Frodo and Sam find themselves lost in the rocky hills west of the river. They know Gollum is following, and the hobbits barely manage to capture and bind the wiry creature. Surprisingly, Frodo pities Gollum. Gollum agrees to guide Frodo and Sam to the Black Gate, and he swears by the Ring to obey its master. Frodo accepts the promise, knowing that the Ring will hold him to it. Happy to be released, Gollum begins to go by his true name, Sméagol, and seems eager to please Frodo. Sam remains suspicious.
Gollum leads them from the hills into the Dead Marshes, a haunted swamp. A Nazgûl passes overhead, nearly paralyzing Gollum with fear, but the three travelers find their way through to the ashy wasteland beyond. During a daytime rest, Sam overhears Gollum talking to himself, torn between his desire for the Ring and his promise to obey Frodo. For the moment the promise wins, but Gollum has begun to imagine ways to get the Ring and become its master, letting him obey the word of his promise, if not its spirit.
At the Black Gate, Frodo and Sam realize the hopelessness of their quest. The Gate looms above them, manned by countless watchful orcs, with no way to approach unseen. Gollum begs them not to enter, and he reveals that there is another way, extremely difficult and dangerous, but safer. In the mountains above Minas Morgul, the home of the Ringwraiths, a narrow path leads by many stairs over the mountains and into Mordor itself. Sam mistrusts any suggestion from Gollum, but Frodo chooses to accept his help.
The countryside as they journey south becomes green and pleasant, blooming with herbs and flowers, although marked by signs of disease. Gollum goes hunting during their midday rest, returning with rabbits. Gollum would rather eat them raw and leaves rather than watch Sam spoil the meat by cooking it. The fire attracts men of Gondor, who hold Frodo and Sam captive. They are part of a company ambushing Sauron's forces, led by Faramir. The hobbits witness the ambush, and Sam is thrilled to see an oliphaunt.
After the battle, Faramir finds Frodo's explanations unsatisfying. When Frodo tells him to ask Boromir, Faramir reveals that Boromir, his brother, is dead. Nevertheless, Faramir takes Frodo and Sam to his hidden base, Henneth Annûn, and along the way tells Frodo that he knows that the hobbit did not part well with Boromir, and that he now carries an item of great importance to the Enemy. Not knowing what it is, Faramir swears that he would not pick up the Ring if it lay in the road. Sam accidentally reveals that Frodo's burden is the Ring, but Faramir stands by his word, making no attempt to take it.
In the night, Faramir wakes Frodo and shows him Gollum fishing in the sacred pool of Henneth Annûn. Frodo begs that Gollum's life be spared, and Faramir agrees if Frodo will help the Gondorians to capture him. Frodo does so, but Gollum feels betrayed; his fragile trust is broken. Faramir warns the hobbits against following Gollum, but he cannot offer any alternative. Frodo resolves to continue.
After leaving the Fellowship at Parth Galen, Frodo and Sam have only each other to depend on. While Merry and Pippin meet the Ents, and Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, and Gandalf begin the battle for Middle-earth, the two hobbits must make their slow, painful way to Mordor. The landscape is forbidding, and they have little hope of getting into the Black Land, let alone getting out again. Where their friends follow the path of outward heroism in battle, for Frodo and Sam, heroism must come through endurance, the dogged determination to complete their task regardless of the obstacles.
Their first obstacle is simply finding the path — a metaphorical representation of the confusion that besets everyone on his or her journey through life. What is the right way? Aragorn had to face this dilemma as leader of the Fellowship, but the choice must ultimately be made by each person alone. The reduction of the quest to Frodo alone emphasizes this point. Sam's presence as a servant and friend, however, keeps the importance of friendship and support as well. Although the burden of the Ring is his, Frodo knows quite well that he could not succeed alone.
Gollum has been lurking on the edges of the story for many pages, and he emerges here in all his slimy, hissing, backbiting nastiness. While the Ringwraiths and Sauron are a terrifying evil — large, dark, and intimidating — Gollum is a small evil, a "Slinker," as Sam dubs him, who will not attack directly but sneaks and betrays. Gollum is also a more complex character than the Dark Lord; he is evil, corrupted, and eaten away by the gnawing hunger for the Ring, yet still capable of sympathy and even kindness, as with the rabbits. The hints of goodness that Frodo draws out of Sméagol are very fragile, however, and the perceived betrayal at Henneth Annûn gives Gollum's evil side an excuse to resurface.
Faramir is the man that Boromir should have been. Even though he promises not to take the Ring before he knows Frodo has it, he honors his word. Although not as powerful as an elf-lord or wizard, Faramir has some of their wisdom, and understands the danger in wielding such a terrible weapon, regardless of his desire to do good.
dryad a nature spirit or wood nymph.
ells a measurement of just under four feet.
fathom six feet; used for measuring depth.
fawn to behave abjectly in order to receive favor.
oliphaunt a large predecessor to an elephant.
tamarisk a narrow-leaved desert shrub or tree.
terebinth a small tree that yields turpentine.