The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
The Stairs of Cirith Ungol is the eighth chapter of the fourth book in The Two Towers.
Gollum draws Sam and Frodo away from their rapt contemplation of the statue, telling them that time is short. He guides them along the Southward Road until they reach the Valley of Minas Morgul. All three are momentarily transfixed by the sight of the Tower of the Moon rising in the distance, but Gollum finally urges them onward again. The way is hard, and the land is full of a horrid stench that makes it hard for the Hobbits to breathe. Frodo begs for a moment’s rest, but Gollum and Sam insist on continuing. As they start moving again, Minas Morgul erupts in a deafening thunder, and troops appear. Frodo sees a great mass of cavalrymen all dressed in sable, guided by a horseman whom Frodo identifies as the Lord of the Nazgûl.
Suddenly, the horseman stops, and Frodo fears that he has spotted them. Frodo stands still, but almost against his will his hand moves toward the Ring hanging on his neck, which would give him the strength needed to confront the Lord of the Nazgûl. Frodo also touches the Phial of Galadriel, which he had forgotten. Luckily, the Ringwraith ends his watchful pause and continues on his way.
Frodo remains extremely distressed, however. He fears that he has taken too long to reach Mordor and that it is too late to fulfill his mission of destroying the Ring. Gollum, however, urges the Hobbits steadily onward, up an interminable set of stairs. Frodo becomes dizzy and feels that he cannot go on, but Gollum forces them to continue. Frodo looks down and sees that they are above Minas Morgul.
After what seems like miles uphill on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, as the twisting mountain is called, Gollum leads Frodo and Sam into a dark crevice to rest. They discuss the question of whether there is water at these heights and whether it is drinkable. The two hobbits fall into a discussion of the old songs and prophecies, wondering whether they themselves will become characters in future songs, sung by their own children perhaps. Frodo and Sam also talk about how trustworthy Gollum is. Frodo asserts that no matter how selfish Gollum may be, he is no friend of the Orcs, and therefore may be considered a reliable guide. One night, Sam awakens to find Gollum caressing the sleeping Frodo. Sam accuses Gollum of sneaking around in the dark. Gollum is offended, saying he was not sneaking. Frodo wakes and settles the argument, telling Gollum he is free to go off by himself if he wishes. Gollum affirms that he must guide the hobbits to the end.