The titular company of The Fellowship of the Ring consists of individuals from many cultures, including hobbits, dwarves, elves, and humans. Tolkien presents various forms of history and myth across these cultures—for example, hobbits enjoy playful songs that reflect their pastoral traditions, humans favor legends of battlefield valor, and elves tend to create mythical odes about ancient events. These histories and myths can have a threefold purpose: they preserve memories of previous eras, reflect the repetitive nature of history, and can shape future events.
Tolkien infuses his epic novel with stories of mythical people and events to offer historical context to readers, which simultaneously adds depth to the world he’s building. Much of this storytelling takes place in conversation. For example, Gandalf’s account to Frodo of the legendary rings of power, the ancient War of the Last Alliance, and Gollum’s origins as Smeagol set the scene for Frodo’s chapter in the saga of the Ring. History is preserved and passed on through the sharing of stories. Numerous songs also reference the past histories of Tolkien’s universe. For instance, Aragorn sings the Song of Beren and Lúthien to the hobbits by the campfire at Weathertop. It describes the meeting and courtship of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel, referencing bygone characters and landscapes. Such a song weaves a vision that offers characters (and readers) insights into previous ages. These historic references in conversation and song demonstrate the power of myth, legend and folklore to both ground a narrative and to broaden its world.
Songs about the past also relate directly to the plot’s current situation, suggesting that history repeats itself. Even songs that directly relate legendary events from ages long gone comment on characters’ present situations. A good example of this parallel is when Gimli chants Durin’s Song as he passes through Moria with the Company of the Ring. The song recounts the splendor of the dwarven king Durin’s rule before the decline of his kingdom of Khazad-dûm; this hauntingly matches the current decline of the Third Age, marked most significantly by the dwindling of the elves. Song is therefore a medium that expresses the idea that history is cyclical.
Furthermore, the preservation of history and myth can shape the future. For example, The Riddle of Strider appears twice in The Fellowship of the Ring. It was written decades earlier by Bilbo, based on a prophecy that had been attached to Aragorn’s family for many generations. It speaks to the truth of Aragorn’s heritage, for while he appears a mere wanderer, he is in fact the Heir of Isildur. The Riddle predicts that he will re-forge the ancient blade Narsil, and claim the thrones of Gondor and Arnor. It is not until the later books in The Lord of the Rings series that these predicted events transpire as truth, but the Fellowship learn quickly that there is more to Strider than meets the eye. Beyond learning about the past, then, history is vital in looking to the future—history can guide individuals toward specific destinies.
Tolkien thereby emphasizes the societal importance of preserving history and explaining myth. By prioritizing characters’ storytelling in his narrative, he creates intertextual references that add depth to the world of Middle-earth. Direct echoes of historic circumstances also emphasize the continuity of the world and show that core patterns of events rise and fall repetitively through time. Additionally, history can have great consequence in shaping future events. Overall, Tolkien creates a sense that The Fellowship of the Ring is the beginning of a legendary tale that will itself one day be celebrated in various cultures’ shared histories and myths.
History and Myth ThemeTracker
History and Myth Quotes in The Fellowship of the Ring
“But my lad Sam will know more about [Bilbo’s gold]. He’s in and out of Bag End. Crazy about the stories of the old days he is, and he listens to all Mr. Bilbo’s tales. Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters –meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come from it.
Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you, I says to him. And I might say it to others,” he added with a look at the stranger and the miller.
But the Gaffer did not convince his audience. The legend of Bilbo’s wealth was now too firmly fixed in the minds of the younger generation of hobbits.
“If you don’t come back, sir, then I shan’t, that’s certain,” said Sam. “Don’t you leave him! They said to me. Leave him! I said. 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, I said. They laughed.”
Slowly he drew it out. Bilbo put out his hand. But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring. To his distress and amazement he found that he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands. He felt a desire to strike him.
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.”
“If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, [the Rangers] have played another part. Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us.
[…] Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. 'Strider' I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. Yet we would not have it otherwise. If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so. That has been the task of my kindred, while the years have lengthened and the grass has grown.”
"It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," said Gimli.
"I have not heard it was the fault of the Elves," said Legolas.
"I have heard both," said Gandalf; "and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand."
“The world was young,
The mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.
The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder days before the fall
Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin’s Day.
The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.”
[Aragorn’s] own plan, while Gandalf remained with them, had been to go with Boromir, and with his sword help to deliver Gondor. For he believed that the message of the dreams was a summons, and that the hour had come at last when the heir of Elendil should come forth and strive with Sauron for the mastery. But in Moria the burden of Gandalf had been laid on him; and he knew that he could not now forsake the Ring, if Frodo refused in the end to go with Boromir. And yet what help could he or any of the Company give to Frodo, save to walk blindly with him into the darkness?
Then the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand. “These words shall go with the gift,” she said. “I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”
The travellers sat still without moving or speaking. On the green bank near to the very point of the Tongue the Lady Galadriel stood alone and silent. As they passed her they turned and their eyes watched her slowly floating away from them. For so it seemed to them: Lórien was slipping backward, like a bright ship masted with enchanted trees, sailing on to forgotten shores, while they sat helpless upon the margin of the grey and leafless world.