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Old 10-09-2005, 03:20 PM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Silmaril LotR -- Book 6 - Chapter 3 - Mount Doom

We have reached the goal of the Quest (though not the end of the story)! This is the decisive chapter, the one we've been moving toward for many, many pages. Would you call it the book's most important chapter?

Two Elven objects play a vital part in this final stage of the journey - the cloak, which warms and protects Sam and Frodo, and the lembas, which is shown to have special virtues. What do you think of its ability to give superhuman strength?

We see that Sam's hope was closely connected with the thought of returning back home at the end of their adventures. When he loses that, his hope is now finally gone - at least seemingly. Yet he, like Frodo has done for longer, carries on without hope. What gives him the strength? He takes over responsibility for the last lap of the journey, since Frodo seems without initiative, though he still has some will.

We feel with Sam as he lets go of his treasured pots and pans to lighten their load - I'm reminded of Aragorn's words about being able to cast away a treasure at need. Again, Frodo states his unwillingness to bear weapons - neither fair nor foul. We witness an internal debate of Sam's that reminds us a bit of Gollum's schizophrenic conversations. What do you think of the two voices we hear?

Sam carries Frodo, who is almost without strength. When I read that, I think of the famous words of the big brother who carries his younger sibling: "He ain't heavy - he's my brother!"

I can't help but wonder - why is it a priority of Sauron to keep the road to the Sammath Naur functional? We know he created the Ring there, but why would he want to go there otherwise?

Even before the climactic events in the mountain, Gollum fulfils an important purpose - in attacking Frodo, he causes him to draw on his reserves (adrenalin!) for the strength he needs to master the final lap. Two things in particular stand out to me in this passage - Sam's vision of the inner nature of the two opponents, and Frodo's prophetic words: "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom." Would you consider that a curse or 'mere' foretelling?

Sam's mercy in sparing Gollum's life parallels Bilbo's - and reminds of Gandalf's speech about mercy.

Frodo's fateful choice strikes me as particularly interesting because of the way he chooses his words to proclaim his choice: "But I do not choose now to do what I came to do." He says "I do not choose", yet he does choose! Is it merely a quirky way of putting what he's saying, or is there some significance to that choice of words?

The triumvirate meets in Sammath Naur, the three who were each needed to complete the task of destroying the Ring. Gollum's end fulfils both Frodo's and Gandalf's prophecies about the role he had to play and his punishment for taking the Ring from Frodo.

The descriptive passage about the end of Sauron's realm is wonderful! How does it affect you when you read it?

The end of the chapter is the end of all things for Frodo and Sam - peace and forgiveness, yet no thought that there could be a future for them personally. Would it have been better for Frodo if he could have died right then? Yet even then there is something positive - they are together. Neither is alone.
'Mercy!' cried Gandalf. 'If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?' 'The whole history of Middle-earth...'
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Old 10-09-2005, 03:51 PM   #2
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First of all, this post was put together before I read Esty's intro, so it touches on some of the points she introduces without reference to her.

Second of all, this is a long post - but its a significant chapter & I got carried away!
With this chapter we come to the end of the first third of book 6. This final book divides neatly into three sections. The first third ( Tower of Cirith Ungol, Land of Shadow & Mount Doom) tell of the end of the Quest. It is the ‘mythic’ or spritual world that is depicted. The next three (Field of Cormalllen, Steward & the King & Many Partings) take us back to the ‘legendary’ world of Gondor, Rohan & Rivendell. Finally, in the last third (Homeward Bound, Scouring of the Shire & Grey Havens), we will return to the mundane world of Bree & the Shire, but with a final glimpse of the mythic world at the end.

In this chapter, though, we see what is, apparently the end of the struggle. The Ring is brought to destruction, & everyone can go home. Things move inexorably towards their culmination, Frodo, Sam, Gollum & the Ring come to the Fire. The mountain looms ever larger, till it fills the Hobbits vision:

South-eastward, far off like a dark standing shadow, loomed the Mountain. Smokes were pouring from it, and while those that rose into the upper air trailed away eastward, great rolling clouds floated down its sides and spread over the land...

They could not follow this road any longer; for it went on eastward into the great Shadow, but the Mountain now loomed upon their right, almost due south, and they must turn towards it. ..

Such daylight as followed was dim; for here as the Mountain drew near the air was ever mirky, while out from the Dark Tower there crept the veils of Shadow that Sauron wove about himself...

The land was rough and hostile, and yet they made much progress, and ever the Mountain drew nearer...

The Mountain crept up ever nearer, until, if they lifted their heavy heads, it filled all their sight, looming vast before them: a huge mass of ash and slag and burned stone, out of which a sheer-sided cone was raised into the clouds.
Sam realises that, if there is a way home it lies on the other side of that Mountain & that he must pass through the Fire to reach it. The Land of Mordor is a dead land. All life has been leeched out of it to leave nothing but ‘Ashes & dust & thirst’. Even the stones & the mountains seem like ghosts:

A few miles to the north-east the foothills of the Ashen Mountains stood like sombre grey ghosts, behind which the misty northern heights rose like a line of distant cloud hardly darker than the lowering sky.
Tolkien returns to the idea of hope - Sam seems finally to lose hope at one point:

Never for long had hope died in his staunch heart, and always until now he had taken some thought for their return. 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.
Seems Sam has at last given up, but it isn’t so:

But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam's plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.
Sam’s loss of hope is only apparent. Like Gandalf in Moria, it only seemed to die. Actually, it was transformed into something else, something at first unrecognisable for what it was, but actually the same thing but in a more powerful manifestation. He finds the strength to cast aside everything he has carried for so long - even his beloved pans. Yet before the end he will find a new burden - his master, who he will have to carry on his back up the Mountain.

Sam’s inner dialogue is interesting. We again see a Sam who is ‘torn in two:

I reckon we crossed half the distance before we stopped. One more day will do it.' And then he paused.
'Don't be a fool, Sam Gamgee,' came an answer in his own voice. 'He won't go another day like that, if he moves at all. And you can't go on much longer giving him all the water and most of the food.'
'I can go on a good way though, and I will.'
'Where to?'
'To the Mountain, of course.'
'But what then, Sam Gamgee, what then? When you get there, what are you going to do? He won't be able to do anything for himself.'
To his dismay Sam realized that he had not got an answer to this. He had no clear idea at all. Frodo had not spoken much to him of his errand, and Sam only knew vaguely that the Ring had somehow to be put into the fire. 'The Cracks of Doom,' he muttered, the old name rising to his mind. 'Well, if Master knows how to find them, I don't.'
'There you are!' came the answer. 'it's all quite useless. He said so himself. You are the fool, going on hoping and toiling. You could have lain down and gone to sleep together days ago, if you hadn't been so dogged. But you'll die just the same, or worse. You might just as well lie down now and give it up. You'll never get to the top anyway.'
'I'll get there, if I leave everything but my bones behind,' said Sam. 'And I'll carry Mr. Frodo up myself, if it breaks my back and heart. So stop arguing!'
‘Who’s arguing?’ one might ask. Sam here sounds like no-one so much as Smeagol-Gollum. ‘There’s no point!’ says one part of him. ‘I don’t care, I’m going to go on anyway!’ the other part of him responds.

So we move towards the end. Gollum reappears to claim his Precious. He attacks Frodo, but is thrown down. Sam sees this event with ‘other vision’:

Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the figure there spoke a commanding voice.
'Begone and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.'
This is very interesting. The voice Sam hears may be Frodo’s, but it doesn’t sound exactly like Frodo. The voice Sam hears comes ‘out of the figure’. Is this the voice of the Ring? Is it Frodo or the Ring promouncing sentence on Gollum - or is there by now any difference between them? What Sam sees is almost an amalgam of the two.

Sam finally gets his chance for revenge on Gollum, but at the last moment he cannot bring himself to take it. The final lesson is learnt - pity. Many that live deserve death, & some that die deserve life - can you give it to them?’

Sam's hand wavered. His mind was hot with wrath and the memory of evil. It would be just to slay this treacherous, murderous creature, just and many times deserved; and also it seemed the only safe thing to do. But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum's shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again. But Sam had no words to express what he felt.
Now to the question, one we’ve agonised over on these boards. Does Frodo give in & claim the Ring, or is his will overwhelmed? In an early draft Frodo’s word’s in the Sammath Naur were to have been:

’I have come’ he said. ‘But I cannot do what I have come to do. I will not do it. The Ring is mine.’
rather than
'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!'
The first version implies that his will has been overwhelmed - ‘I cannot do what I have come to do.’ The published version implies that Frodo has willingly chosen to claim the Ring, but still some argue that Frodo was not strong enough to withstand the Ring’s power at that point, so He was not accountable for his actions. CT comments:

Frodo's words 'But I cannot do what I have come to do' were changed subsequently on the B text to 'But I do not choose now to do what I have come to do.' I do not think that the difference is very significant, since it was already a central element in the outlines that Frodo would choose to keep the Ring himself; the change in his words does no more than emphasize that he fully willed his act. Sauron Defeated
Frodo fully willed his act. For whatever reason. He was fully aware, fully conscious of what he was doing. He willed his act. But we all saw that one coming, didn’t we? No-one could have withstood the Ring. Frodo was broken by his struggles. He was one little Hobbit, what chance did he have? Yet in the end he fully willed his act. He knew what he was doing & did it anyway.

The end of the Ring always seems to produce a feeling of ‘What??? Is that it?!!!!’ Its all over so suddenly, in so few words:

Suddenly Sam saw Gollum's long hands draw upwards to his mouth; his white fangs gleamed, and then snapped as they bit. Frodo gave a cry, and there he was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm's edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle. It shone now as if verily it was wrought of living fire.
'Precious, precious, precious!' Gollum cried. 'My Precious! O my Precious!' 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.
There was a roar and a great confusion of noise. Fires leaped up and licked the roof. The throbbing grew to a great tumult, and the Mountain shook.
Nearly 1,000 pages so far, all the battles, the sacrifices, the suffering, the fear of the Ring, the whole world on a knife edge - & that’s it? Three little paragraphs. Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger, prances about & trips up! No wonder both the radio adaptation & the movie go for something more spectacular - a magnificant crescendo in the first, a desperate hand to hand struggle between Frodo & Gollum in the other. What was Tolkien thinking of?

Well, I think Tolkien got it right. First & foremost because the destruction of the Ring is not the culmination of the story - the Return of the king, the Scouring of the Shire & the Grey Havens are the culmination of the story. Its right that the Ring is dispatched in the way it is.

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
‘In the end the Shadow was only a small & passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.’ That’s why the Ring must pass away as it does. In the end it gets the end it is worthy of. If its end was brought about by Eru then it is the ultimate slapdown of Sauron, the ultimate humiliation. ‘Think you’re so great, so terrible? Just watch! Think you’re going to win back your Ring & initiate your ‘Thousand year Reich’? Sorry, son. Look on as I shatter your dreams of power not with a spectacular battle in which you can go down in a blaze of glory, but with a farce, which will leave you humiliated & asking ‘Was that it?’

Think about it. Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, terror of Middle-earth, sitting in Barad dur dreaming dreams of absolute power, only to suddenly become aware of the real danger he is in & to have to watch helplessly as Gollum jigs about, trips up & falls into the lava. Its pure slapstick! The ultimate ‘custard pie’ moment. Sauron dies completely humiliated.

Yet if it all ends in farce for Sauron, it is all too real & painful for Sam & Frodo. They’ve played their parts in the cosmic drama & now have to live with the aftermath. Frodo sits with blood pouring from his maimed hand, & Sam has nothing to bind it with.
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Old 10-09-2005, 07:01 PM   #3
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That was great insight. I've always felt the same way about Sauron's defeat.

In the tale of Beren and Luthien, Sauron ultimately humiliated himself and forever was a fairly noticeable smear on the Ainurs' record. Honestly, did any of you think he was still smart and great after that?

By the time Sam and Frodo have reached Mount Doom, Eru is fed up with Sauron and uses his intervention to bring about Sauron's fall in the most shameful way possible.

This is my opinion and you are free to disagree with me, but please do it sliently.

Tolkien proved his writing skills with this chapter. This chapter alone is better than entire books by other authors.
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Old 10-09-2005, 09:02 PM   #4
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Well, I can hardly resist the discussion on this chapter, being as it's my favorite.

One of the great things about this chapter is the intense imagery it uses. Mordor has been continually described as a dry, desolate land, its only life being twisted thorny plants. Grey and brown have been the predominant color words. Now, we are faced with a scene that is hardly grey, especially in comparison. Lighting and color both jumped out at me.

When Sam first enters Sammath Naur, it's dark. Not glowing red, not lit by daylight: dark. He tries to use the Phial, but it's so dark that even the Phial won't shine. This isn't just a physical dark. This is the heart of the evil land, and not even the pure and piercing light of Eärendil can pierce this darkness - "all other powers were subdued." So Sam steps in further, and then he does get some light - red, fiery, glaring light. This fiery light is frequently used in this chapter as an "evil light." Several times, the Ring is described as a ring of fire. This red light pierces the darkness that Galadriel's Phial wouldn't. The eruption of Orodruin is a "fiery ruin."

Even the absense of light is not a natural darkness, such as Lorien under the stars. It is a stifling unnatural dark - inside the cavern, and also outside of it. It's smoky and full of dizzying fumes. When Frodo confronts Gollum the first time, Sam saw
these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarecely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire.
Typically, white is associated with good: in Middle-earth, you have Gandalf the White; Galadriel is always dressed in white; stars, which often represent hope, are white; and in the modern world, purity and holiness are the words that comes to mind. And here we see Frodo in white - showing, perhaps, that he is still good, not wholly under the Ring's power just yet? Yet he is holding a "wheel of fire," and it is out of the fire that the voice spoke, not out of the white figure.

And then, just a short time later as Frodo stands at the Cracks of Doom:
The light sprang up again, and there on the brink of the chasm, at the very Crack of Doom, stood Frodo, black against the glare, tense, erect, but still as if he had been turned to stone.
Now Frodo is seen as the polar opposite, a black silhouette. Black is generally the color of evil - Mordor ("black land"), Morgoth, Sauron, even Gollum, frequently called a shadow in this chapter, are all described as black. It is right about at this moment that Frodo claims the Ring. This shift from white to black, I think, is telling. Before, Frodo still has some control over himself, still has some small part of him that wants to destroy the Ring. After, he cannot will himself to destroy it. This is a strongly related question to "Was it Frodo's will to claim the Ring?" Even if he did will it, he wasn't himself. It says so as Mt. Doom is erupting: "There was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again." Frodo is glad that the Ring has been destroyed. If he, as himself, had really wanted to claim the Ring, I think that he really would be utterly destroyed. As it is, he is hurt maybe even beyond healing, but I would not say that he was destroyed.

The other thing that I'd like to comment on for now is Gollum. The last time we saw Gollum, it was his near redemption, follwed by his subsequent abandoment of the hobbits and his treachery to them. I feel pity for Gollum all the way up until his betrayal of the Hobbits. And then, in this chapter, it all just comes crashing home. He is utterly consumed by Ring, an utterly wretched and shrivelled creature. The other word used to describe him is mad: a wild light of madness in his eyes, dancing like a mad thing. He absolutely isn't the hobbit Smeagol anymore, but the creature Gollum. Altogether a tragic character.

And then there is what may well be my favorite passage, culminated by my favorite quote: "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."
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Old 10-10-2005, 12:35 PM   #5
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This is not a favourite chapter for me in terms of finding it pleasurable, as it's far too tense a read, though this does not mean it is not one of the greatest chapters! In fact, whenever I read this chapter I get that 'rush' of adrenalin all over again, just like the first time I read it. There's so much to say too, though I can't hope to do everything justice in one post (especially Gollum, who deserves to be given lots of attention) so I won't attempt to, even though I have a huge list of scribbled notes - in red ink, getting more and more frenzied and spiky line by line...

The chapter is filled with odd references to other kinds of existence, to the Fea and to the nature of Arda itself. They are in an odd place, both physically and mentally, and also spiritually. The first reference is seen when Tolkien chooses some very unusual words:

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.
Why does Tolkien choose to say houseless? On one level this means that they would be 'homeless', but they do have homes, they are just a long way from them. Does it mean simply that they would be without shelter? Then why does Tolkien not say 'without shelter'? He does not need to put 'houseless' with 'foodless' to make the sentence poetic. Now 'houseless' means another thing, it means without a body. I'm sure Sam would not know of this idea, but I am suspicious Tolkien chose to use this word to hint at the possibility that they could be without bodies, especially after hinting to us about what the Nazgul do to their captives and enemies.

Slowly the light grew. Suddenly a sense of urgency which he did not understand came to Sam. It was almost as if he had been called: 'Now, now, or it will be too late!'
What is this voice which calls Sam onward? It seems to be attached to the light which has grown. Could this be any kind of Divine Light? It is almost as if someone can see that if they do not move then they will be caught, either by Sauron or by Gollum. It's a little like the pantomime cry of "behind you!", but of course, much more serious.

In his great need he drew out once more the phial of Galadriel, but it was pale and cold in his trembling hand and threw no light into that stifling dark. He was come to the heart of the realm of Sauron and the forges of his ancient might, greatest in Middle-earth; all other powers were here subdued.
Does anyone else think of the Unlight of Ungoliant at this point? The Darkness of Mount Doom is so complete it seems to feed off the Light of the Phial. It could also be that Mount Doom is indeed the Secret Fire, as davem has claimed, and so would make any other Light seem dull and useless by comparison, even a small Phial containing an echo of that Light.

before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the figure there spoke a commanding voice.
'Begone and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.'
This quote draws me on to more thoughts leading from those after the last quote, i.e. a little 'mad'. I cannot say for certain what I think this signifies. It is all too tempting to say that this represents some kind of Hope from Gandalf or Galadriel. It is also too tempting to say that it is Eru Himself. It makes Gollum back off even at his most desperate, and it seems that to make Gollum back off at such a stage would indeed take incredible power or strength. That it mentions a 'wheel of fire' makes me think of the Secret Fire. Is the Secret Fire represented by a 'wheel'? And why should this 'vision' appear on the slopes of Mount Doom? Making a leap of the imagination, I think it is possible that in making a Ring out of Fire Sauron might have hoped to approach something of the power of the Secret Fire. This is an idea that needs thrashing about a little though...

Often blocked or destroyed by the tumults of the Mountain's furnaces, always that road was repaired and cleared again by the labours of countless orcs.
Like Esty, I wondered why this road was kept cleared. Sauron made the Ring a long time before, and he was also absent form Mordor for an incredibly long time. Did the Orcs keep it in good repair while he was away or has this been done since Sauron returned to Mordor, which is relatively recent to the time frame of the story? It does make me wonder again what value Sauron placed upon Mount Doom, as it must have been important to him, and it also makes me wonder if he was making use of it once again, and for what purposes?
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Old 10-10-2005, 03:32 PM   #6
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before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the figure there spoke a commanding voice.
'Begone and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.'
I thought I'd toss my opinion on this passage into the brew...

I have often seen this episode as a foreshadowing of Frodo's claiming the Ring only a short while later, in the Cracks of Doom.

As a general rule, I am not a fan of direct intervention of this sort by Eru, and I do not tend to like the idea of Gandalf or anyone being behind it...

So that leaves, as the source of power, the Ring, at least according to my preferences of thought.

Why would the Ring want Gollum gone? I have no idea... Would it care if Gollum was there or not? I have no idea...

But I do know that FRODO would want Gollum gone. I think everyone here knows why Frodo would want Gollum gone. And if Frodo was acting with such power, the Ring seems the most likely source of it, as well as the most likely object to be the "Circle of Fire".

If so, then this is Frodo's first real use of the Ring's power. He has, Bilbo-esque, used it to turn invisible and escape, but this is his first use of it as if he were a lord, using its power for dominion over another person. As I said, it forebodes, to me, his claiming of the Ring only paragraphs later.

And, as an addendum, Frodo's curse/prophecy here is remarkably similar to this passage in the "Taming of Smeagol":

For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who his his brightness in a grey cloud, and at his feet a little whining dog. Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another's minds. Gollum raised himself and begin pawing at Frodo, fawning at his knees.
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