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The Lord of the Rings | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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In The Lord of the Rings, why is it important that Bilbo gives his Ring to Frodo?

Bilbo must give the Ring to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 1) for character and plot reasons. Bilbo, who obtained the Ring from Gollum, has had it in his possession for many years by the time The Lord of the Rings begins. It has already had an effect on him, preserving his youthful appearance far beyond what is natural. And he tells Gandalf it has made him feel stretched thin: "like butter that has been scraped over too much bread." Because the Ring has an evil influence, it is concerning to Gandalf that Bilbo is feeling any effect at all. And when Gandalf observes Bilbo's possessive behavior about the Ring, he worries even more. Gandalf knows that if Bilbo has the Ring too long, he will eventually be overcome by its evil power. From a plot perspective, Tolkien needs to tie this new story to the previous one, and having Bilbo hand off the Ring to Frodo is like the passing of a baton in a relay race. It marks the end of Bilbo's action in the story and the beginning of Frodo's.

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Gandalf explain his personal temptation regarding the Ring, and how does this explanation develop the idea of pity?

In The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 2), Gandalf tells Frodo, "the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me!" Yet, he has also just explained that Bilbo was correct to choose to let Gollum live out of pity: "It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need ... Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity." Pity is important, as it did not allow Bilbo to be overcome by the Ring's power. It is unarguably a force for good, ultimately one allowing the quest to succeed despite Frodo's failure to destroy the Ring on his own. Yet, Gandalf seems to say that even this most noble motivation could be corrupted by the Ring. Although pity has great influence, it is not a fool-proof protection against evil.

In The Lord of the Rings, what does Gandalf tell Frodo what Sauron's ultimate goal is, and how is this goal reflected throughout the story?

Gandalf tells Frodo that Sauron wants to "beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness." He refers to the evil spread by Sauron as "the Shadow." This second darkness and Shadow symbolize evil, but they are not simply metaphorical. As the Company gets closer to Mordor, they can see shadow spreading outward from it, and as the story nears its conclusion, they are inside the Shadow, which obscures the light of the sun and stars. The very title of the chapter in which this occurs, "The Shadow of the Past," includes the word "shadow," demonstrating Sauron's evil reaches across both space and time.

In The Lord of the Rings, why does Frodo delay leaving the Shire, and what does this delay reveal about him?

Despite the fact that Gandalf would like Frodo to begin his journey quickly in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 3), Frodo delays. Frodo gives a reason for this: he says he doesn't want to cause gossip and draw attention by going too quickly. But in his heart, he is really feeling sad about leaving the Shire and Bag End. After all, his home is comfortable and the Shire is pleasant: "he wanted to savour as much as he could of his last summer in the Shire." In addition, Frodo wants to leave on the birthday he shares with Bilbo—a significant milestone, perhaps even lucky. It also emphasizes the fact that he is imitating Bilbo in leaving and going on an adventure of sorts—a more positive thought than thoughts of the Ring and Mordor.

How does Sam's first experience with Elves change him in The Lord of the Rings?

Sam has been determined to accompany Frodo on the entire journey, whatever it may be. But his talk with the Elves gives him a chance to express this desire; perhaps it fortifies his courage in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 4). More importantly, the normally practical and cheerful Sam has become thoughtful, suggesting a change in his character. Although outwardly Sam hasn't changed (except for the thoughtful expression), Frodo notices that Sam's voice does "not sound like the voice of the old Sam Gamgee that he thought he knew." In particular, contact with Elves has given Sam a small amount of the foresight those with Elven blood often seem to show. Sam notes now he can "see ahead, in a kind of way ... we are going to take a very long road, into darkness." He also is certain he has "something to do before the end." Both of the premonitions he has due to this Elven "magic" turn out to be true.

Why is crossing the Brandywine River significant to Sam but not to the other hobbits in The Lord of the Rings?

For Sam in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 5), crossing the Brandywine River is a milestone on the journey, which brings the reality of his chosen path home. It takes on a symbolic meaning for Sam, as he feels it divides his past from his future: "his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front." The other hobbits do not feel this way because they have all been across the river: Frodo's mother was a Brandybuck and he spent his childhood years in Buckland, Merry Brandybuck's family and home are in Buckland, and Pippin—a Took—also has family ties there. So, this moment belongs to Sam alone, and helps show just how much he must grow and change in order to become the heroic figure seen at the end of the story.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, how does Tolkien develop the ideas of friendship and trust that run through The Lord of the Rings?

In The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 5), Frodo learns his closest friends have not only been keeping secrets from him, they've been spying on him and planning a conspiracy behind his back. When they first confess this, he is, understandably, a little upset and feels betrayed. It is uncomfortable for him to think about their sneaking around spying and making plans he knows nothing about. Yet, when he accuses them of betraying trust, Merry defends their actions, saying, "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin—to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours—closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word." Tolkien uses this interaction to clarify what friendship is, and the kind of trust one might expect from friends. It is a deeper and more nuanced kind of trust than simply being honest.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, how does the reputation of the Old Forest and surrounding areas increase suspense and foreshadow plot events in The Lord of the Rings?

Merry tells the other hobbits about the Old Forest in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 6): "Everything in it is very much more alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than things are in the Shire. And the trees do not like strangers. They watch you." He also tells them, "They do say the trees do actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them in," and the "Withywindle valley is said to be the queerest part." Later, as the hobbits see the Downs in the distance, they recall, "the Barrow-downs had as sinister a reputation in hobbit-legend as the Forest itself." The mention of these stories establishes an ominous mood as the hobbits travel through the Old Forest. Suspense increases as, one by one, all the stories seem to come true—the trees do seem to move and conspire against them, pushing them toward the Withywindle valley. Eventually, the hobbits experience all of the aspects of the Forest the stories warn about, including the sinister nature of the Barrow-downs.

In The Lord of the Rings, how is the hobbits' encounter with Tom Bombadil woven into the larger story?

To some readers, Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry seem out of place in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 7). Film adaptations have often left these characters out as they are seen as minor characters who do not further the plot. However, Tolkien weaves Tom into the overall story of the Ring in a few ways that become relevant later in the plot. One concrete way is that the weapons Tom helps the hobbits choose from the Barrow-wight's hoard make a difference at pivotal moments. For example, Merry uses his blade to stab the back of the Nazgûl's knee, allowing Éowyn to finish him off. As a sword of Westernesse, it has the ability to pierce even a Ringwraith: "No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will." Of course, the most obvious way Tolkien weaves Tom into the story is by showing that the Ring does not have power over him. It does not make him invisible, nor does it cause Frodo to disappear from his sight. This strange situation complicates matters because it suggests there are creatures living in Middle-earth who do not quite belong to it or to the war against Sauron. These creatures are not—as are Gandalf, Aragorn, and Frodo—duty-bound to fight Sauron.

What does the description of the Barrow-downs have in common with the description of Mordor inThe Lord of the Rings?

Tolkien's descriptions of the Barrow-downs and Mordor in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 8) and The Two Towers (Book 4, Chapter 3) share imagery that make each one seem frightening. For example, both seem to have teeth rising up from the ground. The Barrow-downs have stones rising up from the hills: "standing stones, pointing upwards like jagged teeth out of green gums." And Cirith Gorgor, the "haunted pass" into Mordor, is also described having teeth: "two sheer hills, black-boned and bare. Upon them stood the Teeth of Mordor, two towers strong and tall." In both places, vision is obscured in some way. The Barrow-downs have a fog, or mist, which makes it difficult to see, and Mordor is covered in a Shadow, blocking the sun's light. Ringwraiths do not see in the land of the living; lack of vision is a hallmark of those who are overcome by evil, while Sauron, the evil Lord, is represented by a lidless eye. These images suggest that evil devours and blinds those whom it overcomes.

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