Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Friendship

By J.R.R. Tolkien


Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. "I am sorry," he said. "But I feel so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it anymore. It has been growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. [...]

"Then trust mine," said Gandalf. "It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him." (1.1.105-6)

There's some serious foreshadowing in Bilbo's words about the ring – that it "has been growing on [his] mind," and that it is "like an eye looking at [him]." Clearly, this is an evil ring with mind-control powers. But besides Tolkien's skill at setting up the plot of the rest of the novel, this section is intriguing because of the friendship it portrays between Gandalf and Bilbo. Without Gandalf's help, Bilbo would never have been able to give up the ring willingly to Frodo. And later in the books, without Sam's support, Frodo would never be able to bear the burden of the ring. Even in this early scene, we can see that the bonds of friendship are one weapon against the evil powers of the ring.

But Sméagol returned alone; and he found that none of his family could see him, when he was wearing the ring. […] He became sharp-eyed and keen-eared for all that was hurtful. The ring had given him power according to his stature. […] He took to thieving, and going about muttering to himself, and gurgling in his throat. So they called him <em>Gollum</em>, and cursed him, and told him to go far away; and his grandmother, desiring peace, expelled him from the family and turned him out of her hole. (1.2.98)

Once Sméagol commits his sin of murdering Déagol, he immediately starts living a cursed life. We can't be sure what Sméagol was like before seeing the ring, since Gandalf specifies that he "<em>became</em> sharp-eyed [...] for all that was hurtful." Sméagol is twisted and corrupted by the ring; and yes, it's his own fault, since he murdered his friend to have the ring. But at the same time, if the ring hadn't appeared in front of Sméagol at that precise moment, perhaps he <em>wouldn't</em> have committed murder and become the Gollum we all know and despise today. It's such strange chance that Déagol happens to fish out the ring right then, on Sméagol's birthday, just at the right time to tempt Sméagol into ruining his life. No wonder Gandalf goes on to say that "it is a sad story" (1.2.103): Sméagol's fate (much like Frodo's own) is both cruel and unasked-for.

"If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain," said Sam. "<em>Don't you leave him!</em> they said to me. <em>Leave him!</em> I said. <em>I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with,</em> I said. They laughed." (1.4.21-2)

The basis of Sam's loyalty to Frodo is a bit ambiguous: he promises Frodo that he'll follow him no matter where Frodo might go, and that he'll die if Frodo dies. But they are not social equals: Sam is Frodo's servant. So is Sam's loyalty to Frodo the loyalty of a friend to a friend? Or of a servant to a master? Does the nature of that loyalty change over the course of the novels? Do they become more like equals as they continue on their quest? Or does Sam continue to think of Frodo as his superior?

"But it does not seem that I can trust anyone," said Frodo.

Sam looked at him unhappily. "It all depends on what you want," put in Merry. "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway, there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – but we are going with you, or following you like hounds." (1.5.71-2)

After Frodo discovers that Merry, Sam, Pippin, and Fatty all know about the Ring and intend to help him with his quest as best they can, he feels deeply shaken. But Merry insists that they will stick by him. If Frodo won't let them come with him, they will follow him "like hounds." This show of loyalty is deeply moving. Clearly, Merry and Pippin's friendship for Frodo is what leads them to Rivendell in the first place.

"With your leave, Mr. Frodo, I'd say <em>no</em>! This Strider here, he warns and he says take care; and I say <em>yes</em> to that, and let's begin with him. He comes out of the Wild, and I never heard no good of such folk. He knows something, that's plan, and more than I like; but it's no reason why we should let him go leading us out into some dark place far from help, as he puts it." (1.10.30)

Sam has an instinct to protect his friends and himself by not trusting too quickly, while Frodo appears more likely to have faith in strangers – he opens up to Aragorn (a.k.a. Strider) pretty quickly, after all. Are there other examples in the series in which Frodo is quicker to trust than Sam? Are there examples of the opposite? What do these contrasts show us about the differences in Frodo and Sam's characters?

When he had dressed, Frodo found that while he slept the Ring had been hung about his neck on a new chain, light but strong. Slowly he dew it out. Bilbo put out his hand. But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring. [...]

The music and singing round them seemed to falter, and a silence fell. Bilbo looked quickly at Frodo's face and passed his hand across his eyes. "I understand now," he said. "Put it away! I am sorry: sorry you have come in for this burden: sorry about everything. (2.1.127-8)

This confrontation between the old Ring-bearer, Bilbo, and the new Ring-bearer, Frodo, is clearly necessary to convince Bilbo of exactly how evil the Ring truly is. Without seeing the Ring's effects with his own two eyes, he cannot believe that the Ring can turn an adopted father and son against one another, for example. But once Bilbo sees the Ring again, he gives Frodo a heartfelt apology that, frankly, Frodo deserves: he didn't ask to carry this Ring, though he has to. And the fate that has brought the Ring to him will forever change him.

It is true that if these Hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy. I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom. Even if you chose for us an Elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him. (2.3.43)

There are plenty of great deeds in <em>Lord of the Rings</em>, and lots of opportunities for strong guys like Aragorn and Boromir to show their might. But Gandalf makes an argument for a different kind of strength in this particular quest: because the Ring must get to Mordor in secret and under the radar, they don't need to storm the gates of Barad-dûr. They need to sneak in, across a grim and gray land. Swords will be less helpful than friendship on such a dark road. Gandalf makes this point about including Merry and Pippin with the Fellowship, but it really seems pertinent to the relationship between Frodo and Sam, since Sam becomes Frodo's emotional support against the pull of the Ring as they travel across Mordor.

Sam eased the pack on his shoulders, and went over anxiously in his mind all the things that he had stowed in it, wondering if he had forgotten anything: his chief treasure, his cooking gear; and the little box of salt that he always carried and refilled when he could; a good supply of pipe-weed (but not near enough, I'll warrant); flint and tinder; woollen hose; linen; various small belongings of his master's that Frodo had forgotten and Sam had stowed to bring them out in triumph when they were called for. (2.3.75)

Again, we have to stop and take note of the nature of Sam's affection for Frodo: he is immensely loyal to Frodo as his employer. But he also has this protective tendency: he wants to be able to "bring [...] out in triumph" the "small belongings of his master's" that Frodo had forgotten. Is this the protectiveness of a servant whose job it is to look after his master? Is this the protectiveness of a good friend for another friend? What are some of the class implications of Sam and Frodo's relationship?

Gimli was obstinate. He planted his feet firmly apart, and laid his hand upon the haft of his axe. "I will go forward free," he said, "or I will go back and seek my own land, where I am known to be true of word, though I perish alone in the wilderness."

"You cannot go back," said Haldir sternly. "Now you have come thus far, you must be brought before the Lord and the Lady. They shall judge you, to hold you or to give leave, as they will. You cannot cross the rivers again, and behind you there are now secret sentinels that you cannot pass. You would be slain before you saw them."

Gimli drew his axe from his belt. Haldir and his companions bent their bows. "A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks," said Legolas.

"Come!" said Aragorn. "If I am still to lead this Company, you must do as I bid. It is hard upon the Dwarf to be thus singled out. We will all be blindfold, even Legolas. That will be best, though it will make the journey slow and dull." (2.6.122-5)

In this showdown between Gimli and the Elves of Lórien, neither party seems capable of seeing the perspective of the other: Gimli resents being treated like an outsider because the Elves do not wish to share their secrets with him. And Haldir cannot acknowledge the injustice of singling out Gimli for blindfolding just because he is a Dwarf. Legolas, though he sympathizes with Gimli, is still an Elf, with an Elf's perspective on Dwarf/Elf tensions; he sides with Haldir over Gimli. It is up to Aragorn, as a human and not an Elf or a Dwarf, to decide on a compromise. The nature of this struggle between Elves and Dwarves seems to be cultural and shared uniformly by all Elves and all Dwarves – after all, Legolas is from Mirkwood and Haldir is from Lothlórien, but neither seem to be wild about Dwarves. Can you think of similarly baseless cultural resentments among nations or peoples of this world? How might Tolkien be using Elf/Dwarf tensions to comment on the dangers of national or racial hatreds?

"I have looked the last upon that which was fairest," [Gimli] said to Legolas his companion. "Henceforward I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift." He put his hand to his breast. […] "Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!"

"Nay!" said Legolas. "Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream. […] But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlórien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale." (2.8.80, 82)

It's nice to see Gimli and Legolas getting on so well, united as they are in this shared grief at the loss of Lothlórien. Besides their burgeoning friendship, though, we are also interested in the fact of Gimli and Legolas's sorrow. The clear mourning that they feel losing Lothlórien inspires sympathetic sadness in the reader: we, too, are sorry that we cannot see this beautiful place. And when Legolas says, "Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days," he could be speaking straight to us: <em>we</em> are walking in the after-days. Worse, we are walking in the after-after-days, when we don't even get to see Elves or their ruins. Watching Legolas and Gimli mourn for Lothlórien when they have just left it makes our own sense of loss even sharper.

"But I must go at once. It's the only way."

"Of course it is," answered Sam. "But not alone. I'm coming too, or neither of us isn't going. I'll knock holes in all the boats first."

Frodo actually laughed. A sudden warmth and gladness touched his heart. (2.10.113-15)

Sam's absolute refusal to leave Frodo puts the finishing touches on Tolkien's portrayal of their friendship in <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em>. Sam is totally devoted and faithful to Frodo, willingly following him to hell on Middle-earth. And Sam's friendship is the only thing that lightens Frodo's natural disposition towards melancholy and sorrow. After being caught up in dark thoughts about war, Sam's honest attachment to him gives Frodo a "sudden warmth and gladness." So Sam's friendship for Frodo is their best weapon against the slow, creeping despair that the Ring brings to him.