Summary — The Taming of Sméagol

“Yess, wretched we are, precious. . . . Misery misery! Hobbits won’t kill us, nice hobbits.”

See Important Quotations Explained

The narrative returns to Frodo and Sam on the third day after they departed from their companions at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. The hobbits wander the barren slopes of the mountains called Emyn Muir, striving to make their way to Mordor, but frequently getting lost and having to retrace their steps. Standing on the edge of a tall cliff, they can see the way down into Mordor, but have no way to descend the cliff. Sam complains to Frodo about their desperate situation. He has been lugging cooking gear for days, but there is nothing to cook. The hobbits survive only on old lembas cakes, and Sam yearns for a pint of beer and a chunk of bread. He expresses his hope that they have lost Gollum, the creature who has been pursuing them for some time. Frodo agrees, but says that he is more troubled by the unending hills of the landscape, which torture his feet. He observes that there is no turning back, as Orc warriors now patrol the banks of the river they have crossed.

Sam and Frodo continue to follow the cliff northward for several more days, finally arriving at a spot where it appears they might be able to climb down. Sam insists on going first, against Frodo’s objections. Sam lowers himself down the cliff, when suddenly a great dark shape appears overhead with a horrible wind and a crack of thunder. Sam loses his hold on the rock and falls, but is saved by a narrow ledge below. Frodo tries to hide his face in fear, but he loses his foothold and falls down onto a ledge below. It begins to rain. Sam suddenly remembers that he has a strong, thin Elf rope in his bag. He measures it out, and finds that it is long enough to allow the two hobbits to lower themselves to the ground below.

After descending safely, Sam and Frodo prepare to go onward to Mordor. Sam regrets abandoning the rope, which is still attached to a rock overhead and cannot be untied. Suddenly, as if by magic, the rope is released and falls into his hands. Frodo suspects that the knot was not tied well, but both wonder whether it was perhaps enchantment that freed the rope.

As the hobbits huddle in the cold, Frodo spots a crawling insect-like creature on a distant cliff, clinging to the wall by its hands. Sam realizes the creature is Gollum. As the creature draws nearer, he leaps on Sam. They wrestle. Frodo draws his knife Sting from its sheath and thrusts it against Gollum’s neck, demanding obedience from the creature. Gollum is suddenly subservient and vows total servitude, but Frodo does not trust him entirely. Gollum suddenly bounds away, attempting escape. The hobbits get him back and harness him with the Elf rope, which causes Gollum great pain. Gollum again vows obedience, and this time he seems sincere. The creature leads his Hobbit masters onward to Mordor.


A sense of frustration and hopelessness colors our first glimpse of Frodo and Sam in The Two Towers, much like our first glimpse of Merry and Pippin in Book III. As we have seen frequently, the hobbits are not epic heroes who have great powers at their disposal to solve their dilemmas. Rather, they are shrewd and adaptable, using modest means and a bit of luck to yield impressive results. Indeed, in virtually all of the hobbits’ dilemmas in The Two Towers, the hobbits depend on something stronger than themselves to extricate them from their problems. Pippin profits from the fortunate fall of an Orc knife near his hand bindings in Book III, much as Frodo and Sam profit from the magic rope woven by Elves to lower themselves down the cliff in Book IV.

This chapter returns us to the fascinating character of Gollum, whom we have not seen up close since Bilbo’s encounter with the creature in The Hobbit. Gollum proves to be one of the most complex and indefinable characters in Tolkien’s novel. He is literally a slave to the Ring, as his mind focuses on his “Precious” at the exclusion of all else. Gollum’s moral nature is split quite drastically, an inward reflection of the division between Sméagol, his identity before he encountered the Ring, and Gollum, the creature he has since become. Gollum’s long-standing habit of talking aloud to himself, debating with himself in a near-neurotic manner, indicates his inner conflict and his lack of a strong sense of identity. When Gollum is subservient after Frodo tames him, he is genuinely convincing in his proclamation that he wishes to guide his new masters. Indeed, as we see many times in the upcoming chapters, Gollum stays with Frodo on many occasions when he could easily escape. Nonetheless, Gollum also proves himself treacherous on numerous occasions. Even at the very end of the novel, we are still somewhat divided between a view of Gollum as an innocent but selfish child and a view of him as a depraved and evil monster.

Frodo’s taming of Gollum highlights a potential for sternness and authority in the hobbit that we have not yet seen, as he uses the knife in a fearless and even somewhat violent manner. As we continue to see in the following chapters, Frodo displays a surprising and forceful mix of suspicion and compassion in his interactions with Gollum, fully aware of the creature’s motivation to retrieve the Ring, but sensing that he would not do anything to harm the hobbits overtly. This aura of suspicion and mistrust parallels, on a small scale, the overall atmosphere of apprehension that Sauron’s evil has cast over the whole of Middle-earth. In the character of Gollum, Tolkien injects a significant element of uncertainty into the plot, as even Gollum himself appears unsure of what he will do or what his goal is. This sense of utter unpredictability and potential danger pushes the narrative forward, keeping us in suspense throughout the entire remainder of The Two Towers as Gollum travels with the hobbits. Tolkien’s technique effectively places us in Frodo’s and Sam’s shoes: much like the hobbits, though we are aware that the wretched Gollum has selfish intentions, we have no idea when or how he might act upon them.