Wow! So many posts about these wonderful, wonderful books already! As usual, EssJay has the run-down to rule them all at her clearinghouse page, which she's just updated to include the latest. Of particular interest to me has been Mandy of Adventures in Borkdom's post on J.R.R. Tolkien as a writer who's just like us. That's only Part I, with Part II to come later in the week. I'll update when it's there.
And now to wrap up The Two Towers.
We last left Samdo at Henneth Annun with Faramir and his Merry Men, and Faramir has done what his brother could not: turned down the chance to accept as offered or take by force the Ring and "show his quality." If you can't tell, that's one of my favorite lines in all of Tolkien.
My brother didn't get to marry Glynnis Johns -- I mean Eowyn, either.
As a new chapter opens, Faramir again shows his quality after he discovers Gollum fishing in the Forbidden Pool (why there needs to be a Forbidden Pool, why that Pool is Forbidden, we never learn, but man, it sure sounds pretty!), but instead of just killing him outright per policy, he wakes up Frodo to show him and get his opinion. Frodo begs for Gollum's life ("the servant has a claim on the master for service, even service in fear"), though Sam would rather just let the Men kill Gollum and be done with it. The scene crackles with tension, tension under the moonlight (and that's totally going to be the title of my next D&D module)! Faramir doesn't want this creature on the loose and knowing the location of his secret hideout -- what if he's captured by Orcs and spills it? Frodo finally agrees to at least have Gollum captured but not "by a feathered shaft": he will go down quietly and get Gollum to come quietly himself. And so he makes his careful way down to the water, trying not to think about all the hidden archers with arrows trained on him and Gollum against a false move by either...
And Gollum is reluctant to come, feeling that he has been deserted and misused. Frodo gets impatient, even though he feels very badly about what he's doing, stops speaking kindly to him and threatens to put on the Precious and say "make him swallow the bones" of the fish Gollum wants to finish "and choke. Never taste fish again." That threat -- or the reminder that Frodo has the Ring -- is what does it, and Gollum comes along, poor thing.* And gets tied up, so in one moment the relationship of servility and trust that has sort of grown between Frodo and Gollum is pretty much destroyed, as Gollum's burst of sarcasm "So wise they are; so just, so very just" makes clear. Sigh. But then again, didn't it have to be?
Anyway, because Frodo sticks up for Gollum so passionately (and, let's face it, guiltily), Faramir gives Gollum safe conduct as long as he sticks with Frodo, but then goes all but operatic on trying to warn Frodo that Gollum is Evil, and that there is some foul thing guarding the pass atop Cirith Ungol but no one knows what it is and though Faramir gives Frodo rather an extensive history lesson about the Men who were the Lords of Minas Ithil before it became Minas Morgul apparently no one is erudite enough to put "Cirith Ungol" and "Ungoliant" together and think "gosh, what if it's a giant spider, hmm?" but there you go. Faramir's dad probably didn't think too much book larnin' was manly enough for even his despised younger son.
And then it's time to go, and, to parallel the Fellowship's trip through Lothlorien once again, blindfolds are required again, but since Faramir has decided that Samdo is okay by him, only Gollum needs one -- but when Gollum squeals and squirms, Frodo declares that all three of them must be blindfolded. Once again, no safe word is asked for or given.
Blindfolds off and good-byes said, the hobbits are now back to having to rely on Gollum, who has a new eagerness to be on their way and wakes them up too early in the morning and everything. "Hobbits must make haste! Schnell!" Okay, he doesn't say "schnell", but I'm pretty sure he would if he had known any Germans, especially a certain kind of German whom it's well known Tolkien had in mind during a lot of the writing of these novels. At any rate, good Smeagol who always helps, if there was ever a chance for him to win out and switch sides, is truly dead now, which is just as well since it turns out to be nasty Gollum who is needed at the end of all things, isn't it?
Next thing we know, he's done runoft for a while, leaving Samdo to brood over how the days are getting shorter and darker as they get closer to Mordor, even though it's springtime and they're pretty far south from where they started.
But soon he turns up and shoos them on their way like a mother who wants the kids to get the hell off to school so she can sit on the sofa eating bonbons and watching her stories in peace. We must get to the Crossroads, only way, only way.
And what's at the Crossroads? Why another gigantic statue of a former King, this one defaced by Orcs in various ways, including replacing the crowned head with a giant red eyeball, Residents-style.
Pity they left off the tophat, though. Orcs have no fashion sense.
Mr. Skull doesn't think they smell very good, either.
Anyway, then Sam finds the King's head in the grass and a trailing plant with flowers like small white stars has bound itself about the brows of the statuehead, prompting Frodo to exclaim "The king has got a crown again!" and furthermore "They cannot conquer for ever" because no power in the 'verse can stop weeds from growing and thus, can stop the good guys from winning, either, I guess?
Oh, and those are the last pretty flowers in this book, because from now on all we see are "pale white flowers. Luminous these were, too, beautiful and yet horrible of shape, like the demented forms in an uneasy dream; and they gave forth a faint sickening charnel smell." You know, just to make sure we know we're getting close to EEEEEEVILLLLLLL. As if the whole Ring getting heavier thing wasn't warning enough?
But wait, there's more! Tell them what else they've won, Don Pardo! Well, Frank, how about a cameo appearance by the
WITCH-KING OF ANGMAR
riding out to battle at the head of a host of other nasties! To a purpose we don't really learn of until next book! But for now serving to give us one more chance for Frodo to almost screw up completely by putting on the Ring in the presence of Nazgul! Only a chance grasp at the Silmaracrum snaps him out of it! Plus the elvish cloaks maybe hide them from unfriendly eyes, as advertised! Because if the
WITCH-KING OF ANGMAR
still has eyes, they would definitely count as unfriendly ones! Wouldn't they! And the Black Gate clangs shut and Frodo gets depressed because it's obvious now that he's too late and Sauron has already won and --
Oh but PSYCH, it was all a bad dream, or possibly a flashback to the Mirror of Galadriel, and Frodo's safe and snug in bed at Bag End and Sam has just made break--
No he hasn't! They're still just outside Mordor, just not back at the Black Gate! DOUBLE-PSYCH!
At any rate, now it's time to go up the stairs, great stone slabs in considerable disrepair that go on for so long that the hobbits are all but crawling at the last. And then Gollum, with considerable glee, informs them that that horribly long and barely endurable Stairway to Hell they just climbed? That was just the first one, the Straight Stair. Now they have to go up an even longer one, The Winding Stair. Gollum's already starting to exact a little revenge here, by acting like a P.E. teacher. No rest yet, cross the plateau first, then you can rest. A bit. But then we have to go up the other one, maggots!
If I had an awesome artist like EssJay's Megiggles, there would totally be a picture of Gollum blowing into a coach's whistle right here. Or possibly dressed as a drill sergeant.
While they pause, Sam busts out his erudition (you can bet if he had been a boy who'd grown up in Gondor, he bloody well would have figured out what's ahead of them in the tunnel) and he and Frodo have an exchange that made EssJay get all kinds of sappy. Go have a look.
Meanwhile, Gollum has done runoft again, no doubt to make sure a certain spidery someone is still interested in the bargain they've struck, or maybe just to compete in the Melkor Memorial 500k Fun-Run to show up those lazy hobbit maggots.
Soon it's time to climb again, and the higher they get, the worse it smells as they approach Shelob's Lair. And Gollum, so close to his big bully of a friend, gets downright uppity as everybody starts batting aside tendrils of old web that's gotten everywhere, and then just scarpers, possibly for good, because as happy as he is to feed Master and the other, Nasty Hobbit, to Shelob, apparently he doesn't want to watch (though more likely he just doesn't trust Shelob not to "forget" to leave him out of her dinner plans). He'll just wait and dig through Shelob's frass** later. Because he's brave and klassy like that. Anyway, Samdo blunders around a while, Sam quotes Admiral Ackbar and wishes for TomBom to come and save them and then remembers the Simaralcrum.
And, by the way, good thing Galadriel implanted that post-hypnotic suggestion to remind Frodo to call out "Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima!" once it's all lit, because I seriously doubt he would have busted out with that on his own. Of course, she could have just, you know, told him, but no, "he knew not what he had spoken; for it seemed that another voice spoke through his." And how else would Shelob have found him, huh? Oh wait, that's right, Galadriel's on our side. Never mind. Except wha--?
Because now Shelob, grand-daughter-or-something of Ungoliant, who was Darkness in Spider Form (kind of like Venom, right?) shows up and basically spews shadow to combat the Silmaralcrum's light just before she attacks! And between the Silmaralcrum and Sting (remember Sting?), she looks almost bested for a while but for her stinger. D'oh!
And while Frodo is getting stung, Sam is ready to save him, but oh no, Gollum! Gollum stops Samwise from rescuing Frodo until it seems it's almost too late. "So far, Gollum's plot had succeeded."
But Sam finds Frodo anyway, bound up in super-silk, Sting on the ground next to him. Sam grabs this up and attacks Shelob with it, because he is brave and awesome as well as being erudite and attentive to detail. He gets her in the eye, but her return assault, even as she thrusts herself upon "a bitter spike" (i.e. Sting), almost crushes him. I always envision Sam basically carving his way out, though this detail is left out of the novel. Le sigh. But what he really does is even more awesome, really, because he grabs the Silmaralcrum, busts out with even more erudition in the form of what amounts to a powerful Elvish incantation, and kicks Shelob's ass but good.
And then he finally gets to see to Frodo properly, only to find he's mostly dead. Possibly all dead. And Sam has to make some decisions. Does he go on alone to the Crack of Doom (hee hee. Sorry, had a spell of being twelve again) and leave Frodo's body behind, probably to rot if not to simply turn to frass eventually after all? I remember the first time I read this, I was absolutely convinced through these pages that Frodo was dead, and that the third book, title aside, was going to be mostly All Samwise, All the Time and fist-pumping the air, except that was long long ago, in a time before fist-pumping was a Thing. Anyway, he takes the Ring on its chain from around Frodo's lifeless-seeming neck and promises he'll come back for Frodo's body if he's at all able, after the quest is fulfilled. I totally believed he would, too, while I thought Frodo was dead, because Sam is Awesome. And so, with the Ring heavy like regret around his own neck, Sting at his side and the Silmaralcrum in his pack somewhere, Sam sets off...
...and almost blunders into a company of Orcs! And his only way of escaping detection is, you guessed it, to put on the Ring. And with his heightened Ring senses, he hears the crack of stone and, down away under the rock "the bubbling misery of Shelob"*** and the Orcs speaking their own language, which he can now understand because Ring and then he runs away, back to Frodo, because he is now terrified of the Ring and has lost all confidence in his ability to Bear it. And possibly thinks it can resurrect the dead? I don't know. I've never felt like I've known. But it's all moot because some of the Orcs got to Frodo first, and are carrying him off! And it's suddenly a very good thing indeed that Sam thought he was dead and took up the burden alone, isn't it?
And many pages of Orc-squabbling later, we learn that while Peter Jackson doesn't have much respect for Sam, these Orcs certainly do, because something freed Frodo from her silk, and something cut through her webs, and something drove her away from Frodo (and thus made it safe enough for the Orcs to find and fetch him), and it sure as Mordor wasn't Frodo, was it? Heh.
But glory be, Frodo is alive! And this means Sam still has work to do before he heads off to Mount Orodruin: he has to rescue Frodo!!!!
*Yes, I am one of those who feels bad for Gollum through all the books, even when he betrays. I can't help it. I have a long history of being very upset by characters like this. Don't even get me started on villains brought low who cry. Oh man.
**Frass, for those of you who are not versed in the study of our more-legged fellow creatures, is the droppings of an insect or arachnid (such as, say, a spider). Yeah, I'm talking about poop. Because I am also klassy like that.
***Yes, almost there, with that line, I felt a little sorry for Shelob. Just for a moment, though. Shut up.