Rivendell. Northern haven where the representatives of the “free peoples” (elves, dwarves, men, and hobbits) meet to discuss the fate of the Ring. When Frodo accepts the burden of the Ring. He, his servant, and two kinsmen set out on the Great East Road to this distant stronghold. A detour leads them through the Old Forest, where hostile trees menace them, but Tom Bombadil, a benign nature spirit, befriends them. Quickly they discover that the natural world beyond the Shire can be either dangerous or welcoming.
The travelers ford a wild river to reach Rivendell, the palace of Elrond Half-elven, who maintains this enchanted retreat by the power of one of three Elvish rings. Concealed in a deep and narrow valley, Rivendell is called the Last Homely House East of the Sea, “a perfect house,” as Bilbo once reports, “whether you like food or sleep or storytelling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.” At present it is also a key political site at which men, Elf lords, dwarves (Tolkien’s spelling), a wizard, and now hobbits confer about the rising dark power in Moria and his One Ring.
Reaching Bree. Village held jointly by hobbits and men. Frodo’s servant Sam is daunted by the inn, his first sight of the tall houses of men. There the hobbits are joined by Aragorn, a ranger of the North, who leads them on secret paths through marshes and woods, paralleling the dangerous road.
Moria. Ancient dwarf kingdom. The Nine Walkers (Gandalf, four hobbits, two men, an Elf, and a Dwarf) set out with the goal of destroying the One Ring. They travel south, hoping to cross the Misty Mountains by the Redhorn Pass; however, blinding blizzards force them to take a terrifying underground passage through the ruinous Mines of Moria. Moria’s decaying splendors, now dark except for light thrown by Gandalf’s wand, house Orcs, coarse goblinlike creatures, and also, on a deeper level, a Balrog, a fierce fire spirit. Galdalf leads the party through eerie winding tunnels to safety. Confronted by the Balrog on a narrow stone bridge, Galdalf falls into an abyss. Aragorn leads the surviving Walkers out into Dimrill Dale, a sacred dwarvish place, and beyond it to the outskirts of the Golden Wood.
Lothlorien. Even more than Rivendell, Lothlorien epitomizes the Elvish (Tolkien’s spelling) ideal in Middle Earth, but it, too, is vulnerable. Like Elrond, its Queen Galadriel wields an Elven ring, without which this demi-eden and its folk would “dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.” The necessary destruction of the One Ring may also negate the potency of the Three, ending the “stainless” beauty of a land that seems to Sam to be “inside a song.” After receiving aid and resting under the golden flowered mallorn trees of Caras Galadon, the remaining travelers turn south on the great Anduin River toward Minas Tirith, the principal city of Gondor.
Gondor. Declining but still powerful South Kingdom of Men. The journey to Gondor affects two of the Walkers in an enlarging way. Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the Elf, two individuals whose cultural history is one of enmity and racial antagonism, become friends as they explore the Golden Wood, and they share one of the little boats. The companions, sensing the presence of Orcs on the east bank, and fearing that Gollum, a small, corrupt, sort of ur-hobbit who once held the Ring, is now stalking them, become careless in their calculations and are nearly undone by the rapids of Sam Gebir. Eventually they reach outlying relics of an older, stronger Gondor: first, the Argonath, immense stone pillars of “kings” who guard the river’s gorge into a placid lake. On the lake’s west bank is Amon Hen, the “Hill of Sight,” where in the days of the great kings a stone seat was placed for the rulers’ contemplation. The Fellowship rests while Frodo, who carries the One Ring, slips off alone to Amon Hen in hope of guidance. Boromir, mad with desire for the Ring, follows and tries to take it by force. Frodo eludes him, and with Sam, escapes to the eastern shore, where they set off on foot for Mordor, the Dark Lord’s realm. The other companions, searching for Frodo, are attacked by Orcs and scattered. The Fellowship is broken.