In the fourth chapter of the second book of The Two Towers, Sam Gamgee becomes my favorite literary character of all time, and Tolkien gets really serious about war. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER FOUR: OF HERBS AND STEWED RABBIT
He set his two large flat hands on his shrunken belly, and a pale green light came into his eyes.
Well, that’s just the strangest way to demonstrate you’re hungry, isn’t it?
I hoped that this chapter would address the issue of hunger because Sam and Gollum’s constant reminder of it was starting to make me hungry. I’m satisfied that Tolkien’s bringing this up, though, because it’s another thing to show us that this journey these characters are on is complicated for a number of reasons. As Gollum takes them up into the mountains, the threat of the Eye looming nearby, Sam and Frodo are largely silent during their hike, the first of four that Gollum hopes to cover during nightfall. I think the fact that they travel during nighttime just makes this all so eerie. It’s definitely a better choice, since it makes it easier for them to stay in hiding than traveling during the day. At the same time, traveling into the land of the Enemy shows us that not everything is barren and destroyed. There are actually pine trees! The Dark Lord hasn’t quite destroyed everything, so I can see how uplifting this must be for them.
It’s interesting to me that the characters can see the history of the place as they walk, that the work done by Men many years ago still holds. Yet everything is injured or scarred by the Dark Lord and his minions and warriors. The remnants of peace and prosperity seem to loom everywhere, but they’re largely hidden by the effects of war. That’s such a depressing thing to me. Sauron doesn’t care about history or beauty. He is a man concerned with power, and everything else is just a victim of that.
It’s still nice that there’s life left out in the areas the Dark Lord hasn’t touched, even if that very life seems to make Gollum sick. Dude, just appreciate the streams and the sweet smells because it’s better than the slime and muck of the Marsh. Though I suppose he would like that smell more, being who he is. At least there’s some sort of respite here, a lake from which they can drink and bathe. Yet they can’t even go that far before being reminded of where they are:
They had not come very far from the road, and yet even in so short a space they had seen scars of the old wars, and the newer wounds made by the Orcs and other foul servants of the Dark Lord: a pit of uncovered filth and refuse; trees hewn down wantonly and left to die, with evil runes or the fell sign of the Eye cut in rude strokes on their bark.
Rude. They really don’t like nature that much, do they?
It’s here that three seek out shelter, and we move into utter perfection. Sam, constantly thinking of food, decides that it is time he makes it a reality. He realizes that he’s got a creature at his disposal that is trying to win their trust, so he sends Gollum off to find food. It’s funny that he hadn’t thought about it before, but that’s neither here nor there. You know what’s important? Sam’s love for Frodo. You know what’s even better than that? Sam’s desire to make dinner for Frodo. You know what’s even better than that? Sam making a stew with the rabbits that Gollum brought back.
And you know what’s better than that?
‘Sméagol won’t grub for roots and carrotses and – taters. What’s taters, precious, eh, what’s taters?’
‘Po – ta – toes,’ said Sam. ‘The Gaffer’s delight, and a rare good ballast for an empty belly.’
AHHHHHH SAM LOVES POTATOES JUST LET ME DIE RIGHT HERE! Oh my god, HOW LONG HAVE ALL OF YOU BEEN SITTING ON THIS JUST WAITING FOR ME TO GET HERE? Y’all, you just don’t understand my obsession with potatoes. THIS IS THE BEST. MORE POTATOES ALL THE TIME!
There is a downside to this meal; later, when Sam is rinsing his cooking gear, he notices that his fire is sending smoke up into the air. THAT’S NOT GOOD! But the realization comes too late: both Frodo and Sam hear voices and whistling and GREAT. It’s Orcs, isn’t it? Well, they lasted four chapters! That’s a pretty good run. It’s better than Merry and Pippin, isn’t it?
If they were astonished at what they saw, their captors were even more astonished. Four tall Men stood there. Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads. Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows. All had swords at their sides, and were clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien. Green gauntlets covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes, which were very keen and bright. At once Frodo thought of Boromir, for these Men were like him in stature and bearing, and in their manner of speech.
Oh. Oh. So…what? Not Orcs? And not Men of the Dark Lord? So who the hell are these Men? Why aren’t they going to eat Frodo and Sam?
‘Boromir son of the Lord Denethor?’ said Faramir, and a strange stern look came into his face. ‘You came with him?’
OH SHIT. THEY KNOW BOROMIR! Oh, this is wonderful! Well, I thought that for about all of five seconds before I remembered that BOROMIR IS FUCKING DEAD HOLY SHIT WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO TELL THESE GUYS. Oh, that is so awkward. Like, “Oh, yes! Boromir! Wonderful chap, rather brave and valiant, yes, we came with him! Right, and then he tried to steal something from me and he died twenty minutes later. So, we all good here?”
Still, I can’t deny that it’s good news. Will they have an escort further on their journey at this point? I suppose it’s possible, but there’s no indication of it just yet. Instead, after some conversation between the characters about the current state of affairs, Tolkien makes an interesting choice with what he decides to write about. When the Men that knew Boromir and served under him get into battle the scarlet-clad warriors we’d seen earlier in the chapter, Sam has a moment of reflection on the attack spreading out before him, especially after he sees one of the enemy die:
He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace – all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind.
It’s such a unique take on the death of a total stranger, and you can see Tolkien’s own thoughts (since the man did live through two world wars) come through in the pages. He’s refusing to let us forget that despite that there’s a moral imperative behind the war that’s brewing, the people in it cannot be distilled so easily. I find it impressive and respectful that Sam has this brief moment where his heart sees a corpse as a full person, one that could very well have been deceived in a way that brought him here.
There is a war coming in Middle-earth, and I think this was a way for Tolkien to remind us as such. Even if the chapter ends with the group finally spotting an oliphaunt for the first time, I actually find this brief passage to be the strongest part of chapter four. War is a brutal, horrific thing, and I have a feeling Tolkien’s going to expand on it in the future.