Summary and Analysis: The Fellowship of the Ring
Book 1, Chapters 7–12
The House of Tom Bombadil provides warmth and shelter after the frightening experience with the Old Forest. When Frodo lets Bombadil take the Ring, Tom causes it to vanish rather than the other way around. Annoyed, Frodo puts it on, but Tom remains unaffected and tells him to stop playing. Tom sends the hobbits north along the Barrowdowns, but they quickly lose their bearings when fog rolls in. A wight captures Frodo, and he wakes to find himself inside the barrow where the wight is preparing to kill his unconscious friends. Terrified and desperate, Frodo draws upon unexpected resources, attacking the wight and singing a charm Tom had given the hobbits. Tom breaks open the barrow and gives each hobbit a knife from the wight's hoard then leads them safely to the Road.
When they reach The Inn of the Prancing Pony, Frodo uses the name Underhill as a disguise, following Gandalf's advice. Enjoying himself in the common room, Frodo draws unwanted attention when he inadvertently puts on the Ring and vanishes in front of the crowd. Strider the Ranger, who seems to know Frodo's true identity and what he carries, follows them back to their room, where he warns the hobbits that the Black Riders will soon hear of Frodo's stunt, and offers to go with them as a wilderness guide. While the hobbits are still contemplating his offer, put off by his scruffy appearance, Butterbur the innkeeper arrives with a letter from Gandalf that should have been sent weeks earlier. The letter urges Frodo to leave the Shire immediately and identifies Strider as a friend to be trusted. Merry suddenly bursts in with news that a Black Rider is in town. They decide not to sleep in their rooms that night.
That night, Black Riders simultaneously attack Frodo's house in Buckland and ransack his inn room at Bree. In the morning, the hobbits discover that all the horses have been driven out of the stable. They manage to buy a half-starved pony, whom Sam immediately calls Bill, to carry supplies, and they set off with Strider. After traveling through marshlands and hills, they come to the ruined watchtower on Weathertop. Strider finds evidence that Gandalf may have been there before them, but he is not certain.
That night, five Black Riders attack their camp on the hillside. As they approach, Frodo feels compelled to put on the Ring. Unable to resist, he puts it on and finds himself able to see the Riders clearly. The Ringwraiths appear to be men, robed and armed with silver knives. Frodo calls the name of Elbereth and strikes at their leader, but he is stabbed in the shoulder. Struck by a deathly enchantment as well as the blade, he barely manages to remove the Ring before he faints.
With Frodo wounded, the Black Riders allow themselves to be driven off. Strider treats the injury with athelas, a plant considered a weed by most but having healing properties. He knows that Frodo must be taken to Rivendell as quickly as possible, because the blade which injured him carries an evil enchantment that only Elrond can dispel, but they still have two weeks to travel. Even with Frodo riding the pony, he becomes weaker each day. Finally they return to the Road, where they meet Glorfindel, an elf-lord sent to search for them. As they approach the Ford of Bruinen at the boundary of Rivendell, five Riders appear close behind them while four others try to cut off Frodo's escape.
Frodo passes the Ford barely ahead of the Nine. They call out for his surrender, and he feels the compulsion of their wills against his own. Nevertheless, he defies them, and they urge their horses into the water. A magical flood rises against this invasion of Elrond's territory, and Frodo watches as it carries the Riders away even as he falls into unconsciousness.
Tom Bombadil remains a persistent enigma in Tolkien's work — how does he resist the Ring so completely? "Resist" is not even the proper word, because the Ring appears to have no effect on him of any kind. As an embodiment of Nature, Tom is indifferent to the Ring's temptation because it lures with worldly domination — a world of nations and races who struggle for wealth or for resources, or for peace to enjoy their own land and culture. As Goldberry says, Tom does not own anything: "The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves." Bombadil neither needs nor desires what the Ring has to offer, any more than a river would, and so it holds no power over him. His own power is limited, however, and he cannot shelter the hobbits or protect them beyond the borders of his own country. The memory of his house, however, sustains Frodo on his journey.
The flight from Bree to Rivendell introduces another central character: Aragorn, or Strider the Ranger. Despite his appearance, Strider carries tokens of his greatness, most obviously the broken sword that is emblematic of his lineage's tarnished greatness. In addition, as he helps the hobbits toward Rivendell, readers discover that he is learned, both in the ways of the wilderness and in ancient lore, and that he has an almost magical gift of healing. Unlike the hobbits, who are ordinary folk asked to perform extraordinary things, Strider presents another kind of hero: the hero of epic story.
The first chapters established the fear of the Black Riders, but the journey from Bree to Rivendell increases their terror. Where in the Shire the Riders had been a frightening unknown, Aragorn's knowledge and Frodo's enhanced perception of them makes a shapeless dread more tangible and therefore more frightening. Tolkien's work does not support the cliché that naming a fear takes away its power: Naming the Nazgûl (the Black Riders) makes them real, but it does not help Frodo to resist their terror or the temptation to use the Ring to hide from them. Note the language describing that temptation, as well: "He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield." Likewise, at the ford, when the Nine try to call him back: "he felt that he was commanded urgently to halt. Hatred stirred in him, but he had no longer the strength to refuse." Look for similar language whenever Frodo struggles with the Ring or the servants of Sauron; they do not seek control, but surrender. It is Frodo's own will that determines whether he will resist or submit. At Weathertop, he gives in to the temptation, with disastrous results. At the Ford of Bruinen, he resists, and although he collapses, his will remains his own.
barrow an ancient grave formed of a mound of earth and stones.
the Black Land Mordor.
doom fate or destiny.
fell fierce or terrible, sinister, deadly.
goblin another word for orc; a race of evil creatures who live underground and fear the daylight.
headstall part of bridle which goes around the head.
hemlock-umbels umbrella-shaped flower clusters of the hemlock tree.
ostler a groom or stableman at an inn.
penthouse a small shed attached to a building.
waxing moon the growing moon during the second quarter of its phases, between half and full.
wight a supernatural creature, usually applied here to the ghost haunting a barrow.
withy-path a winding path lined with willow trees.
wraith a phantom or ghost; an undead specter.