The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of three volumes that make up J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic tale The Lord of the Rings. The prologue sets the stage by describing the habits and traditions of hobbits, a small, good-natured, and pastoral folk who become surprising key players in the fate of the One Ring—a weapon belonging to the Dark Lord Sauron that will allow him total domination over the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. Hobbits are unobtrusive yet curiously tough peoples who share a love for the pleasures of domestic life, including consuming good food and drink, smoking pipeweed, and enjoying the orderly nature of their simple homes and businesses in the land of The Shire. The narrator also relates the key events of The Hobbit (the prequel to The Lord of the Rings) in the prologue, where a hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins is thrust into adventure as he joins a party of dwarves who journey to re-take the Lonely Mountain from the ancient dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo happens upon a golden ring that a miserable creature called Gollum has been in possession of for numerous decades. Bilbo’s magic ring gifts its wearer invisibility, and Bilbo largely uses it to aid his friends during adventure and to escape prying relatives once he returns home to The Shire. He is unaware of the Ring’s true nature and the danger its possession put him in.
The Fellowship of the Ring opens with Bilbo about to throw a great birthday party to celebrate his milestone in reaching the significant age of 111. The party also honors his favorite nephew and adopted heir, Frodo, who comes of age at 33 on the same day. Bilbo’s fellow hobbits mostly think him quite mad, but do not mind his eccentricities because he generously shares his wealth (gained from his Lonely Mountain adventures) with Shire residents. Only Frodo and the wizard Gandalf are privy to Bilbo’s decision to disappear from the Shire at his “eleventy-first” birthday party for one final adventure. Bilbo executes his plan and gifts the majority of his belongings to Frodo, including Bilbo’s magical ring. The elderly hobbit is extremely reluctant to part with the ring, but Gandalf persuades him to leave it to Frodo, and Bilbo leaves his home at Bag End feeling relieved of a great burden. Gandalf also departs the Shire after warning Frodo to keep the ring secret, for the wizard begins to suspect its dark nature.
Gandalf visits the Shire periodically over the next 17 years, and upon his final visit reveals to Frodo that he has learned the true nature of Bilbo’s magical ring—it is the One Ring that was created by Sauron to dominate all life on Middle-earth. Alarmingly, the Dark Lord has risen again and is searching for his Ring in the Shire. Gandalf tells Frodo he is in great danger and must flee his home, advising he makes for the elf-haven Rivendell that is hidden West of the Misty Mountains. In the meantime, Gandalf will travel to gain counsel about the Ring from his powerful allies. Despite having yearned for adventure, Frodo is devastated to leave his homeland. He is buoyed by the surprising addition of his dear friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin to the journey to Rivendell. The four hobbits manage to evade terrifying Black Riders who track their path out of the Shire, and Frodo is greatly concerned that Gandalf has not re-joined him as promised.
The threat of the Black Riders force the hobbits to leave the Shire through the bordering Old Forest, where they hope to elude their pursuers and navigate their way northeast. However, they are lured off-track by Old Man Willow, a malevolent and magical tree that begins to strangle the hobbits and trap them in its trunk. In a state of pure panic, they are rescued by the enigmatic and comical Tom Bombadil, a powerful being who takes care of his domain over the Old Forest. Bombadil and his wife Goldberry host the hobbits at their home for two nights, after which the hobbits are rested and rejuvenated in body and spirit. Their hosts send them forth on the right path to exit the Old Forest, but Bombadil must rescue his four charges again when they fall victim to a barrow-wight. He sends them on their way again after gifting them ancient knives that he has pulled from the vanquished barrow-wight’s treasure hoard.
The hobbits reach Bree, a town inhabited by humans and hobbits, where they make for The Prancing Pony inn. Frodo draws unwanted attention when he accidentally slips on the Ring and disappears from sight in front of locals and guests who are drinking at the inn. He removes the Ring from his finger and is accosted by a suspicious stranger called Strider; earlier, the innkeeper Barliman Butterbur had warned him to keep clear of the mysterious Ranger (the name given to grimly dour wanderers such as Strider). Strider reveals he knows about Frodo and his possession of the Ring, and offers his service to the hobbits, stating that he is a friend of Gandalf’s. It is only when Butterbur remembers to give Frodo a letter left in his care by Gandalf that the hobbits begin to trust Strider. Like the hobbits, Strider is concerned at Gandalf’s absence. Merry returns from a walk having spied a Black Rider, and they set up decoys in their rooms.
The next morning reveals that their rooms have been ransacked, and their ponies set loose from the stables. The hobbits leave Bree with Strider as their guide. The Ranger leads them off known roads into the wild to evade the Black Riders. They make for Weathertop, a hilltop with the ruins of an ancient watchtower, and Strider tells them stories to keep them distracted from danger. During their camp at Weathertop, the group is attacked by four of the Black Riders—Strider fends them off with burning brands, but Frodo is stabbed by a magical weapon. The group hasten toward Rivendell, hoping they will get Frodo to Elrond (Lord of Rivendell and a powerful healer) in time to save him. They manage this with the help of the elf-lord Glorfindel, who finds them on the road.
Frodo wakes from a deathly sleep to find he is safe in Rivendell, where Elrond has healed him. To Frodo’s surprise, Bilbo is also living in the elf-haven. Over the next few days, uncle and nephew greatly enjoy reconnecting, marred only by Bilbo’s lust to hold the Ring again. Frodo denies his request, and Bilbo at last realizes the corrupting power of the Ring, which influences its bearer to evil. The rest of Frodo’s party also enjoy the elves’ hospitality, and are greatly relieved to reunite with Gandalf again. It is in Rivendell that the four hobbits learn that their companion Strider is in fact of noble lineage—his true name is Aragorn and he is the rightful heir to the thrones of Gondor and Arnor.
Many other individuals from various lands have recently found their way to Rivendell. The Lord of Rivendell convenes the Council of Elrond, a meeting in which travelers share their stories about the frightening changes occurring across Middle-earth as a result of Sauron’s growing power. Speakers include Glóin (one of the thirteen dwarfs who accompanied Bilbo to the Lonely Mountain), Legolas (an elf-prince from Mirkwood), Boromir (a man of Gondor), Bilbo, Frodo, Elrond, and Gandalf. Gandalf reveals that he was delayed in meeting Frodo on the road to Rivendell due to his fellow wizard Saruman the White’s betrayal in his ambition to wield the Ring. Finally, the Council must decide what to do with the Ring. After settling on a quest to cast the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom in Sauron’s stronghold of Mordor—the only way to destroy the ring and ensure Sauron’s power is checked—Frodo humbly but bravely volunteers his service as Ring-bearer. The Lord of Rivendell determines that Nine Walkers representing the Free Paces of Middle-earth shall set out in opposition of Sauron’s nine Black Riders. Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli (son of Glóin), Legolas, Merry, and Pippin form the Company of the Ring, known more informally as the Fellowship. Of particular note is the strong friendship that will develop between Gimli and Legolas despite their initial mistrust of one another, as well as the four hobbits’ continued loyalty to one another.
The Fellowship sets out south from Rivendell toward Mordor. During their attempt to cross the Misty Mountains, they are foiled by heavy snow and rock falls, and alter their course to the dangerous path under the mountains through the Mines of Moria. Within Moria, an abandoned dwarf kingdom, they find the tomb of Gimli and Gandalf’s friend Balin. After leading a company of dwarfs to reclaim their ancestral home in Moria, Balin had not been heard from in years. The Company of the Ring then hear great drums that rise up from the depths of the Mines, and are attacked by hosts of orcs and a balrog (a powerful elemental demon). The Fellowship flee with their foes in close pursuit, and Gandalf makes a stand against the balrog on the narrow Bridge of Khazad-dûm. After an epic battle, wizard and demon fall into an abyss.
The Fellowship are devastated to lose Gandalf, but under Aragorn’s leadership they exit the Mines and dash to the protection of the elf-forest Lothlórien. Here they meet Celeborn and Galadriel, the ancient Lord and Lady of Lórien who offer rest as well as gifts for the Fellowship’s journey ahead. Each member of the company feels that Galadriel tests their minds in some way, offering them a choice between continuing into danger or choosing a different path of great desire. They all choose to continue with the Ring-bearer. The Lady of Lórien also shows Frodo and Sam visions of present and future scenes in her magical mirror. In awe of Galadriel’s power, Frodo offers her the Ring, but she wisely refuses the temptation that would ultimately corrupt her.
The Fellowship depart Lothlórien by way of boats on the Great River Anduin, and Boromir grows increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of the Ring. Aragorn and Frodo are aware they are being followed by the treacherous Gollum. When the Fellowship arrive at a lake before the mighty Falls of Rauros, they disembark to discuss their next move—whether to travel east directly to Mordor, or to divert to the west to the safety of Minas Tirith in Gondor. As he argued for at the Council of Elrond, Boromir advocates that they travel to Gondor and make use of the Ring’s power in direct conflict with Sauron’s forces. The rest of the Company recognizes the impossibility of using the corrupted Ring for noble purposes, but are unsure which direction to take. They leave the Ring-bearer to decide their course. While Frodo takes some time alone to think, Boromir approaches him and in a moment of madness tries to take Ring by force. Frodo uses the Ring to escape Boromir, and the hobbit decides that he must go to Mordor alone—he does not want to endanger his friends with the perilous journey or the influence of the Ring. He slips away without telling anyone, although Sam guesses his plan and leaves with him. The Fellowship of the Ring is broken, but the quest continues as two hobbits make their way to Mordor on their own.