Thu
Aug 19 2010 3:53pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King VI.1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”

We pick up the Lord of the Rings re-read with the start of Book VI, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol.” The usual comments and spoilers follow after the jump.

What Happens

Sam goes to the Tower of Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo, hearing fighting inside on the way. He uses the light from Galadriel’s phial to pass two Watchers at the gate, which triggers an alarm. He finds that almost all of the Orcs have killed each other. He scares away one Orc, named Snaga, through the Ring’s hidden menace and Sting’s light. In the tower he overhears an argument between Snaga and Shagrat, Captain of the Tower, in which Snaga refuses to take news of events to Barad-dûr. Shagrat chases Snaga back into the tower, kills a not-quite-dead Gorbag, and then approaches Sam’s hiding place. Sam leaps out and Shagrat chooses to shove him aside and run rather than fight and drop the bundle he is carrying (which is Frodo’s belongings).

Sam climbs to the apparent top of the tower and cannot find Frodo. He begins to sing; Frodo sings in response. Snaga goes to stop Frodo, and Sam follows him through the ceiling trapdoor and cuts off his hand before he can whip Frodo again. Snaga falls through the open trapdoor and breaks his neck.

Frodo and Sam are reunited, and Sam tells Frodo that he, not the Orcs, took the Ring. Under the Ring’s influence, Frodo calls Sam a thief; he then apologizes. They disguise themselves as Orcs and collect supplies for the journey ahead. They are forced to use both the light from Galadriel’s phial and Elvish invocations of Elbereth to pass the Watchers this time, resulting in the destruction of the gate and a Nazgûl’s approach.

Comments

I found this chapter rather hard to sink into, mostly because I had a hard time transitioning back to Frodo and Sam’s story after so long away and so much else happening. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, the journey through Mordor always seems longer and more painful in memory than it actually is when I read it, so there’s some mental foot-dragging whenever I start Book VI.

After the first time I read this chapter for this post, I actually went back and re-read the last chapter of Book IV and then this one back-to-back to see if that helped with the transition. It did, somewhat, but it also pointed out to me how the two chapters aren’t actually a continuous text with some other stuff shoved in between. Much of this chapter is a reorientation of the reader to Sam and Frodo’s situation; indeed, the first action Sam takes is to retrace his steps back to the pass, which inevitably involves describing locations in terms of what previously happened there. I didn’t notice this initially, which suggests to me that the reorientation is subtle enough to be unobtrusive, though on the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have actually helped me. But then, with such a big discontinuity, I’m not sure what would have, which may well be the most substantial argument against the split-book structure that I’ve come up with so far.

(Another bit of reorientation is when Sam wonders if the others ever think of him, and we are helpfully told that “even now” Aragorn and Merry were on their separate ways to Minas Tirith while Pippin was with an increasingly-mad Denethor. I note this separately mostly because of a comment late in the paragraph: “They were not forgotten. But they were far beyond aid, and no thought could yet bring any help” (emphasis added). Hello, signaling future plot points.)

* * *

One of the ways that my trouble getting into this chapter manifests is that I get distracted by the ways in which their escape is made possible. Of course all authors who are writing about secondary fantasy worlds have to build worlds that allow their plots to happen, by definition. But when I’m not fully engaged with a story, I am more likely to notice. So here, it makes sense and is consistent with everything established so far that the Orcs fight each other so much that they kill almost everyone off; that the Ring, Sting, Galadriel’s phial, and Elbereth’s name affect the Orcs and the Watchers; that Mordor’s shadows hinder Sauron’s ability to spot the Ring; and that Shagrat would choose to go to Barad-dûr with his captive’s belongings rather than stop and kill Sam (though this is the hardest to swallow, considering he had literally just finishing trampling and stabbing Gorbag into a pulp). And yet I kept thinking that, right, check, there’s another thing that has to be just so in order for Sam and Frodo to get out of this near-impossible situation. Again, I suspect this is mostly my failure to fall through the page rather than actual clumsiness in terms of plotting, though I would like other people’s reactions to this.

(Similarly, I would go right past a description like Sam “listening with all his ears” if I weren’t dragging my way through the text. Yes indeed, all two of them.)

* * *

This chapter contains Sam’s temptation by the Ring—his principal temptation, if I remember correctly. I seem to recall being told that early drafts or plans for the book had Sam in a much more conventionally-heroic role, and that his temptation here, and the dark humor of the Orcs running away from him, are acknowledgements of the appeal of such a role and of how it doesn’t suit Sam. (Though I did like the comment that “(h)e would have welcomed a fight—with not too many enemies at a time.”) Consistent with Sam’s character so far, what helps him “most” to resist temptation is “the love of his master,” but “his plain hobbit-sense” also contributes. How his love for Frodo helps isn’t explained, unlike the hobbit-sense: “he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him.” If it were me and I were thinking about my loved ones, it would be the desire not to face them knowing myself diminished. But I suspect I don’t really understand Sam’s feelings for Frodo well enough to say.

* * *

I think it’s a testament to how creepy I found the Watchers that my reaction was that they were much more explicitly magical than anything we’d got so far, which I’m not sure is the case, considering we’ve just seen, among other things, an army of the Dead. Nevertheless: really creepy, even though I can’t break down my reaction more specifically than that.

Unfortunately they’re also the prompt for one of the two “Sam doing useful things without knowing why” episodes in this chapter, when at the end he invokes Elbereth to break their will. That is at least easier for me to believe than the sitting down and starting to sing, “to his own surprise . . . moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell.” But we’ve already talked about how there are apparently two types of people in the world, those who spontaneously burst into song and those who don’t. (I do belong to another one of two types, those who always have a song playing in the back of their head—as I write this sentence, it happens to be Josh Ritter’s “Long Shadows.”) At this point, it’s just something I have to do my best to shrug off, but it doesn’t help me feel engaged by this chapter.

* * *

Frodo. On the whole, I think it probably a kindness that he doesn’t recall getting stung by Shelob. (He says, “Something hit me, didn’t it?”) It’s too bad that he doesn’t have any friends with a more modern outlook on reactions to emotional trauma, though; when he tells Sam, “I’ll never forget (the Orcs’) claws and eyes,” Sam says, “You won’t, if you talk about them.” Which is understandable but not exactly useful, at least in the long term. (It makes me sad that it’s not only anachronistic but thematically inconsistent for there to be effective mental health treatment in LotR.)

Despite being badly wounded and questioned by Orcs and thinking that Sauron had the Ring and calling Sam a thief, Frodo bounces back in true hobbit fashion by the end, with a kind of grim cheerfulness—no hope, but no despair either:

Here, take this elven-cake, and drink that last drop in your bottle! The whole thing is quite hopeless, so it’s no good worrying about tomorrow. It probably won’t come.

But there’s what I think is a subtle hint at the bad things to come, in this chapter, along with the more obvious one of accusing Sam: when Frodo is walking around to wake up, “it looked to Sam as if he was clothed in flame: his naked skin was scarlet in the light of the lamp above.” At first I thought this was more description that didn’t work for me, because “clothed in flame” says something much different to me than “looking red,” but now I think it’s a reference to the flame imagery of Mount Doom, which Sam saw earlier, starting to overtake Frodo. On the other hand, it is from Sam’s POV and it’s not the kind of metaphor he would think in, so maybe I’m overinterpreting.

And I know I’m not doing this chapter justice, but I’ve been poking at this post for way too long and it’s time to queue it up and let you all tell me what I’m missing. Have at, and I’ll try to do better next time.


« Return of the King V.10 | Index


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.

47 comments
jon meltzer
1. jmeltzer
Sam, of course, doesn't just hand the Ring back to Frodo: he is "strangely reluctant to ... burden his master with it again". And then he offers to "share it".

The temptation is still there.
Hugh Arai
2. HArai
Kate: They might not have effective mental health care in Middle-Earth, but Frodo may find healing in Aman, from Nienna. At least that's how I've always pictured it...

She goes rather to the halls of Mandos, which are near to her own; and all those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom.
Tony Zbaraschuk
3. tonyz
The squire singing, and hearing the master singing in response, comes from Blondin's search for Richard the Lion-Hearted after Richard was kidnapped on his way home from the Third Crusade. (Well, it's paralleled by. I'm sure Tolkien knew of the episode, but how do we know if he consciously copied it?)
pilgrimsoul
4. pilgrimsoul
This is the part of the book I reread least, so it will be interesting to read along with you all.

Kate, I'm glad things seem to be better with you. If you won't read Bored of the Rings then the Silmarillion and History of Middle Earth remain. The re read and discussions are so fun, I'm reluctant to have them end, and think of it--by the time you get to the end of volume XII or whatever it is--the Steely Kid will be entering college!
pilgrimsoul
5. slaydragons
Part of the reason that Shagrat does not fight Sam is because with the ring on his possession, Sting and Galadial's vial - Sam looked more than what he was, looker larger or felt very wrong to the orc, who was looking for a reward and praise for bringing the mithiryl coat to his superiors, the only thing of real value found on the prisoner, or so Shagrat thought, Frodo was actually much more valuable and should have been removed to Baradur immediately. Shagrat was being a good soldier and saving his own skin. Sam's love for Frodo is what keeps Sam looking for Frodo rather than taking the ring (claiming it as his own) and going forward to complete the destruction of the ring. Love the reference to Richard the Lion-Hearted.. most definaltey an influence... very cool
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
I was also going to point out that between the ring, the phial, and Sting, Sam looks more like a mighty elven warrior than an exhausted hobbit. Shagrat has plenty of reason to just bull past him and run like mad.

Sam's poor attempt at trauma care is very much a part of Tolkien's time, indeed of any time prior to the last couple of decades. He probably saw a huge number of people he knew being told to stop thinking about being shelled, buried alive in the trenches, and what all so that they could get over it.

This is probably my favorite Frodo chapter, I suppose because it's really a Sam chapter. The doom, gloom and Frodo's whining start up again soon enough. Although we do get a hint the Frodo expects them to die, even if they succeed in destroying the ring, from that passage you quote. It gets paralleled a chapter or two later, as well.
j p
7. sps49
The Orcs term Team Hobbit as "(a) tark work"; the Appendix delves into who the term's etymology, and fans since at least my junior high school have discussed how old this and other references make Shagrat and Gorbag.
Geoffrey Dow
8. ed-rex
Kate,

I too have and always have had (well, probably not on my very first read!) some difficulty swallowing this chapter.

It wasn't so much Sam's cowing of Shagrat - I can accept the power of the ring in combination with the Lady's glass and the eerie Sting scaring hell out of him fairly easily - as it was the fact that all 200 or so orc so conveniently managed to kill each other.

Yes, I can accept that the mithril coat is valuable, but where and how is an orcs going to cash that cheque anyway?

Basically, it seems too much like Tolkien had dug Sam and Frodo a very deep pit and the orcs' remarkably efficient fratricide was his "mighty leap" to get them out of it again.

There were some very effective emotional scenes, put the plot elements were pretty hard to accept.
pilgrimsoul
9. (still) Steve Morrison
Tolkien also used the Blondin motif in the Silmarillion (twice)! When Fingon rescued Maedhros from Thangorodrim he found him by hearing his singing. And when Beren was approaching Thangorodrim and sang his Song of Parting, Lúthien heard him and followed with Huan.
pilgrimsoul
10. Jerry Friedman
There's an interesting difference from the legend of Richard the Lion-Hearted and Blondel. Blondel supposedly found Richard by hearing him finish the song. Sam is not sure he hears Frodo, much less able to tell where Frodo is. He locates Frodo when Snaga goes to whip him. Evil will mars evil again.

(Wikipedia has an article on the real Blondel. It says, among other things, that Orff used one of his tunes in Carmina Burana.)

I apologize to the people who don't like it, but when songs and magic tactics occur to Sam for no apparent reason, I'm sure that's supernatural intervention. Paul Kocher emphasized that in one chapter.

I feel I'm supposed to follow the description of the tower and understand how Sam concludes that its purpose has been reversed, but I can never get interested in it.

ed-rex @ #8: I agree with you completely about the implausibility of all the orcs killing each other. And Shagrat keeps talking about how hurt he is till he starts chasing Snaga and then heads off to Barad-dûr.

Cutting someone's hand off in mid-air can't be easy.

If the text here treats Snaga as a proper name, how does Tolkien know it means "slave" (App. F), and why doesn't he treat it that way here? Because it would be too inconvenient to keep saying "growled Snaga" instead of "growled the slave-orc"?

Political economy again: Sam thinks "The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due..." So his father owns rather than rents Number Three Bagshot Row, with a cottage garden, and Sam stands to inherit? That's reasonable, and maybe it hints that a lot of lower-class hobbits are employees rather than tenants. (Or maybe lots of hobbits need less and are due less than Sam, or maybe they don't get what they need and are due.)
Birgit
11. birgit
I thought the "clothed in flame" was a sign that Frodo is getting closer to the spirit world. Sam can now see it because he has worn the ring himself. It's like when Frodo sees Glorfindel at the ford near Rivendell.
David Levinson
12. DemetriosX
Jerry Friedman @10: I think "Snaga" gets treated as a proper name, because we are getting Sam's perspective. Shagrat and Gorbag get names in the narrative after they call each other that, as does Snaga. Sam just assumes that was the orc's name and thinks of him by that tag.
pilgrimsoul
13. Gorbag
Curiously I never had any difficulty over orcs killing themselves en masse over spoils and a prisoner. It's what orcs do!!! F'gudnessake!

Even humans tend to do it, very, very well:

Fifteen men on a dead man's chest,
Ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest,
Ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!

After all, the mithril coat is probably the best armour any of them has seen, and they'd all like to have it, or at least, have their leader wearing it, hoping of course that Lugburz/Barad Dur doesn't notice and call them in for a quiet little talk ...
pilgrimsoul
14. Doug M.
This is my second-least-favorite chapter of the books, for all the reasons given above. Two hundred orcs? Sure, you can imagine a fight breaking out. But one that kills 99% of the orcs, leaving just one alive and one injured? Even for a veteran of the Somme, that's a stretch.

(BTW, speaking of the Somme, the line about how "The whole thing is quite hopeless, so it’s no good worrying about tomorrow. It probably won’t come," strikes me as very much the sort of thing a veteran of the trenches would have heard, or indeed said. We've already discussed the fine but crucial distinction between going forward in the absence of hope, and succumbing to despair; I think this puts the hobbits quite precisely on the good side of that line.)

Nobody's mentioned it, but the temptation of Sam is a weak spot too. A super-gardener? Really?

There are things of interest. The Watchers, most obviously. Negative attention -- evil that /watches/ -- is a recurring theme in the books, from the Watcher in the Water to Sauron's Lidless Eye. The Watchers, like the Watcher in the Water, guard a mountain fortress now invaded and corrupted by evil; and like the WitW, they're unique beings with no close analogs elsewhere in the books, and are never really explained. Oh, and they're darn creepy.

Like Tom Bombadil in the first book, the phial of Galadriel comes perilously close to being a get-hobbits-out-of-trouble plot card. In Bombadil's case, it needs a page of explanation at the Council of Elrond to justify how he can't help the hobbits any more. The phial gets handled much more deftly: Sam pulls it out at Mount Doom, only to find that *it doesn't work there*, because Mount Doom is the center of Sauron's power, in which all other powers are crushed and silenced. That's excellent on multiple levels! But we can talk about that when we reach that chapter.


Doug M.
Tony Zbaraschuk
15. tonyz
It's possible that some other orcs (on both sides) broke and fled, or were hiding in back rooms and not willing to come out and face a tark. But it never seemed particularly unreasonable to me that a species that's basically defined by hate would keep fighting until there was nobody left to fight.
pilgrimsoul
16. braxis
Didn't Aragorn (or Gimli?) say that the the mithril coat was worth more than the whole of the Shire, when Frodo first revealed it?

If so, you can hardly blame the poor orcs for getting a little worked up over it...
pilgrimsoul
17. CaitieCat
(first comment to the re-read - thanks for this, Kate, it's been brilliant)

I think it's important to remember that Sam is something of an unreliable narrator here (as alluded to by DemetriosX @12), and that while he (and for that matter Shagrat) perceives the orcs to all be dead, it's quite likely that some are wounded, some unconscious or even comatose, others might be hiding under piles of bodies or elsewhere in the tower.

Militarily, they're all casualties, but there'll be some percentage of recovery over a while - the unconscious will come to, the wounded who haven't bled out will take first aid measures on themselves and one another (or, kill the other, if they're the wrong sort).

It doesn't make sense for orcs to be chaotic stupid to the point of slaughtering themselves to the last man. It's just not a viable model for a society of any sort - raising beings to be large enough to fight takes too much resources invested in terms of food and water and so on. For orcs to be chaotic stupid would suggest that Morgoth/Melkior and Sauron are themselves fairly dim, to be unable to see the "destroying themselves quickly" aspect of being that way, and I just can't buy either Morgoth or Sauron as stupid.

For me, the battle here is about the influence of the Ring on the beings around it. We've seen repeatedly that the Ring can have the effect of enhancing strife between even good friends and close allies. Imagine what it would do with a species with a strong ethic of "might makes right", and a system of morality which doesn't include the "thou shalt not kill" thingy. And further, that it's taking place in Minas Morgul, which has become such a sort of Superconductor of Evilitude.
Andrew Foss
18. alfoss1540
Difficult transition Chapter - and a slog as far as pacing go. Gets you ready for the next two that are also slow and hard to read. But the elements of coolness are still there from Book IV. Sam the Stud picks himself up and labors on. After finding Frodo - despite the uncomfortable Ring-Thief moment - Sam is truly the leader.

The nakedness was wierd, being the only reference to it throughout the series. Of course none of them ever have to go the the bathroom, but that is rarely discussed in literature. And then having to put on hairy disgusting orc clothes and helmets is enough to make anyone retch.

Liked the note Sam made about fear of wearing the Ring in Mordor, and the Sauron would notice it in his realm. As well as the note about declaring the ring rather than forebaring.

Also I loved the use of the Phial with the watchers. Further proof of the value of the gift, though it seemed so wierd when she gave it to Frodo.
pilgrimsoul
19. pilgrimsoul
@ Alfossi1540 18

Not sure what you mean re nakedness. In FOTR Tom Bombadil has the Hobbits run naked after the barrow wright takes their normal clothes--a sort of primordial innocence?
Andrew Foss
20. alfoss1540
Pilgrimsoul - good point - they also bathed in Buckland. Just seemed like so much more of a violation here.

Other point - anyone know of any artists renditions of the Tower of Cirith Ungol overlooking Mordor. Having trouble with the visualization

Also are there other references to Narchost and Carchost - The Towers of the teeth. Despite reading this as many times, I do not recall this reference.
pilgrimsoul
21. pilgrimsoul
Alfossi1540, your point about violation Resonates! It's the contrast between a corrupted land and one that is not.
Andrew Foss
22. alfoss1540
Just found at least one - illustration by Bros Hildebrandt

http://www.thelandofshadow.com/mordorgate/1darkdomains/ungol/cirithungol.htm
pilgrimsoul
23. Dr. Thanatos
1) I totally buy the orcs offing themselves; this ties in with the concept that evil is basically self-destructive. The orcs can't keep their focus long enough to overcome jealousy and greed.

2) The Phial. I don't see it as deaux-ex-bottleofstuff; it was set up in advance as "a light in the dark" and that's how it functioned in the two places where it got them out of jams.

3) I did like this chapter. This sequence leads into the next chapter which is an education to Frodo and Sam of what Mordor is all about and what the world would be like if they fail. It is necessary that they and we see what Orc society and Mordor life is like. We got a little taste in book III but this is full blast and takes it out of the realm of "of course we need to win because we're good guys" and puts us squarely in the place of understanding why Our Heroes have to come through.

4) It never occurred to me before that the Ring was influencing the Orcs but this seems more obvious now. It wants to get back to Him, and there's too much chance of an orc grabbing It and falling into a crack in the mountains and being lost for another 3000 years; a little strife would cause the remaining orc to head for Lugburz right quick---unfortunately he didn't off the Tark first. BTW I'm sure that there's no connection but did anyone else think of Tars Tarkus when the big huge muscular Elf-warrior was referenced by this name?

4) I like the Watchers. Not that I would invite them over for dip and DVDs unless they brought the Diet Dr. Pepper, but we've seen Precious little of Sauron the Necromancer. He raised up spirits to go into the Barrow Downs; it was about time that we saw something other than Orcs and Nazghul. If our heroes had had occasion to visit Barad-Dur I wonder what kind of guardians they might have run into...

5) Sam's thinking of Frodo as clothed in flame. Putting aside all subtext as unworthy, I note that everyone who has born the Ring seems to have flashes of poetry and metaphysical insight; I don't begrudge Sam the odd visualisation as Frodo becoming a being of Fire any more than him seeing Frodo as the shadowy lord with the Ring of Fire clutched to his chest and Smeagol as the Whipped Dog . Sam has had mystical visions involving Frodo before and I don't see this as being out of character.
Andrew Foss
24. alfoss1540
Dr Thantos - Point #3 summarizes it well.

Thanks
Tony Zbaraschuk
25. tonyz
We've seen the Towers of the Teeth before, right outside the gates of Mordor at the end of Book V.

Interesting to note that "treachery had yielded up the Tower to the Lord of the Ringwraiths"; another story never told. Probably connected with the Ringwraiths' capture of Minas Ithil; they couldn't have brought an army out of Mordor without taking Cirith Ungol first, and treachery is a common way to take fortresses. (It tends to work better than sieges, actually.) But we have no details.
David Levinson
26. DemetriosX
It occurs to me that there are strong similarities between the Watchers and the god Tash of Calormen in the Narnia books. It makes me wonder if Tolkien and Lewis came up with the image together or if they had a common inspiration (like maybe a stuffed vulture in the pub where the Inklings met?).
Kelly McCullough
27. KellyMcCullough
The orcs all conveniently killing each other doesn't work for me either, in particular because there are other references in the chapter that suggest it was one group of orcs against the other rather than a last man standing gets the goods scenario. The idea that the two forces would be so perfectly matched breaks my suspension of disbelief.
Ralph Giles
28. rillian
Jerry at #10 says,
maybe it hints that a lot of lower-class hobbits are employees rather than tenants.

One thing that really struck me during this re-read is how many of the characters are aristocrats, and since then I've been noticing it in other places, like Narnia, and especially The Wind in the Willows.

The problem with the lower class hobbits being employees rather than tenants is, where do the aristocrats get their money come from, if not from rent? That ordinary people own their land implies that the rich own some other means of production...like factories. And the point of the Shire is that it's a rural idyll society. Does everyone just pay tax to Bilbo? For me that doesn't match the description of Lobelia Sackville-Baggin's interest in Bag End.

I don't understand England's class system well at all, but it's interesting that it's never explicitly addressed in these books. Perhaps someone more familiar with the period can describe how the political economy was supposed to work?
pilgrimsoul
29. pilgrimsoul
Rillian @28

I can take a stab at it. JRRT probably never thought much about the class system any more than a fish thinks about water. It was just there for him and his original audience so he didn't have to explain.
The Bagginses must have had property of some kind as neither Bilbo or Frodo has to work, but what kind of property is never mentioned. JRRT implies that Bilbo became rich as a result of his adventure, but otherwise (and I am guessing here) the money would come from inheritance given their family connections. Perhaps income from some land even if the land did not belong to them.
Merry and Pippin belong to families that definitely own and derive their wealth and authority from land. They, or rather their employees, work some themselves and the rest is rented out. JRRT does not say this; he does not have to. In Britain that just the way things worked until after WWI.
Hobbits further down the social scale may own a shop or craft business or like the Gamgees have a house and garden and supplement their income by working for the rich. Sam mentions a cousin IIRC who accompanies Mr. Boffin? up north for the hunting and sees a tree walking.
Brandy Thomas
30. Roese
(long time reader first time commenter on the re-read)

I remember the first time I read this chapter, I was probably around 10 at the time. I main thing I remember is it reinforcing me being sad because Merry would be the only hobbit to survive and go back to the Shire. I thought Pippen had died the chapter before. I didn't think Sam and Frodo were going to make it back from Mt. Doom because it took all this power and help(the phial and naming Elbereth) just to get figuratively in the door of Morder. I knew they were going to destroy the ring just not that they were going to make it out. Which in retrospect is a very bleak way of thinking.
Ron Griggs
31. RonGriggs
DemetriosX @26

The Last Battle was published in 1956, and from what I can tell was written in 1952/53. LOTR was completed in the late 1940s--it is probably possible to determine when the Silent Watchers section was written by looking more closely at the HoME books.

So while it is possible that they thought up this image together in the Bird and Baby one evening, I'd bet it is more likely that Lewis borrowed this from Tolkien. Like the image of Numenor that Lewis references in That Hideous Strength, there are explicit and implicit influences of Tolkien in Lewis' work, but less so the other way. Lewis once remarked that Tolkien was as hard to influence as a bandersnatch.
Kate Nepveu
32. katenepveu
Hey, everyone.

jmeltzer @ #1, yes, Sam isn't free of temptation, but I don't recall that he ever is *that* tempted again. But I remember much less of the journey to Mount Doom than the rest of the book, so I may well be wrong.

HAri @ #2, yes, I was imprecise--I'm sure Frodo finds healing when he leaves, I'm just sad that he can't do it without leaving.

tonyz @ #3, cool, I did not know about Blondel, thanks.

pilgrimsoul @ #4, la la la la la I can't hear you!

slaydragons @ #5, well, a good soldier by his own lights anyway. Though it's true his orders did not include bringing the prisoner to Barad-dur, and I wonder why? It can't be *that* much faster to just bring the loot.

DemetriosX @ #6, I'm not sure I agree that Frodo is whining, but I'm going to have to save that for the next two chapters.

sps49 @#7, the Appendix says "So it was that in the Third Age Orcs used for communication between breed and breed the Westron tongue; and many indeed of the older tribes, such as those that still lingered in the North and in the Misty Mountains, had long used the Westron as their native language, though in such a fashion as to make it hardly less unlovely than Orkish. In this jargon tark, ‘man of Gondor’, was a debased form of tarkil, a Quenya word used in Westron for one of Númenorean descent." I don't see that it implies anything about an individual Orc's age; what other references are you thinking of?

ed-rex @ #8, well, not just the mithril coat but the simmering resentments and rivalries between the two groups and Orcs' general propensity to fly off the handle. I imagine that each faction thought they could get the coat for their side and thereby be rewarded for bringing it. All that said, I do agree that it's hard for me to viscerally buy, as I said.

Steve Morrison @ #9, the Silmarillion characters at least, as I recall, had more plausible motivations to be singing, unlike Sam "I have no idea why I'm doing this" . . .

Jerry Friedman @ #10, yes, I'm sure it's supernatural intervention too, and Shippey also has a long thing about how weak supernatural good is important to the entire structure of the book, and yet I still don't like it. I can't help it. But no need to apologize to me or anyone else for it.

Yes, I missed that Sam thinks of himself as a free gardener, thank you.

birgit @ #11, oooh, I like that interpretation of "clothed in flame" and shall adopt it forthwith. Thank you.

Doug M. @ #14, what's your least-favorite chapter? Also, thank you for pointing out the prevalence of _being watched_; that's trying to spark some thoughts but they aren't getting out yet, so I'm going to set it aside for now, but still, interesting.

CaitieCat @ #17, welcome! And you make an excellent point about the lack of objective evidence that everyone is _dead_, as opposed to just not interfering with Sam. That's a conclusion that only Sam draws. However, whether it would be in the best interests of the Ring to enhance the strife, I'm not sure--surely it would prefer more Orcs around to take it back?

alfoss1540 @ #18 & #20, the description of the Orc clothes did make my skin want to crawl, thank you for reminding me of it. Weirdly, Frodo's being naked here didn't jump out at me as a violation, even though I agree with you & pilgrimsoul @ #19 that it's clearly positioned as such. I think it was his unselfconsciousness about it that led me to look past it.

Dr. Thanatos @ #23, hmmm, reasonable point about it not necessarily being in the Ring's best interests for a random Orc to grab it, but still, risky move--it would have been cutting it rather fine in terms of survivors, after all.

Roese @ #30, welcome as well! Thanks for telling us what you thought when you first read this chapter--I'm really interested that you thought only Merry was going to survive of the hobbits. I wonder if that was partly because you were relatively young? I think if I, at least, were coming to _LotR_ today fresh and unspoiled (unlikely, I know), I would have so many years of the good guys surviving as the way that stories go, that it would be hard for me to really believe that they wouldn't. I might worry and wonder if Tolkien would really kill them any or most of them off, but I doubt at this point I would *believe* it.

(Though actually I would probably expect one of them to die. Or maybe two. But not more than that.)
pilgrimsoul
33. Edward Khil
Several posts have expressed skepticism that the Orcs could have slain (or otherwise incapacitated) all others until only Shagrat is alive (or ambulatory).

CaitieCat @ #17 notes that the Ring might be influencing the orcs to slaughter each other. And that might be the case. But others have suggested in earlier chapterthreads that the Valar might also be influencing events.

Surely, in these circumstances, the Valar's influence is needed as much as ever. Perhaps they can even capitalize on the Ring's own efforts to sway things...
pilgrimsoul
34. Edward Khil
Several posts have expressed skepticism that the Orcs could have slain (or otherwise incapacitated) all others until only Shagrat is alive (or ambulatory).

CaitieCat @ #17 notes that the Ring might be influencing the orcs to slaughter each other. And that might be the case. But others have suggested in earlier chapterthreads that the Valar might also be influencing events.

Surely, in these circumstances, the Valar's influence is needed as much as ever. Perhaps they can even capitalize on the Ring's own efforts to sway things...
pilgrimsoul
35. pilgrimsoul
@ Kate, but I hope you took the complement.
Kate Nepveu
36. katenepveu
Edward Khil @ #33, do we have any prior instances of the Valar acting in such a way? It doesn't strike me as very like them.

pilgrimsoul @ #35, I did and I should have thanked you.
Hugh Arai
37. HArai
I don't have any examples of the Valar acting that way, but as for examples of people going to irrational lengths out of greed: see the entire Silmarillion :)
pilgrimsoul
38. Dr. Thanatos
The problem is that the Valar, unlike the Joker, generally don't leave their calling card at the scene of the crime. You could argue that the Valar put their hand in when Bilbo happened along just in time to find the Ring before nasty Orcses did; or that it was the Valar that arranged the "chance" meeting between Gandalf and the Dwarves that arguably set in motion the entire Hobbit/Lord of the Rings story.

I'd like to think that the Ring was trying to get an Orc to pick It up, cross the invisible dog-fence into Mordor, and put It on so Sauron's motion-detector would go off back home. I'd like to think that the Powers that Be arranged for this to go awry in the name of allowing the book to continue for a few more chapters and nine or ten endings just happened to leave on the ground after his last picnic lunch at scenic Mt. Doom]. I'd really like to think that the Eddorians were somehow involved, but that would probably be a stretch...
pilgrimsoul
39. CaitieCat
@38: Dr. Thanatos:

I'd like to think that the Ring was trying to get an Orc to pick It up, cross the invisible dog-fence into Mordor, and put It on so Sauron's motion-detector would go off back home.

That's pretty much where I was going with it. I would think that, at some point, someone is going to notice that Cirith Ungol is now pretty much unwatched, as all the sentries have offed themselves. That's how I figure the Ring's involved: it ramps up their natural ferocity and willingness to fight, in the hopes of creating a big-enough squabble that Himself would put his great fiery eye on things and notice his little trinket had come home.
Kate Nepveu
40. katenepveu
CaitieCat @ #39, okay, the "big enough squabble" idea does make sense to me, thanks.
pilgrimsoul
41. DougT
My memory of this chapter is a touch hazy. But wasn't a messenger trying to escape shot with arrows before Sam went into the tower? That would suggest that the orcs aren't all dead, just that the survivors are mostly hiding. Still, I agree that all the orcs conveinetly killing themselves off (or mostly killing themselves off) is a bit too convenient to be really believable.

I think this is one instance where the plot ended up getting undermined by the details of Tolkiens world building. You could make the events mostly that same and only have Frodo captured by a small badn of orcs in a camp, maybe 10 or 20 of them, and then have things work out similarly, leaving a manageable number for Sam to deal with. But Tolkien knew there was a large fortress guarding the pass, and so this required hundreds of orcs instead of dozens.

I also think there's some irony in this chapter in that, right after the ring tries to tempt Sam with visions of heroism and he rejects it, he then engages in probably his most overtly heroic act of the trilogy, going into an orc fortress, scaring off one orc and killing another, to rescue Frodo.

As a last note, Sam on the stairs in this chapter is the onyl example I can think of in LoTR where a character comes across as more powerful than they really are. Tolkien plays in many different ways with the trope of the hidden hero or people appearing less worthy or powerful than they really are. (Which I like, because that's one of my favorite narrative tricks.) This is the one time I can think of where there was the reverse.
David Levinson
42. DemetriosX
DougT@41, re the hidden hero and Sam: I think this is actually a part of that trope. We get glimpses of the hidden heroes so that we know the truth of their nature. Here, we are given a glimpse of the truth of Sam's spirit and bravery. Sure, things are being enhanced by Galadriel's phial and maybe the ring, but what the orcs think they see on the stairs is what Sam really is deep down.
Kate Nepveu
43. katenepveu
DougT @ #41, yes, several Orcs try to escape and don't. I like your idea about the plot being undermined by the worldbuilding, too.

DemetriosX @ #42, yes, Sam & heroism is nicely complicated, huh?
pilgrimsoul
44. legionseagle
Actually, when the Orcs claim there's an Elven warrior about - or at least, someone dangerous with an Elven sword - they're saying nothing more than the truth. At that precise moment Sam is holding a blade forged in Gondolin, a phial containing the reflected light of the Silmarils and the one Ring. In terms of concentrated artefacts of (contradictory) powerbeing wielded by someone who's completely single-minded about his objectives (choice was left behind in the last book) it's pretty much an unbeatable hand, at least as far as Orc strength is concerned. No wonder probability skews about the power centre.
pilgrimsoul
45. Masha Stekker
I like CaitieCat's idea (at 39) that the ring "ramps up their natural ferocity and willingness to fight, in the hopes of creating a big-enough squabble that Himself would put his great fiery eye on things and notice his little trinket had come home."

That sounds right to me, because it suggests that the ring works with "blunt tools" - it cannot insert a specific idea into your head, or manipulate you directly, but it can enhance traits or exagerate a tendency you already have. I feel uncomfortable with the idea of the ring as a sentient being that can "think" or "decide" exact course of action. For me, it is more like a super powerful compass needle that can influence the situation it is in to some extent in order to achieve a single, and very simple purpose - getting back to its master. Sort of like a magnet that can get itself more firmly lodged in the very crack that is preventing it from joining another magnet, because all it can do is "pull". This is useful for the story, because otherwise Sauron would have got that ring back quite quickly.
Soon Lee
46. SoonLee
Re: the orcs killing each other conveniently:
There were indications of divine intervention earlier: "I can put it no plainer than by saying that Frodo was meant to get the ring..."

As for this chapter, I thought it was well-played, the slow re-orientation from the scene at the Black Gate. Sam (like we readers) is initially disorientated but eventually finds his way (and we with him), and Frodo.

What I really liked was the contrast: we leave the rest of the Fellowship in each other's company, not to mention the Armies of the West, and rejoin Sam, completely alone (though he eventually finds Frodo), and in at least as much peril. That more than anything underscores the desperation of Sam & Frodo's situation.
pilgrimsoul
48. fantasywind
About orcs killing themselves, while it is in their nature to be rather quarrelsome, it's always in fights like this, one tribe against the other. In different situations orcs go to great lengths to avenge deaths of their fellow ,,brothers-in-arms" and fallen captain:

,,We came from the mines to kill and avenge our folk.."

Generally also strong orc leaders can unite many different tribes by the sheer skill and strength of their own (also as they would ally themselves naturally if any ,,common enemy" appears or there's some profitable errand to be done, like making a raid for spoils and slaves, it is also interesting to note that they can share adn be colleagues, Shagrat says that he gave Gorbag ,,more than I got" and if an orc promises aid to other orcs they usually do so like in case of reinforcements lead by Mauhur to aid Ugluk's lads :). But other factor is the mind influence Sauron helds over his servants, at moments his will is driving them ,,filling them with hate and fury" which would make orcs even more berserk than normal to be more eager to fight (this feature doesn't mean that there are no orcs that would serve unwillingly, just wanting to end forced march and escape the whip, after all Sauron can in any moment redirect his attention, his ability to dominate their minds to left his servants without his guidance to their own devices, but when he uses more pressure on them, sudden removal of his will may confuse them living them in state of shock so this grip on their minds isn't perfect but it is the form of mind control that defintiely pleases Sauron).

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