The Two Towers: First Discussion

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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?

6 thoughts on “The Two Towers: First Discussion

  1. Stephanie B (@Chasm_of_Books) says:

    Boromir really does have a moment of redemption there at the end where he confesses to Aragorn and that’s the moment where I fall in love with him every single time. I do think that Frodo does have the “true quest” but I love the emphasis Tolkien gives to the hobbits. He repeatedly shows us how important and vital they are to the story. I love how the hobbits serve as the symbol for ordinary people. I find it to be quite beautiful.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Eowyn but her strength despite Wormtongue’s poison and the almost-destruction of her home is remarkable. She may not be wise like Galadriel or Arwen, but she is a very queenly character. I don’t think that Tolkien should have included more women though because then Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be what it is. Lets face it, girls are often more dramatic than guys and this trilogy doesn’t need that.

    Ah, I love Gandalf so much. From the very beginning, he’s shown us how merciful and kind he is by allowing others to chose. He never took those choices away from anyone. Yes, executing Wormtongue would have been just and he deserved it just as much as Gollum did. From a plot perspective, I would say this mercy has often been detrimental to the fellowship’s quest, but I think Gandalf realized they would have many battles ahead of them regardless and that those small decisions of mercy would save them as individuals. Especially Frodo.


    • Krysta says:

      Boromir has always been my favorite character. There’s something so compelling about him because he’s not a “bad person”. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see his life in Gondor before he is subjected to the pull of the Ring, but we know enough. We know the other characters like and respect him. We know that he is brave and fearless and willing to sacrifice himself. We know that his death will be a loss to his entire country. The tragic thing about Boromir is that he succumbed to temptation for what seems like all the right reasons—he just wanted to help others.

      But that’s not the end of his story. When talking about Boromir, you can’t just talk about his fall and ignore his contrition. He admits his sin and receives forgiveness, and that’s the most beautiful thing about his story. Because Boromir is all of us and he’s a reminder that one mistake is never the end. He still has free will and he has enough humility to try to right his wrong. And that is what makes him different from so many of the other characters, like Wormtongue. Gandalf specifically asks Wormtongue if he wants to repent and Wormtongue refuses. That is a tragedy; Boromir’s story is not.

      But if Boromir is all of us, yes, the Hobbits are, too. They are wonderful insertions of the Everyman, so to speak, so easy to love and to relate with. You admire characters like Aragorn and Legolas, but most people can’t really be them. But a character who loves home and food and comfort? I should have been a Hobbit. But in a way that’s also sort of humbling because the Hobbits are so integral to the story. Without Merry and Pippin’s love for Frodo, they never would have gone to Rivendell. And if they hadn’t gone to Rivendell, they woudn’t be in the Fellowship and they wouldn’t have been taken to Fangorn. And if they hadn’t been in Fangorn, Rohan would be facing the full force of Isengard right now. Of course, Rohan is still in danger, but the danger has been lessened and that could mean everything. We’ll have to wait and see! But still. The fate of a nation literally depends on the friendship of some Hobbits they’ve never heard of. Incredible.

      I love Eowyn, though. She doesn’t have the majesty or the wisdom of Galadriel it’s true, but I like the earthiness of the Rohirrim, their sort of hominess. Rohan is a place I could live in, whereas Lothlorien might feel a little too big for me. Eowyn is a product of that environment, strong and enduring and homey. Her strength right now is not her wisdom but her love. But, as we’ve already seen, love can change the fate of nations. I wouldn’t want to be the fool who attacked Meduseld with Eowyn in charge.

      I’ve never felt the need for more women in The Lord of the Rings, either. It’s not because girls have to be more dramatic or anything like that. The women in Tolkien’s works are far from dramatic. Like Shakespeare’s women, they generally seem to be wiser, stronger, and cleverer than the men in many ways. When they do appear, they count. And they’re all strong in different ways. Galadriel is wise and protects the world. Goldberry is merry and keeps hope and cheer alive. Eowyn is a fighter, a woman who can don armor and a hold a sword and not feel uncomfortable. They all contribute in various ways and all those ways are equally important. They’re never in competition with each other to be the “best” woman.

      Yes, Gandalf does seem to hold the individual as more important than the masses in many respects. To save one soul, he would apparently jeopardize the safety of a nation. It seems like a very foolish thing to do and I don’t think many people in our world would dare. But Gandalf seems to have a clearer idea of the overall picture than most of us can conceive and watching how these small decisions play out (remember, he’s the one who told Elrond to trust to friendship and send Merry and Pippin on the quest) is always one of the most fascinating aspects of The Lord of the Rings.


  2. Briana says:

    I’m still trying to get to Chapter VI (oops!), but I just wanted to throw in that I like Boromir, as well. He’s a little more abrasive than some of the other characters, very determined to be heard and to have his way. He’s told time after time that using the Ring is not a good idea. But maybe such stubbornness is part of what makes him such a great military commander in his home.

    Also, I don’t think he has much experience with the “magic” or spiritual warfare that people like Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf are familiar with. When they tell him the Ring is dangerous, that it will corrupt him, maybe that doesn’t mean much to Boromir. He’s basically asked to take other people at their words (which he probably should, since they’re considered the wisest people in Middle Earth), when he seems to be someone who learns more by personal experience. When he realizes what the Ring has driven him to do to Frodo, he seems to understand, and then he rejects the Ring and asks for forgiveness.


    • Krysta says:

      That’s quite true and I wouldn’t want to overlook Boromir’s very real flaws. Even when people praise him, it’s inevitably he was “brave” or “valiant”. No one talks about his virtue or his kindness or his wisdom. I particularly looked at the adjectives used to describe him in the song sung by Aragorn and Legolas on the River and they call him “Tall,” “Fair,” and “Bold”– in that order. Of course, in LotR, adjectives like “tall” and “fair” also tend to imply a certain nobility of character (or at least of lineage, which is often the same thing in this story) but I wonder how many people would want their final remembrance to be of their appearance rather than of their character.

      Anyway, though I may be verging on the breaking of my own rule, I will note that we learn more about Boromir later and it’s essentially said that he was a product of his culture, one that valued the acquisition of military skills over any other qualities. I bring it up now because I think that’s not too spoilery to say and because maybe if people are interested we can return to it later. But maybe if we wait too long the discussion will be over, so we can work with it a little here as well. You essentially got to that point already with your assessment of Boromir’s experience (or lack of) with people dedicated to wisdom and to fighting spiritual rather than physical warfare.

      But I think you’re also right in noting that Boromir takes a fair and honest look at what he has done and that, in the end, he is repulsed by what he finds in himself. And it’s rather a pity that those who may have guessed what Boromir did at the end wouldn’t immediately know of his repentance because Aragorn wanted to try to keep the knowledge of Boromir’s fall a secret. I think Aragorn does right, but the story implies that Aragorn eventually tells of Boromir’s end and I just now really looked at that line and wondered if I think I know whom he told.


  3. Briana says:

    Answer 3:

    We don’t see a lot of Eowyn in chapter six, but we do see enough of her to get a pretty good idea of her character. I agree with everything you said: we know she’s strong, that she’s supported her uncle through difficult times, that she’s withstood the unwanted attention of Wormtongue, that the people of Rohan love and trust her. Even her attraction to Aragorn seems like a good quality; if nothing else, she knows a worthy man when she sees one.

    I’ve never had an issue with the “lack” of women in The Lord of the Rings. In the first place, the women we meet are awesome; they’re strong, wise, and play integral roles in assuring the success of the quest of the Ring and in saving their world. Also, I can appreciate The Lord of the Rings as a book that’s very interested in exploring male friendship, made very obvious with the formation of the Fellowship itself. The dynamics of those friendships would be very different if there were women on the quest, just because men and women act differently in mixed groups than they do in single-sex groups. As Stephanie mentioned, we’d be reading a very different book if there were more women. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad book, but I love The Lord of the Rings as it is, and see no need for changes.

    Answer 4:

    I think Gandalf’s decision to let Wormtongue go is completely characteristic of him and the morality he values/represents. Whether we disagree with him or not, don’t think anyone could have expected a different action from him. Earlier in the story, he espouses mercy for Gollum, citing first that they have no idea what role he has yet to play and second that “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” Gandalf knows that he is not omniscient, that he is not God/Illuvatar and he has no place to decide anyone’s permanent fate. And redemption, like Boromir’s, is a huge part of that. Gandalf believes that everyone deserves a chance to repent. He lets Wormtongue go hoping that he will make up for the crimes he has committed.

    Was letting Wormtongue go dangerous to Rohan? Sort of, but I don’t think greatly. If Wormtongue were a huge danger, I don’t think Gandalf would have spared him. I don’t think, for instance, Gandalf would have a lot second guesses about killing Sauron. (Maybe the difference is that Sauron already had his chance to repent, but everyone was really hoping he’d been killed the first time, too.) In the end, Wormtongue was a pawn. There isn’t much he could do besides report what he knew about Rohan–which he had already been doing for years anyway. His joining Saruman or not joining Saruman didn’t have any large effect, I believe.


    • Krysta says:

      I pretty much agree with everything you said. I don’t think The Lord of the Rings “needs” women in any sense, anymore than a story like Lord of the Flies or Beowulf needs women. That would make it a very different story and not the one Tolkien wanted to tell.

      As for Wormtongue–it’s true he probably wasn’t really a threat to Rohan at this point. Perhaps the worst he could have done was reveal that Gandalf and Aragorn and company were present. It’s not like saying that Rohan was riding to war would be news because Saruman was already preparing to strike. So the chance to save his soul would have weighed more with Gandalf than carrying out the just punishment.

      Your point about Sauron is interesting, though. I don’t think we’re necessarily supposed to assume that Sauron is beyond redemption, but the harm he would wreak upon Middle-earth means that he holding him captive is perhaps out of the question. If I recall correctly, that was tried in the past, but he ended up corrupting his guards. So the common good would most likely require Sauron’s death if it came to that point. Which we still don’t know because we haven’t reached The Return of the King. 😉 So something to think about as we move forward.


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