Literature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsThe Fellowship Of The Ring Book 1 Chapter 2 Summary

The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 1, Chapter 2) : The Shadow of the Past | Summary

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Summary

After the initial shock of Bilbo's disappearance wears off, life in Hobbiton generally returns to normal, and Frodo lives for many years as a bachelor at Bag End. He often dines with Merry and Pippin, his good friends. As time passes, some people notice Frodo doesn't seem to show his age, an observation they had made about Bilbo, too.

It is only as Frodo nears 50 that he begins to feel a bit restless. He starts wandering far from home, talking to travelers, and getting news of the world outside the Shire. Quite a bit of turmoil seems to be going on in the outside world—both Dwarves and Elves are on the move more than usual, and there are rumors of the "Enemy" and the "Land of Mordor."

Then Gandalf unexpectedly returns, and reveals to Frodo that the magic ring he inherited from Bilbo is actually the One Ring crafted in secret by Sauron, the great Enemy in Mordor, to overpower all the other magic rings possessed by Men, Elves, and Dwarves. Gandalf tests the ring to be sure of this fact, and fiery words appear: "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." Gandalf then gives some of the One Ring's history, and says the ring must not be found by Sauron, who will use it to "cover all the lands in a second darkness."

Frodo learns how the Ring came to him, beginning with Isildur, who cut it from Sauron's hand. Isildur was killed by Orcs in the Great River, Anduin, and the Ring lay at the bottom of the river for many years. The Ring then passed to Gollum, who murdered his friend to possess it. From Gollum, the Ring passed to Bilbo, and finally, to Frodo.

As if this news were not dire enough, Gandalf also tells Frodo that Sauron had captured Gollum and now knows the name "Baggins" and the location "Shire." Frodo realizes the Ring must leave the Shire, and he must take it, secretly. Just as he resolves to do this, Gandalf catches Sam Gamgee, Frodo's gardener, eavesdropping. Well-intentioned Sam agrees to go with Frodo as punishment for listening in.

Analysis

This chapter bears careful reading, as it is packed with important information and covers a long time period. Frodo turns 33 in Chapter 1, and is about 50 when Gandalf finally reveals what he has found out about the Ring in Chapter 2. In the intervening years, Gandalf has been investigating the mysterious ring, doing research, finding answers. What he has found is not encouraging.

Frodo continues to be characterized as an atypical hobbit. He carries on "Bilbo's reputation for oddity" and does not settle down with a wife and family, choosing rather to lead the life of a bachelor. He goes for long, wandering walks, and to the "amazement of sensible folk he was sometimes seen far from home walking in the hills and woods under the starlight."

Hints of unrest in the outside world build suspense as the chapter moves toward Gandalf's arrival and revelations. There are "rumours of strange things happening in the world outside," more Dwarves than usual on the roads, and Elves, who seldom walked in the Shire, can "now be seen passing westward through the woods in the evening, passing and not returning; but they were leaving Middle-earth and were no longer concerned with its troubles." There are even hints of the "Enemy and of the Land of Mordor" and of Orcs becoming more numerous.

Several themes of the story trace their roots to this chapter. Sam Gamgee, listening to stories of the outside world at The Green Dragon, a local tavern, asks, "Who invented the stories anyway?" suggesting the stories carry a truth and are not simply fantasy. Gandalf introduces the core ethical message of the story, which is that each individual must do what they can for good, using what they have been given, even if the task seems overwhelming: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

This chapter makes the case for the quest, and it is compelling enough that Frodo can see no other option. First, Frodo has the One Ring. Second, Sauron wants the Ring back and will stop at nothing to get it. Third, if Sauron gets the Ring, the world will plunge into a terrible darkness, dominated by evil. Everything created by the Elves for good will be destroyed if their three rings of power come under the control of the One Ring. Finally, Sauron knows a hobbit named Baggins is in possession of his Ring, and he knows hobbits live in a place called the Shire. Conclusion: Frodo must leave and take the Ring with him, or the Shire, as well as the entire world, will be destroyed.

This chapter also introduces the idea that a benevolent outside power is at work in the world to oppose the evil power of Sauron. Gandalf suggests Bilbo's finding the Ring "was the strangest event in the whole history of the Ring so far" and that it was the result of "something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker ... Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker." Frodo, then, was "meant to have it."

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