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The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | The Two Towers (Book 4, Chapter 1) : The Taming of Sméagol | Summary

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Summary

While Aragorn and Company have been chasing Orcs and fighting Saruman's army, Frodo and Sam have been making their way toward Mordor. They come to a cliff and must use a rope to scale down it. As they do so, they see Gollum is still following them, and Sam decides to ambush him. Sam and Gollum wrestle, but Gollum is surprisingly strong, so Frodo intervenes, threatening Gollum with Sting.

In Sam's opinion, they should tie Gollum up and leave him to die. But Frodo doesn't think this would be right.

Suddenly, Gollum makes an escape attempt, but Frodo and Sam capture him and tie him up with the Elven rope. However, the rope seems to hurt Gollum, and he begs them to take it off. They do, but not before they exact an oath from Gollum to help them get to Mordor.

They head off toward the Dead Marshes with Gollum (also called Sméagol) acting as guide.

Analysis

As Book 4 opens, the story shifts to Frodo and Sam, and the events in Book 4 happen at the same time as the events in Book 3, more or less. Yet, while Book 3 is filled with fast-paced travel over many miles and involves large groups of soldiers, Orcs, Ents, and the like, Book 4 focuses on just a few characters traveling in a much smaller region geographically. In adaptations, the tendency has been to cut between the events in these two books, to better convey events happening simultaneously.

A very important moment occurs in this chapter. Sam encourages Frodo to leave Gollum tied up, which would effectively kill him. But the words of a previous conversation Frodo had with Gandalf bring to memory a similar moment. Frodo had said, "What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!" And Gandalf had replied, "Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need." Frodo takes this sudden memory as an admonition, and in response he refrains from killing Gollum. It is this moment Tolkien pinpoints as the one that allowed Frodo's ultimate failure not to be the failure of the quest. Bilbo's and Frodo's act of pity and mercy allow Gollum to remain alive at the end when Frodo is overcome by the Ring. That Frodo's success hinges not on his choice at the end of the quest, but on a previous choice, is of central importance in the story.

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