Saturday, October 5, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: The Shadow of the Past (FOTR Ch. 2)

What always surprises me in this chapter is how much time passes between Bilbo leaving and Gandalf figuring out that the ring is, well, The Ring.  This is probably because I saw the movie before I read the book, and in the movie, there are maybe a few months between the two, or so it seems to me.  But here we learn that it's seventeen years!

Anyway, things start heating up a bit in this chapter.  Things are changing in and around The Shire, and we learn all about how the Ring was forged, something of the power it wields, and the twisty path it took from Sauron's hand to Frodo's.  We also get to hear about some other characters we'll be running into more soon, like Aragorn and Saruman and Gollum.

And we get into one of the bigger themes of the book:  pity/mercy versus punishment/justice.  Bilbo pitied Gollum and did not kill him when he had the chance, even though Gollum was planning to kill him.  Gandalf says:  "It was Pity that stayed his hand.  Pity and Mercy:  not to strike without need.  And he has been well rewarded, Frodo.  Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so.  With Pity" (p. 58).  He goes on to say, "the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many" (p. 58).  

Possible Discussion Questions:  What do you think about this theme?  Is it something you relate to, showing mercy toward someone who does not deserve it?  Can anyone deserve mercy?

We also see the beginning of another major theme here:  being chosen for something you don't believe you can live up to.  Frodo says, "I am not made for perilous quests," and I can agree with that to some extent:  he's a hobbit, used to a comfortable and quiet life in the country.  Gandalf insists, however, that "you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."  

Possible Discussion Questions:  Do you have any thoughts on that theme?  Have you ever felt like Frodo, that you can't possibly do what you must do?

Favorite Lines:

Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tops of the trees' fingers (p. 45).

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" (p. 50).

"Well, well, bless my beard!" said Gandalf (p. 62).


  1. The time jump was the biggest surprise for me as well, having also watched the movies before reading the books. However, I am glad that the movie takes place over a shorter period of time so that Frodo and the other Hobbits are younger.

    I like the mercy theme because it reflects the Bible, like a lot of themes in the Lord of the Rings. "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone" is something that I think compares well to what is said in the book.


    1. I think the Hobbits being younger in the movie does maybe make it easier to accept some things, like Pippin being so reckless and foolish sometimes. In the books, he explains that Hobbits reach adulthood at 33 and often lived to be 100, so by the age of 50, Frodo really was middle-aged, maybe like we'd consider someone who was 40. And having him be about the same age-appearance as Aragorn and Boromir in the movies might have been a bit odd. There are a lot of coming-of-age sorts of themes in the movies that wouldn't work so well for modern audiences if the Hobbits were older, I think.

      Good comparison of the mercy theme to that particular Bible passage! I hadn't thought of that, but it's a good point. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and so I'm not surprised to find Christian ideas and themes in his books, though of course he studiously avoided allegory.

      (Random aside -- did you know that it was Tolkien's friendship that was largely responsible for C.S. Lewis' conversion from atheism to Christianity? I find that so neat.)

  2. I just finished this chapter. Had also forgotten so much time passed since Bilbo's departure.

    1. It's such a minor detail that it's easy to forget. I always remember that it's longer than in the movies, bu tnot just how long.

  3. This chapter really starts showing the power of the Ring. I knew the Ring was powerful before reading this, but the story of how it came from Sauron to Gollum shows how powerful and twisted it is. I find it interesting how different my reactions to Isuldir are the various times he comes up; this time I pitied him for being betrayed by the Ring and slain.

    I love the theme of mercy myself; yes, I believe that anyone can deserve mercy in some form or fashion. (I have a fascination with why villains became evil, and if they can be redeemed.) I found Gandalf's comment that it was because Bilbo first got the Ring in mercy and not by force that he was able to let go of it to be quite an interesting insight into the workings of the Ring.

    I can see quite well why Frodo wouldn't feel at all qualified to carry the Ring; after all, when he discovers that it has been Sauron's, responsible for the fall of a great king and immensely powerful, he can't be blamed for feeling that an untested hobbit is quite unqualified to carry it. I don't know that I've been in similar positions much, but writing about this reminds me of Moses. If ever a man was reluctant to take a role he needed to, it would be him. Fortunately Frodo doesn't protest as much as he does.

    I find the discovery of Sam's eavesdropping at the end quite funny, though I was almost expecting it with the subtle emphasis on whether his shears could be heard or not earlier in the chapter. And Frodo's suggestion of turning him into a frog made me laugh.

    1. Marcy, that's such a great comparison of Frodo and Moses! It had never occurred to me, but you're right, they both do a lot of protesting of unworthiness. And they were both right, weren't they? Their tasks didn't come to them because they were worthy. They were simply appointed to do them, and so they had to.

      You're likely discovering this already as you read through these posts, but I dearly love Sam <3

    2. Actually it was a toad, not a frog. A spotted toad, to be precise.


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