A newcomer to Middle-earth quickly finds himself engulfed in a vast and sometimes confusing world with a past as lengthy and diverse as our own. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, taken by themselves, make up a minute but significant interval in the history of Tolkien's world. When Bilbo Baggins was surprised by the visit of Gandalf, Thorin, and the other dwarves, almost three ages of Middle-earth had passed.
The First Age, which is described in great detail in The Silmarillion, ended in the destruction of Morgoth, the first great Enemy. However, with the survival of his servant Sauron, the battle of good and evil continued into the Second Age, that of the glory of N?menor. Sauron managed to corrupt all but a few faithful N?menoreans, leading to King Ar-Pharazon's futile attack on Valinor. At this sacrilege, N?menor and her army were destroyed. Only Elendil the Tall and his faithful N?menoreans survived the disaster to settle in Middle-earth.
The Second Age ended in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and the defeat of Sauron. By this time the Rings of Power had been forged and distributed, and at the Siege of Barad-d?r the Great Ring was taken from Sauron by Isildur, Elendil's son. His decision not to destroy the Ring allowed Bilbo Baggins to stumble across it in the roots of the Misty Mountains almost three thousand years later.
What was Middle-earth like when the only son of Bungo and Belladonna Baggins was born? The great kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor were only shadows of their former greatness. In the north, all that remained of Arnor was wild country interspersed with quiet districts of rural dwellers, such as the hobbits of the Shire and the men and hobbits of the Breeland. Here and there, bands of elves roamed the land, awaiting their final voyage from the Grey Havens.
In Rivendell, Elrond wielded Vilya, the most powerful of the three Elven Rings, making his valley a refuge for the free peoples as the disorder of the outside world continued to grow.
The kingdom of Gondor remained the most powerful remnant of the N?menorean men, but it had been without a king for over eight hundred years. The Riders of Rohan had first given their aid to Gondor nearly four centuries earlier, yet Gondor was still hard pressed by the men of Harad and the Corsairs of Umbar. Sauron, who was rising again in his fortress of Barad-d?r, constantly stirred these forces to war. The power of Gondor was clearly on the wane, despite the pride and heritage of her people.
In the north of Eriador, the power of Galadriel (with the use of Nenya-the second of the three Elven Rings) kept L?rien free from the Enemy's attacks and help heal some of the ravages to Middle-earth, but to the Men of Rohan and Gondor, she seemed mysterious and dangerous. Moria laid empty, the wars of the dwarves and orcs at an end, temporarily at least. Still farther north, the Lakemen of Esgaroth coexisted with the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, neither daring to disturb the stronghold of the dragon, Smaug, in the Lonely Mountain.
Until one late April morning in the year 2941 of the Third Age, Bilbo Baggins had been a perfectly ordinary and quite well to do bachelor hobbit, although his mother was of the Took family, which had a reputation for producing adventurers. On this fine spring morning, the wizard Gandalf appeared on Bilbo's doorstep, bringing back the hobbit's fond memories of fireworks put on by this ancient enchanter years before. Like most hobbits, Bilbo thought of the old man as some sort of itinerant magician, never realizing his importance in the world outside the Shire. Thinking to be rid of this increasingly bothersome visitor, Bilbo invited Gandalf to tea the following week, undoubtedly hoping the wizard would be in faraway parts by that time.
But Gandalf returned, accompanied by thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, heir to Erebor, the Kingdom under the Mountain in Wilderland. As Bilbo's unexpectedly large tea party progressed, he discovered to his horror that he was being included in Thorin's quest to regain his kingdom?not to mention his treasure?from the dragon, Smaug.
The next morning, awaking to find no Gandalf and no dwarves, Bilbo was inclined to believe that Thorin and Company had left without him. However, the wizard soon appeared, bidding him to be off and directing him to hurry to the Green Dragon in Bywater. Thus Mr. Bilbo Baggins was sent off on his great adventure without so much as a pocket-handkerchief on his person.
The expedition traveled east along the Great Road, but the first event of interest didn't occur until May 30 (or Thrimidge 30, in Shire Reckoning). It was a rainy day, and the travelers were between Weathertop and the Ford of Bruinen, to the north of the road, when the dwarves risked approaching a campfire in the wild. Or rather, they sent their companion first?and Bilbo was caught picking a troll's pocket! The dwarves were soon captured too when they tried to discover what had become of their hobbit friend. Luckily Gandalf tricked the three trolls into staying outside until dawn, and, as everyone knows, trolls turn to stone by the light of day. So Bilbo and his friends were rescued from their first snare.
By early June, the company had reached Rivendell, the hidden valley of Elrond Half-elven, one of the great amongst the Eldar of Middle-earth. Here Thorin and Gandalf discovered the directions to a secret entrance into the Lonely Mountain, written in moon-letters on an old map. After about a fortnight of rest and relaxation amongst the people of Elrond, Thorin and his band departed to attempt the crossing of the great Misty Mountains.
One Monday evening, after they had left Rivendell far behind, the incident that made Bilbo's adventure truly extraordinary began to unfold. In a mountain pass, the expedition was ambushed and captured by a band of orcs, or goblins. Taken underground into the Chamber of the Great Goblin, Bilbo and the dwarves had another narrow escape. This time Gandalf rescued them amidst lightning and explosions, which killed the Great Goblin.
Pursued by furious orcs, Gandalf led the company toward an exit from beneath the mountains. But the orcs managed to overtake the fleeing dwarves and in the ensuing struggle Bilbo hit his head on a rock and rolled out of the way. There he remained for some time.
Finally, he awoke and found himself quite alone. Following a tunnel for some distance, Bilbo reached a dead end: a cold, dank, underground lake, from which there soon emerged a wiry, slimy creature with large, pale eyes. This was Gollum, who for ages had feasted on orcs and any other creatures who happened to stray near his pool. Furthermore, his natural cunning was supplemented by his ownership of a magic ring, which rendered him invisible. As luck would have it (or was it luck?), this was exactly the ring which Bilbo, seemingly by accident, had slipped into his pocket on regaining consciousness.
If Gollum had had his ring with him, he would have made short work of our hobbit friend. As it was, he had to stall for time, so he challenged Bilbo to a riddle game. If Bilbo won, Gollum agreed to show his opponent the way out of the mountain. If Gollum were the victor, he would feast on hobbit.
After several rounds, Bilbo could think of no further riddles and, in desperation, asked Gollum to guess what was in his pocket.Gollum thought this hardly fair, and returned to his island to put on his ring and finish off his prey. When he discovered that it was missing, Gollum guessed the riddle's answer too late. The ring slid onto Bilbo's finger almost voluntarily, and Gollum found no hobbit waiting for his return. Invisible, Bilbo made his way out of the mountains and astounded the dwarves by appearing again in their midst. It was now Thursday; the ambush of the orcs had occurred on Monday night.
The company was not so easily rid of the danger of these enemies. As they traveled down out of the mountains and Thursday evening fell, a party of orcs and wargs surrounded them, forcing them up into trees and setting the trees afire. This time, it was not Gandalf who engineered the escape but the Lord of the Eagles of Middle-earth, Gwaihir. Through sheer good fortune he had noticed the plight of Thorin's band as he circled far above the earth. A hater of orcs and wargs, he was quick to rescue the thirteen dwarves, wizard, and hobbit. While the eagles play more important roles later on in The Hobbit and also in The Lord of the Rings, at this point they simply set the grateful company down the next morning on a rock in the middle of the Anduin, or Great River, of Wilderland.
On Friday, Gandalf led the party to the home of Beorn, a most extraordinary man who could change his body into that of a bear. He was quite impressive even in his human form. After Gandalf, Thorin, and the others had been accepted as Beorn's guests, the wizard warned his friends not to leave the house at night, for this was the time when Beorn prowled outdoors and was capable of killing any of them easily. They followed his advice and lived to hear Beorn's warnings about the perils of Mirkwood, the vast forest they would have to cross in order to reach the Lonely Mountain. Mirkwood was full of unknown perils, as the company would soon find out.
Four days' ride from Beorn's house the company reached the entrance to the forest. There, Bilbo and the dwarves were alarmed when they discovered that Gandalf would not be accompanying them on this dangerous part of the journey. The wizard had other affairs to tend to which, as it turned out, consisted of repelling the newly rising shadow of Sauron from his stronghold in Southern Mirkwood, Dol Guldur. But the dwarves and Bilbo weren't much concerned with that; their own predicament was more than enough to think about.
Once in the forest, the travelers lost track of time. Each day seemed equally dark and gloomy, each night pitch dark and full of watching eyes. Then the first of several disasters occurred. In crossing an enchanted river, Bombur, the fattest of the dwarves, fell into the water. Under its spell, he immediately fell sound asleep, presenting a rather heavy burden for the rest of the party to carry.
In addition, the woods now rang continually with eerie laughter, and soon came the sounds of a great hunt off to the north of their path. As their food ran out, the travelers were lured off the path the one thing above all that Beorn had warned against by the sights, sounds, and smells of a great woodland feast. Yet each time the companions entered the circle of the feast, the fires were doused and the elvish people (for such they were) melted into the shadows, leading Bilbo and the dwarves further astray each time. The exhausted company would have made easy prey for the giant spiders of Mirkwood if not for some quick thinking on the part of Bilbo. Slipping on his ring, he managed to taunt the spiders into chasing his invisible voice, leading them away from the dwarves, who were drugged and hanging in a very large spider's web. Finally, with the aid of his elvish sword Sting, Bilbo managed to rescue his friends and lead them back to the remains of one of the elvish fire rings they had seen two nights before. But when they arrived, they discovered to their horror that Thorin himself was missing.
Thorin was where they all would soon be in the dungeon of the king of the Wood-elves. He had been captured before the spiders had come on the scene, and the suspicious King had been questioning him ever since. The day after the battle with the spiders, the elves caught up with the rest of the company, and easily rounded up the exhausted dwarves. Luckily, Bilbo managed to slip on his ring and escape. This time Bilbo freed his friends by packing them into empty wine barrels and floating them down the Forest River to Esgaroth, a town on the Long Lake. The date was September 22, Bilbo's fifty-first birthday.
In Esgaroth, Thorin's band was met enthusiastically by the inhabitants, who seemed to expect torrents of gold to come their way immediately. But the master of the town was more cautious and probably felt relieved when the expedition left Lake-town for the mountain in late autumn. In four days they had reached the Desolation of the Dragon and camped on the slopes of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. Yet their adventures had only begun.
In the last week of autumn, they discovered the secret door described in the moon-letters of Thror's map. This paved the way for Bilbo's part of the expedition to begin in earnest. On the same day, the hobbit (wearing his invisible ring, of course) entered the Cave of Smaug and conversed with the dragon. Unfortunately, Bilbo let the location of his secret tunnel slip, and Smaug flew out to try to catch the dwarves by surprise. The party's ponies fell victim to the fire of the dragon, but Bilbo managed to herd the dwarves into the safety of the tunnel.
The next day Bilbo returned to Smaug's lair. This time his mention of the term "Barrel-rider" infuriated Smaug, who flew off to destroy Lake-town. Though he did set the town afire, the sharp eye of Bard the Bowman spied the single weak spot in Smaug's armor. His arrow found its mark, and Smaug fell to his death in the Long Lake.
But the dwarves were not to regain their treasure so easily. The wood-elves and the Lake-men expected their share, and sent armies to back up their demands. Despite the unfavorable numbers, Thorin stubbornly refused to divide up his new wealth, and the dwarves were reinforced by their kinsmen from the Iron Hills. A major battle between the elves and men on one side and the dwarves on the other appeared imminent when Gandalf came to warn of a greater disaster at hand: an army of orcs was bearing down on them all.
This battle raged for hours, and during the fighting Bilbo tried as much as possible to stay invisible. Despite heroics on all sides, Thorin was mortally injured, and it took the intervention of the eagles and Beorn (in his bear shape) to defeat the orcs. At last, the quest was over?or so it seemed. Thorin was buried under the mountain, and his kinsman Dain rebuilt the kingdom of Erebor. Bard became king of Dale, and Bilbo slowly made his way back to Hobbiton. He spent the yuletide with Beorn, arrived at Rivendell once again on May 1, and finally trudged up the path to Bag End on June 22, 2942, only to find his possessions about to be put up for auction by his greedy relatives, the Sackville-Bagginses. After all this was straightened out and he was finally settled in, Bilbo developed a reputation as one of the Shire's most wealthy and eccentric citizens.
Yet the greatest treasure Bilbo brought home with him was kept secret. Later he would realize the ring's importance, but for the moment, it appeared that hobbit adventures were over.
The years between Bilbo's return from Erebor and the events described in The Lord of the Rings were years of cautious but open expansion by Sauron and slow but continual decay on the part of his opponents. Just ten years after Thorin's quest, the Black Lord declared himself openly and set out to rebuild his great fortress of Barad-d?r. He also sent his agents, the Nazg?l, to reoccupy his former stronghold, Dol Guldur in Mirkwood, from which he had been driven the year of Bilbo's adventures.
At the same time, cracks were beginning to show in the ranks of Sauron's foes. The White Council, an organization of the Eldar (elven lords) and the Istari (wizards), had been watching for the reappearance of the Great Enemy for years. The Council included both Gandalf and Elrond, but its leader was the most powerful of the wizards, Saruman the White. Saruman had made the study of the Rings of Power his specialty, and after many years he came to desire possession of the One Ring himself. He made no sign of this to his fellow council members, but quietly watched for the discovery of the lost Ring. In 2953, the White Council met for the last time. Here Saruman reported that the Ring had been washed to sea, lost forever. Meanwhile he fortified his dwelling place at Isengard and accelerated his own search for the Ring.
Gandalf was next in power to Saruman, so he attracted the traitor's jealousy and fear. All his movements were watched by Saruman's spies. In the years that followed, Gandalf kept a lively interest in hobbits in general and Bilbo in particular, for he had always doubted Bilbo's tale of winning his ring as a prize. Thus Saruman's attention was also attracted to the Shire.
By now Saruman had been overcome by his own lust for the Ring. Daring to look into one of the Seeing Stones of Gondor (the palant?ri ), he was ensnared by the more powerful will of Sauron, who also possessed one of the stones. It was in this way that the Dark Lord probably first heard of the Shire. Gandalf, in turn, began to fear for the safety of the Shire, and so he persuaded the Rangers of Arnor, descendants of the kings, to keep watch over the borders. The chief of these Rangers, Aragorn, was the heir to the thrones of both Gondor and Arnor, and had become a close friend of Gandalf.
This then was where events stood in 3001, at the opening of The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo was nearing his eleventy-first birthday, and his nephew Frodo would be thirty-three (his coming of age) on the same day. To celebrate this momentous occasion, the old hobbit planned the greatest party the Shire had ever seen. After his return from the wild, his neighbors had always considered Bilbo somewhat eccentric, but this time he outdid himself. He called on many helpers?including the dwarves and Gandalf?to plan a party that featured fireworks and food the likes of which had never been imagined before in Hobbiton. And at the close of the required thank-you speech, Bilbo simply disappeared, slipping on his ring in a "blinding flash of light" provided by Gandalf.
Aside from astounding his many guests, Bilbo seriously worried the wizard, who had long suspected that the hobbit's ring was in fact the One Ring. He persuaded Bilbo to leave the ring with Frodo when he departed for "retirement" in Rivendell, and Bilbo agreed very reluctantly. The ring had become an enormous burden on Bilbo's mind, and now this burden was passing to Frodo.
For some time, all seemed well. Gandalf visited the Shire at various times, and there seemed no cause for alarm. But after 3008, Gandalf's visits ceased for over nine years. When he returned, on the twelfth of April, 3018, he was ready to divulge to Frodo the truth he had learned: Frodo's ring and the One Ring sought for so many years by Sauron were one and the same. The Ring had to be destroyed if Sauron were to be utterly defeated, yet that meant a dangerous journey to the heart of Mordor to hurl the Ring into the Cracks of Doom. As if this wasn't difficult enough, Gandalf warned Frodo that the Ring also acquired power over its possessor. Even if he managed to reach Mount Doom, the Ring-bearer would face a great internal struggle when the time came to toss the Ring away.
From this point forward, the pace of events quickened considerably. Gandalf left, advising Frodo to depart for Rivendell no later than his birthday, with his friend Sam Gamgee accompanying him.
In June Sauron launched an attack on Osgiliath, the former capital of Gondor. Sauron was planning a much mightier offensive, but even this first foray made obvious the overwhelming odds against Gondor. In July, Boromir, the son of the Steward of Gondor, departed his own land to seek the semi-legendary Imladris (Rivendell) to seek the advice of Elrond. Meanwhile the creature Gollum had escaped captivity in the Forest of Mirkwood, setting off in search of Baggins, the "thief" who had stolen his ring.
Also in July, Gandalf fell into the hands of Saruman, who tried at first to convince his colleague to join in his treachery, and then imprisoned him on the pinnacle of his tower, Orthanc. It wasn't until mid-September that Gandalf escaped, carried from the tower by the Lord of the Eagles. The wizard then spent several days taming a horse he had gotten from the Riders of Rohan. By the time the fleet Shadowfax obeyed Gandalf's command, September 22, the day he was to have met Frodo, had passed. On September 23 Frodo finally left Bag End for Crickhollow in Buckland. By this time, though, the Black Riders of Sauron, wraiths under the power of the Black Lord, had entered the Shire. Any further delay on Frodo's part would have meant the end of the journey before its beginning. As it was, Frodo and his companions had several near brushes with a Rider before arriving in Buckland.
Gandalf was hurrying to the Shire, but by September 26 Frodo, accompanied by Sam Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck, and Pippin Took, had plunged into the Old Forest, eluding the Black Riders but also becoming hopelessly lost themselves. Luckily they were rescued by an ancient manlike creature of the forest, Tom Bombadil, with whom they spent two nights. After being captured by a Barrow-Wight, and being rescued once again by Bombadil, the hobbits arrived at the village of Bree on September 29, even as Gandalf arrived in Hobbiton.
The night at Bree brought both good and bad fortune to the company. They reluctantly took up with a Ranger called Strider, who proved to be Gandalf's friend Aragorn, their guide to Rivendell. However, in a drunken singing bout, Frodo committed the gaffe of using the Ring and disappearing before a tavern full of people?just after Pippin had described Bilbo's farewell feast! With spies abroad, it was not surprising that the inn at Bree was raided by Black Riders that same night, as was the house in Buckland. With Strider's help, the hobbits avoided meeting the Black Riders once again, and they left Bree with their guide early the next day. By nightfall Gandalf had reached Bree. The next morning, October 1, he galloped off along the Great East Road, actually overtaking the hobbits, who were struggling through marshes and rough country to the north of the Road. When the company reached the strategic hill of Weathertop (October 6), they found evidence of a great fire. This had, in fact, been caused by a clash between Gandalf and the Black Riders three nights earlier. At Weathertop, Frodo was gravely wounded in an attack by the Riders.
Strider continued to lead the company through the rough terrain, aiming for the Bridge of Mitheithel. When they crossed it, on October 13, they found a token left by the great elven lord Glorfindel, sent by Elrond to find the Ring-bearer. But it was not until five days later that they met?the same day on which Gandalf reached Rivendell. Two days later, the company met the Black Riders at the Ford of Bruinen, but the wraiths were swept away in a flood contrived by Elrond and Gandalf. Thus Frodo reached Rivendell safely and began his recovery. By October 24, the date of Boromir's arrival at Rivendell, Frodo had regained consciousness.
The next day, Elrond opened a great council of the free peoples, called to discuss their predicament. During this meeting, Frodo agreed to seek the destruction of the Ring and was given several companions to aid him in this quest: Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Strider (Aragorn), Boromir, the Wood-elf Legolas, and the dwarf Gimli (the son of Gloin, who had been one of Bilbo's companions on his earlier journey). Two months of relative peace in Rivendell followed before the Fellowship of the Ring departed on December.
A scant three weeks later, Frodo and his companions had already begun to run into trouble. In the desolate land of Eregion they were spied upon by evil-looking birds (crebain- crows from Fangorn and Dunland), and as they attempted to cross the Misty Mountains through the Redhorn Pass, they were buffeted by extraordinary blizzards and forced to turn back. It was clear that someone did not want the group to traverse the mountains by that path. The only alternative was the treacherous journey through the Mines of Moria, formerly the greatest of the dwarves? strongholds, but now deserted and eerie after the wars of the orcs and dwarves.
Withstanding an attack by wolves, Gandalf led the company into the mines on January 13. Although they emerged on the eastern side only two days later, their time within the mountains had seemed like an eternity. First of all, Frodo sensed that someone had picked up their trail and was following them?Gollum had been in the mines and naturally was attracted to the Ring-bearer. Second, the travelers discovered that a dwarf colony founded only five years earlier by Balin had been destroyed, not only by orcs but also by some nameless terror. Finally, on January 15, the company found themselves in the same position: trapped by orcs, they had to fight their way to the east entrance of the mines. There they discovered what had terrorized Balin's colony: a balrog, a creature of the Elder Days possessing great power of both shadow and fire. It took all of Gandalf's powers to hold off the monster while his friends escaped over the bridge to relative safety. Then Gandalf broke the bridge, sending both him and the balrog tumbling into the abyss. The fellowship was safe, but it had lost its most powerful member. As Aragorn led the remaining companions out of Moria, all hearts were downcast.
While the fellowship reached the forest of L?rien, home of the great elven queen Galadriel on January 17, Gandalf's ordeal continued. He battled the balrog as they fell, and then pursued him to the peak of Zirak-zigil, from which he cast the balrog down on January 25. Gandalf the Grey passed away at this time, but the wizard's story had not truly ended. By the time the fellowship left L?rien on February 16, Gandalf the White had returned to life. Once again, Gwaihir the eagle bore Gandalf to safety, this time to Galadriel's realm.
But Frodo, Aragorn, and their company knew nothing of this turn of events as they continued by boat down the Anduin River. By this time, it was certain that Gollum was still following, floating along by log. It was also apparent that the company had to choose its path: toward Mordor to destroy the Ring, or toward Minas Tirith, first city of Gondor. There the Ring would be kept unused as long as the gates could withstand the Enemy's onslaught, or it could be used against Sauron. On February 25, the company camped at Parth Galen, just above Rauros Falls. A decision had to be made.
The choice would be Frodo's, but Boromir was so anxious that the Ring should go to his own city that he disturbed the hobbit's meditation. Indeed, he so frightened Frodo that Ring-bearer chose to use his Ring and disappear. As the fellowship searched for Frodo, they made easy targets for an orc raid, and Boromir was killed defending Merry and Pippin, who were taken alive for questioning by Saruman. Frodo, now convinced that he must dispose of the Ring on himself, tried to slip away to the east side of the river without attracting any attention, but the faithful Sam noticed in time. So, as Frodo set out on the last leg of his quest, he was not alone.
But the fellowship was splintered beyond repair. Gandalf had fallen, Boromir was dead, Frodo and Sam had set out for the heart of Mordor. Meanwhile Merry and Pippin were captives of the orc band and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were striving to remain on the trail of the two young hobbits. This was February 26. The action recorded in the second book of the trilogy, The Two Towers, took place in under a month, as the tales of the scattered members of the fellowship were recorded.
Though subjected to the harsh treatment to be expected from orcs. Merry and Pippin were too valuable to be seriously damaged.Thus they managed to survive until an opportunity for escape presented itself in Fangorn Forest on February 29. The orcs had been overtaken by the cavalry of ?omer, a lord of Rohan. In the ensuing battle, the orcs were routed, and the hobbits slipped into the forest. There they met a very unusual friend, Treebeard the ent, one of that race of tree-herds. Ents are patient and thoughtful in the extreme, but the appearance of Merry and Pippin seemed to rouse Treebeard and his people from mere brooding over the behavior of Saruman's orcs to action against the wizard. After a three-day entmoot, Treebeard led a march against Isengard on March 2. With their tremendous treelike strength, the Ents had largely destroyed Saruman's compound by the next day.
While all this was happening, Aragorn and his companions had continued their search. Meeting ?omer, they heard of the destruction of the orcs, but naturally learned nothing of the hobbits since they had slipped off unnoticed. Scouring the caves of Fangorn Forest, the three searchers met a mysterious old man dressed in white. They were sure he was up to no good?and suspected he might even be Saruman himself. But on a second meeting, Aragorn recognized Gandalf, and the old friends were reunited. Thus on the same day that the ents attacked Isengard, Gandalf and Aragorn, along with Gimli and Legolas, arrived at Edoras, the royal seat of Rohan. Here Gandalf rescued King Th?oden from the evil counsels of Grima Wormtongue, who had been the king's most trusted advisor, as well as an agent of Saruman.
The following day, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli lent their strength to the host of Rohan in a great battle with Saruman's forces in the stronghold of Helm's Deep. Although the fighting was fierce, the Rohirrim prevailed, and the surviving orcs were destroyed by the ents. Th?oden and Gandalf led a parley with Saruman, whose vocal powers were still considerable. But Gandalf the White was now the greater of the two; he broke Saruman's staff and cast him out of the order of wizards. Saruman was left amid the ruins of Isengard, watched by Treebeard and the ents, while the Rohirrim began their plans to aid Gondor.
First, however, Wormtongue hurled Saruman's palant?r out a window, missing his master but answering many of Gandalf's questions. The communication between Isengard and Mordor was revealed, and the peril of the West made more clear. By night Pippin Took dared to gaze into the Seeing-stone. Perceived by Sauron, his mind was probed by the Dark Lord, but luckily he survived unharmed. Gandalf now decided to ride ahead to Gondor, with Pippin, first delivering the palant?r to Aragorn, its rightful owner. So as Gandalf and Pippin galloped south on March 5, the scene shifted to Frodo's journey.
Although Frodo had managed to give his companions the slip, within a few days he and Sam discovered that Gollum had remained on their trail. In shadowing the Ring-bearer, the creature showed the cunning he had acquired in his youth along the Anduin River and in the roots of the Misty Mountains. But as Frodo and his pursuer descended from the rough country of the Emyn Muil, (the same day that Merry and Pippin met Treebeard in Fangorn), Gollum misstepped and was captured by the hobbits. Sam, ever practical, was in favor of killing Gollum then and there, but Frodo was moved to pity the wretched creature. After all, the Ring was having its effect on Frodo, as it had on Bilbo. Gollum (or Sm?agol, as he had originally been named) had held the Ring for a much longer time and he had very nearly been consumed by its power.
Besides, Gollum had already been to Mordor and could prove an indispensable guide, if carefully guarded. So on the first day of March, Sm?agol/Gollum began to pick a path across the Dead Marshes, where images of long-dead warriors terrified the travelers. By the time Gandalf and King Th?oden had parleyed with Saruman, Frodo had reached the northern gate to Mordor. Finding this entrance impassable, Frodo was forced to trust Sm?agol, who promised to guide them to a hidden pathway into Sauron's land. So at dusk on March 5, Frodo turned south, toward the empty land of Ithilien. Gandalf was even then hurrying toward the desperate city of Minas Tirith.
The following day, Aragorn was joined by his kinsmen, the Rangers of Arnor. Having revealed himself through the palant?r to Sauron, and having wrestled in thought with the Dark Lord, Aragorn was urged by the sons of Elrond to use the Paths of the Dead to reach Gondor quickly. This was a grim mountain path from Dunharrow (where Th?oden prepared for his march to Minas Tirith) to the Stone of Erech. To the distress of all the Rohirrim, and especially ?owyn, the king's niece, Aragorn chose this path from which none had returned.
Meanwhile Frodo had fallen in with a company of soldiers of Gondor who were patrolling the borders of Mordor. Their leader was Faramir, brother of Boromir. Being reasonably learned in lore and a friend of Gandalf's. he easily guessed Frodo's mission Faramir resisted the temptation to take the Ring and use it to defend his city. Instead, he sent the hobbits on their way after warning them not to trust Gollum's secret path.
The next day, March 9, was an eventful one for all the scattered companions. Gandalf and Pippin succeeded in reaching Minas Tirith before the city was besieged by the armies of Mordor. Here Pippin became a knight of Gondor under the Steward Denethor, a ruler embittered at the loss of one son (Boromir) and the supposed unfaithfulness of another (Faramir).
Aragorn and the Rangers, along with Legolas and Gimli survived the passage to Erech, where Aragorn summoned an enormous host of the dead to follow him. These shades had broken their oaths to Isildur centuries earlier and had been condemned to unrest until the heir of Elendil called on them. The ghostly army scattered most of the terrified folk of Gondor before them, but some hardy men joined Aragorn's host.
As Frodo reached the road to the corrupt city of Minas Morgul a great darkness issued forth from Mordor, a darkness which would cover all the lands east of the Misty Mountains. The next day, Frodo and Sam witnessed the marching of a great Morgul host toward Gondor. The war had finally begun in earnest.
On March 10, the army of Rohan also set forth toward Gondor. By now one army already stood in their path to Minas Tirith. Aragorn was marching north with the dead, but the siege of the city was already being prepared.
Meanwhile, Frodo was rejoined by Gollum, who was ready to lead the hobbits along the secret way?straight to the lair of a monstrous spider, Shelob. Once in the trap, Frodo was poisoned bythe spider. Thinking that his master was dead, a distraught Sam took the Ring, the blade Sting as well the phial of Galadriel and prepared to continue the journey alone. But just as he was about to leave the motionless body of his master, a party of orcs appeared. Discovering that Frodo had merely been drugged by the spider (who had in turn been grievously wounded by the enraged Sam), the orcs dragged the body off to their guard tower. Sam followed close behind.
By this time Aragorn had routed the Black Lord's fleet through the terror of the Dead, and sailed up the Anduin toward the city. But in the meantime the Pelennor Fields outside the walls had been overrun, and Faramir had been grievously wounded by a Nazg?l. Th?oden and his forces were in Druadan Forest planning a maneuver that would get them past the first ore army without having to face a full battle.
The following day, Sam found Frodo in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. He also discovered that two opposing ore factions in the tower's guard had conveniently killed each other off. This helped the pair to return to their quest by the next day, although Frodo had lost his elven cloak and dwarvish mail shirt during his captivity.
Minas Tirith was by now under full siege. Th?oden, with the aid of the Wild Men of Druadan, had avoided battle with the army arrayed to stop him. But early on March 15, the Chief of the Nazg?l, the Witch King, managed to break the gates of the city. Denethor, despairing at this turn of events and crazed from gazing into his palant?r, burned himself on a pyre. Only the disobedience of the guard Beregond saved an unconscious Faramir from the same fate.
As the cock crowed, Th?oden led the Rohirrim into battle with the besiegers and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields began. The tide turned first to one side, then the other. The arrival of Aragorn helped defeat the forces of Sauron, but the victory of Gondor was only sealed when the Witch King was killed. Having just slain Th?oden, the Nazg?l was stabbed by Merry Brandybuck and ?owyn, who had been disguised as a warrior. The Witch king, it had been told, would not perish by the hand of man, and so it was that he fell to the swords of a hobbit and a woman.
Though Minas Tirith was saved, the plight of Gondor remained desperate, for Sauron still had vast armies of Easterlings and Southrons, as well as orcs, at his disposal. And the armies of Gondor and her allies had suffered great losses.
But the king had returned to Gondor. Aragorn had raised the standard of Elendil and his healing touch had been witnessed on the wounded. And although he would not yet take up his throne, nonetheless the rumor of the king's return was a fresh hope to the citizens. So on March 18, the Host of the West, led by Aragorn and Gandalf the White, marched forth to give battle to Sauron one last, decisive time.
In the far north of Eriador, the wood-elves of Mirkwood had repelled an attack from Dol Guldur on the same day that the siege of Minas Tirith was lifted. Two days later, Sauron's northern army attacked Dale, and both men and dwarves were forced to take refuge in Erebor, which was well suited to withstand a siege. Both King Brand of Dale and King Dain of the Mountain fell in battle in Dale.In L?rien, the elves withstood three assaults of the enemy, so far was Sauron's power extended in those days.
Inside Mordor, Frodo and Sam continued their difficult journey. On March 18, the hobbits fell in with a band of orcs marching north toward the great gate of Sauron's land. Only the orc-garb they wore kept them from capture, and they managed to escape the following day. Next they turned along the road to Sauron's citadel of Barad-d?r, just as the Host of the West reached the Vale of Minas Morgul.
As Aragorn marched through Ithilien toward Cirith Gorgor, the gate of Mordor, Frodo and Sam left the road to trudge across the rough country to Mount Doom. The following day, March 23, the hobbits discarded their gear in the arid waste of Mordor, even as Aragorn was dismissing the faint-hearted among his followers.
The army halted, at last, one day later, before the great Towers of the Teeth, which guarded the entrance to Sauron's land. Here they parleyed with a grim messenger known as the Mouth of Sauron, who demanded the surrender of the captains and displayed Frodo's captured armor. This stole all hope from Sauron's opponents, leaving only a grim determination to fight to the death. So the battle began, as hordes of orcs, trolls, and men of the East and the South set upon the surrounded army of Gondor.
But of course Frodo had not been captured. He had indeed made his way to the Sammath Naur, the Chambers of Fire that held the Cracks of Doom. But now he felt the power of the Ring at its greatest. He could not throw it into the fire. Instead, he raised it on his finger, claiming it as his own. At this moment, Sauron perceived him and hurriedly called the Nazg?l to Mount Doom. Even this close to utter defeat, the Dark Lord could have retaken his Ring and had the victory, but for the unquenchable thirst of Gollum for his lost possession. Having followed Frodo to the mountain, the creature leapt at the invisible but weakened hobbit, finally taking both the Ring and the finger from his hand. Gloating insanely over his prize, Gollum stepped too far, falling into the abyss and saving the quest that had been so near to ruin.
The destruction of the Ring shook the mountain with great tremors; the volcano erupted in flame, and lava poured down its sides. Before Cirith Gorgor, the servants of Sauron fled, their driving force gone. But the Host of the West felt a new hope surge in their hearts. For even as the eagles of the North joined the fray, the Nazg?l turned and fled at their master's last desperate call. The Black Gate crumbled before them, as did the Tower of Barad-d?r many leagues away.
At this, Gandalf went with Gwaihir the Windlord and his kinsfolk and plucked Frodo and Sam from the ruin of Mount Doom. So the quest had succeeded and the realm of Sauron ended, on March 25, just over six months after Frodo's hasty departure from the Shire.
The months that followed were filled with both celebration and mourning. Rohan and Gondor had lost their rulers and many brave folk, but the shadow of Mordor was gone and the king had returned at last. Aragorn was crowned Elessar Telcontar, King of Gondor and Arnor on May 1. On Mid-year's Day, he took Arwen Evenstar, the daughter of Elrond, as his queen. Their rule was to be long and peaceful.
With the passing of the One Ring, the Third Age drew to a close. In the Shire, Sam supervised the restoration of the land to its former state, even adding to the beauty of the countryside with elvish gifts. But the days of the Eldar themselves in Middle-earth were growing few. After going on for many centuries, their return to Valinor was coming to its end. The mission of the wizards, to guard the free peoples against Sauron's domination, was completed. Therefore, Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf (who now wore Narya openly - the third of the Elven rings for strengthening the heart), and a great host of elves rode west to the Grey Havens in September of T.A. 3021. In the woods of the Shire, Frodo joined them; Bilbo was already in their number. The Ring-bearers were to pass across the sea to Valinor as a reward for their deeds in Middle-earth. It was said that many years later, Sam Gamgee was also allowed this privilege, for he had been a Ring-bearer too, if only for a short time.
With the departure of this company for the Utmost West, a new age was reckoned to have begun in Middle-earth. It would be an age dominated by men. For many years the dwarves, the hobbits, and the few remaining elves maintained contact with their neighbors, but gradually they faded into legends and bedtime stories of mankind.