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The Ring Sets Out: Being the First Book of…

The Ring Sets Out: Being the First Book of The Lord of the Rings

by J. R. R. Tolkien

Other authors: Douglas A. Anderson (Note on the Text)

Series: The Lord of the Rings (Volume I, Book 1)

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Reading The Lord of the Rings book by book is an interesting experience. I have often heard others being (and remember myself being) frustrated by how long it took The Fellowship of the Ring to get out of the Shire. But when you read The Ring Sets Out on its own, it's a novel about the Shire.  About living in it, about it being invaded, about leaving it.

"Concerning Hobbits," the prologue, sets us up nicely with a loving description of the Shire, its inhabitants, and its customs. I expected to find this tedious, but in fact I ate it up. From there, we launch into the goings-on of Bilbo's birthday party, which both let us see the splendor of the Shire, foibles and all, but also beings hinting at something coming to upset the Shire. So effective is this setup, I think, that when the Black Riders make their move, it's incongruous: the Shire itself is under threat, and so we too feel threatened.

There's a lot of homeyness in The Ring Sets Out; never before have I read a book so interested in the quality and quantity of its protagonists' baths. Baths, food, sleep, drinks-- these are all the markers of home in The Ring Sets Out, and the Shire itself. Our main characters are all homebodies: adventurous by hobbit standards, but timid and naïve by all others. It's interesting to contrast their journey out of the Shire to the one in The Hobbit; Bilbo makes it all the way to the Lonely Mountain and back in the amount of pages that it takes Frodo to make it just to Bree. But that's because The Hobbit is a novel about the adventure, while The Ring Sets Out is a novel about how difficult it is to leave your home behind. I was always struck as a kid by the sections set in Bree, where our four heroes have literally no one they can trust, and they have no idea how to behave. They feel very alienating as a reader.

The only part where I felt The Ring Sets Out really flags is not the infamous Tom Bombadil segment, but after it; the encounter with him is fine, but immediately after it, the whole incident is repeated! The hobbits are captured by a tree, Tom Bombadil saves them, and they stay the night at his house. Then they leave, are captured by barrow-wights, and Tom saves them again. The only reason that the second capture can even happen is because Tom leaves them for no apparent reason.

The Ring Sets Out ends with Frodo lapsing into unconsciousness, beyond the Shire, beyond Bree, beyond Weathertop, beyond anything Frodo has even heard of.  The Shire is far behind, and everything ahead of him  is completely unknown...
  Stevil2001 | Feb 4, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. R. R. Tolkienprimary authorall editionscalculated
Anderson, Douglas A.Note on the Textsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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J.R.R. Tolkien's complete work The Lord of the Rings consists of six Books, frequently bound in three Volumes, as follow:
  • Volume I: The Fellowship of the Ring, consisting of Book 1, "The Ring Sets Out" and Book 2, "The Ring Goes South";
  • Volume II: The Two Towers, consisting of Book 3, "The Treason of Isengard," and Book 4, "The Ring Goes East"; and
  • Volume III: The Return of the King, consisting of Book 5, "The War of the Ring," and Book 6, "The End of the Third Age," with Appendices.
This LT Work consists of Book 1, "The Ring Sets Out"; please do not combine it with other part(s) or with Tolkien's complete work, each of which have LT Works pages of their own. Thank you.
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