After resisting another long post on the Long Expected Party, I’m moving on to “The Shadow of the Past.”  For reasons both practical and meta-historical, I think this chapter is the most important chapter in the LotR trilogy.  On the practical side, Tolkien has the formidable task of transitioning from the child-fairy-tale tone of the Hobbit to romance-quest tone, and from the ring to the Ring.  On the meta-historical side, I see him offering several oblique commentaries on (hi)story-telling itself.

For this post (since, of course, I mean to squander at least as many on “The Shadow of the Past” as I did on the Party), I only want to try to schematize the structure of the chapter, bringing to the fore (I hope) some of the intricacy of how Tolkien progresses with the transition, as well as the framework that he puts around the central conversation between Gandalf and Frodo.

A.  The chapter opens with an illustration of how legends develop (“Mad Baggins”).

B.  Sam Gamgee holds forth in the Inn about Walking Trees and Elves.

C.  Gandalf & Frodo’s conversation unfolds in stages punctuated by Frodo’s questions.

            1.  Gandalf reveals the identity and the history of the ring:

                  a. It is a Great Ring…

                  b. …with an unwholesome power…

                                    Gandalf refers to the Bilbo-story (story within a story)

                  c. …and with identifying marks that prove it to be…

                  d. …the One Ring.                      

                        (1).  Gandalf describes the present danger.

                                    Gandalf tells two stories within the story (the narrator

                                    and Frodo transition from the ring to the Ring):

                                                1. Isildur-story

                                                2. Gollum-story

                        (1’).     Gandalf again describes the present danger.

            2.  Gandalf poses the question of what to do, & Frodo suggests flight.

B’.  Sam Gamgee is caught eavesdropping and is doomed to go with Frodo.