The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of three volumes of the epic novel The Lord of the Rings by the English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It is followed by The Two Towers and The Return of the King. It takes place in the fictional universe of Middle-earth. It was originally published on 29 July 1954 in the United Kingdom. The volume consists of a prologue titled "Concerning Hobbits, and other matters" followed by Book I and Book II.
Tolkien envisioned The Lord of the Rings as a single volume work divided into six sections he called "books" along with extensive appendices. The original publisher made the decision to split the work into three parts. It was also the publisher's decision to place the fifth and sixth books and the appendices into one volume under the title The Return of the King, in reference to Aragorn's assumption of the throne of Gondor. Tolkien indicated he would have preferred The War of the Ring as a title, as it gave away less of the story.
Before the decision to publish The Lord of the Rings in three volumes was made, Tolkien had hoped to publish the novel in one volume, possibly also combined with The Silmarillion.[n 1] However, he had proposed titles for the individual six sections. Of the two books that comprise what became The Fellowship of the Ring the first was to be called The First Journey or The Ring Sets Out. The name of the second was The Journey of the Nine Companions or The Ring Goes South. The titles The Ring Sets Out and The Ring Goes South were used in the Millennium edition.
The Prologue is meant partly to help people who have not read The Hobbit to understand the events of that book. It also contains other background information to set the stage for the novel.
The first chapter in the book begins in a light vein, following the tone of The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins celebrates his 111th (or eleventy-first, as it is called in Hobbiton) birthday on the same day, 22 September, that his younger cousin and adopted heir Frodo Baggins celebrates his coming of age at thirty-three. At the birthday party, Bilbo departs from the Shire, the land of the Hobbits, for what he calls a permanent holiday. Bilbo does so by using the magic ring (that he had found on his journey) to disappear and is aided by Gandalf the Wizard with a flash and puff of smoke, leading many in the Shire to believe he has gone mad. He leaves Frodo his remaining belongings, including his home, Bag End, and the Ring. It becomes apparent that Bilbo has been strained over the past several years, and he is at first unwilling to give up the Ring, which concerns Gandalf. Eventually, he gives up the Ring and appears to be relieved of a huge burden. Gandalf leaves on his own business, warning Frodo to keep the Ring secret.
Over the next seventeen years, Gandalf periodically pays short visits to Bag End. One spring night, he arrives to enlighten Frodo about Bilbo's ring; it is the One Ring of Sauron the Dark Lord. He proves this by flinging the Ring into the fireplace, the heat of which causes the Ring to display Elf-writing in the language of Mordor. Sauron had forged the Ring to subdue and rule Middle-earth, but in the War of the Last Alliance, he had been defeated by Gil-galad the Elven King and Elendil, High King of Arnor and Gondor, though they themselves perished in the deed. Isildur, Elendil's son, cut the Ring from Sauron's finger. Sauron was overthrown, but the Ring itself was not destroyed as it should have been, for Isildur kept it for himself. Isildur was slain soon afterwards in the Battle of the Gladden Fields, and the Ring was lost in Great River Anduin. Thousands of years later, it was found by the hobbit Déagol; but Déagol was thereupon murdered by his friend Sméagol, who wanted the Ring for himself. Sméagol took the Ring and kept it for hundreds of years, and under its influence he became a wretched creature named Gollum. The Ring was found by Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit, and Bilbo left it behind for Frodo. Frodo wonders why Bilbo did not kill the creature when he had the chance, but Gandalf reminds him that Bilbo's pity saved him in the end and did not make him like Gollum.
Gandalf tells how Sauron has risen again and has returned to his stronghold in Mordor and is bending all his power toward the hunting of the Ring. Gandalf speaks of the evil powers of the Ring and its ability to influence the bearer and those near him if it is worn for too long. Gandalf warns Frodo that the Ring is no longer safe in the Shire. He has learned through his investigations that Gollum had gone to Mordor, where he was captured and tortured until he revealed to Sauron that the Ring was in the keeping of a hobbit named Baggins from the Shire. Gandalf hopes Frodo can reach the elf-haven Rivendell, east of the Shire, where he believes Frodo and the Ring will be safe from Sauron, and where the Ring's fate can be decided. Samwise Gamgee, Frodo's gardener and friend, is discovered eavesdropping on the conversation. Out of loyalty to his master, Sam agrees to accompany Frodo on his journey.
Over the summer, Frodo makes plans to leave his home at Bag End, under the pretence that he is moving to the eastern end of the Shire (Buckland) to retire. Helping with the plans are Frodo's friends Sam, Peregrin Took (Pippin for short), Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry), and Fredegar Bolger (Fatty), though Frodo does not tell them of the Ring or of his intention to leave the Shire. At midsummer, Gandalf leaves on pressing business, but promises to return before Frodo leaves.
Frodo's birthday and the date of his departure approach, but Gandalf does not appear, so Frodo decides to leave without him. Black Riders pursue Frodo's party. These turn out to be Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, "the most terrible servants of the Dark Lord" (men who have been corrupted by Sauron through the Nine Rings), who are searching for "Baggins" and the Ring. One of the Riders comes to the door of Sam's father, the Gaffer, the very evening before they depart. With the help of some elves led by Gildor and a hobbit named Farmer Maggot, the hobbits cross the Brandywine River and reach Crickhollow on the eastern border of the Shire. There Merry, Pippin, and Fatty reveal that they know of the Ring and of Frodo's plan to leave the Shire. Merry and Pippin decide to join Frodo and Sam, while Fatty stays behind as a decoy.
In hopes of eluding the Nazgûl, the hobbits travel through the Old Forest. There the group fall asleep by a willow-tree and wake up to realize that its roots are trying to strangle them, but luckily Tom Bombadil comes to their aid. They then go to the house of Bombadil and meet his wife Goldberry. There they discover that the Ring has no power over Bombadil—he does not disappear while wearing it and can see Frodo even after he has vanished from his friends' sight. In the evening, Frodo has a dream about Gandalf standing on the pinnacle of a tower and then a vision of a rain curtain in front of a ship on which he is sailing. They then leave Bombadil's only to be captured by a barrow wight in the Barrow-downs, but they again escape with help from Tom and finally reach the gate of the village of Bree.
In Bree, the hobbits go to The Prancing Pony Inn, where Barliman Butterbur is the owner. Frodo goes by the name of "Underhill" rather than Baggins. While visiting with other hobbits and men from Bree, Frodo makes eye contact with a mysterious-looking man in the corner. The man then warns Frodo that Pippin is close to revealing who the hobbits really are, so Frodo begins to recite a poem that earns the applause of everyone in the inn. When he recites it a second time, Frodo gets carried away and falls off the table and accidentally lets the Ring slip on his finger causing him to disappear. The incident causes a major commotion, and several rough-looking men leave the inn. Frodo reappears and said that he slipped away out of embarrassment, but few buy the explanation. The hobbits then retire from the common room only to find that they have been followed by the mysterious man, who goes by the name Strider, a Ranger. He claims to be a friend of Gandalf and warns that the Nazgûl are after them and only he can guide them to Rivendell. Frodo doubts Strider until Butterbur comes in with a note from Gandalf to Frodo left some time earlier. Gandalf says to trust Strider and ask him his real name. Without even being asked, Strider reveals his name as Aragorn son of Arathorn and is the heir of Isildur in the North. Merry then comes in a says he was waylaid by the Nazgûl. Strider has them spend the night in another room.
The Nazgûl then attack both the house at Crickhollow and the inn at Bree but do not find Frodo in either spot. The next morning, Frodo learns that their riding ponies have been driven off by the Nazgûl and their allies. They manage to secure one beast from one of the Nazgûl collaborators, Bill Ferny, one of the men of Bree. Curious because of all the events, the whole town turns out to see them off. The hobbits and Strider make their way cross-country, through the Midgewater Marshes, to the hill of Weathertop, where they spot five of the Nazgûl on the road below. They then see evidence of a major fire fight and a stone that might indicate Gandalf got there ahead of them.
That night, five of the Nazgûl attack the travellers. Frodo yields to the temptation and puts on the Ring, and see the Nazgûl in their full form. He attempts to attack them, but the chief of the Nazgûl stabs Frodo in the shoulder with a cursed knife before Aragorn drives them off with torches. A splinter of the blade remains within the wound, causing Frodo to fall very ill as they travel to Rivendell. Aragorn warns them that, unless treated soon, Frodo will become a wraith like the Nazgûl himself. As the travellers near their destination, they meet Glorfindel, an elf-lord from Rivendell, who helps them reach the River Bruinen near Rivendell. But the Nazgûl, all nine now gathered together, ambush the party at the Ford of Bruinen. Glorfindel's horse outruns the pursuers and carries Frodo across the Ford. As the Nazgûl attempt to follow, a giant wave commanded by Elrond, the lord of Rivendell, sweeps them away and Frodo collapses.
Book II opens in Rivendell at the house of Elrond. Frodo is healed by Elrond and discovers that Bilbo has been residing there. Bilbo asks to see the Ring again, but Frodo resists because of the Ring's power, which leads Bilbo to understand at last. Frodo also meets many notable figures, including Glóin—one of the dwarves who accompanied Bilbo on his journey to the Lonely Mountain—and Legolas, Prince of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood. Frodo learns about the remaining dwarves, including Balin, Ori, and Óin who had not been heard from in some time.
Elrond convenes a Council, attended by Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, Aragorn and many others, including Boromir, son of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. Glóin explains that Balin had led an expedition to reclaim the old dwarf kingdom of Moria, but they had not heard from him in years. Furthermore, Glóin tells the group that the Nazgûl had come to Dale and the Lonely Mountain looking for Bilbo and the Ring. Legolas then tells the council that Gollum had escaped from his captivity with the Elves and was also abroad and hunting for the Ring. Boromir then stands and relates the details of a dream he and his brother Faramir both received, telling them to seek "the Sword That Was Broken" and "Isildur's Bane" in Rivendell. Elrond then has Frodo bring out the Ring, which is revealed as "Isildur's Bane".
Gandalf explains that he had gone to Isengard, where the wizard Saruman, the chief of all wizards in Middle-earth, dwells, to seek help and counsel. However, Saruman had turned against them, desiring the Ring for himself. Saruman imprisoned Gandalf in his tower, Orthanc, rightly suspecting that Gandalf knew where the Ring was. Gandalf, however, did not yield and managed to escape from Orthanc. He learns that Saruman is not yet in Sauron's service, and is mustering his own force of Orcs.
As the Council of Elrond concludes, a plan is hatched to cast the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor, which will destroy the Ring and end Sauron's power for good. Boromir objects and argues for using the Ring to overcome Sauron and relieve Gondor, but Elrond says that the Ring cannot be used for good because of its intrinsic evil and its corrupting power even on those with the best intentions. Frodo offers to undertake this dangerous quest, and is thus chosen to be the Ring-bearer.
Frodo sets forth from Rivendell with eight companions: two Men, Aragorn and Boromir; Legolas; Gandalf; Gimli the Dwarf, the son of Glóin; and Frodo's three Hobbit companions. These Nine Walkers (called the Fellowship of the Ring) are chosen to represent all the free races of Middle-earth and as a balance to the Nazgûl. They are also accompanied by Bill the Pony, whom Aragorn and the Hobbits acquired in Bree as a pack horse.
The Fellowship attempt to cross the Misty Mountains is foiled by heavy snow, and then they are attacked by a host of Wargs that have moved west of the Mountains to hunt for the Ring. Thus, they are forced to take a path under the mountains, through the mines of Moria, the ancient dwarf kingdom. There, they discover that Balin, Ori, and Óin were all killed by Orcs and other evil creatures that thwarted their attempt to retake Moria. Those same orcs then attack the travellers, and during the battle that ensues, Gandalf encounters a Balrog of Morgoth, an ancient demon of fire and shadow. Gandalf challenges the Balrog, but both fall into an abyss.
The remaining eight members of the Fellowship escape from Moria and head toward the elf-haven of Lothlórien, where they are given gifts from the rulers Celeborn and Galadriel that in many cases prove useful later during the Quest.
After leaving Lothlórien the Fellowship reach Amon Hen. There Frodo tries to decide the future course of the Fellowship. Boromir succumbs to the Ring's corruptive influence and tries to take it for himself, and Frodo ends up putting on the Ring to escape from Boromir. While the rest of the Fellowship scatters to hunt for Frodo, Frodo decides the Fellowship has to be broken, and he must depart secretly for Mordor alone to prevent the rest of his companions from becoming enslaved by the influence of the Ring. Sam insists on coming along, however, and they set off together to Mordor. The Fellowship is thus broken.
The Fellowship was formed at Rivendell in late T.A. 3018 following the Council of Elrond. It was decided that it should be a relatively small company; the number was set at nine to symbolically oppose the nine Nazgûl. In order of announcement the members of the Fellowship were:
|Frodo Baggins||Hobbit||50||Adopted heir of Bilbo and the Ring-bearer.|
|Samwise "Sam" Gamgee||Hobbit||38||Frodo's gardener; becomes Frodo's companion on the quest.|
|Gandalf the Grey||Istari||primeval||Wizard who leads the Fellowship until the Bridge of Khazad-dûm in Moria, where he falls in combat with a Balrog.|
|Legolas||Elf||500+||Son of Thranduil, king of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood. He came to inform Elrond of the escape of Gollum.|
|Gimli||Dwarf||139||Son of Glóin. He came to Rivendell from the Lonely Mountain with his father to seek advice on the disappearance of Balin, and to warn Bilbo that Sauron's agents are seeking him.|
|Aragorn (Strider)||Man||87||Chief Ranger of the North and heir of Isildur and Elendil; he had accompanied the hobbits from Bree to Rivendell.|
|Boromir||Man||40||Son and heir of Denethor II, Steward of Gondor. He came to Rivendell seeking the meaning of a prophetic dream.|
|Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck||Hobbit||36||Son and heir of the Master of Buckland, cousin to both Pippin and Frodo. He is particularly close to Pippin.|
|Peregrin "Pippin" Took||Hobbit||28||Son and heir of the Thain in Tookland, he is the youngest member of the group and cousin to both Merry and Frodo.|
In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien speaks more often of the "Company" of the Ring rather than the "Fellowship", as reflected in the page references in Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth. However, as it appears in the title of the book, "Fellowship" has become the familiar term.
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The poet W.H. Auden wrote a positive review in The New York Times, praising the excitement and saying "Tolkien's invention is unflagging, and, on the primitive level of wanting to know what happens next, The Fellowship of the Ring is at least as good as The Thirty-Nine Steps". However, he noted that the light humour in the beginning was "not Tolkien's forte". It was also favourably reviewed by nature writer Loren Eiseley. Literary critic Edmund Wilson titled his unflattering review Oo, those awful Orcs.
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