The foreword, spoken by Galadriel, shows the Dark Lord Sauron forging the One Ring in order to conquer the lands of Middle-earth. A Last Alliance of Elves and Men is formed to counter Sauron's forces at the foot of Mount Doom, but Sauron kills Elendil, the High King of Men. His son, Prince Isildur grabs Elendil's broken sword Narsil, and slashes at Sauron's hand, separating him from the Ring and vanquishing his army. However, because Sauron's "life force" is bound to the Ring, he is not completely defeated until the Ring itself is destroyed. Isildur takes the Ring and succumbs to its temptation, refusing to destroy it. He is later ambushed and killed by orcs, and the Ring is lost in a river. The Ring is found by the creature Sméagol thousands of years later, who takes it underground for five centuries, giving him "unnaturally long life" and transforming him into the creature Gollum. Since the Ring is bound to Sauron, it has a will of its own and wants to be found. Therefore, the Ring consciously leaves Gollum in its quest to be reunited with Sauron. However, it is instead found by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, much to the despair of Gollum. Bilbo returns to his home in the Shire with the Ring, and the story jumps forward in time sixty years.
At his 111th ("eleventy-first") birthday, Bilbo leaves the Ring to his nephew and adopted heir Frodo Baggins. After a ride to the Gondorian city of Minas Tirith, while searching for answers, Gandalf the Wizard soon learns it is the One Ring, and that Sauron seeks to retake it. Taking no chances, Gandalf tells Frodo to leave the Shire with the Ring and sends him to Bree with his friend and gardener, Sam, with plans to meet him there after Gandalf goes to Isengard to meet the head of his order, Saruman. Saruman reveals that the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths, have left Minas Morgul to capture the Ring and kill whoever carries it; having already been corrupted to Sauron's cause, he then imprisons Gandalf atop Orthanc. Gandalf is then forced to watch as Saruman orders his orcs to destroy the forests surrounding Isengard to build weapons of war and create an elite Orc army called the Uruk-hai.
While travelling to Bree, Frodo and Sam are soon joined by fellow hobbits Merry and Pippin. After encountering a Ringwraith on the road, they manage to reach Bree, and there they meet a Man called Strider, who agrees to lead them to Rivendell. They agree only because Strider already knows about the Nazgûl and that Gandalf isn't there to guide them. After some travelling, they spend the night on the hill of Weathertop, where they are attacked by the Nazgûl at night. Strider fights off the Ringwraiths, but Frodo is grievously wounded with a morgul blade, and they must quickly get him to Rivendell for healing. While chased by the Nazgûl, Frodo is taken by the elf Arwen to the Elven haven of Rivendell, and healed by her father, Elrond. Arwen also uses her magic to cut off the pursuing Ringwraiths at the Ford of Brunien, summoning a surge of water that sweeps the Ringwraiths away.
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