The history

The Fellowship of the Ring

Book I in The Fellowship of the Ring begins in the Shire with Bilbo’s 111th birthday party, about sixty years after the end of The Hobbit, and his surprising disappearance at the end of the party, with the help of a magic ring of invisibility he had found during his journeys described in the earlier novel. When he leaves the Shire to retire to the Elven haven of Rivendell, he bequeaths many of his belongings, including the ring, to his kinsman and adoptive heir, Frodo Baggins.

After seventeen years, their old friend Gandalf the Grey, who has been investigating the ring, confirms it is in fact the One Ring, the instrument of Sauron’s power, for which the Dark Lord has been searching for most of the Third Age. The Ring corrupts others with desire for it and the evil power it holds. Meanwhile, Gollum, who possessed the Ring before Bilbo, made his way to Mordor, where he is captured and the little information he has about the Ring and its whereabouts extracted through torture. Sauron sends his greatest servants, the nine Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, to the Shire in search of the Ring.

On Gandalf’s counsel, Frodo leaves the Shire with his loyal gardener Samwise “Sam” Gamgee and two close friends, Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck and Peregrin “Pippin” Took. In their travels, they are aided by the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, a kindly innkeeper named Barliman Butterbur, a Ranger known as “Strider,” whose turns out to be Aragorn, chief of the Dunedain and the rightful king of Gondor, and the Elf-lord Glorfindel. With the letter from Gandalf given to them by Butterbur, they set out for Rivendell under the guidance of Aragorn. Along the way, the company encounters the Ringwraiths at the hill of Weathertop where Frodo is gravely wounded. With the help of Glorfindel (replaced in the films by Arwen Undomiel, see The Lord of the Rings (film) for more information) who meets them as they near the Ford of Bruinen, the company takes a stand against the Ringwraiths and drives them into the river Bruinen where they are washed away by a sudden flood summoned by Lord Elrond. Book I ends with Frodo losing consciousness due to the poisoned wound sustained at Weathertop.

Book II reveals that Frodo recovers under the care of Lord Elrond Halfelven, master of Rivendell. Frodo meets Bilbo, enjoying his retirement, and sees Elrond’s daughter Arwen. Later, much of the story’s exposition is given during a high council, attended by representatives of the major races of Middle-earth (Elves, Dwarves, and Men) and presided over by Elrond. Each representative speaks of the troubles of their lands, and Gandalf reveals the emerging threat of Saruman, the leader of the Order of Wizards, who wants the Ring for himself. The Ring is brought forward, and the Council decides that the only course of action that can save Middle-earth is to destroy the Ring, which can only be done by casting it into the fires of Mount Doom in Sauron’s land of Mordor, where it was forged. Surprising all, even himself, Frodo volunteers for the task, and a “Fellowship of the Ring” is chosen to accompany Frodo, comprised of his three Hobbit companions, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir of Gondor, Gimli the Dwarf, and Legolas the Elf.

The company journeys along the foothills of the Misty Mountains, and attempts a mountain-pass through Caradhras, but an overwhelming storm makes this impossible. Instead they are forced to travel underground through the abandoned Mines of Moria, once the great Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-Dum but since overrun by Orcs. When they are almost through the mines the party is attacked and forced to flee before an army of orcs and trolls. To allow the rest of the company to escape, Gandalf battles a Balrog, an ancient demon of Morgoth, and falls into a deep chasm, apparently to his death.

Escaping from Moria, the Fellowship, now led by Aragorn, take refuge in the Elvish wood of Lothlórien, the realm of the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn. The Fellowship then travel down the great River Anduin by boat to the Amon Hen at the falls of Rauros. In the uncertainty over where the Fellowship should go next, Frodo eventually decides to continue the trek to Mordor on his own, largely due to the Ring’s growing influence on Boromir and the threat it poses to the others. At the end of the book, Frodo attempts to continue his mission alone, but Sam is able to catch him at the last minute, and the two of them go off together towards Mordor.
The Two Towers

The second volume, The Two Towers, deals with two parallel storylines, one in each of its books. Book III details the exploits of the remaining members of the Fellowship besides Frodo and Sam, who end up heading West to Rohan rather than East to Mordor. At the beginning of the book, the remaining members of the Fellowship are attacked by Saruman’s Orcs, and in the battle Boromir is killed and Merry and Pippin are kidnapped by the Orcs, who were under orders to bring any Hobbits back to Saruman alive. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli pursue Merry and Pippin’s captors, and meet Gandalf, who has been reborn as “Gandalf the White”. The four travel to Edoras, the main city of Rohan, where they rally the Rohirrim to make their stand against Saruman’s armies at the Helm’s Deep. At the subsequent Battle of Hornburg, the company and the Rohirrim are victorious in defeating and scattering Saruman’s armies. Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin have already escaped as their captors were attacked by the Rohirrim, in an early skirmish before the final battle, and find themselves in Fangorn where they befriend the ancient, tree-like Ents and motivate them to attack Saruman at his stronghold in Isengard. The two groups are reunited in the aftermath of battle. Saruman refuses to repent of his folly and Gandalf casts him from the Order of Wizards, stripping Saruman of most of his power. The book concludes with Gandalf taking Pippin with him to Gondor as punishment for looking into the palantir, the ancient seeing-stone of Orthanc, and thus unknowingly communicating with Sauron.

Book IV tells of Frodo and Sam’s exploits on their way to Mount Doom. They capture Gollum and convince him to guide them to the Black Gate, which they find to be impenetrable. Gollum then suggests a secret path into Mordor, through the dreaded valley of Minas Morgul. While travelling there, the three are captured by Rangers of Gondor led by Boromir’s brother Faramir. After hearing the story of his brother’s death, Faramir is convinced that the Ring would be better destroyed than used as a weapon. He spares Gollum’s life, and releases the hobbits with fresh supplies and warnings about the road they are about to take. At the end of the book, Gollum betrays Frodo by leading him to the great spider Shelob in the caves above Minas Morgul, hoping to scavenge the Ring from Frodo’s remains after she has consumed the hobbit. As Sam is distracted by Gollum, Frodo is poisoned by Shelob’s bite, but Sam eventually fights her off using Sting and the vial of Ëarendil’s star given to Frodo by Galadriel. Thinking his master dead, Sam takes the Ring for safekeeping, but he soon overhears the Orcs saying that Frodo was just paralyzed as they carry his body to the nearby fortress of Cirith Ungol. Meanwhile, Sauron launches an all-out military assault upon Middle-earth, with the Witch-king of Angmar, greatest of the Ringwraiths, leading a huge army into battle against Gondor.
The Return of the King

The third volume, The Return of the King, begins with Gandalf arriving at Minas Tirith in Gondor with Pippin to alert the city of the impending attack. Merry joins the army of Rohan, while the others, led by Aragorn, elect to journey through the ‘Paths of the Dead’ in the hope of enlisting the help of an undead army against the Corsairs of Umbar. Gandalf, Aragorn and the rest of the Fellowship then assist in the final battles against the armies of Sauron, including the siege of Minas Tirith. With the timely aid of Rohan’s cavalry and Aragorn’s assault up the river, a significant portion of Sauron’s army is defeated and Minas Tirith saved. However, Sauron still has thousands of troops available, and the main characters are forced into a climactic all-or-nothing battle before the Black Gate of Mordor, where the alliance of Gondor and Rohan fight desperately against Sauron’s armies in order to distract him from the Ringbearer, hoping to gain time for Frodo to destroy the ring.

Book VI begins with Sam rescuing Frodo from captivity. The pair then make their way through the rugged lands of Mordor and, after much struggle, reach Mount Doom itself (tailed closely by Gollum). However, at the edge of the Cracks of Doom, the temptation of the Ring proves too great for Frodo; he places the Ring on his finger and claims it for himself. While the Ringwraiths fly at top speed toward Mount Doom, Gollum struggles with Frodo for the “Precious” and succeeds in taking the Ring by biting off Frodo’s finger. Crazed with triumph, Gollum loses his footing and falls into the fire, resulting in the destruction of the Ring in the only way it could be destroyed – by the same fire in which it was originally forged by Sauron. With the end of the Ring, Sauron’s armies lose heart, the Ringwraiths disintegrate, and Aragorn’s army emerge victorious.

Thus, Sauron is banished from the world and his reign ends. Aragorn is crowned king of Gondor and marries Arwen, the daughter of Elrond. Before Frodo leaves Minas Tirith, Arwen gives to him a necklace with a white gem on it. She gives this to Frodo so that he can take her place on the last ship over the Sea, because she has decided to stay with her love, Aragorn, and live a mortal life. All conflict is not over, however, for Saruman manages to escape his captivity in Orthanc and enslave the Shire. Although the Hobbits soon overthrow him and the four heroes help to restore order and beautify the land again, the Shire was not the same as they had left it. At the end, Frodo remains wounded in body and spirit and, accompanied by Bilbo, sails west over the Sea to the Undying Lands, where he can find peace.
Appendices

The main story in the book is followed by six appendices that provide a wealth of background material, including a timeline of the events of the story, and information on the peoples and the languages of Middle-earth. Notably, Arwen, physically absent for much of the book, is dealt with in full here; her backstory and future with Aragorn are told.

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