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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1149

Bilbo Baggins, the most adventurous hobbit of the Shire, plans to celebrate his 111th birthday. His old friend Gandalf the Grey, a wizard with special control over fire, tries to restrain him from using his magic ring to vanish at the end of the party. Gandalf is disturbed, for he suspects the ring of being the One Ring forged by Sauron, the Dark Lord, in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. This ring gives long life but corrupts its user. Even Bilbo, who gained it without losing pity, begins to show signs of its evil influence. On his departure, however, after his spectacular vanishing, he leaves his property, reluctantly including the ring, to his nephew Frodo. Gandalf warns Frodo of its dangers and advises that he take it from the Shire.

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Frodo leaves the Shire, accompanied by his loyal servant Sam Gamgee and two of his cousins, Merry and Pippin. Pursued by fearful Black Riders, they narrowly escape destruction in the Old Forest, and they are rescued by jovial, earthy Tom Bombadil, who proves to be immune to the ring’s power. He sends them on their way refreshed.

At Bree, they meet a mysterious ranger called Strider and find a letter from Gandalf urging them to go to Rivendell with Strider, whose real name is Aragorn. On their fourth night out of Bree, they are attacked by Black Riders. In terror, Frodo puts on the ring and becomes invisible to his friends but visible and vulnerable to the Riders, Sauron’s Ringwraiths, whose leader stabs Frodo with a weapon that breaks off in the wound and melts. Aragorn drives them off with torches, and the company hastens toward Rivendell. Glorfindel, an elf, meets them and puts Frodo on his horse. At the Ford near Rivendell, the Black Riders try to intercept him but are thwarted by a flood.

Frodo recovers consciousness to find Gandalf with him and to learn that Elrond of Rivendell was treating his fearful wound for days. In Rivendell, Frodo finds Bilbo and meets Elrond, his daughter Arwen Evenstar, and others, including Glóin, an elderly dwarf who formerly accompanied Bilbo. Elrond calls a council to discuss the ring. At the council are Elrond’s elven subjects as well as a wood elf named Legolas, Glóin and his son Gimli, Gandalf, the five hobbits, Aragorn, and a noble gray-eyed warrior named Boromir of Gondor. Elrond recounts the history of the Rings of Power, which was made by elvensmiths in the Second Age, and of Sauron’s secret forging of a ring to rule and bind all the rest. In that age, Sauron was overthrown by an alliance of human beings and elves, and Isildur cut off the Dark Lord’s finger and took the ring, but it slipped from his finger and betrayed him to the orcs. Years later, it was found in the river by Deagol, a hobbit whose kinsman Smeagol murdered him for it and fled underground, becoming the repulsive Gollum. Bilbo found it underground. Pitying the murderous Gollum, he did not kill him but merely used the ring to escape. Sauron, though defeated, was not destroyed. He gathers an evil host in Mordor and seeks the ring to make himself ruler of the world. Gandalf tells of the treachery of Saruman the White, leader of the wizards, who imprisoned him. Gandalf escaped with the help of Gwaihir, the king of the Eagles.

The council decides to send the ring to Mordor to unmake it in the fires of Mount Doom, the only heat that can destroy it. Frodo reluctantly volunteers to remain the Ringbearer. Eight others are chosen to complete the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Aragorn’s broken sword, Anduril, is reforged by the elves. Bilbo gives Frodo his elven sword Sting and a coat of mail made of mithril, a precious light metal harder than steel. Frodo wears it under his weather-stained clothes.

The travelers pass through cold, barren country and try to cross over the Misty Mountains, but a blizzard drives them back, and they are attacked by wolves. Gandalf drives away the wolves with magic fire and leads the company into the Caverns of Moria, the ancient dwarf kingdom. He tells them of Durin, the dwarf king, and his people who delved so deeply for mithril that they roused a terrible being that destroyed them. Bilbo’s old companion Balin led a company of dwarfs from the Lonely Mountains to retake Moria. The travelers find Balin’s tomb, signs of a terrible battle, and a bloodstained, tattered book from which Gandalf is able to reconstruct the fortunes of Balin’s people to the time when their last battle began.

A drum far below signals an attack by orcs and trolls. The fellowship repels the first attack, and Frodo is struck down by a spear thrust, but his mithril coat saves him. When they are forced to retreat, Gandalf remains to hold a stone door. Something opposes his will fiercely, and the door shatters. They hasten to a narrow stone bridge across an abyss. A monstrous fire demon appears. Gandalf opposes him and destroys the bridge but is dragged into the cleft with the monster. Heavy-hearted, the others follow Aragorn to Lothlorien, home of high elves.

Lothlorien is a haven more wonderful than Rivendell. The ageless beauty of Queen Galadriel charms them all, especially Gimli, in spite of the ancient enmity between elves and dwarfs. Boromir alone is uneasy in her presence. On their departure, she gives them precious gifts, and the elves supply them with boats and provisions to continue their journey by water down the Anduin River. They soon learn they are being followed by Gollum, once owner of the ring and now apparently Sauron’s spy. They are again attacked by orcs, led by a Ringwraith on a flying mount like a pterodactyl. Legolas gains respite for them by killing the mount with an arrow. After this escape, the evil of the ring corrupts Boromir, who attempts to take it from Frodo. To escape him, Frodo puts on the ring and vanishes. Boromir returns to the company in a penitent mood. They scatter to look for Frodo.

Alone and invisible, Frodo tries to decide on the right course of action. Suddenly he is aware of an evil eye searching for him, and he is paralyzed with terror; then an inner voice commands him to take off the ring. He regains control of himself and removes it. A groping shadow seems to pass over the mountain and to fade away. Frodo decides to take an elven boat and continue his perilous journey alone, but Sam anticipates his decision, discovers him, and begs to be allowed to go along. Frodo accepts Sam’s loyal company, and they set out together for Mordor. The Fellowship of the Ring is broken.

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Themes