The Dead Marshes, Pt. 1: “So Bright, So Beautiful…” plus poem by jan-u-wine….
There are quite a few fine scenes for screencaps set in the Dead Marshes, so I will be presenting them in four separate posts.
This, the opening post, will present images of Frodo stroking and admiring the Ring. In the EE, this scene is actually preceded by the one in which the hobbits munch lembas and Gollum is hungry in the wasteland. But because I wanted to start off with Frodo's experience of the Ring, I will post these caps first.
1. Frodo’s experience of the Ring in the films.
In this scene, the hobbits have just survived the ordeal of the "Dead faces in the water". Gollum has rescued Frodo from the horror of the spectres, if not actual drowning, and now it is night. Everything is quiet, everyone seems to be asleep. But Frodo is not, we see. Curled on his side, he appears to think himself alone and unobserved as he looks lovingly at the Ring, caressing it. He is startled, however, tucking the Ring down the bosom of his shirt, when he hears the voice of Gollum a few yards off, speaking the words that he himself [probably] has been thinking: "So bright! So beautiful!" When the camera shows Gollum, the viewer can see that Gollum has been doing the same thing as Frodo: tracing the smooth round of the Ring with his fingertip, gazing at it adoringly, and addressing it as he might a lover. But in Gollum's case the pleasure is a remembered one. His calloused palm is empty.
Because I planned to post a poem jan-u-wine wrote inspired by this sequence, I have been corresponding with her about the significance of the scene. Why did Frodo tuck the Ring away the way he did, she asked, pointing out that the Ring is frequently seen in the films on the outside of his clothes. It falls into snow banks and dangles over Elven mirrors. In the later parts of the film, it’s seen bouncing around on its chain quite a bit. “The only time he does attempt to hide it (that I recall),” Jan said, “is when he is having a private moment with it.”
How true, I thought. He hides it away in this scene, but also in his opening scene of RotK. Sam is asleep but Frodo is awake, gazing at the Ring and fondling it, thrusting it down his shirt when Gollum drops into view.
Some viewers have compared Frodo stroking the Ring in secret to a masturbation scene. The Ring is like sex; Frodo is "getting off" on the Ring, secretly fondling it. But I think what makes Frodo start the way he does is more profound than being caught using the Ring as a drug or a sex toy. In the scene I capped, he’s not using the Ring as a sex aid or intoxicant, he's relating to it, like a beloved. Frodo gazes at the Ring the way he would the most desirable, most adored lover in the world. He's not rubbing or clenching it and rolling his eyes about, as if he were having a wank. He holds it delicately on his palm and looks at it with tender regard, touching it softly, tentatively—as if he were courting it, wooing it. I think Frodo’s sudden zeal for secrecy is not prompted by what he has been doing, precisely, but by what he has been feeling.
It’s not that he’s admiring it or even touching it. Frodo did that early on in the book. The pertinent passage appears early in FotR. Frodo has asked Gandalf why he hadn't told him before how dangerous the Ring was; he could have destroyed it. Could he have done? Gandalf asks. Has Frodo tried to destroy it? "Try! Try now!" Gandalf challenges him, in The Shadow of the Past:
Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful the colour, how perfect was 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 now that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will be made a movement, as if to cast it away—but he found that he had put it back in his pocket.
It’s not the beauty of the Ring, or that it has a nice heft that troubles Frodo, it’s his feelings for it, even as early as the parlour of Bag End. That film-Frodo is aware of and uneasy about his feelings for the Ring (heightened in the film) is implied in the TTT scene in Ithilien, when Gollum is frolicking in the icy stream. Frodo has been telling Sam he wants to think Gollum can “come back”, that he can be saved. “You can’t save him, Mr. Frodo,” Sam replies flatly. Frodo, stung, jumps all over Sam. Jan-u-wine pointed me to this scene, bringing to bear the implications of the “So bright, so beautiful” caps to it.
Slightly edited, here’s what Jan said:
I should suppose, when we remember just who this is [Frodo Baggins]—and what he likely is like inside—a very *gentle-hobbit* indeed—that whether pure wank, or not-admitted-to lover, he'd be putting the Ring away in this situation (…) so that no one sees how he feels. Isn't that exactly why he gets THAT pissed at Sam's accusation: "I've seen you,” Sam says, “You can't take your eyes off it." Frodo, caught making "love" to the Ring. Sam knew that wasn't "right", knew that the Ring-bearer shouldn't be spending his time looking in that manner at the object he'd be called upon to destroy. And Frodo, like all who have taken a misstep and thought no one knew, becomes inordinately angered by Sam's remonstrance. I suppose the putting away of the Ring could be sign of a sort of shame. Why hide it, after all, if he knew the feeling to be good and right? (…) It must have been quite a shock to look over and see Gollum basically mimicking what he was, himself, doing. And it angered him, too. His love could not be so pure, could it, when Gollum had touched (and been touched, apparently) the Ring in the same manner?
Yes, Sam did strike a nerve.
Whatever the nuances of Frodo’s desire for the Ring, the films definitely show Frodo harbouring an "unholy love" for the Ring, which must necessarily appall him, and of which he would be ashamed. The Ring, for him, and for Gollum as shown by their parallel acts in the Dead Marshes scene, is like a Siren, a Siren made of gold. Irresistible, alluring, it is intent on dragging them down to destruction and death.
But Frodo might also have rushed to hide the Ring because he was interrupted by Gollum in particular. In the book scenes, Frodo pointedly declares he won’t let Gollum even see the Ring, on the grounds that the mere sight of it would drive Gollum mad with desire. So it would be just prudence to put it away when Gollum approached. But the idea interests me that Frodo not only did not want Gollum to see the Ring, he didn’t want Gollum to see him with the Ring. To be caught fondling it would drastically undermine his injunctions to “Sméagol”, if Frodo appeared to be as besotted Gollum was.
2. Frodo’s experience of the Ring (and the Eye) in the book.
In the book, other than his reaction to the Ring first bringing it out in the parlour in Bag End, when he found the Ring beautiful to look at, a pleasure to hold and “altogether precious”, Frodo’s feelings towards the Ring do not appear to be like those in the films. There seems to be nothing pleasurable about bearing the Ring, not even in a bent way. When book Frodo does feel the urge to put it on, it does not appear to be like the craving of an addict yearning for his high (or a lover for the ecstasy of sexual union). It seems more like being called, called by a will he cannot gainsay.
Back in the vicinity of the Shire, his sense was only vague that he ought not to put it on. After Weathertop, Frodo will have been schooled in the arts of Sauron and the Ring. When Frodo experiences Sauron bearing down upon him, to put on the Ring and reveal himself on Amon Hen at the Seat of Seeing, it is too much for him. He is yielding when another voice enters his mind, a champion come to strive with Sauron on his behalf [i.e. Gandalf]. Frodo feels himself powerless between them. The voice of Gandalf prevails, and Frodo is saved.
But at Amon Hen Frodo's will seems to have forged in a decisive way—towards the Quest and towards the Ring. He emerges steelier, grimmer, and wiser. Each new call to put on the Ring is met like a warrior, standing his ground before his adversary on a mental field of battle. He withstands the Enemy in greater and greater mental onslaughts, calling upon Sam to hold his hand only once (when the Eye comes upon him, weakened by hunger and thirst, on the plain of Gorgoroth in sight of Mt. Doom). Frodo's will is overpowered only at the very last, in the beating heart of his Enemy's domain.
In the book, Frodo's experience of the Dark Lord in his guise as the Eye seems to take more of a toll than the Ring. The Ring is primarily felt as a weight dragging him down, increasingly heavy as they get closer to Mordor and the mountain. But the Eye assails him with active malevolence, relentless, ever intent on violating Frodo's mind and dominating his will. Sauron's strategy is two-fold: the Ring drains Frodo's reserves while the Eye keeps up a frontal assault.
Below is what I think is the most vivid description in LotR of what bearing the Ring as he drew nearer and nearer to Sauron was for Frodo. Before this passage, the Wraith has flown overhead. Gollum, once he has recovered (for he is the one who is incapacitated, not Frodo), is able to go on, but Sam is troubled by Gollum's friendlier-than-ever behaviour, which he suspects. Even more Sam is troubled by Frodo. Here is the excerpt from The Passage of the Marshes:
...Sam had another growing anxiety. Frodo seemed to be weary, weary to the point of exhaustion. He said nothing, indeed he hardly spoke at all; and he did not complain, but he walked like one who carries a load, the weight of which is ever increasing; and he dragged along, slower and slower, so that Sam had often to beg Gollum to wait and not to leave their master behind.
In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards. But far more he was troubled by the Eye: so he called it to himself. It was that more than the drag of the Ring that made him cower and stoop as he walked. The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable. So thin, so frail and thin, the veils were become that still warded it off. Frodo knew just where the present habitation and heart of that will now was: as certainly as a man can tell the direction of the sun with his eyes shut. He was facing it, and its potency beat upon his brow.
Re-reading this to post moves me all over again, so vividly does it portray what Frodo had to endure. And it moves me to love him all the more that he should endure it, so long and so well.
3. The screencaps and poem.
Below are seventeen caps from the scene’s opening scene, the remainder of the caps (at the point Frodo hears Gollum’s voice) to appear in the next post. As usual, all the caps have been cropped and tweaked for brightness, focus, and contrast.
Jan-u-wine’s powerful “So Bright… So Beautiful” follows, inspired by the scene from which the caps come.
~ Frodo alone with the Ring at night, in the Dead Marshes.
So Bright…So Beautiful…
Close we lie,
in the warm night.
No one will see, no one will come near.
Sweetly, you whisper……..
words meant for me alone.
The heat of desiring you runs through my mind, holds me, to treacherous fire.
Dark and light become my waking dream, shadows drifting like caresses through the torment of my thoughts.
Across the chasm of this need, my hand trembles, dares to touch you.
You are beautiful.
I want you:
how much, even I did not know.
I close my eyes, and see you still.
My breath stops inside the circle of this pitiable desire.
Within my mind, I run free over dark mountains towards the endlessness of the Sea.
My heart, my mind,
my body lie here, silent,
inhaling the poison of your
I love you.
Most Recent Entries:
~ The Dead Marshes, Pt. 1: "So bright... So beautiful..." plus jan-u-wine's poem of the same name.
~ The Dead marshes, Pt. 2: 'Who are you?"—Frodo tries to revive Gollum's memory of Sméagol.
~ 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."