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


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 2

The Passage Of The Marshes
"Far away, now almost due south, the mountain-walls of Mordor loomed, like a black bar of rugged clouds floating above a dangerous fog-bound sea."
Well, at this point Gollum has successfully navigated the razor-sharp rocks of the Emyn Muil and has led our two hobbits to the bottom of the precipice. However, what greets them stinks to high heaven. Gollum is quite familiar with this area as he used it to hide from Orcs as he followed the call toward Mordor. As they make their way through the nasty bogs, they stop for a bite of lembas. While they offer some of the Elven weybread to Gollum, he finds it disgusting and can't stomach it. Gollum seems to have a loathing of both the yellow face (the sun) and the white face (the moon). He prefers to travel at night but seems at his best when either the sun or the moon is hidden behind clouds.

At one point, Frodo and Sam agree that they need to ration their store of lembas. Frodo, however, has begun to come to the realization that they likely will not make it back, if they ever make it to Mt. Doom at all. He says to Sam, "Are we ever likely to need bread again? I think not. If we can nurse our limbs to bring us to Mount Doom, that is all we can do." Despite his own optimism, Sam realizes too that this is probably the case and gets a little emotional. He then notices Gollum, who had gone off to seek his own nourishment, still crunching on goodness knows what, probably some worms or beetles.

Frodo asks Gollum if they must really cross these foul-smelling fens. Gollum explains that while it is more difficult, it is easier to hide from the Eye. So they continued single file: Gollum, Sam & Frodo. It is a hard journey and Gollum keeps a quick pace. As the evening falls over the lands, Sam notices something odd:
"When lights appeared Sam rubbed his eyes: he thought his head was going queer. He first saw one with the corner of his left eye, a wisp of pale sheen that faded away; but others appeared soon after: some like dimly shining smoke, some like misty flames flickering slowly above unseen candles; here and there they twisted like ghostly sheets unfurled by hidden hands."
Gollum warns the hobbits not to look at them or follow them. For they are "candles of corpses". Sam trips and falls face first into the bog and he sees a frightening sight. "There are dead things, dead faces in the water." he says. Yes, says Gollum, the faces are of dead Men, Elves and Orcs who died in a great battle upon this site. These were the casualties of the years of battle along the plain of Dagorlad when the last alliance of Men and Elves fought the forces of Sauron at the end of the Second Age. Over time, the waters trickling down into the valley crept across the plain and the over the graves of the dead. These were the Dead Marshes.

While it is clear that the faces are not real - Gollum himself tried once to touch them, anticipating a tasty morsel - it is rather the ghostly memory of the dead that appears to them. Is this some trickery of Sauron? We are not sure. But one thing is clear to anyone who has studied Tolkien's life. The image of the Dead Marshes comes directly from his experiences in WWI. In a letter to his publisher, Rayner Unwin, explains that "The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme" (Letter No. 225).

WWI was the last war before weapons were developed that could inflict large numbers of casualties from far away. And on these battlefields, it was a common sight to see bodies of fallen soldiers lying face up in trenches filled with rain water. Perhaps many of these soldier's eyes stared up at the sky. The fact that such a horrifying life experience of Tolkien would make it into his writings should not be surprising.

Sometime on the fourth day of their journey through the Marshes, each of the travelers notices a change in the air. There seemed to be a break in the clouds and a wind coming through from afar. The lights were blown out. At this time the Ents were attacking Isengard and Saruman in his fear must have attempted communication with the Dark Tower of Barad-dur. For at this moment, a Nazgul on a fell beast flies overhead: "It scudded across the moon, and with a deadly cry went away westward, out running the wind in its fell speed." It is March 3rd. The battle of Helm's Deep will soon be underway.

As Frodo gets closer to the Land of Shadow, he feels the Ring becoming a heavy weight around his neck, as if it were actually dragging him downwards. As the fifth morning since Frodo and Sam met up with Gollum dawns, they approach the slag-mounds on the edge of the Desolation of the Morannon. They grow closer to the Gates of Mordor and that evening they take a rest in a pit, taking cover to avoid the view from Mordor. They fall asleep but Sam awakens to hear the Smeagol personality debating with the more hissing voice of the Gollum personality. "A pale light and a green light alternated in his eyes as he spoke." In the film, The Two Towers, Peter Jackson distinguishes between the two personalities by changing his eyes as well. Except that in the film, when Smeagol speaks his pupils are larger and when the Gollum voice comes through his pupils become more constricted.

Smeagol wants to hold to his promise but fears what the Master will do with the Precious. Gollum insists that "they" must take the Ring. But Smeagol is fearful of the consequences. He knows that Sam is always watching him. Gollum definitely "wantsss it", meaning the Ring. And he suggests that "she" might help them get it. This allusion to Shelob, however, will not come to pass until much later. Originally Tolkien's drafts placed the crossing of the Pass of Cirith Ungol where the Morannon was. But he decided to include much more material before this happened so he moved the "Kirith Ungol" scene much further into the story, located along the North-South range of the Ephel Duath (Mountains of Shadow) almost directly across from Minas Tirith in the west.

A third time the cry of the Nazgul comes: "But now it seemed more remote, as if it were passing far above the clouds, rushing with terrible speed into the West." This was in response to Pippin's looking into the Palantir at Dol Baran. The Nazgul that they heard the day before was likely the one that had already arrived at the camp, searching for word from Isengard. This one was desperately headed west in search of the hobbit whom Sauron believed had the Ring and was a captive of Saruman. Despite Gollum's fear to proceed because of Sauron, Frodo commands him to lead them further.

Meanwhile, on the Western side of the Anduin...
During these three days of travel across the Marshes, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli meet Gandalf the White in Fangorn. They proceed to Edoras where Theoden is pulled out of his funk by the White Wizard. From there, the King leads his people towards the refuge of Helm's Deep.

In Fangorn Forest, the Entmoot takes place and on the third day Merry and Pippin march on Isengard with Treebeard and the Ents begin their attack on the fortress of Saruman in the first battle of the War of the Ring.

[Chronology: February 30th - March 2nd 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Black Gate Is Closed

(revised 9/26/06)


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