“Even in ancient days [Hobbits] were, as a rule, shy of ‘the Big Folk’, as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find.”

This line is from the “Concerning Hobbits” portion of the prologue in which Tolkien gives his readers a brief account of Hobbits as a species. In the opening section, Tolkien writes that the Hobbits have become estranged from the race of Men since the events of the trilogy. He implies that this is the case because the Shire, and the Hobbit lifestyle in general, represents a goodness and purity that no longer exists in the present world. 

“Tom’s words laid bare the hearts of the trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers. It was not called the Old Forest without reason, for it was indeed ancient, a survivor of vast forgotten woods; and in it there lived yet, aging no quicker than the hills, the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords.”

In this passage, Tom Bombadil tells Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry about the inner thoughts and feelings of the trees in the Old Forest. Here, Tolkien personifies the trees and showcases their resentment toward the beings that seek to destroy forests for their own personal gain. The trees long for the distant past when nature was respected and untainted by the ungrateful beings who seek to “usurp” land that does not belong to them. Through the trees, Tolkien mourns the inevitable decline of the natural world.

“The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the master of the Dark Tower of Mordor, whose power is again stretching out over the world! We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark.”

Here, Gandalf is criticizing Pippin for jokingly referring to Frodo as the “Lord of the Ring” and says that Sauron is the only being with that title. He then goes on to explain that Sauron’s dark forces are spreading beyond Mordor and infecting Middle-earth as a whole. Thematically, this moment indicates that the world is beginning to decline at such a rapid pace that Gandalf is unsure if their efforts will be enough to save Middle-earth.

“Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back, and peace shall come again. Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever again be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime. For the Elves, I fear, it will prove at best a truce, in which they may pass unhindered and leave the Middle-earth forever.”

This line is spoken by an Elf named Haldir to the Fellowship while he leads them to Lothlórien. Here, Haldir speaks of a time long ago, one that has been lost in the present age. Haldir laments the inevitable decline of Middle-earth and claims that it is beyond hope. He does not agree with the Elves who think that Sauron can be vanquished and claims that the only thing the Elves can do is leave Middle-earth and pass on to their next life.

“Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and be forgotten.”

Galadriel delivers this line to Frodo while they discuss his quest during the Fellowship’s stay in Lothlórien. She implies that destroying the Ring will inevitably weaken the remaining magic left in Middle-earth until it fades into a distant memory or a tale in a song. As a result, the Elves have decided to leave Middle-earth and pass on into their next life so that they, too, will not fade into obscurity. Her musings contribute to the theme of the inevitability of decline because the situation, it seems, cannot be helped, even if Frodo is able to defeat Sauron.