In the tenth and final chapter of The Two Towers, everything is immensely fucked up. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER TEN: THE CHOICES OF MASTER SAMWISE
Frodo was lying face upward on the ground and the monster was bending over him, so intent upon her victim that she took no heed of Sam and his cries, until he was close at hand.
WHAT THE HOLY FUCK IS THIS BOOK DOING. STOP IT. STOP IT. YOU STOP IT RIGHT NOW. I can’t stand large spiders. I JUST CAN’T.
As if Samwise knew this, he bravely and courageously goes after Shelob without the slightest hesitation, and I just love it, okay? I don’t need to justify my endless adoration for this character, and you cannot make me. I understand that here, Sam is in a panic. But I’d argue that his panic needs something at its base to even exist, and I’d also say that Sam’s love for Frodo is what causes this. I don’t think Tolkien is necessarily even exaggerating for effect when he writes that there was no “onslaught more fierce ever seen.” I think it’s the truth, and that Sam fighting against an impossibly gigantic creature is the fiercest onslaught in all of Middle-earth.
I was not surprised, then, that Sam’s attack proved only temporarily successful, and when the gash he gave Shelob started spewing poison, I suddenly realized that Sam could die. So when she attacked him, I sort of panicked myself. Like, I legit believed that he could have died right in this scene. That’s a scary thing to realize in a work of fiction, isn’t it? Thankfully, Sam’s quick thinking means he turns the elven-blade up right before Shelob tries to use her body to squish him, and she ends up piercing herself in the process. SHE DID ALL THE WORK FOR HIM.
And then Tolkien has to write this:
Even as Sam himself crouched, looking at her, seeing his death in her eyes…
Again, for like a full five seconds, I thought this meant he was dying, that perhaps the poison that spilled out of her had got inside of him. But then I re-read the sentence and understood what Tolkien was trying to say here: Sam was about to die. I must admit that I read the entire scene with the Phial of Galadriel in utter shock. It’s just so awe-inspiring. It’s a massive, courageous, and momentous twist to this battle, and one that makes me so damn proud of Samwise the hobbit, who hundreds of pages ago was terrified by elves. And now he just seriously harmed a giant spider!
‘Now come, you filth!’ he cried. ‘You’ve hurt my master, you brute, and you’ll pay for it. We’re going on; but we’ll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!’
SERIOUSLY. SERIOUSLY. Team Sam Gamgee, right? Fuck everyone else, this dude is the best.
‘Master, dear master,’ he said, but Frodo did not speak. As he had run forward, eager, rejoicing to be free, Shelob with hideous speed had come behind and with one swift stroke had stung him in the neck. He lay now pale, and heard no voice, and did not move.
No. Oh, no. Nope. Tolkien, no. This isn’t happening.
Then as quickly as he could he cut away the binding cords and laid his head upon Frodo’s breast and to his mouth, but no stir of life could he find, nor feel the faintest flutter of the heart.
NO. STOP IT. YOU FUCKING STOP IT. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING.
And suddenly he saw that he was in the picture that was revealed to him in the mirror of Galadriel in Lórien: Frodo with a pale face lying fast asleep under a great dark cliff. Or fast asleep he had thought then. ‘He’s dead!’ he said. ‘Not asleep, dead!’
STOP IT WHAT ARE YOU DOING? THIS CAN’T HAPPEN. OH MY GOD I’M SO UPSET.
And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.
Y’all, I just can’t. This isn’t happening. Tolkien, you just can’t. Isn’t there some sort of international law against this? DID YOU REALLY JUST KILL OFF THE MAIN CHARACTER? oh my god i am so fucking upset right now. I want you all to know that when I read this for the first time, I just put my head down on my desk and didn’t move it for thirty seconds. I was furious with this development. I was embarrassed that I pushed so hard to accept Gollum as being trustworthy and talking as if his story was clearly one of redemption. And I was just FUCKED UP that Frodo died BEFORE HE EVEN GOT TO THE THIRD “BOOK.” WHAT THE FUCK?!!?!?!?!
But, like most things I’ve ever read that have upset me on a visceral level (A Storm of Swords, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Mercy Among The Children are all contenders for “The Book That Destroyed Mark The Most”), I had to keep going. As distressed as I was, there was more story to tell. Sam, while exhausted, wasn’t actually dead himself.
But what do you do after something like this? His whole purpose for coming on this journey was to help Frodo destroy the Ring, and now Frodo is dead. Yet it is in that very reality that Sam realizes there’s some form of hope. As the chapter implies, there’s a choice to be made, and Sam knows he has one left: he can keep going himself. He can see the mission through. Well, he can also do this:
Then at last he began to weep; and going to Frodo he composed his body, and folded his cold hands upon his breast, and wrapped his cloak about him; and he laid his own sword at one side, and the staff that Faramir had given at the other.
No, I’ll be fine, just fine, y’all. This doesn’t make me sad. I don’t want to cry. No. Not at all.
It’s here that Sam is faced with the enormity of what he’s about to do. He knows it’s going to be awful for him to take the Ring off Frodo, to leave his friend’s body behind, and venture out into the unknown (literally!) entirely alone. I honestly think that was the worst part about this. Sam is alone. Oh my god, if Gimli and Legolas, or Merry and Pippin get separated, I will not be okay. At all. I’M ALREADY NOT OKAY. For now, though, I’m saddened by the scene where Sam takes the Ring from Frodo and puts it around his own neck. I know that it’s heavy because of the proximity to its creator, but there’s a stark subtext to this: Sam is now carrying Frodo’s burden, and that weighs him down. He stumbles away with the knowledge that he may never see Frodo’s body again. It’s just so sad to me, but I also felt this bizarre swell of pride, like Sam was my son or something and I was just so happy that he was doing what he thought was right.
This moment is just so raw and important for Sam’s characterization, so of course, Tolkien immediately brings in a new element that he has to deal with: Orcs. Sam hears them in the passageway all around him, and I guessed that he was going to get captured, and that’s how he’d find his way into Mordor. It was a bad guess, admittedly.
The Ring. He was not aware of any thought or decision. He simply found himself drawing out the chain and taking the Ring in his hand. The head of the orc-company appeared in the Cleft right before him. Then he put it on.
I can’t. I can’t deal with this book anymore. I can’t believe this is all happening in the same chapter. Frodo is dead, and Sam just put on the Ring. Help me, what the fuck is going on?
For real, I just adore what Tolkien does here when Sam puts on the Ring. Frodo never wore it for that long, so it’s a unique chance for Tolkien to explain more about what the experience is like. It’s such a weird idea that one is invisible but feels innately visible because the Eye is searching for you. But FUCK, I never would have guessed in a million years that Sam would wear the Ring. WHAT IS HAPPENING???
I actually think the best part of this, though, is Gorbag and Shagrat. Look, I’m sorry if I’m ruining this, but this whole scene is like listening to Orcs gossip. I had an idea to turn their conversation into some massive re-write of Mean Girls, but I really wanted to focus on so many other things in this chapter that didn’t deal with these two Orcs. I adore the fact that we get yet another chance to learn more about Orc culture because it helps me see them as more than one-dimensional creatures. They have such a fascinating way of talking. They use short, direct sentences and don’t have a particularly flowery vernacular. We see more of the idea that different tribes of Orcs (Is “tribes” the right word?) still can’t really get along, either. Even later in the chapter, there’s a conversation about the Orcs moving and acting separate of the Dark Lord. That’s also interesting to me because what the hell do Orcs do normally? I guess I don’t know that much about their history. Well, the Orc-men were created specifically by Sauron, so it’s not like they have much of a history. But do they seriously just act miserable all the time?
Sam, however, knows that he’s got a predicament on his hands: the Orcs have discovered the body of Frodo. Seriously, I can’t love Sam anymore that I do right now. He chooses to ignore the mission given to him by the Council of Elrond and stick with his master. Because he is the best character ever. All I want in life is my own Samwise Gamgee, IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK. Unfortunately, the Orcs get to Frodo’s body before he does, and everything is just fucked up. What are they going to do with Frodo’s body??? Sauron will realize that Frodo doesn’t have the Ring, and then what? Hopefully, Sam won’t be found out by that point. But this crisis wasn’t ever going to be easy for him! Even though he’s invisible, the Orcs still know these tunnels better than he does. This includes knowing how to get through this strange stone block that sits in one specific passageway and keeps Sam from following them any further. Frustrated, all Sam can do is just listen to the conversation a few Orcs are having on the other side.
It’s from this that Sam learns that he, Gollum, and Frodo were spotted before on the Stairs, and that the Dark Lord is currently looking for them. I think Tolkien really succeeds at creating this sense of paranoia on behalf of the antagonists with this conversation, too, because the warning about “spies” shows us how uneasy the Orcs are with what’s happening. They’re sort of left in the dark about a lot more things than I expected, and that also includes Shelob. The Orcs are aware of the “agreement” that Sauron has with the giant spider, but don’t seem to know much of what goes on inside Shelob’s lair. They do guess that some sort of “large warrior” is loose, since they saw signs that Shelob had been injured. OH SHAGRAT AND GORBAT, YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA. Oh my god, I am just so proud of Sam.
And then it happens. They discuss what to do with Frodo’s body, and Gorbag thinks it’s pretty useless to bring Lugbúrz a corpse.
‘You fool,’ snarled Shagrat. ‘You’ve been talking very clever, but there’s a lot you don’t know, though most other folk do. You’ll be for the pot or for Shelob, if you don’t take care. Carrion! Is that all you know of Her Ladyship? When she binds with cords, she’s after meat. She doesn’t eat dead meat, not suck cold blood. This fellow isn’t dead!’
OH. MY. SWEET. SUMMER. CHILD. FRODO ISN’T DEAD!!!!! oh my a;lkgj;a a;skdfj sdfa;kslfdsj. Wait, first of all, FUCK YOU, TOLKIEN. Oh my god, quit playing games with my heart. I WAS SO UPSET AND YOU TRICKED ME. But that’s ultimately fine because Frodo isn’t dead, so SWEET. AWESOME. EVERYTHING RULES.
Well, okay. It doesn’t. Frodo is still in the hands of the Orcs, and Sam, figuring out that the block is actually a door, continues to follow them. I want to celebrate the fact that I properly guessed that The Two Towers would end on a cliffhanger, but I feel awful being joyous about a horrific end to this book: Sam is separated from his friend by a giant set of doors he cannot pass through. I mean, I expected something of this nature, but this end was so much more intense than I could have ever thought.
Tomorrow, I’ll post predictions for the final book, and then we’ll move on with The Return of the King on Wednesday. HELP.