The Two Towers: Third 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.  This is the last discussion post for The Two Towers; in March, Briana will be leading the discussions for The Return of the King.  Even if you have not officially signed-up, feel free to join in the fun!  We ask that in this post you reference only events that have occurred up to the end of The Two Towers, so as to avoid spoiling any first-time readers.  I have a series of questions to get us started, but if you have any other topics you would like to discuss, please raise them in the comments!

1) Frodo consistently spares the life of Gollum, not only because he thinks Gandalf would wish it so, but also from a sense of pity.  Do you agree with Frodo’s mercy?  Do you think Gollum can still be saved?  Do you think that Frodo’s kindness really is a type of blindness?  Or do you think that Gollum’s treachery could have been avoided if others, such as Sam, had treated him with more kindness?

2) Throughout The Lord of the Rings we have seen the power of names.  Faramir will not name Sauron or his land.  Sauron, for his part, does not allow his name to be spoken or written.  Wormtongue renames Gandalf “Lathspell” or “Ill-news,” perhaps in an attempt to poison the king against him, while Frodo calls Gollum “Sméagol” in attempt to recall his better nature.  Why do you think some of the characters refuse to name Sauron and his works?  By doing so, are they, as Albus Dumbledore might say, increasing fear of the thing itself?  Or is fear sometimes a wise and positive thing?  What are some of your favorite names in The Lord of the Rings?  Do you find that they, like the names of the Ents, often tell us something about the characters who bear them?    

3) In Book IV of The Two Towers we meet Faramir, Captain of Gondor and Boromir’s younger brother.  Though he clearly loves Boromir, Faramir also offers some criticism, implying that his brother, like Gondor, valued military prowess more than the arts of peace.  How does Faramir’s attitude toward war and glory help him to resist the temptation of the Ring?  Were you surprised that Faramir was able to pass a test his brother could not?  And do you think Faramir judged wisely in allowing Frodo to continue his journey with Gollum as guide? 

4) Throughout The Lord of the Rings the characters face difficult decisions.  Aragorn fears to choose wrongly when deciding whether to follow Frodo or to rescue Merry and Pippin.  Sam hesitates to leave his master in order to take the Ring to the fire.  Gimli thinks there may be no right choice.  Do you share Gimli’s pessimism or do you think, along with Elrond, that a divine providence seems to be guiding the fate of the Fellowship?  Do you sense such a providence even though The Lord of the Rings has made no explicit references to any deities or gods? 

5) Sam puts on the Ring seemingly without being tempted by its offer of power.  Were you surprised?  Why do you think the corruptive influence of the Ring seems not to have started working on Sam?  Do you think that Sam can continue to bear the Ring without succumbing to it?

 6) What are you favorite moments in The Lord of the Rings so far?  Who are your favorite characters?

6 thoughts on “The Two Towers: Third Discussion

  1. Krysta says:

    I’ll get the discussion started this time with a quick answer to #6–my favorite scenes and characters!

    The problem with the characters is that there are so many to love! Sam is up there as one of my favorite due to the his touching loyalty to Frodo, his dogged perseverance, his unquestioning acceptance that the Ring must be destroyed because it is the right thing to do, and his love of the simple things in life. One of my favorite moments with him is when he recites “Oliphaunt”, a rather silly childhood poem, because it’s something that has stuck with him all this years as being wonderful and magical. Even while walking toward death, he retains his ability to marvel at the world around him. I’m so pleased he really did get to see his Oliphaunt!

    Faramir is a great character, as well. Besides providing an interesting contrast to Boromir, he is a significant character in his own right. My favorite lines are when he declares that he fights for people and home he would protect and when he says he would not pick up the Ring even if it lay on the side of the Road. Both lines say a lot about who he is and are a testament to his wisdom since, as he tells us, his city does not particularly value wisdom and learning over fighting skills. He knows something Boromir did not–that some costs are too high to pay and he sticks to his beliefs in the face of adversity.

    There are too many other characters and moments to name, but I also love the comment that Sam must be an Elf because he managed to pierce Shelob (really a remarkable feat that I think can be overlooked) and Sam’s wavering when he tries to decide whether he should stay with Frodo or destroy the Ring. He actually feels like he isn’t good enough to go on a quest, but he’s willing to do it if he must. Aw, Sam. I just want to hug him. He’s so hard on himself.


  2. Stephanie B (@Chasm_of_Books) says:

    Frodo’s mercy has always been a tough one for me. Gollum really, doesn’t deserve to live. But then again, Gandalf is right, we aren’t judges to decide who should live and die. Part of me rebels against Frodo’s mercy. Yet, I think Frodo’s mercy is part of what saves Frodo himself; his willingness to keep believing that there’s good even in Gollum seems to directly counter act what the Ring would have him believe. I don’t think Gollum’s treachery could have been avoided though because the fact remains that Gollum wasn’t the best person before he found the Ring. When we look at others’ first reactions to the Ring and compare them to Gollum/Sméagol, there’s a very stark difference, even with Boromir, who is known for his weakness when it came to the Ring. If Sam had been just has kind and believing in Gollum as Frodo, I don’t think the two hobbits would have lived long enough for Gollum to start to change. Frodo’s kindness was like a second chance for Gollum and he refused it. There’s always a choice and Gollum made his a long time ago.

    I’ve never thought of the names like that before but you have an excellent point. In the case of Gandalf and Gollum, I think the names are all about perception. Wormtongue wanted Théoden to perceive Gandalf a certain way and Frodo wanted Gollum to perceive himself differently. In Gollum’s case, I think this was actually partially effective. Gollum’s ill will was tempered at least for a little bit with Frodo’s kindness and belief that he could change. As for Sauron, I don’t believe their refusal to speak his name increases the fear. Sauron and Voldemort are two very different beings and in Sauron’s case, to speak his name is almost to invite the evil in. Therefore, if they don’t directly say his name, its their way of defying him permission (if you will) to influence them from afar.

    Faramir doesn’t seem to be as war-centered as Boromir was and I think that’s the difference. Boromir seemed to seek power over Sauron where as Faramir simply wanted the evil being gone. Faramir didn’t really have any easy choices and his decision to allow Gollum to continue to lead Frodo I think was greatly influenced by Frodo’s success thus far. Frodo believed that he could only be successful if Gollum led them to Mt. Doom and Faramir was choosing to trust Frodo. This also brings up the fact that Boromir DIDN’T trust Frodo’s decision, which led him to try to seize the Ring. Faramir DID trust Frodo’s decision and past the Ring’s test.

    Gandalf’s presence alone seems to point to some sort of higher power in the LOTR universe. From what I understand, he and the other wizards were SENT to help Middle Earth.

    Frodo and Sam actually have very different personalities. Sam is more simple than Frodo and I believe he’s more of a person who sees in black and white, where as Frodo sees some things in gray. I would suggest that perhaps it is this quality that has protected Sam from the Ring’s effects. Because of the Ring’s nature, I do believe Sam would eventually cave – it’s an object of evil and you can’t expect anything else if you keep evil so close to you for long. Sam is almost incorruptible though so I believe the Ring would have a harder time corrupting him.

    I can’t pick a favorite character but Faramir has always stayed with me. The entire event with Shelob was definitely my favorite part. Amazing all over.


    • Krysta says:

      Wow! What a thorough response!

      Frodo’s response to Gollum is one of those bookish moments that interest me because I think it’s easier to support his kindness to Gollum when it’s fictional. Presented in a story, it makes sense to me. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect as a person, even with bad marks in their past, and Frodo uses that to try to help Gollum become a better person even now. If I met Gollum in real life, though, would I react like Frodo or like Sam? It’s easier to judge someone when you don’t know them (I most likely wouldn’t have Gollum’s entire backstory) and when they’re physically present threatening your life.

      That being said, I always did sense that maybe Gollum could have changed if more people had given him a chance. Or maybe he could have staved off his full corruption just a little longer. However, it is perhaps remarkable that he began to change even as he approached Mordor, where the influence of the Ring is likely to be much greater. So there’s always a choice and always a chance.

      Frodo’s trusting of Gollum, though, doesn’t seem to be a blind trust. He seems to know Gollum is still dangerous and presumably he’s keeping a bit of an eye on him. However, Frodo always seems to feel some sort of doom or despair on him at this point. He clearly believes he’s doomed to take the Ring to Mordor, so maybe he’s trusting he’ll get there no matter what. However, he also seems increasingly depressed, as if he’s saying “You know what? I have to sleep or this won’t get done at all. That’s just the way it is. If Gollum throttles me in my sleep I can’t help it. I’m sorry I tried. Sam can be crazy and stay up all night if he wants, but I can’t.” So there’s a lot going on there.

      I couldn’t resist. the Sauron/Voldemort comparison. 😀 I think you’re right, though. Although the characters clearly fear Sauron and don’t want people lightly tossing his name about (sort of in the way one might not want to ignorantly engage in activities that would invite in evil?), they could pronounce his name if they wanted. I wonder if it’s sort of a punishment for Sauron, though. By refusing to name him, they are denying his identity in a way. Like saying that where he perceives power, they perceive nothing (sort of like how evil can be thought of as an absence/lack of good).

      I like your point about Faramir’s trust in Frodo. I don’t think I’d ever thought about it before. It seems perhaps obvious to readers that Frodo needs Gollum so of course they’ll go off together, but Faramir sees characters clearly. He sees the treachery in Gollum. And yet he still decides that Frodo must do this his own way. What an act of faith.

      That’s true. I believe Treebeard mentions the arrival of the wizards one day in Middle-earth. While the story proper doesn’t address the issue much more, it can probably be inferred that they come at least from around the place where the Elves go and, thus, are probably good (or were meant to be so). I see lots of other mentions of divine action, too, though from Elrond’s declaration that the Council were fated to determine the course of the world to Gandalf’s insistence that Frodo was “meant” to have the Ring. Though the characters still have free choice, there is some sort of power guiding events to thwart Sauron.

      Yes, Sam is presented as simpler (possibly because of his lower social class) and I think that protects him in part. He has no illusions about power or glory. He just wants to stick to what he knows. Ruling the world would be very foreign to him–he probably wouldn’t know what to do with the world if he had it. So, while he’s still corruptible like everyone else, I think it will take longer for the Ring to use what he has and find a way to twist it against him.

      Faramir fans unite! 😀


  3. headscarfandraincoat says:

    Hi, interesting post! I especially like the first point for discussion. So I would like to quickly comment on that 🙂

    I think that with Gollum’s life continually being spared it has something to do with ‘destiny’ as we would call it, or fate. I believe somewhere in the book Gandalf expresses that he has a feeling that Gollum has some part to play in the chain of events. [Moderator Edit: Spoilers for RotK follow.]And we very well know that without Smeagol, the One Ring most probably would not have been destroyed. Just as Isildur had kept the Ring Frodo was about to do the same. [End spoiler] I also think that pity definitely stayed Bilbo’s hand, to see Gollum so lost and exposed without his ‘precious’ probably made Bilbo feel that he should at least leave him with his life since he took the very thing that Gollum coveted. ‘Now that I do see him, I pity him.’ (Frodo’s words)

    As with Frodo, I very much think he heeds Gandalf’s words while in the Mines of Moria and the digust Frodo feels is evident. Later we see that he truly hopes that there may be some good in Smeagol, Frodo also understands the pain and the burden, the tug of the One Ring at his soul. Frodo’s hope was his blindness, there was no kindness truly at first- only pity and then hope. Don’t we all hope that there is some good in the villain? Surely something made them the way they are. Look at Morgoth an Melkor, once upon a time they were both probably as fair and gifted as any elf.

    In some parts of the book I do feel Sam acted too harshly, but perhaps Sam understands that if a person can murder once, they can do it again. I felt sorry for Gollum, I felt sorry Sam, and even detested Frodo for a while. [Moderator Edit: Spoilers for RotK follow.] Gollum’s fate could not have been avoided, it was always the Ring he was after, would he truly have watched it thrown in the fires of Mt. Doom? Tolkien has truly shown us the meaning of his words ‘Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.’ Sam feared for Frodo’s safety, and maybe his own, and it’s sad to see that in the end, both good and bad forces have a part to play in the forces of the world. Even this one. And so in a matter of Destiny and Fate, the realm of terror brought on by Sauron and his Ring was ended by the spared life of Gollum. Who in the end forfeited his life unknowingly to be with his Precious.


    • Krysta says:

      You bring up some fabulous points and I think it’s actually a sign of Frodo’s strength, and not of his weakness, as Sam suspects, that he is able to put aside any personal feelings of disgust he may have while looking at Gollum and thinking of his past crimes, and offer Gollum a second chance. Sam thinks Frodo is blind because he does so; he equates kindness with blindness, as if being kind means that Frodo has forgotten Gollum’s past. And yet, as a Ringbearer, he must understand better than anyone what Gollum suffered. Perhaps his desire to see goodness in Gollum is related. Maybe he needs to believe that the Ring can’t completely corrupt him, either.

      Thanks for commenting! It’s great to have you!


  4. Briana says:

    I’ve read the books before, so I’m not surprised how Sam reacts to the Ring. 😉 Although the Ring would probably corrupt him eventually (I think one of the themes of the book is that no one is perfect, no one can say no to temptation forever if it’s being waved in their face), I do think he has some things in common with Tom Bombadil: he has no interest in power. Sam also seems very convinced that the Ring is evil. His only goal for the thing is to destroy it; he hasn’t been amusing himself by imagining what he would do with its apparently unlimited power. While that may seem short-sighted or simple to some, I think it could also be a sign of wisdom. He has no interest in evil. He carries the Ring because he sees it as a duty to Frodo and the world, nothing more, and that love probably helps protect him.


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