In the tenth chapter of the Return of the King, YOU CAN’T MAKE ME. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER TEN: THE BLACK GATE OPENS
I don’t want to read anymore. I’m so upset right now and I am on a Greyhound bus to Boston, Massachusetts, and I can’t act upset because I am surrounded by strangers who would be irritated by me, so I’ve had to forlornly stare out the window and tell myself that the Canadian countryside here in Quebec is pretty and no, I am not going to cry, and you can’t make me.
They left Merry behind. Tolkien separated Merry and Pippin AGAIN. IS AN ENTIRE BOOK WORTH OF PAIN AND LONELINESS NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?
Merry could see him not far off, a small but upright figure among the tall men of Minas Tirith.
Stop it. Just fucking stop it. Why are you doing this to me? WHY?
The last glint of the morning sun on spear and helm twinkled and was lost, and still he remained with bowed head and heavy heart, feeling friendless and alone. Everyone that he cared for had gone away into the gloom that hung over the distant eastern sky; and little hope at all was left in his heart that he would ever see any of them again.
This is just too fucked up. You can’t make me believe otherwise. This is such a heartbreaking scene. Now I have to start worrying about who might die, aren’t I? YOU CAN’T MAKE ME. They will all live, Tolkien, by the sheer power of me willing it to be so. TRY TO STOP ME.
Tolkien returns to places we’ve been before in this chapter, and he makes them seem even creepier than they were before. Oh, you’re going to go back to the Cross-roads? Awesome. At the very least, there’s a slight sense of victory to the journey because the group destroys the orc-head statue to replace it with it’s proper one. However, I’m at a point in this book where any moments of success will be interpreted as gentle jabs from Tolkien, reminding me that he’s quite ready to destroy all of my hopes and dreams whenever he wants to. It certainly doesn’t help that the force led by Gandalf and all the captains meets nothing for days. To be honest, I expected a large battle almost immediately. I didn’t think the Enemy’s forces would have retreated all that far, so I was shocked and unnerved by the barrenness that the group faces.
We are in the midst of war, and that war has left behind a decimated countryside. I don’t imagine that there’s any part of this book that will deal with the future of these lands and what the Dark Lord has done to them. For now, all that’s left seems to be a wasteland of darkness and paranoia. Even if the weather has improved from what it once was, Tolkien notes that there’s still nothing that “could waft away the glooms and the sad mists that clung about the Mountains of the Shadow.” It’s a combination of physical and mentor factors that gives rise to an undeniable environment of fear. It’s not that they can’t fight off the small ambush that they do have to face. The fear of death is from what awaits them at their end. In order for their plan to work, they have to walk right into the trap that the Dark Lord has created. Their end is at the end.
It all works well on a truly frightening level when you consider how well some of this describes the effects of warfare:
Aragorn looked at them, and there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath; for these were young men from Rohan, from Westfold far away, or husbandmen from Lossarnach, and to them Mordor had been from childhood a name of evil, and yet unreal, a legend that had no part in their simple life; and now they walked like men in a hideous dream made true, and they understood not this war nor why fate should lead them to such a pass.
The fact that Tolkien humanizes much of the action in The Lord of the Rings is one reason why I’m enjoying this so much. You know, the friends I had growing up who enjoyed this book constantly spoke about the epic battles, the horrific evils, and the undeniable excitement of this world. But they did this so much and in such a way that I believed most of this book would be about battles and fighting and blah blah blah who cares. Not one of them ever told me what a grim and depressing moral against war this book was. I’m sure that’s another reason why I avoided it for so long, but perhaps they just didn’t understand (or know about) Tolkien’s connections to both world wars. I think I would have read this book a lot earlier had I known how much nuance it had. BUT THEN I WOULD NOT HAVE DONE THIS AND THEN A BUTTERFLY WOULD HAVE CAUSED A TSUNAMI IN FRANCE OR SOMETHING. Whatever.
So. The Black Gate. I don’t know what to say that doesn’t sound ridiculous, egregious, or foolish. It fucked me up. I don’t want to see this in the movie. I don’t want to experience it. Well, wait. There is one part I can’t wait to see, or at least whatever version of it they have in the film. I know not everything from this book can fit in the movie in the EXACT SAME ORDER FOREVER, but some of this feels too big to just ignore. I imagine that there still has to be some moment where the host comes upon the Black Gate, sets up, and then just waits in the most agonizing scene imaginable. Because for real, it’s so hard to read this scene in the book. What exactly is the trap they’re walking into? Will they just be surrounded and destroyed?
But Sauron had already laid his plans, and he had in mind first to play these mice cruelly before he struck to kill.
could you not. I mean, right.
At its head there rode a tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse, if horse it was; for it was huge and hideous, and its face was a frightful mask, more like a skull than a living head, and in the sockets of its eyes and in its nostrils there burned a flame. The rider was robed in all black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man. The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: ‘I am the Mouth of Sauron.’
what the fuck what the fuck. WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. !!!!!!!!! I AM JUST FULL OF SO MUCH TERROR AT THIS CREATURE WHAT THE FUCK !!!!!!!!!
‘I have tokens that I was bidden to show to thee – to thee in especial, if thou shouldst dare to come.’
I don’t like this. Stop it. STOP IT. GO AWAY AND EVERYONE CALL AN ARMISTICE AND HUG AND PLAY IN A PIT OF PUPPIES OR SOMETHING. STOOOOOOPPP.
The Messenger put these aside, and there to the wonder and dismay of all the Captains he held up first the short sword that Sam had carried, and next a grey cloak with an elven-brooch, and last the coat of mithril-mail that Frodo had worn wrapped in his tattered garments. A blackness came before their eyes, and it seemed to them in a moment of silence that the world stood still, but their hearts were dead and their last hope gone. Pippin who stood behind Prince Imrahil sprang forward with a cry of grief.
Oh, fuck you. Look, I don’t think Pippin or Frodo are dead at all. It seems pretty obvious to me that the next nine chapters in the second half of The Return of the King are going to deal with their side of the story. But this really is just pure fucking evil as far as I am concerned. It’s an attempt at a bargaining with the group, and I wouldn’t trust Sauron for half a goddamn second with any sort of deal. I think Tolkien knew we’d feel this way, so that’s why it’s so shocking when Gandalf actually wants the Messenger to name terms. It seemed so absurd to me! Would Gandalf actually lead the host all the way to this point only to make a deal with Sauron for just two hobbits? Even worse, would he do this when Sauron’s terms are nothing short of enslavement? WHO ON EARTH WOULD HEAR THOSE TERMS AND SAY, “FUCK, THIS IS A STEAL. SIGN ME UP.”
That’s why it’s such an amazing moment (and one I expect would have to end up in the film) when Gandalf outright rejects the terms and takes back all three tokens from the Messenger. Seriously, it’s the best FUCK YOU imaginable.
And right after that is Sauron’s big FUCK YOU: he opens the Black Gates.
I can’t even visualize how massive and overwhelming Sauron’s host must be. I just have to imagine ten to one odds in favor of the Enemy, and even then, it frightens me to think about how fucked these characters are. How do you fight against odds that horrific? What can you do in any organized sense aside from doing what you can to keep yourself alive?
And out of the gathering mirk the Nazgûl came with their cold voices crying words of death; and then all hope was quenched.
Oh, so that’s what you do. You just lose hope.
To drive this point home, Tolkien makes a very interesting decision here: he switches from a general third person narrative to one that focuses on Pippin’s point of view. In the middle of this war is this tiny hobbit. He’s never fought in any battles like his best friend has, and now he’s in the worst one possible. All he wishes for, then, is Merry. He wishes Merry was there alongside because, as he reasons, at least they could die together.
You stop doing this, Tolkien. You stop it right now.
I’d forgotten just how dedicated the Dark Lord was to collecting bizarre and dangerous creatures under his power, so when the hill-trolls showed up, I had a moment of slight joy. Like, “OH MY GOD THERE ARE TROLLS IN THIS BOOK.” But then I remembered they were in The Hobbit and felt sort of silly. But they then start smashing members of the host, including Beregond (!!!!!!), and just before one of the trolls feasts on Beregond’s neck, Pippin has his moment of glory. He stabs the troll in “the vitals,” and the massive creature pitches forward.
AND FUCKING BURIES PIPPIN.
‘The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!’
For one moment more Pippin’s thought hovered. ‘Bilbo!’ it said. ‘But no! That came in his tale, long long ago. This is my tale, and it is ended now. Good-bye!’ And his thought fled far away and his eyes saw no more.
You can’t make me read past this. I don’t want a book without Pippin. I hate that this is going to switch over to Frodo and Sam and I won’t find out for DAYS whether Pippin actually died or will be saved later. I AM SO UPSET AT THIS. Oh my god, Tolkien, you are evil.