Contemplating Mathoms and Possession

Tolkien begins The Lord of the Rings in a very particular way. The “Long Expected Party” serves two purposes: to reference the “Unexpected Party” of The Hobbit and to establish one of the central themes of the novel.

The first chapter of The Hobbit functions as an introduction on many levels. Readers are presented with the figure of Bilbo and the staid, comfortable life of hobbits, seemingly an inauspicious start to an adventure novel. Bilbo is also subjected to a long series of introductions, both literally and figuratively. This chapter marks the beginning of his transformation, one which is largely completed by “The Long Expected Party.”

The first chapter of The Lord of the Rings describes the combined birthday celebrations of Bilbo and Frodo. The primary purpose of this party, as Bilbo finally admits to Gandalf, is to “give away lots of birthday presents, and somehow make it easier to give [the Ring] away at the same time” (LotR 34). The shadow of the Ring lies over the entire chapter and should color all preceding festivities. But this brings up the rather curious nature of Hobbit birthday customs: in place of receiving gifts, they give them.

Hobbits give presents to their guests on their birthday; usually items of little worth and often simply mathoms. Tolkien defines mathoms as items for which a hobbit “[has] no…use for, but [is] unwilling to throw away” (LotR 5). Mathoms accumulate quickly, as “in Hobbiton and Bywater every day… [is] somebody’s birthday…so every hobbit… [has] a fair chance of at least one present…a week” (LotR 27). More often than not, these gifts simply end up gathering dust or in Michel Delving (the mathom house). Another common use for mathoms is re-gifting, often making the full circuit of the Shire. This act must be the customary practice as Bilbo is particularly noteworthy for keeping “those that he received” (LotR 37).

In the case of this particular party, however, the gifts are exceedingly good, from Dale and the Mountain. They are exquisite, intricate, possibly even magical; and definitely something to be treasured. So extraordinary are these gifts that there are even some guests who pass through the line multiple times so as to receive more than one.

Bilbo’s gifts stem from a true spirit of generosity and giving of oneself. He even admits that he has spent the last of his reward from the Quest for Erebor in order to give so lavishly. Celebrating the Christmas season, this message is particularly poignant. In this hobbit tradition, the true nature of generosity and a proper disposition towards possessions is shown. Granted there are those who return, grasping for more, but generally the practice shows a desire to share joy and love rather than material goods.

There is much more to be seen under the surface, however, and is even explicitly shown in the hobbits. Possession has a dual nature, both positive and negative. It is this dual nature which Tolkien explores as the central theme of The Lord of the Rings.

The dual nature of the word possession is immediately recognizable. According the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word is defined as “the act of having or taking into control…something owned…domination by something” (merriam-webster.com). The term originates from Latin roots meaning “occupancy…to have in one’s control,” meanings which take on a much more sinister meaning in the modern usage (dictionary.reference.com). In his capacity as both linguist and philologist, Tolkien definitely was aware of this word’s apparent duplicity.

There is a danger in possession. Eventually one always has to ask, who possesses whom? This is one of the root themes of Tolkien’s work, not only in The Lord of the Rings, but throughout the entire Lengendarium.

“The Long Expected Party” is a study in the nature of possession. The reader is shown the generous, fun, and rather care-free attitude of the hobbits towards gifts. At the same time, they’re shown the dark (though certainly not as dark as these matters will become) underbelly with both the ‘returning customers’ at the gate and the establishment of Michel Delving (hoarding). Possession of another kind is evident even in the gorging at the day long feast.

All of this acts as the prelude to the climax of the chapter: Bilbo’s struggle to relinquish the Ring. The Ring is shown to be both the precious possession and the ultimate possessor. It has the power to change the personality and even affect the actions of the possessed. Bilbo’s anger and unwitting struggles to place the Ring’s envelope on the mantel are proof of this. He may attribute these actions to himself, but these are the clues which totally unnerve Gandalf, and set him on the course towards discovering the true nature of Bilbo’s ring.

This is one of the most important themes of the book, if not the most critical to its fullest understanding. In the dual nature of this singular word, the reader is constantly confronted by one question: is the Ring acting on the world? Is it a passive bystander? Or is it subtly twisting the actions, desires, and passions of those around it to achieve its own ends?

Advertisements

The Hobbit: TBotFA, Second Impressions

I went to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies again last Friday. It was a different experience. Though it did nothing to change my criticisms of the film, it definitely tempered them in a way such that I did enjoy/appreciate the movie this time around.

The major cause of this change, was largely a change of perspective. I came to the movie the second time with (unbelievably) even lower expectations, having seen what had been done. I also came prepared, knowing this last movie epitomizes the Hollywood blockbuster fantasy adventure: little substance, chock full of over-the-top action. And ultimately, that this was not Tolkien; which only makes the few subtly adapted scenes the harder to bear because the vision of what may have been is clear.

I left the theater more conflicted than before, if that is possible. Though I had found the key to enjoying the film, it meant eviscerating it of its heart and source. I left deeply saddened. I also left relieved, knowing this is the end of the movies, and thankful that the Tolkien Estate is vehemently (rightly so!) opposed to selling further film rights. It is sad our film journey has ended. But with the mauling The Hobbit has endured in this adaptation, I am glad it is over, so that minimally the compulsory cycle of one-up-manship which has occurred is halted.

That obsessive need to compete with The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and even The Hobbit‘s preceding films, is the root of all that is wrong with TBotFA, and even the entire Hobbit franchise.

Given that, as a film it works, and is even highly enjoyable. My mom went with me for this viewing. She’s read the book once, so she has an overall sense for what should occur, but was not perturbed when the film strayed. Interestingly, she also found the movie at times overly sentimentalized, though she really liked the idea of Tauriel and Kili’s relationship. In her view, it was nice to see a cross-racial, cross-culture, contra-enmity relationship formed. In particular, as I came to see discussing it with her later, this love proves to be a great foil for Thranduil in his lovelessness and   callousness towards non-elves. As discussed in previous reviews, it seems likely, with this film, that the target audience has largely shifted towards favoring the film-fanatics rather than the Tolkienites (who often are film fanatics as well). That being said, many issues raised in my previous reviews make sense from a purely cinematic angle, as they are a pragmatic means to an end, requiring no knowledge of the legendarium.

For someone with that knowledge, however, such moves ring false. In the early Hobbit films, and definitely in the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the movies stood in tension with the text. Sometimes they faithfully followed the lead of the written word, sometimes shortened it, sometimes extrapolated from it, and other times followed flights of fancy. More often than not, where distortions, additions or changes occurred, however, they still were in service to the story at large (both cinematic and textual), challenging the viewer to more fully contemplate the choices made. This has worked so successfully though because the film-makers/writers never lost sight of either the film or the text, keeping the two in balance. That balance has been tipped further with each Hobbit film, and finally capsized with the final.

From the beginning, I have said that Howard Shore’s score is the heart and soul of the films. For The Hobbit trilogy, his music has not seemed as powerful as in the original LotR trilogy. Watching TBotFA again, I’ve come to realize why. To an ever increasing extent, the score is subverted by the action. Little time is given over to the development of the music as was done in the original trilogy. It is a problem which has grown worse as each film has come out. I can remember vividly the music throughout the LotR’s films. Often times, they evoked goosebumps or even tears.

In original film trilogy, the score is essentially through-composed. Where there is silence, it tends to be brief, or even work as a musical pause creating tension before the onslaught of the next theme. An Unexpected Journey has a few moments of soaring music, as does The Desolation of Smaug, but the score is generally only given its legs during large set pieces to introduce a travel interlude or new location (barring a few exceptions). It is rarely allowed to reach beyond the establishment or repetition of a leit-motif. The Battle of the Five Armies is worse. There are significant portions of the film with no music at all. Where is the score comes through, it is exceedingly brief, allowed almost no time whatsoever to establish itself. In other cases it is consigned to the background, barely present.

This is not a criticism of Shore’s work (which is brilliant, heard in the soundtracks), but rather how it is used. There is a radical difference in how the score is used between The Hobbit films and The Lord of the Rings. In TBotFA especially, the music usually expresses itself in the pauses between action, between speech, between places. Very rarely does it occur during. Two moments came close to the evocative power of the original films: the armory scene in Erebor, which develops the Esgaroth theme (from the liner notes: combining it with Bard’s theme, the elves’, and the Mountain’s), and a brief horn call after Thorin’s death, which evokes a sense of Siegfried’s funeral march from Gotterdammerung.

As I had questions still about Galadriel’s actions in Dol Guldur, I paid particular attention to those scenes this time around. When Galadriel first arrives at Gandalf’s side in Dol Guldur, Sauron is heard invoking a portion of the poem of ring-lore,

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

-Lord of the Rings, v

The implication, therefore, is that the power shown from Galadriel is from her ring: Nenya, the ring of Adamant. Seeing the film a second time, I’m not sure if this is the case or not. There is no attention drawn to the ring itself during Galadriel’s banishment of Sauron and the Nazghul, but rather all to the Phial and the light of Earendil’s star, it is possible this is an unintended correlation. There is the oddity of Galadriel’s change of appearance, which visually relates to her look when tempted with the Ring by Frodo in Fellowship. This would appear to indicate some use of Nenya, which would also explain the slight differences. Again, the Phial makes sense, use of the Ring does not!

In the end, seeing it again did not effectively change my opinion. The issues I discussed in my first reactions remain largely unchanged. I have found enjoyment in the film, though. I am saddened by the lens I must use to do so.

Reading The Hobbit: Riddles in the Dark or Let’s Play with the Monster who wants to EAT Me!

Riddles in the Dark is probably the most famous and well-known piece of Tolkien’s writing. This is primarily due to the great character he introduced here which is wholly unlike anything to come before or after in literary history: Gollum.

What makes the chapter even more fascinating, beyond its own merits as a tale, is the fact that it played a crucial role in the creation of The Hobbit’s sequel, The Lord of the Rings. It is well-known that Tolkien returned to this book, and largely this chapter to revise the tale in line with its successor. However, rather than toss the original form, Tolkien makes of this revision a meta-narrative, folding the revision into the new and more sinister conception of the Ring.

The revision becomes part of Bilbo’s story. The original tale of Gollum’s “gift” is the story Bilbo tells the world, and initially reports in his diary (The Hobbit). The tale most of us are familiar with today, as currently published, is the true tale of the finding of the Ring by chance and the harrowing escape from Gollum.

I received a copy of John D. Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit this past Christmas, so of course I made a beeline for this chapter! Rateliff’s book publishes the earliest surviving manuscripts of Tolkien’s Hobbit. (Though not terribly different from the first edition text, I will be returning to this post to insert that text as well, where different from either edition).  The remarkable fact is that there is very little difference between the first story and the second history.

The wording of the finding of the ring versus the Ring is very interesting:

In the first:

Certainly he did find what felt like a ring of metal lying on the floor in the tunnel. He put it in his pocket; but that didn’t help much.” (THoTH p151 vol. 1)

And in the revised:

“...till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket, almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.” (TH p81)

Notice the addition of the words “suddenly” and “without thinking.” These two slight changes are actually monumental in their implications. It is said later by Gandalf in the FotR that Bilbo was indeed meant to find the Ring.  His deduction is based on the fact that Bilbo finds the Ring by chance occurrence in the dark. How easy it would have been for his hand to slip past the Ring over the rock! So too the second change is crucial to an understanding of the fact that the Ring left Gollum and chose Bilbo. Here we see, as is much more pronounced in the LotR, the same association of the Ring with seemingly subconscious and automatic action. It may seem a stretch, but the wording is too similar to not imply the same relationship between Ring and bearer.

First, there’s Bilbo’s fire side scene:

“At first he put it on the mantelpiece, but suddenly he removed it and stuck it in his pocket.” (LotR 34)

And during Frodo’s scene 17 years later:

“…then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away-but he found that he had put it back in his pocket.” (TH 59)

It is a very slight resemblance, yes, but it is there none the less, and begs the question if this was the reasoning behind the change in the wording.

One of the things I’ve always wondered at during the “Shadows of the Past” is when Frodo expresses such dismay at Gollum’s ownership of the Ring; surely he knew of this part of the Ring’s history. Yet if we look at the original draft, Gollum, though in some ways a very honorable monster (I’ll get to this later), is quite a bit more monstrous than the final version. This is how he was once described:

“…as dark as darkness except for two big round pale eyes…” with” …pale lamp-like eyes…like telescopes” and “long fingers” (THoTH p155 vol.1 ) and “long webby [feet]” (THoTH p158 vol. 1)

It is obvious from this description, Gollum is quite far from the depraved hobbit he will become. I wonder though, if this description somehow remained in Bilbo’s retelling of the true (revised) tale to Frodo. If so, this would certainly explain Frodo’s disgust upon the discovery that Gollum is indeed a hobbit just like Frodo and Bilbo, and maybe not such a monster after all!

Between the two versions, the riddle game largely remains unchanged, with one exception: the declared reward for the winner. Gollum remains quite enthusiastic about eating Bilbo in either case, but Bilbo’s reward is quite different:

“If precious asks, and it doesn’t answer, we gives it a present: Gollum.” (THoTH p156 vol. 1)

vs.

“If it asks us, and we doesn’t answer, then we does what it wants, eh? We shows it the way out, yes!” (TH 87)

Unbeknownst to Bilbo, this proposed gift is the very ring he placed in his pocket earlier. The Riddle Game ensues, with the same result, Bilbo wins. How Gollum reacts is quite different in either version of the tale. In the first, Gollum is immediately ready and willing to hand over his present, Bilbo has nothing to worry about.

“For one thing the Gollum had learned long long ago was never to cheat at the riddle game.” (THoTH p 160 vol. 1)

So Gollum paddles off to his island to retrieve the ring, only to find it’s gone. As in the revised tale, he wails and shrieks and scrambles about it distress. However, in this instance it is to be wondered whether this is more due to the fact that he cannot fulfill his promise or due to the loss of the ring. Gollum, very apollogetically, explains the situation to Bilbo and the nature of his present, even so far as describing its powers. The narrator (presumably Bilbo) admits “I don’t know how many times Gollum begged Bilbo’s pardon” (THoTH p160 vol. 1).

Gollum, in this incarnation, is perfectly honorable and nothing like you’d expect of the monster waiting to eat you in the dark. He holds true to his word, and when he cannot, instead of “offering a substitute reward” he is “pathetically eager to make good on his debt” (THoTH p167 vol. 1).  Though monstrous in appearance, and monstrous in appetite, Gollum is still honor bound by the riddle game and its agreed upon reward. It is hard, reading this segment of the original version, to see Gollum as a monster at all.

It is all turned around. Bilbo of course soon realizes what he really has in his pocket.  What does he do? Does he tell Gollum? No, “Finding’s keeping!” (THoTH p 160 vol 1) Not only that, but he guilts Gollum into giving him further reward, saying:

“‘Never mind, the ring would have been mine now if you could have found it, so you haven’t lost it. And I will forgive you on one condition…Help me to get out of these places.” (THoTH p161 vol. 1)

Gollum, now established as the more honorable of the two, docily agrees, and leads Bilbo to the tunnel leading to the back door. Bilbo does experiment with the ring in the tunnel following Gollum, but removes it and puts it back in his pocket after a short test. And so he is spotted by the goblins.

Now to return to the current or true version of the tale.

In the original tale, as in the final, upon winning the riddle contest, Bilbo places his back against the wall with Sting out prepared for devilry on Gollum’s part. In the first case, his worry was completely unfounded. In the second, he was right. Losing the contest, Gollum “[is] angry…and hungry…and he already [has] a plan” (TH 95). He convinces Bilbo he must return to his island to get some items in preparation for the journey out. As in the original, though now unknown to Bilbo, he returns to find the Ring.

Discovering the Ring is gone, Gollum soon jumps to the conclusion that the Ring is the answer to Bilbo’s last “riddle.” He returns in a rage, and Bilbo, now wondering and afraid, feels for the Ring in his pocket and it slips on. Again, as in the finding, this is not a conscious decision. And so Bilbo discovers the nature of his find.

Gollum rushes through the tunnels thinking Bilbo actually knows the way out, and all Bilbo has to do is follow. That is, until Golum reaches the final tunnel and can go no further. Here Bilbo is met with great temptation: to rid the world of this monster. An internal battle ensues:

“He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.” (TH p 102)

All this courses through Bilbo’s mind, and just as quickly he makes his decision and makes his fateful leap to escape. Gandalf will tell Frodo later, when describing this moment:

“It was Pity that stayed his hand…And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.” (LotR 58)

And so, with a few simple changes, Tolkien, or should I say Bilbo, has set the stage for the first eucatastrophic moment of the Lord of the Rings, established Bilbo as the more honorable character and primed Gollum for all his future deeds.

Let’s return to the final moments of the chapter in the “true” version. Bilbo leaps over Gollum and rushes up the tunnel to the goblin guard chamber before the back door, all while still wearing the Ring. Or so he thinks. Reaching the chamber, he is shocked to find the goblins can see him.

“Whether it was an accident, or a last trick of the ring before it took a new master, it was not on his finger.” (TH 104)

As many of the other revisions, this one is quite small. Like the others, however, it bears great weight. This contrary aspect of the Ring: it’s apparent ability to change size and weight is of great import in the larger legendarium. This trait alone causes the death of Isildur and leads to Gollum finding the Ring, and much later allows the Ring to leave Gollum for Bilbo. It is a defining moment in the transition of the ring to the Ring, the one Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The comparison of the two texts is eye opening. Yes, some of the “tale” is related in the “history” in both The Hobbit’s current edition and in the Lord of the Rings, but it is really worth reading in full. What is really amazing is how well the meta-narrative ends up working. It follows the “truism” that the best lies are made of the most truth. Extremely little of the structure or sequence of events is changed. Really the only overt change is the addition of Bilbo’s great leap and his great decision which immediately precedes it.

This parity only lends further credence to the notion of the cover up by Bilbo. Also the nature of Gollum, and Bilbo’s logic in keeping the ring in the original lends itself well towards building up Bilbo as the burglaring type, at the same time as it should (and does) cause suspision. It is a rather weak tale, when the “monster” ends up more sympathetic than the hero. Tolkien painstakingly made these revisions, I’m sure, and I can only say I am thankful and amazed at his brilliant sollution: not to reject the original, but to explain its origin as a part of the fabric of the new tale that he was documenting in the LotR.

Secondary Impressions, TH:AUJ

I just got home from seeing The Hobbit for the second time, this time in 3d at 24 fps. As expected, having seen the film once, knowing what to expect, I was a bit freer to just sit back and enjoy the ride this time around. This doesn’t mean the elements I found distasteful previously were palatable, but that I was able to overlook them to find the more redeeming aspects of the film’s interpretation.

Actually, what caught my attention most this go around were more differences of vision; ie. how Jackson and Co’s vision of the locales of Middle Earth, and various scenes differed from my own. These sort of issues I am happy to embrace, as everyone is entitled to their own imagination. The sad part is that often films banish nascent visions of the new reader and replace them with their own.

Though the film’s Dale, Erebor and Goblin town are awe inspiring sites, they are completely foreign to my own interpretation. For myself, I’ve never actually had a clear vision of Dale, I just know Jackson’s is not it. The Erebor of the film is much too grandiose and expansive within. I envision a much more hewn, architectural character, rather than the expansive hollow shell of mammoth proportions. Remember Gloin speaking with Frodo at the House of Elrond?

“Gloin began then to talk of the works of his people…’We have done well…But in metal-work we cannot rival our fathers, many of whose secrets are lost…Only in mining and building have we surpassed the old days. You should see the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain’s sides!” (LotR 223)

Moria is meant to be the great palatial city of the dwarves in ancient days, not Erebor. Initially it is but a shadow, later to be embellished and built upon after the quest for the Mountain. The film’s Erebor is much too grand, and makes the Mountain into too much of a hollow roof, rather than giving the feeling of something that has been pain-stakingly carved out over time. This is not to say Erebor is claustrophobic or rustic, but it should be entirely different in character to Khazad-dum and akin to a younger sibling.

My reaction to Goblin-town is similar. It is much too expansive and open. Part of the horror and confusion of Goblin Town is its claustrophobia, its overarching darkness, the crushing weight of stone. I can see the “throne room” of the Goblin-King being open and cavernous like the film, but the rest should consist of constricted and tortuous tunnels and dark caverns…a haunting and disconcerting environment wholly absent beyond Gollum’s cave.

However, though Jackson’s vision does not conform to my own, it still works (particularly Goblin-Town) for the type of film he created. They fit within his own canon of Middle Earth. And my consolation remains that my own vision of these parts of the tale may remain untarnished and wholly my own.

Seeing the movie again only reinforced the genius of Jackson’s team when it comes to casting…none more-so than the casting of New Zealand as Middle Earth and Howard Shore as the creator of its emotional soul.  Yes the actual character actors are great, but these two elements are as much characters as any of them. No place on earth could better reflect the nature of Middle Earth on Earth than New Zealand. And no cinematic score can do a better job of evoking the sense and soul of Middle Earth than Howard Shore’s. One of the interesting things about this endeavor is that now after four films and about ten years the true scope and meaning of Shore’s music can come to light. I was able to follow many of his leit-motifs throughout the film, and actually use them as they are meant to…adding layers of meaning unsaid to the action on screen. This is particularly true of the Shire motif, the Ring, and what I would call the Ring Wraith or evil motif. It will take many more viewings and study of the soundtracks to fully appreciate, but in this the music is finally coming into its own as an ever more active character in Middle Earth.

So with my analytical hat largely left behind, I was able to more fully appreciate the scenes J&Co got right. The “Good Morning” scene is priceless and was great to see. I liked the Unexpected Party, largely due to Bilbo’s reactions throughout. Though not present in the book, I loved the wager scene where the quest truly begins.

Galadriel and Gandalf’s relationship is wonderfully realized during the White Council scene. In a few glances, some body language and speaking mind to mind we are able to see the mutual admiration and respect the two have for each other. As well as some of how Galadriel favors Gandalf over Saruman. It is a masterful stroke. This also establishes the skill of the Wise to speak mind to mind, which only reappears on the trek home at the end of LotR.

I still am troubled by the Morgul blade fiasco and the “tomb of Angmar” as this treads in dangerous territory and appears to be setting up Angmar as something other than the Witch-King, the King of the Ring-Wraiths. The idea that the men of the North could defeat him and seal him in a tomb is preposterous if this is to be one and the same character. Unless the thought is that in “death,” Angmar loses his corporeal form to become fully wraith? And in the wars of the North he was still but a king of men, but bearer of one of the nine, not yet fully turned? I’ll admit it is a curious and exciting idea, if true, but ultimately completely unfounded in Tolkien’s written word which explicitly states in the appendices with regards to the fall of Angmar and Arthedain:

“Then so utterly was Angmar defeated that not a man nor an orc of that realm remained west of the Mountains.

But it is said that when all was lost suddenly the Witch-king himself appeared, black-robed and black masked upon a black horse. Fear fell upon all who beheld him; but he singled out the Captain of Gondor (Earnur) for the fullness of his hatred, and with a terrible cry he rode straight upon him. Earnur would have withstood him; but his horse could not endure that onset, and it swerved and bore him far away before he could master it.

Then the Witch-king laughed, and none that heard it ever forgot the horror of that cry. But Glorfindel rode up then on his white horse , and in the midst of his laughter the Witch-king turned to flight and passed into the shadows. For night came down on the battlefield, and he was lost, and none saw whither he went.

Earnur now rode back, but Glorfindel, looking into the gathering dark, said: “Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.” These words many remembered; but Earnur was angry, desiring only to be avenged for his disgrace.

So ended the evil realm of Angmar; and so did Earnur, Captain of Gondor, earn the chief hatred of the Witch-king; but many years were still to pass before that was revealed” (LotR, Appendix A, pp 1026-7)

As stated in my previous review, the Riddles in the Dark scene was near perfect. Though the nature of Gollum’s personality is not explicitly established in the books, the film continues the dual/split personality of the previous trilogy to great effect. The scene is chilling, humorous and touching all at the same time. I can rationalize some of my issues with the finding of the Ring, as there are still hints of actual “finding,” but the scene still reads as a conscious decision on Bilbo’s part to seek out and find it, rather than the subconscious and accidental finding of the book:

“He…crawled a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel…He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.” (TH 68)

The finding of the ring is completely subconscious, a chance occurrence in the dark. When Bilbo asks “What have I got in my pocket?” it is not a question for Gollum, he’s wondering himself. He doesn’t know what he has. It can be argued whether Providence, Grace or even the Ring influenced this outcome, but what is certain is that Bilbo had no conscious part in it.

Following the game of riddles, comes Bilbo’s escape. In the last moments, where the light of the sun is visible and the way out clear, Bilbo is stopped by Gollum, firmly planted in his way. This scene has become one of my favorites. It wonderfully conveys the internal struggle of Bilbo in an external way, showing the triumph of pity and mercy in a tangible manner. It also firmly establishes the emptiness and lost character of Gollum, truly making him pitiable. It is a marvelously executed scene. Granted Bilbo’s great leap leaves something to be desired, but it is still a greatly touching scene, that adds much to the nature of both hobbits.

Lastly, there’s Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire. I don’t think there is much more to say here, other than that on second viewing my frustration with this scene, as previously described, remains.

As to the 24 fps versus 48 fps question, I remain undecided. Both have distinctive qualities that make one either better or worse, but neither truly wins me over to one side or the other. I felt the 3d aspect was actually much more powerful and evident in the 48fps, but the 24fps felt smoother and more cinematic. The 48 fps, as has been said by others, often feels more like a documentary and often the the action seems choppy and hyper speed. It takes getting used to. I do have this to say though, Jackson and Co. have given us an excellent excuse to go see the movie at least three times!

I had meant to also discuss the Battle of Azanulbizar, but I’ve already gone on for quite a bit longer than I’d originally intended, so I’ll leave that for another time.

In Review: Splintered Light

Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World by Verlyn Flieger is probably one of the best books of Tolkien analysis I have ever read. I highly recommend it. The problem with reviewing this book, therefore, is to narrow what I discuss, as otherwise I’d be retelling the entire book. My copy stands testament as practically half the pages are marked, annotated or highlighted.

Flieger’s primary focus traces the theme of light and dark and its fragmentation and dimunition through time in Tolkien’s Legendarium.  It is particularly engrossing with regards to Tolkien’s development of Quenya and Sindarin in conjunction with his mythology. Here, she describes the theory of Owen Barfield and the unity of myth and language, a philosophy espoused by him and Tolkien. To paraphrase Tolkien, Language is the disease of Mythology.

Flieger begins the book by discussing the nature of philological thought as it developed during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Her main focus is on Barfield and Tolkien and how they shifted the paradigm away from the theories of Max Müller, who claimed myth was a byproduct of semantic misapprehension. Words are applied to nature and grow into metaphor, rather than exhibiting the semantic unity and subsequent splintering of Barfield and Tolkien.

As an introduction to philological thought and mythology, Flieger’s book is an excellent starting point. She gives the basic premise of the theory, but enough tantalizing detail that I greatly look forward to the chance to read Barfield’s Poetic Diction.

Most of Flieger’s analysis focuses on the nature of Light and Dark in the Silmarllion and the extent to which the inhabitants of Arda are either of the light or of the dark.  In his use of Quenya and Sindarin, Tolkien demonstrates Barfield’s theory through example. He also demonstrates his own belief that language is the disease of mythology. In his languages and his legendarium language as we know it is wholly changed. What is metaphor is made fact, and what is many words may become one.

The most complete example is simply what the elves call themselves.  When awoken on the shores of Cuivienen, the elves first exclaim “ela!” behold! at the sight of the stars above,  irrevocably tying their tongue to perception of light. They name themselves Quendi: ‘those that speak with voices.’

From here they are split between the Calaquendi and the Moriquendi, the Light Speakers and the Dark Speakers, those who follow the Valar and those who remain in the darkness of Middle Earth. Not only do the names describe their relation to the light, ie. that of Valinor and the trees, but they also take on metaphoric meaning in “enlightenment and obfuscation.” The names tell a story, particularly when acknowledged that the second, the Moriquendi, is the name given to the Avari by the Calaquendi, therefore adding a layer of judgement. But in the literal sense the names are also true, as the first see the light, while the second refuse it.

Upon arrival in Valinor, the elves split again; and again their natures and names relate directly to their proximity and affinity for the Light. “They are the Vanyar (the Fair Elves), the Noldor (the Deep Elves), and the Teleri (the Lastcomers).” The Vanyar have golden hair and remain always in the Light. The Noldor are the wise, but they are only “wise in the sense of possessing knowledge, not in the sense of possessing sagacity, sound judgement” (Silmarillion 344). As with the Moriquendi, here again there is a sense of judgment in the name. And the Teleri, the last, are those who hesitate in the face of the Light and cannot fully embrace it. In each sense, Tolkien is referring to Light in all its conotations: physical light, goodness, enlightenment and knowledge. Through his use of Quenya and later Sindarin (which itself exhibits the same qualities of dimunition as it is the language of M. E. and removed from the light of Valinor), Tolkien expresses this experience of the encounter with the Light, particularly in the use of names.

Ultimately, it is a fascinating study of how Tolkien used his language in his mythology, not just to be tacked on as seasoning but to be a mythology of its own in parallel and supporting the narrative myth.

Verlyn Flieger makes an astute statement with regards to language and myth, which I will let speak for itself:

“To hear or speak a new language is to be, for the moment, in a new and strange world created by unfamiliar words expressing different perceptions and a different imaginative vision – in effect a Secondary World whose colors are refracted through the prism of language. We may say, then, that any world in which human beings live and speak is sub-created by their words and is thus a Secondary World. We can never experience directly what was spoken into being with the first Word-the Logos-only what humanity speaks and makes with splintered light. (95)”

In this we are subject to the fall; unable to fully experience the Light as much of our perception is also governed by our speech. However, in sub-creation, making by the law in which we are made, language may approach they unity it once held.

Splintered Light’s main focus is The Silmarillion; following the persistent metaphor of splintered light throughout the history of Middle Earth. Flieger ends the book, though, by applying the same theories to the decision of Frodo on Mount Doom.

According to Flieger, Frodo exemplifies the duality of light and dark as he journeys to Mordor. He travels “against the light for the light’s sake” by going into the darkness of both Mordor and within himself. His battle with the Ring and it’s power over him are largely internal, and thrive off the darkness already within. This all makes sense and lends itself to a deeper and nuanced understanding of the tale. However, I take issue with Flieger’s analysis of the final moments at the Cracks of Doom. She states:

“In a final, shattering reversal, Frodo’s defeat in Mordor, his utter surrender to the Ring, is transformed by Gollum, who here if ever must do what he most wants to do. He repossesses the Ring and falls into the Cracks of Doom. This inadvertent victory, however, does not lessen the bleakness of Frodo’s defeat. Here is no eucatastrophe, no consolation giving a glimpse of joy. What happens to Frodo is katastrophe, the downward turn in the action, when the hero is overcome. (152)”

I have to say I categorically reject this notion. I can understand it and the apparent logic behind it, but I do not think it takes other key factors into account. As I see it, Frodo’s final surrender to the power of the Ring is a moment of discatastrophe, as Flieger states. However, it is simultaneously a moment of great Joy. For in this moment, the Ring is wrested from him and destroyed, through apparent chance, the quintessential definition of eucatastrophe and the work of Grace. On a macro scale, this is the eucatastrophic moment of the tale, bringing about the victory for the peoples of the West. But as Flieger points out, at first glance it appears to be a moment of utter darkness for Frodo.

However, as seen in my previous post on eucatastrophe and discatastrophe, Frodo could never have succeed in the letter of the quest. And to take the Ring from him  would break his mind, a fact stated multiple times. But it is seen that in the destruction of the Ring, even though taken by force, Frodo is immediately at peace. The weight has been lifted and the darkness banished. This is not to say he is unchanged, but for Frodo to return to the Light the Ring had to be destroyed, and the only way for that to occur is through Frodo’s surrender to it. The true eucatastrophe and heroism of Frodo is not bound in this moment at the edge of the Cracks of Doom but along the entire journey to them. One thing I’ve noticed lately is that Frodo almost never refers to the quest in light of the Ring’s destruction, but almost always in terms of getting it to Mordor. This trend only becomes more obvious the closer they get to Orodruin. His heroic deed is the journey and the mercy he showed to others along the way.

As we cannot fully perceive the Light without the aid of Providence, Frodo cannot cast off the darkness within, strengthened and hardened by the Ring, without Providential aid. To say this moment is a catastrophe is too limited. Yes it is a failure of will on Frodo’s part, but it is not unexpected shackled to the Ring. Following the destruction of the Ring, Sam observes Frodo beside him, using these words,

“And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire. (926)”

Frodo is not healed, nor can he ever be fully in Middle Earth, but he is spared madness and grief; he is made free of the darkness in his soul, and if this is not eucatastrophe, I do not know what is. For here, at the micro scale, the deepest darkness to which Frodo sank, without hope of return, has turned to light.

The Beauty of the Choices of Master Samwise

I’ve been listening to the Lord of the Rings audio book, as narrated by Rob Inglis, for the last month. It has been an interesting journey. Listening to the tale has allowed me to enter into the story as never before both intellectually and emotionally.

For instance, for myself I’ve never felt the draw of Samwise Gamgee as a potent force, or experienced the true emotional power of the scene at Cirith Ungol. In some ways, as I’ve stated before, Sam is too normal, too like us, the reader, to really evoke the same reaction as the other heroes in the War of the Ring. Yes this makes him all the more relateable, and endearing, but at least for myself, he has never been as memorable as Gandalf, or Treebeard or Theoden. Even among the Hobbits, I’ve often found him upstaged by others in my mind. I can’t really explain it. Though if I wanted to psychoanalyze it, I’d say it has something to do with the fact that being ordinary and most like us, it is harder to see Samwise as a hero, just as heroes in our lives are not always seen or acknowledged, except when the act is of truly “heroic” proportions.

And yet Sam, as so many in this world, is heroic in the simple everyday way he treats others and approaches life. He takes simple virtues to extraordinary lengths.

This saves him as a Bearer of the Ring.

Hearing this chapter, “The Choices of Master Samwise,” I felt the raw pain, saddness, confusion and anger of Sam for the first time. And I realized something. Sam takes the Ring, first out of duty and self sacrifice, and secondly to serve love and save Frodo.

From the early drafts, and still lingering in the published work, the acts tied to the beginning of one’s possession of the Ring bear great weight. This is born out by the murder of Deagol by Smeagol and the limited hold of the Ring on Bilbo as he began his ownership by having mercy on Gollum.

Sam begins bearing the Ring through sacrifice and love. There is no tie of the heirloom or souvenier to bring sentamental value. All he has ever known of the Ring is its evil. Knowing its corrupting power, and the likelihood of failure, indeed failure in death, Sam resolves to bear the burden of free will. And so he takes the Ring upon himself and continues up the pass only to realize he cannot deny the ties of love, friendship and loyalty to Frodo, even (so he thinks) in death.

This simple hobbit, with no Tookish blood to lend him courage, turns aside from the quest in the service of love. In these two choices Sam largely negates the hold of the Ring on him. He is tempted, yes, but his simple choice to pusue love, even to the final extreme of self sacrifice, renders the Rings temptations meaningless.

Eucatastrophe, Discatastrophe and the destruction of the Ring

The concept of the eucatastrophe, and conversely the discatastrophe, is central to J.R.R. Tolkien’s conception of fantasy literature or the Fairy-Story.  Eucatastrophe, as defined by Tolkien in his lecture “On Fairy-Stories,” is the “good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’…it is a sudden and miraculous grace…a fleeting glimpse of Joy” (On Fairy-Stories 153). Going further, it is a moment of Evengelium, referencing the greatest moment of eucatastrophe in human history: the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a myth in which “Legend and History have met and fused” (On Fairy-Stories 156). Eucatastrophe was not just a literary tool for Tolkien, but an opportunity to elicit Truth and therefore explore the nature of Providence. It is through the mechanism of eucatastrophe, sudden miracle, that The Lord of the Rings becomes a “fundamentally religious and Catholic work” (Letter 142).

Just as light is unperceivable without darkness, so too is eucatastrophe meaningless without the presence of discatastrophe or “sorrow and failure” (On Fairy-Stories 153).  This duality of light and dark, hope and despair, victory and defeat is an integral part of Tolkien’s subcreated world.  It is subconsciously present upon the first reading, but is revealed in rereading.  The sudden joyous turn “reflects a glory backwards,” revealing the Truths, and unnoticed eucatastrophic moments along the way (On Fairy-Stories 154). In this sense eucatastrophe becomes Tolkein’s greatest vehicle for applicability.

One of the recurring questions surrounding The Lord of the Rings is whether Frodo fails in his quest.  The quest is achieved, though not explicitly by Frodo, but through the entrance of Grace in the final struggle at Sammath Naur.  However, having experienced the Joy of this moment, upon further thought it is necessary to reflect that final moment of glory backwards on all preceding events.

The manner in which Tolkien begins The Lord of the Rings is of utmost importance.  It is essentially a small primer in the nature of eucatastrophe and discatastrophe, which begins this great theme that unites the whole work and foreshadows the final mechanism of victory.  Tolkien begins with two fire-side scenarios, one with Bilbo and one with Frodo, which are in many ways identical and yet at the same time polar opposites.

Bilbo Baggins is not a central figure in The Lord of the Rings and yet without him, the quest would have failed before it began.  The tale begins with the Long Expected Party, in which Bilbo, following Shire custom, gives many gifts and performs his great “joke” in hopes of making the sacrifice of the Ring easier.  It is obvious this is not the trinket of The Hobbit, it has a true and strong hold on Bilbo.

Following his joke, Bilbo returns to Bag End, packs his things and places the Ring in an envelope for Frodo, and “at first he put it on the mantel piece, but suddenly he removed it and stuck in his pocket” (LotR 31). The use of the word suddenly implies subconscious, instinctual or outside motives.  This is reinforced when Bilbo doesn’t even remember the act when asked by Gandalf.  He says: “’There it is on the mantelpiece. Well, no! Here it is in my pocket!’…’Isn’t it odd now?’…’Yet after all, why not? Why shouldn’t it stay there?’” (LotR 32). This moment, and the many similar which follow, demonstrate the holding power of the Ring. Bilbo at first registers shock upon discovering his subconscious action, but later affirms and appropriates that action and its motives to himself.

Gandalf repeatedly has to urge Bilbo to relinquish the Ring and move on with his life (LotR 33-34). After no less than six entreaties and reminders by Gandalf, Bilbo finally gives in:

“Bilbo took out the envelope, but just as he was about to set it by the clock, his hand jerked back, and the packet fell on the floor. Before he could pick it up, the wizard stooped and seized it and set it in its place. A spasm of anger passed swiftly over the hobbit’s face again. Suddenly it gave way to a look of relief and a laugh.” (LotR 34)

And so ends the first eucatastrophic moment of The Lord of the Rings.  It is a moment of great hope, often overshadowed by the darkness to follow, but should also be seen as instructive in the nature of grace in Middle Earth. Gandalf later tells Frodo:

“’A Ring of Power looks after itself…It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to someone else’s care…Bilbo alone in history has…gone beyond playing, and really done it. He needed all my help, too.” (LotR 54)

Bilbo does not leave the Ring purely through his own power; it is due to the presence and perseverance of Gandalf that he succeeds.  Gandalf or Olorin is a maiar and therefore a representative of the Valars’ and ultimately Iluvatar’s will in Middle Earth.  He is a divine or angelic entity, and so a tangible agent of Grace, helping to bring about this first moment of eucatastrophe and set the stage for the intangible entrance Grace at the Cracks of Doom.

The second “fire-side episode” is a moment of discatastrophe, mirroring the first, and casting the entire quest in doubt. It reinforces the impossibility of the quest and the necessity for providential aid, while the first episode reveals the real chance of success and the seed of hope.

Seventeen years pass between the Long Expected Party and the second fire-side episode. In that time Gandalf has discovered the history of Ring and has only one last trial to perform to prove it to be the One Ring to rule them all: fire.  Gandalf relates the long history of the Ring to Frodo, and asks him for the Ring:

“[Frodo] unfastened it and handed it slowly to the wizard. It felt suddenly very heavy, as if either it or Frodo himself was in some way reluctant for Gandalf to touch it…To Frodo’s astonishment and distress the wizard threw it suddenly into the middle of a glowing corner of the fire. Frodo gave a cry and groped for the tongs; but Gandalf held him back.” (LotR 48)

A short time later, Gandalf removes the Ring from the fire, and hands it to Frodo, finding it cool to the touch.  This fact is crucial to an understanding of what happens next.  Here follows the rest of this episode:

“’But why not destroy it, as you say should have been done long ago?’ cried Frodo again. ‘If you had warned me, or even sent me a message, I would have done away with it.’

‘Would you? How would you do that? Have you ever tried?’

‘No. But I suppose one could hammer it or melt it.’

‘Try!’ said Gandalf. ‘Try now!’

Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without a mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful was its colour, how perfect its roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious. When he took it out he had intended to fling it from him into the very hottest part of the fire. But he found that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forced himself to remember all that Gandalf told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away – but he found that he had put it back in his pocket.

Gandalf laughed grimly. ‘You see? Already you too, Frodo, cannot easily let it go, nor will to damage it…Your small fire, of course, would not melt even ordinary gold. This Ring has already passed through it unscathed, and even unheated.” (LotR 59)

As Gandalf notes, Frodo has already witnessed the Ring pass through the fire unharmed, but what is important about this moment is Frodo’s intention to do harm to the Ring, not whether the attempted act would succeed.  It is also noteworthy that Gandalf urges Frodo to attempt to harm the Ring and is unsurprised by the resulting failure.  The quest appears doomed to failure even before it is formed.

However, Gandalf is an agent of Grace, and though limited in his foreknowledge has reason to hope, and that hope lies in Providence.  When they come to the time of the Ring with Gollum, Frodo expresses disgust and wishes for his death. Gandalf responds:

“Many that live deserve death.  And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?  Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.  For even the very wise cannot see all ends.  I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.  And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring.  My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many-yours not the least.”(LotR 58)

Though it is open to interpretation, Gandalf’s intuition here taken with the reflected glory of the final eucatastrophic moment reveals the hope for the future.

The two fire-side episodes highlight both the hope of success in Grace and the doom to failure without it.  The apparent conclusion is that Frodo cannot destroy the Ring. If this is the case, what grounds are there for hope? Why would Gandalf and the wise encourage this quest? The answer lies at the heart of faith, hope and eucatastrophe.

As Bilbo cannot free himself of the Ring’s power without Gandalf’s help, Frodo also requires aid beyond himself in order to achieve his quest. While the accomplishment of the quest may take but single moment, in Truth it is the culmination of a series of eucatastrophic moments through which the final outcome is determined.

On the edge of the Dead Marshes, Gollum catches up with Frodo and Sam and they capture him. Upon seeing him in his sorry state, Frodo has a change of heart, saying “’for now that I see him, I do pity him’” and offers him a path to redemption (LotR 601). Gollum at first tries to escape, but is recaptured, and to avoid the elvish rope begs to swear by the Precious. Frodo responds harshly, “’On the Precious? How dare you?’…’Think! One Ring to Rule them all and in the Darkness bind them. Would you commit your promise to that, Sméagol? It will hold you. But it is more treacherous than you are. It may twist your words. Beware!’” (LotR 604). Gollum subsequently swears to “be…good…never to let Him have it…[and to] serve the master of the Prescious” (LotR 604). During this scene, Gollum ceases to be “My Precious” or the solely onomatopoeic “Gollum,” but rediscovers his sense of self referring to himself as Sméagol. Henceforth Frodo treats Sméagol with mercy and dignity, as an ancient and tortured hobbit and refuses to let any other harm him.

A key part of the nature of eucatastrophe is the idea of Evangelium, or the revelation of Truth.  The notion of mercy and charity is central to The Lord of the Rings, just as it is central to Tolkien’s Roman Catholic faith.  Christians are called to treat others as Christ, just as they are called to be Christ-like:

“’For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40)

Just as Gandalf is the agent of Grace in the first fire-side episode, so too is Frodo an agent of Grace in his mercy towards Gollum, cementing the final outcome of the quest. It is Frodo’s pity that saves Gollum, and allows him to be reborn as Sméagol, if for a short time. It is also Frodo’s pity which guides Gollum to his fateful oath. It is well established that the Ring can twist the bearer’s words or deeds, and so achieve its own ends. However, here it may be the powers of Providence working through Frodo to use the machinations of the Ring against itself.

In the penultimate confrontation on the side of Mount Doom, Frodo and Gollum grapple with each other before Frodo flings him to the ground. And then Sam sees a curious vision. It should be noted that Sam has worn the Ring, and therefore some of its powers to see beyond the veil may have been conferred on him.

“Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.

‘Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’” (LotR 922)

The description of Frodo here highly resembles Frodo’s vision of Glorfindel while wearing the Ring at the Ford of Bruinen, where he sees “a shining figure of white light” (LotR 209). This vision is a reflection of the elf’s true nature; a reflection of the glory of Valinor he at one time beheld.  So too is this raiment of white a veiled reference to the Transfiguration, and ultimately symbolic of holiness or wisdom, marred only by the fire of the Ring.

In the final throws of the Ring’s corruption, Frodo’s part in the quest essentially ends.  His role as the conduit of Providence is transferred to Sam, who after this confrontation is left to face Gollum, of whom he has never had any liking or trust, yet even he finds his heart filled with pity and empathy:

“Deep in his heart there was something restraining him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s shriveled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again. But Sam had no words to express what he felt.” (LotR 923)

Sam lets Gollum go. In all of their dealings with Gollum since the stair of Cirith Ungol, it should be noted how Gollum refers to himself. He is no longer Sméagol, and his few uses of the first person are long gone. He is no longer anything but a shell wholly enthralled by the Ring and in essence become the Ring, or “My Precious.” The creature before Sam is utterly destroyed by the Ring, and it seems only just that one so tortured by its machinations would bring about its destruction.

Here at the brink, particular attention must be paid to the words sworn by or enforced by the Ring. Gollum’s oath is two-fold: to keep the Ring from Sauron and to serve the master of the Ring. As stated by Gandalf, following the Council of Elrond, there is only one master of the Ring, and that is Sauron (LotR 220). In following Frodo, and attempting to prevent the destruction of the Ring, might Gollum be serving Sauron? Yet at the same time, he has sworn to keep the Ring from Sauron, and the Ring will hold him to that as well as to Frodo’s last warning.

When Frodo claims the Ring for his own, “the Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him…[and]…at his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom” (LotR 925). Gollum swore to keep the Ring from Sauron, the Ring holds him to that oath, and so he succeeds in gaining the Ring only to fall over the edge into the fire, thus fulfilling both his oath and the command of Frodo.

This is the final and greatest moment of eucatastrophe in The Lord of the Rings, a tale which is united by a string of miraculous events which presuppose the final victory. The will of Ilúvatar is present throughout, though he is never named. As he states in the Music of the Ainur, “’no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined”’ (Silmarillion 17). This is another example where Tolkien’s faith was woven within the fabric of Middle Earth. In this manner do all the peoples in the War of the Ring take part in the final eucatastrophe, building steps along the way to the final moment of glory.

            It is the virtue of mercy and pity which is the ultimate defeat of the Ring, first by Bilbo, then by Frodo and finally by Sam. Without pity, that fateful oath would never have been uttered. Without continued patience and mercy, it would never have been fulfilled.