LotRFI Pt.39–Sam’s “Meta” Moments

One of the inspirational aspects of Tolkien’s work which really stuck with me in my first reading was Sam’s perceptive moments where he talks about how the adventure he is in is like the adventure he learned as a child. A great example of this tendency occurs of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol Chapter. Sam recounts part of the tale of Beren and Luthien and then falls into reflection, saying:

‘But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it…and why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve goy – you ‘ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’ (TT, IV, viii, 712)

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Image copyright Ulla Thynell

Then Frodo and Sam talk about the nature of stories and the part that characters play in them. This was important to me because it gave me a connection to the characters I was reading about. I wanted to believe that these stories were real, that they mattered. This vision of how a story could impact the life of the listener/reader was very inspiring to me. I think that, had it not been for the several moments like this in TT and RK, perhaps LotR would not have been as impactful on me. Not only did these passages make this story more meaningful, they made reading as an activity more important. I really internalized these observations a lot in my first reading.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I believe we will start RK with a visit to Minas Tirith. That seems fitting!

What Do You Think?

What is your impression of these moments with Sam?
Have these episodes ever impacted your reading outside of Tolkien?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.38–Gollum

I have already indicated two things which greatly impact the way that I viewed Sméagol in my initial reading. First, I was very concrete in my thinking of good and bad at the time (hence my largely negative opinion of Boromir). Second, I was very mistrustful in general. These two attributes conspired to make me dislike Gollum from the moment I knew he would be in this story. He had, after all, betrayed sweet Bilbo in H and was as treacherous as any other character.

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Image copyright Alan Lee

This utter dislike for Gollum continued pretty much undaunted until the trio reaches Ithilien. In this phase of the adventure, I started to think of Gollum more as a pet than an enemy. This may not make me seem like the most gracious child, but his overly-expressive gesticulations and extreme attitude shifts reminded me of a dog. Gollum became a character who could amuse me, but he still had to be watched very carefully because he might try to get away with something at any moment.

I did not really understand that Gollum was pitiable until the Stairs. At one point the narrator makes more explicit here what Gandalf hinted at earlier in FR. The narrator describes Gollum coming back to find the hobbits sleeping and

‘slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old staved pitiable thing’ (TT, IV, viii, 714).

I need to clarify here that I did not see Gollum as regretful here. For all I knew, Gollum was reaching to see if Frodo was asleep enough for him to steal the Ring. What I did understand, though, was that others could pity him even if his motivations or intentions were bad. This passage did not show regret in Gollum, but the magnanimity that thee hobbits were capable of. I did not arrive at an understanding of Gollum’s motivations until a few years later in my reading experience.

Gollum to me was complicated in the way that he could be viewed by others, but not complicated in his own character. While I understood some of his internal tension, Tolkien was too overt with Gollum for me to ignore it, it registered as uncertainty to me and not real conflict.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Sam gets meta, then onward to RK​!

What Do You Think?

What was your first interpretation of Gollum?
Did you ever take true pity on him?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.37–Of Shelob

I am, and have been since I can remember, afraid of spiders. Therefore, Tolkien’s giant monster guarding the back entrance to Mordor was the worst of all possibilities. This horrid creature still makes my hair stand on end when I think about it. I remember that my first read of the passage was very difficult because I kept feeling a strong desire to put the book down to get a reprieve from the creepy thing.

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Image copyright John Howe

This giant spider felt to me like something taken straight from my nightmares and placed as an obstacle for Frodo and Sam. I could not imagine a worse foe to come across. Since it had not been too long since I read H, I anticipated that the creature was a spider early. I knew for certain by the time Frodo held up Galadriel’s gift and revealed ‘two great clusters of many-windowed eyes’ (TT, IV, ix, 720), but I believe I suspected as early as the ‘venomous hiss’ (TT, IV, ix, 719). As I read the struggle between this ancient beastie and the protagonists, I frequently experienced shivers down my spine.

When Shelob stabs Frodo with her stinger, I did not, could not, believe that he was dead. Sam’s courage in this moment was infections, and I remember vividly cheering him on to vanquish the awful creature. I was disappointed when the despicable thing was able to retreat. Again, I did not really believe that Frodo was dead. I remembered Frodo’s tendency to receive a stab wound in battle and fall, as if he were dead, only to revive a minute or two later: look no further than Weathertop and the Chamber of Mazarbul. It was Sam’s lamentation that started to make me consider that this time was different.

Ultimately, when Sam took the Ring from Frodo and claimed the quest as his own, I truly believed that Frodo was dead. I was elated, then, at the reveal of the poison that mocks death and the realization that Frodo was not dead! I also remember my response to the final line of TT.

‘Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy’ (TT, IV, x, 742).

I exclaimed aloud: ‘Wait…What?’ and immediately picked up the next volume.

Where Do We Go From Here?​

Gollum then Sam’s ruminations.

What Do You Think?

Was Shelob the worst creature battle for you as well?
What did you make of Sam’s courage and Frodo’s death?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.36–Concerning Faramir

Most people that I have talked to see Faramir as an unblemished ray of hope in his interactions with Frodo and Sam. I, however was not very optimistic when the hobbits met Faramir. He and his men sneak up on the hobbits, ambush them, and abduct them, taking them to a secret cave. To me, these were not the actions of an ally, they were the actions of an enemy. The interview between Faramir and Frodo in the cave heightened my suspicions of Faramir before it alleviated them.

 

The way that Faramir talks to Frodo in their first discussion conveyed mistrust and ultimately foreshadowed conflict to me. It was frequently confrontational and on the verge of being rude. I applauded Sam when he interjected, claiming that

‘He has no right to talk to you so’ (TT, IV, V, 665).

 

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Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Sam’s perspective closely mirrored my own here. The fact that Faramir checks his bravery and then reveals that he is Boromir’s brother seemed ominous to me. I thought that certainly the corruption which drove Boromir to desire the Ring (remember, I though Boromir a ‘fallen’ man until his death redeemed him) would certainly also claim someone so closely related. This news was foreboding.

In their second, more private conversation, Faramir began to win me over with his fair words. He seemed to have a good sense of the struggles in the world, he lamented the loss of Gandalf, and he showed true compassion for his brother, even though he admitted his brother’s pride and arrogance. Once again, Sam encapsulates my perspective on Faramir:

‘He may be all right…and then me may not. Fair speech may hide a foul heart’ (TT, IV, v, 675).

I have to say that, throughout their encounter with Faramir, I held with Sam’s opinions very much Indeed, I would say that I identified with Sam the most in this encounter with one exception: when he lets slip the fact that the Ring is with them and is Isildur’s bane.

Faramir’s monologue which follows this revelation felt the same as Galadriel’s to me in my first reading. He says:

‘So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way — to me! And here in the wild I have you; two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!’ (TT, IV, v, 680-1)

Just like with Galadriel’s monologue, I thought that this speech was the Ring influencing Faramir. He was tempted to take the Ring and use it for his own, to complete the quest of his fallen Brother. When he holds true to his earlier promise to leave the Ring with Frodo, I thought he had managed to overcome his temptation, just as Galadriel had. In all, this interaction was quite an emotional journey for me!

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the remainder of TT​, I want to talk about Shelob, Smeagol, and Sam’s Meta Moments.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to Faramir when you first met him?
When did you first trust Faramir?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.35–The Black Gate

In subsequent reads, the chapter around the Black Gate only keeps my attention in the description of the troop movements around the Gate. I must admit that this portion of the adventure has the lowest re-readability score from me. In my first read, however, this was a very tense scene. The stakes were so high: would Frodo dare to try to enter Mordor through such a crowded passage, and how could he possibly succeed?

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Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Sam accurately sums up my belief in their ability to pass the Gate when he succinctly posits:

‘Well, here we are…Here’s the Gate, and it looks to me as if that’s about as far as we are ever going to get’ (TT, IV, III, 637).

The two hobbits begin to despair of completing their quest, but also show determination to try. At this moment the hobbits portray what I have already mentioned as ‘northern courage.’ Although I could pick up on this kind of boldness in the face of death, and it resonated with me, I did not have the terminology or intellectual appreciation of what it was. I did have a visceral reaction to such moments in my gut, and I admired the courage in the sentiments.

Gollum’s revelation of a second way into Mordor was very complex. Instinctively, I wanted to jump at the opportunity, like someone who tries to take advantage of a flash of light in a dark room to gain a comprehensive look around. This impulse was checked by the wariness that the hobbits have of Gollum’s treachery. I must admit, though, that I was far more inclined to follow the one evil creature instead of trying to face the kind of army they had just seen. In the end, I was relieved at their decision to Follow Gollum.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One word: Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What was your first impression of the Black Gate?
How have your subsequent readings of this passage changed?
​Have I missed anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.34–Sam and His Creature Comforts

I was always a very curious, some would say nosy, child. I was always trying to understand why things happened or why people made the choices they made. I was a big fan of “reading into” things ever since I discovered it as an activity. While this tendency led me into hot water many times, I had not yet learned to dull this passion by the time I read LotR. One of the activities I “read into” the most was Sam’s constant attention to Frodo’s needs and comfort—don’t get ahead of me here, or maybe you will end up in hot water.

Perhaps the most notable example where I uncovered Sam’s motivation is when Sam attempts to cook a nice stew for Frodo in Ithilien. The reader hears Sam’s thoughts in this passage, which make some clear indications about the emotions that inspire him to make the meal:

‘I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no’ (TT, IV, iv, 652).

‘Too thin and drawn he is…Not right for a hobbit’ (TT, IV, iv, 653).

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Image copyrights Sergei Yukhimov

Sam’s compassionate nature in general, and his affection for Frodo especially, are not disguised in the tale. What is interesting is how those feelings manifest themselves in, essentially, attempting to care for Frodo as if he were Frodo’s parent—more specifically his mother, as foreshadowed by David Craig, but I would not have made this more specific observation as a child. Sam is attempting to preserve Frodo’s sense of security and his sense of comfort: trying to remind Frodo of home and the good things which life has to offer. This was an interesting observation for me when I first realized it. It was probably easier for me to notice than some others because I grew up in the American south—where the stereotype is that a mother expresses love through food. In any case, I always had a soft-spot for affection expressed through quiet moments of understanding and small gestures of love (I did mention that Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books, remember).

This deep friendship between Frodo and Sam was something which I cherished as a young reader. While I frequently compared my relationships to the ones in the book, I do not know if I ever considered if I had a relationship quite like the one between Frodo and Sam, I do not think so. While I did not have a relationship like this, it did not seem odd to me that they should be so close. Many fans have questioned the feelings between Frodo and Sam, and many scholars have pointed out that the overtones that readers notice to make such assertions are indicative of a type of friendship between men that existed in a different time. As a young reader, none of this occurred to me. I thought their fondness a perfectly natural thing. I realized that I did not have a friendship like theirs, but it was not until I started growing up that I realized that men in my culture do not tend to have such close bonds or at least express affection as openly and deeply.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to journey to the Black Gate, then visit with Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What did you make of Sam’s tendency to, essentially, nurture Frodo?
How has your reading of their relationship changed over time?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 33–Of The Dead Marshes

I like to credit Tolkien as the first author I ever read whose use of structure or style to elicit emotion I became aware of. I always knew that writers used plot to guide the reader, but this was something different. It started in the Shire. I became anxious that the hobbits should be off and that the story was taking so long. Then I realized that this was probably the same kind of emotion which Frodo must have: an anxiety of leaving, but an anxiousness to start.

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Image copyright Katrin Eissmann

This realization opened literature to me. I may very well have been projecting this back into the story, but it was a significant factor in my enjoyment of the story. I realized, for the first time, that the writer was trying to take my mood into account in his style or method of telling the story, not just with the plot itself.

This feeling redoubled for me as I went through the Marshes. The Dead Marshes were such a dreary place. I do not know if it took me longer to read the Frodo and Sam half of TT, but it certainly felt like it did. I felt like I plodded along through these sections at a miserably slow pace. I think the consistently dark landscape and the unrelenting sense of foreboding were tiring to me. Additionally, reading Gollum’s lines was difficult. There are a lot of linguistic complexities which made me slow down.

In all, my reading experience of book IV was very different form my experience of book III. I must admit that I enjoyed the story surrounding Rohan much more than I enjoyed the darker tale of the approach to Mordor. It is not until much later that I began to appreciate each book, and the latter grew in my estimation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk a little bit about Sam and his emphasis of creature comforts.

What Do You Think?

Was your reading experience of the second half of TT different from that of the first?
How did you feel while reading these passages?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.32–Saruman

Saruman was very mysterious to me as a young reader. I loved many of the passages surrounding him because I could understand their deeper significance or symbolism (a rarity for me when I was younger), but I had a very difficult time visualizing Saruman.

This confusion about Saruman began at the Council of Elrond, with Gandalf’s description of their interaction as his explanation of why he was late. During their interaction, Saruman proclaims himself Saruman of Many Colours, and Gandalf describes his garments as follows:

‘I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered’ (FR, II, ii, 259).

As a young child, I tried my best to picture this, but could not. Each time I tried, I ended up with an image something akin to the titular piece of clothing from a version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. I deeply enjoyed the symbolism of this description and Gandal’s commentary, but I could not visualize it.

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I was not alone in my preposterous imaginings. This image taken from https://catotheyoungerdotblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/29/saruman-a-tragedy-of-pettiness/

This same difficulty in imagining aspects of Saruman was true about his voice. Gandalf warns his companions that Saruman’’s voice is a great weapon and that it could daunt, soothe, coerce, and persuade very effectively. I must admit that I lacked this skill as a child, so it was very hard for me to make Saruman’s voice seem as convincing as it should, or as I thought it should, in my mind. In all, this made Saruman a very illusive figure to me. I still find him difficult to picture in my mind with as much clarity as the other characters.

Two quick side-notes:

Here again we revisit the theme of the staff, and this was the pay-off of my observation of this theme earlier.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, rather unbelievably, has shaped many of my later opinions about Saruman. Perhaps there is a paper here at some point.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Dead Marshes…where else?

What Do You Think?

How did you picture Saruman’s robes?
Did you struggle to find a voice to fit him?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.31–Gimli

My fondness for Gimli grew very much over the course of book III. Since the passages in and around Moria were the highlight of my prior experience with Gimli, there was not a lot of character development to him other than his obstinacy and tendency to argue against everything Legolas mentions. Basically, I did not read him as a well-defined character until book III.

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Image copyright Matt Stewart

I believe that this started in the passages of the Three Hunters. The fact that the Fellowship has shrunk to three characters allows for each of them to have more meaningful interaction, and I felt like Gimli’s character really benefitted the most from it.

I loved his indomitable spirit as the three run after the Uruk-Hai to rescue their abducted companions. He is not the punch line of every joke, as Jackson makes him out to be. He shores up the spirits of his companions. At the outset he proclaims:

‘Dwarves too can go swiftly, and they do not tire sooner than Orcs’ (TT, III, I, 420).

Even more, he is not as simple as Jackson would have us believe. He offers good counsel to Aragorn at a crucial decision:

‘Only by day can we see if any tracks lead away…even I, Dwarf of many journeys, and not the least hardy of my folk, cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause…and if we rest, then the blind of night is the time to do so’ (TT, III, ii, 425).

So from this section on I always saw Gimli as a fully-formed character. What really made me like Gimli, however is his interaction with Merry and Pippin upon catching up with them at Isengard. His exasperation with the hobbits and his amicability after tobacco is offered as a means of amends endeared him to me. Gimli became a character that I truly enjoyed over this section.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A visit with Saruman, then on to the Dead Marshes.

What Do You Think?

Did you like Gimli’s character?
When did you develop your opinion of Gimli?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

 

 

LotRFI Pt. 30–Helm’s Deep

It seems that everyone remembers Éomer’s act of courage at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields as the high point of Rohirric culture. Théoden’s stand at Helm’s Deep, however, foreshadows that brave stand. This battle has always had a unique place in my understanding of Tolkien’s world. It is the place where I really understood for the first time what I would later understand to be ‘northern courage.’ The bravery to understand that defeat is certain, but not to cower and to fight on against overwhelming odds. This is one of the few major themes of Tolkien (e.g. ‘the machine’) that I perceived in my first reading.

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Image copyright Paul Lesaine

Aragorn’s act of looking out from the gate and confronting the Uruk-Hai is an essential preface to this kind of bravery. My first reading of this scene, I thought that perhaps Aragorn was fay and reckless (although I would not have used these terms at the time, instead probably opting for the less-specific crazy, stupid, brave, until I learned better words to describe the action). This also bolstered the themes of honor and duty that I began to perceive starting with Frodo’s decision to carry the Ring in Rivendell.

I did not really understand the courage behind Aragorn’s words until the scene where he and Théoden lay their plans to ride out:

‘The end will not be long…but I will not end here, taken like a badger in a trap…When dawn comes, I will bid men sound Helm’s horn, and I will ride forth. Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn? Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song—if any be left to sing of us hereafter” (TT, III, vii, 539).

This brave face assumed at a time when hope seems lost always shocked me as a child and resonated with something inside of me. I could not describe it the, and I cannot describe it well now. It stirs in me a desire to be as brave and noble as these characters and to not fear death. This is, of course, a bizarre feeling for someone so privileged as I have been and it is nonsensical, but it is true. The riding out of the king and Aragorn with the horns blowing has always given me chills and stirred my sympathies.

Other important notes about my first read through of Helm’s Deep are:

This is the first time that I felt the eucatastrophic moment in LotR in the same way that I felt it in H.

I enjoyed the fighting game of Gimli and Legolas far more than I ought at such a young age. Perhaps this was because of my naivete as a child, and this game was reminiscent of the light treatment that authors frequently use of difficult ideas when writing for children. Tolkien himself used this same kind of technique in H.

As an interesting bit of ‘misreading,’ I always envisioned the causeway from the keep to lead into the part of the stronghold behind the battlements, not out from the battlements. I suppose I assumed this because it would make the keep a stronger fortress. I imagined that Aragorn and Théoden rode out into the host who had flooded past the battlements after the hole was blown open. This made more sense to me as to how they were cut off from the caves. Though I admit that it makes the pincer maneuver with the reinforcements harder to imagine later on.

As a side note: the description immediately following Aragorn’s words has been variously interpreted:

‘Even as they spoke there came a blare of trumpets. Then there was a crash and a flash of flame and smoke…’ (TT, III, vii, 537).

Jackson showed a runner with a torch igniting a stack of bombs. Others have suggested that this passage describes a projective weapon, like a missile. For my own part, I have always agreed that this was a bomb and not a projectile weapon. I feel certain that Tolkien would have described a projectile weapon in greater detail.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk about Gimli and Saruman before I head into book four.

What Do You Think?

How did you first interpret the bravery of Aragorn and Théoden?
​Is this moment as impact as Éomer’s ?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!