Literature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsThe Two Towers Book 4 Chapter 8 Summary

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 8) : The Stairs of Cirith Ungol | Summary

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Summary

Gollum urges Frodo and Sam on toward Cirith Ungol, and soon they can see Minas Morgul glowing with an eerie light. Frodo feels the Ring has become very heavy and it pulls on the chain around his neck. Suddenly, the gates of Minas Morgul open and out of them issues an army led by the leader of the Nazgûl, the same one who stabbed Frodo on Weathertop. Frodo feels pain in the old wound and has a strong desire to put on the Ring. By holding on to the phial given to him by Galadriel, he is able to resist this urge, and the army passes by without noticing them.

Cirith Ungol, Gollum tells them, is made up of two stairways—one straight and steep, and one winding but less steep. They climb the steep stair, then rest for a moment before going on to the longer one. After a while, they take a break from walking to have some food. During this time, as the hobbits talk together, Gollum disappears. When he comes back, Sam and Frodo are sleeping, with Frodo resting on Sam. Gollum seems to recall, however distantly, what it was like to have friends or family, and he reaches out for Frodo's hand as if to hold it. But Sam, waking up suddenly, thinks Gollum is attempting to do harm, and speaks harshly to him. When Frodo wakes up, he tells Gollum he has now done what was agreed, and may go free. But Gollum wants to continue as their guide.

Analysis

In this chapter, Frodo feels increasingly the influence of the Ring. It causes him to impulsively run toward the bridge to Minas Morgul, and the Ring hangs like a dragging weight around his neck: "It's heavy on me, Sam lad, very heavy. I wonder how far I can carry it?"

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum all have significant moments in this chapter. Frodo becomes even more determined to complete the quest, even if no one ever finds out. So, he has passed the point of needing to have others praise him for his actions: "what he had to do, he had to do, if he could, and that whether ... anyone else ever knew about it was beside the purpose." Sam articulates a beautiful speech, developing the theme of storymaking: "The brave things in the old tales and songs ... I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't."

Perhaps the most important moment occurs in Gollum's story line, however. He returns to Frodo and Sam to find them both sleeping peacefully, and "[a] strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away." Gollum then places his hand affectionately on Frodo's knee. Sam, waking up and seeing Gollum "pawing at master," reacts harshly, and the moment is lost. According to Tolkien, this was a moment in which Gollum could have experienced redemption, but Sam's suspicious and angry response ruined the opportunity. Even though readers may sympathize with Sam as Frodo's protector, in Tolkien's mind, Sam did not do the right thing in this moment, and as a result, Gollum lost his final chance.

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