Cirith Ungol ~ the Dark Cleft of the Spider

“Almost he had reached the summit of the wall. Only a little higher now.
The Cleft, Cirith Ungol, was before him, a dim notch in the black ridge, and the horns of rock darkling in the sky on either side.”


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TolkienCanon3Cirith Ungol was one of two passes over the Ephel Dúath, known as the Mountains of Shadow in the Common Tongue. This pass was reached by a narrow stair that was guarded by a fortress tower perched on a high northern shoulder of the Morgul Pass, which was the larger way into Mordor. The Secret Stairs of Cirith Ungol led into a dark tunnel that passed by the entrance into Shelob’s Lair and then out again to the northern side of the fortress of Cirith Ungol, whose tower was the top most tier of a large fortress within the land of Shadow.  The pass of Cirith Ungol was a narrow and hidden way into Mordor, while the Morgul Pass was lower and cut into the rock forming a larger roadway that could accommodate legions of uruks passing over the Mountain.

These two entrances into the western side of Mordor were guarded by the Tower of Cirith Ungol, originally built by the Men of Gondor after the War of the Last Alliance to guard the western way into the land of Shadow. The tower sat upon the highest ridge of Cirith Ungol and from its top most tier, one could see over the Mountains of Shadow into the west. The fortress, itself was upon the eastern side of the Mountain, that led down along the Morgul Pass into Mordor.

CirithUngol2Frodo and Sam get their first glance at the Tower of Cirith Ungol, as they reach the top most tier of the Secret Stair. They see it looming over the Morgul Pass and one high window is lit with a leering red light.

“Up the long ravine between the piers and columns of torn and weathered rock, standing like huge unshapen statues on either hand. There was no sound. Some way ahead, a mile or so, perhaps, was a great gray wall, a last huge up thrusting mass of mountain-stone. Darker it loomed, and steadily it rose as they approached, until it towered up high above them, shutting out the view of all that lay beyond. Deep Shadows lay before its feet.
The horn upon the left was tall and slender; and in it burned a red light, or else the red light in the land beyond was shining through a hole. He saw now; it was a black tower poised above the outer pass.”

From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the chapter ‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol’


CirithUngol1The Hobbits, led by the treacherous Gollum into the clutches of Shelob, had escaped her lair only to be caught unawares as she slipped through a cleft in the rocks and took Frodo from behind. Thinking Frodo was dead, Sam steeled himself to go on and stood upon the brink of the pass, looking down into Mordor.

“Hard and cruel and bitter was the land that met his gaze. Before his feet the highest ridge of the Ephel Dúath fell steeply in great cliffs down into a dark trough, on the further side of which there rose another ridge, much lower, its edge notched and jagged with crags like fangs that stood out black against the red light behind them: it was the grim Morgai, the inner ring of the fences of the land. Far beyond it, but almost straight ahead, across a wide lake of darkness dotted with tiny fires, there was a great burning glow; and from it rose in huge columns a swirling smoke, dusty red at the roots, black above where it merged into the billowing canopy that roofed in all the accursed land.
Sam was looking at Orodruin, the Mountain of Fire. Ever and anon the furnaces far below its ashen cone would grow hot and with a great surging and throbbing pour forth rivers of molten rock from chasms in its sides. Some would flow blazing towards Barad-dûr down great channels; some would wind their way into the stony plain, until they cooled and lay like twisted dragon-shapes vomited from the tormented earth. In such an hour of labour Sam beheld Mount Doom, and the light of it, cut off by the high screen of the Ephel Dúath from those who climbed up the path from the West, now glared against the stark rock faces, so that they seemed to be drenched with blood.
In that dreadful light Sam stood aghast, for now, looking to his left, he could see the tower of Cirith Ungol in all its strength. The horn that he had seen from the other side was only the topmost turret. Its eastern face stood up in three great tiers from a shelf in the mountain-wall far below; its back was to a great cliff behind, from which it jutted out in pointed bastions, one above the other, diminishing as they rose, with sheer sides of cunning masonry that looked north-east and south-east.
Above the lowest tier, two hundred feet below where Sam now stood, there was a battlement wall enclosing a narrow court. Its gate, upon the near south-eastern side, opened on a broad road, the outer parapet of which ran upon the brink of a precipice, until it turned southward and went winding down into the darkness to join the road that came over the Morgul Pass. Then on it went through a jagged rift in the Morgai out into the valley of Gorgoroth and away to Barad-dûr.”

From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘The Tower of Cirith Ungol’


CirithUngol3As Sam came to the Gate of the fortress, he saw before him to large stone effigies guarding  it’s entrance.

‘Come on, you miserable sluggard!’ Sam cried to himself. `Now for it!’ He drew Sting and ran towards the open gate. But just as he was about to pass under its great arch he felt a shock: as if he had run into some web like Shelob’s, only invisible. He could see no obstacle, but something too strong for his will to overcome barred the way. He looked about, and then within the shadow of the gate he saw the Two Watchers.
They were like great figures seated upon thrones. Each had three joined bodies, and three heads facing outward, and inward and across the gateway. The heads had vulture-faces, and on their great knees were laid claw like hands. They seemed to be carved out of huge blocks of stone, immovable, and yet they were aware; some dreadful spirit of evil vigilance abode in them.
They knew an enemy. Visible or invisible none could pass unheeded. They would forbade his entry, or his escape.
Hardening his will Sam thrust forward once again, and halted with a jerk, staggering as if from a blow upon his breast and head. Then greatly daring, because he could think of nothing else to do, answering a sudden thought that came to him, he drew slowly out the phial of Galadriel and held it up. Its white light quickened swiftly, and the shadows under the dark arch fled. The monstrous Watchers sat there cold and still, revealed in all their hideous shape. For a moment Sam caught a glitter in the black stones of their eyes, the very malice of which made him quail; but slowly he felt their will waver and crumble into fear.
He sprang past them; but even as he did so, thrusting the phial back into his bosom, he was aware, as plainly as if a bar of steel had snapped to behind him, that their vigilance was renewed. And from those evil heads there came a high shrill cry that echoed in the towering walls before him. Far up above, like an answering signal, a harsh bell clanged a single stroke.
‘That’s done it!’ said Sam. `Now I’ve rung the front-door bell! Well, come on somebody!’ he cried. `Tell Captain Shagrat that the great Elf-warrior has called, with his elf-sword too!’

From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘The Tower of Cirith Ungol’


“The horn upon the left was tall and slender;
and in it burned a red light, or else the red light in the land beyond was shining through a hole. He saw now;
it was a black tower poised above the outer pass.”


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 Posted by at 12:03 pm