The Dead Marshes

As Frodo and Sam make their way to Mordor, Gollum leads them through an unpleasant region known as the Dead Marshes. As they pass through the swampland, Sam is deeply disturbed to see flickering lights in the corner of his eye, images of faces that come and go fleetingly. Frodo says that he sees the lights and faces as well. Gollum informs the hobbits that the lights are the “candles of corpses”; he tells them not to look, so as not to be seduced into following the lights. The corpses to which Gollum refers are the bodies of slain warriors—Orc, Man, and Elf—who died in a battle on the site long before.

In this sense, the Dead Marshes are a physical reminder of the way in which the present is bound to the past in the world of The Lord of the Rings. The past constantly haunts the present in the novel, whether in the form of powerful traditions, ancient songs, prophecies, or memories of those who died long ago. Moreover, the union of former enemies in death—Orcs and Men fight each other in life, but join each other in death—suggests the deep unity of creation that often goes forgotten or ignored in the world of the living. The differences and divisions that lead to war are flimsy and meaningless compared to the everlasting togetherness of death.