Sauron and Frodo and Sam Show Us Two Different Relationships to Darkness

Frodo and Sam begin the last stage of their journey. A fifty mile walk, or stagger, that Sam estimates will take a week because of Frodo’s condition. There is only one path that they can take and that is the main road from the Black Gate to Barad-dûr itself. It ought to be bustling with traffic and it usually is. But not now. Now there is a strange quiet and so Frodo and Sam are able to take the direct road to the mountain.

Tolkien tells us why.

“Neither man nor orc now moved along its flat grey stretches, for the Dark Lord had almost completed the movement of his forces, and even in the fastness of his own realm he sought the secrecy of night, fearing the winds of the world that had turned against him, tearing aside his veils, and troubled with tidings of bold spies that had passed through his fences.”

In other places Tolkien tells us that after the fall of Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, at the end of the First Age, Sauron submitted for a little while to the authority of the Valar. Sauron had been Morgoth’s chief lieutenant in the wars of the First Age, second to him in power but not in malice and his brief submission was a recognition of the greater power of the Valar but when their command to him to go to Valinor for judgement was not enforced and when he perceived that there was no lordship in Middle-earth but rather a kind of anarchy he began to try to make himself its lord.

There is no time here to reflect upon the history of the Second Age but we could remember that this was the age of great Elven kingdoms and Durin’s great kingdom of Moria, of Khazad-dûm, as well as the age of Númenor and the glory of Men. For a time Sauron appeared to be an ally to them all but always he was plotting his own rise to supreme power chiefly through the forging of the Rings of Power that he would bind and rule through the One Ring.

This was always his desire but with the desire came also a fearfulness. Sauron may have sometimes miscalculated his power but the experience of failure made him cautious. There is one thing missing that will make his triumph complete and that is the Ring itself. He will risk everything in order to regain it but his fear is that either Aragorn, the heir of Isildur, who once cut the Ring from his hand, or Gandalf the Maia, now wealds the Ring against him. Their forces may be small but he fears them nonetheless and the change in the wind just at the moment of triumph and those spies…

In other words Sauron is always in search of the ever elusive experience of total and perfect control, always anxious about everything and anything that could be a threat to that experience. Eventually this will mean anything that has its own will. Only that which is entirely enslaved and that has no longer any capacity for freedom will allay his anxiety. Until that time comes he requires darkness and secrecy to protect himself. When that time comes there will be only darkness.

Sauron has spent millenia seeking this certainty. Frodo and Sam have learned, in just a few short years, that such certainty is impossible. Sauron is the ultimate example of one who in seeking to save his own life loses it. Frodo and Sam walk freely into a darkness knowing that it is likely that they will lose their lives. Indeed Frodo fully expects that he will lose his life and it is possible that by this point he even looks forward to death as a kind of release. For Frodo and Sam the darkness, an experience that they have not chosen yet, in so far as they are able, they have embraced, is the road to life, both to the world that they will save and to themselves.

This is the difference between them. For Sauron the darkness is a defence that will ultimately prove futile. For Frodo and Sam the darkness is something that they feel they must embrace and will lead to life.

13 thoughts on “Sauron and Frodo and Sam Show Us Two Different Relationships to Darkness

  1. It’s appropriate that Sauron’s last mistake was to bring down the darkness and cut off his flow of information about what was going on in his land. JRR Tolkien’s military experience was in the Signal Corps, so he knew that keeping the data flowing was the only way to pierce the fog of war.

    • As I read your comment I found myself reflecting on the difference between open and closed societies. Open societies are so difficult to control but they do not suffer the kind of situation that you describe. Of course, if Mordor were an open society then Sauron would sit in the council of the wise as he once did as a ruse in the Second Age and there would be no Ring.

  2. I love your thoughts here as usual. 🙂 I just read this part myself in preparation for my book on Frodo and Bilbo’s journeys. Maybe I could bounce an idea off you: Do you think the reason despair consumed Frodo but could never defeat him (besides of course the critical fact Sam was there) was because he in a way took it into himself, embraced it as you say above about the embrace of darkness and so being part of himself, he could pass through it to the other side. Rather than beat himself against a hard object, instead it became permeable and he could make his way past it, a harrowing journey to be sure and one that broke him, but one in which he also came back into the light. Not sure if that makes any sense or not. What say you?

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • I think that this is a thought well worth pursuing. A few years ago I came across a poem by Edwin Muir entitled “A Good Man in Hell” in which Muir imagines a good man ending up in Hell by mistake and being left there. Like Job he refuses to curse God and eventually begins to live an existence of conscious faithfulness. In the final verse Muir writes, ” One doubt of evil would bring down such a grace…” The poem is an imaginative reflection on goodness against all odds. I have used it sometimes in Holy Week as a meditation. I think that Frodo, like the man in the poem, never gives way to the kind of despair that blames. He is in Hell. That is his reality and he expects destruction. I don’t think that he even expects to be able to fulfil his mission. He knows that the Ring is more powerful than he is. But he will do what he can. He will take one more step and then one step more.
      I think that you are right in saying that he does not beat himself against the Dark. Next week I want to reflect on the moment when he tells Sam that he has no memory of anything outside the Dark but he says this without resentment. It simply is. But I am so glad that Sam is there with him.

      • I wrote a long reply to this and it looks like it didn’t go through. But love the poem! I hadn’t heard of it before. God bless the man who can bring a bit of heaven even to Hell itself and not be destroyed by the evil there.

      • Laura and I have been happily busy with projects in our home and garden over the last couple of days and I have just come back to read your lovely comment. I am so sorry that after you took all that trouble to write a long reflection that it was lost. I will have to imagine what you might have written.
        I am struck that in Muir’s poem that first there is the endurance and then the slow transformation. I think many give up at the perceived injustice (which, of course, is what the cross is) and then never come to the transformation. Frodo and Sam’s story is a wonderful expression of the endurance and, as you so beautifully put it, in Frodo’s case, even a kind of becoming the darkness in whose destruction he will play his part.
        God bless you.

    • I was so caught up in trying to respond to your thought that I forgot to wish you well in writing about Frodo and Bilbo’s journeys and to return your blessings which I always receive gratefully.
      I do do now, with thanksgiving!

  3. I remember in Thucydides the Melians say to the Athenians, who are trying to persuade them to surrender to their overwhelming force, that no power of the Athenians is more powerful than the powerlessness of the Melians. The actual Melians likely never said this exactly, but Thucydides is casting the discussion like a philosophical dialogue.

    The power of Sauron and the powerlessness of the hobbits is so critical here. It also contains a glimpse of a lesson for why the Wise, like Gandalf and Galadriel, find the power of the Ring both tempting and terrifying. Because they are powerful they know what they could accomplish with the Ring, but being wise they also see what they could become.

    Thanks, as always, Stephen.

    • The Athenians do not emerge from that story very well. I came across it first through Iris Murdoch but I forget the context now.
      I think that Tolkien does something quite remarkable in the breaking of the Fellowship at the end of the first volume in stripping away everything from Frodo except for Sam’s faithful service and love. That he then gives him Gollum too instead of a Gandalf or an Aragorn is also remarkable. Only someone as weak as Frodo can carry the Ring and penetrate Sauron’s defences. This makes me ponder the Incarnation and the self emptying of the Divine. The Divine must become weak enough to show us a way to life that we can stumble along too.

  4. This is a subtle piece, but quite important. The capacity of Tolkien to deal with different kinds of darkness (and light) is one of the critical things that gives LOTR the breadth for the imagination that it has.

    • I read a piece by the leading British environmentalist, George Monbiot, this morning, in which he spoke about the vital importance of telling good stories if we are to turn the tide against environmental degeneration. So far, so good, and I have a lot of time for Monbiot, but as an example of powerful stories that make us cheer for causes that we sophisticated moderns would otherwise despise he chose Lewis and Tolkien (with pictures of the films attached!) claiming that they take us back to the Middle Ages, the Divine Right of Kings and Absolute Monarchy. How much work there is to do in respect of this chronological snobbery! I agree with you entirely about Tolkien’s imaginative subtlety that is generally missing from most writers.

      • We actually brought Monbiot into PEI once, a while back, for a global studies week. I didn’t think then about narrative, but I think you make the right link here. Rootedness will be one of the ways to move forward.

Leave a Reply to stephencwinter Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s