Book IV - Chapter 1
Summary: The narrative rejoins Frodo and Sam on the third night after they have left the rest of the Fellowship. The two hobbits slowly make their way toward Mordor. At one point, they hear the same harsh and shrill cry they heard when fleeing the Shire in Book I. (They will later discover what readers, of course, already know, that the cry is that of the Nazgl). At another points, the hobbits descend a cliff face by using a length of elven rope that Sam was given in Lothlorin. Sam thinks they will have to leave the rope behind once they climb down it, but, unexpectedly, it breaks loose (or, perhaps, come loose-see Analysis below) on its own and they are able to keep it. This fact proves fortunate, as they use the rope to subdue Gollum, who has been tracking them for some time, eager to reclaim the Ring, his "precious," as his own. Instead of killing Gollum, Frodo-against Sam's judgment-offers Gollum the chance to guide the two hobbits into Mordor. Gollum swears an oath to "serve the master of the Precious." Once Gollum has taken this oath, Frodo orders Sam to remove the rope from him. Sam does, and Gollum-who used to be known, in his life before the corrupting and enslaving influence of the Ring, as Smagol-leads them toward the Black Gate of Mordor.
Analysis: Because of Tolkien's mastery of the narrative technique of "interlacing" (as critic Tom Shippey calls it), readers will be able to discern parallels between Books III and IV. For instance, note how Frodo, like Aragorn at the outset of Book III, laments that "my choices have proved ill." Also note the discussion Frodo and Sam have about whether Sam properly knotted the rope they use to descend out of the Emyn Muil: Sam concludes that "the rope came off itself-when I called" to it. Here we have another example of "luck" in Middle-earth, a luck that may prove to be more than random chance; indeed, it may be an invisible but guiding providence (from the Latin pro video, literally meaning "to see before"). Larger powers see the needs of the characters before they do and act to meet them-or at the least, as Gimli told Merry and Pippin in Book III, act to provide the characters with opportunities they are then responsible to "seize with both hands."
Mercy appears again here as Frodo "tames" Gollum, refusing to kill him. Indeed, he explicitly recalls Gandalf's words about Gollum from Book I, Chapter 2 (and the text thus provides a further comment on providence and unseen fates). Another notable feature of this chapter is the ambiguity of Gollum's oath to serve "the master of the Precious." Whom, precisely, is Gollum swearing to serve? On a surface, literal level he is swearing to serve Frodo, who currently bears the Ring. On another level, however, Gollum may be promising to serve Sauron (the maker and thus "master" of the Ring), or even himself (since, as readers will see, he is scheming to reclaim his "precious"). More ambiguity is introduced by the fact that, as readers have already seen, the Ring seems capable of exercising a will all its own. In many respects, the Precious is its own Master. Tolkien creates and uses this ambiguity to underscore the perilous nature of Evil, and those who would seek to master it. It cannot be mastered it; instead, it masters others.