Tolkien Re-read Part II: The Fellowship of the Ring – Chapter 1


Alright, let’s get this re-read started! As in my re-read of The Hobbit, I’ll be posting on a weekly(ish) schedule. But this time around I’ll only cover one or two chapters per post. My hope is that this will keep posts down to a more manageable (and easily readable) size. Because I’m a busy gal and you’re a busy interwebs wayfarer. Everybody wins!

A quick note for newcomers: Near the end of last year I kicked off a re-read of Tolkien’s work beginning with The Hobbit (you can find those posts here) and continuing with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion (don’t lie, you’re hanging around for that bit). I’ve wanted to return to Middle-earth since I first read Lord of the Rings ten years ago and the release of the first Hobbit movie gave me the perfect excuse.

A quick note for everyone: I’ll be reading from the Houghton Mifflin 2001 hardcover movie tie-in edition (pictured right). Also, there might be spoilers ahead. For the most part, the posts will keep in time with the chapters I’m discussing from The Fellowship of the Ring, but I can’t guarantee I won’t geek out about related things from later in the trilogy or elsewhere in Tolkien lore. If you’ve at least seen the movies, it won’t be a problem, but I shall do my best to avoid spoilery content for the sake of the uninitiated.

The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
     Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
     One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
     One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
     One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

[This is me whenever I read that verse. Just so you know what you’re getting into here.]

Chapter 1: A Long Expected Party

Sixty years after The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring (henceforth “FotR”) begins. Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday approaches and he is planning a party of “special magnificence,” which has made him the gossips’ topic of choice in Hobbiton. Not just because of the upcoming party (hobbits love parties) but also because Bilbo is something of a local legend, thanks to his adventures with Thorin & Co. in The Hobbit (dwarves, elves, and dragons are not common things in Hobbiton) and the riches he brought back with him (everyone thinks Bag End is riddled with hidden tunnels that are stuffed with gold). Also, apparently Bilbo isn’t aging.

Relevant Quote Break!

There were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth. “It will have to be paid for,” they said. “It isn’t natural, and trouble will come of it!”

(Turns out it isn’t natural and trouble does come of it. Imagine that.)

On top of all this, Bilbo (much to the disappointment of his distant relations, the always unwelcome Sackville-Bagginses) recently adopted his eldest cousin (Frodo Baggins) and made him the heir to Bag End. Bilbo and Frodo share a birthday, so the especially magnificent party is going to be a double celebration—one for Bilbo’s curious 111st birthday and one for Frodo’s noteworthy 33rd birthday, it being the end of his “tweens” and his coming of age.*

So it is that the narrative comes to Ham Gamgee (aka the Gaffer) at a tavern where he is telling stories about Bilbo (and Frodo) to a curious audience. The Gaffer is considered an authority on the Baggins family, having once been the gardener at Bag End—a position now held by his son, Sam. There’s a whole lot of talk about the queerness of Brandybucks and the dangers of the Old Forest and the hobbitish fear of any sort of water related activity (especially boating, which is decidedly unnatural).

This turns the conversation to Frodo who is half Brandybuck (the scandal!) and an orphan (the tragedy!). His father, Drogo Baggins, married Primula Brandybuck, the granddaughter of the Old Took (famous for living to 130) and a first cousin of Bilbo’s (wait, what?).

Relevant Quote Break!

Gaffer: But be that as it may, Mr. Frodo is as nice a young hobbit as you could wish to meet. Very much like Mr. Bilbo, and in more than just looks. After all his father was a Baggins. A decent respectable hobbit was Mr. Drogo Baggins; there was never much to tell of him, till he was drownded.

That’s right, drownded. Frodo’s mother and father drowned in a boating accident on the Brandywine River when he was still a child. Quite a strange way to die by hobbit standards, hence all the gossiping.

After this, the talk turns to Bilbo’s storied riches (the Gaffer thinks it’s highly exaggerated, but no one believes him) and then back to the party of special magnificence (henceforth “The Party”). The Gaffer has it on Sam’s authority that everyone is going to be invited and “there’s going to be presents, mark you, presents for all.”

 Hobbits 101

Instead of receiving presents on their birthdays, hobbits give presents to people. The presents are not expensive, as a rule, and re-gifting is allowed. And, since every day of the year in Hobbiton and Bywater is somebody’s birthday, hobbits there have a good chance of receiving one present each week.

A few days later a rumor is started that there will be fireworks at The Party. Then “an odd-looking wagon laden with odd-looking packages” and driven by dwarves rolls up to Bag End. Not long after that, an old man in grey drives a cart into Hobbiton and up to Bilbo’s house, where he begins to unload the very fireworks the rumors spoke of.

The old man is Gandalf, of course, who the hobbits know by sight, even though the wizard isn’t often in Hobbiton. Apparently, Gandalf’s “real business” in coming is “far more difficult and dangerous” than just providing fireworks for The Party, but we’re not told why.

Invitations go out. Replies come in. And finally the day of The Party arrives. Bilbo meets all the guests in person as they arrive and gives each of them a present (some of which come from the Lonely Mountain and Dale).** Once everyone arrives, the dancing and games and eating begin.

Favorite Quote Break!

There were three official meals: lunch, tea, and dinner (or supper). But lunch and tea were marked chiefly by the fact that at those times all the guests were sitting down and eating together. At other times there were merely lots of people eating and drinking—continuously from elevenses until six-thirty, when the fireworks started.

Gandalf’s fireworks are a hit, especially the finale—a red-golden dragon that breaths fire and flies over the crowd before floating off into the distance and exploding. This is also the signal for dinner, which turns out to be a whole lot of eating that ends with Bilbo giving a speech. It’s a long speech (much to the dismay of the guests) but it does have some interesting bits.

Bilbo’s Speech, the Best Bit

I have called you all together for a Purpose. Indeed, for Three Purposes! First of all, to tell you that I am immensely fond of you all, and that eleventy-one years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits. I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

(Secondly is to celebrate his birthday and Frodo’s, but that bit isn’t noteworthy. Sorry Frodo.)

Bilbo’s Speech, the Last Bit

Thirdly and finally, I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT. I regret to announce that—though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you—this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!

And then there is a flash of light, the guests blink, and Bilbo has vanished. This sends everyone into an uproar and it is soon agreed that Bilbo’s little joke was in bad taste.

After vanishing from his party, Bilbo (invisibly, as he’s wearing the magic ring he found in The Hobbit ) creeps back to Bag End. He changes from his party clothes into his traveling clothes—a cloak, short sword, and some “old, untidy garments”—and removes the magic ring. He puts it on a chain and then seals it in an envelope, which he addresses to Frodo and places on the mantel. Then he retrieves said envelope and puts it in his pocket instead.

A moment later, Gandalf walks in and he and Bilbo have a lengthy conversation about Bilbo’s vanishing act at The Party (Gandalf provided the flash of light that concealed the fact that Bilbo had truly disappeared into thin air), his forever holiday (on which he’ll seek out peace and quiet and a place to finish his book), and his plans to leave everything (including the ring) to Frodo.

Bilbo: You’ll keep an eye on Frodo, won’t you?
Gandalf: Yes, I will—two eyes, as often as I can spare them.
Bilbo: […]I am leaving everything to him, of course, except a few oddments. I hope he will be happy, when he gets used to being on his own. It’s time he was his own master now.
Gandalf: Everything? The ring as well? You agreed to that, you remember.
Bilbo: Well, er, yes, I suppose so.
Gandalf: Where is it?
Bilbo: In an envelope, if you must know. There on the mantelpiece. Well no! Here it is in my pocket! Isn’t that odd now? Yet after all, why not? Why shouldn’t it stay there?
Gandalf: I think, Bilbo, I should leave it behind. Don’t you want to?
Bilbo: Well yes—and no.

[When I read this passage I’m certain I looked something like this because re-reading it made me realize that the movie adapted this particular scene almost verbatim. Be still my heart.]

There is some back and forth—Bilbo wants to keep the ring and doesn’t understand why Gandalf should care, since the wizard has never bothered him about it before.

Relevant Quote Break!

Gandalf: Magic rings are—well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am. I should like to know where it is, if you go wandering again. Also, I think you have had it quite long enough. You won’t need it anymore, Bilbo, unless I am quite mistaken.

At this, Bilbo becomes angry and accuses Gandalf of trying to take the ring for himself. Gandalf insists that he is not. Bilbo becomes distinctly creepy and even calls the ring his “precious,” echoing the creature Gollum, whom he encountered in The Hobbit.

Favorite Quote Break!

Gandalf: It will be my turn to get angry soon. If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.

This threat (and Gandalf’s assurances that he is not trying to rob him) brings Bilbo back to himself and he soon agrees that the ring should go to Frodo. After one more internal struggle with the ring, Bilbo manages to place it back on the mantel and head for the door with his travel items. Some dwarves (the ones who came with the wagon before The Party) join him there. Together they bid farewell to Gandalf and head off into the night. And Bilbo Baggins is never seen in the Shire again.

A bit later, Frodo comes in and finds Gandalf brooding in the dark. Gandalf informs him that Bilbo has, indeed, left and that he’ll find Bilbo’s will (and his magic ring) in the envelope on the mantel. Oh, and that Frodo has inherited Bag End. Which means it’s now his job to send all the party guests home.

Favorite Quote Break!

About midnight carriages came for the important folk. One by one they rolled away, filled with full but very unsatisfied hobbits. Gardeners came by arrangement, and removed in wheel-barrows those that had inadvertently remained behind.

Frodo spends the next day executing Bilbo’s will (the hobbit left something for almost everyone, though not always something they wanted). At one point a rumor gets out that the whole household is being given away for free (completely untrue, of course), which causes a lot of commotion at Bag End and brings the Sackville-Bagginses around looking for Frodo (and free stuff). But Frodo’s friend Merry Brandybuck is there to send them away on Frodo’s behalf.

Later, just as things have calmed down, there is a knock at the door. Frodo is certain it is the Sackville-Bagginses again, but it turns out to be Gandalf. The wizard is there to warn Frodo not to use Bilbo’s ring.

Relevant Quote Break!

Gandalf: [The ring] may have other powers than just making you vanish when you wish to.
Frodo: I don’t understand.
Gandalf: Neither do I. I have merely begun to wonder about the ring, especially since last night. No need to worry. But if you take my advice you will use it very seldom, or not at all. At least I beg you not to use it in any way that will cause talk or rouse suspicion…[K]eep it safe, and keep it secret!

Then Gandalf announces that he is leaving (presumably to research the ring) and Frodo walks him to the door.

Favorite Quote Break!

Gandalf: Take care of yourself! Look out for me, especially at unlikely times! Good-bye!

And off Gandalf goes, not to be seen again for a long time.

*tweens noun: The age (in hobbit years) between childhood and coming of age; also known as the “irresponsible twenties.”
**The Lonely Mountain (aka Erebor) is a kingdom of the Dwarves, who are known for their skilled craftsmanship, and Dale is the city at its feet. Both feature in The Hobbit as places once overtaken by the dragon Smaug and later reclaimed by the dwarven prince Thorin with the help of Bard of Lake Town (aka Esgaroth) and Thranduil, the elven king of Mirkwood, after the Battle of the Five Armies.


So ends Chapter 1—Bilbo is gone, Frodo has the magic ring, and Gandalf is off doing something mysterious, presumably where he’s continuing to be infuriatingly vague. There are no words for how excited I am to finally be re-reading Lord of the Rings. Okay, maybe there are some words, since that gif includes words, but you get my point. Stay tuned for Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past, in which Gandalf talks about the Rings of Power and I weep tears of nerd-joy.