'They've taken everything'


LotR as a "Fundamentally Catholic and Religious Work"    

'They've taken everything'
The passive night of the senses

The difference between the active and passive nights of the senses can be seen in the change from first person to third person action between "I ought to... leave everything" and "They've taken everything." In accepting the task of Ring-bearer, Frodo had to actively decide to give up everything he had ever depended on. He did this in two stages, accepting first his permanent exile from the Shire and then the Quest of Mount Doom. By the time he's captured, he's already had to face the loss of Gandalf, so he's not entirely inexperienced with the passive night.

But the episode in the Tower of Cirith Ungol seems to play an even larger role in Frodo's character development. In some ways he's weaker afterward, depending more on Sam for help, as if something in him had been broken. But if something had been broken, something else had gained strength. Before CU, the Ring can tempt Frodo. In fact, his most explicit - even chilling - temptation occurs only shortly before, when he realizes he doesn't have the power to face the Witch-King in a battle for supremacy - "Not yet." After Cirith Ungol, the Ring seems to have lost the ability to tempt him and instead tries to batter him into submission. It's just a theory, of course, but my belief is that Frodo's loss of everything in the Tower brought him to the point where he was wise enough, and spiritually mature enough, that the Ring had nothing left to tempt him with. Its only recourse was to beat him down and overpower him which, eventually, it did.

In order for that to make sense, it's important to remember what Frodo's loss at Cirith Ungol really was: the Quest and the future of Middle-earth. If he'd wept when seeing the army of the Witch King setting out, believing he was already too late to be of any help to Faramir or anyone else, his realization as he becomes conscious in the Tower that the Quest had utterly failed - that the Ring was on its way to Barad-dûr and Middle-earth was doomed - must have been unimaginable. Which is very possibly one reason we're not allowed to witness it. As he cowers again on the floor of the Tower, pouring out his grief and horror to Sam, we get a hint of it. Unlike in the movie, in the book Frodo can't bring himself to speak the words, "They've taken the Ring," but instead includes it in his "everything" and trusts Sam to hear what he's unable to say. The orcs had, indeed, taken everything, including hope. When accepting the role of Ring-bearer, Frodo had actively given up many things. In the Tower, he had taken away from him the one thing he would never have let go of if the choice had been left to him: the success of the Quest.

I think it's entirely possible for that kind of experience to weaken, or even break, a person in some ways while strengthening him in others, and that's what I see in Frodo after Cirith Ungol. He's grown in his ability to fight his inner battle with the Ring as it escalates, but his strength for anything else has been decimated. (An admission here that I hadn't noticed how changed Frodo was after this experience until it was brought up in a discussion of the event with other Tolkien readers.)  Or, perhaps, his battle with the Ring simply becomes so intense that it continually calls for more and more of his strength until he has none to spare.

How the story, and Frodo, would have been different if he hadn't been captured and stripped of everything, including hope, is one of those "what if's" that we'll never know the answer to.  But I believe it's one of the things that led to the Frodo described by Tolkien as "a hobbit who has been broken down and made into something quite different," and that may be one of the reasons the character had to undergo it.