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 11 of The Two Towers, so as to avoid spoiling any first-time readers.
Rather focus on one issue, I thought we would consider various themes and concerns that arise throughout Book II of The Lord of the Rings. If you have any other topics you would like to discuss, however, please raise them in the comments!
1) Tolkien provides his world with a wealth of cultures and a rich, detailed history that make Middle-earth come alive. In The Two Towers, we meet the Rohirrim for the first time, learning about their language, rich and rolling like their hills; their heroes of old like Eorl the Young; and their legends, such as the one that says the Hornburg will never fall if men defend it. Which culture or place in Middle-earth is your favorite so far? Do you have one place you would like to visit or one in which you would like to live? Which legends and songs have you enjoyed the most? The Two Towers is notable for all the legends that come true—the Blade that was Broken goes to war, the Ents awaken, the Hornburg does not fall—but Aragorn calls the earth a thing of mighty legend, too. Does the inclusion of legend and story in The Lord of the Rings help you to see the wonder and the magic in your own life?
2) Gimli gives a surprisingly eloquent account of the Caves of Helm’s Deep, revealing that Dwarves are more susceptible to beauty than others may think, based on their well-known love of gold and handmade items. Though Legolas fears the Dwarves would mine the caves for wealth, Gimli explains that they would only try to enhance its natural beauty. Were you surprised by this passage? Does Tolkien always give the Dwarves their fair due or do you think he sometimes focuses too much on their love of artistry? Do you think he is trying to say something here about the relationship between art and nature? Can art improve nature or should the Dwarves leave the caves alone? And what do you think of Gimli’s character now that we have received this glimpse into heart?
3) Through the character of Saruman, Tolkien also touches on the relationship between industry or mechanization and nature. The corruption of Saruman leads to the destruction of the natural world as cuts down Fangorn Forest to fuel his fires. Ultimately, however, Tolkien has nature take its revenge through the Ents, who prove more powerful than Saruman’s works. Do you think Tolkien overlooks the benefits of industrialization in his depiction or do you think he fairly evaluates the harm it can cause to the environment? What do you think of the Ents and the loss of the Entwives? Are a dedication to the wild beauty of nature and an appreciation of cultivated earth really at odds? And what was your reaction to the last march of the Ents and to the walking trees that devours the orcs?
4) Last time we discussed how the theme of mercy has played out so far in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf reiterates in the second part of Book III that “Often does hatred hurt itself!” when Wormtongue throws the palantír from Orthanc, thus giving possession of it to the Fellowship and their allies (210). This time, at least, an extension of mercy seems to have favored the enemies of Sauron. Do you think the theme will continue? Is it realistic to have an offer of mercy reward the merciful or do you think this is one part of the story that is too fantastic to believe?
5) Gandalf remarks that Saruman fell in part because he played with things that he did not understand. We have seen, however, that learning can be very valuable—Gandalf’s research in Gondor, for example, allowed him to discover the presence of the One Ring in the Shire. When does learning become dangerous? Do you even think that learning can be dangerous? What is the difference between the way in which Saruman approached knowledge and the way in which Gandalf approached knowledge?
6) So far we have seen many friendships develop in The Lord of the Rings. What are some of your favorites? Merry and Pippin? Legolas and Gimli? Treebeard and the Hobbits? Whom do you hope to see more of?
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Two Towers. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994. Print.