The Passage of the Marshes
Tolkien wrote a single long tale, eventually subdivided into six Books. He then found the publisher wanted to publish it in three parts, and found titles. The middle book was particularly tricky, as he says in a letter:
“The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the wildly divergent Books 3 and 4; and can be left ambiguous – it might refer to Isengard and Barad-dur, or to Minas Tirith and B.; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol.”[A]
He gives a definite answer in the published text, different from any of his three suggestions. This comes at the end of Fellowship:
“The second part is called The Two Towers, since the events recounted in it are dominated by Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, and the fortress of Minas Morgul that guards the secret entrance to Mordor
Peter Jackson discards all of this. Fellowship has Saruman speak of ‘the union of the two towers’ – his and Sauron’s. Unlike the book, it is never suggested that Saruman is now just another servant of Sauron. And the whole passage of Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol is moved to ‘Return of the King’. And of course he cross-cuts between events that Tolkien had separated out: as did Brian Sibley in his excellent radio dramatization.
Cross-cutting is the norm, but there is perhaps a logic to separation.
Book 3 is war as Tolkien read of it and imagined it. Book 4, though it has very little actual fighting, reflects the terror and squalor of war as he had actually experienced it.
Having lived through Trench Warfare, Tolkien knew that much of it is dullness and discomfort, but with terror never far away.
It is common to compare the Winged Nazgul to the dive-bombers that were major causes of terror in the early days of the war. Maybe that was a source: but you could also see them as personifications of the howling shells that killed rather more than died from bullets or bayonets. And something you had little defence against: you just hoped none land near you. From this to hoping not to be noticed by a shrieking Nazgul is not so far.
At least in the Army you can trust your fellow sufferers. Here, Frodo and Sam have a dubious guide. Yet Gollum / Smeagol shows signs of recovery.[B] He even speaks a little poetry after finding water
“The cold hard lands,
“they bites our hands,
“they gnaws our feet.
“The rocks and stones
“are like old bones
“all bare of meat.
“But stream and pool
“is wet and cool:
“so nice for feet!
“And now we wish –
He was a Stoor, once. He remembers this, but also his encounter with Bilbo, where he still sees himself as wronged:
“’Ha! ha! What does we wish?’ he said, looking sidelong at the hobbits. ‘We’ll tell you.’ he croaked. `He guessed it long ago, Baggins guessed it.’ A glint came into his eyes, and Sam catching the gleam in the darkness thought it far from pleasant.
“Alive without breath;
“as cold as death;
“never thirsting, ever drinking;
“clad in mail, never clinking.
“Drowns on dry land,
“thinks an island
“is a mountain;
“thinks a fountain
“is a puff of air.
“So sleek, so fair!
“What a joy to meet!
“We only wish
“to catch a fish,
He repeats the four-line riddle he gave to Bilbo, plus another ten lines that are new. There is also one small change: the fish is ‘clad in mail’ rather than ‘all in mail’: but still ‘never clinking’.
Sam ignores the positive sign of Gollum taking pleasure in verse. Verse that has no malice in it, unlike the songs of the orcs or the spell of the barrow-wight. Instead he wonders about food, now that they are three rather than two:
“These words only made more pressing to Sam’s mind a problem that had been troubling him from the moment when he understood that his master was going to adopt Gollum as a guide: the problem of food. It did not occur to him that his master might also have thought of it. hut he supposed Gollum had. Indeed how had Gollum kept himself in all his lonely wandering? ‘Not too well,’ thought Sam. ‘He looks fair famished. Not too dainty to try what hobbit tastes like if there ain’t no fish, I’ll wager – supposing as he could catch us napping. Well, he won’t: not Sam Gamgee for one.’”
It is still night, but they are tired and stop. Gollum, who hates the sun, is glad of this
“`Day is near,’ he whispered, as if Day was something that might overhear him and spring on him. `Smeagol will stay here: I will stay here, and the Yellow Face won’t see me.’
“`We should be glad to see the Sun;’ said Frodo, `but we will stay here: we are too tired to go any further at present.’
“`You are not wise to be glad of the Yellow Face,’ said Gollum. `It shows you up. Nice sensible hobbits stay with Smeagol. Orcs and nasty things are about. They can see a long way. Stay and hide with me! ‘”
Being hobbits, they then have a snack. Frodo, well aware they have little, is still ready to share. But they only brought lembas, the elven biscuit:
“`We must take a little food,’ said Frodo. `Are you hungry, Smeagol? We have very little to share, but we will spare you what we can.’…
“What is it they’ve got, precious? Is it crunchable? Is it tasty? ‘
“Frodo broke off a portion of a wafer and handed it to him on its leaf-wrapping. Gollum sniffed at the leaf and his face changed: a spasm of disgust came over it, and a hint of his old malice. `Smeagol smells it! ‘ he said. `Leaves out of the elf-country, gah! They stinks. He climbed in those trees, and he couldn’t wash the smell off his hands, my nice hands.’ Dropping the leaf, he took a corner of the lembas and nibbled it. He spat, and a fit of coughing shook him.
“`Ach! No! ‘ he spluttered. `You try to choke poor Smeagol. Dust and ashes, he can’t eat that. He must starve. But Smeagol doesn’t mind. Nice hobbits! Smeagol has promised. He will starve. He can’t eat hobbits’ food. He will starve. Poor thin Smeagol! ‘
“`I’m sorry,’ said Frodo; `but I can’t help you, I’m afraid. I think this food would do you good, if you would try. But perhaps you can’t even try, not yet anyway.’”
Gollum has a general hatred of Elves as the embodiment of all he has turned away from. He cannot eat food that came from them. I’d assume this is due to the One Ring corrupting him, though many men and hobbits fear elves without being under Sauron’s influence.
Next, Sam falls asleep, despite his intention to keep watch. He wakes and realises Gollum has gone off to find food he can eat. He briefly sympathises:
“’Poor wretch! ‘ he said half remorsefully.”
Sam then once again worries about food, but Frodo is beyond that:
“`About the food,’ said Sam. ‘How long’s it going to take us to do this job? And when it’s done, what are we going to do then? This waybread keeps you on your legs in a wonderful way, though it doesn’t satisfy the innards proper, as you might say: not to my feeling anyhow, meaning no disrespect to them as made it. But you have to eat some of it every day, and it doesn’t grow. I reckon we’ve got enough to last, say, three weeks or so, and that with a tight belt and a light tooth, mind you. We’ve been a bit free with it so far.’
“`I don’t know how long we shall take to – to finish,’ said Frodo. `We were miserably delayed in the hills. But Samwise Gamgee, my dear hobbit – indeed, Sam my dearest hobbit, friend of friends – I do not think we need give thought to what comes after that. To do the job as you put it – what hope is there that we ever shall? And if we do, who knows what will come of that? If the One goes into the Fire, and we are at hand? I ask you, Sam, are we ever likely to need bread again? I think not. If we can nurse our limbs to bring us to Mount Doom, that is all we can do. More than I can, I begin to feel.’”
Yet Frodo remains true to his promise till almost the end – this is a world in which even most of the evil beings respect promises. And Sam will not abandon Frodo – also a promise, yet basic in his nature.
Gollum returns, with mud on his fingers and face. Sam again sympathises
“What he was chewing, they did not ask or like to think.
“’Worms or beetles or something slimy out of holes,’ thought Sam. ‘Brr! The nasty creature; the poor wretch! ‘”
Gollum also tells them that the unpleasant marshes are much the safest way. Going north, they would have found a stony plain where elves and men fought Sauron’s forces at the end of the Second Age. But enemies are there and they would be caught.
“The hobbits were now wholly in the hands of Gollum. They did now know, and could not guess in that misty light. that they were in fact only just within the northern borders of the marshes. the main expanse of which lay south of them. They could, if they had known the lands, with some delay have retraced their steps a little, and then turning east have come round over hard roads to the bare plain of Dagorlad: the field of the ancient battle before the gates of Mordor. Not that there was great hope in such a course. On that stony plain there was no cover, and across it ran the highways of the Orcs and the soldiers of the Enemy. Not even the cloaks of Lórien would have concealed them there.
“’How do we shape our course now, Smeagol? ‘ asked Frodo. ‘Must we cross these evil-smelling fens? ‘
“`No need, no need at all,’ said Gollum. ‘Not if hobbits want to reach the dark mountains and go to see Him very quick. Back a little, and round a little’ – his skinny arm waved north and east – `and you can come on hard cold roads to the very gates of His country. Lots of His people will be there looking out for guests, very pleased to take them straight to Him, O yes. His Eye watches that way all the time. It caught Smeagol there, long ago.’ Gollum shuddered. ‘But Smeagol has used his eyes since then, yes, yes: I’ve used eyes and feet and nose since then. l know other ways. More difficult, not so quick; but better, if we don’t want Him to see. Follow Smeagol! He can take you through the marshes, through the mists. nice thick mists. Follow Smeagol very carefully, and you may go a long way. quite a long way, before He catches you, yes perhaps.’”
Here, Gollum manages to be ironical – avoid the nasty marshes if you don’t mind being captured. He also thinks they are likely to be caught regardless, but continues to guide them. He promised – and he is not going to leave the One Ring.
The marsh is rotten and part dead. Sam regrets the lack of birds. So does Gollum – but only because he’d prefer them as food:
“’Not a bird! ‘ said Sam mournfully.
“`No, no birds,’ said Gollum. `Nice birds! ‘ He licked his teeth. ‘No birds here. There are snakeses, wormses, things in the pools. Lots of things, lots of nasty things. No birds,’ he ended sadly. Sam looked at him with distaste.”
I think this is too modern and middle-class an attitude. The real-life equivalents of Sam Gamgee in Late Victorian Britain would have seen the larger birds as nice meat snacks. The rest as either pests or unimportant.
Worse follows: they see lights. Gollum called them ‘candles of corpses’ and warns against following them. Which Frodo has done, and is distressed:
“Presently it grew altogether dark: the air itself seemed black and heavy to breathe. When lights appeared Sam rubbed his eyes: he thought his head was going queer. He first saw one with the corner of his left eye, a wisp of pale sheen that faded away; but others appeared soon after: some like dimly shining smoke, some like misty flames flickering slowly above unseen candles; here and there they twisted like ghostly sheets unfurled by hidden hands. But neither of his companions spoke a word.
“At last Sam could bear it no longer. `What’s all this, Gollum? ‘ he said in a whisper. `These lights? They’re all round us now. Are we trapped? Who are they? ‘
“Gollum looked up. A dark water was before him, and he was crawling on the ground, this way and that, doubtful of the way. ‘Yes, they are all round us,’ he whispered. ‘The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses, yes, yes. Don’t you heed them! Don’t look! Don’t follow them! Where’s the master? ‘”
He has seen dead faces, some good and some evil, but all rotted and dead. Gollum explains that there was a battle long before his time, on the hard plane to their north. But since then the marshes have expanded and this is part of the battlefield:
“Gollum laughed. ‘The Dead Marshes, yes, yes: that is their names,’ he cackled. `You should not look in when the candles are lit.’
“`Who are they? What are they? ‘ asked Sam shuddering, turning to Frodo, who was now behind him.
“’I don’t know,’ said Frodo in a dreamlike voice. ‘But I have seen them too. In the pools when the candles were lit. They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them.’ Frodo hid his eyes in his hands. ‘I know not who they are; but I thought I saw there Men and Elves, and Orcs beside them.’
“`Yes, yes,’ said Gollum. `All dead, all rotten. Elves and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes. There was a great battle long ago, yes, so they told him when Smeagol was young, when I was young before the Precious came. It was a great battle. Tall Men with long swords, and terrible Elves, and Orcses shrieking. They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates. But the Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping.’
“’But that is an age and more ago,’ said Sam. ‘The Dead can’t be really there! Is it some devilry hatched in the Dark Land? ‘
“`Who knows? Smeagol doesn’t know,’ answered Gollum. ‘You cannot reach them, you cannot touch them. We tried once, .yes, precious. I tried once; but you cannot reach them. Only shapes to see, perhaps, not to touch. No precious! All dead.’
“Sam looked darkly at him and shuddered again, thinking that he guessed why Smeagol had tried to touch them. `Well, I don’t want to see them,’ he said. ‘Never again! Can’t we get on and get away? ‘
“`Yes, yes,’ said Gollum. `But slowly, very slowly. Very carefully! Or hobbits go down to join the Dead ones and light little candles. Follow Smeagol! Don’t look at lights! ‘
Unlike the film, Frodo does not fall into the water. And Gollum rescuing him means less than Frodo assumes: he is also rescuing the One Ring. Which logically he might then try to take, with Frodo drowning and Sam separated. I prefer the way Tolkien tells it.
I’m sure he was also influenced by Trench Warfare, in which unburied corpses in No-Man’s Land were a regular feature, with occasional truces for both sides to bury them. He probably knew people who suffered that fate, and knew it might be his fate too while he was fighting there. He even uses a similar phrase to ‘No-Man’s Land’:
“Dreadful as the Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of the Noman-lands, more loathsome far was the country that the crawling day now slowly unveiled to his shrinking eyes.”
At a story level, this probably refers to the barren hills they came through earlier. But it is also a half-reflected memory, in my view.
Returning to the three hobbits, Sam notes a merger of characters:
“[Gollum] crawled away to the right, seeking for a path round the mere. They came close behind, stooping, often using their hands even as he did. ‘Three precious little Gollums in a row we shall be, if this goes on much longer,’ thought Sam.
C S Lewis in an early review identified Gollum as Frodo’s shadow-self. Le Guin further notes that Frodo and Sam could be seen as two aspects of one person. I’d add another instance: Niggle and Parish from Leaf by Niggle.
In many of Tolkien’s works, the main character is single and scholarly, while a secondary character has a wife and perhaps children. He of course worked in the male-dominated academic world, which in his day retained a lot of its origin as celibate scholars under church control. But was also married, moving between the two worlds
It is also worth noting that Sam is now more often the viewpoint character than Frodo is. We are never given a Gollum’s-Eye view, and I at least would not want one. But as they get closer to Mount Doom, it will increasingly be Sam’s viewpoint that we get.
They hear an unearthly cry. Gollum, oddly, seems to have sensed something even before there was a sound:
“[Gollum] went on again, but his uneasiness grew, and every now and again he stood up to his full height, craning his neck eastward and southward. For some time the hobbits could not hear or feel what was troubling him. Then suddenly all three halted, stiffening and listening. To Frodo and Sam it seemed that they heard, far away, a long wailing cry, high and thin and cruel. They shivered. At the same moment the stirring of the air became perceptible to them; and it grew very cold. As they stood straining their ears, they heard a noise like a wind coming in the distance. The misty lights wavered, dimmed, and went out.
“Gollum would not move. He stood shaking and gibbering to himself, until with a rush the wind came upon them, hissing and snarling over the marshes.”
The moon comes out and they see a moving darkness. Something similar to what Legolas shot down when they were all together on the river. Gollum identifies it as wraith on wings, and is terrified. But even Gandalf was alarmed by a winged Nazgul , when it flew over them in Book Three. Here, they are vastly outmatched:
“Looking up they saw the clouds breaking and shredding; and then high in the south the moon glimmered out, riding in the flying wrack.
“For a moment the sight of it gladdened the hearts of the hobbits; but Gollum cowered down, muttering curses on the White Face. Then Frodo and Sam staring at the sky, breathing deeply of the fresher air, saw it come: a small cloud flying from the accursed hills; a black shadow loosed from Mordor; a vast shape winged and ominous. It scudded across the moon, and with a deadly cry went away westward, outrunning the wind in its fell speed.
“They fell forward, grovelling heedlessly on the cold earth. But the shadow of horror wheeled and returned, passing lower now, right above them, sweeping the fen-reek with its ghastly wings. And then it was gone, flying back to Mordor with the speed of the wrath of Sauron; and behind it the wind roared away, leaving the Dead Marshes bare and bleak. The naked waste, as far as the eye could pierce, even to the distant menace of the mountains, was dappled with the fitful moonlight.
“Frodo and Sam got up, rubbing their eyes, like children wakened from an evil dream to find the familiar night still over the world. But Gollum lay on the ground as if he had been stunned. They roused him with difficulty, and for some time he would not lift his face, but knelt forward on his elbows, covering the back of his head with his large flat hands.
“`Wraiths!’ he wailed. `Wraiths on wings! The Precious is their master. They see everything, everything. Nothing can hide from them. Curse the White Face! And they tell Him everything. He sees, He knows. Ach, gollum, gollum, gollum! ‘ It was not until the moon had sunk, westering far beyond Tol Brandir, that he would get up or make a move.
“From that time on Sam thought that he sensed a change in Gollum again. He was more fawning and would-be friendly; but Sam surprised some strange looks in his eyes at times, especially towards Frodo; and he went back more and more into his old manner of speaking.”
The Nazgul was investigating something. But given the lack of further search, perhaps suspecting only an escaping slave or a minor spy. Or just a false alarm. At no time until Frodo puts on the One Ring does Sauron suspect that his enemies might be refusing to use it. That they might seek instead to bring it to Mount Doom to be destroyed.
Since the Nazgul seem to get a hint of the One Ring where it actually is, why does Sauron miss it? Of course it is common for leaders to ignore reports from subordinates that go against their own prejudices. And when Aragorn later confronts him and wins over the Palantir, would Sauron have known where Aragorn was physically? He might plausibly conclude that this Heir of Isildur has recovered what Isildur took, and is scouting for an attack on Mordor. Having moved too fast as the end of the Second Age, Sauron is now moving slowly and assembling a vast force behind the walls of Mordor. Sending the Witch-King to attack Minas Tirith is secondary, perhaps intended mostly to see if the Ring-Holder is there. Aragorn will later feed this false perception, if that was how Sauron saw it.
Meantime he still uses his magic eye to search. Even Sauron’s misguided probing makes the One Ring an increasing burden for Frodo:
“In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards. But far more he was troubled by the Eye: so he called it to himself. It was that more than the drag of the Ring that made him cower and stoop as he walked. The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable. So thin, so frail and thin, the veils were become that still warded it off. Frodo knew just where the present habitation and heart of that will now was: as certainly as a man can tell the direction of the sun with his eyes shut. He was facing it, and its potency beat upon his brow.”
The narrator tells us that Gollum probably feels the same:
“Gollum probably felt something of the same sort. But what went on in his wretched heart between the pressure of the Eye, and the lust of the Ring that was so near, and his grovelling promise made half in the fear of cold iron, the hobbits did not guess: Frodo gave no thought to it. Sam’s mind was occupied mostly with his master hardly noticing the dark cloud that had fallen on his own heart.”
The narrator is conceived by Tolkien as a later historian telling a famous story. Someone who can only guess what Gollum felt.
Recovering from this scare, they reach the end of the marshes. And are appalled by the dead land beyond:
“Before them dark in the dawn the great mountains reached up to roofs of smoke and cloud. Out from their feet were flung huge buttresses and broken hills that were now at the nearest scarce a dozen miles away. Frodo looked round in horror. Dreadful as the Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of the Noman-lands, more loathsome far was the country that the crawling day now slowly unveiled to his shrinking eyes. Even to the Mere of Dead Faces some haggard phantom of green spring would come; but here neither spring nor summer would ever come again. Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.
“They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing – unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. `I feel sick,’ said Sam. Frodo did not speak.
“For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows. The light broadened and hardened. The gasping pits and poisonous mounds grew hideously clear. The sun was up, walking among clouds and long flags of smoke, but even the sunlight was defiled. The hobbits had no welcome for that light; unfriendly it seemed, revealing them in their helplessness – little squeaking ghosts that wandered among the ash-heaps of the Dark Lord.”
This is another landscape controlled by a magic creature. But this one is much the largest and the worst. North of Mordor, Sauron has produced barrenness and blight. West of Mordor, where Gondor still has influence, it will be much less bad.
As many have noticed, Tolkien was influenced by the blighted English landscapes west of Birmingham:
“The Black Country is an area of the West Midlands, England, west of Birmingham and commonly refers to a region covering most of the four Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. During the Industrial Revolution, it became one of the most industrialised parts of Britain with coal mines, coking, iron foundries, glass factories, brickworks and steel mills producing a high level of air pollution.
“The first trace of the phrase ‘The Black Country’ as an expression dates from the 1840s. The name is believed to come from the soot from the heavy industries that covered the area.” (Wikipedia entry for ‘Black Country‘.)
It has also since been cleaned up, with a general shift in attitude and the closing of polluting industry. The problem meantime has become global, but we have the resources to cure that as well. The problem is deciding who pays.
Back with the hobbit’s quest, Sam overhears Gollum’s divided self:
“Gollum was talking to himself. Smeagol was holding a debate with some other thought that used the same voice but made it squeak and hiss. A pale light and a green light alternated in his eyes as he spoke.
“`Smeagol promised,’ said the first thought.
“`Yes, yes, my precious,’ came the answer, ‘we promised: to save our Precious, not to let Him have it – never. But it’s going to Him yes, nearer every step. What’s the hobbit going to do with it, we wonders, yes we wonders.’
“`I don’t know. I can’t help it. Master’s got it. Smeagol promised to help the master.’
“`Yes, yes, to help the master: the master of the Precious. But if we was master, then we could help ourselfs, yes, and still keep promises.’
“`But Smeagol said he would be very very good. Nice hobbit! He took cruel rope off Smeagol’s leg. He speaks nicely to me.’
“’Very very good, eh, my precious? Let’s be good, good as fish, sweet one, but to ourselfs. Not hurt the nice hobbit, of course, no, no.’
“`But the Precious holds the promise,’ the voice of Smeagol objected.
“`Then take it,’ said the other, `and let’s hold it ourselfs! Then we shall be master, gollum! Make the other hobbit, the nasty suspicious hobbit, make him crawl, yes, gollum!’
“`But not the nice hobbit? ‘
“`Oh no, not if it doesn’t please us. Still he’s a Baggins, my precious, yes, a Baggins. A Baggins stole it. He found it and he said nothing, nothing. We hates Bagginses.’
“’No, not this Baggins.’
“’Yes, every Baggins. All peoples that keep the Precious. We must have it! ‘
“`But He’ll see, He’ll know. He’ll take it from us! ‘
“’He sees. He knows. He heard us make silly promises – against His orders, yes. Must take it. The Wraiths are searching. Must take it.’
“’Not for Him! ‘
“’No, sweet one. See, my precious: if we has it, then we can escape, even from Him, eh? Perhaps we grows very strong, stronger than Wraiths. Lord Smeagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, three times a day; fresh from the sea. Most Precious Gollum! Must have it. We wants it, we wants it, we wants it! ‘
‘Fresh from the sea’? Since Gollum has never been near the sea, I’d have thought he’d be used to fish from rivers and freshwater lakes. I wondered how different fish living in the salt sea would taste: I asked on Quora, but got no good answers.[C] And it also occurred to me that since Gondor was much stronger when Gollum was young, and his family were well-off, perhaps he would have had preserved sea-fish as an occasional luxury.
Whatever his taste in fish, only the Smeagol half feels either friendship or a need to keep promises honestly. The other half uses sophistry, finding a loophole in the original oath
Even that less-bad half is still evil, seeing practical problems in overcoming the two hobbits:
“’But there’s two of them. They’ll wake too quick and kill us,’ whined Smeagol in a last effort. `Not now. Not yet.’
“’We wants it! But’ – and here there was a long pause, as if a new thought had wakened. `Not yet, eh? Perhaps not. She might help. She might, yes.’
“`No, no! Not that way! ‘ wailed Smeagol.
“`Yes! We wants it! We wants it! ‘
“Each time that the second thought spoke, Gollum’s long hand crept out slowly, pawing towards Frodo, and then was drawn back with a jerk as Smeagol spoke again. Finally both arms, with long fingers flexed and twitching, clawed towards his neck.
“Sam had lain still, fascinated by this debate, but watching every move that Gollum made from under his half-closed eye-lids. To his simple mind ordinary hunger, the desire to eat hobbits, had seemed the chief danger in Gollum. He realized now that it was not so: Gollum was feeling the terrible call of the Ring. The Dark Lord was He, of course; but Sam wondered who She was. One of the nasty friends the little wretch had made in his wanderings, he supposed. Then he forgot the point, for things had plainly gone far enough, and were getting dangerous.”
‘She’ is obviously Shelob. In the next chapter, Gollum will lure them towards Cirith Ungol. This possibly could have meant a less dangerous path into Mordor than through Shelob’s Lair, just as he found an unknown path through the Dead Marshes. But it seems likely that both halves of Gollum had already decided to win the One Ring by treachery.
Meantime Frodo has been dreaming and feels refreshed, even though he has no memory of what the dream was about. This differs from earlier dreams, which he recalled clearly. Later on, even the memory of familiar good things in The Shire will be lost. But for now, he feels better.
“Strangely enough, Frodo felt refreshed. He had been dreaming. The dark shadow had passed, and a fair vision had visited him in this land of disease. Nothing remained of it in his memory, yet because of it he felt glad and lighter of heart. His burden was less heavy on him. Gollum welcomed him with dog-like delight. He chuckled and chattered, cracking his long fingers, and pawing at Frodo’s knees. Frodo smiled at him.
“’Come! ‘ he said. `You have guided us well and faithfully. This is the last stage. Bring us to the Gate, and then I will not ask you to go further. Bring us to the Gate, and you may go where you wish – only not to our enemies.’”
But then they twice more feel the presence of Nazgul, though these may not be searching for them:
“They had not gone far before they felt once more the fear that had fallen on them when the winged shape swept over the marshes. They halted, cowering on the evil-smelling ground; but they saw nothing in the gloomy evening sky above, and soon the menace passed, high overhead, going maybe on some swift errand from Barad-dûr. After a while Gollum got up and crept forward again, muttering and shaking.
“About an hour after midnight the fear fell on them a third time, but it now seemed more remote, as if it were passing far above the clouds, rushing with terrible speed into the West. Gollum, however, was helpless with terror, and was convinced that they were being hunted, that their approach was known.
“`Three times! ‘ he whimpered. ‘Three times is a threat. They feel us here, they feel the Precious. The Precious is their master. We cannot go any further this way, no. It’s no use, no use! ‘”
Frodo has never before needed to coerce anyone. Now he does so: perhaps unavoidably, but also with dangerous corruption of his spirit:
“Pleading and kind words were no longer of any avail. It was not until Frodo commanded him angrily and laid a hand on his sword-hilt that Gollum would get up again. Then at last he rose with a snarl, and went before them like a beaten dog.
“So they stumbled on through the weary end of the night, and until the coming of another day of fear they walked in silence with bowed heads, seeing nothing, and hearing nothing but the wind hissing in their ears.”
All through the tale, Tolkien is aware of the trap of having power. And yet cannot see how it could be avoided completely. This is a very valid point, and I see no simple answer.
Gollum is several times compared to a dog. This includes his habit of watching others eat and hoping for some scraps. But unlike a dog, he can plot and conceal his true feelings.
Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams.
[A] The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien: Letter 140
[B] AS I said in the last chapter study, this is better written as Sméagol. 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 ‘ASCII – an Unhappy Legacy for Computers‘.