In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien has demonstrated the evolution of a literary world. In The Hobbit, often considered a prologue to the trilogy, he created a fascinating kind of being with no parallel in literature; in the trilogy he expands his single hobbit hero into four hobbit companions and an interesting assortment of helpers and enemies. Readers who were captivated by Bilbo in The Hobbit will encounter him again in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the trilogy. Bilbo’s distant cousin Frodo is a more developed character than Bilbo and therefore even more absorbing to watch in action. The trilogy exemplifies Tolkien’s power to sustain a central adventure through three volumes, each divided into two books. Each of the six books builds up to its own climactic ending, but an intricate system of interlacing allows the reader to move easily with the characters as the author fills in more details about the geography of Middle-earth, the history of its inhabitants, and the progress of the quest.
The expansive background against which the central action takes place conveys a sense of the universality of the conflict between good and evil. In this world everyone needs the support of others in overcoming obstacles and in doing good. Many of the background sections treat the nature of evil as a distortion of what could have been good. Basic to the history of the One Ring is the thirst for power in its creator, Sauron. In the central volume of the trilogy, The Two Towers, the desire for the power inherent in the Ring has also corrupted the wizard Saruman. Tolkien’s analysis of the corrupting nature of power explains why three of his strongest forces for good-Gandalf, Galadriel, and Aragorn-refuse to take the Ring and why Bilbo is unable to resist its control. As the story develops, one major source of Frodo’s internal conflict lies in the pull of the ring itself. The success of Frodo’s quest flows from mercy, friendship, endurance, and the courage to risk life and happiness for the good of others.