The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by

J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Return of the King: Book 6, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sam urges Frodo to run. A Nazgûl has descended beside the tower, and they hear its high-pitched shrieks. After running for a while, Frodo says that they look suspicious—if they were orcs, they would be running into the tower, not from it. They reach a bridge and climb over the side to hide from the orcs they hear approaching. They land in a patch of thorny brambles and wait for the orcs to pass overhead. As they hurry on into the valley, the shadow above begins to disperse a little in the distance, and light filters through.
Though Sam and Frodo are heading further into Mordor and will continue to be shrouded in shadow, the sight of the shadow clearing far away offers a little hope, which suggests that the idea of their friends’ survival is a major motivation for their journey.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Frodo and Sam hear the piercing cry of a Black Rider, but this time it’s full of grief rather than terror. Sam feels that something is changing abroad. Frodo doesn’t share his hope, because they’re moving further into danger, not away from it. They share a bite of bread and walk on. Out of a jagged cliff they’re shocked to hear the trickling of water. Sam asks to drink first to check for poison, but Frodo says they’ll drink together. If they’d been drinking this water in the Shire, they would’ve found it unpleasant, but here and now it’s better than they could dream of.
The fact that the water tastes good highlights the fact that a miracle in the face of hopelessness is more pleasurable than one good thing among many. As with the bread, Frodo resists the idea that Sam should put himself at risk, once again showing that he thinks of them as equals and doesn’t regard Sam as a servant or as disposable in any way. 
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
After several more miles, Frodo needs to find a place to rest. He and Sam scramble through thorny, fly-infested brambles until he becomes too exhausted to go further. They crawl beneath a patch of brambles. They’re thirsty again and doubt they’ll find any more water on their journey. While Frodo sleeps, Sam looks out of the thicket and sees a bright star shining through the shadows in the sky. The sight of it brings him great hope and he forgets for a moment the peril of their journey.
Sam’s experience reflects the idea that one moment of sensory beauty can distract from many days of exhaustion and pain, at least temporarily. The star also emphasizes the vitality of nature and its triumph over manmade destruction—no matter how oppressive the shadow, there’ll still be a star above it.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
Frodo and Sam wake holding hands. They scramble up the rest of the brambly cliff to the innermost fence of Mordor. Mount Doom is still at least 40 miles away. The Eye of Mordor is “turned inward,” brooding on visions of a remade sword and the face of a king. Looking over the plains of Mordor, Frodo and Sam wonder how any army has survived such a lifeless place; yet they see camps of tents, some as big as towns and the closest one right below them at the foot of the cliff. Sam doubts they’ll be able to pass through these lands, but Frodo says that he never felt any hope that he’d finish the journey, and all they can do is go on. 
Like Denethor, Sauron spends time mulling and attempting to predict the future—and given that the reader knows how this affected Denethor, it’s suggested Sauron might be tricked by the threat of his own predictions in a similar way. Mordor’s armies survive in a barren, uninviting wilderness, which shows that their existence is based on destruction and following orders, and completely bare of beauty or the joys of nature—an almost unthinkable existence for hobbits from the Shire.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
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It’s impossible to walk along the top of the cliff, so Frodo and Sam climb back down to the valley. Along the road, they duck out of sight of two approaching orcs. One appears to be a tracker and says to the other that he’s lost the scent he’s tracking and wants to go home. He and the other orc discuss their confusing instructions—they were meant to be looking for a huge elf, which was then described as a short dwarflike person and then a pair of Uruk-hai. They mention that the raiding of Cirith Ungol by this mysterious figure only adds to the fact that battle abroad is going badly. The tracker has heard that the Lord of the Nazgûl has been defeated, and in fact he hopes that’s true.
The orcs’ conversation betrays their lack of morale. In the uncertainty that has arisen from mixed communication, they’re no longer motivated to follow directions and would rather just go home. It’s a sign that Sauron’s power is built not on respect and trust but on unquestioned authority, and that authority will turn into weakness when even a small part of his plan goes wrong. The orcs don’t even respect the most powerful of Sauron’s servants, so it’s clear that they feel no inherent loyalty to their comrades.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
Frodo and Sam understand from the orcs’ conversation that they’ve seen Gollum in Mordor and that he’s wanted alive. Sam tells Frodo he knew that Gollum wasn’t dead; Frodo asks how he knows. Sam describes Gollum’s treachery and his own journey since fighting Shelob. Frodo presses Sam’s hand but says nothing. They move on in the darkness, stumbling through the valley. When a hint of light appears again, they hide and rest. Sam asks Frodo if he knows how far there is still to go. Frodo says that they need to go further from Mount Doom to find the best path, but he knows his burden will grow unbearably heavy and he will have to go very slowly. Sam sighs: they’re out of water and almost out of food. Frodo tells him he’ll try to go more quickly, and the two set off again.
Frodo’s lack of a verbal response to Sam’s information about Gollum suggests that he may feel guilty about allowing Gollum to jeopardize Sam’s safety and Frodo and Sam’s friendship. But Frodo’s priorities lie completely in getting to Mount Doom before his strength runs out, so he doesn’t dwell on this. The two hobbits are working against impossible odds—the longer their path is, the more likely it is to be successful, but they’re running out of rations which makes their chance of success very slim anyway.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The light grows clearer than they’ve seen it here before. Frodo and Sam look around them; it seems they’ve reached a dead end in the valley. Their only choice is to follow the main road. Sam says they might as well try their luck—it’d be no worse to be captured now than to wander around Mordor aimlessly. Frodo rests again while Sam goes out to find more water. The water source he finds seems dried up, but he holds out hope. Eventually he finds a tiny pool to fill his bottle. While there, he sees a creature slinking around the rocks. He recognizes it and longs to throttle it, but it disappears before he can reach it. When he returns to Frodo, he tells him he’s seen Gollum nearby. Sam goes to sleep while Frodo keeps watch.
Frodo and Sam’s odds of success are so low that they’re better off walking directly into the path of danger. Though Frodo has been insistent about his equality with Sam, Sam still acts as his servant and protector and goes in search of water. Sam’s still enraged by Gollum’s treachery and betrayal, which fires up his desire to kill Gollum—a desire that goes against his other priorities of care and protection.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Frodo and Sam set off again. After 12 miles they hear marching feet behind them, too close to escape from by running ahead. They sit in the nook of a cliff with a dim hope of being passed unnoticed. Their plan seems to work until one of the chiefs sees them and tells them to get up—this is no time for resting. They get up and join the company of orcs, but Frodo finds it especially hard to keep up the pace. Just as Frodo and Sam become desperate, the road becomes busy with different troops, and they take the chance to crawl away off the road. Frodo lies in their hiding place as if dead.
Frodo and Sam get lucky—their orc clothes have disguised them well enough to pass as orc soldiers, but this also highlights that the orcs privilege haphazard urgency over careful, detailed decisions. Once again, the chaos of Mordor works in the hobbits’ favor, allowing them to escape while the orc armies battle with their self-destructive tendencies.
Themes
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon