He Has "Tolken" the Backroads

David Washington '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is hailed around the world for its profound creativity and story. J.R.R. Tolkien masterfully crafts a wondrous world that bears a striking believability with a subject that is nothing less than fantastic. Early in the novel, Tolkien create a suspenseful image that moves the reader into Middle Earth. Moreover, Tolkien chooses to reveal the lore and power of the ring very gradually. Although he could very well just tell the reader all the aspects of the ring's nature and power, Tolkien chooses to demonstrate them by showing its effects on his heroes. The following passage shows this this technique:

"Well, if you want my ring yourself, say so!" cried Bilbo. "But you won't get it. I won't give my precious away, I tell you." His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword.

Gandalf's eyes flashed. "It will be mine turn to get angry soon," he said. "If you say that again, I shall. Then you will say Gandalf the Grey uncloaked." He took a step towards the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room.

Bilbo backed away to the wall, breathing hard, his hand clutching at his pocket. They stood for a while facing one another, and the air of the room tingled. Gandalf's eyes remained bent on the hobbit. Slowly his hands relaxed, and he began to tremble.

"I don't know what has come over you, Gandalf," he said. "You have never been like this before. What is it all about? It is mine isn't it? I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn't kept it. I'm not a thief, whatever he said." [33]


1. How effective is Tolkien's introduction to the power of the ring by Bilbo's example and why?

Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.

A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring. He hardly dared to breathe, and yet the desire to get it out of his pocket became so strong that he began slowly to move his hand. He felt that he had only to slip it on, and then he would be safe. The advice of Gandalf seemed absurd. Bilbo had used the Ring. "And I am still in the Shire," he thought, as his hand touched the chain on which it hung. At that moment the rider sat up, and shook the reins. The horse stepped forward, walking slowly at first, and then breaking into a quick trot. [74]

Discussion Questions

1. In his description of the rider, what devices does Tolkien utilize to effect the the omninous nature of the being?

2. Tolkien seems very adept at slipping subtle clues into his work. How does he implicate the nature of Frodo's cargo to the reader, looking at context clues and diction?

3. Notice that the ring in the passage involving Bilbo and Gandalf is not capitalized. Later on, the ring is always seen as capitalized. What is the significance in this change?


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

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Last modified 25 February 2004