The Return of the King: Novel Summary: Book VI Chapter 1

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The narrative thread again doubles back on itself, returning readers to the moment at which Aragorn was sailing the pirate ships to Minas Tirith and Pippin was watching Denethor's madness consume him. At that moment, Sam is feeling "utterly alone." Frodo, seriously wounded by Shelob, has been taken, alive, as a prisoner in the tower of Cirith Ungol. Not doubting his duty to rescue Frodo, Sam decides to put on the Ring, which he took from Frodo's limp body before the orcs took Frodo. Sam knows the Ring will render him invisible as he steals into the land of Mordor itself. Once he has crossed its borders, he takes the Ring off again, but he soon experiences something of its ego-enlarging effects: he sees a vision of himself as Samwise the Strong, "Hero of the Age," transforming Mordor into a huge garden. But Sam, remaining steadfastly true to Frodo, rejects this possibility and enters Cirith Ungol. Within the dark and forbidding tower, Sam slowly makes his way up to the chamber where Frodo is being held captive, both escaping and encountering orcs along the way, evading and (due to the influence of the Ring) intimidating them.
At length, however, Sam begins to feel defeated and hopeless. But how does he respond? He sings a defiant song, whose lyrics include the oath-like language, "I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell." The orcs guarding Frodo think their captive is singing, and threaten him with physical punishment. At that, Sam falls on them with Sting in hand. He proceeds to liberate Frodo. Frodo had heard Sam singing, and the songs enabled Frodo to go on hoping-for he did make noise: he tried to answer.
Sam shows Frodo that he has been guarding the Ring. For an instant, Frodo is very angry with Sam. Soon, however, he returns to himself, realizing that Sam has kept hope for the quest to destroy the Ring alive. Frodo feels, however, that this quest will indeed prove hopeless. Still, grimly determined, bound by duty, the two hobbits-now disguised in ugly orc armor-leave Cirith Ungol and head toward Mount Doom and the Crack of Fire.
Why is Sam able to resist the corrupting influence of the Ring? Because he remains focused on his duty and, more than that, his devotion to Frodo. Critic Tom Shippey suggests that the Ring "amplifies" the tendencies already within a person as well as introducing corruptive elements into their personalities. In Sam's case, the Ring enlarges his sense of duty to Frodo more than it enlarges his own self-interest. "In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense." Love and common sense, Tolkien suggests, go far in resisting temptation and evil. As the Scriptures which Tolkien knew put it, perfect love casts out fear (see 1 John 4:18).
Careful readers will note Tolkien's use of interlacing as Sam sees Shagrat leave through the gate bearing "his precious burden"-the tokens that the Mouth of Sauron will show to the armies of the West (in, from the reader's point of view, the previous chapter). Here we see that, if Tolkien uses interlacing to create suspense and dread-and he certainly does-he also uses it to relieve tension and create hope. Once more, Tolkien's interlacing can be seen to reflect reality as it is. No one possesses full knowledge of a situation in any given moment; only from a larger perspective, one not usually available to humans, is full knowledge possible. We are left to make the best choices we can in the moment, as Sam does throughout his various encounters with orcs in this chapter.
Sam's song in the darkness of Cirith Ungol may remind biblically-minded readers (as Tolkien most certainly was) of Paul and Silas singing songs of praise even when imprisoned (Acts 16:25)-songs that preceded a "eucatastrophic" deliverance for the apostles, even as Sam enables a "eucatastrophic" deliverance of the imprisoned Frodo. Beyond any possible scriptural allusions, however, the episode emphasizes Tolkien's thoughts on hope. Hope must be stubbornly maintained in order to truly be hope. Hope, for Tolkien, is a heroic virtue-with all that implies, given Tolkien's Norse-influenced ideal of heroism. It is, quite literally, "hope against hope." Hope perseveres. And, indeed, Sam's perseverant hope in the form of the music created the opportunity Sam needed to free Frodo.

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