"The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others," said Aragorn. "There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark." (3.2.195-8)
Just before Aragorn gives us this dose of Middle-earth wisdom, Gimli was busy regretting that Merry and Pippin ever came on the expedition in the first place. To be fair, he thinks they have been murdered by orcs. All the same, Aragorn answers that there "are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse," even if you might die at the end of it, and that's why Gandalf was all for the hobbits tagging along for the journey. What things do you think he's talking about? What do you think might be worth starting, "even though the end may be dark"?
"Hoom, hm, I have not troubled about the Great Wars," said Treebeard; "they mostly concern Elves and Men. That is the business of Wizards: Wizards are always troubled about the future. I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody's side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays. […] And there are some things, of course, whose side I am altogether not on; I am against them altogether: these—burárum" (he again made a deep rumble of disgust) "—these Orcs, and their masters." (3.4.84)
You know whom Treebeard reminds us of here? The Riders of Rohan (whom we discuss in the "Quotes and Thoughts" section on "Isolation"). Like them, he doesn't want to declare himself against or for Sauron. He just wants to be left alone. But even though he is a mostly neutral party by inclination, the presence of Saruman as his neighbor is bringing the war to him. Treebeard can't stay out of the coming conflict now that Saruman's damaging power is spreading to the Forest of Fangorn. That's the horrifying thing about a world war: it cannot be contained to one place by definition, so no one can truly stay out of it, not even, apparently, a tree-herd.
I think that I now understand what [Saruman] is up to. He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment. And now it is clear that he is a black traitor. He has taken up with foul folk, with the Orcs. (3.4.89)
All of the things that are lovely in this novel are associated with nature: the elf-realms of Lothlórien and Rivendell are both wooded paradises. That's not to say that nature is without its dangers (just see the Old Forest chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring) but still, the elves' attention to beasts, trees, and the natural world is one of the things that marks them as Good People. Then you've got the baddies, like Saruman, whose mind is of "metal and wheels." This juxtaposition of human machinery (bad) with nature (good) tells you something about what Tolkien probably thought of industrial development and factories.
"Perhaps he also thought that you were Saruman," said Gimli. "But you speak of him as if he was a friend. I thought Fangorn was dangerous."
"Dangerous!" cried Gandalf. "And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Glóin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion. Certainly the forest of Fangorn is perilous—not least to those who are too ready with their axes; and Fangorn himself, he is perilous too; yet he is wise and kindly nonetheless." (3.5.111-2)
Gandalf 2.0 is a bit condescending, isn't he? But the guy does have a point: with the lines of Good and Evil marked pretty clearly at this point, it's easy to forget that all the characters in this novel are dangerous in one way or another. Sure, they are only dangerous to Evil, for the most part. But there was a time when Saruman would also have been dangerous to Evil, and now look at the dude. He has turned his power against the Good. That means that the possibility of danger is not about actual power; it's about choice. Gandalf is immensely powerful, but he does not choose to use that power to destroy innocent people. So he's dangerous, but by no means evil.
"Alas!" said Théoden. "Must we pass this way, where the carrion-beasts devour so many good Riders of the Mark?"
"This is our way," said Gandalf. "Grievous is the fall of your men; but you shall see that at least the wolves of the mountains do not devour them. It is with their friends, the Orcs, that they hold their feast: such indeed is the friendship of their kind. Come!" (3.8.80-1)
Characters like Gollum, Boromir (in The Fellowship of the Ring), Denethor (in The Return of the King) and even Théoden blur the lines between Good and Evil. Still, all of the active servants of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings have not one spark of kindness or fellow feeling in them. We see, in Merry and Pippin's orc adventures and also here, as the wolves eat their dead allies, that all the servants of Sauron appear wicked through and through. They have no friendships, no loyalty—no humanizing qualities at all. How different would The Lord of the Rings be if Sauron or his servants were more three-dimensional as characters, with friendships or loves of their own (besides love of power and pain)?
It seemed to Frodo then that he heard, quite plainly, but far off, voices out of the past:
What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had the chance!
Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. [...]
Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.
"Very well," he answered aloud, lowering his sword. "But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him." (4.1.120-4)
Frodo has every reason to stab Gollum, and a few more to boot. Even so, Frodo remembers a conversation he has with Gandalf (The Fellowship of the Ring Book 1, Chapter 2) and feels pity for him. Frodo recognizes that there may be some higher purpose for Gollum, and he does not want to interfere. Humble, much, Frodo? In deference to the "ends" that "even the wise cannot see," Frodo spares Gollum's rather pathetic life. Morally speaking, this is probably the key moment in the entire Lord of the Rings arc, and it shows that Frodo isn't so sure about drawing stark lines between good and evil when it comes to folks like Gollum.
"We've got to get some sleep; but not both together with that hungry villain nigh, promise or no promise. Sméagol or Gollum, he won't change his habits in a hurry, I'll warrant. You go to sleep, Mr. Frodo, and I'll call you when I can't keep my eyelids propped up. Turn and about, same as before, while he's loose."
"Perhaps you're right, Sam," said Frodo speaking openly. "There is a change in him, but just what kind of a change and how deep, I'm not sure yet. Seriously though, I don't think there is any need for fear—at present. Still watch if you wish." (4.2.20-1)
There is a battle for Gollum's soul going on within him, between Sméagol (the relatively good side) and Gollum (the totally-possessed-by-the-Precious side). But there is also a battle going on between Sam and Frodo about Gollum's soul. Sam only sees Gollum as a threat and a nuisance. Frodo wants to believe in Gollum's ability to change, to find redemption. The most obvious reason why Frodo wants to see Gollum saved is that he is currently struggling against the Ring himself. But Tolkien has also claimed this lack of sympathy for Gollum as a failure on Sam's part—for more on this, check out our "Character Analysis" of Sam.
It had always been a notion of [Sam's] that the kindness of dear Mr. Frodo was of such a high degree that it must imply a fair measure of blindness. Of course, he also firmly held the incompatible belief that Mr. Frodo was the wisest person in the world (with the possible exception of Old Mr. Bilbo and of Gandalf). Gollum in his own way, and with much more excuse as his acquaintance was much briefer, may have made a similar mistake. At any rate, this speech [warning Gollum not to betray them, because Frodo has power over Gollum] abashed and terrified him. He grovelled on the ground and could speak no words but nice master. (4.3.27)
Excuse us for going back in time a little, but we promise: there is a point. One of the things that Gandalf scolds Gríma Wormtongue for is for constantly accusing other people of lying. Gandalf tells Wormtongue, "That word [lie] comes too oft and too easily from your lips" (3.6.126). Because Wormtongue lies all the time, he accuses others of doing the same. This idea assumes that you are more likely to suspect evil and deceit if you are evil or deceitful. Here, Sam and Gollum fall into a similar trap, though from very different perspectives. Sam thinks that Frodo is too kind to recognize when people are betraying him; Gollum (who has his own guilty conscience) assumes something similar. In fact Frodo is both kind and capable of seeing evil, which impresses his two companions.
"I am not going without 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. "Come!" he said. "Or the Precious will be angry." (4.6.52)
Frodo is in a moral pickle, and we don't envy him. He is wise enough to know that Gollum will be safer if he can trick Gollum to leave the pool at Henneth Annûn. But he is also wise enough to realize that Gollum will never either see why it was necessary, or trust Frodo again for having saved his life in this way. Frodo's faith in the example of Gandalf ("Frodo knew, too, somehow, quite clearly that Gandalf would not have wished [Gollum killed]" [4.6.38]) gets him into hot water with just about everyone, but maybe that's a sign of how worthwhile his mercy truly is. See, that's precisely the problem with moral choices—they are often unpopular.
"Take any [tale] that you're fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don't know. And you don't want them to."
"No, sir, of course not. Beren, now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got—you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. 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." (4.8.60-2)
Sam's sudden epiphany about his and Frodo's connection to the tales of Beren and Eärendil underlines the incredibly complex, multi-layered character of Tolkien's own mythology. Before even writing The Lord of the Rings cycle, Tolkien had already worked out the mythology of Middle-earth in the form of the Silmarillion. So Frodo and Sam are both "in the same tale" not only because they have inherited the fight against evil more generally, but also because Tolkien has created this closed circuit of tale-telling, in which even the characters in his own novels have read the rest of his fiction. Wow.
Sorrowfully they cast loose the funeral boat: there Boromir lay, restful, peaceful, gliding upon the bosom of the flowing water. The stream took him while they held their own boat back with their paddles. He floated by them, and slowly his boat departed, waning to a dark spot against the golden light; and then suddenly it vanished. Rauros roared on unchanging. The River had taken Boromir son of Denethor, and was not seen again in Minas Tirith, standing as he used to stand upon the White Tower in the morning. But in Gondor in after-days it was long said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of the Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars. (3.1.45)
Even though Boromir has been a bit of a troublemaker for the Company, he has traveled with them faithfully through The Fellowship of the Ring. It's nice of Tolkien to take some time to mark his passing. One of the things that we like about Tolkien is the genuine affection he seems to have for his characters: both Gandalf and Boromir receive the mourning they deserve, including songs and tears because their fellow characters loved them, and Tolkien probably did, too.
"But why should he leave us behind, and without a word?" said Gimli. "That was a strange deed!"
"And a brave deed," said Aragorn. "Sam was right, I think. Frodo did not wish to lead any friend to death with him in Mordor. But he knew that he must go himself. Something happened after he left us that overcame his fear and doubt." (3.1.53-4)
When Frodo disappears with the Ring, his companions might have assumed that he made off with it for his own evil purposes. But Aragorn reads his purpose correctly: Frodo wants to go it alone (or with Sam, because Sam insists) as a gesture of love toward his friends. He wants to save them, both from the horrors and Mordor and from the influence of the Ring (which has just taken Boromir). And of course the fact that Frodo makes off with the Ring out of love rather than fear or desire for power, we know he'll have some protection from the Ring's dark powers. At least for a little while.
I remember it was long ago—in the time of the war between Sauron and the Men of the Sea—desire came over me to see Fimbrethil again. Very fair she was still in my eyes, when I had last seen her, though little like the Entmaiden of old, for the Entwives were bent and browned by their labour; their hair parched by the sun to the hue of ripe corn and their cheeks like red apples. Yet their eyes were still the eyes of our people. We crossed over Anduin and came to their land; but we found a desert: it was all burned and uprooted, for war had passed over it. But the Entwives were not there. Long we called, and long we searched; and we asked all folk that we met which way the Entwives had gone. Some said they had never seen them; and some said they had seen them walking away west, and some said east, and others south. But nowhere that we went could we find them. Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called, and we returned to it. (3.4.106)
This story of the Entwives is utterly odd. Why stop in the middle of a story about rousing forces against Isengard to tell us a tale that will have no bearing on the overall plot of The Lord of the Rings? We might take it as a warning against allowing the worlds of men and women to get too separate. But at the same time, the world of Middle-earth is all about separating men from women—how many major women characters do we see in these novels? For much of the series, you would be forgiven for thinking Middle-earth doesn't even have women. So what's the deal here?
The woman turned and went slowly into the house. As she passed the doors she turned and looked back. Grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood. And she now was suddenly aware of him: tall heir of kings, wise with many winters, greycloaked, hiding a power that yet she felt. For a moment still as stone she stood, then turning swiftly she was gone. (3.6.72)
Tolkien's got a real thing for height, doesn't he? Both Aragorn and Éowyn immediately notice that the other is tall. But what's even more interesting to us about this first description of Éowyn is how much she reminds us of Galadriel, who is also grave and tall (see The Fellowship of the Ring Book 2, Chapter 7). What we are getting at here is that, when Tolkien wants to make a woman seem tough and impressive—even warrior-like, in the case of Éowyn—she must be serious and even chilly.
"You move me, Gimli," said Legolas. "I have never heard you speak like this before. Almost you make me regret that I have not seen these caves. Come! Let us make this bargain—if we both return safe out of the perils that await us, we will journey for a while together. You shall visit Fangorn with me, and then I will come with you to see Helm's Deep."
"That would not be the way of return that I should choose," said Gimli. "But I will endure Fangorn, if I have your promise to come back to the caves and share their wonder with me."
"You have my promise," said Legolas. "But alas! Now we must leave behind both cave and wood for a while. See! We are coming to the end of the trees." (3.8.54-6)
How far these two have come since the day when Legolas cried, "A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!" (The Fellowship of the Ring 2.6.124). Now they're making future plans to vacation together. Because there is so little time for actual romance in The Lord of the Rings (except for Aragorn's awkward love triangle between Éowyn and Arwen), we'll have to settle for a little bromance now and then.
"And it's a good thing neither half of the old villain don't know what the master means to do," [Sam] thought. "If he knew that Mr. Frodo is trying to put an end to his Precious for good and all, there'd be trouble pretty quick, I bet. Anyhow old Stinker is so frightened of the Enemy—and he's under orders of some kind from him, or was—that he'd give us away rather than be caught helping us; and rather than let his Precious be melted, maybe. At least that's my idea. And I hope the master will think it out carefully. He's as wise as any, but he's soft-hearted, that's what he is. It's beyond any Gamgee to guess what he'll do next." (4.3.21)
Sam's hatred of Gollum is deep and probably justified. But we do find it interesting that both Sam and Gollum call Frodo "master." Both Sam and Gollum—or at least Sméagol, Gollum's good side—regard Frodo as their shared superior. And we know that Sam has come all the way to Mordor primarily to accompany his beloved master. Could it be that what we have between Sam and Gollum (at least in part) is a kind of weird, angry sibling rivalry? Maybe one reason Sam cannot believe in the possibility that Gollum could have genuine good in him comes from his resentment that Gollum is horning in on his relationship with Frodo. Then again, maybe we're just being cynical.
Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age amid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam. The grots and rocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops. Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass: deep green grass beside the pools, where falling streams halted in cool hollows on their journey down to Anduin. (4.4.12)
First of all, this moment among the spring flowers is a breath of fresh air, not only for the hobbits, but also for the reader, after their travels through the ashy blight of Noman's-land in Mordor. While Tolkien takes the time to make up new flowers elsewhere in the series, such as the yellow elanor of Lothlórien or the white simbelmynë of Rohan, the flowers that bloom in Ithilien are largely familiar, which contrasts with the strangeness and wrongness of neighboring Mordor, where the plants he loves are nowhere to be found. This walk through Ithilien is like a quick return to the loving comforts of home between the horrors of the Dead Marshes and the terror to come in Cirith Ungol.
Frodo's face was peaceful, the mars of fear and care had left it; but it looked old, old and beautiful, as if the chiselling of the shaping years was now revealed in many fine lines that had before been hidden, though the identity of the face was not changed. Not that Sam Gamgee put it that way to himself. He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured: "I love him. He's like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no." (4.4.24)
There's this odd split quality to the perspective of this paragraph describing Frodo in Ithilien, as though both the narrator and Sam love Frodo separately. The narrator looks at Frodo's sleeping face and sees "the chiselling of the shaping years." But, the narrator emphasizes, these are not Sam's words about his master. For Sam, Frodo is like "that," and he loves him for it. What do you think Sam means by "that"? What is this quality of Frodo's that both Sam and the narrator love so much?
"And people will say: 'Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring!' And they'll say: 'Yes, that's one of my favorite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn't he dad?' 'Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that's saying a lot.'"
"It's saying a lot too much," said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his 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 listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. "Why Sam," he said, "to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you've left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. 'I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn't they put in more of his talk, dad? That what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam, would he, dad?'" (4.8.63-4)
It's a credit to Frodo that he can laugh while sitting near Minas Morgul with the Ruling Ring on a chain around his neck, and it's equally to Sam's credit that he can tell a joke that makes Frodo chuckle. The obvious love between Frodo and Sam seems to be the only cure for the miseries of Mordor. And even the land itself seems to be tuning in, leaning over to hear their banter. This moment with Frodo's laugh is a rare instance when we stop to think of the agony it would be for the land itself—if it is alive in any sense, as it is being described here—to be tortured with the presence of the utter evil living in Mordor. Perhaps the rocks are listening to Frodo's laughter as their own cure for the miseries they have endured under Sauron.
"But what can I do? Not leave Mr. Frodo dead, unburied on top of the mountains, and go home? Or go on? Go on?" he repeated, and for a moment doubt and fear shook him. "Go on? Is that what I've got to do? And leave him?"
Then at last he began to weep; and going to Frodo he composed his body, and folded his cold hands about him; and he laid his own sword at one side, and the staff that Faramir had given at the other. (4.10.23-4)
This farewell from Sam to Frodo is unbelievably loving and touching, though it's also a bit premature. But aside from tugging the heartstrings, Sam's decision to leave poor supposedly-dead Frodo lying in Cirith Ungol gives Tolkien a plot-level reason to separate Frodo and Sam for a time, so that Sam can get a taste of the Ring. But even when Sam wears the Ring, he still chooses to save his buddy. This brief separation allows Tolkien to reinforce Sam's essential trait: love of Frodo. He is willing to undertake the quest if he must, but where he really feels he belongs is at Frodo's side.
Aragorn knelt beside him. Boromir opened his eyes and strove to speak. At last slow words came. "I tried to take the Ring from Frodo," he said. "I am sorry. I have paid. […] Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed."
"No!" said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. "You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!" (3.1.8-10)
At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir has lost his honor. There's just no other way to slice it. But here we are at the beginning of The Two Towers, and boom, Boromir is redeemed. His ultimate devotion is to Minas Tirith and to Gondor, and his thoughts are of Minas Tirith to the last. When Boromir dies and passes on the duty of guarding Minas Tirith to Aragorn, the gesture is jam-packed with meaning. As the son of the Steward of Gondor, Boromir is supposed to be holding power in Gondor until the King returns. By passing the torch to Aragorn, Boromir has shown his true loyalty to Gondor's future King, despite the fact that his own dad is the one in charge now.
"Why not kill them quick, kill them now? They're a cursed nuisance, and we're in a hurry. Evening's coming on, and we ought to get a move on."
"Orders," said a third voice in a deep growl. "Kill all but NOT the Halflings; they are to be brought back ALIVE as quickly as possible. That's my orders."
"Is that all you know? Why don't we search them and find out? We might find something that we could use ourselves."
"That is a very interesting remark," sneered a voice, softer than the others but more evil. "I may have to report that. The prisoners are NOT to be searched or plundered: those are my orders." (3.3.12-13,16-17)
This dialogue teaches us, first, that orcs are disgusting. Second, this argument sounds strangely familiar. In fact, it parallels the argument among the Company about where to go next once they reach the River Anduin in Book 2 Chapter 8 of The Fellowship of the Ring. Nobody expects that a large group is going to agree all the time. But the orcs have a totally different manner of deciding their courses of action, because none of them are loyal. The only thing that determines their behavior is force—the voice that is "softer than the others but more evil" evokes some higher authority ("I may have to report that") to keep the other orcs in line. Because they are all evil, none of them can rely on each other, which leaves them (luckily) vulnerable to ambush by the Riders of Rohan.
"My dear tender little fools," hissed Grishnákh, "everything you have, and everything you know, will be got out of you in due time: everything! You'll wish there was more that you could tell to satisfy the Questioner, indeed you will: quite soon. We shan't hurry the enquiry. Oh dear no! What do you think you've been kept alive for? My dear little fellows, please believe me when I say that it was not out of kindness: that's not even one of Uglúk's faults."
"I find it quite easy to believe," said Merry. "But you haven't got your prey home yet. And it doesn't seem to be going your way, whatever happens. If we come to Isengard, it won't be the great Grishnákh that benefits: Saruman will take all that he can find. If you want anything for yourself, now's the time to do a deal." (3.3.113-4)
Merry is one smart hobbit. He plays on Grishnákh's disloyalty and self-interest to convince the orc to untie him and Pippin. See, this is the trouble with hiring orc help: you never know when they might turn on you.
"It is the will of Théoden," said Háma.
"It is not clear to me that the will of Théoden son of Thengel, even though he be Lord of the Mark, should prevail over the will of Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elendil's heir of Gondor."
"This is the house of Théoden, not of Aragorn, even were he King of Gondor in the seat of Denethor," said Háma, stepping swiftly before the doors and barring the way. His sword was now in his hand and the point towards the strangers. (3.6.36-8)
Both of the named representatives of Théoden whom we've met by this point in Book 3, Chapter 6, Háma and Éomer, are exceptionally loyal to Théoden. The fact that Théoden inspires so much loyalty in these good people makes us wonder about those passing references to Wormtongue and to unjust or needless orders in Théoden's house. Something must be wrong if a man who can inspire such loyalty can also be so harsh and cruel with his orders, as with his demand that the guards only use the language of Rohan to greet strangers, against the "custom in the West" (3.6.18).
I do not lie. See, Théoden, here is the snake! With safety you cannot take it with you, nor can you leave it behind. To slay it would be just. But it was not always as it now is. Once it was a man, and did you service in its fashion. Give him a horse and let him go at once, wherever he chooses. By his choice you shall judge him. (3.6.126)
Gandalf is remarkable for his mercy. He uses almost exactly the same argument on Frodo to explain why Bilbo didn't kill Gollum in his adventures in The Hobbit: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too quick to deal out death and judgement" (The Fellowship of the Ring 1.2.149). So that begs the question: what or whom is Gandalf loyal to? If he were loyal to Théoden, he might be inclined to kick Wormtongue to the curb. But he seems loyal to some deeper, moral idea, rather than to any one person.
"You come at last, but too late, and with too little strength. Things have gone evilly since Théodred fell. [...]
Théoden had sat silent, hidden from the man's sight behind his guards; now he urged his horse forward. "Come, stand before me, Ceorl!" he said. "I am here. The last host of the Eorlingas has ridden forth. It will not return without battle."
The man's face lightened with joy and wonder. He drew himself up. Then he knelt, offering his notched sword to the king. "Command me, lord!" he cried. (3.7.9-12)
Between a king and his people, there is (or should be, at least) a kind of contract: if the people give their loyalty to the king, he will do everything he can to keep them safe. But as Ceorl inadvertently points out here, the people of Rohan have been suffering because of Théoden's Wormtongue-inspired neglect. He leaves the Riders of Rohan to be slaughtered by Saruman's forces because he is busy feeling old and decrepit. It's also worth noting that the loyal relationship between King and subject was broken not only by Théoden's neglect, but also by Wormtongue's bad advice. As a subject, he's duty-bound to tell the King the truth, but that worm-tongue of his keeps getting in the way.
The hobbits were now wholly in the hands of Gollum. They did not 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. (4.2.43)
There are two different kinds of loyalty at work as Frodo and Sam try to cross into Mordor. There is Sam's devoted loyalty to Frodo, whom he willingly follows into almost certain death. And there is the bizarre, compelled loyalty of Gollum, which is aimed at Frodo, but is really all about the Ring. But that's the thing about loyalty in The Two Towers—it's a guessing game. Frodo and Sam have to take a leap of faith.
"I am commanded to go to the land of Mordor, and therefore I shall go," said Frodo. "If there is only one way, then I must take it. What comes after must come."
Sam said nothing. The look on Frodo's face was enough for him; he knew that words of his were useless. And after all he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed. Now they were come to the bitter end. But he had stuck to his master all the way; that was what he had chiefly come for, and he would still stick to him. His master would not go to Mordor alone. Sam would go with him—and at any rate they would get rid of Gollum. (4.3.13-4)
When Sam and Frodo face the Black Gate, all Frodo thinks about are his orders to go to the land of Mordor. The Ring is his duty and burden, and as his Quest goes on, it becomes more and more the only thing in his mind. By contrast, Sam's entire purpose in this Quest has been to follow Frodo. His pride is that he has "stuck to his master all the way; that was what he had chiefly come for, and he would still stick to him." So in a sense, Frodo is Sam's Ring: the main object of his loyalty.
"Patience!" said Faramir, but without anger. "Do not speak before your master, whose wit is greater than yours. And I do not need any to teach me of our peril. Even so, I spare a brief time, in order to judge justly in a hard matter. Were I as hasty as you, I might have slain you long ago. For I am commanded to slay all whom I find in this land without the leave of the Lord of Gondor. But I do not slay man or beast needlessly, and not gladly even when it is needed. Neither do I talk in vain. So be comforted. Sit by your master, and be silent!" (4.5.26)
Faramir may not be angry, but we kind of are. Just before this, Sam stands up to a man twice his size and armed to the teeth and demands that he stop harassing Sam's beloved master, who is obviously working against Sauron. And Faramir basically tells him, sit down, shut up, and listen to your betters. Sam's loyalty may be blind and at times unwise, but we don't think it deserves quite so stern a response from someone who, after all, has no idea what they have been through together. But, to be fair, Faramir has a loyalty to his duty to "slay all whom I find in this land."
"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 in 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." (4.6.30-1)
Frodo has now been given multiple opportunities to kill Gollum, but this is probably the most important one of all, morally speaking. He could have killed Gollum with his own sword when Gollum first leapt on Sam in Book 4, Chapter 1. He could have let Sam kill him any number of times—Sam has certainly seemed positively eager to do it. Now, he is being given the opportunity to have Gollum killed, from a distance, with no need for either Sam or Frodo to do the actual dirty work. What is more, Faramir (a wise man) is actively counseling Frodo to just let Gollum be slain, since Gollum is such a "sly wanderer." But Frodo still stands up for his guide—a creature for whom Frodo feels a horrible sense of responsibility. Frodo's humble willingness to follow Gandalf's example, against all the advice of his nearest and dearest, proves what a generous and wise hobbit he is. His reprieve of Gollum here plays a huge part in the moral lesson of the end of The Return of the King.
"I serve only the Lord of the Mark, Théoden King son of Thengel," answered Éomer. "We do not serve the Power of the Black Land far away, but neither are we yet at open war with him; and if you are fleeing from him, then you had best leave this land. There is trouble now on all our borders, and we are threatened; but we desire only to be free, and to live as we have lived, keeping our own, and serving no foreign lord, good or evil. We welcomed guests kindly in the better days, but in these times the unbidden stranger finds us swift and hard." (3.2.124)
Gondor is obviously committed to the anti-Sauron fight, but Rohan's position is, in a way, more interesting. According to Éomer, the people of the Riddermark just want to be free, and to mind their own business, thank you very much. They aren't openly committed to either Good or Evil, the way the Elves and the descendants of the Men of Westernesse are. Still, Rohan is going to get pulled into this conflict whether they like it or not.
But Isengard cannot fight Mordor, unless Saruman first obtains the Ring. That he will never do now. He does not yet know his peril. There is much that he does not know. He was so eager to lay his hands on his prey that he could not wait at home, and he came forth to meet and spy on his messengers. But he came too late, for once, and the battle was over and beyond his help before he reached these parts. He did not remain here long. I look into his mind and I see his doubt. He has no woodcraft. He believes that the horsemen slew and burned all upon the field of battle; but he does not know whether the Orcs were bringing any prisoners or not. And he does not know of the quarrel between his servants and the Orcs of Mordor; nor does he know of the Winged Messenger. (3.5.98)
As Gandalf is explaining the Saruman situation to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, we see the damage that pride does to a person. Saruman is so certain of his own awesomeness that he can't see where he's weak. In isolating himself from all possible allies (except his buddy Sauron, whom he is also trying to betray), he has cut himself off from networks of information that would really help him out. Whatever you may say about Sauron, at least he's smart enough to have Winged Messengers. Saruman doesn't have any lieutenants who he can really trust—not even wretched, craven Gríma Wormtongue.
"A man may love you and yet not love Wormtongue or his counsels," said Aragorn.
"That may be. I will do as you ask. Call Háma to me. Since he proved untrusty as a doorward, let him become an errand-runner. The guilty shall bring the guilty to judgement," said Théoden, and his voice was grim, yet he looked at Gandalf and smiled and as he did so many lines of care were smoothed away and did not return. (3.6.81-2)
Gríma Wormtongue is so successful at wreaking havoc in Rohan because he managed to isolate Théoden from all the folks who might disagree with Wormtongue's own sneaky advice. For example, he gets Théoden to toss his extremely loyal nephew, Éomer, into jail, just so he's the only one whispering in the King's ear. But the reversal of Wormtongue's evils is also remarkably quick: as soon as Gandalf restores Théoden's allies to him, and as soon as Gandalf brings him new allies (Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli), he perks up visibly—those "many lines of care were smoothed away and did not return." Companionship is like the Fountain of Youth for Théoden.
[Théoden] was silent. "Ents!" he said at length. "Out of the shadows of legend I begin a little to understand the marvels of the trees, I think. I have lived to see strange days. Long we have tended our beasts and our fields, built our houses, wrought our tools, or ridden away to help in the wars of Minas Tirith. And that we called the life of Men, the way of the world. We cared little for what lay beyond the borders of our land. Songs we have that tell of these things, but we are forgetting them, teaching them only to children, as a careless custom. And now the songs have come down among us out of strange places, and walk visible under the Sun." (3.8.70)
As Théoden points out here, the men of Rohan have a bad case of tunnel vision. They have been so occupied with their own business over the years that they have forgotten to look around them at the larger world. But clearly, this could also be taken as a larger critique of the way that contemporary people interact with folklore. Tolkien's work in life (besides Middle-earth) was the study of ancient Norse and Old English sagas and poems. These were tales of great deeds written for people of all ages. Now, many of the contents of those tales—dragons and gods and so on—are the stuff of kids' stories. Théoden admits, "Songs we have that tell of these things, but we are forgetting them, teaching them only to children, as a careless custom." One of the great tasks of the world of The Lord of the Rings is to redeem these children's stories, told "as a careless custom," for adults. Fantasy literature is all about taking things that seem absurd according to "the way of the world"—wizards and elves and so on—and using these folkloric elements to convey something more profound than you might expect from children's stories.
Understand one another? I fear I am beyond your comprehension. But you, Saruman, I understand too well. I keep a clearer memory of your arguments, and deeds, than you suppose. When last I visited you, you were the jailor of Mordor, and there I was to be sent. Nay, the guest who has escaped from the roof, will think twice before he comes back in by the door. Nay, I do not think I will come up. But listen, Saruman, for the last time! Will you not come down? Isengard has proved less strong than your hope and fancy made it. So may other things in which you still have trust. Would it not be well to leave it for a while? To turn to new things, perhaps? Think well, Saruman! Will you not come down? (3.10.45)
Saruman is now isolated in just about every way possible, as Gandalf points out here. He's literally trapped in a tower with no company other than Gross—oops we mean Gríma Wormtongue. But he is also figuratively isolated, in the sense that he has no friends, no master, and, quite frankly, no hope. But Saruman's troubles are less interesting to us than Gandalf's own new form of isolation. He fears that he is "beyond [Saruman's] comprehension." Honestly, he seems beyond the comprehension of anyone on the good side. He is not all-powerful, but he's still the strongest being in this book besides maybe Sauron, and it's lonely at the top.
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 news. (4.1.162)
Horrible he may be, but Gollum is a Ring-bearer just as Frodo is. In fact, he has held the Ring for a whole lot longer than Frodo ever will. They are strangely bonded by this experience, which isolates Sam, who can't quite understand it until he's a Ring-bearer himself. As Frodo starts to fall prey to the Ring (becoming more and more Gollum-like, unfortunately), Sam has to step in and give us a bit of sanity to hold onto as readers. After all, if Sam began to understand Frodo as well as Gollum does, he would be possessed by the Ring just like, well, almost everyone else.
Hobbits, must see, must try to understand. He does not expect attack that way. His Eye is all round, but it attends more to some places than to others. He can't see everything all at once, not yet. You see, He has conquered all the country west of the Shadowy Mountains down to the River, and He holds the bridges now. He thinks no one can come to the Moontower without fighting big battle at the bridges, or getting lots of boats which they cannot hide and he will know about. (4.3.43)
This whole Ring quest has begun with the premise that Sauron is too cocky to be careful. He doesn't imagine that an attack can come from within Mordor itself, or he would be more careful about patrolling the lands he believes already conquered. Sauron is confident in his own isolation from the rest of Middle-earth because there are so many natural barriers protecting him in Mordor: the Dead Marshes, the mountains of Ephel Dúath and Erel Lithui, and even the River of Anduin.
Maybe Frodo felt it, not knowing it, as he had upon Amon Hen, even though he believed that Gandalf was gone, gone for ever into the shadow in Moria far away. He sat upon the ground for a long while, silent, his head bowed, striving to recall all that Gandalf had said to him. But for this choice he could recall no counsel. Indeed Gandalf's guidance had been taken from them too soon, too soon, while the Dark Land was still very far away. How they should enter it at last Gandalf had not said. Perhaps he could not say. Into the stronghold of the Enemy in the North, into Dol Guldur, [Gandalf] had once ventured. But into Mordor, to the Mountain of Fire and to Barad-dûr, since the Dark Lord rose in power again, had he ever journeyed there? Frodo did not think so. And here he was a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside, expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go. It was an evil fate. (4.3.59)
There is a moment very like this in The Hobbit (though of course, the stakes are much lower in that book). Bilbo is left by himself (since Gandalf is on the very trip to Dol Guldur that Frodo references here), alone in Mirkwood, knowing that his dwarf companions are in trouble and not knowing how to help. At that moment, Bilbo must become the decider, not only of his own fate, but also of his dwarf friends' futures. It is in this moment that Bilbo becomes a leader. Now, Frodo is facing much, much worse odds, but he'll become a much better leader for it.
"But 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. We shall wish we were down a deep hole, not just stuck under a hedge." He listened. "What's that? Thunder or drums, or what is it?"
"I don't know," said Frodo. "It's been going on for a good while now. Sometimes the ground seems to tremble, sometimes it seems to be the heavy air throbbing in your ears." (4.7.49-51)
Even though their quest is, to be frank, the most important part of the novel, Frodo and Sam are geographically isolated. That means they don't get to stay up to date on the latest goings on in Middle-earth. But this sudden perspective on the distant drums and the deepening darkness reminds us that what is distracting Sauron from his own backyard, which Sam and Frodo are currently creeping through, is probably Aragorn and the armies of Gondor. This chapter gives us a few paragraphs to stop and contemplate what the rest of the Company is doing, before we go into the narrow, creepy tunnels of Cirith Ungol.
Frodo stirred. And suddenly his heart went out to Faramir. "The storm has burst at last," he thought. "This great array of spears and swords is going to Osgiliath. Will Faramir get across in time? He guessed it, but did he know the hour? And who can now hold the fords when the King of the Nine Riders comes? And other armies will come. I am too late. All is lost. I tarried on the way. All is lost. Even if my errand is performed, no one will ever know. There will be no one I can tell. It will be in vain." Overcome with weakness he wept. And still the host of Morgul crossed the bridge.
Then at a great distance, as if it came out of memories of the Shire, some sunlit early morning, when the day called and doors were opening, he heard Sam's voice speaking. "Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!" (4.8.25-6)
Frodo is sitting in the middle of direst danger near Minas Morgul, watching a troop of wraiths march out of the fortress, and he thinks suddenly of Faramir? If Shmoop were in his position, we think we'd be too scared for our own skins to worry about Faramir getting across the bridges of Gondor in time. But what suddenly strikes Frodo with such despair is the idea that he is lost in this horrible country on an errand that is fruitless, that no one will ever know about. What draws him out of this "weakness" is the voice of Sam, who reminds Frodo, even if only briefly, that he is not alone. Companionship is at least some help in avoiding despair.
Neither Pippin nor Merry remembered much of the latter part of the journey. Evil dreams and evil waking were blended into a long tunnel of misery, with hope growing ever fainter behind. They ran, and they ran, striving to keep up the pace set by the Orcs, licked every now and again with a cruel thong cunningly handled. If they halted or stumbled, they were seized and dragged for some distance. (3.3.63)
Poor Merry and Pippin are such youngsters, and in many ways they are the most vulnerable of the company. That makes their current situation all the more heart wrenching. Sure, they have traveled with the Company for many weeks, but they still have no experience to prepare them for this brutal forced march and the suffering that's raining down on them. Don't worry; they'll prove their mettle.
It is said that the Hornburg has never fallen to assault [...] but now my heart is doubtful. The world changes and all that once was strong now proves unsure. How shall any tower withstand such numbers and such reckless hate? Had I known that the strength of Isengard was grown so great, maybe I should not so rashly have ridden forth to meet it, for all the arts of Gandalf. His counsel seems not now so good as it did under the morning sun. (3.7.134)
Théoden is great when he has lots of things to do. He seems happiest when he's galloping off at the head of his company of soldiers. When he is stuck sitting inside the Hornburg trying to think about defense, he has time to start worrying and fretting. And, if we may say, he's a little prone to despair. Théoden has to bear some lasting effects from Wormtongue's influence, and it's a common theme of The Lord of the Rings that you can't just erase suffering as though it had never been, though you can usually heal the worst of its damage.
"I think all will be well now," answered Gandalf. "[Pippin] was not held long, and hobbits have amazing power of recovery. The memory, or the horror of it, will probably fade quickly. Too quickly, perhaps." (3.11.63)
Pippin is so shaken by what he sees looking into the palantír that he can barely talk about it. Sauron hurts him, even through a glass ball and from a great distance. But Gandalf comments that the memory of it will leave no lasting injury, that it will fade too quickly, perhaps. Does he mean that Pippin won't learn a lesson from this experience with the palantír, that his suffering may pass too quickly to teach him anything? And does that mean that Pippin needs a bit of suffering in order to learn a thing or two?
"Well, what's to be done with it?" said Sam. "Tie it up, so as it can't come sneaking after us no more, I say."
"But that would kill us, kill us," whimpered Gollum. "Cruel, little hobbitses. Tie us up in the cold hard lands and leaves us, gollum, gollum." Sobs welled up in his gobbling throat.
"No," said Frodo. "If we kill him, we must kill him outright. But we can't do that, not as things are. Poor wretch! He has done us no harm."
"Oh hasn't he!" said Sam rubbing his shoulder. (4.1.114-7)
Up until now, we have seen Sam's devoted side, and not much more. But here, we see Sam's more practical and less sympathetic aspect. In fact, the hobbit is even a little cruel. Sam wants to kill Gollum, plain and simple. But Gollum is clearly suffering. It has been so long since he's talked to anyone else that all he has left is to talk to himself — and the fact that he refers to himself as "we," in the plural, suggests that he is less than well adjusted. Nonetheless, Sam looks at Gollum and sees, not a "him," but an "it," one who is sure to "throttle [them] in [their] sleep" (4.1.118). He has no pity and no sympathy for Gollum, and seems perfectly willing to cause Gollum even more suffering.
"Once, by accident it was, wasn't it, precious? Yes, by accident. But we won't go back, no, no!" Then suddenly his voice and language changed and he sobbed in his throat, and spoke but not to them. "Leave me alone, gollum! You hurt me. O my poor hands, gollum! I, we, I don't want to come back. I can't find it. I am tired. I, we can't find it, gollum, gollum, no, nowhere. They're always awake. Dwarves, Men, and Elves, terrible Elves with bright eyes. I can't find it. Ach!" He got up and clenched his long hand into a bony fleshless knot, shaking it towards the East. "We won't!" he cried. "Not for you." (4.1.133)
In a weird way, Gollum is a lot like Treebeard. We're serious. He isn't on anyone's side because no one is precisely on his side. Gollum may be a wicked, twisted creature, but he is no friend of Mordor. In this rant, he suddenly slips into the first person and admits that there is a difference between himself, Gollum, and the Precious, the Ring. It is Gollum who is tired and suffering (and the Ring has put him in this state). It is Gollum who can't find it. And it pains him to be without it, but at least he briefly has a sense of himself as separate from the Ring.
"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." (4.2.35)
What's weird here is that Frodo doesn't sound that bummed by his and Sam's apparently inevitable deaths. He is completely sure that they are going to die; the only suspense is in whether it will happen before or when they destroy the Ring. But here's a question: if they know they are going to die, does that fact lessen or deepen the current suffering Frodo and Sam are experiencing?
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 himself. It was that more than the drag of the Ring that made him cower and stoop as he walked. The Eye: that horrible 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. (4.2.82)
All right folks, things are pretty dire, and we're still only in The Two Towers. This cannot be good. What kind of shape is he going to be in when Frodo gets to the end of his quest in The Return of the King? In this passage, Tolkien uses his descriptions of the setting to evoke the horrible pain that Frodo is going through as a result of the Ring, and to great effect. When Tolkien describes the Eye of Sauron, he suddenly switches from "Frodo" and "he" to "you," as though he is addressing this "deadly gaze, naked, immovable" to you the reader. Yikes. You might want to run for cover.
It was Sam's first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would really rather have stayed there in peace—(4.4.99)
Because Sam is essentially kind, and also because he's growing wiser, he immediately wonders about the motivation that brought the dead Southron to this terrible place. In other words, just because these men are fighting under Sauron's banners doesn't mean that they are not human, with their own pain and difficulty and past behind them. Sam can sympathize with their suffering, even though they are on the wrong side. For more about moral ambiguity and suffering, check out our "Character Analysis" of the Southrons.
Even as these thoughts pierced [Frodo] with dread and held him bound as with a spell, the Rider halted suddenly, right before the entrance of the bridge [from Minas Morgul], and behind him all the host stood still. There was a pause, a dead silence. Maybe it was the Ring that called to the Wraith-lord, and for a moment he was troubled, sensing some other power within his valley. This way and that turned the dark head helmed and crowned with fear, sweeping the shadows with its unseen eyes. 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 as 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 Morgul king—not yet. There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside. (4.8.22)
Frodo really doesn't want to slip that ring on his finger, because he knows "that he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul king—not yet." That "not yet" is really interesting, there, because it suggests that somewhere inside of him, Frodo imagines that he might someday have the power to face the Morgul king with the Ring. That means the Ring is still subtly changing his mind, maybe without Frodo's being aware. He is starting to think of the potential power the Ring could bring him. This "not yet" is a tiny hint foreshadowing the coming conflicts of The Return of the King, so stay tuned Shmoopers.
"Frodo, Mr. Frodo!" he called. "Don't leave me here alone! It's your Sam calling. Don't go where I can't follow! Wake up, Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!"
And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more. (4.10.18-20)
Sam has never despaired in this novel, not once. Tolkien describes him as a fundamentally optimistic hobbit (4.3.13-4), and it's frequently his job in the story to pull Frodo's more melancholy mind away from dark thoughts. But the whole reason that he has come on this quest is to follow Frodo. Frodo is the entire motivation of Sam's presence here in this awful place. So Frodo's apparent death is a double blow. Not only does Sam think he has lost the master he loves, but he has also lost his primary purpose for coming to Mordor in the first place. Not good.
He gazed back along the way that they had come towards the night gathering in the East. "There is something strange at work in this land. I distrust the silence. I distrust even the pale Moon. The stars are faint; and I am weary as I have seldom been before, weary as no Ranger should be with a clear trail to follow. There is some will that lends speed to our foes and sets an unseen barrier before us: a weariness that is in the heart more than in the limb."
"Saruman!" muttered Aragorn. "But he shall not turn us back! Halt we must once more; for, see! Even the Moon is falling into gathering cloud. But north lies our road between down and fen when day returns. (3.2.69,71)
Because The Two Towers is the middle episode of a trilogy, we can't go straight to tackling Sauron. There has to be an intermediate villain that they can fight, someone dangerous, but not quite as bad as the actual Dark Lord himself. Someone with a lot of power, but not so much that it's overwhelming. That would be Saruman, who has some serious mental mojo. He is good at manipulating and influencing other people's minds, so it's no wonder Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas feel so exhausted, with the mind of Saruman pressing on them.
"An Ent?" said Merry. "What's that? But what do you call yourself? What's your real name?"
"Hoo now!" replied Treebeard. "Hoo! Now that would be telling! Not so hasty. And I am doing the asking. You are in my country. What are you, I wonder? I cannot place you." (3.4.25-6)
We know from the fairytale of the gnome Rumpelstiltskin that names have huge power in the world of folklore. Treebeard's reluctance to tell Merry what he calls himself suggests that the power of names endures in Middle-earth as well. This explains why it matters so much that many of the characters have multiple names—especially Aragorn son of Arathorn, a.k.a. Strider, a.k.a. Elessar, a.k.a. Estel, a.k.a. who knows what else. Keeping your real name secret is another way of keeping yourself safe from bad mojo.
"Yes, you may still call me Gandalf," he said, and the voice was the voice of their old friend and guide. "Get up, my good Gimli! No blame to you, and no harm done to me. Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned."
"Yes, I am white now," said Gandalf. "Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been." (3.5.76,78)
This new Gandalf is a bit of a drama queen, emerging out of the woods dressed in rags so that he has the pleasure of watching the surprised faces of his friends once he reveals himself in all his shiny splendor. We have always had somewhat mixed feelings about Gandalf's transformation from Grey to White: on the one hand, it's cool to have an all-powerful wizard on your side. On the other hand, Gandalf no longer seems like the approachable, amusing wizard of Fellowship of the Ring. He's all high and mighty, with his "none of you have any weapon that could hurt me." He almost seems too powerful to be a proper character anymore, with the flaws that the other characters in the novel have, which can get a bit tiresome, if we're being honest.
A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars. But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived—for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he foresook his former wisdom, and which fondly imagined were his own, came but from Mordor, so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength. (3.8.107)
While we've been busy with orcs, Ents, and Saruman in the adventures of The Two Towers, Tolkien doesn't want us to forget that the ultimate enemy and target of this trilogy is Sauron. He is the great enemy, and all of Saruman's strength is just "a little copy" of what is waiting in Mordor. The difficulties that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli encounter in warring against Saruman only raises our suspense about how in the world they're going to beat Sauron in the last novel.
It was the Huorns, or so the Ents call them in 'short language.' Treebeard won't say much about them, but I think they are Ents that have become almost like trees, at least to look at. They stand here and there in the wood or under its eaves, silent, watching endlessly over the trees; but deep in the darkest dales there are hundreds and hundreds of them, I believe.
"There is a great power in them, and they seem able to wrap themselves in shadow: it is difficult to see them moving. But they do. They can move very quickly, if they are angry. You stand still looking at the weather, maybe, or listening to the rustling of the wind, and then suddenly you find that you are in the middle of a wood with great groping trees all around you. (3.9.62-3)
We know that Tolkien is a fan of forests, and not of fire. But just because these great forests, filled with Hourns and Ents, are relatively peaceful, doesn't mean they don't have power. And this description of their power reminds us that Tolkien personifies a lot of the natural landscape of Middle-earth—not just trees. When Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter Hollin, for example, Aragorn listens for signs of Merry and Pippin and comments, "The rumour of the earth is dim and confused" (3.2.62). Not only is Middle-earth populated with powerful peoples, but also the land itself, and the trees that grow out of it, have their own surprising power.
Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell [...] But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it. (3.10.26)
Each of the wizards of the Council of the Wise have a special talent. Gandalf's power is over flame and light; Radagast's is over animals; and Saruman's is over men's hearts. While we are told that Saruman started out his wizarding career as a good and wise magician, we have to admit that his power seems a bit, well, morally questionable. Really, his main gift is manipulation, which means he can (and does) lead people to think harmful things.
Pippin sat with his knees drawn up and the ball between them. He bent low over it, looking like a greedy child stooping over a bowl of food, in a corner away from others. […] Then there came a faint glow and stir in the heart of it, and it held his eyes, so that now he could not look away. Soon all the inside seemed on fire; the ball was spinning, or the lights within were revolving. Suddenly the lights went out. He gave a gasp and struggled; but he remained bent, clasping the ball with both hands. Closer and closer he bent, and then became rigid, his lips moving soundlessly for a while. Then with a strangled cry he lay back and was still. (3.11.40)
The power of the palantír appears to echo the power of the Ring (though on a much smaller scale, of course). After Pippin has touched the palantír, he cannot stop thinking about it, until he absolutely has to go and steal it from Gandalf. And when he looks into it, it seems to hold him against his will. He just can't look away. Sauron is so powerful that he can compel the will of people through objects like the palantír and the Ring, just as Saruman can control people through voice.
You swore a promise by what you call the Precious. Remember that! It will hold you to it; but it will seek a way to twist it to your own undoing. Already you are being twisted. You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Sméagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Sméagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Sméagol! (4.3.26)
You go Frodo. Certainly, Frodo speaks the truth: the Ring has mastered Gollum, and if Frodo wore it, he would be able to master Gollum, too. But we can't help but wonder if Frodo's willingness to imagine what would happen if he put the Ring on is a bit of a bad omen. He's telling Gollum not to set his thought on the Ring. Shouldn't Frodo do the same?
As you know, [Minas Morgul] was once a strong place, proud and fair, 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 Númenor 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 wall. 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! (4.6.103)
First of all, props to Faramir for some very dramatic storytelling. This description of Minas Morgul is downright terrifying—especially that part about the "sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes." Yikes. Second, our man Faramir is also making an awesome parallel between Minas Morgul and its sister city, Minas Tirith, which become reverse images of each other in his description. Minas Tirith is a city of light and Minas Ithil is its much darker, more evil counterpart, and this comparison has narrative significance. Frodo and Sam are on the darker, more horrible quest, so they are also going to the darker, more horrible city. Aragorn and Company are going into danger, yes, but theirs is a much more conventional battle narrative. So they are going in the same general direction that Frodo and Sam are—they even wind up not so far apart, geographically speaking—but their less dangerous quest also means the less dangerous goal of Minas Tirith.
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. (4.7.70-72)
Sauron's great talent is for taking over other people's stuff and repurposing it for his own use, but he can never create something from scratch. He can only corrupt what's already there. In a sense, that's what he does with the nine kings who become the Nazgûl: he possesses them through their nine Rings of Power, until they have become his faithful servants. (And aren't the orcs just mockeries of elves (see 3.4.152)?) But because Sauron is destructive rather than creative, does that mean that he cannot win over good, as Frodo claims here? The green things—the good things—will always grow back.
Stone-hard are the Dwarves in labour or journey, but this endless chase began to tell on [Gimli], as all hope failed in his heart. Aragorn walked behind him, grim and silent, stooping now and again to scan some print or mark upon the ground. Only Legolas still stepped as lightly as ever, his feet hardly seeming to press the grass, leaving no footprints as he passed; but in the waybread of the Elves he found all the sustenance that he needed, and he could sleep, if sleep it could be called by Men, resting his mind in the strange paths of elvish dreams, even as he walked open-eyed in the light of the world. (3.2.78)
These elves are relentless. They don't age, tire, or even die the way we unfortunate mortals do. Here is Legolas, after days of solid running after orcs, still stepping "as lightly as ever." He doesn't even need to sleep, which is quite efficient if we may say so. But what's really interesting about Legolas's stamina is that his physical youth ties him symbolically to the youth of Middle-earth. Elves are the Firstborn of the races of the world, present when Middle-earth was new and fresh. One way to think of the elves' departure from Middle-earth is as a coming of age story for Tolkien's world. The elves are associated with the early stages of Middle-earth's history, but over the course of The Lord of the Rings, as Middle-earth ages, they aren't needed anymore.
Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir's sake. But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains. (3.5.88)
When Merry and Pippin first go on Frodo's quest, we don't have a strong sense of what they will bring to the Fellowship. They are merry (no pun intended) and good-hearted, but they also get into a ton of trouble (remember Pippin alerting the orcs to their presence in the Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring Book 2, Chapter 4?). But with youths like these, it's all about potential. Boromir and Aragorn are proven soldiers. But Merry's and Pippin's futures are blank slates.
I shall miss them. We have become friends in so short a while that I think I must be getting hasty—growing backwards towards youth, perhaps. But there, they are the first new thing under Sun or Moon that I have seen for many a long, long day. I shall not forget them. I have put their names into the Long List. Ents will remember it.
Ents the earthborn, old as mountains,
the wide walkers, water drinking:
and hungry as hunters, the Hobbit children,
the laughing-folk, the little people,
they shall remain friends as long as leaves are renewed. Fare you well! (3.10.81)
In Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf justifies bringing Merry and Pippin along on this Ring quest instead of sturdy soldiers because the point of the quest is not strength of arms but cheer and friendship. After all, it's these powers that will support Frodo through the dark days of his battle with the Ring (see The Fellowship of the Ring Book 2, Chapter 3). Despite the fact that Merry and Pippin are now separated from their hobbit buddies, their continued purpose is not lost on Treebeard. They may be young, but they bring lighthearted laughter to their older, wearier companions.
"That—glass ball, now. He seemed mighty pleased with it. He knows or guesses something about it. But does he tell us what? No, not a word. Yet I picked it up, and I saved it from rolling into a pool. Here, I'll take that, my lad—that's all. I wonder what it is? It felt so very heavy." Pippin's voice fell very low, as if he were talking to himself.
"Hullo!" said Merry. "So that's what is bothering you? Now, Pippin my lad, don't forget Gildor's saying—the one Sam used to quote: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."
"But our whole life for months has been one long meddling in the affairs of Wizards," said Pippin. "I should like a lot of information as well as danger. I should like a look at that ball." (3.11.28-30)
Once again, Pippin's curiosity gets the better of him. First, in the Mines of Moria with the stone in the well (see The Fellowship of the Ring Book 2, Chapter 4), and now with Saruman's "glass ball." Nearly everyone addresses Pippin as "lad," even Merry, which makes sense because he is the youngest member of the Fellowship. Sometimes, he even seems like a bit of a stereotype, because all of Pippin's character traits are so typically youthful. He's curious, adaptable, careless, and always quick with a joke. But this makes him a useful contrast to the other, older members of the cast, particularly grave Aragorn and his wisdom of "many winters" (3.6.72).
You have taken no harm. There is no lie in your eyes, as I feared. But he did not speak long with you. A fool, but an honest fool, you remain, Peregrin Took. Wiser ones might have done worse in such a pass. But mark this! You have been saved, and all your friends too, mainly by good fortune, as it is called. You cannot count on it a second time. […] Don't shudder! If you will meddle in the affairs of Wizards, you must be prepared to think of such things. But come! I forgive you. (3.11.89)
When Gandalf hears Pippin's story of the palantír, he is relieved. Things could have been a lot worse. But he still feels free to give Pippin a good scolding for his carelessness. Gandalf's treatment of Pippin reinforces once more that Pippin is the youngest character in the novels, and the one most needing to acquire the wisdom that comes from experience. In this discussion between Pippin and Gandalf, whom do you identify with more—wise Gandalf or the naughty kid?
"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; and if we did get down, we'd find all that green land a nasty bog, I'll warrant." (4.1.4)
Of all the things that occurred to us might happen when Frodo and Sam ditched the rest of the Company at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, getting lost was not one of them. It all looks so easy on Tolkien's maps of Middle-earth. Just keep on trucking towards a dark, restless evil, and you're in Mordor. But it's in moments like these that Frodo's utter inexperience with travel really shows through.
"But it's only sense: put the one lowest as is most likely to slip. I don't want to come down atop of you and knock you off—no sense in killing two with one fall."
Before Frodo could stop him, he sat down, swung his legs over the brink, and twisted around, scrabbling with his toes for a foothold. It is doubtful if he ever did anything braver in cold blood, or more unwise.
"No, no! Sam, you old ass!" said Frodo. "You'll kill yourself for certain, going over like that without even a look to see what to make for. Come back!" He took Sam under the armpits and hauled him up again. "Now, wait a bit and be patient!" he said. (4.1.33-5)
In this scene, the age difference between Frodo and Sam becomes quite clear. Not only is Frodo Sam's boss, but he is also the wiser of the two, and the less careless (at least, until the Ring starts taking him over). Here in this scene on the rock face of Emyn Muil, Frodo doesn't shy away from bossing Sam around, calling him an "old ass," and picking him up like a child.
"The old fortress, very old, very horrible now. We used to hear tales from the South, when Sméagol was young, long ago. O yes, we used to tell lots of tales in the evening, sitting by the banks of the Great River, in the willow-lands, when the River was younger too, gollum, gollum." He began to weep and mutter. (4.3.34)
Whenever Gollum remembers his youth, he always gets more Sméagol-like, without so much of the "evil light in his eyes" (4.3.52). We can't forget that Sméagol didn't start out as Gollum. He became Gollum through murder and misery, all thanks to the Ring. The fact that even characters like Gollum and Saruman do not start evil suggests something important about the moral universe of The Lord of the Rings: nothing is born bad. If we all start out as moral blank slates, and it's only when we act wrongly that we become evil, there must be a bit of a parallel between youth and goodness. It's only with time and bad choices that Gollum goes from being a hobbit-like lad to his current, twisted self. Remember, even the orcs come from the corruption of elves, and are not created bad (source, pg. 250) No wonder Merry and Pippin, the youngest of the crew, also seem the most innocent.
But we have our tales too, and news out of the South, you know. In the old days hobbits used to go on their travels now and again. Not that many ever came back, and not that all they said was believed: news from Bree, and not sure as Shiretalk, as the sayings go. But I've heard tales of the big folk down away in the Sunlands [...] They put houses and towers on the oliphauntses backs and all, and the oliphaunts throw rocks and trees at one another. So when you said "Men out of the South, all in red and gold," I said "were there any oliphaunts?" For if there was, I was going to take a look, risk or not. But now I don't suppose I'll ever see an oliphaunt. Maybe there ain't no such beast. (4.3.71)
Oh, you have youthful tales, Gollum? Well Sam's got 'em, too. Sam's recitation of the Shire rhyme about oliphaunts ("Grey as a mouse,/ Big as a house,/ Nose like a snake,/ I make the earth shake" [4.3.71]) is such a sudden reminder of the Shire and the youth that both Frodo and Sam passed there that it makes Frodo laugh. Here they are, sitting looking at Cirith Gorgor and talking about Cirith Ungol, and Sam's youthful song evokes a laugh, possibly because it ties together joyful things: the Shire, their past, tales, and happiness.
"See here, Captain!" [Sam] planted himself squarely in front of Faramir, his hands on his hips, and a look on his face as if he was addressing a young hobbit who had offered him what he called "sauce" when questioned about visits to the orchard. There was some murmuring, but also some grins on the faces of the men looking on: the sight of their Captain sitting on the ground and eye to eye with a young hobbit, legs well apart, bristling with wrath, was one beyond their experience. "See here!" he said. "What are you driving at? Let's come to the point before all the Orcs of Mordor come down on us! If you think my master murdered this Boromir and then ran away, you've got no sense; but say it, and have done!" (4.5.24)
Sam's youth and his homely habits are both a great strength and a great weakness for him among all of these wise, tough guys. He cuts straight to the point of Faramir's debate with Frodo, asking point blank if Faramir thinks Frodo murdered Boromir. But his plain-spoken manner adds a touch of the ridiculous to the scene, so that Sam's honesty and loyalty take on a comic edge for the people watching him. He's a bit like an indignant child, and his anger doesn't hold much clout.
"Gondor! Gondor!" cried Aragorn. "Would that I looked on you again in happier hour! Not yet does my road lie southward to your bright streams.
Gondor! Gondor; between the Mountains and the Sea!
West Wind blew there: the light upon the Silver Tree
Fell like bright rain in gardens of the Kings of old.
O proud walls! White flowers! O wingéd crown and throne of gold!
O Gondor, Gondor! Shall Men behold the Silver Tree,
Or West Wind blow again between the Mountains and the Sea? (3.2.17)
We don't want to generalize, but it does seem to us as though much of The Fellowship of the Ring is dedicated to the elves. In that novel, we see both Rivendell and Lothlórien, and we learn that these fair things will fade once the Ring quest is over, never to appear in Middle-earth again. As Aragorn's momentum picks up in The Two Towers, the attention of The Lord of the Rings moves away from the elves and towards the Men of Númenor, specifically, Aragorn and the return of glory to Gondor. While time may be close to done for the elves in Middle-earth, Aragorn represents the continuation and rebirth of men, which is a much more cheerful subject.
"But what are we going to do at sunrise?" said some of the Northerners.
"Go on running," said Uglúk. "What do you think? Sit on the grass and wait for the Whiteskins to join the picnic?"
"But we can't run in the sunlight."
"You'll run with me behind you," said Uglúk. "Run! Or you'll never see your beloved holes again. By the White Hand! What's the use of sending out mountain-maggots on a trip, only half trained. Run, curse you! Run while night lasts!" (3.3.48-52)
This moment of tension between Uglúk and the other orcs as they try and carry Merry and Pippin to Isengard reveals a bit more about the differences among orcs themselves. Sure, orcs may be universally evil, but they are also not all the same. Not only do the orcs sometimes serve different masters, since Uglúk follows Saruman and many of the other orcs follow Sauron, but some of them appear to serve no one at all except evil itself. We also can't pass over this reference to "Whiteskins," by which Uglúk means human beings. There isn't a lot of racial differentiation among the people of Middle-earth. They are all pretty European in appearance, so far as we can tell. Why do the peoples of Middle-earth have so little racial or even cultural differentiation? Do the different peoples of Middle-earth—the elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc.—substitute somehow for different human races in our world?
They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face. It belonged to a large man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head and hardly any neck. Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say [...] But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes. […]
"One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present; like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake. I don't know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground—asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given to its own inside affairs for endless years." (3.4.20-1)
Ah, Pippin the poet. What's so great about his description of the Ents is how much it emphasizes the otherness of non-human creatures in Middle-earth. Even the Treebeard's consciousness appears different. Unlike that of humans, it's timeless and immediate, and very, very deep. The differences between the peoples of Middle-earth seem to go far beyond the physical.
"Seven mounds upon the left, and nine upon the right," said Aragorn. "Many long lives of men it is since the golden hall was built."
"Five hundred times have the red leaves fallen in Mirkwood in my home since then," said Legolas, "and but a little while does that seem to us."
"But to the Riders of the Mark it seems so long ago," said Aragorn, "that the raising of this house is but a memory of song, and the years before are lost in the mist of time." (3.6.10-13)
Obviously, the biggest difference between the elves and all the other races of Middle-earth (except maybe the Ents) is their extremely long lives. Living for ages and ages sounds like quite a treat, and the elves handle it well. But could there be disadvantages to living for thousands of years? Does the fact that they have a different time scale affect the way the elves see the world?
"This is more to my liking," said the dwarf, stamping on the stones. "Ever my heart rises as we draw near the mountains. There is good rock here. This country has tough bones. I felt them in my feet as we came up from the dike. Give me a year and a hundred of my kin and I would make this a place that armies would break upon like water."
"I do not doubt it," said Legolas. "But you are a dwarf, and dwarves are strange folk. I do not like this place, and I shall like it no more by the light of day. But you comfort me, Gimli, and I am glad to have you standing nigh with your stout legs and your hard axe. I wish there were more of your kin among us." (3.7.55-6)
After all of these days of traveling in the Forest of Fangorn and having to sit perched on other people's horses, it's nice to see Gimli back in his element at last. He may not love forests, but he can deal with mountains just fine. This scene between Legolas and Gimli also underlines the Odd Couple friendship they've built, in which opposites attract. Because they are both decent guys, the fact that Legolas and Gimli have so little in common seems to be a comfort for them rather than the reverse. Whenever they are in a situation that makes one of them uncomfortable (trees and horses for Gimli, rocks and stone for Legolas), the other one can reassure him.
"Strange are the ways of Men, Legolas! Here they have one of the marvels of the Northern World, and what do they say of it? Caves, they say! Caves! Holes to fly to in times of war, to store fodder in! My good Legolas, do you know that the caverns of Helm's Deep are vast and beautiful. There would be an endless pilgrimage of Dwarves, merely to gaze at them, if such things were known to be. Aye indeed, they would pay pure gold for a brief glance." (3.8.48)
We've focused mostly on the contrasts between Legolas and Gimli and their unlikely friendship. But as they ride through the new forest outside of Helm's Deep, we are reminded that, different as they both are from each other, they are also very different from us humans. For example, they both have this almost instinctive relationship to the rhythms of the natural world. Legolas senses the trees on a deep level, and Gimli has this profound, almost romantic appreciation for caverns and rock.
The trumpets had not rung in challenge but in greeting. This was no assault upon the Dark Lord by the men of Gondor, risen like avenging ghosts from the graves of valor long passed away. These were Men of other race, out of the wide Eastlands, gathering to the summons of their Overlord; armies that had encamped before his Gate by night and now marched in to swell his mountain power. As if suddenly made fully aware of the peril of their position, alone, in the growing light of day, so near to this vast menace, Frodo quickly drew his frail grey hood close to his head, and stepped down into the dell. (4.3.24)
So far, we have seen men, elves, hobbits, dwarves, and Ents joining to fight evil and triumph over Sauron. On the bad side, we've seen orcs, wolves, Nazgûl, and of course, men. The only one of the races of Middle-earth with major representation on both sides of the war against Sauron is the race of man. In fact, ever since the story of Isildur and his decision to keep the Ring of Sauron instead of destroying it after Sauron's initial defeat by the Last Alliance (see The Fellowship of the Ring Book 1, Chapter 2), it has been pretty clear that men are the most corruptible of the good species of Middle-earth. This of course begs the question: why are men so much the moral focus of this novel?
We never went that way, but they say it goes a hundred leagues, until you can see the Great Water that is never still. There are lots of fishes there, and big birds eat fishes: nice birds: but we never went there, alas no! we never had a chance. And further still there are more lands, they say, but the Yellow Face is very hot there, and there are seldom any clouds, and the men are fierce and have dark faces. We do not want to see that land.
We don't want to suggest that Tolkien's map of Middle-earth directly corresponds to any one part of the earth. Still, this brief suggestion that there are lands far to the south of Mordor, hot places in which the men "have dark faces" implies that there is more to Middle-earth than we see in these adventures, and that, somewhere off-page, we might be able to find other human races, just as we can in our world. There is something a little bit off about the fact that these dark-faced men are also "fierce," while the most beautiful folk of Middle-earth (the Elves) are about as white as white can be. What do you think of the real-life racial politics of The Lord of the Rings? Is Tolkien relying on common cultural prejudices in his depiction of the men from the south?
"We have not found what we sought," said one. "But what have we found?"
"Not Orcs," said another, releasing the hilt of his sword, which he had seized when he saw the glitter of Sting in Frodo's hand.
"Elves?" said a third, doubtfully.
"Nay! Not Elves," said the fourth, the tallest, and as it appeared the chief among them. "Elves do not walk in Ithilien in these days. And Elves are wondrous fair to look upon, or so 'tis said."
"Meaning we're not, I take you," said Sam. "Thank you kindly. And when you've finished discussing us, perhaps you'll say who you are, and why you can't let two tired travellers rest." (4.4.68-71)
It's a sign of how far Frodo and Sam have come from the Shire that they have found men who do not even recognize what they are. Hobbits are so out-of-the-way in terms of Middle-earth geography that the men of Gondor don't even know what they are looking at when they find them (rather like Treebeard with Merry and Pippin). And of course since Frodo and Sam are so wildly different from anyone Faramir and his men have ever encountered, the humans regard the hobbits with a healthy dose of skepticism.
They were led then to seats beside Faramir: barrels covered with pelts and high enough above the benches of the Men for their convenience. Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.
"So we always do," he said, as they sat down: "we look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be. Have you no such custom at meal?"
"No," said Frodo, feeling strangely rustic and untutored. "But if we are guests, we bow to our host, and after we have eaten we rise and thank him." (4.5.103-5)
Culture clash alert. What we find most interesting about this scene is not the natural discomfort that often comes between people of two different cultures sharing a meal. The Gondorians look to the west before eating. It's like a Gondorian way of saying grace, except the power that they are thanking "Númenor that was," a.k.a. the West. Then they look even further west, to Elvenhome, and then whatever power is beyond that. Faramir is tracing a line of descent, from the creative power of Middle-earth to the elves in Elvenhome to the Men of Númenor to Gondor. So, in the cosmology of Middle-earth, elves are closest to what might be called God, or whatever it is that is "beyond Elvenhome and will ever be." Since the Men of Westernesse are closest to elves, it makes sense that, on balance, elves seem better than men, and the people of the line of Númenor (despite Isildur and Boromir's various troubles) seem better than the rest of mankind. The origins of elves and the Men of Westernesse are actually physically, geographically closer to the holiness of Middle-earth than those who come from elsewhere. Or at least Faramir thinks so.
For so we reckon Men in our lore, calling them the High, or Men of the West, which were Númenoreans; and the Middle Peoples, Men of the Twilight, such as are the Rohirrim and their kin that dwell still far in the North; and the Wild, the Men of Darkness.
Yet now, if the Rohirrim are grown in some ways more like to us, enhanced in arts and gentleness, we too have become more like to them, and can scarce claim any longer the title High. We are become Middle Men, of the Twilight, but with memory of other things. For as the Rohirrim do, we now love war and valour as things good in themselves, both a sport and an end; and though we still hold that a warrior should have more skills and knowledge than only the craft of weapons and slaying, we esteem a warrior, nonetheless, above men of other crafts. (4.5.124)
Based on Faramir's account, the men of Middle-earth have a rigid class system. At the top are the guys who value "arts and gentleness," the men of Númenor. In the middle are the horse lords; they're good-looking and brave ("tall men and fair women, valiant both alike, golden-haired, bright-eyed" [4.5.122]) but not quite as elite as the Men of Westernesse. And then at the bottom are the wild men, who hardly seem civilized at all. Descent lines matter a huge amount to this novel, since the whole point of Aragorn's rise to power is that, in him, the blood of Elendil has been reborn. Here, Faramir is worrying a lot about degeneration of bloodlines, because the once-great Gondorians have become lesser men. Still, blood and class aren't everything in The Lord of the Rings. Sam may have his limitations as a character, but his class does not interfere with his ability to be a great hobbit once he returns to the Shire. And Faramir says himself that the men of Númenor had faults: "for the most part they fell into evils and follies. Many became enamoured of the Darkness and the black arts; some were given over wholly to idleness and ease, and some fought among themselves, until they were conquered in their weakness by the wild men" (4.5.117). There has to be some additional ingredient to achieve greatness. What that is, it is hard to say, but clearly compassion and mercy have greater importance even than noble blood in achieving grand deeds like the destruction of the Ruling Ring.