“Sam came on. He was reeling like a drunken man, but he came on. And Shelob cowed at last, shrunken in defeat, jerked and quivered as she tried to hasten from him. She reached the hole, and squeezing down, leaving a trail of green-yellow slime, she slipped in, even as Sam hewed a last stroke at her dragging legs. Then he fell to the ground…”
Book IV
Chapter 10
The Choices of Master Samwise

Okay, now everyone who thought Frodo was really dead raise your hand! Well, I did.

The chapter opens with Sam’s attack on Shelob. Wow! Without thinking he takes on the ancient monster that had brought down his master. Not only does he survive with his life, look at the damage he causes! Takes out an eye, cuts off a claw, pierces her underside and chases her away! Sting and Galadriel’s phial make for great supporting roles, but the star is all Sam.

As a side note, I really like the change of perspective Tolkien uses at the beginning when he says, “Now the miserable creature was right under her,” effectively relaying what Shelob must have been thinking with tiny Sam a whirlwind of pain.

After Shelob flees Sam returns to Frodo. He gives a heartbreaking plea, “Don’t leave me here alone!” But, Frodo is dead and Sam is filled with despair.

When his mind clears a little, he struggles with himself…what should be done? At this point surprised though I was by Frodo’s death, I was encouraging him, thinking to myself, “go on Sam, it’s up to you now! Finish the job! You can do it!” And at last, he makes the right decision. He says a bittersweet goodbye to his Master, takes the ring, and with the greatest reluctance he goes on.

But not far. Orcs arrive on the scene, and in a moment of panic Sam puts on the ring. I was like, “Oh man! Uh-oh. Sam put on the ring! What’s gonna happen?!” Think who’s had that ring on before and think about the danger Frodo had been in when he had it on last: Sauron had nearly discovered him. And this time the ring is even closer to Sauron–that much easier to locate.

I’m worried.

But at the same time, Tolkien’s description of how the ring affects Sam is impressive, and it’s a good technique to let the reader understand the Orcs speech.

Something in the Orc’s conversation gave me pause. They left an Orc they knew to Shelob’s torture–which doesn’t surprise me since their lack of conscience and inability to empathize is part of their Orcish nature bred into them by Melkor no doubt–but one of the Orcs pauses and thinks about the “old times” and dreams out loud about setting up on their own after the war with no “big bosses” to answer to. That an Orc would have dreams like that was strange to me, especially since loyalty to their bosses seems to be one of the only strong traits Orcs exhibit. But, the longer I thought about it I supposed that their loyalty is governed by selfishness, self protection, and lust for personal gain. That, of course, fits with the behavior of the Orcs–namely Grishnakh–in the last book.

I have to say that I feel sorry for the Orcs. Their will exhibits only a lust to serve themselves, they feel no remorse or empathy, and commit every kind of violence without hesitation. But, they were carefully bred for that behavior. They could no more be good than a rock could be bread. They deserve destruction, but they can’t really help the way they are. No doubt, given a basic nature like that it would be better not to have been. Tolkien wasn’t preaching anything when he wrote these books, so I shouldn’t go too far with this line of thinking, but I do pity the Orcs.

Back to the chapter, I smiled when the Orcs mistook Sam for a large elvish warrior. Though his feat was greater than the greatest feats of many elves, I suspect.

Then, we learn with Sam that Frodo isn’t dead after all!! Well, talk about a flood of mixed emotions! And to be honest, the greatest emotion I felt was disappointment. That’s right, disappointment. Frodo’s death was great, I thought. Not a good thing within the narrative, but I thought it was brilliant to tell the story up to this point with Frodo as the Ring-bearer, only for him to be killed and for Sam, the faithful servant, to take up the quest where his master left off, and to go on alone into the dreadful land of Mordor, frightened but determined. Not only would it have been a brilliant direction to take the story, Sam, the big-hearted self-proclaimed half-wit, saving the world, it would’ve been so unexpected! Gandalf’s death I was never totally sold on (though I suppose he really did die). He’s too crucial a character, so his return wasn’t that big of a surprise. Frodo, on the other hand, is ultimately expendable. Certainly at this point it seems clear that he won’t be expended, thus making him in-expendable since the narrative is completed and can’t be changed. But conceptually Frodo is definitely expendable, and if anyone can get that ring to the Cracks of Doom it’s Sam Gamgee. But, no, no, Frodo will be rescued and Frodo will complain his way to the Cracks of Doom, no doubt. I found Sam’s statement, “You fool, he isn’t dead, and your heart knew it,” frustrating. Tolkien’s brilliant twist is straightened out and de-brilliant-ized and Sam pours salt on the wound. It bugs me that Sam is so self deprecating when he’s far more capable than Frodo. And, no matter how you slice it, it was definitely the right thing for Sam to take the ring. Better for Sam to have it than the Orcs and then Sauron.

Capable as I believe Sam is, though, as the chapter closes, and with it this book, I don’t have the most hopeful feeling. I know Frodo will be rescued, I know Sam will have something to do with it, but with Sam unconscious at the foot of the iron gates out in the darkness of the tunnel I’m curious to learn how it all comes about. Worst of all, Sam still has that ring on! Maybe Sauron won’t find him, after all that would be too unexpected, but I’m a bit worried that something bad will come of it. If he’s unconscious for long, he will have been wearing it longer than Frodo (not bearing it, but wearing it).

Yeah, so that was Book IV. The close of the Two Towers. I kind of expected more from Barad Dur. We had the tower of Orthanc in Book III, but where was Barad Dur? Or does the second tower refer to this tower up in Cirith Ungol, where Frodo is held captive? At any rate, the ending is pretty typical.

Book III rules. Book IV was interesting. Though darker (as a matter of course), it definitely had its moments. Now I’ll move on to Books V and VI, the Return of the King. If Tolkien approaches the climax and denouement systematically, I figure we’ll have one book on the war at Minas Tirith and one on the final destruction of the Ring. Will there be any surprises? Or will it all be pretty straightforward? Well, whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be good.

till next time,

Kanazawa, Japan