Sep 29 2009 11:34am

LotR re-read: Two Towers IV.2, “The Passage of The Marshes”

cover of The Two Towers This week it’s chapter IV.2 of The Two Towers, “The Passage of The Marshes,” in our Lord of the Rings re-read. As usual, spoilers for the entire book and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Frodo and Sam follow Sméagol through the night and stop at dawn. Frodo offers Sméagol lembas, but he is unable to eat it. Despite Sam falling asleep on watch, Sméagol fails to eat them.

They cross the Dead Marshes, Frodo reacting with dreamlike horror to the dead faces in the water. Sméagol is terrified when a winged Nazgûl flies right over them. Frodo is visibly more and more tired, thanks to feeling the Ring and Sauron’s Eye.

Sam overhears Sméagol and Gollum arguing, with Gollum advocating taking the Ring, possibly with the help of an unnamed female. Gollum’s hands are nearly at Frodo’s neck when Sam pretends to wake. Gollum reverts to fawning over Frodo, until they feel a Nazgûl fly overhead twice in one night, after which Frodo must threaten him to get him to move.


This is moving faster than I remembered, with the Sméagol v. Gollum debate all the way back here in chapter 2. And yet I’m still finding it hard going, because my intellectual appreciation has yet to outweigh my emotional response.

It’s two things, really: First, it’s watching Frodo get more and more worn down. Second, it’s the entire dynamic with Sméagol, Gollum, Frodo, and Sam. I don’t know if it meets any of the formal definitions of a tragedy, but it has the sick inevitability that I associate with the form: I can understand and sympathize with everyone’s actions, but I still want so badly for it to come out otherwise that the claustrophobia of plot is overwhelming.

That said, I do have a bunch of notes for the chapter, so let’s get into the details.

* * *

Sméagol’s retelling of the fish riddle is in three parts. The first is how it was told in The Hobbit: “Alive without breath; as cold as death; never thirsting, ever drinking; clad in mail, never clinking.” The second sentence was omitted, perhaps because it makes the riddle too easy: “Drowns on dry land, thinks an island is a mountain; thinks a fountain is a puff of air.” The third part is likely a Gollum original: “So sleek, so fair! What a joy to meet! We only wish to catch a fish, so juicy-sweet!”

Speaking of Sméagol, as we discussed in the last chapter post, here is a statement of some caution from Frodo: “There is a change in him, but just what kind of a change and how deep, I’m not sure yet.” Sam also feels—but does not outwardly express—some ambivalence regarding Sméagol in this chapter: after a hungry Sméagol fails to eat them while sleeping, Sam is “half remorseful(),” and shortly after he sums up his attitude toward Sméagol quite nicely when he thinks, “The nasty creature; the poor wretch!”

(This chapter is Sam-POV except one brief dip into Frodo’s thoughts. It deliberately stays out of Sméagol/Gollum’s POV, but we’ll get to that.)

I also had a little more appreciation of Sam than usual for me when he reacts to Frodo’s saying that he doesn’t expect they’ll live even if they succeed: no denial or attempts at false cheer, just silent comfort and sorrow.

* * *

The Dead Marshes. For me, it’s the combination of the dreamlike insubstantiality of the lights and faces, as the past slowly comes back, and the disgusting physicality of the muck and ooze, which evokes the nastier aspects of the past, that makes them so beautifully creepy. (I think the specific association of the lights with the past is the reason I didn’t associate them with will o’ the wisps until just now.)

Frodo, being more sensitive to the supernatural, reacts more to the first aspect, and is twice described as acting as though he were in a dream. A bit of his description reminded me of poetry:

They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. [*]

And does anyone else find funny Sméagol’s caution that the hobbits must be careful or “go down to join the Dead ones and light little candles”?

Something I only noticed now, which I find even more creepy: the lights go out when the Nazgûl approaches. They react.

[*] Which reminds me of something completely tangential, a quote from Stephen King’s The Waste Lands (chapter I, section 28), which on looking isn’t that similar, but it still gives me the same feeling: “‘All is silent in the halls of the dead,’ Eddie heard himself whisper in a falling, fainting voice. ‘All is forgotten in the stone halls of the dead. Behold the stairways which stand in darkness; behold the rooms of ruin. These are the halls of the dead where the spiders spin and the great circuits fall quiet, one by one.’”

Oh, and before we leave the Marshes: the post about WWI mentioned a comment about how fear “force(s) people down towards the level of beasts.” The three are compared to animals twice in this chapter: they “squat() like little hunted animals” when the Sun comes out, and the day after the first Nazgûl flyover, “they cower() under a black stone like worms.” There’s an implicit comparison when Sam thinks about how they mimic Sméagol’s motions, including stooping and crawling, as they cross the Marshes: “Three precious little Gollums in a row we shall be, if this goes on much longer.” There’s your danger, right there.

* * *

Back to POV. Our brief dip into Frodo’s POV is after the first Nazgûl flyover, just a paragraph describing how he is troubled by the Ring and the Eye. Here’s the next paragraph:

Gollum probably felt something of the same sort. But what went on in his wretched heart between the pressure of the Eye, and the lust of the Ring that was so near, and his grovelling promise made half in the fear of cold iron, the hobbits did not guess. Frodo gave no thought to it. Sam’s mind was occupied mostly with his master . . . .

It would have been perfectly unexceptional to dip into Sméagol’s thoughts here, but the narrative deliberately stays out of them. Instead, when it wants to give us the conflicts in Sméagol/Gollum, it resorts to a conversation that Sam can conveniently overhear—though I don’t recall that his overhearing ends up having any plot effect. I find it hard to believe in the psychological plausibility of that conversation (physiological either, what with the alternating lights in the eyes), but I also find it hard to care.

But I shouldn’t be surprised that the narrative deliberately refuses to enter Sméagol’s POV, since I have belatedly noticed that it always refers to him as Gollum. (I prefer to call him Sméagol for now, except when he is about to strangle Frodo. Call it my own expression of hope in his better nature.)

* * *

A couple minor notes about the end of the chapter. The sterile landscape before Mordor presumably evokes the trenches in WWI France (my notes on the WWI article didn’t include that, and the book’s gone back to the library), but for me the much more immediate reference is a genuine industrial wasteland.

Frodo dreams and wakes refreshed: “a fair vision had visited him in this land of disease,” which he does not remember but which lightens his burden. This is a minor supernatural intervention that I had overlooked until now.

The second and third Nazgûl flyovers do a nice job of establishing the chronology of this book in relation to the last one:

soon the menace passed, high overhead, going maybe on some swift errand from Barad-dûr. . . . About an hour after midnight the fear fell on them a third time, but it now seemed more remote, as if it were passing far above the clouds, rushing with terrible speed into the West.

We are now at the end of Book III, which again is later than I remembered. If the story had been told in strict chronological order, we’d have two chapters’ worth of Frodo and Sam to eleven of the rest of the Fellowship. My first reaction is that this imbalance is an argument in favor of the split, but on reflection I’m not sure, since Book III is itself made up of different threads. What do you all think?

Finally, both this chapter and the last end on descriptions of silence: “Over all the leagues of waste before the gates of Mordor there was a black silence,” and “they walked in silence with bowed heads, seeing nothing, and hearing nothing but the wind hissing in their ears.” Just in case we missed the bleak desolation and isolation they’re experiencing.

« “Frodo and the Great War” | Index | Two Towers IV.3 »

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.

1. MKUhlig
I am always somewhat surprised when I re-read this book that it does go quickly, since in memory it seems to take forever. But that I think is because one is drawn so into Frodo and Sam's world, and their struggle to keep going against such daunting physical and mental obstacles.

That is one reason why I like the way the books are structured. If they were intercut chronologically you would not have the immersion into Frodo and Sam's despair - you would keep being popped back into the Rohan and Gondor action - and I think that it would be less powerful.

The other reason is, of course, that I first read it more than 30 years ago and could not now imagine it any other way!
2. legionseagle
I agree about finding the remark "go down to join the Dead ones and light little candles" funny - what's more, I think Smeagol intended it that way. It's a tribute to his essential hobbitness that even after however many centuries of dominance by the Ring he can still manage a joke, even if it's rather a grim one.
Tony Zbaraschuk
3. tonyz
Mordor is partly an industrial wasteland (and a volcanic landscape, too, and a few other things); no reason Tolkien can't draw on both WW I and the bad side of industry.

(One is tempted to refer to Jo Walton's The Industrial Ruins of Elfland, except that her Welsh valley still had vegetation after the Coalpocalypse.)

One reason for the temporal imbalances between Book III and IV is that Book IV at the start skips over several days while Frodo and Sam are running around the Emyn Muil, the same days when Aragorn & company are chasing the other two hobbits (i.e., the first half of Book III). Book V will pull a similar trick with Pippin peeping out under Gandalf's cloak several days after the end of Book III, and not quite yet to the end of Book IV.

And, yes, Book IV is a tragedy: The Damnation of Smeagol By The Fumbler Sam Gamgee.
4. DemetriosX
I agree with legionseagle that Sméagol was making a little joke here. Wrapping a warning in a bit of humor is very hobbity!

I also think that the Dead Marshes also reflect something of Tolkien's WWI experience. Shell craters in no-man's-land would often fill up with water after heavy rains and it was not uncommon for bodies to lie in those craters for days before a ceasefire allowed them to be collected. Not only that, but soldiers would also sometimes drown in the trenches. Consciously or unconsciously, this must have influenced Tolkien's descriptions here.

Finally, regarding the Sméagol/Gollum debate, it did help to maintain Sam's mistrust and I believe he has a moment of recognition when they encounter the unnamed female. But the main point here is foreshadowing for the reader without getting into S/G's head. Frodo can't overhear it without knocking the plot out of whack, so Sam has to. As for the varying lights in his eyes, think of it as changes in his expression, particularly around his eyes, as the two personalities alternately come to the fore.
Susan James
5. SusanJames
When I first read the books as a kid, I remember thinking the Mordor chapters were so long and wretched to read. When I read them aloud to my own children, I warned them of that and then, was so surprised by how quickly they moved! Luckily my warning had caused my kids to feel the same way. "Gosh, Mom, it wasn't that bad."

As for going into Gollum's head, I think Tolkien really saw Sam as the hero in this part of the book. A lot is made of Frodo's burden and struggle but fact is, the mission would have failed without Sam.

And I have to take issue with anyone blaming Sam for Smeagol's lost redemption. Sam was right to keep his guard up. Gollum was twisted. We don't get to see inside his mind, but I feel pretty certain that Gollum was not ever going to allow Frodo to destroy the ring. And Frodo is only able to "tame" Smeagol by calling on his(frodo's) ownership of the ring, which is a dangerous thing for Frodo to be doing. Sam saw that.

And Sam does try to share his nice stew with Gollum, hoping he'll prefer cooked food, instead of raw meat, like as you pointed out, an animal.

The scene with the lembas was important to Tolkien. I've read that he thought of them as symbolic of communion wafers given out at Catholic churches. And the idea that the more you depend on them (on God/faith) the less you need other material matter fits in with the bit which says the more you depended on lembas, the stronger you become. Interesting that Sam still craved his good old hobbit food.
Soon Lee
6. SoonLee
Re: Sméagol’s joke* about the hobbits lighting little candles.

*Yes, I thought it was a joke, and bleakly funny. For me, it was a signifier that he was not completely evil. Someone capable of making a joke like that was perhaps not irredeemable.
7. DBratman
Sam is all of the above: the real hero and responsible for Gollum's tipping over the edge and right to be suspicious. That's what makes it a tragedy.

I find the point when Frodo tells Sam he doesn't think they'll live to return, and Sam's reaction, to be one of the key moments of the book. This is when it really sinks in to Sam what he's signed up for. But notice that he doesn't believe it. He keeps trying to be prepared for a return journey. One of the marvels of Book 4 (and to an extent the whole saga) is Tolkien's elegant awareness of quartermaster issues. You always know about how Frodo's and Sam's supplies are doing, without having to be obsessed about it.

I agree that Mordor reads more like industrial wasteland than WW1 trenches, for the most part. Suggestions that Tolkien was thinking of the English Midlands industrial region of his childhood, part of which is known locally as The Black Country (!), are not inappropriate.

The Dead Marshes are quite another matter, and John Garth once wrote a stunning paper connecting that to a visit Tolkien made, while writing this, to his old school and his realization of how many war-dead ghosts walked the pavements.

Yes, I thought Gollum's remark funny. So is Sam whispering fissh into his ear to see if he's really asleep.
Ian Gazzotti
8. Atrus
@5 Considering Tolkien's distrust of direct allegory, I would say that in this case 'a lembas is just a lembas' and not a hidden memento of the holy communion. Its sustenance power comes more from being the elvish equivalent of a power bar rather than from holiness and earthly detachment.
9. Dr. Thanatos
Two thoughts:

first of all, regarding the lembas: I am in the process of re-listening to Two Towers and I am struck by the drink the Orcs gave Pippin, which seemed suspiciously analagous to the miruvour of Imladris. I speculate that the Elves and Orcs,who may have a joint origin, also have certain resources in common including refreshing health-promoting potions ---in this light it makes it easier for me to see the lembas as an elvish Tigermilk Bar as opposed to a mystic symbol .

Secondly, I am intrigued by the parallels between the Dead Marshes and the Barrow Downs. Sauron is, after all, the Necromancer; and we get to see 3 instances of the Dead not staying Dead in the LOTR. But I find the Barrow Downs more actively creepy and evil than the Dead Marshes . Is there any thought out there as to why a distant site, presumably set up by Sauron's stooge in Angmar, should be more aggessive in terms of Dead activity than that right outside his gates?
10. DemetriosX
Dr. Thanatos @9
I suppose you could put it down to the Dead Marshes coming into existence as a result of the fall of Sauron. They sort of happened organically from the residue of evil. The Barrow Downs were a little more deliberate. IIRC, Merry had a false memory of being killed in an attack by Angmar, so the Witch King had more than enough opportunity to set things up to be a lot more active.

As for Isildur, that wasn't really necromancy, more like the Law of Unintended Consequences.
11. DBratman
Atrus @8: It's really the other way around. While Tolkien would have been cross at any declaration of direct equivalence between lembas and the communion wafer, i.e. an allegorical one, it is definitely the spiritual value of the stuff that he has in mind. He was very cross at the idea that it was merely "the elvish equivalent of a power bar" or (the actual words used to him) a "food concentrate."

He wrote, "No analysis in any laboratory would discover chemical properties of lembas that made it superior to other cakes of wheat-meal. ... In the book lembas has two functions. It is a 'machine' or device for making credible the long marches with little provision ... but that is relatively unimportant. It also has a much larger significance, of what one might hesitatingly call a 'religious' kind." And he cites a passage from Book 6 Chapter 3:

"The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam's mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind."

Note the second sentence: It feeds the will only, and does not nourish you physically. You could starve to death on meagre rations of lembas, but you'd keep going until the very last moment. And that's about what happens.
12. Dr. Thanatos
Don't get me wrong...I don't mean that there isn't a suggestion that the lembas nourish the spirit. That may be a particularly "Elvish" virtue especially as Tolkein has positioned the Elvish Exiles as having returned from Heaven and having insight into such things; but I think you can see it in both ways: a food meant to sustain your body as a plot device, and to sustain your spirit also as a plot device and to engender lots of intereting discussion.

And as the Orcs seemed to have a healing draft that was analogous to miruvor, do you wonder if they had something equivalent to the lembas? I don't think we saw anything explicit during their long run in the opening of Book III but it would be interesting to wonder if the "other side" has their spiritual sustenance?

Since the Barrow-Wight's incantation looked forward to a Dark Resurrection at the end of the world, you could speculate a whole spiritual system for the bad guys that might mirror those of the West; that would have it's Dark equivalent of lembas;maybe something that Gollum wouldn't choke on?
Kate Nepveu
13. katenepveu
MKUhlig @ #1, If they were intercut chronologically you would not have the immersion into Frodo and Sam's despair--very true, but there are times when I think I might prefer that! Unresolvable matter of taste.

legionseagle @ #2, a tribute to his essential hobbitness that even after however many centuries of dominance by the Ring he can still manage a joke--oh, nice point. I now have this vague idea about some truism that evil has no sense of humor, but I have no idea where it came from or whether it fits with the text of _LotR_--I am rather more sleep-deprived than usual at the moment and I could just be making it up.

tonyz @ #3, book IV also feels free to elide days after Gollum joins them.

And I don't think I agree with your putting responsibility on Sam alone, but we'll get there. (I think I may have said differently very early in this process, but hey, that's what this process is about, my re-examining old ideas.)

SusanJames @ #5, does the idea that lembas is symbolic of communion wafers make sense of that very odd comment of Frodo's that he thought they would do Smeagol good if he could bring himself to eat them? It doesn't really fit with my vague ideas about communion, but then I'm not Catholic.

Dr. Thanatos @ #9, I got the impression--not supported by any particular thing, mind--that the Dead Marshes just happened, not that Sauron actively created them. Pollution rather than highway robbers, maybe?

Also, I am completely forgetting what Isildur did. Remind me?

DBratman @ #11, I hate to jump back into the great lembas debate, because I seem to recall it getting very acrimonious previously (I stayed out of it because I was busy and honestly I didn't care that much), but I feel I must point out that you are inferring an "only" into the text, which is a possible but not the sole interpretation.
14. Dr. Thanatos

Evil doesn't get in any jokes in Lord of the Rings, although they don't have a lot of dialogue. We don't hear the Nazghul sitting around the watercooler shooting the breeze; only when they're at work. We get 99% of the words from the good guys so it's only a presumption that the baddies don't have a sense of humor. Certainly in other literary and media works the bad guys seem to have the best speech writers . By the way, do anyone but hobbits or hobbitoids like Smeagol make any jokes in this work? I don't see Aragorn making small talk very often. The only non Hobbit/Gollum humor I can recall off the top of my head is Goldberry .

Anyone notice any funnies from anyone other than hobbits or Gollum?
15. Dr. Thanatos
In terms of the Marshes, something corrupted the graves of the enemies who fought Sauron in the Battle of the Morannon at the end of the Second Age. I always presumed that was deliberate.

Isildur took the oath of the Mountain Men to fight Sauron; when they all became concientous objectors at the last minute he cursed them to never find peace until they were summoned to fight by his heir; that's where the Dead from the Paths of the Dead came from. And it may be consequences of actions, but it's still cursing them to be restless dead, which is not entirely different from what has happened to the Dead Marshes...

By the way, we don't know the chronology. Did Isildur curse the Mountain Men before or after he acquired the Ring? Because if he did that with the power that was Sauron's, it might explain a bit .
16. Your mailbox is full.
katenepveu @ 13 (responding to SusanJames @ #5):
does the idea that lembas is symbolic of communion wafers make sense of that very odd comment of Frodo's that he thought they would do Smeagol good if he could bring himself to eat them? It doesn't really fit with my vague ideas about communion, but then I'm not Catholic.

I am Catholic, and I think that Tolkien, as a devout Catholic himself, would not have intended a similarity with Holy Communion, simply because it is a fundamental and immeasurably important foundation of Catholic Eucharistic theology. I think that he would have considered it disrespectful to create even a disguised analogue of Holy Communion in ME; particularly when he was so careful to avoid making references to formalised religion.

The idea that "this'll do you some good if you eat it" may be nothing more complicated than Frodo's belief - probably justified - that eating the food of the elves (who, after all, put all that they love into all that they make) would be a darn sight better than grubbing for worms and carrion, or starving.
17. Dr. Thanatos

But Tolkein did make references to formalized religion. Even without Gandalf's death and resurrection, we see Faramir and his standing silence before eating; we see references to the One. There are no formal worship services .

I don't see Tolkein as distancing religion from this story; in fact if you look at the backstory in the Silmarillion and other texts the mythology bears a striking resemblence to christian legend .

Tolkein is not as explicitly christian as CS Lewis but it comes through clearly that his world view and the basis of Middle Earth comes from his personal beliefs.
18. Your mailbox is full.
Dr. Thanatos @ #17: Yes, you're right. Sorry, I didn't explain myself properly. I meant Tolkien shied away from formalised worship, whilst hinting at things higher and deeper. He did say that LoTR was fundamentally Christian (or was it more specifically Catholic?), after all.

To a Catholic, Holy Communion is "formalised worship" par excellence, and it would have been at the core of Tolkien's most cherished beliefs. This is why I think he would not have created a simple analogue in lembas. The central - some would argue the only - point of Holy Communion, in the Catholic understanding, is the direct and personal encounter with God. I don't read lembas as offering that.

Which, of course, isn't to say that lembas doesn't have spiritual effect (bringing me back to the point that the elves put all that they love into all that they make). I'm not arguing that lembas is just elven roadfood, but that the connection between it and Holy Communion is tenuous.
19. DemetriosX
Re humor: Gandalf is at least implied to have a sense of humor, sometimes rather wicked. I can't really think of anything concrete off the top of my head, though. Maybe some of the banter before they get to see Theoden for the first time. (Aragorn a bit too, there.)

As for evil and humor, I seem to recall certain bits of the Orcs interacting, both in what we have seen and in what is to come, in ways that could be seen as evil's version of humor. Very rough and crude, but a sort of joking.
Michael Ikeda
20. mikeda
Dr. Thanatos@15

Isildur cursed the Mountain Men when the Last Alliance was gathering forces, thus before he obtained the ring.

The way the curse was worded, it would go into effect only after the Last Alliance was victorious.

(I seem to recall reading that becoming a "restless dead" was a traditional punishment for oathbreakers in Germanic mythology.)
21. DBratman
Also, Isildur did not become Lord of the Rings, with all the power that that implies, immediately upon acquiring the Ring. It would take time for it to corrupt even his mind, and for him to learn to wield it.
22. pilgrimsoul
@Dr. Thanatos 14

Orcs make jokes--not nice ones and always at someone else's expense. More irony than humor?
23. Dr. Thanatos
I have always suspected that Orcs would be big fans of roast humor
Ian Gazzotti
24. Atrus
@11 I agree with Thanatos that the lembas feeds *both* body and soul, not the spirit only; a sinew is very much part of the body, even a very spiritual one, as the witch-king learned the hard way. :)

Lembas is potent because it is made with elven lore and ingredients from a pure land and soil, but it's not "holy" as, say, food from Aman blessed by Yavanna. If we must find a religious analogy I'd say lembas is more akin to the manna than to the communion.

On Orcs: yes, they do seem to have some sort of perverted humor and irony, don't they? Especially in the following chapters, when they talk about the enemy (aka the good guys) being oh-so-bad and mistreating their allies and so on, and then 5 minutes later they don't have a problem leaving one of their own to die.
25. Dr. Thanatos
Speaking of lembas, do I recall correctly that in the Silmarillion Melian the Maia handed out lembas? If this food originated as a product of a semi-divine being, and is now being manufactured by said being's students, how would that impact on our discussion?
26. Your mailbox is full.
Dr. Thanatos @ #25: Hmm. I'll go and dig out my copy of the Sil and have a look. I would say that Atrus @ #24 has identified a closer parallel, though; The equation lembas = manna seems to me to be more balanced than lembas = Holy Communion.
27. Dr. Thanatos
I had thought about the manna, but it hadn't made it to a post yet. Manna, though, at least in our (Jewish) literature wasn't connected with spirituality or endurance; it was just stuff that tasted like anything you wanted it to taste like. No specific sense of "this will nourish your soul." It's just tasty food in a wilderness where a few million people would otherwise starve to death because it's, like, wilderness.

Lembas, for better or for worse, seems to have some kind of mystic quality---more so than food whose uniqueness is that it is provided by divine grace, but doesn't have any special properties other than flavor.
28. Your mailbox is full.
Dr. Thanatos @ #28: Well that just goes to show that I am as liable as the next person to over-interpret something that is not a central part of my tradition. :-)
Susan James
29. SusanJames
@Your mailbox is full

But manna is simply collected after falling from the sky while communion wafers are given in the act of fellowship. However, I'm not Catholic and don't pretend to understand all the theology.

And I did not come up with the idea myself. I read it in a bio of Tolkien- unauthorized, Architect of Middle Earth- which claimed he said the lembas were representative of the act of breaking bread together and receiving spirituality, comfort, fellowship- whatever- through that act. I don't think he meant it as an exact correlation. Tolkien didnt' mean to hit us over the head with it, but his beliefs are in his work.

Of course, Christians aren't the only religion or culture that believe sharing one's food and eating together is more than just simply sustaining the body. I see Frodo as attempting to reach out to Gollum, to include him in fellowship just as the elves reached out to the Fellowship by giving them the lembas. Anyone can identify with that.
30. Your mailbox is full.
SusanJames @ #29: That's the point I'm trying to make. To Catholics, Holy Communion is more - much, much more - than just an act of fellowship. In some Christian traditions, that's "all" it is.

If Tolkien had written from one of those traditions then I think that lembas would be a plausible analogue, but he was a highly educated, devout Catholic. I think that he would have had a good understanding of Catholic Eucharistic theology, and for that reason I do not think he would have equated lembas with Holy Communion.

But speaking of fellowship meals, my other half is calling me and I can smell pizza. :-)
Michael Ikeda
31. mikeda
Dr Thanatos@25

In Chapter 21 (Of Turin Turambar) of the Silmarillion, when Beleg Strongbow leaves Menegroth to seek out Turin, Melian gives him a gift of lembas. This was a great honor since "the Eldar had never before allowed Men to use this waybread".

According to TolkienWiki (thetolkienwiki.org), HOME XII contains additional information about Lembas. It was made of a special corn developed by Yavanna that "had in it the strong life of Aman, which it could impart to those who had the need and right to use the bread" and the "art of making of the lembas" was learned from the Valar.
32. ElaineT
meant Tolkien shied away from formalised worship, whilst hinting at things higher and deeper. He did say that LoTR was fundamentally Christian (or was it more specifically Catholic?), after all.

Catholic, yes. It's in letter #142 "The LOTR is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously so in the revision. that is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything ilke 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. ... I have consciously planned very little"

And while I have it out, I've looked up lembas. in relation to the Eucharist, he says "one critic Another saw in waybread(lembas)= viaticum and the reference to its feeding teh will and being more potent when fasting, a derivation from the Eucharist. (That is: far greater things may colour the mind in dealing with the lesser things of a fairy story."
Michael Ikeda
33. mikeda
A followup to my comment at 31.

First, it's possible that the HOME XII excerpt is using "corn" in the broader sense of "grain", rather than solely referring to what is generally just called corn in the U.S.

Second, while there may have been some influence of either communion wafers or manna on the concept of lembas, I see lembas as being something fundamentally different from both of them.

Communion wafers main purpose is to serve as part of a spiritual ritual. As food, they're nothing special. And while manna IS special as food (IIRC), it's also highly perishable.

Lembas is "simply" the ultimate travel food--light, nutritious, relatively non-perishable, and tasty. Remember that Gimli (before he tasted it) initially mistook it for "cram", another travel food that is both less nutritious and much less tasty.
34. Dr. Thanatos
To sum up: Lembas make us think of manna, but they ain't manna; they make us think of communion wafers but they ain't communion wafers. Lembas is lembas.

I am reminded of a short story by Asimov where a physicist brings Shakespeare to the present with a time machine and enrolls him in a college course on Shakespeare. He has to return the playwright, humiliated, to his own time after he is given an "F" for not seeing the symbolic meaning the author put in the plays.

Clearly the Elves used lembas because they had left Valinor in exile the day before Yavannah was going to tell them how to make trail mix...
Andrew Foss
35. alfoss1540
In reading about Smeagol throughout this book, I have tried to remember everything we already know of his past - since losing the ring. He has been to Mordor - taken prisoner - then escaped and made his way back - captured by Aragorn and dragged to Mirkwood.

Though he has travelled in the Dead marshes and knows them well, he seems to have a more than familiar relationship with the dead who reside there - the will o the wisps and the mucky things in the water. What relationship or knowledge could he have with them while remaining alive? It s a level creepier than most care to imagine and most of us are happy that he does not delve into it. But as a Lovecraft fan, I would love it spelled out.

Also, we know he was captive of Sauron. Smeagol stays on the edge of acknowledging it in conversations.

It is an interesting line Smeagol he marches on - Beholdant to Sauron, To Shelob, To Gollum and to the Ring.

When he is being Tricksy, it seems he is doing it for different causes, and may not be completely aware of who it is at the time it is happening.
Jeff Weston
36. JWezy
Dr. Thanatos@14:

On humor, evil, I recall the Uruk-hai (crossing Rohan) and the orcs of Mordor (in the tower near Cirith Ungol) having some jests, very orcish humor indeed.

And the Mouth of Sauron clearly is toying with our heros, and having a laugh at their expense.

On the whole, however, I agree, Evil seems to be serious business.

Dr. Thanatos@15:

I never stopped to consider that (assuming the cursing of the Mountain Men was post-Ring) the Ring itself might have had a hand not only in the seriousness of the curse, but in the efficacy as well.

Interesting later comment (mikeda@20) that the curse was pre-battle - citation, please?
Michael Ikeda
37. mikeda

In the chapter "The Passing of the Grey Company" in Return of the King, Aragorn explains to Legolas and Gimli that the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to Isildur on the black stone at Erech and later:

(begin excerpt, Aragorn is speaking throughout the entire quoted passage although at one point he is quoting Isildur)

But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfill their oath, and they would not: for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years.

Then Isildur said to their king: "Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay on thee and thy folk: to rest never until thy oath is fulfilled. For this war shall last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end."

(end excerpt)

Thus Isildur curses the Men of the Mountains during a period where he is gathering forces for the war against Sauron.
38. DBratman
Mikeda @33: "it's possible that the HOME XII excerpt is using "corn" in the broader sense of "grain""

Possible? Quite certain! Grain in general, usually defaulting to wheat, is the standard meaning of the word "corn" in Britain. What Americans call corn the British call maize. That is changing now, under American influence, but not 40 years ago when Tolkien wrote, not for a speaker elderly even then as Tolkien was, and not for someone deliberately writing in an antique style as Tolkien was in this piece. Note the old dialect word "corn-leeps" the second half of which the editor has to gloss.

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