For this post, the book scene will come first. The film script and screencaps follow. Unfortunately, there is no poem. There is, however, a long discussion section. Those not interested should scroll past it to the images.
Book scenes: Two excerpts from Mount Doom.After climbing eastward for some time [the road] bent back upon itself at a sharp angle and went westward for a space. There at the bend it was cut deep through a crag of old weathered stone once long ago vomited from the Mountain’s furnaces. Panting under his load Sam turned the bend; and even as he did so, out of the corner of his eye, he had a glimpse of something falling from the crag, like a small piece of black stone that had toppled off as he passed.
A sudden weight smote him and he crashed forward, tearing the backs of his hands that still clasped his master’s. Then he knew what had happened, for above him as he lay he heard a hated voice.
‘Wicked master!’ it hissed. ‘Wicked master cheats us; cheats Sméagol, gollum. He musstn’t go that way. He musstn’t hurt Preciouss. Give it to Sméagol, yess, give it to uss!’
With a violent heave Sam rose up. At once he drew his sword; but he could do nothing. Gollum and Frodo were locked together. Gollum was tearing at his master, trying to get at the chain and the Ring. This was probably the only thing that could have roused the dying embers of Frodo’s heart and will: an attack, an attempt to wrest his treasure from him by force. He fought back with a sudden fury that amazed Sam, and Gollum also. Even so things might have gone otherwise, if Gollum himself had remained unchanged; but whatever dreadful paths, lonely and hungry and waterless, he had trodden, driven by a devouring desire and a terrible fear, they had left grievous marks on him. He was a lean, starved, haggard thing, all bones and tight-drawn sallow skin. A wild light flamed in his eyes, but his malice was no longer matched by his old griping strength. Frodo flung him off and rose up quivering.
‘Down, down!’ he gasped, clutching his hand to his breast, so that beneath the cover of his leather shirt he clasped the Ring. ‘Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot betray me or slay me now.’
Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, 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 ever touch me again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Mt. Doom.’
The crouching shape backed away, terror in its blinking eyes, and yet at the same time insatiable desire.
Then the vision passed and Sam saw Frodo standing, hand on breast, his breath coming in great gasps, and Gollum at his feet, resting on his knees with his wide-splayed hands upon the ground.
‘Look out!’ cried Sam. ‘He’ll spring!’ He stepped forward, brandishing his sword. ‘Quick, Master!’ he gasped. ‘Go on! Go on! No time to lose. I’ll deal with him. Go on!’
Frodo looked at him as if at one now far away. ‘Yes, I must go on,’ he said. ‘Farewell, Sam! This is the end at last. On Mount Doom doom shall fall. Farewell!’ He turned and went on, walking slowly but erect, up the climbing path.
‘Now!’ said Sam. ‘At last I can deal with you!’ He leaped forward with drawn blade ready for battle. But Gollum did not spring. He fell flat upon the ground and whimpered.
‘Don’t kill us,’ he wept. ‘Don’t hurt us with nassty cruel steel! Let us live, yes, live just a little longer. Lost lost! We’re lost! And when Precious goes we’ll die, yes, die into the dust.’ He clawed up the ashes of the path with his long fleshless fingers. ‘Dusst!’ he hissed.
Sam’s hand wavered. His mind was hot with wrath and the memory of evil. It would be just to slay this treacherous, murderous creature, just and many times deserved; and also it seemed the only safe thing to do. But deep in his heart there was something that restrained 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 shrivelled 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.
‘Oh, curse you, you stinking thing!’ he said. ‘Go away! Be off! I don’t trust you, not as far as I could kick you; but be off. Or I shall hurt you, yes, with nasty cruel steel.’
Gollum got up on all fours, and backed away for several paces, and then turned, and as Sam aimed a kick at him he fled away down the path. Sam gave no more heed to him. He suddenly remembered his master. He looked up the path and could not see him. As fast as he could he trudged up the road. If he looked back, he might have seen not far below Gollum turn again, and then with a wild light of madness glaring in his eyes come, swiftly but warily, creeping on behind, a slinking shadow among the stones.
1.~~I have discussed the first book passage in other posts, but let me repeat my view that the “transfiguration” of Frodo on the slopes of Mt. Doom which so impresses Sam—Frodo seen as a figure robed in white—is actually a demonic vision, a vision of Frodo under the sway of the Ring and its maker. Only the Ring of Sauron, operating through Frodo, could have made Frodo impressive in this Sauron-ish way. He is not himself, it is clear. But who (or what) he is requires more thought.
In the scene itself, the reader is directed to recall the companion scene in the Emyn Muil. We are told, “suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision” (see The Taming of Sméagol). In the Emyn Muil Sam saw Gollum as shrunken, while Frodo became “a tall stern shadow”, “a mighty lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud”. Gollum grovelled at lordly-Frodo’s feet, like “a little whining dog” and Sam was awed. Yet along with the awe he felt that the two were, in that moment, “in some way akin and not alien”, that “they could reach one another’s minds”.
Sam was right. There was a kinship. Connecting their minds was the Ring and Sauron Its maker, since a part of his will and life force had been poured into It. The resulting insatiable desire for It created rivalry, not just between Frodo and Gollum, but between any whom It touched significantly. (Boromir comes immediately to mind.)
In the Mt. Doom scene, Sam sees Frodo and Gollum as “two rivals”. To me, the rivalry played out on Mt. Doom was, under the surface, not so much between Frodo and Gollum as Sauron and Gollum, Frodo having been overwhelmed in that moment of extreme crisis.
If that is so, what Sam only caught a glimpse of in the Emyn Muil emerged more fully on the slopes of Mt. Doom. In the Emyn Muil, Sam saw Frodo as a “tall stern shadow”, a mighty lord, who “hid his brightness in grey cloud”. Sam could sense great power, but cloaked.
On Mt. Doom, the veil is gone. Sam sees not a mighty lord precisely, but a “figure”, “a figure robed in white”. The description seems to refer not just to the colour of the figure’s clothes, but to its aura, as if it were covered in white light.
And light is good, isn’t it? Especially in Tolkien. As a reader of these scenes, many of us—me, certainly—have had conflicting impressions while reading these scenes. As a young, first-time reader I was primarily wowed, just as Sam was. "This is Frodo’s inner light and strength revealed!" I thought excitedly. Frodo was shown at last, as “a figure robed in white”. This meant that Frodo had become imbued with power, power to help him vanquish not only Gollum but the fate that awaited him at the Cracks of Doom. Surely he would be able to destroy Ring! Frodo had the white light! Didn’t Gandalf fend off the forces of evil using such a light? With light from his upraised palm Gandalf had repelled even the Ringwraiths! Didn’t Frodo use the light in the phial of Galadriel against Shelob? How could the light Sam saw emanating from Frodo be bad?
Over years of readings I changed my mind. It became clearer to me that in Tolkien there is good light and bad light. The pure light of the two trees of Valinor is good--which is the source of the light of Eärendil, captured in the phial Galadriel gives to Frodo. So is the light used by Gandalf. Natural light is good, too, the light of the stars and moon and sun. But all these sources of light were made by the Valar, which in turn came from Eru, who created the Valar, as well as the “secret fire” at the heart of the world. Yet a light emanates from Minas Morgul, but it is morbid and deathly, just as the beautiful flowers of the Morgul Vale smell like corruption. Saruman’s white robes, also, were not a guarantee of his goodness.
It’s rather brilliant of Tolkien, I think, to complicate his light symbolism this way. For isn’t that how it is in the world? One is often dazzled by the light of what is worthless or even bad. Conversely, “all that is gold does not glitter.”
A major indicator of who is in charge in this scene can be seen in the way Frodo treats Gollum. If Frodo is even more luminous on Mt. Doom than he was in the Emyn Muil, Gollum’s is more deprived of light. In fact, it says he has become the “shadow" of a living thing”. In the sections that follow Sam will have seen a "shadow" out of the corner of his eye, or a "shadowy shape" (or comparable words) following him.
If Frodo is even more elevated on Mt. Doom than in the Emyn Muil, Gollum is that much lower. There, he was “a little whining dog”. On Mt. Doom he’s less than a dog. He’s “the shadow of a living thing,” and “a creature now wholly ruined and defeated”. Frodo may look impressive (as this figure robed in white), but he is also “untouchable now by pity”, clearly shown in what happens to Gollum, reduced to something less than a dog before him. Who is it that takes away the dignity and personhood of his rivals, who makes his adversaries grovel in the dirt? Not Frodo of the Shire, surely.
The clincher for me is that not only does Frodo appear to Sam as “a figure robed in white,” who is “untouchable now by pity”, but, “at its breast it held a wheel of fire”, out of which speaks “a commanding voice”. (Later Sam will note that the voice is louder and clearer than he has ever heard from Frodo.)
This all speaks to me of an alien presence at work in Frodo (no, I don’t mean from outer space). The wheel of fire, it says, is held at its—not his— breast. This may be a matter of correct grammatical correct usage, since technically a “figure” is not a person but a thing. But I think for Tolkien--so careful with words and their nuances--to say, “at its breast”, is significant beyond proper grammar. In the Emyn Muil scene, Sam saw Frodo as “a tall stern shadow”, yet who hid his brightness in grey cloud.
For Sam to note on the slopes of Mt. Doom that the "figure robed in white" held at its breast a wheel of fire subtly tells the reader that Gollum is not the only one who has been made less human. Frodo is losing his humanity too. The “commanding voice” that speaks out of the wheel of fire, the fire held at its breast, very well may not be Frodo’s. Tolkien could have said, “Sam heard Frodo speak in a commanding voice", or something like it, but he does not. He chooses to say “a” voice spoke out of the fire held at “its” breast. I think this indicates that the Frodo we have known is not the speaker, even if the speaker is using Frodo’s voice and body.
The moment could be interpreted differently. Another reader might see the figure robed in white with its other voice, as the incarnation not of Sauron—an alien spirit using Frodo—but of Frodo himself, his dark side, which was there all the time, just waiting for a crisis to bring it out. But I’d still say, no. Nothing in Frodo was ever, or ever would be, dark like the Dark Lord who made the Ring, the One who was “untouchable now by pity”.
Thankfully, Frodo’s fit passes. Having recovered himself, he walks, "slowly but erect”, to the entrance to the Sammath Naur, as if intent once more on the consummation of his near-hopeless mission.
Beyond this, I just want to add that I think it interesting that although Frodo feared that if the Ring were taken from him he would go mad—as he says in the book text when Sam offers to help carry the Ring, and although Gandalf had said Bilbo’s mind would have been harmed had he not been able to relinquish the Ring voluntarily—Frodo has already been deprived of the Ring and survived it. When Frodo wakes in the Tower of Cirith Ungol he believes that the Ring is gone. It turns out that Sam has it, but Frodo does not know it. Notably, he does not go insane, but stands up under questioning, as required by his mission, in spite of his personal loss.
On Gorgoroth, therefore, when Frodo says, “I should go mad!” if Sam should try to take the Ring, even as a kindness, what he is saying is that he is so bound by the Ring he would resist, to the last ounce of his strength, should anyone try to take the Ring (or appear to), no matter who, even Sam.
But when the choice is taken out of his hands, as when Sam takes the Ring when Frodo is unconscious, it is another matter. This should be a clue to readers that Frodo will in fact be able to survive being stripped of the Ring in the Sammath Naur. It is taken against his will, it is true, but it is taken when he is not himself. It is taken only after his will has been overpowered by Sauron’s will, through the medium of Sauron’s instrument, the One Ring.
2.~~The second book passage is important because it shows Sam’s mercy. Neither this nor an equivalent scene is provided in the films, but that is not surprising. However I may love these films, it is plain that in them mercy, or pity, does not receive the emphasis Tolkien gave it. While Frodo does show mercy in the films, it is fitfully, and diminished by a streak of self-interest (wanting Gollum to be redeemed as a sign that he, too, can be redeemed). The mercy Frodo shows in the book is based on intentional, difficult decisions, acting against his feelings [of fear and loathing], to show mercy to his enemy.
But Sam has continued to harbour a [very understandable] grudge, in book and film. In this book scene, Tolkien portrays Sam finally showing pity towards Gollum, in spite of Sam's common sense and notions of justice, all because of the new-found empathy, sprung from his new-found understanding of what it means to bear the Ring. (I have mentioned the BBC radio production many times, but, like the scenes in the Tower and on Gorgoroth, these scenes are superbly played by young William Nighy as Sam, and 50-year-old Ian Holm as Frodo.)
3.~~As for the film scene, considering its limited goals, I think it is just great, an action scene that really works. It’s dramatic, it’s intense, and it does what it means to do: it shows that Gollum is alive, back, and lethal, and it cranks up the audience’s anticipation for what will happen in the Sammath Naur.
I hate and despise, however, what was added for the EE version of RotK. (See blue sections of the script below). Gollum’s mocking humour lowers the tone, and eviscerates Gollum’s oath on the Precious of its gravity. It undercuts the gravity of oath-taking in the story generally. Oath-taking--making vows and solemn promises--is hugely important in LotR, and all of Tolkien’s tales. The breaking of solemn oaths always has grave consequences, and the characters, good and bad, all seem to understand that. But not the filmmakers.
Just looking at the film, the extended scene makes no sense in the context of the wider story. In the earlier fight in Shelob’s tunnel it is made perfectly clear to the audience, and to Frodo, that Gollum will stop at nothing, even murder, to get the Ring. With the tunnel scene in mind, the spectacle Frodo of wailing in shocked dismay to Gollum, “You swore on the Precious! Sméagol promised!” makes Frodo look like a pathetic, clueless, stupid fool.
Gollum’s smirking “Sméagol lied" not only strikes the wrong note in terms of mood (bringing in macabre, farcical humour where there ought to be high tragedy), it is simply wrong. Gollum never thought he was lying, not in the book or the film. He took his oath too seriously, bound as he was to it by the Ring. But, like people in every place and time who want something so much they will act wrongfully to get it, he twisted his interpretation of his oath so that he could do what he wanted yet still feel justified doing it.
I am not saying this EE extended scene was poorly played, shot, lit, or scored. I am saying it was wrong. Wrong in tone and sense. Probably, they left the extended sequence out of the theatrical version precisely because it contradicted the dramatic points established in the Shelob’s tunnel scene. In that scene, Gollum showed that he wanted the Ring enough to betray Frodo to his death, even to kill him with his own hands, that Frodo forgave Gollum, nevertheless, but let him know he intended to destroy the Ring--for both their sakes--a plan Gollum could not abide.
I don't know which they shot first, the EE version of the fight on Mt. Doom or the fight in Shelob's tunnel, but they should not have included both. If they meant Frodo to appear ignorant of Gollum’s intentions until Mt. Doom (per the EE Mt. Doom sequence), they should have cut the fight in Shelob's tunnel. If they wanted to show Frodo’s eyes opened earlier on, they should have left out EE Mt. Doom addition, which makes the tunnel scene nonsensical.
I will discuss further the matter of Gollum’s oath and what the breaking of it meant for him, complete with a series of pertinent book excerpts, in one of the Sammath Naur posts coming up.
ETA: Jan-u-wine, who always sends me comments on my posts remarked that this scene did not really bother her. Her reasons for seeing the EE scene as acceptable are logical, so I asked if I could quote some of what she said here. Her impressions might speak for others who did not have a particular problem with this scene.
She wrote of this scene,I did not see Frodo as any more a ninny (or less) than PJ had made of him [already]. The way I interpreted it was that he was, in that moment, desperate enough to try anything: he would call on an oath which he already knew was foresworn even if calling on it only availed him a few moments of time - time in which Sam might come to his rescue.
Film Scene: Gollum attacks. (EE portion indicated by blue type.)
Sam carrying Frodo on his back climbs the rocky path. By a large boulder he pauses to look up.
Sam: Look, Mister Frodo. A doorway! We're almost there.
Gollum: (Appearing over the top of the boulder.) Clever Hobbits, to climb so high!
Gollum drops down onto Sam and Frodo, pulling Frodo off and rolling with him down rocky steps. Gollum, on top, grips Frodo’s neck.
Gollum: (In a sarcastic voice as he throttles Frodo) Mustn’t go that way; mustn’t hurt the Precious.
Frodo: You swore! You swore on the Precious! Sméagol promised!
Gollum: Sméagol lied.
Gollum laughs as he chokes Frodo.
Sam, recovered, throws a rock at Gollum’s head, knocking him off Frodo. Gollum climbs after Frodo who lies panting on the rocks but Sam, shouting, tackles Gollum. Together they roll down the rock and rubble. After a flash to action at the Morannon, Gollum is shown bashing Sam’s head against a rock then biting his throat. Sam pushes him off, pulling Sting and giving Gollum a swipe to the midriff. Forgetting Gollum, Sam looks frantically up Mt. Doom.
Sam: Frodo! (Sam sees Frodo running ahead, scrambling up the hill clutching the Ring on its chain.)
The screencaps below are made from the fullscreen theatrical version. They have been brightened and sharpened considerably.
All Frodo Screencaps: