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The Return of the King

J. R. R. Tolkien

Book VI, Chapter 3

Summary Book VI, Chapter 3

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.