The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel written by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold. The title of the novel refers to the story’s main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, not only the hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise “Sam” Gamgee, Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck and Peregrin “Pippin” Took, but also the hobbits’ chief allies and travelling companions: the Men Aragorn son of Arathorn, a Ranger of the North, and Boromir, a Captain of Gondor; Gimli son of Glóin, a Dwarf warrior; Legolas Greenleaf, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard. The work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set, the other to be The Silmarillion, but this idea was dismissed by his publisher. For economic reasons The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. The three volumes were titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Structurally, the novel is divided internally into six books, two per volume, with several appendices of background material included at the end of the third volume. Some editions combine the entire work into a single volume. The Lord of the Rings has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into 38 languages. The enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to numerous references in popular culture, the founding of many societies by fans of Tolkien’s works, and the publication of many books about Tolkien and his works. The Lord of the Rings has inspired, and continues to inspire, artwork, music, films and television, video games, and subsequent literature. Award-winning adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made for radio, theatre, and film. In 2003, it was named Britain’s best-loved novel of all time in the BBC’s The Big Read.
The story begins in the Shire, where the Hobbit Frodo Baggins inherits the Ring from Bilbo Baggins, his cousin and guardian. Neither hobbit is aware of its origin and nature, but Gandalf the Grey, a wizard and old friend of Bilbo, suspects the Ring’s identity. When he becomes certain, he strongly advises Frodo to take it away from the Shire. Frodo leaves, accompanied by his gardener and friend, Samwise (“Sam”) Gamgee, and two cousins, Meriadoc (“Merry”) Brandybuck and Peregrin (“Pippin”) Took. They nearly encounter the Nazgûl while still in the Shire, but shake off pursuit by cutting through the Old Forest, where they are aided by the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, who alone is unaffected by the Ring’s corrupting influence. After leaving the forest, they stop in the town of Bree where they meet Strider, who is later revealed to be Aragorn, Isildur’s heir. He persuades them to take him on as guide and protector. They flee from Bree after narrowly escaping another assault, but the Nazgûl follow and attack them on the hill of Weathertop, wounding Frodo with a Morgul blade. Aragorn leads the hobbits toward the Elven refuge of Rivendell, while Frodo gradually succumbs to the wound. The Ringwraiths nearly overtake Frodo at the Ford of Bruinen, but flood waters summoned by Elrond, master of Rivendell, rise up and overwhelm them. Frodo recovers in Rivendell under the care of Elrond. The Council of Elrond reveals much significant history about Sauron and the Ring, as well as the news that Sauron has corrupted Gandalf’s fellow wizard, Saruman. The Council decides that the Ring must be destroyed, but that can only be done by returning it to the flames of Mount Doom in Mordor, where it was forged. Frodo volunteers to take on this daunting task, and a “Fellowship of the Ring” is formed to aid him: Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, and the Man Boromir, son of the Ruling Steward Denethor of the realm of Gondor. After a failed attempt to cross the Misty Mountains via the Redhorn Pass across the flank of Caradhras, the company are forced to try a more perilous path through the Mines of Moria, where they are attacked by the Watcher in the Water before the gate. Inside, they discover the fate of Balin and his colony of Dwarves. After repulsing an attack, they are pursued by orcs and an ancient and powerful demonic creature called a Balrog. Gandalf confronts the Balrog, but in their struggle, both fall into a deep chasm. The others escape and take refuge in the Elven forest of Lothlórien, where they are counselled by Galadriel and Celeborn. With boats and gifts from Galadriel, the company travel down the River Anduin to the hill of Amon Hen. Boromir succumbs to the lure of the Ring and attempts to take it from Frodo. Frodo escapes and determines to continue the quest alone, though Sam guesses his intent and comes along.
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Orcs sent by Saruman and Sauron kill Boromir and kidnap Merry and Pippin. After agonizing over which pair of hobbits to follow, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas pursue the orcs bearing Merry and Pippin to Saruman. In the kingdom of Rohan, the orcs are slain by a company of the Rohirrim. Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn Forest, where they are befriended by Treebeard, the oldest of the tree-like Ents. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track the hobbits to Fangorn, and encounter Gandalf, resurrected as the significantly more powerful “Gandalf the White” after his mutually fatal duel with the Balrog. Gandalf assures them that Merry and Pippin are safe. They then ride to Edoras, the capital of Rohan, where they free Théoden, King of Rohan, from the influence of Saruman’s henchman Gríma Wormtongue. Théoden musters his fighting strength and rides to the ancient fortress of Helm’s Deep, but en route Gandalf leaves to seek help from Treebeard. Frodo and Sam capture Gollum, who had been following them from Moria, and force him to guide them to Mordor. Finding Mordor’s Black Gate too well guarded to attempt, they travel instead to a secret passage Gollum knows. On the way, they fall in with Faramir, who, unlike his brother Boromir, resists the temptation to seize the Ring and instead helps Frodo on his way. Torn between his loyalty to Frodo and his desire for the Ring, Gollum eventually betrays Frodo by leading him to the great spider Shelob in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol. Frodo is felled by Shelob’s sting, but Sam fights her off. Sam takes the Ring and leaves Frodo, believing him to be dead. When orcs find Frodo, Sam overhears them say that Frodo is only unconscious, and chases after them.
Sauron unleashes a heavy assault upon Gondor. Gandalf arrives at Minas Tirith to alert Denethor of the impending attack. The city is besieged, and Denethor, deceived by Sauron, gives up hope and commits suicide, nearly taking his remaining son Faramir with him. Aragorn feels he has no choice but to take the Paths of the Dead in order to reach Gondor in time, accompanied by Legolas, Gimli and the Dúnedain Rangers from the North. During this perilous journey, Aragorn raises an undead army of oath-breakers bound by an ancient curse that denies them rest until they fulfill their vow to the king of Gondor. The ghostly army helps defeat the Corsairs of Umbar invading southern Gondor. Commandeering the ships of the Corsairs, Aragorn leads reinforcements up the Anduin to relieve the siege of Minas Tirith, and between them, the forces of Gondor and Rohan defeat Sauron’s army in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Meanwhile, Sam rescues Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol, and they set out across Mordor. In order to distract Sauron from his true danger, Aragorn leads the armies of Gondor and Rohan in a march on the Black Gate of Mordor. His vastly outnumbered troops fight desperately against Sauron’s forces. Reaching the edge of the Cracks of Doom, Frodo is unable to resist the Ring any longer and claims it for himself. But Gollum suddenly reappears. In the ensuing struggle, he seizes the Ring by biting off the finger on which Frodo wears it. Celebrating wildly, Gollum accidentally falls into the fire, taking the Ring with him; and so Frodo’s mission is completed. With the destruction of the One Ring, Sauron is permanently shorn of his power, the Nazgûl perish, and his armies are thrown into such disarray that Aragorn’s forces emerge victorious.
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With the end of the War of the Ring, Aragorn is crowned Elessar, King of Arnor and Gondor, and marries his long-time love, Arwen, daughter of Elrond. Saruman escapes from Isengard and, seeking vengeance on the hobbits, enslaves the Shire. The four hobbits, upon returning home, raise a rebellion and overthrow him. Gríma turns on Saruman and kills him in front of Frodo’s house, and is slain in turn by hobbit archers. The War of the Ring thus comes to its true end on Frodo’s very doorstep. Several years later, accompanied by Bilbo and Gandalf, he sails from the Grey Havens west over the Sea to the Undying Lands to find peace. After Rosie’s death, Sam gives his daughter the Red Book of Westmarch, containing the account of Bilbo’s adventures and the War of the Ring as witnessed by the hobbits. Sam is then said to have crossed west over the Sea himself, the last of the Ring-bearers.