The Return of the King: Novel Summary: Book VI Chapter 2

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Frodo and Sam continue their arduous journey toward Mount Doom, trying to evade the attention of orc armies and the Nazgul along the way. At one point, however, the hobbits note that the Nazgul's cry is different: it has become a cry of "woe and dismay, ill tidings for the Dark Tower." Mustering some, though not overly much, hope from this fact, and gaining some strength from the little of the elvish lembas that is left to them, they continue on. Even Sam's occasional glimpses of Gollum, still trailing them, do not dissuade him from pursuing the quest they have been assigned. At one point, Frodo clearly states the concept of heroism readers have seen on many occasions: "I never hoped to get across. I can't see any hope of it now. But I've still got to do the best I can."
Eventually, however, the two hobbits are discovered by the orcs, who are marching out of Mordor to the war at the Black Gate (Book V, Chapter 10). A whip-cracking orc captain, driving the slave armies whom Sauron uses for his war efforts, sees Sam and Frodo in their stolen orc gear and takes them for deserters. He presses them into the march. Yet, in a moment of "unexpected relief," several companies of Sauron's armies converge, creating a moment of confusion in which the hobbits can and do escape.
This chapter affords readers more opportunities to appreciate Tolkien's mastery of narrative interlacing: for example, Sam notices a change in the wind and infers (correctly) from it that "He's [i.e., Sauron] not having it all his own way." The narrator immediately follows up on Sam's comment by remarking that this incident took place on March 15, when-in an example of the symbolic use of light throughout the novel-"the Sun was rising above the eastern shadow. [and] Theoden lay dying on the Pelennor Fields" (Book V, Chapter 6). This particular example of interlacing also reinforces the narrator's comment from the previous chapter that, though the members of the sundered Fellowship are distant from each other geographically, they remain close to each other in thought. Tolkien's use of interlacing allows readers to share in the small but significant bursts of hope that his characters feel through the final episodes of the adventure.
Readers should, as the narrator invites them to do, compare and contrast Sam's feelings as stirred by the sight of the small white star in this chapter with his singing of songs in Cirith Ungol in the previous one: "His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope." While defiance, or sheer force of will, is important, it is an altogether different thing from pure hope (or what Tolkien's contemporary author and fellow Oxford don C. S. Lewis might have defined as "Joy")-that is, an unexpected, unlooked-for surge of confidence regarding the future, despite all evidence to the contrary. Common to Tolkien's conception of "hope" and to Lewis' conception of "Joy" is that both come, in classical Christian theological language (and both Tolkien and Lewis were well-versed in classical Christian theology), extra nos-outside of ourselves. Throughout The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien presents characters looking for hope and clinging to hope when they find it, but that hope always retains the character of an externally granted gift. Another point in this chapter that reinforces this conception is Frodo's comment regarding the water he and Sam find: "I think we'll trust our luck together, Sam; our blessing." Luck or blessing? Readers must decide for themselves. Each answers carries with it different implications. Is, for example, the confusion caused by the converging armies at the close of the chapter a mere coincidence or the result of an unseen, guiding, providential hand that we, in our unknowing, only refer to as "luck"? As we have seen throughout The Lord of the Rings, characters must act when "luck" is presented to them, just as Sam "grasp[s] quickly at his chance" to get himself and Frodo away from their slave-driving orc captor. While "luck," good fortune and hope are gifts extra nos, we cannot, Tolkien seems to be arguing, remain passive when those gifts are encountered. We remain active agents in shaping our lives and our destinies.

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