This stunning conclusion to Book Four will reveal whether half-wise (the meaning of Old English Sām-wīs) is wise enough. When Sam recovers from the immediate shock of Frodo’s “death”—tumbling out of a grief-induced blackout—his world is transformed into a Frodo-less nightmare where he is now, for lack of a better phrase, the adult in the room.
As Sam contemplates leaving his companion in favor of the mission, he even thinks it prudent to don the Ring. But is he actually tempted by It at all?
Parts of this chapter zoom out to what Chris calls the “epic sweep,” and we humble Hosts try to keep up. Frodo and Sam confront what we can only describe as a different, more primordial evil than what we have seen so far: where Orcs, Sauron, and even Melkor/Morgoth represent corruptions or perversions of an original Good, Shelob—unholy spawn of Ungoliant—represents an Evil in the negation, the absence, that is the Void.
The lectio section is somewhat more down-to-earth, and looks at Shelob’s ability to affect the memory and senses of our Hobbits. When all thought of Galadriel’s Phial has been purged from Frodo’s mind, Sam provides some timely inspiration.
“All the world’s a stage,” but is there any direction in the theater of life, or are we all free to do whatever we want? After the evil city issues forth an infernal army bound eastward and Frodo’s moment of temptation passes, the two Hobbits get a little meta in this chapter. When can we safely say that a tale is over and take pleasure or displeasure in the ending? Or are stories comic or tragic merely in the telling?
Lectio this week is the free-will-iest one yet. The dark forces bending Frodo’s will towards putting on the Ring are obviously some kind of magical influence—but what do they symbolize for readers in a non-magical world?
Frodo, Sam, and Gollum take an elaborate left turn.
In all seriousness, the main character of this episode—as highlighted in this week’s lectio divina section—is probably none other than the silence that surrounds our wayfarers at this point. The absence of sound plays many roles, both positive and negative, in our lives. What does it foretell for the journey into Mordor?
RANDOM-ASS THEME: Walking in on someone in the bathroom
Our protagonists are in the Moon country of Ithilien, which becomes clearer in this chapter than ever before. The Moon indeed seems to be playing a vital role, and these paragraphs abound in lunar imagery.
This week we are joined by Rev. Greg Farrand. Greg leads us through his own style of lectio divina as we puzzle through a crucial Gollum passage and let it speak to us. Gollum’s apparently innocent nocturnal fishing expedition reminds us of our own competing hungers, and we find ourselves asking: How do we keep from indulging the wrong hunger and falling to ruin? What happens when we cannot help ourselves?
This chapter makes up for its shortness in plot with its rich philosophical discussion on military force, its responsible use, and what its inherent good might be. Our lectio section in particular asks what is required for the ends of war—or, more generally, of the flexing of military muscle—to justify its means. What are some reasons that we as Americans hold our armed forces in such high regard?
We are joined by special guest Joshua Calton who directs discussion on this topic, exploring some considerable differences between Faramir and Boromir. We also look at Faramir’s peculiar capacity of perception: it frequently seems as though he can see right through people, like a human lie detector.
This chapter offers many (too many?) kinds of plants, and Nathan leads an analysis of the role of heather in this landscape. We also spend some time analyzing the curious phrase “dishevelled dryad loveliness.”
We encounter the Southrons again, notably in the lectio divina segment. Sam has some insights upon seeing a fallen warrior that generate further discussion on the in-world races of Men and the problems that their representations can have for a 21st-century readership. Why are we only able to empathize with the Other after they have died?
After Frodo, Sam, and Sméagol/Gollum arrive at the gates of Mordor only to find them shut, our lectio section—as though it were inevitable—ropes us back into our on-again, off-again debate on free will.
We also spend a good portion of this episode discussing the Southron men, who are described abundantly in this chapter and have “dark faces” and hail from the sunny South, where oliphaunts roam. We consider these people’s role and (lack of) representation in Tolkien’s world. Where do they and their homeland fall in the scheme of good and evil? Why do we know so little about them—except that they have decided to fight for Mordor—and what does that say about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings?
We explore the (un)dead landscape in this memento mori chapter. As the three (or four?) characters traverse this eerie and corrupted world, we find ourselves asking to what extent Sméagol/Gollum’s own system of morality has been corrupted by the Ring over the course of time.
The lectio passage asks what it means for a landscape to be irreversibly damaged and disfigured. What hope is there for full recovery, even after the powers of Mordor should fall?