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Quotes

Quote #1

[T]he old man was Gandalf the Wizard, whose fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill with fires, smokes, and lights. His real business was far more difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it. To them he was just one of the 'attractions' at the Party. Hence the excitement of the Hobbit-children. 'G for Grand!' they shouted, and the old man smiled. They knew him by sight though he only appeared in Hobbiton occasionally and never stopped long; but neither they nor any but the oldest of their elders had seen one of his fireworks displays - they now belonged to the legendary past. (1.1.27)

We first meet Gandalf in The Hobbit, when he is instrumental in helping Bilbo and his Dwarf friends find the dragon treasure they seek. His appearance at the outset of this book is important because it highlights how out-of-the-way the Shire truly is. In some ways, the Shire seems almost like Eden: the people who live there are completely innocent of the broader world. They suffer very little crime, and life seems lavish, easy, and good. The Shire-folk are so sheltered that they know nothing of Gandalf's "real business," which is "far more difficult and dangerous" than making fireworks. We get hints of Gandalf's skill as a Wizard in this passage, but we don't know the full extent of his abilities. This deliberate withholding increases our sense of suspense over exactly how much Gandalf might be capable of.

Quote #2

"A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later – later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last – sooner or later the dark power will devour him." (1.2.43)

When it comes to the Ring, it truly does not matter whether or not you are a good person: eventually, it will overwhelm you with evil, no matter how hard you try to resist. Compare the overwhelming challenge of an evil ring that cannot be resisted forever, that possesses its carrier, with the relatively more manageable threat of J.K. Rowling's Horcruxes. In the Harry Potter series (spoiler alert!), the evil Wizard Voldemort puts a piece of his soul into seven things, including one ring (sound familiar?). But while Voldemort's soul can tempt or twist people's minds, possession is not inevitable. Rowling's Horcruxes seem like a reference back to Tolkien's Rings of Power, but the Rings of Power are much more, well, powerful. The stakes seem higher in the Lord of the Rings series than for Harry Potter. What differences do you see between the two series? How does the world of Harry Potter seem influenced by the Lord of the Rings?

Quote #3

"Fair lady Goldberry!" [Frodo] said again. "Now the joy that was hidden in the songs we heard are made plain to me.
O slender as a willow-wand! O clearer than clear water!
O reed by the living pool! Fair River-daughter!
O spring-time and summer-time, and spring again after!
O wind on the waterfall, and the leaves' laughter!

Suddenly he stopped and stammered, overcome with surprise to hear himself saying such things. But Goldberry laughed.

"Welcome!" she said. "I had not heard that folk of the Shire were so sweet-tongued. But I see you are an Elf-friend; the light in your eyes and the ring in your voice tells it." (1.7.5-6)

Frodo is remarkably good with words (for a Hobbit). We've already seen Gildor remark on his skills with Elvish, and now we have Frodo sweet-talking the River's daughter. The grace of Frodo's tongue is another way for Tolkien to underline the association of Frodo's character traits with the Elves. This aspect of Frodo's characterization only becomes clearer as The Fellowship of the Ring continues and Frodo winds up in Lothlórien. How does Frodo's skill with words help him through his quest? Why might this be an important skill for the Ring-bearer?

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