In the land where death and darkness reign, the most precious commodity, the thing you must cling to, savoring every ounce, is hope.
‘Well, here goes, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam. ‘Good-bye!’
He let go. Frodo followed. And even as they fell they heard the rush of horsemen sweeping over the bridge and the rattle of orc-feet running up behind. But Sam would have laughed, if he had dared. Half fearing a breaking plunge down onto unseen rocks the hobbits landed, in a drop of no more than a dozen feet, with a thud and a crunch into the last into the last thing that they had expected: a tangle of thorny bushes. […]
When the sound of hoof and foot had passed he ventured a whisper. ‘Bless me, Mr. Frodo, but I didn’t know as anything grew in Mordor! But if I had a’known, this is just what I’d have looked for. These thorns must be a foot long by the feel of them; they’ve stuck through everything I’ve got on.’
Of course, not much is generally known about the land of Mordor in the West – some records may have been kept from the days when Gondor kept watch on its borders, but it’s obviously not a popular subject to study, not least because it would seem completely useless for everyone that’s not Frodo and Sam. There are some remnants of (non-orc) life in the lee of the western mountains, the Ephel Dúath (which is not unpromising as far as water goes), but there’s also farmland by a lake east of Mount Doom, tended by Sauron’s (literal) slaves.
Frodo’s overwhelmed by the burden of the Ring, so he ends up discarding the orc-mail and replaces it with Sam’s elven-cloak.
‘That’s better!’ he said. ‘I feel much lighter. I can go on now. But this blind dark seems to be getting into my heart. As I lay in prison, Sam, I tried to remember the Brandywine, and Woody End, and The Water running through the mill at Hobbiton. But I can’t see them now.’
‘There now, Mr. Frodo, it’s you that’s talking of water this time!’ said Sam. ‘If only the Lady could see us or hear us, I’d say to her: “Your Ladyship, all we want is light and water: just clean water and plain daylight, better than any jewels, begging your pardon.” But it’s a long way to Lórien.’
I feel like Tolkien’s Catholicism is showing with his treatment of Galadriel – she’s basically venerated like the Virgin Mary (except, y’know, not a virgin). In Catholic practice, she’s very powerful, but not actually “God”, just close to God. Hence, Sam says a not-quite-prayer for assistance in their holy deed – and something seems to heed it (although not necessarily Galadriel).
‘Look at it, Mr. Frodo!’ said Sam. ‘Look at it! The wind’s changed. Something’s happening. He’s not having it all his own way. His darkness is breaking up out in the world there. I wish I could see what is going on.’
It was the morning of the fifteenth of March, and over the Vale of Anduin the Sun was rising above the eastern shadow, and the south-west wind was blowing. Théoden lay dying on the Pelennor Fields.
[…] And then they saw a shape, moving at a great speed out of the West, at first only a black speck against the glimmering strip above the mountaintops, but growing, until it plunged like a bolt into the dark canopy and passed high above them. As it went it sent out a long shrill cry, the voice of a Nazgûl; but this cry no longer held any terror for them: it was a cry of woe and dismay, ill tidings for the Dark Tower. The Lord of the Ringwraiths had met his doom.
‘What did I tell you? Something’s happening!’ cried Sam. ‘”The war’s going well,” said Shagrat; but Gorbag, he wasn’t so sure. And he was right there too. Things are looking up, Mr. Frodo. Haven’t you got some hope now?’
‘Well, no, not much, Sam,’ Frodo sighed. ‘That’s away beyond the mountains. We’re going east not west. And I’m so tired. And the Ring is so heavy, Sam. And I begin to see it in my mind all the time, like a great wheel of fire.’
Their friends in the West are making enough of a difference that they can see it even in Mordor, but that’s still not going to make their task any easier. But then they discover something that definitely helps with their practical concerns.
They had trudged for more than an hour when they heard a sound that brought them to a halt. Unbelievable, but unmistakable. Water trickling. Out of a gully on the left, so sharp and narrow that it looked as if the black cliffs had been cloven by some huge axe, water came dripping down: the last remains, maybe, of some sweet rain gathered from sunlit seas, but ill-fated to fall at last upon the walls of the Black Land and wander fruitless down into the dust. […]
Sam sprang towards it. ‘If ever I see the Lady again, I will tell her!’ he cried. ‘Light and now water!’
Despite these blessings, even Sam is daunted by the prospect of crossing Mordor with one water bottle and some lembas bread, especially since Frodo is constantly slowed down by the weight of the Ring.
Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo’s hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Dúath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting aside all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.
Even if they ultimately fail, Sauron’s power won’t last forever. Someday, another hero would rise up and defeat him.
Meanwhile, Gollum is starting to make his presence known again – and whether intentionally or not, he ends up helping them by (literally) throwing the orcs off their scent. Although he also nabbed the mail-shirt Frodo dropped, which in turn may have saved his life.
‘All right, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘Lead me! As long as you’ve got any hope left. Mine is gone.’
They’re both in a bad place, but Sam still has hope, if only because he’s finally come to terms with the idea that if the world is saved, it won’t really be by his own abilities, but because some power greater than Sauron made a way for them. Frodo, I think it’s fair to say, is in constant conflict with the Ring and its maker, perhaps believing that if he loses focus he’ll fail. It’s consuming his thoughts, and he’s not doing anything anymore without Sam’s direction.
Then, while they’re walking on the main road, they get caught up by a band of orcs. The good news is that they’re mistaken for orcs. The bad news is even orcs aren’t free to do as they please in Mordor, so they’re forced to march with the other orcs heading toward the confrontation at the Gate.
Again, this is probably a blessing in disguise, as they make better time than they otherwise would have, and eventually they escape when there’s a scuffle between several different companies of orcs at an intersection.
‘Come on, Mr. Frodo!’ he whispered. ‘One more crawl, and then you can lie still.’
With a last despairing effort Frodo raised himself on his hands, and struggled on for maybe twenty yards. Then he pitched down into a shallow pit that opened unexpectedly before them, and there he lay like a dead thing.
Next time: Mount Doom…