Lotr Reread: The One Where Sam Simply Walks into Mordor

Book VI

Chapter I: The Tower of Cirith Ungol

So. There Sam was, below Cirith Ungol having knocked himself out by flinging himself against the orc door in a desperate attempt to get into the tower to rescue Frodo, who wasn’t actually dead, just comatose from a massive dose of monster-spider venom. Fortunately for everyone in the world, Sam had taken the Ring from Frodo and so the Quest is not in vain. But Sam’s not about to abandon Master Frodo to the orcs.

He searches for a way through the orc’s door for a long time, but he can’t find a doorknob or any sort of catch or hinge to get him through it. He goes back to where he found Frodo and sits down in despair. Then he puts on the Ring. His hearing is sharpened and his sight is improved, and when he hears orcs howling up in the tower, he is spurred on by the fear that they are tormenting Frodo. “His love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts, and forgetting his peril he cried aloud: ‘I’m coming Mr. Frodo!’

He ran forward to the climbing path, and over it. At once the road turned left and plunged steeply down. Sam had crossed into Mordor.”



You were saying, Boromir?


It’s a lousy view, but then, there are no great views in Mordor. It’s a wasteland filled with fumes and in the distance, there is a peak glowing red. Sam is looking across the broken, volcanic land at Mount Doom.

By the by, there’s a meme out there mocking Tolkien for inventing whole languages, and then calling the big mountain at the end simply “Mount Doom”, but Mount Doom is simply the common translation of its Númenorean name, Amon Amarth. The Elves call it Orodruin. So this one volcano has three names in three languages.

As he looks upon Mount Doom, Sam feels a change in the Ring. Though he has taken it off he can feel its power growing. He feels like he is growing suddenly, and that he has two choices: to give up, or to claim the Ring and challenge Sauron. He suddenly imagines armies flocking to his banner and himself become Samwise the String, a great hero who could overthrow Sauron and make a realm filled with gardens. All he has to do is put on the Ring and claim it.

But… Sam is a simple hobbit with simple wants, and his love for his friend, Frodo, overrides the will of the Ring. He wants to find Frodo, and if they ever get back to the Shire he wants nothing more than his own small garden to take care of, not a garden swelled to a size of a kingdom. That’s more than any hobbit needs. He shakes off the Ring’s temptations and moves on. This is why hobbits were really the only people in Middle-earth who had a chance of destroying the Ring. They are simple, happy people with little desire for power or wealth, and Sam and Frodo are the best hobbits of all. The Ring has a hard time tempting them (though it’s not impossible, as we will see).


architecture art building castle

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Anyway. Sam simply walks into Mordor and from there to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. There are creepy statues there, two Watchers keeping him from entering. Sam pulls ou Galadriel’s phial, and the light breaks the invisible barrier the Watchers had raised but alerts the Tower to his presence. Or, it would have alerted the Tower, but the orcs there all seem to be dead. They’ve all killed each other. He encounters one orc, but thanks to Sting’s Elvish glow and the menace of the Ring, it doesn’t see a frightened hobbit. It sees a shadowy warrior with great power in his hand and runs away. The next orcs Sam encounters are Shagrat (from earlier) and Snaga (who we’ve never seen before). They’re arguing about the goings-on around there, the possible presence of an Elvish warrior, and the pretty shirt that Shagrat has. The pretty shirt is Frodo’s mithril mail, and though a fight breaks out, Shagrat escapes with it. Though he is tempted to chase after Shagrat, Sam does not, and so Frodo’s mithril shirt and elvish cloak and Sam’s own sword end up in the hands of Sauron’s Lieutenant and will be used against Gandalf and Aragorn. Which we’ve already seen. Time is tricky.

Sam continues climbing the stairs, and when he finally gets to the top and still hasn’t found Frodo, he doesn’t know what to do. So he sits down for a rest and is inspired to sing a defiant little song. It alerts Snaga, who doesn’t see Sam (who wisely hid), but brought a ladder to climb up to a trapdoor in the ceiling. He starts shouting at someone in the hidden room. When he goes to whip whoever is in there, Sam rushes up the ladder and stabs at Snaga, who falls and breaks his neck. Sam then goes up into the room and finds Frodo. Hooray!

Frodo’s hands are bound, he’s naked, and huddled on a pile of dirty straw. But he is very much alive. Sam unties him and gets him on his feet. But while Sam is happy, Frodo is not. He despairs, thinking that the orcs have taken the Ring. Sam confesses that he took the Ring when he thought Frodo was dead. Frodo lights up, but a strange change comes over him. He demands that Sam return the Ring immediately.

So the Ring is back to its work of corrupting Frodo, and when Sam offers to share the terrible burden, Frodo flips out and accuses Sam of being a thief. Suddenly he no longer sees his loyal friend, but a greedy, pawing creature who wants to take the Ring away. But then the vision passes and he sees Sam kneeling in front of him in tears. “‘Oh Sam!’ cried Frodo. ‘What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never, never been found. But don’t mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can’t be altered. You can’t come between me and this doom.”

Because Sam is Sam, he forgives Frodo immediately and then turns his thoughts to the journey ahead. He goes and finds clothes for Frodo and whatever food he can scrounge up, and then they get the heck outta Cirith Ungol. The Watchers aren’t about to let them out, though, so Sam pulls out Galadriel’s phial again. But the Watchers seem to be ready for this and their invisible barrier holds. Sam suddenly thinks of the Elves back in the forest of the Shire and calls out, “Gilthoniel, A Elbereth!” the name of the Star Queen of the Valar. Frodo calls out in Elvish, too, and the power of this Elvish incantation– calling upon ancient powers– breaks the Watchers’ wills. The barrier breaks and archway above them begins to collapse. A bell rings. A winged shape descends from the clouds.


Chapter II: The Land of Shadow

The hobbits flee down the road. They can’t jump off it to hide because it’s too high above the rest of the ground, but they eventually have to risk it. There is a Nazgûl above and they can hear a company of (probably) orcs coming. They find a place they think is best and take their chances and jump off the road into the darkness.

They land about a dozen feet below in a thorn bush. It’s definitely not comfortable, but at least they’re not dead, and they’re hidden from their enemies for now. After a while, the coast is clear enough for them to start moving. Frodo sheds the orcish chainmail Sam found for him. It’s too heavy for him in his weakening state. Sam gives him his Elvish cloak to keep him warm, saying that it was made by Galadriel herself. Frodo responds, “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.” Notice that this memory problem is not affecting Sam. It’s not the dark of Mordor that is stripping away Frodo’s memory and thus his identity, it’s the power of the Ring itself. It’s starting to do to Frodo what it did to Smeagol long ago- to take away every memory of bright and happy things, leaving nothing but the knowledge that such things happened, but not the emotion of it. He knows good things happened to him once, but all he can feel now is the mental weight of the Ring weighing down his every step.

They set out, but don’t get very far before they sense a Nazgûl above them. Then there’s a change in the sky and a pale light rises overhead. There is a high, shrill cry of the Nazgûl, but they don’t fear it. This cry is filled with dismay. Something terrible has happened to the forces of Sauron. Frodo and Sam don’t know it, but it is the fifteenth of March, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is raging, and Éowyn has just killed the Lord of the Nazgûl.

The Nazgûl’s dismay gives Sam some hope but that doesn’t help Frodo. They go a bit further and then stop for a rest. This will be the pattern for a long time, as Frodo doesn’t have the strength to go for miles on end. They’re also running low on water, and in this wasteland, it will be nearly impossible to find more. But not completely impossible. Later, they stumble across a tiny stream running through the blasted cracks in the land and though the water is bitter and oily, it is cold and refreshing to them. They drink their fill and refill Sam’s water bottle. Then they set out again, struggling across the barren fields through patches of thorny bushes. Finally, they settle down so Frodo can get a few hours of sleep.

Sam keeps watch like he always does, and that night there is a break in the endless clouds. A bright star shines through the darkness. “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 for ever beyond its reach.” With that ray of hope in his heart, Sam settles down next to Frodo and falls asleep.

They struggle onward the next day, encountering a cliff they can’t climb down that gives them a great view of horrible things: Mount Doom, some forty miles away, and a vast army spread out below them. They wonder how Sauron can feed all these orcs and men where nothing but thorns grow (they don’t know about the massive slave operations Sauron has far away). They have to leave the cliff, which puts them closer to the orcs than they want to be, and all too soon they hear a couple of orc scouts arguing about a creature they were pursuing. The one lost the creature, and the other berates him for it. It’s quickly clear to Frodo and Sam that the orcs were following Gollum. So now, in addition to staying away from the orcs, they have to keep an eye out for Gollum. It’s just one thing after another. Fortunately, they don’t have to worry about these two orcs, for when one tries to run away the other shoots him and then stalks away.

Small favors?

The hobbits move on by day and by night. It’s dark and dangerous either way, but they may as well make progress whenever Frodo has the strength to move. They finally make it to the valley of Udûn, where the terrain should be easier to navigate. But there are camps of orcs everywhere. They could try to go around, but that will add days to their journey, and they don’t have the supplies for that. Trying to stay off the orcish road will add days to their trek, too, but going along it will probably get them caught. They have no good options, but the road is the swiftest option, so Sam decides that’s where they’ll go. He’s more or less the leader now that Frodo’s strength is fading. Frodo is mostly going along with whatever Sam tells him to do. They plod on, celebrating when they find a bit of water, and resting when they can find a good place to hide. One time, when Sam leaves Frodo in search of water, he returns in time to catch sight of a dark little figure lurking about their camp. He knows it’s Gollum and vows not to leave Frodo alone again.

selective focus photography of rock formation

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They struggle on like this for another twelve miles when they come to a dead end. There’s a sheer rock wall above them and orcs all around– including a company heading straight for them. Sam urges Frodo off to the side of the road and huddles down, hoping the orcs will either not notice them, or leave two weary orcs alone. But that’s not what happens. One of the orcs spots them and thinks they are deserters. He snaps his whip at them and threatens dire punishments until they get in line, and the company sets off at a quick pace. Fortunately, their orcish clothing and hoods keep their identities hidden. But while Sam can keep up well enough, it’s torturous for Frodo. “The stench of the sweating orcs about him was stifling, and he began to gasp with thirst. On, on they went and he bent all his will to draw his breath and to make his legs keep going.”

They go on like this for several miles when Frodo’s strength begins to give out completely. But there’s no way to them to slip away unseen or hide at all. If Frodo collapses they’ll be found out. The Quest will fail, and Sauron will take back the Ring.

Fortunately, fate and typical orcish temperments intervene. Their company encounters an uruk company from Barad-dur, and because orcs can’t even meet up on the road without fighting, a brawl breaks out between them. Sam takes his change and drags Frodo out of the fray and they crawl away, unseen, to the side of the road and away until they fall into a shallow pit and Frodo collapses.

Next Time: “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” Chapter III: Mount Doom.

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