The tone of The Fellowship of the Ring really varies from Book 1 to Book 2. In Book 1, we get plenty of funny dialogue and homey expressions. Take, for example, Tolkien's presentation of Bilbo's birthday party speech:
I shall not keep you long, [Bilbo] cried. Cheers from all the assembly. I have called you all together for a Purpose. Something in the way that he said this made an impression. There was almost a silence, and one or two of the Tooks pricked up their ears. (1.1.58)
Bilbo's audience is ready and eager to cheer a short speech by Bilbo (though they aren't too eager to hear a long one). But Bilbo clearly knows something they don't, which lends a somewhat hard edge to his birthday celebrations. Nonetheless, the general tone of these early chapters of the novel is quite homey. There are no long words or Elvish names, and none of the language is difficult to understand. Even the first major adventure Frodo and his friends experience in the wider world is quite cozy: Tom Bombadil's cottage is small and pleasant, and the man himself spends most of his time singing his little rhyming songs much as the Hobbits themselves do. Two peas in a pod.
The tone of the novel really starts to change with the introduction of Aragorn: he is mighty serious about the quest and his songs are much less lively. Once Aragorn comes into the picture, the Hobbits make it to Rivendell and to a council of the wise of Middle-earth. Surrounded by these elevated figures, the earlier, homey tone of the book starts to shift to something grander and more melancholy. After all, the Shire may be a comfortable place, but it is now far behind Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Instead, they are four tiny Hobbits surrounded by towering, beautiful Elves and unbearably wise Wizards and men.
Lord of the Rings is quest literature at its best. A quest is what happens when a character (or characters) travel to a far off destination with the sole purpose of achieving some goal. Clearly, Frodo's journey, first to Rivendell and then to Mordor to figure out what to do with the Ring of Power, fits that definition nicely.
It's not tough to see why Fellowship is an adventure, either. If it were easy for Frodo and his friends to travel in the direction of Mordor, we wouldn't care much about his Ring quest to begin with. But along the way, they meet their fair share of evil trees, cave trolls, swarming Orcs, and powerful blizzards. These adventures keep the narrative interesting – otherwise, it's just the story of a very long hike.
The three novels of the Lord of the Rings all describe a War between Good and Evil. But the title of the first book – The Fellowship of the Ring – doesn’t say anything about grand battles or last stands (even though there are plenty of those things in all three books).
Instead, Tolkien chooses to emphasize something we all want: fellowship, which also means friendship, companionship, and kindness. So while The Fellowship of the Ring may be a novel about war, it’s definitely not pro-war. Tolkien emphasizes friendship as the only way for the side of Good to fight against the Evil that Sauron brings.
And then there’s the Ring: Sauron’s Ring, the One Ring to Rule Them All. This Ring is what’s known in super-special film circles as "the MacGuffin." What is a MacGuffin, you ask? It’s a term director Alfred Hitchcock came up with to describe the central object that makes the plot of a movie or book move forward. The Horcruxes in Harry Potter, the Hammer in Thor, the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – they’re all MacGuffins. They all provide a reason for the plot to happen the way it does.
The point of the Ring as a MacGuffin is that the Ring is absolutely necessary to make the quest of Lord of the Rings work as a story. At the same time, the Ring does not have to be a Ring – it could be any powerful token of Sauron’s might. The novel would work just as well if it were a sword or a stone or a hamburger or an iPod. Consider: The Fellowship of the Rubber Chicken.
Tolkien probably picked a Ring instead of a rubber chicken because there are lots of magic rings in Germanic mythology (his specialty). Rings are also neatly portable – It would be tough for Frodo to go on his epic walking tour of Middle-earth if Sauron had stuffed all of his power into a mountain or a large tree. The point is, the Ring is the whole reason the Lord of the Rings trilogy exists, so it seems only right that the Ring should make it into the title of the first book.
The last chapter of the first book is called "The Breaking of the Fellowship." But we've just met the Fellowship; why do they have to break up now? There are some pretty obvious plot-based reasons for the Fellowship to break up: for one thing, although they are all heading south up to a certain point, they have reached a fork in the road where some have to go east to Mordor (that's you, Frodo) and some want to go south to Gondor (ahem, Boromir). Frodo's departure also leaves Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli free to ride to Merry and Pippin's rescue. And Merry and Pippin have been carried off by Orcs at just the right time to meet the Ents and sack Isengard down the road. The Fellowship of the Ring ends as all good first books in a series do: by laying out all of the chess pieces in the right places so that they can carry out their different roles in the next two books.
The ending of the novel also says a lot about the book’s moral purpose for Tolkien. The author has described the purpose of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as "the ennoblement of the ignoble" (Source, 220; in a letter to the Houghton Mifflin Co). In other words, he wants to show humble people doing great things. By starting The Fellowship of the Ring with so much back story about the Hobbits (the humblest of humble people, content with food, beer, jokes, and songs), Tolkien sets up an unlikely foundation for a much broader story of Good vs. Evil among all the peoples of Middle-earth. By making the Hobbits the heroes of the Ring quest, Tolkien conveys that even ordinary folk can rise to amazing things if they have to.
But what does all of this have to do with the ending of The Fellowship of the Ring? Well, now is the time for Frodo and Sam to shine on their own – two hobbits vs. the world – without the crutch of relying on "the high and noble" members of the Fellowship.
In a 1956 letter, Tolkien commented: "I found that many children have become interested, even engrossed, in The Lord of the Rings, from about 10 onwards. I think it is rather a pity, really. It was not written for them." (source, 249; in a letter to Mrs. M. Wilson, April 11, 1956).
The Hobbit, the book that comes before The Fellowship of the Ring, is a kid’s book. But The Fellowship of the Ring is not (or isn’t supposed to be). What changes between the two? We think that the difference is one of setting.
The Fellowship of the Ring starts out in much the same way that The Hobbit starts, with plenty of Hobbit-based humor. The Hobbits are hilarious, from their stodginess at Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday to their huge pleasure in drinking at the various inns throughout the Shire. The image Tolkien paints of the Shire isn't just a matter of farmland and cozy Hobbit holes. The ridiculous characters (Boffins, Chubbs, Burrows, Bolgers, Bracegirdles, etc.) are also part of the Shire's scenery, and contribute to the Shire's overall feeling of somewhat boring contentment.
Tolkien comments that the Shire represents the culture of rural England (source, 250), which explains why all of the names of the Shire have English origins – comforting counterpoint to the lovely but unfamiliar Elvish names of much of the rest of the book.
But unlike in The Hobbit (where hero Bilbo Baggins is the ultimate, representative Hobbit), we know from the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring that our protagonist, Frodo Baggins, is not typical of his kind. He reads Elvish and goes on long walks with Bilbo, who has been forever changed by his adventures in the first book.
Frodo certainly doesn't want to leave under the circumstances of a deadly Ring that will try to destroy his soul to return to its master, the Dark Lord Sauron. But still, the Lord of the Rings is obviously designed on a larger plan than The Hobbit, and the Shire-ness of the early chapters mostly provides contrast with the beauty and greatness of the settings of the later part of the novel.
Once Frodo leaves the coziness of the Shire, he, Merry, Pippin, and Sam immediately dive into the Old Forest. This choice of setting just after the Shire is interesting, because the Old Forest represents a completely non-human consciousness. The Hobbits of the Shire are almost too human, with their love of food, drink, jokes, and singing, and their resistance to any kind of new idea. They are extremely homey. By contrast, in the Old Forest, we have Old Man Willow, a tree filled with hatred towards all two-legged beings, and the Barrow-wights, who haunt the ancient burial mounds of the first war against the Witch-lord of Angmar. Both of these threats are not just dangerous to the Hobbits; they are also frighteningly alien.
It turns out that the landscape itself might actually be out to get them. The story continues: just walking through the land of Hollin, Aragorn warns the Hobbits: "Not all the birds are to be trusted, and there are other spies more evil than they are" (1.11.64). Similarly, Gimli talks about "Caradhras the Cruel" as though the mountain is a living thing. When the Fellowship struggles to cross the mountain passes of Caradhras thanks to a horrible, days-long blizzard, Gimli believes that the terrible storm is the work of the mountain itself. Caradhras hates the Fellowship (and all tiny, two-legged mortals) and wants them to fail. Gimli wishes, as they turn towards Moria, that Caradhras were: "'less cruel [...] There he stands smiling in the sun!'" (2.6.5).
Tolkien makes the land of Middle-earth seem like another character, one that sometimes isn't too friendly to the Fellowship. Given how much care Tolkien has lavished on his hand-drawn maps of Middle-earth, we cannot be surprised that he treats even the land itself as though it is a beloved character he has created.
Besides the Shire and the Old Forest, the other three major settings of The Fellowship of the Ring are the two Elf lands of Rivendell and Lothlórien and the now-overrun Dwarf realm of Khazad-dûm, in the Mines of Moria. These three places are much grander than the Shire, certainly. But both Rivendell and Lothlórien are nearing the end of their days. The Golden Wood of Lothlórien is fading and Khazad-dûm has been empty of Dwarves for centuries.
We get the sense, even as early as The Fellowship of the Ring, that the Elves and the Dwarves are not going to be around for long. They are starting to fade away. And even if the Hobbits can be a bit closed-minded or foolish at times, we have to admit that the Shire is a lot livelier than Rivendell, and certainly more so than Khazad-dûm. So it looks like, if the Ring quest succeeds and the side of good wins, it will be humans and Hobbits who inherit Middle-earth from these older races.
The epigraph of the whole Lord of the Rings series (which appears at the front of each of the three volumes) is Tolkien's own poem:
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
As we mentioned in "What’s Up With the Title?" we know that a Ring is going to be pretty important to the plot of these books because it says so right on the cover: the Fellowship of the Ring.
While there may technically be nineteen separate, lesser Rings, the important point is that there is One Ring to rule them all. If the Dark Lord on his dark throne can control the One Ring, he will also be able to bring the Three Rings for the Elven-kings, the Seven for the Dwarf-lords, and the Nine for the Mortal Men under his dominion In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. Ta-da! We have the central plot of the novels already spelled out for us on the first page: basically, the world will end if Sauron gets his One Ring back. So someone (and we’re looking at you, tiny Frodo) has to stop that from happening.
As the series progresses, we find that the Nine [Rings] for the Mortal Men are the tools Sauron uses to corrupt and destroy nine great kings of men, thus creating the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, his most terrifying servants.
The Seven for the Dwarf-lords have all been lost or stolen by Sauron by the time the novels begin – most recently, the ring of Thrór, which Thórin's father Thráin loses to Sauron in the dungeons at Dol Goldur in Mirkwood (2.2.231), in events mentioned as early as The Hobbit (see Chapter 1 of the "Chapter Summary" in our Hobbit learning guide).
As for the Three Rings for the Elven-kings, which were not made by Sauron and have been kept safe from him through the Ages of Middle-earth, even they would fall if Sauron got his dirty paws on the One Ring. Only once Sauron is destroyed can the bearers of the Three carry them openly: Galadriel wears white-stoned Nenya; Gandalf, red-stoned Narya the Great; and Elrond, blue-stoned Vilya, "mightiest of the Three" (The Return of the King, 6.9.66). But (spoiler alert!) Elrond predicts truly that, "when the One has gone, the Three will fail" (2.2.237); Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel only show their Rings as they are riding to the Grey Havens to sail away from Middle-earth entirely. The epigraph to the series predicts that the One Ring [will] rule them all; this power means that, once the Ruling Ring is gone, the lesser Rings have to fade, too.
Engraved in fiery letters on the One Ring are two lines from this poem in the language of Mordor: "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul" (2.2.107). In other words, One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,/ One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. So we can see that the poem of the epigraph becomes a touchstone for later chapters, as the story of the One Ring and its importance grows clearer and more detailed.
As we read the epigraph before we continue on to the novels, we already get a sense of dread. This is even before we know (a) who has the Ring, and (b) who the Lord of the Rings of the trilogy title even is. The epigraph to this series is both threatening and grim, hinting at the vast, dark powers and magic that face our humble Hobbits.
The biggest challenge in reading The Fellowship of the Ring is Tolkien's huge amount of name-dropping. It does not take long to get to know Frodo or Sam, but who the heck is Erestor, or Beren One-Hand, or Gilthoniel? Between the novel's own minor characters, the people who appear from series prequel The Hobbit, and the figures from Tolkien's own personal mythology for Middle-earth, there are a ton of names to keep straight.
Basically, we feel that each reader of Tolkien has one of two choices: either you can go with the flow and not worry too much about the life and times of Celebrimbor the Elven-smith (mentioned in passing in The Fellowship of the Ring), or you can do an exhaustive amount of research in Tolkien's other assorted works to squeeze out as much background detail as you can find. In other words, reading Tolkien is as easy or as hard as you want to make it. It is up to you to decide how much of the background you want to fill in.
Detailed, Wordy, Culture-Specific
Tolkien loves his details. Take, for example, his description of the West Gate of Moria:
At the top, as high as Gandalf could reach, was an arch of interlacing letters in an Elvish character. Below, though the threads were in places blurred or broken, the outline could be seen of an anvil and a hammer surmounted by a crown with seven stars. Beneath these again were two trees, each bearing crescent moons. More clearly than all else there shone forth in the middle of the door a single star with many rays.
"There are the emblems of Durin!" cried Gimli.
"And there is the Tree of the High Elves!" said Legolas.
"And the Star of the House of Fëanor," said Gandalf. (2.4.93-6)
The door is covered with symbols in shining silver, brought out by the light of the moon. Some of these have been blurred by time, but they remain visible. What's more, the people in the Fellowship identify the different signs by sight; they don't just let us guess at the origins of the "two trees" or the "single star with many rays."
We have talked about Tolkien's obsession with world creation in the "In a Nutshell" sections of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring learning guides. But his love for defining origins for the different things in Middle-earth carries over into his written style as well: he frequently stops the action of the narrative to give lavish descriptions of the things the Fellowship are seeing. And not just what they look like, but also what they are. Tolkien's pleasure in description really makes us feel as though we have been transported to Middle-earth to follow along with the Fellowship on their adventures.
Along with description, Tolkien sure likes to name things. For example, there are three Mountains of Moria: Barazinbar (Baraz for short), Zirakzigil (or Zirak), and Bundushathûr (or Shathûr). These are their Dwarvish names, but in Elvish, they become Caradhras, Celebdil, and Fanuidhol, respectively. And it's not over yet! Each of these mountains also have names in Common Speech: Baraz is the Redhorn, Zirak is Silvertine, and Shathûr is Cloudyhead. J.R.R. Tolkien, Oxford professor of languages, strikes again.
Tolkien is also careful to attribute each of his cultures' speech with a certain style. Nowhere are these distinctions more apparent than in Lothlórien, when Galadriel addresses Sam Gamgee:
"And you?" [Galadriel] said, turning to Sam. "For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word for the deceits of the Enemy. But this [Mirror], if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?"
"I did," said Sam, trembling a little between fear and curiosity. "I'll have a peep, Lady, if you're willing." (2.7.72-3)
Galadriel's language is relatively formal, with extremely precise word choice. Can you imagine Galadriel or any of the other Elves using something as simple and casual as a contraction? Yet, in the next sentence, Sam chimes in with "I'll have a peep." Not only does he express himself directly and without the formal correctness of Galadriel ("I'll" instead of "I will"), but he also uses simple, homey expressions ("a peep"). Different strokes for different folks.
The War of the Ring, the Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring, the Ring Quest: this series begins, ends, and revolves around the Ring. So we can say with confidence that it’s the most important symbol of the series. What the Ring represents is power: power to control and influence things and other people. For those who genuinely don't care about power, the Ring doesn't really matter (Tom Bombadil, we're looking at you).
But for the 99.9% of us who are a bit greedy and who do want at least some kind of power, the Ring controls us. You know that saying, "all power corrupts"? Well, the Ring is power – just in tangible form – and boy, does it corrupt, too.
There are some protections against the Ring’s influence, but they're not very enduring. For example, love, which is the recognition of another person's happiness, can work well against a person's will to dominate. But the Ring (power) is so tempting that even love can't last forever. And as for the desire to do good, forget it. Even if you start with the best of intentions, the Ring will twist you until you're as nasty as Sauron... or close, at least. As Gandalf tells Boromir:
We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we now know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil. Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier power. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. (2.2.225)
The Ring implies that power in any form, as good-intentioned as it may be, is bad news. This lesson is a useful one for Tolkien's characters; but it's also a nod to his readers. Remember, power struggles are everywhere: not just on Middle-earth, but on our earth, too.
Mithril is an incredibly strong, light, and beautiful metal. A coat of mail made out of mithril is strong enough to block a stray spear or knife (both of which Frodo is unlucky enough to encounter during his travels). Frodo’s mithril coat happens to come from Bilbo, who passes it on to his nephew in Rivendell. Bilbo himself originally received the mithril coat from the hoard of the dragon Smaug after the Dwarves retook Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, at the end of The Hobbit.
So, that’s what mithril is. But what does it symbolize? Well, if we look closely, it appears to represent hidden (Hobbit) potential. When Bilbo passes his mithril coat on to Frodo, he tells him to keep the armor under his clothes. In other words, Bilbo encourages Frodo to let himself be underestimated: it's always easier to defeat people who don't take you seriously. When Frodo first wears his mithril-coat (again, in secret), Gandalf looks at him penetratingly and comments, "You take after Bilbo [...] There is more about you than meets the eye, as I said of him long ago" (2.5.61). The mithril-coat reminds us not to judge a book – or a Hobbit – by its cover. Underneath a lowly Hobbit's ordinary exterior, you may find a mithril-coat waiting to surprise you.
Sting is Frodo’s sword, which he inherited from Bilbo. It glows blue when Orcs are nearby, which is mighty useful, but Sting is more than just an alarm system. It also provides a link between Frodo, Bilbo, and the much larger, multi-Age wars between good and evil in Middle-earth. Like Sting, the Ring is also a relic of these wars, but it is (obviously) a thing of evil. Sting represents the opposite: the heroic greatness of those battles, in which good Elves fought Orcs many years before Frodo came onto the scene. While Frodo may be a small Hobbit in the middle of grand doings in the world, he is as vital a part of that struggle against Evil as any ancient Elven hero.
First and foremost, the Sword of Elendil, a.k.a. Narsil, is proof of Aragorn's claim to the throne of Gondor. When he waves that broken sword around, everyone knows that he is a descendant of Elendil, the second-to-last High King of Gondor and Arnor. But Narsil also reminds us that Elendil's blood line has been separated from the High King's seat for a very long time. The fact that the sword has been left broken since Elendil’s battle with Sauron shows that things aren’t going so well for his descendants.
It's not until Aragorn reforges the Sword of Elendil into a new sword, Andúril (Flame of the West), that he begins to redeem the honor of his family line. When Aragorn remakes Andúril, he declares symbolically that he plans to return to Gondor and take his place as the long-lost heir of Elendil. And like Frodo carrying Bilbo’s sword Sting, Aragorn’s use of Andúril demonstrates that he is also taking in hand the heroic histories of his ancestors, Elendil and Isildur. The reforging of Andúril is only the first part of Aragorn's quest to restore the great kingdoms of his forefathers. But his sword repair is important symbolically, since Narsil originally broke when Elendil died in battle facing the same foe that Aragorn must now confront. We almost expect him to say, "My name is Aragorn... you killed my forefather... prepare to die." You never know.
When Bilbo makes up a song about Eärendil to sing in Rivendell, Aragorn insists that he put in something about a green stone. Aragorn also finds a green stone on their travels to the Ford of Bruinen, as a sign that Glorfindel the Elf has been by this road and is looking for Aragorn. When the Fellowship passes through Lothlórien, Galadriel hands Aragorn a silver brooch with a green stone set into it, a gift from Arwen as a token of her love. So – what is it with all of these green stones?
Green stones are called "Elfstones" in the novels, so there is an association between these jewels and the Elves. But beyond that generic symbolism of Elfishness, the green stones also seem to represent Aragorn himself. When Galadriel presents Aragorn with her granddaughter's brooch, she tells him, "In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!" (2.6.60). So whenever a green stone comes up in the series, we think of Aragorn, a.k.a. the Elfstone.
(Spoiler alert!) Indeed, Elfstone becomes Aragorn's official name as King of Gondor: he is the first King Elessar (which means "Elfstone" in Elvish). When Aragorn says farewell to Galadriel, Celeborn, and Elrond in the final volume of the series, he holds up his green stone, "and there came a green fire from his hand" (The Return of the King [6.6.76]). Here, the green stone represents both Aragorn and the bond that he shares with the Elves; after all, Aragorn and Elves go together like peanut butter and jelly.
The narrator of the Lord of the Rings is never a character in its own right (though we do hear a lot of stories from the different characters' perspectives within dialogue). However, we think this third person perspective is a little odd. Much of the material of the Lord of the Rings is supposed to come from the Red Book of Westmarch, written by both Bilbo and Frodo themselves. So why isn't the Lord of the Rings series told from the perspective of Frodo and/or Bilbo? Well, doing so would really have changed the tone of the book, and it would have been hard to keep going once Frodo and Sam and the Fellowship go their separate ways at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. We can see why Tolkien opted for the more neutral third person perspective.
Frodo Baggins is quite literally called to the Ring quest: Gandalf finds him in his comfortable home in the Shire and warns him that he must leave right away because servants of the worst evil in Middle-earth are looking for him personally, as the (extremely) unexpected owner of the most powerful magic ring in the world.
Frodo's true journey in The Fellowship of the Ring takes place when he chooses to leave the Shire without Gandalf's careful assistance: he chooses to save the Shire from the attentions of Sauron by removing himself from it as fast as he can. But even though he has great intentions, he manages to get into quite a bit of trouble, both in the Old Forest and on Weathertop. These struggles force Frodo to confront his own inexperience as an adventurer, leaving his future as Ring-bearer somewhat in suspense.
Frodo reaches Rivendell at death's door, thanks to a shoulder wound from the cursed Morgul-knife of the Lord of the Ringwraiths. But Elrond manages to cure him (mostly). So now Frodo has delivered the Ring to Rivendell, as promised. He has drawn the Ringwraiths away from the vulnerable Shire. Now what? Surely he can't be expected to keep carrying the Ring all the way to its destruction in Mordor? But the thing is, the only person who can destroy the Ring is one who has no ambition to use it from the start. The greater the wisdom or power of the bearer, the stronger the Ring's temptations would be. Frodo is a humble person from a small place: he gives the Ring less to work with. So even though the first part of the quest is finished, Frodo's arrival in Rivendell signals the start of the second, much longer and more dire part of his journey.
If there's one thing Frodo's disastrous journey through the Old Forest has taught us, it's that he needs some instruction before he is ready to lead the Ring quest on his own. But Frodo's biggest ordeal in the second half of the book – except maybe the death of his beloved mentor, Gandalf – is the face-off with Boromir. In fact, both the death of Gandalf and the disaster with Boromir serve similar plot purposes: to teach Frodo the importance of making decisions and standing on his own two feet. When Boromir tries to take the Ring, Frodo has to confront the power of the Ring over everyone else in the Fellowship. His ultimate responsibility is to destroy the Ring, but it isn't until Boromir attacks that Frodo realizes he can't hand that responsibility off to anyone else.
There is still a lot of quest left in the Lord of the Rings series after the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, so Frodo doesn't achieve his ultimate goal at the end of this book. But he does achieve the goal of deciding, at last, to take the Ring quest into his own hands. Gandalf and Aragorn both give great advice, but this quest is ultimately Frodo's. He is the one who fate has chosen to accept this awful burden. His plan to go into Mordor with only Sam by his side at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring indicates Frodo's final acceptance of his extremely dangerous destiny.
At the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins receives the Ring from Bilbo, and continues to live happily in the Shire for seventeen years without much trouble. But even at this point, we know that Frodo has been marked for something different from an ordinary Shire life. The whole neighborhood thinks Frodo is a weirdo: he doesn't find much understanding in the Shire, so it's clear from the beginning that his destiny lies in the larger world – just like Bilbo's did in The Hobbit.
Something terrible is on the horizon: Frodo's Ring, which Bilbo found in the Misty Mountains during his adventures in The Hobbit, actually holds part of the worst evil currently living in Middle-earth, Sauron. To make matters even more dire, big-mouth Gollum spilled the beans of the Ring's whereabouts, and Sauron has sent servants to claim the Ring from the Shire. Frodo has to get out of there as soon as possible.
In Chapter 6, Frodo leaves the Shire with his companions Sam, Merry, and Pippin. But their decisions are mostly disastrous, and we start to wonder if Frodo really is the right Hobbit to be Ring-bearer. Many complications arise – from a Hobbit-eating evil willow tree to the evil Ringwraiths who almost kill Frodo – and Frodo has to try to protect his whole Company from disaster. How are these inexperienced Hobbits going finish their journey in one piece, with the Ring safe?
The thing is, Frodo has shown that he is quite resistant to the temptations of the Ring. The problem is, the other members of Frodo's new Fellowship do have glorious ambitions, particularly Boromir, the man from Gondor. From the moment Boromir suggests using the Ring to defeat Sauron in the Council of Elrond, we have suspected that he is going to do something stupid. By Book 2, Chapter 10, that stupidity comes to pass: Boromir tries to steal the Ring from Frodo. He basically goes nuts and tries to attack Frodo – talk about a climax.
After the attack, Boromir returns to the company And admits that Frodo vanished after they spoke about Minas Tirith. Everyone panics and they all dash off to find their leader. Will they find him? Will the Company continue on together or be torn apart? Did Frodo really leave? So many questions, so much suspense.
With Boromir's betrayal, Frodo finally decides that he must leave the Fellowship, for the good of his friends as well as for the quest. Sam, the loyal friend he is, finds Frodo and insists on accompanying him on his journey to Mordor. With fewer people – especially fewer non-Hobbits – the Ring quest seems more hopeful than it did with Boromir skulking around.
The story has now split into two pieces. Frodo has to keep struggling with the Ring, since he is the Ring-bearer. And the other members of the Fellowship (minus Sam, since he, of course, follows Frodo) have to fight Sauron without worrying about the Ring's temptations. There is too much struggle in these two battles for the Fellowship to tackle both problems at once. But while the breaking of the Fellowship is a conclusive moment for Frodo's plot arc from uncertain and inexperienced Shire resident to daring adventurer, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered. To answer at least some of these questions, next up, we have The Two Towers.
Frodo Baggins is a prosperous Hobbit in the peaceful, pleasant land of the Shire (though his neighbors think he's kind of odd). He inherits a golden ring from his uncle, Bilbo Baggins, the famous Hobbit adventurer. How could inheriting a gold ring be a bad thing? When it is the Ruling Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron, who will stop at nothing to get it back. Frodo has to leave the Shire fast, accompanied by his gardener, Sam, and his cousins, Merry and Pippin. The four Hobbits do their best to cross the wilderness with the help of their new friend and companion, Aragorn, but they still run into trouble: Frodo is stabbed by the Lord of Sauron's worst servants, the Ringwraiths, and almost dies before making it to the Elf stronghold of Rivendell with the Ring. In Act I of the novel, Frodo is demonstrating two of his traits: (1) he doesn't necessarily have an instinct for adventure, and he makes tons of mistakes. But (2), he is tough and determined when it matters most, more so than a lot of more heroic-looking folk might be.
In general, the second act is the moment in the book when we are as far from the plot's resolution as we are going to get. In The Fellowship of the Ring, that moment comes during the Council of Elrond. There, we hear about all of the bad omens that are rocking Middle-earth: for example, the Dwarf king Dáin has received messengers from Sauron looking for the Ring, and Boromir and his brother, Faramir, have had prophetic dreams about "Isildur's Bane" (the Ring) in Rivendell. Elrond and Gandalf are absolutely certain that the side of good cannot use the Ring without bringing ruin on themselves. But then, what do they do with the Ring? This section of the novel ramps up the suspense for the whole rest of the series. It lays out that the good side has no choice but to destroy the Ring, while making it clear that getting to Mordor to toss the thing into the fires of Mount Doom will be extremely tough.
So now we know that (a) Frodo is not a big adventurer, so he is an unlikely candidate for Ring-bearer; and (b) taking the Ring to Mordor is going to be an impossibly difficult job for anyone to undertake. How the heck is Frodo supposed to accomplish this task? Because The Fellowship of the Ring is only the first book of three, we just have to get to the end of the beginning, to the point where Frodo is truly ready to shoulder the responsibility of being Ring-bearer. He spends the later chapters, from the departure from Rivendell to Amon Hen, building up the confidence and conviction to decide where to go with the Ring. But it isn't until Boromir tries to snatch the Ring from Frodo that Frodo fully realizes how dangerous the Ring is, and how carefully he has to keep it even from the well-meaning members of his Fellowship. After all, characters like Boromir and Aragorn both have business in Gondor, with the war against Sauron. They cannot be as focused on the Ring as Frodo has to be. Once Frodo and Sam leave the Fellowship behind, that is when the Ring quest into Mordor truly begins, with their single-minded travel into the land of the Enemy.
Hilariously, all of Tolkien's shout-outs in the Lord of the Rings are to the tales in his own books, The Hobbit and the Silmarillion. He does not refer overtly to any other works outside of his mythologies of Middle-earth. That's what we call creating a self-sufficient universe. (If you want to find out more about Tolkien's literary influences in the creation of Middle-earth, check out our learning guide on The Hobbit.)