Int he second chapter of the second book of The Two Towers, Gollum leads Sam and Frodo to Mordor and through the creepiest marsh of all time. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER TWO: THE PASSAGE OF THE MARSHES
I was going to start off this review by saying that I was glad to have my suspicions backed up by Sam, but I’m really not glad about that. I want Gollum to be helping Frodo, even if he’s conflicted about the process. It was more that my fears were at least validated by another character, and I didn’t feel so weird about it.
Gollum really is a complicated character, and in this chapter, we get to see both how his own interests and the power of Mordor create this storm of confusion in his mind. It’s difficult to determine what’s going on and what he’s going to do. Tolkien uses this chapter to essentially befuddle us at the same time. If Gollum has some ulterior motive, it’s hard to deny that he definitely is taking the two hobbits to Mordor, and his “debate” later in the chapter gives me the impression that he’s not communicating with the Dark Lord in any way. Perhaps it really is that simple: Gollum is afraid and anxious, and that’s what I’ve picked up on.
Is it acceptable to say that he’s kind of adorable at times, too? I mean, his little song about catching a fish is SO GODDAMN CUTE. It’s weird because it’s not like Gollum is a child, but he’s so tiny and frightened and nervous. I can’t wait to see how the movies deal with him. How am I like the last person on earth not to know what Gollum looks like in the movies?
Anyway, the fact that I’m able to feel sorry for Gollum is really a testament to how well-written this character is. I have no real reason to like him at this point. He’s been following the Company for weeks, and hasn’t really done anything to make him a sympathetic character. Regardless of whether this journey is a trick or not, seeing Gollum so terribly hungry makes me sad. I didn’t expect him to be able to eat lembas, since it was made by the elves, but no one deserves to go hungry. I think that even while Sam isn’t comfortable with Frodo, he feels pity for the creature as well. Is it Gollum’s fault that the Ring made him so bitter? I don’t think it’s really fair to say so.
Still, I don’t blame Sam for expressing doubt. It’s just a smart thing to do at this point. They’re inching closer to Mordor and Gollum’s not given them a real reason to trust him. Sure, it’s unfortunate that they have to take turns to keep guard in case Gollum decides to leave, but it can’t harm things, can it? I think that Sam is forced to re-evaluate his thoughts slightly when he accidentally falls asleep while on watch to discover that Gollum hasn’t deserted them or eaten them alive. He certainly could have, but he just goes off to find food and then returns on his own.
When Gollum advises them to cross through the Marsh to avoid being spotted by Orcs, the Nazgûl, or Sauron’s Eye, it’s sort of hard to ignore the fact that he’s legitimately helping them. There’s absolutely no way they would have made it across the Marsh without his assistance! THIS IS SCIENCE OR SOMETHING. I don’t think Sam feels all that great about Gollum, but even considering the conversation he has with himself later, I think Gollum is honestly trying to help them out.
I don’t know that it counts as “helping,” though, when Gollum decides not to tell the hobbits that he’s taking them through The Dead Marshes:
Hurrying forward again, Sam tripped, catching his foot in some old root or tussock. He fell and came heavily on his hands, which sank deep into stick ooze, so that his face was brought close to the surface of the dark mere. There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up, the lights flickered and danced and swirled. For a moment the water below him looked like some window, glazed with grimy glass, through which he was peering. Wrenching his hands out of the bog, he sprang back with a cry. ‘There are dead things, dead faces in the water,’ he said with horror. ‘Dead faces!’
WHAT THE FUCK!!!! Tolkien, how do you come up with this shit? How did you think it would be awesome to put these characters in a marsh where they can glimpse the dead, rotting bodies of soldiers and warriors from a battle long ago? The best part about this, though, is the fact that we only spend a couple pages here before moving on. This isn’t even a big deal to Tolkien. He just casually reveals the most horrifying thing ever and then MOVES THE FUCK ON. Oh my god, I just want to climb inside that man’s imagination. Wait…no, I don’t! I WOULD BE EATEN ALIVE. The dude thought up ringwraiths. Yeah, I change my mind. It’s sort of like that thing where people wish Westeros was real. YEAH, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING? We would all die all of the time. I would last maybe ten minutes in an A Song of Ice and Fire novel. I’d go live in those marshes that don’t show up until later in the series where like twenty people live. ONLY WAY TO STAY ALIVE.
Let’s talk about the fact that as the characters get closer to Mordor, they all feel the pull and the threat of the place. Obviously, Frodo feels it more than anyone else since he’s currently Master of the Ring. Is that why one of the wraiths flies overhead? Can it sense the Ring is close? I think that the feeling of the Eye was what creeped me out the most. I can’t even imagine that sensation, that this disembodied eye that represents the power of a dark lord is just seeking you out.
Sam certainly feels the grim nature of what’s ahead of them, and Gollum probably has that conversation with himself in response to the power of Mordor as well. But there’s nothing that quite lets them know what is ahead as when then come upon the moors of the Noman-lands:
Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.
FUCK. What the hell did Tolkien base this off of? Or did he just pluck it out of his brain to terrify me forever??? The image of these three characters standing on the edge of the marsh, looking upon this expanse of desolation, is forever going to haunt me. It’s one of the most compelling images that Tolkien provides in the entirety of The Lord of the Rings, perhaps my favorite bit of writing as well. Just incredible, y’all.
It’s after this that we get to experience Gollum talking to himself. I’m wondering if I’ve been missing a really obvious clue this whole time: Is Gollum also called Sméagol for a reason? Or is it just a dual name? Does it represent the two sides to him that we see here? I suppose that’s not that important, though, because Gollum always spoke in third person. Like Sam, though, there was one specific exchange that caught my attention:
‘She might help. She might, yes.’
‘No, no! Not that way!’ wailed Sméagol.
UM WHAT. WHAT. WHO ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. WHO IS THIS. WHAT THE FUCK. She? There aren’t many women in this book, but this has to be a character we haven’t met already, right? WHO WOULD HELP GOLLUM GET THE RING?
This chapter ends with me feeling pretty damn awful. Gollum agrees to take them to the Gate of Mordor, and Frodo agrees to let Gollum go at that point. Is he going to break his promise, and if so, will Sam be able to stop him since he overheard the conversation? Jesus, they’re pretty much at the Gates of Mordor now. HOW THE HELL IS THERE MORE BOOK LEFT? Oh god, I feel terrible.