The Fellowship of the Ring

J. R. R. Tolkien
Summary

Book II, Chapter 2

Summary Book II, Chapter 2

Glóin suggests that the Elves use the Three Rings of the Elves to fight Sauron, but Elrond silences this idea. Glóin asks what would happen if the Ruling Ring were destroyed. Elrond sadly replies that he thinks the Three Elven Rings would fail; their power and all that they have created would fade. However, the Elves are willing to endure that possibility in order to destroy Sauron.

Erestor suggests that it is despair and folly to go into Mordor to look for the fire that forged the Ring. However, Gandalf responds that despair is only for those who have no hope; as for folly, that may be their only chance. Sauron is wise, but he only thinks in terms of desire for power. That someone would pass up power by trying to destroy the Ring would never occur to him. Elrond agrees, adding that the road will be so hard that neither strength nor wisdom will be of much help; the weak are as likely to succeed as the strong. It is often true that the weak make all the difference in the world “while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

At this, Bilbo pipes up, declaring that it is obvious that Elrond is saying that old Bilbo himself should take the Ring to Mordor. Gandalf disagrees. After a heavy silence, Frodo feels strangely compelled to speak up. He says he will take the Ring himself, “though I do not know the way.” Elrond agrees, saying that it is a heavy burden, but it seems that Frodo is meant for it. Sam, who has been hiding in a corner, jumps up and demands to go along. Elrond smilingly assents.

Analysis

Like the second chapter of Book I, the second chapter of Book II offers a lengthy historical context for the events to follow. Indeed, there is much overlap between the story Gandalf tells to Frodo in Bag End and the history described at the Council of Elrond; the only difference is that more has been learned over the course of Book I. Indeed, at the Council, much of the history that has only been hinted at or sketchily described earlier is laid out in full, and many of the pieces are fit together. As Tolkien’s narrator likes to remind us, the story he tells is merely one episode in a long saga. However, the narrator does not explain all, but continues to hint at stories and myths that remain unexplained—Gandalf and the Necromancer, the story of Arwen’s mother, and so on. To fully explain would provide a sense of closure, finality, or complete knowledge, which is apparently not Tolkien’s intention. By leaving so many myths, stories, and characters only partly explained, or not explained at all, Tolkien gives Middle-earth an aura of mystery and vastness, leaving us with the sense that The Lord of the Rings is merely a small glimpse of the realm’s history, geography, and inhabitants.

Elrond and Gandalf, however, are determined that the story of the Ring end with them. They reject any potential solutions that would simply pass the Ring along to others, whether Tom Bombadil, those who live across the sea in the Downs, or future generations. Gandalf and Elrond assert that the responsibility to deal with the Ring is theirs and theirs alone. As Gandalf says to Frodo earlier in the novel, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” History assigns tasks, and Tolkien’s heroes must rise to meet them.

Such a conception of heroism sets up one of the central oppositions of The Lord of the Rings: the conflict between selflessness and selfishness. Heroism demands selflessness, a willingness to give oneself to a larger cause. For the Elves, the sacrifice required is especially acute, since, in fighting for the Ring’s destruction, they may bring about the end of their own power and all that they have built with it. Sauron, by contrast, as Gandalf explains, understands only the desire for power. This characteristic is the weakness that those who fight Sauron might exploit in order to defeat him. Anyone who dares to try to destroy the Ring, thereby denying himself its power, would be acting in a way that Sauron would neither understand nor expect. Of course, to destroy the Ring, or even merely to resist its powerful appeal, is easier said than done, as Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, and now Frodo have discovered.