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Old 03-06-2005, 03:35 PM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Silmaril LotR -- Book 4 - Chapter 02 - The Passage of the Marshes

We continue with Frodo, Sam and Gollum’s journey; Gollum’s help as their guide is shown to be invaluable. The alternate route is described twice in contrast to the way through the Marshes – it would have been impossible to hide there. Of course, it would have been equally impossible for them to find their way through the Marshes on their own.

One of Frodo and Sam’s problems is their need for sleep vs. their mistrust of Gollum. Another thing that Sam is concerned about is the shortness of their food supplies – he is thinking of the return journey, though Frodo has little hope that there will be one.

Gollum’s problem is lack of food; we find out that he does not want to/cannot eat lembas, another Elven creation that is apparently harmful to him. Any ideas why? A hungry Gollum could be a problem to the hobbits, Sam fears.

The Dead Marshes are described with the lights and dead faces, and their historical background is touched upon briefly. Let’s explore that more in the discussion.

I remember thinking that Gollum’s schizophrenic scene seemed overdone in the movie, but the book version is not really that much different. What I find chilling in the written account is the fact that it is not preceded by any negative actions on Sam or Frodo’s part (something we definitely need to take into account in any discussion of his redeemability), and the fact that we read of it from Sam’s point of view makes his suspicions seem well-founded indeed. His reaction is rather cunning in concealing his knowledge of Gollum’s self-dialogue. What do you make of the alternating pale and green light of Sméagol/Gollum’s eyes there?

More things we can discuss: winged wraiths; the weight of the ring; the description of the wastelands near Mordor; Frodo’s dream, which leaves no recalled memory, but a lingering positive emotional memory; and the bits of poetry at the beginning of the chapter, this time recited by Gollum and partly in memory of Bilbo’s riddle adventure.

(As always, this thread opens for posting early Monday morning.)
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Old 03-07-2005, 04:26 PM   #2
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I'm sure some people will draw connections between the Dead Marshes and the despoiled landscapes of the trenches of France and Belgium in WWI. But what this chapter always brings to mind is the wide and treacherous landscapes of our own marshlands in the UK. I'm thinking of tidal land close to estuaries, bogland, and the old marshes which have now largely been drained for farmland.

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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. Among these a cunning eye and foot could thread a wandering path. Gollum certainly had that cunning, and needed all of it. His head on its long neck was ever turning this way and that, while he sniffed and muttered all the time to himself. Sometimes he would hold up his hand and halt them, while he went forward a little, crouching, testing the ground with fingers or toes, or merely listening with one ear pressed to the earth.
Those old marshes may have been drained but the land is still criss crossed with a network of deep and forbidding ditches, pools and winding paths. I remember my first reading would make me think of childhood adventures where you would find yourself being sucked into the very earth when playing around these watercourses. And they were full of writhing eels, much as the Dead Marshes seem to be:

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There are snakeses, wormses, things in the pools.
Marsh lands also produce sulphorous natural gas (that smell will have been like rotten eggs), which is formed due to the rotting process of vegetation in marsh land which does not drain easily. This is one of the common 'explanations' for such phenomena as Will O The Wisp, and Sam himself encounters the naturally occuring substance:

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He fell and came heavily on his hands, which sank deep into sticky ooze, so that his face was brought close to the surface of the dark mere. There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up, the lights flickered and danced and swirled.
But though the marshlands my have been drained, the old stories and folklore remain, and Tolkien makes use of tales of both Will O The Wisp and Jinny Greenteeth:

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He first saw one with the corner of his left eye, a wisp of pale sheen that faded away; but others appeared soon after: some like dimly shining smoke, some like misty flames flickering slowly above unseen candles; here and there they twisted like ghostly sheets unfurled by hidden hands.
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Cold clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long-forgotten summers.
In HoME it states that Tolkien was actually trying to make use of stories of Corpse Candles; in the chapter, they are referred to by Gollum as 'candles of corpses'. From HoME:

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Corpse Candle is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as "a lambent flame seen in a churchyard or over a grave, and supertitiously believed to appear as an omen of death, or to indicate the route of a coming funeral".
I wonder whether this was just an intriguing image or story which Tolkien wanted to include to add atmosphere to this part of the journey. Or did he want to use this to signify something else? After all, all our rational thought ought to tell us that this little group simply are not going to make it, that the odds are against them at this point, or if they do, they are not going to come back and are certainly on some kind of 'funeral march'.

Finally, two lines I particularly like. The following line is wonderfully descriptive and gothic:

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Looking up they saw the clouds breaking and shredding; and then high in the south the moon glimmered out, riding in the flying wrack.
And this line makes me feel immense sadness for Gollum. It instantly makes you realise just how old he is, and that at one time, Gollum was just like an ordinary Hobbit, listening to fireside tales.

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There was a great battle long ago, yes, so they told him when Smeagol was young, when I was young before the Precious came
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Old 03-07-2005, 05:14 PM   #3
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Boromir88 is wading through the Dead Marshes.Boromir88 is wading through the Dead Marshes.Boromir88 is wading through the Dead Marshes.Boromir88 is wading through the Dead Marshes.Boromir88 is wading through the Dead Marshes.Boromir88 is wading through the Dead Marshes.
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Originally posted by Estelyn: What do you make of the alternating pale and green light of Sméagol/Gollum’s eyes there?
I wonder if there is a connection with the "green light," that was seen in the Ents eyes in the "Treebeard" chapter...

Quote:
Any ideas why? A hungry Gollum could be a problem to the hobbits, Sam fears.
If we look in The Hobbit, when Bilbo meets Gollum...
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He (Gollum) was anxious to appear friendly, at any rate for the moment, and until he found more about the sword and the hobbit, whether he was quite alone really, whether he was good to eat, and whether Gollum was very hungry.
I think that's a pretty good reason . Or maybe there's a touch of Bilbo in Sam...
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"Very well," said Bilbo, who was anxious to agree, until he found out more about the creature, whether he was quite alone, whether he was fierce or hungry, and whether he was a friend of the goblins.
Perhaps Sam is playing a long (or atleast trying to) until he can figure out this Smeagol/Gollum.

Through the Smeagol/Gollum conversation we might be able to tell that it wasn't Faramir capturing him that got him to plan the hobbits' death, but he planned it from the very beginning...
Quote:
"We wants it! But"-and there was a long pause, as if a new thought had wakened. "Not yet, eh? She might help. She might, yes."
"No, No! Not that way!" wailed Smeagol.
"Yes! We wants it! We wants it!
Each time that the secon thought spoke, Gollum's long hand crept out slowly, pawing towards Frodo, and then was drawn back with a jerk as Smeagol spoke again. Finally both arms, with long fingers flexed and twitching, clawed towards his neck.
For a while Gollum had changed, and now there's this battle between good and bad. At the end of it bad wins. Gollum is about to strangle Frodo. So, if it wasn't Faramir's capture that "set off" Gollum, what was it? What did the hobbits do to get Gollum thinking about "her?" Or maybe Gollum just cannot be "saved." This could go back to "The Hobbit," Gollum could just be putting on an act, being friendly, appearing to be friendly, until he finds out more about his companions.

I think from the previous chapter we can see that Gollum has changed, and in this chapter Frodo even notices the change, he just questions "how much" has Gollum changed?
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To his (Sam's) simple mind ordinary hunger, the desire to eat hobbits, had seemed the chief danger in Gollum. He realized now that it was not so: Gollum was feeling the terrible call of the Ring.
Maybe the hobbits didn't do anything to get Gollum mad, and making him want to kill them. It's just the ring working on Gollum, and Gollum doesn't have a strong enough desire to resist it. The Ring worked on Boromir, well Boromir is sort of gone, now it concentrates on Gollum, another person who would be quite easy to tempt. The hobbits might not have done anything wrong to Gollum, it could just be the pull of the ring as Sam thinks.

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Old 03-08-2005, 02:57 PM   #4
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In the moon if you looked in some pools you saw your own face fouled & corrupt & dead. Describe the pools as they get nearer to Mordor as like green pools & rivers fouled by modern chemical works. (HoME p. 105)
These are interesting ideas, & I wonder why Tolkien chose not to pursue them. I suppose it could be argued that he did in the case of the desription of the pools & rivers, in so far as he could without anachonism - ie actually stating the comparison clearly. But in the case of the travellers seeing their own distorted & rotting reflections he seems to have changed his mind.

Perhaps he thought it might cause confusion, or lessen the impact of the images they did see.

The reason these early ideas struck me is that there is an automatic presumption nowadays that Tolkien is writing about the experience he must have had on the battlefields of WWI, seeing the rotting corpses of the fallen in the stagnant pools of nomansland. Perhaps there was something more ‘supernatural’ intended.

Yet it would have lead to confusion between the Hobbits seeing their own corpselike reflections as well as the images of the fallen from the Last Alliance in the same pools & he did try to get round this by the idea that they would see their own reflections by the light of the moon & the reflections of the fallen by the ‘corpse candles’.

All of which being said, I wonder if the original idea didn’t convey more powerfully the nightmarish nature of their experiences. The Dead Marshes are not simply a place where the dead of long ago battles haunt any of the living foolish, or sufficiently driven by necessity, to enter. They are a place where death is ever present. Gollum’s ‘joke’ that if the hobbits are not careful they will themselves go down to join the dead & light little candles seems more dreadful in the ‘light’ of their seeing their own rotting faces in the water.

Yet this place is almost like a waking nightmare than a physical location, because the dead aren’t really there. The whole mood is one of unreality. One knows the horrors are not ‘real’ but they are inescapable. It is like suddenly realising one is having a nightmare but is unable to make oneself awaken, fearing that one may never awaken.

Yet the travellers do ‘awaken’ - to the arid blasted waste which lies before Mordor - & this awakening is worse than the nightmare. Yet, here Tokien seems to offer some ‘hope’, alomst of the kind that Sam feels on seeing the star later on:

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They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing--unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. "I feel sick," said Sam. Frodo did not speak.
When all their purposes were made void. What are we to make of that? Not if their purposes were made void, but when.

As Frodo says to Sam on seeing the fallen head of the statue at the crossroads ‘They cannot conquer forever.’

Yet they can do irreparable harm - ‘a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing

The scars left by evil will remain, do what men (or Hobbits) will, but those who do the evil will pass away & no longer be able to inflict their malice on the world & its inhabitants. Even in the midst of the darkness there is hope. What I find interesting though is that Tolkien seems to hide this promise among descriptions of the horror & of the hobbits reactions to it.

‘The Light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it.’
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Old 03-08-2005, 03:13 PM   #5
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They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing--unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. "I feel sick," said Sam. Frodo did not speak.
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Originally Posted by davem
When all their purposes were made void. What are we to make of that? Not if their purposes were made void, but when.
This, I think, has a double meaning. The 'when' can easily be interpreted as foreshadowing of the end of the book. But it can also hint at the longer term, that even across the great expanse of time to come, evil purposes cannot endure, that eventually they will be made 'void'. What is so startling is that even after this expanse of time, the waste would remain forever, a memory of evildoing.

But what about the word 'slaves'? Surely a slave cannot be blamed for carrying out such work when the word implies they have been forced to do it? Maybe the phrase means then, that when Sauron is defeated, his slaves will be freed, and that the purpose with which they have carried out such tasks will no longer remain, even though the evidence of their work will remain.
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Old 03-08-2005, 06:53 PM   #6
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Of course people always grasp for what they know best when reading about a location such as the Dead Marshes. So immediatly the connection to WWI is made. I however also thought of Will o'the wisps and corpse candles. To me its always been a scary place however after re-reading LOTR I didn't find them as scary because I was reminded of Mordor and that to me is one of the scariest places ever created in literature.(that I've read)
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the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void;
I don't think these are just slaves. Aren't orcs slaves of Sauron as well? He controlls them completely so that they do exactly what he wants them to do.He has completely "brainwashed" them and deprived them of their free will.That is slavery another form. Of course orcs by themselves are stupid and evil but due to Sauron they do much more harm than they could have done by themselves. Besides, what about those who allied themselves with Sauron? Now they were truly brainwashed into joining him against the armies of the west. If Sauron hadn't made them obey by pouring honeyed words into their ears I'm sure they would never have joined him as easily, like mice walking into a mousetrap.
I think the slaves are Sauron's former armies and the monument is the dead marshes.

One part of this chapter that stays clearly in my mind is the nazgul flying across the marshes. It freaked me out because throughout the chapter there is a growing sense that if Frodo and Sam are discovered all will be lost.The need to hide from unfriendly eyes grows by every page thus it makes me feel extremely anxious. These feelings are very realistivplus they are a method that the author uses to keep the reader reading.
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Old 03-09-2005, 02:27 AM   #7
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unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion
The flooding of parts of Middle-earth is not an unprecedented concept - see Númenor, for example, though that occurred primarily as a punishment. I can't help but make a connection to the Biblical Great Flood of Noah's time, which had not only a punishing purpose, but was meant to cleanse the earth as well. Perhaps that's what happened to the desolation surrounding Mordor? It was washed away in the all-encompassing flood...
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Old 03-09-2005, 04:54 PM   #8
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As with the last chapter it's Gollum who comes to the fore here. At the beginning of the chapter he is presented in a way that is relatively shocking, given that he is a "villain" -- first, he recites a piece of poetry. This is no meaningless moment, insofar as poetry has been a marker of 'goodness' and knowledge, even lore and history, in the story. One of Sam's early moments of revelation (that he is more than a simple gardener) came when he sang the song of the Trolls -- hmmm, must like Gollum, Sam's first song was also a commemoration of the earlier adventures of Bilbo. Another link between the two.

The other revelation about Gollum is that he possesses more 'lore' than the hobbits: he knows the history, however dimly, of the Dead Marshes. He remembers when he was a child being told about it and the battle fought there.

It's interesting that the more Gollum directs his attention to memory and what was, the more he moves toward the good. It's when he looks to the future and what he plans to do next that he heads toward evil: he is going to take them to Shelob, he hopes to become "Lord Smeagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, three times a day, fresh from the sea."

I think there's some interesting things to learn about the nature of the Ring's evil in these moments. It seems to be directed toward the future and toward the gratification of desire, while the contrary to that is directed backward -- not a very 'modern' view of the world. Frodo and Sam are never really travelling to Mordor so much as they are moving away from the Shire: it's what lies behind the, that pushes them forward, and their one desire -- expressed in this chapter -- is to go back. When gollum mimics them and thinks 'back' to his own home, there is hope for him, but when he thinks 'forward' to his dream of becoming "The Gollum" he is lead toward the evil.

So is Sauron a Modern person? His lands look like a modern wasteland, obviously, but more than that he is a forward thinker in that he wants to dominate the future while the hobbits (and moreso the Elves) want to protect the past. . .

This reminds me of a comment made by my fellow countryman Marshall McLuhan: "we drive into the future using the rearview mirror as our guide." I've never been sure what to make of that, but I think that perhaps Tolkien did -- that the only reliable guide we have to our forward motion is where we've been: that those who look and think 'back' can take ethical and moral paths into what's next, while those who think only into or about the future can do so only in relation to what they want from the future: tomorrow is all about what's gonig to happen to me, whereas yesterday is about what's happened to us????
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Old 03-09-2005, 07:01 PM   #9
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First impressions and musing on Gollum and Light

In this chapter, as the last, Gollum expresses his repulsion to the Sun, or, as he puts it, the Yellow Face. We discussed, in the last chapter, various reasons as to why Gollum has such a dislike for the Sun, and for other forms of light, and the popular conclusion was that he doesn't like the Light because it shows up his own darkness. This previous discussion was brought to my mind when, in this chapter, Gollum tells Sam that he is unwise to be glad of the sun, for 'it shows you up.'

There, perhaps, is the more interior, more of... feeling reason Gollum dislikes the Light, but there is also a reference given to a more practical reason. Gollum gives the impression that with the coming of the sun, the Orcs, who can see a long way, will easier spot them. In fact, after the Nazgul passes overhead in the Marshes, the hobbits themselves are cowering under the stones, hiding from the light that could show them to the Nazgul. The combination of Light showing up his own darkness, and light showing up his presence so he could be seen by things such as Orcs, why... I'm quite sure I would have a hatred of Light, as well, if such was the situation with me.

And then there are the lights in the Marshes. Gollum has known those 'tricksy lights,' and the 'fell lights' in the dead faces, and perhaps that influenced his attitude toward real Light. His feelings for these lights and for real Light seem to be much the same... 'wicked.'

Something that struck me was the incident where Frodo offers Gollum the lembas, and he chokes on it, saying he can't eat it. Frodo says he thinks it would do Gollum good, if the latter would try, and adds: "But perhasp you can't even try, not yet anyway." This could very possibly be another reference to that Light. We know that Frodo is hoping to 'convert' Gollum, as you might put it, and this seems a very clear reference to his hopes of Light for Gollum.

Another thing I mentioned in the previous chapter is that there is a possibility that Sam, as well as Frodo, has a concept of pity and mercy for Gollum, even if it not quite so strong as Frodo's. I'm encouraged in this thought, for when Sam wakes up, realises that he has fallen asleep on his watch, and also realises that Gollum has not throttled either of them, he says: "Poor wretch!" 'half remorsefully.' He calls him a 'poor wretch' once again not too long afterwards. His mercy towards Gollum was depicted in the previous chapter when he tied the rope just barely tight enough on Gollum's ankle, and his pity seems clearly depicted here. I can't say if it's a very strong feeling of pity or mercy or not, but I do feel confident that it's there, weak or strong, and I like Sam more than I ever did before.

One minor thing that has always made a deep impression on me is the instance of the birds, where the difference between Sam, the Shire gardener, and Gollum, the twisted creature who perhaps gardened once upon a time, is shown up. Sam expresses regrets that there are no birds about, probably because of their songs and pretty ways, and Gollum expresses the same sentiment, but for very different reasons... he licks his teeth as he sighs. When I think of Smeagol, who once sat on green banks by a river fishing, listening in delight to the sweet rising and falling of the bird songs, and how he now sits in a swampy, desolate, gloomy place, moaning over their absence (and the absence of food in his stomach), I can only shudder and pity.
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Old 03-10-2005, 10:27 AM   #10
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Some other ideas that were supposed to be in my last post but which were apparently lost:

There's an interesting connection between the Dead Marshes and Lorien: both are places of memory, but in different ways. In Lorien the past lives on, but it presents a danger to those who come into contact with it. The peril of the Wood is that one will never want to leave. The Dead Marshes also preserve the past insofar as they contain the decaying/rotting memory of the ancient past -- and like Lorien they present a peril to the unwary -- if you get too close to those images of the past, you can literally drown in them and never leave.

It brings an interesting comparison to the fore between the sterile preservation of Lorien and the mummification of the Dead Marshes. Against the sterility of Lorien the Marshes are a startling fertile place: for all their associations with death and their proximity to Mordor, time passes there, things actually grow and die. The processes of change that are suspended in Lorien are not suspended in the Marsh: the dead are of and in a past that is distinct from the present and future.
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Old 09-27-2018, 04:58 PM   #11
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If I had to pick a "least favourite" chapter in all The Lord of the Rings, I might just pick "The Passage of the Marshes." Not because it's a bad chapter or an unnecessary chapter or a chapter without some thrilling (perhaps one should say "chilling") moments, but because, if you line up all 62 chapters of the book from favourite to least favourite, some chapter is inevitably going to be last.

Like many chapters, "The Passage of the Marshes" is about getting from Point A to Point B. If there is a concrete reason for ranking it my 62nd favourite chapter, it is because the lands traversed in its pages are possibly the least lovely in the entire book. And, yes, I think I would rather visit the Plain of Gorgoroth than the slag-heaps outside the Black Gates. Gorgoroth, one gets the impression, was always hostile to life, that Sauron hasn't really destroyed anything. But the landscape outside the Morannon has been deliberately and harshly mutilated. Even if Tolkien removed the explicit connection to the worst of modern destruction from the Dead Marshes proper, the concept echoes throughout the chapter, especially AFTER the Dead Marshes.

The corpses in the water are one of two highlights in the chapter--the other is the dialogue Sam overhears between Sméagol and Gollum. To talk about the second one briefly, I haven't any real thought to add there, but it does seem to be a point worth noting that Sam is, once again, eavesdropping. Counting Bag End and the Council fo Elrond previously, this is at least the third time--and at least as significant as the previous two. Can we consider this a character trait of sorts?

Going back to the corpses, it is delightfully unsettling coming upon them. I actually noticed a detail that I'd never noticed before that has been lingering with me:

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Passage of the Marshes
Sam looked back and found that Frodo had lagged again. He could not see him. He went some paces back into the darkness, not daring to move far, or to call in more than a hoarse whisper. Suddenly he stumbled against Frodo, who was standing lost in thought, looking at the pale lights. His hands hung stiff at his sides; water and slime were dripping from them.
--emphasis added

This is immediately before Sam trips and sees what's in the meres, and the reader is kept in the dark with Sam until he does, so we don't know what to fear here... but as a rereader who DOES know, I'm intensely disturbed by Frodo's water-and-slime-dripping hands. I'm not sure I want to know why that detail is being reported--the implication is that this is a recent addition (i.e. Frodo's hands may be expected to be wet and dirty, but not dripping with with water and slime--the dripping implies it has a recent cause).
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