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


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 4

The Siege Of Gondor

"'Tell me,' he said, ' is there any hope? For Frodo, I mean; or at least mostly for Frodo.'
Gandalf put his hand on Pippin's head. 'There never was much hope,' he answered. 'Just a fool's hope, as I have been told.'"

I've often wondered why Tolkien didn't title this chapter "The Siege Of Minas Tirith" since the attack is on the City itself. But then it really is representative of the fate of all of Gondor. If Minas Tirith were to fall then all of the last Numenorean realm would be under the domination of Sauron, as would the rest of Middle-Earth. Minas Tirith was where the Free Peoples of the world would stand or fall.

We return to Pippin and Gandalf early on the morning of March 10th - the Dawnless Day. The wizard wakes Pippin for an audience with Denethor. The newest member of the Tower Guard feels he can hide little from the Steward, who always seems to know of events he cannot see and the thoughts of those around him. Denethor asks Pippin if he can sing. The hobbit says yes though he doesn't know any songs that he would consider appropriate for the solemnness of these great halls.

Denethor says that he would be interested in hearing music from a land untroubled by the Shadow of the Enemy. He doesn't miss an opportunity to point out that the protection provided by Gondor to the outlying regions goes unnoticed and unappreciated. This provides an interesting contrast to the observations made by Halbarad two chapters ago about the Shire's ignorance of the protection provided by the northern Dunadain. The difference is that although their lives are rougher and less dignified than those of their southern brethren, they do not begrudge the hobbits the sacrifices that they make on their behalf.

Fortunately for Pippin, the Lord of Minas Tirith does not require him to sing anything, but bids him to see to collecting his raiments which have been prepared for him. By mid-day the darkness from Mordor had stretched west as far as Pippin could see. He comes upon Beregond and as they discuss the darkness blowing in from the east they are surprised by the screech of the Black Riders on fell beasts, wheeling and swooping across the Pelennor Field. They see several men on horseback riding towards the City gate. One of them is Faramir.

All of a sudden, the White Rider comes charging in from the north, keeping the Nazgul at bay with a white light the emits from his outstretched hand. Cries of "Mithrandir" (the name for Gandalf in Gondor) come from inside the walls of the City. The wizard meets and escorts the men as they continue to flee from the Black Riders. They soon make it to the gates and one of the first sights that Faramir sees is a halfling. This was not the first one he has seen. In the halls of the Steward, he tells of his meeting Frodo and Sam and estimates that the hobbits, led y Gollum, would be close to the approach of Minas Morgul by now. Gandalf realizes that if what Faramir said was accurate then Sauron had unleashed his forces without gaining possession of the Ring, which means that thus far Frodo was still journeying to Mordor on his quest.

Faramir sent most of his men to reinforce the garrison at Osgiliath and made haste to Minas Tirith to warn his father of a host of the enemy heading towards the island fortress of Cair Andros on the river Anduin. Seeing Pippin, he carefully recounts his experience with another hobbit at Henneth Annun. Denethor scolds Faramir for not bringing him "a mighty gift" considering Faramir's opportunity to claim the Ring for Gondor. He also accuses his son of being under the influence of Gandalf at the expense of his Lord and his people.

Later, after Gandalf and Pippin take their leave of Denethor, the wizard speculates that Pippin's foolishness with the Palantir just five days earlier may have set events into motion - with Sauron deciding to launch his forces before he was ready. While the Dark Lord was fixated on Minas Tirith, two hobbits were entering his borders without him knowing it with the purpose of destroying the Ring.

The possibility of such a strategy never occurs to Sauron, for he cannot fathom any being able to willingly cast it away, much less to destroy it. He also suspects that Aragorn must have revealed himself to Sauron with the Ithil Stone, causing the Enemy to believe that he had the Ring and was preparing to attack him. Gandalf wonders about what treachery Gollum might be up to as he escorts Frodo into Mordor. What he says foreshadows the future struggle at the Cracks of Doom: "Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend".

The next day, Denethor calls a council with Faramir and Prince Imrahil. The Steward refuses to abandon the City's outer defenses and insists that Faramir return to bolster the defense of Osgiliath, as Boromir would have. This leads to an exchange that was portrayed in a very moving way in Peter Jackson's "The Return of the King".

"Then all were silent. But at length Faramir said 'I do not oppose your will, sire. Since you were robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead - if you command it.'

'I do so,' said Denethor.

'Then farewell!' said Faramir. 'But if I should return, think better of me!'

'That depends on the manner of your return,' said Denethor."
And as Faramir heads east back to Osgiliath, everyone wonders if Rohan will ever come. Interestingly enough, Tolkien's original draft had this part of the story play out very differently. At first, Denethor was written as being less harsh to his son and the idea of returning to the front lines to face such grave odds was Faramir's. Christopher Tolkien writes that among his father's notes, he found a slip of paper detailing how this plot point was reconsidered:
"The early conversation of Faramir and his father and motives must be altered. Denethor must be harsh. He must say he did wish Boromir had been at Henneth Annun - for he would have been loyal to his father and brought him the Ring. (Gandalf may correct this.) Faramir grieved but patient. Then Denethor must be all for holding Osgiliath 'like Boromir did', while Faramir (and Gandalf?) are against it, using the arguments previously given to Denethor. At length in submission, but proudly, to please his father and show him that not only Boromir was brave [he] accepts the command at Osgiliath. Men in the City do not like it.

This will not only be truer to previous situation, but will explain Denethor's breaking up when Faramir is brought back dying, as it seems."
The next day, March 12th, the forces that set out from Minas Morgul reach east Osgiliath. Outnumbered by some ten to one, the Gondorian forces are overrun. By evening the fires of Sauron's approaching army could be seen in the distance from the walls of Minas Tirith. Faramir and his forces retreated to the Rammas Echor and the forts that straddled the entrance through the wall to the causeway that led to the City gates. The army of the Witch-King had followed a carefully laid plan in which the stealthily crossed the river in boats created for this attack and assaulted the western side of the Anduin. Faramir had lost a third of his men as they tried in vain to prevent the attack from breaching the Rammas.

As the next morning passed, the forces of the Enemy pressed forward and what remaining troops remained at the causeway forts were forced to flee to the city. Faramir was grievously wounded and Prince Imrahil brought the Captain to his father, saying "Your son has returned, Lord, after great deeds." Denethor ordered that his son be taken to a chamber higher up in the tower and that a bed be made for him. The Steward himself disappeared up into the highest level of the tower alone. By the end of the day, the Pelennor Field had been overrun with Orcs, who were digging in. The siege of Gondor had begun. Throughout the night and into the following day, the host of Mordor began to set up its terrible weapons against the City.

"Busy as ants hurrying Orcs were digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring, just out of bowshot from the walls; and as the trenches were made each was filled with fire, though how it was kindled or fed, by art or devilry, none could see. All day the labour went forward, while the men of Minas Tirith looked on, unable to hinder it. And as each length of trench was completed, they could see great wains approaching; and soon yet more companies of the enemy were swift setting up, each behind the cover of a trench, great engines for the casing of missiles. There were none upon the City walls large enough to reach so far or to stay the work."

So the people of Gondor could only watch and wait. I see Tolkien's descriptions of the trenches and the building of weapons for an assault to be a blend of his experiences in WWI and the stories of battle that he read about WWII. When they were ready, huge catapults shot explosive projectiles into the City. Intermittently, the Orcs send sailing over the walls the heads of the fallen Gondorian soldiers, marred and dishonored. The greatest weapons of the Enemy, fear and despair, began to overtake the defenders of the City.

Denethor returns from the top chamber of the Tower to sit beside Faramir and begins to weep. He seems to have grown older in Pippin's eyes. The Steward now believed that all was lost, as if he knew more than he let on. He tells Pippin, "The Enemy has found it, and now his power waxes." Denethor believes that Sauron now has the Ring and defeat is certain. Calls come at the door beckoning him to come down and lead his people, but he will not. Gandalf would now have to command the defenses of the City.

The Witch-King had hurled forth his army against the walls of Minas Tirith. The siege continued through the next day. Then in the early hours of March 15th, more men came to Denethor to beg him one last time to aid them. Many men were fleeing their posts in fear and they needed their Lord.

"'Why? Why do the fools fly?' said Denethor. 'Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire! And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!"

He tells Pippin to leave him and releases the hobbit from his service. Then he tells him to fetch his servants. As Denethor heads out back to the House of the Stewards by way of the Silent Street, it is clear to Pippin what he means to do. He finds Beregond and begs him to impede his Lord's wishes for as long as he can while he tries to find Gandalf.

At this moment, the wizard was witnessing the Enemy at the gate, approaching with a terrible battering ram. It's hideous head was in the likeness of a wolf and the huge housing was being drawn by great beasts the likes of which had never been seen before. The weapon was named Grond, after the Hammer of Morgoth, wielded by the Dark Vala in the First Age of Middle-Earth. Gradually, Grond reached its position and mighty trolls worked its gears and wheels to pound it into the gate. After three thrusts, it burst open the doors and in rode the Lord of the Nazgul. Gandalf, astride Shadowfax, challenged him, declaring that he was forbidden to enter. The mouthless voice of the Witch-King called to the wizard that this was his hour and as he drew forth his sword, flames shot up the length of the blade.

All seemed lost.

In the distance, a rooster crowed to announce a new dawn. A wind was blowing away the darkness and the sun crept over the eastern ridge of the Mountains of Shadow. As if in answer, the sound of horns blew across the fields and reverberated against the side of Mount Mindolluin.

Rohan had come!

Meanwhile, on the Eastern side of the Anduin:
Frodo and Sam climb the stairs that led to Shelob's Lair. Gollum visits Shelob and upon his return, seeing Frodo asleep, nearly repents. But Sam's rebuff is enough to convince Gollum to carry out his treachery. About the time that Faramir is wounded on March 13th, Frodo is stung and paralyzed by Shelob (note both characters are almost simultaneously pierced and "poisoned") and taken by the Orcs to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Sam, pursuing the Orcs, collapses in front of the closed undergate.

And further up river, Sauron has sent his forces against other realms of the Free Peoples. From Dol Guldur, an attack is launched on Lothlorien which is repelled. It is followed by a second attack on the morning of March 15th and a separate attack to the north against the Elvish Kingdom of Thranduil, Legolas' father, in Mirkwood. Both of these offensives are driven back by the respective Elf armies. And on the edge of Fangorn Forest, the Ents are fighting an army of Orcs sent to attack Rohan.

[Chronology: March 10th - March 15th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Ride Of The Rohirrim

(revised 10/19/06)


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 3

The Muster Of Rohan
"Now all roads were running together to the East to meet the coming of war and the onset of the Shadow. And even as Pippin stood at the Great Gate of the City and saw the Prince of Dol Amroth ride in with his banners, the King of Rohan came down out of the hills."
It is March 9th and as Aragorn and his company set out on the Paths of the Dead, Theoden arrives at Dunharrow, beneath the feet of the White Mountains. He was surprised to see so many of the armies of Rohan already assembled. They told the King that three days earlier Gandalf rode through on Shadowfax to bring them the news of victory at Helm's Deep and Isengard. He also urged them to hasten the muster of Rohan, as war was coming soon. The men were camped in rows of tents all along the valley of Harrowdale, a cleft in the White Mountains. Theoden, needing rest, rode up the paths that led to the upward ledge of the Firienfeld - the grassy plateau of Dunharrow where he could camp and survey his troops.

Merry looked up in amazement at the looming cliff in front of him.
"He was on a road the likes of which he had never seen before, a great work of men's hands in years beyond the reach of song. Upward it wound, coiling like a snake, boring its way across the sheer slope of rock. Steep as a stair, it looped backwards and forwards as it climbed. Up it horses could walk, and wains could be slowly hauled; but no enemy could come that way, except out of the air, if it was defended from above."
Merry also noticed that at each turn of the road there were little statues of short, primitive-looking men sitting cross-legged. Their features has been worn over the years but he could make out the eye-holes in the faces. These statues were known by the people of Rohan as "Pukel-men" and were carved by the mysterious race of people who built the fortress of Dunharrow. It was believed that they represented the ancestors of the wild men, or the Woses, who lived in the strange Druadan forest along the northern edge of the mountains in the Gondorian province or Anorien. These stone sentinels sat guard as the horses climbed higher and higher until they finally reached the top. No one knew for what purpose this outpost was built though it was completed long before the Numenoreans arrived and created the Dunedain Kingdom of Gondor.

Eowyn greeted the King, who was pleased to see her. She informed Theoden of Aragorn's arrival and confirmed his fear that he had decided to seek the Paths of the Dead. The Dimholt road, which led to the Haunted Mountain of Dwimorberg, lay at the far eastern end of Dunharrow but everyone stayed clear of it. Later, as they settled in for the night, Merry fretted about all the dangerous paths his friends had taken and wondered what path lay before him. In a large pavilion, they gathered for a meal and Merry was seated next to the King. It is here that he asks Theoden about the Paths of the Dead. The King lets him - and the reader - in on much of the legends of the haunted pass.

Soon an errand-rider from Gondor arrives to see the King. The rider, named Hirgon, brings Theoden a red-tipped arrow with black feathers. It is the token of war designated to beckon the King of Rohan for aid should Gondor be in need. Word had reached Denethor that forces of Sauron had begun marching towards Minas Tirith from the Black Gate and an army of Southrons was headed north through Ithilien. Theoden understands that even if he were to head out with the Rohirrim first thing in the morning they still might be too late. He regrets that he only has six thousand spears so far. If he had time, he could have mustered as many as ten thousand.

The next morning, March 10th, the sun did not seem to rise. There was a darkness coming out of the east. It was the same darkness that Aragorn saw as he led the Shadow Host from Erech towards Pelargir. It was the same darkness that Pippin would see from the walls of Minas Tirith. It was also the same darkness that Frodo, Sam and Gollum had seen as they watched the Witch-King lead his army out of Minas Morgul towards Gondor. March 10th of the year 3019 F.A. would be known ever after as the Dawnless Day. The darkness was a device of Sauron designed to give cover from the sun to his Orcs who were now heading west. The war had begun.

As Eomer marshaled the Riders together, Theoden tells Merry that though they are riding to war, the hobbit was released from his service. He is to stay behind with the Lady Eowyn. Merry is speechless. He still wishes to aid Rohan and doesn't want to be left behind. Not only did the hobbit genuinely want to fight beside Theoden, but he was willing to risk death in battle for what might be his last chance to see any of his friends again. Theoden explains that they will be riding swiftly and his pony Stybba would not be able to keep up. He would also be too heavy a burden for any of his men to bear with them on their horse, otherwise Theoden would bear Merry himself.

A few hours passed and the Rohirrim was ready to depart. Theoden raised his hand as the signal for the host of the Mark to ride forth. At the end of the line was a young man, slighter of build and less in height than the other riders. He asks Merry if he wishes to go. Merry says yes, he does. The man takes the hobbit up on his horse to ride with him. He can hide under the rider's cloak until they are off. The combined weight was not too much for the horse. Merry asks the rider his name. He tells Merry to call him Dernhelm.

As they rode on there were reports of Orcs coming down from the north, attacking the eastern borders of Rohan. But there was not time to tarry. They rode with great haste towards Minas Tirith passing the beacons which no longer burned, for the fires had died out. Hope was waning.

[Chronology: March 5th - March 11th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Siege Of Gondor

(revised 10/16/06)


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 2

The Passing Of The Grey Company
"He looked up, and it seemed that he had made some decision; his face was less troubled. 'Then, by your leave, lord, I must take new counsel for myself and my kindred. We must ride our own road, and no longer in secret. For me the time of stealth has passed. I will ride east by the swiftest way, and I will take the Paths of the Dead.'"
The next two chapters were originally part of one huge draft that Tolkien titled "Many Roads Lead Eastward" that dealt with all of the characters who remained in Rohan after Gandalf and Pippin rode towards Minas Tirith. However, it became clear to Tolkien that he could break the text up into two separate chapters. Chronologically, we return to March 5th just after the departure of Gandalf. Four members of the original Fellowship remained with Theoden's party - Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Merry. But the hobbit would follow a different path than that of his friends, one that paralleled Pippin's experience.

Because of the presence of the Nazgul, Aragorn leads them under the cover of darkness towards Helm's Deep. Some time in the early hours of the morning, they cross the Fords of Isen. As they continue to ride east, they hear the sounds of hooves galloping behind them. Still wary of some evil device of Saruman, they prepare for the worst. However, as the riders approach, the leader reveals himself to be a Dunadan of the North. His name is Halbarad and he and the other 29 Dunadain that rode with him are looking for Aragorn. Also accompanying him are Elrond's two sons, Elladan and Elrohir. Elrohir has brought a message to Aragorn from his father: "If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead." Halbarad brought a standard that was made by the Lady Arwen. Aragorn asks him to hold onto it for him for a while.

Elrond had received word from Galadriel of the Fellowship's fate and she warned that Aragorn might be in need of aid. Elrond sent his sons to gather as many of the Dunadain in Eriador that they could and make haste to Rohan. Aragorn knew of the Paths of the Dead but he was not yet sure if that path was necessary. He decided to ride to Helm's Deep with Halbarad and the Dunadain ahead of Theoden. Gimli and Legolas went with him. When they at last arrived at the fortress, Aragorn and Halbarad locked themselves away in a high chamber in the Hornburg. Aragorn took with him the Palantir.

Meanwhile, Merry is wondering what is to become of him when Theoden offers to make him his esquire. The decision is wholly up to Merry who gratefully accepts and the King takes the hobbit into his service. Unlike Pippin's pledge to Denethor, however, Merry's fealty is less formal and Theoden considers him as more of a friend than a servant. This begins a bond between the two in which the hobbit's loyalty comes from his love and admiration for Theoden, whereas Pippin's service to Denethor was offered as payment of a debt. The two situations provide an interesting contrast over the next several chapters.

When Aragorn returns from the Hornburg, there is a change that has come over him. His face is grim and weary. While he was locked away, Aragorn made an executive decision and looked into the Orthanc stone. He spoke no words but he revealed himself and Narsil, the sword of Elendil which was newly forged and renamed Anduril - Flame of the West. It was a bitter struggle and Aragorn mustered all of his will in the confrontation. As the rightful owner of the Palantir, he deemed he had the strength to use it. And he did, though only barely. Sauron revealed to him many things of the war designed to drive Aragorn to despair, including the fleet of black ships that sailed up the Anduin towards Minas Tirith, the Corsairs of Umbar. He knew he had to go quickly to intercept them. Need drove him to the Paths of the Dead.

By revealing himself to Sauron, Aragorn hoped to induce the Dark Lord into putting his plan into action before he was ready - "The hasty stroke goes oft astray". He also hoped to draw as much of Sauron's attention away from his own borders as possible so that Frodo and Sam would have a better chance of entering Mordor undetected.

They headed east along the White Mountains until they reached Harrowdale, a valley in the cleft of the range. Before he departed from Edoras to Helm's Deep, Theoden had put out a call to the able-bodied men of Rohan to assemble there in preparation for war. When they arrived, Eowyn was there to greet them. But when she finds out the way that Aragorn intends to go, she is horrified and begs him not to go. When he is insistent, she asks to go with him which of course he refuses. He tells her that her duty is to her people and that she must stay. But Eowyn is a fierce shieldmaiden who hates having to stay behind and wait for the men to return. She wishes to go and fight for Rohan.

She tells Aragorn of here frustration:

"I can ride and wield a blade, and I do not fear either pain or death."

"What do you fear, lady?" he asked.

"A cage," she said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."

It's becomes clear to Aragorn that Eowyn is in love with him. But he realizes that it is more of an ideal that she is love with. In any case, he cannot return her love because his heart and his fate are bound to Arwen.

The next morning as he prepares to leave, Eowyn greets him with a cup. She drinks and offers it to Aragorn. As he drinks, she asks him once more if he will let her come with him. Again, he tells her he cannot and he kisses her hand, bidding her farewell. He turns and heads toward the Haunted Mountain to fulfill his destiny. Accompanying him are Legolas, Gimli, Elrond's sons, Halbarad and the other Dunadain. Soon, they come to a dark opening in the mountainside. They light torches and enter. Even Gimli, who is most at home in caves and dark places, is loath to go in. In the darkness, they hear faint whispers around them, murmuring in a strange tongue.

In the early days of Gondor, Isildur placed a great round stone that he had brought from Numenor atop the hill of Erech which was located in the Blackroot Vale along the southern side of the White Mountains. Here he met with the King of the men of those mountains, who swore an oath of allegiance to Isildur upon the stone. Later, at the end of the Second Age when Arnor and Gondor were at war with Sauron, Isildur returned and called upon the Men of the mountains to fight. They refused and fled. Isildur then cursed them, that their souls would never find rest until the had fulfilled their oath to him or one of his descendents. The Men never again emerged from the mountains and their spirits haunted the pass under Mount Dwimorberg ever after. It was said that they would suffer no living man to pass except for Isildur's rightful heir.

Aragorn was here to command the Oathbreakers to join him now and fight for him. As they approached the southern exit of the Paths of the Dead, he turned and called back to the whispering voices "I summon you to the Stone of Erech!" It was clear after they emerged that the Dead were following. When they reached the Stone, Elrohir gave to Aragorn a silver horn and blew into it. The sound of horns was heard in the distance in answer to it.

Aragorn dismounted his horse and faced them, asking them why they have come. A voice came out of the night: "To fulfill our oath and have peace". He announced himself as Elessar, Isildur's Heir of Gondor, and that when these lands were clean of the servants of Sauron that he would release them from their oath and allow them to depart forever in peace. Halbarad unfurled the standard that he had brought and they headed east through the narrow valley known as Tarlang's Neck. Their destination was the city of Pelargir along the banks of the Anduin to head off the Corsairs that were sailing towards Minas Tirith. The Army of the Dead followed Aragorn towards the dawn in the east. But there was no dawn on that day.

[Chronology: March 5th - March 9th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Muster Of Rohan

(revised 10/13/06)


ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 1

Minas Tirith
"'So near to Mordor?' said Beregond quietly. 'Yes, there it lies. We seldom name it; but we have dwelt ever in sight of that shadow: sometimes it seems fainter and more distant; sometimes nearer and darker. It is growing and darkening now; and therefore our fear and disquiet grow too.'"
The last time we were on the western side of the Anduin, Gandalf and Pippin had begun their journey eastward towards the White City of Gondor. They are on the third day of their ride when we return to this part of the story. This first chapter of Book V, running just under thirty four pages, covers a lot of material. It can be broken down into four distinct parts: Gandalf and Pippin's arrival in Minas Tirith, their meeting with the Steward of Gondor, Pippin's scene with Beregond and the time he spends with Bergil, Beregond's son.

Looking out from the shelter of Gandalf's cloak, Pippin asks where they are. The wizard tells him they have entered the realm of Gondor, in the land of Anorien. It is March 8th and they are at least a day's ride from the walls of Minas Tirith. Pippin looks up at the peaks on his right, in the range of the White Mountains, and sees a flame. Gandalf declares that the beacons of Gondor have been lit and are calling to Rohan for aid. In the early age of the Stewards, when the Palantiri became lost, Gondor had set up this communication system to signal to Rohan that they were in need of their horsemen. A second line of beacons followed the opposite side of the mountain range towards Belfalas and the southern fiefs of Gondor. Once the first of these northern beacons was lit, the men camped at the next one further west would see it and light theirs. This would continue on and on across five more beacons until one within sight of Edoras was lit. The oaths that the men of Rohan had sworn to Gondor must then be fulfilled. The circumstance of the lighting of the beacons is changed in the film version of Return of the King, but it was used to very dramatic effect.

The next day they approached the Rammas Echor, the wall encircling the city that served as its outer defense which was built when Ithilien was lost to Sauron. After stopping briefly to talk with the men repairing a breach in the wall, Gandalf warns them to "leave your trowels and sharpen your swords." Soon the mighty city of Minas Tirith comes in to view and Pippin cries aloud at the sight of it. Tolkien goes into great detail about the unique layout of the city:
"It was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each wall a gate. But the gates were not set in a line: the Great Gate in the City Wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards; so that the paved way that climbed towards the Citadel turned first this way and then that across the face of the hill. And each time that it passed the line of the Great Gate it went through an arched tunnel, piercing a vast pier of rock whose huge out-thrust bulk divided in two all the circles of the City save the first. For partly in the primeval shaping of the hill, partly by the mighty craft and labour of old, there stood up from the rear of the wide court behind the Gate a towering bastion of stone, its edge sharp as a ship-keel facing east. Up it rose, even to the level of the topmost circle, and there was crowned by a battlement; so that those in the Citadel might, like mariners in a moutainous ship, look from its peak sheer down upon the Gate seven hundred feet below."
Below is a diagram of Minas Tirith from Karen Wynn Fonstad's "The Atlas of Middle-Earth" that corresponds to this description (click for larger view):
Lying against the lower skirts of Mount Mindolluin, Minas Tirith faced eastwards towards Mordor. As they ride higher and higher to each level, Pippin notices signs of decay throughout the city.

At the top level, they dismount and head toward the Citadel passing the dead White Tree of Gondor being watched over by soldiers of the tower guard. Before they enter, Gandalf warns Pippin that the Lord Denethor, Boromir's father, will be questioning him intently and that he should offer as little information as possible, especially with regard to Frodo's errand. They find Denethor, in his seat beside the high throne of the King of Gondor, holding Boromir's horn which was cloven in two.

Like Faramir, Denethor claims to have heard the horn thirteen days prior (on February 26th, the day that the fellowship was broken at Parth Galen) and he is eager to learn of the circumstances of his son's death. In addition to the ire raised within him by Denethor's suspicious tone, Pippin is racked with guilt that Boromir died saving him and Merry and he offers his services to Denethor in payment of this debt. Denethor gladly accepts it and Pippin swears loyalty to the Lord of Minas Tirith. Pippin is questioned by Denethor for a full hour and the Steward tells Gandalf that he is very much aware of Rohan's victory at Helm's Deep and the overthrow of Isengard. He chalks it up to having many messengers and keener sight than lesser men, but Gandalf is suspicious of his knowledge.

Denethor sends Gandalf and Pippin to their quarters and orders that the hobbit be given a uniform and instructions of his new duties. Pippin is worried that Gandalf is angry with him. While he was surprised by Pippin's offer to Denethor, Gandalf considered it to be a generous deed and well done. At the very least it provided him the opportunity to move freely about the city. But the wizard also warned him that he was now sworn into the Steward's service and under his command. He must be wary. And now, Peregrin son of Paladin, soldier of Gondor was given leave to find something to eat.

The next scene is the interaction between Pippin and one of the Gondorian soldier, Beregond. It's Beregond's job to show Pippin the ropes in terms of what is expected of him as a member of the Tower Guard. Peter Jackson wrote much of what happens next as a scene between Pippin and Gandalf. Pippin and Beregond pack up some food and drink and bring it to the end of the embrasure at the easternmost end of the rocky outcrop extending from the Citadel. From here they can survey all the lands around Gondor as well as the Dark Land across from them. Pippin notices a ruined city that straddles either side of the Anduin. He asks Beregond about it. It is the abandoned city of Osgiliath.

Beregond explains that it was once the chief city of Gondor. It lay in ruin since the forces of Mordor overran Ithilien. The Orcs occupied the city until Boromir led his army against the enemy and reoccupied it for Gondor. But a year earlier the Orcs charged across once again and cleared a path for the Nazgul to cross and ride westwards toward the Gap of Rohan. They both noticed a darkness seeping out of Mordor. Pippin asks about the coming war. Beregond says "It is the deep breath before the plunge", noting that here at Minas Tirith is where the hammer-stroke will fall the hardest. Pippin admits his reservations:
"All the same, I wish it was over for good or ill", said Pippin. "I am no warrior at all and dislike any thought of battle; but waiting on the edge of one that I can't escape is worst of all."
Beregond speaks of his captain, Faramir, hoping that he would return soon. At last, Beregond must take his leave of Pippin and noting his loneliness advises him to seek out his son, Bergil, at the lower level of the city. Pippin finds Bergil, who is nine-years-old. It is an amusing exchange considering that Bergin has never met a hobbit before and wagers with Pippin that he could "stand you on your head or lay you on you back". Pippin cuts him some slack, but not before having some fun with him, pretending to be a fierce and wicked halfling.

Soon, some reinforcements arrive from that western provinces of Gondor, the most revered of whom is Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth:
"Kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came."
Prince Imrahil was Lord Denethor's nephew by marriage, a sturdy Dunedain of Belfalas. He was next in the line of Stewards should anything happen to Denethor and his sole surviving son, Faramir. He was the wise and just ruler of the westernmost Gondorian province by the Sea.

Pippin headed back to his lodgings to find Gandalf fretting over the return of Faramir. His tone is grave and tells Pippin "The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.

Meanwhile, on the Eastern side of the Anduin:
Frodo and Sam had been taken to the refuge at Henneth Annun and later said their goodbyes to Faramir as Gandalf and Pippin approach Minas Tirith. The two hobbits continued to journey South towards the cross-roads and began to notice the darkness coming from Mordor as Pippin settled down for some much needed sleep before the dawn that would not come.

[Chronology: March 8th - March 9th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Passing Of The Grey Company

(revised 10/12/06)


Introduction: The Return Of The King

Each of the books of "The Lord of the Rings" represents a different phase of the story. Fellowship of the Ring is primarily exposition and a gradual broadening of the scope from the Shire to the larger, more diverse world of Middle-Earth. The Two Towers lays out the beginnings of the larger Quest and the War of the Ring, as told in two main parts. The events, separated by the physical barrier of the River Anduin, leads to both an increase in the action and a development of multiple plot layers that wind themselves towards a common resolution. Return of the King is that resolution, or climax, of the realization of the destruction of the Ring and the ultimate defeat of Sauron. And yet a full two thirds of Book VI is dedicated to the resolution of many loose ends. Ultimately, the scope once again narrows back to where it began, with the Shire.

As Tolkien layed out the two story lines in separate parts of the The Two Towers, he does not end them at similar chronological points. In fact, Book IV advances Frodo and Sam's story a full eight days beyond where we last left off in the West, with Gandalf and Pippin galloping swiftly towards Minas Tirith. Similarly, Book V will advance past Frodo and Sam by ten days to March 25th, leaving an uncertainty to the first time reader about the Quest to Mount Doom. The effect will be to heighten the suspense. By the time Aragorn and the Army of the West reaches the Black Gate, the reader experiences the same doubt and despair that they do over the fate of Frodo and the Ring.

Finally, by Chapter Four of Book VI all of the characters are chronologically "in sync". The separate plot strands will weave themselves back together to reunite the Fellowship (sans Boromir) that set out together from Rivendell. The excitement of finishing the story with Return of the King is tempered by the realization that, like Frodo, we will soon be leaving Middle-Earth.
But now, let's begin with Chapter One: Minas Tirith.

(revised 10/11/06)


Book Four Chapters

1) The Taming of Smeagol

2) The Passage Of The Marshes

3) The Black Gate Is Closed

4) Of Herbs And Stewed Rabbit

5) The Window On The West

6) The Forbidden Pool

7) Journey To The Cross-Roads

8) The Stairs Of Cirith Ungol

9) Shelob's Lair

10) The Choices Of Master Samwise

TTT: Bk 4, Ch 10

The Choices of Master Samwise

"'I've made up my mind,' he kept saying to himself. But he had not. Though he had done his best to think it out, what he was doing was altogether against the grain of his nature. 'Have I got it wrong?' he muttered. 'What ought I to have done?'"
Sam finds Frodo, but he is too late. His master is lying on the ground, bound up with webbing. Shelob is bending over her prey. Sam spies Sting close by and, filled with rage, he grabs it and charges the giant spider. Before Shelob could react, Sam brought down the blade and sliced off one of her claws. Then he sprang closer and thrust upward, stabbing her in one the eyes. Now Sam was directly under her and she heaved up her great belly to bring it's full weight down onto the hobbit. With both hands, Sam held Sting upward in defense. As Shelob came down upon him, she "thrust herself upon a bitter spike." The sword impaled her.

Shelob sprang backwards. Despite her anguish, she poised to leap back at Sam, who suddenly remembered the phial of Galadriel. He thrust it at Shelob.

"As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob's face before. The beams of it entered into her wounded head and scored it with unbearable pain, and the dreadful infection of light spread from eye to eye."

And so the monster was forced back, and she desperately crawled to an opening in the cliff. She squeezed in, leaving a slimy trail of goo behind her. Then she was gone.

But Frodo still lay pale and motionless on the floor of the cleft. Shelob had stung him in the neck with her poison. Sam could feel no signs of life in his Master, whose skin was cold. Sean Astin did an excellent job of conveying Sam's sorrow in the film "The Return of the King", begging Frodo not to "go where I can't follow". The hobbit recalled the vision of the Mirror of Galadriel in which he saw a vision of Frodo "with a pale face lying fast asleep under a great dark cliff". But his vision was mistaken, for now Frodo lay dead in his arms.

After a time, Sam struggled to decide what he should do. His initial desire was to hunt down Gollum and kill him. But he understood that the Quest now rested upon his shoulders and he would need to see it through. Though he doubted that he had the strength to do it. In any case, he couldn't leave the Ring behind with Frodo for the Enemy to discover it. And since the war had begun, there was not much time left - if there was any left at all. Sam took the Ring on its chain carefully from around Frodo's neck and tearfully said goodbye to him. As soon as he put the chain around his own neck, he could feel the weight of the burden. He also took the phial and Sting, leaving his own blade of Westernesse beside Frodo. Reluctantly he began heading up the stairs that led to the Tower of Cirith Ungol.

But he didn't get far. From higher up on the stairs, he heard Orc voices and many of them. He feared he had been caught. Desperate to disappear, Sam put on the Ring and vanished.

"All things about him now were not dark but vague; while he himself was there in a grey hazy world, alone, like a small black solid rock, and the Ring, weighing down his left hand, was like an orb of hot gold. He did not feel invisible at all, but horribly and uniquely visible; and he knew that somewhere an Eye was searching for him."

He was surprised to find that he could understand the Orcs' speech. Two packs of them had come, one from the tunnel behind and another down from the stairs that led to the tower. They met near the spot where Frodo lay. Having found a "spy", their instructions were to take him and search him for whatever they could find and report back to the Barad-dur. Sam followed after them as they carried Frodo's body. "Now off! The quick way!" cried one of the lead Orcs, "Back to the undergate!" They were heading back into the tunnel. Sam followed but didn't understand. The Orcs seemed little concerned about Shelob. Pulling up the rear of the marching Orcs, two captains named Gorbag and Shagrat engaged in a debate. Gorbag was an Orc of Minas Morgul and Shagrat was a guard of the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Sam listened.

He learned that the slimy trail left by Shelob indicated to them that she was off nursing a wound so they didn't expect to run into her. They stopped at the fork in the tunnel where Frodo and encountered Shelob. The left fork, which was blocked, led to a tunnel that went underneath the Tower. The Orcs moved the barrier and entered the tunnel. Meanwhile Gorbag and Shagrat were sharing concerns about how the war was going. The Nazgul sent them to watch the pass to be on the lookout for spies. Their talk moves to Frodo. Their orders were to seize any intruder and to search them thoroughly. When Gorbag jokes that the hobbit is nothing more than carrion, Shagrat corrects him. No, he said, "this fellow ain't dead". Sam can't believe his ears. Shagrat, who is familiar with Shelob, explains that she only stings her prey to make them go limp and lifeless so she can bind them and later feed on their blood.

As the Orcs move along, Sam realizes that he'd gotten it wrong. Had he shared the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, he probably would have found the situation familiar. While in Mirkwood, the Dwarves had been captured by the spiders in just this way. He quickly drew his sword and followed. When he got to the blockage, he found he couldn't move it but he noticed that there was an opening at the top large enough for him to crawl over. After he is through, he against hears the Orc voices and he learns that they are taking Frodo to the top chamber of the Tower. As he approached, still wearing the Ring, he could see the last of the Orcs passing through a huge set of double doors. Before he could reach them, the doors slammed shut. Hurling himself against the gate, Sam collapses in exhaustion and blacks out.

[Chronology: March 13th - March 14th 3019 T.A.]

Here ends Book Four of The Two Towers. The story continues in The Return of the King. But first, a brief Introduction

(revised 10/9/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 9

Shelob's Lair
"'It's a trap!' said Sam, and he laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword; and as he did so, he thought of the darkness fo the barrow whence it came. 'I wish old Tom was near us now!' he thought."
While the fighting before Minas Tirith is about to begin, Frodo and Sam follow Gollum to the tunnel. They had begun to lose track of the time and the only way for them to tell that it was day was that the darkness was more like a "great roof of smoke" than the deep blackness of night. About a mile or so away, they saw before them a great grey wall which seemed to be the last rise of stone to the peak of the mountain. Even from that distance though they could smell a foul stench that got stronger as they got closer. But Gollum assures them that it is the only way, and one that he has taken once before.

Soon they entered the utter darkness of the tunnel. There air was still and stagnant and there was not sound. The walls on the sides felt smooth to the touch. Frodo and Sam walked side by side a few steps behind Gollum touching the walls with their outstretched hands to maintain their bearing. They each noticed an occasional opening on either side as they continued down the straight tunnel. They felt things brush up against their heads and hands. It seems that they walked for hours.

They at last discovered the source of the stench. On the lefthand side, Frodo found his hand reaching into a huge opening in the wall. They hurried past it and all of a sudden noticed that Gollum was gone. Sam urges Frodo forward. They had to move quickly. The tunnel, however, broke into a fork. On the left they hit a blockage of some sort, so they moved over to take the right fork. And that's when they heard a sound:
"Startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss. They wheeled round, but nothing could be seen. Still as stones they stood, staring, waiting for they did not know what."
This part always creeps me out. The idea of fumbling around the dark of the unknown is disturbing enough. But to suddenly come to the realization that I was no longer alone, that something horrible and malicious was now with me would make me freeze with terror. The hobbits had made the acquaintance of the guardian of Torech Ungol and her name was Shelob.

The backstory for Shelob is that she is the last child of Ungoliant, the Maiar spirit in the form of a great spider who helped Melkor (Morgoth) destroy the two trees of Valinor. Ungoliant had mated with several great spiders of Beleriand before she killed them. Shelob was a product of one of these unions. After the Great War of Wrath at the end of the First Age, Shelob managed to escape the lands that were covered by the sea and eventually found this little nook in the Mountains of Shadow. She lived only to devour whatever entered her lair.

It was said that Shelob herself sired many offspring and these were the lesser spiders of Mirkwood, that Bilbo and the Dwarves battled on their great journey to the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, as told in "The Hobbit". She fed mostly on Orcs. I always get a laugh when in PJ's "Return of the King", Gollum says "And they don't tastes very nice, do they Precious?" What she longed for was sweeter meat, and this is what Gollum promised her on their first meeting long ago when he first entered Mordor.

She provided the perfect guard against enemies of Sauron. He knew of her presence and considered her to be a "pet". Every so often he would send prisoners to her lair to appease her appetite. But Shelob was the main reason the Sauron never feared any attack from the path of Cirith Ungol. Originally Tolkien wrote the scene to include many spiders, like those of Mirkwood. In other early drafts, when deciding to make one great terrible spider, he wrote it as being Ungoliant itself. Tolkien's own experiences may well have a lot to do with this creation. In a letter dated June 7, 1955 to W. H. Auden (letter no. 163), he writes:
"...I knew that the way was guarded by a Spider. And if that has anything to do with my being stung by a tarantula when a small child, people are welcome to the notion (supposing the improbable, that any one is interested). I can only say that I remember nothing about it, should not know it if I had not been told; and I do not dislike spiders particularly, and have no urge to kill them. I usually rescue those whom I find in the bath!"
Peter Jackson, however, is deathly afraid of spiders and allowed his designers at Weta Workshop the challenge of trying their best to scare him. And I'd say it worked out pretty well.

Now Frodo and Sam are faced with this monster, Gollum is no where to be found and they are struggling to decide what to do. Sam remembers the gift of the Lady Galadriel to Frodo, the star glass that contained the light of Earendil to aid him in dark places when all other lights go out. Frodo pulled it out and thrust the phial forward at Shelob. It flickered at first. Then, "as the power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo's mind, it began to burn , and kindled to a silver flame." Whether the increase in the phial's power was influenced by Frodo's growing strength or the other way around is not made clear.

After his initial horror at what the light reveales, Frodo's heart "flamed within him" and he unsheathed Sting, brandishing to blade toward the monster. Shelob for the first time experiences doubt, and the intensity of the light finally causes her to turn and flee. Frodo and Sam see their chance and run to the end of the tunnel, only to find it blocked by a web. Sam's blade has little effect on the woven barrier, but Sting - an Elven blade - shears right through it. Frodo gives Sam the phial to hold as he frees them from the tunnel. Somehow they could still feel Shelob's presence but they are not aware that there are many passages and holes within which she could travel.

Frodo runs ahead of Sam in the open pass and even the darkened skies above are a welcome sight. Sam tries to keep up with his master and suddenly he sees Shelob squeeze herself out of a hole on the left, putting herself in between the two hobbits.
"Great horns she had, and behind her short stalk-like neck was her huge swollen body, a vast bloated bag, swaying and sagging between her legs; its great bulk was black, blotched with livid marks, but the belly underneath was pale and luminous and gave forth a stench. Her legs were bent, with great knobbed joints high above her back, and hair that stuck out like steel spines, and at each leg's end there was a claw."

She takes little notice of Sam, and pursues Frodo, who is not aware she is behind him and no longer has the protection of the phial's light (something Alan Lee must have forgotten in his illustration to the right, unless that light is generated by Sting). As Sam calls out to warn Frodo, he is grabbed from behind by Gollum. At last the loathsome creature could exact his revenge on the hobbit that treated him so harshly, leaving Frodo to Shelob. "O yes, Shelob will get him, not Smeagol: he promised; he won't hurt Master at all." But he had Sam now and he surely meant to kill him. Sam struggles and manages to throw himself backwards on top of Gollum, who was taken by surprise. Using the walking stick Faramir gave him he fights him off until he can get his hand on his Numenorean blade. Gollum, seeing he is beaten, runs off. Sam chases after him until he realizes that his Master is in danger.

The hobbit spins round and heads back up the pass to save him.

[Chronology: March 12th - March 13th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Choices Of Master Samwise

(revised 10/6/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 8

The Stairs Of Cirith Ungol

"Sam groaned. 'Longer, did you say?' he asked.
'Yes, yess, longer,' said Gollum. 'But not so difficult. Hobbits have climbed the Straight Stair. Next comes the Winding Stair.'
'And what after that?' said Sam.
'We shall see,' said Gollum softly. 'O yes, we shall see!'"

Now Frodo's brief detour had come to an end. Again, he and Sam found themselves staring into danger, looming before them in the form of the Mountains of Shadow. The burden of the Ring begins once more to drag him down. It's as if he now feels its weight grow heavier being so much closer to Mordor. They enter the cleft in the mountain range that is the known as the Morgul Vale. Off in the distance they see the walls and tower of Minas Morgul, the City of the Ringwraiths. Though it is dark all around, there is a sickly light emanating from within.

"Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing. In the walls and tower windows showed, like countless black holes looking inward into emptiness; but the topmost course of the tower revolved slowly, first one way and then another, a huge ghostly head leering into the night."
The Morgulduin flowed out of the Vale in front of the city, which was connected to the road by a long white bridge. As they approached it, Frodo felt a force working upon his will, urging him forward to go across the bridge. Sam and Smeagol had to struggle to pull him back. For their journey took a different direction. There was a gap in the stone wall beside the road. They climbed a narrow path that led up along the cliffs, and up the sheer southward face of the mountain. Wearily they climbed. Suddenly there was a great tremor echoing in the mountains. A red flash came from inside Mordor, followed by a loud crack of thunder. The tower of Barad-dur was letting loose a signal.
"And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. The earth groaned; and out of the city there came a cry. Mingled with harsh high voices as of birds of prey, and the shrill neighing of horses wild with rage and fear, there came a rending screech, shivering, rising swiftly to a piercing pitch beyond the range of hearing. The hobbits wheeled round towards it, and cast themselves down, holding their hands upon their ears."
It was the shrill call of the Nazgul. The gates of the city opened and a great army marched out swiftly to war. Leading them was the Witch-King, the Lord of the Ringwraiths, wearing a crown upon his hooded head. The old wound in Frodo's shoulder that was inflicted by this evil being throbbed with pain.

Frodo feared that now he was too late and hoped that Faramir and his men would make it back at least as far as Osgiliath before this dark host reached him. He wept in despair that he tarried too long and that his Quest might now be in vain. They stayed concealed among the rocks until the last of the army passed down the road. When the Orcs were out of sight, they continued to climb up the narrow path that turned into a steep flight of stairs carved into the rock. At last they came to spot that leveled off where they could rest. Smeagol tells them that there is a less treacherous, but winding, set of stairs just ahead. And after the stairs lay the tunnel into Mordor.

So on they went for many hours along a path that wound to and fro across the cliff-face. Eventually they reached the final flight of the stairs. In the distance, they could see the top of a tower and from a window in its peak glowed a single red light. It was the tower of Cirith Ungol. They hoped it was not closely guarded. They stopped for another rest. Frodo and Sam discuss this wicked place. Sam reflects on their plight and the tales of old that recounted other adventures.
"I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually - their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten."

He wonders what sort of tale they've fallen into. Here Tolkien emphasizes the danger of despair, which he considered almost a sin - to lose faith that one's actions wouldn't matter. He is clearly influenced by his Catholicism with regard to a belief that a person's role was part of a Divine plan and that you need only follow your heart and do what's right to fulfill that role, no matter how bleak the outlook. How else could he have persevered through the horror of WWI, where two of his closest friends were killed in battle.

But in a broader literary sense, Tolkien makes the point that these stories - much like the one we're reading now - demonstrate the inner strength of characters to go on even when all hope seems lost are the ones that last. They last because they inspire us - the readers - to find our own inner strength to continue with our own "quests". For me, this theme which is weaved throughout the entire story and touches most of the characters is one of the main reasons why "The Lord of the Rings" is so popular. Even Peter Jackson recognized its importance enough to include much of this speech at the end of his film "The Two Towers".

Sam even makes reference to an irony that I hadn't noticed before. He talks of the tale of Beren, who ventured into Thangorodrim to steal a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown in the First Age. He not only succeeded but that jewel would become the Star of Earendil. And the light of that Star was contained in the Phial of Galadriel, which Frodo now possessed. Sam muses: "We're in the same tale still. It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?". Once again, Samwise Gamgee tries to offer hope to his Master. That inner strength comes shining through.

The hobbits soon notice the Smeagol is gone, and has been for sometime. What they don't know is that he was gone on ahead to commune with guardian of Cirith Ungol. He is laying the trap for them that he first thought of back at the Morannon gate. Later, when he returns, he finds the hobbits asleep. For a moment, a strange expression comes over Smeagol's face. He is torn and twisted. A love and compassion for his master rises to the surface and he seems to be coming close to changing his mind about his treacherous plan.

Suddenly, Sam wakes and sees him hovering over Frodo. In his alarm, he is very harsh with Smeagol. He accused him of "sneaking off and sneaking back" for some ill purpose and Smeagol is upset at his suspicion (though it is warranted). He begins to play the martyr. Poor Smeagol, here he is helping them and Sam accuses him of "sneaking". Sam is remorseful and asks what it was that he's been. "Sneaking", replies Smeagol sarcastically. And a green glint that the hobbits have noticed from time to time remained in Smeagol's eyes.

Is this creature of two personalities. And, if so, is the evil one winning out? This is an interpretation that many readers (and scholars) take. But my own opinion is that Smeagol is not so much a separate part of the character but rather a facade to his villainous nature. He comes across as quite pitiable and even sympathetic throughout Book Four. He even seems to be keeping the wicked part - Gollum - at bay during this time. My feeling is that the dialogue often heard between the two is rather an invention of necessity. Smeagol/Gollum has been isolated for hundreds of years and talking to himself if more like thinking out loud.

The character, for all intents and purposes, IS Gollum. Smeagol (though his true name) is a tactic or a ruse that Gollum uses as means of getting what he wants. He wants the Ring, and while he cannot successfully take it by force he stays with Frodo and Sam to make sure nothing happens to it. When he learns that Frodo intends to take it into Mordor, he panics. At the Morannan, when he has his little "debate" with himself it has less to do with two sides opposing each other about the endgame - getting the Ring - than it has to do with how he can get it. One side urges force to just take it, while the other is more cautious and ultimately works up a devious plan in which "she" will take care of the hobbits and the Ring will then be his. And he holds to this plan for the rest of the journey.

Is there any good in Gollum? After all, he was almost repentant. Tolkien discusses this in a letter to Michael Straight of the magazine, The New Republic (Letter No. 181). He writes in either January or February of 1956:

"The domination of the Ring was much too strong for the mean soul of Smeagol. But he would have never had to endure it if he had not become a mean sort of thief before it crossed his path. Need it ever have crossed his path? Need anything dangerous ever cross any of our paths? A kind of answer [could] be found in trying to imagine Gollum overcoming temptation. The story would have been quite different! By temporizing, not fixing the still not wholly corrupt Smeagol-will towards good in the debate in the slag hole, he weakened himself for the final chance when dawning love of Frodo was too easily withered by the jealousy of Sam before Shelob's lair. After that he was lost."

While it's nice to think that Gollum is capable of good, clearly his obsession with "the Precious" would ultimately prevent that. And lest we forget that Smeagol's pre-Ring nature wasn't all that benevolent to begin with. He was already a thief and a liar. And his very first act to obtain the Ring was murdering his friend Deagol, and he had not yet even touched the Ring. I think it's safe to assume that Smeagol was capable of this act even before the Ring got a true hold on him. So, basically, I think of Gollum as a villain - albeit a complex one. And as Tolkien himself describes the Smeagol part of him to be "lost" by this point, I will refer to him going forward as Gollum.

At this point, Frodo actually offers to release Gollum from his service to him being as they are so close to the entrance of Mordor. Gollum declines the offer. His plan is set, as well as his trap. And so, Gollum leads them to the tunnel. "No rest. No food. Not yet."

[Chronology: March 10th - March 11th 3019 T.A.]

Next: Shelob's Lair

(revised 10/4/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 7

Journey To The Cross-Roads
"'A wating silence broods above the Nameless Land. I do not know what this portends. But the time draws swiftly to some great conclusion. Storm is coming. Hasten while you may!'"
Faramir sends them off later that morning, giving them walking staffs and a store of provisions. He advises Frodo to travel under cover of the woods for as long as possible before reaching the intersection that will lead them to Minas Morgul and beyond. Most of the chapter is dedicated to that journey. Frankly, I always found this chapter to be pretty boring as nothing really eventful happens until the end. Actually Tolkien originally included this material as part of one continuous chapter with "The Forbidden Pool".

But once again, when it came time to revising his draft to match up the chronology with the other stories he had to deal with a major event that would affect all of them at once. The Dawnless Day was coming up too quickly at this point. He went back and made the journey to the cross-roads last an additional day so that March 10th would be the point when Sauron sent a darkness westward out of Mordor to give cover from the sun to the majority of his Orc forces. The events taking place at Minas Tirith in preparation for the coming battle would then be better synchronized with the arrival of Sauron's army.

As Frodo, Sam and Smeagol travel on they notice a silence throughout the land. Even the birds seemed to have fallen dumb. They sleep into the night and Smeagol wakes them before the first glimmer of light. There are rumblings of thunder off in the distance and they come upon a stream, one that flowed the Morgul Vale and into Anduin. This river was the Morgulduin and they followed it East towards the main road. At the end of this second day they slept, but were roused by Smeagol just after midnight. He told them that they needed to make haste, leading them through thickets and brambles. It was then that they noticed that a blackness darker than the night seemed to be coming from Mordor.

They looked forward to the coming of day.
"But no day came, only a dead brown twilight. In the East there was a dull red glare under the lowering cloud: it was not the red of dawn. Across the tumbled lands between, the mountains of the Ephel Duath frowned at them, black and shapeless below where night lay thick and did not pass away, above the jagged tops and edges outlined hard and menacing against the fiery glow. Away to their right a great shoulder of mountains stood out, dark and black amid the shadows, thrusting westward."
They would soon be at the Cross-roads. For some time, Smeagol disappears and the hobbits assume he is off hunting. They rest until he returns later that afternoon. Again, when Smeagol returns, he wakes them and bids them to hurry after him. They turned eastwards now and came upon the Harad road that they had left when they went with Faramir. Walking south, they finally came upon the cross-roads. It lay within a great ring of trees, open to the sky. Behind them led the way to the Morannon and before them the road continued through South Ithilien and the lands of the Southrons. To their right, the way led towards Osgiliath which straddled the Anduin and further on was Minas Tirith. To their left was the way that they would go.

As they continued on, a shaft of light broke through the darkness for a short time. It fell upon a stature presumably built by the Gondorians. It was crafted in the manner of the sentinels at the Argonath and was in the likeness of a king on his throne. However its head had been removed and in its place set a huge rock. Painted on it was a crude face with one red eye. The statue's head lay on the side of the road. As Frodo noticed it, he was startled. The light fell upon it and illuminated it. "Look", said Frodo, "The king has got a crown again!"
"A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across it's brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed."
For a brief moment, we are given a foreshadowing of hope, that the forces of good might persevere and the king of Gondor might soon return. The light faded, and soon the darkness fell again. And unbenownst to the reader, an army had come forth from the Morannon gate and was headed toward the island stronghold of Cair Andros, on the Anduin to the north. The first group of Sauron's forces had been unleashed.

[Chronology: March 8th - March 10th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Stairs Of Cirith Ungol

(revised 10/3/06)


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 6

The Forbidden Pool
"Only one true shot, and Frodo would be rid of the miserable voice for ever. But no, Gollum had a claim on him now. The servant has a claim on the master for service, even service in fear. They would have foundered in the Dead Marshes but for Gollum. Frodo knew, too, somehow, quite clearly that Gandalf would not have wished it."
Later that evening, everyone sleeps. But Faramir is alerted of a strange sight outside. Hey wakes Frodo and asks him to come with him. Sam, who also wakes up, follows them. They follow a passage and some wet stairs that takes them out to a small flat cut in the stone that opened to the left of the waterfall. It had a commanding view of the lands to the west:

"[Frodo] lifted his eyes and gazed far away. The world was quiet and cold, as if dawn were near. Far off in the West the full moon was sinking, round and white. Pale mists shimmered in the great vale below: a wide gulf of silver fume, beneath which rolled the cool night-waters of the Anduin. A black darkness loomed beyond, and in it glinted, here and there, cold, sharp, remote, white as the teeth of ghosts, the peaks of Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains of the Realm of Gondor, tipped with everlasting snow."

Frodo wonders about his old companions. And though he still believes him to be dead, Gandalf is at this moment riding with Pippin on Shadowfax, approaching Minas Tirith. And as dawn approaches, Aragorn is preparing to take the Paths of the Dead. It is March 8th.

Faramir directs Frodo to look down into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. They see a strange creature among the rocks. He asks Frodo if he should direct his men to loose their arrows upon it. Frodo tells him "no", though Sam would love to have cried out "yes". Faramir asks him about the creature and Frodo tells him that Smeagol once bore the burden of the Ring and has acted as his guide. Again, Faramir presses Frodo to justify why he should not kill Smeagol, for the penalty of trespassing is death. Frodo tells him that he is wretched and hungry and that were Gandalf here he would advise against it for just that reason.

Now Faramir explains that they cannot just let Smeagol go free for if he were caught by Orcs they could make him tell them about the refuge at Henneth Annun. So Frodo asks that he be allowed to go down to the pool and lure him out. Anborn accompanies him down the stair and soon Frodo finds himself at the top of one of the pool's banks. It is slippery and hard to gain a footing. At this point, Tolkien uses an peculiar turn of phrase that I never noticed before. He writes: "Frodo crept forward, using his hands Gollum-like to feel his way and to steady himself." (emphasis mine) I find it interesting that in this passage he is creating a subtle connection between Smeagol and Frodo. They are both hobbits (or at least Smeagol was once hobbit-like) and this analogy suggests that they are alike in more ways than one. Perhaps even Frodo sees Smeagol's current state as indicative of what could happen to him if he were to keep the Ring indefinitely.

As Smeagol fusses over a fish he has just caught, Frodo overhears him muttering to himself. He laments that the precious is gone, as he has lost Frodo: "Nasty Men, they'll take it, steal my Precious. Thieves. We hates them." Then he talks of throttling them all if he gets the chance. Now is this a debate between Smeagol and Gollum? It would seem so if you accept the idea the Smeagol part of his personality is benenvolent. Yet Tolkien writes it out as one continuous monologue. I suspect that, while Smeagol has a capacity for good, when he believes he is not being watched or listened to his true nature is not really that much different than Gollum. Gollum, however, is more aggressive and ruthless. He is the underlying driving force behind the creature. Smeagol may be nothing more than a facade. But we will examine that a little more down the road.

Frodo calls to Smeagol and lures him out of the pool where he is snatched up by Anborn. Frodo regrets his trickery but knows it was necessary to save him:
"Certainly what Frodo did would seem a treachery to the poor treacherous creature. It would probably be impossible ever to make him understand or believe that Frodo had saved his life in the only way he could."
They bring him back to the cave. Faramir tells him that he must swear to his Master that he will never return to this place and to obey Frodo and stay with him, otherwise if he is found in this land alone he will forfeit his life. Smeagol swears his promise, again on the Precious. He is very suspicious of Smeagol and tells him that despite the fact that "there are locked doors and closed windows in your mind, and dark rooms behind them" he accepts his promise. Smeagol is forced to tell Faramir exactly where he intends to take Frodo and listening to Frodo's description, he guesses that it is the pass of Cirith Ungol. Faramir tells Anborn to bear Smeagol away so that he might speak privately with Frodo.

Faramir warns Frodo that he must not go to Cirith Ungol, for "there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul". Frodo insists that he has no choice lest Minas Tirith become a second Minas Morgul, staring at its counterpart across a "dead land filled with rottenness." Faramir advises that they leave in the morning and hopes that one day they will meet again to share their tales, "laughing off old grief". Frodo falls into sleep before he sets out on the next stage of his journey.

[Chronology: March 7th - March 8th 3019 T.A.]

Next: Journey To The Cross-Roads

(revised 10/2/06)