Tolkien Re-read Part II: The Fellowship of the Ring – Chapter 2


Welcome back! It’s been a couple weeks since the last post, so let’s review. Bilbo threw a great big birthday party for himself and Frodo, invited the entire town, and then announced he’d be leaving the Shire for good—which he did. Bilbo left everything, including a magic ring, to Frodo, but Gandalf had some misgivings about said ring and warned Frodo not to use it.  At the end of Chapter 1, Gandalf left town (presumably to research the ring).

Previous posts for the Tolkien Re-read (including my re-read of The Hobbit) can be found here.

A quick note: I’m reading from the Houghton Mifflin 2001 hardcover movie tie-in edition (pictured right) and will be posting on a weekly(ish) schedule (each post will cover one or two chapters). 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

Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past

A year after Bilbo’s (permanent) departure from the Shire, people continue to talk about his very public “second disappearance.”

Favorite Quote Break!

[T]he general opinion in the neighborhood was that Bilbo, who had always been rather cracked, had at last gone quite mad, and had run off into the Blue. There he had undoubtedly fallen into a pool or a river and come to a tragic, but hardly untimely, end. The blame was mostly laid on Gandalf.

Frodo, in the meantime, is adjusting to being the Mr. Baggins quite well. He continues to throw the yearly party celebrating his and Bilbo’s birthdays (much to the shock of the town, since most people assume Bilbo is dead) and spends much of his time with his numerous friends—the closest of whom are Peregrin “Pippin” Took,  Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, and Fredegar “Fatty” Bolger. To the relief of many, Gandalf has not been seen often, thus giving Frodo a chance to “settle down and grow some hobbit-sense.” He doesn’t, of course, and is widely considered to be oddest thing since Bilbo Baggins (throwing the absent Bilbo birthday parties, wandering alone all over Shire, apparently not aging at all—these things don’t help his reputation much).

Over a decade goes by in this manner. Frodo turns fifty and starts to feel restless, and “strange wayfarers” begin to appear in the Shire and bring with them tidings of strange things happening in the outside world. And Gandalf hasn’t been seen in years.

Rumors from Outside the Shire, A List

? Elves have been seen traveling West (through the Shire, no less!) and not returning
? There’s an unusual number of dwarves traveling the ancient East-West road that runs through the Shire to the Grey Havens
? There are whispers of the “Enemy” and the “Land of Mordor” and the “Dark Tower” being rebuilt*
? There are wars in the far East and South
? Trolls have been seen abroad, armed and uncharacteristically cunning, and there are even whispers of creatures worse than trolls

And, so, we come to Sam Gamgee at The Green Dragon. Sam is curious about all these rumors (he’s a lover of stories, especially ones involving Elves), and is sharing news of other strange happenings, but his audience is skeptical that any of it is true. For instance, Sam’s cousin Hal has apparently seen a Tree-man (whether this is a man as tall as a tree or literally a walking tree is unclear) and Sam is certain he saw an Elf in the woods going West, just as everyone has heard from the rumors.

Favorite Quote Break!

Sam: They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us.

[I have a seriously overwhelming love for Tolkien’s Elves. It’s difficult to resist quoting every passage that deals with them. I’ll try harder.]

After a few more unsuccessful attempts to convince his drinking companions to believe the truth of the stories he’s told, Sam goes home.

Then, after nine years of absence, Gandalf returns and pays Frodo a visit. He’s been off doing important wizard stuff—chiefly researching that ring of Bilbo’s—and he’s discovered something pretty disturbing. The following day, he tells Frodo that the ring Bilbo gave him is more dangerous and powerful than he had originally thought—so powerful that “in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it,” and that it would, in the end, possess them instead.

Relevant Quote Break!

Gandalf: In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles—yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.

(How perilous, you ask? Pretty damn perilous.)

Side Effects of Possessing a Great Ring, A Guide for Mortals

? A mortal owner of a Great Ring will not die, but he also will not grow or gain more life. He’ll simply “continue” until life is nothing but weariness.
? If said mortal uses a Great Ring often, he’ll fade and become permanently invisible, existing always “under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings.”
? Eventually, said dark power will consume said mortal.

Frodo, being a mortal in possession of such a ring, is just a bit frightened by this news and asks Gandalf how long he’s known that Bilbo’s ring is a Great Ring.

Gandalf: Known? I have known much that only the Wise know, Frodo. But if you mean “known about this ring,” well I still do not know, one might say. There is a last test to make. But I no longer doubt my guess.

This last test turns out to be throwing the ring into the hottest part of the fire in Frodo’s fireplace, which Gandalf does without warning (and which causes Frodo some distress). But the ring appears unchanged and eventually Gandalf removes it from the flames with some tongs and holds it out to Frodo. The wizard assures the reluctant hobbit that the ring is “quite cool” and that he should take it and “hold it up” and “look closely.” Frodo does this.

Relevant Quote Break!

[He] now saw fine lines, finer than the finest penstrokes, running along the ring, outside and inside: lines of fire that seemed to form the letters of a flowing script. They shone piercingly bright, and yet remote, as if out of a great depth.

one ring script

Frodo can’t read the script, but (of course) Gandalf can. He explains that the letters are an ancient form of Elvish—but the language is of Mordor—and the words are two lines from a well-known verse in Elven-lore:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

And here is the entire verse:

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.

After reciting this to Frodo, Gandalf tells him that this ring is “the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all” that Sauron the Great, aka the Dark Lord (whom Gandalf apparently told Frodo all about the previous night), lost (literally) ages ago, and with it he lost most of his power. Now that Sauron has returned to his ancient stronghold of Mordor (just as the rumors say), he is gaining strength and forming plans.

Favorite Quote Break!

Frodo: I wish it need not have happened in my time.
Gandalf: So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

[I’d be lying if I said I don’t get a serious case of the feels whenever I read that line of Gandalf’s.]

But hope is not lost because Sauron still lacks the thing that could return him to his former strength—he does not have the One Ring and he has not yet recovered all of the remaining Great Rings.

The Fates of the Rings of Power

? The Three – Given to the Elves, they have been hidden by the Elf-lords and Sauron has not found them or sullied them.
? The Seven – Given to the Dwarves, possessed by the Dwarf-kings. Three have been taken by Sauron, the rest have been consumed by dragons.
? The Nine – Given to Mortal Men, long ago taken by Sauron. The Men who possessed the Nine succumbed to the rings’ power and became Ringwraiths (servants under the power of Sauron and the One Ring).
? The One – Created by Sauron himself and contains the greatest part of his former power. Taken from him in battle but not destroyed.

Gandalf next explains how the Ring passed through the ages and eventually came to Frodo. An Age ago, when Sauron was overthrown by the combined armies of Gil-galad (an Elven-king) and Elendil** (a king of Men)—both of whom died in the battle—Isildur (Elendil’s son) cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand, which defeated him and caused his spirit to go into hiding. But, rather than destroy the Ring, Isildur (likely captivated by its power) chose to keep it. He was later killed by Orcs when the Ring slipped off his finger as he attempted to invisibly flee across the Anduin River. Long after this, the Ring is discovered in the riverbed by a hobbit-like creature named Déagol, who had a friend named Sméagol (more widely known as Gollum, the creature Bilbo riddled with in The Hobbit).

Sméagol & the One Ring, A Summary

? Sméagol came from a race of hobbits that once lived on the edge of Wilderland and (unlike those of the Shire) loved swimming and boating and other water activities
? He lived with his wealthy, matriarchal family and was known to be inquisitive and curious-minded about the roots and beginnings of things
? One day, Sméagol goes fishing with his friend Déagol
? Déagol falls into the river and discovers the Ring
? Sméagol, immediately caught by the power of the Ring, murders Déagol and takes it from him
? After possessing the ring, he uses it to discover secrets and steal and becomes generally malicious and hurtful
? Sméagol begins to mutter to himself in a gurgling sort of way and people start calling him Gollum
? He is shunned by the community, disowned by his family, and eventually banished from home
? He wanders Middle-earth alone until he comes to the Misty Mountains and, drawn by curiosity (and a growing intolerance for sunlight caused by the Ring’s corruption), makes a home of their dark tunnels
? Centuries go by and the Ring lengthens Gollum’s life, but twists and torments him as well
? Gollum becomes a miserable creature and grows to hate the Ring (and himself), but still loves it (and himself) and calls it (and himself) “precious.” (“He hated the dark, and he hated the light more: he hated everything, and the Ring most of all.”)
? Eventually, Gollum loses the Ring (rather, since it is a Ring of Power, it abandons him) in the mountain tunnels and Bilbo finds it

Here, Gandalf explains to Frodo that the Ring is trying to get back to Sauron—it slipped off Isildur’s finger (thus leading directly to his death), Déagol found it by chance and was murdered by Sméagol, it stayed with Sméagol/Gollum until it could make no more use of him, then it left Gollum (since it would never leave the mountains otherwise) and was picked up by Bilbo.

Gandalf reveals that for the past few years he has been tracking Gollum, who has left the Misty Mountains, and was able to learn that Gollum not only knows the name of the person who took his “precious” from him (for Bilbo told him his name himself) but also that he is from the Shire. This news by itself isn’t so bad until Gandalf admits that he lost Gollum’s trail and, distracted by more pressing things, let the issue go.

Apparently, Gollum eventually made his way to Mordor, drawn by the Dark Power of Sauron, whose call he would be unable to resist after having possessed the One Ring for so long. There he was captured and questioned (possibly tortured) for information on the whereabouts of the Ring. Now Sauron knows that the Ring is in the Shire and was last in the possession of a hobbit named Baggins.

Frodo is, understandably, worried about this and laments that Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when he had the chance to. Gandalf, ever the wise wizard, explains that Bilbo’s hand was stayed by pity for Gollum, and that it was pity which likely spared Bilbo from the worst of the evil effects of using the Ring.

Favorite Quote Break!

Gandalf: Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?

Frodo, in a panic, tries to convince Gandalf to take the Ring. But the wizard, certain that he would be tempted to use the Ring to do good, and thus succumb to its evil, refuses. He does, however, assure Frodo that he will help him for as long as he his burdened by the Ring. But they must do something soon. The Enemy is moving.

So, Frodo reluctantly comes to the conclusion that he cannot keep the Ring and stay in the Shire. He’ll have to leave everything and everyone he’s ever known. Gandalf—pleasantly surprised by Frodo’s decision—agrees, but sees no reason why he should go off alone if there is someone he trusts to take along with him. And at that moment, Gandalf catches Sam Gamgee eavesdropping (or trimming the grass, maybe) at the window.

Favorite Quote Break!

Sam: Mr. Frodo, sir! Don’t let him hurt me, sir! Don’t let him turn me into anything unnatural! My old dad would take on so.

Gandalf does not turn Sam into anything unnatural, but it turns out that Sam did hear a great deal of their conversation about the Ring and Sauron (he says he was drawn to the window by mention of the Elves). So, it’s decided that Sam shall be Frodo’s traveling companion. And Frodo, whose last name of Baggins is no longer a safe name to have, will travel under the alias of Mr. Underhill.

*The Enemy and Mordor: It’s mentioned that the evil power gathering in Mordor seems to be the same evil power that lurked in Mirkwood (the Necromancer) and was driven out by the White Council (Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel, Elrond, and others) during the events of The Hobbit. In other words, The Hobbit’s Necromancer is actually Sauron (who was a lieutenant of Morgoth’s, who was actually the Vala Melkor—okay, stop Logan. *ahem* More on that later).
**Elendil’s name means “Elf-friend” because he and his people were great friends of the Elves. He was of Númenor (aka Westernesse), a once-great island kingdom of Men who were long-lived but still mortal. Elendil and his sons (Isildur and Anárion) fled to Middle-earth when Númenor fell (a catastrophe—think Atlantis—that was caused by Men’s rebellion against the Valar, the creators of Middle-earth). There, Elendil founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, and Isildur and Anárion founded the cities of Minas Ithil (aka Minas Morgul) and Minas Anor (aka Minas Tirith), respectively (check out this map of Middle-earth for reference). For those of you familiar with the movies that’s Minas Ithil/Morgul and Minas Anor/Tirith.

That’s a wrap for Chapter 2—Gandalf is back from his wizardly travels; Bilbo’s ring is the ring, the ancient One Ring created by the Dark Lord Sauron; Sauron knows that his Ring is in the Shire, so Frodo (aka Mr. Underhill) must leave and take the Ring with him.  Stay tuned to Unbound Worlds for more from the Tolkien Re-read! Next up is Chapter 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring, in which Gandalf has mysteriously disappeared again and Frodo encounters one of my favorite dark and nasty things.