May. 13th, 2017

sartorias: (JRRT)
So the three travelers (I can’t call them companions, as that implies they want to be together, and Sam wants nothing more than to be rid of Gollum, Gollum hates Sam, Frodo is tolerating Gollum and striving to be fair through the lens of pity, and Gollum wants the Ring. That’s not companionship as I define the word) hit the Gate. And of course can’t get in.

“What the plague did you bring us here for?” Sam asked, not feeling in the mood to be just or reasonable.

Aside from that terrible hint that Middle-earth has known plague, this chapter continues to spike the tension, and to demonstrate so brilliantly the constant shifts in the balance of power between the three as they consider the horror of Mordor, such a contrast to the scenery in the end of book two.

Sam tries for a semblance of normality as he quotes the Gaffer even more extensively than usual. I ought to have counted up the times the Gaffer gets quoted—he is Sam’s anchor for Shire-normal, though I think Bilbo, and through him the elves, are his lodestar for the world he is discovering how much he loves.

The world except for Mordor, that is.

and after all he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed. Now they were come to the bitter end. But he had stuck to his master all the way; that was what he had chiefly come for, and he would still stick to him. His master would not go to Mordor alone. Sam would go with him — and at any rate they would get rid of Gollum.

Gollum seems genuinely wretched as he tries to convince Frodo that there is another way past the Gate, a secret way. Sam is extremely skeptical, and watches the inward debate between Stinker and Slinker.

Frodo surprises Sam with his sternness, but Gollum is determined, though he quails at the last at naming the place he wants to take them.

At that point, the narrator steps in briefly and smoothly to orient us: Its name was Cirith Ungol, a name of dreadful rumor. Aragorn could perhaps have told them that name and its significance; Gandalf would have warned them. But they were alone, and Aragorn was far away, and Gandalf stood amid the ruin of Isengard and strove with Saruman, delayed by treason. Yet even as he spoke his last words to Saruman, and the Palantir crashed in fire upon the steps of Orthanc, his thought was ever upon Frodo and Samwise, over the long leagues his mind sought for them in hope and pity. . . .

. . . and here he was a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside, expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go.

They watch an army march to join the Dark Lord—it’s the Southrons, coming to help their allies, orcs, goblins, and trolls. Gollum tells us they have dark skin and eyes, and wear a lot of red and gold. The hobbits go right past the Southrons’ differences to the fraught question: “Were there any oliphaunts?”

That is, Sam is fascinated, and recites a poem. Gollum can’t contain himself—he declares that he has not heard of them, he does not want to see them, He does not want them to be.

He whines at Frodo, who says lead on, and so we come to one of my favorite chapters, “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit.” The first half is sheer character interaction, tightly woven as the hobbits run orthogonal to the sleepless watch of Morannon.

Gollum begins to run off from time to time as Sam and Frodo work their way into rough country that at least has green and growing things, as well as fresh water again.

Sam tries to get along with Gollum, but there’s always an edge to his dialogue: “Well, see here, old noser, you don’t like our food, and I’d not be sorry for a change myself. Your new motto is ‘always ready to help.’ Could you perhaps find anything for a hungry hobbit?”

“Yes,” Gollum returns. “Smeagol always helps, if they asks—if they asks nicely.”

And Sam comes right back frankly, “Right! I does ask. And if that isn’t nice enough, I begs.”

So Gollum takes off, and then comes one of my favorite passages.

Frodo is conked out. Sam observes him. Character becomes as stunningly visual as landscape in passages like these: The early daylight was only just creeping down into the shadows under the trees, but he saw his master’s face very clearly, and his hands, too, lying at rest on the ground beside him. He was reminded suddenly of Frodo as he had lain asleep in the house of Elrond, after his deadly wound.

Then as he had kept watch Sam had noticed that at times a light seemed to be shining faintly within; but now the light was even clearer and stronger. Frodo’s face was peaceful, the marks of fear and care had left it; but it looked old, old and beautiful, as if the chiseling of the shaping years was now revealed in many fine lines that had before been hidden, though the identity of the face was not changed.

Not that Sam Gamgee put it that way to himself. He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured, “I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.”

This passage, back in the late sixties and early seventies, sparked a lot of Sam/Frodo fanfic, veering between more hurt/comfort scenes of cuddling and outright Posturpedic gymnastics.

Everyone interprets character relations according to their own experience—and their own emotional landscapes—but to me, gay Sam and gay Frodo seems a sidestep from their real selves. What I always saw in this and the chapters post-Shelob was the intense relationship of battle-companions, fraught with what we now call PTSD, wherein sex is either a brief and frantic sideshow, to escape the shared hell, or altogether impossible.

I worked with a couple of Vietnam vets back in the late seventies (in separate situations) who both had very tight loyalties and relationships with specific unit buddies that at times seemed to transcend their relationships with women. (Both were unreservedly het.)

That’s what I get from Sam and Frodo beginning with this next and toughest phase of their journey. And note that Gollum comes up while Sam is in this reverie, and “peered over Sam’s shoulder. Looking at Frodo, he shut his eyes and crawled away without a sound.”

Gollum’s relationship with Frodo is exponentially more intense than Sam’s with Frodo, anchored as it is by friendship. But I think I want to save Gollum and Frodo until a later scene that I find strikingly effective, and important.

So Gollum brought rabbits, which Sam is going to cook, and a hilarious dialogue commences between Gollum and Sam, as Sam tries to get Gollum to fetch herbs and veggies to add to the stew, and Gollum is utterly horrified that Sam would ruin a perfectly good meal by cooking it.

And so, when they move on, once more Gollum skips out—and Sam and Frodo fall into the hands of Faramir’s band. But they haven’t had a chance to talk long when battle breaks out, between Southrons and Faramir’s guys.

A Harad warrior falls dead nearby, and Sam sees the man’s body.

Sam’s reaction says so very much about him: It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace—all in a flash of thought . . .

I know this is way out of line, but after I began seeing the palimpsest of JRRT’s WW I experience overlaid on the book, I wondered if the young Tolkien had stood in a trench and looked down at a young German, wondering the same things.

Moving on, Sam is gratified by the sight of an oliphaunt, though the narrative voice doesn’t foretell any good end for the poor creature.

And so the hobbits are not left behind, as Sam expected: Mablung predicts that the captain is going to want to see them.

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