I have read the Lord of the Rings very many times. After taking a long break I read it again last year. A year later and strangely I feel like reading it again. Each time I read it I find something new, some of which I noted in my updates on Goodreads last year. This time I will look for some broader themes to blog about.
The early chapters of the Fellowship of the Ring play an important part in setting the stage for the remainder of the book, setting out many of the major themes. There is the sense of landscape and the connection to a specifically English rural past. Preservation and loss emerge clearly both in the story of Bilbo but also in the story of the Ring itself presented in the key chapter “The Shadow of the Past”. Most important of all we are introduced to the story of Gollum.
During “The Shadow of the Past” Gandalf narrates the story of Gollum after Bilbo leaves him in the mountains during The Hobbit. Gollum tracks across Wilderland to Lake Town, Dale, and the Lonely Mountain. As he attempts to return he is drawn south towards Mordor and is finally captured and tortured by Sauron, revealing that the ring has been found before being released.
The parallel between Frodo and Gollum is fairly obvious. Throughout the Lord of the Rings, and particularly in the latter stages, Gollum provides a vision of the future that awaits Frodo if the Ring is not destroyed. What I haven’t noticed before is the parallel between Gollum’s journey in search of Bilbo and the Ring, and both Bilbo’s earlier quest, and the journey that Frodo is about to set out on.
Gollum’s travel is on a similarly epic scale, and ends with him trying to evade capture in Mordor. He is drawn by desire of the Ring, a mirror of Frodo and his aim to destroy the Ring. His capture and revelation to Sauron that the Ring survives and has been found perhaps also foreshadows Frodo’s ultimate failure to cast the Ring into the fire, and the reversal which leads Gollum to eventually cause the Ring’s destruction.
There is a complex set of parallels here (I might almost say a dialectic) which I think is truly fascinating, and I wonder to what extent this was intended by Tolkien.