This installment of Re-telling Tales of Middle-Earth summarizes the story of Book Four of The Lord of The Rings, which is the second half of The Two Towers. Book Four follows Frodo and Sam’s journey into Mordor. In this summary, I endeavor to put as many of the cards from Magic: the Gathering’s Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth in narrative order as possible, incorporating both the main and commander sets, so that the enjoyment of both the cards and the story may be as full as possible for everyone. As with any summary, I’ve made certain omissions – much from the story and many cards – for the sake of brevity.

Check out Book One, Book Two, Book Three, Book Five, and Book Six!

Chapter One: The Taming of Sméagol

Gollum, Obsessed Stalker by John Di Giovanni

Three days into their journey toward Mordor, Frodo and Sam find themselves wandering the barren hills of Emyn Muil without a clear path to Mordor and Mount Doom. With naught else to heat, even the lembas from Lothlórien has begun to lose its appeal, and Frodo feels as if, in these bare slopes, he is utterly exposed to Lidless Gaze.

As the pair make their way out of the Emyn Muil, they spy Gollum behind them. As he climbs down, Sam and Frodo lie in wait, and as he drops, they spring on him. Wiry and feral, Gollum nearly overcomes Sam, but Frodo draws Sting and manages to subdue him. Bidding him come with them, the trio sit down to rest, but as soon as Sam and Frodo relax, Gollum tries to flee. After re-capturing him, Samwise binds Gollum with Hithlain Knots, and they make Gollum promise to “serve the master of the Precious.” 

Gollum begins to refer to himself as Sméagol, and eagerly offers to take them to Mordor by a route the orcs don’t use or know – a route directly across the Dead Marshes.

Chapter Two: The Passage of the Marshes 

Detail from The Dead Marshes by Erikas Perl

As Sméagol leads the hobbits into The Dead Marshes, he sings to himself, “we only wish to catch a fish, so juicy-sweet!” which alerts Sam to the pressing trouble of their rations – Sméagol could not abide the elvish food and had to depart periodically to hunt small creatures that lived in the marsh.

On the third day of their journey they see wisps of light and dead faces in the water, the fallen of an ancient battle – Sméagol warns them about gazing at the the lights or the images of the dead, and they move on.

As they journey on, a Ringwraith wheels about in the sky, terrifying them. In its wake, Gollum becomes more fawning, but Frodo seems to grow more and more exhausted by the day, as if the Ring were growing heavy. Eventually, they emerge from the Dead Marshes into the desolation just north of Mordor.

Later, Sam overhears a conversation Sméagol is having with himself, with one voice trying to convince the other to twist the words of his promise. “If we was master, then we could help ourselfs, yes, and still keep promises,” and the other voice objecting that he doesn’t want to hurt Frodo. Finally, the voices settle their dispute:

“We wants it! But… Not yet, eh? Perhaps not. She might help. She might, yes?”

“No, no!” Not that way!”

“Yes! We wants it! We wants it!”

Sam realizes now that it is not that Gollum may eat them that makes him dangerous, but that the Ring calls to him. Feigning that he’d only just awakened, Sam lets out a large yawn, distracting Gollum. Frodo then awakens, strangely refreshed, and the trio make their way southward again, toward the Black Gates.

As they approach, the fear of the Ringwraiths falls upon them twice more, and Gollum has to be threatened and made to continue their journey through the wastes.

Chapter Three: The Black Gate is Closed

The Black Gate by Marc Simonetti

By the end of the following day – the same day, in fact, on which Gandalf and the others had come into the ruins of Isengard – the trio could see The Black Gate. It is obvious from the high walls and the constant patrols that this is a dead end. Gollum suggests another way, along the mountains and then through Cirith Ungol, which he says is an unexpected route that may not draw as much attention from the Enemy. As Frodo deliberates, they hear the sound of men singing, and see a line of men from the south marching to join the ranks of Mordor at the Black Gate. At last, Frodo decides that Cirith Ungol is their path forward, and they rest until nightfall.

Chapter Four: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

Stew the Coneys by Eelis Kyttänen

As they journey southward toward Cirith Ungol, they begin to think about their provisions for the road home. As Gollum sets off to hunt, Sam suggests that he also look for food for the hobbits as well. Gollum – Sméagol – says they are happy to help “if they asks nicely.”

Sure enough, Sméagol returns with rabbits. Samwise sets about preparing them, which horrifies Sméagol, who prefers his meat raw – he departs to hunt again. Sam gathers up herbs and sets out to Stew the Coneys.

After eating, the hobbits carelessly forget to put out the cookfire, and attract the attention of the Rangers of Ithilien under the command of Faramir, brother of Boromir. Frodo guardedly describes where he comes from, and how they set out, in addition to asking Faramir to spare Gollum if they come upon him.

As they rest among the rangers, the men of Harad are moving on the road, and the men of Gondor ambush them. As they do, Sam sees an Oliphaunt crash away from their ranks, and is intensely delighted. With the ambush over, Sam prepares to go to sleep, and the rangers begin to prepare to move on, and suggest that they may take the hobbits with them.

Chapter Five: The Window on the West

Faramir discovers Boromir’s Broken Horn, depicted by Dominik Mayer on Faramir, Field Commander

Sam awakes to see Frodo standing before a large semicircle of rangers, with Faramir seated at the center. Faramir interrogates Frodo about his journey, and informs Frodo of Boromir’s death. Once satisfied with Frodo’s answers, Faramir speaks his intent to take Frodo to Minas Tirith, though first to another place, as the road south is no longer safe.

As they walk, Faramir lets on that he knows Frodo had been hiding something about Isildur’s Bane, but seeks to make amends and establish himself as an ally. After a time, Faramir apologizes that he must blindfold them as they are about to move on hidden paths, and they come into Henneth Annûn, The Window of the Sunset.

As evening comes, the hobbits take dinner with Faramir, and in conversation, Sam lets slip that Boromir coveted the Ring. Just as it looks like the Ring may tempt Faramir as well,

“So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was through to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way – to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!”

But he means not to take it. He assures them that he has vowed, “Not if I found it on the highway would I take it.” Faramir reassures Sam that his slip of the tongue is safe with him, and may even have turned to their benefit, though he cautions him not to name the Ring again.

Faramir then asks Frodo whither he wishes to go, and Frodo tells him of his quest to cast the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Faramir is astonished by Frodo’s resilience and bravery, and they retire to rest in mutual admiration and respect.

Chapter Six: The Forbidden Pool

Detail from Henneth Annûn by Marco Gorlei

Faramir wakes Frodo before dawn, bringing him to the pool Henneth Annûn, as his lookouts have spied Gollum. He asks Frodo whether or not he should have his men shoot Gollum, but Frodo stays their hands. Instead, Frodo descends to the pool in an effort to capture Sméagol without him being harmed.

Using a ruse, he successfully leads Sméagol to Faramir’s men, who bind him and bring him away from the pool for interrogation. While warning Frodo not to trust him, Faramir nevertheless honors Frodo’s wishes, and they place Gollum under guard until Frodo and Sam are ready to set out again on their quest to Cirith Ungol.

Chapter Seven: Journey to the Cross-roads

The statue at the Cross-roads, depicted on Mind Stone by Maxim Kostin

The hobbits set out south from the Forbidden Pool, and through the woods, come to a cross-road. To the west, they see the distant and bright land of Gondor. Frodo and Sam pause to consider a derelict statue of an ancient king, whose head has been vandalized by the folk of Mordor. Despite the mockery that had been made of it, they take heart in that the statue’s head, now lying upon the ground, had been wreathed in white and yellow flowers, like the silver and gold of a crown. As the last beams of daylight fade, Frodo takes this as a sign that “They cannot conquer for ever!”

Chapter Eight: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol

Minas Morgul by Sean Yo

Gollum guides the hobbits south into the valley of Minas Morgul, across the bridge over the Morgulduin. They are momentarily transfixed by seeing its high tower, but as they make their way forward, they grow weary of the foul air. As they approach the city of the Ringwraiths, it erupts in a deafening thunder, and a host of cavalrymen, led by the Witch-King of Angmar, pour forth from the city. As he approaches, the Lord of the Nine stops, as if he detects the Ring.

The Ring begins to tempt Frodo, but the Phial of Galadriel calms him, and the wraith rides on. After the host passes, the trio reach the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, which climb over the city of Minas Morgul and lead to a tunnel through to Mordor. Gollum slinks off again, and Frodo and Sam discuss whether he can be trusted. When he returns, Frodo asks Gollum if they can now find their way without his guidance, and offers to send him back to safety. Gollum assures them that they will yet need his help, and they head toward the tunnel.

Chapter Nine: Shelob’s Lair

Gollum lures Frodo and Sam into Shelob’s Lair on Gollum, Scheming Guide by Dmitry Burmak

The tunnel is foul-smelling, but the trio press in. As they move forward, Sam and Frodo lose track of Gollum, and feel as if something is watching them. Suddenly, they hear a “gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss.” Frodo raises the Phial of Galadriel, and sees the eyes of Shelob, Dread Weaver. Rather than running, he confronts her, and she draws back.

Seeing their opportunity, Sam and Frodo make for the exit, but find themselves blocked by Shelob’s webs. Handing Samwise the phial, Frodo cuts through the web with Sting as easily as a scythe mows through grass. Catching sight of their exit, Frodo is elated, but Sam still feels uneasy. Just as they reach the end, Sam puts the light away, and no sooner than he has, she comes. Emerging from a dark hole in the distance between Sam and Frodo, Shelob fixes on the Ringbearer. This was Gollum’s plan – to feed Frodo to Shelob, and claim the Precious.

As Sam cries out to warn Frodo, Gollum’s hand covers his mouth, and they struggle. In Gollum’s haste and spite, he misjudges Sam, and is worse off for it. Sam moves to finish Gollum, but Gollum is too fast. He springs away and disappears before Sam can catch him. Turning round, Sam rushes back up the path, but he is too late.

Chapter 10: The Choices of Master Samwise

Samwise the Stouthearted by Irvin Rodriguez

As Samwise rushes up the path, he finds Frodo lying face up on the ground with Shelob over him. Sting, Frodo’s blade, lay on the ground. Sam springs forward and grabs the blade, and stabs Shelob in one of her eyes. Being directly underneath her, he remains out of reach of her fangs, and scores her underside with a deep gash that bubbles poison. Shelob thinks to crush Sam with her weight, but moves too soon, for Sting was still held toward her – She impales herself upon the elven blade! Summoning the last of her strength, Shelob wheels on Sam. Sam, holding the phial aloft, intones a plea to Elbereth, and the phial blazes with a pure light that burns Shelob’s mind. The foul spider crawls away with all the haste that her wounded body can muster, leaving a trail of green-yellow slime behind.

The venom of Shelob had begun its work. It appears to Sam that Frodo was well and truly dead. Samwise begins to despair, but musters himself for the sake of the Quest, realizing that if he doesn’t, all would be for naught. Taking the Ring, the phial, and Sting, he sets out toward Mount Doom. As he walks away, he suddenly hears the sound of orc voices. As the orcs approach, Sam dons the Ring and keeps silent. He finds he can understand the orc language while wearing the Ring: the orcs are Gorbag, Shagrat, and about 30 others on patrol from Cirith Ungol. The orcs come upon Frodo’s body and begin to take it away.

Sam tails them and listens to their conversation, and learns that Frodo is still alive, and that Shagrat has orders to bring him to Barad-dûr. He runs after Gorbag and Shagrat, hoping to save Frodo from them, but has misjudged how far they are ahead. The orcs reach the lower entrance to Cirith Ungol before Sam can catch up, slamming the gates behind them.

“Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.”

To Gondor!

So concludes Book Four and Volume Two of The Lord of the Rings. In this book, we saw Tolkien exploring themes of desolation and hardship,  and the burden of power. We also saw the question of how to treat the morally wounded (like Gollum) who, though untrustworthy, still have within them, however buried, a fundament of goodness. In my next article, I summarize book five, the first book of The Return of the King, which tells of Aragorn’s journey into Gondor to reclaim his birthright and defend Minas Tirith from the armies of Mordor.  Until next time, “the road goes ever, ever on…”

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