The Return of the King
Book VI, Chapter 3
Summary — Mount Doom
“[T]he Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
The next morning, Sam gains new strength and a grim sense of responsibility. He wakes Frodo and pushes him on toward Orodruin. The land before them is cold and dead, dotted by countless craters and hollows. The hobbits crawl eastward from hiding place to hiding place. After a few miles, Frodo is nearly spent, his mind and body tormented by the terrible weight of the Ring. He refuses to give the Ring to Sam, for he knows he is held by its power. The two decide to take to the road once again. All eyes in Mordor are turned to the west, where the Captains march toward Morannon.
After three draining days of travel, Frodo’s limbs give way and he falls, exhausted. Sam picks Frodo up and carries him on his back. Before nightfall, they reach the foot of the mountain. Sam carefully makes his way up the slope. It is nearly morning. For a moment, the shadows dissipate, and Sam can see the flicker of the piercing Eye from Sauron’s Dark Tower. Its gaze passes by the hobbits and turns to the north, focusing on the Captains of the West. However, the glimpse of Sauron’s power causes Frodo to panic. His hand grasps for the Ring around his neck, and he cries for Sam’s help. Sam kneels beside Frodo and gently holds his master’s palms together in his lap.
Afraid Sauron has spotted them, Sam takes Frodo upon his shoulders once more and continues up the mountain. With much difficulty, they finally reach the top. Sam looks down over a great cliff into the burning Cracks of Doom below. Suddenly, a cruel weight hits Sam from behind, and he falls forward. Behind him, he hears the voice of Gollum, cursing Frodo viciously for his treachery. Frodo and Gollum engage in a violent struggle, and Gollum proves stronger than the weakened Frodo. Suddenly, Frodo commands Gollum, “Begone, and trouble me no more!” and the creature falls to his knees. Frodo presses on to the Cracks of Doom. Sam, tempted to slay Gollum with his sword, refrains out of pity. Gollum slinks away.
Reaching the Cracks, Frodo turns to Sam and, with a voice clearer than Sam has ever heard, informs him that he will not complete the quest. The Ring, Frodo declares, is his. He puts the Ring on his finger and vanishes. Sam is once again flung aside, and then he sees a dark shape leap over him. Just as Sam looks up, the Great Eye of Sauron suddenly becomes aware of Frodo. The eight remaining Nazgûl hurtle toward the mountain at terrifying speed.
Sam sees Gollum struggling with an invisible enemy, biting at the air viciously. Frodo suddenly reappears, his hand bleeding from his severed finger. Gollum pulls Frodo’s finger and the Ring from his mouth joyfully, but then steps backward, unaware that he is close to the edge of the cliff. Gollum then falls, along with the Ring, into the Cracks of Doom. Mount Doom shakes violently as it accepts and consumes the Ring. Sam runs out into the daylight, carrying Frodo. The Nazgûl wither in the fiery ruin of the hill. Frodo stands by Sam’s side, himself again. Sam feels overjoyed, and Frodo explains that, were it not for Gollum, he would not have been able to finish the quest. Frodo says he is glad to be with Sam “at the end of all things.”
The completion of the quest marks the central climax of The Lord of the Rings. While the novel has included several separate, progressively larger climaxes—such as the overthrow of Saruman and the battle for Gondor at the Pelennor Fields—the deposit of the Ring into the Cracks of Doom resolves the major conflict presented at the outset of The Fellowship of the Ring. All of the markings we might expect from the climax of such a voluminous quest narrative are present: Mount Doom erupts, towers fall, and Sauron’s dark shadow vanishes in the wind. In one sense, the effects of Frodo’s success are endless. Middle-earth is freed from Mordor’s evil influence, ensuring renewed hope and progress for its inhabitants. In another sense, however, Frodo himself gains little from depositing the Ring in the Cracks of Doom. The hobbit finds no treasure or maiden, and does not rescue any captives. He only emerges from Mount Doom with a greater self-understanding and the ability to say, as the world collapses around him, that he is content to be with his friend Sam.
Frodo and Sam continue to add to the picture of Hobbit heroism that Tolkien has developed throughout the novel. Notably, Frodo’s heroism is purely passive. He must be carried up Mount Doom, almost against his own will, weeping and exhausted. At the end of his quest, he refuses to part with the Ring. Frodo announces to Sam, “I have come. . . . But I do not now choose what I came to do.” This passage highlights once again the importance of choice in Tolkien’s conception of good and evil. Choice has been the distinguishing factor of Frodo’s heroism throughout the novel. Unlike Sauron, whose fate is bound to the Ring, Frodo possesses the power to choose whether to carry the Ring or not, and whether to wear it or destroy it. He remains a hero simply because he has chosen to carry the Ring for so long in a quest that aims only to destroy an object that offers him great power. That Frodo wills himself to move forward as far as the Cracks of Doom is evidence enough of his heroism. The success of the journey from the beginning has been doubtful; only a sense of providence and hope has suggested Frodo might accomplish the task. In an ironic twist of fate, the Ring’s most possessive owner, Gollum, wrests the Ring from Frodo and inadvertently destroys it.
Sam’s self-sacrificing heroism on the journey up Mount Doom complements Frodo’s passivity in its loving gentleness. As Sam selflessly carries Frodo up the mountain, he is struck that his master is lighter than he expected. When Frodo struggles with an uncontrollable urge to grasp the Ring, Sam gently removes his master’s hand from his chest and holds his palms together. The image suggests two men praying, implying that Sam redeems Frodo in a spiritual sense. Sam’s feet and controlling hands aid Frodo in the choice to move toward the Cracks of Doom, which Frodo indicates he still chooses to do only in his acquiescence.
The last leg of Frodo’s journey also reveals much about the ambiguous nature of evil. At first blush, the Ring continues to symbolize actual physical evil. Frodo bears the immense physical weight of the Ring and its evil, eventually losing all bodily strength as he gets closer to Mount Doom. When Sam picks Frodo up—and thus picks up the Ring as well—he finds his friend to be light, and he is able to remove Frodo’s groping hand from the Ring with a gentle tug. Tolkien suggests that only the Ring’s wearer perceives its heaviness—its physical force remains a matter of perception, not of real weight. In this sense, we return to Tolkien’s characterization of evil as a human creation; physical symbols of evil only display real power over those who are tempted by them.
Tolkien further examines the ambiguous nature of evil in the imagery of the land of Mordor. Sauron’s Great Eye, fixed atop the Dark Tower, functions both as a symbol of the Dark Lord’s will and as the source of his ability to enact his will on the physical world. The Great Eye itself does not cause any harm—it does not strike anyone down or emit any visible signal. The Eye only suggests where Sauron’s attention is fixed. It focuses to the north while Sauron’s mind remains occupied with the forces at the Black Gate, thus allowing Sam and Frodo to reach the goal of their quest.
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