Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 1

The Taming Of Smeagol
"Frodo looked straight into Gollum's eyes which flinched and twisted away. 'You know that, or you guessed well enough, Smeagol,' he said, quietly and sternly. 'We are going to Mordor, of course. And you know the way there, I believe.'"

In 1944, after a year-long break and having written as far as what would be Chapter 3 of Book Five ("The Muster of Rohan"), Tolkien decided to finally turn his attention back to Frodo and the Ring. One of the difficulties he faced was in synchronizing the chronology of the two story threads so that - in his mind - he could visualize what was happening to both at the same time. As a reader, we are deprived of lots of information and are left to focus on one thread at a time. Having gone through so much plot development with Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry, Pippin, Theoden, Treebeard and Saruman we now have to go back in time to the breaking of the Fellowship. Chapter One actually picks up three days after the Orc attack at Parth Galen and Amon Hen. It is February 29th by Tolkien's reckoning (remember that in Middle-Earth calendar all months have thirty days).

Frodo and Sam have been going back and forth across the Emyn Muil trying to find away down to the valley below. As they stare across to Mordor in the distance, Sam observes, "That's the one place in all the lands we've ever heard of that we don't want to see any closer; and that's the one place we're trying to get to!" Frodo is a bit despondent and feels that "all my choices have proved ill." This is exactly the way Aragorn feels before they set out to find Merry and Pippin. In fact, back in Chapter One of Book Three, he uses pretty much the same words. They both know that they're being followed by Gollum.

I used to wonder why Gollum chose to follow Sam and Frodo. How did he know that they had the Ring? After reading Chapter Nine of The Fellowship of the Ring this last time around, it occurred to me that once when Frodo was asleep on the banks of the Anduin, Gollum approached him, getting within a couple of yards. It must be that at this point Gollum actually sees "his precious" around Frodo's neck. In fact, Frodo may even have been fingering the Ring on its chain while he slept. Anyway, Gollum is able to keep up with the hobbits all through the Emyn Muil. And he is getting closer to them. The sounds of his hissing and flappy feet on the rock alert them to his proximity.

As they munch on lembas bread, Sam thinks wistfully of bread and beer. He wishes he could prepare them a proper meal, being as he's lugged all his cooking-gear all this way. Tolkien's development of Sam Gamgee in this role of caretaker to Frodo comes from his experiences during World War I. In the British Army each officer was assigned a soldier, called a batman, who acted essentially as his personal servant and valet. The batman was always from inferior social standing, but his loyalty and devotion to the officer who depended so much on him created a bond that Tolkien tries to reflect in the relationship of Frodo and Sam. The Baggins family enjoys a much higher social standing than the Gamgees. And Sam's role in hobbit society was as Frodo's servant, specifically his gardener.

But like Tolkien, Frodo considers a person's worth beyond his social standing and he always treats Sam with the same level of respect that he would anyone else. While Sam appreciates this he maintains his deferential role to Frodo, whom he considers to be his Master and his superior. And like the fiercely loyal batmen of the British Army, he takes his job of caretaker very seriously. Just as Frodo's quest is to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Sam's quest is to see his Master safely there and back again. Their friendship will endure their own "World War" and Sam's protectiveness of Frodo will be all the more zealous once Gollum enters the picture.

Eventually, Sam and Frodo reach a cliff face that is much lower than the ones they encountered before. The slope seems safe enough to climb down so they make the attempt. Part-way through their climb they are suddenly taken by surprise by a clap of thunder, and more:

"Then came a blast of savage wind, and with it, mingling with its roar, there came a high shrill shriek. The hobbits had heard just such a cry far away in the Marish as they fled from Hobbiton, and even there in the woods of the Shire it had frozen their blood. Out here in the waste its terror was far greater: it pierced them with cold blades of horror and despair, stopping heart and breath."
It was the call of a Nazgul, now mounted on a flying fell beast.

At this point, Grishnakh had already met a second time with the Nazgul to give him an update of the Uruk-Hai's journey across the plains of Rohan. This particular Nazgul was probably on his way back to Mordor with a message to Sauron. Now a storm that Frodo and Sam have seen off in the distance has arrived. The rain pours down upon them in blinding sheets. But Sam remembers a coil of Elvish rope that he had stowed in his pack and they use it to reach the bottom of the cliff. Now this storm that Tolkien inserts into the adventure is the same one that ultimately rains down on Theoden at the battle of Helm's Deep. But in the constant rewriting of the chronology of this part of the story, Tolkien had to make an adjustment.

Originally, the storm was to continue westwards and hit the battle the next evening. But because of logistical problems in the way he wrote the several plot threads Tolkien had to stretch out the period of time that it took the storm to travel. In the final draft, the battle of Helm's Deep doesn't take place until March 3rd. And the storm doesn't arrive until just after midnight on the early morning of March 4th. So by the time Tolkien had worked it out, it took the storm four additional nights to reach the battle. Instead of a swift-moving storm, he rewrote its course as follows:

"With that he stood up and went down to the bottom of the gully again. He looked out. Clear sky was growing in the East once more. The skirts of the storm were lifting, ragged and wet, and the main battle had passed to spread its great wings over the Emyn Muil, upon which the dark thought of Sauron brooded for a while. Thence it turned, smiting the vale of Anduin with hail and lightning, and casting its shadow upon Minas Tirith with the threat of war. Then, lowering in the mountains, and gathering its great spires, it rolled on slowly over Gondor and the skirts of Rohan, until far away the Riders on the plain saw its black towers moving toward the sun, as they rode into the West."
The way this passage is written gives that impression that Sauron is the force behind the storm's progress. In any case, the device makes for a convenient unconventional path that implies it is searching for something - much like the way that the Eye of Sauron does.

As Frodo and Sam rest at the bottom of the gully, they spy a figure climbing down, head first, towards their position. Clearly, it is Gollum though his progress confounds them. He seems to be crawling like an insect along a slope that would be impossible for them to navigate. Just before he approaches their camp, Gollum falls from a point about a dozen feet from the ground. Sam is waiting for him. He pounces on the creature, but underestimates his strength. Gollum puts Sam in a hold from which he cannot escape.

Frodo draws out his sword and positions it just below Gollum's chin. "Let go, Gollum," he said. "This is Sting. You have seen it before once upon a time. Let go, or you'll feel it this time! I'll cut your throat." The iconic image created by Alan Lee is masterfully recreated in Peter Jackson's' version of The Two Towers. Gollum collapses and frees Sam. Immediately he begins to grovel and beg for mercy. He appears to Frodo to be a pathetic wretch. Frodo reflects upon the words of Gandalf that describe Bilbo's pity for him. Frodo, who once wished death upon this creature, feels the same pity and resolves not to kill him. This same pity will prove to be important in the ultimate fulfillment of the Quest.

They are not sure what to do with Gollum. Frodo and Sam keep him under guard while they ponder this. At one point, when it seems the hobbits are resting, Gollum tries to run off. Sam captures him with the Elvish rope, which causes great pain to Gollum. The creature begs Frodo to remove the rope. But Frodo senses that they are in need of guidance. He tells Gollum that he will remove it if he promises to show them the way to Mordor. Frodo makes him swear a promise on the Ring - on "the Precious" - and to Frodo who is Master of the Ring.

"Smeagol," said Gollum suddenly and clearly, opening his eyes wide and staring at Frodo with a strange light. "Smeagol will swear on the Precious."
Now it's probably important to point out the that there is a duality to Gollum's personality. Smeagol, the creature's true name going back to the time when he was a hobbit-like creature, likely of the Stoor race, is the more docile and passive personality while Gollum is the more aggressive one, and certainly more focused on recovering the Ring. Throughout most of this part of the story, it is the Smeagol part of the creature that interacts with the hobbits. His desire to please and to serve his new "master" is his primary motivation. But Sam is very careful in his observations of Smeagol, for he does not fully buy into the idea that this creature is harmless. With good reason. It is important to note that he says "Smeagol will swear on the Precious", there is no mention of Gollum making the promise and this distinction in his mind is relevant.

Because Gollum/Smeagol has made this trip to Mordor before, he is familiar with the easiest way to get there. And the easiest approach is through an evil place that he will help the hobbits maneuver their way through.

Meanwhile, on the Western side of the Anduin...
At this moment, Merry and Pippin have escaped the Uruk-Hai and have met up with Treebeard. The Rohirrim attack the band of Orcs and destroy them. The Three Hunters are on their third day of pursuit and growing weary, but they will soon come upon the Rohirrim, and they will turn toward Fangorn Forest. Gandalf, having spent some two weeks recovering in Lothlorien in his new body, has been searching for signs of the Fellowship on the wings of the great Eagle, Gwaihir.

[Chronology: February 28th - February 29th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Passage Of The Marshes

(revised 9/25/06)


At 11:29 AM, Blogger The J.R.R Tolkien Project said...

You truly have gone through much laborious work to write down all of this.
I must ask how did you sub categorize the work? I haven't been able to figure that out.
You have Book one, under which I could find all the chapters individually categorized.

Again I am a fan of your blog. Keep it up fellow ringer.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In regard to your comment on why Gollum was following Frodo and Sam:
In the many days that Gollum was following the fellowship, he may have picked up here or there the mention of the name "Baggins" to refer to Frodo. Of course, Gollum's hatred of Baggins is well known, and Gollum would have pursued Frodo, if anyone, out of vengeance. Maybe he didn't even know that Frodo had the Ring; indeed, he seems surprised when Frodo first discusses it with him.


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