Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring The Home

By J.R.R. Tolkien

The Home

At no time had Hobbits of any kind been warlike, and they had never fought among themselves. [...]

Nonetheless, ease and peace had left this people still curiously tough. They were, if it came to it, difficult to daunt or kill; and they were, perhaps, so unwearyingly fond of good things not least because they could, when put to it, do without them, and could survive rough handling by grief, foe, or weather in a way that astonished those who did not know them well and looked no further than their bellies and their well-fed faces. (prologue.1.17-8)

Tolkien uses the Prologue of <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em> to establish what's normal for Hobbits so that we get a strong sense of contrast between the Shire and Frodo's later adventures with the Ring. Hobbits are even more peaceful – much more peaceful – than humans are, so we know that it has to be something really extraordinary to get a Hobbit to leave his home. This juxtaposition between the extreme peace that Frodo is coming from and the danger into which he will go raises our appreciation for the aura of danger and risk that Tolkien is trying to create for the world of <em>Lord of the Rings</em>. But we also get foreshadowing that Frodo will be equal to his tasks: Hobbits are "difficult to daunt or kill" and can "survive rough handling by grief, foe, or weather." Clearly, those skills are going to come in handy as this adventure unfolds.

"You see: Mr. Drogo, he married poor Miss Primula Brandybuck. She was our Mr. Bilbo's first cousin on the mother's side (her mother being the youngest of the Old Took's daughters); and Mr. Drogo was his second cousin. So Mr. Frodo is his first <em>and</em> second cousin, once removed either way, as the saying is, if you follow me. And Mr. Drogo was staying at Brandy Hall with his father-in-law, old Master Gorbadoc, as he often did after his marriage (him being mighty partial to his vittles, and old Gorbadoc keeping a mighty generous table); and he went out <em>boating</em> on the Brandywine River; and he and his wife were drownded, and poor Mr. Frodo only a child and all." (1.1.14)

The Gaffer's homely accent and relative kindness towards the people he's gossiping about ("<em>poor</em> Miss Primula Brandybuck," "<em>poor</em> Mr. Frodo") makes this feel like a pleasant and cozy scene (even if there <em>is</em> a lot of talking going on behind other people's backs). What also makes these early scenes in the Shire seem so homey is the Hobbits' obsession with family history and lineage. The fact that the Gaffer knows exactly how Frodo is related to Bilbo shows a high level of intimacy among all the different people living in the Shire. They don't just know one another; they know everyone's fathers and grandfathers and even great-grandfathers like they know their own. To achieve that degree of mutual familiarity, you'd have to have a small community in which no one ever leaves or arrives from elsewhere: in other words, the Shire.

A few creatures came and looked at them when the fire had died away. A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.

"Hobbits!" he thought. "Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a Hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There's something mighty queer behind this." He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it. (1.3.58-9)

This moment from the perspective of a random, passing fox is totally bizarre: we can't think of any other scene in the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> series that takes the perspective of an animal. This may be a fantasy novel, but it's not the talking-animal kind of fantasy. Still, this brief shift of perspective allows the narrator to remind us that it's really, <em>really</em> weird for Hobbits to leave their homes – so weird that even passing foxes notice.

"But the Forest <em>is</em> queer. Everything in it is very much more alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than things are in the Shire. And the trees do not like strangers. They watch you. They are usually content merely to watch you, as long as daylight lasts, and don't do much. Occasionally the most unfriendly ones may drop a branch, or stick a root out, or grasp at you with a long trailer. But at night things can be most alarming, or so I am told." (1.6.12)

Here, Merry is telling Sam, Frodo, and Pippin a bit more about what he knows about the Old Forest, as they venture through it for the first time. This whole episode with the Old Forest is like a pre-season game for the Ring quest: it gives Frodo, Merry, Sam, and Pippin a chance to get into shape for future adventures. But wait a second: none of the enemies they're facing have any relevance to the later showdowns of the novel. Basically, the Old Forest section doesn't count, except that it brings the four Hobbits together in a time of crisis for the first time. It's their first experience leaving home, and they don't have the greatest time of it, but it's hardly the worst adventure that they'll face in their travels.

The Men of Bree seemed all to have rather botanical (and to the Shire-folk rather odd) names, like Rushlight, Goatleaf, Heathertoes, Appledore, Thistlewood, and Ferny (not to mention Butterbur). Some of the Hobbits had similar names. The Mugworts, for instance, seemed numerous. But most of them had natural names, such as Banks, Brockhouse, Longholes, Sandheaver, and Tunnelly, many of which were used in the Shire. There were several Underhills from Staddle, and as they could not imagine sharing a name without being related, they took Frodo to their hearts as a long-lost cousin. (1.9.45)

This meeting with the Bree-Hobbits is one of the last moments of real familiarity that Frodo, Sam, and Pippin experience (at least, until Frodo stupidly puts on his Ring). Even Rivendell, as lovely as it is, is clearly an Elf home; it's comfortable, but it's not Hobbity. Even though these Bree-Hobbits are not like the Shire folk, they're close enough – they share last names with people in the Shire, and they are still Hobbits after all, even if neither Frodo, Sam, nor Pippin know any of them. Like Shire Hobbits, they like having guests, but they are "plainly not very ready to take a large number of strangers into their little land" (1.9.48). Clearly, insularity (keeping to your small little world) is a genetic Hobbit trait.

[Frodo and Aragorn] stood for a while silent on the hill-top, near its southward edge. In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger. He wished bitterly that his fortune had left him in the quiet and beloved Shire. He stared down at the hateful Road, leading back westward – to his home. (1.11.100)

On Weathertop, just before the confrontation with the Black Riders, Frodo finally realizes how much he has already lost. One of the things that is remarkable about both <em>The Hobbit</em> and <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em> is that Tolkien never shies away from talking about the loneliness and despair of adventure. It's not all high times with swords and Orcs: Frodo misses his home, and wishes everything could be different. Perhaps Tolkien's respect for the loneliness of fighting and adventure comes from his own experiences in the trenches of World War I. (Note: For more on Tolkien and war, check out John Garth's book on the topic.)

"Hush!" said Gandalf from the shadows at the back of the porch. "Evil things do not come into this valley; but all the same we should not name them. The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the master of the Dark Tower of Mordor, whose power is again stretching out over the world! We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark." (2.1.75)

Tolkien introduces Elrond's house in <em>The Hobbit</em> as the Last Homely House before the mountains of the east. Tolkien repeats that portrayal in <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em>, using the same line from his earlier novel: "a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all" (2.1.64). But Gandalf quickly reminds us that we can't let ourselves get too comfy with Rivendell's homey-ness. Even Rivendell is not safe from Mordor; it is no longer just a "Homely House," but a fortress against the dark. The Elves who live in this valley are not the jesting singers of <em>The Hobbit</em>'s portrayal; they are ancient warriors like Gildor and Glorfindel. To suit the much more epic scale of the <em>Lord of the Rings</em>, Tolkien reuses the idea of Rivendell (an Elf valley) but changes its representation (not just a home, but a fortress in a grand war).

In the South the realm of Gondor long endured, and for a while its splendour grew, recalling somewhat of the might of Númenor, ere it fell. [...]

[I]n the wearing of the swift years of Middle-earth the line of Meneldil son of Anárion failed, and the Tree withered, and the blood of the Númenoreans became mingled with that of lesser men. Then the watch upon the hills of Mordor slept, and dark things crept back to Gorgoroth. And on a time evil things came forth, and they took Minas Ithil and abode in it, and they made it into a place of dread; and it is called Minas Morgul, the tower of Sorcery. [...]

So it has been for many lives of men. But the Lords of Minas Tirith still fight on, defying or enemies, keeping the passage of the River from Argonath to the Sea. (2.2.41-3)

Gondor is a <em>very</em> different kind of home from the Shire: it was once the abode of the Kings of the West, and now it has fallen into disrepair. But it will be Aragorn's job to rebuild it, if he lives long enough to take back the crown of the Kings of Gondor. At this stage in the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> series, Gondor is all about potential: it was once a great city of men, with the White Tree and so on. But now, it is reduced to the Tower of the Guard, with the ruin of Osgiliath sitting between present-day Gondor and Mordor's Minas Morgul. So we can see the ruins of what Gondor once was, and we can imagine what it will be again, if Sauron is driven out. But for now, it is a home only in the abstract; if Aragorn succeeds in his quest, <em>then</em> it will be a home to great men once more.

"Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back, and peace shall come again. Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever again be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime. For the Elves, I fear, it will prove at best a truce, in which they may pass to the Sea unhindered and leave the Middle-earth for ever. Alas for Lothlórien that I love! It would be a poor life in a land where no mallorn grew. But if there are mallorn-trees beyond the Great Sea, none have reported it." (2.6.138)

Haldir bemoans the fact that the end of this war against Sauron may also mean the end of the Elves' time in Middle-earth. Already, the wood of Lothlórien has passed from spring to autumn. Tolkien is well aware that all great stories of quests involve sacrifice: the hero has to give something up to achieve his dearest wish. Otherwise, the treasure the hero gains would seem less valuable; everything truly important has a cost. The cost that Middle-earth is paying over the course of the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> is the loss of some of its magic: to defeat Sauron, an old enemy of the Elves, the Elves have to be willing to let their kingdoms fall. We see this more in <em>The Return of the King</em>, but we just wanted to stop and acknowledge the huge sense of nostalgia and loss that fills this series from <em>The Fellowship of the Ring</em> onwards.

Sam sat tapping the hilt of his sword as if he were counting on his fingers, and looking at the sky. "It's very strange," he murmured. "The Moon's the same in the Shire and in Wilderland, or it ought to be. But either it's out of its running, or I'm all wrong in my reckoning. You'll remember, Mr. Frodo, the Moon was waning as we lay on the flet up in that tree: a week from the full, I reckon. And we'd been a week on the way last night, when up pops a New Moon as thin as a nail-paring, as if we had never stayed no time in the Elvish country." [...]

"And perhaps that was the way of it," said Frodo. "In that land, maybe, we were in a time that is elsewhere long gone by. It was not, I think, until Silverlode bore us back to Anduin that we returned to the time that flows through mortal lands to the Great Sea. And I don't remember any moon, either new or old, in Caras Galadhon: only stars by night and sun by day."

Legolas stirred in his boat. "Nay, time does not tarry ever," he said; "but change and growth is not in all things and places alike." (2.9.65-8)

Tolkien is drawing on classic folklore about fairies and Elves in this passage: if you go into an Elf's home, you don't know how much time is passing. When you come out again, it may be no time at all, or it may be years; it's like Narnia in the C.S. Lewis books. The introduction of Lothlórien somewhat complicates the notion of home that begins the <em>The Fellowship of the Ring.</em> We start with the cozy Shire, and that seems deeply homey. And then, of course, there is Rivendell, the Last Homely House. But Lothlórien, as melancholy and unearthly as it is, is also a place of settlement and growth: after all, the Lady gives Sam a box of earth from her garden to use on his. That suggests kinship between the Shire and Lothlórien. At the same time, Lothlórien is so wildly different from the Shire in character and appearance that "change and growth" is not the same there as it is in the Shire. One of the challenges of the <em>Lord of the Ring</em> series will be to bring these two opposite representations of home closer together, since members of the Fellowship have seen and loved both.