelope for Frodo that he intends to leave on the mantel. Gandalf meets Bilbo in his home and promises to keep an eye on Frodo. But Bilbo has put the envelope with the ring in his pocket. Gandalf is able to persuade Bilbo to follow his original intention and leave the ring to Frodo. He is already suspicious of the strange hold that the ring seems to have on Bilbo and of the unusually long life (111 years) Bilbo has enjoyed since obtaining the ring. When Bilbo leaves, with three dwarves as companions, he says he is as happy as he has ever been.
When Frodo appears, Gandalf tells him that Bilbo has left and shows him the envelope with the ring, though he warns Frodo not to use it, and to keep it safe. The next day, Frodo is very busy giving farewell presents that Bilbo had left for several of his relatives; he has a particularly difficult time with the Sackville-Bagginses, who had expected to inherit Bag End until Bilbo adopted Frodo. Gandalf stops by once more on his way out of the Shire to warn Frodo again to keep the ring secret and safe. He cannot yet tell Frodo what he fears but says that when he returns, he may have more information. Gandalf leaves, and Frodo does not see him again for some time.
Chapters 2–5: From Hobbiton to Buckland
In chapter 2 (“The Shadow of the Past”), 17 years go by as Frodo settles in as master of Bag End. Gandalf visits him occasionally the first few years, but he has no further revelations about the ring. Frodo continues to celebrate Bilbo’s birthday along with his own, certain that his cousin is still alive somewhere. And like his vanished kinsman, Frodo does not appear to age. As time passes, however, dark rumors begin to reach the Shire concerning the rise of an evil power far to the southeast in the land of Mordor—though, for the most part, the hobbits ignore these rumors.
Finally, when Frodo is nearing 50 years old, Gandalf reappears. He asks Frodo for the ring, which he tosses into the fire, to Frodo’s chagrin. When he retrieves it from the fire, the ring is still cool, but strange markings have appeared on it. Frodo can make nothing of these marks, but Gandalf can read them. In the language of Mordor, the script says, “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them / One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them” (59).
This confirms Gandalf’s worst fears. Now he tells Frodo the history of his ring: Far in the past, the elves of Eregion had created 19 rings of power for the Dark Lord, Sauron. Three of these were for the elves, seven were for dwarf lords, nine were for mortal men. But the devious Sauron has created his own ring, the most powerful of all, to rule all of the others and enslave those who owned them. The men who owned the nine rings have by now become Ringwraiths, the most fearsome servants of Sauron. Most of the dwarf rings have been lost or destroyed, but Sauron has recovered three of them. The three elven rings have been hidden from Sauron, but if he were to regain the One Ring, he would be able to control them as well.
Frodo asks how the ring could have come to him. Gandalf explains that at the end of the last age, Sauron had been defeated by an alliance of men and elves, led by Elendil the Tall and the elf king Gil-galad. Both leaders were killed in the battle, but Elendil’s son lsildur cut the ring from Sauron’s finger. He wore the ring himself but was killed by orcs while traveling north along the Great River. The ring lay lost at the bottom of the river for hundreds of years, until one day two hobbit-like creatures, Déagol and Sméagol, found it by chance—or, as Gandalf suggests, the One Ring itself felt that it was time to be found. Sméagol, insisting that the ring was his because it was found on his birthday, killed Déagol to attain the ring, and then, consumed by it, spent hundreds of years underground with the ring, his “Precious,” until he had turned into the creature called Gollum. And it was from Gollum that Bilbo had obtained the ring.
Gandalf continues, explaining that some of this information he has found from interviewing Gollum himself. But now Sauron, who is unspeakably evil, is rising to power again and lacks only the One Ring to gain the power to enslave all of Middleearth. Sauron has captured Gollum and learned from him the names of Baggins and the Shire. He is searching for the ring now, says Gandalf, who urges Frodo to leave the Shire soon to avoid Sauron’s agents and to keep the ring from him. The horrified Frodo declares that it was a pity Bilbo did not kill Gollum when he had the chance. But Gandalf replies, “It was Pity that stayed his hand” (68), adding that, while Gollum may deserve death, many who die deserve life, and therefore one should not be so quick to dispense life and death. Gollum may yet have some important part to play. Frodo wants to destroy the ring now, but Gandalf tells him that the One Ring can only be destroyed in Orodruin, the Cracks of Doom in Mordor, where it was originally forged.
All of this is overheard by Frodo’s gardener, Sam Gamgee, who is keen to accompany Frodo on his journey. Gandalf catches Sam listening outside the window and threatens him. But it turns out that Sam is simply interested in the old stories like those that Bilbo used to tell, and he is eager to see elves. He wishes to accompany Frodo on any trip he may be making.
Frodo puts off his departure from the Shire for some months, finding it difficult to leave his home. Finally, having promised Gandalf that he would leave by the fall, he works out a plan to leave without drawing too much attention, buying a small house in Buckland, east of the Shire, where his good friend Meriadoc (“Merry”) Brandybuck lives. Frodo had grown up there before moving in with Bilbo, and he wants the folk of Hobbiton to think he is simply returning to his boyhood home and not leaving the Shire altogether. Accordingly, he finally sells Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses. This is how chapter 3, “Three is Company,” begins.
Gandalf, who had been urging Frodo to leave, has gone off on one of his mysterious errands again, though he has promised to be back to help Frodo get started on his journey. Frodo is worried about the wizard’s failure to return but knows he cannot put off his departure any longer, and on his 50th birthday, he leaves Bag End, accompanied by Sam and by his close friend Peregrin (“Pippin”) Took. The three begin their journey by foot, but along the way, they are surprised by the sound of horse’s hooves on the road behind them. Frodo, with a sudden anxious qualm, urges the others to hide away from the road. The rider appears, a large man all dressed in black, with his face concealed by a black hood and riding a black horse. This frightening figure stops near where Frodo is hiding and sniffs the air. At the same time, Frodo feels a strong compulsion to put the ring on his finger. Finally, the Black Rider moves on, much to Frodo’s relief. He learns from Sam, however, that the black-cloaked figure had been asking questions about Frodo the previous morning in Hobbiton. Now the three travelers make their way even more cautiously.
Another Black Rider (or perhaps the same one having overtaken them again) passes them later, with results similar to the first time. But again the black figure rides on, and Frodo and his fellows subsequently meet a group of elves whom Frodo recognizes as High-elves by their song of Elbereth, the Vala (or angelic being) also known as Varda. According to elven lore, it was she who created the stars, and so she was especially honored by all of the Eldar. The elves are led by Gildor Inglorion, one of the House of Finrod. Gildor provides food and drink for the travelers and allows them to spend the night with the elves. He talks to Frodo long into the night, explaining that the Black Riders are among the most dreaded servants of Sauron himself. He urges Frodo and his companions to make their way to Rivendell, the elvish stronghold of Elrond Halfelven, as quickly as possible, whether Gandalf rejoins them or not. He names Frodo “elf friend,” but he and his group are gone by the time Frodo and his friends awaken in the morning.
As chapter 4 (“A Short Cut to Mushrooms”) begins, the hobbits awake refreshed and find that the elves have left them breakfast. They then decide to take a shortcut cross-country to the Brandywine River, where Merry is supposed to meet them. This should keep them out of the way of the Black Riders as much as possible. It has now become clear that this may be a very dangerous journey, and Frodo asks Sam whether he is still willing to accompany him on the way. Sam immediately reiterates his loyalty, asserting that any Black Riders will have to go through Sam if they want to harm Frodo.
Even as they begin their shortcut, however, they see another Black Rider on the road and successfully avoid it. They travel across the land all day, hearing frightening noises behind them, but they come at last to an estate owned by a farmer named Maggot. Frodo remembers Farmer Maggot from his youth, when the farmer set his dogs on Frodo for stealing mushrooms from his land. Despite these unpleasant memories, Frodo finds that Farmer Maggot is quite friendly and hospitable to the travelers, particularly since he seems to know Pippin very well.
Farmer Maggot reveals that one of the Black Riders had paid him a visit earlier that day, asking questions about Frodo. He offers to help the travelers by giving the three hobbits a ride to the ferry on the Brandywine River in his covered wagon. They arrive at the ferry safely and find Merry waiting there to take them into Buckland. As he leaves them, Farmer Maggot gives Frodo a basketful of mushrooms.
As the fifth chapter (“A Conspiracy Unmasked”) opens, the hobbits make their way to the ferry and begin to cross the Brandywine River, catching a glimpse of a Black Rider on the bank they have just left. Merry assures Frodo that the only place the horseman can cross the river is some 20 miles north, giving Frodo some breathing space.
Before long, they reach their destination in Buckland: Frodo’s newly purchased home in Crickhol low. Merry and their friend Fatty Bolger have been working on Frodo’s new house to make it warm and friendly when he arrives. Frodo is grateful, and the hobbits are soon making merry with food and drink. But Frodo’s worries weigh heavy on him. He begins to explain to his friends why the Black Riders are following him, and Merry tells him that his friends already know that he intends to leave the Shire altogether. They also realize that, in the face of the danger from the Black Riders, he must leave even more quickly than he anticipated. They reveal that they have for some time been aware of the magic ring Frodo has inherited from Bilbo and of Gandalf’s dire warnings about it. Sam, they reveal, has been their spy in this matter. But Merry and Pippin now insist that they will accompany Frodo and Sam wherever the adventure takes them.
At first, Frodo is shocked and distressed that his friends would form this conspiracy. But finally he is grateful for their willingness to make such a sacrifice and put themselves in danger, for him. They agree that they must leave Crickhollow the following morning and decide to leave Fatty Bolger behind to keep up the appearance for as long as possible that Frodo is still living in Buckland. Fatty will also be able to tell Gandalf what has happened if the wizard does finally come through the Shire searching for Frodo. On Merry’s advice, the group decides to set off through the Old Forest in order to avoid the road and the Black Riders. The Old Forest that borders Buckland has an ominous reputation among hobbits, and Fatty warns that it is as dangerous as the Black Riders. But Merry asserts that some among the Brandybucks have been in the forest, and Frodo agrees that it seems best to avoid the Black Riders at whatever cost. At this, the hobbits decide to get some rest before their journey, and Frodo has a disturbing dream in which he is trying to climb a tall, white tower that stands on a high ridge, in order to get a view of the sea, when there is a sudden flash of light and a peal of thunder.
Chapters 6–8: From Buckland to Bree
Chapters 6 (“The Old Forest”) begins with Frodo being awakened by Merry. He finds the others already preparing to leave, and just after 6 a.m., the party begins its trek with six ponies. Fatty Bolger rides with them as far as the edge of the forest, and then bids them farewell. Merry takes them along a hedge to an opening that leads into the trees. He intends to lead them through the center of the woods directly to the other side. But the hobbits find the forest disconcerting. The woods seem to display a palpable malice toward them, and Merry tells them that the trees of the Old Forest are more aware of their surroundings than other trees, sometimes tripping intruders with roots or dropping branches on them. They reach a place called Bonfire Glade, where long ago the hobbits of Buckland burned large numbers of trees. That history seems to be part of the reason for the apparent animosity between the trees and the travelers.
After some time, the hobbits can see that the path through the forest is shifting, as trees appear to move to block their way and force them deeper into the center of the forest, toward the stream called the Withywindle. They follow a path along the stream until, overcome by an uncanny sleepiness, they settle down for a nap near a huge old willow tree. The willow, it turns out, is one of the most malevolent of the trees of the forest. Sam gets up to check on the ponies, and when he returns he finds that the tree has tossed Frodo in the water and is trying to drown him with a root. Sam is able to save Frodo from drowning, but the two of them are unable to rescue Merry, whose legs are hanging from a hole in the tree that has tightened around him, or Pippin, who has disappeared inside the tree. In a panic, Frodo begins running down the path, calling for help.
Fortunately for the hobbits, a very strange man named Tom Bombadil happens to be coming down the path from the other direction. Bombadil wears bright blue clothes and yellow boots and constantly sings jovial songs about himself and his love for Goldberry, the river’s daughter. He listens to Frodo’s explanation of their plight and explains that he knows Old Man Willow and his tricks. He sings to the tree and apparently hits the right notes, as Old Man Willow suddenly lets Pippin go and spits Merry out completely.
Having saved the hobbits, Bombadil now invites them to spend the night in the safety of his home on the edge of the forest, where he lives with Goldberry. He is in a hurry to get home, however, and the hobbits cannot keep up, so he tells them to follow his lead along the path. Soon he is out of sight, and they can no longer hear his singing, but they push onward. As the sun is setting, they glimpse the river and see they are on mown grass. The path leads to a house, and they hurry forward, hearing Tom’s voice and the high clear voice of Goldberry answering him. Soon they are at Tom’s threshold.
Chapter 7 is entitled “In the House of Tom Bombadil.” As the hobbits enter the house, they are greeted by Goldberry, daughter of the river, a beautiful elf queen with long blond hair. She sits in a chair surrounded by water lilies, and her dress is green with silver accents that look like beads of dew. The hobbits are speechless when they see her, until Frodo, calling her “Fair Lady Goldberry,” sings to her some of the verses he heard Bombadil speak earlier. Goldberry welcomes the hobbits, bidding them make merry and fear nothing, for they are in the house of Tom Bombadil.
Tom leads the hobbits to a room where they can wash and get ready for supper. Goldberry is busy getting the table ready, and Frodo asks her who exactly Tom Bombadil is. Her answer is mysterious: He is the master of the woods, the water, and the hill, she tells him. But when Frodo assumes that he owns all the land about them, she dismisses the idea, saying he has no need to own anything, nor any reason to fear anything. As the hobbits eat the generous meal, they find themselves singing aloud in the comfort of Tom’s house. After supper, Goldberry retires for the evening, and Frodo asks Bombadil if he appeared when he did by chance or because Frodo was calling him. Tom replies that it was, in fact, just chance, but that he had been expecting them. When Frodo begins to question him more, asking about Old Man Willow, Tom responds that the night is not the time for questions, and they must wait for the morning.
That night, all the hobbits but Sam experience disturbing dreams. Pippin dreams of being trapped inside Old Man Willow. Merry dreams that he is drowning in a slimy bog. Frodo dreams of a tower in a ring of hills, with a white-haired man atop the tower who is borne away by an eagle. This is followed by the sound of hoofs galloping from the east, and, Frodo wakes up, fearing the Black Riders. But the fact that they are in the house of Tom Bombadil comforts each of the hobbits, and they sleep again, feeling safe.
When they awaken the next morning, they are served a hearty breakfast, but it has begun to rain steadily, a state Tom Bombadil describes as “Goldberrry’s washing day.” The hobbits end up spending the entire day with Tom, listening to his stories of the forest and its inhabitants—the trees and animals. He tells them that Old Man Willow’s strength is green but his heart is rotten. He also speaks of the Barrow-downs on the edge of the forest, through which the hobbits must pass on their journey east, warning them of barrow-wights, or evil spirits who wander those hills. Tom’s memory is long, for he was here, he says, long before anything else existed. He is, he tells the hobbits, the Eldest, who was in Middle-earth before the coming of the elves and before the creation of rivers and trees—before the coming of the first Dark Lord (Melkor) in the First Age.
Goldberry returns as the light begins to wane, and the hobbits have another merry supper at Tom Bombadil’s house. After supper, Tom begins to speak to the hobbits of the Shire and of their own quest. They are surprised to learn that he already knows a good deal about them. He asks to be shown the One Ring, and Frodo hands it to him without objection. Tom places it on his finger, but the ring has no effect on him at all, nor does Tom seem to desire it. He hands it back to Frodo, who is afraid that somehow his ring has been replaced by another. He furtively tries it on his finger, but Tom is able to see him even though he is invisible to the others. Now Tom tells the hobbits they must be on their way in the morning, and he teaches them a rhyme to sing if they run into trouble the next day on the Barrow-downs and need to call on him for help. Then they retire for one more night of safe sleep in Tom’s house.
As the eighth chapter (“Fog on the Barrowdowns”) begins, the hobbits awake the next morning and eat breakfast alone. The day is fine and clear as they set out, and Tom waves and wishes them good speed from his doorway. Shortly after they start out, Frodo remembers that they have not bid farewell to Goldberry, but as they look back, they see her beckoning to them from the hilltop. From here they can see the Barrow-downs to the east, and Goldberry tells them to hurry on their way, reminding them to follow the path north, keeping the downs to the east. They travel on, making good time until about noon, when they come to a hill with flattened top. From here, they can see the eastbound road far to the north and realize that they have come farther than they thought. They sit down against a single large stone in the middle of the circle, eating a fine lunch provided by Tom Bombadil.
The next thing they know, the hobbits are waking up hours later in the midst of a fog. Looking toward the west, they see the sun setting, and, unwilling to stay any longer in the hollow, they pack up and leave down the northern slope of the hill, assuming that if they head toward the north, they will come to the road eventually. They walk single-file through the fog, Frodo followed by Sam, then Pippin and Merry. But the group loses its way in the fog, and Frodo’s horse runs away. He calls out to his friends, only to hear cries that sound like “help, help!” He follows them up a hill, where a tall figure towers over him and seizes him in its cold grip.
When Frodo comes to, he finds himself lying on a stone inside one of the barrows. In a sickly green light, he sees his three friends, lying unconscious, wearing strange garments with gold jewelry and crowns and lying with a single sword across their three throats. Frodo hears a voice chanting some ritual verse, and sees a withered arm reaching around a corner to grasp the sword. He fights off the temptation to put on his ring and escape himself, and instead he picks up a short sword lying near him in the barrow and strikes at the grasping arm with it. He severs the hand from the arm and hears a shriek as the light goes out. He has fallen on his friends and finds them cold. Suddenly remembering the verse Tom Bombadil had taught him, he sings it out loudly from within the barrow. After a long moment, he hears an answering song coming from far off: It is Tom Bombadil. Before long, daylight begins to stream into the barrow as a stone is removed, and Tom himself enters. He sings a song that expels the old barrow-wight and urges Frodo to help him carry his three friends out of the barrow and into the sunlight.
They lay the three hobbits in the sun, and Tom sings them into waking. He then goes and gathers the hobbits’ five ponies, bringing them with his own horse, Fatty Lumpkin, with whom they have been safely spending the night. Sam, Merry, and Pippin change into new clothes from their packs, and Tom brings out a good deal of treasure from the barrow, laying it on the hilltop. From it he chooses a brooch for Goldberry and provides each of the hobbits with a long dagger to be used as a sword. These were made long ago, he says, by the men of Westernesse, who opposed the Dark Lord before being defeated by the king of Carn Dûm. Some of them, he says, still walk the land, forgotten but protecting those who are unaware. The hobbits do not understand, but Tom moves on, accompanying the travelers on Fatty Bumpkin for the rest of the day as they move north to the road.
As they reach the end of his lands, Tom tells the hobbits that they should be safe from the Black Riders for at least the next day or two, but he cannot guarantee it. He tells them to go east to the village of Bree, where they will find an inn called the Prancing Pony. They can lodge there for the evening. As they make their way toward Bree, Frodo reminds his friends not to mention the name of Baggins and to refer to him only as Mister Underhill.
Chapters 9–12: From Bree to Rivendell
In chapter 9 (“At the Sign of the Prancing Pony”), the hobbits arrive at Bree, the chief city of a small populated area known as Bree-land. In Bree, “big people” (i.e., men) and hobbits live peacefully together; they are also familiar with dwarves and elves, who sometimes pass this way. The men of Bree claim to be descendants of the first men to come into the western part of Middle-earth. For that matter, the hobbits of Bree believe themselves to be the first hobbit settlers of the area. Bree is also the occasional home of Rangers, mysterious wandering men who travel as far as the Misty Mountains to the east and keep largely to themselves when they visit the town. The four travelers are stopped at the city gate by a gatekeeper who demands to know their business. It has become very unusual for hobbits of the Shire to come as far east as Bree, and there are suspicious people about in these days. But Merry gives his name as Brandybuck, and the gateman relents but warns them they will not be the only guests at the Prancing Pony.
Arriving at the inn, the hobbits find the innkeeper, Barliman Butterbur, to be friendly, talkative, and quite busy with his many customers. Frodo registers as Mr. Underhill, as Gandalf advised him. Butterbur is stirred by a memory but cannot seem to put his finger on what that name means to him. The innkeeper has an assistant, a hobbit named Nob, who sees the travelers to their room and makes sure that they have food and drink, and that their horses are tended to. Butterbur tells the hobbits that they are welcome to join the other guests in the common room if they like. Frodo, Pippin, and Sam decide to enjoy the company, but Merry holds back, saying that he may go for a walk later to get some air.
In the common room, Frodo finds that the hobbits of Bree are an inquisitive group, and as a cover he tells them that he and his friends are researching a book about hobbits outside the Shire. The Bree hobbits are eager to share information, so that Frodo is deluged. They also are very curious about the name Underhill, and some of the local hobbits of that name adopt him as a long-lost cousin. Eventually, however, the group in the common room becomes more interested in Pippin, who has had a good deal to drink and begins to tell amusing stories of recent events in the Shire.
At this point, Frodo becomes aware of a dark, weather-beaten man in a corner who is studying him closely. He asks Butterbur who the man is and is told his name is Strider, and he is a Ranger. His attention makes Frodo nervous, and when Pippin begins to tell the story of Bilbo’s farewell party, Strider beckons Frodo over. He tells “Mr. Underhill” quietly that his companion is saying too much, and Frodo realizes that Pippin may very well mention the Ring of Power that caused Bilbo’s disappearance. Frodo decides to draw the room’s attention to himself instead and stands on a table to sing a song that Bilbo had taught him—a long nursery rhyme about a cat that could play the fiddle, a cow, the Man in the Moon, a small dog, and some silverware. The group applauds the song with delight and asks Frodo to sing it again. Frodo, carried away by their appreciation, begins the song again. He has, however, been nervously holding onto the ring as it hangs from a chain inside his shirt, and at one point he accidentally stumbles off the table and the ring slips on his finger. The crowd gasps at his vanishing, and they begin to look around suspiciously while Frodo nervously crawls back to the corner next to Strider and removes the ring. Strider, now calling Frodo by the name “Mr. Baggins,” tells him he has simply made matters worse and insists on seeing him later in private to discuss a matter of importance. Frodo agrees, then comes forward, insisting to the crowd that he did not vanish but simply crawled off unseen. The hobbits and men leave the inn unconvinced, and Butterbur asks Frodo to please let him know if he plans to engage in any acrobatics again. But he also tells Frodo that he has remembered something that he needs to tell Mr. Underhill in private, and he will come to his room later to see him.
Chapter 10 is entitled “Strider.” When Frodo and his friends make their way back to the parlor, they find that Merry has left, but that Strider has slipped in and is waiting to speak with them. He tells Frodo that he has good advice to give him, but wants a reward. Frodo is suspicious and wonders what this strange-looking vagrant can want from him. But the only “reward” Strider asks is to be allowed to accompany the hobbits to Rivendell. He is an expert guide in the wilderness east of Bree, he says, and can help to protect them. He also tells them that he overheard them talking with Tom Bombadil on the road and knows that “Underhill” is an assumed name. The hobbit he is looking for, he says, is named Frodo Baggins. One of the men of Bree, Bill Ferny, was in the common room tonight, and he seemed to be in league with an ill-favored southerner visiting the inn. Both were particularly interested in Frodo’s disappearing act. They are sure to sell the information to the agents of the enemy, Strider tells Frodo, and the hobbit will need him to help them avoid the terrible Black Riders. But Frodo is cautious, as is Sam, and wants to know more about this Ranger before trusting him.
At that point, the innkeeper, Butterbur, enters the room. He brings with him a letter from Gandalf, dated Midsummer’s Day. Gandalf had urged Butterbur to find someone to deliver the letter to Frodo Baggins in the Shire as soon as possible, but Butterbur had found no one traveling that direction, and then had forgotten about the letter. Gandalf had also told Butterbur that his friend would be coming from the Shire later and would be traveling under the name Underhill. Butterbur has finally recalled the letter, and he gives it to Frodo. He also warns him that Black Riders were in town a few days earlier, looking for Mr. Baggins. Strider tells Butterbur that the Riders are from Mordor, and the shaken Butterbur agrees to help protect the hobbits for the night. He then leaves the room.
Frodo reads the letter, in which Gandalf urges him to leave the Shire at once, in midsummer, rather than wait until the autumn. Gandalf warns him not to travel at night and not to use the ring under any circumstances. Gandalf also directs Frodo to trust his friend Strider, whose real name is Aragorn. Gandalf includes a rhyme concerning the Ranger, suggesting that “All that is gold does not glitter,” and prophesying that “Renewed shall be the blade that was broken, / The crownless again shall be king” (182). The last lines make no sense to Frodo, but the first phrase clearly applies to Strider himself, who is certainly more than he appears to be.
Sam is still distrustful of Strider, claiming there is no way to know that this particular fellow is the real Strider to whom Gandalf refers. At this, Strider rises to his full height and places his hand on his sword hilt, frightening the hobbits and declaring that if he actually wanted the ring, he could have simply taken it by now. He then subsides and declares that he is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and is therefore only there to help them. He draws the sword, revealing that the blade is broken, as mentioned in Gandalf’s poem. But both he and the hobbits worry about what has happened to Gandalf, who has not been seen since midsummer.
At that point, Merry bursts in with Nob. He says that he has seen a Black Rider in the village, and that he attempted to follow it. But he was suddenly struck senseless; Strider says it was from the breath of the Rider. It was there, near Bill Ferny’s house, that Nob came upon him with two men stooped over him. Now Strider warns that the Riders will know everything about the evening from Ferny. He advises the hobbits not to go to their rooms, but to go with Strider in the parlor. He and Nob gather the hobbits’ luggage from their rooms and bolster the beds to make it appear that the hobbits are sleeping in them. The hobbits then drop off to sleep in the parlor, under the watchful eye of Strider.
Chapter 11 (“A Knife in the Dark”) begins during that night, back in Frodo’s newly purchased home at Crickhollow. Here, Fatty Bolger is disturbed during the night by three Black Riders prowling about in front of the house. Finally one voice threatens at the door “Open in the name of Mordor,” and the door is broken in. Fatty, however, has escaped out the back and, babbling with fear, taken refuge in the nearest house a mile off. His incoherent prattle convinces the hobbits of Buckland that they are under attack, and they blow the Horn-call of Buckland to prepare for battle— for the first time in more than a century. The Black Riders, finding nothing in the house, now flee, having discovered that neither Frodo nor the ring is at Crickhollow.
Meanwhile, the hobbits’ rooms at the Prancing Pony have been ransacked. Strider finds the rooms ravaged and the bolsters slashed. The travelers also find that the stable has been broken into and all the horses, including their ponies, have been driven off. Butterbur feels responsible and gives Strider money to buy another horse; the only one in town belongs to the devious Bill Ferny, who charges three times the horse’s worth. (We are told, however, that the hobbits’ horses found their way to Fatty Lumpkin and eventually were returned to Butterbur by Tom Bombadil.) The pony is in poor shape but glad to be freed of his worthless master, and they load him with their supplies. The travelers, unable now to leave early and unobserved, begin their trek east as the whole town (curious about the robbery as well as Frodo’s act the previous night) lines the road out of the village. At the end of town, a smirking Bill Ferny tells Sam not to mistreat his pony. Sam responds with a warning to Ferny to keep his ugly face out of sight and then plunks him with an apple. They end up naming the pony Bill.
The travelers soon leave the road, with Strider leading them, hoping to avoid detection by the Black Riders. They travel in relative peace for some five days through forest, hills, and marshes. They are aiming for Weathertop, the highest peak in the hills halfway between the Shire and Rivendell, and the place where Strider believes Gandalf may try to meet them if he learns they have come this way. On this ridge, the men of the West had built a great watchtower called Amon Sûl, from which Elendil watched for the arrival of the elven king Gil-galad in the days of the Last Alliance. Strider sings a song of Gil-galad, and the hobbits realize that he knows a great deal of ancient lore.
On the sixth day, the hobbits reach Weathertop. Strider finds some fresh runes scratched on a stone that he believes may have been put there by Gandalf, suggesting that the wizard had been there some three days earlier (on October 3), but apparently it had been too dangerous to stay. Sam and Pippin have found newly chopped firewood and signs of a recent camp, which makes the travelers hopeful that Gandalf had really been there. In the meantime, however, Strider has spotted Black Riders far below on the road. Strider believes he may have been too careless on the hilltop since, although the Riders are blind, their horses can see and they can detect the presence of living things with their other senses. Strider decides to build a campfire, knowing that the Black Riders fear fire. To keep up their spirits, the hobbits ask for more stories about Gil-galad. Frodo tells what he knows, but Strider stops him, wishing to avoid stories concerning the enemy while his servants are so close. Instead, Strider sings the story of Beren and Lúthien (called Tinúviel, the Nightingale)—a song of love between an elven princess and a mortal man in the First Age. He tells of how the two of them stole one of the Silmarils from the crown of the Great Enemy (older than Sauron, who was his servant). Elrond was descended from their union, Strider says, as were all the kings of Númenor, the men of the West. Strider’s eyes shine as he tells the story.
Suddenly, the hobbits become aware of black shadows coming over the crest of the hill and moving toward them. Strider tells them to sit in a circle, and he prepares to defend them. Frodo feels an irresistible urge to put on the ring and finally yields to it. When he does, he can see the five dark figures clearly, with their white faces and burning eyes—but they can see him as well. One of them is taller than the others and wears a crown, and this one dashes forward toward Frodo. In desperation, Frodo cries out the names Elbereth and Gilthoniel, and he lunges with his knife at the Black Rider’s feet. But the Rider stabs Frodo in the shoulder with a knife, and when Strider rushes forward with a firebrand, driving the Riders off, Frodo passes out, slipping his ring off as he does.
When Frodo regains consciousness at the beginning of chapter 12 (“Flight to the Ford”), he asks his friends what has happened and where the “pale king” has gone. The others are confused—they saw him disappear and saw a shadow move past them, but obviously they did not see what he was able to see with the ring on his finger. The Black Riders have allowed themselves to be driven off for now, believing that Frodo is dead or dying. Strider finds the knife that wounded Frodo, and the blade crumbles in his hand. But Strider recognizes that the cursed blade carries a power that he cannot dispel. He tends to the wound as best he can, using a medicinal plant called athelas that he crumbles and boils in water. Its scent calms all of the hobbits. But a cold numbness is spreading through Frodo’s shoulder, and Strider realizes that they must get Frodo to Rivendell quickly, since only Elrond may be able to heal this wound. Unfortunately, Weathertop is still a fortnight’s journey from Rivendell.
The next morning, the pony’s burdens are divided among the other travelers and Frodo is mounted on him for the duration of the journey. For five days, they travel cross-country, after which Strider says they must return to the road in order to cross the River Hoarwell on the Last Bridge. The Riders have made no further appearance, and the travelers worry that they are waiting ahead to ambush them. Strider finds a green elf-stone on the road, which he sees as a positive sign that they may cross the bridge without trouble. At the next river,the Bruinen, is the ford that leads into Rivendell. After the bridge, they are forced north, following a ravine. Around them are the ruins of ancient fortifications, and Frodo, recalling Bilbo’s stories of trolls in this part of the world, asks Strider if trolls built these ruins. Strider informs him that trolls build nothing; the ruins were made by men who fell under the evil influence of Angband in the ancient days. When Pippin asks how he knows such things, Strider replies that the heirs of Elendil do not forget the past.
After some days of cold, wet weather, Strider tells the hobbits that they have come too far north and must scramble over the ridges to head back toward the ford of Bruinen. Finally, the exhausted hobbits can go no farther, and a worried Sam asks Strider what is wrong with his master. Strider tells him that the poison of the wound is beyond his skill but tells him not to give up hope. The weather is better the next day, and the hobbits start out with better spirits. They find a door in the rock that they are certain leads to a troll hole, but Strider says the trolls are long gone. Pippin and Merry go ahead of the others for a space, but they return in fear, saying they have seen three giant trolls standing in a clearing below. Strider goes to the place and breaks a stick on one of the trolls, who proves to be made of stone. The hobbits realize that these are the three trolls that were turned to stone during Bilbo’s journey east many years earlier. This lightens their spirits somewhat, and Frodo and Merry ask for a song. Sam entertains them with a song about trolls, which Frodo guesses is his own composition. Frodo expresses a belief that Sam will end up becoming a wizard or a warrior, though Sam says he wants neither.
That evening, they hear the sound of another horse and are frightened. As the rider approaches, it turns out not to be a Black Rider at all, but an elf prince riding a great white horse. Aragorn recognizes the elf as Glorfindel, from Rivendell. He explains that Elrond had had word (sent from Gildor) that “the Nine” were abroad, that Frodo and his companions were bearing a great burden through the wilderness, and that Gandalf was missing. Elrond had sent three riders to search for the hobbits, and Glorfindel had been looking for them for some time. It was he who had left the elf-stone at the bridge, seven days earlier. Glorfindel looks at the hilt of the knife that wounded Frodo and recognizes the evil. He insists that the travelers make their way to Rivendell without stopping, and he puts Frodo on his great horse, which he says will keep him from danger and not let him fall off. Frodo protests that he will not leave his friends behind in danger, to which Glorfindel responds that they would be in no danger without Frodo and that which he carries.
For three days, Glorfindel pushes them on with little rest, sustaining them with a liquor from the leather cask he carries. Frodo’s wound is worsening, and he fades in and out of reality. When the Ford of Rivendell is in sight, Glorfindel hears noises in the trees and then cries “Fly! The enemy is upon us!” (225). Five Black Riders emerge from behind them and take up the chase. Frodo hesitates, until he realizes that his mind is reflecting the will of the Riders, who are trying to make him stay. Glorfindel gives the horse a command in elvish, and it springs toward the ford. The rest are left behind as the Riders chase Frodo, and as he approaches the ford, four more Riders emerge to cut him off. But Glorfindel’s horse is able to outrun them all and crosses the ford ahead of them. From the far side, Frodo calls back, shouting at the Nine to go back to Mordor and follow him no more. The lead Rider calls back, saying they will take Frodo and the ring to Mordor. With his last breath, Frodo swears by Elbereth and by Lúthien that they shall have neither him nor the ring. Three of the Riders now try to cross the ford, when suddenly a loud rush of water is heard, and huge white waves looking like white horses sweep down the river, washing away the three Riders and their horses. The horses of the other six Riders, seized by a kind of madness, rush into the water and are swept away as well. Finally, Frodo loses consciousness again.
Book 2: The Ring Goes South
Chapters 1–2: In the House of Elrond
In the first chapter (“Many Meetings”), Frodo awakens in a bed and room he does not recognize, wondering aloud where he is and what time it is. A voice that he recognizes as Gandalf’s answers him, telling him he is in the House of Elrond in Rivendell, and that it is the morning of October 24. Frodo is delighted to see Gandalf, who tells him that he has been unconscious and under Elrond’s healing care for four days and three nights. His friends are safe, Gandalf tells him, and Sam has not left his side for the entire time. Frodo nearly died because a piece of the Morgul-knife that wounded him was still in his shoulder. It has now been removed, taking him out of danger, but Gandalf informs Frodo that the enemy’s intent in wounding him was to turn Frodo into a wraith like the Black Riders themselves, under the power of the Dark Lord. The Riders, Gandalf reveals, are the nine Ringwraiths, prisoners of Sauron’s Rings of Power. Thus, Frodo was in greatest danger when he wore the ring and could see the Ringwraiths in their own form. Gandalf reveals that he has been imprisoned himself and that was why he did not appear to help the hobbits on their journey, but he will not elaborate, he says, until Frodo is more completely recovered. Frodo is grateful for Strider, and Gandalf informs Frodo that Strider (Aragorn) and the other Rangers are descendants of the men of the West and their kings. The white figure at the ford, Gandalf says, was Glorfindel himself. Glorfindel is one of the Eldar who had lived across the great ocean, and who therefore exists in both realms at once, so that the white figure was Glorfindel as he is seen in the Blessed Realm. The river itself had been commanded by Elrond, and the waves had destroyed the Riders’ horses and thus crippled the Riders temporarily. But the river could not destroy them. Elrond, Frodo learns, has called a great council for the next day, to discuss what is to be done about the ring.
Frodo sleeps again until evening, when he awakes, dresses, and is met by Sam, who is overjoyed at his recovery and takes him down to feast. He is reunited with Pippin and Merry, and at the feast he has his first glimpse of Elrond, master of Rivendell, whose name comes into so many stories. He also observes Arwen Evenstar, Elrond’s daughter, whose legendary beauty is said to resemble that of Lúthien herself. Frodo is seated next to a white-bearded dwarf, who identifies himself as Gloin. Frodo is delighted to meet a companion of his kinsman Bilbo, and he asks about the Lonely Mountain, where he learns that Dain is still king, and that Dale is ruled by the grandson of Bard. Gloin has brought his son, Gimli, along with him to Rivendell.
After the feast, the group goes into the Hall of Fire, where songs, poems, and tales will be rehearsed. Here Frodo discovers Bilbo waiting for him. The old hobbit is overjoyed to see Frodo and claims to have missed dinner because he has been working on a new poem. He is awaiting his friend the Dúnadan, who is coming to help him finish it. Bilbo wonders about all the fuss over his old ring and asks to see it. Reluctantly, Frodo holds it out to him and seems to see Bilbo change into a greedy, grasping creature. Frodo pulls the ring back, and Bilbo understands why he can no longer have anything to do with it.
Soon Strider arrives; he is the one whom Bilbo had called “the Dúnadan” (meaning “the Man of the West”). He consults with Bilbo about his poem, and Bilbo then performs it—a long poem about Eärendil the mariner and his journey to Valinor with the Silmaril in the First Age. Afterward, Bilbo and Frodo go off to Frodo’s room to gossip about the Shire, and as they leave the Hall of Fire, Frodo notices Aragorn standing next to Arwen while Elrond sings a song of Elbereth. Frodo and Bilbo chat for some time, until Sam comes in to make sure that Frodo gets some sleep before the next day, when the Council of Elrond will take place.
The next morning, Frodo meets Gandalf and Bilbo on the way to Elrond’s council. When he arrives, he sees that Aragorn is there, as well as Gloin with his son, Gimli. Glorfindel is present, along with other counselors of Elrond’s household, including Erestor. The elf Galdor, representing Círdan the Shipwright of the Grey Havens, is attending. Another elf named Legolas, son of the king of Mirkwood, is present, as is the newly arrived Boromir, from the southern kingdom of Gondor. Boromir has come in quest of an interpretation of the dream his brother Faramir has had, in which a voice bade them seek the sword that was broken, where Isildur’s Bane will be revealed and a Halfling shall stand forth (259).
Gloin is the first to speak. He says that 30 years have passed since Balin led a party to try to resettle the mines of Moria, the ancestral home of the dwarves. There has been no word, but about a year ago a messenger from Mordor arrived at the gates of the Kingdom Under the Mountain, promising to exchange the resettling of Moria, plus three of the dwarves’ original seven Rings of Power, for information concerning a hobbit and a small ring he had found. Dáin forestalled the messenger, but Gloin has come to warn Bilbo.
Elrond now announces that the council has been called to decide the fate of this ring. He begins to tell the whole story of the One Ring. Much of it Gandalf had already told Frodo. Elrond recounts the story of the fall of Númenor and the coming of the men of the West, Elendil and his sons Isildur (who became king of Arnor in the north) and Anárion, who ruled Gondor in the South, and of the last alliance formed between Elendil and Gil-galad. Elrond recalls the scene of the battle, and the astounded Frodo asks how that is possible, but Elrond reveals that his father was Eárendil, and his mother, Elwing, was granddaughter of Lúthien. Elrond’s memory stretches through three ages of Middle-earth. He was herald of Gil-galad at the Battle of Dagorlad before the Black Gate of Mordor. He remembers Elendil dying, his sword Narsil breaking beneath him, and he recalls Isildur’s using the shard of Elendil’s sword to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. Boromir was unaware of this, and Elrond tells how Isildur lost the ring, a story known to very few. But Valandil, heir of Isildur, was safe at Rivendell, and there Ohtar, Isildur’s squire, brought the shards of the sword, which have yet to be reforged. The kingdom of Arnor was broken and the men scattered. Gondor survived, with two great towers (Minas Ithil—Tower of the Rising Moon— and Minas Anor—Tower of the Setting Sun), and with the White Tree that Isildur had brought from Númenor flourishing. But the line of kings failed, and the tree withered, and evil creatures of Mordor occupied the easternmost of the two great towers, while the other was renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of the Guard.
At this point, Boromir interrupts, asserting that Gondor still holds its own, a bulwark for all the lands to the west, but a new strength in Mordor has arisen and has now swept through Gondor’s eastern settlements. Boromir says he has sought Elrond’s house for 110 days, seeking the answer to a recurring prophetic dream that his brother has been having, telling him to seek for the sword that was broken, and warning him of the finding of Isildur’s Bane. At this Aragorn comes forth, laying his sword on the table before Elrond, declaring it to be the Sword that was Broken. Boromir asks who he is, and Elrond reveals that Aragorn is, in fact, Isildur’s heir. At this point, Frodo shows the ring itself, Isildur’s Bane.
Aragorn says that the sword has been passed from heir to heir over the centuries, with the legend that it would be reforged when Isildur’s Bane was found. The time has come, he says, and he offers his sword for the defense of Minas Tirith. Boromir is suspicious, but Aragorn makes his claim for the Rangers of the North, saying that they have protected the kingdoms of the North for many years, hunting down servants of the enemy without thanks or recognition of any kind. Bilbo stands to recite the poem “All that is gold does not glitter. . . ,” a poem quoted in Gandalf’s letter to Frodo and apparently one of Bilbo’s own compositions. Now the time has come for Bilbo to reveal how the ring was found again. Frodo then completes the story by accounting for his adventures since he obtained the ring. Galdor asks how it can be shown that this is indeed the One Ring, and he asks where Saruman the White is, who is most learned in the lore of the Rings of Power.
Gandalf answers that although Saruman had long tried to allay any of his fears, he long had suspected Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring. He traveled to Gondor’s library, where a scroll made by Isildur himself traced the letters to be found on the ring if it were cast into the fire. At the same time, Aragorn had tracked Gollum, captured him, and brought him with a halter on his neck to the elves of Mirkwood. Here Gandalf had questioned him, learned where and at what time he had found the ring, and learned that he had been questioned, as well, in Mordor. Sauron, therefore, knew everything that their council now knew, and he had dispatched the Nine Ringwraiths to look for the ring. At this point, Legolas speaks up, informing the council that he has been dispatched to bring the news that Gollum escaped from the elves of Mirkwood during an attack by orcs.
Now Gandalf takes up the tale, telling how he learned from another wizard, Radagast, that the Nine were abroad, and that Saruman the White, chief of the order of wizards, wanted to consult with Gandalf. But when Gandalf arrived at Saruman’s fortress at Isengard, Saruman trapped him. Saruman, Gandalf reveals, decided to abandon the side of the free peoples of Middle-earth, and he has put himself in league with Sauron, either in the belief that ultimately he will be able to wrest power from him, or to actively pursue the ring and make himself the sole power in Middle-earth through it. He tried to get Gandalf to join him, and when Gandalf refused, Saruman imprisoned him atop the high tower of Orthanc to force him to give up the ring. At this point in Gandalf’s tale, Frodo cries out that he had seen this in a dream.
Fortunately, Radagast sent the great eagle Gwaihir, who bore Gandalf away before Saruman, or any of the orcs or wolves manning his fortress, was aware. The eagle took Gandalf to Rohan, where he received a cold welcome but was able to borrow the great horse Shadowfax and ride to the Shire. Now Gandalf tells of trying to track Frodo, his relief in finding that Strider had been guiding them, his battle with the Black Riders on Weathertop, and his flight to Rivendell to arrive three days before the ring.
Saruman’s desertion is a hard blow for the council. But the question now is what to do with the ring. It is suggested that Tom Bombadil, whom the elves call Iarwain, should take it, but Gandalf argues that it would matter little to him, and he would forget about it. Boromir argues that they should use the ring itself to defeat Sauron, but— using the example of Saruman—Gandalf and Elrond argue that the ring itself is pure evil, and that anyone using it would become corrupted and set himself up as a new Dark Lord. Gloin wishes to use the other Rings of Power to unite against Sauron—the three elf-rings and the remaining dwarfrings. He now reveals that Balin had gone to Moria in part to find Thrór’s ring. But Gandalf divulges what he found long ago in Dol Guldur: Sauron had captured Thráin, son of Thrór, and recovered that ring. Besides, the elf-rings cannot be used for war, and their power may be dependent on the One Ring. Only two options are left: Hide the ring forever or destroy it. Taking it into the West or casting it in the sea is the first option, but one that the enemy will suspect. Destroying the ring is a step that Sauron would never consider, since he judges all others by his own desire for power. It must go to Mount Doom in Mordor to be unmade, the council decides. But who will carry it? Bilbo stands up to volunteer, but Gandalf gently reminds him that his time with the ring is over. Finally, Frodo volunteers, and Elrond agrees that it seems to be his lot. Sam leaps up from a corner where he has been hiding and insists that Frodo will not go to Mordor alone.
Chapters 3–5: Rivendell through Moria
The third chapter (“The Ring Goes South”) begins immediately after the Council of Elrond, as Merry and Pippin accost Frodo and Sam, angry that Sam will be allowed to accompany Frodo but they will not. Gandalf and Bilbo arrive, and Gandalf tells Frodo that Elrond is sending out many scouts in all directions from Rivendell, to learn what has happened to the Black Riders and to find where Gollum may have gone. Frodo will not be able to start out until the scouts return—and that will not be until winter, a bad time to begin a journey. In the meantime, Bilbo asks Frodo to help him write the book he is working on concerning his adventures and those of Frodo as well. After two months, the scouts begin to return. They have found eight of the black horses dead, but they have not accounted for the last of the Black Riders. No trace of Gollum has been found. Elrond asks Frodo again if he is willing to make the journey south, and Frodo reiterates his commitment. Elrond decides to send a small party with Frodo as far as they are willing to go. The party will comprise nine walkers, to balance the nine Black Riders. Gandalf will go with Frodo and Sam, and Legolas will go to represent the elves, while Gimli, son of Gloin, will represent the dwarves. Aragorn and Boromir will both join the company; although they will leave to help the defense of Minas Tirith, their road will be the same for many miles. Finally, Merry and Pippin insist on making the last two of the group. Elrond hesitates, but Gandalf argues that their friendship may be worth more than wisdom or power in this quest.
In preparation for the journey, the elves reforge the sword of Elendil, which Aragorn renames Andúril (“Flame of the West”). Bilbo gives Frodo his old sword, Sting, as well as the mithril coat of mail he received from Thorin Oakenshield on his journey to the Lonely Mountain. Frodo wears the mail coat secretly under his outer garments. Boromir carries a long sword and blows his war horn as they start out. Gandalf carries the elven blade Glamdring. Legolas is armed with a bow and arrows, and Gimli with a mail coat and an axe. Merry and Pippin carry the swords from the barrow. Sam insists on bringing the pony Bill to bear their supplies, and as they leave, he realizes he has forgotten to bring a length of rope. As the company leaves, Elrond tells them that any one of them is free to leave the group at his own desire, except the Ring-bearer, who must see the task through to the end.
The company starts south in late December, traveling at night to avoid detection. They move south, west of the Misty Mountains, for two weeks, until they must cross the mountains, which now bend southwest. Gimli recognizes that under these mountains lies Khazad-dûm, the ancient dwarvish stronghold that the elves call Moria. As Aragorn keeps watch during the day, a great flock of black crows flies low over them, apparently deliberately spying on them. They begin to try to cross the mountains over the peak of Caradhras, but a heavy snowstorm traps them on a cliff on the mountain as boulders begin falling around them. They begin to wonder whether Sauron himself is controlling the weather.
When the dawn comes, the company can see that there is no going forward—the snow has blocked the path and made it impassable. However, the way back down is also blocked. Boromir and Aragorn are able to push through the worst part of the snow, and Legolas, able to walk on top of the drifts, guides them to where the others will be able to walk. Eventually, with the men carrying the hobbits and Gimli riding Bill amid the baggage, the company is able to scramble back to the foot of the mountain, defeated and frustrated.
As chapter 4 (“A Journey in the Dark”) begins, Gandalf now urges that the company go under the mountains instead of over them—through the mines of Moria. Those who know of the mines, all but Gimli, are hesitant to travel that way, since they know the mines are now inhabited by orcs and foul creatures of evil. Boromir wants to go around the mountains through the Gap of Rohan, near the Isen River, but Gandalf refuses to bring the ring anywhere near Isengard, where Saruman may try to take it. Going underground will hide them from the eye of Sauron, Gandalf argues, and besides, there may be dwarves in Moria, since Balin was known to have entered the mines 30 years before. Boromir says he will not go through Moria unless the vote of the whole company is against him. Frodo suggests waiting until morning to vote. At that point, in the howling of the wind, the sound of wolves is heard. Now the members of the company are decided: They must go through Moria, rather than risk pursuit by wolves all the way to Rohan. During the night, the chief wolf is seen watching the company, and Gandalf challenges him. He leaps toward the company but is killed mid-leap by Legolas’s arrow. Soon the company is attacked on three sides by wolves, and they fight them boldly until Gandalf causes a great fire in the trees and frightens the wolves off.
The next day, they make for the western gates of Moria as quickly as possible, for Gandalf wants to be there by nightfall at the latest. The way is difficult, but when they have climbed toward the cliff face where the gates should be, they find their way blocked by a dark, stagnant pool. Working their way around the pool, they finally come to the face of the cliff, but no gates are visible. Gandalf then pronounces an ancient spell over the cliff, and in the moonlight, the outline of the gates appear, carved with symbols of the dwarvish king Durin I as well as of the elves of that country, for the gates were made at a time when elves and dwarves were still great friends. The inscription over the gate reads: “The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter.” Gandalf assumes this means that if one is a friend, he should speak a password and be able to enter. Confidently, he begins to go through every spell and password of which he is aware. Finally he calls out the word open in every language ever spoken in Middle-earth. Nothing works. Gandalf throws down his staff and sits on the ground. After some time, he rises, laughing, and calls out the word Mellon; the gates begin to open outward. He had been misreading the gate, he says: It should not be read “speak, friend, and enter”; rather, the inscription was “say ‘friend’ and enter.” The password was the elvish word for friend.
Over Sam’s objections, Gandalf asserts that the pony Bill cannot come with them into the mines, and he whispers to the pony a kind of blessing that he hopes will help him return to Rivendell. As the company divides up the supplies Bill was carrying, a tentacle suddenly comes from the dark pool and grabs Frodo by the ankle. With Sam’s help, Frodo is able to struggle free, but 20 more tentacles appear. The group rushes through the gates into Moria, and the tentacles slam shut the doors and damage them so that they cannot be opened from within. The company has no choice now but to walk through the mines.
His staff glowing as a guiding light, Gandalf leads the company into the caverns, accompanied by Gimli. Sam mourns Bill, sure that either the tentacles or the wolves will have eaten the faithful pony. But the company goes on through the dark, avoiding treacherous fissures and other obstacles. Here Sam truly misses the rope he had neglected to bring. They come to a room with a well and decide to rest there, but Pippin in his curiosity drops a stone into the well. The sound of the splash echoes in the cave, and a tapping like the sound of hammers begins. They move on for two nights, during which Frodo is certain he hears soft footsteps following them, and at one point he is sure he sees two points of light, like tiny eyes, watching.
As the company walks on, impressed by the workmanship but appalled by the gloom, Sam wonders why the dwarves would live in such a place. Gimli corrects him, recalling the rich splendor of Moria at its height. He sings a song of Durin, who founded the great city. Gandalf tells the history of the dwarves’ mining here, acknowledging that over the years the orcs have plundered any gold and precious jewels in the place, but recalling that it was mithril, or Moria-silver, that was the basis of the dwarves’ wealth. Malleable and durable, mithril was still the most valuable substance in Middleearth, and when Gandalf mentions that Bilbo had a mithril coat, Gimli is astounded. As Frodo keeps quiet, he learns that the mail shirt is worth more than the entire Shire. It was mithril that Balin and his company hoped to find when they returned here. And it was mithril that caused the downfall of Moria, for the dwarves eventually dug too deep and awakened the evil known as “Durin’s bane.”
As they push forward, moving closer to the eastern gates of Moria, a shaft of light leads them to a room where a stone slab marks a tomb. As Gandalf interprets the runic inscription on the tomb, he reads “Balin Son of Fundin.” Gimli covers his face.
As the fifth chapter (“The Bridge of Khazaddûm”) opens, the fellowship begins to look around the room where Balin lies. They find bones and broken axes, and finally a tattered book, the Book of Mazarbul, written in several hands. Gandalf can make out only some of the entries, but through the book he learns that Balin had made himself lord of Moria, though after only five years he was slain by an orc’s arrow, and the rest of his company were besieged and finally attacked and wiped out by an army of orcs and by the creature they call the “Watcher in the Water”—clearly the tentacled beast that had attacked Frodo. Gandalf gives the Book of Mazarbul to Gimli to peruse later. He wants to guide the company back to the hall, from which he now believes he can find the way out, since the book has clarified the location of this chamber, six levels above the eastern gates.
Suddenly, a loud sound of drumming reaches the company. A great host of orcs is approaching the west door of the chamber. Gandalf steps outside and flashes his staff, then ducks back in to report that he cannot count the large number of orcs, and that they have at least one great cave troll with them. As they try to slam shut the western door, the troll’s foot blocks it, but in an inspired burst, Frodo stabs the foot with Sting, its elven blade now shining in the presence of orcs, and the door is shut. The orcs burst in, but the fellowship fights them off valiantly, killing 13 orcs and causing the rest to retreat. Now the company prepares to flee from the eastern door, but before they can, a huge orc chieftain bursts in, leading a new charge. He drives a spear into Frodo, knocking him back before Aragorn slays him and the orcs fall back again. Now Aragorn picks up Frodo and the company flees. On the way, Frodo tells Aragorn to put him down, he can run himself. This shocks his companions, but there is no time now for explanations.
Gandalf insists that the company flee down and to the right, and leave him to defend the door alone. After some time, there is a great white flash, and Gandalf joins them, shaken. They flee for about an hour, but with no sound now of pursuit. When they stop for a brief rest, Gimli asks Gandalf what happened, and Gandalf explains that he had tried putting a shutting spell on the door, but that something had come into the room behind it and had broken the spell. It was a creature of great power that Gandalf had not met before and that had nearly destroyed him. But the strain that broke the door also buried the chamber and blocked their pursuers. Gandalf then marvels that Frodo is alive, but Frodo does not mention the mithril shirt.
They are now one level below the eastern gates, and about a quarter of a mile away. Behind them is a great fire coming from the lower depths. Before them is a narrow bridge spanning a great chasm that must be crossed before they reach the gate. The army of orcs has come up behind them, but they are cut off by the fiery chasm, and arrows rain down on the fellowship. Gandalf urges Gimli to lead the way across the bridge, but at that point the orc army grows quiet and parts, and a huge, dark monster appears among them with a sword and whip of fire. It is a Balrog—Durin’s bane.
Urging the others on, Gandalf stands in the middle of the bridge, facing the Balrog alone. He asserts that the Balrog “cannot pass,” telling it to return to the Shadow. When the Balrog tries to wield its sword, Gandalf’s sword Glamdring breaks the weapon of the Balrog. Then, as the Balrog begins to cross the bridge, Gandalf strikes the bridge with his staff, which shatters but crumbles the bridge itself. The Balrog falls into the abyss, but as it falls, its whip wraps itself around Gandalf’s ankle and pulls him down. Aragorn and Boromir, who have refused to leave Gandalf, spring forward, but as Gandalf falls, he grasps the edge of the bridge momentarily and tells them to “Fly, you fools!” (345). Then he falls.
The company stands shocked, but Aragorn rallies them, saying they must obey Gandalf’s last command, and that he will lead them now. They flee through a great hall to the wide, broken eastern gates of Moria, where they scatter a small band of orcs waiting at the entrance and fly out into the sun, until they reach Dimrill Dale. Here, outside of the danger of Moria, the company is finally overcome by grief.
Chapters 6–8: Lothlórien
As chapter 6 (“Lothlórien”) begins, Aragorn knows that the company is still not out of danger, and he will not let them mourn long, insisting that they must move on. Gimli begs leave to look first at the landmarks of his people that stand before the gates of Moria. He invites Frodo to come with him, and Frodo and Sam look upon Durin’s Stone, which marks the place where Durin, father of Gimli’s race, first looked into the great pool known at the Mirrormere. They then look into the pool and see the mountains reflected behind them. Although it is broad daylight, they also see the mirror image of seven stars, the Crown of Durin, which the dwarves say will wait there until his return. Now the companions turn their faces toward Lothlórien, the fairest of all elven dwellings in Middle-earth. Aragorn says his heart will be glad to arrive there and hastens the company on.
Before long, Frodo and Sam begin to lag behind, since both were hurt in the battle. Aragorn and Boromir carry the two hobbits to a resting place, where Aragorn treats Sam’s scalp wound and demands to look at Frodo’s chest where the orc’s spear struck him. When he sees the mithril coat, there is much admiration among the company, and after Aragorn has treated Frodo’s bruises, he advises Frodo not to take the coat off through his journey if he can help it. They forge on toward the golden wood of Lothlórien, but as Frodo walks in the rear with Gimli, he thinks he hears something behind them and once again believes he sees two eyes observing them from afar. The blade of Sting is not glowing, however, so he knows there are no orcs present.
Finally, as night is falling, the company reaches the outskirts of the golden wood. Boromir is hesitant to enter, saying the wood has an evil name in Gondor, but Aragorn dismisses these fears, saying that only those who bring evil with them need fear the woods of Lothlórien. When they reach the stream of Nimrodel, a storied river among the elves, Legolas urges them all to wade across and camp on the other side, for the waters are healing. Frodo crosses, and he feels his weariness washed away. As they rest, they listen to the sound of the water, and Legolas sings a song of Nimrodel, the maiden named for the stream, and how she was lost trying to make her way to her lover, Amroth, waiting in a ship at the Grey Havens. The people of Lórien, Legolas adds, are called the Galadhrim (“Tree-people”) because they make their homes in the trees, and Gimli suggests that for the evening, staying in the trees may be safer for the company as well.
They go deeper into the forest, and Legolas begins to climb one of the mallorn trees with golden leaves, but he is soon warned off by a cry from the tree. He urges all the others to be quiet and not to move and converses with the voice from the tree in the language of the Sylvan elves. They send a ladder down and ask for Legolas and Frodo to climb up. Along with Sam, they climb to a platform in the tree, where three elves sit. One, called Haldir, speaks to Frodo in the Common Tongue, explaining that, since the elves of Lothlórien seldom have dealings with outsiders anymore, he is one of the few elves that can speak the language. He says that Elrond’s messengers have been to Lórien and told them of Frodo, and he informs them that the elves are ready to give them shelter temporarily. Legolas and the hobbits are welcome, he says, and so is Aragorn, whose name is well known in Lothlórien. As for Gimli, Haldir is less welcoming but finally agrees that the dwarf may enter Lothlórien if blindfolded and guarded by Legolas and Aragorn. Haldir now invites them all to sleep in the tree platforms, or flets, for the night.
During the night, Frodo awakens to the sound of a company of orcs passing into the forest in pursuit of the fellowship. Haldir tells him that the elves have led the orcs in the wrong direction and that they will be dealt with further on by elvish troops. But Frodo also senses another creature climbing the tree, its bright eyes staring upward at him. The creature is frightened away when Haldir returns, and the elf tells Frodo that it was no orc, but hobbit-like in form.
The next morning, the elves lead the travelers into the center of their realm, but before passing there, they insist that Gimli be blindfolded. Gimli refuses, saying he will leave and return to his own lands rather than be humiliated in this manner. Aragorn suggests that the entire company be blindfolded, and this appeases Gimli, though Legolas is unhappy. As they cross into the heart of Lothlórien, Frodo feels that he has been transported back to an ancient and fairer world.
They walk for a day and a half before they are met by an army of elves, who tell Haldir that the orc raiders have been defeated and scattered. The army has also seen a small bent creature running away, but not knowing whether it was good or evil, they had spared its life. They bring another message as well: By permission of the Lady of the Galadhrim, the companions are to walk without blindfolds—even the dwarf, who thus becomes the first of Durin’s race to see the heart of Lothlórien. They can rest where they are and then make their way to the city of the Galadhrim by dusk. When the blindfolds are removed, Frodo beholds a beautiful and timeless wood, and a great tree on a hill that is the ancestral home of Amroth. He climbs to the flet, and from there he can see the city in one direction, and in another the southern end of Mirkwood, where Haldir tells him a dark power has returned to Sauron’s old fortress of Dol Guldur. When Frodo comes down the tree, he finds Aragorn waxing nostalgic at the foot of the hill, where he says his heart will dwell forever. He and Frodo leave the place, but Aragorn will never return to that spot.
As the seventh chapter (“The Mirror of Galadriel”) opens, Haldir leads the company to Caras Galadhon, the chief city of Lórien, where they are shown to a large hall high up the tallest mallorn trees in the forest and are greeted by Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel, the sovereigns of the golden wood. They are surprised that only eight travelers have come, since Elrond’s messenger had said the company would have nine members. When they hear that Gandalf has fallen in Moria, they are distraught at the news. Celeborn is especially disturbed to hear that a Balrog has been disrupted in Moria and blames the dwarves, even regretting the safe passage he has granted Gimli. But Galadriel defends the dwarves, saying that surely if she and her husband were exiled from Lórien, they would want to return no matter what darkness had befallen the place, just as dwarves now would want to see Khazad-dûm and its time-honored beauties. At these kind words, Gimli is so moved that he bows to her, saying that she and the living land of Lórien are more beautiful still.
Galadriel goes on to say that they are aware of the company’s quest, and she warns that it “stands upon the edge of a knife” (372). It may yet succeed, she says if all of the company are true. At this, she looks deep into each of the travelers’ hearts. Only later, when they discuss this among themselves, do they realize that she had been testing each of them, offering each in turn a choice between continuing the quest or abandoning it in favor of whatever they most desire. Frodo and Boromir are particularly affected by the Lady’s searching eyes, but neither will reveal what she offered them. Boromir repeats his distrust of her, but Aragorn dismisses such talk.
The fellowship remains in Lórien for several days. This gives them all time to rest, heal, and properly mourn Gandalf. Legolas spends a good deal of time exploring the golden wood, most often in the company of Gimli, which the others find remarkable. Over the days, the elves of Lórien sing songs of Gandalf, calling him by his elvish name of Mithrandir, and Frodo is, for the first time, inspired to compose his own song of Gandalf, which he recites to Sam. But one evening, Frodo confesses to Sam that he is becoming restless and feels that they should be starting back on their quest. Unexpectedly, the two of them are approached by the Lady Galadriel, who silently beckons them to follow. They go with her to the southern border of the city and down a long flight of steps to a hollow formed by a silver stream coming from the side of the hill. A basin of silver is here, filled with water, and, calling it the “Mirror of Galadriel,” the Lady blows upon the water, inviting the hobbits to gaze into it, if they will. The mirror, she says, may show the past or present, or the images of things that may occur in the future.
When Sam looks, he sees a vision of Frodo, pale and unconscious, and himself desperately searching for something in a narrow corridor. This is followed by a vision of the Shire being destroyed by the felling of trees and the smoke of a great red-brick building. Sam immediately wishes to return to protect his home, but Galadriel warns him that this is only a possible future, and that those who use the mirror to determine their actions may find that they bring the future about by trying to stop it. Sam resolves to return home only with Frodo.
When Frodo gazes into the mirror, he first sees, from a distance, a figure that looks like Gandalf, but dressed in white, so he realizes it may be Saruman. He then sees Bilbo, pacing his room. This is followed by the vision of a great ship coming from the west and establishing a fortress of seven towers. In the midst of battle, another ship, bearing the symbol of a white tree, appears, and then a small ship that sails away. Finally, Frodo has a vision of a great unblinking eye staring at him, looking everywhere for him. The weight of the One Ring becomes so great that it nearly pulls him into the water, and Galadriel breaks the illusion by warning him not to touch the mirror. She says she knows he saw the eye of Sauron, and tells him that she knows the mind of Sauron herself, as far as it affects the elves, and that she has kept his eye from reading her thoughts.
As Galadriel speaks, Frodo sees on her finger a white-stoned ring, and she confirms to him that she does wear Nenya, the Ring of Adamant (also called the Ring of Water), one of the three great rings of the elves. She explains to Frodo that his coming and his quest are bitter to the elves: If he is unsuccessful, then Sauron will be victorious. If Frodo is successful, then the power of the elves will be diminished as her ring will lose its power, and they will then pass from Middle-earth. Impressed by Galadriel’s wisdom, Frodo offers to give her the One Ring. First Galadriel laughs, declaring that he has paid her back for her earlier testing of him. She has been tempted to take the ring from Frodo now that he is defenseless in her realm, and this in itself is evidence of the ring’s evil. She would, she says, purpose to use the ring for good, but would ultimately turn into something terrible and corrupt. She refuses. She has, she says, passed the test. She will diminish and pass into the West.
That night, all the company is summoned again to the chamber of Celeborn, who tells them that the time has come for those who wish to move on, although anyone not intending to follow the quest further is welcome to stay in Lórien. Looking into their hearts, Galadriel informs him that all the fellowship will move on. But where will they go? Boromir has always intended to go to Minas Tirith, and Aragorn had planned to go there with him, but now that he has replaced Gandalf as leader, he does not feel he can abandon the ring. The company debates the point, some believing it would be better to go first to Minas Tirith rather than directly into Mordor. But Frodo will not choose. The great river Anduin cannot be crossed without boats, and if the company starts out from Lórien on the west bank of the Anduin, they will end up in Minas Tirith; if from the east bank, they will head toward Mordor. Celeborn gives the company boats as a parting gift, to allow them to navigate down the Anduin for several days—it will enable them to move more quickly and postpone their decision.
Chapter 8 (“Farewell to Lórien”) begins the next morning, as elves bring the company gifts from the Lady, including lembas (a waybread that will give them energy and stay fresh for many days) and elven cloaks that will help them blend into their surroundings. They are led through the city to the south, where they find boats waiting for them on the Silverlode River, equipped with lengths of rope, which delights Sam. Aragorn is in one boat, with Frodo and Sam; Boromir steers another, with Merry and Pippin; and Legolas and Gimli are in the third. As the companions begin to learn how to use the boats, they are met in the middle of the river by a great boat in the shape of a swan. Here Celeborn and Galadriel sit with their court. They have come to bid the company farewell and have brought a feast. They all move onshore to partake of the banquet. Here, Celeborn tells them what the lands will be like south of Lórien, and he advises Boromir to leave the party at the island of Tol Brandir, before the river plunges down the cataracts of Rauros and then becomes a fen.
Finally, the time has come for a parting cup of white mead. Galadriel gives each member of the company a special gift. To Aragorn, she gives a sheath for his sword and then inquires whether he has any other gift to ask of her. He responds that at one time she held the only treasure he desired, but that it was not hers to give to him. She then bestows on him a brooch with a stone that she says she had given her daughter Celebrían, who had passed it to her own daughter—Arwen Evenstar. With this gift, Galadriel names Aragorn Elessar, “the Elfstone of the house of Elendil” (391).
To Boromir she gives a belt of gold, and to Merry and Pippin belts of silver. To Sam she gives a wooden box with earth from Lórien, and she tells him that if he scatters the earth in his garden in the Shire, few gardens in Middle-earth will rival his. Legolas receives a long bow of Lórien strung with elf hair, with a quiver of arrows. Galadriel then asks Gimli what a dwarf might request of the elves, and Gimli asks for a strand of her hair. She gives him three strands, and Gimli promises to keep them as a pledge of goodwill between elves and dwarves forever. To Frodo, Galadriel gives a glass phial containing the light of Eärendil, the morning star. It will give him light in the darkest places, she tells him.
Finally, the company takes off in their boats. For some time, they watch Galadriel’s white figure on the shore as they leave Lórien farther behind and as the Silverlode empties them into the broad Anduin. For some time, they still hear her voice as it sings a sad song in the elvish tongue, and Gimli in particular mourns the loss of the beauty of Lórien and its Lady. Legolas tries to comfort him, but Gimli knows that, unlike elves, the memories of dwarves cannot approach the reality of the waking world. As they float on, the sound of the river puts Frodo to sleep.
Chapters 9–10: Lórien to Amon Hen
In chapter 9 (“The Great River”), the fellowship drifts down the wide Anduin River. As they travel farther from Lothlórien, the land becomes more barren and desolate to the east; to the west is a flat land of thick reeds, which is part of Rohan. They see few living things stirring, except for a phalanx of back swans.
On the fourth evening, Sam sees what looks like a log with eyes floating near Gimli’s boat. When they are camped for the night, he mentions this to Frodo, who says he, too, has seen the eyes following them through Moria and at the foot of the tree in Lothlórien. They suspect that it is the creature Gollum. Sam stands watch that night and wakes Frodo later to take over. Frodo sees Gollum near one of the boats, but the creature runs when Frodo pulls out Sting. Aragorn awakens and says that he has known about Gollum for some time and has been trying to catch him at night. He sees the creature as dangerous in himself, but also liable to set any enemies on them that he can.
The company moves on down the river, trying to travel by night. On the eighth night, they come upon the rapids of Sarn Gebir sooner than expected, and they are attempting to paddle away from the rapids when they are attacked by a party of orcs from the eastern bank of the river—set on their trail, they suspect, by Gollum. Amid the flying arrows of the orcs, the company is able to make their way to the west bank, and Legolas leaps out with his bow ready. At that point, a huge, dark creature flies toward them from above, striking terror into all the company. Frodo feels a chill from his wounded shoulder and tries to hide. But Legolas brings the creature down with one arrow, and it falls on the east bank. They hear no more from the orcs that night, and Gimli praises Legolas for hisshot, saying the beast reminded him of the Balrog in Moria. Frodo says it was not a Balrog but will not say what he thinks it was.
Now the company must decide whether to continue on the river or turn toward Gondor, as Boromir argues. Aragorn insists that he will travel farther downstream, to the ancient high seat on Amon Hen, made in the time of the great kings of Gondor, and there decide which direction to choose. He and Legolas explore the path along the stream to see whether the company can carry their boats beyond the rapids, and this proves to be possible, although it is difficult work and takes them a full day to complete. But they continue in their boats down the river until they pass through the Gates of Argonath, Pillars of the Kings. Here, on either side of the river, great stone pillars rise, on which are carved the images of Isildur and Anárion. The hobbits are frightened at this monument of ancient power, but Aragorn is inspired, saying that here the heir of Elendil, Elessar the Elfstone, has nothing to dread. But he wishes that Gandalf were there, so that he could more easily choose to go with Boromir to Gondor. Passing through the gates, the boats make for Amon Hen, the Hill of Sight, one of three islands in an oval lake called Nen Hithoel. They have now reached the point where they must choose their next destination: Gondor or Mordor.
As chapter 10 (“The Breaking of the Fellowship”) begins, the company lands on the west bank of the river at the foot of Amon Hen and spends the night onshore. In the morning, Aragorn puts the choice to the fellowship: They can no longer put off the decision of whether to go to Gondor or on to Mordor. When no one responds to Aragorn’s request for counsel, he turns to Frodo and tells him that the decision must be his, as the Ringbearer. Frodo asks for an hour alone to consider the choice.
The others agree and wait in their camp while Frodo wanders off into the woods. He comes to a clearing and sits on a large flat stone. As he ponders his decision, he feels hostile eyes on his back, but when he turns, he sees Boromir approaching him in a friendly manner. Boromir offers to help Frodo make his decision. He questions the wisdom of taking the ring into the enemy’s own territory, and he suggests that, wielded by the right man—Aragorn, for instance, or even Boromir himself—the ring could be the instrument of conquest over the Dark Lord and any other enemies. Frodo, remembering the words of Elrond and Gandalf, counters that any good deed done with the ring will turn to evil, for that is the nature of the ring. As Boromir works himself into a kind of madness, he lunges at Frodo, meaning to take the ring from him by force. At that point, Frodo puts the ring on his finger and disappears. Suddenly aware of what he has been doing, Boromir cries out that his madness has passed and begs Frodo to come back.
Invisible, Frodo flees to the top of the hill, climbing into the great stone seat. From this seat, the ring allows him to see imminent war on all sides as the forces of the enemy gather throughout Middle-earth. Frodo is able to look into Mordor itself where, once again, he is aware of the searching eye of Sauron. Frodo falls from the seat and hides his head, torn between the eye that seeks him and a voice that tells him to take off the ring. He does so just as the shadow of a dark arm passes over him and passes on to the West.
Now Frodo has come to a decision. He has known all along that he must take the ring to Mordor but has been afraid to do it and has been tempted by the easier road to Minas Tirith. But if Boromir can be overcome by greed for the ring, Frodo is not certain he can trust any of the rest of the fellowship, except perhaps for the other hobbits—and he is not willing to put his friends in danger. He must, he reasons, move off to Mordor alone. He puts the ring back on his finger and starts down the hill.
Back in their camp, the other companions are discussing the decision Frodo must make. Most of them would prefer to go with Boromir to Minas Tirith, though Gimli says he will go with Frodo wherever he goes. Aragorn suggests that everyone need not go into Mordor with Frodo—eight could not do any more than two or three, and he suggests that Pippin and Merry go to Gondor with Boromir, but the hobbits insist that they will stay with Frodo. They believe that Frodo is hesitating because he does not know which is the best decision. But Sam insists they are wrong: Frodo, he says, knows that there is only one choice, but he is afraid to take the ring into Mordor. At that point, Boromir stumbles into camp, asking if Frodo has come back. He says that he tried to persuade Frodo to come to Minas Tirith, and that when he became angry, Frodo disappeared. Aragorn suspects that more occurred, but Boromir will not elaborate, and now all the company runs off to look for Frodo.
Aragorn chases Sam up the hill and says that they should stay together. He finds Frodo’s tracks and begins to follow his trail up toward the stone chair. Sam is unable to keep up, but pauses to consider. Frodo, he knows, has resolved to go to Mordor—and, further, has resolved not to subject any of the others to the dangers of the journey. Frodo, therefore, must be taking one of the boats to move off to the other shore.
Rushing down the hill, Sam finds one of the boats floating away, apparently with no one in it. He jumps for the boat, misses it, and sinks into the water. Frodo, having now removed his ring, reaches in and pulls Sam out. Sam insists on going wherever Frodo goes, and although Frodo tries to convince him that he should go on alone, Sam steadfastly refuses to leave him. Frodo finally agrees, and the two hobbits cross the lake, landing on the east shore, and set out to cross the grey hills called Emin Muil, from which they will descend into the Land of Shadow.
Commentary for The Fellowship of the Ring
Book 1: The Ring Sets Out Chapter 1: A Long-expected Party
The chief purpose of the initial chapter is the transition it makes from The Hobbit, which most of Tolkien’s readers would have already read before coming to this book, and the wider, deeper story of The Lord of the Rings. Thus, Tolkien begins with Bilbo, the protagonist of the earlier novel, and the title of this chapter, “A Long-expected Party,” parallels and contrasts with the opening chapter of The Hobbit— “An Unexpected Party,” in which Bilbo unexpectedly entertains 13 dwarves who want him to come on an adventure. As in the earlier book, the chapter ends with the superannuated Bilbo setting out on another adventure. But as his first adventure allowed him to return home with the One Ring as a talisman, this time he must leave the ring behind before he leaves. Thus, the ring proves to be the main point of transition between stories, and Bilbo’s passing it on to Frodo signifies his passing of the heroic mantle to Frodo as well. The fact that this is Frodo’s 33rd birthday, marking his coming of age, underscores the significance of his receiving the ring at this transitional point of his life.
But whereas the ring played only a small part in Bilbo’s story, it will become the central focus of The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf’s concern and his urging Frodo to keep it secret and safe serve to focus the reader’s attention on the object. Our curiosity is aroused, as well, by Bilbo’s reluctance to give up the ring—he has pocketed the envelope containing it without even realizing he has done so, and Gandalf must remind him to leave the ring behind. This early, somewhat humorous incident foreshadows the ring’s very serious effects: It will grow to dominate anyone who tries to wield it, inspiring in its bearer a possessive greed and lust for power. The basic modesty and simplicity of hobbits make them less vulnerable than other races to the ring’s allure, but Bilbo’s actions reveal that he has not escaped unscathed from the ring’s power.
Chapters 2–5: From Hobbiton to Buckland
The second chapter places Frodo’s story into the vast and complex history of Middle-earth that is represented in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, the legendary history he had been compiling for more than 20 years when he began working on The Lord of the Rings in 1938. Gandalf’s conversation with Frodo occurs late in the Third Age of Middle-earth, but the ring is a talisman of the Second Age, and its history spans more than three millennia. The story of Elendil, Gil-galad, and the Last Alliance had already been composed in all its detail years earlier, and Gandalf’s allusions to those tales have the tone of one referencing a much deeper history. This is precisely the sort of conversation that gives The Lord of the Rings such a sense of depth, a sense that we are reading not simply about a fantasy world, but about a world that exists with its own long history.
That sense does occasionally come through in The Hobbit, but not nearly to this extent. Gandalf’s discussion of his finding and questioning Gollum does indicate how The Hobbit fits into this history. As for Gollum himself, Gandalf provides some foreshadowing in his comment that Gollum will yet have some part to play in the outcome of this affair. Further, his reaction to Frodo’s outburst that is “a pity” Bilbo had not killed Gollum when he had had the chance provides a part of the moral compass that will drive the events of the story: Pity is what stayed Bilbo’s hand. Mortals were not meant to make decisions about who should live and die. Though Gandalf does not use the term, he clearly implies that human beings should not assume the role of God over life and death. The ring, of course, would give its wearer that kind of power. Here at the beginning, Gandalf chides Frodo for suggesting that Bilbo should have employed such power. This conversation leads directly to Gandalf’s rejection of the ring itself when Frodo offers it to him. The ring is a great temptation, because one can always assert that his intention is to use it for good. But it is a short step from imposing one’s concept of goodness on others to enforcing one’s decrees with whatever ruthless power one can muster. The power of the ring will inevitably corrupt anyone who wields it.
One of Frodo’s chief motivations in agreeing to keep the ring and to get it out of the Shire is to protect the Shire from corruption. Gandalf and Aragorn both express similar comments later on, as if the Shire itself is an idyllic place whose inhabitants should continue in blissful ignorance of the dangers of the outside world. Eventually, of course, the Shire must be dragged into the conflict, but at least for the moment, many of the characters seem to think that its isolated innocence is worthwhile. Tolkien has provided, in the Shire, a fairly clear model of an agrarian English countryside, and one might suspect that he is recalling the Oxfordshire of his youth, prior to World War I, free from the evils of war and therefore worth preserving in his memory as an ideal.
Some critics, however, have seen embodied in the Shire a paternalistic society of upper-class gentleman landowners (like Frodo) and workingclass gardeners (like Sam) or peasant farmers (like Farmer Maggot) who call their betters “master” and speak in dialect. Sam’s first words are nearly a caricature of the dimwitted peasant: “Lor bless you Mr. Gandalf, sir!” (72), and later “Don’t let him hurt me, sir! Don’t let him turn me into anything unnatural! My old dad would take on so” (73). This, coupled with Frodo’s own comment about the inhabitants of the Shire—that at times he has found them “too stupid and dull for words” (71)—suggests an initial characterization of Sam as a working-class stereotype and Frodo as an aristocratic snob, with the reader perhaps inferring that Frodo’s attitude is Tolkien’s as well. Jane Chance has argued, however, that these initial characterizations simply put Frodo and Sam in the position of needing to learn about true nobility. Chance looks at the ways in which Tolkien presents class and regional, and ultimately racial and national, differences, and the suspicions that various groups have about the “Other” in all these cases. This sort of distrust must ultimately be overcome as the free peoples of Middle-earth unite against the Dark Lord, and Chance points out that “Only in the most enlightened countries and cultures of Middleearth are the inhabitants able to recognize nobility as cutting across race and national origin” (“Subversive Fantasist” 165). In the end, Sam proves himself as noble as Frodo. Tolkien, Chance argues, is ultimately egalitarian in his views: He “intends a level playing field for aristocrat, bourgeois, and commoner” (“Subversive Fantasist” 162).
In fact, once Frodo has reached Crickhollow, it is clear that Sam is not the ignorant rustic that he plays, for he has been gathering information and conspiring with Merry, Pippin, and Fatty Bolger to discover as much as possible about Frodo’s plans. Therefore, they know nearly everything about his journey and are prepared to help him or accompany him as far as needs be. They are particularly worried about him because of the appearance of the Black Riders. As we will learn later, the Black Riders are the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths—the nine mortal men who became slaves to their own rings of power and thus became the enemy’s perpetual servants. No longer human in any sense, they live as undead and disembodied creatures, visible only in their own shadow world but with great power in the world of the living, channeling the power of their master, Sauron. Their connection with the One Ring gives them the ability to sense its presence and to mentally compel Frodo to place it on his finger.
The evil presence of the Riders is counterbalanced in this section by the hobbits’ chance meeting with Gildor Inglorion and his fellow elves on the road. Gildor tells Frodo he is of the House of Finrod. In Tolkien’s legendarium, Finrod was the eldest son of Finarfin, one of the chief Noldor who returned to Middle-earth from Valinor, the Blessed Realm, in the First Age. It was Finrod (the brother of Galadriel, whom the hobbits will meet later) who built the secret elven kingdom of Nargothrond and was the first of the High-elves to welcome men, the Second-born race, to Middleearth. Gildor, in the spirit of the founder of his house, shows a remarkable acceptance of the hobbits, who are to him a race of Others—going so far as to name Frodo “Elf-friend.” Gildor now lives in Rivendell, and his advice to Frodo to make his way there is precisely what Gandalf would have told him. It becomes clear later that it must have been Gildor who alerted Elrond to the plight of Frodo in the wild, causing the lord of Rivendell to send scouts out looking for him.
Thus, like his kinsman Bilbo, Frodo sets out at the age of 50 to cross the Wild Lands with the aim of coming to rest in the elven refuge of Rivendell. The age of 50 seems to suggest for Tolkien a kind of symbolic transitional point: It is halfway to 100, and perhaps for his long-lived hobbits, Tolkien saw it as a point midway on their life’s journey, as Dante’s narrator is when he begins his quest in the Divine Comedy. Bilbo’s quest was to obtain a treasure; Frodo’s is to rid himself of one, if the ring can be called a treasure. Gandalf was the catalyst behind both hobbits’ journeys, but in Frodo’s case, the wizard is not present as the quest begins, even though Frodo’s is the more dangerous journey.
Chapters 6–8: From Buckland to Bree
The animosity of the trees in the Old Forest toward travelers is the sort of personification of inanimate objects that Tolkien may have seen as typical of what he called “fairy-stories.” But it is deeper than that and foreshadows the more dangerous rising of the trees of Fangorn Forest that occurs in The Two Towers. Both support one of the underlying themes of The Lord of the Rings, which is the importance of our relationship with the environment. Decades before the environmental movement became popular in the 1970s, Tolkien was emphasizing the importance of forests and the natural world, and the grim effects that industrialization was having on that world. Saruman’s destruction of the forest to build his arms factory in The Two Towers and the later pollution of the Shire by unbridled industrialization at the end of The Return of the King underscore the theme first introduced here by the Bucklanders’ burning of trees and the Old Forest’s subsequent enmity. In his lecture “On FairyStories,” Tolkien had alluded specifically to the escape that fairy stories provide from the internal combustion engine and all that implies, insisting that industrial progress does not necessarily make life better. In The Lord of the Rings, he puts forward the agrarian Shire as an ideal, destroyed by “Sharkey’s” industrialization.
Tom Bombadil appears as the friend of the environment: He can sing Old Man Willow out of devouring Merry and Pippin. But just who Tom Bombadil is—and, perhaps more important, why he is in the story at all—remains a mystery to most readers. Originally, according to Humphrey Carpenter, he was a Dutch doll that belonged to Tolkien’s son Michael (162). In 1934, Tolkien had published a poem called “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” in Oxford Magazine. In early drafts of The Lord of the Rings, Bombadil found his way into the manuscript, and Tolkien, after several drafts, decided to keep him in—a decision that has puzzled many readers, including Peter Jackson, who left Bombadil out of his acclaimed film version. Tolkien himself said in a 1954 letter to Naomi Mitchison, a proofreader at Allen & Unwin, that Bombadil was an intentional enigma. He is, in a narrative about power and control, someone who has “renounced control,” who takes “delight in things for themselves,” who is, in other words, a “natural pacifist” (Letters 179). Bombadil seems capable of great magic, but he is not a wizard. He dwells in the forest and is wed to an elf queen, but he is no elf. The ring has no effect on him, nor does he seem to care about it. Goldberry says that he is the master of the woods, the water, and the hill. He himself says that he is Eldest and has been in Middle-earth since before the First Age.
Early commentators generally considered Bombadil a kind of personification of nature or the earth itself. In a 1968 essay, for example, Edmund Fuller describes him as “unclassifiable other than as some primal nature spirit” (23). Tom Shippey follows Tolkien himself in calling Tom Bombadil a genius loci or “spirit of the place”—the spirit, specifically, of the rural environs of Oxfordshire and Berkshire (J. R. R. Tolkien 63). Deborah and Ivor Rogers eventually went beyond this interpretation, suggesting that, since Bombadil describes himself as “Eldest”—he “was here already, before the seas were bent,” so that he “remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn” and “knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless” (142)—he is the embodiment of Divine Wisdom, as described in Proverbs 8:23–30:
From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
. . . . .
When he fixed the heavens firm,
I was there, when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
. . . . .
when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side . . . (JB)
Rogers and Rogers suggest that in Bombadil’s marriage to Goldberry, Tolkien presents an ideal marriage, pictured as “a union of consciousness with nature,” making their connection an instance of cosmic harmony (101). This explanation underscores Bombadil’s connection to divinity but does not do much to explain his function in the text.
Gene Hargrove later argued that, based on his age and his power, and in particular his singing— which Hargrove calls “fundamental to his being in a profound way that distinguishes him from all other beings encountered in the trilogy” (22)— Bombadil can be identified as one of the Valar in Tolkien’s mythology. The Valar, as described in the Ainulindalë (the creation myth that opens The Silmarillion), were among those who sang the universe into being, and then entered it to assist in the completion of the plan in the mind of Ilúvatar, the creator god. Hargrove even identifies Bombadil specifically with Aulë the Smith—the Vala most interested in men and elves and himself the creator of the race of dwarves—and Goldberry with Aulë’s consort, Yavanna, who is responsible for the growing things of Middle-earth. Paul Lewis has accepted this argument in a recent article. And given Bombadil’s powers as well as his propensity to accomplish things through song, it is not unlikely that Tolkien conceived of him as a Vala, although I cannot accept the argument that he is specifically intended to be Aulë—why, if he were Aulë, would he take so little interest in the affairs of dwarves, for instance? And why would Goldberry, as the powerful Yavanna, seem to take so little part in the affairs of the forest beyond making dinner and making it rain? Besides, in Tolkien’s 1934 poem, Goldberry is the daughter of a haglike river deity; she is certainly no Vala. Finally, the identification of Bombadil does little to explain his function in the narrative.
More recently, Klaus Jensen and Ruairidh MacDonald have considered Bombadil from the perspective of Jungian psychology. They see some connection between Bombadil and the trickster archetype, since the trickster’s task is to “facilitate psychological transitions by breaking down old barriers and outdated conscious attitudes,” and Bombadil enters the story just as the hobbits have left the Shire and must confront the wider world (Jensen and MacDonald 37). But in Bombadil they see none of the trickster’s negative qualities (e.g., his uncontrollable mischievousness), and identify him instead as the archetypal divine child, the wise fool, and ultimately the divine jester. As divine child, he represents birth, rebirth, and triumph over death—evidenced especially in his rescue of the hobbits from their burial in the barrows (Jensen and MacDonald 39). But a further function of the divine child is to bring one back to his original roots. In the case of Frodo, suddenly cut off from his roots, Bombadil represents “life affirming gaiety, ‘earthiness’, and literal selflessness”—the best characteristics of hobbits (Jensen and MacDonald 40). Further, as divine jester, Bombadil makes fun of the ring itself, denigrating its power, and modeling for Frodo a return to the world’s original state of harmony, where it is possible, like Bombadil, to transcend the power of the One Ring (Jensen and MacDonald 42).
This transcendence does not seem to be a real option for any of the other characters in the story, however. It will not defeat Sauron, and it will not destroy the ring; Frodo and his friends must move on. One other aspect of these chapters worth commenting on is the function of dreams, a topic explored extensively by Verlyn Flieger, especially in her book A Question of Time. Of course, Tolkien would have been used to the significance of literary dreams through his study of medieval literature, with its ubiquitous dream visions and prophetic visions. But Flieger notes Tolkien’s interest in dreams, especially owing to his reading of Jung and Freud in the 1920s, leading him to explore such visions in The Lord of the Rings as a way to “reach into unsuspected regions of the mind, bridge time and space, and so demonstrate the interrelationship between dreaming and waking that the two states of being can be seen as parts of a greater whole” (A Question of Time 176). The first significant dream of this sort is Frodo’s in the house of Tom Bombadil, when he unwittingly dreams of Gandalf’s rescue from Orthanc by eagles—an event that occurs even as he is dreaming it, and whose significance he does not recognize until he hears Gandalf’s version of events in Rivendell. Flieger calls this a “full-fledged dream-vision, an out-of-body experience in which the dreamer travels to another place and there witnesses an actual event that he could not possibly see in real life” (A Question of Time 189). I would suggest that Tolkien, based on his reading of Macrobius’s influential fourth-century Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, would have categorized this as a visio or prophetic vision, in which one dreams something that ultimately comes true (Macrobius 90).
The other significant dream is Merry’s after his rescue from the Barrow-wight. To clarify, the barrows are stone-chambered burial mounds in which the men of Westernesse—the Dúnedain from whom Aragorn is descended—had buried their dead long ago in the Second Age of Middle-earth. The Barrow-wights are evil spirits, the ghosts of the men of Angmar killed in these downs in battle in the middle of the Third Age. Tolkien borrowed the concept of the Barrow-wight from the draugr of Old Norse legend. As it appears in the narrative Waking of Angantyr from the Elder Edda (or Poetic Edda, as it is more commonly known), or in sagas such as the Saga of Hromund Gripsson, the draugr was an undead spirit that haunted its own gravesite, protecting its treasures. Here, the Barrow-wights are the slain followers of the Witch-king of Angmar, who waged unrelenting war on the Dúnedain of the North, destroying their kingdoms until his defeat by united forces of elves and the men of Gondor in the Battle of Fornost in the year 1975 of the Third Age (1,043 years before the events of this chapter). The Witch-king became a Ringwraith, chief of the Nazgûl and one of the Black Riders now pursuing Frodo.
There is no evidence that the Barrow-wight of this chapter is in contact with the Ringwraiths or has any notion the Frodo bears the One Ring. The Barrow-wights seem to capture any travelers they can in order to perform a kind of ritual sacrifice, in which they dress the prisoners in the garments of their enemies, Dúnedain of the North killed in battle in these downs in the distant past, and then slaughter them. Merry, dressed in white with a golden circlet around his head, cries out as he awakens:
“Of course, I remember! . . . The men of Carn Dum came on us at night, and we were worsted. Ah! The spear in my heart!” He clutched his breast. “No! No!” he said, opening his eyes. “What am I saying? I have been dreaming.” (154)
Carn Dum was the capital of Angmar. Merry is here remembering, in a dream, the death of one of the men of the North in an attack by the followers of the Witch-king more than a thousandyears before—and remembering it as if it happened to him. Macrobius never deals with this kind of dream. Flieger links it to Tolkien’s interest in the idea of “inherited memory,” a concept Tolkien gleaned from Carl Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, and that he explored in The Lost Road (abandoned about 1936) and The Notion Club Papers (abandoned about 1946), two unfinished time-travel novels on which he was working about the time he finished the chapter on the Barrow-downs in 1938. In those texts, the protagonists experience dreams through which they relive things that happened to their own ancestors in the distant past. In Merry’s case, however, there is no direct line of descent from the defeated warrior in the barrow—who is, Flieger asserts after an examination of Tolkien’s appendices to The Return of the King, the prince of Cardolan, slain after being besieged here in 1409 (Flieger, “The Curious Episode” 109). Rather than an inherited memory, Merry’s dream is an extra-personal experience from the past that overpowers him. The event has the function, Flieger concludes, of stressing “the immediacy of the past in the present” (“Curious Incident” 109), a major theme of the novel. This incident, though never recalled as the story progresses, does have one significant effect on subsequent events: Tom Bombadil arms each of the hobbits with a blade from the barrow. Thus, the blade that Merry carries is one forged by the Dúnedain of the North specifically to fight the Witch-king of Angmar. As Shippey points out, it is this blade that Merry will use to bring down the Witch-king himself, lord of the Nazgûl, in The Return of the King (Road 105).
Chapters 9–12: From Bree to Rivendell
The Prancing Pony in Bree is another safe haven for Frodo and the others, like the house of Tom Bombadil earlier and as Rivendell will be at the end of this book. As he had in The Hobbit, Tolkien alternates dangerous adventures with places of refuge on Frodo’s quest. Bree is a fascinating place: Unique in Middle-earth, it is a place where hobbits and men live together and with apparent camaraderie. Here Pippin and Frodo enjoy the comforts of good food and fellowship in a way reminiscent of a British public house like Tolkien’s favorite Oxford house, the Eagle and Child.
In the early chapters of this section, Tolkien provides a few concrete details that help the reader distinguish the characters of Merry and Pippin, two figures that to this point have simply been Frodo’s companions, the “other” hobbits. But from the beginning of chapter 9, Merry emerges as a more mature and levelheaded character. It is he who stands upon his dignity with the town’s gatekeeper, cowing him and gaining entry for the travelers. Merry also forgoes the drinking in the pub, preferring a walk by himself, which ultimately allows him to uncover Bill Ferny’s complicity with the Enemy. Merry displays an innate courage in actually following one of the Black Riders to see where it travels. Pippin, on the other hand, is unrestrained and spontaneous but also reckless, as he shows when he talks too much without realizing the damage he may do by mentioning Bilbo’s disappearance at his birthday party.
The character of the One Ring itself also becomes somewhat more clear in chapter 9, as it “accidentally” slips onto Frodo’s finger at the climax of his performance, causing him to disappear and thereby become the focus of every gossip in Bree. Frodo will become more and more aware that the ring has a will of its own: As much as Sauron wishes to regain it, the ring itself longs to be reunited with its creator and master. Frodo must not be caught off guard, and his own will must be strong enough to resist the ring and its pull.
Most important, of course, the character of Strider is introduced in the first two chapters of this section. To Butterbur he is simply a “Ranger,” one of the vagabond wanderers for whom he seems to have little use. When Strider offers his services to Frodo, he seems someone of questionable character, and it is no wonder that Sam, always cautious and slow to trust anyone outside of his group, is reluctant to take Strider at his word. But it is clear from the beginning that Strider knows a great deal more about the Black Riders, the ring, and Frodo’s own situation than anyone else the travelers have met aside from Tom Bombadil. And Gandalf’s letter makes it clear that Strider is an important figure, a friend, and someone the hobbits should trust to help them cross the Wild Country to Rivendell.
The hobbits do not understand the last part of Gandalf’s poem, proclaiming that the “blade that was broken” shall be renewed, and that the “crownless again shall be king.” But the reader has been given enough information at this point to guess at Strider’s identity. His real name, Gandalf says, is Aragorn. Frodo does not seem to recall, but Gandalf had mentioned Aragorn in the second chapter, calling him “the greatest traveler and huntsman in this age of the world” (67) and describing how he had tracked down Gollum. Gandalf, of course, had also told Frodo of Elendil’s death in the battle to overthrow Sauron, and how his son and heir, Isildur, had cut the ring from Sauron’s hand. Gandalf had mentioned, as well, the loss of the ring upon Isildur’s death as he came north. From Tom Bombadil, the hobbits have heard about the fall of the northern kingdom of the men of Westernesse, overthrown by the king of Angmar, and Bombadil has told them that “some still go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless” (157). The clues to Aragorn’s identity as Isildur’s heir are all in place once Gandalf’s letter is read, and his identity is underscored when he reveals that he is the bearer of the broken sword that Gandalf referred to in his verses.
Once Strider begins helping the hobbits on their journey, his superior talents as a tracker, healer, and fighter become manifest. He detects Gandalf’s earlier presence on Weathertop, fights off the Black Riders with fire, and keeps Frodo alive through his knowledge of herbs, long enough for the rescue from Rivendell to arrive.
Clearly Aragorn is a hero of a different stature than the hobbits. Frodo has by now begun to develop beyond the comfortable middle-aged hobbit of the earlier chapters. In the barrow, he had roused himself from his fear and cut off the wight’s hand with his sword before summoning Bombadil. On Weathertop, he has used his blade against the chief Black Rider himself. Finally, at the Ford of Bruinen, he confronts the Riders, telling them to go back to Mordor and leave him. However, he has shown a weakness of will in putting the ring on his finger in response to the unspoken urging of the Nazgûl, and he has suffered a nearly mortal wound as a result. As a hero, these adventures have initiated him into heroic status, and his near-death experience will serve as a symbolic death, from which he will be resurrected a new and stronger character, willing to take on the duty of Ring-bearer. But Frodo, like Bilbo before him, is an “everyman” character, whose adventures demonstrate the heroic potential in the most normal individuals when they are confronted with extreme circumstances.
Aragorn, on the other hand, is the more typical epic hero. He descends from a line of kings, he has qualities that give him heroic stature—courage, wisdom, authority, determination, and a preordained destiny—and he intends to assume his rightful role as king. Like a Beowulf or a Roland, the fate of his entire nation depends upon him. His role will become more significant as the story progresses—although, ultimately, it is the “everyman” Frodo, and not the epic hero Aragorn, who is most instrumental in defeating the Dark Lord.
A key to Aragorn’s character is the song that he sings on Weathertop in chapter 11. This is the story of Beren and Lúthien, a tale central to Tolkien’s legendarium and a key chapter of The Silmarillion. It is the story of a mortal man, Beren, who falls in love with the ethereal elven beauty Lúthien, and how the two of the together are able to obtain one of the Silmarils from the crown of the Dark Lord, Melkor. From this union, ultimately, came Eärendil, ancestor of all the kings of Númenor and, hence, of Aragorn himself. The story clearly has a significance for Aragorn beyond this, however, as he sighs at the end of the song and “his eyes shone, and his voice was rich and deep” as he explains the song to the hobbits (206). Only after the company has reached Rivendell does the reason for Aragorn’s behavior here become apparent: It seems clear that Aragorn has a special relationship with Arwen, daughter of Elrond. Like his forebear Beren, Aragorn is in love with an elven princess. Thus, he is more than the epic hero in the mold of Beowulf; he is also the romance hero, inspired by his love for a fair mistress. As Aragorn’s quest is to regain his kingdom, that goal is in part inspired by his desire to be worthy of the fair Arwen. Like the knight who succeeds on his quest in a medieval romance narrative, Aragorn hopes to win his lady through achieving his task.
Glorfindel is a more minor character here, but, like Aragorn, he has a significant history. In Glorfindel’s case, that history goes far beyond his function in this story. He is depicted as an elf of the House of Finarfin, and thus he is related to Gildor Inglorion, whom Frodo had met earlier, and, more significantly, to Galadriel, daughter of Finarfin, whom he will meet in book 2. Glorfindel is depicted as Elrond’s chief counselor in Rivendell. The reader can hardly be expected to know what Tolkien knows: that Glorfindel had been in command of the elvish army that defeated the Witchking of Angmar in the Battle of Fornost 1,100 years earlier. But in The Silmarillion—unpublished, of course, at the time of the release of The Fellowship of the Ring—Tolkien had introduced Glorfindel as an elf of the hidden elven kingdom of Gondolin in the First Age. He had escaped the destruction of Gondolin along with Tuor and Idril and their son Eärendil (the father of Elrond), and saved them by doing battle with a Balrog as they fled. Glorfindel and the Balrog had both fallen, struggling, to their deaths. In The Return of the Shadow (1986), Christopher Tolkien explains that his father, on the principle that elvish names are unique to the individual, had decided that “Glorfindel of Gondolin . . . and Glorfindel of Rivendell were one and the same,” and that Glorfindel “had been released from Mandos [the house of the dead in Valinor, the blessed Realm] and returned to Middle-earth in the Second Age” (Tolkien Return of the Shadow 214–215). Intentional or not, for a reader coming to The Lord of the Rings with The Silmarillion in the background, Glorfindel becomes a figure and foreshadowing of Gandalf himself: Like Gandalf, Glorfindel sacrificed himself to save the company he was leading by falling during a battle with a Balrog. And like Gandalf, Glorfindel was resurrected to become a significant player in the battle against Sauron. Thus, book 1 ends with a figure looking forward to the climactic event of book 2.
Book 2: The Ring Goes South
Chapters 1–2: In the House of Elrond
The second book opens as Frodo awakens in the House of Elrond to find Gandalf at his bedside. Frodo has been unconscious for three days and four nights, and his awakening is a kind of resurrection to a new life—a life, as it turns out, of new courage and also new responsibilities. Frodo is hardly the same hobbit he was when he started his journey from Bag End. Two details of particular significance in the first chapter are Frodo’s reuniting with Bilbo and the introduction of the Lady Arwen.
Frodo is, of course, overjoyed to see Bilbo again. The old hobbit is now 128 years old and much more frail than Frodo remembers, due mainly to Bilbo’s separation from the One Ring, which had unnaturally extended his life. Frodo finds that Bilbo is well respected among the elves; that he has been busy writing the book of his adventures, to which he hopes to add Frodo’s as well; and that even Aragorn knows him well enough to help him compose his poetry. Of course, Bilbo is modest and realistic, knowing that his songs do not rival those of the elven masters. He even has what Aragorn calls the “cheek” to sing a song of Eärendil in the house of Elrond (250). For readers unfamiliar with The Silmarillion, this is a rather obscure comment. But for those acquainted with Tolkien’s legendarium, it makes perfect sense.
Elrond, whose great age astounds Frodo in the next chapter, has been in Middle-earth since the First Age; thus, he is more than 6,000 years old and was an eyewitness to the events that brought the One Ring into Isildur’s hands when Sauron first fell. Aragorn’s comment about the song of Eärendil follows from the fact that Eärendil was actually Elrond’s father. Eärendil was a mortal man, the great hero of the First Age. He escaped from the downfall of Gondolin (through Glorfindel’s sacrifice) and ultimately married the elven princess Elwing, granddaughter of Beren and Lúthien. With the help of the Silmaril that Elwing had inherited from her parents, Eärendil had sailed to the Blessed Realm of Valinor, and had convinced the Valar (the angelic beings charged with the governance of the earth, or Arda) to intercede in the war between the fallen angel Morgoth and the races of elves and men. Eärendil still steers his ship among the stars, and the Silmaril is the morning or evening star. Significantly for this particular scene, Eärendil had two sons with Elwing: Elrond and Elros, both called Halfelven. The sons were given the choice to share the fate of mortal men or of the long-lived elves. Elrond chose the life of the elves, while his brother chose mortality and became the first of the kings of Númenor, of the men of the West—and thus was the ancestor of Aragorn.
Thus, Bilbo, as oldest and, one would hope, wisest of the hobbits, displays his knowledge of ancient lore through his song, which the elves are polite enough to ask to hear again. But more important for the story as a whole is Bilbo’s interaction with Frodo over the ring. Gandalf warns Bilbo that it will do no good if he tries to “meddle with it again” (244), but he whispers to Frodo that he would like to have a look at it once more. Frodo feels “a strange reluctance” to show him, but pulls it out on the chain that is around his neck and quickly snatches it back when Bilbo tries to hold it. He finds that Bilbo has become “a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands” (244). The brief scene demonstrates the corrupting effect of the ring, even on so good a soul as Bilbo, who is very nearly overcome by a greed that could potentially alienate him from his most beloved kinsman. This is what the power of the One Ring can do to even the simplest and least treacherous of souls. Frodo’s reaction may in part be the early manifestation of the desire to keep the ring for himself, but for the most part it is probably his sensing of Bilbo’s greedy motives. The confrontation separates Bilbo from Frodo by underscoring Bilbo’s inappropriateness as Ring-bearer for this new adventure. Up to this point, Frodo’s adventures have essentially retraced Bilbo’s, in his journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell—even to the point of passing by the petrified trolls from Bilbo’s first adventure. But now the torch has clearly been passed to Frodo, and Bilbo himself realizes this when, in the following chapter, he gives Frodo his elven blade Sting as well as his mithril coat. It is a scene that formally depicts the transference of the heroic mantle from one generation to the next. Following closely Frodo’s near-death and resurrection, this handing down of heroic talismans ceremoniously marks Frodo’s initiation into heroic status that has taken place in the journey to Rivendell.
The introduction of the Lady Arwen Evenstar into the narrative is another detail that readers may not yet understand in its full significance. Arwen is Elrond’s daughter by the elven princess Celebrían, daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn, the sovereigns of Lothlórien who will come into the story later. Celebrían had been attacked and wounded by orcs thousands of years before, and she had passed over the sea to Valinor, while Arwen stayed for most of her life in Lórien with her grandmother Galadriel, only occasionally visiting Rivendell. Thus, her presence at this feast is unusual, and—since there is no other lady of the house—her presiding with Elrond over the meal is a rare treat. When Bilbo comments to Aragorn that he had expected to see him with the Lady Arwen, and when Frodo sees them together in the Hall of Fire, it becomes apparent that there is a particular connection between the two. Now the special meaning of Aragorn’s song of Beren and Lúthien on Weathertop is clarified, as Aragorn, like his forebear Beren, seeks to wed the elven princess who is said to resemble her famous ancestor, Lúthien herself. The ultimate significance of this alliance for Arwen will become clear only much later. As one of the family of the Halfelven, Arwen may also choose to become mortal, and if she marries Aragorn, she will have opted for his mortality.
The second chapter, “The Council of Elrond,” is probably the most important chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring in terms of exposition. It is certainly the longest, at nearly 15,000 words, and, as Tom Shippey has pointed out, it is a chapter in which nothing happens (J. R. R. Tolkien 68). It is essentially a chapter made up of people talking; therefore, it has the potential to deflate reader interest. The fact that few if any readers have been put off by the chapter is a testament to Tolkien’s narrative skill. As Shippey enumerates, there are no fewer than 12 speakers in the chapter, seven of whom the reader has not met before; further, Gandalf, who delivers the longest speech, quotes directly from seven additional speakers (J. R. R. Tolkien 68). The variety certainly helps break up the exposition, and the fact that at this point readers have enough information to be in suspense as to what will be done with the ring keeps interest high. Besides, a great number of things are clarified in this chapter: We learn that Sauron knows the name Baggins and knows someone from the Shire has the ring; we learn that Gollum has given Sauron this information and that Gollum has subsequently escaped from the elves of Mirkwood; we learn that Aragorn is indeed Isildur’s heir and may have a right to the throne of Gondor; we learn the details of how Elendil’s sword was broken when Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger; we learn that the Riders of Rohan—whom we have not yet met— may be wavering in their alliance with the free peoples of Middle-earth; and, most significant, we learn that Saruman, chief wizard, has become a powerful enemy.
Further, in this chapter, as Shippey argues, Tolkien uses his interest in language to indicate character and cultural difference among the speakers by their different manners of speech. Shippey points out the archaic nature of the elder statesman Elrond’s language, both in vocabulary and in his tendency to invert word order, as in a sentence like “Only to the North did these tidings come” (257). Glóin is taciturn and his sentences are short, often lacking transitional phrasing, Shippey argues. Boromir and Aragorn contrast each other, Boromir using a formal, almost “Elrondian” style, according to Shippey, and Aragorn a more colloquial, sometimes even “chatty” style, as with Boromir’s challenging “Mayhap the Sword-that-was-Broken will stem the tide—if the hand that wields it has inherited not an heirloom only, but the sinews of the Kings of Men” and Aragorn’s deflecting “Who can tell? . . . but we will put it to the test one day” (281).
Perhaps the most sophisticated use of language is in Saruman’s speeches as reported by Gandalf. As Shippey asserts, Saruman uses the most modernsounding language, and he constantly equivocates, shifting from one view to another as he tries to persuade Gandalf to join him, ultimately resorting to abstractions that make it difficult to pin down what he means. “His message,” Shippey argues, “is in any case compromise and calculation” (J. R. R. Tolkien 75), and Shippey quotes the following example of the voice of Saruman:
“We can bide our time, we can keep out thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our design, only in our means.” (272–273)
This is Machiavellian in the worst sense of the word, in which the end justifies the means, and it is sophistry in the way only a skilled modern politician can perform it, disguising a wrong cause in fair words. No wonder Shippey calls Saruman the “most contemporary figure in Middle-earth” (J. R. R. Tolkien 68–77).
Saruman’s desertion of the cause is the most significant revelation to come from this council. Tolkien has been careful to depict Saruman as a leader, head of the White Council, most learned of the allies in matters of ancient lore, particularly as regards the One Ring. But Gandalf makes it clear that Saruman is ready to abandon his allies in order to be on the winning side. It is unclear at this point what Saruman’s ultimate plan is, since he implies, first, that he would like to find the ring and wield it himself, but second, that he is willing to become Sauron’s ally, in the belief that he will ultimately be able to control and direct Sauron’s power. One wonders, considering what seem to be the limits of Gandalf’s power, how Saruman, another wizard, can believe he would have the power to control Sauron.
Before dismissing Saruman’s plans as delusions of grandeur, however, it would be advisable to consider the role of wizards in Tolkien’s legendarium. In The Silmarillion, it is recorded that in the year 1,000 of the Third Age, the Valar sent five angelic beings into Middle-earth, whose specific purpose was to give aid to the Free Peoples (that is, elves, men, and dwarves, and presumably hobbits) against the devices of Sauron. These beings are called Istari by the elves but wizards in the language of Westron. Elsewhere in The Silmarillion, it is recorded that Olórin, the wisest of all the Maiar (heavenly beings slightly less powerful than the Valar), was especially concerned with aiding mortal men, and that he came to Middle-earth as one of the Istari, where he was called Mithrandir by the elves and Gandalf the Grey among men.
Thus, Saruman is in fact a Maia, like Sauron himself, and therefore may well have had the ability to challenge Sauron. The Istari, however, had been expressly charged by the Valar not to subjugate the races of Middle-earth and not to match Sauron’s power with a direct challenge of their own. Therefore, Saruman’s deliberate intent is to violate the specific directives of the Valar, and both to dominate Middle-earth and to contest Sauron’s power with his own. It is no wonder that Gandalf eschews him.
One other passage in this chapter that will be particularly obscure to one unfamiliar with The Silmarillion is the allusion to the White Tree in Elrond’s description of Gondor before the fall of the eastern tower of Minas Ithil and the desertion of the city of Osgiliath:
There in the courts of the King grew a white tree, from the seed of that tree which Isildur brought over the deep waters, and the seed of that tree before came from Eressëa, and before that out of the Uttermost West in the Day before days when the world was young. (257)
The White Tree of Númenor, called Nimloth, had grown in the king’s court on that island kingdom before the corruption of the kings by Sauron in the Second Age. It had been grown from a seedling of Celeborn, the White Tree of the elves of the island of Tol Eressëa, which in turn had grown from a seedling of a White Tree of the elves of Valinor itself. That tree, Galathilion, had been created for the Eldar by the Vala Yavanna and modeled on the Silver Tree of the Valar, Telperion, which had lighted Valinor before its destruction by Melkor (Morgoth), the fallen Vala, and the subsequent creation of the sun and moon. In Númenor, the White Tree was a symbol of the Númenóreans’ faith in the Valar and alliance with the Eldar—until Sauron destroyed both the tree and that faith. Isildur, however, had stolen a fruit from Nimloth and brought it with him when he and his father, Elendil, fled Númenor’s destruction and landed in Middle-earth, and the seed was planted at Minas Ithil. When Sauron destroyed that tree as well, Isildur planted a seed at Minas Arnor in memory of his brother Anárion. That last tree had withered by the time of the council, though the blighted tree has been left standing in Minas Tirith. The tree symbolizes the former glory of Gondor, its historical connection with Númenor, and the spiritual connection of mortals with the Valar, the creatures of heaven. The restoration of the tree will prove a significant moment in the return of the rightful king to Gondor at the end of The Lord of the Rings.
The one thing that actually does happen in this chapter to move the plot along is the decision reached by the council: The One Ring must be destroyed. And when the question comes up as to who must bear the ring to the only place it can be unmade—the Cracks of Doom in the volcanic Orodruin, in the very center of Mordor itself—none of the council dares speak, except for Bilbo, whose offer, at the age of 128, to carry the ring himself is a bit of comic relief that reminds us, again, that he is no longer the hero. It is Frodo who must step forward, but he must do so on his own. Well aware of his own limitations, his offer is made simply in a small voice: “I will take the Ring . . . though I do not know the way” (284). It may be one of the most modest acceptances of the hero’s role in all of literature, but it is a sincere acceptance. Before Rivendell, Frodo was not likely to have considered himself up to such a task. But now, toughened by his difficult road and his near-mortal wound, Frodo recognizes that duty and responsibility call him to this charge. In this he is a modern hero: Untempted by fame, fortune, honors or other rewards, Frodo’s only motivation is his responsibility to do right in the defense of those things, like the Shire, that he holds dear. This sense, in both Frodo and Sam, will become more manifest as their quest goes on.
Chapters 3–5: Rivendell through Moria
The first matter of significance in chapter 3 is the reforging of the sword of Elendil. Like the great swords of medieval epic and romance, this sword has a name—Narsil (“Sun and Moon”). When it is reforged by the elves, Aragorn renames it Andúril (“Flame of the West”). It can hardly be a coincidence that this echoes the name of Roland’s great sword, Durendal, in the Old French epic Song of Roland—perhaps the most famous broken sword in medieval literature. There, Roland had broken his own sword with his dying strength, to ensure that no enemy Saracen would be able to wield it. In essentially reversing the first two syllables of the name of Roland’s sword, Tolkien underscores the contrasting role of Aragorn’s sword—broken on the enemy, Saracen, it is reforged to wage new war upon his forces. But the more direct source for the motif of Tolkien’s reforged sword was undoubtedly the sword of Sigurd in the Völsunga Saga, as Lin Carter has pointed out (Carter 159). Sigurd had inherited the fragments of his father Sigmund’s sword, broken in battle with a disguised Ódin. The sword is reforged by the dwarf Regin and named Gram by Sigurd, who uses it to defeat the dragon Fafnir. As Sigurd’s reforged sword symbolizes his reaching the status of the mature hero and equips him to perform the greatest feat of martial prowess in Norse mythology, so Aragorn’s sword has done the same for him.
The Fellowship is ultimately made up of nine members (to contrast the nine Black Riders), and they leave Rivendell in late December. As a medieval scholar, Tolkien would certainly have been aware of the traditional symbolic associations of these details. He may very well have been thinking of one of his favorite medieval texts, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, whose hero faces beheading during the Christmas season but escapes and is given, essentially, new life—armed with a hard-won selfknowledge. Certainly Christmastide would suggest hope and renewal, even a sense of divine guidance, to Tolkien the Christian. Of course, Middleearth is not a Christian world, but the symbolism of Christmas as a season has to do with its association with the winter solstice: At the nadir of the natural cycle, Christmas occurs when the world is darkest, but at precisely the time when light begins to come back into the world. Thus, it is a time of celebration of the renewal of the natural cycle and an archetypal period of new beginning. And therefore, despite the gloominess the characters feel at the idea of facing the elements in the dead of winter, there is some hope for the expedition suggested in the very date of their departure.
The number 9 has profound mythic significance. As the last simple number, it often symbolizes finality or a boundary or limit—or, indeed, an ultimate achievement. In medieval theology, there are nine orders of angels, and there are nine spheres in the heavens. In Norse mythology, there are nine worlds. Of particular interest to Tolkien was probably the association of the number with the chief Norse god Ódin, who, according to the poem “Hávamál” in the Poetic Edda, voluntarily hung on Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that formed the world’s axis, in order to learn the secret wisdom of runes. Tolkien certainly does not want the reader to necessarily think of these specific associations of the number 9, but the number does suggest completeness—and the council has taken care to make sure that representatives of all the free peoples of Middle-earth are a part of the Fellowship. The number is also associated with achievement, sacrifice, and wisdom—and as the Fellowship continues on its way, it is clear that both wisdom and sacrifice will be necessary to the achievement of its purpose.
The first challenge for the Fellowship is their attempt to cross the Misty Mountains by climbing Mount Caradhras. The travelers actually feel that the mountain itself is defying them and deliberately or consciously barring their advance. This is not unlike the hobbits’ experience in the Old Forest, where the trees bore a malevolent will toward the intruders. Once again, the relationship of various peoples with nature is a complicated one, and Tolkien continues to suggest that nature is not merely a passive observer of human actions: At times it may even have malicious intent. The blizzard that makes the mountain impassable actually has its roots in Tolkien’s own past. He experienced a frightening avalanche when hiking through the Swiss Alps at the age of 19 and finally had found a way to use the experience in his own fiction (Carpenter 50–51).
The storm on Caradhras also gives Tolkien an opportunity to show Boromir at his best. Up to this point, he has been characterized chiefly by his tendency to doubt and question: He doubts the council’s wisdom in sending the One Ring to Mordor; he questions Aragorn’s true lineage; he doubts the ability of Frodo to complete the quest. He will, even in the next chapter, question the decision of Gandalf and Aragorn to take the company through Moria. But at this point, the reader observes his strength and initiative in clearing snow from the path. More important, Boromir displays a protective affection for the hobbits, particularly Merry and Pippin, that makes him a more sympathetic character, and makes his later actions the more lamentable. Pippin is another character who is more fully developed in this section, although it is chiefly his impetuosity and immaturity that are underscored when he foolishly drops a stone into the well in Moria. It is never made clear, but since the thumping begins immediately after the stone is dropped, it appears that it is Pippin’s thoughtless act that warns the orcs of the company’s presence in the mines. It may even be Pippin’s stone that alerts the Balrog.
In the caves of Moria, Tolkien once again makes use of the archetypal descent motif that he had used in The Hobbit. Traditionally, a character’s descent into darkness is a symbolic death and rebirth, as it was in The Hobbit, where Bilbo emerged with Gollum’s ring. The rebirth is symbolic because of some psychological transformation that has occurred in the darkness. As mentioned in the discussion of Gollum’s cave in The Hobbit, Carl Jung had called this archetype of darkness the shadow—the darkness in ourselves that we must face in order to mature and move on in the process of what he labeled individuation. The first shadow that Frodo and the others face in Moria is the fear of death itself—confronted first in the tomb of Balin and ultimately in the personified form of the great shadow-beast, the Balrog. The second shadow is the loss of the father figure of Gandalf, and the forced maturity that comes from such a loss.
First-time readers of The Fellowship of the Ring recognize the Balrog only as a shapeless monster of dark fire and great power that would be the death of all in the company if they were not protected by Gandalf. In Tolkien’s mythology, a Balrog is a fallen Maia—one of the angelic beings of the same rank as Sauron who, like Sauron, fell from the true intent of Ilúvatar, the creator god, and followed Melkor (Morgoth), the renegade Vala (one of the higher order of angelic beings) before the First Age of Middle-earth. Creatures of flame hidden in darkness, many Balrogs were destroyed in the wars that ended the First Age, but those that survived hid themselves deep underground. This particular Balrog had been disturbed by the dwarves’ deep mining in Moria and had destroyed them, including their kings. It is therefore known as “Durin’s bane.”
As a Maia himself, Gandalf is the only one with enough power to stand against the Balrog. His confrontation with the monster on the bridge in Khazad-dûm is one of mythic proportions. In fact, Tolkien seems to have borrowed it from Old Norse myth. Marjorie Burns has pointed out the parallels between the bridge of Khazad-dûm and Bifrost, the rainbow bridge in Norse mythology that connects Midgard (i.e., “Middle-earth”) with Asgard, the realm of the gods (Burns 58–59). At Ragnarök, according to Snorri’s Prose Edda, the giants will attack Asgard over the rainbow bridge, led by the fire giant Surt, who will kill the god Frey. Bifrost itself will collapse from the weight of the giants who cross it. All of this, of course, parallels the events in Tolkien’s story—the Balrog is itself a kind of fire-giant; the bridge collapses; and Gandalf, like Frey, is killed.
The allusions to Ragnarök give Gandalf’s fall a kind of mythic stature. But there is more to his sacrifice than this. Alexander Bruce has pointed out another analogue for the scene on the bridge, from the Old English heroic poem The Battle of Maldon. In that poem, an English force has trapped an invading host of Vikings on an island, from which they can reach the mainland only along a narrow causeway over which just one warrior can advance at a time. The English earl, Byrhtnoth, gives up the advantage and allows the entire Viking force to cross, even though the bridge could have been defended by a single warrior. The result is disastrous for the English defenders, and Byrhtnoth is one of the first to fall. But Byrhtnoth’s retainers boldly fight on, loyal to their lord, fighting all the harder because they know they are doomed.
Tolkien had a keen interest in this poem, and in about 1945, he wrote a verse drama depicting the aftermath of that battle, called “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son.” He eventually published this, along with two commentaries on the poem itself, in 1953. In his commentary, Tolkien considered Byrhtnoth’s actions and the poet’s use of the term ofermod with regard to them. The term, implying “overboldness,” is the poet’s condemnation of Byrhtnoth’s actions. Byrhtnoth’s misplaced chivalry, apparently designed to win him greater glory than simply defending the easily guarded bridge would do, is an example of rash irresponsibility. Byrhtnoth was in a position of responsibility, and his duty toward his followers was more important than his own desire for glory. Through his excessive pride, he led his men into a situation in which they would lose their lives in a futile cause. The retainers who fought to the death after the fall of their lord followed the heroic code of the North, the code by which even the gods fought in a lost cause at Ragnarök.
But in Gandalf’s fall, this code is by contrast augmented by what Tolkien calls “the heroism of obedience and love” (“Homecoming” 22). As Bruce sees it, Gandalf’s defense of the bridge at Khazad-dûm—like the causeway in Maldon too narrow for more than one to cross at once—is a demonstration of what Byrhtnoth should have done: He acts “to save his loyal companions, not to jeopardize them” (157). Aragorn and Boromir, who attempt to rush to Gandalf’s defense, act the part of Byrhtnoth’s loyal retainers, ready to “fulfill their obligation to their leader, fighting for him even unto death” (Bruce 157). This will be the spirit shown by the noblest and most sympathetic characters throughout The Lord of the Rings. In this case, Gandalf releases them from their obligation of love and loyalty by ordering them to “Fly, you fools!” (345).
As a result, when the company emerges from the dark mines of Moria, they are indeed changed, having confronted the specter of death and having lost their leader, their surrogate father. Bereft of Gandalf’s guidance and wisdom, they are orphaned and will need to depend more on themselves and their own judgments. They have all been forced into an accelerated maturing process, Frodo in particular, since he will now have to make decisions regarding the ring without Gandalf’s wise counsel. Even Aragorn feels unequal to the task when he must step into the leadership role and take on the full weight of the quest himself, realizing he cannot simply follow his own inclination and go directly to Minas Tirith with Boromir. Instead, he must be responsible for all the free peoples of Middle-earth who depend on the success of this mission. But he knows that haste is required, and that he must lead the company into the safety of Lothlórien as quickly as possible.
Chapters 6–8: Lothlórien
In a pattern similar to the structure of The Hobbit, Tolkien continues to alternate chapters of great danger or high adventure with chapters of respite. Thus, just as, after the dangerous and life-threatening flight to the ford under pursuit by the Black Riders, Frodo was able to recover in Rivendell, so here, after the horror of Moria and Gandalf’s death, the company is able to grieve and recover in the protection of Lothlórien. The elven realm of Lothlórien (sometimes called simply Lórien or the Golden Wood) had been founded, according to Tolkien’s mythology, in the Second Age of Middle-earth and was created on the model of Doriath, the secret realm of Thingol and Melian in the First Age, where Galadriel had lived for many years. In its welcoming character, the Golden Wood contrasts with more threatening woods in The Lord of the Rings, such as the Old Forest or Fangorn. Tolkien’s elves live in harmony with the trees and the rest of nature, in contrast with the other Free Peoples and in severe contrast with characters like Saruman and Sauron, who think only to bend nature to their own will.
It seems clear that Tolkien based his elvish kingdom on ancient and medieval Celtic depictions of fairyland. In Celtic tradition, the crossing of water typically symbolized the crossing of a threshold into a Faërie realm, as it does, for example, in Marie de France’s Breton lai (lay) Lanval, in which Lanval’s crossing of the stream brings him to the realm of his fairy paramour. This carries over into later medieval texts with Celtic roots, such as the motif of the wounded Arthur’s being carried across the water to Avalon, where in the kingdom of Faërie his life will be restored. Tom Shippey cites an instance in the later medieval poem Pearl, a favorite of Tolkien’s in which an uncrossable stream divides a father from his dead daughter, who lives in Paradise. Shippey sees parallels between that 14th-century West Midland poem and Tolkien’s Lórien (J. R. R. Tolkien 197). More important, however, is probably the general similarity between Lórien and Celtic Faërie realms. Marjorie Burns notes that not one but two rivers— the Nimrodel and the Silverlode—must be passed to gain entrance to Lórien, and that, furthermore, all waters within the Golden Wood are associated with Galadriel herself, the Faërie queen. This is appropriate, since Galadriel, as the bearer of the elven ring of power Nenya, the Ring of Waters, is she who directs the waters and their power (Burns 64–65).
Although Lórien is a hidden and protected land, its mood is one of nostalgia and a sense of loss bordering on the elegiac. In part, this is related again to Tolkien’s Celtic sources: As Burns points out, the Faërie worlds of Celtic myth grew out of the earlier Celtic myth of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the displaced gods of Irish myth, in whose realm time moved differently, without much relation to time in the mundane world. Thus, as Burns says, “In Lothlórien, the past maintains a presence and the future is not fully obscured” (70). This sense of time explains how the Fellowship can stay in Lothlórien for a month and yet believe they have only been there a few days. It also explains the workings of Galadriel’s mirror, in which one can see shadows of events that may come to pass.
But the powerful sense of the weight of the past cannot be explained by these things alone. In Lothlórien, we are made to feel for the first time the timelessness and the great age of the elves, and to recognize that a place like the Golden Wood may provide a temporary escape from evil but cannot stand against the power of a direct attack from Mordor. Galadriel says of herself and her consort Celeborn in “The Mirror of Galadriel” chapter: “I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat” (372). This is not an optimistic view of the future. It is influenced in particular by what Tolkien called the heroic code of the North, the courage of fighting on in a losing cause, and perhaps putting off that final defeat for as long as possible through courageous and stalwart defense against the encroaching and inevitable end represented in Norse mythology by the idea of Ragnarök. It was the spirit that inspired the Anglo-Saxon warriors at the end of The Battle of Maldon to fight on to death after their lord had fallen. The elves in Tolkien’s Middle-earth have fought that long defeat for thousands of years but are now faced with their own Ragnarök. Later in the same chapter, Galadriel tells Frodo and Sam,
“Do you not see now wherefore your coming is to us as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.” (380)
It is true that, if Galadriel had accepted Frodo’s offer of the ring, she could have grown supremely powerful and ruled all Middle-earth, replacing the Dark Lord with what she calls a queen who would be beautiful and terrible. But that would only be another kind of defeat, a defeat of all that the Eldar have stood for. And so she refuses. Having passed what she calls “the test,” she will “diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel” (381). Whatever the fate of the ring, the time of elves will end with the conclusion of Frodo’s quest. Middle-earth will be dominated by the Dark Lord, or the elves’ powers will fade and the Age of Men will come to pass. Lórien, therefore, is in its final autumn, and that explains the elegiac mood of these chapters.
Galadriel herself, like the wood that she inhabits, is at least partly based on Celtic sources. In particular, Burns argues that the goddess called the Morrígan was especially influential in Tolkien’s conception of Galadriel. The Morrígan was a fertility goddess, and one especially associated with the waters. In this, she certainly parallels Galadriel, mistress of the waters, whose soil that she gives Sam will later bring a new fertility to the Shire (Burns 110–111). But the negative aspects of the Morrígan’s personality—her identity as a war goddess sometimes antagonistic to Celtic heroes— does not seem to fit Galadriel’s profile, unless one considers, as Burns does, Galadriel’s earlier history. In The Silmarillion, Galadriel is the one woman from among the Noldor who takes a leading part in the Noldor’s rebellion against the Valar and their exodus from Valinor (Burns 109). It is, in fact, due to that rebellion that Galadriel has been dwelling in Middle-earth for so long, even after many of her kinsmen have taken ship and returned to the Blessed Realm. At the end of the First Age, with the defeat of Morgoth, the Valar had issued a pardon to the Noldor and allowed those who wanted to return to Valinor. Galadriel was not among those who were pardoned, however—either by her own choice or by direct order of the Valar. Her hopeless longing for Valinor is expressed in both of the songs that she sings in these chapters, and it contributes to the elegiac tone. “Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore,” she sings, “but if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me, / What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?” (389).
In a long draft of an unsent letter to a Mr. Rang dated August 1967, Tolkien wrote that after the First Age, the Valar allowed the exiled elves to return to Valinor, “save for a few chief actors in the rebellion of whom at the time of the L.R. only Galadriel remained” (Letters 386). But as Tolkien conceives it (and again, this could only be apparent to a reader familiar with The Silmarillion, and therefore to none of Tolkien’s original readers in 1954), Galadriel’s refusal to take the ring, her renunciation of power for the sake of the greater good, breaks through the prohibition of the Valar and allows for her ultimate return to the Blessed Realm upon Sauron’s defeat. In another letter, to Ruth Astin dated January 25, 1971, Tolkien asserted that Galadriel “was pardoned because of her resistance to the final overwhelming temptation to take the Ring for herself” (Letters 407).
All of this hardly explains completely the person of Galadriel, one of the most significant figures in The Lord of the Rings. She is also, as several readers have noted, suggestive of the Virgin Mary so important to Tolkien’s Catholic faith. She serves as an object of veneration and even adoration, particularly for Gimli, Sam, and Frodo, and as Burns asserts, Sam’s later invocation of her as “Lady” to whom he seemingly prays for “light and water” on the way to Mount Doom in The Return of the King puts her in a position very similar to that of the Blessed Virgin (Burns 196). Tolkien himself recognized and admitted the parallel, noting as well the tendency of some readers to equate lembas, the elvish daily bread that Galadriel gives to the travelers, to the Holy Eucharist, whose nourishment sustains them in their darkest hours (Letters 288).
To the dwarf Gimli, whom she wins over despite his dishonorable treatment at the hands of her kinsmen by showing a sincere sympathy with his love of Moria, Galadriel is certainly a figure recalling the beloved ladies of medieval courtly romance or the courtly love lyrics at their purest or most refined—like Dante’s lyrics in praise of Beatrice, for instance: She is a being of ethereal or otherworldly beauty whom the lover can only praise and adore, without hope or expectation. Gimli’s request of a strand of Galadriel’s hair to treasure recalls Lancelot’s enamored stupor when he sees the golden hairs of Queen Guinevere on her comb in Chrétien de Troyes’s romance The Knight of the Cart. In all of these aspects, Galadriel is essentially the archetypal figure that Jung calls the anima—the most complex of Jungian archetypes. The anima is the female “soul-image” of a man’s psyche (in a woman, it is the male animus). It represents in part the unconscious psychological characteristics of the opposite sex within each of us. The anima figure in a dream, myth, or literary text takes the form of the ideal woman, who may act as an inspiration, an ideal, and an object of adoration, as Galadriel does here for Gimli, Frodo, and Sam in particular. Her character as an archetype, or universal symbol in what Jung calls the collective unconscious of humanity, may help to explain the power of her image felt by nearly all readers.
The influence of Galadriel is felt throughout the rest of The Lord of the Rings, not only through Sam’s prayerlike appeals to her and Frodo’s reliance on her phial of light during his darkest moments, but also through the events witnessed in her mirror. We know that the pool may depict past, present, or future, and that the events of the future are only possible eventualities. But the images foreshadow several coming events, and intensify the suspense of the plot, since like Frodo and Sam we know something of what is coming, but not enough to understand it at the moment. Thus, with Sam, we foresee Frodo’s possible demise at the hands of Shelob and his own indecision concerning the ring, and we see the pollution of the Shire that must be cleansed upon the hobbits’ return to their own country. Frodo foresees the resurrected Gandalf, but he is unsure who it may be. He sees the past, the establishment of the Kingdom of Gondor. And he sees the unmistakable Eye of Sauron searching for him, and feels for the first time how weighty the ring is, a weight that can only increase the closer he brings it to its creator. No wonder he almost immediately offers its burden to Galadriel. That offer, however, is also evidence that Frodo is not yet so attached to the ring and its alluring power that he cannot freely give it up. That the anima figure of Galadriel evokes from Frodo this sacrificial act is testament to the ideal of goodness that he will aspire to, just as her sacrificial refusal embodies the ideals of Frodo’s inner soul.
One final aspect of this section that requires comment is the relationship of Aragorn with Lórien and with Galadriel herself. On the hill of Cerin Amroth, Frodo witnesses Aragorn in a reverie, remembering some past time, and hears him utter the words “Arwen vanimelda, namarië!” (367). In Quenya, the language of the High-elves, the words mean “Farewell, beloved lady Arwen.” Aragorn’s memory is apparently of having to bid farewell to Arwen at this place, a parting that must have occurred at least 38 years in the past, since Celeborn remarks that it has been that long since Aragorn was last in Lórien. It will become clear later that Aragorn and Arwen had actually pledged their love to each other on this spot many years earlier. Aragorn apparently respects and admires Galadriel, for he will hear no malice spoken of her and chides Boromir for his suspicions of the lady, saying there is no evil in her or the land of Lórien unless a man brings it there himself (373). But in his last meeting with Galadriel, he strongly hints that it has been her influence that has kept him and his beloved Arwen apart so long: “Lady, you know all my desire, and long held in keeping the only treasure that I seek. Yet it is not yours to give me, even if you would, and only through darkness shall I come to it” (391). Galadriel, Arwen’s grandmother, may well have objected to her marrying a mortal, as Elrond must have objected as well. In this, Aragorn is in the position of Beren in the old myths, kept from marrying his beloved Lúthien by her suspicious father. The implication of Aragorn’s assertion that he will win Arwen through the darkness may imply his hope that he will win her when he wins his kingdom, which can only happen with the defeat of the Dark Lord. In any case, at his parting from Lórien, apparently for the last time, Aragorn receives from Galadriel the brooch that Arwen has left for him, as she proclaims him Elessar, the Elfstone. It seems to imply a change in her attitude toward him—her own hope that Aragorn will come into his kingdom, and that he can win Arwen for his own.
Chapters 9–10: Lórien to Amon Hen
From the east side of the River Anduin, the orcs attack the travelers, aided by a monstrous flying beast; Frodo’s shoulder tells him that this must be the new steed of the Black Riders that will make their presence even more terrifying than before. Though Tolkien consistently denied any allegorical intent in The Lord of the Rings, readers have often seen his repeated association of the enemies of the Free Peoples with the East as an allusion to the Axis powers of World War II—all located to the east of Britain—during which Tolkien wrote the bulk of the novel. Or the East could possibly suggest the Soviet Union during the cold war era when the book was published. From assumptions like this, it is an easy leap to interpret the One Ring as the atomic bomb. But surely Tolkien never intended anything so cut and dried. That the enemies come from the East is simply a function of the geography of his Middle-earth, in which, long before World War II, he had placed Valinor in the West. In his introduction to the second edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien says of his story that “Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels”; he adds that “I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’” (7). Because of its universal themes of the corrupting influence of power, the implacability of evil, the need for courage in the face of what Galadriel calls “the long defeat,” and the saving virtues of loyalty and sacrifice, the story may seem to apply to many situations in historical or contemporary times. But that applicability is not the same thing as allegory.
We are reminded of the One Ring’s corrupting influence by the revelation that the footsteps and the eyes that Frodo has been observing following the company since their trek through Moria do indeed belong to Gollum, as Aragorn himself confirms. Gollum’s hopeless subservience and monomaniacal following of the ring wherever it leads makes him a pathetic creature, but one who, as Gandalf said much earlier, may still have a part to play in the unfolding drama of the Ring-bearer.
The most tragic instance of the ring’s corrupting power is the case of Boromir. He has been portrayed from the beginning as proud and brave, an intrepid warrior who traveled alone for 100 days to reach Rivendell. His pride in the courage of his people bursts forth in “The Council of Elrond” chapter earlier in the book. His loyalty and courage are manifested in his protection of the hobbits on Caradhras and his leaping forward to defend Gandalf against the Balrog. But from the beginning, his chief concern has always been for his people and his city, and with defending them from the inexorable power in the East that bears down upon them more fiercely each year. This is why he cannot understand the decision to destroy the ring. His reasoning is that Minas Tirith fights in a just cause, and therefore any weapon employed in the war on the side of Minas Tirith is justified. The more powerful the weapon, the better, since the just cause justifies the use of any force available. Like Saruman, and like most modern politicians, Boromir’s reasoning is that the end justifies the means. It was the argument that justified the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II. What the argument does not take into account is the corrupting power of the evil that has been employed in the just cause. Elrond and Gandalf recognize this. But Boromir does not, and he becomes more and more obsessed with bringing the ring to Minas Tirith as the company travels down the river. When he begins talking to himself, it is fairly clear that his own obsessions—spurred on no doubt by the influence of the ring itself—have driven him into a kind of madness. When Frodo will not listen to what Boromir considers reason, he threatens to take the ring by force, and Frodo is frightened into using it to escape. It is only then that Boromir’s essential goodness breaks through his mad ambition, and he realizes the wrong he has done, stumbling back to camp to warn the company that Frodo has disappeared.
Frodo’s will—unencumbered as it is by pride and ambition—proves stronger than Boromir’s in resisting the call of the ring. In the last chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo experiences a great struggle alone. When he has made his way to the throne atop Amon Hen, still wearing the ring, he can see into Mordor itself and becomes aware of the searching eye of Sauron. When he throws himself from the seat, he finds himself drawn to the Eye, no doubt influenced by the ring he is wearing. Another voice seems to be telling him to take off the ring, and he is torn between the two forces. Ultimately, though, it is his own will that saves him:
Suddenly he was aware of himself again. Frodo, neither the voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant in which to do so. He took the Ring off his finger. . . . A great weariness was on him, but his will was firm and his heart lighter. He spoke aloud to himself. “I will do now what I must,” he said. (417)
This is Frodo’s bravest moment. Alone, freed from the pressures that have tried to shape him, he makes the choice to go on, and to go on alone, to fulfill what he sees as his obligation and duty. Readers of The Hobbit will recall that Tolkien makes a similar comment about Bilbo, whose most courageous action is his going on down the tunnel toward the dragon after an internal struggle.
Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. (The Hobbit 205)
It is the same here. For Tolkien, real courage is internal, a matter of the will. It may not necessarily manifest itself in great deeds of valor or prowess on the battlefield. It has to do with mastery of the will in dangerous or even hopeless circumstances. Frodo has determined to do his duty, at great personal sacrifice. By the end of the chapter, Sam has joined him, his love and loyalty motivating him so strongly that he does not engage in the internal struggle that tormented Frodo. He plunges into the river without even thinking. Frodo and Sam, the figures of sacrifice and loyalty, head into the next book against all the powers of darkness.
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