In the third chapter of the second book of The Two Towers, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum reach the gates of Mordor, and learn that one cannot simply walk into Mordor. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER THREE: THE BLACK GATE IS CLOSED
God, that fucking chapter title. Damn it! It’s so odd because most of them aren’t this direct. Like, Tolkien outright spoils his own chapter, and then still messes with your brain in the process. We finally get to see the titular towers, the “Teeth of Mordor” that overlook the Haunted Pass. It’s called the Haunted Pass. I love that so many of the names of places in Middle-earth were invented specifically by Tolkien, but then he calls this the Haunted Pass. It doesn’t need a special name. That’s how fucked up it is. (PS: I listen to a progressive metal band called Ephel Dúath and I had no idea that it was from The Lord of the Rings. Neat!)
Even though I knew the Gate was closed before I read a word of this chapter, it doesn’t change how much I enjoy what Tolkien does here. The Gate isn’t even the point, and I find it extremely clever that the chapter title and the events of chapter three are one giant misdirect: this is really about how much Frodo trusts Gollum, and how that is related to Sam’s feeling for Frodo as well. It’s about the horrors of standing before Mordor and feeling utterly hopeless. At least Sam can make a joke about it:
‘We can’t go no further – unless we want to ask the Orcs for a lift.’
Bless your heart, little hobbit.
I thought that this chapter would involve Frodo making the decision not to sneak into Mordor. Tolkien leads us to believe that Frodo, sick of this endless journey, would simply go through the Gates into Mordor. He tells Sam and Gollum as much. “What comes after must come,” he says to them. It’s such a huge moment because Sam definitively decides that he’s going to stick with Frodo to the end, even if it means doing something as foolish as walking into Mordor. And right in the midst of this powerful, transformative moment for Frodo and Sam, Gollum tells Frodo he knows another way in.
HOW VERY CONVENIENT, GOLLUM. Now you’ve realized that there’s another way in. That’s not suspicious at all! I’m right there with Sam, side-eyeing the hell out of Gollum. Why should Frodo trust him at all? It’s here that my thoughts regarding Gollum’s identities are pretty much confirmed, since Sam realizes that there’s a different part of Gollum called Sméagol inside of him, buried deep within. I get that this might have been the most painfully obvious thing in the world, but I’m still new to all of this, and I certainly didn’t understand why Gollum had two names. I’M SLOW SOMETIMES. Thankfully, Frodo is not quick to an answer, and it’s during this time that we get to see why Mordor should be feared.
I suppose it was more of an abstract place to me than anything else. As much as Mordor was talked about, it wasn’t until the last chapter that I truly understood what it looked like. I didn’t get how barren, lifeless, vacant, and dead it was. I didn’t understand that it was this hub of dark activity, that even things such as the weather were different around the place. It’s not that Tolkien’s done a poor job explaining any of that. This is all on my end. He’s used geography before to represent his ideas, and I think contrasting Mordor with the Shire and Lórien is a good example of that. But I never comprehended properly that Sauron was preparing for war, sending armies and battalions out into the wild, or gathering allies like the army that Frodo sees in this chapter. I think witnessing this jolts something in Frodo, who now knows that more than ever, he has a task in front of him that he’s got to complete. So he agrees to allow Gollum to help him find this other way, but he does so in a way that acknowledges how much he doesn’t trust him:
‘You swore a promise by what you call the Precious. Remember that! It will hold you to it; but it will seek a way to twist it to your own undoing. Already you are being twisted. You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Sméagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Sméagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Sméagol!’
Frodo. Just hold me. I just can’t. HOLY SHIT. This little speech of his just levels Gollum, so much so that it takes quite some time to calm the little guy down enough to tell him about the other two ways into Mordor:
#2: The Road west of Ephel Dúath, through a circle of dark trees, down to Osgiliath, and south to the Great Water, which I imagine is the Sea that other characters have spoken of. I am actually entirely unsure why Gollum even tells Frodo about this road. It doesn’t seem to go anywhere they want.
#3: They can head to the left up a long road that goes to the Tower of the Moon that is less likely to be “seen” by the Eye and Sauron’s guards. When Sam rightfully calls out how ridiculous this is, Gollum admits that there is another tiny path from this that heads up a narrow staircase, and it’s this way that he used to escape many years ago.
Again, how can we trust that what Gollum is saying is true? Sam is quick to doubt the creature, but Frodo thinks Gollum’s use of the first-person is a sign that he’s not referring to the deceptive form of Sméagol. So he might actually be telling the truth! Still, Frodo still refuses to rush into the decision, and Tolkien gives us a chance to see these characters in a quiet, somber, and hopeless moment. Frodo doesn’t know what to choose, and the day passes on, the threat of the decision looms ever closer. When more of those dark bird/bat creatures show up, possibly sensing the Ring, and a new group of Men that no one’s ever seen before start marching into Mordor, Frodo decides that sitting around is not going to get anything done. He’ll trust Gollum to take them up the secret path he used to escape a few years prior.
Well, before he decides this, Gollum and Sam discuss oliphaunts, and it’s kind of adorable. But that’s not quite as important! Frodo has made his decision, and the group is going to try to find another way inside Mordor.