The Two Towers
Book 3: The Treason of Isengard
Chapters 1–2: Pursuit to Rohan
In a chapter entitled “The Departure of Boromir,” book 3 begins where book 2 left off, with Aragorn still searching for Frodo as he climbs Amon Hen. He finds Frodo’s tracks heading down the hill from the high seat atop the mountain, and decides to sit in the seat before following Frodo’s tracks, but he can see nothing useful from the throne. Suddenly, he hears the blast of Boromir’s horn sounding an alarm. He hastens down the hill toward the sound of the horn, but when he arrives at a glade down the slope of the hill, he finds he is too late. Boromir is lying with his back to a tree, pierced by many orc arrows. As he dies, Boromir admits that he had tried to take the ring from Frodo by force and believes he has been justly punished for that act. He tells Aragorn that orcs have carried off the hobbits, but he dies before he can tell Aragorn whether Frodo was with them.
More than 20 orcs lie slain around Boromir’s body, and when Legolas and Gimli join Aragorn, the three of them put Boromir into a funeral boat and send him down the river, to go over the falls of Rauros. They sing him a dirge and then try to decide what course of action to take next. Since one boat is missing, along with Sam’s pack, they conclude that Frodo and Sam have headed toward Mordor alone. They examine the bodies and the gear of the dead orcs and find that some are them are taller than the orcs of Mordor, and they bear arms inscribed with a runic S. They conclude that the orcs are in the service of Saruman, not Sauron, since the Dark Lord does not use elf runes or go by his proper name. Aragorn makes the choice to follow the orcs that have taken Merry and Pippin, believing that he and Legolas and Gimli may be able to do more to save the two younger hobbits, who are in more immediate danger, than to help Frodo, who has chosen to go on alone.
As the second chapter (“The Riders of Rohan”) opens, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas follow the trail of the orcs who have taken Merry and Pippin, although they are far behind and have little real hope of catching them. Before they have gone far, they find a pile of dead orcs, the apparent result of an internal squabble among the enemy band. None of the slain orcs are of the powerful variety with the mark of Saruman on their gear, and Aragorn surmises that the orcs loyal to Saruman have won the debate. The company must be heading toward Isengard. But there is no sign yet of Merry or Pippin.
They chase the orcs into the realm of Rohan, and finally they come across an elven brooch and some hobbit tracks leading off from the main trail. It is clear that one of the hobbits—probably Pippin, judging from the size of the tracks—has deliberately left the brooch behind to help the pursuers in their chase. Somewhat heartened, the three companions keep pushing as fast and as long as they are able, but at night they are forced to rest, chiefly because, as Gimli argues, the trail cannot be followed in the darkness. Eventually, even Legolas cannot keep the orcs in sight any longer. The three companions travel on, relentlessly but hopelessly, traversing 45 leagues (135 miles) in four days. But they are no closer to the orcs.
Suddenly, Legolas sees a large group of men approaching on horseback. Aragorn tells the others that he is familiar with the Rohirrim, the Riders of Rohan, and that they are true, generous, and brave. They are related to the Bardings of Dale in the North and have been allies of Gondor for many years. Aragorn does not believe the rumor Gandalf had heard that the Rohirrim now pay tribute to Mordor.
At first, the riders pass by the three companions, who are camouflaged in their elven cloaks. But Aragorn cries out to them, and the three are soon surrounded by the 105 horsemen and addressed by their leader, Éomer. The initial confrontation is a tense one, for the Rohirrim are suspicious of any strangers in their land, and when he learns that the companions have come through Lórien, Éomer remarks on the reputation of the Lady of the Wood as a sorceress. This incurs Gimli’s wrath, and the dwarf threatens Éomer with his axe until Aragorn can smooth things over. Ultimately, Aragorn reveals his identity as Isildur’s heir and draws the Sword that was Broken, demanding that Éomer help them or face his anger. In the exchange that follows, Éomer reports that his troops have just massacred and burned the orcs that Aragorn has been chasing, and that they found no hobbits among them. Aragorn reveals the deaths of Gandalf and of Boromir, both of which sadden Éomer, though he admits that his king, Théoden, has recently had little good to say of Gandalf. The Rohirrim are not allied with Mordor, though the Dark Lord’s orcs do steal their horses when they can. They are indeed at war with Saruman, and thus have destroyed the orcs who bore his symbol.
Éomer is amazed to hear of Halflings (hobbits), the long-lost heir of Isildur, and such matters, remarking that legends have become reality. He tries to persuade Aragorn to come with him to the palace of King Théoden, hoping that the sword of Elendil will be the ally of the Rohirrim. He also hints at dissension within the court, suggesting that Saruman has some influence there. Aragorn refuses, saying that he and his companions must seek their friends, to find whether they may be still alive. Finally, Éomer offers the companions horses, first securing a promise from Aragorn to bring the horses back to Meduseld, Théoden’s hall, when his business is accomplished. Aragorn pledges to come when he is able.
The companions make much better time on horseback, and soon they come to the edge of Fangorn Forest, where the Rohirrim had encountered the orcs. They find a fresh mound of earth surrounded by 15 spears, for the bodies of the Rohirrim that were killed in the skirmish. They also find the burned corpses of the defeated orcs, but can find no evidence that Merry and Pippin are among the dead. For the evening, they camp near the woods, but Aragorn warns Gimli not to cut any living wood from the forest to build a fire. Fangorn is a wood as ancient as the Old Forest of Tom Bombadil, but larger and even more mysterious. That evening, while Gimli stands watch, an old man in a cloak and a wide-brimmed hat appears briefly at the edge of the forest. When the dwarf starts, Aragorn and Legolas awaken, and Aragorn tries to address the old man, but he disappears into the forest. At that point, Legolas realizes that the horses have disappeared. The companions will have to walk now, all the way to Meduseld. Legolas believes that the old man must have been Saruman himself.
Chapters 3–4: Fangorn
With the third chapter (“The Uruk-hai”), the focus shifts to Pippinshortly after his capture with Merry. He awakens tied up among a large band of orcs. He was apparently knocked unconscious during the skirmish with Boromir, and he wonders what happened to Boromir and where Merry is. He is eventually reunited with Merry, who is weak and wears a bandage on his head. The swiftly moving orcs have been carrying the hobbits on their backs for many miles. Pippin soon realizes that the orcs are not a united group but, rather, represent three separate tribes. Some are orcs from the mines of Moria, who have come south to take revenge on the travelers who had killed so many of their fellows. A second group, led by a short, broad orc named Grishnákh, wants to head for Lugbúrz, the orcish name for Barad-dûr, the dark tower of Mordor. But the third group, the tall, powerfully built orcs who are identified as Uruk-hai, are led by Uglúk, who insists on bringing the hobbits to his master, Saruman. While the other orcs would prefer to kill Merry and Pippin immediately, Uglúk forces them to obey Saruman’s command to bring the hobbits in unharmed, since they are in possession of something necessary for the war. When Grishnákh’s faction threatens to rebel, Uglúk beheads two of them and quells the dissent temporarily. A third orc is killed by Uglúk’s followers, and falls on top of Pippin. Pippin contrives to cut the bonds on his wrists with the sword of the fallen orc that has landed on him, but then loosely replaces the bonds so that it appears his hands are still tied. At this point, Grishnákh and a few dozen of his followers leave the group. Uglúk kills a few more of the northern orcs before they fall in line.
Eventually, Uglúk decides to cut the ropes on the hobbits’ ankles and force them to run, since his orcs are tired of carrying them. Pippin has been holding out the hope that Aragorn and the others may be pursuing the orcs in an effort to rescue them, but he realizes that, with all of the orc footprints, even a Ranger would not be able to see the hobbit tracks among them. So he deliberately begins dashing off the path, as if he were trying to escape. When his guards come to force him back, he deliberately lets fall his elven brooch, hoping that Aragorn might find it and see his tracks, and thereby know that he and Merry are with the orcs.
Through the orcs’ conversation, Pippin hears that a lone rider has seen the orc band and ridden off, presumably to bring the news to other Riders of Rohan. At this news, Uglúk orders that the company keep moving both day and night. Uglúk allows a group of more than 100 of the northern orcs to break off and run away, telling them to make for the forest if they want to find safety. At that point, Grishnákh reappears with his troops, and he and Uglúk make a temporary alliance to fight against the Riders of Rohan, who are now in sight and in pursuit. The hobbits’ legs are tied, and they are carried again. By the next afternoon, the main body of the Uruk-hai overtakes the northerners that ran away, and Grishnákh’s orcs of Mordor follow close behind. The Rohirrim continue to gain on them, slaughtering any stragglers that come into their path.
That night, some three furlongs from Fangorn Forest, the orcs are overtaken and surrounded by the Riders. The orcs expect them to attack at dawn, and when Uglúk is away, trying to protect the perimeter, the hobbits are accosted by Grishnákh, who begins searching them. Realizing that Grishnákh knows about the ring and is seeking it, Pippin pretends that he and Merry have it and will trade it to Grishnákh for their freedom. Instead, Grishnákh picks them up and tries to sneak off with them, but his way is blocked by one of the Riders, and when he draws his sword to kill his prisoners, he is felled by a Rohirrim spear.
As the circle of riders closes around the orcs, Merry and Pippin find themselves outside the circle. With his free hands, Pippin is able to untie their feet and eat a bite of the elvish lembas, which refreshes them. They begin to crawl toward the forest, reaching it as the battle begins. From the edge of the wood, they witness the slaughter of the orcs, but as they see Uglúk and some of the other Uruk-hai running toward the forest in an attempt to escape, Merry and Pippin dash into Fangorn Forest to hide and therefore do not witness Uglúk’s end at the hands of the Rohirrim.
As chapter 4 (“Treebeard”) opens, Merry and Pippin have fled into Fangorn Forest. Merry, who had spent some time looking at maps while they were in Rivendell, has some notion of where they are, and he knows that the river flowing through the forest is called the Entwash. The hobbits remember that Celeborn had warned them about entering Fangorn, but they believe that whatever dangers it holds, it is better than being recaptured by orcs. They have gone some three or four miles into the forest when they come upon a rocky wall with what seems a naturally formed stairway leading to the top of a small hill. They climb up, hoping to get a look at the land about. At the top of the hill, however, they meet a creature whom they at first take to be a stumpy oak tree. In fact, it is an ent—a manlike creature, but some 14 feet tall, with limbs and a skin that make him like a tree in appearance. This is Treebeard, known as Fangorn in elvish, a very ancient creature who speaks to them in the common language—which he finds very “hasty,” preferring to say things in the Old Entish tongue, in which every name tells the entire story of a thing. Treebeard does not recognize the race of hobbits, saying they are not mentioned in the old songs. He sings them a poetic list of names, in which he enumerates elves, dwarves, men, and ents as the four “free peoples.” Merry and Pippin convince him to add another line to the old list, naming “Half-grown hobbits, the hole-dwellers” (68), and Treebeard is pleased to do so. As they converse, Merry and Pippin learn that Treebeard is acquainted with Gandalf and is disturbed to learn of Gandalf’s death. He knows Saruman as well, but when the hobbits ask him which side he is on, Treebeard refuses to choose, since no one, he claims, is on his side, the implication being that his is the side of the trees, the forests, nature itself. They find that he is, however, quite angry with Saruman. Not only has Saruman destroyed a portion of Fangorn Forest by felling the trees, he has also engaged in unnatural practices in creating the race of orcs called the Uruk-hai. The first Dark Lord, Morgoth, had created orcs as an ironic imitation of elves, Treebeard says, and in the same manner created trolls in order to mimic ents like himself. But Saruman has made the Uruk-hai by mixing the races of orcs and men, and Treebeard finds this deplorable.
The destruction of the forest by Saruman’s orcs distresses Treebeard the most, however, and he has determined to call an Entmoot—a meeting of the ents—in order to rouse them to take some action against Isengard. Merry and Pippin travel on Treebeard’s branchlike arms as he moves through the forest to his own home. The hobbits spend the evening before the Entmoot at Treebeard’s house, a comfortable, natural setting, where they are fed and where they are given an ent draught to drink. Treebeard says that the Shire with its lovely gardens, as Merry and Pippin have described it, sounds like a place that the entwives would like, and he asks anxiously whether they have ever seen any sign of entwives there. He is disappointed when they answer in the negative. Treebeard tells them that the ents are a dwindling population, for though they live for great ages, there are no new entings born. This is because long ago the ents became separated from the entwives and have never been able to find them.
The following day, Treebeard carries the hobbits to the Entmoot, where a few other ents have already begun to arrive. They begin their meeting, but as ents take their time about deciding anything, considering other creatures overly “hasty,” the meeting promises to last a good while, and Treebeard entrusts Merry and Pippin to one of the younger, more “hasty” ents, Bregalad (or “Quickbeam”), who has a house nearby and who has already made up his mind on the question of war with Saruman. He tells the hobbits how Saruman’s orcs destroyed the Rowan trees near his home—old friends that had grown there for many years, and who no longer answered to their long names.
For two full days, the Entmoot considers Treebeard’s proposal. Finally, on the afternoon of the third day, Merry and Pippin hear a chanting from the Entmoot, as the ents begin to march, intoning “To Isengard with doom we come! / With doom we come, with doom we come!” (89). Treebeard comes by, with 50 ents following two abreast, and, calling to Bregalad and the hobbits to join the moot, takes up Merry and Pippin again in his arms. As they march forward, he admits to the hobbits that the ents may very well be marching to their own doom, but that the current state of affairs made it likely that even if they did nothing, doom would find the ents. As they continue their march toward Nan Curunir, the valley just west of Fangorn where Isengard is located, Pippin looks behind, and it seems to him that the army of ents has swollen—or that perhaps the trees themselves had awakened and joined the march of the ents.
Chapters 5–8: The Defeat of Isengard
Chapter 5 (“The White Rider”) returns to Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas at the site of the battle between the orcs and the Rohirrim. As morning comes, they are able to find traces of what may have happened to the hobbits. Severed bonds and crumbs of lembas bread show them that at least one of the hobbits is still alive and has apparently escaped bondage and had a snack outside the circle of battle—an act that Legolas says is definitive proof that the person in question is a hobbit. The traces do lead into Fangorn, and despite their misgivings, the three companions feel bound to enter the forbidding forest to search for their friends. In the forest, they find two sets of hobbit tracks and are heartened to know that both hobbits are alive. But they now face the difficult task of tracking them through Fangorn Forest.
Having succeeded in tracking Merry and Pippin to the hill on which the hobbits had met Treebeard, the three hunters are considering what to do next when Legolas glimpses a bent, grey figure approaching. Gimli believes it is the old man he had seen at the forest edge the previous evening and tells Legolas to shoot him, since it must be Saruman. As the figure draws closer, Gimli moves toward him with his axe, and Aragorn draws his sword. But the strange figure addresses them in a familiar manner, and when the three hunters ask him if he knows what has happened to their friends, he does not answer but instead leaps up onto the rock, where his grey clothes fall away and he reveals clothing of dazzling white. But to their astonished joy, it is not Saruman the White who has come to them but Gandalf the Grey, who has been resurrected as Gandalf the White. His memory seems slightly fuzzy, for, as he says, he has “passed through fire and deep water” since their parting, but he has returned “at the turn of the tide” (98). As they address him as Gandalf, he pauses and thinks, remarking that, yes, Gandalf had been his name, and tells them they might still address him as Gandalf. But he has also become, he says, what Saruman should have been.
Gandalf, coming more and more to himself, tells the companions about Saruman and his intention to seize the ring for himself, thus betraying Sauron. But he rejoices that Saruman has unwittingly aided their cause. By insisting that his Uruk-hai bring the hobbits to Isengard unharmed, he has ensured that Merry and Pippin would be brought to Fangorn— where they would never have come otherwise. And it is their arrival in Fangorn that has now been the spark to ignite the ents. While Legolas and Aragorn are astonished to hear that there are still ents in the world, Gandalf explains that they are indeed in Fangorn, led by Treebeard, whom Gandalf identifies as the oldest living being in Middle-earth. The wrath of the ents is now bent toward Isengard, and Gandalf foresees disaster for Saruman.
As for Frodo, Gandalf says that he has now brought the ring out of reach of any of the Free Peoples, and when he hears that Sam is traveling with Frodo, he is pleased. Gandalf is aware that Sauron very nearly learned of where the ring was, but that the danger of that has passed; he seems to be alluding to Frodo’s struggle on Amon Hen. Gandalf says that he himself had gone to a high place to challenge the Eye of Sauron, and the implication is that it was Gandalf’s voice that was in Frodo’s head at that time, telling him to remove the ring. But Sauron, says Gandalf, is making one fatal mistake: He believes that the ring is intended for Minas Tirith, and that a challenger will come from there at some point who will wield the ring and try to take his throne. He cannot conceive of the possibility that they may be planning to destroy it.
Since Merry and Pippin are safe, Gandalf advises Aragorn to fulfill his promise and journey next to Edoras to see Théoden, king of the Rohirrim; Gandalf promises to go with him. Aragorn, recognizing Gandalf’s new, superior status, acknowledges him as leader of the forces of the Free Peoples against Mordor and says he will follow Gandalf, the White Rider.
Gandalf goes on to tell the companions what happened after he and the Balrog fell in Moria. They fell for a long time, he says, until they landed in the water and continued to sink to the bottom. The Balrog’s fire was quenched, but he had become a snakelike monster of slime. Finally, Gandalf began to get the better of him in their struggle, at which point the monster fled up through the secret paths in Moria, until it had reached Durin’s Tower, the highest peak of Moria, always with Gandalf clinging to its heel. There the Balrog flamed anew, and Gandalf fought with it until he was finally able to cast the Balrog from that height and destroy it. Afterward, Gandalf seems to have wandered, dazed, until he was picked up by the eagle Gwaihir the Windlord. He had been sent by Galadriel to search for Gandalf and took Gandalf to Lórien to recuperate. There, Gandalf was healed and clad in white, and he comes now bearing messages from Lady Galadriel. To Aragorn, this takes the form of a cryptic song declaring that the time has come for the Lost to ride south, warning him that his path must be dark, and the Dead will watch the road to the sea. To Legolas, there is a brief warning verse that he should beware the cry of the sea, for it will turn his heart from the forest. To Gimli, the lady simply says that her thoughts are with him; she calls him Lockbearer and advises him to take his axe only to the right tree.
Now Gandalf calls Shadowfax, the great white steed of Rohan that will be the mount of the White Rider. With Shadowfax come the other two horses that had run from Aragorn’s company the previous night—they had not run away but had run to meet Shadowfax, the horse Legolas calls their “chieftain” (108). Aragorn and Legolas mount the other two horses, Gandalf takes Gimli before him on Shadowfax, and the four set off over the march of Rohan to Edoras and the halls of Meduseld, home of King Théoden of Rohan—as Aragorn had promised Éomer.
In chapter 6 (“The King of the Golden Hall”), the company rides most of the night, resting only briefly. In the morning, Legolas sees in the distance the golden hall of Meduseld. Gandalf warns the company to speak carefully and be on their guard, for the Rohirrim are cautious and suspicious in these days of threatening war. As they approach the great hall, the riders pass through the tombs of Théoden’s ancestors, 16 kings in a line stretching back some 500 years. Aragorn chants a song in the Rohirrim tongue, an elegiac song about past glories that have fled.
When the company comes to the gates of the city Edoras, they are challenged by a guard in the local tongue, to which Gandalf responds, wondering why they do not use the common speech. Only those who speak the language of the Rohirrim are welcome these days, the guard tells them as he eyes their horses. Aragorn responds that of course these are horses of Rohan, loaned them by Éomer only a few days earlier. He asks whether Éomer has not already told the guards to expect them, but gets an evasive response from the guard, who adds that Wormtongue has brought the orders that no stranger should pass the gates of the city. At the mention of that name, Gandalf demands he be allowed to speak to Théoden in person, giving his name and those of his companions. The guard brings the news to the palace and returns with the response that the visitors are to be allowed entry.
When the companions come to the doors of the Golden Hall, however, they are stopped again by the guard Háma, who insists that they leave all weapons outside the palace. Legolas leaves his without argument, but Aragorn is loath to leave Andúril in the hand of any man. With any other sword, he says, he would not mind. There is a tense moment when Háma suggests that it must be left, or face the swords of all the host of Rohan alone. Gimli, standing forward with his axe, remarks that Andúril would not be alone. Gandalf steps in and leaves his own sword, the elvish blade Glamdring, and persuades Aragorn to do the same. But Aragorn warns the guard that harm will come to any man save the heir of Elendil who dares to draw the Sword that was Broken. Háma is impressed, seeing his visitors as legends come to life. When he tries to force Gandalf to leave his staff, however, the wizard claims that as an aged man, he needs the staff to lean on.
When they enter the hall, the four companions see that Théoden seems an old, infirm man. Among other things, he is mourning the recent death of his only son, Théodred. He sits on his throne attended by his beautiful niece, Éowyn, and the pale, sinister counselor Gríma, known as Wormtongue. Supported by Wormtongue, Théoden gives Gandalf a cold welcome, accusing him of coming only to bring bad news and to ask for favors. But Gandalf throws off his grey disguise, stands tall in his white garments, and uses his staff to rain thunder on the hall and stun Wormtongue into a groveling hulk on the floor. He exposes Wormtongue’s influence on Théoden as serving the interests of Saruman and takes the king aside to tell him of the political realities currently faced by Rohan, and to persuade Théoden to throw off his infirmities and to take up the sword again.
Gandalf wants to know whether Éomer has been imprisoned, and Théoden answers that he has been on the advice of Wormtongue. Gandalf pleads for his release, and the king sends for Éomer. As Gandalf encourages Théoden to take up arms against Saruman, Théoden realizes he does not know where his sword is—he had given it to Wormtongue for safekeeping. When Éomer appears, he kneels and offers his sword to his king. The two are reconciled, and Théoden agrees to lead his army against the forces of Isengard. He has also realized that Gríma Wormtongue has been misleading him. He calls for Gríma and demands his sword, which the counselor brings to him. The king has decided to ride at the head of his own troops into battle. He accuses Gríma of treachery, but the counselor protests his innocence and loyalty. Testing that claim, Théoden gives Wormtongue the choice to ride with him into battle or to leave Rohan immediately. Gríma shows his true colors when he spits at Théoden and runs off.
The kingdom now cleansed of the evil influence of Wormtongue, the king celebrates that night in his great hall. During this time, the Lady Éowyn seems particularly drawn to Aragorn, though he tries not to encourage her interest. Gandalf asks Théoden to grant him the great horse Shadowfax as a gift outright rather than a loan, and the king agrees. He also provides mail armor and weapons to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. He then rallies his troops and prepares the following morning to set forth into battle. He proclaims his nephew Éomer his heir, and on the advice of the guard Háma, he names his niece Éowyn to act as regent until his return from the war. As the army leaves, Éowyn watches them go, alone before the doors of the great hall.
As the seventh chapter (“Helm’s Deep”) opens, the Rohirrim ride south of the river Isen, making their way for the place where a company of riders has been defending the ford and where Prince Théodred had been killed. It takes the host the better part of two days to arrive, and on the way Legolas, with his keen elvish sight, can see a great cloud of shapes rising from Isengard, though he cannot say what they are. Before the army reaches the ford, they are met by a survivor of the battle there, telling them they have come too late, that the forces of Rohan have been overwhelmed by a huge army of orcs from Isengard. Many of the troops have been scattered, but Erkenbrand of Westfold has gathered as many men as he could find to try to retreat into Helm’s Deep, a fortified valley. The ancient stronghold of Helm’s Deep has never been captured as long as men have defended it. Gandalf advises Théoden to take the army to that fortress rather than making for the fords, and then, without explanation, he indicates that he must ride off on another errand. He gallops away on Shadowfax, telling Théoden to wait for him at Helm’s Gate.
As the army travels through the night, their scouts warn them that orcs, some riding wolves, are already in the valley and making for Helm’s Deep. They are joined by wild men of Dunland, traditional enemies of the Rohirrim who believed themselves dispossessed by Rohan hundreds of years before. Théoden’s forces pass through the fortified Deeping Wall as well as Helm’s Dike, where Éomer proposes to leave a rear guard to defend a gap in the dike before the main company advances to Helm’s Gate, where some of the men that Erkenbrand had left to guard the fortress rejoice that the king has come to aid them. But they tell Théoden that Erkenbrand has not come back to Helm’s Deep since he left for the fords. Most of the families of Westfold, they are told, have taken refuge in the caves of Helm’s Deep. Now the king and his men take their stand behind the fortification called the Deeping Wall, a great wall 20 feet high. Soon after they do this, they hear the sounds of fighting from Helm’s Dike, and before long, men from the rear guard come rushing back to the gate to report that, though they filled the valley with the bodies of orcs, they could not withstand the full onslaught and were forced to retreat. Sometime after midnight, thousands of orcs pour through Helm’s Dike toward the gate, beginning their assault on the fortress. They are met by a hail of arrows and stones and are driven back time and time again by the defenders, but each time they are able to advance farther. Finally, they are at the gate, trying to batter it down. Éomer and Aragorn dash out to the gate and momentarily scatter the orcs and wild men trying to force the gate, many of whom flee at the sight of the restored Andúril. But as the pair begin to retreat back behind the wall, they are attacked from behind, until Gimli steps out with his axe and dispatches the orcs assaulting them.
When Gimli returns, he boasts to Legolas that his axe has killed two orcs, only to hear that Legolas has slain 20 with his bow. The two begin a grim competition as the night goes on, counting enemies each has slain. But as the battle rages through the night, it seems more and more hopeless for the Rohirrim, for the orcs are simply far too numerous, and it seems the defenders must inevitably be worn down. Yet Aragorn tells Éomer that, if they can only hold out until dawn, he will feel some hope. Just then, an explosion rocks the Deeping Wall: Saruman has supplied his forces with a substance that is able to blast a hole in the great wall itself. Immediately, Aragorn leads men down to fight at the breach in the wall, but they are not able to hold out long. He and Legolas are parted from Gimli and Éomer, and they can only hope that their friends have made it to safety. Then Legolas goes off in search of more arrows, while Aragorn escapes into the Hornburg, the fortified bastion at the gate that is the strongest fortress in the Deep. The wall has been breached and most of the defenses taken, but the king and his closest retainers are in the tower. Théoden has resolved not to be taken in the tower, though, but to lead his men in one last charge with the coming of dawn. Aragorn steps out on the tower battlements and signals to parley with the orcs, but the Uruk-hai taunt him, telling him to bring out the king or they will tear him from his hole. Aragorn, in a tone of royal authority, defies the orcs, telling them that the Hornburg has never been taken by an enemy, and warning them that when the dawn comes, they will be destroyed.
It is, of course, a bluff, so far as Aragorn knows. When the first light of dawn arrives, the orcs blow up Helm’s Gate with their blasting powder, but at the same time, a trumpet sounds and Théoden rides out with his host, with Aragorn at his right hand, and the riders destroy all the orcs in their path as they ride to Helm’s Dike. At the sound of the horn, warriors pour out as well from the caves, where many Rohirrim have taken refuge, and they fall on the orcs at the same time. At the dike, the king’s troops turn to make another charge and notice that outside the dike, not two furlongs distant, a great forest has seemingly sprung up overnight. Many of the orcs, disturbed by the trees and afraid of the king, begin to retreat in the opposite direction, or try to climb out of the valley they are now trapped in, when suddenly Gandalf, the White Rider, appears on the other side of the valley, leading a host of Rohirrim captained by Erkenbrand of Westfold. Between the two armies, the panicking orcs flee into the trees; none of them will escape from that forest.
“The Road to Isengard” is the title of the eighth chapter, and as indicated, it deals with a march from Helm’s Deep to Isengard, where Gandalf is determined to go following the defeat of Saruman’s troops at Helm’s Deep. Once the battle is over, Théoden and Aragorn are reunited with Gandalf, as well as Gimli and Éomer, who had been trapped outside the walls when the final battle began. Théoden believes that the trees were part of Gandalf’s wizardry, but Gandalf laughingly says that they were none of his doing. Gandalf informs the king that he must go straight to Isengard, and Théoden agrees to go with him, taking Éomer and a small party of 20 riders in addition to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. First, the aftermath of the battle must be dealt with, and the Rohirrim bury their own dead (including the king’s guardsman Háma), but they are not sure what to do with the thousands of orc carcasses, which on Gandalf’s advice they pile high and leave for the time being. They compel the captured men of Dunland to help with the cleanup, but then promise them clemency if they will take an oath not to make war on Rohan again. This astounds the Dunlanders, who had been told by Saruman that the Rohirrim would burn them alive.
In the afternoon, Gandalf and his party leave for Isengard, though they are wary of traveling though the forest surrounding them. As they ride, Legolas feels the anger of the trees, though he recognizes it is not directed at their party. They come from Fangorn, he surmises. He desires to know the trees more intimately. Gimli, meanwhile, marvels at the magnificent glittering caves of Aglarond that he has just had a glimpse of at Helm’s Deep. The elf and dwarf make a pact to visit the caves and Fangorn Forest together if they are able to do so after the war. Once Gandalf’s party is through the woods, Legolas sees eyes among the trees and wishes to go back among them, but Gandalf stops him and they then become aware of the ents, herding the trees, who pay the travelers little heed. Théoden wonders at the evidence that what he always thought of as children’s stories—the shepherds of the trees— have in fact come to life before his eyes.
The company continues toward Isengard, and Théoden is hesitant to pass by the fords of Isen, where his men were slaughtered by the orcs, fearing that carrion birds may have befouled the bodies of his soldiers. However, he discovers on arriving at the fords that Gandalf has already seen to the respectful burial of the dead, setting many of the scattered forces he had recovered to that task before sending them back to Edoras to protect the people left in Éowyn’s care.
When the company camps for the night, a mysterious dark mist comes upon them, and Gandalf warns them to draw no weapons and let it pass by. At the same time, back at the Hornburg, the men left at Helm’s Deep hear a great noise, and in the morning, the trees have all departed, and the dead orcs have all been covered with mounds of boulders.
As the company comes to the foot of the Misty Mountains, within the valley called the Wizard’s Vale, they come to the land called Isengard. The terrain was once blooming with gardens and orchards, but now it seems to have been disfigured by Saruman’s devices, his burning of trees to manufacture weapons of war. The company sees the black stone tower of Orthanc ahead, but the waters of the valley seem to flow only sluggishly, and a mist hangs on the land that suggests something on fire. The company passes a pillar with the white hand, Saruman’s symbol, upon it, but the pillar is destroyed, and the walls of the fortress of Isengard are crushed into rubble. On a pile of debris near the gate, drinking wine and smoking their pipes after a fine dinner, sit Merry and Pippin.
Merry greets the king of Rohan with great ceremony, stating ironically that Saruman is currently consulting with Wormtongue in his tower, and noting that Treebeard has left them at the gate to greet the king. Gimli and Legolas are frustrated but overjoyed to find the objects of their desperate search safe and comfortable, and Théoden is fascinated at meeting Halflings, another race he thought was imaginary. When Pippin begins relating for Théoden the history of smoking leaf from the Shire, Gandalf interrupts by asking where Treebeard is. Merry directs Gandalf and Théoden to where Treebeard awaits at the northern wall of the conquered citadel.
Chapters 9–11: Saruman Defeated
In the beginning of chapter 9 (“Flotsam and Jetsam”), while Gandalf goes with Théoden and the other Rohirrim to confer with Treebeard, Aragorn and his companions stay to enjoy a happy reunion with Merry and Pippin. The hobbits provide their friends with a fine dinner from the stores they have salvaged from the ruin of Isengard, and they cap the meal off with pipeweed from the Shire itself, which they have found in one of the barrels. Gimli is disappointed that he has lost his pipe, but Pippin reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a spare pipe, which he gives to Gimli. At this point, Gimli concedes that Pippin has paid him back for the hardships he endured trying to track the hobbits down.
Pippin learns that it has been only nine days since they were carried off by the orcs, and he tells the story of Boromir’s last fight and of the desperate flight of the orcs across Rohan. Aragorn returns their knives to Merry and Pippin, and gives Pippin the elven brooch he had dropped. The hobbits are happy to have their things returned, and now Merry launches into the story of their meeting with the ents, and of the Entmoot that ended in the march on Isengard. He describes how the ents’ numbers were swelled by the huorns—ents that had become wild and treelike over the ages, but whose wrath had been stirred against Saruman and his tree-killing orcs. He also tells how the ents broke through the fortress’s stone gates and walls with amazing power and strength. Pippin tells how Saruman fled from the gates into the tower of Orthanc. From within the tower, he was able to set some of his machinery in motion, and to send tongues of fire spurting from the plains around Orthanc. When an ent named Beechbone was set burning like a torch from Saruman’s liquid fire, the ents went into a rage, crumbling the rocks themselves and breaking the dams on the River Isen, diverting it into Isengard, flooding and destroying all of Saruman’s devices below ground and drowning any orcs that were left in the fortress.
Pippin then relates Gandalf’s arrival the previous night and their surprise at seeing him alive, but Gandalf was there chiefly to ask Treebeard to send some forces to help with the defense of Helm’s Deep, which, of course, he sent. That night, the hobbits felt some worry over their friends caught in the great battle, but they were also relieved that Gandalf was in charge of things again. Gimli then asks about Wormtongue, and Pippin tells of Wormtongue’s arrival on horseback that morning. Treebeard had questioned him, and he said he had messages for Saruman. Treebeard lifted Wormtongue and pushed him through the gate so that he could see the destruction wrought by the ents and huorns. At that point, Wormtongue had begged to be allowed to leave, but Treebeard forced him to wade through the water and to join his master in Orthanc. Afterward, Treebeard had left Merry and Pippin at the gate to greet Gandalf and the king of Rohan when they arrived, with all proper courtesy, and the hobbits had found their food and pipeweed among the flotsam and jetsam of the flood. Aragorn, however, is concerned that pipeweed from the Shire has been found in the possession of Saruman, and he plans to mention it to Gandalf.
After their meeting with Treebeard, Gandalf and Théoden regroup with Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the hobbits at the beginning of chapter 10 (“The Voice of Saruman”). Gandalf reveals that he will need to approach the tower of Orthanc and converse with Saruman. He tells the others that they may come with him if they desire, but that they must not underestimate the power of Saruman, who may be cornered and trapped but is extremely dangerous still. In particular, Saruman’s voice has the power to entice and to persuade in ways they cannot fathom, so they must be extremely careful in listening to him. Théoden insists he will come, and Éomer will accompany him, as Aragorn accompanies Gandalf. Gimli wants to see how closely Saruman resembles Gandalf himself and insists on coming with Legolas as representatives of their peoples. The hobbits and the other Rohirrim hold back from the tower as the six others approach it. Gandalf calls for Saruman to show himself, but he is answered first only by the voice of Gríma Wormtongue, asking what it is the visitors want of them. Gandalf rebukes him and demands that Saruman himself come forth. Finally, Saruman does appear on a balcony high up the tower of Orthanc. He is dressed in white robes that seem to change into various colors as he stands, and he begins to speak in sweet, persuasive tones, specifically addressing Théoden and asking why the king has made war on poor, innocent Isengard, offering friendship and a mutually beneficial alliance. Gimli scoffs at Saruman’s words, calling him a liar, and Saruman momentarily loses control and snaps at the dwarf. But all eyes are on Théoden: Gandalf does not interrupt or try to dissuade the king in any way, since he knows the king must approve or resist Saruman’s argument on his own; and the Riders of Rohan all seem completely won over by Saruman’s self-serving pleading. Théoden remains silent for some time, and his Riders believe he has been won over and is about to consent to Saruman’s wiles. Éomer is not fooled and speaks out, recalling the king’s own dead son, Théodred, as well as his guard Háma, whose body was mutilated by Saruman’s orcs at Helm’s Deep. Again, Saruman flashes anger at Éomer but then resumes his cajoling, offering Théoden the promise of peace. Finally, the king speaks, and it is with a controlled rage: They can have peace, he says, when Saruman and his master Sauron and all their works are dead. Saruman, showing his true colors, throws scorn upon Théoden and all his house, and then addresses Gandalf.
Having failed with the others, Saruman tries his persuasive techniques on Gandalf, urging him to join Saruman, his fellow wizard, and desert the lesser folk that he has been helping. It seems a rather pathetic attempt, since Saruman’s voice has failed with all the others on his doorstep, to try his powers on the one most able to resist. Gandalf reminds Saruman of his last visit to Orthanc, and then turns the tables. Gandalf recognizes that Saruman is still a powerful wizard who once acted for the good, and offers him a chance to ally himself with his conquerors and to help them in the coming war with Mordor. But Saruman, in his great pride, refuses Gandalf’s offer disdainfully and turns to walk back into his refuge. In a voice of great power, Gandalf calls Saruman back, and the vanquished wizard turns to hear Gandalf pronounce sentence on him: Formerly Saruman the White, he is now cast out of the Order of Wizards and out of the White Council. Gandalf himself has become the White, and in a show of great power, he shatters Saruman’s staff, taking from him his powers as a wizard. Letting out a cry, Saruman falls back and then crawls into Orthanc.
At that point, a heavy, shining globe is hurled from an upper window of Orthanc, bouncing off the rail of the balcony and down near Gandalf’s feet. Pippin picks it up. It is clear that the object has been thrown by Wormtongue, but whether he intended to hit Saruman or Gandalf with it is unclear. Gandalf quickly goes to Pippin and takes the globe, hiding it in his cloak, remarking that this is a thing of great value and not an object Saruman would have wanted to have hurled out of Orthanc.
As the chapter draws to its close, Gandalf asks Treebeard to keep watch over Saruman. He cannot be driven from Orthanc, which has proved to be impenetrable, even to the ents. But he is still a dangerous enemy, and Gandalf asks that the ents flood Isengard again, to prevent Saruman’s escape from the tower through any underground passageways he may have built. Treebeard promises that the ents will be vigilant. Before Gandalf and his party leave, however, a pained shriek comes from the tower, and Gandalf guesses that Saruman has just realized what Wormtongue has thrown away.
In chapter 11 (“The Palantír”), Théoden sends two riders ahead while the rest of the group follows at a more leisurely pace, making their way back to Edoras. Pippin rides with Aragorn, and Merry rides behind Gandalf on Shadowfax and asks him how far the wizard plans to take them that night. Gandalf says that the riders have been sent to Helm’s Deep, where the king and his retainers will proceed in small groups through the hills, as they try to keep their movements less visible to the enemy. They ride out of Isengard to the end of the valley, and there they camp for the night. Pippin has difficulty sleeping. He envies Merry, thinking he must have been able to get more information out of the wizard than Pippin was able to get from Aragorn. But he is also obsessed with looking once again into the stone from Orthanc that he glimpsed briefly before Gandalf took it from him. Merry urges Pippin to forget about the stone and not to meddle in the affairs of wizards, for such meddling is dangerous.
But Pippin cannot let his obsession go, and when Merry has fallen asleep, he sneaks out of bed and makes his way to the place where Gandalf is sleeping. Even in his sleep, though, the wizard is keeping the crystal globe close to him, bundled in a cloth. Very carefully, Pippin takes a large stone from the ground and replaces the crystal one, which he takes away with him to a green hillock near his own bed. He bends down and looks into the stone but very shortly cries aloud and collapses. Gandalf quickly arrives, bundles the stone into his cloak again, and examines Pippin, who is lying rigidly on the ground, crying out “It is not for you, Saruman,” and saying that he will soon send for it (198). But Gandalf is able to revive the hobbit, and Pippin apologizes.
Gandalf demands to know exactly what Pippin saw in the stone. Pippin says that he saw a dark tower and terrible winged creatures flying around it. One of these came toward him, but he was not able to get away. Then, Pippin says, he came—presumably the Dark Lord himself—and he could see Pippin. Then Sauron, assuming that Saruman had captured Pippin, ordered the hobbit to tell Saruman that the hobbit was not his, but belonged to Sauron himself, who would send a messenger to collect him. Gandalf chides Pippin for his foolishness, but recognizes that Sauron will now turn against Saruman, thinking that the old wizard has captured the Ring-bearer but refuses to turn him over. This means their enemies will be divided.
The stone of Orthanc is part of the inheritance of the kings of Gondor, a legacy from Númenor itself, and Gandalf gives the stone to Aragorn as his birthright. Pippin must not be allowed near it, Gandalf says, and he warns Aragorn to be cautious about using it. But because of Pippin’s actions, Gandalf decides that he must leave the group as they make their way to Helm’s Deep, and take his own route to Minas Tirith. Before the group breaks up, a winged beast—the monstrous new mount of the Nazgúl—passes overhead. Now Gandalf takes Pippin on Shadowfax and rides toward Gondor. On the way, Gandalf explains that the seeing-stone is a palantír—one of seven such stones used for communicating over great distances, forged long ago in Eldamar, probably by Fëanor himself, chief craftsman of the Noldor in the lands beyond the sea. They had been a gift to the kings of Númenor and had come into Middle-earth with Elendil. But most were now lost, though it is clear that Sauron and Saruman were in possession of two of them. Gandalf tells Pippin to sleep, promising him that in two days’ time he will see the white towers of Minas Tirith.
Book 4: The Ring Goes East
Chapters 1–3: Sméagol
In the first chapter of book 4 (“The Taming of Sméagol”), the narrative returns to Frodo and Sam, taking up the thread of their story three days after they left the rest of the Fellowship at Amon Hen. They have been trying to make their way across the grey hills of Emyn Muir en route to Mordor, but have been frustrated by often having to retrace their steps upon finding their first way impassable. They are also disconcerted because they have seen and heard evidence that Gollum has been following them all along the way, and they have seen his eyes staring at them from out of the darkness at night. They have had little to eat but crumbs of lembas cakes, and they are tired. They continue to follow the ridge of the Emyn Muir without being able to climb down into the marshes that they must cross to get to Mordor, and when the ridge begins curving to the north, they are forced to follow it. After a long day of scrambling over the rocks, they realize that they have been going downhill and that they are now on a low cliff from which they may be able to descend to the valley. Sam convinces Frodo to let him go first and tries to climb down, but when he is unable to find a foothold, Frodo pulls him back up. Then Frodo looks over the cliff, but as he is doing so, a storm comes up and he slips over the edge, coming to rest on a ledge only a few yards down. Neither he nor Sam is able to see in the darkness. Sam frets that he cannot aid Frodo, and Frodo tells him to wait until the storm passes. Besides, he says, Sam cannot do anything without a rope.
At that point, Sam remembers the rope from Lórien still in his pack. He tosses it to Frodo and is able to pull his master back up. When the skies clear, they tie the rope to a stump and then use it to climb down the cliff, thus escaping from the Emyn Muir. Sam is only disgruntled that he will now have to leave the rope, but when he gives it a final tug, it unties itself from the stump and comes down to him. Frodo believes that the knot has come loose, but Sam is sure that there is a bit of elven magic in the rope.
As night falls, Frodo and Sam begin to work their way back southward over the rocky feet of the grey hills, making directly for Mordor once again. But when they stop to sleep, Frodo sees a spidery shape climbing down the cliff face to come after them. It is Gollum. Quietly, camouflaged in their elven cloaks, the hobbits wait behind a boulder for Gollum to descend, and when he drops the final 12 feet of the cliff, Sam pounces on him. Gollum fights wildly and gets the better of Sam until Frodo draws his sword, Sting, and holds it to the creature’s throat.
Gollum begs for his life, but Sam distrusts him, fearing the creature will try to kill them in their sleep. But Frodo remembers Gandalf’s words, that pity had stayed Bilbo’s hand when he could have killed Gollum, and that Gollum may well have a part to play. He decides to have pity on Gollum, to Sam’s surprise and chagrin. Frodo tells Gollum that they must bring him along, since they cannot trust him if they let him go. When he informs the creature that they are going to Mordor and guesses that Gollum has been summoned to return to the Dark Lord once more, Gollum has an attack of fear, reliving his torture in the Dark Tower. He also demonstrates that he is a divided soul—Sméagol, Gollum says, disappeared when they took his Precious away, and cannot be found again. But Frodo suggests that they may find Sméagol once again, if Gollum comes with them. Frodo hopes that Gollum, who has been this way before, can help them find the path into Mordor.
When Frodo and Sam try to rest before taking off again, however, holding Gollum between them, the creature attempts to bolt as soon as he believes they are asleep. Sam pounces on him immediately, and Frodo tells Sam to tether Gollum to them by the ankle with the elven rope. But the creature cannot abide the touch of the rope made in Lórien, and it causes him severe pain. Frodo will only agree to take the rope off if Gollum will make a vow that he would not dare to break. In a clear voice, the creature announces that “Smeágol will swear on the Precious” (224), and he would swear, in particular, never to let “Him” have the ring. Frodo, knowing that the ring is treacherous, insists that Gollum swear by the ring, rather than on it, and Gollum kneels before Frodo, swearing to serve the master of the ring and agreeing to guide Frodo and Sam across the marshes on a path he found that orcs were not aware of. As he begins to lead them toward the Black Gate, Gollum seems eager to please his new master and resumes his given name of Sméagol. Sam, however, remains wary of the creature’s intent.
In the second chapter (“The Passage of the Marshes”), Gollum/Sméagol leads Frodo and Sam over the rocky terrain at the foot of the Emyn Muir, toward a spot where they can travel safely over the Dead Marshes. He insists on traveling at night, since he fears the sun. Frodo and Sam continue to sustain themselves with lembas cakes, but Gollum is not able to eat the elvish food. He is starving and craves fish. When the three of them stop to rest, Sam and Frodo agree that one of them must always be on watch, but Sam falls asleep on his watch and sleeps through the day. When he and Frodo awake, they find that Gollum is gone. But Gollum reappears, his face covered with mud. Apparently he has found something to eat. Meanwhile, Sam informs Frodo that they only have enough lembas for three more weeks. He fears they will not have enough for the return journey. Frodo, however, does not expect to have to make a return journey.
On the third day, Gollum has reached the place where he begins to guide the hobbits through the Dead Marshes, moving so quickly that Frodo and Sam sometimes have difficulty keeping up with him, especially since the ring is beginning to weigh heavily on Frodo. Around them in the darkness, they can see what seem to be the flames of candles lighting up the marshes. Gollum warns them not to look into the mire while the lights are lit, but Sam catches glimpses of dead faces in the water— the faces of men, elves, and orcs. Frodo stares and seems mesmerized by the faces so that Sam has to rouse him to move on. Gollum tells them that long ago, a great battle was fought near this place, before the Black Gates of Mordor, and that the swamp has since absorbed the graves of all the dead from that battle.
They continue to trudge through the foulsmelling marshes until they are disgusted by their own reek. At one point, a huge, dark shape glides over them, and a feeling of dread overcomes them. Gollum is particularly affected and identifies the shadow as one of the Ringwraiths. The wraiths see everything, Gollum says, and report everything back to the Dark Lord. He cowers and will not move on until the moon sets. From that moment, Sam senses a change in Gollum’s behavior, feeling that his helpfulness is much more of a pose. Again the Nazgûl passes over, and the same fear comes upon them.
Finally, they leave the Dead Marshes behind, and on the fifth day of their trek with Gollum, they begin to cross the barren, poisoned desolation that lies before the gates of Mordor. This land of grey and white ash heaps is a wasteland where nothing will grow after Sauron has blighted the land. The exhausted travelers lie down in a pit to sleep through the day. When Sam awakens, he witnesses Gollum standing over the sleeping Frodo in a heated conversation with himself, and Sam pretends to be asleep in order to overhear what Gollum is saying. The Sméagol side insists that he must keep his word to the master of the ring, but the Gollum side argues that he should take the ring for himself and thus become his own master. When Gollum speaks, his hand moves forward toward Frodo; when Sméagol speaks, the hand draws back. Gollum says that he cannot allow “Him” (i.e., the Dark Lord) to get the ring, and he fears that the Ringwraiths will take it to Him. He also wonders aloud whether “She” will help, and Sam cannot understand whom “She” refers to. Finally, Sam pretends to wake up, and Gollum ceases his private debate.
Sam rouses Frodo, who awakens refreshed and commends Gollum for keeping his word to them. He need only guide them now to the Black Gate, and then he is free to leave them. But as midnight comes on, the dark terror of a flying Nazgûl passes over them for the third time, and Gollum panics, saying that the wraiths must sense the ring, their master. He will not move forward until Frodo threatens him once again with Sting.
As the short third chapter (“The Black Gate is Closed”) begins, the three travelers finally arrive at Mordor before the next day dawns. Mordor, surrounded on three sides by the Ered Lithui (Ash Mountains) and the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow), can be entered on this side only through the pass of Cirith Gorgor, across which the Dark Lord has erected a great stone barrier, with a single Black Gate. On either side of this pass is a cliff on which stands a tall, ancient tower, built by the men of Gondor after the first defeat of Sauron but long since abandoned, and now guarding the pass for the Dark Lord as the “Teeth of Mordor.” Gazing on this sight from a hiding place inside a hollow, and on the great armies of orcs whom they witness changing the guard as dawn approaches, Frodo and Sam contemplate the hopelessness of any attempt to enter Mordor undetected.
When Gollum declares that he knew the gate would prove impassable, Sam angrily asks why they were brought here at all, and Gollum answers truthfully that Frodo had insisted. He was merely doing what he had sworn to do. Frodo declares his intent to enter Mordor in any case, which Gollum pleads with him not to do. He cannot bring the ring to Him, he says—better Frodo should keep it to himself or give it to Sméagol. When Frodo asserts that he will complete his mission and enter Mordor, Gollum reveals that there may be another way in. Sam is disinclined to trust either side of Gollum’s personality (which he has privately named “Slinker” and “Stinker”) and believes that Frodo’s kindness may be leading him into error with Gollum. But Frodo suddenly takes Gollum to task, telling him directly that he must stop coveting the ring—he will never own it again, and he must get used to that fact. But he has decided to trust Sméagol, who twice before has proven trustworthy. Gollum tells them of a road that goes south, where they can attempt to enter Mordor through the mountains above the old fortress of Minas Morgul (formerly Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Moon built by Isildur). It is a terrible place, manned by what Gollum calls “Silent Watchers,” but there is a secret path of stairs that leads over the mountains. It is dangerous, but Gollum convinces the hobbits that Sauron is focusing his attention on the Black Gate, where he believes an attack will come, and is less vigilant along the other points of his border.
While Frodo tries to decide what to do, four more Nazgûl appear on their winged steeds above, and it seems as if the Dark Lord must be on the watch. After the winged figures swoop low into Mordor, Frodo hears another frightening sound— laughter, gruff voices, and clanking weapons coming from below. Gollum peers out from the lip of the hollow and reports that a large army of fiercelooking men has entered the gates. They have long hair, gold jewelry, and round shields, and they wear red paint on their faces. Sam, remembering fanciful rhymes from his childhood, asks whether the men had brought any Oliphaunts with them, but Gollum has never seen or heard of such a creature. Finally, Frodo stands up, declaring that he wishes they had a thousand Oliphaunts and Gandalf riding at the head of them. But since they do not, he says he will choose the secret path by Minas Morgul. Gollum agrees to guide them there and says to rest until the sun, “Yellow Face,” has gone away.
Chapters 4–6: A Captain of Gondor
In the fourth chapter (“Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”), the hobbits follow Gollum’s lead, avoiding the road south for fear of meeting servants of Sauron, but traveling parallel to the road and continuing to move by night while they rest during the day. There are 30 leagues to travel to Cirith Ungol, and Gollum wants to cover the ground in four days. Before long, they pass into a green and fruitful country, once known as Ithilien. Although this land is now under the dominion of the Dark Lord, it has not been so for long, and therefore maintains a good deal of its original goodness. They wash and replenish their drinking supply at a clear lake, but they remain hungry, still with nothing but lembas to eat. Sam would like to save some of the elven bread for what he—more optimistic than his master—hopes will be a return journey.
They climb from the lake to higher ground to camp for the day. When Gollum prepares to go off looking for food, Sam asks the creature to hunt for some food that the hobbits may be able to eat as well, and Gollum agrees. Frodo is already napping, and when Gollum leaves, Sam spends a few moments looking at the sleeping face of his master. While he thinks about how great his affection is for Frodo, it strikes him that his master is looking older, and he also appears to be thin and drawn. Soon Gollum returns with two rabbits. Sam plans to boil them and make a rabbit stew, regretting that he can find no potatoes but finding other herbs growing in that place to sweeten the stew. Gollum is horrified, preferring his rabbit raw, but Sam tells him to find another one for himself in that case. Before he leaves, though, Gollum warns Sam that a cooking fire may well draw unwelcome guests to this place—a warning reiterated by Frodo when Sam awakens him, but Frodo is so pleased to have fresh rabbit stew to eat that he soon forgets his concern about the fire.
After the welcome meal, Sam takes his pot back down to the lake to wash his cooking gear in the stream that feeds the clear lake, but when he looks back at their camp, he sees that the fire is indeed making too much smoke, and he hurries back to smother it. He is too late, however, for the hobbits immediately hear voices in the woods around them, and soon four well-armed men surround them. The men, speaking in the Common Tongue, are unsure what they have come upon, debating whether Frodo and Sam may be elves or orcs. They learn that the leader of the men is Faramir, captain of Gondor, and Frodo tells them that he has been a companion of their countryman Boromir. At the mention of Boromir’s name, the men become quieter and more attentive. Frodo identifies himself and Sam as Halflings, and he recalls to Faramir the riddle that Boromir brought to Rivendell, concerning the Sword that was Broken (which he identifies as Aragorn’s). As for Isildur’s Bane, Frodo sidesteps the question, saying that the answer to that riddle is hidden. The men also ask about the skulking figure that they saw disappearing, and Frodo says that the creature had been traveling with them but was not one of them, though he asks that Gollum not be harmed, for he is under the hobbits’ protection.
Faramir, still somewhat suspicious of the hobbits, has two men guard them, for their own protection as well as his own, but leaves in order to lead an ambush of a large troop of southern men, the Haradrim, coming up from the south to join Sauron’s forces. Sam watches the attack from the branches of one of the surrounding trees, and while he is dismayed by the battle itself, he is astonished and ultimately delighted when he sees a huge form crashing through the trees, like a grey moving house. It is an Oliphaunt that he has seen, though he doubts that anyone back in the Shire will ever believe that he saw one.
Finally, the men of Gondor prove successful in the battle, but they will need to retreat swiftly, the guard Mablung tells Sam, for Sauron will send a large force after them when he discovers what has happened. Sam bids them farewell and intends to sleep, but Mablung seems certain that Faramir will want to bring Sam and Frodo along on the retreat.
Sam awakens from a nap to find that Faramir has returned from the battle at the beginning of chapter 5 (“The Window on the West”) and has begun to question Frodo more thoroughly about his mission here. Faramir wants to know specifically what Frodo’s purpose is in coming south from Rivendell. He wants to know the meaning of the prophecy that a Halfling will come, and he demands to know the precise character of Isildur’s Bane. Frodo tells Faramir as much as he feels he can, hiding Boromir’s attempt to overpower him and steal his burden. Faramir suspects that the hobbit’s burden may be a great weapon that perhaps should be in the hands of Gondor, but Frodo claims that if any man has a right to it, it is Aragorn, Isildur’s heir. Frodo tells Faramir that if he doubts their word, he can ask Boromir himself, who Frodo assumes must by this time have reached Minas Tirith. At this point, Sam interrupts, demanding that Faramir get to the point and stop harassing Frodo, declaring that Sauron would be very happy to see his enemies arguing in this way. Faramir asks if Frodo remembers a special item associated with Boromir, and Frodo answers that he remembers his horn, which is what Faramir was looking for. At this point, Faramir reveals that Boromir is his own brother, and that a few nights previously, he had been on watch and saw a boat float by on the Anduin River, in which lay the dead body of his brother. His horn had been cloven in two, and he wore a golden belt of elvish make. Frodo and Sam at first do not believe Faramir’s words, thinking he is trying to trick them somehow. But they identify the golden belt as the gift of the Lady of Lórien, and show him the clasps of their own elven cloaks to convince him that they are of the same workmanship. Now certain that Faramir is telling the truth, the hobbits fear that all of the company have perished.
Frodo asks Faramir to be allowed to continue on his mission, but Faramir is unsure. He assures Frodo that some of his fellowship must have survived to put Boromir into the boat, but says he will take the night to decide what to do with Frodo and Sam. Faramir directs his men to move back to their hidden base before the enemy sends troops out to hunt them. As they make their way back, Faramir walks with the hobbits. As they walk, Sam wonders where Gollum has gone and thinks he notices the creature following them. But Faramir tells them that he could not speak more openly in front of his men, and he continues their conversation in private. He understands more than the hobbits have assumed. He is sure that they did not part well from Boromir, and that somehow Isildur’s Bane, which Frodo is carrying, was the cause of this rift and, perhaps, his brother’s death. When Frodo says that there was no contention among the company, Faramir guesses that it was Boromir alone who had caused trouble concerning the task. He remarks that since his childhood, Boromir had been proud and stubborn and one who sought to attain glory in war. Boromir has always been impatient that the stewards of Gondor were not kings, and Faramir traces the reasons to ancient lore, much of it contained in the books and parchments of Gondor’s treasuries. He mentions Gandalf’s visits to Minas Tirith to use these ancient texts, and he is shocked to learn of the wizard’s fall in Moria. For himself, Faramir says, he understands the necessity of war against an enemy like Sauron, who seeks to destroy them, but does not seek glory for its own sake. As for Isildur’s Bane, Faramir says, he would not pick it if it were lying in the street. Now, as the company draw close to the secret base of Henneth Annûn, the hobbits are blindfolded so that they cannot learn the way into the stronghold.
When the blindfolds are removed, Frodo and Sam find themselves in a cave in a tall mountain behind a beautiful waterfall, the “Window of the Sunset.” One of his men tells Faramir that a strange creature has been seen following them in the woods, and the hobbits recognize that this must be Gollum, though they say nothing about him. Tables are set for the meal, and the hobbits sit with Faramir, who spends much of the meal discussing the history of Gondor, how they came to be allied with the Riders of Rohan, and how over the years their power and glory have declined. The men of Gondor, he says, have always known their descent from Númenor, and have classified men according to three types, depending on their relationship with those who were called to go over the sea to Númenor: High, the men of Gondor and other Dúnedain; Middle, such as the Rohirrim; and Wild, such as the Haradrim who have joined forces with the enemy. The men of Gondor, he says, have become over the years more like the Middle sort.
The hobbits, in their turn, talk about their adventures, especially the role that Boromir played in their battles against the orcs. Sam asks Faramir why there is so little about the elves in his lore, but Faramir sees the elves as a strange people, mysterious and dangerous. Sam extols the virtues of the elves of Lórien, and particularly of the Lady Galadriel, saying that men bring their own evil with them when they enter that realm. In his effusiveness, he accidentally blurts out how it was in Lórien that Boromir first manifested his desire for the ring. Faramir is stunned by the revelation and sees the irony of their escaping Boromir to run into the hands of his brother and a fully armed company of warriors of Gondor. Frodo and Sam draw their swords in defense, but Faramir tells the hobbits not to fear. He has given his word that he would not touch Isildur’s Bane if it were placed before him, and he will keep his word. Frodo reveals his task, to destroy the ring in the Cracks of Doom, and Faramir promises to help Frodo in any way that he can. Frodo, exhausted from his burden and from his sudden fear, passes out, and Faramir catches him before he falls. The chapter ends as Sam tells Faramir that he has shown the highest quality. He compares Faramir to Gandalf, and Faramir says that perhaps Sam discerns in him the distant air of Númenor.
As the sixth chapter (“The Forbidden Pool”) opens, Frodo is awakened before dawn by Faramir, who says he needs Frodo’s advice on a particular matter. Sam awakens just in time to follow the two of them out of the cave. They walk to a cliff overlooking a beautiful pool, and Faramir asks Frodo to look into the pool at the dark creature that is splashing about in it. The hobbits immediately recognize Gollum. Faramir asks Frodo whether he should have his guards kill the creature—as, in fact, they are prepared to do with arrows from the cliff. But Frodo asks Faramir to spare the creature. He has followed them there drawn by his connection to the ring, which Frodo tells Faramir that Gollum had once carried himself. But at this point, another craving has led him to the pool, Frodo says, as they watch Gollum bring out a fish to eat.
The guard asserts that the penalty for entering the sacred pool of Henneth Annûn without permission is death, but Frodo argues that Gandalf had insisted that Gollum be spared. Faramir is not willing to follow the letter of the law in this case, and he allows Frodo to choose. If Frodo can convince Gollum to surrender and become the prisoner of the men of Gondor, he will not order his men to shoot. Frodo agrees to speak with the creature and makes his way down to the pool, knowing that there are men with bows at the ready, prepared to slaughter Gollum if he fails. He slowly approaches Gollum, who is muttering aloud about his desire to get back the ring and to kill the men who guard this place. Frodo tries to persuade Gollum to come out of the pool, but Gollum is initially resistant. Finally, Frodo commands Gollum by virtue of the Precious to follow him, and Gollum comes out with his fish. He is immediately trapped and bound, and he clearly feels that Frodo has betrayed him. He spits at Frodo as the men take him away.
Back in their hideout, Faramir interrogates Gollum. The creature is uncooperative, and Frodo feels ashamed to have tricked him. But he tries to get Gollum to trust Faramir, and to keep him from harm. When Faramir declares that the penalty for coming to that place uninvited is death, Frodo is able to convince Gollum to swear on the Precious never to return to that place. Gollum tells Faramir that he has never been in that part of Gondor before, and Frodo is able to convince Faramir to believe him. Frodo continues to plead that Gollum not be harmed, and Faramir agrees, but only on condition that Gollum be bound to Frodo as his servant. He will be safe, Faramir tells Gollum, as long as he is with Frodo, but if he is found by himself anywhere in the realm of Gondor, Gollum’s penalty will be death. Frodo reminds Faramir that he has still not passed his sentence on the hobbits themselves, and Faramir declares that Frodo is free to wander anywhere in Gondor by Faramir’s proclamation for one year, after which, if he still is in the kingdom, he must present himself to the Steward of Gondor himself to extend his welcome.
But when Faramir learns that the way Gollum intends to lead Frodo is over the pass near Minas Morgul, he is concerned. He warns Frodo that Minas Morgul is the tower inhabited by the Nine Ringwraiths themselves, and it is a terribly dangerous place. The pass itself, Cirith Ungol, holds other dangers that Gollum has not told them of, Faramir feels. Gollum cannot be trusted, he says, but Frodo answers that unless Faramir has another path to suggest into Mordor, he is bound to follow Gollum on this one.
Faramir is interested in the story of how Gollum may have come into possession of the ring in the first place but realizes there is no time for such tales now. He takes his leave of Frodo and Sam, doubting whether he will ever see them alive again. But he does express the hope that one day, when they are old and all their adventures are past, he and Frodo may sit together in chairs, and he can hear Frodo tell Gollum’s story.
Chapters 7–10: The Pass of Cirith Ungol
In chapter 7 (“Journey to the Cross-roads”), Frodo and Sam prepare to leave Faramir and his group. Faramir provides the hobbits with food and water and warns them not to drink water from any stream flowing out of Morgul Vale. As a parting gift, he gives Frodo and Sam walking sticks made from the strong wood of Gondor. He tells them that his scouts have reported an eerie, portentous silence on the roads, but he advises them to stay off the road as long as they can, traveling south through the trees parallel to the road. Finally, Gollum rejoins them, and Faramir declares that he should be blindfolded before leaving the hideaway, but he does not insist that the hobbits be so treated. When Gollum reacts with horror to the blindfold, Frodo insists that he and Sam be blindfolded first, to show Gollum that there is no danger. The hobbits leave Faramir with formal expressions of goodwill on both sides.
As the three continue their journey southward, Gollum bristles at what he considers his ill-treatment by the men of Gondor, though Frodo argues that he should be grateful to them for not harming him. Gollum somewhat insincerely says he forgives them, and he forgives Frodo as well for tricking him. They continue to travel only at night, in order to avoid being seen. But all the way, a dark cloud emanates from Mordor and covers the sky, so it is difficult to tell the difference between day and night. All is quiet—even the birds are not singing. When they stop to rest, Gollum disappears for several hours, and Sam assumes he has been hunting for food. But he arrives in the evening and rouses the hobbits from sleep, urging them to move forward quickly. He continues to push them to move with greater speed all night long. On their third day, the trees thin out and Gollum becomes more fearful. They see a road coming down from the Tower, Minas Morgul, but Gollum says they cannot take this road. Frodo and Sam feel the need to rest, and Gollum reluctantly agrees. They rest in one of the few remaining trees. Around midnight, Gollum wakes up and urges the hobbits to move again, and they begin to trek eastward through brambles and hollows, away from the road. There is a dull, red glare over Mordor to the east. Finally, they lie down to rest in a hollow, from which Frodo can see the Morgul Valley.
Gollum, more agitated than ever, says that they must hurry to the Cross-roads. As Frodo and Sam try to have an evening meal before sleeping, Gollum disappears again without explanation. Frodo takes first watch, and Sam dreams of smoking his pipe in the Shire. He awakens three hours later to find that the day has become even darker. He discusses with Frodo his distrust of Gollum, and Frodo reminds him how the creature helped them through the marshes. Now Frodo sleeps, and Sam hears him speak Gandalf’s name when he dreams.
Again, Gollum reappears and spurs the hobbits forward, saying that they must go by way of the Cross-roads. When they come to this place, a circle of trees where four roads meet, Frodo looks westward along the road to Osgiliath, the deserted city, and on toward Gondor itself. He catches a glimpse of the sun as it sets, and notices it shining on an ancient statue of one of Gondor’s kings. The head of the statue has been knocked off and replaced by a stone with the Eye of Sauron painted upon it. But he finds the king’s head lying at the side of the road and sees that silver and gold flowers have encircled the brow of the broken head. He cries out to Sam that the king has been given a crown—he sees this as a sign that the Dark Lord cannot reign forever. But as he says this, the sun sets, and the darkness engulfs them.
As the eighth chapter opens (“The Stair of Cirith Ungol”), Gollum urges the hobbits to leave the statue and keep moving. They leave the circle and move onto the road that leads to the dark mountains, reaching the shadow of Morgul Vale with darkness on their hearts and with the burden of the One Ring weighing heavily on Frodo. When they look up and see the city of the Ringwraiths, they are transfixed by terror until Gollum exhorts them to move quickly. They move toward Gollum’s secret path, but Frodo suddenly veers toward the Tower of Minas Morgul and begins to walk blindly toward the bridge leading into the Ringwraiths’ city. Sam and Gollum are able to pull him back. Frodo can feel the ring resisting him as he turns away from the tower, but he is able to overcome it through his sheer willpower and Sam’s support. Over rough country and through a foul stench, they trudge behind Gollum, who hurries far ahead of them, urging them on. At the top of a bare rock, Frodo stops to rest, complaining of the ring’s weight, but Gollum and Sam press him to move on, for they are still where they might be seen from the tower.
Before they can move on up the secret path, however, a great red flame erupts from beyond the mountains, followed by a great crack of thunder. The Tower of Minas Morgul answers with flaming blue lightning, and with a loud terrifying wail, the gates of the city open and a huge army of blackuniformed orcs issues forth, led by the mounted Lord of the Nazgûl, wearing a crowned helmet. At the sight of the Black Rider, Frodo’s old wound begins to throb. The Nazgûl pauses suddenly before stepping on the bridge, as if sensing something, and at that moment Frodo feels an overwhelming urge to put on the ring. He resists—in fact, knowing how the ring desires only to betray him, Frodo has no desire to succumb to its pressure. His hand moves almost of its own accord toward the ring hanging from his neck but seizes instead the nearly forgotten phial of Galadriel, and as he holds it, his thoughts of the ring disperse. Soon, the Black Rider moves on, the great army following him until they disappear into the west.
Frodo knows that the war with Gondor has now been launched, and he worries for Faramir, trying to defend Osgiliath at the ford of the Anduin River. He despairs that even if he performs his task, there will be no one left to tell about it, for it will be done too late. But Sam and Gollum rouse him, and the three continue on the path, Frodo holding his staff in one hand and Galadriel’s phial in the other, until they come to the first of Gollum’s staircases. They climb a straight stairway, and Gollum keeps driving them to continue up another stairway, this time a winding one. Finally, after miles of pushing themselves to keep climbing under Gollum’s constant urging, Frodo sees high above what seems to be the highest point of this path and notices that a guard tower flanks the path. Gollum acknowledges that all ways into Mordor are watched, but this path may be watched the least—and besides, he says, the guards here may have all marched off with the army. Sam understands this but insists that they must rest for a while before moving on, and he and Frodo find a crevice in a rock where they rest.
They have a small meal, what they believe will be their last together before entering Mordor, and wonder whether any water here may be safe to drink. Sam begins to talk about the idea of adventure and wonders what kind of tale he and Frodo are involved in. In the great old tales, Frodo says, the heroes never knew how things would turn out, and Sam agrees, saying that Beren never knew he would end up with the Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. He was in a worse place than the hobbits are now. But then Sam recognizes that the light of Galadriel’s phial is the same light that Beren found, and he suggests that the great tales never end. He wonders how their own tale will be told in ages to come—how hobbits will want to hear the story of Frodo, bravest hobbit of them all, while Frodo insists that they will want to hear of Samwise, since Frodo would not have gotten far without him. They wonder whether Gollum might see himself as a hero and then realize that Gollum has disappeared again. They continue to discuss Gollum’s trustworthiness, and while neither of them trusts the creature completely, Frodo argues that they could not have reached this point without him, whatever his final plan is.
The hobbits fall asleep, leaning on one another. When Gollum finally returns, he is moved by their close friendship and reaches out to stroke Frodo. Sam awakens and, seeing Gollum touching Frodo, reacts angrily, calling him a sneak. Gollum assumes his earlier attitude, offended at the remark. When Frodo awakens, he tells Gollum that, since they have nearly reached the end of the path into Mordor, he considers Gollum’s promise to him fulfilled and tells the creature he is now free to go wherever he wishes, as long as it is not to the servants of Sauron. Gollum refuses, saying that they cannot find the way themselves, and he promises to lead them farther.
In chapter 9 (“Shelob’s Lair”), Gollum leads the hobbits to a cave, which he says is the opening of the tunnel he has been leading them to. The tunnel is pitch black, and from it emanates the foul stench that has been plaguing the hobbits throughout their climb. Gollum insists it is the only way to get up and over the pass, and so Frodo and Sam cautiously enter. They must go forward by feeling the walls on either side, and although for a while they hear Gollum in front of them, after some time he is gone completely. They lose all track of time as they feel their way along the tunnel, and although they occasionally pass a corridor moving off to the left and right, they know to keep going straight through the main corridor, which goes steadily up the mountain. At one point, however, they pass a large opening, from within which they sense a powerful and hostile will. From this same area, they realize, the foul smell originates. They move past this opening as quickly as they can, but soon they are aware of a terrifying, frightening hissing sound behind them. They can see nothing but know that they are confronting a great horror. Sam calls out for Frodo to use Galadriel’s phial, and Frodo raises the light to reveal two great clusters of eyes. The terrified hobbits begin to run up the tunnel, but they soon realize that the monster is only toying with them and continues to follow right behind them. In an act of desperate courage, Frodo once again takes out the star-phial and draws his elven sword, Sting, turning to the monster and stepping resolutely forward. The monster, cowed by the light and sword, backs off and slinks down the passage.
Now Frodo and Sam rush as fast as they can up the tunnel until they come to an exit, but they find it is blocked by a cobweb with strands as thick as great ropes. Sam cannot cut the ropes with his sword, but Frodo believes his elven blade will have better success and gives Sam Galadriel’s phial to hold up and ward off the monster if she should come upon them here. The monster, the narrator tells us in a long aside, is Shelob, a powerfully evil being in giant spider shape. She has dwelt in these mountains since long before the coming of Sauron and is the last child of the monstrous Ungoliant, ally of Morgoth in the First Age. She does not fear the Dark Lord and feasts on whatever creature comes into her domain. Gollum, it seems, has been sneaking off to counsel and appease her, promising her sweet hobbit meat in the hope that he can pick up the precious ring when she has finished, for she has no interest in things that she cannot devour.
Frodo is finally able to cut an exit through the web, and he and Sam dash through it out into the open. Frodo sees the pass before him and makes for it with all the speed he can, thinking he is finally free of the tunnel. Sam falls behind but is far more cautious. He sees ahead of him that Shelob has emerged from a different opening out into the pass and is between Sam and Frodo—avoiding Sam, apparently, because he is carrying Galadriel’s light. Sam begins to shout to Frodo, but before Frodo hears, Sam is attacked from behind by Gollum, who attempts to choke him. Enraged at the creature’s betrayal, Sam fights him off fiercely, is able to beat him twice with his staff before it breaks, and then chases the creature with his sword. He has chased Gollum back into Shelob’s tunnel before the stench of that passage reminds him of Frodo’s danger, and he turns back to protect his master.
By this time, however, Shelob has stung Frodo into unconsciousness and has bound him in the strong filaments of her web. As chapter 10 opens (“The Choices of Master Samwise”), she looms over Frodo, beginning to drag him back into her lair. In a blind fury, Sam rushes in, seizes the elven blade that Frodo has dropped, and rushes at the monster, cutting off one of her claws and extinguishing one of her great eyes before she has a chance to react. He then tries to cut her underside with the sword, but the hide of her belly is too tough to be pierced by the strength of man or hobbit. The enraged monster cannot reach Sam with her venomous sting and so tries to crush him with her weight, heaving her belly up over him and pushing down. But Sam holds Sting up with both hands, and with her own strength Shelob forces herself down on the sword, impaling her own breast to cause such damage as she has never felt. The monster retreats, readying herself for a final attack on Sam using her deadly venomous sting, but at the last moment, Sam brings out Galadriel’s phial and challenges the monster, singing lines from an elvish song. His courage causes the phial to burst forth in a tremendous light, terrifying Shelob so that she retreats, in great pain and mental anguish, back into her hole.
When Sam bends over Frodo’s body, he sees no sounds of life. His master is cold, and Sam can feel no pulse, He cuts away the binding web and holds Frodo’s cold body in his arms, realizing with a start that he had seen this image before, in the Mirror of Galadriel in Lórien. He cannot revive Frodo and is convinced his master is dead. For some time, he sinks into black despair, but then he rallies himself, trying to decide what he must do now. At first, he considers hunting down Gollum and taking revenge. But he is reluctant to leave Frodo without burying him properly, and he considers the options. Before long, enemy troops will find them and will take Frodo and give the ring to the enemy—Sam will not be able to protect his master against all of Mordor. Ultimately, Sam realizes that he is now the last member of the Fellowship of the Ring, the only one who can still carry out the quest they were given in Rivendell—to destroy the One Ring. He lays out Frodo’s body, leaving him in his mithril coat but taking Sting and leaving his own sword from the barrow. Then he takes the ring and puts it around his own neck, immediately feeling the great weight of it. Bidding Frodo farewell, and promising to return to find his body if he is able once the task is done, Sam starts off.
Still second-guessing himself, Sam stops at the cleft on the top of the pass, under the guard tower, to look back at Frodo’s body. Just then, he hears the sound of orcs coming up the path toward him from the other side of the mountain, and when he turns, he sees the lights of more orcs coming from the tunnel below. He fears he has been seen and that he is about to be captured, and with a sudden inspiration, he slips on the ring. While this makes him invisible to the orcs, he feels vulnerable, as if the great red Eye of Sauron is searching for him in the phantom world of the ring. But he becomes aware that, with the ring on, he is able to understand the language of the orcs, and as the two groups of orcs come together, he realizes that they have seen Frodo’s body.
At this point, Sam regrets his decision and tells himself that his place was always at Frodo’s side, ring or no ring. He races back down the path, ready to pull out Sting and slaughter as many orcs as he can defending his master’s body. But before he can reach the spot, the orcs have lifted Frodo’s body and carried it back into the tunnel. He races to keep up and follows them back down the tunnel, where they make their way toward a side branch that leads up into the tower on the cliff. A stone door closes after the orcs, and Sam is left outside, unable to get through. However, the captains of the two orc groups—Gorbag and Shagrat—stay behind and have a conversation on the other side of the stone door, a conversation that Sam is able to overhear. He learns that the orcs believe that a great warrior has come up the pass and woundedShelob. He also learns that Frodo is not dead at all—that he has been stunned and temporarily paralyzed by Shelob’s venom, but is still alive, and Shagrat’s men have orders to strip such intruders and report to Sauron any garments, weapons, letters, or rings that they may be carrying.
Sam is shocked to learn that Frodo is alive. As he hears Shagrat and Gorbag move off with their troops, he desperately tries to open the stone door, banging on it with his elven sword. In the glow of the sword, he is able to see that the wall is only about twice as tall as himself, and he is able to climb over it and into the orcs’ tunnel. He races through the tunnel, trying to catch up with the two captains, whom he hears speaking again, Shagrat saying that he will keep Frodo in the top of the tower for protection, since Sauron has ordered that no harm is to come to such visitors before they are brought before the Dark Lord himself. But Sam is unable to catch up before the orcs have all entered the tower and have shut and locked the double doors leading into it. As book 4 ends, we know that Frodo is alive, but Sam is stranded alone outside the tower.
Commentary for The Two Towers Book 3: The Treason of Isengard
Chapters 1–2: Pursuit to Rohan
For the first time in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien moves his narrative focus away from the hobbits in these opening chapters of the second volume. For the most part, one of the hobbits, usually Frodo or Sam but sometimes Merry or Pippin as well, provides the central consciousness around which the narrative develops. Technically, Tolkien utilizes a limited omniscient point of view, in which the narrator focuses on a single character’s thoughts and impressions, and Tolkien’s focus on those of the hobbits through most of his trilogy explains to a large degree the popularity of The Lord of the Rings as opposed to, for example, The Silmarillion, where there is no similar focus. Hobbits, unlike the other races of Middle-earth, have no exotic powers, as elves or dwarves or wizards do. Even the men of Middle-earth are valiant and stalwart by nature. Hobbits, on the other hand, are simple creatures who like a good meal and the comforts of home. The average reader must identify far more with Pippin or Sam than with Aragorn. Tolkien’s genius, keeping The Lord of the Rings close to its readers’ hearts, is the focus on hobbits rather than elves or men. In these first chapters, though, he is forced to break that pattern because the narrative has separated the hobbits from his other important characters. Thus, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli become the focus of these chapters, and they are usually considered as a group. Occasionally, we may see the tracks of the orcs through Aragorn’s eyes; or see a great distance through the eyes of Legolas; or, at the end of the second chapter, see the old man at the edge of the forest through the eyes of Gimli. But no one of these characters receives the focus that the hobbits do when they are in the narrative.
We see Boromir for the last time in the opening chapter of The Two Towers, and here Tolkien completes a minor theme of his story, which has been the tragedy of Boromir. A prince of his own city and a brave and true defender of the just cause against the powers of darkness, Boromir succumbs to a desire for the ring not chiefly through personal ambition but through a desire to save his city and to defeat the forces of evil. His “tragic flaw”—or hamartia, in the words of Aristotle, the first tragic theorist—is his failure to understand the ring’s corrupting force even in the hands of a benevolent wielder. Gandalf and Galadriel had understood this, but they were not tragic figures. Boromir fails to comprehend this until, finally, the ring’s influence turns him into a figure of evil himself, threatening Frodo and grasping for the power that he sees within his reach. Boromir finds redemption in this opening chapter, sacrificing his own life in his unsuccessful attempt to save Frodo’s kinsmen. His confession to Aragorn in the end demonstrates what Aristotle called anagnorisis, a tragic knowledge that suffering may bring to the hero. “I am sorry. I have paid” (16) he says, simply but eloquently in his dying voice.
Boromir is set in a boat that floats down the River Anduin, in a manner that recalls the ship burials of medieval Norsemen and other Germanic tribes, as depicted in the burial of Scyld Scefing at the beginning of Beowulf. To some extent, though, the scene is also reminiscent of certain scenes in Malory’s Le Morte dArthur, where a body is placed in a boat only to be found much later, after it has drifted downstream, by another significant character. This is what happens with the body of the Fair Maid of Astolat, whose corpse is placed in a boat that eventually drifts by Arthur’s castle in Camelot, and her story is made known. In The Two Towers, Boromir’s body will eventually be found by his brother Faramir, far down the river in Gondor.
The meeting with the Riders of Rohan is a tense scene, in part illustrating the dissension that the rise of Sauron has sown even among groups who should by nature be firm allies against his power. In this scene, we are introduced to Éomer, a significant character in many ways representative of his people. Upon their approach to the three companions, the Rohirrim encircle them with their horses—much in the manner of Plains Indians in old American westerns, as Shippey points out (J. R. R. Tolkien 101), rather than recalling anything in any of Tolkien’s European sources. It may be that, in imagining a warrior society dependent as the Rohirrim were on horses, Tolkien’s first thoughts were of the American Indians of the plains. For that is what the Rohirrim are: a warrior society, headed by a king who sits in a great hall surrounded by his closest retainers, very much like an Anglo-Saxon chief sitting in a mead hall. In Éomer and his companions we have our first glimpse of the similarity between the Rohirrim and the early Anglo-Saxons. Éomer is certainly a bold warrior, one who has slaughtered the orcs who dared to cross his lands. If he shows little courtesy to Aragorn and his companions, it is partly because they, too, have entered his realm without leave, and because they refuse to answer his questions. Of course, Aragorn and the others, on a secret mission whose true purpose must be withheld from even the ears of most of their allies, have good reason to keep their own counsel, but to Éomer this must look suspicious. Éomer stands out from the rest of his party in his wearing a white horsetail plume in his helmet. Shippey uses the term panache to describe both the plume, which in later episodes will identify him on the battlefield, and the qualities of its bearer—“the virtue of the sudden onset, the dash that sweeps away resistance” (Road 128). This impetuous, emotional, flamboyant quality seems characteristic of the Rohirrim in general, and their leader in particular.
Finally, the appearance of the old man dressed in white at the edge of Fangorn Forest as the second chapter ends is important to note. To Gimli, the figure looks like Gandalf, but at this point it is generally assumed that Gandalf has died. In this way, the appearance serves as a kind of foreshadowing of the appearance of the White Rider later on in Fangorn itself. The fact the figure dresses in white and wears a wide-brimmed hat rather than a hood suggests that it is not Gandalf but rather Saruman, who as a wizard will resemble Gandalf a great deal. When the horses run away, it appears as if the wizard has caused them to leave, making things more difficult for Aragorn and his companions. But we learn later that the horses ran because they wished to meet the great horse Shadowfax. Further, we learn later that Gandalf has now become the White Wizard. Thus, the appearance of the old man remains a mystery, suggesting like many other things in these chapters that the line between good and evil is a highly ambiguous one, and that it is often very difficult to make clear moral choices in a world where good and evil are not clearly discernible. Tolkien is often regarded as a black-and-white thinker whose War of the Ring pits the forces of good against the forces of evil with no question of which is which. It is certainly true that there are moral precepts that Tolkien presents as given: Ruthless power is evil, free choice is good. But characters like Boromir and, to a much larger extent, Saruman reveal that things are not always so clear cut, and that one may do evil with the best of intentions if one is seduced by things that may only seem good at the time. Tolkien will explore an even more ambiguous treatment of the dichotomy of good and evil later on in his presentation of Gollum/ Sméagol in book 4.
Chapters 3–4: Fangorn
As this section begins, Tolkien changes his focus from the pursuing to the pursued, and tells the story of Merry and Pippin’s abduction, chiefly through the eyes of Pippin. In this, Tolkien is using a type of narrative composition called interlacing, a technique he would have earned from medieval romances such as Thomas Malory’s Le Morte dArthur and Malory’s French sources, especially the 13th-century French Vulgate Quest of the Holy Grail. In these complex narratives, involving numerous knights all on separate quests and adventures, the narrator would move back and forth between the separate strands of the story, telling the different tales simultaneously. Here, Tolkien moves back in time to just after the hobbits have been kidnapped, and he follows their adventures as captives of the orc band. He returns to Pippin as the narrative focus, once more foregrounding the experiences of the hobbits.
The story first puts its readers, like Pippin, in a confused, squabbling army of bickering orcs, made up of three different groups: those of the Misty Mountains, those of Mordor, and those of Isengard—the fighting Uruk-hai, who prove dominant. There is a clear contrast with the meeting in the previous chapter of the Rohirrim and Aragorn’s small company. Uglúk asserts his authority by indiscriminately killing anyone who questions his decisions, a form of intimidation apparently acceptable to his comrades and effective among the other groups. At one point, he slaughters an entire company of rebels. The message seems clear: While Éomer might misunderstand, distrust, and carefully examine the claims of interlopers in his land, he is unwilling to kill these outnumbered strangers—even though Gimli actually threatens him with his axe for his disrespect of the lady Galadriel—because the free peoples of Middle-earth (those not under Sauron’s shadow) value life as a good in itself. While they do not hesitate in defense of their land to take the lives of enemies (like the orcs) sworn to their destruction, they will not harm strangers that they do not know to be their foes.
The ents are a race free of Sauron’s shadow but not allied with Sauron’s enemies, either. The source of Tolkien’s ents was originally in Old English poetry, where the term seems to have referred to a race of giants who were great builders. In the elegaic lyric The Wanderer, ancient ruins are said to be enta geweorc (l. 87)—the work of giants or ents. In the gnomic verses contained in Maxims II, Roman cities are again referred to as enta geweorc (l. 2). That Tolkien had this specific passage in mind is underscored by the fact that the gnomic or “wisdom” verses of Maxims II are precisely the kind of poem that Treebeard himself recites as he categorizes the races of Middle-earth. For the Anglo-Saxons, the ents were thus an ancient race of giant builders who were now extinct. Tolkien seems to have borrowed the idea of a race of giants, and also their impending extinction—for which he imagined the story of the lost entwives to explain the cause of the decline. Tolkien’s ents are, of course, also very ancient—the oldest living beings in Middle-earth—and perhaps it was this great age that led him to associate them with the forests, as if to say that their great age has made them one with the land itself. There may have been other medieval sources that suggested this connection to Tolkien: Edward Pettit lists several of them, the most convincing of which are examples of talking trees in Old Norse literature, including a “Treeman” in Ragnars Saga Loðbrókar (16). The separation of the ents from the entwives—the result, as Corey Olsen asserts, of their conflicting active and contemplative attitudes toward the natural world (51)—is a tragedy that, among other things, may remind readers that success in the war against Sauron depends on cooperation among the various constituents. For them to fall apart would mean extinction.
The idea of the trees going to war Tolkien himself attributes to his youthful enthusiasm for the phrase in Macbeth concerning Birnam Wood coming to high Dunsinane hill (Letters 212). Tolkien wanted to go beyond Shakespeare’s men with branches and truly allow the wood to move. Beyond this, however, the ents seem clearly to be suggestive of the natural world itself. Thus, when the hobbits ask whose side they are on, Treebeard cannot really answer. Nature does not take sides in human affairs. However, when mistreated, the natural world will respond. Abuses of nature have their consequences. Saruman and his orcs have destroyed the trees, and therefore the forest itself will rise against him. Though Tolkien may not have known about the threat of global warming, he depicts the fierce consequences of a mistreated environment against those who presume to engage in such acts. Once roused, Fangorn Forest will not stop until Saruman’s power has been reduced to nothing. This is not vengeance so much as the natural consequences of his own actions.
Chapters 5–8: The Defeat of Isengard
The most astounding aspect of these chapters is certainly the reappearance of Gandalf. Most readers, like the rest of the Fellowship, have given him up for dead. In archetypal terms, Gandalf has journeyed into the dark underworld, struggled with hell and death itself in the overcoming of his shadow (in the form of the Balrog), and emerged a stronger, more perfect Gandalf, ready now to lead all of the Free Peoples in their struggle against the powers of absolute darkness. Tolkien had precedents enough in the myths and literary texts that provided his sources—like Odysseus, like Virgil, like Dante, like Christ harrowing Hell, Gandalf emerges from the pit with his eye turned toward his destiny.
But more than anything, as Verlyn Flieger has pointed out (“Missing Person” 13) Gandalf’s story is like Christ’s. He was dead and is resurrected. In his rising, he brings hope for salvation, and he brings a power that transcends the abilities of his allies in the struggle. He is, as Tolkien explained in the draft of a letter to Robert Murray in 1954, an Istari, which is to say an angelic being sent to Middle-earth specifically to deal with the problem of Sauron. He was incarnate in a human body (like the other Istari, including Saruman), and thus he could indeed die. He and the other Istari were also subject to all the temptations of the world and could indeed fall like Sauron himself (as, of course, Saruman does). But only Gandalf, Tolkien says, “fully passed the tests, on a moral plane anyway,” for on the bridge in Moria he makes a true sacrifice “for his companions,” which is also
an abnegation of himself in conformity to ‘the Rules’: for all he could know at that moment he was the only person who could direct the resistance to Sauron successfully, and all his mission was vain. He was handing over to the Authority that ordained the Rules, and giving up personal hope of success. (Letters 202)
Thus, Gandalf, an incarnate spirit sent by a benevolent “Authority” and incarnate in human flesh, willingly sacrifices himself to save his companions and truly dies. He rises again in glory as the White Rider. He is beyond question Tolkien’s Christ figure, but he is not Christ: The orthodox Catholic Tolkien would not have created such a character. “The Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would write,” he wrote in the draft of an unsent letter in 1956 (Letters 237). Gandalf is not divine; he works in the world chiefly through other people. He cannot save souls; he can only help the rational beings of Middle-earth fight against evil in hope and faith, but without knowledge of how the end will turn out. Gandalf has supernatural powers, demonstrated in his command of the great steed Shadowfax, in his defeat of Wormtongue, and more fully in his later ability to command and cow Saruman. But he cannot—or does not—make fire rain from the sky to destroy the orcs at Helm’s Deep. His greatest strength is in his ability to lead and to persuade, as he does with Théoden. Tolkien wrote that the assignment of the wizards in Middle-earth was to “advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron to a resistance with their own strengths; and not just to do the job for them” (Letters 202). And although Théoden thinks that the forest that marches to Helm’s Deep is the work of Gandalf, it is not. As Gandalf himself realizes, something higher is involved in the working out of events.
It has long been recognized that Théoden’s people, the Riders of Rohan, are closely modeled on Anglo-Saxon society. John Tinkler pointed out a number of Old English elements in the names of Rohan (Tinkler 164–169). The word Théoden literally means “prince” or “king” in Old English, while eoh, the Old English word for “horse,” appears in a number of character names, including Éomer as well as his sister Éowyn, which literally means “joy in horses.” Gríma means “mask”—an appropriate name for the king’s hypocritical adviser. And Gríma is the son of Gálmód, a word that in Old English means “licentious” and underscores Gríma’s lustful attentions to Éowyn. Further, Théoden’s Golden Hall is named Meduseld, a term literally meaning “mead hall” in Old English.
Jorge Luis Bueno Alonso points out a number of parallels, as well, in the architecture, the burial mounds (which he compares to places like the famous Sutton Hoo mound in East Anglia), and the armor (particularly the helmets) of the Rohirrim and the Anglo-Saxons (Alonso 29–32). The parallel with Anglo-Saxon society is first introduced in the poem that Aragorn chants as the companions pass by the tombs of the Kings of Rohan. The first lines, in the “common speech,” run thus:
Where now the horse and the rider? Where the
horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the
bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the
red fire glowing? (112)
Although the form of these lines does not replicate Old English verse, the alliteration of h’s does recall that verse. More important, the ubi sunt (“where are they”) theme of these lines, the mournful tone questioning where the glories of the past have gone, captures precisely the mood of Old English elegaic verse, a major genre of Old English poetry. These themes appear most notably in “The Wanderer,” whose narrator asks:
Where has the horse gone?
Where the man?
Where the giver of gold?
Where is the feasting-place?
And where the
pleasures of the hall? (Crossley-Holland 52)
The parallels, in particular to the Old English epic Beowulf, continue as the companions approach Meduseld. The hall, like Hrothgar’s Heorot, is an architectural jewel. Like Beowulf, Gandalf and the others are challenged by the guard and requested to leave their weapons before being allowed into the hall. Like Hrothgar, King Théoden seems old and overcome by grief. Like Unferth, Gríma insinuates that the newcomers will not truly be the allies they purport to be. In this kind of warrior society, it is imperative that Théoden be able to lead his men in battle, particularly against a foe that has slain his son and heir. Indeed, it would be his sacred duty to avenge his son’s death. If we can impose AngloSaxon societal values on the Rohirrim, as these parallels suggest that we may, then Gríma’s advice to Théoden to make peace with Saruman and go on with the slayers of his son as allies is advice that betrays all the deepest expectations of his culture. Following this advice would probably lose Théoden his leadership role, and perhaps even destroy the unity of his tribe. It is vital not only for the sake of the anti-Sauron faction, but for the king’s own sake and that of his nation, that Gandalf step in and cleanse the kingdom of Gríma’s influence.
Of the figures at Théoden’s court, his niece, Éowyn, may be the most intriguing. Tolkien is often criticized for his lack of female characters, and this criticism is justified for the most part. Tolkien’s chief sources and inspirations are Old English poetry, most of which celebrates the warrior code and the bond between king and retainer in a warrior society, a bond called the comitatus by the Latin writer Tacitus. There is little room for women in such a society. But there are exceptions in Tolkien’s work (just as there are in Old English poetry), although two of the important exceptions in The Lord of the Rings—Galadriel and her granddaughter Arwen—tend to serve more as ideals and inspirations than as real agents in their own right who contribute to the action of the plot. The chief exception is Éowyn, who will become an important character as the narrative moves along. But even Éowyn is not a “typical” woman. She is strongly attracted to Aragorn, though her love is unrequited. She loves chiefly Aragorn’s authority, his prowess, his courage. Her love of him is hero worship, as Marion Zimmer Bradley has stated: Éowyn does not want Aragorn so much as she wants to be Aragorn (83). She is in love with the thing that she herself wishes to be most like. Éowyn is rankled by the constrictions placed upon her as a woman in her society, and she wants to ride to battle as the men of her tribe ride. Putting her in command of the women and children who remain behind may be intended to assuage her bitterness, but it clearly does not have that effect. As a woman character, Éowyn is far more like a Judith—the biblical heroine whose prowess defeats the Assyrian army in the Anglo-Saxon epic bearing her name—than she is like the women who narrate Old English poems such as “The Wife’s Lament,” who mourn because of their separation from their husbands. But Tolkien does not present Éowyn’s desire for her chance at martial glory as unnatural. Rather, it is ultimately rewarded with true glory. It may be that Tolkien recognized the limitations of the all-male comitatus and saw the inequalities inherent in the stereotyping of gender roles.
Little needs to be said here about the battle of Helm’s Deep itself. It is a fairly common narrative motif concerning the outnumbered force besieged by overwhelming enemy forces. It is the familiar and stirring story of the Spartans at Thermopylae or the Texan defense of the Alamo—or the story of The Battle of Maldon (retold by Tolkien in “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son”). In a context influenced by Anglo-Saxon or Germanic tradition, it is clear that the members of the warrior society must perform their duty and defend their posts to the death—courage and commitment growing stronger as their strength grows weaker, to paraphrase Maldon, one of Tolkien’s favorite poems. The difference here, of course, is that the cavalry arrives in time to save the Rohirrim.
Ultimately, it is supernatural assistance that intercedes at Helm’s Deep, first in the form of Gandalf and then in the form of the ents. This, in fact, is how Gandalf himself interprets the ents’ arrival. Had Saruman not demanded that his orcs bring the hobbits to him, they never would have come near Fangorn Forest, and had they not arrived there, then the ents would not have marched. Gandalf sees a providential hand in the matter, although there is no overt religious interpretation suggested.
Finally, in the story of Helm’s Deep, there is a foreshadowing of the much greater and more fiercely contested battle before the city of Minas Tirith in the third volume of the trilogy. In fact, it is crucial to Tolkien’s construction of The Lord of the Rings as a fairy story, in the sense outlined in his earlier lecture on the topic. Richard Fehrenbacher, who sees The Two Towers in particular as a revamping of the elegaic Anglo-Saxon Beowulf as a fairy story, emphasizes Tolkien’s notion of the eucatastrophe—the sudden reversal that provides the happy ending of the fairy story (111). The arrival of Gandalf and the ents is one of the great eucatastrophes of the trilogy. For Tolkien, such events are glimpses of miraculous grace—what he calls a joy beyond the physical world. They are the highest function of the fairy story and provide here, as Gandalf says, evidence of a greater power shaping events.
One last item of interest in these chapters is the developing friendship between Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf. Representative of two races that are traditional enemies, Gimli and Legolas develop a friendly rivalry inspiring them to acts of prowess with axe and bow at Helm’s Deep. Later, they more surprisingly agree to visit each other’s ideal natural beauties: Gimli will visit the ancient and mysterious Fangorn Forest with Legolas, while the elf will visit the wondrous caves of Aglarond with Gimli. Differences do not have to cause divisions: All the peoples of Middle-earth do not need to take the path of the ents, where division leads to extinction.
Chapters 9–11: Saruman Defeated
The reuniting of Merry and Pippin with Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas restores the hobbits as the central focus of the narrative, a restoration that is underscored by their immediately relating the story of the march of the ents and the fall of Isengard. Structurally, the scene is a kind of respite after the suspense of the battle at Helm’s Deep, the sharing of food that the hobbits have scavenged from Isengard serving a hiatus function similar to that of Rivendell or Lórien earlier. Further, when Pippin gives Gimli his pipe and shares his pipeweed, it is a warm symbol of domesticity, peace, and camaraderie, and represents the simple pleasures of home that would be lost in a world dominated by Sauron’s tyranny. But within this somewhat idyllic scene is the seed of another potential crisis that Aragorn comments on briefly, though the uneasiness disappears among other more immediate concerns. However, the question remains: How does pipeweed from the Southfarthing district of the Shire happen to be here, stored among Saruman’s provisions at Isengard?
Saruman himself makes his first appearance in The Lord of the Rings (other than the secondhand references to him that Gandalf makes during the Council of Elrond) in chapter 10, and here he is characterized chiefly by his voice. Once again, Saruman is presented like a contemporary politician: His chief power is his ability to persuade, and his words—sometimes cajoling, sometimes threatening—do have a profound effect on a number of the men of Rohan—including, it appears for a few moments, their king. There is no question that Tolkien is presenting here the dangers of sophistry. He was certainly familiar with the Sophists of classical Greece, whose goal was to train young men for political careers by teaching them rhetoric—in particular (at least according to Plato) by teaching them tricks to argue for any position, right or wrong, through quibbling; entrapping or confusing their opponents; slander and emotional appeal; shouting their opponents down; and using epigrams or other “sound bites,” in the manner of countless political pundits employed in the media today. Defining or finding truth was not a part of the Sophist agenda—it was, in fact, irrelevant to their arguments. So it is with Saruman. In fifth-century b.c.e. Athens, Socrates and Plato condemned such practices and sought to find ways of reasoning that could get at truth. Aristotle developed a rhetoric that focused on rational argument and the goodwill and character of the speaker, who must be honest and free from self-interest. I have already argued that Gandalf’s chief power is not his magic spells but his ability to persuade and to unite the enemies of Sauron and to lead without desiring power himself. He has already rejected the One Ring—an act of which Saruman would have been incapable. Thus, Gandalf is the Aristotelian rhetorician, whose motives are pure and whose arguments are truthful. Only clear-thinking listeners who can recognize the untruths are able to resist Saruman, as Éomer and Gimli do. But his lack of success with Théoden and his attempt to entrap Gandalf himself demonstrates how much power Saruman has lost.
Originally, of course, Saruman was leader of the White Council and an Istari like Gandalf, sent in human form to help the free peoples of Middleearth resist the yoke of Sauron. Originally, Saruman’s voice would have been truthful and his motives pure. Tolkien implies that as the wizard was drawn more and more into corruption by his own lust for power, the more sophist his voice became, and consequently, corruption has weakened his persuasive power. That corruption is symbolized by the whiteness of his robes, which reveals itself to be made up of a rainbow of colors that only appear to be white, just as Saruman himself only appears to be honest. Gandalf, whose robes are now pure white, speaks with a voice that embodies the power and influence of the Valar, the angelic beings who sent the Istari from the West, and he breaks Saruman’s staff. Saruman, who had thought his power and rank unassailable, is surprised by this, but he learns in no uncertain terms that he has not been acting in accordance with, and is no longer in favor with, those powers.
One of Saruman’s great treasures has been the palantír of Orthanc, which Wormtongue foolishly hurls from the tower in an uncontrollable fit of anger. The palantíri were apparently suggested by the popular (Tolkien might say “debased,” imagining his Faërie version to have come first) notion of the “crystal ball.” In his legendarium, as outlined in The Silmarillion, the palantíri were far-seeing stones with which one could see and communicate with anyone else who might be looking into a stone anywhere else in the world. The stones were originally made in Valinor in the Uttermost West, presumably by Féanor himself, greatest of the Noldor craftsmen and fashioner of the Silmarils, the great jewels that sparked war and rebellion among the elves. A number of palantíri had been given to the men of Númenor in the Second Age when they were still friendly with the Eldar of Valinor, and when the island of Númenor was destroyed, Elendil and his sons brought seven of the seeingstones with them to Middle-earth. These were placed at various strongholds in Arnor and Gondor, the Númenórean realms in exile. Most of these were lost, but clearly Saruman has discovered the palantír of Orthanc (formerly one of Gondor’s fortresses), while Sauron has been using the palantír of Minas Ithil (now Minas Morgul). The connection explains how Saruman could have been corrupted by Sauron, whose will and influence seem to have been aimed at Saruman through the palantír.
These things become apparent when Pippin looks into the stone. Pippin has consistently been the most immature and rash of the four hobbits (as, for example, he is when he disturbs the well in Moria). Here, having glanced briefly at the stone before Gandalf quickly covered it, Pippin is tormented by an apparently irresistible urge to look again. It is unclear whether this is due to some power of the stone itself or, more likely, the power of Sauron. He ignores Merry’s advice and incurs Gandalf’s wrath, and he is stricken unconscious by the experience. Gandalf’s reaction does suggest that Pippin should have had the will to resist, but it seems that Pippin’s bad judgment has resulted in a providential stroke of luck: Sauron—whose sight Pippin cannot experience and still remain conscious—believes that Pippin is the Ring-bearer and that Saruman has captured him. These assumptions take Sauron’s attentions away from the borders of Mordor just as Frodo and Sam, it is hoped, are endeavoring to make their way into that land of shadows.
Book 4: The Ring Goes East
Chapters 1–3: Sméagol
The fact that Gollum is pitied by Bilbo, Gandalf, and Frodo, and is put into a position of trust in a way that contrasts sharply with other servants of Mordor, is a phenomenon that deserves consideration. One of the criticisms often made of Tolkien is his creation of a black-andwhite world of good versus evil, and the attendant mindset that allows for the slaughter of innumerable orcs without any hint of remorse on the part of their slayers—even to the point of depicting a grimly humorous contest between Legolas and Gimli over the number of orcs they can kill. In some ways, this reflects the common manner of conducting war propaganda, through which an enemy is made into an “Other” in every imaginable way, minimizing any qualms of conscience the soldier might have at killing such an enemy. Saruman, the consummate modern politician, has engaged in this kind of “othering” with the men of Dunland, whom he convinces that the Rohirrim will burn alive any prisoners they take.
There are, however, some differences between Tolkien’s orcs and our “othering” of wartime enemies. Orcs are beyond salvation in Tolkien’s picture of Middle-earth. It must be remembered that men, elves, hobbits, and ents are creatures made by the creator god Ilúvatar. In The Silmarillion, we learn that the dwarves were created by the Vala Aulë but lived as automatons until Ilúvatar took pity on them and adopted them as his own, thus giving them free will and, hence, souls. Orcs, we are told by Treebeard in book 3, were created by the original Dark Lord (the fallen Vala Morgoth) as a kind of mockery of Ilúvatar’s elves. Saruman, taking his cue from Morgoth’s perversion of the natural process, creates his Uruk-hai largely in mockery of men. Thus, the orcs are pure evil: They are demonic forces that bear no resemblance to any human enemies. The human allies of Sauron or Saruman—like the men of Dunland mentioned earlier—are considered salvageable, so that the Rohirrim make a treaty with the men of Dunland even after they have fought against them.
This is the spirit in which Gollum must be considered. Gollum—originally called Sméagol and originally a hobbit-like being—has done evil and has been corrupted by nearly 500 years in possession of the One Ring. But as a creature of Ilúvatar, Gollum retains his free will. He has a soul that can be saved. What Frodo recognizes in him is the strain and madness that the burden of the ring might have on the Ring-bearer. Frodo sees his own possible future in Gollum. But even after nearly five centuries, Gollum is not without a spark of good. It takes Frodo’s trust of him to bring out some of that goodness: Gollum swears by the ring to be loyal to the Ring-bearer and to bring Frodo to Mordor, and he keeps his word. He makes no attempts on the hobbits’ lives, nor does he run off when he gets the chance. Certainly a part of this is his desire for the ring and his need to be near it, but the bizarre argument that he has with himself—the inner division between Sméagol the creature of Ilúvatar and Gollum the creature of the One Ring— indicates that there is within him a will that wishes to be free of the ring, and if that is the case, then there is still hope for him in this universe. Sméagol wishes to remain faithful to his new master. But Gollum is concerned chiefly with the ring itself, fearful that “He” (i.e., Sauron) will obtain it, and wondering if perhaps “She” (unidentified as yet, but we ultimately come to know that he is speaking here of the giant spider-creature Shelob) will assist Gollum. Surely David Callaway is not completely accurate when he argues that “Gollum is not more evil in the beginning than either Frodo or Bilbo, he is just controlled by the Ring for a longer period of time” (17)—for it must be remembered that Smé-agol killed his cousin to gain possession of the ring in the beginning—but it is true that Gollum is not completely evil at any time, and he always represents what Bilbo or Frodo could have become if they had carried the ring for a longer time than they did.
Gollum leads the hobbits on his own secret path through the Dead Marshes, where orcs do not travel. Readers may be fascinated by the faces of the dead that stare up from the mire and dissatisfied with Gollum’s laconic explanation that there was a great battle here long ago. Tolkien’s explanation is that the marshes were originally much smaller, but during the long Third Age of Middleearth, they expanded to the east, toward Mordor, and eventually engulfed the graves of all those who fell at the Battle of Dagorlad—the great, ancient battle to which Gollum alludes. This was the final battle at the end of the Second Age, involving the Last Alliance of elves (led by Gil-Galad, the king of the Eldar of Middle-earth) and men (led by Elendil, king of the Dúnedain) waging war for months on the plain before Mordor against Sauron and his forces. Sauron was ultimately defeated, but the graves of that battle’s myriad dead, absorbed by the marshes, show forth here with a kind of eerie enchantment.
The second path to which Gollum begins to lead the hobbits, once they realize that there can be no entrance through the Black Gates, is one that passes close by Minas Morgul. At this point, the hobbits do not know the significance of this place. It is, in fact, the tower originally built by Isildur in the Second Age and named Minas Ithil, or the Tower of the Moon. After a two-year siege in the middle of the Third Age, the tower was captured by the Nazgûl, Sauron’s Black Riders, presumably in anticipation of his reappearance. At that point, it became known as Minas Morgul (the “Tower of Black Magic”). It was there that the Nazgûl found the palantír of Minas Ithil, which they gave to Sauron and which he used to communicate with Saruman and presumably to watch other parts of Middle-earth. Thus, this place and the path that runs by it are more dangerous than Gollum makes out, and though he mentions the “Silent Watchers,” he fails to clarify that these are the Nazgûl themselves, the very creatures who have already terrified and wounded Frodo and who fly overhead, observing all that move around the borders of Mordor. Therefore, although Sméagol is keeping his word and doing his best to guide Frodo into Mordor, Gollum is also leading him into dangers of which he does not speak.
Chapters 4–6: A Captain of Gondor
This section opens with a domestic chapter about rabbit stew. Like the earlier chapter in which Merry and Pippin are reunited with the other members of the Fellowship at Isengard, this chapter provides a kind of respite after the arduous journey through the marshes. Sméagol appears here at his best—he provides game for the hobbits as well as himself, and for the first time, he and Sam treat each other with what approaches a good-natured civility. Frodo requires a deep rest as the burden of the ring has been exhausting him. Here Tolkien provides a scene in which Sam contemplates the sleeping Frodo, and affection surges within him when he notices the wrinkles around his master’s eyes. Sam’s selfless loyalty and concern for Frodo presage the increasingly heavy responsibilities he will be taking on as the quest continues. In particular, this scene foreshadows and parallels the scene later in book 4 in which Gollum contemplates the sleeping Frodo. Sam’s single-minded concentration on his master’s welfare explains his sometimes unreasonable distrust of Gollum. Clearly it is wise to be cautious of Gollum, since he has a reputation for treachery. But Frodo is able to see some goodness in Gollum (and despite Sam’s qualms has also demonstrated that he is not blind to Gollum’s treacheries), while for his part, Sméagol keeps his word as he has sworn to and guided the hobbits faithfully this far. It may be that Sam resents Gollum taking some of Sam’s job away from him, in becoming the one that Frodo must depend on most during the quest.
But while Sam cannot bring himself to empathize with Gollum the way Frodo does, he feels another kind of empathy toward the end of this chapter. As the men of Gondor ambush a company of Southrons coming to join Sauron’s army, one of these southern men of Harad lands dead at his feet:
He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace. (269)
Sam refuses to “other” the enemy soldier and cannot help but see the dead man as an individual, and one that may have been saved.
The appearance of the Oliphaunt in this chapter is juxtaposed to Sam’s view of the dead man. Sam is chagrined by the dead man and then immediately thrilled by the sight of the Oliphaunt. What Tolkien does in these few pages is demonstrate in miniature his theory of the imagination expressed in his famous essay “On Fairy-Stories.” There, Tolkien had listed four uses of such tales: enchantment, recovery, escape, and consolation. Here, Sam is first confronted with the reality of death, the greatest limitation on human life and the one from which human beings by nature seek most desperately to escape. The escape for Sam comes here in the form of enchantment—what Tolkien calls an act of imagination that allows for a secondary reality. The Oliphaunt, a creature of the imagination as far as Sam has known up to this point, crosses into his world of belief. Within Tolkien’s secondary creation, the imagination can discover many things to believe in to escape the horrors of the mundane primary world. Thus, Sam engages in an act of recovery as well—the ability, as Tolkien put it, to transcend our normal way of looking at the world to see it from a different perspective, to see it anew. Seeing the Oliphaunt gives Sam that new perspective—just as seeing the hobbits gives that perspective to Faramir and the men of Gondor who come with him. Such small instances of enchantment, escape. and recovery are common in The Lord of the Rings, supporting the larger movements of the plot that demonstrate these themes on a greater scale.
Faramir is a major character in the trilogy, and one who at this point embodies for the reader the character of the men of Gondor—just as, earlier in The Two Towers, Éomer embodied the character of the men of Rohan. Tom Shippey has shown how closely parallel are the two scenes in which these characters make their first appearance (Road 129– 131). Éomer and his men surround Aragorn and his companions as trespassers in the Mark; Faramir and his troops surround Frodo and Sam as trespassers on the borders of Gondor. Both threaten to detain the strangers, but in the end neither does so. As Shippey points out, however, Éomer is less polite than Faramir, and is skeptical and even insulting with regard to Galadriel and the elves of Lórien, while Faramir seems wiser, more courteous, and better disposed toward the elves than his counterpart of Rohan. Indeed, when Éomer asks Aragorn, “Are you elvish folk?” (34), he does not imply that he would regard an affirmative answer in a positive light. As for the Lady of the Golden Wood, Éomer assumes that “if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe” (35). But when Faramir first sees the hobbits, he says that they cannot be elves because “Elves are wondrous fair to look upon, or so ’tis said” (265). Furthermore, as a kind of grace before meals, the men of Gondor look with reverence to the West, toward the Númenor that was and the Elvenhome that is, and the eternal lands beyond. In addition, Faramir is more astute in relating to his guests, while Éomer seems less mature and less guarded. For while Faramir never mentions that Boromir is his brother, or that he knows Boromir is dead, until he has heard everything that Frodo has to say (and has detected Frodo’s lack of forthrightness regarding his relationship with Boromir), Éomer blurts out all of his thoughts without caution, even making known his low opinion of the new state of affairs at his uncle’s court. If these two men are representative of their respective cultures, one might say that Rohan is a less refined and more plainspoken culture, while that of Gondor is a more sophisticated and less straightforward one. If Rohan parallels the culture of Anglo-Saxon England, Gondor more closely parallels that of the high medieval courts of England or France.
One of Faramir’s more remarkable claims is his categorizing of men into three types:
“For so we reckon Men in our lore, calling them the High, or Men of the West, which were theNúmenóreans; and the Middle Peoples, Men of the Twilight, such as are the Rohirrim and their kin that dwell still far in the North; and the Wild, the Men of Darkness.” (287)
Passages like this one add fuel to the charges of those critics who have characterized Tolkien as classist, racist, or even fascist. Brian Rosebury describes some of Tolkien’s readers as finding in his works a “coded right-wing polemic” (160), and Nick Otty calls Middle-earth politics “openly paternalistic” (172). Fred Inglis compares Tolkien to Wagner, stating that both “prefigure the genuine ideals and nobilities of which Fascism is the dark negation” (39). Certainly if one applies Faramir’s categorization to Tolkien’s contemporary world, it may well imply that certain nations or races are superior to others, and readers might be tempted to do what Tolkien never did (and probably never would have done) and start classifying—beginning, perhaps, with the British people as, clearly, belonging in the “High” category.
While it seems quite unlikely that Tolkien ever voted for the Labour Party, to interpret this passage in such a manner is to misread it completely. One must first remember that even more specific classifications are made among the elvish peoples of Middle-earth, so that the High-elves, the Eldar, comprise those who had made the journey to Valinor in the First Age. The experience of the light of Valinor, the eternal earthly paradise, makes those elves spiritually superior to the Grey-elves, who did not make that journey.
It is the same with the three classes of men in Faramir’s reckoning. The Dúnedain, ancestors of the men of Gondor, were the survivors of Númenor, the island created by the Valar for those men who supported the elves in their war against the fallen Vala Morgoth in the First Age. The Númenóreans were in regular contact with the elves of Tol Eressëa, but they were not allowed to set foot on the Undying Lands. Still, they were spiritually enlightened by this contact, and that is why they and their descendants are classified as High. As for the Middle level of men, those of the “twilight” like the Rohirrim, these are men who know enough to shun the darkness of Morgoth as persisting in Sauron, even though they may not recognize the spirituality of the elves or sense the supremacy of the creator god Ilúvatar. As for the Wild Men, those like the Dunlendings whom the Rohirrim spare after the battle at Helm’s Deep, or the Haradrim whom the men of Gondor have just defeated, these are men who have continued to live in darkness, lied to or enslaved by the Dark Lord. It is in a spiritual sense that these men are inferior, but Tolkien implies that there is still hope for them: The Dunlendings may well be won from their misplaced alliance with Saruman. As for the Haradrim, Sam’s musings upon the fate of the dead man he sees at least raise the question of the man’s intentions, which may not indeed have been consciously or deliberately evil. Thus, if there is any intended application to the primary world in Faramir’s speech, it has nothing to do with race, class, or ethnicity, but with the state of the soul.
As for Faramir, there is no question that he represents the ideal High category of man. There is, of course, the fear that he will be like his brother, with the same ambitions for himself and his city that led Boromir to try to take the ring. But Faramir is not his brother. In the first place, he does not value war for its own sake: He is a skilled warrior when he must be, but he is chiefly a man of peace. More important, before he knows what it is, he swears not to touch the talisman Frodo bears. When he finds through Sam’s drunken slip what that talisman is and knows he has Frodo in his power to do with as he pleases, his true impulse is to keep his word. In addition, he is wise enough to know, like Gandalf and Galadriel, that the power of the ring is not a power to be desired. Thus, Faramir acts in the novel as a foil to his brother. He shows himself to be the man that Boromir might have been, and perhaps should have been.
One other aspect of these chapters that must be considered is Frodo’s “betrayal” of Gollum when he coaxes him out of the forbidden pool only to be captured by the men of Gondor. While Faramir is presented as noble for keeping his word, this is actually the second time in this section that Frodo has been less than completely honest. He had earlier hidden Boromir’s betrayal from the men of Gondor, refusing to speak ill of his former com-panion even after that companion had betrayed him. For this, most readers will probably admire him. As for his deception of Gollum, readers will understand that Frodo was forced into dishonesty in order to save Gollum’s life, and the majority of people would have certainly done the same. But Frodo’s conscience does bother him, and Gollum sees his lying as a betrayal. This act causes the first rift between Frodo and his reluctant servant, and it damages the very fragile trust that had been building up to this time. The damage, unfortunately, is never completely healed. Frodo’s deceptions in these chapters demonstrate again that those readers who accuse Tolkien of simple black-and-white thinking are quite mistaken: There are times, it seems, of moral ambiguity when truth is not the same as virtue and when goodness is not simple.
Chapters 7–10: The Pass of Cirith Ungol
One of the more remarkable images of these chapters is the fallen king’s statue, covered with graffiti and replaced by a grotesque image of the red eye of Sauron. The head has broken from the statue and lies in the path as the hobbits make their way to the pass at Cirith Ungol, and Frodo and Sam are momentarily mesmerized by it. The image recalls Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias,” wherein the fallen statue in the desert suggests the transience of earthly power. Tolkien gives the image a new twist, for while it does recall the long-fallen kings of the Second Age, the fallen head is encircled by a garland of white and yellow flowers that have grown there naturally. It is a moment of hope before the plunge into the darkness, foreshadowing the return of the king of Gondor. This is one of the few overt suggestions in The Lord of the Rings of a kind of providential order to events, since the fact that this “crown” is a natural phenomenon implies some power beyond that of the factions of Middleearth that may be ordering events to its own ends.
That transcendent power makes itself felt elsewhere in this section in the form of Galadriel’s phial, the other talisman that Frodo carries around his neck. Frodo has not given it a thought since he obtained it as Galadriel’s gift in Lórien, but the phial proves to be Frodo’s strength and salvation throughout these chapters. When the armies of Mordor pour from Minas Morgul, the chief Nazgûl senses Frodo’s presence, and Frodo’s hand reaches for the ring in what could have been a fatal gesture. But at the last moment his hand grasps the phial instead. Later, Tolkien depicts Frodo and Sam in a fascinating metatextual discussion about how their adventure will be told and received, and Sam realizes that the light in Galadriel’s phial is the light of the same Silmaril that Beren wrested from the crown of Morgoth in the greatest of the old stories that he has heard sung. The Silmarils, it should be recalled, embodied all that remained of the light of the Two Trees of Valinor that lighted that prelapsarian paradise in the days before Morgoth’s rebellion. Eärendil, who in The Silmarillion had inherited the Silmaril of Beren, became the morning star, whose light is captured in Galadriel’s phial. Thus, Galadriel’s phial contains light from the perfect age of the Undying Lands. It is sacred light, a spiritual light that sustains Frodo as he faces the power of the Ringwraith.
That light becomes even more important in the confrontation with the terrifying Shelob later on. Significantly, Shelob is the offspring of Ungoliant. According to The Silmarillion, Ungoliant was a Maia of great power who allied herself with Morgoth in the Elder Days. In fact, it was Ungoliant, in the grotesque form of a giant spider, who poisoned the Two Trees and brought their light to an end. In Middle-earth, she parted from Morgoth to live her own isolated life in the mountains of Beleriand, where she had a number of offspring. Clearly Gollum has been planning to lead the hobbits into Shelob’s grasp for some time, in order to reclaim the ring for himself. But Galadriel’s phial proves to be most effective against her assault. She fears the light: The sacred light of the earthly paradise that her mother had failed to destroy completely has come back in a new form to blind Shelob in her den of darkness. Frodo’s exclamation when he holds up the light against the loathsome Shelob, which seems to come from outside his own consciousness, is a cry that must have originated in the Undying Lands themselves: It is a cry in Quenya, the speech of the High-elves, and reads “Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!” (329). This translates as “Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars,” which itselfis a paraphrase of the Old English poetic line from Cynewulf’s Crist II, which Tolkien said was the inspiration for the name of his hero Eärendil— “éala éarendel engla beorhtast,” which means “Hail Eärendil, brightest of angels!”
There is another significant archetypal pattern of symbolic death and rebirth occurring in these chapters as well. Once again, Frodo and Sam journey through a dark place where they meet a shadow-creature in the form of the embodiment of their greatest fears. In the previous descent, the Fellowship had fought their way out of Moria after confronting the Balrog, and they were reborn into greater maturity in Lórien, forced to go on by themselves without the archetypal father figure of Gandalf. Here, confronted by another supernaturally powerful figure, the hobbits must defend themselves, for there is no Gandalf or Aragorn to protect them. Shelob is an archetypal “terrible mother” figure who devours her own children. It is the light of Galadriel, the archetypal good mother, that enables the hobbits to fight off the monster’s power. But when Frodo runs from the tunnel, carelessly leaving the light behind, he is stung by the monster and falls as if dead. The symbolic death and rebirth of the archetypal descent nearly becomes a literal death for Frodo. But in terms of mythic archetypes, Frodo should awaken from his near-death state reborn in some meaningful way.
Perhaps the most important aspect of these chapters in terms of overall significance for the trilogy as a whole is the way that Sam emerges here as the focal character of the narrative. The burden of the ring saps more and more of Frodo’s strength, so that he is often resting or sleeping. By the end of Book 4, he is unconscious. It is Sam’s perspective that provides the central consciousness on which the third-person narrative centers. We are aware as book 4 goes on how much jealousy plays a part in Sam’s distrust of Gollum. To have the treacherous creature entrusted with being his master’s guide certainly feels to Sam as if his position has been usurped. Nearly his only civil exchange with Gollum occurs as he is making the rabbit stew, since for once Sam truly feels useful at that point. But there is no question that readers must feel Sam’s faithfulness and blunt courage make him one of the most sympathetic of all characters in the trilogy. It is, therefore, a crushing reversal when it is Sam’s misplaced protective instincts that bring about the events that come closer to killing his master than anything else in the novel.
The climactic moment in the relationship between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum—and the turning point of book 4—occurs when the hobbits take a brief respite before moving into the tunnel. Gollum returns to find them sleeping, leaning against one another, and momentarily reaches out to touch Frodo. We are not told what Gollum is thinking at the time, although the scene parallels the earlier one in which Sam had gazed on the sleeping Frodo and felt a great wave of affection for him. It seems likely that Sméagol, coming upon the hobbits in such a fraternal position, feels the same kind of affection for his new master—the only person in nearly 500 years to treat him with respect and encouragement—and feels, as well, a desire to have the kind of relationship with Frodo that Sam does. When Sam awakens suddenly, he explodes at Gollum, calling him a sneak and ordering him away from Frodo. “The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall,” Tolkien writes (324). This was the moment at which Gollum had teetered on the brink. Had his kindly impulses prevailed, he would probably not have betrayed Frodo to Shelob, and Gollum himself may have had a chance to be saved. As Rogers and Rogers assert, the dependable Sam “commits the most tragic deed in the story, killing the very last kind impulse possible to the ruined Gollum. After that, Gollum debates and chooses no more, but only presses ahead in his Ring-madness. Sam’s action helps bring Frodo nearer to death than any minion of Mordor can” (Rogers 112).
This is Sam’s greatest failure, though he himself does not recognize it as such. After Shelob’s attack, in fact, he feels as if he had been justified in his suspicions of Gollum all along, and when he tries to avenge himself after Gollum’s treachery, chasing him back into the tunnel, he leaves Frodo alone long enough to allow Shelob to stun his master and encase him in her web. It is Sam’s subsequent behavior that he himself considers inexcusable. Assuming that Frodo is dead, he takes the ring himself to finish the quest. But when Frodo is taken by orcs and Sam discovers he is still alive, he berates himself, convinced that his one duty is to stay with and protect his master. Critics have suggested that this is a case where Sam’s wrong decision resulted in unanticipated benefits: If he had not taken the ring, it would be in the hands of Sauron. Further, Sam is the only person at this point who would have been able to wear the ring without drawing Sauron’s gaze, since he has never worn it before and has pure motives for putting it on.
There is no question that Sam is wrong for berating himself over this. The number one priority is to destroy the ring. If Frodo cannot do this, then no one but Sam has the power to complete the task. He has no way of knowing that Frodo is alive, and therefore his devotion to Frodo must be secondary to the fate of Middle-earth at this point. Staying with Frodo’s corpse will not defeat Sauron. Carrying out the task of the Fellowship will. Sam’s instincts are wrong in both cases in this section, although his motives are unselfish. But Tolkien may be suggesting here that the right motives are not enough. They must be coupled with right actions, and those may need careful and measured planning. Still, what is also clear in Sam’s experience is that real valor—the sort that involves the assumption of a difficult duty even if the task may seem hopeless—is not the province only of the Aragorns or Faramirs of the world. Anyone, even the least likely, even the seemingly inconsequential servant, is capable of great courage.
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