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Sam and Frodo run away from Cirith Ungol as horns peal
in the tower. They run onto a long bridge, but as they approach
the other side, they hear a company of orcs quickly approaching.
The orcs cannot see the two hobbits, but are heading straight for
them. Frodo and Sam jump over the edge of the bridge, landing safely
on the side of a cliff. With great difficulty, they clamber down
to the valley below. Mount Doom lies to the east, but the hobbits
travel northward, hoping to evade any Orc search parties.
Frodo and Sam have only some of Faramir’s provisions,
a few lembas, and no water. After a night of weary
travel, they find a small stream and joyously refill their water
bottles. The Ring grows heavier around Frodo’s neck with every step.
Mount Doom is still nearly forty miles to the east, across a great
valley. Behind the mountain sits Barad-dûr, Sauron’s home, from
which the Dark Lord directs his will over Mordor. Scattered all
over the valley, as far as the two hobbits can see, the armies of
Mordor await the final battle. There is no hope of moving undetected
through so many enemies, but Frodo and Sam again have no choice
but to go on. They continue moving northward, looking for a good
place to leave the mountains and move east. They overhear two orcs
quarrelling, speaking of a rumor about a great Elf in bright armor
who is on the loose.
On the third day, Frodo and Sam turn into a narrow eastward road
and travel over it for several miles in the darkness. After some time,
they hear a great company of orcs approaching from behind. The hobbits
are unable to move aside, and the company overtakes them, but in
the darkness its leader assumes the hobbits are orcs and forces
them into line with the others. For what seems like hours, they
travel with the Orc company at an excruciating pace. Frodo is in
agony from the Ring’s increasing weight. After a time, they reach a
busy crossroads. Armies from the south are moving in anticipation of
Aragorn’s army. In the confusion of the converging companies, Frodo
and Sam jump aside and crawl behind a nearby boulder.
Sam emerges in these chapters as perhaps the most important
hero of the entire novel. He represents the quintessential Hobbit
hero, the virtues of which Merry displays briefly in Book V. Daring
yet self-deprecating, Sam succeeds because he approaches the heroic
challenge with a certain lightheartedness, as though he is playing
at being a hero. He jokes that he is an “Elf-hero” and shrugs his
shoulders as he launches through the gate of Cirith Ungol. Sam remains centered
and focused because, as he realizes, he cannot escape his “plain
Hobbit-sense.” That he is a gardener by trade has metaphorical significance,
as Sam is used to dirtying his hands in the earth and does not think
lofty thoughts of power or of reaching great heights. These correctives
to Sam’s pride help him focus on the proper goals of his quest—serving
Frodo and guarding the Ring. At the same time, Sam’s playfulness
leads him to trust his impulses, such as using the phial of Galadriel
and unwittingly singing a song to lead him to Frodo.
Tolkien implies that love is an important aspect of heroism,
as we see in the way Sam is inspired by his love for Frodo. It is
not that Sam’s attention to Frodo supersedes his commitment to the
Ring-quest; rather, Sam implicitly understands that love and loyalty
are essential to the success of the quest itself. Freedom, love,
friendship, and the preservation of life are the goals of the Fellowship.
Sam must save Frodo before he can carry out the destruction of the
Ring, Gandalf must save Faramir from the burning pyre in order to
prevent evil from gripping Minas Tirith, and Aragorn must set the
captives free when he takes the ships by force from the allies of
Mordor. Throughout The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
stresses the primacy of friendship and immediate social responsibility
over more nebulous ideas of heroism or valor.
The closeness of Sam and Frodo to the Orc forces reminds
us how the hobbits’ nondescript appearance—and their modest ordinariness
in general—is often an asset to them on their journey. A more noble
and knightly presence, like that of Aragorn or Théoden, would have
stood out from the Orc contingent, and would have been immediately
destroyed. But Frodo and Sam, who are not much to look at, pass
unnoticed even when they are swept along in the midst of the marching
Orc army. Moreover, their proximity to the Orcs allows them to overhear
the Orc discussion of the rumor that a great Elf in bright armor
is on the loose. The hobbits are thus allowed to see what the knights
like Aragorn cannot—the nervous and anxious side of the enemy they
are preparing to meet. Elrond’s words from the earliest parts of
the novel, in Book II, ring true: the nature of the Ring-quest is
such that the weak and the small are just as likely to succeed as
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Return of the King!