Oct 5 2010 5:11pm

LotR re-read: Return of the King VI.3, “Mount Doom”

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien At long last, we arrive at “Mount Doom,” chapter VI.3 of The Return of the King in The Lord of the Rings saga. Spoilers for the entire book after the jump.

What Happens

Sam and Frodo escape from the Orcs and take a road that leads toward Barad-dûr. After four days, they turn off the road toward Mount Doom. Sam offers to carry the Ring for Frodo and is refused almost violently; instead they throw away nearly all of their belongings. When they reach the mountain, Sam must carry Frodo up. They are very near a road that winds upward when Gollum attacks.

Frodo throws Gollum off, and both Frodo and the Ring (in a vision of Sam’s) tell Gollum to desist. Sam directs Frodo to go ahead. He intends to kill Gollum, but an inarticulate empathy stops him, and Gollum flees. However, Gollum turns back and follows Sam as he pursues Frodo.

Sam finds Frodo inside Mount Doom, at the brink of a chasm. Frodo claims the Ring for his own and puts it on. Gollum pushes Sam aside to get to Frodo, and Sam hits his head on the floor. Sauron becomes aware of Frodo and summons the Nazgûl. When Sam gets up, he see Gollum struggling with an invisible Frodo and then biting off Frodo’s ring-finger—Ring included. Gollum dances in triumph but, looking at the Ring and not where he is, falls into the chasm. Sam carries Frodo outside and sees a glimpse of Barad-dûr crumbling and the Nazgûl catching fire and dying. Frodo comes back to himself and tells Sam that he is glad that Sam is with him, “(h)ere at the end of all things.”


There are some plot turns where I’m surprised but delighted at both the unexpectedness and the rightness of the development: I didn’t see it coming, but once it’s there, I can instantly see how it fits seamlessly with what has gone before yet expands my understanding of the story so far and the possibilities for what’s left.

This is not one of them. I can’t shake the feeling that it ought to be, that if I were older when I first read it or more able to put away story expectations now, that I ought to love it. But I don’t and I probably never will. Instead I have surprise but not delight; an intellectual appreciation but not an emotional satisfaction.

Of course it makes sense that Frodo cannot destroy the Ring, that he claims it for himself. It would be selling short this instrument of ultimate evil if Frodo, who is after all only mortal, were able to carry it for so long and not be badly affected—in fact, he actually tells Sam toward the start of the chapter, when Sam offers to carry the Ring for him: “I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad.” It’s true that handing the Ring to someone else isn’t the same as destroying it, and I can think of emotional situations in which one would seem better or worse: but, all the same: “I could not give it up.”

(There may be a tiny hint that Frodo is still struggling even when he claims the Ring, in that he can’t seem to say what responsibility he’s rejecting: “I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed.” I suppose it might be a reluctance to even think about destroying the Ring, but Gollum is perfectly able to say that Frodo “musstn’t hurt Preciouss.”)

Gollum’s role is also thematically critical, pity and mercy preserving him from start to finish, as flagged all the way back in chapter I.2 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Shadow of the Past.” Note that when Frodo defeats Gollum’s initial attack on the slopes of Mount Doom, Sam sees him as a figure “stern, untouchable now by pity.” And Frodo does not protest when Sam says he will “deal with” Gollum while “brandishing his sword.” Instead, it’s Sam’s confused, inarticulate empathy that preserves Gollum:

But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again.

(There’s an odd little bit early in the chapter when Sam realizes that they’re on a suicide mission and then comes to a new resolve, “as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel,” which I would usually associate with losing the ability to feel empathy. I think the phrase either (1) shows how far Sam comes back to spare Gollum or (2) didn’t have the same connotation for Tolkien as it does for me.)

So this chain of pity and mercy allows Gollum to come to the Crack of Doom and take the Ring from Frodo, the only one who can other than the Nazgûl, who are obviously suboptimal (I’m assuming that Sam could not take it from Frodo, which I think is reasonable, though I’d like to hear contrary opinions). And then evil leads to its own destruction in two different ways. First, Gollum’s greed and overreaching betrays him: “even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far” and fell. Second, the Ring falls victim to its own prophecy: in Sam’s vision, the Ring tells Gollum, “If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.” Which Gollum does and is, but since he’s clutching the Ring at the same time, well.

(I’ve heard it suggested that Gollum’s fall is also an example of weak supernatural good, but I disagree. First, I don’t see anything in the text to suggest it, and generally the text has been flagging that kind of thing, and second, I think it undercuts the effect of evil destroying itself if good is pulling the rug out from under at the same time.)

It all makes sense, it all fits together, it’s logistically sensible and thematically appropriate, and there are very good arguments why it would be just wrong for Frodo to have successfully destroyed the Ring. I still wish, down in my bones, that Frodo had. I can’t help it. Whether it’s my eight-year-old self never recovering, or too much internalization of fantasies of political agency, or aching for the pain Frodo will feel and wanting him to have more of a consolation, or something I can’t even identify because it’s too far down—I do not, and probably never will, love the destruction of the Ring.

* * *

While we’re talking about the way the Ring is destroyed, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how clear the chapter makes it that Aragorn and Gandalf’s plan is working, that it’s what lets Frodo get all the way to Mount Doom before being detected (and only then because Frodo claims the Ring). The chapter also uses these comments about how Sauron is distracted to sync the timelines for the reader, which is helpful.

Here I started to write that it’s also a reminder that the timelines need to be synced, but now I’m not sure that it’s true. Obviously the battle at the Black Gate couldn’t happen too soon, because then there would be no distraction, but perhaps the army could have still been on its way and been sufficient distraction? Hard to say, of course, and from an in-story perspective I wouldn’t like to be the one to test it; but I like it as an out-of-story thought, that there was a little wiggle room on the path to victory, because then I avoid the feeling I had about Frodo and Sam’s escape from the Orcs in the Tower of Cirith Ungol.

Reviewing my notes for the chapter, I do see an instance of weak supernatural good that is critical. When Sam first carries Frodo up the Mountain and then collapses, both Sam and Frodo have come to them “a sense of urgency,” which is “almost as if” they have “been called: ‘Now, now, or it will be too late!’” My guess on the caller is a Vala (particularly since Galadriel’s phial doesn’t light because “all other powers were here subdued”), but I’m not sure it really matters.

* * *

Miscellaneous character notes. It was apparently really important that Frodo renounce violence, because he gets to throw away his (borrowed) sword again this chapter. Also to repeat that he is beginning to see the Ring before him even when he’s awake.

When Frodo is walking, he specifically uses his left hand to raise against the Eye and his right to reach for the Ring. The only thing I know about left versus right hands in Western thought is that the left was once thought to be connected to the heart, hence wedding rings; anyone have thoughts on whether there’s anything particular behind the choice here?

Sam hasn’t realized until now that they’re on a suicide mission. This is, incidentally, the very first time he thinks of Rosie Cotton, at least if my memory and the text search on my e-book edition can be trusted, which seems to be leaving it rather late.

Gollum has white fangs, which set me off on a really unlikely train of speculation about whether he’d been brushing them with twigs or something for all this time, before I got hold of myself.

Gollum accuses Frodo of cheating him by trying to destroy the Ring. I think this must be influenced from Bilbo all the way back in The Hobbit, unless there’s some interpretation of Gollum and Frodo’s interactions that I’m missing.

* * *

Miscellaneous worldbuilding notes. We’ve talked about lembas with regard to the passage that appears in this chapter at least twice before in comments, all the way back at chapter II.8 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Farewell to Lórien”, and then again in chapter IV.2 of The Two Towers, “The Passage of the Marshes”. I can’t match the enthusiasm others brought to the topic, so I will just leave the cross-references for you and the passage in question:

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

When Sam is inside Mount Doom, he hears “a rumour and a trouble as of great engines throbbing and labouring.” Prior uses of “engines” have been to siege engines, but I can’t read this as other than a reference to combustion engines, which seems anachronistic (like the “express train” simile for the dragon firework way back at the start).

The destruction of Barad-dûr is really terrific:

A brief vision he (Sam) had of swirling cloud, and in the midst of it towers and battlements, tall as hills, founded upon a mighty mountain-throne above immeasurable pits; great courts and dungeons, eyeless prisons sheer as cliffs, and gaping gates of steel and adamant: and then all passed. Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land. And then at last over the miles between there came a rumble, rising to a deafening crash and roar; the earth shook, the plain heaved and cracked, and Orodruin reeled. Fire belched from its riven summit. The skies burst into thunder seared with lightning. Down like lashing whips fell a torrent of black rain. And into the heart of the storm, with a cry that pierced all other sounds, tearing the clouds asunder, the Nazgûl came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.

(Note the recurrent wave imagery in the middle.) I particularly like the structure of the second sentence, and the image of the Nazgûl’s destruction.

* * *

The ending of the chapter. We’ll talk more about the pacing of this book later, but right now: it’s only chapter 3 and Sauron has been defeated—and there are six more chapters left in this book! We’re only a third of the way through. This is really weird.

So one of the reasons we end with a sort-of cliffhanger, Sam and Frodo in an erupting volcano “at the end of all things,” is to keep us reading, to remind us that Sauron has lost but survival is still an open question. Yet it’s not a complete cliffhanger, because we see Frodo sane and freed of his burden (well, for the moment). I don’t know if I ever thought that Sam and Frodo wouldn’t survive this situation, but right now, it doesn’t feel as though it would be a brutally unhappy ending if they did: their goal is accomplished, even if not entirely by them, and they’re glad it was and that they’re together. There are worse places to leave them, even if only for a chapter break.

« Return of the King VI.2 | 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.

David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
On the timing, I think if Aragorn and Gandalf weren't right at the Black Gate, then Sauron might have been able to turn his attention elsewhere from time to time. But the parley with Mouthy and the actual combat itself would demand more direct attention be paid. Also, if they weren't yet in position, then the movements of Sauron's armies inside Mordor would have been different and it would have altered Sam and Frodo's progress.

You could probably argue that Sam's sudden pity for Gollum is another instance of weak supernatural good. That wouldn't really weaken the act of evil defeating itself; it merely establishes the opportunity. Sam's "stone and steel" moment most likely refers to his resolve to go forward with their mission. Finally realizing that they aren't going back, he sheds everything that might have held him back or caused him to hesitate. That wouldn't necessarily strip him of his ability to feel empathy or pity. This may well have been something Tolkien experience during the war. Believing an announced attack to be a suicide mission could lead to a clarity and sense of purpose that made going over the top easier to do. (See also Johnson's comment on a man knowing he is to be hanged.)

I was 12 when I read this for the first time, and I'm pretty sure I figured the two of them were dead. I was a little shocked and mad that Sam wasn't going to survive. I didn't much care about Frodo. But I had forgotten the end of Book V by this time, even though it was only a few chapters earlier.

Another note on the pacing: not only are there six more chapters, the next four (!) have little to no action.
2. pilgrimsoul
I seem to recall that I was surprised that Frodo was overwhelmed at last by the ring, yet to me it seemed right although very painful. I was both bewildered and relieved by Gollum's role.
Mari Ness
3. MariCats
I find this is a chapter that reads differently each time I encounter it. The first time, when I was a kid, I was furious that after all of that Frodo didn't even get to do the heroic thing and throw the ring into the fire. After all, Merry got to help kill a Nazgul. Why couldn't Frodo throw the ring in? I did not expect Gollum to return, but I was gleeful that he burned up. (And although I'm aware that I'm completely missing Tolkien's point, I'm still gleeful that he burned up.)

Much later, after bouts with clinical depression, I read this chapter - and all of the Mordor experience - quite differently. This seems to me to be a very accurate, if highly metaphorical, description of severe clinical depression, with Frodo in utter despair, to the point where he does not and cannot even care about food and water, to the point where any hope of getting out seems gone, where even doing the one thing that might help seems like too much of an effort, where depression almost seems like the right pathway.

Tolkien not surprisingly suffered from depression after World War I and the deaths of his close friends, and was well aware of the condition. I don't know how much of this was conscious on Tolkien's part as he was writing, but I see it when I read this chapter now.

Which, I guess, makes Gollum's fall all the more tragic; he never did escape, and never found the strength to. I admit it took some time for me to gain any sympathy for him.

No sympathy for Sauron and the Nazgul whatsoever; I kinda wonder if burning to a crisp was in some ways a relief to the Nazgul, although I suppose given Tolkien's worldview, the Nazgul, who once were men, would be heading to an even more unpleasant place after this.
4. Jamsco
The only thing that has bothered me about the destruction (and this is very minor) is the logistics of the bite.

It's silly, but I can't help thinking: Where on his finger was the ring? If you bit off my ring finger you wouldn't end up with the ring - at best it would end up on the floor.
F Shelley
5. FSS
One the left vs right hand question - in the military we are taught that we carry items (briefcases, etc) with our left hands and salute with our right hands because it was the "sword" hand. If looked at this way, it could be reinforcing the idea that Frodo's right (sword) hand is carrying the ring, but the left hand is for defense.
6. Jamsco
I have a request - could someone explain what 'Weak Supernatural Good' means? I've seen it in several chapter reviews, but never a definition.

Does it mean that in this book the good side's supernatural ability is weak? Is this a term just for this set of reviews, or is it used in other discussions of fantasy literature?
7. lampwick
Well, I liked the part with Frodo and Gollum. I remember thinking, when I read LOTR for the first time, that there was no way Frodo would possibly give up the ring -- as you mention, he even said he couldn't give it up. So it seemed grimmer and grimmer for them as they headed toward Mount Doom, and I just didn't see how Tolkien was going to pull it off. And then he did. I was surprised and delighted -- for me it was pretty much everything I hope for from the end of a story. (The only sad thing is that I can never get that feeling from another reading.)
David Goldfarb
8. David_Goldfarb
Tolkien's letters have some interesting sketches of alternative ways that this chapter could have played out. For example, one reader asked what would have happened if Sam had been kinder to Gollum so that he really reformed; Tolkien said that things would have been similar, but Gollum might have taken the Ring in a spirit of deliberate self-sacrifice. Or, if Sam had had less pity and had slain or incapacitated Gollum, then the Nazgûl would have arrived. They would not have been able to take the Ring from Frodo, Frodo would have been able to command them. Tolkien suggests that they would have tried to flatter and distract Frodo, perhaps pretended to become his servants, until Sauron could arrive — at which point Frodo would have been toast, along with all of Middle-Earth.
Other Alias
9. ghostcrab311
I have always found it emotionally satisfying. Frodo, with all his hobbit toughness, and all his good intentions, and his strength of character, was insufficient to the task, in the end. He is a very "human" hero.

And yet, it is that same humanity that saves him (and the entire world) in the end. His compassion and mercy earlier proves to be the key to solving the whole problem of the Ring. I have just always thrilled that the kindness of a lowly hobbit was the hinge on which the destruction of an ancient and powerful evil turned.

And for who Gollum had become, I cannot think of a more fitting end, that he should regain his Precious, and at the same time, perish with it, thus ending his tormented existence.
Maiane Bakroeva
10. Isilel
I have first read LOTR at 14 and to me it felt very satisfying and right that Frodo was unable to throw the Ring into the Cracks of Doom. IMHO, that was necessary to prove the reality of it's extreme danger.

It was one of the aspects of LOTR that so clearly distinguishes it from the imitators - the impossible quest was, indeed, impossible. I still think that Frodo and possibly Sam should have died for maximum effect. Their survival felt like cheating to me, despite the poignancy of Frodo's later fate.
The others being that the "common man" hero remained just that, instead of turning into an impossible badass in a few months, and true team-work with other characters and nations being essential.
In the end, everybody had to chip in for the victory (well, nearly, I am still bitter that the elves basically sat it all out) and only so can a truly great evil be plausibly defeated.

Re: Elrond and Isildur - wouldn't any attempt to use violence against the current bearer put Elrond into great danger of falling to the Ring's power? After all, the greater the personal powe, the more risk, right?
11. lnthga
I haven't read enough (i.e. any) Tolkien criticism to appreciate the banality of this question, but I would like to throw it out there anyway. To what extend is the idea that salvation (in the Christian sense) is given by God and is not obtained by our own merits or efforts a Catholic idea (as opposed to a Protestant one)? If this view is compatible with Tolkien's Catholicism, there would be no way Tolkien would have Frodo throw the ring into the Fire himself.

I have a vague memory of being really irked by the way the movie almost reversed this action.
James Burbidge
12. jsburbidge

Technically, in Catholic theology, all good actions in the human soul begin with a response to prevenient grace. (This is quite distinct from salvation per se, which is the direct gift of God to humanity via the incarnation). However, Catholicism plays up free will far more heavily than either Lutheranism or Reformed Protestantism (whence the arguments over things like works of supererogation) and most treatments of moral theology see human response to God as being a cooperative one rather than one completely dominated by the divine (through, e.g. predestination). In addition, where Protestantism tends to see the Fall as destroying human moral capability unless restored by grace, Catholicism sees the effects as a serious wound where there is still nevertheless extensive good.

Note, though, that Tolkien was very aware that he was dealing with humans (of which hobbits are a branch, as he notes in the Prologue) in a pure state of nature, so discussions regarding grace are minimally relevant. Tolkien's (Catholic) view of human free will (real, but able to be overmastered by superior outside force without assistance) is reflected in his treatment of Frodo.
j p
13. sps49
Ooooh, we even lost Kate's comment! I gotta remember what I wrote....
14. Jazzlet
I think this is roughly what I wrote ...

Kate as far as Gollums white teeth go he gnawed bones and, as anyone feeding a dog a raw meaty bone diet will tell you, gnawing on bones cleans teeth. I may be wrong in my assumption that Gollum gnaws bones and be confusing him with the troll that Sam sings about, but I am sure he did chew bones.

Maricats @ 3 I agree about the Mordor chapters being a vivid or rather grey depiction of depression, especially the part where Frodo says he knows that good things like the Shire exist, but he can not see them anymore.

I always assumed that Sauron kept the access road to Mount Doom clear because he used the power of the volcano for the odd arcane working, but also because he could. The loss of however many orcs it took working in such dangerous conditions was simply not a consideration for him.
Andrew Foss
15. alfoss1540
Bummer - lost post

Noted about how awful the trek felt - no food or water.

Sam - would he have been a hero and helped destroy the ring if Gollum had not bit it off of Frodo - unlike Elrond who could not get Isuldur to throw it out. My vote is for yes because he is a stud!

Nazgul - why would they have answered Sauron's call for help when Frodo had just claimed ownership of the ring?

And how the suspense during my first read was destroyed by having already seen the stupid ROTK Cartoon with the soundtrak by Dennis DeYoung of Styx.

It was much more elloquently written last night, but I have kids jumping on me and dinner to prepare. Will read further.

Thanks Kate for supplying food for this obsession. Love it!
Darius Bacon
16. Darius
The passage you quoted (the destruction of Barad-dûr) is terrific in another way: it's in iambic pentameter! The start of it, anyway. http://darius.livejournal.com/48333.html reformats it as blank verse. I commented on this at http://darius.livejournal.com/48525.html (briefly: I found no other accidental verse in LotR as long, and so I wonder if seeing this right at the climax of the plot is no accident).
17. pilgrimsoul
Hi, Kate, nice to have you back even if your comment is not.
On my first read--Many Years Ago--I was so caught up in the narrative force and sweep that I missed a lot of foreshadowing. Gollum's attack on Frodo and the destruction of the ring seemed really fast and unexpected to me, so I was all hey what just happened? i.e., bewildered.
18. Dr. Thanatos
All my beautiful postings---gone!

Sauron's clandestine lunches with Shelob at Cafe Doom where Maitre D' Mouthie's waitstaff of trained Nazgul make your meal a memorable event, even if they forget to pick up the Banana Peel of Doom at the edge of the scenic vista.

I recall considering that Sauron needed access to the Chambers to draw on power, just as he could access the Ring even when he didn't have it; commenting on Frodo's first uttering after It All Happened thanking Smeagol for making it all possible, noticing the theme of amputation and how Frodo the failed quest hero couldn't fit into the world he saved.

Perhaps most thoughtful, though least humerous, was the Random Act of Kindness performed by Bilbo that ended up being the very small act that saved the world. As the Talmud says: "He who saves a single life, it is as if he saves an entire world."

19. Dr. Thanatos

Frodo tried to order the Nazgul around before while wearing the Ring; they were all, like, whatever. Galadrial told him that he wasn't trained to dominate just yet.

Kate, I remembered another thing: the Phial didn't work inside the Chambers of Fire, the heart of Saurons ancient might ---but the inspiration to get the lead out came on the mountainslopes outside, if I recall...
Kate Nepveu
20. katenepveu
Geez, I didn't realize the glitch ate comments as far back as last night. Arrgh.

DemetriosX @ #1: in a comment that was also eaten, you clarified that, IIRC, the Valar/some other good force may have opened Sam's mind to pity? I still don't like it, but I'm not religious so I suspect I see that kind of thing differently than others may.

MariCats @ #3, that's a very interesting way of thinking about this, thank you.

Jamsco @ #4, I tugged and squeezed at my ring fingers last night and decided that if the chomp was just above the knuckle at the base, my rings would come with, probably.

And @ #6, weak supernatural good is a shorthand for a description by Tom Shippey of how most positive magic in _LotR_ is downplayed, usually even suggested to not actually be magic but to be luck or chance, which gives the characters space to make meaningful decisions and creates narrative suspense. There's a little more about it in this old LJ post.

FSS @ #5, interesting, thanks. Is this from experience in the UK's armed forces, or would you expect it to be something that would also be present there?

lampwick @ #7, I'm very glad it did work for you.

David_Goldfarb @ #8, I knew that! And I think I even mentioned it before. I can't believe I forgot it here.

I would have liked the Gollum-quasi-redemption idea _so_ _much_ better, I very nearly resorted to all-caps to express it. I find it far more emotionally and thematically satisfying, and it would have required the awful stuff previously to be less cringeworthy--I think it's good all around.

I am surprised by the idea that Frodo would have been able to command the Nazgul, it never would have occurred to me.

ghostcrab311 @ #9, the kindnesses of three lowly hobbits, even.

Isilel @ #10, and yet if Elrond simply tackled him into the abyss and went over with him, well, it's hard for me to see how that has a downside for the world.

lnthga @ #11, this is kinda what I was getting at when I mentioned Gollum falling; I've heard it suggested, and I may be misremembering or mischaracterizing, that it was important to Tolkien's personal interpretation of theology that salvation just kinda *happen*. Which, again, I might be mischaracterizing, but I don't think really fits with the text.

Also, there's what jsburbidge in the next comment says (see also: "faith versus works"), which is more my understanding of Catholicism and also doesn't really fit with this half-memory of mine, so for whatever that's worth.

Jazzlet @ #14: Indeed! Gandalf tells Frodo that "The murder of Déagol haunted Gollum, and he had made up a defence, repeating it to his “Precious” over and over again, as he gnawed bones in the dark." Good call.

alfoss1540 @ #15, and yet Sam was willing to abandon the quest and let the Ring be taken by Sauron, rather than abandon Frodo's body. Do you really think he could actively take the Ring from Frodo--which would have to be by violence--or push Frodo in?

Darius @ #16, that is so cool.

pilgrimsoul @ #17, it's good to be back (I'd tell you about the brief that was eating my life, but then I'd--well, no, I wouldn't have to kill you because court documents are public record, but you'd want to kill me because it's just not a topic with that wide an interst). And the action parts of this chapter do happen pretty quickly, which works for me as conveying the urgency and confusion, but yes, does require you to put a lot of pieces together immediately after.
22. formerly DaveT
"Prior uses of “engines” have been to siege engines, but I can’t read this as other than a reference to combustion engines, which seems anachronistic"

I suspect that in the archaic English that Tolkien affects, 'engine' means roughly what 'machine' means today.

I checked the OED, and was startled to learn that the first 3 meanings (the oldest) are basically what we would call 'ingenuity' or 'cleverness' or even 'aptitude' -- 'agent'/'tool'. The fourth meaning, by extension from the first 3, is the *product* of ingenuity -- a contrivance or device or mechanism. The sense of self-powered mechanism (steam-engine) wasn't coined until 1838.

I think we can safely read 'mechanism' here. I envision huge gears and pulleys and levers and triphammers, very mediaeval.
Soon Lee
23. SoonLee
Yay! Update! Will comment once read & digested.
Geoffrey Dow
24. ed-rex
Whether it’s my eight-year-old self never recovering, or too much internalization of fantasies of political agency, or aching for the pain Frodo will feel and wanting him to have more of a consolation, or something I can’t even identify because it’s too far down—I do not, and probably never will, love the destruction of the Ring.

Kate, I'm fascinated by your reaction. That which leaves you cold (or cold-er), is precisely what for me takes this book out of the realm of fiction and into that of literature.

I basically weep for the rest of the book, right up until that deceptively simple final sentence of Sam's. Frodo's failure (I think it was Michael Swanwick who suggests that Frodo is "tested to destruction"), is what seprates The Lord of the Rings from any other heroic fantasy I know of. Though everyone we care about survives the Adventure in body, Frodo himself does not in spirit, no matter the honours and celebrations he is to receive.

Not that I'm telling you anything you don't know; but your very different reaction is helping me to articulate why the pain of this chapter "hurts so good".

We’ll talk more about the pacing of this book later, but right now: it’s only chapter 3 and Sauron has been defeated—and there are six more chapters left in this book! We’re only a third of the way through. This is really weird.

It is really weird. I'm suddenly reminded of just how odd was The Hobbit in so many ways, such as who killed Smaug, and how Thorin met his end.
David Levinson
25. DemetriosX
kate @21: I'm not a Christian, let alone Catholic, nor am I a theologian, but it seems to me Sam's moment of pity fits into the Catholic concept of grace. It's the sort of thing that is thought to come from God, usually expressed with "scales falling from the eyes" or "opening the heart". Consciously or not, this is probably a moment of Tolkien's religious beliefs coming through.

Something else I commented on that was lost is the loss of Frodo's finger. This parallels Sauron's loss of a finger at the end of the Second Age at the hands of Isildur. Somebody (Dr. Thanatos?) pointed out that we have both this parallel (Frodo/Sauron of the Nine Fingers) and a parallel between Beren and Maedhros, who both lost a hand (although they were both good guys). This may be more appropriate to discuss in the next chapter when Sam brings it up.
26. a-j
I'd referenced Kate's unhappiness with Frodo's failure to discard the ring on her original reading and contrasted it with the fact that I had found it both right and good. I suggested that maybe the fact that I had read it as an early teen, a bit older than her first reading, may be to do with this. I did not say that also, having read The Hobbit, I was up on Tolkien's habit of killing off major characters at the end.
Ed-rex@24 - you sum up precisely and well my arguments as to why LOTR may be classed as literature. Thanks.
28. pilgrimsoul
@ Demetrios X 25

I think you put it well. Sam has a moment of grace in pitying Gollum. Bilbo's in the Hobbit is, too, but because of the difference in circumstances we can put it down to his mere good nature.
Andrew Foss
29. alfoss1540
ed-rex@24 - LOTR and the next chapter specifically (which I read last night), is among the few things on earth that trigger my normally schizophrenic emotions. As expected, I sobbed (don't tell my wife, she'll be jealous). I even cried at least once during Jackson's ROTK for the emotions of these scenes (most of the rest of the tears were for how he raped it).
Kate Nepveu
30. katenepveu
Dr. Thanatos @ #18, 19--I missed your comments in a rush to post before my family came home. Backtracking--

Sauron's clandestine lunches with Shelob, what?!

Also, yes, okay, you could certainly interpret being inside the mountain as particularly important. And I checked Appendix B and the third and last assault on Lorien is listed as two days prior, so Galadriel might not even have been as busy as before.

formerly DaveT @ #22, I suppose the great engines could be medieval mechanisms, but the "throbbing and labouring" makes it hard for me to picture it.

ed-rex @ #24, glad you found it useful. And yes, _The Hobbit_ also kills the putative big bad surprisingly early, doesn't it?

DemetriosX @ #25, I guess it's a matter of how active the influence is conceived to be; free will is a touchy point with me. Oooh, let's come back to this when we get to Eowyn? I think it will be fruitful.

a-j @ #26, I'm not sure if we've heard from anyone who read it first really young as to what they thought of the ending. That may be a reason to suggest SteelyKid hold off on it until she's older than I was . . .
F Shelley
31. FSS
Hello - tried to answer before, but it got flagged as spam.

Anyway - I learned the whole "sword hand" thing at the USAF Academy back in the early 90s (yes, I was an Air Force officer for a few years, and no one is fooling anyone when they carry items in the right hands to avoid saluting). One of my military history teachers was a Royal Air Force Squadron Leader, whom I recall discussing the various theories on the origins of the salute.

Anyway - I wrote a lot more last time, THEN googled salute, which of course led to a Wikipedia article that explained it in far more detail than I could remember from almost 20 years ago.

Long story short, the idea of the right hand being the sword hand is fairly old and widespread, and I would think it would likely be known by Tolkien.
32. Dr. Thanatos

The Sauron and Shelob nooners at Cafe Doom business evolved from a comment on how the Banana Peel of Doom that] got to the edge of the Cracks of Doom just in time for Smeagol to get there---with side discussions on why Sauron would be having lunch there and why only a cad like him would insist that his lunch date always come to his place and he would never meet her on her side of town. Cute at the time but hard to reconstruct. It did lead to a discussion of why Sauron went to great efforts to keep a road open that Sam and Frodo could use to go straight to the spot marked X...
33. a-j
katenepvue@30 - one of my happiest and most vivid childhood memories is of my mother reading me The Hobbit during a camping holiday when I must have been six or seven I suppose, maybe younger. On the grounds that it worked for me I cannot recommend that you do the same highly enough.
Maiane Bakroeva
34. Isilel
Hm, but did Isildur actually come to the Cracks of Doom in the books? And were they alone?
In any case, IMHO if Elrond had resorted to violence, the Ring would have had him _or_ Isildur, there of all places, and he wouldn't have managed the nudge.

Re: Maedhros being a good guy... an anti-hero at best, IMHO and likely a villain with some redeeming qualities.
35. Dr. Thanatos

It's not stated explicitly as far as I recall whether Elrond and Isildur actually went inside the mountain, but the final battle was on the slopes and I can imagine that Sauron made his last stand at his last fortress; the entrance to the Sammath Naur. If Isildur wasn't at the Cracks of Doom, he was in eyesight of them.

As far as Maedhros, my take on the Silmarillion is that he was a tragic hero, doomed by his loyalty to his father and inability to break an oath to Eru. He always seemed like the most decent of the Sons O' Feanor...
36. HelenS
Elrond says "Isildur took it, as should not have been. It should have been cast then into Orodruin's fire nigh at hand where it was made. But few marked what Isildur did. He alone stood by his father in that last mortal contest; and by Gil-galad only Cirdan stood, and I. But Isildur would not listen to our counsel."

I was not really serious about the "leetle push," of course.
37. Dr. Thanatos

I suspect the "Isildur is at the edge of the Fire holding Ringie and Elrond is shouting encouragment" is a figment of Jackson's imagination. I think he scooped it up and stuffed it in his baldric while the 2 elves were busy changing out of their camoflage uniforms...
38. pilgrimsoul
Re Isildur's sneaking the ring
I think Dr. Thanatos is in the right of it. Even though Isildur left a record of the ring in Gondor, most people seem not to know what happened to the thing. Sauruman was able to get away with saying it was no longer a threat for centuries.
j p
39. sps49
Dr. Thatos' original post was balefired, but the "pity" comment remonded me of reading Bored of the Rings long ago. I wonder if it's at Project Gutenberg?
40. Doug M.
"It's a pity I've run out of bullets," he thought...

(It's not on Gutenberg. One of the authors died years ago, under odd circumstances, but the other is still alive and it's still firmly under copyright.)

The bit with Elrond and Isildur at the Cracks of Doom was IMO one of the high points of the first movie. It managed to communicate a great deal in a very short scene without being excessively melodramatic. It managed to be good moviemaking without doing unnecessary violence to Tolkein. (And it was the one time that Hugo Weaving's character got to be something other than Whiny Spock.)

Little nudge: a recurring theme in Tolkein is that /offensive/ violence is never the answer. Violence is allowed in self-defense, and in the defense of the innocent against evil. But initiating violence? That's almost always depicted as an intrinsically evil act, with consequences that range from tragic to catastrophic.

Doug M.
Michael Ikeda
41. mikeda

It was known (at least among the Wizards and some of the Elves) that Isildur took the Ring from Sauron. What was NOT known was what happened to the Ring after Isildur was ambushed in the Gladden Fields. There seems to have been an assumption by some (encouraged by Saruman) that the Ring was simply washed out to sea.
42. pilgrimsoul
mikeda @41
Yes, I know. But I still think that Isildur's sneaking might have kept the fate of the ring--that he took it and was taking it north--from being generally known.
43. Elaine Thom
But I still think that Isildur's sneaking might have kept the fate of the ring--that he took it and was taking it north--from being generally known.

Neither Boromir nor Faramir seem to have any idea before on-stage reveals that the Ring survived the Second Age. Boromir was extremely surprised by it in the Council. Faramir is less demonstrative, but also seems to have not had any idea, even though he's the 'wizard's pupil' in the family.

Switching topics, to one I"ve seen go by, Sauron commanding the Nazgul vs Frodo with the Ring commanding them.... Sauron, IIRC, held the rings of the Nazgul, so he could command them, even without the Ring. And Frodo hadn't had the practice yet. And the Ring still wants to obey Sauron, it's been trying to get back to him for years. (checking references...)
Yes, in Letters it says Sauron held the rings of the Nazgul.
44. Dr. Thanatos
Another of the lost posts:

The story of the Bagginses connection with the Ring begins with Bilbo's act of pity and ends with Frodo's first words after the Ring bites it: "Let us forgive him, for without him the Quest would have been for naught." . Frodo's first words when coming back to himself were of pity and forgiveness; a nice bookend with Bilbo's deed and a good commentary on Frodo's basic nature which had been repressed and has now come back to the front.

re Elaine@43:

Faramir didn't seem particularly phased when the Ring was revealed: he stood up and said "so, you bring the Ring of Rings." He doesn't say "no way, dude---that Ring bit it years ago." Given his dreams, his Numenorean brand of insight , and his instruction by Gandalf, I think he may have known or suspected more than we give him credit for...

In terms of the Nine Nine Ladies Wraithing?]:

Sauron needed to wear the Ring to know the thoughts of the Elves who were wearing the Three at the time; even while wearing their Rings in the Second Age there's no evidence that the Dwarves had their minds read or were controlled. Is Sauron's ability to hold the loyalty of the Nazgul due to the nature of Men, the fact that he has their Rings in his possesion , or is it that being wraiths his will fills them directly in a way that other races of Middle-Earth would not be subject to?
Soon Lee
45. SoonLee
When Sam is inside Mount Doom, he hears “a rumour and a trouble as of great engines throbbing and labouring.” Prior uses of “engines” have been to siege engines, but I can’t read this as other than a reference to combustion engines, which seems anachronistic (like the “express train” simile for the dragon firework way back at the start).

If we accept that this story is a found document that was translated into English for our benefit, I'm thinking that the translator (Tolkien) took a few liberties with the manuscript. There is some not so surreptitious editing going on here.

In addition to the descriptive anachronisms, the section with Sam's internal conversation in this chapter comes across as unlikely if we believe the conceit that LotR is a work mostly written by Frodo, with bits contributed/reported by the other hobbits. It would have taken excessive candour (IMHO) for Sam to have shared such private thoughts even if it was for posterity.
Gillian Calvert
46. sphinxxnz
Hi! Finally delurking...

Years ago now I read "I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of mooon or star are left to me." and thought I know that; that's how I felt when I was depressed. From that, Frodo's journey from the Emyn Muil fell into place as showing most of the depressive symptoms I recall. The invisibility, in the Dead Marshes and while wearing the Ring, recalls the feeling that no one can see you yet you are always under intense scruitiny, as if by a giant Eye. The starvation in Mordor is like the loss of appetite; the thirst the emotional drought; the burden of the Ring the crushing internal weight that bows the head of sufferers; the endless distance taken step by step the endless struggle before despair takes you.

No wonder so many readers find these chapters so difficult to read as they are a direct channel to the feelings of depression. It is perhaps why I find it really odd when LOTR is dismissed as lacking emotion and "relevance" to the modern world: the concentration on depression and associated mood disorders are hallmarks of modernity. I can only suppose the patchwork quilt construction of LOTR and the lack of the usual signals of realism meant that this thread of the book tended to be missed.

I also read LOTR long before I had read much in fantasy (I was 9) so the chapters following Mt Doom seemed quite reasonable. After all, there was a lot to fix up and the world does not end at the end of successful quests. Now we'd probably finish this book shortly after the destruction of the Ring and get the rest in the following three trilogies. Thankfully Tolkien was concise.
47. Dr. Thanatos
Here's a topic for discussion that ties in with some of the earlier comments:

What's the deal with the Ring making people invisible? The elf-rings don't make elves or wizards invisible; we don't know about dwarves; but the One is documented to have made one Man and 4 hobbits invisible when worn NOT Sauron].

The Ring's major powers have been documented to include domination of others and corruption of the will; any thoughts on how the invisibility effect on mortals ties in with this?
Andrew Foss
48. alfoss1540
@47 - 3 hobbits and 1 distant geneteic relative, that no one from the Shire will ever admit genetic relation to. (lets face it, Gandalf took way too much pleasure relating Gollum's kin to Shire Hobbits, knowing how much it would gall Frodo/Bilbo - given that they ahardly admitted direct relation to the Bucklanders who were so wierd as to be accepting of water).

Good point on rings of invisibility and what powers the One Ring offers. For how many years was it just a tool for Gollum to gather food and Bilbo to avoid the Sackville-Bagginses (and maybe avoid wood elves and Smaug for a few months). Historically, the ring ending up where is was ended up being incredibly fortuitous.

BTW - Where is it stated that Sauron had possession of the nine? I would have expected that the nine would be helpd by the Nazgul - keeping them preserved in their undead state. Otherwise, what is fueling these "men's" "life"?

P.S. Let's not forget Bomabadill fiddling with the Ring.
49. (still) Steve Morrison
For evidence that Sauron held the Nine Rings I refer you to a page called The FAQ of the Rings. It also has a decent section on why some rings, but not others, conferred invisibility.
David Levinson
50. DemetriosX
Dr. Thanatos @47: Nowhere are we told that the Ring did not turn Sauron invisible. Since he controlled it, he could probably decide whether or not to be seen. Certainly, it would have been a useful power for him, spying on people and gathering information. OTOH, being invisible would have been really handy when his armies were shattered and his enemies had him cornered.

An alternative explanation could be that invisibility served Gollum's purposes best. After several centuries, invisibility became the "default mode". Bilbo's few decades of occasional use and Frodo's few years of almost total non-use were insufficient to alter the default. Had it been in someone else's hands, it might have manifested differently.
Frederick Huxtable
51. tegeus-Cromis
DemetriosX @50

I would've thought that invisibility was more a feature of becoming a: subject to Sauron's will, and b: becoming part of the "invisible" world, the other side that the Eldar inhabit simultaneously with the visible world.

Since the Eldar inhabit it simultaneously with the visible world, their rings - made with Sauron's IP, FWIW - don't affect them in that way. Since the Dwarves are far too stubborn to submit to Sauron's will, they won't be transferred bodily into the invisible world. But since mortals are both easily swayed, and don't have that power, that skill to inhabit the invisible and the visible worlds simultaneously, they get turned into wraiths if they continuously and constantly use their rings.

That's just my take on it, anyway.
52. Dr. Thanatos

I don't think Sauron was ever described as invisible while wearing the Ring; in fact every instance where we met him in Age 2 he could be seen. He is an Ainu, though, and doesn't need a Ring to go invisible.

I also don't think there's evidence that one could choose invisibility at will, like Ralph's Super-suit; Isildur slipped on the Ring and went invisible; Smeagol slipped on the Ring and went invisible; Bilbo slipped on the Ring and went invisible .

I don't think it depends much on which Ring it is; we are led to beleive that the 7 and 9, at least, were pretty much an identical pool and were distributed by Sauron ---I don't think they came off the assembly line with labels marking "this one for dwarves."

I suspect that it's more an effect of being a Man or hobbit the next step in human evolution] that makes invisibility an inevitable side effect.
53. SteveG
I believe the journey of Frodo is the depiction of a person going through the darkness that I think most people go through at one time or another. The darkness (depression as others have noted) of the realization of the inevatability of our own death. I recently discovered that Tolkien himself said that this was actually the key to understanding LOTR.

Here is an excerpt I transcribed from a BBC broadcast (1968) on the LOTR in which Tolkien reveals something very powerful about how to understand LOTR (everything between the lines below is Tolkien's words)..
If you really come down to any large
story that interests people for...or can hold their attention for a
considerable time, or make (trails off)...the story is practically always a human story, it's practically always about one thing aren't they...death!...the inevitability of death.

Anyway that is um what um..there's a quotation from Simone de Beauvoir that I read in the paper the other day which seems to me to put it in a nutshell..I think I'll read it to you.

It is apropos of the untimely death of a musical composer of whom I myself have always been found of, Carl Maria von Weber, who died at 39 of tuberculosis. The man who's written his biogrophy actually quotes these words of Simone:

"There is no such thing as a natural death.
Nothing that happens to man is ever natural, since his presence calls the whole world into question.
All men must die, but for every man his death is an accident, and even if he knows of it and consents to it,it is an unjustifiable violation."

Now you may agree with those words or not, but those are the KEYSPRINGS (emphasis mine) of the Lord of the Rings.(From a special on Tolkien and the LOTR done by BBC in 1968)
As a fellow devout Catholic (Tolkien was one as well), I can see clearly now after many readings (and having gone through such a depression) that all of the LOTR is his Catholic working out of this issue of death and coming to terms with our mortality, and the giving up of the illusion (the ring) that we have control over it. The chapter on mount doom is the deepest part of that darkness.
54. pilgrimsoul
@ Steve G 53
Search out Tom Shippey's books on Tolkien. You will find fruitful discussions on the issue of JRRT's obsession with death--not so strange in a World War I veteran, I may add.
55. SteveG
Thanks much for the recommendation! I will definetely seek out Shippey's works.
Kate Nepveu
57. katenepveu
SoonLee @ #45, and there's another of the reasons I can't bring myself to take the framing device seriously.

sphinxxnz @ #46, welcome. Your comment was very eloquent and teased out a few more connections than I'd made before; thanks.

Dr. Thanatos @ #47, if we're going to construct an in-story explanation for the Ring conferring invisibility, I favor the idea that it's related to becoming part of the invisible world, as tegeus-Cromis @ #51 puts it. The explanation that convinces me more is that it's left over from _The Hobbit_, before Tolkien knew the ring was The One Ring.

(I believe elsewhere this is known as Watsonian v. Doylist approaches to interpreting texts.)

(still) Steve Morrison @ #49, that is a terrific link, thank you.

SteveG @ #53, thank you for the transcription, and for your comments--the idea about the Ring being the illusion of control fits well with Denethor's part of the story, in particular.
58. Dr. Thanatos
Re Rings :

I agree that JRRT may not have realized that he would wind up with a problem on his hands later when he gave Bilbo a magic ring. Thinking out loud: in the Hobbit, Gandalf was not phased that Bilbo had an invisibility ring. In Shadow of the Past, Gandalf mentions in passing that "it was obviously a magical ring, but only the Great Rings conferred long life" . In LOTR Gandalf appears to accept invisibility as a common power of magic rings that were not of the level of importance of the Great Rings, which conferred long life . Gandalf was perhaps saying 1) invisibility isn't what made me suspicious of this ring, it was the longetivity and 2) does Gandalf think this is one of the 7 or 9?

I would love to use the Tolkein Professor arguement about using the Hobbit as source material but this part comes from Book I LOTR. I'm not sure I can square Gandalf's nonchalance about the invisibility with the concept that the ring is pulling the mortal into the wraith world; one would think that this would have caught Gandalf's attention before waiting for Bilbo to hit the big 1-1-1...
Michael Ikeda
59. mikeda
Dr. Thanatos@58 we don't know about the dwarves

In the "Durin's Folk" section of Appendix A, it says "their lives were not affected by any Ring, to live either longer or shorter because of it"
60. Dr. Thanatos
So only the Nine were known to prolong life at the time of The Shadow of the Past...
61. pilgrimsoul
@ Kate re #45
Your reaction is interesting. You are a lawyer. I am an historian. I love the framing. You don't find it creditable at all. Fascinating!
@ Mikeda 59
I think that's why I appreciate Dwarves so much--so dang stubborn, ya know?
62. Jerry Friedman
Good thing Frodo and Sam weren't this late.

MariCats @ #3, sphinxxnz @ #46: From what I know of depression, I agree with you. Some connection may have been at the back of my mind, but I never realized it explicitly till now, so thanks.

@Kate: I too wanted Frodo to throw the Ring in, but I like the idea that Gollum had to be saved to play a role. (Yet another critical act of kindness was the Wood-Elves' decision not to keep him underground.) My real problem is the very improbable piece of luck that Gollum loses his balance.

In the un-balefired posts (yes, I read several of the WoT books), I don't think anyone has mentioned what Frodo says when Gollum tries to take the Ring on the slope of Mount Doom. "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom." If that was a prophecy, it was fulfilled, like many others in the book. Or was it a curse that succeeded? If so, it puts some responsibility back on Frodo and possibly on the Ring itself, which he's clutching and which presumably gives him this power of domination. But it may not go that well with his throwing away his weapons.

If the curse isn't the answer (I think it's deliberately ambiguous), I like supernatural intervention better than hitting the 00 on the roulette wheel. By the way, it's a good thing the Ring didn't influence Gollum to step away from the crack.

Another good thing, and maybe a supernatural favor: Sam gets a telescopic view of the Barad-dûr for our benefit. I too like that description, especially the fate of the Nazgûl.

On Frodo's throwing his weapon away, I like your description, Kate: "It must be important." Yes, but I don't quite see it either. I feel it should have been a high point, with mystical overtones, but it doesn't work for me. Then as at other times, after the high comes the low, with Sam throwing away his pots and pans, and there's more feeling in that.

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