One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Ballantine

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The real star in J.R.R. Tolkien”s “The Fellowship of the Ring” is not Gandalf the Grey, nor is it the evil Sauron or even the young (well, young for Hobbits) Frodo Baggins. The ring is the key player, controlling the lives and fortunes of two hobbits, a great wizard, and the creatures near to them. Forged in the name of evil, the ring controls all of the lesser rings, giving the holder invisibility and near invincibility.

When Bilbo Baggins (the hero of Tolkien”s “The Hobbit”) leaves Frodo the ring, Gandalf reveals to Frodo that he must go to Mount Doom, where the ring was created, and throw it into the fire to destroy it, preventing Sauron from regaining power.

Bilbo is a typical hobbit short, stout, pleasant and peaceful. Hobbits enjoy eating (often six meals a day) and desire stability. They distrust adventures and the creatures that bring them including Gandalf. But desiring to leave the Shire he resides in, Frodo takes the sizable burden and sets off with his trusted companion Sam Gamgee and his friends Merry and Pippin.

Danger follows Frodo and the ring everywhere. Nine ring-wraiths evil, black riders seek to regain the ring and turn Frodo into a fellow wraith in the process. Every time Frodo puts the ring on, he falls a little deeper into their world. With the wraiths on his heels, Frodo and his small band of allies race to various havens and eventually toward the dark land of Mordor.

The venerable Aragorn (also called Strider), descended from the ancient kings, accompanies the earnest Frodo. Boromir, another man, joins with Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf and Gandalf to form the titular Fellowship with the four hobbits. They must overcome mountains and treacherous roads to reach their quest. But the greatest danger may come from within the greatest thrill comes from reading to see if they will dissolve like Arthur”s Knights of the Round Table before they complete their quest, or if they can stick together to support Frodo in his quest.

Naturally, the nine don”t have to face the journey without some help. Bilbo gives Frodo some gifts and advice, and the great elf queen Galadriel lends counsel and insight into the minds of the fellowship. They need all the help they can get against the orcs, uruks, and other baddie creatures.

Those who have seen the movie (one of the few movies that actually improves on the book) but haven”t read the novel might be in for some surprises. For instance, Gandalf isn”t as omnipresent in the book as he is in the movie. Also, the occasional break into song can impede reading. But the way in which Tolkien painstakingly explores the mythology of Middle Earth is impressive. Rather than simply putting forth characters, he goes into the minutiae of Hobbit life, detailing the Hobbits” fear of the sea, passion for stories, and so forth. By doing so, Tolkien adds to the charming fantasy he concocted.

One of the nice things about the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” is that both children and adults can enjoy them. Adults may notice the similarities between Hobbit and human flaws (greed, fear of change), perhaps reading too much into the story which Tolkien did not intend as a social commentary. Children have been reading the books on their own since the book”s conception nearly 50 years ago (although they may struggle with some of the language).

Anyone who has seen “Star Wars” can see the enormous influence Tolkien had on science fiction and fantasy. From the wise council of Gandalf (even more like Obi-Wan in the movie version) to the mission of the insecure but sincere Frodo (Luke Skywalker anyone?), filmmakers and authors have paid homage to Tolkien”s memorable characters and storytelling for years.

To miss out on reading “Fellowship” and the rest of the series would be a shame. The country was swept up with the “Harry Potter” phenomenon recently. But without Tolkien, there probably would not be a Harry Potter. Before Voldemort, there was Sauron. Before Harry, there was Bilbo and Frodo.

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