The Prologue is meant primarily to help people who have not read The Hobbit understand the events of that book, along with some other information that the author felt is relevant to set the stage for the novel.
The first chapter in the book begins quite lightly, following the tone of The Hobbit. Bilbo is celebrating his 111th (or eleventy-first, as it is called in Hobbiton) birthday on the same day that Frodo Baggins, his heir, is celebrating his 33rd birthday (his 'coming of age'). At the birthday party, Bilbo disappears after his speech, to the surprise of all. Bilbo departs from the Shire, the land of the Hobbits, for what he calls a permanent holiday. He leaves his remaining belongings including his home, Bag End and, after some persuasion by the wizard Gandalf, the Ring he had found on his adventures (with which he used to make himself invisible), to Frodo. Gandalf warns Frodo to keep the Ring secret and safe from others, and leaves on his own business.
Over the next seventeen years Gandalf visits Frodo; staying briefly before going off again. Then one spring night Gandalf arrives to alert Frodo to the darker aspects of the Ring which Bilbo had previously only used to make himself invisible: it is the One Ring of Sauron, the Dark Lord. Forged by Sauron himself, the Ring was used by Sauron to subdue and rule Middle-earth. In the War of the Last Alliance, Sauron was defeated by the Elven King Gil-galad and Elendil, High King of Gondor and Arnor, though they themselves perished in the deed. The Ring was cut off from Sauron by Isildur, son of Elendil. Sauron was thus overthrown and he fled, and so, for many years, peace returned to Middle-earth. But the Ring itself was not destroyed: Isildur kept the Ring for himself after cutting it from Sauron. However, Isildur was slain in the Battle of the Gladden Fields and the Ring was lost in the Great River, Anduin; whereupon it came into the hands of the creature Gollum, who possessed the Ring for many years. The Ring then passed to Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit, and so passes into the hands of Frodo. Sauron had now arisen once again, and had returned to his stronghold in the land of Mordor, and was exerting all his power to find the Ring. Gandalf details the evil powers of the Ring, and its ability to influence the bearer and those near him, if it is borne for too long a time. Gandalf warns that the Ring is no longer safe in the Shire because, after some investigation of his own, Gandalf has learned from Gollum himself that Gollum had gone to Mordor, where he was captured and was tortured into revealing to Sauron that a Hobbit named Baggins from the Shire possesses the Ring. Heeding Gandalf's advice, Frodo decides that it is best to remove the Ring from the Shire. Gandalf hopes Frodo can reach the elf-haven of Rivendell, where he believes Frodo and the Ring will be safe from Sauron, at least for a while, and where those of most concern of Middle-Earth can decide the fate of the Ring. Sam Gamgee, Frodo's gardener, is discovered listening in on the conversation. Out of loyalty to his master, Sam decides to accompany Frodo on his journey.
Over the summer Frodo makes plans to leave his home at Bag End, under the guise that he is moving to a remote region of the Shire to retire. He makes plans to "move" in the Autumn after Bilbo's and his birthday. Helping with the plans are Frodo's friends Peregrin Took (or Pippin for short), Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry), Samwise Gamgee (Sam), and Fredegar Bolger (Fatty). However, Frodo does not tell them of his true intentions to leave the Shire, nor does he tell them about the Ring.
At midsummer, Gandalf informs Frodo that he must leave on pressing business, but will return before Frodo leaves. Frodo enjoys his last few weeks at home awaiting the return of Gandalf. But as his birthday and departure approach, Gandalf is not seen or heard from. Regretfully, Frodo decides to leave without Gandalf. Merry and Fatty take the last of Frodo's possessions by cart to his new home in Crickhollow. Frodo, Sam, and Pippin go by foot using the less used roads to travel unnoticed.
On their journey the three hobbits encounter the Black Riders; Ringwraiths or the Nazgûl who serve Sauron. There are nine such Ringwraiths and are "the most terrible servants of the Dark Lord." The hobbits discover that the Nazgûl are looking for Frodo and the Ring. But with help of some Elves and Farmer Maggot they eventually reach Crickhollow on the eastern borders of the Shire. There Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Fatty reveal that they know of Frodo's plan to leave the Shire and of the existence of the Ring. Sam, Merry, and Pippin decide to leave with Frodo, while Fatty stays behind as a decoy.
The Hobbits, in hopes of eluding the Nazgûl, travel through the Old Forest and Barrow-downs, and with the assistance of Tom Bombadil, are able to reach the village of Bree, where they meet Strider, a friend of Gandalf who becomes their guide to Rivendell.
Even with Strider's help, this portion of the journey is not without further hardships. The worst of these occurs when, while at the hill of Weathertop, five of the Nazgûl attack the travellers. Frodo is stabbed by the chief of the Nazgûl (the Witch-king of Angmar), with a cursed blade. The Nazgûl are driven off for a while by Strider. Part of the knife remains inside Frodo, causing him to become increasingly ill as the journey to Rivendell continues. Strider leads the hobbits on old paths avoiding the main road. As the travellers near their destination they meet Glorfindel, a mighty Elf-Lord from Rivendell, who helps them reach the River Bruinen on the border of Rivendell. But the Nazgûl, now at their full strength of nine, spring a trap at the Ford of Bruinen. Glorfindel's horse outruns the pursuers and carries Frodo across the Ford. As the Nazgûl attempt to follow, a giant wave in the shape of charging horses appears bearing down on the Nazgûl. The flood was commanded by Elrond, the mighty Lord of Rivendell, but the shape of galloping horses was an addition of Gandalf. The Nazgûl, trapped between the rushing water and seeing Glorfindel, an Elf-Lord revealed in his wrath, are swept away by the river, as Frodo finally collapses into unconsciousness on the riverbank.
Book II opens at Rivendell in the house of Elrond. Frodo is healed by Elrond and discovers that Bilbo has been residing in Rivendell. A Council is held by Elrond and is attended by Gandalf and many others, including Frodo and Bilbo. Elrond tells the history of the One Ring of Sauron, and about the War of the Last Alliance, and how the Ring was lost to Middle-Earth for a time after the Battle of the Gladden Fields. Gandalf continues the tale, and narrates how the Ring was found by Gollum. Bilbo and Frodo narrate their own adventures about the finding of the Ring and Frodo's journey to Rivendell. Gandalf also explains why he could not accompany Frodo from the Shire. He had gone to Isengard, where the powerful wizard Saruman dwells, to seek help and counsel. Saruman was head of the White Council and the greatest of the Istari. He had long studied Sauron's arts, and the lore of the One Ring. However, Saruman has turned against them, as Gandalf finds out much to his dismay; Saruman now desires the Ring for himself. Saruman imprisons Gandalf in his tower, Orthanc, rightly suspecting that Gandalf knew where the Ring was. Gandalf, however, does not yield and manages to escape from Orthanc. He learns that Saruman is not yet in Sauron's service, and was mustering his own force of Orcs. Gandalf spreads the tidings that Saruman was now a foe, and heads towards Rivendell, knowing that he could not reach the Shire in time to accompany Frodo. In the Council of Elrond, a plan is hatched to cast the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor, which will destroy the Ring and end Sauron's power once and for all. Frodo is chosen to be the Ring-Bearer, and sets forth from Rivendell with eight companions: two Men, Strider (revealed to be Aragorn, Isildur's heir) and Boromir, son of the Steward of the land of Gondor; the Prince of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, Legolas; Frodo's old friend and powerful wizard, Gandalf; Gimli the Dwarf; and Frodo's three Hobbit companions. These Nine Walkers (called the Fellowship of the Ring) were chosen to represent all the free races of Middle-Earth and as a balance to the Nazgûl. They are also accompanied by Bill the Pony, whom Strider and the Hobbits acquired in Bree as a pack horse. Their attempt to cross the Misty Mountains is foiled by heavy snow, and they are forced to take a path under the mountains, the mines of Moria, an ancient dwarf kingdom, now full of orcs and other evil creatures. During the battle that ensues, Gandalf battles a Balrog of Morgoth, and both fall into an abyss.
The remaining eight members of the Fellowship escape from Moria and head toward the elf-haven of Lothlórien, where they are given gifts from the rulers Celeborn and Galadriel that in many cases prove useful later during the Quest. After leaving Lórien, the Ring's evil and corrupting powers begin to show. When Frodo is alone for a while to decide the future course of the Fellowship, Boromir tries to take the Ring from him. Frodo, to escape from Boromir, ends up putting on the Ring. While the rest of the Fellowship scatter to hunt for Frodo, Frodo decides that the Fellowship has to be parted, for the Ring was too evil and was setting to work within the Fellowship itself. Frodo decides to depart secretly for Mordor, but is joined by the Sam and they set off together to Mordor. The Fellowship was broken.
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