(Updated on 10/11/15)
“The Window On The West” was a nice self-contained chapter, which did little to advance the narrative generally, but still offered a lot great character and dialogue moments. Having got back a bit of drive and momentum following some disappointing chapters earlier, the story really needs that to continue. Keeping the central characters in the same place might seem like a bad way to do that, but “The Forbidden Pool” has a nice crisis up its sleeve.
Frodo gets a weird wake-up call after his previous day’s hijinks. Faramir apparently wants him to come and see some moonlight, but he also has “another matter”. Interesting way to build tension I suppose, but it certainly is a bit creepy. But, as we will see, Faramir has his reasons: despite all the appearances of friendship by the close of the last chapter, he still wants some answers out of Frodo about some things, and wants him caught off guard in the next few moments.
Faramir shows us the garden of Gondor again, in all its beauty, yet another picture perfect Tolkien description of a landscape is a little wasted under these conditions:
“Far off in the West the full moon was sinking, round and white. Pale mists shimmered in the great vale below: a wide gulf of silver fume, beneath which rolled the cool night-waters of the Anduin. A black darkness loomed beyond, and in it glinted, here and there, cold, sharp, remote, white as the teeth of ghosts, the peaks of Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains of the Realm of Gondor, tipped with everlasting snow.”
All we want to know is what’s going on, and why Faramir had decided to bring Frodo out here. That physical description being sidelined isn’t really that good, because it’s supposed to be another way of letting us know that Gondor, the opposite of the desolate wasteland of Mordor, is something worth fighting for.
It’s Gollum, of course, who has drawn the attention. He’s been out of sight and out of mind for a while now, his absence barely noted in the previous chapter having been a point of reference during the initial encounter with the Gondorians. It’s quite a feat, we are told, for the skulking creature to get to this location, but this passage betrays another possible plot hole, or perhaps not. Gollum is supposed to be an expert hunter and tracker, one who has seen every last scrap of landscape on his travels and knows every trick in the book. Yet, he can’t detect the horde of men hiding around him, all ready to kill him at the briefest of words?
Maybe it’s just a way to big-up the concealment powers of the Gondorians, but I don’t really think so. Gollum’s after the Ring, and he’s a good enough tracker to find this place, just by trailing Frodo. He wants to find this place, and he has.
That is, the “Stinker” part of the personality has. Poor abused “Slinker” is the innocent one. Stinker wants to get to Frodo and not leave the Ring-bearer out of his sight and so brings Gollum after the Gondorians. Realising he can’t get back to Frodo without revealing himself, he puts Gollum into this position, a sort of nominal control given over to the far more innocent Slinker, who capers around after the fish, perhaps genuinely not knowing what is all around him. That’s just my theory of course, but I think that it matches the Gollum character, perfectly willing to risk a terrible peril to stay close to the ultimate prize.
Sam has the desire to have Gollum killed right there and then, one which he does not voice – “If Sam had dared, he would have said `Yes,’ quicker and louder” – seemingly ignoring the lesson of Faramir in the last chapter. It’s worth remembering, after the more comical aspects of the character in the last few pages, that Sam is a great deal harder then he appears, much harder than poor Frodo, who has the same thoughts but not as impulsively.
Another example of Faramir’s inherent wisdom is also shown off in these moments, as he allows Gollum to get this far in the first place, rightfully guessing that he is a creature of some import. He knows that he can end Gollum any time he chooses, so he’s in control. It’s another way for him to get information out of the hobbits, presenting them with the very direct evidence of their companion, a companion that they can no longer deny. Frodo is not being very generous with information, but Faramir is well able to get it out of him.
All this cloak and dagger stuff is turning this book into a spy adventure, with Gollum moments from being either killed or betrayed, based entirely on the actions of Frodo. I think this a neat little scene, one that allows for a decent amount of heart-thumping narrative, without being overly violent or action-orientated. That stuff is to come with a bang at the end of the Book instead.
Gollum, overheard by Froddo, has become bitter and resentful, the Stinker side firmly on show, cursing the hobbits at what he deems their abandonment of him, and cursing the men who might take the precious from him. That being plain, I still hold to my above theory, and I think Stinker is well aware of what is about to happen, even if Slinker is not. Frodo, like Sam, now has the secret desire to have Gollum killed, to rid himself of this particular burden. But, he relents in his thinking, with the reasoning that Gollum deserves the break, seeing as how he has saved their lives on several occasions. It’s a good piece of reasoning for Frodo to make, that marks him out from the slightly more impulsive Sam. It’s also important to differentiate them in terms of mercy, and let us know who has the ascendency in that area (even if it’s not always a good thing).
The betrayal comes, as poor Slinker gets done over by Frodo. The Ring-bearer is in a no-win here, and his thought process – “Frodo followed behind, feeling very wretched” – reads as very genuine to me, as someone who is caught in such a situation is bound to feel. Frodo is a hostage to his emotions sometimes, and this particular moment is actual crucial to the whole Frodo/Gollum relationship for the rest of the book: Frodo’s guilt at this juncture is going to cause trouble down the line, leaving him feeling indebted to Gollum. But this whole incident calls into question Frodo’s opinion of Gollum, as he basically lies to get Gollum to come along and be captured, going as far as using the idea of the Ring to threaten him: how much does Frodo really value Gollum as a person, considering how opposed their ultimate goals are, if he is willing to do such things? If he is able to contemplate killing Gollum – or getting others to do it for him – in cold blood?
Faramir questions Gollum, and faces a different challenge to that which he faced with Frodo. Frodo needed to be beaten down with logic, evidence and the right reveals at the right time. This worked, mostly because Frodo could not bring himself to lie. Gollum is a liar, inside and out, so Faramir must be more forceful, more aggressive, more blunt. Gollum is as a child before the Captain of Gondor, and Faramir treats him as such. You are never in any doubt in this scene as to who is in charge, and this other aspect of Faramir, the overawing commander with the “clear, unwavering eyes”, is very noteworthy, as he is able to pierce Gollum’s deceptions with ease. And, like any person in authority should be able to, Faramir can see through Gollum’s lies easily, the falsehoods, the barely hidden malice. Sam sees this too, but leaves it aside on Frodo’s instruction. Faramir has no such drawbacks, and very little pity for the creature cringing before him.
This is a problem for Stinker, who is put through the ringer here. Slinker shuts down under the questions, and like earlier in Book Four, has difficulty looking someone honest in the eyes. Faramir see’s Stinker, “the malice”, which is growing ever stronger inside the Gollum creature, and calls him out on it, in a way that Frodo will never really be able to.
Faramir is eventually placated, following a vigorous oath-taking, one that gives Tolkien another neat little opportunity to expand on hobbit customs in regards to such things. Interestingly, Faramir corrects Frodo on “Minis Ithil”, changing it to “Minis Morgal”. I really liked that little bit, as it shows Faramir as someone who has lived a life of familiarity with the place, and is unwilling to be as loose with place names as Frodo.
Having seen through Gollum’s plan quickly, Faramir gives the lore on “Cirith Ungol”, the pass that Frodo is heading to. The “dark terror” is mentioned again, but no other info is offered (I remain surprised that no one here offers the “common” meaning of the term, which references spiders). I begin to wonder how anyone can even know of this “dark terror” without knowing any more, but this section serves to remind us that there is still trouble a plenty ahead. Faramir is just in his treatment of Frodo, though Frodo gets away with it a little by tugging on the Gondorian’s heartstrings, implying the doom of Minis Tirith if he isn’t let about his task:
“You cannot yourself, you say, guide me to the mountains, nor over them. But over the mountains I am bound, by solemn undertaking to the Council, to find a way or perish in the seeking. And if I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves or Men? Would you have me come to Gondor with this Thing, the Thing that drove your brother mad with desire? What spell would it work in Minas Tirith? Shall there be two cities of Minas Morgul, grinning at each other across a dead land filled with rottenness?“
Its cynical stuff, playing into Faramir’s fears for his homeland, but it works. It also serves as the finale for the chapter, a prolonged speech from Frodo that serves as a manifesto for his journey and for his trust in Gollum.
The hopeless task is put back into focus, as Frodo argues simply that he has to get into Mordor, Gollum knows a way, however dangerous, and Frodo must try that way. It was never going to be easy after all, and this argument beats down Faramir. Like Sam, he knows the trouble that Gollum can cause, but he has no choice but to let it go.
This is a short one, but enjoyable nonetheless. There is a degree of getting things out of the way – the reader must realise that Frodo and Sam have to be moving on soon, and that Gollum has to be reunited with them – but the way that the chapter wraps everything around the capture of Gollum and his subsequent interrogation is really well played. Tolkien could have just had Frodo and Sam be on their way and meet up with Gollum afterwards: instead, we get a set-piece that allows Gollum to be reintroduced to the narrative in a clever way, offers a powerful schism-point for the relationship between him and Frodo and shows us a harder side of both Sam and, to a greater extent, Faramir. Two and a bit chapters have now been spent with Faramir in what is essentially a pause in the larger story, not unlike the pause in Lorien, but unlike those chapters, “The Window On The West” and “The Forbidden Pool” have been much more worthwhile, through their dialogue, character moments and foreshadowing for what is to come.
Next up, back on the road, for more travelling.
For more Chapter by Chapter reviews of The Lord of the Rings, check out the index here.