Dec 4 2009 3:20pm

LotR re-read: Two Towers IV.7, “Journey to the Cross-roads”

cover of The Two Towers We return to the Lord of the Rings re-read with The Two Towers Book IV, chapter 7, “Journey to the Cross-roads.” I think (she says, crossing her fingers) that work has settled down a bit, so at present it appears we’re on track to finish The Two Towers the week that ends in Christmas. I suspect we’ll go on to talk about the movie after the New Year, not between Christmas and New Year’s, but we’ll see when we get closer to.

And now, as always, spoilers for all of LotR after the jump.

What Happens

Faramir gives Frodo and Sam food and walking sticks. They are blindfolded along with Sméagol, at Frodo’s request, and led out of Henneth Annûn. Though the land is oddly quiet, Faramir advises them to keep to the edge of the forest for safety, and bids them farewell.

They walk for three days in a silence that grows more ominous, and come to the end of the forest and the road from Minas Morgul. There they switch to traveling at night, for fear of the road’s nearness. But the next morning brings no dawn, only a growing darkness. Saying they are in danger, in the dim afternoon Sméagol forces them to hurry to the Cross-roads, where a brief glimpse of the setting sun illuminates the stone head of a king, knocked from its statue but crowned with a flowering plant, before night falls.


I regret taking a chapter-hiatus here, because so little happens in this chapter; but, well, it was open thread or nothing for quite a while at the time, truly.

So, what have we got here? Short transitional chapter, mostly thematic, little action, lot of landscape. It has to be chapters like these that gives me the impression that the journey through Mordor is a slog.

Let’s start with the silence, since Faramir opens the chapter telling Frodo and Sam about it, and it persists throughout. I have absolutely no memory what this is, unless it’s Sauron gathering forces, and for some reason I thought that was later. Regardless, big shiny gun on the mantel, so noted.

The silence, and the way it develops of the chapter, reminds me of an M. Night Shyamalan movie [*], where the silence draws out and draws out and you keep waiting for it to break, real soon, someone’s going to scream, maybe now?, or something’s going to jump out at you, maybe from around this corner?, any minute now, or something’s going to go bang, maybe now, or something’s going to OH PLEASE JUST SHOW US, I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE.

Ahem. That is, the lack of action can build tension all by itself, though obviously this is a tricky technique because it can easily go just the other way. Here, the silence starts as a “waiting silence” and “a false peace,” and then is temporarily less threatening because it’s tied to daylight: “The sun rose and passed overhead unseen, and began to sink, and the light through the trees to the west grew golden; and always they walked in cool green shadow, and all about them was silence.” It later grows “deeper” as the air in the forest becomes “stifling.” Finally, when the darkness begins, they are “oppressed by the gloom and by the absolute stillness of the land.”

[*] Well, one of the two I’ve seen, The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable. I am really highly susceptible to tension on screen, and though I believe most people don’t think highly of Unbreakable, toward the end the silence was getting on my nerves so badly that I just shut my eyes and pretended I was somewhere else.

The silence dovetails with the loss of light, the other major feature of this chapter. This starts with sunset as they come to the forest’s end, which would be unremarkable except that they get an eerie glimpse of Minas Morgul:

To the left lay darkness: the towering walls of Mordor; and out of that darkness the long valley came, falling steeply in an ever-widening trough towards the Anduin. . . . a road went winding down like a pale ribbon, down into chill grey mists that no gleam of sunset touched. There it seemed to Frodo that he descried far off, floating as it were on a shadowy sea, the high dim tops and broken pinnacles of old towers forlorn and dark.

I like the otherworldiness and remoteness of this image, the dark mirror of castles in the air.

The darkness gets ominously concrete real quick: later that night, as they leave the forest, they see what seems to be “a great blackness looming slowly out of the East, eating up the faint blurred stars.” In the next sentence, the blackness is revealed to be only a cloud, but the level of menace is kept constant by its “pursuing” the moon, which escapes but only “with a sickly yellow glare.” In contrast, the failure of daylight to appear is not as threatening, perhaps because it is a gradual realization: no sun, no sun, and . . . yep, still no sun. The effect is thus generally dreary rather than menacing, such as when Sam sees “only a dun, shadowless world, fading slowly into a featureless, colourless gloom.”

Finally for environmental changes, there’s a sound like thunder or drums, about which I got nothing.

* * *

Might as well cover the Cross-roads here and get all the environmental stuff out of the way at once, even though it comes at the end of the chapter. I had somehow managed to completely avoid getting a mental picture of this location until now, so there’s my second new thing for re-reading this chapter. (The first was looking up “ilexes,” earlier on, which (if the Internet can be believed) are holly plants.)

The trees surrounding the Cross-roads echo Frodo’s glimpse of Minas Morgul, with “tops (that) were gaunt and broken, as if tempest and lightning-blast had swept across them, but had failed to kill them or to shake their fathomless roots.” Of course, the foundations of Minas Morgul must also be reasonably sound or the towers wouldn’t still be there, but since this is the section where a bit of hope is dangled before Frodo, it’s important that the description of the trees explicitly state the positive rather than leave it implicit.

And then geography, meteorology, and symbolism combine to give us a ray of sun coming down the West road. With it comes four paragraphs jam-packed with reversals: the light lands on Sam (yay), then on a defiled statue (boo), then on the head of the statue with a floral crown (yay):

‘They cannot conquer for ever!’ said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell.

Which, wow. The last time we had an ending that brutal was, hmmm, probably “The King of the Golden Hall,” when Éowyn is left alone before Edoras.

* * *

Now to the characters, after all this time on the landscape and environment (as the chapter does, more or less).

Faramir gives them staves “made of the fair tree lebethron, beloved of the woodwrights of Gondor.” I don’t know what makes a tree beloved or whether this is obviously modeled on something, but in case someone else does and would like the chance to share, here you go.

Frodo tells Faramir that his friendship “turns evil to great good.” I admit my immediate reaction was, “It did? Seriously?” But Frodo doesn’t seem to know that the effects on Sméagol are not good—more on that in a moment—and he needs the morale boost much more than me. Also, you know, food is a good thing. So I can see that Frodo isn’t merely being polite.

Sméagol, when he first appears, “seemed better pleased with himself than he had been,” which immediately put me on my guard. After they leave Henneth Annûn, he tells Frodo that he “forgives . . . Master’s little trickses,” so he definitely hasn’t forgotten what Frodo did. But this is a very exterior chapter with one exception, so we don’t know if this makes Frodo at all wary—I don’t think so, though, or he might have mentioned it when Sam wonders if he’ll ever be useful or is up to tricks. I think it probably should have, but then Frodo is not exactly in the best of shape, temporary reprive notwithstanding. (By the way: listening and sniffing is how Sméagol tells the time of night? Is this something known in human or animal senses, or is it something we just have to roll with?)

In the one really interior moment, Sam has a dream about looking for something in an overgrown garden at Bag End: “‘A job of work for me, I can see, but I’m so tired,’ he kept on saying.” That’s obvious enough—especially since right after this is the conversation when Frodo says he thinks they’re near the end of the line, err, journey, and Sam says “where there’s life there’s hope.” More interesting is that Frodo is probably dreaming of Gandalf—Sam thinks he hears Frodo say his name in his sleep—but we aren’t told what those dreams are. I don’t think we have any indication, from later on, that they’re actively communicative.

And that’s all I got for this chapter. Next time, we arrive at Cirith Ungol.

« Open thread: fiction responses | Index | Two Towers IV.8 »

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.

Birgit F
1. birgit
When they leave Faramir, they travel during the day. Why is Gollum not complaining about the sun?

Why is Gollum always calling Frodo and Sam hobbits? Does he not consider himself as a hobbit?
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
First off, yes, ilex is the same thing as holly. Holly, of course, has quite a bit of mythological (and even Christian) symbolism attached to it, pretty much all good. This is definitely meant to be hopeful and tie in with the sign of the crowned king.

As for the silence and the gloom, I see a couple of things here. For Gondor, this is the calm before the storm. Everything is taking a deep breath just before Sauron's forces come boiling out of Mordor for their assault on the West. For Frodo and Sam, it offers a sort of preview of Mordor. It marks their transition from the free world to a place under the thumb of Sauron. For story purposes, we are heading into the Dawnless Day; for plot, this is a signpost to help us tie the various narratives together without resorting to the appendices.

For the deeper meaning, we are allowed to see the transition. That would be denied to us if Tolkien left it for their actual entry into Mordor. There is too much else going on at the time for it to have any impact on the reader. I don't want to get too spoilerific here (so jump to the next paragraph to avoid), but Frodo will be unconscious and Sam will be too worried about Frodo. The first time they really think about being in Mordor, they've been there a while and there is no transition for the reader to feel.

Lebethron: I would assume that a wood which is beloved of woodwrights is easy to work, looks good, but is still tough enough to endure use. If it's often used for staves, then it's probably relatively light, too.

As for the rest, it's a transitional chapter, moving the characters from here to there and allowing larger events to synchronize. It also offers the last dose of hope for Frodo and Sam until the end of the major action late in Book 6.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
birgit @1, mostly Gollum is being good to allay the hobbits' suspicions. But they have done a bit of daytime traveling before this. He doesn't necessarily care for it, but he can do it.

As for the hobbit thing, you could look at it a couple of ways. Either it was so long ago that he kept the company of others of his kind that he has lost all sense of his hobbitness, or it was so long ago that he people called themselves something else (I think this is dealt with in the appendices) and so he sees hobbit as something different from what he once was.
4. Lsana
@1 birgit, 3 DemetriosX,

Gollum's people did not use the word "hobbit" to describe themselves, at least according to Tolkien's unpublished stuff. I don't know if this made the appendices, but there was a section in the Unfinished Tales about the information that Sauron got from Gollum. It stated that at the time he was captured, Gollum was unfamiliar with the term "hobbit" and never used "halfling." Thus the reason the Nazgul were looking for "Shire" and "Baggins" rather than for "hobbits."
jon meltzer
5. jmeltzer
Do we get any text on what eventually happened to Gollum's people? All that it seems we know is that they're no longer there at the time of LOTR.
Azara microphylla
6. Azara
I think it's much more likely that "Ilex" is referring to Quercus ilex or Holm Oak, an evergreen oak from the Mediterreanean region. It's a fairly gloomy-looking tree when planted in Britain, and the Mediterranean origin would suit the setting of Ithilien. That's certainly the tree that I've seen referred to as Ilex. (It's a dusty-looking evergreen as opposed to the shinier-leaved holly.) Holly is important enough in the gate of Moria chapter that I can't see any reason why Tolkien would use a different name now for the same plant.
7. zenspinner
Ooo, silence. In my worst nightmares, no matter what else is going on, the world is silent, silent like living in pure vacuum. I hate those so much and I'm so glad I don't have them often.
8. pilgrimsoul
Anyone who has seen the worst part of Britain--or any industrialized country has been through this landscape, and of course in LOTR it will only get worse.
9. Foxessa
Yes. If you had a country background, or spent significant amounts of time in a world that isn't running on urban/suburban time, which is mostly arbitrary, well, yes! you can tell time, and the change of periods of the day, by smell, by hearing, and by lots of other signs.

Did I get this right? This is your first re-reading of LOTR?
10. DBratman
Brian Rosebery's excellent book on Tolkien cites some passages from this chapter in praising Tolkien's descriptive skill. Among other things, he says, relevantly to your comments, "The paradox of movement in stillness reinforces that of an audible silence. ... The landscape becomes suffused with a tension which will be intensified in the following pages."

Azara is surely correct. If it's a "great ilex of huge girth," it must be a holm oak rather than common holly.

The only other clue I have for lebethron is that the casket that the crown of Gondor is kept in was made of it. So it's pretty respected stuff.

I think what Frodo meant by turning evil to great good was nothing to do with Gollum, but that if it were not for evil, he wouldn't have to be on this journey in the first place. Yet because he went, he has now made this friend, Faramir, which turns it to good.

When I read about the desecrated statue, I find it hard not to think of Ozymandias. Cliche, though, probably.
David Levinson
11. DemetriosX
It looks as though Azara @6 is right. I checked in a British dictionary and the primary definition is the holm oak. Holly was also given, but since Tolkien also refers to holly by that name in a couple of places, he probably meant holm oaks.

jmeltzer @5, somewhere or other I'm pretty sure Tolkien dealt with what happened to Gollum's people. I think the hobbits of the Shire are actually descended from them. Certainly, they migrated there from the banks of the Anduin in the distant past. After the fall of Angmar, presumably, and possibly after the death of Isildur. If that was before or after Gollum found the Ring, I don't know.
jon meltzer
12. jmeltzer
#11: Gollum found the Ring in 2463, which was quite some time after the hobbit migration west (1300s through 1600s). His people were the ones that stayed behind by the Anduin. Looking through the Tale of Years I see that in the Long Winter of 2758 the Shire survived only through the help of Gandalf; then could have been when Gollum's people died out. But I don't know of any textual evidence for that.
13. skinnyiain
Doesn't Gandalf say that Smeagol's people were 'the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors' when he tells Frodo Gollum's story? If so, that people did not die out, they migrated and are now known as hobbits. But Gollum doesn't know himself by that name, as suggested in #3 and #4.
jon meltzer
14. jmeltzer
He says they were "akin" to the fathers of fathers.
David Levinson
15. DemetriosX
The topic is drifting slightly, but what can you do with these transitional chapters? Anyway, thinking about the fate of Gollum's people raises some other questions for me. The mere existence of hobbits doesn't quite fit into the mythology. We know where Men, Elves, and Dwarves come from. But nobody has any idea where the hobbits come from. Treebeard had never heard of them, Sauron appears to be equally clueless. Elrond and Galadriel seemingly know about them, but aren't all that interested in their origins.

Gandalf appears to be the only being in the entire history of the three ages who has been at all interested in them. I suspect that is because they don't fit. I can just see him saying to himself, "Wait a minute, where did they come from? They don't fit!" Eru seems to have created them on the sly and hidden their existence from absolutely everyone.
jon meltzer
16. jmeltzer
Meanwhile, we all wait for the army to come out of Morgul.

Speculation: if Faramir hadn't delayed the hobbits a day or so, what would have happened? Frodo and Sam encountering Orc scouts returning, or more Easterlings?

And if he'd delayed them any longer ... right into the Witch-king's army?

Hand of Eru again, I guess.
Kate Nepveu
17. katenepveu
Everyone, thanks for the ilex/holly distinction. Plants, as I have said, are not my strength.

DemetriosX @ #2, I like your point about the transition into Mordor.

zenspinner @ #7, then definitely avoid M. Night Shyamalan movies!

(Randomly: for a look at the inverse of this, take a look at this really neat piece of interactive Flash art, Small Worlds.)

Foxessa @ #9, nope, this is my first re-reading in several years, but there was a time when I re-read literally every year.

DBratman @ #10, you're right, Frodo's referring to evil makes more sense in terms of his personality if he's talking about the entire need for the journey.
18. Eslingen
Concerning the hobbits, what if the Maia Olorin, participated in their creation?

I'ts be an explication for the interest of the Wizard Gandalf the Grey in the Shire.

And it's a little off-topic, but to me Gandalf the Wise is more a Maia that Gandalf the Grey, He has not the full powers of a Maia but he is now one of the most powerful beigs this side of Aman.
19. Eslingen
Excuse me for the abrupt comment, I am a french reader of Tolkien. I take to read LoTR in the original since i discovered a missing paragraph in the Scouring of the Shire in the french version.

I read the comments series since a few months, and appreciate your work.

I have the impression you dislike the class distinction in LoTR, I am correct? I find interesting even after the Fields of Cormallen and the return to the Shire, Sam considers always Frodo as his master.
Andrew Mason
20. AnotherAndrew
Demetrios@15: I think it's worth remembering that the mythology has in-story authors; it was written by Elves and so tells us the things Elves know about. So various things are not included, besides the Hobbits; most obviously Bombadil, but also, I think, Beorn.

Eslingen@18: I'm fairly sure that Hobbits are more akin to Men than the other free peoples, and I think this means that they were made directly by the One, not by the Valar.
21. Chriscot
Agreed with AnotherAndrew @20 - hobbits are closely akin to Men, possibly even an offshoot. Pippin even suggests as much, when he tells Treebeard to add the line for Hobbits next to the line for Men in his List. Likewise, Hobbits refer to Men as Big People...a usage they don't use for the often taller Elves, for example. And they share in Men's "gift" of mortality.

I *really* don't think Gandalf/Olorin participated in their creation; I think he was just wise enough to like them and not to dismiss them because they were small and not among the mighty.
22. ClockworkRoses
DemetriosX @ 15:

I thought that hobbits were akin to the race of Men, or are at least given the same "doom" or "gift" (depending on which race you're asking) of death.

The creation story found in The Silmarillion is an Elvish story, and Elves did not necessarily know of "hobbits" or "halflings," and did not concern themselves of such things.

Hobbits live in the westernmost part of Arda and do not deal with the "big folk." Perhaps those are the reasons for quite a lot of people not knowing about them. But, lest we forget, the race of Men do know about them to an extent, as the halflings from children's stories. Theoden made a comment about this.
Andrew Foss
23. alfoss1540
Gollum traveling by Day???? - remember in the Dead Marshes when he would not even be outside when the moon was full and out - screaming about the white face? Kinda funny after he followed them down Anduin attached to a log.

One of the most irratating parts of the movies is showing them traveling by daylight - when Gollum clearly hates it.

Also, I got geographically lost this time. My mind was not following the Southward travelling road and it was more confusing than other times. Maybe it was my kids jumping on me head while I was reading. I don't remember having trouble with the Brambles before. I had thought they were pretty cool.

Also one of my favorite Gollum transitions - when he leaves them sleeping. I've always believed he was out scouting or meeting up with someone or something. Shelob is just a bit too far off at this point. He is plotting pretty hard now though.
Tony Zbaraschuk
24. tonyz
One of the versions Tolkien considered for "The Hunt for the Ring" in Unfinished Tales was having Sauron simply assume that Baggins, obviously the same sort of creature as Gollum, lived where Gollum had lived, in the area around the Gladden Fields, and thus the Black Riders went there first, slaying or destroying the last survivors of that folk... and incidentally making them six weeks late getting to the real Shire, but I don't know if he ever fully decided what course of action there would best satisfy the needs of story.

He's also pretty clear in the Letters that Hobbits are some variety of Men, in the cosmology of things (hence the terms "Big Folk" and "Little Folk" at Bree, for instance). Elves don't know about them because Elves probably don't really care about those size differences and just notice the common mortality, if they even notice it at all. (Bilbo, at any rate, seems to get some pleasure out of teasing the Eldar at Rivendell that they can't tell the difference between his verses and Aragorn's.)

Note that the haunted towers in the mist visible downhill from Frodo are not Minas Morgul (that horrific sight is reserved for the next chapter) but the ruins of Osgiliath down by the Anduin.
Elaine Normandy
25. FiveAcres
Index needs to be updated.

I've spent the last few days catching up on the LOTR reread. Great comments, everyone.
Susan James
26. SusanJames
I think Gollum traveling during the day is just an example of how the ring drives one to do things they wouldn't normally. Gollum hates the light but he's also becoming increasingly driven. After the incident of Frodo's "trickery" which as we said earlier does seem to be a plot contrivance, Gollum is no longer torn- he's Gollum more than Smeagol. He wants to get the ring from Frodo and so he drives the hobbits on to Shelob. Light or not light.

Back in the marshes, he didn't want to be headed toward Morder, so he constantly whined and attempted to stall them. Now, there on his schedule, his route.
27. Nicholas Waller
The name lebethron makes me think, possibly rather simple-mindedly, of the Cedars of Lebanon. You could call it a beloved or at least much-in-demand woodworker's wood in biblical times, and is still culturally important today: a cedar tree appears on the Lebanese national flag and the tailfins of the national air carrier, MEA.
jon meltzer
28. jmeltzer
Does the lebethron tree grow in the Gondorian province of Lebennin?

(Tolkien wasn't immune to bilingual puns ... just read the Akallabeth)
Kate Nepveu
29. katenepveu
Eslingen @ #19, welcome. A missing paragraph in the French version? How awful. And yes, I find some of the class distinctions in _LotR_ instinctively distasteful, which probably has a lot to do with being an American. I try not to let it color my opinions of the characters too much.

tonyz @ #24, ack, you're right, the towers are explicitly Osgiliath not Minas Morgul, how did I manage to skim over that bit? Sorry.

SusanJames @ #26, I like your idea that the Ring is motivating Gollum to travel by day--whether actively acting on him or just giving him the emotional fortitude hardly matters.
John Patrick Pazdziora
30. mrpond47
Brilliant summary, katenpnveu. I just stumbled across these. As I just reread LOTR myself, I resonate with a lot of what's said. And, for the record, I've seen Unbreakable seven times.

SusanJames @ #26, I think we can't discredit at this point that there's more than the ring at work here. Its influences are invariably malevolent. I've always understood Gollum's ability to travel by day as linked to two causes: 1) the darkening of the heavens before the war, and 2) the positive, 'hobbitizing' influence Frodo has on him. They've drawn closer since the Dead Marshes, and Smeagol's final fall into evil is still a few chapters away.

In general, I can't help thinking that we've somewhat missed the point in regarding this chapter as 'transitional.' Simply as action, well yes of course it is, but in the development of the characters and the spiritual themes of the book, it's crucial. IMHO, it's a slow build-up to the end--the vision of the still-crowned king, the subtle revolt of the natural world against Sauron's unnatural mastery. It's a vision that will give both Frodo and Sam strength in Mordor, where there is no more light to see.
Kate Nepveu
31. katenepveu
mrpond47, welcome. Seven times, huh? Does it get less creepy?

And you're probably right about dismissing the chapter--in some ways it's a hazard of the chapter-by-chapter pace. If I were doing a straight re-read I would probably say "look, theme, okay, next!" and not linger on the lack of _anything at all_ happening in this chapter, you know?
32. formerly DaveT
Eslingen @ 19:

Welcome! Je vous commend pour lire ces difficile chef-d'oeuvres en anglais.

J'ai lu quelque fois le traduction de F. Ledoux, et je regrette qu'il n'existe aucune meilleure traduction pour lire. d'apres M. Ledoux n'évoque que la moindre partie de l'oeuvre de M. Tolkien, et il y a des bêtises de traduction (par exemple, quand Eomer donne le nom "Holdwine" à Merry, indiquant "faithful friend" en Anglais Ancien, et rien qui s'agit du vin).
33. legionseagle
kate@29 - Why, Mizz Katie, seems like I plumb forgot - me being just a po-ah British person from a working class family an' all - that there ain't no'one like an Ahmurrican for gettin' to the heart of the matter. It doan matter what I might say about class and LOTR - needs to be someone talkin' who people really respec' as knowing all about the matter. Well, I'll jest be tuggin' on my forelock and fadin' away, then. It's wonnerful how the colonial oppression do mount up, given a body lets it slide, and you wouldn't want that to happen, now, would you, Mizz Katie?
Kate Nepveu
34. katenepveu
legionseagle @ #33, you are reading far more into what I said than I intended. I expressed a matter of taste and a tendency toward a particular way of thought, not insight or knowledge or correctness or a denigration of others' viewpoints.

Having re-read what I wrote, I do not think it admits of so much ambiguity as to provoke such an intense reaction from you, particularly since class in _LotR_ is not a new topic in these discussions and I would have expected my prior lack of the kind of statements you caricature to be taken into consideration. I regret to find that I was mistaken.

I would also like to make it plain that I do not wish to be called Katie, and that future knowing usage of that nickname is the equivalent of a glove to the face.
Azara microphylla
35. Azara
I'll admit I raised my eyebrows a bit at the "And yes, I find some of the class distinctions in _LotR_ instinctively distasteful, which probably has a lot to do with being an American." remark, but, given previous discussions of the more problematic issues of class and race, I think legionseagle's response was uncalled for. I've always looked forward to your comments till now, legionseagle, but I think that was really quite nasty towards someone who's always been civil.
36. Eslingen
A few ideas on the relations between the four hobbits. Frodo is the eldest (51) and of one the great family of the Shire, and cousin to Pippin and Merry, the heirs of the two great offices in the Shire. Merry is the next eldest (37) the heir of the Master of Buckland ; Sam Gamgee is 36, and as his father works for Frodo. Pippin is the youngest (29) and the heir to the Thain.

Also, their "roles" : Frodo as a mission, the destruction of the Ring, he isn't a leader. Sam, in despite of the likings of Mme Nepveu, considers himself as Frodo's servant, he is logistics (ropes, cookings and ustensils for). Merry has read boobs abd examined maps, he can make plans. And Pippi, hum...

And so to bed for me

good week (with a new chapter I hope)
37. Your mailbox is full.
Bleh. Who dropped all that work on my desk? We hatessss them, Precious. I wish people would stop committing crimes, and I could just get paid to tend my roses.

kate@29: I find some of the class distinctions in _LotR_ instinctively distasteful, which probably has a lot to do with being an American.

I haven't been to America often, but I have been to several different states, and I would say that, on my experience, class distinctions are alive and well in the US. They are, however, of a very different sort to those that permeate LotR.

When I was in Iowa for a few months (recuperating from an extended illness, and visiting friends), I was occasionally disturbed by some of the deferential behaviour and language that I observed between different classes of people. But on the other hand, if someone points out an unpleasant example of classism in the works of Tolkien or any other English writer of the 19th or early 20th Century, I am likely to go "ugh!" - but unless it is pointed out to me, I often simply don't notice.

legionseagle@33: That was just offensive.
John Patrick Pazdziora
38. mrpond47
katepevnu @ 31 -- No. Unbreakeable doesn't really get less creepy the more you watch it. You just start seeing all the fascinating little details you missed the first few times through. Like the color of Willis's shirts.

I'd disagree slightly with the _anything at all_. Physical action--yes, it's just the glorious mundane of taking a long, tiring walk. (Plenty of that in Tolkien's war experience, if I recall.) But the profound and important _something_ of the chapter is seeing the flower-crowned king. It's the last significant spiritual experience the hobbits have before entering Mordor, their last glimpse of beauty before the Ring is destroyed. Frodo needed to see that--a reminder of Gandalf's words from FotR--in order to endure what's before him.

But yes, Tolkien's pacing is in general much slower than most fantasy written now!
39. DonnaIsme
I have to admit the class distinction remark struck me (in passing) as American conceit. American though I am. It would have struck me more forcefully if I were not American.

Anyway, class distinction is part of every society, and I find that how it is conceived and portrayed in a fictional world to be interesting, not offensive. The distance between the classes among hobbits is not far, and friendships can exist between people in different classes, so this portrayal is particularly benign.

If I had been presented with a fictional world with no class distinctions, I may not have noticed it consciously, but I also would have found it more vacuous and less drawn from life, less detailed, and less interesting.

It would also affect the characters chosen for the story: they would all have to be more similar, or else you would have to explain somehow how a farmer and a magistrate (to take an example) seemed to dress, think, and talk similarly; how their society appeared to value them identically; how they seemed to have the same values and education. (Or, of course, you could simply ignore it; lots of writers do.) In the LOTR, you would lose the contrast between Sam and Frodo's way of speech, experience, and abilities. A writer afraid to portray class distinction is a writer who is too timid, and who probably approaches his work with too many blinders on.

I guess I'll sum up by saying I *don't* find the class distinction in LOTR "instinctively distasteful" and in fact I find it a good thing for the quality of the fiction.
Kate Nepveu
40. katenepveu
Hi, all.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments about class and discussions thereof. I appreciate the opportunity to expand and clarify what I said in too much haste.

My reactions to the class distinctions in _LotR_ are the result of my own American-based attitudes towards class. I did not intend to suggest that these were bias-free or objectively right or better than other countries' or anything of the sort. Though I am probably less aware of my own class biases than I could be, nevertheless I do know that Americans are often weird about class, myself not excepted. Just to take three examples off the top of my head: picking baby names is really effective at bringing one's class prejudices to the fore; it is astonishingly difficult for me to not join the ridiculously high percentage of Americans who identify as the middle class, even though objectively I know that our two professional jobs, incomes, and lifestyles put us in the upper middle class; and, most relevant here, I am vastly uncomfortable if I happen to be in the house when Merry Maids comes to clean.

But I do know that when I knee-jerk at class stuff in _LotR_, I'm knee-jerking from my own experience, which is very different the author's and the expected audience's, and that the judgments I would make about a contemporary author writing similar things are not the same as those about an author writing when Tolkien did. Hence "try not to let it color my opinions."

I hope that's clearer.

Your mailbox is full. @ #37, people stopping commiting crimes strikes me as a good thing. All the work on my desk was, sadly, mostly my fault: I was mentally unprepared for drafts begetting revisions begetting even more revisions . . .

mrpond47 @ #38, can you tell me about Bruce Willis's shirts or is that too much of a spoiler (or too much of a digression)? And you're right to poke me about the importance of the glimpse of beauty, thanks. *composes self to patience*

DonnaIsme @ #39, an excellent point that worldbuilding should either have class distinctions or a good reason for their absence.
Tony Zbaraschuk
41. tonyz
One of the things about Tolkien, which is often missed, is the idea that while class exists it isn't fundamental. Aragorn may be the Heir of Isildur and the rightful King in Exile; Elves may be superior to Men in some areas (and not so much in others); Gondor may be more civilized and more in touch with the Valar and the One than the Men of Rohan much less the poor deluded souls under Sauron's dominion. (Class isn't a moral superiority either -- the Valar and the Elves and Men and Dwarves and Hobbits and trees can all fall into evil.)

But the most important thing in all of the Third Age is not done, and could not have been done, by any of the upper classes: none of them have the strength of will to resist the Ring long enough to get it to Mount Doom and throw it into the Fire. Sam Gamgee, common hobbit of the Shire, is the one who saves the world. (With a plentiful helping of grace, of course...)

Strider the Ranger is as real, and as much a part of Aragorn, as Elessar Telcontar; the fireside camaraderie of the Fellowship exists as truly as does the high court scenes.
Kate Nepveu
42. katenepveu
tonyz @ #41, you bet. I have a couple of interesting articles about hierarchy in _LotR_ that I've saving for when we start book V (eek! soon now!), as most relevant there.
43. Your mailbox is full.
kate@40: Thanks for your clarification about class. That was what I thought you meant.

To drag my post back onto topic, I think that mrpond47@30 has the right of it. This chapter is all about the still-crowned king; a last glimmer of hope before despair sets in. I think it is one of the most moving images in the whole book. Simple, elegaic, and painfully poignant. Even more so for us re-readers, who know just how awful will be the hobbits journey from here to the Cracks of Doom.

The king will only have a crown again when the two hobbits (and poor, demented Smeagol) have lost everything.
Soon Lee
44. SoonLee
By the way: listening and sniffing is how Sméagol tells the time of night? Is this something known in human or animal senses, or is it something we just have to roll with?

Well, at one point, my hayfever would only manifest at certain times of the year, and not only that, but at around the same time every evening. I could only assume that it was some sort of night-flowering plant. Floral clocks exist, with "flowers that open at a different time of day, sometimes arranged in the shape of a clock face", so why not the night-time equivalent? With more acute senses, I don't find sniffing to tell time implausible.

My favourite part of the chapter is the bit with the floral-crowned statue and partly, it's the slow pace leading up to it that gives the sequence its power. I also think that the slower pace is a respite not only for the characters but also for us readers. It's much harder to sustain tension if everything happened at the same pace.

Now take a deep breath, things are about to get rough.
45. IP
Are the ruins really of Minas Morgul? I was thinking it was Osgiliath that Frodo saw. Minas Morgul wasn't in ruins...
Kate Nepveu
46. katenepveu
IP, huh; it does look like I misinterpreted the way Frodo was looking, with Minas Morgul at one end of the road and Osgiliath at the other. The description of Minas Morgul in the next chapter makes that clear, but with the slower pace of this reread I hadn't caught it. Thanks!

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