II – Introduction to Tolkien’s book
It may seem futile to try and describe on a few pages what has taken Tolkien half a million words, but I will try to do so anyway, at least for the first volume, which is the topic of my continuing analysis.
The Fellowship of the Ring
In a prologue to the story itself Tolkien delivers detailed information to describe the Hobbits, a quiet, sturdy little folk, that lives by itself in the Shire, an area in the north-west of Middle-Earth, and is unnoticed by most of the big folks. Hobbits have a deeply rooted connection to nature and enjoy good food, drink and colourful clothing.
The book opens with the preparations to the birthday party of Bilbo Baggins. He is about to turn 111, or ‘eleventy-one’, as he would say, and everyone is invited. Bilbo lives together with his nephew Frodo, who is an orphan, and has his 33rd birthday on the very same day. One of the most important guests is the wizard Gandalf, who had accompanied Bilbo on his previous adventures in ‘The Hobbit’ together with a number of Dwarves. In a meeting before the party Gandalf notes that Bilbo does not look much older than he did fifty years ago, when he had set out with himself and the Dwarves. Bilbo explains to him, that he feels old, somewhat stretched out, like butter spread over too much bread
As the party progresses, Bilbo holds a speech, thanking everyone for their presence and proclaiming that he will leave now. Before the very eyes of his friends and family Bilbo disappears, having secretly put on the magic ring, that he had taken from the creature Gollum in a dark cave in ‘The Hobbit’, which is able to render its bearer invisible. Back at Bag End, his house, he explains to Gandalf, who had followed him there, that he has made all preparations to leave the house and his belongings to his nephew Frodo and that he would leave immediately and never return. Gandalf, however, has to urge Bilbo to also leave his magic ring behind, which Frodo was also meant to inherit.
Years later, in the library of Minas Tirith, major city and capital of Gondor, Gandalf finds out that Bilbo’s magic ring might be the One Ring, the evil lord Sauron of Mordor had forged over two and a half thousand years ago to gain power over the other ‘Great Rings’, three in the hands of the Elves, seven with the Dwarves and nine, which were worn by kings of Men. During the great battle of Dagorlad, Isildur, son of Elendil, King of Gondor, had picked up his dead father’s broken sword Narsil and cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. Sauron was defeated and the battle was won. Isildur refused to destroy the Ring and kept it to himself. As part of Sauron was still embedded in the Ring, the Ring slowly gained possession over him and finally left him in the great river Anduin, where Isildur died. For two thousand years the Ring lay there and was, mostly, forgotten until Déagol, a member of a Hobbit people that lived close to the river, found it. His best friend Sméagol grew envious and demanded the Ring for his birthday. As Déagol refused to give it away, Sméagol killed his friend and kept the Ring. The Ring gave Sméagol an unnaturally long life and, over the following six hundred years, gradually gained possession over him, turning him into the twisted, ugly creature Gollum, who lived on raw fish in caves and shunned sunlight. When Bilbo met Gollum the Ring again took its chance and left its bearer, changing into the hand of Bilbo, who tricked Gollum and stole his Ring.
Back in the Shire Gandalf wants to make sure and casts Frodo’s inherited Ring into the Fireplace. As predicted by the descriptions in Minas Tirith an inscription in the Black Tongue of Mordor in fine Elvish letters appears on the Ring. ‘Ash nazg durbatulúk, Ash nazg gimbatul, Ash nazg thrakatulúk, Ach burzum-ishi krimpatul.’ – ‘One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.’ Gandalf knows that Gollum, trying to retrieve his stolen Ring, had wandered as far as Mordor, where he was captured and tortured until he gave away the words ‘Baggins’ and ‘Shire’.
Because of the fact that part of Sauron’s life force is tied to the Ring, he has come alive again, if not physically yet, then at least spiritually and the original nine human kings wearing nine of the Rings of Power have been corrupted by him into becoming the Nazgúl, the Ringwraiths, shapeless, bodiless wraiths who are, by now, looking for an unknown place called the Shire and a person called Baggins in order to find Sauron’s Ring. Gandalf tells Frodo, that he will have to leave to discuss matters with the head of his order, the wizard Saruman and urges Frodo to leave the Shire as quickly as possible, if necessary, should Gandalf not return by September, without him.
At Orthanc, Saruman’s tower in Isengard, Gandalf finds out that Saruman, knowing much about Sauron’s powers, has chosen to cooperate with Sauron. Gandalf is being kept captive by Saruman on top of Orthanc and is able, much later than expected, to leave on the back of the giant eagle Gwaihir.
Frodo, not wanting at first to leave the Shire without Gandalf, finally chooses to do so and announces to everyone that he is moving to Crickhollow, a village in Buckland, in the eastern part of the Shire. His cousin Merry and his friend Fredegar leave first with a cartload of his belongings to make the moving to Crickhollow seem believable and he follows them on foot with his other cousin Pippin and his gardener Sam Gamgee. Right before they leave Sam’s father, the old ‘Gaffer’ Gamgee is being asked about the Bagginses by a mysterious black rider, one of the dangerous Ringwraiths, a sign to show that Frodo obviously leaves in the last possible moment.
The three Hobbits cut cross country, meet up with a farmer called Maggot and finally meet Merry again as they reach the river Brandywine, arriving at the house in Crickhollow late at night. Although Frodo had tried to keep his plans secret, his cousins have more or less already figured out that his moving to Crickhollow had been only a trick. Merry and Pippin choose to accompany Frodo and Sam early the next morning through the Old Forest in the east in the direction of Bree with Fredegar staying behind as a decoy to create the appearance that someone is living in the house.
The company of four Hobbits moves through the deep and dark Old Forest meeting with Tom Bombadil, an ancient, powerful being, that lives in the forest with Goldberry, the river-daughter and speaks almost exclusively in rhymes. Tom Bombadil keeps the company in his house for a night and saves the Hobbits from a Barrow-wight the following day, before showing them the way to Bree, a small town, which the Hobbits reach after cutting even more cross country.
Frodo and his company arrive at the sign of the Prancing Pony in Bree, hoping to meet Gandalf again, but are told, that he has not been there in a long time. Frodo accidentally slips on his Ring in the crowded inn, causing much trouble. He is later approached by a ranger from the north called Strider. Frodo is told that Strider really is Aragorn, son of Arathorn and heir to the throne of Gondor living in Exile in the north, carrying along even the shards of Elendil’s sword Narsil. He continues to explain to him the danger he is in, and that he will accompany them from tomorrow on on their way to Rivendell, home of the Elf-lord Elrond. The Ringwraiths, attracted by the fact, that Frodo had put on the Ring, reach Bree, but cannot find Frodo.
On their continuing journey Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin reach Weathertop, a hill roughly half way between Bree and Rivendell, where they are ambushed by the Ringwraiths and Frodo is pierced by a poisoned blade which leaves a wound that, untreated, would turn Frodo into a wraith himself. Luckily on the following day the company meets Glorfindel, an Elf from Rivendell, who had been sent to look for them. Although chased by all nine Ringwraiths now, Frodo is able to flee with Glorfindel’s horse Asfaloth over the river Loudwater, which, following direct orders from its Lord Elrond, washes away the Ringwraiths and kills their horses.
Days later, in Rivendell, Frodo regains consciousness and meets with his pals as well as Gandalf and his uncle Bilbo, who, finally showing signs of his old age, had spent the last few years here. Elrond, who has cured Frodo’s wound from the Ringwraith’s blade, summons a council to decide what is to become of the One Ring. Representatives of the Elves, Dwarves and Men as well as Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf decide that the Ring can only be destroyed in the fires of the Orodruin, Mount Doom, where it was once forged. Only Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor, whose forefathers have been ruling Minas Tirith ever since its Kings have left, wishes to use the power of the Ring against the armies of Mordor which continuously threaten Gondor and all free lands. Gandalf reports all he has found out about the Ring as well as about Saruman, who now threatens Gondor from the west. He explains that no power is able to wield and control the Ring and everything created by the Ring would, eventually, turn into evil.
Frodo, reluctantly, agrees to take the Ring to Mordor as Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf and Aragorn choose to accompany him. Elrond also has the Wood-Elf Legolas, the Dwarf Gimli and Boromir of Gondor accompany them, so that the number of the members of the Fellowship of the Ring meets the number of their enemies, the Ringwraiths, nine. Bidding him farewell, Bilbo gives Frodo his old sword Sting and a protective shirt of mithril silver.
Leaving Rivendell the Fellowship first turns south and follows the Misty Mountains, but is unable to cross them over the mountain Caradhras, as Saruman’s magic turns a powerful storm against them. They choose not to take the long way across the Gap of Rohan in the West, as it would take them too close to Saruman, but to cross the Mountains through the dark Mines of Moria, an ancient Dwarvish mine and city, that Gimli’s cousin Balin had tried to revive thirty years ago. In the mines they quickly realise, that there is not one Dwarf left alive. At Balin’s tomb in the Mazarbul chamber, Gandalf finds out that Balin’s party had actually found the highly valuable mithril silver they had been mining for, but that Orcs had finally attacked and killed most of them.
The Fellowship also encounters Orcs in the mines and fights them as well as a cave-troll. Frodo is hit by a huge spear, but the mithril shirt his uncle had given him, protects him. The Orcs quickly flee, as something bigger and much more dreadful appears. A Balrog of Morgoth, an evil, giant, ancient being of fire and shadow threatens the Fellowship. Gandalf is able to hold him back and give the Fellowship a chance to escape, but falls into the deep shadows of Moria together with the Balrog.
The remaining eight members of the Fellowship leave Moria through its east gate and soon enter Lothlórien, the realm of the Elvish Lady Galadriel. The company stays in Caras Galadhon in Lothlórien for a while mourning the loss of Gandalf, but then leaves south again in three Elvish boats on the river Anduin. They finally reach Amon Hen near the Falls of Rauros, where Frodo, the Ringbearer, has to decide whether they should now continue south east to the Black Gates of Mordor, or whether the company should first move south to Minas Tirith in Gondor, a proposition by Boromir.
As Frodo seeks a quiet moment on his own to make up his mind, he is attacked by Boromir, who, confused by the Rings powers, wishes to take the Ring. Frodo can only escape Boromir by putting on the Ring and leaving for Mordor on his own, having no more faith in his companions. Sam reaches Frodo at the shore near the boats and convinces him to take him along to Mordor. Boromir, now with a clear mind, confesses to Aragorn, that he tried to take away Frodo’s Ring. The first volume closes with Frodo and Sam reaching the eastern shore of the lake and Frodo admitting, that he does not believe to ever see his friends again. Sam’s reply is ‘Yet we may, Mister Frodo, we may.’