We’ve come a long way in our quest. For the Hobbits, it’s been even longer, and it’s not over yet. Even so, it feels appropriate to delve into a little nostalgia. Humor me, won’t you?
A bit corny, perhaps, but it always brings me a smile. Let’s move forward with the chapter that inspires this little ballad.
While the Ring continues to torment Frodo, Sam gains new strength and the grim will to push ahead. The land before them is cold, dead, and resembles more the surface of the moon than anything from our own world. Even nearly spent, Frodo refuses to give the Ring to Sam, more than aware that he is grasped by its power. Mordor’s forces are called to action, and troop movements have left the road wide open once more. The Hobbits take full advantage of this, even though Frodo can barely move.
As Frodo finally drops from exhaustion days later, Sam picks him up and carries him on his back. By nightfall, they reach the foot of the mountain Orodruin, and Sam is amazed to find it considerably shorter than the paths they’ve climbed thus far. They make their way up the slope, and as the shadows dissipate by morning, they catch a glimpse of the Great Eye flickering atop Sauron’s tower at Barad-dûr. Its gaze passes by, focusing on its armies in the West, but Frodo panics, and Sam does his best to calm him. Taking Frodo upon his shoulders once more, Sam continues and finally reaches the top. Over the cliff, he sees their destination finally reached: the Cracks of Doom.
To my mind, seeing the toll the Ring has taken on Frodo always forces me to recall the sheer strength of will that Gollum must have once had. I’m always impressed by how much he has left, even if I know that what little remaining is driven by his insatiable hunger for the Ring that would destroy any who lust after it. Such is its power, fueled by the indomitable will of Sauron. No sooner do I make this connection, Gollum reappears in the story, having hunted his prey across the plains of Mordor to seemingly the ends of Middle-Earth itself. When Frodo and Gollum struggle, the power of the Ring weighs down Frodo, and Gollum proves to be the stronger. Then by surprise, Frodo commands Gollum with an inner will to leave. Gollum crumbles to his knees. While Frodo continues to the Cracks of Doom, Sam considers slaying Gollum. As Bilbo before him, pity stays Sam’s hand.
When Frodo reaches the Cracks, he turns and declares in a clear voice that he will not complete the quest. The Ring is his, its corruption of our once-noble Hobbit now complete. He puts the Ring on his finger and vanishes. Sam is flung aside by a dark shape, and as he looks up, the Eye of Sauron becomes aware of Frodo. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I read this, or how well I know the story, that one moment never fails to send chills up my spine. In response to their master’s dread will, the remaining Nazgûl pour on blinding speed towards the mountain, which always reminds me of the classic line from Bram Stoker’s Dracula: “For the dead travel fast.” There is no crucifix in this realm that’ll save our heroes, so it seems they’ll have to do it the hard way.
Gollum wrestles with his invisible enemy, biting and clawing. When Frodo reappears, his hand is bleeding and missing a finger. Gollum dances in triumph as he pulls the finger and the Ring from his mouth, and in his revelry he fails to notice how close he is to the edge of the cliff. He falls, the Ring consumed with him in the fires of Mount Doom. The mountain shakes. The Nazgûl wither away, proving the remnants of their existence was manifest by their master’s will alone. It’s the first sign of what we know to be coming next: Tolkien’s eucatastrophe. Sam runs out, carrying Frodo. Frodo seems himself again in the aftermath and explains, recalling Gandalf’s words, that if not for Gollum, he would not have been able to finish the quest.
Without means or provisions for a return journey, Frodo and Sam stand “at the end of all things,” merely elated it is over.