Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
At one level, this is one of the most misleading chapter titles in the entire book. But it also signals the improved mood that began with Sam’s talk of ‘oliphaunts’. He sees them as good creatures, and probably Tolkien saw them as such. Forced to serve evil, as horses are, but not inherently bad like wolves or bats.
They are also in better countryside. The Great River that they travelled before the Breaking of the Fellowship is now close again.
“Gollum ate nothing, but he accepted water gladly.
“`Soon get more now,’ he said, licking his lips. `Good water runs down in streams to the Great River, nice water in the lands we are going to. Smeagol[A] will get food there too, perhaps. He’s very hungry, yes, gollum!’
Yet they must still be cautious, the enemy being near.
“A single red light burned high up in the Towers of the Teeth, but otherwise no sign could be seen or heard of the sleepless watch on the Morannon.
“For many miles the red eye seemed to stare at them as they fled, stumbling through a barren stony country. They did not dare to take the road, but they kept it on their left, following its line as well as they could at a little distance.”
They had earlier seen Southrons coming up from the south, though probably not by the road they follow, which leads to Minas Morgul. But orc might well be using it. So they use the gap between two of the three roads – which however turns out to be also unsafe.
Still, the land is no longer dead. Gondor has been driven out Ithilien, the lands east of the Great River. But the power of Sauron is only just starting to warp it:
“The growing light revealed to them a land already less barren and ruinous. The mountains still loomed up ominously on their left, but … all about them lay a tumbled heathland, grown with ling and broom and cornel, and other shrubs that they did not know. Here and there they saw knots of tall pine-trees. The hearts of the hobbits rose again a little in spite of weariness: the air was fresh and fragrant, and it reminded them of the uplands of the Northfarthing far away. It seemed good to be reprieved, to walk in a land that had only been for a few years under the dominion of the Dark Lord and was not yet fallen wholly into decay.”
Spring still happens here, far to the south of the lands they know. And Tolkien describes it in detail, rather than saying ‘it’s a nice spring’ or ‘winter is coming’ as most fantasy writers would.
“The long journey from Rivendell had brought them far south of their own land, but not until now in this more sheltered region had the hobbits felt the change of clime. Here Spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness…
“South and west it looked towards the warm lower vales of Anduin, shielded from the east … and yet not under the mountain-shadow, protected from the north by the Emyn Muil, open to the southern airs and the moist winds from the Sea far away. Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age amid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam. The grots and rocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops. Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass: deep green grass beside the pools, where falling streams halted in cool hollows on their journey down to Anduin.”
It is indeed too clean and decent for Gollum as he now is
“The travellers turned their backs on the road and went downhill. As they walked, brushing their way through bush and herb, sweet odours rose about them. Gollum coughed and retched; but the hobbits breathed deep, and suddenly Sam laughed, for heart’s ease not for jest.”
Showing a little sympathy for Gollum for being so corrupted might have paid off, but even Frodo does not think of it at that moment.
They do get a chance to wash, after many days away from fresh water:
“They followed a stream that went quickly down before them. Presently it brought them to a small clear lake in a shallow dell: it lay in the broken ruins of an ancient stone basin, the carven rim of which was almost wholly covered with mosses and rose-brambles; iris-swords stood in ranks about it. and water-lily leaves floated on its dark gently-rippling surface; but it was deep and fresh, and spilled ever softly out over a stony lip at the far end.
“Here they washed themselves and drank their fill at the in-falling freshet.[B]”
Tolkien here describes more beauties of nature. But orcs are busy wrecking it:
““Then they sought for a resting-place, and a hiding-place: for this land, fair-seeming still, was nonetheless now territory of the Enemy. They had not come very far from the road, and yet even in so short a space they had seen scars of the old wars, and the newer wounds made by the Orcs and other foul servants of the Dark Lord: a pit of uncovered filth and refuse; trees hewn down wantonly and left to die, with evil runes or the fell sign of the Eye cut in rude strokes on their bark.
“Sam scrambling below the outfall of the lake. smelling and touching the unfamiliar plants and trees, forgetful for the moment of Mordor, was reminded suddenly of their ever-present peril. He stumbled on a ring still scorched by fire, and in the midst of it he found a pile of charred and broken bones and skulls. The swift growth of the wild with briar and eglantine and trailing clematis was already drawing a veil over this place of dreadful feast and slaughter; but it was not ancient. He hurried back to his companions, but he said nothing: the bones were best left in peace and not pawed and routed by Gollum.”
Michael Moorcock in his criticism of Tolkien expresses doubt that the orcs are really so bad. I’d have thought it was made clear that they do indeed exist on the outer edges of human evil. They are not heroic Primitive Rebels: they plunder and enslave whenever they are stronger. And given the chance they eat people.[C]
It might be safer to travel by day, since orcs shun sunlight. But Gollum too fears it, so they wait till night. Orcs might anyway be hiding in dark places during the day. And unknown to Frodo and Sam, the newer orcs can stand the sun, though still preferring the dark.
Always optimistic, Sam decides they might survive the destruction of the One Ring and still need the Elven waybread to get somewhere safe. So he asks Gollum’s help in getting alternative food:
“`Hi! Gollum! ‘ said Sam. `Where are you going? Hunting? Well see here, old noser, you don’t like our food, and I’d not be sorry for a change myself. Your new motto’s always ready to help. Could you find anything fit for a hungry hobbit? ‘
“`Yes, perhaps, yes,’ said Gollum. `Smeagol always helps, if they asks – if they asks nicely.’
“`Right!’ said Sam `I does ask. And if that isn’t nice enough, I begs.’”
Here, they almost become a team. Gollum catches two rabbits, but soon reverts to selfishness:
“Gollum returned quietly and peered over Sam’s shoulder. Looking at Frodo, he shut his eyes and crawled away without a sound. Sam came to him a moment later and found him chewing something and muttering to himself. On the ground beside him lay two small rabbits, which he was beginning to eye greedily.
“’Smeagol always helps,’ he said. `He has brought rabbits, nice rabbits. But master has gone to sleep, and perhaps Sam wants to sleep. Doesn’t want rabbits now? Smeagol tries to help, but he can’t catch things all in a minute.’”
Not good for team-building – though I should add that freshly-killed rabbits never featured in any team-building exercise I took part in. And Sam, having decided to cook the rabbits, does not leave a share raw for Gollum, which is not fair.
“’Stew the rabbits!’ squealed Gollum in dismay. `Spoil beautiful meat Smeagol saved for you, poor hungry Smeagol! What for? What for, silly hobbit? They are young, they are tender, they are nice. Eat them, eat them!’ He clawed at the nearest rabbit, already skinned and lying by the fire.”
He must have lived on normal cooked food before finding the One Ring, but now raw meat has become a habit. And in the real world, some people do come to prefer it without being obviously evil. But Sam refuses to compromise now he has used Gollum to get what he wants:
“If you give me a coney, the coney’s mine, see, to cook, if I have a mind. And I have. You needn’t watch me. Go and catch another and eat it as you fancy – somewhere private and out o’ my sight.”
If we ever get a dramatization that is content to follow Tolkien rather than make changes they view as improvements, this failure to become a proper team and redeem the non-quite-hopeless Gollum could be the basis for some fine acting.
Gollum also correctly warns that fire brings enemies. Sam rejects this:
“[Gollum] set the pans down, and then suddenly saw what Sam was doing. He gave a thin hissing shriek, and seemed to be both frightened and angry. `Ach! Sss – no!’ he cried. `No! Silly hobbits, foolish, yes foolish! They mustn’t do it!’
“`Mustn’t do what?’ asked Sam in surprise.
“`Not make the nassty red tongues,’ hissed Gollum. `Fire, fire! It’s dangerous, yes it is. It burns, it kills. And it will bring enemies, yes it will.’
“’I don’t think so,’ said Sam. `Don’t see why it should, if you don’t put wet stuff on it and make a smother. But if it does, it does. I’m going to risk it, anyhow. I’m going to stew these coneys.’
Frodo, who has been sleeping, also notes the risk in lighting a fire. But he appreciates the cooked meat. And Sam is willing to share it with Gollum, trying now to be fair but ignoring his preference for raw meat:
“’A present from Smeagol,’ said Sam: `a brace o’ young coneys; though I fancy Gollum’s regretting them now. But there’s nought to go with them but a few herbs.’
“Sam and his master sat just within the fern-brake and ate their stew from the pans, sharing the old fork and spoon. They allowed themselves half a piece of the Elvish waybread each. It seemed a feast.
“’Wheew! Gollum! ‘ Sam called and whistled softly. ‘Come on! Still time to change your mind. There’s some left, if you want to try stewed coney.’ There was no answer.
“`Oh well, I suppose he’s gone off to find something for himself. We’ll finish it,’ said Sam.”
He still mistrusts Gollum, and would prefer it if one of them were always awake, even though they have got away with it before:
“`Don’t you drop off, while I’m nodding, Mr. Frodo. I don’t feel too sure of him. There’s a good deal of Stinker – the bad Gollum, if you understand me – in him still, and it’s getting stronger again.”
Obviously Sam would have told Frodo what he overheard. And knows Gollum dislikes him:
“Not but what I think he’d try to throttle me first now. We don’t see eye to eye, and he’s not pleased with Sam, O no precious, not pleased at all.’”
Tolkien allows his heroes to be imperfect. Sam fails to see that more tolerance of the offensive Gollum might pay off – as it later almost does. Instead he mocks his corrupted speech.
Sam was also distracted by his cooking, and is alarmed to note that the fire is now giving out smoke:
“He noticed a thin spiral of blue-grey smoke, plain to see as it caught the sunlight, rising from a thicket above him. With a shock he realized that this was the smoke from his little cooking-fire, which he had neglected to put out.
“`That won’t do! Never thought it would show like that! ‘ he muttered, and he started to hurry back. Suddenly he halted and listened. Had he heard a whistle or not? Or was it the call of some strange bird? If it was a whistle, it did not come from Frodo’s direction. There it went again from another place! Sam began to run as well as he could uphill.
“He found that a small brand, burning away to its outer end, had kindled some fern at the edge of the fire, and the fern blazing up had set the turves smouldering. Hastily he stamped out what was left of the fire, scattered the ashes, and laid the turves on the hole. Then he crept back to Frodo.”
He is suspicious of what seem like bird-calls. Similar to what the dwarves wanted Bilbo to use in The Hobbit, though I think this sensible system was never mentioned again until now:
“’Did you hear a whistle, and what sounded like an answer? ‘ he asked. `A few minutes back. I hope it was only a bird, but it didn’t sound quite like that: more like somebody mimicking a bird-call, I thought. And I’m afraid my bit of fire’s been smoking. Now if I’ve gone and brought trouble, I’ll never forgive myself. Nor won’t have a chance, maybe!’”
They are caught by green-clad men, whom Frodo correctly links to Boromir:
“At once four men came striding through the fern from different directions. Since flight and hiding were no longer possible, Frodo and Sam sprang to their feet, putting back to back and whipping out their small swords.
“If they were astonished at what they saw, their captors were even more astonished. Four tall Men stood there. Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads. Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows. All had swords at their sides, and were clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien. Green gauntlets covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes, which were very keen and bright. At once Frodo thought of Boromir, for these Men were like him in stature and bearing, and in their manner of speech.
These men clearly know nothing of hobbits. Or at least most of them do not, unlike Boromir who immediately recognised Frodo as a ‘halfling’:
“`We have not found what we sought,’ said one. `But what have we found? ‘
“’Not Orcs,’ said another, releasing the hilt of his sword, which he had seized when he saw the glitter of Sting in Frodo’s hand.
“`Elves? ‘ said a third, doubtfully.
“`Nay! Not Elves,’ said the fourth, the tallest, and as it appeared the chief among them. `Elves do not walk in Ithilien in these days. And Elves are wondrous fair to look upon, or so ’tis said.’
“’Meaning we’re not, I take you,’ said Sam. `Thank you kindly.”
Sam claim they are travellers, which the chief man rightly doubts. This is Faramir, who says much less than he knows. He may recognise them as halflings and possibly connected with the One Ring. It is a secret that we later learn he has not shared with his men and does not trust them to know. And he has seen Gollum:
“When you’ve finished discussing us, perhaps you’ll say who you are, and why you can’t let two tired travellers rest.’ [says Sam].
“The tall green man laughed grimly. `I am Faramir, Captain of Gondor,’ he said. `But there are no travellers in this land: only the servants of the Dark Tower, or of the White.’
“`But we are neither,’ said Frodo. `And travellers we are, whatever Captain Faramir may say.’
“’Then make haste to declare yourselves and your errand,’ said Faramir. ‘We have a work to do, and this is no time or place for riddling or parleying. Come! Where is the third of your company? ‘
“`The third? ‘
“’Yes, the skulking fellow that we saw with his nose in the pool down yonder. He had an ill-favoured look. Some spying breed of Orc, I guess, or a creature of theirs. But he gave us the slip by some fox-trick.’”
Gollum is a hobbit, and all of them are good at hiding and moving quietly. But still vulnerable, and Frodo asks them to show mercy to Gollum. And then explains something of their mission. And of course they know of Boromir.
“’I do not know where he is,’ said Frodo. ‘He is only a chance companion met upon our road; and I am not answerable for him. If you come on him, spare him. Bring him or send him to us. He is only a wretched gangrel creature, but I have him under my care for a while. But as for us, we are Hobbits of the Shire, far to the North and West, beyond many rivers. Frodo son of Drogo is my name, and with me is Samwise son of Hamfast, a worthy hobbit in my service. We have come by long ways – out of Rivendell, or Imladris as some call it.’ Here Faramir started and grew intent. ‘Seven companions we had: one we lost at Moria, the others we left at Parth Galen above Rauros: two of my kin; a Dwarf there was also, and an Elf, and two Men. They were Aragorn; and Boromir, who said that he came out of Minas Tirith, a city in the South.’
“’Boromir! ‘ all the four men exclaimed.
“’Boromir son of the Lord Denethor?’ said Faramir, and a strange stern look came into his face. ‘You came with him? That is news indeed, if it be true. Know, little strangers, that Boromir son of Denethor was High Warden of the White Tower, and our Captain-General: sorely do we miss him. Who are you then, and what had you to do with him? Be swift, for the Sun is climbing!’”
He might have mentioned Elrond and Gandalf – from the Council of Elrond he should have learned that they are respected in Gondor. Regardless, knowing that even good people can be tempted by the One Ring, he is cautious about what else he tells these strangers:
“’Are the riddling words known to you that Boromir brought to Rivendell?’ Frodo replied.
“Seek for the Sword that was Broken.
“In Imladris it dwells.
“’The words are known indeed,’ said Faramir in astonishment. `It is some token of your truth that you also know them.’
“`Aragorn whom I named is the bearer of the Sword that was Broken,’ said Frodo. ‘And we are the Halflings that the rhyme spoke of.’
“`That I see,’ said Faramir thoughtfully. `Or I see that it might be so. And what is Isildur’s Bane? ‘
“`That is hidden,’ answered Frodo. `Doubtless it will be made clear in time.’
Faramir is naturally curious about ‘Isildur’s Bane’. But for now, he has more urgent business, and leaves them under guard.
“`We must learn more of this,’ said Faramir, `and know what brings you so far east under the shadow of yonder – ,’ he pointed and said no name. ‘But not now. We have business in hand. You are in peril. and you would not have gone far by field or road this day. There will be hard handstrokes nigh at hand ere the day is full. Then death, or swift flight bark to Anduin. I will leave two to guard you, for your good and for mine. Wise man trusts not to chance-meeting on the road in this land. If I return, I will speak more with you.’
“’Farewell!’ said Frodo, bowing low. `Think what you will, I am a friend of all enemies of the One Enemy. We would go with you, if we halfling folk could hope to serve you, such doughty men and strong as you seem, and if my errand permitted it. May the light shine on your swords!’
“’The Halflings are courteous folk, whatever else they be,’ said Faramir. `Farewell!’
I assume that Tolkien wants us to see their capture as another case of Fate both helping them and testing them. Testing to see if they and Faramir also are worthy of further help. As Tolkien saw it, God is under no obligation to help and requires that you prove worthy. But risky yet moral actions will sometimes pay off.
Left with two men guarding them, Frodo hears them speaking Elvish, and realises that these are Dunedain of the south. They explain that they are descendent of men driven out of Ithilien:
“The hobbits sat down again, but they said nothing to one another of their thoughts and doubts. Close by, just under the dappling shadow of the dark bay-trees, two men remained on guard. They took off their masks now and again to cool them, as the day-heat grew, and Frodo saw that they were goodly men, pale-skinned, dark of hair, with grey eyes and faces sad and proud. They spoke together in soft voices, at first using the Common Speech, but after the manner of older days, and then changing to another language of their own. To his amazement, as he listened Frodo became aware that it was the Elven-tongue that they spoke, or one but little different; and he looked at them with wonder, for he knew then that they must be Dunedain of the South, men of the line of the Lords of Westernesse.
“After a while he spoke to them; but they were slow and cautious in answering. They named themselves Mablung and Damrod, soldiers of Gondor, and they were Rangers of Ithilien; for they were descended from folk who lived in Ithilien at one time, before it was overrun. From such men the Lord Denethor chose his forayers, who crossed the Anduin secretly (how or where, they would not say) to harry the Orcs and other enemies that roamed between the Ephel Duath [Mountains of Shadow] and the River.”
It’s not said that Frodo speaks to them in one of the Elven tongues he knows: we are not told if the Dunedain speak Quenya or Sindarin, though Sindarin is more likely. I’d have thought it a good way to prove his honesty, since evil creatures would find it hard to use.
The men explain that they are now about to ambush some of the Southrons. People whom they had past dealings with, but now see as foes in a world turned against them:
“`It is close on ten leagues hence to the east-shore of Anduin,’ said Mablung, ‘and we seldom come so far afield. But we have a new errand on this journey: we come to ambush the Men of Harad. Curse them! ‘
“’Aye, curse the Southrons! ‘ said Damrod. ` ‘Tis said that there were dealings of old between Gondor and the kingdoms of the Harad in the Far South; though there was never friendship. In those days our bounds were away south beyond the mouths of Anduin, and Umbar, the nearest of their realms, acknowledged our sway. But that is long since. ‘Tis many lives of Men since any passed to or fro between us. Now of late we have learned that the Enemy has been among them, and they are gone over to Him, or back to Him – they were ever ready to His will – as have so many also in the East. I doubt not that the days of Gondor are numbered, and the walls of Minas Tirith are doomed, so great is His strength and malice.’
“`But still we will not sit idle and let Him do all as He would,’ said Mablung. `These cursed Southrons come now marching up the ancient roads to swell the hosts of the Dark Tower. Yea, up the very roads that craft of Gondor made. And they go ever more heedlessly, we learn, thinking that the power of their new master is great enough, so that the mere shadow of His hills will protect them. We come to teach them another lesson. Great strength of them was reported to us some days ago, marching north. One of their regiments is due by our reckoning to pass by, some time ere noon-up on the road above, where it passes through the cloven way. The road may pass, but they shall not! Not while Faramir is Captain. He leads now in all perilous ventures. But his life is charmed, or fate spares him for some other end.’”
He will of course continue the line of the Stewards under King Aragorn, and wed Eowyn after luring her back to confidence in life. Presumably a reward for doing the right thing after he catches Frodo. And dependent on many others also making the right choices, though his father will be one of the failures.
Sam watches the fighting, and a Southron warrior falls near him:
“Sam, eager to see more, went now and joined the guards. He scrambled a little way up into one of the larger of the bay-trees. For a moment he caught a glimpse of swarthy men in red running down the slope some way off with green-clad warriors leaping after them, hewing them down as they fled. Arrows were thick in the air. Then suddenly straight over the rim of their sheltering bank, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corslet of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched with blood. His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword.
“It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace – all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind.” (Emphasis added.)
Jackson filmed a version of that scene, but sadly left it out of the cinema showings. It is there on disk in the Extended Edition. It perhaps reflects Tolkien’s feelings fighting Germans, having admired much in their culture.
In the world of Lord of the Rings, Sam then sees and recognises an ‘oliphant’, which the men of Gondor call a Mumak:
“Just as Mablung stepped towards the fallen body, there was a new noise. Great crying and shouting. Amidst it Sam heard a shrill bellowing or trumpeting. And then a great thudding and bumping. like huge rams dinning on the ground.
“’Ware! Ware!’ cried Damrod to his companion. ‘May the Valar turn him aside! Mumak! Mumak!’
“To his astonishment and terror, and lasting delight, Sam saw a vast shape crash out of the trees and come careering down the slope. Big as a house, much bigger than a house, it looked to him, a grey-clad moving hill. Fear and wonder, maybe, enlarged him in the hobbit’s eyes, but the Mumak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth; his kin that live still in latter days are but memories of his girth and majesty. On he came, straight towards the watchers, and then swerved aside in the nick of time, passing only a few yards away, rocking the ground beneath their feet: his great legs like trees, enormous sail-like ears spread out, long snout upraised like a huge serpent about to strike. his small red eyes raging. His upturned hornlike tusks were bound with bands of gold and dripped with blood. His trappings of scarlet and gold flapped about him in wild tatters. The ruins of what seemed a very war-tower lay upon his heaving back, smashed in his furious passage through the woods; and high upon his neck still desperately clung a tiny figure-the body of a mighty warrior, a giant among the Swertings.
“On the great beast thundered, blundering in blind wrath through pool and thicket. Arrows skipped and snapped harmlessly about the triple hide of his flanks. Men of both sides fled before him, but many he overtook and crushed to the ground. Soon he was lost to view, still trumpeting and stamping far away. What became of him Sam never heard: whether he escaped to roam the wild for a time, until he perished far from his home or was trapped in some deep pit; or whether he raged on until he plunged in the Great River and was swallowed up.
“Sam drew a deep breath. ‘An Oliphaunt it was!’ he said. `So there are Oliphaunts, and I have seen one. What a life! But no one at home will ever believe me.”
He then asks to be allowed to get back to sleep. This is granted, though the guards expect that Faramir will soon want to question them
“’Sleep while you may,’ said Mablung. `But the Captain will return, if he is unhurt; and when he comes we shall depart swiftly. We shall be pursued as soon as news of our deed reaches the Enemy, and that will not be long.’
“`Go quietly when you must!’ said Sam. `No need to disturb my sleep. I was walking all night.’
“Mablung laughed. `I do not think the Captain will leave you here, Master Samwise,’ he said. ‘But you shall see.’”
And with that it ends: a chapter that gave little clue what was coming. And nor does the next, when Frodo’s ethical problems with how to handle Gollum get worse.
Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams.
[A] I do not use accents or other diacritical marks. In the past, I have all too often seen computer software turn them into something meaningless.
As to why this flaw exists, see https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/
[B] A word new to me, though the meaning is easy to grasp. The Oxford English Dictionary says, “A flood or overflowing of a river caused by heavy rains or melted snow.”
[C] For more on Moorcock versus Tolkien, see Cock-and-Bull about Epic Fantasy, https://gwydionmadawc.com/57-about-tolkien/defending-tolkien-against-michael-moorcocks-condemnation/