In the seventh chapter of the second book of The Two Towers, I am getting increasingly nervous about what the hell is going on. If this intrigues you, then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER SEVEN: JOURNEY TO THE CROSS-ROADS
Seriously, I bow down to you, J.R.R. Tolkien. You are clearly a genius, and I can’t believe I ever thought The Lord of the Rings was going to be a boring, uninteresting experience. This chapter hurts. This is some of the best use of suspense I’ve ever come across, and you did this DECADES before some of the best thrillers were brought into existence. (I can only think of one work of fiction made before the publication date of The Lord of the Rings that still freaks me out to this day in terms of tension. There’s a fantastic black-and-white French thriller called La Salaire de la peur, or The Wages of Fear that is just one of the most brilliant things ever made. It came out in 1953 and I swear to you, it’s one of the most fucked up, terrifying movies I’ve experienced. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.)
It’s with the warning of Faramir hanging over our heads that this chapter begins, and every single moment feels like doom is just around the corner. The hobbits prepare to leave their new friend, and I think I’m okay saying that Faramir is now a friend. He’s proven to care about what happens to these hobbits, and he truly doesn’t try to take hold of the Ring. Instead, he just bids them goodbye with fair tidings and a whole lot of negativity. I mean, he basically tells them they’re walking into the end of their lives. I can’t really blame him, though. I’m sure he thinks Frodo is a fool for allowing Gollum to be his guide.
They marvelled to see with what speed these green-clad men now moved, vanishing almost in the twinkling of an eye. The forest where Faramir had stood seemed empty and drear, as if a dream had passed.
Well, I certainly feel pleasant! Don’t you? This is going to be a righteous field trip. OF DOOM AND GLOOM. Tolkien wastes absolutely no time in making us feel like this whole journey is a huge mistake. The walk from Henneth Annûn is deadly silent, and it’s one of may ways that Tolkien builds dread in us. There is nothing living in this part of the forest aside from the plant life and these three travelers. And as much as I want Gollum to be doing the hobbits right, I can’t say I felt comfortable with the idea that every time they would rest, he would disappear for hours on end. Could he just be hunting for food? Of course! But he could also be doing stuff like…I don’t even know. I guess that’s slightly irrational. Who is Gollum even going to talk to out there? I don’t think they’re being followed, so he probably is just looking for food.
What Tolkien does after this is, once again, use the weather in dark and upsetting ways to show us that this journey is only getting worse. First, it’s an issue of light and the thickness of the air. It could just be getting darker because of a storm, but it simply doesn’t feel right. With the threat of the Mountains of Gondor in sight, it’s clear that they’re closer than ever before to their ultimate destination, and I think that scares me more than anything. I still don’t know what Mordor looks like, and they haven’t even found Cirith Ungol yet. Oh god, THIS IS ALL A BAD IDEA, ISN’T IT?
When Gollum suggests that they take a new route instead of the one Faramir recommended, I was torn between believing him and worrying that it was a trick. I think Frodo realizes at this point that he doesn’t have the luxury of worrying about this one way or another. It’s a disaster any way he looks at it. While he once expected the walk to Mount Doom to be a little easier, I don’t think he anticipated it to be pleasant. He simply accepts the reality of this, and he’ll just DEAL WITH IT.
It’s upsetting to me that they’re at a point in this journey where Frodo and Sam sometimes skip sleeping because they’re so worried. At least Gollum got to sleep, but they have to keep moving. The fact that everything is so silent and dark doesn’t help either. What if this forest really isn’t as vacant as they think it is? What if there are creatures hiding in the thorn bushes and brambles? That’s the brilliance of this chapter. It’s entirely possible that these three companions are not alone at all, but Tolkien never confirms it. In a way, we have to experience this journey to the Cross-roads with precisely the same knowledge as the characters. It’s beautifully immersive to me, and it’s why it’s also so intense. On top of that, the creepiness of the lack of daylight and the threat of the fiery doom that sits behind the mountains of Ephel Dúath is constantly present. During one break while Gollum is off doing whatever it is that he does, Sam and Frodo not that as the day wears on, it never gets lighter outside. Instead, it’s getting darker, even though by their estimation of time, it should be the middle of the day. THEN THE GROUND BASICALLY THUNDERS. Yeah, what the fuck is going on beyond the mountains? Why does the ground rumble? Oh my god, I need to start preparing myself for how fucked up Mordor is going to be, don’t I? Whatever, I know it’s impossible. FOREVER UNPREPARED.
Of course, after a few hours of watching Frodo try to sleep, Sam hears Gollum arriving, and Gollum’s very insistent that they leave IMMEDIATELY. Where the hell has he been for half the day? Why is he so freaked out? Ugh, I don’t like this one bit. Why can’t good things happen? It makes me nervous that we don’t know where Gollum has been. I want to trust him so much, but how can I when he disappears for such long periods of time?
Regardless, as I said before, it’s not like Frodo and Sam have a whole lot of options at this point. What can they do? They choose to keep going and to follow Gollum further. They finally come upon a dark belt of trees, and Gollum tells them they’ve finally reached the Cross-roads. It’s an unsettling place for a couple of reasons. Why are the tops of the trees broken and “gaunt”? THIS PROBABLY WON’T EVER BE EXPLAINED. Oh god, it’s just so creepy to me. Actually, the remnant of one of the stone kings of Argonath is way creepier. It has no head and “in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead.” Yeah, no thank you. What a horrifying thing to come upon! In the last moments of light on that day, they see the remnants of a past king, and then darkness falls almost immediately.
This is so fucked up. I feel even worse than I did at the end of yesterday’s chapter.