Welcome to the second stage of The Lord of the Rings read-along, hosted by Stephanie from Chasm of Books and here at Pages Unbound. In February, we will be discussing The Two Towers. If you wish to follow along, the schedule is posted here. Even if you have not officially signed-up, however, feel free to join in the discussion! We ask that in this post you reference only events that have occurred up to Book III Chapter 6 of The Two Towers, so as to avoid spoiling any first-time readers.
Rather than focus on one issue, I thought we would consider various themes and concerns that arise throughout the first half of Book III. If you have any other topics you would like to discuss, however, please raise them in the comments!
1) No consideration of The Lord of the Rings is complete without mention of Boromir. Although I have found that many readers hate Boromir because he succumbed to the temptation of the Ring, I have always loved him despite of, or perhaps because of, his momentary weakness. Faced with the one thing that he knew could bring victory to his people and peace to his land, Boromir fell. Would any of us do any better? Even Gandalf feels the pull of the Ring, feeling relief that Frodo has finally taken it out of reach. But the most important aspect of Boromir’s character is not his fall, but his redemption. Before giving his life to save Merry and Pippin’s, Boromir confesses his sin to Aragorn and receives forgiveness. Ultimately, Boromir functions not as an illustration of the evil of humanity but as a reminder that no sin is too big to be forgiven and that one mistake cannot define who a person is. What are your thoughts on Boromir?
2) When meeting Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in Fangorn Forest, Gandalf calls Sauron a “wise fool” who has prematurely released his armies in an attempt to meet the resistance he fears from the West. Though Sauron has adopted the form of the all-seeing Eye, Tolkien suggests, through Gandalf, that evil must in fact always remain short-sighted. Sauron cannot predict the movements of his enemies because he is literally unable to imagine people different from himself—people who would refuse the power of the Ring. Sauron also mistakes, like many others, in overlooking the Hobbits because they have no magic or military power. Yet Gandalf remarks that the coming of Merry and Pippin into Fangorn is like “the coming of small stones that starts an avalanche” and that Frodo has been given the “true quest.” The Lord of the Rings seems unique to me in fantasy stories both because of its focus on the nature of evil and its insistence of the importance of “unimportant” people. The story suggests that evil is naturally self-destructive and that if it fails it will be through its own lack of insight. The role of the Hobbits further suggests that the good side receives its own strength through virtue. What are your thoughts on the presentation of Sauron and the nature of evil? Do you agree that the true quest lies with Frodo? How do you think the emphasis on spiritual warfare makes The Lord of the Rings different from other fantasies?
3) Tolkien has received criticism for the lack of women in his work, but I always thought that the women he does include are all fabulous enough to make up for lack of quantity. In The Two Towers, we meet Eowyn, niece of the king of Rohan. Though she does not receive a lot of attention, we know that she has remained to support the king even though Wormtongue haunts her steps and her brother is out of favor at court, and that the people of Rohan love her enough to want her to rule. We also know that she is beautiful and cold, a woman who has yet to bloom into her full potential. And she may be developing a bit of a crush on Aragorn. What are your first impressions of Eowyn? How does she compare to the other women we have met, such as Goldberry, Galadriel, and Arwen? Do you think Tolkien shows different types of strong female characters or do you think he should have included more?
4) Gandalf says that executing Wormtongue for his treachery would be “just” but instead shows mercy and allows Wormtongue one last choice: to return to Saruman or to redeem himself by fighting for the freedom of Rohan. While it was important to give Wormtongue the chance to repent because he is, as Gandalf reminds us, a man, Gandalf’s mercy will affect more than Wormtongue. Do you agree with Gandalf’s decision to attempt to save Wormtongue or do you think justice should have prevailed? Do you think extending mercy will help or harm the Fellowship and their allies?