Tolkien Geek

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


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)


At 7:54 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I am greatly anticipating your exposition of "The Return of the King". So far, you have done yeoman's work. Keep it up!

At 9:24 PM, Blogger clint said...

So, what's going on here with Sam and the Ring??

(1) After all of Frodo's unwillingness to use it, and Sauron's attention being drawn accurately enough to send orcs and the Nazgul when Frodo puts it on briefly after the confrontation with Boromir, I would have thought that wearing it this close to Sauron would, at least, give the game away -- sending all the hordes of Mordor marching for Cirith Ungol.

(2) What's with understanding orcish? Part of the Ring's (unused) power of Command? Some sort of affinity with Sauron? Something to do with how he twisted elves into orcs (did he use the Ring for that?)?

(3) If Sam had simply spoken and commanded the orcs to do something, while wearing the ring, what would have happened??

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Tolkien seems to have assumed that the Ring calls more effectively to its master when it is in the open. Or perhaps, being so close to Mordor, its signal was obscured by the "background noise" of evil there.

The call of the Ring may also be amplified by the wearer's use of it. Frodo had borne the Ring for quite some time, and used it more than once. Sam had never done either.

Sauron imbued the Ring with the greater part of his personal power. It stands to reason that it would act as his proxy.

Sam simply would never have thought of commanding Orcs. He was a servant, after all, and content to be so. I would imagine any attempt of his to command others would end in disaster, as his nature was not compatible with it.

At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's an especially good website that fields particularly difficult questions such as this. With regard to Sam's wearing of the Ring in such close proximity to Mordor, this is their take on it:
"Frodo had grown, and his wearing the Ring was a *Significant Event* in Sauron's eye. By contrast, Sam, who had never been tempted by the Ring, was humble and seemingly nearly immune to the Ring's corruption. He is almost like Bombadil, in the sense that both are uninterested in Power – Sam dismisses his brief daydream of Samwise the Strong with little effort, and yields the Ring relatively easily to Frodo, hesitating only because he is unwilling to burden Frodo with it again. So Sam probably was no more visible to Sauron than if a rabbit had accidentally eaten the Ring."
The link is here:

As far as the ability to understand Orcish by wearing the Ring, it's not out of the realm of possibility that this is part of it's power. Remember, putting on the Ring puts you in the "wraith" world where your sense's are altered. Here Sam's hearing is intensified and as is his ability to "see" what is around him. Tolkien does not address this topic in any of his letters or writing notes, so we can only speculate. If you want my personal opinion, I think Tolkien created this ability out of necessity. How else would Sam find out that Frodo is still alive and that they are taking him to the top of the tower?

At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that the languages of the different tribes of orcs were different enough that they used the common speach of men for intertribal conversations. This was brought up during the flight of the orcs from Isengard, Moria and Mordor across the plains of Rohan. Not sure it applies to orcs of Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol, but its a good literary device when you have painted yourself into a corner like this one. If Sam had turned his back on Frodo now, believing him dead, all sorts of bad ends would come to pass.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Jon Brock said...

I always sort of figured that the reason Sauron didn't react when Samwise put on the ring is that he (Sauron) was distracted, what with the beginning of the War and all. He simply wasn't turning his attention towards finding the Ring at that precise moment.

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that is another explanation. However, nit-pickers might find it a weak one. Which is why I avoided mentioning it.

IMO, it is a valid one.


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