Help and hope show up in unexpected places in this rather low-key chapter.
Faramir provides Frodo and Sam with as much good, ordinary food as they can reasonably carry, and also walking-staves which may be ever so slightly magical, imbued with a quality of “finding and returning”.
The hobbits bowed low. ‘Most gracious host,’ said Frodo, ‘it was said to me by Elrond Halfelven that I should find friendship upon the way, secret and unlooked for. Certainly I looked for no such friendship as you have shown. To have found it turns evil to great good.’
Of course, this invites the thought of what might have happened had Faramir been sent on the errand to Rivendell instead of Boromir – it would have been a totally different story, not least because Boromir would (probably) still be alive, and less inclined to accept Aragorn, in Minas Tirith.
‘Have they gone at last?’ said Gollum. ‘Nassty wicked Men! Sméagol’s neck still hurts him, yes it does. Let’s go!’
‘Yes, let us go,’ said Frodo. ‘But if you can only speak ill of those who showed you mercy, keep silent!’
‘Nice Master!’ said Gollum. ‘Sméagol was only joking. Always forgives, he does, yes, yes, even nice Master’s little trickses. Oh yes, nice Master, nice Sméagol!’
Gollum clearly didn’t understand (or perhaps didn’t care) about the mercy that was shown him, remembering only how he was injured.
The rest of the chapter is basically all traveling (as one might infer from the title), deeper and deeper into an unsettling silence, and then to a dawnless day.
‘Haven’t you had no sleep, Mr. Frodo?’ [Sam] said. ‘What’s the time? Seems to be getting late!’
‘No it isn’t,’ said Frodo. ‘But the day is getting darker instead of lighter: darker and darker. As far as I can tell, it isn’t midday yet, and you’ve only slept for about three hours.’
‘I wonder what’s up,’ said Sam. ‘Is there a storm coming? If so it’s going to be the worst there ever was. We shall wish we were down a deep hole, not just stuck under a hedge.’
Gollum’s slinking off again, and again Sam reiterates how much he wishes they could be rid of him while bemoaning the fact that they actually need him now more than ever if they want to get into Mordor.
‘I hope nothing has happened to him.’
‘And I hope he’s up to no tricks. And anyway I hope he doesn’t fall into other hands, as you might say. Because if he does, we shall soon be in for trouble.’
At that moment a rolling and rumbling noise was heard again, louder now and deeper. The ground seemed to quiver under their feet. ‘I think we are in for trouble anyhow,’ said Frodo. ‘I’m afraid our journey is drawing to a end.’
‘Maybe,’ said Sam; ‘but where there’s life there’s hope, as my Gaffer used to say; and need of vittles, as he mostways used to add. You have a bite, Mr. Frodo, and then a bit of sleep.’
Sam is so precious. He’s doing all this – putting up with Gollum and traveling to Mordor – for Frodo’s sake, because someone needs to help Frodo with practical matters and Sam’s been doing that for years.
Then Gollum suddenly shows up again a few hours later, and all they can get out of him is that they need to move out immediately. And so they come to the Crossroads.
Standing there for a moment filled with dread Frodo became aware that a light was shining; he saw it glowing on Sam’s face beside him. Turning towards it, he saw, beyond an arch of boughs, the road to Osgiliath running almost as straight as a stretched ribbon down, down into the West. There, far away, beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow-rolling pall of cloud, and falling in an ominous fire towards the yet unsullied Sea. The brief glow fell upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set a in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.
Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. ‘Look, Sam!’ he cried, startled into speech. ‘Look! The king has got a crown again!’
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
‘They cannot conquer for ever!’ said Frodo.
Well, there’s a metaphor for the state of Gondor if ever there was one. But I also find it particularly heartening that Frodo is the one to see hope this time – maybe not for himself, or even for his generation, but he understands that someday the Shadow will fall away. There are some things that evil can never touch.
Until next time…