The Passage of the Marshes

Passage of the Marshes - Frodo and Sam Dead Marshes Lord of the
Passage of the Marshes – Oil on Canvas

We pick up the story at the point where Smeagol has been captured by the two hobbits, Frodo and Sam and has been tamed, swearing a promise to ‘”serve the master of the precious.”‘ Although both hobbits are reluctant to trust him, they request that he guides them to Mordor as he knows the area.

The final paragraph of The Two Towers: Book Four Chapter I –

In the deep of night under hard clear stars they set off. Gollum led them back northward for a while along the way they had come; then he slanted to the right away from the steep edge of the Emyn Muil, down the broken stony slopes towards the vast fens below. They faded swiftly and softly into the darkness. Over all the leagues of waste before the gates of Mordor there was a black silence.

Now moving onto The Two Towers: Book Four Chapter II –

‘Here it is!’ he cried. ‘There is a way down inside, yes. Now we follows it – out, out away over there.’ He pointed south and east towards the marshes. The reek of them came to their nostrils, heavy and foul even in the cool night air.

In a chill hour they came to the end of the water-course. The banks became moss-grown mounds. Over the last shelf of rotting stone the stream gurgled and fell down into a brown bog and was lost. Dry reeds hissed and rattled though they could feel no wind.

Tolkien had such a mastery over language and his descriptions are second to none; these passages and the next bring the Dead Marshes to life in a paradoxical manner; I can see the mists and smell the reek of stagnant water and rotting vegetation,  I feel my own feet slipping on the moss-grown mounds and hear the hissing and rattling of the reeds; all from the relative comfort of my chair whilst reading this beautifully written masterpiece.

Mists curled and smoked from dark and noisome pools. The reek of them hung stifling in the still air. Far away, now almost due south, the mountain walls of Mordor loomed, like a black bar of rugged clouds floating above a dangerous fog-bound sea.

As if Mordor didn’t seem unapproachable enough just in reputation, what a sight this must have been to behold for the two Shire-folk, especially knowing that they were purposely heading directly for it without much hope of returning.

The hobbits were now wholly in the hands of Gollum. They did not know, and could not guess in that misty light, that they were in fact only just within the northern borders of the marshes, the main expanse of which lay south of them. They could, if they had known the lands, with some delay have retraced their steps a little, and then turning east have come round over hard roads to the bare plain of Dagorlad: the field of the ancient battle before the gates of Mordor.

I decided to include this passage to give a bit of background history; a touch of extra flavour to the scene. The Battle of Dagorlad is another scene that I would love to paint at some point in the future and certainly more than worthwhile of having an in depth post of its own.

Some Etymology Fun – The word ‘Dagorlad’ means “Battle plain”, from the Sindarin dagor (“battle”) and lad (“plain, valley”).

So after a brief rest they set out again and were soon lost in a shadowy silent world, cut off from all view of the lands about, either the hills that they had left or the mountains that they sought. They went slowly in single file: Gollum, Sam, Frodo.

The hobbits soon found that what had looked like one vast fen was really an endless network of pools, and soft mires, and winding half-strangled water-courses.

It was dreary and wearisome. Cold clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark grassy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long forgotten summers.

Again in the writing, Tolkien gifts us with a plethora of wonderfully written descriptions that have the power to illustrate the landscape within the mind’s eye and whilst every person may envision it slightly differently, the same elements will be included.

Here are some detail shots of the figures in the artwork –

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