“Keep it Safe, and Keep it Secret!” On What Takes Place at Bag End after Bilbo Leaves The Shire.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 35-40

Bilbo leaves the Shire after the party in search of a holiday but for Frodo, at least at first, life is anything but leisurely. This is all Bilbo’s fault, of course. The manner of his disappearance means that the conventional hobbits feel abused by him. Some are simply outraged; the Sackville-Bagginses try to regain possession of Bag End; while some of the younger ones cannot help but try to find out whether there is more to the stories of Bilbo’s fabulous wealth than mere rumour. All in all Frodo spends some time after the party more or less under siege in Bag End.

It is during the process of repelling invaders that Gandalf returns. At first Frodo and his friends try to repel him too, or at least to ignore him.

“Suddenly the wizard’s head appeared at the window.

‘If you don’t let me in, Frodo, I shall blow your door right down your hole and out through the hill,’ he said.”


Gandalf wishes to speak about the Ring. At this point in the story he merely refers to the Ring as “It”. This is what needs to be kept secret and safe. It is clear that Gandalf already has his suspicions regarding Bilbo’s “magic” ring. He knows from his Ringlore that “magic” rings don’t just turn up from time to time. There was only one time during the Second Age in which Rings of Power were created and every single one of them had a connection to the Dark Lord. Seven Rings were created for Dwarf lords and Nine for Lords of Men. Three were forged by Elven Smiths but were never touched by Sauron although Celebrimbor of Eregion received guidance in their making from the Dark Lord in his fair guise of Annatar. And then there was the One Ring to rule them all.


Even now Gandalf fears that Bilbo’s ring might indeed be the One Ring. So why does he not act upon his fear straight away? It will be nearly seventeen years before he returns to the Shire and confirms his fears. In that time Sauron will have almost completed all his preparations for war and at the end of it he will send out his most deadly servants, the Nazgûl, the keepers of the Nine Rings, in search of the One. During those years no great alliance of the free peoples of Middle-earth will be formed as took place at the end of the Second Age, an alliance strong enough to overthrow the Dark Lord. And the one alliance that has remained, that between Gondor and the Kingdom of Rohan, will be systematically weakened by the work of Saruman the traitor.

I have two thoughts regarding these years of relative inaction.

One is that Gandalf knows that he cannot afford to make any mistakes regarding the One Ring. It is much too big for that. If he were to gamble on the identity of Bilbo’s Ring and get it wrong the consequences would be catastrophic. He knows that at the end this is not a war that can be won through force of arms. Sauron can be delayed but this time he cannot be defeated. Gandalf knows that at the moment of the crisis of the Age everything will depend upon a madness, upon a gamble in which everything is wagered upon one slender possibility.

I exaggerate! To describe the possibility as slender is a nonsense. The wager will be made on an action that is as close to impossible as can be conceived. Gandalf knows this even now and so he needs to be sure.

The second is that at the moment when Gandalf leaves the Shire and the Ring he does not know what to do next. He knows enough not to try to take the Ring himself. He fears what it might do to him if it turns out to be the One. He knows that when the time comes everything will have to be risked upon one throw of the dice. But what this will mean in an actual plan of action he does not yet know. He needs time to think.

“Frodo saw him to the door. He gave a final wave of his hand, and walked off at a surprising pace; but Frodo thought the old wizard looked unusually bent, almost as if he were carrying a great weight. The evening was closing in, and his cloaked figure quickly vanished into the twilight. Frodo did not see him again for a long time.”


5 thoughts on ““Keep it Safe, and Keep it Secret!” On What Takes Place at Bag End after Bilbo Leaves The Shire.

  1. Only the recognition and allowing of grace to operate make it clear this impossible task is divinely chosen and directed gives those chosen to be part of it the strength to change impossible to I’m possible. But no one knows this yet, not even angelic Gandalf. I love it, though it is certainly hard to live through in this case or any time it happens to us too.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • That is so true!
      I am struck that Tolkien does not rush his story until the attack upon the Fellowship at the Falls of Rauros. After that the pace is unrelenting until the Ring goes into the Fire and every obstacle is resented. I can’t remember the exact words but Peter Jackson gets it just right as Gandalf races away upon Shadowfax with Pippin. What is it? Thousands of years and now I have no time! Something like that.
      Surely the wisdom required is know the difference between the patience required to build something well and that moment when we have to grasp the possibility before it is lost for ever.
      God bless you, Anne Marie 😊

  2. “He knows from his Ringlore that “magic” rings don’t just turn up from time to time.”

    It is pretty clear from the Hobbit that they do. What Gandalf has begun to suspect is that this is a Ring of Power, not just any old magic ring.

    • Hi there and thank you for leaving your first comment on this blog. I do hope that you will call again.
      I am always open to learning something new and I really don’t know about magic rings that are not Rings of Power. Please tell me more. I guess that they must have been a possibility as neither Gandalf or the dwarves seem overly put out when Bilbo tells of his ring for the first time. But I cannot think of another example of a so-called magic ring. If others do exist then I will need to re-work this piece and why Gandalf needed to take time to eliminate the “just another magic ring” explanation of the identity of Bilbo’s ring. And I will be very grateful to you.

  3. Well, unfortunately, the evidence you give is just about all there is. It’s clear from several conversations (mainly in The Hobbit) that there exist magic rings that are not Rings of Power. This makes sense, given how the Rings of Power were made—do you think Celebrimbor just invented magic rings all by himself, with no tradition behind him, and perfected the Rings of Power on the first try? Or did dwarves and elves make all sorts of magic things, including rings, for many years before the Rings of Power were made?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s