Mark Reads ‘The Return of the King’: Book 2, Chapter 3

In the third chapter of the second book of The Return of the King, LOOK, OKAY, THERE WAS A POINT READING THIS WHERE I DON’T THINK I BREATHED OXYGEN FOR AT LEAST FORTY-FIVE SECONDS, AND THAT IS GENERALLY A BAD IDEA. BUT I COULDN’T HELP IT. I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CHAPTER. I CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT HAS JUST HAPPENED. I AM UTTERLY DESTROYED. THIS HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING. OH MY GOD THIS IS THE WORST CHAPTER CLIFFHANGER IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE. WHY.

CHAPTER THREE: MOUNT DOOM

OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GANDALF, I CANNOT EVEN COMPREHEND HOW UTTERLY UNPREPARED I WAS FOR THIS. MOUNT DOOM HAPPENED. NO, FOR REAL, IN MY HEAD, THIS SCENE DIDN’T EXIST UNTIL AT LEAST THE THIRD TO LAST OR PENULTIMATE CHAPTER IN THE BOOK. BY ISILDUR’S BANE, EVERYTHING FEELS RUINED IN THE MOST ENTERTAINING, HEAD EXPLODING WAY IMAGINABLE. Also, the app I use for writing this is telling me that any sentences written in all caps are “grammatically incorrect.” Look, I will punch your face, you fucking smarmy asshole. I TYPE SENTENCES HOWEVER I DAMN WELL PLEASE, and I will continue to do so while ignoring your passive-aggressive green lines.

But the bitter truth came home to him at last: at best their provision would take them to their goal; and when the task was done, there they would come to an end, alone, houseless, foodless in the midst of a terrible desert. There could be no return.

I can’t believe I never really gave any thought to what would happen once the Ring was dropped into Mount Doom. I knew that it was necessary that it needed to happen, but now I’m realizing that it would only solve one problem. It wouldn’t make the orcs go away. It wouldn’t transport everyone home. Sam and Frodo would be stuck in Mordor at the end of their lives, and they would probably die there. The whole mission is a goddamn sacrifice.

help me what the fuck.

Sam just accepts this, though, resolving to get his dying friend and himself to the top of that mountain. It’s the logical end to Sam’s character growth. The hobbit who was terrified of elves is now leading his best friend up a mountain that practically no one would ever ascend because why would you go up on that terrifying thing. He’s also the same hobbit who hid during the entire council of Elrond, but is now leading his friend from hole to hole in the wasted earth of Mordor in order to get to Mount Doom quicker.

I just love Sam, okay?

The two move so terribly slowly “from hollow to hollow, flitting behind such cover as they could find.” It’s exhausting, both to the characters and to read, and it’s something I admire about Tolkien’s writing. I feel how agonizing this is for the characters. Sam in particular gets so fed up with this technique that he gives up on trying to hide, and suggests they just get back on the road leading to Mount Doom. It seems that the Dark Lord’s focus on the Captains of the West and his dedication towards eradicating life in Mordor makes this work in the hobbits’ favor: there ain’t shit anywhere. I guess I always thought they’d have to quietly sneak past hundreds of guards to get to Mount Doom, so it’s surprising to me that they’re openly walking there. At the same time, I also appreciate how this gives us the best possible portrait of how desolate and vacant this ruined land is. There’s nothing here! No creatures, no animals, no wildlife, and NO SHRUBBERIES. What’s a world without shrubbery? Not a world I want to live in. At night, they hear passing soldiers and weaponry for war sent out to meet the Captains of the West. WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THEM. I NEED TO KNOW.

It takes them four goddamn days to make any sort of real and quantifiable headway, and in this time, Frodo is just fucked up. Hunched over, exhausted, constantly stumbling, and in pain, his burden is wrecking his body. And that sort of transformation is really unsettling to me on a David Cronenberg level. That’s not even addressing the mental nightmare that Frodo is experiencing as well. I admit that I expected most of this part of the journey to focus on Frodo’s perspective in terms of the point of view, but I’m beginning to see just how well this story works when someone else observes what’s happening to the poor guy. Frodo’s breakdown is filtered through Sam, and because of that, it makes us feel the sadness and despair of the situation.

So they keep moving. They eventually leave the road to head to Mount Doom, and exhaustion starts to catch up to the two. Sam starts hallucinating and having waking dreams about all of these beasts and animals watching him in the middle of the night, though I’d also say that Gollum, who’s been following them for days, is partially responsible for this happening. They also have a very brief fight when Sam offers to take the burden of the Ring for a while and Frodo snaps back at him. Yes, it’s the Ring taking hold of Frodo, but I also think he knows that this mission is truly his own, and that Sam is only there to just help along. Despite that Sam once wore the Ring, the burden will be Frodo’s for now.

There’s a great moment where the two also cast-aside their orc gear, and I love what it represents: the hobbits are rejecting this attempt to be secretive, and openly heading for Mount Doom as hobbits. This sort of positive affirmation does wonders for them, too, giving them a bit of mental strength that they did not know they had left. Well, then I may have teared up when Sam got rid of his cooking gear, and I’m just really emotional during all of this, okay? I don’t think you should judge me at all.

Oh god, there is so much walking. SO MUCH. I’m tired right now just thinking about it. Sam, at one point, actually has an argument with himself? I assume it’s all internal, but he does bring up a good point: What the hell are the Cracks of Doom, and how is Frodo supposed to cast the Ring into it if he has no idea where it is? Seriously, these two hobbits were quite unprepared for everything, I’d say. ARE THEY MORE UNPREPARED THAN ME? Okay, yes, of course they are, since I’m not trying to climb a volcano in HELL to destroy a ring that could enslave the world, but IT’S STILL FAIRLY CLOSE, I’D SAY.

I thought that this chapter would end once Sam and Frodo arrived at the foot of Mount Doom. It made sense to me that the long and treacherous journey there would constitute a complete chapter. But the morning arrives, and Sam offers to carry Frodo on his back up to the top of the mountain, and I realize that I may have misjudged what was about to happen. Did I expect the eventual ending? No, of course not. But my heart was nearly broken by Sam’s gorgeous act of friendship and devotion, and then I read this and everything hurt:

‘Thank you, Sam,’ he said in a cracked whisper. ‘How far is there to go?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Sam, ‘because I don’t know where we’re going.’

DAMN IT. Why didn’t anyone tell Frodo where the hell he was supposed to go? This upset me greatly! Couldn’t Gandalf or Elrond told anyone about what they were supposed to do? I suppose they planned on the Company reaching Mordor together instead of in pieces, so I’ll cut them a bit of slack. Still, though, didn’t anyone think this might be a piece of crucial information?

Sam catches a break from all this nonsense when he finds that there’s some sort of path cut into the mountain. That immediately made me wonder why anyone would need a road to the top of Mount Doom, but there it is. I have just learned it’s best to accept these things, or to take them and create an alternate canon where this road was built to accommodate Sauron’s constant need to vacation in the fires of Mount Doom. I’ll just let that sit there for a while.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about Gollum. Let’s discuss the fact that even though we knew he was following Sam and Frodo again, it’s still surprising when he drops upon Frodo. More so than ever before, the frustration, fury, and terror of this journey builds to this horrific moment of violence as Gollum and Frodo tear at one another for the Ring. Then there’s a dude in white with a wheel of fire? WHO THE FUCK IS THAT? Why does Gollum obey this vision or manifestation? I AM SO CONFUSED.

And then Frodo is all “OKAY BYE SAM I’M OFF TO DO MY THING” and this is not a big deal at all and Frodo leaves Sam behind but all I can think is that NO YOU SHOULD NOT DO THAT. Sam, though, seems pretty all right with this situation, because that means he can deal with Gollum all by himself. But Gollum is remarkably frightened by the encounter with the man in the white robe, and he ends up begging Sam not to hurt him. I don’t know that I could have done the same thing Sam did, and I don’t know that my own desire for revenge wouldn’t overpower me. But Sam shows Gollum mercy, at least enough to spare the wretched creature’s life.

SAM WHY MUST YOU BE SO MORAL DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THIS WILL DO.

I have goosebumps right now. I think I will always remember being in my hotel room in New York City and it being way too late to be up because my alarm was set for four hours later so I could get to Philly on time, and I will remember feeling extremely tired and exhausted from traveling for ten days. I’ll remember dozing off twice during this chapter, but feeling determined to finish it. I’ll remember reading the phrase “at the very Crack of Doom” and very suddenly feeling completely alert because it was clear this was the Crack of Doom that Frodo was supposed to find. And then I will forever remember this:

‘I have come,’ he said. ‘But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!’ And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.

but.

but frodo you are

you are supposed to

you don’t do that because

um

WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED? WHAT THE FUCK?!!?!?!?! OH MY GOD THIS IS PURE CHAOS. WHY IS FRODO ATTACKING SAM? OH SHIT, SAURON KNOWS THAT FRODO HAS THE RING ON AND HIS EYE IS SEEKING THE HOBBIT OUT. OH FUCK, HE KNOWS HE MIGHT FAIL AND HE RELEASES ALL THOSE HE CONTROLS SO HE CAN FOCUS ON THE RING. WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!?!!?!?!? I CAN’T HANDLE AIR RIGHT NOW WHAT THE FUCK.

OH, YOU ARE FUCKING KIDDING ME. GOLLUM IS BACK, AND HE’S BEING ATTACKED BY AN INVISIBLE FRODO. SWEET GANDALF’S BEARD, GOLLUM JUST BIT THE RING OFF OF FRODO’S FINGER. HELP ME. I WON’T HEAL FROM THIS MOMENT. I CAN’T EVEN COMPREHEND THE EVENTS OF THIS CHAPTER. EVERYTHING IS AWFUL AND EVERYTHING HURTS. WHAT THE HELL.

And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?????? OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING OUTSIDE. I BARELY UNDERSTAND THIS. DID GOLLUM JUST DESTROY HIMSELF AND THE RING BY ACCIDENT? IS THE DARK LORD’S EMPIRE DESTRUCTING BEFORE SAM’S EYES? OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD I DON’T THINK I HAVE EVER BEEN SO UNPREPARED FOR A PLOT TWIST WHAT THE FUCK

‘But do you remember Gandalf’s words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him. For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.’

Fucking hold me. Oh my god, what is going on. I can’t. I just can’t.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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One Response to Mark Reads ‘The Return of the King’: Book 2, Chapter 3

  1. Kevin says:

    Yes, Mark, Gollum destroyed himself and the Ring by “accident,” as it is called in Middle-earth. See you soon on the Field of Cormallen!

    Also, Mark, while I have your attention, I have a title suggestion for a published collection of your superb commentaries: “Mark My Words.” If you like it, you can have it.

    Namárië

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