The Cold White Mark on Frodo’s Shoulder

Over rocks and through the rain, scrambled our proto-fellowship. Frodo’s wound had become very serious.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p202, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
It had now been four incredibly difficult days of climbing over rocks and hills in the Trollshaws. Four days since they crossed the Last Bridge. This was their twenty-fourth day of the journey. It had been eleven days since Weathertop, and Strider was beginning to worry about provisions.

Back on Weathertop, Strider predicted that it would take them at least a fourteen days to reach Rivendell. Because of the Nazgul, even after crossing the Last Bridge, they had to keep from the road. It was surprising to them that they weren’t confronted at the bridge. It was obvious that they had to cross it, and yet, the Nazgul seem to have given up. This was strange, but still, they had to keep away from the East Road. This meant scrambling over rocks and dales, and that meant exhaustion, especially for hobbits, but even more especially for Frodo.

For eleven days, Frodo had been suffering from being pierced with the Witch-king’s notched blade. Strider had done what he could to nurse it, but hurrying to Rivendell was of the utmost importance. There, he might be cured.

The night previous, Frodo’s wound was more painful than it had ever been before. This was attributed to the cold, but there was more to this than simply the weather. That night, before sleep, he was haunted by the encounter on Weathertop, “he felt that black shapes were advancing to smother him; but when he sat up he saw nothing….”

When he did finally sleep, he dreamed about walking in the Shire, but everything seemed “faint and dim.” The only thing that was clear were “the tall black shadows that stood looking over the hedge.”

The next day, Strider discovered that he had taken them too far north and they were at risk of fumbling into the Ettendales, troll country. Though we think of Strider/Aragorn as knowing nearly all of Middle-earth like the back of his hand, he admitted that he knew very little about the Ettendales. There was also the question of food.

And so he resolved to again rejoin the East Road at the Ford of Bruinen. This long and rocky detour wasn’t all for nothing, of course. The less they were on the main road, the more difficult they would be to find for the Nazgul, wherever they were.

Though they found a valley leading in a more southerly direction, it was the most difficult of the Trollshaws episode thus far. Frodo, hardly able to walk, had to get off his pony (though how they were taking a pony through this is well beyond me). Here it becomes clear that the reason why Strider was carefully picking their paths and why he ended going too far north was to accommodate Frodo.

By the end of the day, the eleventh from Weathertop, all were even more exhausted. Frodo could not move his left arm, and all down his side and shoulder was like “icy claws” had him in their grip.

Merry, the most traveled of the hobbits, pulled Strider aside and confided in him that Frodo might not be able to go any farther because of his wound. Strider countered that Frodo’s wound was why they had to press on. He was certain that Rivendell would be any help, but it had to be better than this place.

But here we learn something about the Enemy’s weapon. Sam asked what was wrong with Frodo. The wound seemed to have healed well enough. “There’s nothing to be seen but a cold white mark on his shoulder.”

Strider then explained that Frodo had been “touched by the weapons of the Enemy… and there is some poison or evil at work that is beyond my skill to drive out.”

This was the work of the Morgul-blade. They were knives carried by the Nazgul that are laced with some sort of dark power (“morgul” means dark sorcery). When stabbed, the victim dies, even if the wound, like Frodo’s, was slight.

As Gandalf will explain later, if the Nazgul had succeeded in piercing Frodo’s heart, “you would have become like they are, only weaker and under their command. You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord….”

Gandalf attributed Frodo’s survival to “fortune or fate,” and even his own courage. The Nazgul missed their mark – his shoulder – because he resisted to the last.

There’s not a lot of information out there about Morgul blades. It was notched, and maybe that was part of its design. If stabbed in the heart, Frodo would have become a wraith. If just stabbed, he would die. But (as we’ll discover), a bit of the blade broke off in Frodo’s shoulder.

I’ve seen some commentary that said that the broken off piece was trying to work its way to Frodo’s heart. I don’t see any evidence for that in the book. Would Frodo have become a wraith if Elrond hadn’t removed the bit of the blade? From what I can see, I don’t think so. Gandalf would have mentioned that. The Nazgul did not succeed, even in their attack. They failed to get the Ring, and they failed to turn Frodo in to wraith (if that was even ever their goal).

There’s another example of someone being wounded with a Morgul blade. In 2475 of the Third Age (it’s now 3018), Boromir, son of Denethor I (this is not the Boromir/Denethor from the main story, but an earlier set) was such a powerful figure that even the Witch-king feared him. He was able to drive back the uruks and retake Ithilien.

“He was noble and fair of face, a man strong in body and in will, but he received a Morgul-wound in that war which shortened his days, and he became shrunken with pain and died twelve years after his father.”

If he was wounded in 2475, and took over for his father in 2477 (when Denethor I died), and he lived for twelve more years, that means that he suffered the effects of the Morgul-wound for fourteen years. He died at age 77, which was about three decades early. The Stewards of Gondor were living to around 110 years old at this time. But that was “just” a wound. It’s never mentioned that a chunk of the blade broke off in Boromir. Still, he did not become a wraith, and it’s unlikely that Frodo would have.

After making camp for the night, Frodo dreamed again. This time it was that “endless dark wings were sweeping by above him, and that on the wings rode pursuers that sought him.” A foretelling was upon Frodo, it seems.

A Few Notes

  • When bopping around the internet, looking for information on Morgul blades (or anything Tolkien), there’s a ridiculous amount of information pertaining to video games or card game (what to speak of random speculation). It makes it all so difficult to parse.
  • I really don’t like speculating about this stuff. I’m completely fine with either finding it in the books/letters/notes, etc or simply not knowing. I’m absolutely fine with there not being an answer.
Camera: Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex Film: Ilford XP2 Super 400

Camera: Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex
Film: Ilford XP2 Super 400

About the Photo
When it’s took rocky to scramble, it’s usually too rocky to take a photo. This is as close as I can get, though it would probably be more suited to Mordor, since both places are volcanic in nature. This is part of the Drumheller Channels in Washington.

  • Day 78
  • Miles today: 6
  • Miles thus far: 386
  • 72 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,393 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. Deeper into the Trollshaws. (map)


18 thoughts on “The Cold White Mark on Frodo’s Shoulder

  1. Wait. Doesn’t Gandalf tell Sam (I think) that the broken-off bit was working its way to his heart and that’s one of the reasons it was so hard for Elrond to cure him?

        • Yep. I was specifically looking for it and expecting it. I have the ebook version at work, I’ll see if I can blow off a few things so I can check it out.

            • Okay! I looked. It’s not said in Fellowship. Gandalf says that they tried to peirce his heart, but didn’t.

              But was it mentioned at the end? Like, right before Frodo leaves for the Grey Havens. I really should have delved into that in this post. Curse my metal body!

            • Maybe? One of my FB friends had this to say: “I believe it’s in one of the Rivendell chapters, possibly the one right before Council of Elrond.”

            • Yep, that’s where G talks to F about it. I’ll look over it again, but I’m 99% sure it’s not there.

              Could this be something from the movies?

            • Found it! Gandalf tells Frodo that it was “deeply buried and working inwards.”

              But does that mean towards the heart? I’m not so sure. Maybe. I mean, why not? But it’s not explicit.

              He mentioned it before telling Frodo that they were trying to pierce his heart.

            • Yay! I think the implication that it was heading toward the heart is there, but I guess JRR wasn’t specific about it. Interesting how we remember stuff.

            • It really is interesting. I wonder why Gandalf said it was working inward before mentioning that the Nazgul were going for the heart.

              Give it a read when you get home. It’s strangely arranged.

    • I don’t think I have, actually! The LotRs panel is great! I only wish they would have done it for the books rather than the movies (there’s a difference here and there – like the time of Gandalf’s imprisonment). But still, it’s incredibly well done. Thanks!

  2. […] Sweating to Mordor is just a beautiful project. Eric started this blog with the idea of covering the distance between the Shire and Mordor on his elliptical machine and doing a read-through while he was doing it. Now he’s looking at drafts and making very interesting observations. I have no idea whether the elliptical machine is still being used or not, and I am not one to judge. He comes up with some awesome art, and knows his Tolkien. You should check him out. […]

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