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Gollum guides Frodo and Sam through the marshland that
surrounds Mordor. The creature was once on the run from Orcs in
the area, so he knows it well. Gollum is fearful of the sun, which
he calls the “Yellow Face,” so he prefers to travel by night. The
hobbits continue to feed on lembas cakes, and they
offer some to Gollum, but he finds Elf products painful to eat.
He chokes and spits out the cake, constantly yearning for fish and
complaining that he will soon starve. As the hobbits get ready to
camp for the night, Sam worries that Gollum may trick them while
they are sleeping, so he waits until Gollum falls asleep first.
Sam whispers the word “fish” in Gollum’s ear, and when he gets no
reaction, he is satisfied that the creature poses no danger, at
least not on this night. Frodo and Sam both fall asleep, despite
Sam’s insistence on keeping one eye open, fixed on Gollum.
The next morning, the hobbits awaken to find Gollum gone. They
again discuss their concerns about their food supply. Sam repeats
that while he is not fond of lembas cakes, they
are at least nourishing and keep him on his feet. But even the lembas are
running out; Sam calculates that they have only enough left for
three more weeks. Suddenly, Gollum reappears and says he is hungry.
He leaves again, but soon returns with his face dirty with mud.
The hobbits believe that they can trust him.
Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the foul-smelling Dead Marshes,
which are haunted by the slain warriors of a great past battle.
Ghostly, floating lights surround them on the path. Gollum tells
the hobbits to ignore the lights, which could lead them into the realm
of the dead. They proceed onward for several days, nearly fainting
from the stench of the marshes. One night, the dark shape of a Nazgûl
flying overhead strikes fear into all three of the travelers. Gollum
warns that the Nazgûl see everything, and report back to their master,
the Dark Lord. Frodo is deeply disturbed by the idea that a great
power is constantly watching him.
On the fifth morning, they wake to see that they are very
close to Mordor. The land is desolate and unwelcoming, full of poison
pits. Even the stinking marshland dries up, leaving an expanse of
completely barren ground. That night, Frodo hears the dozing Gollum in
conversation with himself, torn between his need to get his “Precious”
and his conflicting vow to obey the hobbits. Gollum recognizes that
Frodo is the master of the Ring, and that he must serve the master
of his “Precious.” Frodo realizes that Gollum knows the Nazgûl are
searching for the Ring just as he is. Gollum says something about
never letting the servants of the Dark Lord get the Ring.
The next morning, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum have nearly arrived at
the gates of Mordor. The hobbits thank Gollum for fulfilling his promise
of guiding them to the gates. A Nazgûl flies overhead for the third
time, which Gollum claims is a very bad omen. Gollum refuses to
proceed, and Frodo must threaten him with a knife to make him go
In this chapter, Gollum’s character becomes more mysterious
and complicated just as the question of his trustworthiness becomes more
crucial. When Frodo initially tames Gollum in the previous chapter,
the creature is clearly the hobbit’s inferior, and the issue of his
reliability does not matter much. But as the group gets closer to Mordor,
Gollum assumes more control in relation to the hobbits. No longer
merely a passive slave under Frodo’s knife, he is now their guide,
whom they must trust—a slave with the power of a master. Gollum’s
refusal to travel by the light of the sun reminds us that he is
a creature of darkness, a corrupted opposite of Frodo. Tolkien continues
to create suspense by playing with our suspicions along with the
hobbits’ as Gollum briefly disappears and then reappears. Even after
Gollum returns, claiming total loyalty to the master of his “Precious,”
our apprehension about his motivations lingers.
The image of Gollum guiding Frodo and Sam through a barren landscape
on their way to fulfill their mission echoes similar images from
the ancient Greek and Roman epics. Tolkien, who was well studied
in the classics, was very familiar with epic tales like the Odyssey and
the Aeneid, in which the protagonists must suffer through
a distressing journey to the underworld, often guided by somewhat
shady or unsavory characters. On these ancient journeys, the heroes
often must confront the dead, along with the possibility that they
themselves may die as well. In The Two Towers, Gollum leads
the hobbits through the Dead Marshes, a realm of the dead, with
waters that contain ghostly images of the faces of slain warriors.
Much like the realms of the dead in the classical epics, the landscape
of the Dead Marshes is deeply unpleasant, devoid of life and growth.
Yet passage through this barren landscape is a necessary step for
the ultimate completion of the quest. As Gollum emphatically points
out, there is simply no other way to reach Mordor, just as in the
classical epics there was no way for the heroes to complete their
quests without a sojourn in the underworld.
Mordor continues to become an ever stronger and darker
reality in the novel. As the hobbits approach the dark land, it
becomes a clearly felt presence. The landscape bordering Mordor
is noticeably nasty, full of poison pits and barren stone outcrops,
with an overwhelming stench saturating the air. The frightening
Nazgûl flying overhead are a constant reminder
of the proximity and threat of Sauron. Even the normally solid Gollum
is deeply spooked when the Nazgûl flies overhead
for the third time, taking it as a very bad omen. This growing atmosphere
of evil, along with the uncertainty surrounding Gollum’s trustworthiness,
increases yet further the suspense that propels Book IV forward.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Two Towers!