The Fellowship of the Ring
Good vs. Evil Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
At the time when this story begins the Bounders, as they were called, had been greatly increased. There were many reports and complaints of strange persons and creatures prowling about the borders, or over them: the first sign that all was not quite as it should be, and always had been except in tales and legends long ago. Few heeded the sign, and not even Bilbo had yet any notion of what it portended. (prologue.3.7)
At the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, we already know that the good people of Shire are under threat. The threat is so subtle that even they don't see it: "strange persons and creatures" have been trying to get into this peaceful and sheltered place. By portraying the threat to the Shire as a subtle one that we can see but the Shire's residents can't, Tolkien is increasing our suspense: what is heading towards the Shire? Why would the Shire be of particular interest to "strange persons and creatures"?
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say. (1.1.121)
Bilbo sings this song as he sets out toward Rivendell in the first chapter of the novel. This song is notable because it foreshadows one of the major themes of the book. Bilbo's actions (picking up a magic ring in the goblin tunnels, sparing Gollum's life, leaving Bag End at eleventy-one) are all part of his individual experience – his Road, if you will. But these actions also have a huge effect on everything that goes on around him: the "larger way/Where many paths and errands meet." We have no way of judging what the ultimate effects of our deeds might be, good or bad. All we can do is "follow" the Road as best we can. This is why the cut-and-dried approach that the Hobbits take to morality is wrong: the world's events are so huge and complicated that we can't know for sure how our choices will effect the world around us. We have to do the best we can in the middle of uncertainty.
That name [Mordor] the Hobbits only knew in legends of the dark past, like a shadow in the background of their memories, but it was ominous and disquieting. It seemed that the evil power in Mirkwood had been driven out by the White Council only to reappear in greater strength in the old strongholds of Mordor. (1.2.10)
Even in the Shire, Frodo starts to get news that all is not well with the world. The Shire is sheltered, but not that sheltered. We like the way that Tolkien keeps establishing continuity with the events of The Hobbit: the reason that Gandalf is drawn away from Bilbo and his Dwarf friends at a key moment in their anti-dragon quest is that he is off with the White Council fighting the Necromancer in the South. Now, that dark force is re-establishing itself once more in "the old strongholds of Mordor." Tolkien's obsession with the timelines of his own stories gives us another reason to respect the whole universe of the Lord of the Rings: Tolkien always wants to get it right, not only morally but also in terms of continuity.