Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,

The Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 1 ~ EE scene, “You listen to me” ~ plus essay….


Well, I’m back.

We spent two weeks visiting my sister who lives where it is sunny and warm and gorgeous. I tramped along river beds winding through gorges, hiked over yellow hills, and sat long hours under a canopy by her swimming pool set amid roses, live oak and tall grass. Wild turkey gobbled unseen in the pasture below, vultures wheeled and horses neighed. I listened to the audio book of “The Order of the Phoenix” (as a refresher before seeing the new film—my hearty recommendations for Jim Dale's readings of the Harry Potter series, less hearty recommendations for the fifth film), read my print-out of a huge and famous Frodo fanfic, and had time left over for some books on myth and Jungian archetypes (the last will make its way into my discussion below).

Note: I started writing the essay for this post before my trip, but it became so long and involved I couldn’t finish it. So beware. The remaining parts to this series will have only brief discussions. Also, until I get the full series posted, the links to the other parts won’t work. The book excerpt, since the film and book versions of this scene have nothing in common, is at the bottom.



The Stairs of Cirith Ungol from RotK will probably never stop being controversial for book fans. Plot-wise, it represents what may be the most radical departure in the three films. When RotK opened book fans almost unanimously were scandalized by change, some eschewing the trilogy altogether because of this heresy. Frodo sends Sam away!—and Sam obeys! Outrageous!

Putting the book aside—something the screenwriters obviously did—I must say I think the scene does work. The filmmakers’ Frodo was already somewhat different from Tolkien’s Frodo, differences that helped make what would happen in this scene plausible. He’s far younger (thus more inexperienced) for starters. Also, perhaps on account of his youth and inexperience, he is both less wise and less hardy. Frodo bearing his burden silently is not Frodo of the film, nor could he be if audiences were to become involved with him as a character. His lack of wisdom is most displayed in his trust of Gollum, something his book counterpart never does. His gullibility heightens Sam’s mistrust. This dynamic between the three is fully in place at the opening of the Stairs scene and only escalates. In Frodo’s defense it is also true that when the scene opens he is physically exhausted and emotionally spent, his reserves depleted by the recent near-encounter with the Witch-king at Minas Morgul.

Considering the writers’ thorough preparation for the events that unfold here, it is not outrageous but nearly inevitable that Gollum—strong, tireless, and unrelenting in his malice—should finally succeed in driving a wedge between these two more vulnerable characters. At this point in the film, except for a few moments of lucidity, Frodo seems no longer aware of how much he is under Gollum’s power, which is made worse by the warping of his perceptions by the Ring.

Additionally, Frodo’s intense sense of identification with ‘Sméagol’ makes him easy game for Gollum’s machinations, Sam’s resentment and hot temper fanning the fires that bring about the melt-down of “Go home, Sam.” That Frodo would find Sam’s ongoing jealous tirades a drain on his reserves (something he could ill afford) seems more plausible, too. To all this the filmmakers go further, portraying Frodo, driven to paranoia by Gollum, as temporarily unhinged. He would have to be unhinged to believe Gollum’s ridiculous claim that Sam has eaten all their food. Right at the opening Sam is shown carefully rationing their food, giving Frodo his share. Sam is the very last person who would eat up the provisions, especially when they still have far to go. Unfortunately, film Sam is so wholly at the mercy of his emotions, rather than pointing this out, he goes to pieces. Stricken to the heart by the charges and Frodo dismissal, he actually begins to go home (as if he’d ever get there). He stumbles down the Stairs choking on sobs, finally falling blinded by tears, just where he will discover the hard evidence of Gollum’s duplicity. The sight and feel of the lembas, along with the understanding it brings (that Frodo is alone in the hands of a murderous schemer), is the jolt Sam needs. Restored to his senses, he rushes back.

This plot device is strained for obvious reasons, but I still think the sequence packs emotional power. Much of the power comes from the performances. Throughout, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin (and CGI Gollum) are at the top of their form. I still can barely take in that “Go home, Sam” was one of the first scenes filmed. Everyone knows the story of how they were forced to shoot this scene out of sequence because of floods that made the outdoor shooting schedule impossible, how after a coin toss Sean’s coverage was shot first, to be followed by Elijah’s, even though they didn’t end up filming it for another year (the sun came out). I think Sean Astin is dynamite in this scene, pulling out all the stops, converting his terror at having to play such a difficult scene right off the bat into emotional commitment in the scene. Some people have scoffed at Sam’s“blubbering” on the Stairs (when Frodo coldly dismisses him), but I think it is some of the most effective, most naked emotion I’ve seen on screen. Playing off Elijah certainly helped, who, even if his close-ups would come a year later, still was acting the scene full out. My mouth drops further when I think Elijah Wood was eighteen and nineteen years old in this sequence. His work is amazing. Does this gushing mean I approve of what was done to Tolkien’s scene? No, but I do think the film scene works.

After my initial outrage over “Go home, Sam” had receded, I found I enjoyed this sequence, actually looking forward to watching it. A reader of this screencap series might wonder how I can watch this highly uncanon scene with pleasure yet detest watching the EE TTT scene in which Faramir sanctions the beating of Gollum and Frodo sits by. My answer is that the Stairs scene does not offend my core concepts of who the characters are, and Henneth Annun does. The Henneth Annun scene makes noble characters behave vilely. The Stairs scene makes noble characters behave foolishly. Foolish behaviour, in my opinion, is not nearly as damaging as vile behaviour.


Regarding Sam’s Warning: “You listen to me” (EE scene).

This little EE scene, inserted after Minas Morgul before Pippin lights the beacon, is quite good. I think it adds a lot to the overall Stairs of Cirith Ungol sequence, even if it doesn’t mesh perfectly with the final arch of the Frodo/Gollum/Sam story.

For one thing, it lets Sam appear controlled and canny. Instead of lashing out at Gollum in one of his usual fits of rage and hurt feelings, Sam is sharp, shrewd, and level-headed. He’s just as concerned for his master’s welfare, but without the histrionics. He is direct with Gollum, and effective. He is not the Sam Gollum so easily goads and manipulates. This is probably why they didn’t use this scene in the theatrical version. The “Go home” scene depends on Sam being so upset and beaten down that he loses it. In lashing out, he precipitates Frodo’s decision to dismiss him. Still, as a book-Sam fan, I deeply appreciate seeing him getting a chance to show his shrewdness, and his worth as Frodo’s protector, keeping his focus on what’s important.

The other thing I really like about this scene—and it’s something that does further the objectives of the filmmakers—is that it strongly reinforces the sense of real injury, indeed hatred, Gollum feels towards Sam. In the Stairs scene, Gollum’s actions are not only geared to get the Ring back, but to split up the two friends. That he should expend so much energy on splitting them up is made far more understandable by this scene. While book Gollum patently dislikes Sam, and finds Sam’s constant vigilance a plague and a nuisance, what really matters to him is to seizing the Ring. Disposing of Sam in the process is a side-benefit, if a pleasurable one.

In this EE scene, however, Sam so truly knows what Gollum is about—hiding none of his antipathy towards him as he confronts him—it makes plausible the degree to which Gollum hates Sam. That film Gollum should not only lust for the Ring but for vengeance is made clearer by this scene. And what better way to exact his revenge than to strip Sam of what he most cherishes—Frodo’s love and trust in him—even going so far as to dismiss Sam from his side in the middle of their enemies? With this little scene in place, it makes better that sense that Gollum would plot not only to get the Ring through Frodo's death, but to get back at Sam.


Film Scene: On the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, the EE version. (Book excerpt after the caps.)

Gollum: (Gleefully cheering on the tired hobbits, Frodo passing first) Up, up, up the stairs we go, and then it’s into the tunnel!

As Frodo goes on ahead Sam stops and looks at Gollum with suspicion.

Sam: Hey! What’s in this tunnel?

Gollum tries to scurry ahead but Sam grabs him and holds him threateningly against the rock, speaking so only Gollum can hear.

You listen to me and you listen good and proper. Anything happens to him, you’ll have me to answer to. One sniff of something that’s not right, one hair stands up on the back of my head, it’s over. No more Slinker, no more Stinker, you’re gone. Got it? I’m watching you.

Gollum gives a forced smile then looks after Sam with loathing. Frodo turns and sees they have fallen behind, speaking to Sam when he catches up.

Frodo: (Looking suspicious) What was that about?

Sam: Nothing. Just clearing something up.

Gollum looks after them with calculating, malevolent amusement.


~ From Track 16, Sam’s Warning, on Pt. 1 of the EE version of RotK:

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More discussion.

I so wanted to believe the writers had suffered from stress-induced bad judgement when they wrote the “Go home” scene, I was taken aback last year reading Brian Sibley’s book on Peter Jackson as filmmaker. A snippet in the book strongly implied that the “Go home, Sam” scene was not a last-ditch effort to “up the ante”, but had been long in the works. Writing screencap posts for TTT and RotK this year has confirmed for me that the scene was prepared for carefully in all the Sam-Frodo-Gollum scenes that preceded it. I just hadn’t wanted to see it.

In the Sibley book is an anecdote concerning a problem early in the shooting schedule. The producers at New Line were voicing strong concerns, not only plaguing Jackson and his team about going over budget so early, but expressing doubts that Weta could accomplish the special effects, in paricular the CG version of Gollum.

Sibley writes,

"Despite Bob Shaye’s comments on how impressed he had been by the tests he had seen of the Massive software, and an appreciation of the fact that Weta promised to be considerably cheaper than ILM [Industrial Light and Magic], there was a clear level [of] anxiety as to whether the key CG figures would be able to match the standards set by the American special effects studios."

Sibley illuminates with a quote from Peter Jackson:

"Bob Shaye told me that he considered Gollum to be way beyond Weta’s capabilities. So I instigated Gollum development a long time before we needed him. Weta started doing tests so that we could prove ourselves. The shot we tested was the long crane shot from The Two Towers, when Gollum sneaks out and takes the lembas bread and throws it over the ledge.

I screened the shot for Bob and he agreed that it was fine, although, looking at it today, it’s embarrassing to realise just how crude it seems and that it’s really nothing like the finished Gollum. Still, it was the first ever attempt to create what we all knew was going to be a key CG figure and it at least proved that we were able to deliver".

~ from Peter Jackson: A Film-maker’s Journey, by Brian Sibley; Ch. 9, pp. 476-77.

What this shows me, for one thing, is that early in screenplay development the scene on the Stairs was going to be in the second film, not in RotK. But the main thing it shows me is that Gollum setting up Sam by throwing the lembas over the ledge was part of the film’s plot from very early on if not from the start of shooting. Peter Jackson would not have put the team through the trouble and expense of making the lembas-over-the-ledge scene as the Gollum test shot unless they were very sure they were going to use it.

Why did they do it? Why make this radical departure? If I recall correctly, in the director’s commentary for RotK, Fran, Philippa, and Pete gave their usual reason for making a big change: “to up the ante”. They didn’t think it would be dramatic enough for Frodo and Sam to enter Shelob’s tunnel together. Frodo needed to go it alone. So they created the plot device in which Gollum would split up the friends.

I find "upping the ante" a very inadequate answer. The book scene wouldn’t have been exciting enough? Nonsense. Think of it: Sam and Frodo entering the noisome blackness of the tunnel, two little hobbits creeping fearfully towards who-knows-what—this was not exciting enough? Frodo terrified, yet advancing towards Shelob, Sting brandished and the Light of Galadriel held high in his trembling hand—this was not exciting enough? Frodo, in sudden relief and joy, thinking the way clear, dashing ahead, Sam attacked at the last minute, Frodo running unaware into the trap—this was not exciting enough??? They had to have been after something else as they orchestrated this huge change, even if they were not aware of what they were after. But what?

I have looked and looked at the scene, book and film, and the main departures the screenwriters made are two: Frodo entering the tunnel and facing Shelob alone, but also Frodo (not Sam) having a violent confrontation with Gollum. The "bones" of the scene are not that different and yet it is very different. But different as it is, unfaithful to Tolkien as it is, the sequence resonates for me in a way that is more profound than what can be explained with, “upping the ante”.

I think the film scene works for me the way it does (both the Stairs scene and Shelob’s Lair, since I think of them as parts of the same sequence) because although the film departs from the book, the film narrative is still grounded in the same primal story, but a different version of it: the story of the hero who must confront his monster(s). Thus both the book and film versions are deeply rooted in myth and archetype, resonating with the ancient stories of heroes who undergo ordeals. It is just that the ordeals are not met for the same reasons, nor are the results the same.

The hero’s ordeal in book and film.

First of all, in Tolkien’s story the hero in these scenes (the whole section in Cirith Ungol) is actually a pair of heroes, operating as a team. Frodo and Sam, joined in purpose and love (and who remain joined in purpose and love), entering the tunnel—and their ordeal—together. They do become separated, but not by their own choice. When they are separated, evil gains the ascendancy. Sam is attacked by Gollum. Frodo, in a rush of exhilaration, unaware of his (and Sam's) danger, dashes ahead, leaving his partner in heroism behind. Sam, having extricated himself from Gollum, is yet too late to intervene and Frodo is stung by Shelob. (Frodo gets into trouble in nearly the same way on the Barrow Downs, rushing ahead to what he thinks is the way out, leaving his friends and protection behind. Hmmm...)

The tale then shifts to Sam, who, inspired to heroic fury by the loss of his fellow-hero and friend, defeats the monster on his own. Through a series of providentially right mis-choices, Sam then gets the chance to rescue Frodo, who meanwhile has wakened to near-despair in the Tower, believing himself to be the last of his friends, all alone and at the mercy of his tormenters, and bereft of the Ring. Rejoined by Sam, Frodo revives and the two continue to their next heroic test, surviving the privations of Gorgoroth before they go on to the final ordeal at Mt. Doom.

The book tale is a tale of the power of fellowship, in which shared love and labour (aided by a series of providential interventions) prevail over the power of evil. When the original Fellowship is sundered, the fellowship is not destroyed but continues to operate, but in microcosm, each pair (or trio) continuing to struggle to further the goal of the Quest. The theme of noble fellowship—i.e. of individuals freely binding themselves to one another in love for a common high purpose—triumphing over the single Eye of Sauron remains primary. Tom Shippey made nice points in both his books on Tolkien, The Road to Middle-earth and The Author of the Century, about the single nature of Sauron, that he was a lone entity, the opposite of a fellowship. (Sauron might have many slaves, but no fellowship.)

As for Frodo’s particular role, like the rest of the members of the Fellowship he is a hero, but he is specifically a sacrificial hero. And the sacrificial nature of his ordeal leaves its mark, making him wiser but sadder. What Frodo endures hones his spirit to fineness, but it also gives him sorrow that does not depart. Elrond, Gandalf, and the hands of the King can heal Frodo’s bodily hurts but not the ones sustained by his spirit. Although his bodily wounds are healed, the memory of them continues to plague him, flaring up at the anniversaries. Worse, his mind, which was repeatedly violated by Sauron's Eye, continues to feel tainted. No wonder, when he continues to desire the Ring, the token of that taint, the desire giving him shame as well as pain. Tolkien, in his letters, also notes that Frodo continues to regret that he was not himself able to cast the Ring into the fire. No amount of telling him this was impossible seems to take away his sense of failure. Thus, failure, guilt, and shame continue to plague Frodo once he is back in the Shire.

But not only negative things make it difficult for Frodo to settle into his old life. The Quest has changed him in other ways, positive ways, with visions and new experiences that have opened his mind irrevocably to a world more vast and deep and beautiful than anything he had imagined. Back in the Shire, with its parochial ways and little, even petty concerns, it is not surprising Frodo should feel out of place, even estranged from it. Sadly, as Frodo learns, it is the case that in order to keep what one loves, someone must lose it. In LotR that someone is Frodo. And so he passes into the West.

In the films, Frodo’s story plays quite differently. He’s still portrayed in terms of the mythic story of the hero who must undergo an ordeal, but it’s a different ordeal with different ends. Book Frodo is a hero who must undergo dreadful things in order to accomplish a goal that is for the common good, in which evil, or the cosmic dark side, is vanquished. Film Frodo’s story is still cast in a mythical mold, but its particular shape recalls psychology more than Tolkien's epic.

In terms of Jungian theory (in so far as I understand it from a couple of thin books), every person’s psychological make-up is comprised of both “light” and “dark”, just like ancient myths of yin and yang, or pairs of creative and destructive gods and goddesses, who together make up the working of the cosmos in an unending rhythm of birth and death, gods which are themselves a projection of the human psyche. Thus one’s dark side may be frightening or repellent, but it cannot be ignored or dismissed, since it is integral to each person. It must be confronted and mastered—but not destroyed. In the mastering comes transformation. In this mythical context the “dark side”, though destructive—driven by instinctive self-serving appetites and passions—is also creative since the same passions and appetites energize individuals for the doing of good.

This was not Tolkien’s view of the world or of the human person, but it is very pervasive today, and no doubt influenced the filmmakers. It certainly resonates with viewers, of which I am one.

So film Frodo is still a hero who must undergo an ordeal, but his ordeal is to enter into a darkness that ultimately is his own psyche. If he succeeds, he will master his dark side. Mastering it, he will prosper, having harnessed his shadow side for good ends.

What happens in the film sequence? Unlike their book counterparts, Frodo and Sam do not enter Shelob’s lair as a united ‘mini-fellowship’, but have been divided. Evil forces, in the person of Gollum, cut Sam off from Frodo. Frodo, benighted, enters Shelob’s dark, noisome tunnel alone. Very soon Frodo discovers Gollum has been false, and that he has been cruelly tricked. His empathy for Gollum has been ill-founded, just as Sam warned. Shocked back to reality by the horror and stench and the extremity of his situation, it comes upon Frodo (as it did for Boromir on Amon Hen): What have I done?

Here is another major difference in characterization between book and film: book Frodo has no reason to add guilt to his already dreadful experience in the tunnel, film Frodo does. The moment in Shelob’s lair in which film Frodo, appalled, realises he has been duped, that he has made a monumental blunder—foolishly and wrongly sending Sam away, likely to his death, trusting Gollum instead—is for me one of the most moving in the trilogy. EW’s acting is superb. In that brief moment of screen time, knowledge dawns. Horrified disbelief, grief, angry self-castigation, and resultant fury flit vividly across Frodo’s face in succession. As I watch I experience the “horror and pity” Sophocles described. I have made my own terrible, benighted decisions. I will not be casting any stones.

To make matters worse, Gollum taunts him, hidden from view. The disembodied voice could be Frodo’s own, castigating himself. No wonder he becomes incensed. In a fit of rage and terror, Frodo cuts his way free, tumbles through a hole into another tunnel, only to be attacked by Gollum. Frodo fights him off, grasping at life. Things look bad until Gollum tries to take the Ring. Thoroughly revived, Frodo throws him off. The tables turn and Frodo is ascendant, Gollum’s throat compressed under his fingers. Gollum now makes his plea: “It was the Precious made us do it!” Frodo relents, recognizing the truth in Gollum’s plaint. Getting up he walks away, stopping only to turn and say he is going to destroy the Ring for his sake and for Gollum’s.

This is not what Gollum wants to hear. He jumps Frodo and they struggle until Gollum tumbles down a chasm. Frodo, almost done in, struggles to his feet and stumbles along the pass, thinking of how he has cast Sam aside, feeling utterly bereft and alone. He falters, stops, and swoons. In a vision, Galadriel comes to him, encouraging him, pulling him to his feet. Restored to purpose and courage, Frodo forges stealthily ahead. But not stealthily enough. Shelob slips out of a hole and catches him unawares, delivering her stunning blow.

Shelob is wrapping Frodo in her silk when Sam intervenes. He fights her and prevails, but, in Sam's arms, Frodo appears to be dead. Sam weeps. Only when he sees Sting’s blue sheen and hears the voices of Orcs does he hide behind rocks. There he learns that Frodo is not dead but unconscious. He upbraids himself as they carry off the body, but follows the group to the Tower where he will find and free Frodo.


In terms of Frodo’s part of the tale, what happens in the film version is very different from what happens in the book. Instead of being the story of two comrades-in-arms united against a dark foe, the story is of a lone hero’s descent into darkness. Frodo must meet his enemy stripped of every friend and helper. And he goes to meet not just one enemy but two: Shelob, who represents the evils arrayed against him from without, and Gollum, who represents the evil arrayed against him from within. In the film, Frodo has consistently been portrayed as believing Gollum to be his unfortunate alter-ego. It is fitting in the film tale that Frodo should be forced to come to grips with that belief. In archetypical terms, the hero of the film version enters the darkness not only to fight the demon, but his own demons.

I see Frodo entering Shelob’s lair and struggling with Gollum as a sort of foreshadowing, or rehearsal, for what will happen in the Sammath Naur. There, too, Frodo will meet his adversary from without, Sauron, the Dark Lord, but also his internal adversary, in the person of Gollum, the dark persona he fears he has become, a small-scale Dark Lord. In Shelob’s tunnel, Frodo still was able to forgive Gollum and walk away, even though he was attacked, his sentiments noble and redemptive. In the Sammath Naur, there is no forgiveness and no spirit of redemption. Once Frodo surrenders to the Ring's call he wants It, and that is all he wants. In doing so, he has succumbed to his own ‘dark side’ (the self-serving appetites and passions). He struggles with Gollum on the brink with no reservations: the Ring or nothing.

In the end, symbolically, mythically, or psychologically, Frodo is saved because his dark side, Gollum, comes in and takes the hit for him. He falls, not Frodo. As happened in the fight in Shelob’s tunnel, Gollum tumbles over the brink, as if by chance. This time, though, it is to his death. He will not be coming back. But neither does film Frodo come back. In the thought world of the filmmakers (a world that draws on a different mythic world than Tolkien’s), although Frodo survives, only a half a person survives. It’s as if his fire, his vitality, his desire and zeal for life went into the abyss with Gollum. Frodo never recovers his old taste for life. He wastes and dwindles, finally opting to pass into the West. In psychology, especially the Jungian sort, a person can’t be whole without both sides of himself intact: light and dark, constructive and destructive, the ordering impulse and the spontaneous chaotic urges that are the springs of creativity. In the film, Frodo’s “dark side” dies with Gollum, and, clearly, Frodo does not recover from its loss.

As a mere dabbler in myth and archetypes (inspired to new readings by estelanui), I am not sure what this all means, but it made a big impact on my thinking about Frodo’s story line in the films. The film version's strong grounding in myth is why I think the “Go home” Sam scene on the Stairs works so well, in spite of its heresy, along with the errant version of Shelob’s lair that follows. The film treatment of the myth of the hero who enters the dark/abyss/labyrinth to battle his designated monster is not the same as Tolkien’s, but it is a compelling version of the hero motif in its own right. Rather than the story of the hero who sacrifices his happiness for the good of others, the film portrays the story of the hero who enters his own inner darkness to confront his demons. Confronting one's inner demons is a theme dear to the hearts and minds of most modern viewers (witness the recent installments of "Batman", "Spiderman", and the teenage-angst volumes of the Harry Potter series).

That Frodo experiences some sort of internal struggle is implied in Tolkien's tale, of course, but it is never made explicit since Frodo’s personal travails are not the ultimate point of LotR, LotR remaining a story of a fellowship and not just Frodo (even if Frodo, as Ring-bearer, is its dramatic focus). But if hundreds of fanfic writers can invent inner trials for Frodo made visible, I suppose New Zealand filmmakers can, too, updating the myths of heroes who confront their personal monsters as they do so.

In the old heroic tales, when the hero vanquishes his monster, right order is restored so that life can flourish, including the hero’s. But the more modern psychological take, based on myths at least as ancient—if I understand it properly—is that while the hero (personifying the ego or conscious decision-making centre) must prevail over the monster (personifying the ungoverned, instinctual side) so that he can flourish as an individual, he still needs his “dark side” to thrive as a person, since that part of his self is the seat of the passions and desires that fuel intuition, creativity, and renewal at their deepest level.

Again, it is notable that after the Quest film Frodo is shown not so much as suffering from his ordeal, but listless, lacking in vitality. I long have thought film-Frodo seems so vitiated that he doesn’t really feel the loss of the Ring, nor the pain of his anniversary illness. It’s as if the part of him that can experience strong emotions—whether pain or hate or joy—has gone with the Ring into the fire. After mulling over this post, I am emending that to say that Frodo’s capacity for feeling joy or hate or pain went into the fire not so much with the Ring, but with his alter ego, his dark side, Gollum.

As I said, this is not Tolkien’s take on the tale, but it is a profound one nevertheless, even if the writers could say no more about their choices than they wanted to “up the ante”. I think it is the film’s grounding in myth that makes the scenes as powerful as they are, whether the writers knew what they were doing or not. As a writer, and a friend of writers, I know that writers often create out of unknown springs, producing what they have not consciously intended. I am guessing that happened with Jackson/Walsh/Boyens. And I am grateful for it.


Book scene: from The Stairs of Cirith Ungol.

Then at a great distance, as if it came out of memories of the Shire, some sunlit early morning, when the day called and doors were opening, he heard Sam’s voice speaking. ‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!’ Had the voice added: ‘Your breakfast is ready,’ he would hardly have been surprised. Certainly Sam was urgent. ‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! They’re gone,’ he said.

There was a dull clang. The gates of Minas Morgul had closed. The last rank of spears had vanished down the road. The tower grinned across the valley, but the light was fading in it. The whole city was falling back into a dark brooding shade, and silence. Yet still it was filled with watchfulness.

‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! They’re gone, and we’d better go too. There’s something still alive in that place, something with eyes, or a seeing mind, if you take me; and the longer we stay in one spot, the sooner it will get on to us. Come on, Mr. Frodo!’

Frodo raised his head, and then stood up. Despair had not left him, but the weakness had passed He even smiled grimly, feeling now as clearly as a moment before he had felt the opposite, that what he had to do, he had to do, if he could, and that whether Faramir or Aragorn or Elrond or Galadriel or Gandalf of anyone else ever knew about it was beside the purpose. He took his staff in one hand and the phial in his other. When he saw that the clear light was already welling through his fingers, he thrust it into his bosom and held it against his heart. Then turning from the city of Morgul, now no more than a grey glimmer across a dark gulf, he prepared to take the upward road.

Gollum, it seemed, had crawled off along the ledge into the darkness beyond, when the gates of Minas Morgul opened, leaving the hobbits where they lay. He now came creeping back, his teeth chattering and his fingers snapping. ‘Foolish! Silly!’he hissed. ‘Make haste! They mustn’t think danger has passed. It hasn’t. Make haste!’ (…)

‘Careful!’ he whispered. ‘Steps. Lots of steps. Must be careful!’

Care was certainly needed. Frodo and Sam at first felt easier, having now a wall on either side, but the stairway was almost as steep as a ladder, and as they climbed up and up, they became more and more aware of the long black fall behind them. And the steps were narrow, spaced unevenly, and often treacherous: they were worn and smooth at the edges, and some were broken, and some cracked as foot was set upon them. The hobbits struggled on, until at last they were clinging with desperate fingers to the steps ahead, and forcing their aching knees to bend and straighten; and ever as the stair cut its way deeper into the sheer mountain the rocky walls rose higher and higher above their heads.

At length, just as they felt that they could endure no more, they saw Gollum’s eyes peering down at them again. ‘We’re up,’ he whispered. ‘First stair’s past. Clever hobbits to climb so high, very clever hobbits. Just a few more little steps and that’s all, yes.’

Dizzy and very tired Sam, and Frodo following him, crawled up the last step, and sat down rubbing their legs and knees. They were in a deep dark passage that seemed still to go up before them, though at a gentler slope and without steps. Gollum did not let them rest long.

‘There’s another stair still,’ he said. ‘Much longer stairs. Rest when we get to the top of the next stair. Not yet.’

Sam groaned. ‘Longer, did you say?’ he asked.

‘Yes, yess, longer,’ said Gollum. ‘But not so difficult. Hobbits have climbed the Straight Stair. Next comes the Winding Stair.’

‘And what after that?’ said Sam.

‘We shall see,’ said Gollum softly. ‘O yes, we shall see!’

‘I thought you said there was a tunnel,’ said Sam. ‘Isn’t there a tunnel or something to go through?’

‘O yes, there’s a tunnel,’ said Gollum. ‘But hobbits can rest before they try that. If they get through that, they’ll be nearly to the top. Very nearly, if they get through. O yes!’

Frodo shivered. The climb had made him sweat, but now he felt cold and clammy, and there was a chill draught in the dark passage, blowing down from the invisible heights above. He got up and shook himself. ‘Well, let’s go on!’ he said. ‘This is no place to sit in.’ (…)

Still on and up the stairway bent and crawled, until at last with a final flight, short and straight, it climbed out again on to another level. The path veered away from the main pass in the great ravine, and it now followed its own perilous course at the bottom of a lesser cleft among the higher regions of the Ephel Dúath. (…) Still far ahead, and still high above, Frodo, looking up, saw, as he guessed, the very crown of this bitter road. Against the sullen redness of the eastern sky a cleft was outlined in the topmost ridge, narrow, deep-cloven between two black shoulders; and on either shoulder was a horn of stone.

He paused and looked more attentively. The horn upon the left was tall and slender; and in it burned a red light, or else the red light in the land beyond was shining through a hole. He saw now: it was a black tower poised above the outer pass. He touched Sam’s arm and pointed.

‘I don’t like the look of that!’ said Sam.


Entries for this series:

~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 1: Main essay for this series, plus EE scene, "You listen to me...."

~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 2: “He wants it….”

~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 3: “I can carry it….”

~ Stairs of Cirith Ungol Pt. 4: “Go home….”

Tables of Links:

~ Frodo and Elijah screencaps Main Page.

~ Mechtild

Tags: essay, frodo screencaps, return of the king

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