2004-09-20 06:19:19 UTC
'Chapter of the Week' (CotW) project. For more information visit the
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Chapter of the Week
Lord of the Rings, Book 4, Chapter 1; 'The Taming of Sméagol'
I've tried to change my use of notes -- unfortunately inventing three
different kinds of notes in the process ;-) Notes with symbols are
handled immediately after the paragraph in which they occur, but
indented differently -- these are mostly comments to the summary.
Notes to my story-internal questions are represented by numbers, but
it should (hopefully) not be necessary to refer back and forth --
they're just there to keep the right sequence ;-)
Finally I have some story-external notes denoted with letters. These
notes are in general quite lengthy, I'm afraid, and I have
consequently decided to put them in a follow-up post by themselves.
In this chapter we return to Frodo and Sam in the barren and broken
landscape of the eastern Emyn Muil on the third evening after they
fled from Path Galen. It is the 29th of February and elsewhere Gandalf
is probably still "walking long in dark thought" being weary after
stroving with the Dark Tower, Merry and Pippen are on the way to
Wellinghall in the company of Treebeard and will spend the night
there, Éomer and his éored are still labouring to burn the Orcs and
raise the mound over the fallen riders before they camp at the edge
fo Fangorn, and the Three Hunters are struggling across the Eastemnet
in pursuit of Saruman's Orcs before once more settling down for the
night, Legolas expressing hope for the coming day, "Rede oft is found
at the rising of the Sun."
Frodo and Sam have been scrambling about the southern edge of the
hills trying to find a way down;
" 'What a fix!' said Sam. 'That's the one place in all the
lands we've ever heard of that we don't want to see any
closer; and that's the one place we're trying to get to!
And that's just where we can't get, nohow. We've come the
wrong way altogether, seemingly. We can't get down;"
Frodo and Sam are obviously aware that they are being followed by
Gollum, though they haven't seen or heard a trace of him for a couple
As we follow Frodo and Sam the third day turns lucky: they come across
a gully that leads to the edge of the hills, and at the end they find
a managable climb[+]. After some discussion Frodo attempts to clim
down, but a sudden gust of wind and the shrill shriek of a Nazgûl
interferes. Frodo slips and slids a few yards down. He is unharmed
except that he for some reason is unable to see.
[+] Frodo estimates it at 18 fathoms, which equals 36 yards;
108 feet or, for the imperially challenged, very nearly
33 metres ;-)
As they shout to each other up and down the cliff face, Sam is
reminded of the Elven rope he carries in his pack and we get another
sample of the Gaffer's paternal vocabulary: "You're nowt but a
ninnyhammer, Sam Gamgee." Sam gets his rope out and throws it down to
Frodo, whose sight returns with the appearance of the rope.
Sam measures out his rope[*] and discovers to their surprise that it
is long enough to reach the bottom of the drop. As the sky has now
cleared with a few stars appearing "like small white holes in the
canopy above the crescent moon" they decide to climb down using the
[*] Sam makes out the rope to 30 ells, which equals 112.5 feet or
Once at the bottom Sam worries that the rope, securely tied at the
top, will help Gollum in his pursuit of them, but when he shakes the
rope it comes free.
Frodo and Sam moves on in an north-easterly[%] direction, but soon has
to turn back to "try a way back southwards" because a fissure blocks
their way. In the end they settle down to rest not far from the foot
of the cliff face where they came down.
[%] I think they're trying to get east/north-east around the marshes
at this point.
Just as Sam is settling down to rest and Frodo getting ready to take
the first watch, Frodo discovers Gollum crawling down the cliff. The
two Hobbits sneak up and hides behind a boulder close to the foot of
About a dozen feet[@] above the ground Gollum falls, curling up like a
spider. Sam rushes him, but soon finds himself in trouble from which
he is saved only by Frodo's intervention with Sting.
[@] Just for the sake of completeness, and not because I think we
need it 12' = 3.66 m
They debate what to do with Gollum, but in the end the issue is
decided by Frodo's recollection of his conversation with Gandalf back
in Bag End[a][b]. They decide to spare Gollum's life, but he has to
pay them back by leading them to Mordor, which he promises to do.
Gollum doesn't want to proceed while the moon ("the white face" he
calls it) is up, and the three of them settle down to rest for some
hours. Frodo and Sam pretend to sleep, but don't let their guard down,
so when Gollum tries to escape they catch him quickly and Sam ties his
Elven rope around on of Gollum's ankles.
At that Gollum starst to scream with pain, crying that the rope hurts
him because it is made by Elves. When Frodo is finally convinced
that Gollum is truly in pain he agrees to remove the rope on the
condition that Gollum can make a promise which Frodo can trust. Gollum
then declares that he will swear on his 'precious'.
At this Frodo warns Gollum that swearing to the Ring is dangerous as
it is treacherous and "may twist [his] words," but Gollum insists.
Frodo, however, will not allow him to swear /on/ the Ring, fearing to
let Gollum touch it, and "looking down at him with stern pity" Frodo
tells him, "Swear by it, if you will. For you know where it is. Yes,
you know, Sméagol. It is before you."
At this Sam gets quite an eye-opener as to the relation between Frodo
"For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had
grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty
lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud, and at his feet
a little whining dog. Yet the two were in some way akin and
not alien: they could reach one another's minds. Gollum
raised himself and began pawing at Frodo, fawning at his
Gollum then swears to "serve the master of the Precious," which Frodo
accepts and orders Sam to remove the rope.
This heralds a change in Gollum -- Sméagol the Hobbit emerge speaking
directly to Frodo and Sam and being "pitifully anxious to please."
" In the deep of night under hard clear stars they set off.
Gollum led them back northward for a while along the way
they had come; then he slanted to the right away from the
steep edge of the Emyn Muil, down the broken stony slopes
towards the vast fens below. They faded swiftly and softly
into the darkness. Over all the leagues of waste before the
gates of Mordor there was a black silence."
 What causes Frodo's unexpected blindness when the storm and the
cry of the Nazgûl makes him lose his grip and slid down the cliff
 Is it the Elven rope itself that causes Frodo's sight to return or
is it merely co-incidence?
"The darkness seemed to lift from Frodo's eyes, or else his
sight was returning. He could see the grey line as it came
dangling down, and he thought it had a faint silver sheen."
He does seem to suggest that it is the rope: "I could see nothing,
nothing at all, until the grey rope came down. It seemed to shimmer
somehow." But is he right?
And if he is right, what quality of the rope made it have this
effect on Frodo? And what would have happened had Sam not had the
rope; would Frodo have stayed blind for an hour, until morning,
 The description of the way the storm moves away is, IMO, very
"The skirts of the storm were lifting, ragged and wet, and
the main battle had passed to spread its great wings over
the Emyn Muil; upon which the dark thought of Sauron
brooded for a while. Thence it turned, smiting the Vale of
Anduin with hail and lightning, and casting its shadow upon
Minas Tirith with threat of war. Then, lowering in the
mountains, and gathering its great spires, it rolled on
slowly over Gondor and the skirts of Rohan, until far away
the Riders on the plain saw its black towers moving behind
the sun, as they rode into the West."
This passage, in my mind, clearly suggests that the storm is the
result of "the dark thought of Sauron" brooding over the area. If
this is the case, how often do we then see this effect? Are the
storms at Edoras and later at Helm's Deep related to this effect?
And what about the description of Sauron's thought at Amon Hen as "a
black shadow" and in particular the description after it has passed:
"Then all the sky was clean and blue and birds sang in every tree."
Need we comment on the difference between these descriptions and the
search/light/ effect used in the films?
 So, why does Sam's rope come free when he shakes it? His own
opinion is clear enough: "I think the rope came off itself -- when I
called." Sam clearly trusts the rope's Elvish makers to be able of
such a feat, but Frodo doesn't seem to agree. Did the rope untie
itself when Sam called, was it the merely the smooth surface of the
rope that defeated Sam's knot once it wasn't pulled tight, or is
Sam's trust in his own skills at knot-tying misplaced?
 Gollum is hurt by the Elven rope -- a theme that we see repeated
in the way he avoids touching Frodo and Sam's Elven cloaks and his
inability to share their Lembas.
The question is why? What is it in the Elvish artefacts that is
unbearable to Gollum?
Story-externally it is clear that the good of the Elves is
unbearable to the corrupted creature Gollum has become, but story-
internally I don't think the question is really ever answered.
I will venture a theory. In II,8 'Farewell to Lórien' we learn from
one of the Elves that, "for we put the thought of all that we love
into all that we make." Could it be this loving thought that is
unbearable to Gollum? I'm not sure if it is truly in the spirit of
Tolkien's Middle-earth world-view, but it is the best explanation
that I have been able to come up with.
 Recalling Gandalf's words in II,1, "The Lord of the Ring is not
Frodo, but the master of the Dark Tower of Mordor," I wonder why
Frodo chooses to accept Gollum's promise.
These questions are posted in a separate message and contains the
" The hurrying darkness, now gathering great speed, rushed
up from the East and swallowed the sky."
Isn't it just beautiful ;-)
And to think that this is a description of the dark, brooding thought
of the real Lord of the Rings.
This is the first of a series of chapters detailing the journey of the
trio from Emyn Muil and ultimately to Mount Doom. The first three of
these chapters, and some of the later chapters, have always seemed to
me very hard to get through: I feel that I am slowly plodding my way
through the texts with all these ponderous descriptions of the bleak
and depressing landscapes of Emyn Muil, the Dead Marshes and the waste
before Mordor. I have come to realise that this impression probably
is the literary equivalent of what the characters are going through,
and if this is deliberate by Tolkien, then it is, IMO, a work of
absolute literary genious.
In relation to the characterisation of the three (see [c]) I wonder if
there is some foreshadowing in this chapter.
Frodo here use the presence of the Ring to dominate Gollum: is this an
indication that he is himself falling under the domination of the
Ring? The understanding between Frodo and Gollum might point in the
same direction. Is there a direct line between Frodo's words in this
chapter ("[...] It is before you!") and the later situation at the
slopes of Mount Doom ("If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast
yourself into the Fire of Doom.")?
Gollum promises to help Frodo, tries to betray him and yet ends up
serving Frodo's ends. The Sméagol persona emerge for the longest
period of time, though we will see it occasionally again. I think that
Sméagol really does want healing; it is he who hungers for redemption,
and who, at the end, might have been less absorbed in the Ring,
possibly not avoiding the fall.
Sam is gentler than his words -- sparing Gollum almost in spite of
himself. When Gollum starts whimpering right after his capture, Sam
realises that "he could not avenge himself: his miserable enemy lay
grovelling on the stones whimpering." This is, I believe, mirrored
later on the slopes of Mount Doom where Sam found that "he could not
strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly
wretched." It is one thing that the two situations are alike -- that
one mirrors the other, but does the first foreshadow the later?
There has been a good deal of talk about /On Fairy Stories/ lately,
and I have tried to come up with an ingenious way to link this chapter
to that essay, but without much luck.
One connection I do see is in the (false, as it turns out) promise of
the redemption of Sméagol as the potential eucatastrophe of the books
(the potential eucatastrphe, as I see it, lies in the, aFAIK very
Christian, promise that redemption and absolution /is/ possible --
even for Gollum).
Can others come up with other ideas to how Tolkien's vision of fairy-
stories as put down in OFS has influenced this chapter?
With respect to magic: is it only me, or is there an element of
goeteia in Frodo's domination of Gollum? In the note to letter #155 it
is defined (quoting the OED) as "witchcraft or magic performed by the
invocation and employment of evil spirits; necromancy." Does Frodo
invoke the evil spirit of the Ring (or, for those who prefer that, the
evil will of Sauron that infuses the Ring) in order to cow Gollum?
Your thoughts, ideas, comments and questions?
Valid mail is <t.forch(a)email.dk>
My adversary's argument
is not alone malevolent
but ignorant to boot.
He hasn't even got the sense
to state his so-called evidence
in terms I can refute.
- Piet Hein, /The Untenable Argument/