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The Lord of the Rings | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In The Lord of the Rings, how do Bree and its inhabitants compare and contrast to Hobbiton and its inhabitants?

Like the village of Hobbiton, Bree is isolated in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 9) "like an island in the empty lands round about." The inhabitants of Bree, like those of Hobbiton, are a little suspicious of strangers, are proud of their home, believing it to be the first hobbit settlement, and rarely travel beyond it. Inhabitants of both Bree and Hobbiton are partial to inns and quality food and beer. However, the village of Hobbiton is made up of hobbits only, while in Bree, hobbits and Men live in harmony with one another. Historically, Bree had been more of a crossroads, and so was more used to travelers of all sorts.

Why does trusting Aragorn present a challenge for the hobbits when they meet him in The Lord of the Rings?

When Aragorn first meets the hobbits in Bree in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 10), he is introduced as Strider, a Ranger. He is rough, seems to be watching and following them, and knows altogether too much about their situation. The hobbits think he looks disreputable, especially Sam. They seem to equate his sinister appearance with a corresponding sinister character. Part of their mistrust is also based on the fact that Gandalf's letter, introducing Aragorn, was not delivered in time to be of any use. Aragorn attempts to convince them to trust him, but he is completely unsuccessful until Gandalf's letter arrives and is read. Frodo and Pippin soften a little after this, but Sam remains unconvinced. Aragorn wins over the hobbits, including Sam, by showing he is physically powerful enough to take the Ring, yet he chooses not to: "If I was after the Ring, I could have it—now!" So, neither appearance nor logic persuades, but rather the action of resisting the Ring and refusing to use one's superior power does.

What delays the hobbits' departure from Bree in The Lord of the Rings, and how does this delay become significant later in the story?

The morning they wish to leave Bree in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 11), Aragorn and the hobbits find that all the ponies have disappeared. They spend the morning trying to secure another pony, and end up buying a scrawny one from Bill Ferny—a disreputable character with even more disreputable-looking friends. This incident relates to later plot events in a few ways. Sam makes friends with the pony, and when they must enter Moria, Sam's anguish at having to leave him behind in order to continue the journey with Frodo is one of many moments that remind readers that fighting evil is a series of steps and choices—not a one-time decision. The incident, and especially the suspected involvement of the "squint-eyed southerner" in the disappearance, foreshadows the influence of Saruman in the Shire. In The Return of the King (Book 6, Chapter 8), the hobbits notice many "squint-eyed and sallow-faced" Men who have come to the Shire and who look similar to Bill Ferny's "friend." Merry notes these Men also look like "many that I saw at Isengard." So, even as the hobbits are leaving the Shire to save it, evil influences are starting to make their way there.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, how does the "crumb of comfort" to which Merry refers demonstrate common characteristics of hobbits in The Lord of the Rings?

The "crumb of comfort" in the missing-pony situation in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 11), according to Merry, is that "we can have breakfast while we wait—and sit down to it." This attitude illustrates some of the characteristics of hobbits Gandalf finds so endearing and worth protecting. First, it shows that hobbits tend to look on the bright side of even the most depressing circumstances. Second, it shows the characteristic cheerfulness of the hobbits, because Merry doesn't just look on the bright side, but even makes a joke: "and more than a crumb, I hope." Third, it shows that hobbits enjoy the simple pleasures, such as a good meal, even when under stress.

In The Lord of the Rings, why does Aragorn say the name Elbereth is more deadly to the Black Rider at Weathertop than Frodo's sword slash?

Elbereth is another name for Varda, Queen of the Valar, angelic beings from the First Age who resided in Valinor and ruled over all of Arda, the original name for the Earth or the Kingdom of Manwë. Elbereth is greatly honored by the Elves who call upon her for help when in dire need. So this invocation of Elbereth in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 12) has inherent power against the forces of evil represented by the Ringwraiths. It should be noted that the name of Elbereth is what tells Frodo Gildor's Company are High Elves, is used again by Frodo as he tries to hold off the Black Riders at the Ford, is sung often in Rivendell, and is cried out by Sam as he battles Shelob.

In The Lord of the Rings, what does Gandalf mean when he says there is great power in Rivendell, but "There is power, too, of another kind in the Shire"?

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien demonstrates two ways to fight evil: the high, noble, powerful resistance of the Elves, wizards, and Men like Aragorn and Faramir; and the smaller, yet no less important, resistance of those the world considers weak as cited in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 1). The knowledgeable and strong can resist by planning, learning about, and confronting Sauron; Tolkien makes it clear Gandalf, Elrond, and Aragorn are duty-bound to give this fight everything they have, for example. But the innocent happiness and cheerfulness of the hobbits is also powerful, simply because it exists. It is a reminder that evil has not overtaken the world. Hope, joy, and love are powerful forces, even if they seem weak to one such as Sauron.

In The Lord of the Rings, why does Aragorn tell Frodo the Ring doesn't "belong to either of us ... it has been ordained that you should hold it"?

The distinction between the person who "owns" the ring and those who simply have it in their possession (those who "hold" it, the "Ring-bearers") is an important one in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 2) and throughout the novel. Frodo received the Ring from Bilbo, but it did not belong to Bilbo and neither does it belong to Frodo. Frodo thinks Aragorn is the rightful owner, because he is Isildur's heir, and the Ring was once in the possession of Isildur. However, Aragorn makes it clear to Frodo the Ring can only ever belong to the one who created it: Sauron, or another just as strong who would claim it and make it his or her own. Aragorn, Gandalf, and other powerful folk have refused to claim it, so it remains Sauron's. A person of lesser power who claimed it would be quickly overcome by Sauron's power.

In The Lord of the Rings, what is significant about Boromir's response to Aragorn's question, "Do you wish for the House of Elendil to return to the Land of Gondor?"

Boromir is the son of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. The steward is in charge of the kingdom in the king's absence; for example, he rules when the king is away, or ill, or if there is no king present. Therefore, Boromir is of the present ruling family. Elendil's line has a claim to the throne of Gondor, so when Aragorn asks Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 2), "Do you wish for the House of Elendil to return to the Land of Gondor?" he is asking if Boromir's family would be glad if there was a king again. Boromir's response has two parts. The first is proud: "I was not sent to beg any boon, but to seek only the meaning of a riddle." Boromir isn't ready to ask for anything, and is certainly not going to ask Aragorn, whom he is suspicious of, to take over the kingdom. The second response expresses his doubts about Aragorn's ability to be king: "Yet we are hard pressed, and the Sword of Elendil would be a help beyond our hope—if such a thing could indeed return out of the shadows of the past." Boromir is not ready to completely accept Aragorn's claim about his lineage or his sword. In general, Boromir's pride and doubt of Aragorn's authority are character traits he will continue to show until his dying moments.

How does Elrond choose companions to accompany Frodo on his quest in The Lord of the Rings?

Elrond chooses representatives of the "Free Peoples" involved in the fight against Sauron as companions for Frodo, the Ring-bearer, in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 3): Elves, Dwarves, Men, and hobbits. Legolas represents the Elves, Gimli represents the Dwarves, Boromir and Aragorn represent Men, and Sam (and Frodo) represent hobbits. However, Elrond wants to fill a nine-person Company, because the number of Ringwraiths is nine. Pippin and Merry lobby to become part of the Company, and Gandalf comes in on their side, telling Elrond, "I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom." Friendship becomes as important as other more logical or knowledge-driven criteria in decision making.

What is the significance of the password used to open the doors of Moria in The Lord of the Rings?

Despite Gandalf's attempts to figure out the "secret" password for the doors of Moria, he is unsuccessful in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 4). Inscribed on the door is a clear command to speak the password and the doors will open: "Speak, friend, and enter." It turns out, however, the Elvish word "friend" is actually the password: "I had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the doors opened. Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore-master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times." As The Lord of the Rings begins, the friendship between Elves and Dwarves is a matter of history; the current state of affairs is one of mistrust and bad feelings between the two peoples. This gate is a reminder Elves and Dwarves were once friendly: "Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different race, even between Dwarves and Elves." Tolkien brings this up more than once in the story to allude to past "history" and to set the stage for Legolas and Gimli's unusual friendship.

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