The Forbidden Pool
Faramir’s conversation with Gollum after his discovery in the forbidden pool is perhaps the closest instance of a trail in The Lord of the Rings. Justice and mercy are frequent themes, and characters such as Frodo and Gandalf often muse upon right and wrong, doom and choice. Yet here we have something that smacks more of what we associate with justice: a forum, a process, references to laws and traditions, and a highly ritualized process.
Gollum himself takes a jab at this “court” when he puts down the justice of men ill-treating him for looking for food. Faramir’s response is interesting, humbly suggesting that while he and his people may not have wisdom, nevertheless they uphold justice. Should we consider the judiciary of Gondor fair and righteous? Or is the doom set upon Gollum unreasonable and undesirable?
On the one hand, there is an argument to be made that Gollum could not have known about the punishment for visiting the forbidden pool, and that such ignorance should shield him from the harshest verdict. Faramir is very intentionally about not slaying beast or bird unnecessarily, and even given his command still pauses when meeting rational actors in the wilderness. Gollum in many ways possesses the lesser qualities of the animals: driven by hunger, without much will, at the command of others. If Faramir had not intervened in capturing him, Gollum likely would never had revealed the location of the pool to the Enemy because he would not have considered it special in any way.
Yet, on the other hand, Gollum is a rational being, and does have some choice, and has already shown himself tricky and willing to make or break deals. He, as Faramir notes, hides much in the recesses of his mind; he has not been fully honest with Frodo. Nevertheless, it’s two approaches to law that Faramir notes with interest here. First, the universality of justice: Faramir rightly notes that Gollum has committed heinous crimes both within and without the land of Gondor up until this point, and while he has not the evidence to try him on them, he weighs Gollum with a reminder of those crimes to better suit the Gondorian’s next purpose. That second principle of justice is the permeation of the law. The law is harsh and hard so as to allow space for mediation – by Frodo, by promise, by wisdom – when the opportunity is necessary. Without the preappointed doom at hand, Faramir has not the same level of power to extract the information he needs to judge fairly what should be done about Frodo and his companions.
As such, the courts of Faramir are not like our courts, and perhaps unlike the proper judicial system of Gondor, given the wilderness in which we now find ourselves. Yet we can learn much about justice, law, and trials in reflecting on the conversation of Gollum and Faramir. We can consider how wise and just are our own laws. We can muse upon the sins that have remained hidden and never rectified. And we can think on mediation, on negotiation, on determining a right course of action.