Tolkien Reading Day 2021 – Hope And Courage – The Tower Of Cirith Ungol In The Land Of Shadow

Here we are, yet another year away from the fall of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring, on Tolkien Reading Day 2021. The Tolkien society have set the theme of Hope and Courage for us to dig into in some depth, and there is certainly an abundance of both qualities throughout the legendarium, and especially in the Lord of the Rings.

One of the greatest arcs throughout Tolkien’s entire legendarium is that of Samwise Gamgee. From humble gardener, to Samwise the Brave, Orc-slayer, ringbearer and Mayor of the Shire. Sam is also the character that popped into my mind when I saw the theme for this year’s Tolkien Reading Day, and a particular point in the journey that I have been chipping away at in preparation for an upcoming addition to my collection of Middle-earth art.

So in the good old fashioned since of killing two birds with one ring, this Tolkien Reading Day has covered a lot of ground for the research needed for my upcoming artwork depicting Sam and Frodo in Mordor.

Inside The Tower Of Cirith Ungol

At last, weary and feeling finally defeated, he sat on a step below the level of the passage-floor and bowed his head into his hands. It was quiet, horribly quiet. The torch, that was already burning low when he arrived, sputtered and went out; and he felt the darkness cover him like a tide. And then softly, to his own surprise, there at the vain end of his long journey and his grief, moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell, Sam began to sing.

His voice sounded thin and quavering the cold dark tower: the voice of a forlorn and weary hobbit that no listening orc could possibly mistake for the clear song of an Elven-lord. He murmured old childish tunes out of the Shire, and snatches of Mr. Bilbo’s rhymes that came into his mind like fleeting glimpses of the country of his home. And then suddenly new strength rose in him, and his voice rang out, while words of his own came unbidden to fit the simple tune.

In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the stars farewell.

JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King – Book Six, Chapter I – The Tower of Cirith Ungol

To add context, Sam has been experiencing an absolute rollercoaster of emotion by this point in the journey, he has fought the monstrous Shelob, been sure that Frodo was dead only to discover he was paralysed and taken prisoner by Orcs, and by this point has followed them into the tower of Cirith Ungol; an Orc stronghold within the borders of Mordor. He has searched the tower high and low for Frodo and to no avail.

Just as his spirits hit an all time low, he remembers home and gets a new surge of strength, and courage, and then the song comes to him, those very poignant mentions of stars too, a strong symbol of hope throughout Tolkien’s writings and in this instance all the more so when you dig into the story of Eärendil.

Walking Through The Land Of Shadow

‘If only the Lady could see or hear us, I’d say to her: “Your Ladyship, all we want is light and water: just clean water and plain daylight, better than any jewels, begging your pardon.” But it’s a long way to Lorien, Sam sighed and waved his hand towards the heights of the Ephel Duath, now only to be guessed as a deeper blackness against the black sky.

The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King – Book Six, Chapter II – The Land of Shadow

Looking back on the journey up to this point would feel incredibly daunting, but seeing the path ahead in the grim and dying land of Mordor proves to be a real strain on any sense of hope and courage that our two Hobbits can muster up.

Never one to ask for too much, humble Samwise simply wishes for some light and water, two things that are not only free in the rest of his known world, but also abundant.

They stood up, and then they both stared in wonder. Away to their left, southward, against a sky that was turning grey, the peaks and high ridges of the great range began to appear dark and black, visible shapes. Light was growing behind them. Slowly it crept towards the North.

Under the lifting skirts of the dreary canopy dim light leaked into Mordor like pale morning through the grimed window of a prison.

‘Look at it, Mr. Frodo!’ said Sam. ‘Look at it! The wind’s changed. Something’s happening. He’s not having it all his own way. His darkness is breaking up out in the world there. I wish I could see what is going on!’

JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King – Book Six, Chapter II – The Land of Shadow

Tolkien paints a beautiful and hopeful picture of the sky with his well curated words and Sam straight away sees the hope in the form of light slowly working its way into the darkness of this permanently shadowy land.

The word picture of the prison window is a mind-blowing piece of writing and the more I think about it, the more it hits the heart and resonates, that middle part of the passage above alone is a perfect analogy of hope.

‘Things are looking up, Mr. Frodo. Haven’t you got some hope now?’
‘Well no, not much, Sam,’ Frodo sighed. ‘That’s away beyond the mountains. We’re going east not west. And I’m so tired. And the Ring is so heavy, Sam. And I begin to see it in my mind all the time, like a great wheel of fire.’
Sam’s quick spirits sank again at once. He looked at his master anxiously, and he took his hand. ‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he said. ‘I’ve got one thing I wanted: a bit of light.’

JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King – Book Six, Chapter II – The Land of Shadow

Unfortunately for Frodo by this stage of his journey, light creeping in from the West just isn’t enough to lift his spirits, the Ring is taking its toll, he is physically, mentally and emotionally drained. In fact, the only hope Frodo does have at this point is Sam himself however, Frodo does clearly have the courage to continue despite his exhaustion.

They had trudged for more than an hour when they heard a sound that brought them to a halt. Unbelievable, but unmistakeable. Water trickling. Out of a gully on the left, so sharp and narrow that it looked as if the black cliff had been cloven by some huge axe, water came dripping down: the last remains, maybe, of some sweet rain gathered from sunlit seas, but ill-fated to fall at last upon the walls of the Black Land and wander fruitless down into the dust.

Sam sprang towards it. ‘If ever I see the Lady again, I will tell her!’ he cried. ‘Light and now water!’

JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King – Book Six, Chapter II – The Land of Shadow

Sam was pleased enough with a touch of light, with the provision of water too he is not only overjoyed, but once again filled with hope.

‘Now you go to sleep first, Mr. Frodo,’ he said. ‘It’s getting dark again. I reckon this day is nearly over.’

Frodo sighed and was asleep almost before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo’s hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place and looked out. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up on the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King – Book Six, Chapter II – The Land of Shadow

This passage of text here is possibly my favourite from the entire legendarium. There is so much to unpack from this little section and every word carries more weight than Bill the Pony could ever have attempted. We’re also back to stars again, or a star at least, and Eärendil’s in particular.

For the present, that is all the digging I’ll do into this particular passage as I intend to dig deeper in a later article, but as for this year’s Tolkien Reading Day, that brings my reading and appreciation to an end, well for today at least.

What have you been reading for this year’s Tolkien Reading Day?

Feel free to leave you answer in the comments, or send me an email if you’d like to discuss all thing Middle-earth, I am always willing to have a good, Tolkien-centric discussion.

New Lord Of The Rings Art Coming Soon!

As mentioned earlier, I am currently working on a new piece of art that lines up with the last passage, this will begin with a large charcoal drawing and followed up by an oil painting and I’ll be documenting the working process step-by-step from conception to completion.

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