Sunday, August 12, 2012

Puttin' the Blog in Balrog XIV: Return of the King VI: 1-4

We last left Samdo in deep, deep kimchee as a co-worker of mine likes to say when there are people who are around who wound be offended by her saying "excrement." Frodo, whom Sam left for dead, has been carried off by Orcs, leaving Sam to trot after the rescue raiding party as best he can, invisible thanks to his desperate decision to put on the Ring, packing Sting, too, and regretting more than ever that he hadn't been able to get the mithril mail off Frodo while he was plundering. Oh, come on, I know it's not like that and he was very torn up over the decision. But I already talked about that.

As Sam stands near the entrance to Shelob's lair (he has had to retrace his steps a bit to pick up the trail to where Frodo has been taken), Tolkien helps us out a bit by explicitly placing this action in temporal context with the other characters' scenes, something he rarely does. We are, as Sam starts thinking about how the Snape he is going to rescue Frodo, concurrent with Denethor's first moments of serious insanity before his attempt at burning himself and his mostly-dead son alive. So while the Steward of Gondor fights with madness and Pippin sort of fights with the Steward, the rival goblins who took Frodo are fighting with each other up in the Tower of Cirith Ungol.

"I'm coming, Mr. Frodo."

Like Gandalf's choice to save Faramir at the expense of many lives on Pelennor Field, Samwise's* choice to rescue Frodo is a bit troublesome. Taking the Ring, whether you're using it or not, invisible or not, into a Tower infested/inhabited by who-knows-how-many Orcs to save his friend, just one friend, even if it is your best friend, puts the whole rest of the world in jeopardy. And while Gandalf has someone (Prince Imrahil of Innsmouth Dol Amroth) to take over command of Gondor's forces and some other someones (Eowyn and Merry) dispatch the


for him, Samwise has nobody waiting to check into the game, as it were. Coach put him in when Shelob fouled Frodo and took him out for a while, but there is no one left on the bench.

Actually, he doesn't even have a coach!

And the basket into which he's gotta shoot? Dude, it's way out of even hail-Mary range. "In such an hour of labour Sam beheld Mount Doom, and the light of it, cut off by the high screen of the Ephel Duath... now glared against the stark rock faces..." and that's even before he gets a load of what's guarding said basket (he's very lucky Mordor plays zone defense instead of man-to-man) (I think. We're really pushing my sporting knowledge here).

But so let's abandon the basketball metaphors and go somewhere I'm more comfortable, because this bit when Samwise first gets a load of the Tower here, the Ring, which he has just recently used for the first time, starts messing with him. Even though it's on a chain around his neck, it starts tempting him "gnawing at his will and reason," like the Adversary with Jesus. Imagining himself as Samwise the Strong with a flaming sword, he starts believing he could lead an army to conquer Mordor altogether, and when that's done he'll make the sun shine and the flowers grow whether they want to or not, by gum! And here Tolkien makes a declarative statement that I can't agree with, claiming it's "the love of his master that most helped to hold him firm." I say its Samwise's thinking of that giant garden he would force into existence. Gardens aren't forced, they're coaxed, by patient people propitiating the elements and caring for the soil. And he is one of those patient, coaxing, propitiating people. What need has someone like that for a Ring?

Although it would be pretty sweet if he could make anything grow...

I always found the next bit, with the Two Watchers, the most uncanny part of the whole epic. Are they made of stone or do they just appear to be? Can they move if someone with a strong enough will makes it through their force field type thingie? We never find out for sure, because Sam busts out the Simaralcrum, which scares them silly, makes them break the field themselves, and gets through, though not without setting them to screaming the alarm.

Luckily, there don't seem to be a lot of Orcs left alive to respond, and the few that are seem easily intimidated by what they have imagined Samwise must be: that mighty warrior who kicked Shelob's ass in the tunnel. Which he is, except hobbit sized; they just see what they want/expect to see when they look at him. So he scares one away, not knowing that Orc bears "a precious burden" and comes to a dead end, where he starts to sing, which annoys another Orc into revealing the trap-door above which may be found Frodo. Samwise follows the Orc up into that top floor, about to whip Samwise's (cough) master, and slices off the Orc's whip-hand. Booyah, Samwise!

By the way, what is it with Orcs insisting on pouring their energy drink down everybody's throats?

If I had an awesome artist like Megiggles, there would totally be a picture of Manoj Bhargava all Orc'd out, right here.

What happens next is probably the scene I'd nominate for the second most amazing/important/pivotal scenes in these novels, after Eowyn and Merry kill the WKoA: Frodo's supposition that the quest has failed because the Orcs took everything, followed by the revelation that actually the only thing that was left to take after Sam left Frodo for dead was the mithril mail, followed by an ugly quarrel that is only saved by Samwise's patience, goodness and strength of will. As soon as Frodo realizes that Samwise has the Ring, he demands to have it back immediately. When Samwise observes that it's an even heavier and more unpleasant burden now that they're in Mordor and offers (out of the best of motives, I think; Samwise is another Faramir, whose true goodness pretty much proofs him against the temptations of the Ring) to share the load if Frodo wishes, Frodo gets seriously nasty and Gollumesque: "No you won't, you thief!" This while Samwise is in the process of handing the Ring back, mind. And after he's risked all there is to risk, all of Middle Earth, to save him.

That Samwise forgives Frodo immediately, and never holds this moment of bitch-faced weakness and malice against him may seem like mere servility on Samwise's fault, but I think this is a demonstration of Samwise's extreme wisdom and compassion. Having borne the Ring a little himself, he realizes that, while he could probably take it to Mount Doom himself, he might not be able to bear it and Frodo, and since he's already risked all for Frodo, he's not going to leave him now. No, if Frodo takes the Ring, Samwise can concentrate on keeping the pair of them alive and get them through, as we'll see shortly when he carries Frodo up the slopes of Orodruin. It's sadly calculating but also shrewd, this decision he makes. It's also totally Samwise.

And now there's nothing for it but to dress the basically naked Frodo up in Orc drag. Oh, if Treebeard could see them; he might rethink his classification of hobbits as not-Orcs, eh?

But UH OH, as Samwise has to use the Similracrum to get past the Watchers again, the alarm they kick up notifies a flying Nazgul! But of course they get away, though they learn of yet another thing that Orc armor is not proof against. Uh. Thorns.

Dudes, why do Orcs even get armor? They might as well just get chainmail bikinis. And that would actually make them fearful to behold. I know if there's one thing no one ever wants to see, it's an Orc in a chainmail bikini.
I have never been more relieved to be right about something in my life.

The next day sees Samwise and Frodo observing a curious thing: a Nazgul passes over them but it's going the other way, shrieking "woe and dismay, ill tidings for the Dark Tower." We have just been told that at this moment Theoden lies dying at Pelennor, so there can only be one piece of bad news a Nazgul can be carrying to Barad Dur: the death of the WKoA. So not only does Eowyn and Merry's feat signal a sea change for our side, but it's a terribly disheartening blow to the Enemy, too. See? Most important single event in this novel!

And the rest of this section, and yes that includes the shocking revelation that Gollum is still on the hobbits' trail, is just foot-tappy time passing for me, until we get to the point so brilliantly depicted in the greatest song ever to grace a cartoon of questionable quality:

True story: that was the first song I ever bought to go on my Mp3 player.

I always snicker a little at their escape. Good thing that whole other army happened along to cause mass pandelerium into which the hobbits could disappear.

Does it seem to anyone else like these two hobbits spend pretty much the entirety of these last two novels mountaineering? For here they go again, but Frodo is too spent to even crawl up the slopes of Orodruin; as he pretty much prophesied earlier, Samwise has to carry him, but is surprised at how light Frodo is. I'm sure lots of the "Ring causes everything" crowd have bounteous theories about this, but I just figure the better part of the year's marching and boating and climbing and getting poisoned by giant creeping evil in spider form have left Frodo rather wasted and insubstantial. He's probably skin and bones and weighs not much more than a rabbit. As for the Ring not adding to the actual weight, well, no. Its burden is psychic, and Samwise, focusing entirely on another's well-being, altruism personified, is pretty much proof against it.

But then comes Gollum, who attacks the pair and has his first real try at just physically taking the Ring. But Frodo grabs the Ring on his chain itself, and even though he's not wearing it, it imparts some extra confidence and authority, perhaps even actual power though I tend to think of it as a magic black feather unless it's actually worn, and Frodo says "Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path. Your time is at an end.

You cannot betray me or slay me now.

And then we suddenly see things from Samwise's perspective. And somehow, these two combatants look somewhat different, metaphorical versions of themselves, or what they could potentially become soon. Gollum is "a crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing" and Frodo appears as a figure in white "stern, untouchable now by pity" who calls out to Gollum that "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom."

Prophetic much, there, Frodo?

At any rate, they retire into the house with scornful looks exit Frodo, on his way solo to the aforementioned Fire, leaving Gollum to the tender mercies of Samwise. Who suddenly discovers just how extensive his mercies really are; when Gollum cowers, Samwise realizes just how much it really does suck to be Gollum and spares Gollum's life and runs to catch up with Frodo.

Who has decided not to destroy the Ring after all, thank you very much. Instead he puts it on, and suddenly Sauron is very much aware of him for the first time -- Aragorn's big diversion at the Black Gate has been working very well up until this point -- and Sauron freaks the hell out and summons everything, leaving his millions of minions just sort of loitering around with a bad case of the stupids because the mind that has been driving them is suddenly very much occupied with something else. But he's too late. Everybody's too late. All kneel before Zodo.

But wait, there's still Gollum, whom Samwise sees struggling with an invisible foe. Off comes the Ring finger, to the longing breast of Gollum goes the Ring, and down into the fires teeters Gollum, just as Zodo had commanded.

And then Sauron discovers the real extent of his folly. If only he had hired trustworthy contractors who didn't adulterate the foundational concrete with a whole lot of magical crap instead of doing quality work. But no. Down comes pretty much everything, crumbling, melting, shattering, pretty much everything you don't want load-bearing stuff to do.

Meanwhile at the Black Gate, those flying dei ex machinae, the Eagles, have shown up, there to prompt every over-analytic, picky fanboi and fangurl to start wondering for all time why they couldn't have just taken Samdo to the volcano in the first place, but no, their job is to bring the boys back to Ithilien, where all the bigshots await their pleasure.

I love how Samwise just breaks down into wonderful tears when a minstrel announces that he is going to play a song of his own composing, about "Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom" just as Samwise had daydreamed about betimes. Hooray!

Now it's really all just running out the clock from here. There I go with poorly understood sports metaphors again...

*I'm going to call him Samwise from now on; Sam is his slave name.


  1. Replies
    1. Isn't it just? I had to rush to it to wash the horrors of Don Henley and Glenn Frey from my mental ears 8)

  2. "Kneel before Zodo"... Bwa-ha-ha-ha! This is one of your best coinages ever, and that's saying a LOT, my friend. Great post.


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