The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of three volumes in The Lord of the Rings, an epic set in the fictional world of Middle-earth. The Lord of the Rings is an entity named Sauron, the Dark Lord, who long ago lost the One Ring that contains much of his power. His overriding desire is to reclaim the Ring and use it to enslave all of Middle-earth.
The story of The Lord of the Rings begins with several events that take place in The Hobbit. While wandering lost in a deep cave, Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit—one of a small, kindly race about half the size of Men—stumbles upon a ring and takes it back with him to the Shire, the part of Middle-earth that is the Hobbits’ home. All Bilbo knows of his ring is that wearing it causes him to become invisible. He is unaware that it is the One Ring, and is therefore oblivious to its significance and to the fact that Sauron has been searching for it.
The Fellowship of the Ring opens with a party for Bilbo’s 111th birthday. Bilbo gives his ring to his heir, his cousin Frodo Baggins. When the time comes to part with the ring, however, Bilbo becomes strangely reluctant to do so. He gives up the ring only at the determined urging of his friend, Gandalf the Grey, a great Wizard. Gandalf suspects that the ring is indeed the One Ring of legend. After confirming his suspicions, he tells Frodo that the Ring must be taken away from the Shire, as Sauron’s power is growing once again.
Frodo sets out from the Shire with three of his Hobbit friends—Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Along the way, they are pursued by the nine Ringwraiths, servants of Sauron who take the form of terrifying Black Riders. The hobbits spend a night in the company of wandering Elves, who promise to send word ahead to friends who will protect the hobbits. Barely out of the Shire, the hobbits get lost in the Old Forest, where they have to be rescued from a malevolent willow tree, which swallows up Merry and Pippin, and then from an evil tomb ghost. The hobbits’ rescuer is Tom Bombadil, a strange, jovial entity with great powers who is the oldest creature in Middle-earth.
The hobbits make it to the town of Bree, where they meet Aragorn, a Ranger who roams the wilderness and who is the heir of the Kings of the ancient Men of Westernesse. Those who do not know Aragorn’s true name call him Strider. Frodo tries to keep a low profile at the inn in Bree, but he ends up causing a scene when while taking part in a rollicking rendition of a song he falls, accidentally slips the Ring onto his finger, and vanishes.
That night, Aragorn advises the hobbits not to sleep in their rooms at the inn. In doing so, he saves their lives—for the first of many times. A letter Gandalf left at the inn months before advises the group to head for Rivendell, a realm of the Elves. Aragorn sets out with the hobbits the next day, and with his help they avoid the Black Riders for some time. However, at the top of the hill Weathertop, the Company is forced to defend itself against the attacking Riders. Frodo is wounded during the skirmish.
Frodo’s wound, made by a weapon of a servant of Sauron, plagues the hobbit as the Company makes its way eastward. Aragorn is greatly concerned about the power the wound might exert over Frodo. Near Rivendell they meet the Elf-lord Glorfindel, who has been out looking for them. At the last ford before Rivendell, Frodo, riding Glorfindel’s horse, outruns the ambushing Black Riders, who are swept away in a flood created by Elrond, the master of Rivendell.
Elrond heals Frodo and then holds a meeting to discuss what to do about the Ring. During this Council, Frodo learns the full history of the Ring. Frodo accepts the burden of taking the Ring to the only place it can be destroyed—the place where it was forged. It promises to be a long, nearly impossible journey, as the Ring was forged in the Cracks of Doom, part of the fiery mountain Orodruin in the very heart of Sauron’s realm of Mordor.
At the end of the meeting, the Council creates a group to help Frodo in his quest. In addition to Frodo, the Fellowship of the Ring includes Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, an Elf named Legolas, a Dwarf named Gimli, and a Man from the south named Boromir.
The Fellowship heads south and attempts to pass over the Misty Mountains via the pass of Caradhras. Their way is blocked by snow and rock slides, and they are forced to divert their path through the Mines of Moria—the ancient, underground realm of the Dwarves. During the journey through Moria, Gandalf falls into the chasm of Khazad-dûm while protecting the Company from a Balrog, a terrible demon.
The rest of the party continues on to Lórien, the forest of the Galadrim Elves, where the Lady Galadriel tests their hearts and gives them gifts to help them on the quest. Frodo, spellbound by Galadriel’s power and wisdom, offers her the Ring. She refuses, however, saying that, despite her intentions, the Ring would corrupt her; ultimately, she would only replace Sauron.
Leaving Lórien, the Fellowship travels by boat down the Great River, Anduin. At night, they spot Gollum—a deformed creature that had once owned the Ring but then lost it to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit—following them. When they reach the Falls of Rauros, the Fellowship must decide whether to head toward Mordor on the east or toward the safety of the city of Minas Tirith to the west.
Boromir, overcome by the Ring’s power and desiring the Ring for himself, confronts Frodo. Frodo fends off Boromir and decides that he must go on to Mordor rather than to the safety of Minas Tirith. However, Frodo cannot bear the thought of imperiling his friends on the dangerous journey or allowing the Ring to corrupt them, so he attempts to leave secretly and continue the quest alone. Frodo does not, however, manage to elude Sam, so the two of them set out together for Mordor.