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ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 1

The Tower Of Cirith Ungol

"'Am I still dreaming?' he muttered. 'But the other dreams were horrible.'
'You're not dreaming at all, Master,' said Sam. 'It's real. It's me. I've come.'"

After a largely unproductive year, Tolkien set out to finish the first full draft of "The Lord of the Rings" in 1948. As late as November 1944, he had confessed to his son Christopher that he had "got the hero [Frodo] in to such a fix that not even an author will be able to extricate him without labour and difficulty" (Letter No. 91). The truth is that while Tolkien knew how this part of the story would end at Mount Doom, he hadn't the foggiest idea as to how he would get Frodo out of that Tower and manage to stretch the events over another week and half (from March 14 through March 25). By having Sam knock himself unconscious at the undergate at the end of The Two Towers, Tolkien had limited possibilities for what could happen within the Tower of Cirith Ungol. After much thought, however, he finally invented the quarrel between Shagrat and Gorbag as the necessary event to allow for Frodo's escape.

As the chapter begins, we find Sam right where we left him. Lying outside the undergate, Sam woke in bewildered pain, wondering where he was. How long he had been unconscious, he couldn't tell and from behind the doors he could faintly hear the voices of Orcs. Piecing together in his mind the events that led him to this spot, his thoughts turned to the friends he had left behind and he wondered what might be happening to them at that moment. He might have despaired at the vision of Minas Tirith being besieged, had he seen it. It was about noon of March 14th and he was determined to find his Master. So he went back the way he came, climbing back over the blockage in front of the passageway.

Exiting back out to the Pass, he began to climb the stairs that led to the Tower. For no reason in particular, he draws out the Ring and puts it on. As before, his hearing was sharpened and the sound of clashing Orcs came from the Tower. It sounded very much like Orcs were fighting among themselves. He hurried up towards the Tower and, having reached the top of the Pass, he crossed into Mordor. As he did, he took off the Ring and stared out onto the Plain of Gorgoroth with the fiery mountain looming in the distance.

It does seem curious being so close to Barad-dur that Sam's wearing of the Ring does not alert Sauron of its location. This question actually came up once in a comment toward the end of Fellowship of the Ring. I reproduced it on the "Questions & Answers" thread here (sixth question down). In a nutshell, the best explanation I've ever read is that since the Ring's power had not yet had a chance to work on Sam, his will did not "amplify" it. In a similar way, even Frodo's wearing of the Ring at The Prancing Pony wasn't able to draw Sauron's gaze as he hadn't actively possessed it for very long (though Peter Jackson changed this in his version).

In any case, now Sam could see the Tower up close. Originally written as having four great tiers, Tolkien changed this to three with a turret set on top of the third level. Each tier was smaller than the one below and, strangely, it's eastern face looked into Mordor.

"As he gazed as it suddenly Sam understood, almost with a shock, that this stronghold had been built not to keep enemies out of Mordor, but to keep them in. It was indeed one of the works of Gondor long ago, an eastern outpost of the defences of Ithilien, made when, after the Last Alliance, Men of Westernesse kept watch on the evil land of Sauron where his creatures still lurked. But as with Narchost and Carchost, the Towers of the Teeth, so here too the vigilance had failed, and treachery had yielded up the Tower to the Lord of the Ringwraiths, and now for long years it had been held by evil things. Since his return to Mordor, Sauron had found it useful; for he had few servants but many slaves of fear, and still its chief purpose as of old was to prevent escape from Mordor."

As he stood gazing into the Black Land, the Ring which now hung around his neck began to try and tempt Sam. But it was his humility and the love he felt for his Master that kept him in tune with his "hobbit-sense". He shook off the visions of strength and heroism shown him by the power of the Ring. He knew that these notions were "only a trick".

Looking up at the turret atop the Tower, he realized that the only way in was through the front gate. As he tried to pass through, two great monstrous statues emanated an invisible force that held him back. Sam took out the phial of Galadriel and its light broke the spell of the Watchers. As Sam passed the gate, a shrill cry and the harsh ring of a bell signaled his unbidden entrance. But there was no answer to the alarm. All around him were bodies of slain Orcs, some bearing the Red Eye of Barad-dur while others were marked by a symbol of Minas Morgul: a "Moon disfigured with a ghastly face of death". It occurred to Sam that the fight he heard could very well have come about over Frodo's Mithril coat.

As he began to climb the stairs, a small Orc spotted him and, fearing that the hobbit was the rumored "Elf-warrior" with the deadly blade that wounded Shelob, he turned and ran back up the stairs in terror. Sam followed all the way up to the open parapet of the third level. Inside, he heard Shagrat speaking to the smaller Orc, whom he referrred to as Snaga. In Appendix F, Tolkien writes that "Snaga" means "slave" in the Black Speech and he doesn't indicate here whether this is truly the orc's name or if it is being used more as a general form of address. Here Sam learned that his guess about the Orcs' quarrel had been correct and it was Gorbag who lost the fight. According to Shagrat, it was Gorbag who started the struggle "trying to pinch that pretty shirt". The Captain of the Tower was commanding Snaga to return to Lugburz (the Dark Tower) to send news of what had transpired with the Orc patrol of Minas Morgul, being sure to point out who was at fault. But Snaga refused to go and Shagrat chased him out of the Tower and around the parapet. Under Shagrat's arm, there was a large black bundle. The smaller Orc eluded the hunter but was ultimately forced to escape back inside.

The body of Gorbag, apparently not quite dead, made a sudden move towards Shagrat and his precious prize but was too weak from his wounds. Shagrat finished off the Morgul Orc with his knife. At that moment, Sam decided to charge him with Sting. Shagrat snarled at him but, realizing that he couldn't both fight him and hold on to his bag of tokens, leapt aside and ran down the stairs. He would go to Barad-dur himself. And the contents of this bag would turn out to be what was presented to the army of the West by the Mouth of Sauron.

Now Sam knew there was still one Orc left with Frodo and he went back into the Tower. Once inside he climbed the stairs up into the turret. Inside, however, was nothing but a passageway that ran through its middle. Sam pondered where Frodo could be and suddenly Snaga appeared from a door at the other end and thrust a ladder to the ceiling. The uppermost chamber of the turret could only be reached by a trap door and the Orc soon disappeared up through it. The next thing Sam heard was the crack of a whip.

In a fury, Sam scrambled up the ladder into the upper chamber to see Snaga about to bring down the whip on Frodo a second time. He leapt across the room and slashed at Snaga's arm with Sting. The Orc whirled around and, trying to escape through the trap door, fell down to the floor of the level below and was killed. Sam roused his Master back to consciousness. Frodo tells Sam that the Orcs took everything (meaning the Ring, as well) and that the quest had failed. "No, not everything, Mr. Frodo" said Sam, producing the Ring from around his neck. Then he offered to share the burden with him.

But for a moment, Sam appeared to Frodo as a foul Orc holding his treasure and he grabbed it away from him, calling him a thief. When the moment had passed, Frodo realizes that it is only Sam.

"'O Sam!' cried Frodo. 'What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never, never, been found. But don't mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can't be altered. You can't come between me and this doom.'"

Sam was taken aback, but he understood and he knew that they had to leave quickly if they were to escape. Searching among the dead Orcs, he found some helmets and armor for them to wear so that they might enter Mordor in disguise. They also found the lembas bread untouched among Frodo's things, thought the Orcs had taken what was left of the food that Faramir gave them.

They went down the stairs to the lower level and there again the Watchers blocked the gate. Drawing out the phial and calling the name of the Valar, Elbereth, Sam once again broke their spell and they ran through. The wall of the gate crumbled behind them and out of the dark sky a Nazgul swooped down towards the Tower.

Elsewhere during the War of the Ring: The City of Minas Tirith is being bombarded by great weapons, hurling projectiles behind its walls. Gandalf is commanding the defenses of the City. Denethor has seen visions of Frodo in the Tower and grieves for Faramir as he lay with a burning fever. Theoden is meeting with Ghan-buri-ghan in the Druadan Forest, preparing for their journey through the Stonewain Valley. The Shadow Host defeats the Men of Umbar at Pelargir and Aragorn sails the black ships north up the Anduin. The Elves of Mirkwood and Lorien prepare for assaults upon their lands by Sauron's forces.

[Chronology: March 14th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Land Of Shadow

(revised 10/31/06)


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