sartorias: (JRRT)
[personal profile] sartorias
For a moment the three companions stood there, shrinking, staring up with unwilling eyes. Gollum was the first to recover. Again he pulled at their cloaks urgently, but he spoke no word.

The three are alone again, a pivotal chapter, this. In the last section, during the stay with Faramir, Frodo got his turn to kill Gollum—even easier, to have him killed, while he did nothing. Further, Faramir did his best to talk Frodo out of going with Gollum, and that after Faramir had proven himself to Frodo (and to the reader) that he was someone worthy of heeding.

“You would not ask me to breath faith with him?” Frodo said.

“No,” said Faramir. “But my heart would.”

Though chapter seven is named the crossroad, I think it’s this chapter, eight, that is a real crossroad.

The hobbits toil miserably and fearfully on, hurried by Gollum. When Frodo pauses in an exposed place, Gollum is frantic.

But it was too late. At that moment the rock quivered and trembled beneath them. The great rumbling noise, louder than ever before, rolled in the ground and echoed in the mountains. Then with searing suddenness there came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. In that valley of shadow and cold desolate light it seemed unbearably violent and fierce. Peaks of stone and ridges like notched knives sprang out in staring black against the uprushing flame in Golgoroth. Then came a great crack of thunder.

And Minus 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.

As the terrible cry ended, falling back through a long sickening wail to silence, Frodo slowly raised his head.


Such a vivid depiction of the power of Sauron’s evil will, and its fallout. The countryside is a ruin, and every living thing sounds like it’s being tortured.

The dark army issues forth, and pauses—in command is the same “haggard king” who had wounded Frodo. In my earliest reading, I was riveted, every bit as breathless as the hobbits cowering on the stone above, but in later readings, I wondered who that king had been, and what he had sought to gain.

Was it a slow descent, choice by reasonable or logical choice, until he became this ghost of himself, surrounded by death and dealing it? The fantasy equivalent of whoever was in command during WW II, sending waves of bombers to do to Hamburg what Hitler had not succeeded in doing to London: smash the city and its defenseless civilians into death, though the army was elsewhere.

Frodo was tempted when Faramir gave him the opportunity to have the archer shoot Gollum in the pool below. But this temptation is far more insidious.

Look at the wording: Frodo waited, like a bird at the approach of a snake, unable to move. And as he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the ring. But great is the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the ring would only betray him, and that he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the more Morgul-king — not yet.

It’s that “not yet” that makes my skin crawl.

Meanwhile, Frodo’s hand creeps nearer and nearer to the ring. But he exerts his own will, and manages to get his hand to the phial Galadriel gave him—he bends his head, and below, the Wraith-king spurs his horse and rides on.

Sam and Gollum together get Frodo moving again, though he is clearly nearing the end of his endurance. Stairs and tunnels, stairs and tunnels, Gollum hissing, “Oh, we shall see,” as he exhorts them ever onward.

The hobbits stop at last, and take what they think will be their last meal. In talking about how unlikely it is to find any drinkable water, Sam begins to talk about adventure tales, and for the first time, wonders how the adventure was for the people in them.

Frodo responds in kind—I am resisting the temptation to copy the entire page, which is one of my favorite pages in the entire book. But I’ll highlight one bit, when Sam says:

”Don’t the great tales never end?”

“No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.”

Sam wonders if they will ever be put into songs or tales. “We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say, “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!”


Frodo laughs at this bit of whimsy, and here’s an amazing moment. He laughs from the heart, such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were leistening and the tall rocks leaning over them.

The two hobbits indulge in a bit more whimsy, Sam saying, “Why Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway.”

But Gollum is gone again. Sam convinces Frodo to rest until Stinker gets back, and Frodo gives in, murmuring, “Yes, even I could sleep.”

And then comes one of the most piercingly poignant moments in the whole story.

I really have to quote it:

And so Gollum found them hours later, when he returned, crawling and creeping down the path out of the gloom ahead. Sam sat propped against the stone, his head dropping sideways and his breathing heavy. In his lap lay Frodo's head, drowned deep in sleep; upon his white forehead lay one of Sam's brown hands, and the other lay softly upon his master's breast. Peace was in both their faces.

Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lien hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and gray, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head as if engaged in some interior debate.

Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo's knee — but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him. They would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.


But Sam wakens, and accuses Gollum of sneaking around, and calls him a villain. He does apologize, but the pivotal moment is forever lost.

Frodo tries to tell Gollum that he can go, that he kept his word and is free, but Gollum says, Oh no, no rest, no food, not yet.

Some think the saddest moment in LOTR is Galadriel saying she will diminish and go into the West, others feel it’s Boromir’s death, but I think the saddest moment is when Gollum sees Sam and Frodo lying together, and tries to touch Frodo—and Sam, misinterpreting, rounds on him.

Who can say what would have happened if Sam had not done that? Maybe Gollum’s agony would have been the worse, because the evil of the ring grew steadily as it neared Mt. Doom.

One thing for sure, the balance would have changed between the three, and a bond between Gollum and Frodo might have caused the Ring to pull harder at Sam. If Gollum didn't kill him out of jealousy--his love would not have suffered a rival--Sam might have gone after Gollum.

The next two chapters largely belong to Sam, so they can go as a unit.

This one, at least in my mind, is remarkable on so many levels—and though the three hobbits are not done with one another yet, and won’t be until the very end, it is still pivotal.
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