The descent down the cliff face by rope does not appear in the theatrical version of TTT, but is part of a very nicely-done extended scene in the EE. Its tone and purpose is quite different from the book scene, but it serves the film well.
The tone is humorous, light, and warm. Frodo and Sam exchange the sort of banter they haven’t shared since Bilbo’s farewell party. Frodo shows he can still tease, and Sam is the endearing hobbit without guile.
With the invention of Sam’s box of salt, “the best salt in all the Shire”, the writers show Frodo’s increased love and longing for the home he left behind, and new esteem for his travelling companion, who, in the film, is typically better in touch with what really matters. The film scene finishes up with Sam and Frodo’s exchange about the Elven rope. This also is used differently (but well) in the film, but I’ll save that for the next post.Film scene, first part, from the EE of TTT:
Frodo and Sam climb down a cliff face in the Emyn Muil using Sam’s Elven rope:Sam: Can you see the bottom?
Frodo: No! Don't look down, Sam! Just keep going!
Sam: Catch it! Grab it, Mr. Frodo! (Frodo catches it but slips and falls.)
Sam: Mr. Frodo!
Frodo: (Frodo lands and calls up to Sam) I think I've found the bottom!
Sam: Bogs and rope, and goodness knows what. It's not natural. None of it.
Frodo: (Looking at the small box he caught) What's in this?
Sam: Nothing. Just a bit of seasoning. I thought maybe if we was having a roast chicken one night or something.
Frodo: Roast chicken?
Sam: You never know.
Frodo: Sam. My dear Sam.
In the book, the descent down the cliff face at the end of the gully has a very different tone. A fierce storm is whipping up, night is near, and Frodo is desperate to get out of the open where he feels terribly exposed to the Eye, which he increasingly senses looking for him and at him. Before Sam has remembered he has rope in his pack, Frodo, refusing to wait till morning, tries to scramble down unaided in the growing dark.Book scene, from "The Taming of Sméagol":At last they were brought to a halt. The ridge took a sharper bend northward and was gashed by a deeper ravine. On the further side it reared up again, many fathoms at a single leap: a great grey cliff loomed before them, cut sheer down as if by a knife stroke. They could go no further forwards, and must turn now either west or east. (…)
‘There’s nothing for it but to scramble down this gully, Sam,’ said Frodo. Let’s see where it leads to!’
Frodo eases himself down and calls to Sam that he’s found a ledge, but his words are cut short.The hurrying darkness, now gathering great speed, rushed up form the East and swallowed the sky. There was a dry splitting crack of thunder high overhead. Searing lightning smote down into the hills. Then came a blast of savage wind, and with it, mingling with its roar, there came a high shrill shriek. The hobbits had heard just such a cry far away in the Marish as they fled from Hobbiton, and even there in the woods of the Shire it had frozen their blood. Out here in the waste its terror was far greater: it pierced them with cold blades of horror and despair, stopping heart and breath. Sam fell flat on this face. Involuntarily Frodo loosed his hold and put his hands over his head and ears. He swayed, slipped, and slithered downwards with a wailing cry.
Sam heard him and crawled with an effort to the edge. ‘Master, master!’ he called. ‘Master!’
He heard no answer. He found he was shaking all over, but he gathered his breath, and once again he shouted: ‘Master!’ The wind seemed to blow his voice back into his throat, but as it passed, roaring up the gully and away over the fills, a faint answering cry came to his ears:
‘All right, all right! I’m here. But I can’t see.’
Frodo was calling with a weak voice. He was not actually very far away. He had slid and not fallen, and had come up with a jolt to his feet on a wider ledge not many yards lower down. Fortunately the rock-face at this point leaned well back and the wind had pressed him against the cliff, so that he had not toppled over. He steadied himself a little, laying his face against the cold stone, feeling his heart pounding. But either the darkness had grown complete, or else his eyes had lost their sight. All was black about him. He wondered if he had been struck blind. He took a deep breath.
‘Come back! Come back!’ he heard Sam’s voice out of the blackness above.
‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘I can’t see. I can’t find any hold. I can’t move yet.’
‘What can I do, Mr. Frodo? What can I do?’ shouted Sam, leaning out dangerously far. Why could not his master see? It was dim, certainly, but not as dark as all that. He could see Frodo below him, a grey forlorn figure splayed against the cliff. But he was faor out of the reach of any helping hand.
There was another crack of thunder; and then the rain came. In a blinding sheet, mingled with hail, it drove against the cliff, bitter cold.
‘I’m coming down to you,’ shouted Sam, though how he hoped to help in that way he could not have said.
‘No, no! wait!’ Frodo called back, more strongly now. ‘I shall be better soon. I feel better already. Wait! You can’t do anything without a rope.’
‘Rope!’ cried Sam, talking wildly to himself in his excitement and relief. ‘Well, if I don’t deserve to be hung on the end of one as a warning to numbskulls! You’re nowt but a ninnyhammer, Sam Gamgee: that’s what the Gaffer said to me often enough, it being a word of his. Rope!’
‘Stop chattering!’ cried Frodo, now recovered enough to feel both amused and annoyed. ‘Never mind your Gaffer! Are you trying to tell yourself you’ve got some rope in your pocket? If so, out with it!’
‘Yes, Mr. Frodo, in my pack and all. Carried it hundreds of miles and I’d clean forgotten it!’
‘Then get busy and let an end down!’
Quickly Sam unslung his pack and rummaged in it. There indeed at the bottom was a coil of the silken-grey rope made by the folk of Lórien. He cast an end to his master. The darkness seemed to lift from Frodo’s eyes, or else his sight was returning. He could see the grey line as it came dangling down, and he thought it had a faint silver sheen. Now that he had some point in the darkness to fix his eyes on, he felt less giddy. Leaving his weight forward, he made the end fast round his waist, and then he grasped the line with both hands.
Sam stepped back and braced his feet against a stump a yard or two from the edge. Half hauled, half scrambling, Frodo came up and threw himself on the ground.
The hobbits get drenched waiting out the storm. The storm lifts, and Frodo, feeling recovered, insists they try again to get out of the open.‘It’s good to be able to see again,’ said Frodo, breathing deep. ‘Do you know, I thought for a bit that I had lost my sight? From the lightning or something else worse. I could see nothing, nothing at all, until the grey rope came down. It seemed to shimmer somehow.’
‘It does look sort of silver in the dark,’ said Sam. ‘Never noticed it before, though I can’t remember as I’ve ever had it out since I first stowed it.’
This is a wonderful, powerful scene, but I can understand why the filmmakers didn’t use it. It’s a complete drama in itself, but the drama is internal. From the outside, Frodo is merely cowering against a cliff face with Sam calling to him. I love that Frodo, struck blind by the power and terror of the Nazgul, recovers when he sees the Elven rope: a life line, physically and mentally, and a light in the darkness.
It reminds me of other scenes in which the touch of the phial of Galadriel, another source of Elven light—not even drawing it out but closing his hand around it—is able to lift the blackness from Frodo, if only for a little. These talismans, or physical tokens of the transcendent, are scattered throughout the story and are of great importance, in my view. So subtly handled are they, and so well-integrated into the whole narrative, I admire Tolkien the writer all the more every time one of them appears.
As usual, the screencaps of this scene have been cropped and adjusted for brightness, contrast and focus.
~ Frodo and Sam descend the cliff:
~ The Emyn Muil, Pt. 1 ~ “We’re not alone.”
~ The Emyn Muil, Pt. 2a ~ "Catch it, Mr. Frodo!"
~ The Emyn Muil, Pt. 2b ~ "A Little Bit of Home", essay,
plus jan-u-wine's "A Gardener's Gift".
Other tables of links:
~ Entries with jan-u-wine's poems.
~ Frodo & Elijah Wood screencaps.
~ Art Travesty LJ entries.
~ ALBUM of all Art Travesties (images only).