Fellowship of the Ring: The Shadow of the Past | Book Club Musings

Every Monday, our Facebook group has been discussing one or two chapters from the Lord of the Rings, and so I'm happy to be sharing a little bit of our conversation and reflections as we go! If you'd like to read along with us, join our Facebook group! Otherwise, leave your comments below and we can continue the discussion!

The Shadow of the Past

Chapter II, The Shadow of the Past, begins with Hobbiton reeling over the mysterious disappearance of Bilbo, or as they begin to call him, "Mad Baggins". His story becomes a sort of legend, and there is much gossip about Frodo throughout the area. Gandalf suddenly reappears in the Shire for the first time in over nine years and begins to share with Frodo what he’s learned about the Ring.

In this chapter, we are given a lot of information on the history of the Ring. This puts things into perspective for Frodo while simultaneously terrifying him. Gandalf tells Frodo the story of the creation of the Rings of Power and their fates. He recounts the story of how the Ring came to Smeagol and his immediate spiral out of control, from murdering his dear friend to eventually living in caves in the mountain. From then,  the Ring chose to leave Gollum and was, by a chance of fate, picked up by Bilbo. Frodo agrees to carry the Ring to Rivendell and the chapter ends with Gandalf  choosing Samwise Gamgee to accompany Frodo on his journey.

Book Club Musings

Throughout this chapter, Tolkien advocates for mercy instead of disgust, humility instead of pride, and hope instead of skepticism. Gandalf praises Bilbo for his mercy and pity towards Gollum, while Frodo initially responds with disgust. And we catch a glimpse of Tolkien’s idea that the meek and humble are less influenced by the Ring than the wise and powerful who are more prone to seek power. We are also introduced to the role Providence, or fate, will play in The Lord of the Rings as Gandalf reflects that Frodo was 'meant' to carry the Ring, a fact he should be encouraged by. 

A few common themes stood out in this week's discussion: the negative influence of restlessness, the danger of flirting with evil, and a reflection on Satan's role as the great deceiver as shown by the Ring. 

"Not to reveal too much from the later books, but one things that stuck out to me this time around is how often restlessness is equated with or foreshadows something dark in the book. Frodo in this chapter becomes restless, other characters later on cause problems from restlessness, (spoiler) Eowyn's troubles are rooted in restlessness and dissatisfaction. This is one of the points where I wonder if his experiences in the trenches in WWI didn't shape him more than he realized - so many men joined the fight to get out of their quiet little lives on farms, etc. that I wonder if it was an intentional or unintentional to use restlessness as a warning" - Molly of The Merrier World

A few of us also reflected on the role the Ring plays in deceiving its bearer and the similar way Satan has been called 'the great deceiver'. The Ring works slowly, almost casually, to draw people into its manipulative will. Its bearer is tempted to "flirt with evil", as Satan tempted Eve in the garden and continues to tempt us today. Gandalf's guidance works in the opposite way as he offers guidance without attempting to force Frodo's will, “The decision lies with you but I will always help you." Remind you of the Holy Spirit? Me too. 

And on a merrier note, Kira shared this description of hobbits that is one of my favorites: 
"Soft as butter they can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots." 

A thank-you to the wonderful members of our community who participated in this week's discussion: Jen Olsen of Fiore Design Studio, Courtney DethlefsKimberly Ewalt, Molly Walter of The Merrier World, Rosanna Torrisi, Liz Schriver, Kira Bridges of Joy Pursued, Sarah Tamiian, and Rebecca Solomon. If you shared your thoughts on our group discussion thread and I missed you, please let me know & I'll add you to the list. :)