Frodo is awakened late in the night, as Faramir seeks advice on a matter. Frodo asks whether it is morning already, and Faramir tells him the dawn is just breaking, but that they must leave right away. Faramir takes the hobbit to a cliff by the river, and Sam joins them. For a while, Frodo wonders why he was roused from sleep to come watch the river. Sam, too, is curious. He remarks on the beauty of the landscape, but suggests it is not enough to justify getting up so early in the morning. Faramir says that the landscape is not the reason they have come. He tells Frodo to look down and identify a small, dark creature moving in the water. Frodo gazes down and recognizes Gollum, who has followed them, unseen by Faramir’s men until now. Faramir asks what kind of a creature it is. His men inquire as to whether they should try to kill it or not. Frodo begs them not to do so.
Faramir asks whether Gollum knows about the treasure Frodo is carrying. Frodo replies that Gollum does know about it, and indeed carried it himself for some time. Now, Frodo explains, Gollum just wants fish to eat. Faramir’s guard reminds his lord that the punishment for anyone trespassing in their kingdom is death. Frodo offers to speak to Gollum instead. Frodo goes down to the water and addresses the creature, who pouts about having been abandoned and refuses to come. Finally, Frodo persuades Gollum to leave the water, leading him toward the area where Faramir’s men are waiting for him. The men apprehend Gollum, who feels betrayed by Frodo and spits on him as he is led away.
Faramir demands to interrogate Gollum, who initially refuses to cooperate. Frodo tries to persuade the creature to trust him. Faramir asks whether Gollum has ever been in this area before. Gollum claims he has not. Faramir does not believe Gollum, but he ultimately accepts the truthfulness of the creature’s statement. Frodo sticks with his assertion that Gollum should not be harmed, begging Faramir’s men not to hurt Gollum. Faramir agrees, on the condition that Gollum be considered Frodo’s servant.
However, Faramir privately warns Frodo to be wary of Gollum, whom he still does not trust. Faramir says that there is evil growing in Gollum, and that he is curious about how this “creeping thing” came into the possession of the Ring earlier. Faramir says that one day, when he and Frodo are old and chair-bound, Frodo can tell him the story. Faramir also warns against Frodo’s passing over the mountains, saying that there is great danger there. Frodo replies that this is the only way he can go, as he must avoid the gates of Mordor that they passed earlier. Faramir says it is a hopeless task.
In this chapter, Tolkien explores the idea of treachery from a surprising new angle, as Frodo is forced to betray—or at least to trick—Gollum into leaving the water and walking right up to where Faramir’s men are waiting for him. Ironically, though Frodo does indeed save Gollum’s life—Faramir’s guards are ready to kill the creature for trespassing in their realm—in doing so he is forced to betray Gollum. The fact that Gollum, for all his whining and seeming deceitfulness, still manages to elicit our pity when Frodo betrays him highlights the creature’s complex character. Tolkien’s portrayal of Gollum as a somewhat childish creature who resorts to simple flattery of the hobbits makes him somewhat pitiable and pathetic, helplessly enslaved to the lure of the Ring. Furthermore, our identification with Frodo is somewhat complicated by the fact that this episode is the first time we have ever seen Frodo do anything willfully deceitful to another individual. When Gollum spits in Frodo’s face after his capture, it is hard not to feel a bit sorry for the creature. On the whole, this episode contributes to Tolkien’s exploration of the ambiguity of good and evil and marks the psychological and moral complexity of which Tolkien is capable.
The hobbits are wrong in their initial thought that Faramir is forcing them awake in the wee hours of the morning merely to look at beautiful scenery, but the episode does nonetheless remind us that the beauty of the landscape is a significant feature in The Lord of the Rings. Here, in Faramir’s realm, the landscape is overwhelmingly beautiful, a sharp contrast to the barrenness and outward evil of Mordor. The waterfall known as the Window on the West, which functions as a cover for Faramir’s hideaway, creates a natural panorama that even the tired and hungry hobbits are delighted to admire. Indeed, perhaps the most significant aspect of Tolkien’s portrayal of the natural world in this section is that the characters within the novel themselves—not merely the narrator—are struck by the beauty of the world around them, rather than taking it for granted. Frodo and Sam are awed by the beauty of the early dawn on the cliffs even though they are still half-asleep. Here, as we see with the Ents, Tolkien infuses the novel with a powerful ecological awareness prescient for its time.