The Two Towers: Second 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 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.

9 thoughts on “The Two Towers: Second Discussion

  1. Briana says:

    Answer 3:

    Love for nature over industrialization is a prominent theme in The Lord of the Rings, but I think Tolkien is advocated balance more than anything else. The books do have a lot of fair words to describe the deeds of men: the Gates of Argonath, Minas Tirith, Isengard (before Saruman’s corruption of it). I think the main problem is 1) Saruman’s inventions are all for evil and 2) He seems to delight in destruction. The Ents complain that, while attempting to level Fangorn, Saruman and his orcs seem to be cutting down have the trees just out of spite, and not even for the “bad excuse” of feeding their fires. (I don’t think the books or Tolkien are really anti-tree-cutting, in general, particularly for survival; that’s probably pure Ent perspective tacked on there.)

    The loss of the Entwives is very sad, and I think part of the tragedy is that, yes, it was preventable. The Ents and Entwives probably could have worked something out. Maybe wilderness and cultivated land can’t exactly be “combined” for some sort of compromise–but the Entwives could have lived and tended their pastures fairly close to the borders of Fangorn, so there could still be interaction. I think, in the end, the Ents and Entwives both put their work and their love for either wilderness or agriculture over their love for each other. They stopped taking the time to visit each other, or send messages, and that’s when the Entwives disappeared. It all comes back to balance–balancing work with relationships and remembering that both are important.


    • Krysta says:

      You make a good point about the need for balance. After all, the simple machines of the Hobbits are not condemned nor are, as you note, many of the works of men, which are called “fair”. Perhaps the difference for Tolkien is how, specifically, these works impact the environment. A mill on the river or a carving of stone most likely didn’t overly disturb the surrounding ecosystems. And there is a difference, I think, based on the purpose of the works. Saruman doesn’t need an army of orcs and he doesn’t need to build war machines. The Hobbits, however, arguably need their simple tools to farm and eat. They could perhaps produce more than they do now and send it abroad for profit, but instead they make just what they need to be comfortable. There’s no race for more wealth or more in general. And one wonders why there should be. Would the Hobbits be happier with more money and a greater crop output? I doubt it. In contrast, Saruman wasn’t happy with what he already had (a beautiful tower and garden) and then he ruined it in the pursuit of more.

      The story of the Entwives is one of the saddest, I think. As you say, both the Ents and the Entwives seem to have placed other things before their relationship with each other and they only realized the damage when it was too late. I wonder how close the Entwives could have farmed to Fangorn, though. I always had the impression Rohan wasn’t particularly great for farming (though they must farm to eat); the Shire and the surrounding area really does seem ideal for that sort of thing.


  2. Stephanie B (@Chasm_of_Books) says:

    Of all the cultures so far, I think I’d most like to visit Hobbiton and the elves. The elves would be interesting but as funny as it sounds, I’m a bit afraid I’d get bored there. Hobbiton is so full of life and relatively safe yet it’s never boring there. Something is ALWAYS happening.

    As for Gimli, I think Tolkien has already shown us the dwarves’ love of gold and those earthly minerals and I think Gimli was a wonderful way to give the dwarves some depth. Its easy to believe that Gimli’s love and intentions for the Caves would be shared by many in his race.

    Lol. Okay, Wormtongue. Honestly, I think he’s a great example of how evil screws itself. But this also shows that although the Fellowship endured great trial because of their mercy towards Wormtongue, they still made the right decision and were rewarded for it. Choosing the right isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it in the end.

    I love this thought. I don’t remember who said it (I think it was Gandalf) but in the first novel someone remarks that its perilous to study the arts of the enemy too deeply. I think the pivotal difference between Saruman’s quest for knowledge and Gandalf’s is that Saruman seems to have gone looking for every gritty detail with the intention of gaining power. Gandalf gained the knowledge he needed (with the intention of saving Middle Earth) but he didn’t go looking for all the details that he didn’t really need.


    • Krysta says:

      I’ve always been particularly attracted to Rohan, I think because so many of the other cultures seem so grand, so to speak, and I might not feel as if I belonged. Maybe you would tour a place like Gondor, but you could feel at home in Rohan. Hobbiton would be a great place for that same comfortable feeling–and think of all the great food! I would like to see the leaves in Lothlorien, though.

      Tolkien seems really hard on Dwarves in The Hobbit, but part of the problem may be that, with thirteen of them, it’s hard to get to know them. Though I suspect Gimli probably freer from the love of gold than his kindred in The Hobbit, it may also be true that there’s a lot to love in Thorin & Co., but we never get to see it. I love this moment with Gimli and the caves because he gets to reveal not only a part of himself but also something about his culture. No Dwarf, he says, would mine that cave for riches. Not even the greediest of them. Strangely enough, Legolas probably should be more worried about men learning about the caves and what they might contain.

      A weird thing about Wormtongue–everyone calls him that like it’s his real name, but I’m assuming it’s a nickname. But…why does the king trust someone everyone else refers to so derogatorily? The whole dynamic going on there is interesting. And Wormtongue must know, so how does he feel about it? I just wish the whole evolution of this name were addressed.

      I never though of Wormtongue as amusing before, but I guess his bitter attempt for revenge turned into great triumph for his enemy actually could be worth a laugh, especially if you were one of the company and dreading a final betrayal as Saruman tries to seduce various people with his words and then the whole spell is broken by this ironic event. Wormtongue, however, will unfortunately not be laughing and it’s hard not to wonder how hard he’s wishing right now that he had taken his chances with Theoden.

      Not looking for extraneous details could be part of what worked for Gandalf. Because, even with the purest intentions, one could, I think Tolkien suggests, still be misled when attempting to gain knowledge. Saruman probably studied the arts of the enemy too deeply and thus became like the thing he wanted to fight. Gandalf presumably did not study whatever it was Saruman did–spells to gain power over others or something like that. He knew enough about what the enemy was doing to be able to combat it, but he didn’t go any further than that.


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