407 – Journey to the Cross-roads

Journey to the Cross-roads

It is now time for Frodo and the others leave Faramir.  Who is presented as superhuman:

“He had not slept since the battle on the day before, yet he did not look weary”

He has his men pack extra food for them– very fortunate, since they nearly run out.  They will not lack water, but must be careful:

“You will have no lack of water as you walk in Ithilien, but do not drink of any stream that flows from Imlad Morgul, the Valley of Living Death.

His scouts have found the land ahead deserted, which he does not see as good news:

“The land is empty. Nothing is on the road, and no sound of foot, or horn, or bowstring is anywhere to be heard. A waiting silence broods above the Nameless Land. I do not know what this portends. But the time draws swiftly to some great conclusion. Storm is coming. Hasten while you may!”

They are in Ithilien.  It was once part of Gondor, and was abandoned due to orc raids as Sauron’s power grew.  They encounter no farms: just wild countryside.  But I also note that no farms are described once the hobbits are beyond the Shire.  Some of the land is empty, but round Bree and later in Gondor west of the Great River there must have been many.  Displaced peasants are mentioned in passing in the wars in Rohan.

Faramir also gives them iron-shod staves, cut down from those used by the men of the White Mountains.  And Frodo in thanking him mentions Elron’s words about finding unexpected friendship on the way

“`Most gracious host,’ said Frodo, ‘it was said to me by Elrond Halfelven that I should find friendship upon the way, secret and unlooked for. Certainly I looked for no such friendship as you have shown. To have found it turns evil to great good.’”

He does what he can, even though he like his brother Boromir sees the war as being unwinnable in the long run.

Faramir’s friendship does not extend to Gollum, of course.  He will break normal practice and let Frodo and Sam depart without being blindfolded.  Frodo copies the wise choice of Aragorn at Lorien and insists that if one is blindfolded, they all must be.

“Blindfold us all three, and cover up my eyes first, and then perhaps he will see that no harm is meant.”

Just as Galadriel gave them good advice when they depart, Faramir gives them the best route.  And suggests that for now they can safely walk by day:

“’If you take my counsel, you will not turn eastward yet. Go straight on, for thus you will have the cover of the woodland for many miles. On your west is an edge where the land falls into the great vales, sometimes suddenly and sheer, sometimes in long hillsides. Keep near to this edge and the skirts of the forest. In the beginning of your journey you may walk under daylight, I think. The land dreams in a false peace, and for a while all evil is withdrawn. Fare you well, while you may!’”

Gollum, of course, shows no gratitude for being spared:

“Gollum was scrabbling in the mould at the foot of a tree. `Hungry again already?’ thought Sam. `Well, now for it again!’

“’Have they gone at last? ‘ said Gollum. `Nassty wicked Men! Smeagol’s neck still hurts him, yes it does. Let’s go! ‘

“`Yes, let us go,’ said Frodo. `But if you can only speak ill of those who showed you mercy, keep silent! ‘

“`Nice Master! ‘ said Gollum. `Smeagol was only joking. Always forgives, he does, yes, yes, even nice Master’s little trickses. Oh yes, nice Master, nice Smeagol![A]

“Frodo and Sam did not answer. Hoisting their packs and taking their staves in hand, they passed on into the woods of Ithilien.

“Twice that day they rested and took a little of the food provided by Faramir: dried fruits and salted meat, enough for many days; and bread enough to last while it was still fresh. Gollum ate nothing.”

Though Gollum recalling his life as Smeagol had been positive about the men of Gondor, he avoids their food just as he avoided the elven biscuit.  Having been corrupted way beyond his original imperfect nature, he must be repelled by the touch of elvishness in them.

In our own history, a small community similar to the Stoors Gollum once was part of might think otherwise.  Living on the borders of a vast pre-industrial kingdom, they would certainly be taxed.  Their self-management would probably be respected: most pre-industrial kingdoms did until the modernising drive of the European Enlightenment.  Some might be exempt from taxes.  Regardless, Tolkien choses to believe that humans less touched by evil would behave otherwise.  In fact I think taxes are not mentioned at all, though the vast building programs of Early Gondor must have been paid for somehow.[B]  As would the regular armies of Gondor at the time of the book, though it might be feudal rents.

I can’t agree, but am happy to represent Tolkien’s views as they were.  And I like his beautiful descriptions of the countryside.  The empty landscape still has magic in it:

“Light was fading fast when they came to the forest-end. There they sat under an old gnarled oak that sent its roots twisting like snakes down a steep crumbling bank. A deep dim valley lay before them. On its further side the woods gathered again, blue and grey under the sullen evening, and marched on southwards. To the right the Mountains of Gondor glowed, remote in the West, under a fire-flecked sky. To the left lay darkness: the towering walls of Mordor; and out of that darkness the long valley came, falling steeply in an ever-widening trough towards the Anduin. At its bottom ran a hurrying stream: Frodo could hear its stony voice coming up through the silence; and beside it on the hither side a road went winding down like a pale ribbon, down into chill grey mists that no gleam of sunset touched. There it seemed to Frodo that he descried far off, floating as it were on a shadowy sea, the high dim tops and broken pinnacles of old towers forlorn and dark.

Gollum tells them they are near the crossroads and a path to Cirith Ungol:

“This is the road from the Tower of the Moon, Master, down to the ruined city by the shores of the River. The ruined city, yes, very nasty place, full of enemies. We shouldn’t have taken Men’s advice. Hobbits have come a long way out of the path. Must go east now, away up there.’ He waved his skinny arm towards the darkling mountains. `And we can’t use this road. Oh no! Cruel peoples come this way, down from the Tower.’”

He wants them now to travel by night.  But Sam insists they rest first.

Rested a little, they travel after midnight.  Then rest again, expecting dawn.  But the power of Sauron, unconcerned with them and unaware that they are there, is moving as part of his grand plan:

“No day came, only a dead brown twilight. In the East there was a dull red glare under the lowering cloud: it was not the red of dawn. Across the tumbled lands between, the mountains of the Ephel Duath frowned at them, black and shapeless below where night lay thick and did not pass away, above with jagged tops and edges outlined hard and menacing against the fiery glow. Away to their right a great shoulder of the mountains stood out, dark and black amid the shadows, thrusting westward…

“The red glare over Mordor died away. The twilight deepened as great vapours rose in the East and crawled above them.

Sauron is creating shade for his attack on Minas Tirith.  Some of his servants can operate in daylight, but probably all prefer the shadows.

The rest of the broken Fellowship also see this, as we learn later.  Despite having already read the book more than once, I only properly put these together from the Sibley radio series.  There, each episode switches between the separate heroes and it is obviously a single event.

Things get worse as the day proceeds.  Sam has been sleeping and wakes confused.  Frodo explains:

“The day is getting darker instead of lighter: darker and darker. As far as I can tell, it isn’t midday yet, and you’ve only slept for about three hours.’

“’I wonder what’s up,’ said Sam. ‘Is there a storm coming? If so it’s going to be the worst there ever was.”

Note that the regular viewpoint character has now entirely shifted to Sam.  We seldom get Frodo’s viewpoint again.  Even when he is rid of the One Ring and they are rescued, we see Sam’s viewpoint when he wakes in Minas Tirith.  This is a scene echoing Frodo’s awakening in Rivendell, and may indicate that Sam is taking over what Frodo might have been.

Back in Ithilien, we see the gigantic power of Sauron, who can twist and match the powers of the natural world.

But they boldly carry on, coming soon to the actual crossroads:

“As furtively as scouts within the campment of their enemies, they crept down on to the road, and stole along its westward edge under the stony bank, grey as the stones themselves, and soft-footed as hunting cats. At length they reached the trees, and found that they stood in a great roofless ring, open in the middle to the sombre sky; and the spaces between their immense boles were like the great dark arches of some ruined hall. In the very centre four ways met. Behind them lay the road to the Morannon; before them it ran out again upon its long journey south; to their right the road from old Osgiliath came climbing up, and crossing, passed out eastward into darkness: the fourth way, the road they were to take.”

And as usual, moments of darkness and fear are followed by light and hope:

“Standing there for a moment filled with dread Frodo became aware that a light was shining; he saw it glowing on Sam’s face beside him. Turning towards it, he saw, beyond an arch of boughs, the road to Osgiliath running almost as straight as a stretched ribbon down, down, into the West. There, far away, beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow-rolling pall of cloud, and falling in an ominous fire towards the yet unsullied Sea. The brief glow fell upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.

“Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. `Look, Sam!’ he cried, startled into speech. `Look! The king has got a crown again!’

“The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.

“’They cannot conquer for ever!’ said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell.”

There is hope but also danger, as they will soon discover.

The Symbolism of the Statue

After I presented the original version of this talk, there was a discussion about the various meaning the fallen statue might have.

We are told ‘the eyes were hollow’ – did they originally have jewels or distinctive stones set within them?  It does happen.  The ‘stone heads’ of Easter Island – actually full statues with enlarged heads – were originally like that.[C]

Orcs are said to be lazy, but also full of hate.  Here, they felt strongly enough not just to knock off the existing head, but to raise a stone to replace it.  Of course they might have been directed to do this by a Nazgul.  Or by a Black Numenorian, for whom the Kings of Gondor would be old enemies.

It is also common for stone statues to have their nose broken.  It would be the most vulnerable part, but is also done intentionally to dehumanise it.  Perhaps to remove possible superstitious threat.

Here, all that has happened is that ‘the carven beard was broken’.  Of course Tolkien is also saying that some sort of supernatural protection still applies.  Gondor has been humbled, mostly due to its own errors.  But it has not been abandoned.

Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams.

[A] 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/.

[B] I asked in Quora: ‘Are taxes mentioned anywhere in Tolkien’s novels?’  Others agreed they were not.  https://www.quora.com/Are-taxes-mentioned-anywhere-in-Tolkiens-novels.

[C] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moai