Bret James Stewart's Reviews > The Two Towers

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
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The Two Towers contains books 3 and 4 of The Lord of the Rings sextet. I am slightly less pleased with this volume than I am the preceding Fellowship of the Ring and the following Return of the King. First, it belches off to a bad start: Boromir being slain during the orc-attack that ended the previous book. This is clearly a turning point and, aesthetically and logically, should have ended the previous book rather than starting this one. My only deduction is that Tolkien did not know where the story was going when he completed the Fellowship. If he did, he just made a poor choice, in my opinion. Secondly,as I mentioned in my review of Fellowship, Merry and Pippin blend together so much they should be one character--I dare you to tell them apart. Thirdly, the travelogue of Sam and Frodo is a bit dull. I know description is an important part of the narrative, but the decimated landscape makes for pretty dry fare. Fourth, it is not clear which towers represent the two towers of the title. Four major towers are in the tale, and all four are suitable as the subjects. This is a quibble, and is less important than the other issues. Still, these negatives are more than made up for in the overall book.

The story is divided into two foci: Frodo and Sam's journey to Mordor and the rest of the group and their dealings with Saruman. Although it is mentioned in Fellowship, the treachery of Saruman, set up in conflict/competition with Sauron, is more detailed.

Aragorn, etc., finding Sam and Frodo gone and Merry/Pippin taken by orcs, decide to pursue the orcs to rescue M/P. This launches into an encounter with the Rohirrim and alliance therewith leading to the highlights of the Battle of the Hornburg (a.k.a. The Battle of Helm's Deep) and the destruction of the orc forces. M/P are not rescued by Aragorn and party, but escape on their own during a fight between the orcs and a group of Rohirrim. They encounter Treebeard and the ents, which ultimately leads to the destruction of Saruman's stronghold (one of the potential title towers). Gandalf, believed dead in Fellowship, has reunited with Aragorn and the narrative heads into the confrontation with Sauron's forces. Before they do, however, the survivors of the fellowship are reunited (except Sam and Frodo) after the destruction of Saruman's fortress. More background of the world is present in hints and allusions to the Wizards, who are more than mere mortals (Tolkien scholars/fans recognize them as Valar).

Frodo and Sam continue toward Mordor. Gollum is dogging their steps, and they manage to capture him. In a surprise move, Frodo allows Gollum to be their guide. Sam is opposed to this, and there is a palpable tension between the three individuals. A memorable feature of this segment is the higly pathetic, in the literary sense, character of Gollum. He clearly has a split-personality and, even if you don't like him or trust him, you can sympathize with him. The back and forth of Gollum's personality makes it unclear whether or not he is going to help Frodo in his task or betray him at the first opportunity. Frodo's nobility is emphasized as he attempts to redeem Gollum (Come to the light side, Smeagol). It is ambiguous as to whether this is going to work, which makes this segment through the desolation around Mordor more palatable than it would have been otherwise. Eventually, as they are crossing into Mordor, Gollum does betray them to Shelob, who seems like some sort of spider-esque demi-goddess, though this is not made plain. Frodo appears to be slain by her. Sam drives her off and takes the Ring in an attempt to complete the quest. Orcs arrive and take Frodo, indicating via dialogue that Frodo is not actually dead, but comatose from Shelob's poison sting. They take him into nearby tunnels for holding pending delivery to Sauron. Sam, who has been invisibly hiding and listening, pursues. The book ends with Frodo captured but alive, and Sam trying to catch the orcs bearing Frodo away.

Overall, the books flow well. More characters add depth to the immediate story and contribute to the feel of Middle-Earth: Treebeard, Saruman, Faramir, and Gandalf among them. There are epic fighting scenes. Aragorn receives romantic attention from Eowyn. The major campaign between Saruman and Rohan rocks, and the pending campaign between Sauron and Gondor is looming. You can definitely feel things are coming to a head, and you want to hang in there to figure out what it is. Hey, it's a fantasy novel, so you know the good guys are going to win in the end, but you still want to see how it goes down.

The middle books of a multi-volume tale are the hardest to write. The newness of the story has run out and the climax is yet to come. This balancing act of interesting story and continued plot development is well-done by Tolkien. Except for the minor issues I mentioned at first, I love this book. Indeed, the action is much more intense in Towers than it was in Fellowship. Also, the broadening of the world in the presence of Rohan, Orthanc, and groups such as the ents greatly adds to the wonder of the work. I ranked it 4 stars, but only because you can only give full-star ratings; otherwise, I would have ranked it 4.5.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 5, 2013 – Shelved

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