Although still fearful, Faramir does his best to help Frodo and Sam. He gives them food for the journey, as well as good walking staves, and he advises them that the water of Morgul Vale is poisonous. While they continue along the southern road, a stifling brown cloud spreads from Mordor, hiding the dawn and making even noon seem like evening. At one point, while the hobbits rest, Gollum disappears for several hours without an explanation. After three days, they reach a crossroads marked by the statue of an ancient king. Although the statue's head has been replaced by a rock painted with the Eye of Sauron, Frodo discovers the king's head at the side of the road, crowned with blooming flowers. A ray of sunlight escapes from the west at the edge of the dreadful cloud, and then the sun sets and pitch-black darkness falls.
With the turn toward Mordor, Frodo finds the burden of the Ring much heavier, a weight dragging him down. They are forced to use the main road into Morgul Vale, leading straight toward the terrifying city of the Ringwraiths. Compelled by a force beyond himself, Frodo hurries along the road toward the city. Sam catches him just before he reaches an exposed bridge and they turn aside to a hidden path. Frodo feels the Ring resist, pulling him backward. Before they go far on the path, the towers of the city flash with lightning, and an enormous army emerges from the gates, led by a Black Rider, the Witchking himself. The Wraith pauses on the bridge, and Frodo feels the overwhelming command to put on the Ring. Although his own will denies the command, he watches his hand reach for the Ring. He forces himself to grasp instead the phial of Galadriel, and the urge passes. Soon the Witchking moves on, and the hobbits resume their climb.
The path proceeds by a series of treacherous staircases along high cliffs, so steep that the hobbits have to crawl. After hours of exhausting climbing, they reach the top of the stairs and find a place to rest before they attempt the final tunnel. Frodo and Sam discuss their predicament, realizing that they have become part of one of the great stories that never really end. While they talk, Gollum disappears, and when he returns he finds them sleeping peacefully. A look of longing reveals that he is truly an old, lonely hobbit who should be pitied rather than hated. Sam wakes, and the moment passes. Frodo offers to let Gollum leave, now that they are within sight of the pass, but he insists on staying at least until they pass the tunnel.
They reach the tunnel soon after, and it reeks of filth. Determined to go on, Frodo and Sam enter, gagging on the stench and blinded by its impenetrable darkness. They soon lose track of Gollum, and the atmosphere weighs on them so heavily they can barely force themselves to continue. They hear gurgling and hissing and realize that Gollum has led them into a trap. At Sam's urging, Frodo pulls out the phial of Galadriel, and its healing light reveals the source of the reek and the malice: the glittering eyes of an enormous spider, Shelob. She retreats from the light, and the hobbits find their way to an exit. Although it is blocked by Shelob's webs, Frodo hands Sam the phial and cuts them with his elven sword, Sting, allowing them to escape.
Frodo runs ahead, quickly outpacing Sam and the elven light, and Shelob strikes. She is an ancient evil, wanting only to devour everything, and Gollum made a pact with her to deliver the hobbits, hoping to find the Ring in their discarded clothing after she has eaten. Sam sees her coming, but Gollum grabs him from behind. By the time Sam fights off the treacherous Gollum, who escapes back into the tunnel, Shelob has stung Frodo and is wrapping him in her webs. Taking up Frodo's fallen elven sword, Sam attacks Shelob. At first she barely notices, but he slices off one of her claws and stabs out an eye. Angered, she tries to smother him with her own weight. With the last of his strength, Sam holds Sting above his head. While he could not injure Shelob much on his own, her own strength and weight drive the sword deep into her belly. Combined with the light of Galadriel, the damage is sufficient to drive Shelob away.
After she is gone, Sam tries to revive Frodo, but he appears dead. At first Sam despairs, even considering suicide, but his hobbit-sense surfaces and he decides to continue the quest. He carefully arranges Frodo's body, leaving his sword to replace Sting. Then he takes the Ring from around Frodo's neck, also keeping the phial of Galadriel. Still reluctant to leave, Sam goes to the top of the pass. The sound of orc-voices causes him to put on the Ring. Instead of feeling invisible, he feels terribly exposed to the Eye of Sauron, but the orcs do not see him as they approach Frodo's body. There they meet another group of orcs coming up from the tunnel. Sam learns from their conversation that Frodo is not dead, but before he can do anything, the orcs take Frodo prisoner and carry him into their tower. The doors shut before Sam can reach them, and he is left alone outside, with Frodo a prisoner of the enemy.
At the bridge in Morgul Vale, Frodo once again senses the command to use the Ring. Unlike on Weathertop, his fear does not master him, but his resistance to the Ring has changed. Indeed, he does not resist the Ring's call so much as fail to answer it — exhausted by the creeping journey and the weight of the burden, "There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating on him of a great power from outside." Without the will to respond, he also does not have the will to prevent his hand from moving toward the Ring — only a supreme effort shifts the hand from the Ring to the phial. When he makes that effort, however, he is rewarded, because the phial banishes the Ring from his thoughts.
The phial is a manifestation of hope, the light of the spirit, and contact with it energizes Frodo's own hope and spirit. Although it helps at need, it cannot banish all the darkness and evil in the world. Shelob, a creature of insatiable hunger and the greatest evil yet confronted by any member of the Fellowship, backs down from the light, but it does not defeat her. She simply waits for Frodo to let down his guard. With his will nearly destroyed by the ordeal, Frodo becomes giddy and careless, leaving the light behind, and she strikes him down.
As Frodo becomes immersed in his burden, he becomes a less accessible and sympathetic character for readers. In a way he is like Gollum: We can pity him, but we find it difficult to imagine ourselves in his place. Sam, on the other hand, has been a steadfast servant, unswervingly loyal to his master even when Frodo makes what he has considered poor decisions, and during the journey from Parth Galen, he has begun to voice many of the readers' suspicions. He does not trust Gollum; neither do we. He worries about Frodo; so do we. With Frodo's collapse, the focus of the narrative shifts to Sam, and it will stay with him to the Cracks of Doom.
charnel associated with dead bodies or bones.
gorse a spiny shrub with yellow flowers.
holm-oak an evergreen oak tree.
ilexes a holm-oak or holly tree.
mould rich, crumbling soil.
stonecrop a creeping evergreen sedum with yellow flowers.
unsullied unsoiled, clean, pure.
whortleberry European blueberry.