. Alas, not me: March 2016

31 March 2016

You Sometimes Find Funny Things in the Index

In the index to Tolkien's Letters we find the following three entries back to back under 'Tolkien ... Works -- Principal Writings':
Tolkien required to give certificate of his racial origins for German translation [of The Hobbit] 37-38; German translation not to appear 44; copies burnt in Blitz 58....
Perhaps Allen and Unwin should have adopted the strategy of Bookseller William Foyle:
When Hitler started burning books in the 1930s, William had immediately telegrammed the Fuhrer to request that he be able to purchase them instead and would offer a good price; the response quickly came back that Germany had no books to sell and the burning would continue. Years later at the start of the Blitz Foyles filled sandbags with old books to protect the shop from damage and William announced that he was covering the roof with copies of Mein Kampf to ward off bombers. Then a near miss left a giant crater just outside the shop, destroying the front of the Sun Electric offices across the road. William treated the sappers to sandwiches and ginger beer while they worked and when the bridge was complete they happily let him name it the Foyle Bridge, complete with ribbon cutting ceremony!

Tolkien in the 1930s

And Yet Remain Evil -- Some Parallels in Tolkien and Sassoon

Recently I've been reading Siegfried Sassoon's The Memoirs of George Sherston, a series of three novels which tell of the title character's experience before and during World War I and which also draw heavily on Sassoon's own life in England and the trenches of France. Now I have long found this era to be one of great interest since it has had such an impact on the history and literature that followed after.  And still does. 

But in addition to my interest in the WWI poets and writers, I've also been reading these novels in order to become more familiar with the context which men like Sassoon and Tolkien, so unlike each other in seemingly every way, shared and drew upon in their depictions of war. Tolkien was anything but affluent, could only attend the schools he did because of scholarships, and needed to complete his degree in order to have a hope of success after the war. Sassoon was by contrast something of a patrician, with sufficient means, even early in life, to make a degree and a job unnecessary. He left Cambridge without taking a degree, and filled the years before the war with cricket and fox-hunting. During the war his courage and poetry brought him fame, but his public denunciation of the war in 1917 provoked accusations of treason and nearly brought him before a court-martial. Young C. S. Lewis, himself back home from the front with a wound, wrote in a letter of October 1918 that Sassoon was 'a horrid man', likely (I believe) because of the scandal he had caused.[1] What Tolkien may have thought has left no record that I have found.[2] 

Given the differences between these two men, the parallels to The Lord of the Rings I came across the other day in the second of Sassoon's Sherston novels, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, seemed all the more striking. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Sassoon is in any way a source for Tolkien. Their common experience is the source for both of them.
We were at the end of a journey which had begun twelve days before, when we started from Camp 13. Stage by stage, we had marched to the life-denying region which from far away had threatened us with the blink and the growl of its bombardments. Now we were groping and stumbling along a deep ditch to the place appointed for us in the zone of human havoc. There must have been some hazy moonlight, for I remember the figures of men huddled against the sides of communication trenches; seeing them in some sort of ghastly glimmer (was it, perhaps, the diffused whiteness of a sinking flare beyond the ridge?) I was doubtful whether they were asleep or dead, for the attitudes of many were like death, grotesque and distorted. But this is nothing new to write about, you will say; just a weary company, squeezing past dead or drowsing men while it sloshes and stumbles to a front-line trench. Nevertheless that night relief had its significance for me, though in human experience it had been multiplied a millionfold.  I, a single human being with my little stock of earthly experience in my head, was entering once again the veritable gloom and disaster of the thing called Armageddon.  And I saw it then, as I see it now -- a dreadful place, a place of horror and desolation which no imagination could have invented.  Also it was a place where a man of strong spirit might know himself utterly powerless against death and destruction, and yet stand up and defy gross darkness and stupefying shell-fire, discovering in himself the invincible resistance of an animal or an insect, and an endurance which he might, in after days, forget or disbelieve.
(pp 161-62, emphasis added)
To be sure many details are salient here -- journeying towards battle through darkness, a distant threat on the horizon from a 'life-denying region', figures of men sleeping or dead in the darkness -- but as Sherston says, 'this is nothing new to write about'. What he calls attention to, however, stands out starkly. That moment of facing up against impossible odds and defying the darkness, which Tolkien would have called 'northern courage', a trait most famously displayed on the Field of Pelennor by Éomer when he thinks that all is lost. 
Stern now was Éomer's mood, and his mind clear again. He let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could come thither; for he thought to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark. So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind.
     Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
     I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
     To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
     Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall! 
These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.
(RK 5.vi.847)
Yet we may also see such courage in Sam Gamgee, not just in the literally 'animal horror'[3] of his fight with Shelob (TT 4.x.728-30), but in 'his song in the Tower', which 'had been defiance rather than hope' (RK 6.ii.922); and in his stalwart refusal to do anything but endure until the end, even if there was to be no returning (RK 6.iii.933-34):
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.
(RK 6.iii.934)
While such an uncompromising mood -- or perhaps Old English mód is more what Tolkien had in mind -- may be little or no surprise in the heroes, great and small, of The Lord of the Rings, a toff like George Sherston has come further from his shire days of cricket and fox-hunting than almost any of Tolkien's characters. Much like the once foolish Pippin at the battle outside The Black Gate, who wishes that Merry were there so they could die together rather than apart (RK 5.x.892), Sherston has suffered into this attitude.

Another parallel presents itself in the trenches and no-man's lands, which is again hardly surprising. It has long been clear that to some degree the battlefield of the Somme informs Tolkien's descriptions of the Dead Marshes in particular.[4] Tolkien conceded as much himself (Letters, no. 226). It is the ghastly applicability of this particular parallel that makes it so noteworthy. As above, I quote at length because the text is building to a climax:
It was a yellow corpse-like day, more like November than April, and the landscape was desolate and treeless.  What we were doing was quite unexceptional; millions of soldiers endured the same sort of thing and got badly shelled into the bargain. Nevertheless I can believe that my party, staggering and floundering under its loads, would have made an impressive picture of 'Despair'.  The background, too, was appropriate.  We were among the débris of the intense bombardment of ten days before, for we were passing along and across the Hindenburg Outpost Trench, with its belt of wire (fifty yards deep in places); here and there these rusty jungles had been flattened by tanks.  The Outpost Trench was about 200 yards from the Main Trench, which was now our front line.  It had been solidly made, ten feet deep, with timbered fire-steps, splayed sides, and timbered steps at intervals to front and rear and to machine-gun emplacements.  Now it was wrecked as though by earthquake and eruption. Concrete strong-posts were smashed and tilted sideways; everywhere the chalky soil was pocked and pitted with huge shell-holes; and wherever we looked the mangled effigies of the dead were our memento mori. Shell-twisted and dismembered, the Germans maintained the violent attitudes in which they had died. The British had mostly been killed by bullets or bombs, so they looked more resigned.  But I can still remember a pair of hands (nationality unknown) which protruded from the soaked ashen soil like the roots of a tree turned upside down; one hand seemed to be pointing at the sky with an accusing gesture. Each time I passed that place the protest of those fingers became more expressive of an appeal to God in defiance of those who made the War.  Who made the War?  I laughed hysterically as the thought passed through my mud-stained mind.  But I only laughed mentally, for the box of Stokes gun ammunition left me no breath to spare for an angry guffaw.  And the dead were the dead; there was no time to be pitying them or asking silly questions about their outraged lives.  Such sights must be taken for granted, I thought, as I gasped and slithered and stumbled with my disconsolate crew.  Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull. 
(pp. 165-66)
As if the shattered landscape of the trenches weren't nightmarish enough, we then encounter 'mangled effigies of the dead', effigies which at once become real bodies of German and British soldiers, and are then further reduced, to anonymous hands, first accusing then appealing to the heavens. They are all simultaneously real and symbolic. Yet the metaphor, the memento mori, the bodies, and the war itself are dismissed with a laugh and a shrug: the dead are the dead; questions are silly; such sights are banal. Then comes the horror in the water, the face that is no longer a face, as nameless and nationless as the hands.  The face, too, must be gazing up at the heavens.  

One can almost hear Sam's horrified cry: 'There are dead things, dead faces in the water.... Dead faces!' (TT 4.ii.627). One can almost hear Gollum laughing at him scornfully: 'The Dead Marshes, yes, yes; that is their name'; and his dismissive  'Who knows?' in answer to Frodo's question about whether the faces are real or not (TT 4.ii.628). In the Dead Marshes, too, such sights must be taken for granted, and the threat is real that the hobbits might join them if they're not careful. Asking questions about the faces accomplishes nothing.

L'Enfer © IWM (Art.IWM ART 441

The third parallel sounds a note as old as literature itself, of the man too long away at war, and longing only to return home.  Late in The Iliad Achilles weeps for the father he left behind and whom he will not live to see again (24.570-633, Fagles), and we first see Odysseus in The Odyssey sitting by the shore, weeping because he thinks he will never see his home and family again (5.1-175, Fagles). To say that this is a commonplace not only of literature, but of human experience would seem to require no demonstration.
As for our conversation between ten o'clock and midnight (when my operation orders arrived from the Adjutant) I supposed it was a form of drug, since it was confined to pleasant retrospections of peace.  Wilmot was well acquainted with my part of the world and he'd come across many of our local worthies.  So we were able to make a little tour of the Kentish Weald and the Sussex border, as though on a couple of mental bicycles. In imagination we cycled along on a fine summer afternoon, passing certain milestones which will always be inseparable from my life history.  Outside Squire Maundle's park gate we shared a distant picture of his angular attitudes while he addressed his golf-ball among the bell-tinklings and baaings of sheep on the sunny slopes above Amblehurst (always followed by a taciturn black retriever).  Much has been asserted about the brutalized condition of mind to which soldiers were reduced by life in the Front Line; I do not deny this, but I am inclined to suggest that there was a proportionate amount of simple-minded sentimentality.  As far as I was concerned, no topic could be too homely for the trenches. 
Thus, while working parties and machine-gunners filed past the door with hollow grumbling voices, our private recess in the Hindenberg Tunnel was precariously infused with evocations of rural England and we challenged our surroundings with remembrances of parish names and farm houses with friendly faces. A cottage garden was not an easy idea to recover convincingly.... Bees among yellow wall-flowers on a warm afternoon.  The smell of an apple orchard in autumn.... Such details were beyond our evocation. But they were implied when I mentioned Squire Maundle in his four-wheeled dogcart, rumbling along Dumbridge Road to attend a County Council Meeting.
(pp. 170-71)
The Weald
It's quite pleasant, a fine summer afternoon, just as he says, but it's also a 'retrospection', an imaginary 'tour' on 'mental bicycles', through his 'history'. The one 'local worthy'  named is seen as part of  'a distant picture' from 'outside' his park.  There's a silent dog and noisy sheep, but not a horse, the one beast we would expect to find in Sherston's imaginings. He and his comrade see everything in passing or from afar. They are not part of the scene, but observers. And the 'simple-minded sentimentality' he endorses as a counterbalance to the 'brutalitized condition of [a soldier's] mind' can only get him so far. The homeliest, most sensuous details will not be evoked at all. Those languid ellipses dividing one such detail from another suggest that being 'implied' by the mention of the Squire's name is scarcely good enough. Yet they had to suffice.

With Sam we get a very different picture:
... and now as once more the night of Mordor closed over them, through all [Sam's] thoughts there came the memory of water; and every brook or stream or fount that he had ever seen, under green willow-shades or twinkling in the sun, danced and rippled for his torment behind the blindness of his eyes. He felt the cool mud about his toes as he paddled in the Pool at Bywater with Jolly Cotton and Tom and Nibs, and their sister Rosie. 'But that was years ago,' he sighed, 'and far away. The way back, if there is one, goes past the Mountain.'
(RK 6.iii.938-39)
Sam's 'simple-minded sentimentality' about home is not without pain. As he lies thirsting in the wastes of Mordor, the memory of water becomes vivid and immediate, a torment, but it also evokes gentler feelings, of cool water, of friendship, and of Rosie Cotton -- set off from her brothers by commas, and mentioned here for only the second time, the first being in a similar moment a few pages earlier (RK 6.iii.934). Unlike Sherston, Sam's memories immerse him and transport him home, however briefly.  They point him back, to Rosie, and set his course 'past the Mountain'.

Yet while Sam's moment of recalling better days seems to accomplish for him what Sherston's could not, Frodo's is more reminiscent of the 'brutalized condition of mind' to which Sherston alludes. Not only can Frodo not evoke the pleasant details, he cannot recall them in any meaningful way. They are even more remote and unreachable than Sherston's. When Sam asks Frodo if he can recall the sunny morning they spent in Ithilien not yet two weeks ago, Frodo confesses that he can't:
'No, I am afraid not, Sam,' said Frodo. 'At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me.'
(RK 6.iii.937-38)
Little could show how common and profound an experience Sassoon and Tolkien share than the way in which these experiences of Sam and Frodo bookend Sherston's, as if all three exist along a continuum. Sherston of course is still in the middle of his journey; Sam and Frodo, though they doubt they'll survive, are nearly at the point where they turn back again. He will grow worse before he gets better. Nightmares and horrific visions of the dead will come to plague him, which also parallels what Sam and Frodo see in The Dead Marshes.[5] Frodo, as we know, returns home in the flesh only, and at times is haunted by things that only he can see (RK 6.ix.1024-25). Sam, owing to his love for his master, for the Shire, and for Rosie, survives far better than either Frodo or Sherston. But from the beginning Sam has also seen their journey and the events in which he and Frodo take part as a story, and he increasingly comes to recognize that the Great Tales never end and that they are in one (TT 4.viii.711-13). Sherston sees the muck and the dead; Frodo sees the Wheel of Fire; Sam sees more. His larger view, I would suggest, combines with his love to give him a faith that carries him through, not unchanged but unscathed, to his chair and his pipe and Elanor in his lap.

His faith in the power of Tales is one he shared with Tolkien, who in 1944 wrote to Christopher who was serving in the RAF:
Well, there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story! I think also that you are suffering from suppressed 'writing'. That may be my fault. You have had rather too much of me and my peculiar mode of thought and reaction. And as we are so akin it has proved rather powerful. Possibly inhibited you. I think if you could begin to write, and find your own mode, or even (for a start) imitate mine, you would find it a great relief. I sense amongst all your pains (some merely physical) the desire to express your feeling about good, evil, fair, foul in some way: to rationalize it, and prevent it just festering. In my case it generated Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes. Lots of the early pans of which (and the languages) – discarded or absorbed – were done in grimy canteens,at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire. It did not make for efficiency and present-mindedness, of course, and I was not a good officer. ....
(Letters, no. 66)
As the hundredth anniversary of the Somme draws near, we may be grateful that the evil of those days proved the source of much that is good and true and beautiful in the writings of Tolkien, Sassoon, and so many others. But we should also remember that, for all that, it remains evil.

Paths Of Glory © IWM (Art.IWM ART 518)

Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Penguin (2013).


[1] Lewis does not say why, but it seems to have nothing to do with his poetry -- just mentioned in the same breath without judgement -- and they don't seem to have been acquainted. If anything, since Lewis wrote disillusioned World War I poetry of his own, he could have had little objection to Sassoon on that score. Lewis, however, who could have avoided military service but chose not to do so, seems unlikely to have approved of so public a demonstration against the war as Sassoon made with his open letter of July 1917.

[2] In the relationship of Faramir and Denethor there are echoes of the kinds of criticisms often made during WWI, and even orcs complain to each other about their superiors (TT 4.x.737-39; RK 6.ii.924-26).  One wonders if the stubborn folly of Turgon in The Fall of Gondolin might reflect Tolkien's perception of the same in the General Staff. 

[3] In letter 61 (18 April 1944) Tolkien refers to the 'animal horror of the life of active service [...] such as trenchlife as I knew it'. Perhaps not coincidentally, in this same letter Tolkien remarks that he 'hope[s] to see C. S. L[ewis] and Charles W[illiams] tomorrow morning and read my next chapter — on the passage of the Dead Marshes and the approach to the Gates of Mordor, which I have now practically finished.'

[4] See especially John Garth, 'As under a green sea': visions of war in The Dead Marshes (2008) 9-21, who rightly identifies other parallels in Sassoon; Hugh Brogan, Tolkien's Great War (1989) 351-67;  Jane Brennan Croft, War and the Works of J. R. R. Tolkien (2004); Livingston, The Shell-shocked Hobbit: The First World War and Tolkien's Trauma of the Ring (2015). 

[5] Sassoon, pp. 186-87; Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1960) 267. Garth's discussion (above n.4) of Sassoon, Tolkien, and other WWI writers in this connection is a fascinating contribution.

24 March 2016

A Clerk of Oxford: 'This doubtful day of feast or fast': Good Friday ...

I just read this today, and I am so impressed that I wanted to pass it on. Read this.

A Clerk of Oxford: 'This doubtful day of feast or fast': Good Friday ...: Annunciation and Crucifixion, from BL Add. 18850, f. 204v This year Good Friday falls on Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation. This ...

09 March 2016

Talk a Walk with the Inklings on 15 March 2016

Next week at 8PM EST on 15 March please come and join the Inklings as they take a walk together on twitter. We will be quoting from their works and engaging in lively conversation and friendly banter. Who knows where we'll start (Addison's Walk?), but we'll probably stop and The Bird and the Baby for a swift drink, and maybe end up back at Lewis' rooms. 

With us will be:

J.R.R. Tolkien  -- @TolkienElfland
C.S. Jack Lewis -- @pilgriminnarnia
Charles Williams  --- @oddestinkling
Owen Barfield -- @BarfieldDiction
Hugo Dyson -- @hugodyson

Follow us all on twitter, and follow #inkwalk to stay up to date on what we're up to. 

(Rumor has it that Dyson is going to try to talk Tolkien into re-enacting his famed theft of an omnibus during his early days at Exeter College)

06 March 2016

'Wraiths!' he wailed. 'Wraiths on Wings' -- (TT 4.ii.629-30)

Winged Messenger © Nick Marshall

[Gollum] went on again, but his uneasiness grew, and every now and again he stood up to his full height, craning his neck eastward and southward. For some time the hobbits could not hear or feel what was troubling him. Then suddenly all three halted, stiffening and listening. To Frodo and Sam it seemed that they heard, far away, a long wailing cry, high and thin and cruel. They shivered. At the same moment the stirring of the air became perceptible to them; and it grew very cold. As they stood straining their ears, they heard a noise like a wind coming in the distance. The misty lights wavered, dimmed, and went out.  
Gollum would not move. He stood shaking and gibbering to himself, until with a rush the wind came upon them, hissing and snarling over the marshes. The night became less dark, light enough for them to see, or half see, shapeless drifts of fog, curling and twisting as it rolled over them and passed them. Looking up they saw the clouds breaking and shredding; and then high in the south the moon glimmered out, riding in the flying wrack.

For a moment the sight of it gladdened the hearts of the hobbits; but Gollum cowered down, muttering curses on the White Face. Then Frodo and Sam staring at the sky, breathing deeply of the fresher air, saw it come: a small cloud flying from the accursed hills; a black shadow loosed from Mordor; a vast shape winged and ominous. It scudded across the moon, and with a deadly cry went away westward, outrunning the wind in its fell speed. 
They fell forward, grovelling heedlessly on the cold earth. But the shadow of horror wheeled and returned, passing lower now, right above them, sweeping the fen-reek with its ghastly wings. And then it was gone, flying back to Mordor with the speed of the wrath of Sauron; and behind it the wind roared away, leaving the Dead Marshes bare and bleak. The naked waste, as far as the eye could pierce, even to the distant menace of the mountains, was dappled with the fitful moonlight.  
Frodo and Sam got up, rubbing their eyes, like children wakened from an evil dream to find the familiar night still over the world. But Gollum lay on the ground as if he had been stunned. They roused him with difficulty, and for some time he would not lift his face, but knelt forward on his elbows, covering the back of his head with his large flat hands.  
'Wraiths!' he wailed. 'Wraiths on wings! The Precious is their master. They see everything, everything. Nothing can hide from them. Curse the White Face! And they tell Him everything. He sees, He knows. Ach, gollum, gollum, gollum!' It was not until the moon had sunk, westering far beyond Tol Brandir, that he would get up or make a move.  
(TT 4.ii.629-30, emphases original)

This scene, which replays itself twice more by the end of this chapter (TT 4.ii.634-35), is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, it allows us to make an observation that is important for understanding the power of the Ring, not because the Ring itself is directly in play here, but because of Gollum's similar behavior in another scene where its power is central. For outside the Black Gate, when Frodo declares that since there is no other way into Mordor, he must try this one, Gollum makes the mistake of suggesting that Frodo give the Ring back to him (TT 4.iii.637). At first Frodo appears not to have noticed what Gollum has said, or to attach no importance to it, so intent is he on his mission. When Gollum subsequently reveals the existence of another way into Mordor, Frodo's attention seems entirely devoted to considering that option.

But Frodo has not forgotten, not in the least.
'Sméagol,' he said, 'I will trust you once more. lndeed it seems that I must do so, and that it is my fate to receive help from you, where I least looked for it, and your fate to help me whom you long pursued with evil purpose. So far you have deserved well of me and have kept your promise truly. Truly, I say and mean,' he added with a glance at Sam, 'for twice now we have been in your power, and you have done no harm to us. Nor have you tried to take from me what you once sought. May the third time prove the best! But I warn you, Sméagol, you are in danger.' 
'Yes, yes, master!' said Gollum. 'Dreadful danger! Sméagol's bones shake to think of it, but he doesn't run away. He must help nice master.'  
'I did not mean the danger that we all share,' said Frodo. 'I mean a danger to yourself alone. You swore a promise by what you call the Precious. Remember that! It will hold you to it; but it will seek a way to twist it to your own undoing. Already you are being twisted. You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Sméagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Sméagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Sméagol!' 
Sam looked at his master with approval, but also with surprise: there was a look in his face and a tone in his voice that he had not known before. It had always been a notion of his that the kindness of dear Mr. Frodo was of such a high degree that it must imply a fair measure of blindness. Of course, he also firmly held the incompatible belief that Mr. Frodo was the wisest person in the world (with the possible exception of Old Mr. Bilbo and of Gandalf). Gollum in his own way, and with much more excuse as his acquaintance was much briefer, may have made a similar mistake, confusing kindness and blindness. At any rate this speech abashed and terrified him. He grovelled on the ground and could speak no clear words but nice master
Frodo waited patiently for a while, then he spoke again less sternly. 'Come now, Gollum or Sméagol if you wish, tell me of this other way, and show me, if you can, what hope there is in it, enough to justify me in turning aside from my plain path. I am in haste.' 
But Gollum was in a pitiable state, and Frodo's threat had quite unnerved him. It was not easy to get any clear account out of him, amid his mumblings and squeakings, and the frequent interruptions in which he crawled on the floor and begged them both to be kind to 'poor little Sméagol'. After a while he grew a little calmer, and Frodo gathered bit by bit that, if a traveller followed the road that turned west of Ephel Duath, he would come in time .... 
(TT 4.iii.640-41, emphasis original)
In declaring that he trusts Gollum only because he must and only because of fate. Frodo is in essence declaring that he does not trust him at all. Indeed he has already twice indicated to Sam that this is so, first conceding that they were safe with Gollum 'at present' (TT 4.ii.622-23), and then that even the promise Gollum made on the Precious would hold only 'a while yet' (TT 4.ii.624). Frodo's 'so far' to Gollum here echoes his words to Sam there, and the private glance he steals at him as he says 'truly I say and mean' serves as a reminder to Sam that both patience and vigilance are still in order. And Frodo immediately gives evidence of both, and much more, as he glides smoothly from expressing, or seeming to express, concern for the danger which Gollum is in, to delivering a threat in which he invokes the power of the Ring to terrify him. He thus reduces him to a state of mumbling incoherence, something even the terror of the winged messengers had not done.

Without saying so explicitly, Frodo has here identified himself as the master of the Precious, which not only 'mastered' Gollum long ago, but the Ringwraiths as well. He has also -- if momentarily, yet not for the last time (TT 4.vi.687; cf. RK 6.iii.944) -- adopted the preferred weapon of the Ringwraiths themselves. For, as Strider said back in Bree when asked if the Nazgûl would attack The Prancing Pony, 'that is not their way.... their power is in terror' (FR 1.x.174, italics mine); to which we may add Gandalf's statement that they 'are only shadows of the power and the terror they would possess if the Ruling Ring were on their master's hand again' (FR 2.iv.295). He is also doing what Galadriel said he must do if he wished to use to Ring -- and warned him strongly against -- 'train[ing his] will to the domination of others' (FR 2.vii.366). It is perhaps especially worth noting in this context that, until now, it has been with Sting alone that Frodo has threatened Gollum (TT 4.i.614, ii.635; see also FR 2.ix.384).

That Frodo has come so far in so short a time is chilling. Not even ten days before this moment he had left his comrades because 'the evil of the Ring [was] already at work in the Company' (FR 2.x.401). And a few days after that he found within himself the pity for Gollum that Gandalf had failed to elicit from him back in The Shire (FR 1.ii.59; TT 4.i.615). That pity arose, as I have recently argued, largely because he saw how Boromir had 'fallen into evil' owing to the power of the Ring (FR 2.x.401).  Yet here we see Frodo himself trammeled in the web of the Ring's power, moved both to show pity and wield terror by swift turns. Galadriel's concern that 'all the Company' remain 'true' applies at least as much to Frodo as it does to Boromir (FR 2.vii.357), a point that we can too easily forget given the events on the slopes of Amon Hen. Indeed, Gandalf's 'neither strength nor good purpose will last' could almost be viewed as summing up the two of them (FR 1.ii.47). 

The second reason the scene with the wraiths is noteworthy is that it marks a turning point whose importance should be clearer in view of what we have just seen. Continuing directly from the point at which we stopped in the first quote, we find the following:
From that time on Sam thought that he sensed a change in Gollum again. He was more fawning and would-be friendly; but Sam surprised some strange looks in his eyes at times, especially towards Frodo; and he went back more and more into his old manner of speaking. And Sam had another growing anxiety. Frodo seemed to be weary, weary to the point of exhaustion. He said nothing, indeed he hardly spoke at all; and he did not complain, but he walked like one who carries a load, the weight of which is ever increasing; and he dragged along, slower and slower, so that Sam had often to beg Gollum to wait and not to leave their master behind. 
In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards. But far more he was troubled by the Eye: so he called it to himself. It was that more than the drag of the Ring that made him cower and stoop as he walked. The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable. So thin, so frail and thin, the veils were become that still warded it off. Frodo knew just where the present habitation and heart of that will now was: as certainly as a man can tell the direction of the sun with his eyes shut. He was facing it, and its potency beat upon his brow. 
Gollum probably felt something of the same sort. But what went on in his wretched heart between the pressure of the Eye, and the lust of the Ring that was so near, and his grovelling promise made half in the fear of cold iron, the hobbits did not guess: Frodo gave no thought to it. Sam's mind was occupied mostly with his master, hardly noticing the dark cloud that had fallen on his own heart. He put Frodo in front of him now, and kept a watchful eye on every movement of his, supporting him if he stumbled, and trying to encourage him with clumsy words.
(TT 4.ii.630-31)
The effect of the terror of the Nazgûl here once again brings to mind the verdict of Aragorn at Bree: 'In dark and loneliness they are strongest' (FR 1.x.174). The shriek Frodo and Sam heard on the cliffs of the Emyn Muil a few days earlier demonstrates the truth of this, as the narrator emphasizes how much more powerful that cry was now than in the comfortable woods of The Shire: 'Out here in the waste its terror was far greater: it pierced them with cold blades of horror and despair, stopping heart and breath' (TT 4.i.607).  Now, however, not only does it bring them temporarily to their knees. It changes them.

For as bad as the Emyn Muil were, the Dead Marshes are worse. So far from being merely a desolate, difficult, and lonely landscape, the Dead Marshes are a no man's land haunted by the phantasms of ancient wars whose appearance -- whether they are truly the ghosts of the dead in battle, evil spirits like the Barrow-wights, or altogether an illusion of Sauron -- mocks all victory and sacrifice as vain, and denies the glory of the Great Tales. The marshes and the phantasms seem to cast a spell over Frodo and Sam, much as Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wight did, inducing a dreamlike state of consciousness that nearly tempts them to their ruin.[1] As in the Old Forest, Sam seems more resistant than Frodo. Here, too, Frodo has a 'vision' in his dreams, explicitly called 'fair' here and quite reasonably seen as such there (FR 1.viii.135; TT 4.ii.635). Also as in the Old Forest, they have a guide or escort, who helps see them through the dangers to the other side.

But how different an escort is Gollum -- who flinches as if in pain at the sound of his own true name (TT 4.i.616) and is a slave to the Ring -- from Bombadil whose name has power, and over whom the Ring has none at all. And though the 'fair vision' of Frodo's dream refreshes him, he cannot remember it upon waking, in stark contrast with the six vividly remembered dreams in the chapters centered on Bombadil and his land. In the Dead Marshes, where even the land may be called 'weary', the wailing cry of the Nazgûl casts over them 'a shadow of growing fear in which memory could find nothing to rest upon' (TT 4.ii.631). Unlike in the Old Forest and Barrow Downs, or in Lothlórien, where Bombadil and Galadriel are present to ward off the darker powers, in the Dead Marshes that darkness holds sway; and aims at that domination which distinguishes 'the devices of the Enemy' from 'elf magic.'[2]

As a result Gollum, who had changed for the better after promising 'to serve the master of the Precious' (TT 4.i.618), begins to revert to his former self: only a few days pass before the 'two thoughts' scene, in which Sam hears Gollum's worse self persuading his better self to betray the hobbits and recover the Ring (TT 4.ii.632-34). For Frodo, too, the Ring now begins to be a torment from moment to moment. The moral weight of its evil becomes a physical burden, wearying him and weighing him down; and though before he could perceive the spiritual pressure of Sauron's mind hunting for the Ring only when wearing the Ring or looking in Galadriel's mirror, now he feels it beating on his brow like the heat of the sun. Note the narrator's emphatic and uncharacteristic shift in pronouns from the normal and expected third to the more forceful second person: '...to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable' (italics mine).[3]  Frodo's pity for Gollum, their kinship because of the Ring, and ability to reach each other (TT 4.i.618), now seem of little avail. A moment after the narrator tells us that Gollum's experience must have been similar to Frodo's, he also makes a point (hence the colon) of telling us that 'Frodo gave it no thought.' Feeling threatened as he does, Frodo attends only to the Ring even as he struggles onward with the intention of destroying it.

© Ted Nasmith 


[1] For an extended discussion of these states of consciousness, see here.

[2] That The Dead Marshes exhibit these characteristics suggests that Faërie contains the enchantments that are an expression of the will to power as much as those that generate Art.

[3] I find myself unable to think of a similar instance of this kind of shift by the narrator in The Lord of the Rings.