Saturday, July 28, 2012

Puttin' the Blog in Balrog X: The Two Towers IV: 1-5

Funny how things change. When I was a kid, I tapped my foot very, very impatiently through the first, Samdo-free, half of The Two Towers, annoyed at all the new characters introduced and all the military stuff that happened. I enjoyed the stuff with the Ents because what is there not to like about Treebeard and company? But other than that, I was quite annoyed.


This time around, I reveled in those chapters (except, maybe, for all the running) and when I got to Samdo in Emyn Muil, I won't lie, I had a hard time even getting started. My eyes just kept sliding off the screen. I'm pretty sure because I was inwardly sighing at how tiresome this part of the film is.

But Book-Sam is nothing at all like Movie-Sam! That's what I all but chanted to myself as I finally got a start on these chapters. And vive la difference!
I haven't changed my mind. 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.
Sam here is explaining why he is going first down a steep gully among the rocks that looks to get the pair of them a fair part of the way back to proper country instead of lost in climbing hell. Any newbie freeclimber who has eagerly and perhaps recklessly scrambled up some rocks they don't know well (yo!) knows what this can be like, looking down every few minutes wondering if that jump is a) survivable b) survivable without being injured c) suicide or d) any more so of any of the above than the last downward prospect.
Before Frodo could stop him, he sat down, swung his legs over the brink, and twisted round, scrabbling with his toes for a foothold. It is doubtful if he ever did anything braver in cold blood, or more unwise.
Frodo talks him into coming back up until morning, when they can maybe at least see the bottom. They debate the wisdom of this a bit, realizing that if they guess wrong about a downward progress and reach a point with no further hand- or toe-hold, they'll have to climb back up to where they started, which would be terribly weary and dangerous work. How well do I know it!

I wonder when that busy don and philologist, J.R.R. Tolkien, had the time to go rock-climbing like this, or whose brain he picked to get these passages so very, very right.

 Hell's Half Acre in central Wyoming, which is pretty much how I always imagined Emyn Muil. 
Lots of more images depicting its fractal degree of difficulty can be seen at this blog.

Oh, and then they get caught in a thunderstorm! Great! We're back in the kind of opus contra naturam territory we haven't really seen since Caradhras. But worse than there, not just the terrain and weather are against them: here there be winged Nazgul, most likely. The sound of one startles the hobbits and sends Frodo bumping down a bit, and he winds up more or less trapped there until Sam remembers he's got a coil of elvish rope (light and strong, doesn't take up much space in the pack, silky to the touch... I always basically figured it was Middle Earth paracord)! Hooray! And a little more rope otaku-ry ensues, and I found myself wondering what kind of plant provides the fibers for such stuff, as is my wont.

Nor is that, of course, the only moment where that sorta-magical rope (it unties itself from Sam's knot around a tree stump high above them, after all) is important; once Smeagollum comes along after a wonderfully creepy scene of him sticking to the sheer cliff face like an insect, crawling head downwards, it is an integral part of keeping the creature under control. Once Smeagollum has "sworn upon the Precious" to be good, Sam ties the rope around Smeagollum's ankle (amid much thrashing and crying out that the elvish rope "burns") and they're off on Smeagollum's secret way through the Dead Marshes.

Ah, the Dead Marshes, where at the end of the Second Age the Last Alliance of Elves and Men fought Sauron's forces on the battlefield called Dagorlad. The corpses -- or at least the images of the corpses -- of Men and Elves and Orcs now lie in the mucky, smelly water that crept over the rotting bodies over the centuries. I always kind of thought of this as a giant field of peat mummies. Marsh gases or something more sinister occasionally gives rise to puffs of white misty light like will'o'the wisps, and the footing is treacherous. It may be that only little folk like hobbits and former proto-hobbits could really cross here now, though supposedly Aragorn caught Gollum here once. Samdo and Smeagollum make their careful way through, their progress only sort of hampered by the passage overhead of a winged Nazgul, dispatched from Mordor in response to Pippin's having looked into the Palantir on the way out from Isengard. The decoy hobbits have maybe taken their job a little too seriously, eh?

And the reminder of the Nazgul and the Precious boots a lot of the Smea out of Gollum. UH OH! And for his part, Frodo definitely starts feeling the burden of the Ring, even to perceiving it as a physical weight growing heavier the closer the trio gets to Mordor. And they're heading into nastier lands:
"Even to the Mere of Dead Faces some haggard phantom of green spring would come; but here neither spring nor summer would ever come again. Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness... They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor; the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing, unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion."
Sounds like a post-nuclear wasteland, almost, doesn't it? But we who have read Wormwood Forest know that to the landscape after a nuclear attack or accident much nature can return, whereas this territory would seem to have no hope at all. So it's more like a landscape after the coal-bed methane people have had their way with it.

I imagine a whole landscape that looks like the lower half
of this picture, from a CBM play in Wyoming.

And through this our trio has to pass. Nobody likes it, least of all Gollum, who has been here before and has not-so-fond memories of his visit to Mordor on his mind as he starts having those famous arguments with himself that the movie people chose to depict as a case of MPD. Hey, worked for me. Gollum wants to take the Ring for himself and make the hobbits grovel, among other things*; Smeagol at least wants to be nice to Frodo, who has been nice to him. But how to get it? Oh wait, yes!


Whom he so far refers to, within Sam's earshot anyway, only as She.

I love Em's observations in her guest-post over at EssJay's blog about how things go down on the way to the Gate of Mordor, casting Gollum as one of those super-annoying NPCs in text adventures and other early command-line based computer games who take one's commands super-literally. "Bring us to the Gate," Frodo says, and so that's what Gollum does, more or less willfully misunderstanding of Frodo's true wishes: get us into Mordor, preferably undetected. But hey, he asked for the Gate, he gets the Gate, in all its over-the-top intimidating glory. Sneaky Gollum is softening up the hobbits for his alternate route, via Cirith Ungol and the lair of Shelob. "Smeagol very good, always helps, indeed."

While Frodo dithers, an army of Easterlings enters by way of the Gate, further depressing everybody and deciding Frodo; he will trust Smeagollum some more and take this other way into Mordor. But, Frodo will brook no nonsense from him; if need be, he'll put on the Ring and command Smeagollum to kill himself. Sam, who up to this point has thought Frodo was maybe too blind, too nice, is pleasantly surprised. Smeagollum is cowed but not so much so that he can't gin up a fair amount of salesmanship, making sure all the ways into Mordor sound terrible except for the way he wants the hobbits to choose.

Who's the tricksy one, again?

So now the trio turns south, into slightly nicer territory, where Smeagollum at least looks forward to being able to catch some nice fish from clean water again. They travel alongside, rather than on, the road and see nature reasserting itself over the ruins left by Men and again I think of Wormwood Forest and the town of Pripyat. I may never not think of Mordor as the Zone of Alienation now, of Ithilien as Polissa. But hey, it's spring, and the former Garden of Gondor keeps "a dishevelled dryad loveliness." The landscape actually sounds a lot like I've always heard Italy being described. And next thing you know, Sam has set Smeagollum coursing after hares for their supper and finally gets to use the cookware he's been lugging all these miles! Smeagollum, of course, thinks cooked meat is gross.

Alas, the creature's right about one thing, though as disasters go, there could be worse. Sam's cooking fire attracts the attention of four Men, and so enters into our story Faramir**, brother of Boromir, son of Denethor, Man of Gondor. 

With firm application and determination...

>And with him are some of Aragorn's people, Rangers of the Dunedain. They're in the territory hunting some of those evil Men who are marching to join the Enemy in Mordor, and are very interested in the hobbits but have work to do and a skirmish to fight.

Nonetheless, these Men are not done with the hobbits, and after they defeat the Sothrons (and send an oliphaunt off masterless and blundering north, to Sam's awe and delight), the hobbits are detained. Faramir had the dreams first, remember, that Boromir talked about, about seeking the Blade that was Broken and halflings and Isildur's Bane. So yes, Chapter Five is pretty much more dueling exposition, though it's Frodo and Sam who have most of the news. Aragorn lives and carries the Blade, Gandalf does not live and perished in Moria. Boromir is also not so good, by the way, Faramir says for his part, and expects Frodo to know that already and how he died, since they were such good friends and all.

I love how Sam stands up to him for this. "See here!"

Faramir is suitably intimidated by Samwise not taking his "sauce".

Faramir backs down, sort of, and tells Frodo and Sam how he and his men heard Boromir's horn from afar the day the Fellowship split, and how they later found Boromir's body in the boat in which Aragorn and Gimolas launched him down the falls at Rauros. And from this news, Frodo jumps to the depressing conclusion that all of the rest died too, that day, even his cousins the decoy hobbits. Sad, illogical Frodo is sad and illogical.

There follows much more talk in which the Ring is a big shiny oliphaunt in the campsite, as it were. More trust needs yet to be won. Strangely, this is won by Faramir's conducting the hobbits (but not Smeagollum, who has been missing since just before the Men found them) to his secret hideaway and making them wear blindfolds for the trip. Because yeah, nothing makes me trust a guy more than his ordering me to put on a blindfold. Um.

But at least Henneth Annun is a pretty place, when they get there. And they get a safe place to sleep, a good dinner, and a history lesson for their having come. And then they get to talking about the hobbits' own trip again, and in the heat of his defense of Galadriel (who seems to need a lot of defending, verbally anyway), Sam lets slip that she saw through Boromir and furthermore that Boromir went after the Ring!

Ring? What Ring might this be, Faramir asks. D'oh. But then he gets a chance to prove his quality, which is higher than that of his brother, at least in terms of not taking what doesn't belong to him, like a good younger brother.

And there we leave them, until the next chapter.

*Gollum's desires, even at his most self-aggrandizing, are suprisingly modest, aren't they? "Lord Smeagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, three times a day; fresh from the sea." Here we perhaps see why hobbits getting their hands on the Ring actually wound up being quite a good thing. Even had Bilbo known its true power, he might well have still mostly used it to hide from annoying neighbors... hobbits and proto-hobbits don't seem to offer the Ring much in the way of vices for it to work on and through. Now perhaps if Lobelia had gotten the Ring... best not to think about that, though. Shudder.

**By the way, I am quite relieved to find that I am not the only person among us who thinks that David Wenham is a dead ringer for Danny Kaye. Even to hear him speak!!! I'm hither and yon, I'm there and gone, I'm Johnny not on the spot!

David Wenham as Faramir of Gondor

Danny Kaye dressed as the Black Fox in The Court Jester.
Glynnis Johns is every bit as pretty as Miranda Otto, too, and just as badass!


  1. 1. I think they have similar noses, but other than that I don't see it. Maybe it's because I don't think David Wenham is all that attractive? Dunno.

    2. Why the hell can't I subscribe to the comments anymore? The option was always there, but now it's gone. :(

    1. Well, you've fixed 2. As for 1. Similar noses are a big deal and dude, close your eyes and listen to them. The likeness (probably majorly attributable to the noses) is even more apparent when you hear them speak.

      But for the longest time, before Wikipedia and IMDB dashed my hopes, I was *sure* that Wenham was like Danny Kaye's long lost son or something.

  2. Gollum and the hobbits enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Ruling middle-earth would be such a bother. Maybe all Sauron needs is some nice pipe weed and a pint of ale and he'll chill out. :)

    1. And maybe also a fish, so juicy sweeeeeeeeet!

  3. I'm struck this time around by the fact Faramir and, I guess, everyone in Gondor could hear Boromir's blasts on the horn, but somehow Frodo, who was only several hundred hobbit-paces away by then, didn't?

    1. Maybe the Ring, which lets the wearer understand the Black Speech and stuff, prevented him from hearing it because it's a Good Guy Gondor horn?

      Otherwise, I've got nuthin'!


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