On this day in 1954, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring was first published. It’s the first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it served as a bridge between the adventure story for children that was The Hobbit and the serious epic fantasy of its successors.
Fellowship is the only book in the trilogy that’s a relatively seamless narrative: it follows a quest that begins in the Shire and ends with the death of Boromir and the breakup of the titular group, with a series of comical and dark adventures in the first half of the book that routinely get excised from adaptations. And indeed,while the movie adaptation gave us LOTR’s best memes (the “One does not simply walk into Mordor” meme and the “You shall not pass!” meme among others, for anyone who hasn’t been on the internet in the last ten years), the book itself happens to contain most of the most well-known and thought-provoking quotations from the trilogy.
Here are our favorites.
“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”
— Gandalf reminds Frodo that as much as it hurts to be alive during dark, frightening and tumultuous times, it’s best to focus on the choices we do have. This one never ceases to be relevant since all time periods are at least a little bit dark and tumultuous.
“’I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.’”
— Bilbo speaks for all of us at social gatherings, thinly disguising his misanthropic tendencies in a jolly toast.
‘”Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.’”
— Another piece of wisdom from Gandalf to Frodo that’s pertinent to our discussion around the death penalty, and revenge-based foreign policy.
“’The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.’”
— Gildor to Frodo, reminding us of one of Tolkien’s primary themes, which is that big evils far away end up having effects that we feel, even tucked away at home.
“And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)–“
— J.R.R Tolkien on Tom Bombadil, the strange and powerful figure who dominates the first half of the book and never makes it in to the adaptations. Older than most of the creatures in the book and uninterested in the affairs of the ring (he can see Frodo even when he wears it), he is rare a reminder in the trilogy that not everything fits into a black and white narrative.
“‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.’”
— Merry to Frodo on friendship. The loyalty of Merry and Pippin isn’t as clear in the films as in the books, where they know exactly what Frodo is up to and refuse to let him go on his quest alone. They don’t just stumble upon him. In Tolkien’s worldview, the friendship of the Hobbits for each other is never called into question. They don’t have the same doubts they do in the film.