406 – The Forbidden Pool

The Forbidden Pool

Now Gollum re-enters the story.  He can clearly sense the One Ring and go towards it.  But he has no idea that he has blundered into a well-guarded hideout.  The previous chapter relaxed the tension when it turned out that Faramir believed Frodo.  But now we have another crisis.  This is the general pattern – quiet episodes and moments of danger or difficult choice.

Faramir learns of Gollum’s presence.  From the last chapter, we know he is also unwilling to kill.  And when he and his men caught Frodo and Sam, they saw a third who got away from them.  So he logically rouses Frodo, but politely apologising for disturbing someone whom he sees as under an immense strain:

“There is a matter on which I desire your counsel. I am sorry to rouse you from sleep, but will you come?”

He also takes a moment to note some natural beauty:

“`Moonset over Gondor. Fair Ithil as he goes from Middle-earth, glances upon the white locks of old Mindolluin. It is worth a few shivers. But that is not what I brought you to see”

Sam manages to join them.  Faramir expresses the same amused irritation as Elrond did when he was found at the highly secret Council of Elrond:

“Though as for you, Samwise, you were not brought, and do but pay the penalty of your watchfulness.”

He then asks his men what it is they have found – not letting on how much he has already guessed:

“`Now what would you say that it is, Anborn? A squirrel, or a kingfisher? Are there black kingfishers in the night-pools of Mirkwood? ‘

“`’Tis not a bird, whatever else it be,’ answered Anborn. `It has four limbs and dives manwise; a pretty mastery of the craft it shows, too. What is it at? Seeking a way up behind the Curtain to our hidings? It seems we are discovered at last. I have my bow here, and I have posted other archers, nigh as good marksmen as myself, on either bank. We wait only for your command to shoot, Captain.’

“`Shall we shoot? ‘ said Faramir, turning quickly to Frodo.

“Frodo did not answer for a moment. Then `No! ‘ he said. `No! I beg you not to.’ If Sam had dared, he would have said `Yes,’ quicker and louder. He could not see, but he guessed well enough from their words what they were looking at.

“’You know, then, what this thing is? ‘ said Faramir. `Come, now you have seen, tell me why it should be spared. In all our words together you have not once spoken of your gangrel companion, and I let him be for the time. He could wait till he was caught and brought before me. I sent my keenest huntsmen to seek him, but he slipped them, and they had no sight of him till now, save Anborn here, once at dusk yesterevening. But now he has done worse trespass than only to go coney-snaring in the uplands: he has dared to come to Henneth Annun,[1] and his life is forfeit. I marvel at the creature: so secret and so sly as he is, to come sporting in the pool before our very window. Does he think that men sleep without watch all night? Why does he so?’

“’There are two answers, I think,’ said Frodo. `For one thing, he knows little of Men, and sly though he is, your refuge is so hidden that perhaps he does not know that Men are concealed here. For another, I think he is allured here by a mastering desire, stronger than his caution.’

“`He is lured here, you say? ‘ said Faramir in a low voice. `Can he, does he then know of your burden?’

“`Indeed yes. He bore it himself for many years.’

“’He bore it?’ said Faramir, breathing sharply in his wonder. `This matter winds itself ever in new riddles. Then he is pursuing it? ‘

“’Maybe. It is precious to him. But I did not speak of that.’

“`What then does the creature seek? ‘

“`Fish,’ said Frodo.”

Gollum’s life is forfeit, but Frodo seeks to save him:

“`The creature is wretched and hungry,’ said Frodo, `and unaware of his danger. And Gandalf, your Mithrandir, he would have bidden you not to slay him for that reason, and for others. He forbade the Elves to do so. I do not know clearly why, and of what I guess I cannot speak openly out here. But this creature is in some way bound up with my errand. Until you found us and took us, he was my guide.’

“`Your guide! ‘ said Faramir. `The matter becomes ever stranger. I would do much for you, Frodo, but this I cannot grant: to let this sly wanderer go free at his own will from here, to join you later if it please him, or to be caught by Orcs and tell all he knows under threat of pain. He must be slain or taken. Slain, if he be not taken very swiftly. But how can this slippery thing of many guises be caught, save by a feathered shaft? ‘

“`Let me go down quietly to him,’ said Frodo.”

Gollum is his usual self: repellent and resentful:

“’Fissh, nice fissh. White Face has vanished, my precious, at last, yes. Now we can eat fish in peace. No, not in peace, precious. For Precious is lost; yes, lost. Dirty hobbits, nasty hobbits. Gone and left us, gollum; and Precious is gone. Only poor Smeagol all alone. No Precious. Nasty Men, they’ll take it, steal my Precious. Thieves. We hates them.”

As Gandalf had mentioned at the Council of Elrond, Gollum always sees himself as treated unfairly, no matter how badly he has behaved.  This is fairly typical of minor criminals, and sometimes also of major ones.  And as many have noted, he has the features of a drug addict.

Gollum has many faults, and Frodo is tempted to let him be killed.  But he sees this would be morally wrong:

“Frodo shivered, listening with pity and disgust. He wished it would stop, and that he never need hear that voice again. Anborn was not far behind. He could creep back and ask him to get the huntsmen to shoot. They would probably get close enough, while Gollum was gorging and off his guard. 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.”

He should also have thought that without Gollum’s supposed Secret Way, they are unlikely to get into Mordor.

Gollum is interesting because he is both villain and victim.  You can understand why both Bilbo and Frodo feel pity for him.  Also both Bilbo and Frodo need him, creating a series of problems for Frodo.  Frodo accepts an obligation to him: and like Gandalf, hopes he can be cured.  Of course the attempt to redeem him fails, yet was still necessary.

Incidentally, it seems to me that Gollum becoming faithful to Frodo is probably due to the power of the One Ring.  It gives Power of Command.  And now Frodo has to lure Gollum into a trap:

“’Come, Smeagol! ‘ said Frodo. `We are in danger. Men will kill you, if they find you here. Come quickly, if you wish to escape death. Come to Master!’

“’No!’ said the voice. `Not nice Master. Leaves poor Smeagol and goes with new friends. Master can wait. Smeagol hasn’t finished.’

“`There’s no time,’ said Frodo. `Bring fish with you. Come! ‘

“`No! Must finish fish.’

“’Smeagol! ‘ said Frodo desperately. ‘Precious will be angry. I shall take Precious, and I shall say: make him swallow the bones and choke. Never taste fish again. Come, Precious is waiting! ‘

“There was a sharp hiss. Presently out of the darkness Gollum came crawling on all fours, like an erring dog called to heel. He had a half-eaten fish in his mouth and another in his hand. He came close to Frodo, almost nose to nose, and sniffed at him. His pale eyes were shining. Then he took the fish out of his mouth and stood up.

“`Nice Master! ‘ he whispered. `Nice hobbit, come back to poor Smeagol. Good Smeagol comes. Now let’s go, go quickly, yes. Through the trees, while the Faces are dark. Yes, come let’s go! ‘

“`Yes, we’ll go soon,’ said Frodo. `But not at once. I will go with you as I promised. I promise again. But not now. You are not safe yet. I will save you, but you must trust me.’

“`We must trust Master? ‘ said Gollum doubtfully. ‘Why? Why not go at once? Where is the other one, the cross rude hobbit? Where is he?’

“’Away up there,’ said Frodo, pointing to the waterfall. ‘I am not going without him. We must go back to him.’ His heart sank. This was too much like trickery. He did not really fear that Faramir would allow Gollum to be killed, but he would probably make him prisoner and bind him; and 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. What else could he do? – to keep faith, as near as might be, with both sides.

The men catch Gollum.  He is bound and taken inside the stronghold.  Then Faramir has a look at him and decides to show mercy:

“`We are lost, lost,’ said Gollum. ‘No name, no business, no Precious, nothing. Only empty. Only hungry; yes, we are hungry. A few little fishes, nasty bony little fishes, for a poor creature, and they say death. So wise they are; so just, so very just.’

“’Not very wise,’ said Faramir. ‘But just: yes perhaps, as just as our little wisdom allows. Unloose him Frodo!…

“’Come hither! ‘ said Faramir. `Look at me! Do you know the name of this place? Have you been here before? ‘

“Slowly Gollum raised his eyes and looked unwillingly into Faramir’s. All light went out of them, and they stared bleak and pale for a moment into the clear unwavering eyes of the man of Gondor. There was a still silence. Then Gollum dropped his head and shrank down, until he was squatting on the floor, shivering. ‘We doesn’t know and we doesn’t want to know,’ he whimpered. `Never came here; never come again.’

“`There are locked doors and closed windows in your mind, and dark rooms behind them,’ said Faramir. `But in this I judge that you speak the truth. It is well for you. What oath will you swear never to return; and never to lead any living creature hither by word or sign?’

“`Master knows,’ said Gollum with a sidelong glance at Frodo. `Yes, he knows. We will promise Master, if he saves us. We’ll promise to It, yes.’ He crawled to Frodo’s feet. ‘Save us, nice Master! ‘ he whined. `Smeagol promises to Precious, promises faithfully. Never come again, never speak, no never! No, precious, no!’

“`Are you satisfied? ‘ said Faramir.

“`Yes,’ said Frodo. ‘At least, you must either accept this promise or carry out your law. You will get no more. But I promised that if he came to me, he should not be harmed. And I would not be proved faithless.’

“Faramir sat for a moment in thought. `Very good,’ he said at last. `I surrender you to your master, to Frodo son of Drogo. Let him declare what he will do with you! ‘

“’But, Lord Faramir,’ said Frodo bowing, `you have not yet declared your will concerning the said Frodo, and until that is made known, he cannot shape his plans for himself or his companions. Your judgement was postponed until the morning; but that is now at hand.’

“`Then I will declare my doom,’ said Faramir. `As for you, Frodo, in so far as lies in me under higher authority, I declare you free in the realm of, Gondor to the furthest of its ancient bounds; save only that neither you nor any that go with you have leave to come to this place unbidden. This doom shall stand for a year and a day, and then cease, unless you shall before that term come to Minas Tirith and present yourself to the Lord and Steward of the City. Then I will entreat him to confirm what I have done and to make it lifelong. In the meantime, whomsoever you take under your protection shall be under my protection and under the shield of Gondor. Are you answered? ‘

Faramir can see somewhat into Gollum’s mind, just as Denethor was later to do with Pippin.

Note how carefully he sets the terms.  Gondor is run by rigid formality, and when promises are made they are very exact.  Faramir keeps this, even while going beyond what he is strictly allowed to do.

Note also that ‘doom’ can mean a judgement laid down by a human authority, as well as some unavoidable process of fate.

He is aware of the risks.  But Faramir in the last chapter had explained how Gondor is doomed even with Aragorn and Elendil’s sword, should they arrive.  And Frodo has explained the mission, which he’d correctly see as Gondor’s only long-term hope.  So he can accept the risk of trusting Gollum.

But not entirely.  He wants to check where they are heading for:

“You were his guide, he says. Whither were you leading him?’ Gollum made no reply.

“`This I will not have secret,’ said Faramir. `Answer me, or I will reverse my judgement! ‘ Still Gollum did not answer.

“`I will answer for him,’ said Frodo. `He brought me to the Black Gate, as I asked; but it was impassable.’

“`There is no open gate into the Nameless Land,’ said Faramir.

“`Seeing this, we turned aside and came by the Southward road ‘ Frodo continued; ‘for he said that there is, or there may be, a path near to Minas Ithil.’

“`Minas Morgul,’ said Faramir.

“`I do not know clearly,’ said Frodo; `but the path climbs, I think, up into the mountains on the northern side of that vale where the old city stands. It goes up to a high cleft and so down to – that which is beyond.’

“`Do you know the name of that high pass? ‘ said Faramir.

“’No,’ said Frodo.

“’It is called Cirith Ungol.’ Gollum hissed sharply and began muttering to himself. `Is not that its name? ‘ said Faramir turning to him.

“`No! ‘ said Gollum, and then he squealed, as if something had stabbed him. ‘Yes, yes, we heard the name once. But what does the name matter to us? Master says he must get in. So we must try some way. There is no other way to try, no.’”

Faramir then sends Gollum away and tries to persuade Frodo against following him:

“`Frodo, I think you do very unwisely in this,’ said Faramir. `I do not think you should go with this creature. It is wicked.’

“’No, not altogether wicked,’ said Frodo.

“’Not wholly, perhaps,’ said Faramir; ‘but malice eats it like a canker, and the evil is growing. He will lead you to no good…

“I do not think you are holden to go to Cirith Ungol, of which he has told you less than he knows. That much I perceived clearly in his mind. Do not go to Cirith Ungol!’…

“There is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent.

Note the archaic English – modern enough to be understood by ordinary readers, yet distinctive.  ‘Holden’ is listed by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘archaic’.  But related to ‘hold’, so it makes sense.

Rather less realistically, Faramir does not mention that Cirith Ungol means ‘Spider Pass’, which he would be expected to know and warn of.  This, I suppose, is Tolkien not giving away too much of the plot.

He does foreshadow what they will find:

“The valley of Minas Morgul passed into evil very long ago, and it was a menace and a dread while the banished Enemy dwelt yet far away, and Ithilien was still for the most part in our keeping. As you know, that city was once a strong place, proud and fair, Minas Ithil, the twin sister of our own city. But it was taken by fell men whom the Enemy in his first strength had dominated, and who wandered homeless and masterless after his fall. It is said that their lords were men of Numenor who had fallen into dark wickedness; to them the Enemy had given rings of power, and he had devoured them: living ghosts they were become, terrible and evil. After his going they took Minas Ithil and dwelt there, and they filled it, and all the valley about, with decay: it seemed empty and was not so, for a shapeless fear lived within the ruined walls. Nine Lords there were, and after the return of their Master, which they aided and prepared in secret, they grew strong again. Then the Nine Riders issued forth from the gates of horror, and we could not withstand them. Do not approach their citadel. You will be espied. It is a place of sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes. Do not go that way!’”

But what’s the alternative?

“’But where else will you direct me? ‘ said Frodo. ‘You cannot yourself, you say, guide me to the mountains, nor over them. But over the mountains I am bound, by solemn undertaking to the Council, to find a way or perish in the seeking. And if I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves or Men? Would you have me come to Gondor with this Thing, the Thing that drove your brother mad with desire? What spell would it work in Minas Tirith? Shall there be two cities of Minas Morgul, grinning at each other across a dead land filled with rottenness? ‘”

He may be thinking it is a lesser evil for the One Ring to be captured by the enemy than let the One Ring corrupt more good people.  It has become a kind of suicide mission – he will keep his word, but expects to fail.

Faramir sympathises:

“I would not have you go to death or to torment. And I do not think that Mithrandir would have chosen this way.’

“’Yet since he is gone, I must take such paths as I can find. And there is no time for long searching,’ said Frodo.

“`It is a hard doom and a hopeless errand,’ said Faramir. ‘But at the least, remember my warning: beware of this guide, Smeagol. He has done murder before now. I read it in him.’ He sighed.

“`Well, so we meet and part, Frodo son of Drogo. You have no need of soft words: I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun. But you shall go now with my blessing upon you, and upon all your people. Rest a little while food is prepared for you.

“’I would gladly learn how this creeping Smeagol became possessed of the Thing of which we speak, and how he lost it, but I will not trouble you now. If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we retell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then. Until that time, or some other time beyond the vision of the Seeing-stones of Númenor, farewell! ‘

“He rose and bowed low to Frodo, and drawing the curtain passed out into the cave.”


[1] More properly ‘Henneth Annûn’.  But I do not use accents or other diacritical marks.  In the past, I have all too often seen computer software turn them into something meaningless.

As to why this flaw exists, see https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/