The Fellowship of the Ring is the first volume in the Lord of the Rings “trilogy” by JRR Tolkien, first published by Allen & Unwin Co. (UK) and Houghton-Mifflin (US), in July 1954.
The Lord of the Rings was originally intended (by Tolkien) to be published as a single entity, but post-war paper constraints as well as an attempt by the publishers of defraying the cost (they fully expected the book(s) to lose money), caused it to be published in three separate volumes, released approximately six months apart.
The Fellowship of the Ring covers the first part of the journey that begins with Bilbo’s “eleventy-first” birthday party and the discovery that Bilbo’s magic ring is really the One Ring created and lost by the Dark Lord Sauron hundreds of years before.
This first volume in the sequence follows the hobbits' adventure from The Shire, to Bree,
Moria, and past Lothlorien.
But that’s enough about the plot. This page is not intended as a synopsis or a spoiler for those who have not yet read the book.
The Fellowship of the Ring is itself divided into two books. Tolkien originally divided The Lord of the Rings into six of what he called “books”, which were designed to break up the long narrative into six distinctive parts. As things turned out, the narrative was published as three separate volumes, two “books” to each volume.
FotR contains books I & II.
Tolkien himself seemed to know very little of where he was heading when he set out from The Shire with Frodo and Samwise. It was as much a voyage of discovery for him as it was for his protagonists.
He had many false-starts, backtracks, and surprises along the way. He wrote to his friend, the poet W.H. Auden, in 1955, after the publication of the final volume The Return of the King:
“I met a lot of things along the way that astonished me.
I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had not more idea of who he was than had Frodo.”
This quote gives a fair amount of insight into the exploration that came with creation and writing process for Tolkien. Tolkien’s early drafts, particularly of Book I, were varied and very much different from what most people recognize as The Fellowship of the Ring.
For example, Frodo’s original name was “Bingo”, Strider was originally called “Trotter”, and was not a man at all but a hobbit who wore wooden shoes! Knowing only the finished draft these idiosyncrasies are hard to fathom, but Tolkien revised and rewrote continuously.
It is hard to imagine The Lord of the Rings having the impact it has had on literature and popular culture if Aragorn had remained “Trotter” the hobbit, or Frodo had retained the rather comical canine name of “Bingo”, but such was the ultimate power of Tolkien’s vision that these elements were purged and made much, much stronger.
The Fellowship of the Ring became, once published, a phenomenon that exploded over the next ten years, and a hallmark of twentieth century literature that has only gained relevance with time.