The Lord of the Rings Reread

LotR re-read: Two Towers IV.6, “The Forbidden Pool”

Time for chapter IV.6 of The Two Towers, “The Forbidden Pool,” in our Lord of the Rings re-read. As always, spoilers for all of LotR and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Faramir wakes Frodo and asks him to come outside. They (and Sam) go to a high spot next to the falls, where they see Sméagol diving in the pool. Frodo begs Faramir not to shoot: Sméagol is his guide and is only looking for fish. Faramir will not let him go free, however, and says he must be captured or killed. Frodo asks to be allowed to go down to the pool.

Frodo hears Sméagol lament the loss of the Ring and say he will strangle the Men who will take it. He tells Sméagol that Men will kill him if they find him; Sméagol refuses to leave until he has finished his fish. Frodo threatens Sméagol with the Ring, says he must trust him, and tells him to go up the path. Sméagol smells the Rangers and accuses Frodo of treachery just before he is captured.

They are taken to Faramir, who accepts Sméagol’s promise never to come back to, or speak of, the hidden location. Faramir releases Sméagol to Frodo’s custody (and releases Frodo to travel as he will), but demands that Sméagol tell him where he plans to lead Frodo. Sméagol is forced to confirm that he intends to use the pass at Cirith Ungol. Out of Sméagol’s hearing, Faramir counsels Frodo not to go, arguing that Sméagol is hiding something and that Cirith Ungol has an evil name. Frodo points out the lack of other options, and Faramir sighs and bids him farewell.


Short chapter, mostly big-picture comments.

Such as: Someone explain to me why honesty wouldn’t have worked? Why Frodo couldn’t have said, “Sméagol, you have wandered into a forbidden place by accident. There are Men with bows pointed directly at you, and if you do not come with me right now and talk with their leader, they will kill you. I can’t stop them, but I don’t want you to die, so please come with me?”

Note that Frodo doesn’t even start out with the complete truth: he says, “We are in danger. Men will kill you, if they find you here.” Men have already found him, but Frodo implies that they haven’t and thus that the danger is not yet imminent—which is when Sméagol refuses to come until he’s finished his fish. Then Frodo feels out of options and resorts to threatening Sméagol with the Ring: not a happy situation to introduce a Ranger into, and from there it all goes downhill.

Frodo might have thought he couldn’t convince Sméagol if he told him the truth, and then Sméagol’d get killed, which would be bad. But I’m not convinced: I think Sméagol is still sane enough to be able to choose possible captivity over certain death. And you know, if he chooses “wrongly”? It’s still his choice to make.

This doesn’t seem to be the straw that eventually breaks Sméagol, but it doesn’t help any (the green light comes into his eyes when he smells the Ranger). Frodo even recognizes that “certainly what (he) did would seem a treachery to the poor treacherous creature,” but does it anyway because he believes that he is “sav(ing) his life in the only way he could.” Like I said, I’m not convinced that it is the only way. But beyond that: you know in The Princess Bride, when Count Rugen tells Inigo, “You’ve got an overdeveloped sense of vengeance. It’s going to get you into trouble someday”? I often think it would make a good fill-in-the-blank quiz. Me, the blank is “responsibility,” and it does get me into trouble, though not dagger-in-the-gut levels thereof. But the master-servant relationship apparently lends itself to particular heights (or depths) of overdeveloped senses of responsibility.

* * *

On to Sméagol/Gollum.

When Faramir asks him his name and business, he says, “We are lost, lost. No name, no business, no Precious, nothing. Only empty. Only hungry; yes, we are hungry. A few little fishes . . . ” People have mentioned Ungoliant with regard to Gollum in the comments, so this caught my eye as it hadn’t before.

And, also, it’s very sad.

Does Faramir have some supernatural mental abilities? Consider:

Slowly Gollum raised his eyes and looked unwillingly into Faramir’s. All light went out of them, and they stared bleak and pale for a moment into the clear unwavering eyes of the man of Gondor. There was a still silence. Then Gollum dropped his head and shrank down, until he was squatting on the floor, shivering. ‘We doesn’t know and we doesn’t want to know,’ he whimpered. ‘Never came here; never come again.’

‘There are locked doors and closed windows in your mind, and dark rooms behind them,’ said Faramir. ‘But in this I judge that you speak the truth. . . . ’

Then, later:

 ‘It is called Cirith Ungol.’ Gollum hissed sharply and began muttering to himself. ‘Is not that its name?’ said Faramir turning to him.

‘No!’ said Gollum, and then he squealed, as if something had stabbed him. ‘Yes, yes, we heard the name once. . . . ’

He seems to be able to not only discern but compel truth in a way that feels more than simply force of personality. Which, again, is another thing I hadn’t noticed before. I’m not sure what I think of it generally, but it may explain some things when we get to Denethor.

I like Faramir’s honesty about himself in this chapter. He admits that he would like to ask Frodo to break faith with Sméagol, “For it seems less evil to counsel another man to break troth than to do so oneself,” and that he doesn’t know any better plan but still doesn’t want him to go. I was a little surprised at how blunt he was about his expectations at the end of the chapter, though: “It is a hard doom and a hopeless errand. . . . I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun.” Ouch.

* * *

To end on lighter notes:

Sméagol and the fish before Faramir is funny, both in his description—“A very miserable creature he looked, dripping and dank, smelling of fish (he still clutched one in his hand)”—and when he drops the fish after hearing that its price is death.

Tolkien gets right the position of the full moon in the sky, having it set near dawn. I doubt he saw this as remarkable, but it wasn’t until I took an astronomy class in high school that I really paid attention to the moon, possibly because I grew up in the suburbs.  But I notice it now when fiction takes artistic license with the moon’s phases, which seems to be fairly often.

Back on the road, next time.

« Two Towers IV.5 | Index<!– | Two Towers IV.7 »–>| Open thread: fiction responses »

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.


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