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The Passage of The Marshes

The Journey through the Marshes
The Journey through the Marshes,  as seen by artist © Ted Nasmith

(Text taken from The Lord of the Rings, 1991 edition by HarperCollins)

They had come to the very midst of the Dead Marshes, and it was dark.

They walked slowly, stooping, keeping close in line, following attentively every move that Gollum made. The fens grew more wet, opening into wide stagnant meres, among which it grew more and more difficult to find the firmer places where feet could tread without sinking into gurgling mud. The travellers were light, or maybe none of them would ever have found a way trough.

Presently it grew altogether dark: the air itself seemed black and heavy to breathe. When light apperared Sam rubbed his eyes: he thought his head was going queer. 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. But neither of his companions spoke a word.

At last Same could bear it no longer. "What's all this, Gollum?' he said in a whisper. "These lights? They're all round us now. Are we trapped? Who are they?'

Gollum looked up. A dark water was before him, and he was crawling on the ground, this way and that, doubtful of the way. 'Yes, they are all round us,' he whispered. 'The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses, yes, yes. Don't you heed them! Don't look! Don't follow them! Where's the master?'

Sam looked back and found that Frodo had lagged again. He could not see him. He went some paces back in the darkness, not daring to move far, or to call in more that 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 diping from them.

'Come, Mr. Frodo!' said Sam. 'Don't look at them! Gollum says we mustn't. Let's keep up with him and get out of this cursed place as quick as we can - if we can!'

'All right,' said Frodo, as if returning out of a dream. 'I'm coming. Go on!'

Hurrying forward again, Sam tripped, catching his foot in some old root or tussock. He fell and came heavily on his hands, which sank deep into sticky ooze, so that his face was brought colse to the surface of the dark mere. There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up, the lights flickered and danced and swirled. For a moment the water below him looked like some window, glazed with grimy glass, through which he was peering. Wrenching his hands out of the bog, he sprang back with a cray. 'There are dead things, dead faces in the water', he said with horror. 'Dead faces!'

Gollum laughed. 'The Dead Marshes, yes, yes: that is their names,' he cackled. 'You should not look in when the candles are lit.'

'Who are they? What are they?' asked Sam shuddering, turning to Frodo, who was now behind him.

'I don't know,' said Frodo in a dreamlike voice. 'But I have seen them too. In the pools when the candles were lit. They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all routting, all dead. A fell light is in them.' Frodo hid his eyes in his hands. 'I know not who they are; but I thought I saw there Men and Elves, and Orcs beside them.'

"Yes, yes,' said Gollum. 'All dead, all rotten. Elves and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes. There was a great battle long ago....'


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  Music: The Dead Marshes, by Patrice Deceuninck from Lille, France (MP3-file, 846 Kb)


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