Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

THE TWO TOWERS

A novel by J.R.R. Tolkien (1991, Harper Collins [original copyright 1954])
Book 2 of The Lord of the Rings

While Aragorn fights to save Rohan, two hobbits make their way across a barren landscape towards the land of shadow.

 

 

Read April 30th to May 24th, 2017, in Hardcover, for the 4th time  
    As mentioned below, this is a book that I pick up every decade or so. What doesn’t usually happen is a large gap between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, and I can’t explain it. I was reading book one to my son when he decided that I was going too slow, and took up the rest of the book on his own, which is exactly what I did to my own father at his age... After that, he continued on to finish books two and three, where I went on to other books. With the movies, which are inseparable from the story now, it’s a lot harder to forget the many details of this book.

As mentioned below, the chapters in Rohan didn’t hold my interest as much as I thought they would, even this time. Knowing my lack of intense interest, I went into this book looking to change this, but it didn’t. The scenes in Rohan just didn’t hold enough internal struggle for my tastes. Contrast this with Frodo and Sam, which is full of introspection and observation, mainly because the characters were stuck in a journey to a place they don’t want to go, but have to. The story didn’t need Frodo vs Sam, or Faramir taking the ring, for example, as they do in the movie, because it had real meat. And the story is better for it, I think.
 

 

Read January 1st to 15th, 2006, for the third time  
    Definitely the weakest book of the trilogy, and I find it strange that my favorite sections deal entirely with Frodo, Sam and Gollum, while the sections with the other members of the Company were less interesting, even though much more occurred!

Book III deals entirely with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, their time in Rohan, as well as Merry and Pippin's adventures with the ents. The beginning of the book drags on for quite some time. Being a fan of the history of the lands, however, I did enjoy the trek over the mountains and plains, and the details of the past that we were given as they marched. I understand that it was a long march, but the description went on for too long.

When the trio finally met up with Eomer, there was a lot of talk, and I understood it all, amazingly, because I know the stories so well, and the geography. But as with The Fellowship of the Ring, I wonder how a first-time reader could interpret all of this. These books definitely need multiple readings.

We get Boromir's last stand from the point of view of the captured hobbits, but the description still falls short of what was accomplished in the movie of The Fellowship of the Ring. As with my previous review, it is hard to avoid comparisons of this book with the movie. I think there were a lot of missed opportunities in the movie. If they had simply followed events as they occurred in the books, the movie would have been better. Although the chapter with Treebeard is way too long, with way too much exposition (especially for new readers), meeting Treebeard for the first time was actually a very nice and quiet moment. The writers of the movie really made the world smaller in the movie. The ents in the book were fully aware of what Saruman was doing, and that he had destroyed much of the borders of Fanghorn forest. They didn't need a hobbit to trick them into that. However, Merry and Pippin's arrival was the catalyst. I think both the movie writers and Tolkien did a poor job with the end of the entmoot.

Because of all the new lands and peoples that we meet, a lot of exposition is necessary. In that regard, The Two Towers is way too talky, which is what made it so difficult, I'm sure, to put it into movie form. While The Fellowship of the Ring has adventure, then action, and menace, The Two Towers has a forsaken chase across a vast landscape, talk between hobbits and a tree, talk between the resurrected Gandalf and Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli, and talk between Gandalf and Theoden/Wormtongue. The battle at Helm's Deep is rather short, then we get more talk between Gandalf and Saruman! All the talk was very informative, if you already knew about the lands and the legends and cultures. Even while making the story more dramatic in many ways, the film preserved the results even while altering the manner in which the characters got there. That is quite impressive.

I have never been a fan of poetry, although at one time, probably after reading this trilogy or The Lays of Beleriand I tried my hand at it. This book has almost one long verse of poetry, not all in English, in each chapter, thus weakening the chapters, as far as I am concerned. I do not even know if it is good poetry, as I am from a science background, but I wonder...

There is very little in the story to suggest that Saruman had bewitched Theoden, except that he had given Wormtongue some spells to prematurely age and weaken the King. The movie was able to make it crystal clear. Some of the movie's funniest moments, like the company leaving their weapons at the door, but Gandalf keeping his staff, actually come from the book, as unlikely as that seems. In the movie, however, Theoden goes into hiding right away, while the book has him going to meet Saruman head-on, but retreating when a huge orc-host is seen. Gandalf goes to gather the rest of Rohan's Westfold, rather than Eomer's horsemen. I prefer the book version much more.

It is interesting that we get the Flooding of Isengard in backstory from the hobbits, instead of concurrent with Helm's Deep, as in the movie. As with the death of Boromir, this only works in book form because of the dedicated points of view in each chapter. The movie must do things differently, or appear totally confusing. I like both kinds of storytelling, and they both work in their appropriate element. Tolkien obviously wanted to keep the flooding as a surprise (as did Gandalf) to the readers and the characters, and didn't want to interrupt the action at Helm's Deep. Gandalf uses veiled references to what is happening in Isengard, but the hobbits take way too long to get to the tale. We know that the Ring of Isengard was flooded, but Merry and Pippin talk incessantly before gelling us how! On an unrelated note, I like the fact that elves frown down upon smoking, as Legolas goes out to find some fresh air.

The Voice of Saruman chapter was mainly a waste of time, as it barely has any substance, except as setup to The Scouring of the Shire.

When we finally get to Book IV, we are very ready to find out what was happening to Frodo and Sam. Somehow, even though it is mostly uneventful, it is far more interesting than most of what happened in Book III. Theirs is more of a mental battle, and there is certainly less talk, because the characters do not know anything. They secure Gollum and take him as their guide through the rocks and marshes, to the Black Gate and through Ithilien to the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. The events are fully character-driven, and as such, we have a much larger emotional investment.

As I suspected from his dialog in Book III, it was Gandalf resurrected who saved Frodo from the eye of Mordor at Amon Hen as he had the ring on at the end of BookII. Gandalf came back from the Undying Lands much stronger than he had been before dying.

As Peter Jackson pointed out in one of the special features of this movie, the timelines in Books III and IV are wildly divergent. Frodo and Sam only reach the Black Gate when Wormtongue threw the Palantir from the window in Isengard. This is because journeying takes a lot less space than filling people in on the results of battles and troop movements. Still, Tolkien did manage to give us some long and detailed descriptions. The geography of the lands about Mordor reminded me of the description of Beleriand in The Silmarillion, though it made me rather drowsy. Afterwards, I took a good look at the maps, which made a lot more sense to me. It is also here that the book Journeys of Frodo was most helpful, for it broke the wandering down into smaller segments, and showed things not on the much larger scale maps given in the trilogy.

Moving into Ithilien, the movie completely butchered the character of Faramir. I wonder if that was really just an excuse to show us Osgiliath, because it seems like a wonderful city to build. Faramir was supposed to be more like Aragorn than his brother Boromir. Aragorn refused the Ring, and Faramir did likewise. There is no reason why he changed his mind after being a bully in the movie. The book version works so much better. Just because the writers couldn't understand his reaction, doesn't mean it is not valid. It was not necessary to add conflict between Faramir and Frodo in Ithilien, nor later on between Frodo and Sam on the Stairs. They all feel the dread as they approached Shelob's lair, and that should have been enough. It felt forced in the movie version of The Return of the King.

It is nice that the writers kept so much of the dialog from the book, like Sam and Frodo's discussion about being in stories, and especially Gollum and Sam's discussion about "sneaking", which I thought was hilarious in both versions. Although much of the dialog occurs in different locations, I am still amazed at how much was kept intact.

In the movie, Sam was not shown to put on the Ring, as that was left as a surprise to the audience, as well. Here, Sam's escape from Shelob's lair was much more involved, as was his entrance into Cirith Ungol. I wondered long about why Sauron did not see the Ring when Sam put it on. Was it because Sam did not put it on for the sake of Power? Because Sauron was setting war into action? Possibly because Aragorn was looking into the Palantir at that moment? Not the first or last, I think (the timing isn't right on the Palantir), but mostly because of the war. The explanation in The Return of the King is that Sauron's darkness hindered him from noticing, but I think that is only part of the truth, because it is too weak.

The Two Towers is the book I remembered least before going to see the movies. After all the talk, and moving of pawns, I now understand why. Not much happens, although it is all important, it is more important to move the pieces into proper position. There is a huge explosion of the number of characters and locations, which makes the story epic, but also very confusing or beyond complete comprehension, especially on the first read. Having a guide like The Journeys of Frodo or map guide to Middle-Earth is essential. I found that I needed it most while reading this book.

What surprised me most, after seeing the movie so many times, is how much more enjoyable the Frodo-Sam storyline was than the rest of the war. It was the opposite in the movie.

 

 

Also read August 22nd to 28th, 1993 (and also sometime in 1985)  
   

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