Gandalf tells Frodo that Bilbo acquired the Ring because “there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.” Some critics, noting Tolkiens Christian faith, have suggested that comments such as this hint at the place of God in Middle-earth: “offstage” yet active in unseen ways. Whether or not readers interpret the many instances of “luck” and “chance” in this way, they will note that the plot is largely but not wholly driven by the actions of its characters. Often at key moments-such as when Tom Bombadil rescues the Hobbits in the Old Forest-unseen yet real forces shape the story-just as they sometimes shape our lives.
Isolation and Interconnection
Throughout The Lord of the Rings, beginning with this volume, we see peoples and places who act as though they have nothing to do with each other. We see the suspicion Breelanders harbor towards outsiders; we hear from Boromir of resentment between the once-close kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan; we see the intense dislike of Elves for Dwarves, and vice versa. As Tolkiens tale unfolds, we learn, along with the characters, that such disunity leads to danger in the face of an evil that threatens all people. Legolas laments the “folly of these days,” when prejudice divides those who “all are enemies of the one Enemy.” Yet we also find signs of hope that isolation can be overcome, as Legolas and Gimlis friendship illustrates. In the face of grave danger, the characters find strength in recognizing and acting out of their interdependence. The multi-racial makeup of the Fellowship itself is a living example of discovering strength in diversity, and makes Tolkiens work an especially appropriate parable for twenty-first century North American society (as many critics noted when director Peter Jacksons film adaptation of the book premiered in 2001).
Appearances and Reality
In The Fellowship of the Ring, we learn that appearances can be deceiving. Gandalf notes that most of his fellow Wizards overlook Hobbits entirely-yet the key to defeating Sauron is the Ring possessed by Bilbo Baggins! These literally “little people” will prove indispensable if the Dark Lord is to be defeated. Yet even the Hobbits have to learn the lesson that things are not always as they seem: Sam takes an immediate dislike to Aragorn because of his rough appearance, while Frodo decides that a servant of Sauron would “seem fairer and feel fouler.” The Ring itself reinforces the importance of not judging anything by its appearance: just before he attempts to force the Ring from Frodo, Boromir asks him, “Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?” Size cannot always be equated with significance, nor can good always be shown by outward beauty.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
A Latin phrase, not found in The Lord of the Rings, but accurately summarizing one of its key themes: “thus passes away the glory of the world.” Tolkiens tale is set as the Third Age of Middle-earth-the age of Elves, Wizards, and Hobbits-is drawing to a close, and as the Fourth Age-the Age of Men-is about to begin. As early as the first chapter of Book I, Sam mentions the Wood-elves who are leaving Middle-earth altogether. The Elves symbolize the transition from one age to the next, which they have been expecting and for which they are prepared. Tolkien uses the Elves to underscore the transitory nature of this life: nothing lasts forever.