For the second half of this Emyn Muil scene, a reflection on the film scene is followed by screenplay excerpt and the caps. After the caps is the excerpt from "The Taming of Sméagol", followed by a short essay on aspects of the book scene.
On the film scene.
Continuing from my remarks about the first half of this series ("Now that I see him, I do pity him"), although its is still a great film scene, the second half is marred by Sam’s excessive violence towards Gollum. That is, it is marred for me as a book fan. Film Sam is far readier to express antipathy for Gollum with his fists. Frodo has to haul him off a number of times in the course of the films, lest Sam kill their guide.
Film Gollum is tied by the neck, not the ankle like in the book. Sam drags him along like a dog. No, I take that back. I can't imagine anyone dragging a dog like that, not without being admonished by some passer-by (Frodo's role). But Gollum resists, complaining bitterly of the pain of the rope. “I don’t believe you!” Sam yells, so sharply that Gollum is startled and tries to bolt, springing up a large boulder. Sam yanks him back with enough force that Gollum falls, crashing to the rock-studded ground on his naked back. Mercifully, Frodo springs immediately into action. “Sam!” he shouts, holding Sam back.
This moment is the first example of the writers “upping the ante” for the scenes between these three characters. The added violence sharply intensifies what will be the ongoing dynamic of Sam being antagonistic, Gollum hating Sam in return, with Frodo stuck as mediator. In the scene Sam doesn't actually end by beating Gollum (that comes later, in RotK), but he yanks Gollum down from the rock with enough source to have done him real injury. Granted, film Gollum has already jumped the sleeping hobbits, biting and throttling Sam. I suppose film Sam has been given extra cause to be harsh. But for me Sam's behaviour is over the top and mars the scene, making Sam look like a brute and garnering more sympathy for Gollum. This moment in the scene made me miss the EE "box of salt" scene I just presented all the more, since it shows Sam in such a sweet, endearing light. Ah, well, no use crying over spilt celluloid.
After the gratuitious violence is out of the way, however, the scene is once again first-rate. In fact, it’s a beauty. Going on, Sam has been restrained, and Frodo is shown slowly but steadily advancing towards Gollum, as he might approach a wounded beast. Gollum crouches, wary and unsure, on the ground. Frodo’s head and face is not in frame; everything is conveyed by body language, the scene illuminated by more of the soft, white light spilling from above and behind. When Frodo crouches before him to lift the rope over his head, Gollum holds very still. The close-ups show that Frodo's quiet, reassuring treatment has won Gollum over (as well as the rest of us). Sam scowls in a gratifying manner in the background, deservedly thwarted.
There's a wonderful rhythm to the scene, too, after Frodo's slow walk towards Gollum. He closes in, and the scene, already slowing down, slows nearly to a stop, or a series of stops. "You know the way to Mordor?" (Frodo's remarks are spoken more like statements to be affirmed than true questions). Beat. "Yes." Beat. "You've been there before." Beat. "Yes." Beat. "You will lead us to the Black Gate." Then there's an extra-long beat, held until the shot changes to the hobbits leaping after Gollum, who suddenly is off and away like shot from a sling.
I just love that slowed-down counterpoint. When Frodo gets to his final remark, “You will lead us to the Black Gate”, it resonates for me like a satisfying chord at the end of a chamber piece. And I love how, as the scene gets slower and slower, the two characters draw nearer and nearer, until they are literally close enough to embrace. All the while the close-ups getting closer and closer, intensifying the effect. Really, it's a great scene.
And did I mention that Frodo is absolutely, breathtakingly, heart-rendingly gorgeous throughout?
Film scene: The Emyn Muil ~ Gollum agrees to show them the way to Mordor.
Sam: I don't believe you! Get down! (Gollum leaps away at Sam’s shout. With a sharp jerk of the rope, Sam yanks Gollum to the ground.)
Frodo: Sam! (With difficulty Frodo restrains Sam.)
Sam: (To Gollum.) Get down!
Sam: (To Frodo.) He’s trying to trick us! If we let him go, he'll throttle us into our sleep!
Frodo: (Frodo turns away and advances towards Gollum.) You know the way to Mordor?
Frodo: You've been there before?
Frodo: (Lifting the rope over Gollum’s head.) You will lead us to the Black Gate.
Gollum gallops off and the hobbits hurry after him.
Gollum: To the Gate, to the Gate, to the Gate the master says. Yes!
These screencaps taken from a widescreen edition of TTT have been cropped and adjusted for brightness, contrast and focus.
”I don’t believe you!”
Book scene, continued, from "The Taming of Sméagol".Frodo and Sam settle down as if to sleep. As they expected, Gollum tries to bolt, and they spring after him, subduing him. Frodo suggests using the rope. Sam wants to tie it around Gollum’s neck but Frodo says no. Tying one ankle will do—they want him to be able to walk. But once it is tied, Gollum begins to scream horribly, writhing, and trying to bite through the knot. Frodo examines the rope, which is loose enough, but Gollum keeps on screaming.
At last Frodo was convinced that he really was in pain. (…)
Sam was gentler than his words. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ he said. ‘If you will try to run away, you must be tied; but we don’t wish to hurt you.’
‘It hurts us, it hurts us,’ hissed Gollum. ‘It freezes, it bites! Elves twisted it, curse them! Nasty cruel hobbits! That’s why we tries to escape, of course it is, precious. We guessed they were cruel hobbits. They visits Elves, fierce Elves with bright eyes. Take it off us! It hurts us.’
‘No, I will not take it off you,’ said Frodo, ‘not unless’—he paused a moment in thought—‘not unless there is any promise you can make that I can trust.’
‘We will swear to do what he wants, yes, yess,’ said Gollum, still twisting and grabbing at his ankle. ‘It hurts us.’
‘Swear?’ said Frodo.
‘Sméagol,’ said Gollum suddenly and clearly, opening his eyes wide and staring at Frodo with a strange light. ‘Sméagol will swear on the Precious.’
Frodo drew himself up, and again Sam was startled by his words and his stern voice. ‘On the Precious? How dare you?’ he said. ‘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!’
Gollum cowered. ‘On the Precious, on the Precious!’ he repeated.
‘And what would you swear?’ asked Frodo.
‘To be very very good,’ said Gollum. Then crawling to Frodo’s feet he grovelled before him, whispering hoarsely: a shudder ran over him, as if the words shook his very bones with fear. ‘Sméagol will swear never, never, to let Him have it. Never! Sméagol will save it. But he must swear on the Precious.’
‘No! not on it,’ said Frodo, looking down at him with stern pity. ‘All you wish is to see it and touch it, if you can, though you know it would drive you mad. Not on it. Swear by it, if you will. For you know where it is. Yes, you know, Sméagol. It is before you.’
For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud, and at his feet a little whining dog. Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another’s minds. Gollum raised himself and began pawing at Frodo, fawning at his knees.
‘Down! down!’ said Frodo. ‘Now speak your promise!’
‘We promises, yes I promise!’ said Gollum. ‘I will serve the master of the Precious. Good master, good Sméagol, gollum, gollum!’ Suddenly he began to weep and bite at his ankle again.
‘Take the rope off, Sam!’ said Frodo.
Reluctantly, Sam obeyed.
On the book scene.
First off, I must proclaim how much I love the picture of Frodo in the beginning of this passage: astute and under no illusions about Gollum, yet wise. He manages to be merciful yet not a fool. Frodo, it says, looked down on Gollum with "stern pity". I wonder, reading this yet again, if Frodo's extension of "stern pity" is what he would wish for himself, should he be reduced to Gollum's state? That is to say, that he would wish to be shown compassion, but not permitted to commit evil, if it could be helped—evil that he very well would wish to do if he should became enslaved to the Ring.
I also love that Tolkien notes that Sam was "gentler than his words".
As to the second part of the passage, the scene in which Frodo appears to be transfigured before Sam's eyes, I have given it much thought. I will say more when I get to the bookend scene in RotK, very closely related, on the slopes of Mt. Doom just after Frodo repulses Gollum's attack.
From my first reading decades ago I was as impressed as Sam by Frodo's show of authority in this scene, portrayed as nearly divine, with its vision of lordly might and brightness hidden in grey cloud. I felt almost a physical thrill reading it. Nevertheless, the scene made me uneasy.
For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud, and at his feet a little whining dog.
Frodo revealed as a mighty lord, and Gollum as a little whining dog, just doesn't sound like the revelation of anything good to me, not in a Tolkien story. The contrast is more extreme and more unmistakable in the Mt. Doom "transfiguration", but the same elements are present here.The two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another’s minds.
What was akin between them in Sam's eyes? The film stressed empathetic identification between Frodo and Gollum. I think what is "akin" is the Ring. But since none of the characters can see it, including Sam, and we are seeing the events through Sam's eyes, it's difficult for the readers to see it, too.
My impression of this scene is that in this moment, very subtly, both characters are shown under the Ring's sway. Gollum is bereft of it, and longs for it, abasing himself before its bearer. I think Frodo, if momentarily, in this moment becomes more than just the bearer, as seen in this perception of him as a "mighty lord", his "brightness" hid as in cloud. I don't think the brightness being cloaked is Frodo's renowned "inner light", which Frodo never sought to cloak at any other time (being unaware of it). It is Sauron's brightness, his own perverse sort of glory that is making itself manifest when Frodo, grasping for a way to make Gollum obey, resorts to the authority of the Ring.
Frodo does not mean to do ill, of course, only good. But that's what Gandalf and Galadriel said would happen, that is how it would begin: a good person would use it wishing to do good. But it would not end there. Even Sauron, said Gandalf, had not always been evil, but once had been bright and fair.
Later, in the pass of Cirith Ungol, Sam is tempted by the Ring. The temptation of Sam is the closest look the reader gets from Tolkien of what it would be like for a good person to be tempted by the Ring. Sam, just as Gandalf had said would be the case, is tempted to do good, not evil. He becomes enlarged in his own self-vision, swelling into a heroic Sam—a mighty lord, in fact—who would restore the wastes of Mordor, even the whole world, and make it a garden.
The Ring's influence is not as strong or as obvious as this in the Emyn Muil, yet I think Tolkien shows the reader here the first glimpse into what the Ring might work in Frodo: precisely in this moment when he exercises his authority as "Master of the Precious." This is what Gollum sees, and responds to.Gollum raised himself and began pawing at Frodo, fawning at his knees.
‘Down! down!’ said Frodo. ‘Now speak your promise!’
‘We promises, yes I promise!’ said Gollum. ‘I will serve the master of the Precious. Good master, good Sméagol, gollum, gollum!’
Gollum will serve the Master of the Precious, yes. But it is plain "Frodo of the Shire" who will stir Sméagol's finer feelings, bringing him to the very brink of Pity on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol.
The "Master of the Precious" who appears to him in cloaked glory amid the rubble of the Emyn Muil, before whom he fawns and grovels, is not that person.
~ 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".
~ The Emyn Muil, Pt. 3-a ~ “I do pity him.”
~ The Emyn Muil, Pt. 3-b ~ "You know the way to Mordor."
Other tables of links:
~ Entries with Frodo & Elijah Wood screencaps.
~ Art Travesty LJ entries.
~ ALBUM of all Art Travesties (images only).