Oct 6 2009 1:01pm

LotR re-read: Two Towers IV.3, “The Black Gate Is Closed”

cover of The Two Towers With this week’s Lord of the Rings chapter, we have only the second chapter whose title is a sentence—but “The Black Gate Is Closed” is just a bit of a contrast to “Three Is Company” (Fellowship I.3). As always, spoilers for the entire book and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Frodo, Sam, and Sméagol arrive at the Black Gate and find it not just closed but very thoroughly watched indeed. Frodo declares his intention to enter regardless. Sméagol, in great distress, first asks Frodo to keep the Ring or to give it to him, and then offers to show him another way. Frodo decides to trust him enough to hear him out, but warns him that the Ring is trying to twist him and that Frodo would put on the Ring rather than let Sméagol have it.

Sméagol is terrified but eventually describes the path he found near Minas Ithil, by which, he says, he escaped Mordor. He is offended when they doubt his story but reluctantly admits that it may be guarded. As Frodo ponders, they hear noises and Sméagol sees Men from the South marching to join Sauron. Sam is disappointed that there are no oliphaunts. Frodo laughs at the oliphaunt rhyme and that breaks his indecision; they will go with Sméagol.


And here’s a chapter where really not very much happens. We’d been doing so well, too.

I don’t have much to say about the specifics of the Very Grim and Forbidding description of the Black Gate and environs, other than that there are two animal comparisons in one sentence: “Beneath the hills on either side the rock was bored into a hundred caves and maggot-holes; there a host of orcs lurked, ready at a signal to issue forth like black ants going to war.”

* * *

There are two bits about the conversation when they first arrive at the Gate that I noticed for the first time here. One is Sméagol’s description of what will happen if Sauron gets the Ring, which is nicely in character: “He’ll eat us all, if He gets it, eat all the world.”

The other is Frodo’s warning Sméagol that he is in danger from the Ring and he will never get the Ring 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.

Maybe a very small subtle hint, only clear in retrospect, at what Frodo is saved from by Gollum’s taking the Ring? Since, of course, Gollum does leap from a precipice and cast himself into the fire, but not at Frodo’s command, and that’s blood he doesn’t have on his hands. (Sam thinks that Frodo looks and sounds in a way he hasn’t before, which suggests to me that this is in part the Ring’s influence.)

* * *

We’ve mentioned this before, but just for completeness’s sake: here’s where we get a description of Sauron: “‘He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough,’ said Gollum shuddering.” Which is nicely economical.

A dip into Frodo’s point of view, here, after Sméagol describes his proposed alternate route, showing his evaluation of Sméagol’s sincerity and trustworthiness. This does two things: first, it shows that Frodo isn’t foolishly naive. Second, it provides a hook for the omniscient narrator to foreshadow and to link the reader back to the rest of the book:

Its name was Cirith Ungol, a name of dreadful rumour. Aragorn could perhaps have told them that name and its significance; Gandalf would have warned them. But they were alone, and Aragorn was far away, and Gandalf stood amid the ruin of Isengard and strove with Saruman, delayed by treason. Yet even as he spoke his last words to Saruman, and the palantír crashed in fire upon the steps of Orthanc, his thought was ever upon Frodo and Samwise, over the long leagues his mind sought for them in hope and pity.

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.

How do people find the reference to the other characters? I like it and find it elegant, I always have, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to find it jarring.

Also, this quote introduces a problem in the timeline. I had thought we were to understand the two Nazgûl flyovers from the last chapter as indicating that then we were contemporaneous with the end of Book III, but now it’s the next day and Gandalf is only now on the steps of Orthanc? I haven’t gone back and counted the days, but Appendix B agrees with this chapter, not the previous one, for what that’s worth.

* * *

We get a glimpse of one army of Sauron’s and a secondhand look at another. Early in the chapter, Frodo sees gleams of armor and mounted riders, and knows that “These were Men of other race, out of the wide Eastlands, gathering to the summons of their Overlord.” Then at the end, they hear voices approaching, and Sméagol looks and reports back:

‘More Men going to Mordor,’ he said in a low voice. ‘Dark faces. We have not seen Men like these before, no, Sméagol has not. They are fierce. They have black eyes, and long black hair, and gold rings in their ears; yes, lots of beautiful gold. And some have red paint on their cheeks, and red cloaks; and their flags are red, and the tips of their spears; and they have round shields, yellow and black with big spikes. Not nice; very cruel wicked Men they look. Almost as bad as Orcs, and much bigger. Sméagol thinks they have come out of the South beyond the Great River’s end: they came up that road.’

This is Sméagol talking, so his reliability is in question. However, as we’ve discussed, the text hasn’t previously hesitated to equate inner character and outer appearance, which makes me less dismissive of Sméagol’s assessment of their characters than I might otherwise be. The entirety of this description evokes stereotypes of African tribal warriors to me; whether it would have had the same effect for Tolkien, I can’t say. I also can’t remember if it’s someone from this region or another that Sam feels a moment of curiosity and empathy about, later. Regardless, I don’t recall getting much more substantive about the human societies who serve Mordor, and I do wish that Tolkien had found some way to explore who they were and why they were fighting for Sauron. Also that he didn’t equate character and appearance.

(Since I have raised race I feel the need for my ritual disclaimer. I am not saying that Tolkien was consciously racist or A Bad Person or a member of the English KKK-equivalent or whatever. I am saying that (1) I find that some of LotR has unfortunate resonances with racist attitudes; (2) said attitudes do and did permeate Western society to such a degree that it takes conscious effort not to unconsciously absorb and perpetuate them; (3) I point out places where I find LotR to be problematic not to cast aspersions on Tolkien’s character or to harsh other people’s squee but because (a) this is a close reading, after all and (b) it’s important to point out racially-problematic aspects of things because that’s how to stop unconsciously absorbing and perpetuating racist attitudes.)

* * *

I was good and tried to mentally hear Sam’s rhyme about the oliphaunts, and was thrown off-kilter when the first several rhyming couplets didn’t match up with the end of sentences. That is, it starts,

Grey as a mouse,
Big as a house,
Nose like a snake,
I make the earth shake

—and I expected a period, not a comma and the continuation “As I tramp through the grass; / Trees crack as I pass.” The next two sentences end in the middle of couplets, which I also find a bit odd, though not as much. I have no idea if this expectation is based in any standard of quality for poetry, but I usually don’t have anything to say about the poetry, so hey.

* * *

I mentioned last time that the first two chapters in this book ended with isolating and fearful silence. This time we get that almost at the end, just after Frodo trying to remember if Gandalf had had any advice for this problem. It’s broken by another Nazgûl flying overhead. Then the approaching army comes, which brings up the oliphaunts and allows the chapter to end on laughter for a change. It also includes Frodo hoping for a grander journey—“a thousand oliphaunts with Gandalf on a white one at their head,” which is interesting since Frodo does not know that Gandalf is now the White or riding a white horse—and then rejecting it, because he knows full well that he’s not in that kind of story. And if the reader hasn’t figured that out by now, well, I guess they can’t say Tolkien didn’t warn them.

And on that cheery note, see you next week, when stuff starts happening again.

« Two Towers IV.2 | Index | Two Towers IV.4 »

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. alexanderFerrie
I'm not sure that I get the racist part here. Sure,there's lots of mention of black and red equipment and black hair and eyes, but at no point is there any other mention of anything that would identify race. It reads to me like a description of a very warlike people, but doesn't evoke african warriors. I don't want to appear rude, but this strikes me as seeking fault where there is none.
Brian Kaul
2. bkaul
There is a mention of "dark faces" but combined with the long hair, my mental image was more along the lines of a Native American strangely decked out in gold bling than a tribal African.
3. DemetriosX
I always saw them as Saracens from the Crusades, myself. I think it was the earrings.

I was just about to interpret Frodo's comments to Sméagol as a sort of hypnotic suggestion, but realized that Gollum does not intentionally throw himself into the fire. It's just a bit of foreshadowing. Maybe even a prophetic moment.

I have no problem with the references to the other characters. It's a better way to tie things in with the events in Rohan, than trying to match up Nazgul flights with the earlier narrative.
4. JoeNotCharles
Was it explicitly said that the Nazgul flyover in the last book was the first time their winged steed had been seen outside Mordor? (No, can't be - Legolas already shot at one on the Anduin.) I always just assumed the Nazgul in the last chapter were going on some other errand, perhaps to the battle of Osgiliath.
j p
5. sps49
I didn't pick up on the "precipice" and "fire" bits; that is just a bit much to not be deliberate.

I imagined the Easterners as vaguely Arabic types, mostly due to their name, the maps and because horses were included. Mongol-esque was also possibility.

Who they were and why they fought for Sauron- that is because the Valar are too Eldar-centric. The Quendi get a visit from Orome and an escort to Aman; the only contact Men get is second-hand to the Three Houses of the Edain who are the only Men in close proximity to the Eldar. Everyone else is left to Morgoth (he brings Easterlings all the way to Dor-lomin) and, later, Sauron. Heck, non-Elves end up barred from Aman altogether, both de jure and, after Akallabeth, de facto.

The Numenoreans tried, at least near the coasts, but they were merely Men....
Andrew Mason
6. AnotherAndrew
I think the men coming up from the south are definitely Africans. This may not be clear from this passage alone, but when oliphaunts later appear at the battle, they are in the company of people who are clearly Africans.

Do we ever get a description of the men from the east? I know some people read them as Asians, but it has always seemed possible to me that they should simply be seen as Eastern Europeans, and therefore white.
jon meltzer
7. jmeltzer
I read the Easterlings as the eastern steppe nomads of medieval European history - the Huns, Avars, Turks, Mongols, et cetera.
Tony Zbaraschuk
8. tonyz
The Nazgul that Frodo sees are flying west to Isengard to investigate Saruman -- they're probably not flying at jet speed, so it will take quite a while for one of them to cross the Entwash and Rohan to arrive at Isengard. (The one sent in direct response to Pippin's peering into the Stone arrives at Meduseld the morning Gandalf and Pippin arrive there, though it's easy to miss since it only shows up in flashback narratives.)

In general, we know that African types (black skin, etc.) are coming up from the South; they get mentioned in a few places. I think it's an African type that Frodo sees here -- is it clear whether they're coming from the East or up out of Ithilien. Easterlings could be a number of possibilities -- the Wainriders might be early Indo-European types, or Avar/Turk/Mongol types. It's hard to say.) Remember: Middle-earth may map to Europe, but the Numenoreans are not necessarily Indo-European types -- the House of Hadar are blondes IIRC, but the Beorians are black-haired and I don't know if anyone has ever figured out the Second House (maybe Howard's Picts?). Given the consonantal root-structure of Adunaic, the Numenoreans may be Semites of some type or another (or just possibly Sumerians...)

And this is where we see Frodo threaten to use the Ring. It's not kind or merciful, no. I don't think he's _actually_ using the Ring yet, just threatening to, but the point is that he's gotten far enough to consider using it to command someone else's will, instead of just to escape away like the times he's used it before. This is a major step... and it's just this sort of command that he will use later on, just before the end.
9. Marc Rikmenspoel
If you want to know about Easterlings and Haradrim and the like, game designers over the past 25 years have written about them. First it was for Iron Crown Enterprises, in their Middle Earth Roleplaying supplements. These are well done, and while they are out of print, they can be found with a bit of searching.

Since ICE lost the Tolkien gaming license, there's been plenty of fan-produced gaming material for Middle Earth. Links to much of it can be found via MERP.com. Of course this material is not by Tolkien himself, or based more than slightly on his notes, but it is fun to read.
10. DBratman
Frodo's naive idea that he could just walk in to Mordor by the main entrance, a notion dashed once he gets there and sees it, mirrors the author's own naivete: in the earlier sketches that's just what Frodo did.

Gollum's reference to the Black Hand is proof, if it were needed, that Sauron has a body and is not some sort of helpless disembodied eyeball as certain famous films have it. "The Eye of Sauron" - "of" meaning "belonging to." An interpretation of that as meaning he is an eye would allow an interpretation of "the Black Hand" as meaning he's Thing from the Addams Family movies.

The name "Cirith Ungol," had Frodo known it, would have given the game away, as it's an Elvish (Sindarin) phrase meaning "cleft of the spider." Oops, spoiler alert!

Judging from their previous appearances in Gondorian history, waves of marauding warriors from the East, the Easterlings should be thought of as like Mongols. The Southerners, yes, appear to be African. Tolkien presents both as seeming exotic to the hobbits, as why should he not, but in his work in general they're presented as not so much evil as deluded by Sauron, the master deluder. At the end of the next chapter, just before Sam finally sees an Oliphaunt (my, I am issuing the spoilers today), there is a striking moment when he considers the feelings and thoughts of a dead foreign warrior. It's moments like these, where Tolkien takes the trouble to remind us that they're human too, that convince me that any racist effects in LOTR are societal echoes and not personal malignancy.
11. Martin in Dublin
I agree that the Easterlings most probably correspond to Turkic/Mongol analogues, and Southrons align more with North African types (the Oliphaunts always remind me of Hannibal). I recall reading somewhere (maybe the Letters or Carpenter's bio?) that he considered Gondor to be somewhat analogous to the Byzantine Empire, which battled those cultures from the East and South over centuries.

And the take I have on the 'inherent nature' of these groups in Middle Earth is that Sauron was at the core of their religion, and he had spent centuries twisting their cultures to suit his ends - so looking to link them directly to race/culture types in the Real World(TM) and infer the Prof's opinions on same is on shaky ground at best.

Of course, some of these cultures were scary enough in reality to require little dramatic enhancement in a fictional version!
Tony Zbaraschuk
12. tonyz
At the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, we will see men from "Far Harad" who are pretty clearly not just African-including-North-Africa, but black-skinned.
13. firkin
What struck me about this chapter:

This was an evil choice. Which way should he choose? And if both led to terror and death, what good lay in choice?
He had laughed in the midst of all his cares when Sam trotted out the...Oliphaunt, and the laugh had released him from hesitation.

It seems to me like there's something important about the nature of hobbits going on here, Sam sitting on the edge of ruin, as it were, telling children's rhymes; Frodo suddenly able to laugh and in that moment making the choice that doesn't lead *immediately* to terror and death. Which might almost pass for hope in such a situation.

also, sps49@5: "the Valar are too Eldar-centric." Totally. On the one hand, it's like any humans who didn't happen to run into the Noldor at exactly the right time were completely written off, and that such peoples would end up under the influence of the other major Power(s) seems pretty forseeable. On the other hand, i think i recall reading that many peoples in ME (Harad among them) welcomed the sea-faring Numenorians, which presumably they wouldn't have done were they worshiping Sauron at the time. I don't know what, if anything, we're supposed to infer about these peoples' 'inherent natures' (the Numenorians themselves, after all, followed Sauron once) but a lot of this has echoes, to me, of historical/missionary christian ideas about who has had exposure to The Word, and what that means about their belief systems and role in the world re: good vs. evil.
14. Lsana
@5 sps49,

To be fair to the Valar, the reason they took a "hands-off" approach with men was because they recognized that they had screwed up with the Eldar. The Children of Ilutavar (sp?) were never meant to be toys or dolls for the Valar to play with; they were supposed go out in the world and make their own discoveries and build their own societies. When they were brought to Aman to be the Valar's beloved pets, Feanor's rebellion and all the disasters that came with it were a predictable consequence. If they had tried to do the same thing with men, for whom free-will is even more important, it would have been even worse.

Of course, I could easily see how Sauron could manipulate people into believing that the "we aren't going to make pets out of you" theory was actually "we don't give a damn about you"...
15. Dr. Thanatos
@14 lsana,

Exactly! There were three themes to the Great Music, and the first two didn't make much headway against Melkor. The third was the most successful. In one of the Shaping of ME books this was analogized to: direct confrontation with Melkor , removal of the Eldar from ME , and indirect guidance most notably the Wizards who encouraged Men Elves and others not only to stand up for themselves and make their own moral choices, but to learn to cooperate . Look at Gandalf's confrontation with Saruman: he had to be given a choice and to make it freely. Gandalf said repeatedly that this was necessary, and I think this stands as an example for how the Powers had finally learned to handle things.

The Valar had lessons to learn themselves, it seems; and the biggest one was to offer advice either on or off stage and let everyone use their free will...
Kate Nepveu
16. katenepveu
Hi, all. I remember not nearly enough enough about the other groups of humans to comment on the closest analogies that you all are discussing, so I'll just keep it all in mind for when we get there.

JoeNotCharles @ #4, the Nazgul flights aren't explicitly linked to Book III by the narrative, but we have one passing high overhead and then later that night one "rushing with terrible speed into the West," which seemed to me at the time to be an obvious reference to the patterns of Nazgul traffic after Pippin looks into the palantir. Maybe it was intended that way and the chronology got screwed up, or maybe it was a coincidence, but if the latter I wish someone had pointed it out to Tolkien so this wouldn't have happened, because I don't think it was an unreasonable conclusion to draw.

sps49 @ #5: because the Valar are too Eldar-centric

And *that* would be why _The Silmarillion_ makes me so cranky.

DBratman @ #10, I think you need not issue spoiler alerts here. =>

firkin @ #13, thanks for extending the thought about Frodo's laughter and the apparently-hopeless choice. One finds hope in weird places in _LotR_, it's true.
Soon Lee
17. SoonLee
DBratman @10:
Re: "Cirith Ungol". I wouldn't necessarily take knowing the meaning of names as spoilers. Place names as a basis for decision-making can be risky. I suppose a Hobbit might (naively) assume that names are factually descriptive but that might not always be true.

Neil Gaiman had fun with London place names in "Neverwhere" where there was an Earl in Earl's Court, and Night on Knightsbridge etc.

firkin @13:
Re: Hobbits and laughter

Good catch!
Hugh Arai
18. HArai
Kate@16: I find your take on _The Silmarillion_ interesting, not least because I've always had a very different view: Instead of feeling Men were unfairly treated, I have always felt sorry for the Valar and to a lesser extent, the Elves. Imagine knowing regardless of how accomplished, powerful, learned, and (in general) faithful you are, individually or as a people, your destiny is fixed. You will spend your time and that's it. You don't get to succeed beyond expectations or hope. Or like Melkor, you can't even twist the plan, and enact your will. I've always thought between knowing the plan and actually being able to decide if you follow the plan, being "in the know" is a lousy second prize.
Birgit F
19. birgit
“He’ll eat us all, if He gets it, eat all the world.”

That's a better description of Ungoliant. Gollum is planning to betray the hobbits to Shelob, the last child of Ungoliant. Is he unconsciously giving away his plan here?
20. pilgrimsoul
JRRT was certainly a man of his time and culture and LOTR and his other writings reflect them--look at his treatment of women, for example. I don't think he ever questioned dark equals bad. On the other hand he mentions Hobbits and Men living together in Bree favorably and holds up the friendship of Gimli and Legolas as admirable. The Fellowship is integrated, so maybe his heart was in the right place even if his cultural background wasn't?
21. DBratman
"I don't think he ever questioned dark equals bad."

He certainly frequently used dark as a marker for bad. On the other hand, it's not that simple. While some of the most favored Elves are blonde, there's no indication that dark hair indicates a strain of evil.

Similar comments have been made about language, that Tolkien favors Elvish liquid sounds, and that use of plosives and gutterals indicates evil. And yes, there is the Black Speech. But what about Dwarvish, which is also harsh but not evil?
22. Dr. Thanatos
And don't forget what Tolkein says near the beginning: Not all is gold that glitters.

And: "'I would think that a servant of the Enemy would look fair and feel foul.' 'Ah,' laughed Strider, 'and I look foul and feel fair?'"

There's a very succinct statement for judging based on action, not appearance that cuts against any suggestion of LOTR racism .
23. Your mailbox is full.
pilgrimsoul @ #20: I don't think he ever questioned dark equals bad.

I don't think it is as simple as that. After all, Bombadil "knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless".

I think that Tolkien's portrayal of Men under the dominion of Sauron as those whom we might today describe carefully as non-European comes about as a matter of geography. Mordor had long conquered the lands to the south and east, simply because they were the furthest away from the Valar and the landing of the Numenoreans. Certainly in all the maps I've seen, Rhun, and particularly Harad, are look equatorial-ish. The inhabitants of those lands wouldn't have survived if they had looked Nordic.

A writer in the present decade would probably chose the geography of evil somewhat more carefully, but I doubt that it ever occurred to Tolkien that his geopolitics could be interpreted in a questionable way. After all, for all that he was not perfect, we know from his letters that he certainly despised racism. But that's why unconscious racism is so pernicious: we innocently make assumptions from out of our own race and culture, and are nonplussed when someone of a different race and culture legitimately sees something which we do not believe is there.

This was brought home to me some years ago, when I went to a lecture on unconscious racism, given by a Chinese academic. During the lecture, he showed a number pictures of demons, drawn and painted in a particular traditional Chinese style: pale or white skinned men with large round eyes. Within the culture in which they were created, these demons were drawn as other-worldly and weird, and therefore bad. To me, one of them looked like a caricature of my uncle Thomas (I exaggerate, but not by much). When I subsequently re-read LoTR some months after that lecture, I viewed the "swarthy Southerners" in a completely different light.

I still love LoTR and count it as one of my favourite works of literature; but at the same time I understand that some of the imagery really does not sit happily in the modern world.
24. Samunwise
This chapter brings to mind a question I've always had:

If Gandalf had survived to lead the quest, how did he intend to get into Mordor?

It seems clear from later chapters that he didn't plan to go through Cirith Ungol - in "The Forbidden Pool", Faramir says "I do not think that Mithrandir would have chosen this way." And in "The Siege of Gondor," when Gandalf learns that Frodo did go through Cirith Ungol, "...Pippin became aware that Gandalf's hands were trembling as they clutched the carven wood."

But what does that leave? The Black Gate? It's hard to believe that Gandalf would be as naive as Frodo (and as the author, per #10).
Kate Nepveu
25. katenepveu
HArai @ #18, I know there's all that in _The Silmarillion_ about how it all ends up serving Iluvatar's plan and it's all fated, and yet I still never believed, bone-deep, that Elves and Valar lacked free will. So yes, I would feel sorry for them if I believed it, but I just don't--probably because then I would find so much of the story desparately uninteresting that, as a reader, I unconsciously reject it to protect my own engagement with the tale.

birgit @ #19, hmmm, I hadn't thought of Gollum's comment as revealing his plans, rather his own outlook that's shaped by hunger (for all kinds of things). Interesting.

pilgrimsoul, DBratman, Dr. Thanatos, Your mailbox is full.: yes, it's absolutely more complicated in _LotR_, which is why I am not making an argument for intentionality, as I said, but for societial attitudes sneaking in without Tolkien realizing it--as Yr mailbox says.

Samunwise @ #24, I have absolutely no idea what Gandalf would have done. My instinct is that he didn't plan that far at all, trusting to "chance, as they call it" to provide, and yet it seems awfully irresponsible.
26. DBratman
mailbox @23: "A writer in the present decade would probably chose the geography of evil somewhat more carefully."

Tolkien himself pointed out that in his stories the original home of evil, Morgoth's Thangorodrim, was in the North.
27. Dr. Thanatos
I think it's important to remember that Tolkien set out to create an Anglo-Saxon mythology; it's important to keep that in mind when noting that his "good guys" look European. I don't see it as racist or even politically incorrect.

If you read other fiction from the early 30's through the 50's, especially fantasy literature, the condescending attitude of the Enlightened White Man whose natural duty is to teach and educate the the poor ignorant natives is much different in tone from what Tolkien writes.

Also if you look at the entrenched racism in England during his time, his treatment of the Other is positively enlightened.

I think someone earlier referenced the scene where Sam looked at the dead Southron and saw only their common humanity. Hard to read that and think "Tolkien is a racist."

Furthermore, I will postulate the following: if you read his description of earlier ages, there is much more bigotry and suspicion between different races, including Men and Elves---not to mention the way Dwarves are treated---but he demonstrates that by the Third Age there is an effort to overcome those ancient animosities and behave better. I cite frequently the evolution of the relationship between Legolas and Gimli who started out always sniping at each other and ending up very close . I think that you could read this as a statement on his part about the importance of overcoming prejudice.

It is perhaps too easy to project our own prejudices and insecurities on the words of Tolkien; but I think that looking closely you will find not only a remarkable lack of the racism that he grew up immersed in, but an enlightened attitude that is in context very unexpected.
28. other alias
"The Ring goes South" is a sentence.
Kate Nepveu
29. katenepveu
other alias @ #28, you are absolutely right. Call it a progression, then. => Thanks.
Geoffrey Dow
30. ed-rex
The entirety of this description evokes stereotypes of African tribal warriors to me...

Coming late to this, I had long pictured these particular allies of Sauron as looking more like Mongolian warriors (with maybe a soupcons of stereotyped Native American), but on reading the bits quoted here, I now think that Tolkien, if he had any particular group or place in mind at all, was probably thinking of India.

The elephants fit, of course, as does the dark skin and black (but note he doesn't mention curly or kinky) hair - and it's that last point that makes me think he didn't intend us to picture Africans.

Mind you, as someone above pointed out, he was consciously trying to create an Anglo-Saxon myth, so he might as easily have just been throwing together images of "foreign" together and working with what felt right - and just about everyone on the planet is darker than Northern Europeans!

I also can’t remember if it’s someone from this region or another that Sam feels a moment of curiosity and empathy about, later.

I think it was someone from the same group, since the battle will occur not many days from now (and there's that oliphant!), but Sauron had a lot of allies, one suspects, so it's hard to be sure.

I too would have liked to know more about the Southrons and the Easterlings, etc, so I quite gobbled up Sam's empathy for them when it came (up ahead).
31. DemetriosX
ed-rex @30 I don't think it is someone from the same group, but it is almost certainly someone from the same region/culture group. Sauron is gathering his forces inside Mordor, in the area behind the Black Gate. Sméagol notes that they have come up the road from the south. The group that Faramir and his men ambush is following the same path, but I can't imagine that Sauron is patrolling his armies in Ithilien.
32. Lighthill
f course, Gollum does leap from a precipice and cast himself into the fire, but not at Frodo’s command, and that’s blood he doesn’t have on his hands.

I wonder. Frodo uses a very similar phrasing in the "Mount Doom" chapter when he tells Gollum, "Begone and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom."

It's not quite a command, but it's the same threat as Frodo made before, combining both "leap from a precipice" and "cast yourself into a fire".

It will be interesting to talk about when we get there.

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