The Lord of the Rings is an epic story written by John R. R. Tolkien. It is considered the iconic example of all the fantasy genre. This work of the author, with its explicitly detailed world with its own history, culture and even fully functional languages, inspired countless writers to expand the genre and write their own stories, settings, games and movie plots. The story consists of three books and it is tightly connected with two more works of Tolkien: “Hobbit” that predates the events of the book and tells the story of finding The One Ring and “Silmarillion” that doesn’t directly interfere with the events of the book, but is rather a mythology of the world that explains the existence of ancient powers that drive the plot.
The first book, “The Fellowship of the Ring” begins with the birthday party for Bilbo - the rich and respected hobbit living in Hobbitshire. Hobbits resemble humans very much, but they are just half as tall, have hairy legs (so they prefer walking barefoot) and are very conservative and not outgoing at all. But Bilbo broke all the hobbits’ traditions several decades ago and went to adventure to the Lonely Mountain with the squad of dwarves and the wizard named Gandalf (these events are described in “Hobbit”). They managed to kill the dragon, who was dwelling in the abandoned dwarven city under the Lonely Mountain and return it to the dwarves. On his way to the mountain Bilbo found a plain golden ring that made its bearer invisible. The ring belonged to the humanlike and hostile creature named Gollum. Bilbo managed to escape Gollum’s cave with the help of the ring and later use it under the Lonely Mountain.
But he returned home, earning (dubious) fame and (enormous) fortune, and settled down. The ring is now a mere souvenir, laying somewhere among other small things in his house. Still, a birthday - moreover, a jubilee, 111th birthday - is a special day for hobbits. Their customs state that the person shouldn’t receive gifts, but give a small present to each guest themselves. Bilbo invited all the Shire to his party and is now preparing to give away almost everything he possesses.
Among the guests are the aforementioned wizard, Gandalf the Grey and Bilbo’s nephew and heir, a young hobbit named Frodo. Bilbo decides to give the ring to Frodo as the birthday present, but when it comes to it, Bilbo can’t make himself to give the thing away. Only the intervention of Gandalf allows him to do this. Seeing Bilbo’s reaction, Gandalf suspects that this plain ring may be much more powerful than they thought before. It can be The One Ring, the most evil and dangerous artefact that exist in the present world. He throws the ring to the chimney and, when the fire touches it, the ring becomes covered with the strange runes that are the verses written in Black Speech: “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”. The ring appears to be The One Ring. Worried, Gandalf tells Frodo that the Ring shall be taken away from the Shire as soon as possible, because the power of its true owner, the Dark Lord Sauron, is growing again and the Ring can lure his servants, searching for it, to the Shire.
After saying his farewell to Bilbo, Frodo gathers his best friends - his servant Sam and two descendants of the most adventurous hobbit bloodline, Merry and Pippin. They follow the advice of Gandalf, who told them where to go. They are just in time to leave Shire, because the nine ancient ghosts - the Ringwraiths - who took the form of the Black Riders, start their pursuit. They feel the Ring around, but they can’t see it until its current bearer wears it. When they are around, Frodo feels almost irresistible temptation to put the ring on his finger. Miraculously, he manages not to do it and the Riders pass by for the first time.
The friends encounter a company of wandering Elves, who offer to share their camp with the hobbits and protect them at night. They also promise to send a message to their friend, who can be of more help than them and will also protect the company of hobbits (that, despite all their bravery, just never fought anyone for real).
Indeed, the hobbits need protection. Barely leaving the Shire they end up in the Old Forest that is tangled and enormous and scary. To make things worse, the forest grew above an ancient cemetery and is haunted by ghosts that are clearly malevolent. With the help of enchanted Bilbo’s blade named Sting, Frodo frees himself and his friends from the tombs of the ghosts, but they get caught by an evil sentient willow that tries to strangle them. Suddenly they hear a jovial song and see a person approaching. He scolds the willow and orders it to put hobbits down. The man appears to be Tom Bombadil, a strange entity that is the most ancient creature in the Middle-Earth. Probably he is even more ancient and powerful than Sauron, because Tom can play with the ring without being affected with it at all.
Tom invites them to his house where the hobbits have dinner and sleep. The next morning they leave to Bree, a small town on the border with human lands. The Riders trace them again and only crossing the running water saves the hobbits from being caught. Frightened, they stay in the Prancing Pony inn to spend another night in relative safety. In the inn they meet a strange man who calls himself the Strider. He gives Frodo the letter from Gandalf, saying that he was asked by the wizard to join them and guard them. After a short hesitation Frodo believes him. He tries not to draw attention, but soon the relaxed hobbits start having fun and Frodo slips and falls. The Ring falls out of his pocket and accidentally (or rather because the Ring wants to) lands on his finger. Frodo immediately disappears, frightening all the inn guests.
Strider, who understands that now the Black Riders know where they are, advises the hobbits to sleep in his room. He is right, the Ringwraiths break into their rooms but find no one and have to leave with the dawn. In the morning the company starts its way to Rivendell, the enclave of the Elves, as Gandalf advised in his letter. Strider knows how to go through the forest unnoticed, so they manage to avoid the pursuit for some time. But when they reach the open terrain and go through the Weathertop hill, the Black Riders find them and attack. This time Frodo can’t resist the temptation to wear the ring and puts it on - now seeing the true appearance of the Riders: the ghostly kings of the past. The Ringwraiths also see him now and their leader stabs him in his shoulder with his blade, leaving a painful wound.
The pain is getting worse and Strider says they must hurry to the Rivendell, because the weapon is cursed and only the Elven healers, not the field first aid can help Frodo. When they approach Rivendell they meet one of the noble Elves named Glorfindel, who was sent to meet them. Glorfindel is just in time to help the company run away from the Black Riders who chase them again. When Glorfindel, Strider and the hobbits cross the river that separates Rivendell, the lord of the place, Elrond, causes a great flood that washes the Riders away.
Elrond immediately goes to see Frodo’s wound. He manages to heal it, but not completely. The shard of the dark blade was stuck in his shoulder, slowly making its way toward the heart of the hobbit. Now it is removed, but the wound will cause pain for the rest of Frodo’s life. While Frodo is recovering, Strider’s true identity is revealed: he is Aragorn, the leader of Dunadans and the descendant of long forgotten Kings of Numenor. He is the only living heir that can claim the throne of Gondor, now occupied by the line of Stewards. Also Aragorn meets with Elrond’s daughter Arwen for the second time in his life - and she still remembers him - and the two fall in love, despite the union between a Human and an Elf is a very rare event that can bring grief to both the mortal - who is destined to die - and the immortal, who has to either give up their immortality or mourn their beloved for eternity.
When the life of the hobbit isn’t endangered anymore, Elrond gathers the council where the representatives of all the good races are invited. The members of the council are hobbits themselves, Aragorn, Gandalf, an Elven prince from Mirkwood named Legolas, a Dwarf named Gimli (the relative of the member of Bilbo’s company) and Boromir, the prince of the biggest Human kingdom named Gondor.
Elrond tells them that The One Ring was forged in the ancient times by the Dark Lord Sauron in the volcano called Orodruin, in the Cracks of Doom. Only there the Ring can be destroyed. But Orodruin is situated right in the middle of the Sauron’s realm, a dead and deserted land called Mordor. Frodo has to become the Ring Bearer, accepting the burden of constant temptation with power, and deliver The One Ring to the Cracks of Doom. Every other member of the council, except Elrond himself, will aid him on his way, making this journey at least not completely hopeless. The people who will go to Mordor called themselves The Fellowship of the Ring.
Soon the Fellowship leaves Rivendell and goes south. They have to go through Misty Mountains via the only relative safe way - the pass of Caradhras. But this isn’t the right season to go there: the pass is now blocked by snow and ice. Gandalf offers them to go another way, through the ancient and abandoned Dwarven realm of Moria that lies under all the mountain ridge. Gimli fearfully objects, saying that Moria was abandoned due to the ancient and unspeakable horror living in the deep chasms under it. But the Fellowship has no other options. They go to the entrance to Moria, where an enormous octopus-like Guard almost catches them and eats their horses. Solving the riddle at the entrance they go through the abandoned halls. In one of the room they find a diary of one of the dwarves. The last pages are filled with mad warnings about the drums from the abyss.
When they read this lines, they indeed hear the drums and the countless Orks start chasing them, climbing from below. The members of the Fellowship run for their lives, but they are chased not only by Orcs. An ancient fire demonic being called Balrog emerges from the abyss and he can’t be defeated by any weapon of the mortal. Only the sacrifice of Gandalf, who ruins the bridge behind him, falling together with Balrog to the chasm of Khazad-Dum, lets the Fellowship escape.
Mourning Gandalf, the party goes to Lorien, another Elven forest ruled by Lady Galadriel. She accepts them but makes them pass the test of their sincerity. When she is sure that their intentions are noble, she gives them gifts to aid them in their quest and allows them to stay and rest in her forest. Frodo, seeing that she is much more powerful than he is, asks her to bear the Ring, now unknowingly testing her heart as well. With the great effort she refuses, saying that the Ring will corrupt her soul and even if she defeats Sauron, she’ll do it only to become The Dark Lady.
After the short rest the party leaves Lorien and sails down the great river Anduin. Setting camp one night they spot a strange and ugly creature watching them. It is Gollum, the one who wore the Ring before Bilbo. The Ring corrupted his soul so much that Gollum became dependant on it and now can feel it too, as the Black Riders do. Nevertheless, they are armed and he does’t dare to attack and take the Ring back.The Fellowship continues their travel and finally reach the Falls of Rauros, where the river becomes impassable for the boats. Now they have to decide: shall they go straight to Mordor or head towards the safety of Gondor’s capital Minas Tirith first.
Meanwhile, the Ring finds the weakest element and start to erode Boromir’s will. Soon Boromir is overwhelmed with pride and confronts Frodo, claiming that the hobbit doesn’t deserve to bear the Ring and he, Boromir, is the only one who can withstand its power. Boromir attacks him and is killed by the rest of the Fellowship members. Nevertheless, he is buried with honor, as a prince and hero - they understand that it wasn’t his fault. Many ancient kings were broken by the Ring before.
Frodo, understanding that the Ring may make the members of the Fellowship kill each other, decides to go alone not to risk their lives anymore. He secretly leaves the camp. His servant Sam spots him going away and joins him, going to Mordor. This is the end of the first book.
The second book named The Two Towers starts with Merry and Pippin abducted by the Orcs right after the battle of Boromir. The Orcs are instructed to bring any hobbits they see to the Dark Lord’s realm, because they know that a hobbit bears the Ring. The rest of the Fellowship members start the pursuit, tracking the Orcs through the forest and then vast plains. In the plains they encounter the squad of the Riders of Rohan led by a Rohan prince Eomer.
Merry and Pippin at that time become the trophy of another Orc tribe, the Uruk-Hai - a bigger and stronger specie, wearing the sign of the White Hand instead of the Red Eye worn by Mordor Orcs. The clash of the two tribes resulted in a mess the hobbits use to escape. They go through the unknown forest and reach the Entwash River. They are encountered by an Ent - an ancient sentient tree, benevolent but very slow. The Ent’s name is Fangorn and he takes them to his home (or some place resembling it - he is a tree, after all) and listens to their story. He tells them that Uruk-Hai Orcs dwell in Isengard, the place where the corrupted dark wizard Saruman lives. The Orcs chop the trees to fuel their furnaces (and, possibly, they were responsible for killing the females of Ents who were fruit trees living outside the forest), so Fangorn gathers a meeting of the Ents to put an end to attacks of the Orcs. They manage to make a decision in mere days (that is lightning fast for trees) and gather to go for a war.
In the meantime the rest of the Fellowship is chased by Uruk-Hai and greatly outnumbered. When they prepare for the hopeless last stand a White Rider comes to aid and chases the Uruk-Hai away. It appears to be Gandalf, reborn after the fight with Balrog at the bottom of the Khazad-Dum pit. Gandalf leads them to Edoras, the capital and the only big city of Rohirrims - the nomadic inhabitants of Rohan land. The king of Rohan, Theoden is very sick. Now all the power belongs to his evil councilor named Grima (with the prominent nickname Wormtongue). Theoden’s niece Eowyn struggles to make him come to his senses, but he seems to be insane. Gandalf, with his newly acquired powers, heals Theoden, exposing Wormtongue as Saruman’s spy. Now Theoden recognizes the wizard as his friend and gladly accepts the previously exiled Eomer back to the family.
Grima runs away back to Isengard. Gandalf lets him go, but then he urges the Fellowship to go after him, because Saruman is as powerful as he is and can pose a serious threat. They come to Isengard and see it flooded and captured by the Ents. Surprised and glad they find the hobbits alive and intact, guarded by the Ents and finally reunite. Gandalf tries to talk to his former fellow wizard and persuade him to surrender. But instead of Saruman Grima looks out of the Orthanc tower in the middle of Isengard and drops something on Gandalf trying to kill him. The item appears to be Palantir - a magic sphere that allows its owner to communicate with the owners of other Palantirs. Gandalf goes up the tower, confronts Saruman (who was once Saruman the White but became Saruman of Many Colors after his corruption), and defeats him. Gandalf expels him from the order of wizards and breaks the source of Saruman’s power - his staff.
The Fellowship returns to Edoras. But there Pippin, curious to see what Palantir is, looks into it and sees there The Dark Lord himself. Sauron mentally tortures and interrogates the hobbit, learning about the location of the Fellowship and the fall of his apprentice Saruman. Gandalf is really angered with Pippin’s actions but then softens up, saying that even the people with much greater willpower sometimes can’t resist the temptation. Now Gandalf takes the Palantir and has to ride away with Pippin, again leaving the Fellowship.
The narrative shifts to Frodo and Sam who are ambushed by Gollum. Despite Sam’s objections, Frodo is kind to him and gradually wins the creature’s trust. He pities Gollum and thinks that even he can still be redeemed. For this kindness Gollum agrees to show them the short way to Mordor. Sam still doesn’t believe him, but Gollum is the only one relatively friendly creature around who was in Mordor before.
They go together through the dead marshes where they see the ghostly faces of slain warriors - it was once a place of the great battle in which Sauron’s physical body was destroyed. Finally Gollum leads them to the Black Gate - an enormous structure that blocks the mountain pass and is heavily guarded. They are unable to slip through the guards, so Gollum (who starts to regain his former self, Smeagol the hobbit) offers them to go another way, through the mountain caves.
When they return, they are caught by the squad of Faramir, the younger brother of Boromir. Gollum is taken prisoner and Frodo makes no effort to free him (they are heavily outnumbered). Faramir is very suspicious about them but finally lets them go, warning that the Cirith Ungol caves are a dangerous and evil place. Though no one is harmed, this becomes a turning point for Gollum. The “betrayal” of Frodo reverts him back to his evil side and now he obeys Frodo only because of fear and hoping that the hobbit would get killed and he would loot his corpse for the Ring.
Gollum shows the path to Cirith Ungol and suddenly disappears in the darkness of the caves, leaving the hobbits alone, not knowing where the way out is. Soon they learn that there is thick web covering the caves. Cirith Ungol is the lair of the enormous and ancient female spider named Shelob who eats the rare Orcs going through. She captures Frodo and stings him, poisoning the hobbit, but Sam in a desperate fight manages to kill the creature with Frodo’s sword. However, Frodo is unable to go further and soon is found by the Orc guards patrolling the caves. Sam has no option than to take the Ring from his neck and hide, letting the Orcs take his friend away. Sam doesn’t have the hope that Frodo will make it, so he decides to finish the journey in his honor.
When the Orcs are approaching, Sam puts on the Ring to hide from them and the Ring starts to tempt him. But Sam is a simple and humble hobbit: he doesn’t desire neither power nor wealth. Actually, everything he wishes - a tidy house, a loving family and a happy life - can be achieved without the Ring. So, Sam withstands and discovers that not only he became invisible, but he can also understand the Black Speech the Orcs speak. He follows the patrol, learning that Frodo is alive and that the Orcs, who encountered Shelob before, gave him an antidote. But the Orcs pass the Gates, slamming them back right in front of Sam. Now Frodo is captured and Sam is still outside the border of Mordor. This event ends the second book.
The third and final part of the novel is named The Return of the King. It starts with Gandalf and Pippin travelling to Minas Tirith to meet its ruler, the old Steward Denethor. Denethor, unlike Theoden, has a very low opinion of Gandalf, saying that the wizard comes only when something bad is going to happen (actually this is true, but it isn’t because of Gandalf’s ill fate, but because he shows up to prevent the consequences of bad things happening). Pippin saves the situation. Seeing how much Denethor grieves because of Boromir’s death and how he blames Gandalf for it, Pippin offers his service to Gondor in gratitude for Boromir’s sacrifice. Gandalf and Pippin go to the wall of Minas Tirith and see the thick black mist that Gandalf calls the Darkness emerging from east - from Mordor. Gandalf returns to warn Denethor that Sauron is preparing for a war and almost begs him to call for aid. But Denethor is either too proud or driven mad with grief and he refuses to hear the voice of reason. He stays in the tower, mourning his dead son.
Back in the Rohan Aragorn realizes that the danger is too great. He decides to claim his right to fulfill an ancient prophecy as a descendant of Numenor kings to help Gondor. He, Legolas and Gimli leave Merry behind and go to the Path of the Dead. There Aragorn raises a Sleepless Army of undead warriors who once betrayed a Numenor King and were cursed to remain undead until they have a chance to redeem their betrayal in the battle under the command of another Numenor King.
In Gondor, Denethor receives Faramir (an unloved son who he considers expendable and openly says it) and sends him and his troops to a suicide mission - to fortify the long-abandoned city of Osgiliath on the island in the middle of Anduin river. Osgiliath lies between Mordor and Minas Tirith, so it will be the first place for Orcs to attack. Faramir obeys, knowing that he goes to his death. He and his soldiers hold the positions until their last breath, but when the Orcs are about to take Osgiliath, finishing off the defenders, Gandalf shows up. He is fed up with Denethor’s insanity and covers the retreat of Faramir. Faramir manages to save at least some of his men, but he himself is wounded by a poisoned arrow of Ringwraith or Nazgul. The Orcs proceed to Minas Tirith and Gandalf again goes to Denethor, demanding him to call Rohan for help. But he discovers that the Steward completely descended into madness. He ordered to prepare a funeral pyre in his chambers, placing unconscious Faramir there and now prepares to burn himself with his still alive son. Gandalf breaks in, but he manages to save only Faramir. He sees another Palantir in the burned hands of Denethor’s body and understands that Denethor, like Saruman and Pippin, was also influenced by The Dark Lord.
Pippin volunteers for a risky act: he sneaks through the line of guards to the highest tower of Minas Tirith to light up a signal fire. He is now a Gondor soldier, so doing it without an order would be considered treason and Pippin would be court-martialed for it. He decides to do it anyway and succeeds. The chain of signal fires reaches Rohan and Theoden prepares to go and aid Gondor. He and Eomer are going to fight, but his niece Eowyn (who is also a skilled fighter, but she is a woman) is ordered to stay at home. She asks Aragorn to take her with him - she almost confesses her love in process - but he also refuses, saying that her father is right and her duty is to rule the country until the men return. Enraged, Eowyn leaves. Merry is also told to stay in safety, and he is equally enraged. Seeing his feelings an unknown young warrior named Dernhelm hides him and lets him join the Rohan army.
The army of Mordor almost breaks into Minas Tirith’s walls. Gandalf has a duel of will with the Witch King - the leader of Nazguls - and wins, but it is only a temporary relief. The Riders of Rohan are just in time to turn the tide, but the Human army is still heavily outnumbered. The Witch King kills King Theoden. Dernhelm and Merry rush to avenge their King. The Nazgul boasts that Dernhelm is doomed, because no mortal man can defeat him in battle. Dernhelm takes off his helmet, revealing the long golden hair of Lady Eowyn. She says that she isn’t a man and she will defeat him. They engage in a fight. Eowyn is heavily wounded, but, due to Merry stabbing the Nazgul into the leg, she manages to behead him. The forces of Mordor retreat to regroup after the death of their commander. Suddenly they see the black and obviously evil ships and rejoice, thinking that these ships bring reinforcements from Mordor. But the ships belong to Sleepless Army led by Aragorn. The Orcs are now ambushed and defeated.
Aragorn enters the city of Minas Tirith and it appears that he can heal the wounds inflicted by Nazguls with mere touch. It means that the prophecy is now fulfilled and the true King has returned to Gondor. He takes the lead, but Gandalf says that the victory is only temporary. Without the Ring destroyed, The Dark Lord will soon produce a new horde of Orcs, doing it again and again until Gondor falls. Aragorn decides that they have to counterattack. If they not win, they will at least distract Sauron’s attention from Frodo and Sam. Aragorn gathers an army and goes straight to the Gates of Mordor, loudly offending The Dark Lord and demanding him to surrender. The Gates open and the man calling himself the Voice of Sauron comes to negotiate. He claims that the hobbit is already captured and their attempts are futile. Gandalf makes him flee and the battle starts.
Meanwhile, Sam discovers that he can command and scare Orcs with the Ring and is deeply despised of it. He manages to enter the tower of Cirith Ungol, where he is held captive. Sam rescues his friend and they continue their journey through Mordor. The closer they come to Orodruin the heavier the Ring becomes, slowing Frodo (who took it again) down. The hobbits go for several weeks, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. Finally they reach the Cracks of Doom. Frodo is barely able to walk, so Sam carries him on his back. But when they are about to drop the Ring, Frodo regains all his strength - or the Ring fills him with new one. Frodo refuses to destroy the Ring, claiming it his property and putting it on. Frodo immediately disappears and Sam is unable to find him. But there is one creature who can. Gollum was following them all the way to Orodruin, the Ring was still calling him. Now, seeing that Frodo owns the Ring, Gollum loses his mind completely and fights Frodo, whom he can sense. The two struggle on the edge of the pit filled with lava. Finally Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger the Ring is on. Frodo falls to the ground… but Gollum falls in the opposite direction, disappearing in lava while still holding the Ring. Orodruin starts to erupt. Sam helps Frodo to get outside of the ancient furnace, but they have nowhere to go - the lava is faster. The hobbits see the destruction of the Black Tower of Sauron and prepare to die, knowing that they have saved the Middle-Earth.
Near the Gates of Mordor, the servants of Sauron flee in panic, seeing that their Lord is defeated. Gandalf sees the giant eagles in the sky. The leader of the eagles is Gwaihir, Gandalf’s old friend. The wizard asked him for help and now Gandalf, riding the eagle, flies towards Orodruin to rescue the hobbits.
Frodo and Sam are saved and healed. The Darkness dissipates forever. Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor and marries Arwen, who chose to become a mortal woman. Gondor is slowly rebuilt. Eomer becomes a new King of Rohan, while Faramir and Eowyn meet in Gondor hospital and fall in love with each other, solidifying the alliance between Gondor and Rohan.
The hobbits return home, praised as heroes. But there they find the Shire deserted and ravaged under the tyrannic rule of some Humans. The leader of these Humans appears to be Saruman, powerless, but still desiring a petty revenge on hobbits. Frodo fights him again, defeats him, but spares. The one who kills the former wizard is his treacherous right hand Wormtongue.
The hobbits rebuild the Shire, becoming heroes once again. Merry and Pippin as the ones least affected by the Ring, quickly return to their ordinary lives. Sam needs more time to recover, but soon he marries a hobbit woman named Rosie Cotton and they have a daughter he calls after the Elven flower - Elanor. Frodo though is scarred both physically and mentally. His shoulder aches and his soul is sore. Finally he decides to leave the Shire. He goes to Rivendell, where Elrond tells him about Valinor - the Elven heaven ruled by angelic entities, hidden over the Great Sea. It is the only place where the wounds inflicted by the Ring can be healed. Frodo, Bilbo (who is old enough to leave the Middle-Earth), Elrond himself, Gandalf and Galadriel - everyone who has ever touched the Ring - sail to the West and leave the mortal world forever.