In the sixth chapter of the second book of The Two Towers, Tolkien makes my stomach hurt. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER SIX: THE FORBIDDEN POOL
Doubt can be a powerful thing. In just one chapter, Tolkien has made me feel awful. There’s a pit in my stomach that seems to grow with every page, and it’s not getting any better. This journey to Mordor is bad enough, but now I doubt almost every aspect of it. The only character I trust at this point is Sam Gamgee, but we’re at a point where Frodo is going to have to deal with Gollum.
Unlike the last chapter, there wasn’t a second of chapter six that I wasn’t entirely engrossed with the story that Tolkien was giving to me. Something must have been important enough to wake up Frodo, I thought. So where was Faramir taking him? Was I going to start doubting him as well? Once again, the lovely Sam can’t resist doing anything without his master, and it’s just killing me with cute. He’s just so dedicated.
Faramir takes the two hobbits high up to a flat rock near the cascading waterfall, and it’s here that we see the titular pool. In just a few sentences, that sensation of doubt creeps in. Why now? Why wake Frodo up and bring him high above this pool in the middle of the freezing night? What’s so critical about being there at that exact moment?
Presently Frodo was aware of a small dark thing on the near bank, but even as he looked at it, it dived and vanished just beyond the boil and bubble of the fall, cleaving the black water as neatly as an arrow or an edgewise stone.
GREAT. FUCKING FANTASTIC. I knew immediately that this was Gollum, and that his appearance just complicated everything. Gollum followed them to a secret location, one that the Enemy quite possibly doesn’t even know exists. Even worse, it’s clear that Faramir doesn’t think Gollum’s appearance is random, as he asks Frodo whether he should shoot the creature or not. Damn it, you tricked him! Frodo can either let Anborn kill Gollum, or he has to confess that Gollum was actually the guide that led them to Faramir.
What a disaster.
Frodo does his best to try to explain exactly who Gollum is, yet I couldn’t help but laugh at how every attempt made him seem worse. Oh, so you kept him a secret? That’s not good. Oh, he probably doesn’t know much the Men who live here, as he was drawn to the location by the Ring that Frodo is wearing? Oh, that’s because Gollum used to own the Ring himself? Every single detail is another damnation for Frodo and Gollum. I can’t blame Faramir for feeling the way he does about this. How could he possibly understand the complex nature of Gollum?
At the very least, Faramir gives Frodo a choice: retrieve Gollum himself, or Faramir’s man will kill him. Faramir cannot risk Gollum escaping and getting captured or else the location of this secret hideout of sorts will be in danger. Oh, on top of that, if Frodo falls in the pool, Faramir won’t help him get out. Also, he’ll have bowmen trained on him the whole time! Absolutely no pressure at all, Frodo.
As if this situation didn’t need to be anymore stressful and gut-wrenching, Frodo’s retrieval of Gollum is fraught with guilt. Obviously, Gollum isn’t exactly trusting of Frodo, especially since he technically abandoned the creature to go off with Faramir. So Frodo resorts to something he hates: threatening Gollum with the power of his Precious. I’m glad that Frodo doesn’t do this with glee on the mind because it shows us that he knows it’s wrong to treat this creature this way. I understand that Gollum might not be the most dependable, trustworthy being of all time, but Frodo respects him in a way. Gollum did get them through the Marshes alive, and I bet he would have gotten them into Mordor had Faramir not intercepted them. Because of this, he doesn’t want to treat Gollum poorly. I think Frodo genuinely wants to win his trust, but how on earth is he going to do that by tricking him?
Tolkien makes this conflict very explicit in the text, and I think it’s the best part of the chapter. This is a huge moment for Frodo because he’s stuck in this difficult position and is forced to make a decision that he doesn’t like out of the interest of not dying. It’s just so depressing to me that Frodo knows he basically betrayed Gollum’s trust, and then has to keep threatening him in order to keep him alive. That’s the worst, isn’t it? He knows that Faramir or Anborn would slay Gollum without a second thought, so he threatens Gollum in order to keep him alive. MY HEART, Y’ALL. MY HEART.
How fucked up is the dynamic of Faramir’s interrogation of Gollum? There’s so much fear in that scene because Gollum knows he’s not in control. His life is at stake, the closest thing he has to a friend just got him captured, and EVERYTHING SUCKS. Oh my god, I feel bad for Gollum. What has my life become?
Here’s the thing: this is all so upsetting that I don’t even feel good when Faramir ultimately decides to allow Frodo, Sam, and Gollum the power to walk free in Gondor. Technically, this is a victory! They can now leave these Men to pursue their journey with the Ring. But it doesn’t feel like a victory. It feels like when your parents reluctantly agree to let you spend the night at your friend’s house, but they decide to heap on the guilt and doom in the process, making you feel like you just asked them to cut off one of your limbs. Like, for real, Faramir is SO IRRITATED WITH THESE CHARACTERS. He thinks their whole mission is a mistake, even if it’s necessary, and he most certainly doesn’t trust a cell in Gollum’s body. When he bids Gollum and Anborn to leave him with Frodo and Sam, he makes this very clear: that creature is leading them to their doom.
You know what sucks about this? I can’t disagree with either character. I believe Frodo, and I trust that he knows what he’s doing. I am glad that he treats Gollum well! At the same time, Faramir knows far more about Cirith Ungol than Frodo does, so when he warns them that they are walking into the hands of the Nine Riders by going that way, I believe him, too.
Doubt. That’s what this is. Once doubt grabs hold, it’s so hard to shake it off. Who the hell am I supposed to believe? I’m not even in this book and I’m upset. I can’t imagine how Frodo and Sam feel. Hell, Faramir tells them that he suspects Gollum has actually committed murder before. This is a pleasant think to tell someone right before you leave, isn’t it?
What a goddamn disaster. I feel terrible, and I have approximately no hope for this situation whatsoever. DAMN IT.