The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

Two TowersInformation

Goodreads: The Two Towers
Series: The Lord of the Rings #2
Source: Purchased
Published: 1954


The Fellowship is broken.  Frodo and Sam have set off alone to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.  Merry and Pippin have been captured by orcs.  The other members face a hard choice: to follow Frodo to the end or to rescue their comrades.  Meanwhile, Orthanc and Barad Dûr gather their strength before unleashing their fury upon the world of men.


I have always considered The Lord of the Rings as one book that just happens to be published in three volumes, and so reviewing The Two Towers poses some challenges.  Far from acting as a distinct work of art, it forms instead a seamless part of the story as a whole; Tolkien himself, I understand, conceived as the work as one book but was forced to publish it in parts due to paper shortages.  Thus, it may come as some surprise to open the second volume in the “trilogy” only to find that it contains no handy recap of past events woven into the summary but instead immediately jumps into events that were still in progress at the close of The Fellowship of the Ring.  Peter Jackson evidently felt this was a bit confusing, as well-those who have both read the book and seen the movies will know that one character’s arc is tied up definitively by Jackson by the end of his The Fellowship of the Ring; Tolkien allows this arc to play out longer.  So reviewing The Two Towers is, to me, impossible.  It would be like reviewing the middle chapters of Moby-Dick or Little Women.  Without the full story to give those chapters context, a review would run the risk of being meaningless.  It makes more sense to me to offer some reflections on the book and where we as readers are now in the story, having just left Sam and Frodo on the verge of losing everything.

Reading The Lord of the Rings has always been in some sense difficult to me due to the necessity of its switching perspectives.  In The Two Towers, Tolkien not only divides the story into two Books (Book III, which follows Aragorn & Co. and IV, which follows Frodo and Sam) but also jumps from character to character within those books.  So it is that just as one begins to get comfortable and follow Aragorn on the hunt, Tolkien whisks away to focus on Merry and Pippin.  I might be annoyed, except that Tolkien handles it all so masterfully.  Not only does he make me care equally about all his characters so that I am always invested (and never thinking, “Oh no.  Not him again.  Can’t we fast forward a bit?”) but he also positions these transitions strategically.  Sometimes he wishes to create suspicion, so we know nothing of the movements of various characters.  But sometimes he wishes to create irony, so we know before the Three Hunters what has become of their friends.   Somehow the choice always seems right.  I would not want to know about the wizard before he appears, but I think that not knowing about Merry and Pippin might border on the over-dramatic (like that time Aragorn fell off a cliff in Jackson’s The Two Towers and was “dead”).  Tolkien might be alleging to have discovered this story already told, but there is no denying he translates it for us masterfully, making it his own.

And what a world he introduces to in the process.  One might suspect that the middle of such a large book would flag in the middle, but Tolkien keeps it fresh and strong with the addition of new lands, new characters, and new challenges.  The journey to Rohan is one of my favorite in the story–though the Rohirrim are considered “lesser” men than the Gondorians, there is no doubt they are strong and bold and fearless.  Their is a joy in their ferocity.  Everything about them seems young, as if they still have the world to discover and will venture out gladly, willing to make mistakes but pick themselves up again.  The men of Gondor may have wisdom but the men of Rohan have the right of the young to be carefree and proud.  I love their land and their people and their poetry.  Tolkien makes it all come alive.

Of course, other lands are introduced, as well, and there is a special type of magic to them all.  From Fangorn Forest to Ithilien, Tolkien makes me feel as if I am really in Middle-earth, walking ancient lands and feeling the wonder and beauty of it all.  Aragorn tells the riders of Rohan that the earth is a thing “of mighty legend” and one believes, through Tolkien, that it is true.  Thus we pass all too soon to the darkness and ash of Frodo and Sam’s own hard journey.

Frodo and Sam’s story possesses a sort of poignant, pathetic beauty.  Frodo is clearly suffering at this point, but feels compelled to go on, to try to do the right thing.  One senses that he feels a “doom” upon him, but whether he means this in the gloomy way we now associate with the word or whether he simply means it is his fate and one he cannot escape, he himself may not yet know.  It is all the more endearing to see trusty Sam at his side, laboring on through all hardships and always thinking of his master first.  Sam knows the fate of the world hangs on his quest, and yet he seems not to know as well.  For Sam, all that really matters is Frodo and somehow the fate of the world may end up turning on the friendship of two lowly Hobbits.  It is a breathtakingly bold thought, one might not expect to see in an epic fantasy where spells and swords so often solve all problems.

So where do we go from here?  Only The Return of the King can tell us.  But as we journey forward, we have so many things on which to think, from Frodo’s strange mercy toward Gollum to Sam’s friendship to Pippin’s troublesome curiosity.  So many of these things seem small, yet we have seen that in Tolkien’s world there is no small deed, no small word.  Fate works in mysterious ways and I doubt that at the time of publication, many saw the ending of this far from standard fantasy quest.

Krysta 64

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?

Book Trivia: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

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The Lord of the Rings read-along continues today with an activity post.  Test your knowledge of The Two Towers with this trivia quiz!

1. Which Hobbit is the youngest?
a. Frodo
b. Merry
c. Pippin
d. Sam

2. Éomer names Aragorn
a. Wind Walker
b. Fleetfoot
c. Windfoot
d. Wingfoot

3. The men of Gondor do not ask which wind for news?
a. north
b. south
c. east
d. west

4. How many days does it take Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to travel from Tol Brandir to Éomer?
a. 5.
b. 4
c. 6
d. 3

5. Aragorn is given what horse by the Rohirrim?
a. Arod
b. Hasufel
c. Asfaloth
d. Nindalf

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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.

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?