In the Second Age of Middle Earth, the Lords of Elves, Dwarves, and Men are given rings of power, but the Dark Lord Sauron creates the One Ring, forged in the fires of Mount Doom, to rule all the other rings. An alliance of Men and Elves battle Sauron’s dark forces in Mordor. Isuldir of Gondor cuts off Sauron’s finger and the ring thereon, destroying his physical form. The Third Age of Middle Earth begins. Isuldir is corrupted by the ring and killed by Orcs. The ring is lost for 2500 years, found by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who keeps it for another 500 years, becoming more and more corrupted physically and mentally, until Hobbit Bilbo Baggins finds the ring and steals it.

Sixty years pass. Celebrating his 111th birthday in Bag End, The Shire, with his wizard friend Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo (Ian Holm) announces that he intends to leave the Shire, and he leaves his property, including the ring, to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). Gandalf discovers the true nature of the ring, that Gollum was captured and tortured by orcs and spoke two words to them: Shire and Baggins. Gandalf warns Frodo to leave the Shire. He does so with his loyal friend Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin). Gandalf rides to Isengard to meet with fellow wizard Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), only to learn that he is allied with Sauron, who has sent his nine undead Nazgul to find Frodo. These are the nine men who possessed rings, and the One Ring now possesses them.

Frodo and Sam are joined by the Hobbits Meriadoc Brandybuck, or Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Peregrine Took, or Pippin (Billy Boyd). They evade the Nazgul and arrive in the town of Bree to meet Gandalf. But Gandalf has been taken prisoner by Saruman. The Hobbits are aided by a human ranger named Stryder (Viggo Mortensen), who has chosen to escort them to Rivendell and the shelter of the elves. The Hobbits are ambushed by the Nazgul on Weathertop and the witch-king stabs Frodo with a Morgul blade. The half-elf princess Arwen Evenstar (Liv Tyler), Stryder’s beloved, rescues Frodo and summons the river to sweep away the Nazgul. Frankly, I don’t know whose eyes one is more likely to get lost in—Arwen’s or Frodo’s. She takes them to Rivendell, where he is healed.

Gandalf meets them there, having been freed from Saruman’s clutches by Gwahir the Giant Eagle. Stryder reunites with Arwen. Her father, Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving), holds a council and they decide that the One Ring must be taken to Mount Doom and destroyed in the fires in which it was forged. Frodo volunteers to carry the ring, accompanied by Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippin, the Elf Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom), the Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Boromir of Gondor (Sean Bean), and Stryder, who is Aragorn, the Heir of Isuldur and rightful king of Gondor. Bilbo, who lives with the Elves now, hands over the elf-blade Sting to Frodo.

The Fellowship of the Ring tries to cross over the mountain Caradhras, but Saruman sends a storm that forces them to travel beneath the mountain, through the Mines of Moria. They find the bodies of the Dwarves slaughtered there and are attacked by Orcs and a giant Cave Troll. Durin’s Bane, a huge Balrog made of fire and smoke, attacks and is hurled into the chasm, but it drags Gandalf down with it. Devastated with grief, the Fellowship reaches Lothlorien, ruled by Galadriel the Elf-Queen (Cate Blanchett) and her husband Celeborn (Marton Csokas). Galadriel resists the terrifying attraction of the ring and warns Frodo that one of his friends will try to take it from him. Saruman creates an army of super-orcs called Uruk-Hai to hunt down and slay the Fellowship of the Ring.

They travel by river to Parth Galen. Frodo is confronted by Boromir, who tries to seize the ring. Realizing that the ring will always seek to corrupt his friends, Frodo decides to go to Mordor alone. The Fellowship is attacked by the Uruk-hai. Merry and Pippin are taken captive, and Boromir is wounded by the Uruk chief Lurtz (Lawrence Makoare). Aragorn kills Lurtz and watches over Boromir as he dies. Sam follows Frodo. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli decide to rescue Merry and Pippin and the Fellowship dissolves.

Jake Gyllenhaal, along with 150 other actors, was considered for Frodo. Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart were considered for Gandalf and turned it down. Daniel Day Lewis and Liam Neeson could have been Boromir. Liv Tyler was chosen over Helena Bonham Carter as Arwen. Cate Blanchett replaced Lucy Lawless as Galadriel because the latter was pregnant. David Bowie lost out to Hugo Weaving as Elrond. Much of the book was excised or re-arranged. The 7-year siege of Barad-Dur became one battle. Saruman’s role was expanded. Some characters—Gimli’s father Gloin, Tom Bombadil—were written out. Some events were moved from one book to another. As the division into three volumes was the publisher’s idea and not Tolkien’s, the book simply ends. Jackson moved the first chapter of The Two Towers to the Fellowship of the Ring to create a climactic battle scene.