Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
This is an overview of the books of The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. For those of you who haven't read the books, this Entry includes spoilers - so please do not read on if you don't want to know what happens. This Entry is divided into several headings, listed here so you can skip past any sections you don't want to read:
- The books
- Races of Middle-earth
- The characters
- Plot summary
The Lord of the Rings was originally supposed to consist of seven books:
- The Return of the Shadow
- The Fellowship of the Ring
- The Treason of Isengard
- The Journey to Mordor
- The War of the Ring
- The Return of the King
- The Appendices
However, the books were published in three volumes - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King - with the appendices usually published as part of the third volume. The books are known as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Races of Middle-Earth
Elves are immortal beings who are renowned for their wisdom and beauty. They favour forests as homes, although the call of the ocean, once heard, is almost impossible to resist. Once the elves leave Middle-earth they take a ship across the sea to the west.
Hobbits (also known as Halflings) are peaceful, nature-loving beings who enjoy routine and a quiet life, above most other things. They are known for their love of food; is it quite common for a hobbit to eat six meals a day with snacks in between. Hobbits are not all they seem however, and hide a courageous heart under their timid exteriors.
Dwarves stand a little taller than hobbits and are easily recognisable from their long beards. Dwarves live chiefly underground in caves or mines and have a sometimes over-enthusiastic love of gold and jewels. They are stout-hearted and strong-willed, allowing nothing to come between them and their goal.
Men are, arguably, the weakest race in Middle-earth. They are also more easily corrupted than the other races - partly due to a longing for power. Nevertheless, some men are extremely brave and noble (the ancient race of the Númenóreans for example).
Although there are not many Istari in Middle-earth, they are a supremely powerful race; they exist in a hierarchy depending on the colour they bear. The most powerful was Saruman, as the white wizard, before he was corrupted (after this he took on the title of 'many colours').
Ents are tree-shepherds who live for many thousands of years and move slowly. It is unusual for them to concern themselves with the comings and goings of the other races unless they or their forests are at risk. They finally make a stand (after a long discussion) against Saruman.
Orcs are foul creatures who were originally made by torturing and corrupting elves. They multiplied rapidly and are now the most common form of evil in Middle-earth. They are used as soldiers in Sauron's vast armies.
An Uruk-Hai is hybrid soldier; it was made by combining the genetic material of orcs and goblins.
For more information about the villains of Middle-earth, visit this link: The Major Villains of The Lord of the Rings.
Although the Ring is an inanimate object, it is still a potent character and it makes its presence felt in every page of the trilogy. It is filled with all Sauron's hate for goodness and his desire for power, and its sole aim is to get back to his hand by calling for the forces of evil. It weighs Frodo down.
Bilbo found the Ring under the Misty Mountains on a previous adventure - he handed it down to Frodo when he left for Rivendell. Bilbo's main adventures are to be told in The Hobbit and his part in The Lord of the Rings is very small; however, as a previous ring-bearer he deserves a mention. He leaves at the end of the books with the elves.
Frodo Baggins was raised by his cousin Bilbo Baggins in one of the most respectable and well-to-do hobbit-holes in the Shire. It becomes apparent (over the next 17 years) that the ring is indeed the Ring of Power and it must be taken away from the Shire before it falls into the hands of Sauron and his Ringwraiths.
Frodo and his friends - Merry, Pippin and Sam - embark on a journey that will take them many miles from home. Frodo never stops longing for his quiet life in the Shire and many times in the journey he comes close to giving up and dying, but the strong bonds of friendship between him and Sam keep him going.
Frodo is one of the only characters to resist the evil power of the Ring for so long; at the end he falters and almost fails, but the quest is fulfilled successfully. He then leaves the Shire on an Elven Ship when he realises that the horrors of his adventure can never be forgotten and some pains don't fade.
Samwise is not the brightest of hobbits as his name suggests (Sam-wise, meaning half-wise), but he has one of the strongest and most loyal hearts in the tale. He makes a promise to himself never to leave the side of his dearest friend and master, Frodo, and keeps good to that promise by following him to Mount Doom itself. If it hadn't been for Sam, Frodo would have died.
Sam is one of the real heroes of the trilogy. He stays true, loyal and good all the way through and keeps the spirits and hopes of the quest alive. He gets his reward when the hobbits return to the Shire after completing the quest. He marries Rosie Cotton and has many fine children.
Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry)
Merry is naïve about all matters of the outside world and is easily influenced; this is shown when he pledges his alliance almost on the spur of the moment to Théoden of Rohan.
He is the best friend of Pippin, and the two try to look out for each other throughout the course of the story; even when they are separated, their thoughts are almost as one. A loyal friend, he learns many harsh lessons about life on the journey and returns to the Shire as a much wiser (and taller) hobbit.
Peregrin Took (Pippin)
Pippin is the youngest of the four hobbits and still only a child when the quest begins. Yet he refuses to stay behind, sticking with his friends through thick and thin.
He progresses as a character outstandingly, from a timid little Halfling to a loyal warrior of Gondor; he even grows taller thanks to the drink provided by the Ents in Fangorn. He still remains a true hobbit, though, as when the time comes he is glad to return to the Shire for a peaceful life.
Sméagol / Gollum
Sméagol is a creature who was once a member of a the Stoor strain of hobbits, peaceful water-folk - but this all changed when he succumbed to the power of the Ring; he murdered his best friend Déagol in order to take it, and was chased away from his home because of it. He took refuge under the Misty Mountains and became Gollum, a creature with no feeling or drive except for the Ring and its power. When it is taken by Bilbo, Gollum tries to seek it out but is captured by Sauron's forces who question him. He is finally let free and once more tries to pursue the Ring.
Once he has found the Ring he agrees to guide Frodo through Mordor. On this journey Sméagol almost takes its control again; he also has many changes of heart. He leads Frodo to Mount Doom, where they struggle over the Ring - and Gollum perishes in the fires along with it.
Isildur lived many hundreds of years before the books are set; he is, however, pivotal to the story. He originally stole the Ring after he gained it in a battle with Sauron, but it corrupted his heart and finally betrayed him to his death. Isildur is an ancestor of Aragorn.
Aragorn, or Strider as we first know him, is a ranger from the north, raised by the elves of Rivendell. He guides the hobbits to Rivendell from Bree and then helps guide the fellowship through its many trials.
It is a great trial for Aragorn to become part of the fellowship; he is a descendant of Isildur and is afraid he too will succumb to the Ring's will. However, his heart and strength prevail, and he takes up his rightful place as the King of Gondor.
Denethor is the Steward of Gondor. He and his forefathers have held this position for many years and it is not his intention that a king should return to reclaim the throne.
He mourns the passing of Boromir intensely and goes out of his way to show Faramir that he is no equal for Boromir. It is only when Faramir lies dying that Denethor sees the error of his ways, but despair drives him to madness and he tries to kill them both. Gandalf and Pippin save Faramir but Denethor burns to death.
Boromir was the eldest child of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, and was much favoured over his brother. He was sent to the Council of Elrond at Rivendell to represent Gondor and - although he wished to use the Ring against Sauron - agreed to be a part of the fellowship.
He never fully resisted the power offered by the Ring, and eventually tried to take it from Frodo. When he didn't succeed he repented and threw all his efforts into protecting Merry and Pippin from orcs - a task he died trying to complete. His body was sent down the Falls of Rauros and he was remembered as a hero of the fellowship.
Faramir is the younger brother of Boromir and has spent his whole life trying to match up to his father's expectations, but never managing it. He is one of the only characters to fully resist the Ring's influence, refusing to take it even when it is offered to him freely.
He almost dies fighting the orcs who are attacking Gondor; only in this near-death state does his father realise what Faramir means to him.
He falls for the Lady Éowyn and the two are wed.
Théoden and Gríma Wormtongue
Théoden is the King of Rohan; he was a great king for many years but over the last few his advisor, sent from Saruman, has poisoned his mind and body leaving him nothing more than a frail puppet. The spell is broken by Gandalf, and Théoden rises to become a great king once more by leading his people into battle against the forces of darkness. Théoden rides to the aid of Gondor but falls in the battle that follows.
Wormtongue is a servant of Saruman - a weak human who does his bidding, first with Théoden and then later in person. He helps Saruman take over the Shire and finally kills Saruman before the Shire-folk kill him.
Éowyn and Éomer
Éowyn and Éomer are the niece and nephew of Théoden, King of Rohan. Éomer has been outlawed for speaking against Wormtongue, Saruman's tool in Rohan; but he remains loyal, and he and his band of men return when called upon.
Éowyn longs to fight with her kinsmen but is left behind to look after the kingdom; she disobeys and rides with the Rohirrim anyway in the guise of a man. She becomes a heroine in the battle when she brings down the Witch King. She longs to be with Aragorn, but because his heart belongs to Arwen that is not possible. She finishes by marrying Faramir.
Gandalf the Grey is one of the few Istari that populate Middle-earth. Gandalf begins as the grey wizard and becomes the white wizard, after which he overthrows the evil white wizard, Saruman.
This quest and what it stands for is Gandalf's purpose on Middle-earth, and he throws his whole body and soul into the completion of the task. His wisdom helps Frodo and the others in the fellowship to overcome almost insurmountable odds. He is also the keeper of one of the three elven rings: Narya, the Ring of Fire. After his task is complete he also leaves on the elven ships.
Saruman used to be a wise and kindly wizard whom all went to for counsel, but the white wizard was corrupted by the love of power and tries to contend with Sauron for the Ring and ultimate power.
He is stripped of his wizard rank and dignity by Gandalf and left prisoner to the Ents. He manages to call up one last piece of mischief in the Shire but it does not last long and he finally dies on the steps of Bag End.
Elrond and Arwen
Elrond is a kindly and wise elf (originally a half-elf who chose immortality) who raised Aragorn as his own; he calls the Council of all the free peoples of Middle-earth and sends them on the quest to destroy the Ring. He is a keeper of one of the three elvish rings: Vilya, the Ring of Air.
Arwen is the daughter of Elrond; a supremely beautiful elf, she chooses a mortal life in order to be with the man she loves, Aragorn.
Galadriel and Celeborn
Galadriel is one of the oldest elves and lives in Lothlórien with Celeborn, her husband.
She is the keeper of one of the three elven rings: Nenya, the Ring of Water. She shows Frodo and Sam their possible destinies in her ‘mirror', which shows the different pasts, presents and futures.
She is offered the power of the Ring and after a great internal battle turns it down in order to remain the good power she is.
Celeborn is husband to Galadriel and master of Lothlorien. He trusts the decisions of Galadriel and never stops being a wise and kindly master.
Legolas is an elf from Mirkwood. He joins the fellowship after having being sent by his father. His elvish precision, hearing and eyesight often save them from death.
He forms an unlikely friendship with Gimli and the two are soon inseparable. After seeing the gulls from the ocean, Legolas' heart strays from the forests and he too leaves many years after the quest was completed.
Gimli is the son of Glóin, one of the dwarves from The Hobbit, and he joins the fellowship mainly to represent the dwarves. At first he is very wary and distrustful of Legolas but the two soon form a close bond and pass through many dangers together. He falls deeply in love with Galadriel and believes her to be the wisest and fairest of all creatures.
Tom Bombadil and Goldberry
Tom is an ancient being who lives in the old forest near the Shire and governs the trees. He must have some powerful magic unknown to the others as the Ring does not affect him; he doesn't care for the battles going on in Middle-earth. He helps the hobbits as they first start out, rescuing them twice and giving them food and shelter.
Goldberry is Tom's wife and the daughter of the river. She is beautiful and kind; she seems to be as impartial to the happenings of the world around her as Tom.
He is known as Sauron the Deceiver as he tricked the other races into taking the rings while he secretly made and used a far more powerful ring to control them all.
The Ring was cut from his hand by Isildur and was lost to him for some time. When he finally found it again, it was in the grasp of Frodo and was already being protected by many powers. He tried everything to regain it, including sending his most powerful and deadly servants, the Ringwraiths, to recapture it, while watching the lands with his great eye without rest. He failed to see the danger though, and ended up being destroyed along with the Ring.
The nine Ringwraiths were originally the nine mortal kings who were given the nine rings of power by Sauron. One by one they fell to his will and became his most powerful and terrifying servants. The leader of the Ringwraiths is the Witch King, who is eventually killed by Éowyn.
The Fellowship of the Ring
Hobbit Bilbo Baggins leaves the Shire for good, leaving his magic ring (found in The Hobbit) to Frodo, his cousin and charge. Frodo finds out from Gandalf that it is no ordinary ring - it is the One Ring of Power, made by the Dark Lord Sauron; and were it to fall back into Sauron's hands, he would gain complete power over all the free people of Middle-earth. It must be taken away from the Shire to Bree, where they have arranged to meet Gandalf. Together with his companions, Merry, Pippin and Sam, Frodo flees the Shire, making for Rivendell, the home of Elrond. Pursued, and nearly overcome, by the nine Black Riders (the Ringwraiths), they arrive in Bree where they meet a ranger called Strider (who turns out to be Gandalf's friend). He guides them to Rivendell and, although Frodo is stabbed by one of the Black Riders at Weathertop, they arrive there safely.
Elrond calls a council to decide what should be done. Gandalf explains that he has been held prisoner and only just escaped from the wizard Saruman who, although once an ally and the most powerful of the Istari, now seeks the Ring for himself. It is decided that the Ring must be destroyed: the only way to do so is to throw it into Mount Doom in Mordor, the location of Sauron's fortress, Barad-Dûr. A company of nine (to match the nine Wraiths) set out: the hobbits, Gandalf, Boromir (son of the steward of Gondor, the land bordering Mordor), Strider (whose real name is Aragorn, and who is heir to the throne of Gondor), Legolas (an elf of Mirkwood) and Gimli (a dwarf, son of one of the dwarves from The Hobbit).
They set out to climb the mountain Caradhras, but the way is difficult and they are forced to pass under the Misty Mountains through the Mines of Moria. Here Gandalf falls into an abyss during a fight with a Balrog and is given up for dead. The others escape into the woods of Lothlorien, ruled by Galadriel and Celeborn. She shows them many things and gives them gifts, which they will later rely upon (Frodo gains the light of Eärendil). She gives them boats to carry them down the great river Anduin, which runs between the lands of Gondor and Mordor.
At the Falls of Rauros they are forced to decide which path to take. Frodo realises that he must carry the Ring alone to the Cracks of Doom, but Boromir, corrupted with desire for the Ring, tries to take it from him by force. Frodo escapes and makes for Mordor, taking only Sam with him.
The Two Towers
Sorry for what he tried to do, Boromir throws his whole being into protecting the hobbits from an orc attack, but dies in the attempt. Merry and Pippin are taken alive.
The fellowship is broken; Frodo and Sam travel to Mordor, while Merry and Pippin remain in the hands of the orcs and Uruk-Hai, with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli determined to rescue them.
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli set out on foot through Rohan to rescue Merry and Pippin from the orcs. They discover the orcs have been slain by the Rohirrim (the men of Rohan) but can find no trace of the hobbits. They search Fangorn forest on the borders of Rohan where they meet an old, hooded man who they believe to be Saruman (Isengard, his fortress, is nearby). However, when he takes off his hood, it turns out to be Gandalf, returned from his battle with the Balrog as the white wizard. Gandalf tells them that Merry and Pippin are safe, and bids them to accompany him to Meduseld, home of Théoden, King of Rohan.
Merry and Pippin also find themselves in Fangorn forest after having escaped from the orcs during the fight with the Rohirrim. Here they encounter Treebeard, an Ent who looks after them. When the hobbits tell him of Saruman's treachery, Treebeard and the rest of the Ents, after a long deliberation, march on Isengard and destroy it.
Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli arrive at Meduseld, intending to persuade Théoden to send his riders into battle against Saruman. Gandalf has to free Théoden from the mind-traps of his advisor, Gríma Wormtongue, who is working for Saruman, and finally convinces him of the need to fight. Théoden gathers his troops and rides from Meduseld with his nephew Eomer as his second-in-command, leaving his niece Éowyn to guard the hall.
They head for Isengard, but are ambushed on the way and fight a great battle which they win, thanks to help sent by the Ents in the form of the trees of Fangorn. When they arrive at Isengard they find Merry and Pippin sitting among the ruins smoking pipes and eating supplies; it has been destroyed by the Ents, and Saruman is a prisoner of his own tower.
Gandalf and the company approach Orthanc, the tower in the centre of Isengard where Saruman has taken refuge. They attempt to persuade him to rejoin their side, but he refuses and Wormtongue throws the Seeing-stone at them which Pippin picks up. He then sees the Eye of Sauron and is traumatised. After telling Théoden to prepare the Riders of Rohan for war Gandalf, accompanied by Pippin, leaves for Gondor.
Frodo and Sam are edging towards Mordor. Soon after they leave the company they encounter Gollum who, drawn by his desire for the Ring, has been following them since they left the Mines of Moria. In order to stay near the Ring, and hopefully steal it back, Gollum agrees to guide them to the Black Gate (the only entrance to Mordor), but it is too heavily guarded to creep through. Gollum tells them that he knows of another, more secret entrance into Mordor and, despite misgivings from Sam, the hobbits agree to follow him.
They pass through Ithilien, once part of Gondor, and there they meet Faramir, Boromir's younger brother. Unlike his brother, Faramir does not desire the Ring, and he and his men decide to help Frodo. The hobbits are reluctant to leave him but press on, finally coming to Minas Morgul - the city of the Black Riders. They creep up a long stair to one side of the fortress, and Gollum leads them into a tunnel at the top, which, he says, will take them into Mordor.
The tunnel is black and they cannot see, but it soon becomes apparent that Gollum has abandoned them to die. Shelob, an enormous spider, guards the tunnel; Gollum's plan was to steal the Ring after she had devoured them. However, after a desperate battle, they wound Shelob in the eye and she turns and flees. Frodo, running on ahead, does not see her attacking from another tunnel, and she stings him with her venom. Sam, furious, stabs her, and drives her away. He is distraught when he believes his master is dead but he resolves to take the Ring and finish the quest - but then, overhearing the conversation of some of orcs, realises he isn't dead after all, but unconscious and taken captive. He curses himself for leaving Frodo, and despite the danger by prolonging the quest, he rushes back to try and save him.
The Return of the King
Gandalf brings Pippin to the city of Minas Tirith (the capital of Gondor) where he meets Denethor, steward of the realm, and pledges his allegiance to him. Merry, in the meantime, also pledges allegiance to Théoden. The rangers of the north ride down to meet Aragorn; where he decides to take the Path of the Dead (which only the true king can take) to call on the lost souls and intercept Black Ships heading for Gondor from the south. He is accompanied by Legolas and Gimli.
Sauron's forces descend on Minas Tirith and there is a tremendous battle in which Denethor's son Faramir is heavily injured. Denethor goes mad when he hears the news and tries to cremate Faramir and himself. Gandalf steps in and rescues Faramir, but Denethor dies.
The battle at Gondor seems to be lost, but at the last moment the Riders of Rohan arrive. They turn the tide, but Théoden dies at the hand of the chief Black Rider, who in turn is killed by Éowyn and Merry. Aragorn and his men arrive and the battle is won.
The leaders assemble and decide that, in order to keep Sauron's eye away from his own lands so that Frodo has a chance, they must mount a doomed attack on him. They ride to the Black Gate, meet Sauron's armies and engage in a hopeless battle.
Meanwhile, Sam rescues Frodo from the orcs and they cross into Mordor. Progress is slow and they are running out of food and water, with no means of finding any more. Frodo is oppressed by the weight of the Ring, and they discover that Gollum is still following them - yet against all the odds they arrive at the Cracks of Doom. But once there Frodo decides that he does not want to do what he came to do. Overcome at last by the power of the Ring, he puts it on his finger and claims it as his own. Sauron is instantly aware of him and the danger he himself is in and sends his Black Rider to capture him. Driven mad by his desire for the Ring, Gollum bites off Frodo's finger and, in his triumph, falls into the Cracks of Doom. The Ring is destroyed, and Sauron with it.
Frodo and Sam wake to find the eagles have rescued them. They are reunited with all their old companions and take part in the celebrations. Aragorn is crowned king and marries Arwen, Elrond's daughter. The hobbits return to the Shire as soon as they can, but much has changed. Saruman, ejected from Isengard, has fled there and turned it into a squalid industrial wasteland. The four hobbits quickly rouse supporters and fight a battle for the Shire which they win; Saruman is killed by Wormtongue on the steps of Bag End.
The hobbits finally go back to their uninterrupted quiet lives, where they all take positions of importance or return to jobs they love. Sam marries Rosie Cotton and they have thirteen children. Frodo, however, can never fully forget the horrors, and the pain from his old wound begin to worsen; he finally leaves the Shire on an elven ship with Bilbo, Gandalf and many of the elves.
Further Reading on h2g2
- Useful Elvish Phrases
- 'The Hobbit' by JRR Tolkien
- Tolkien's Silmarillion - An Overview
- The Lord of the Rings - the Animated Adventure
- The Major Villains of 'The Lord of the Rings'
- 'The Fellowship of The Ring' (2001) - Film Review
- 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers' (2002) - Film Review
- 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003) - Film Review
- The Nazgul
- Lord of the Rings: Downs, Barrows and Wights