It has been seventeen years since Bilbo Baggins left the Shire. Now Frodo must face The Shadow Of The Past and decide what to do with the time given him. How will Gandalf and Sam Gamgee help bear this burden? Join us as we explore J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings.
The Shadow Of The Past: Controlling Rings And Controlling Themes
If the first chapter of The Lord Of The Rings acted as the passing of the baton between Bilbo and Frodo, this chapter – The Shadow Of The Past – acts as an advanced course of the history of the One Ring and how it has come to Frodo Baggins. From the War Of The Last Alliance to Sméagol’s murder of Déagol, and the singular event which Sauron could never have anticipated: the One Ring ends up in the hands of the most unlikely creature of all, Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit of the Shire.
Has Some Power Chosen Frodo For Just Such A Time As This?
Gandalf is clear: besides Sauron, some Other power is orchestrating events in Middle-earth:
Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.
– The Lord Of The Rings, Fellowship Of The Ring, The Shadow Of The Past, p56
When discussing the history unfolding in Middle-earth – which stretches all the way back to the song of the Ainur, by whom Ilúvatar created all of Eä – Kent Bruner and Jim Ware follow Gandalf’s plain statement backward to the very beginning:
And so Ilúvatar, after the pattern of the biblical Jehovah, produces a drama performed in the theater of time. Its story will become the visible expression of the Ainur’s chorus, including the song of a simple hobbit and the discord of an evil rebel. And somehow, the former will resolve the latter.
– Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, Finding God In The Lord Of The Rings, Loc. 209, Kindle version
Queen Esther And The King’s Decree
After hearing this terrible tale Frodo has but one thought: he wishes that this ring had never come to him. And Gandalf sympathizes. Neither would have chosen this, but the wizard tells Frodo plainly that all that matters now is what he choses to do. The Old Testament story of Esther must have been an influence on J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic.
The parallels are uncanny: terrible things are progressing to the slaughter of countless Jews, and one person is in the right place at the right time to carry a burden on behalf of others. Queen Esther knows that it could cost her her life if she approaches the king unbidden. Her cousin Mordecai wrote her the following in response to her objections:
“Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”
– Esther 4:13-16 NLT
Just like Esther, Frodo decides to do the hard thing. And thus the controlling theme takes over: he will leave the Shire and bear the burden of the ring for the benefit and love of others, whatever it may cost him.
What stood out to you in the The Shadow Of The Past? Let us know in the comments below.
On The Secret Fire Podcast we travel chapter-by-chapter and book-by-book through J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth viewing it through Christian lenses. We invite you to join us each week as we continue the adventure on the Arkenstone server in Lord Of The Rings Online. We meet at the Three Farthing Stone in the Shire.
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