The quest draws ever closer to its conclusion. Sam comes to the grim realization that there will very likely be no return journey from Mordor for he and Frodo: "So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started, to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it." For his part, Frodo becomes increasingly tempted to put on the Ring, but he manages, barely, to resist each time. And, all this time, Gollum continues to follow from a distance, intent on taking the Ring back for his "precious," his own.
And he very nearly succeeds. Gollum waylays the hobbits as they are making the final arduous ascent up Mount Doom. At one point, Sam has the opportunity to kill Gollum, but-as it did Bilbo's long before in The Hobbit, and it as it did Frodo's in Book IV-pity stays Sam's hand. If only for a little while (Book VI, Chapter 1), Sam has been a ring-bearer, too, and this experience that he shares with Gollum-this point of empathy and sympathy, of understanding-keeps him from killing Gollum. Even this mercy fails to dissuade Gollum from pursuing the Ring, however, and he "slinks" after Frodo and Sam to the Crack of Doom itself.
At the Crack of Doom, Frodo refuses to destroy the Ring: "I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!" He puts on the Ring and vanishes from sight, to Sam's horror. Gollum attacks Frodo, struggling with his invisible opponent on the edge of the fiery Crack of Doom until he bites off Frodo's ring finger. Gollum dances with joy at what he thinks is his victory, but he loses his footing and slips off into the Crack of Doom, taking the Ring into the fires with him. Albeit unexpectedly, in a way that not even the wise foresaw clearly, the Quest has, at last, been achieved.
Tolkien's technique of interlacing again gives readers insight that the characters within the story do not possess: we learn that the Nazgul do not attend to the hobbits marching up Mount Doom because the Captains of the West are advancing on the Black Gate, "and thither the thought of the Dark Tower was turned." Aragorn's plan that the Armies of the West should serve as "bait" (Book V, Chapter 10) is working, even though Frodo and Sam do not know it. Once again Tolkien is illustrating the importance of realizing that we do not have access to full information, and thus cannot give into despair, even when the duty of serving the good is difficult beyond endurance.
Of course, the good in refusing to give into despair is borne out and vindicated by the events that transpire at the Crack of Doom. The passage is one of the finest in Tolkien's entire tale. Gollum's lament as he falls into the Crack of Doom typifies the disaster he has brought upon himself by refusing to resist his enslavement to evil: "Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone." It is a wonderfully succinct and powerful expression of the futility of evil, which is a major theme of Tolkien's work, as we have seen. The other major theme that the episode of the Ring's destruction reinforces is the unexpected ways in which good can emerge from evil. As Frodo asks Sam, "But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do?" Here again readers are faced with the issue of whether "luck" or providence guides the affairs of Middle-earth (which, as almost casual narrative comments in the later chapters will remind us, is not, contrary to popular opinion, some fantasy world separate from our own, but is this world, our world in an earlier, hitherto untold age, "rediscovered" by Tolkien, who saw himself as providing a new mythology to explain "the real world").
The destruction of the Ring is accompanied by a good deal of apocalyptic imagery and language: as Frodo tells Sam, "I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things." As readers will now see, however, "the end of all things" is both an accurate and inaccurate phrase. The phrase is inaccurate in that a good amount of narrative action must still take place before The Lord of the Rings reaches its true conclusion. It is accurate, however, in that the world will now be fundamentally different because of what has happened on Mount Doom-a theme that Tolkien will also develop further in the chapters to come.
The Return of the King: Novel Summary: Book VI Chapter 3