The Two Towers

“There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

Nearing the end of the Tolkien Reading Marathon now with The Two Towers, the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Following the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, the Fellowship is broken: Pippin and Merry have been kidnapped by Orcs of Isengard, Boromir is dead, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli follow the Orcs across Rohan, and Frodo and Sam are continuing East to the land of Mordor, where the real Quest lies.

If I’m honest, I’ve never been very fond of The Two Towers. It has neither the happy hobbity camaraderie of The Fellowship of the Ring nor the epic desperate-last-stand heroism of The Return of the King. The first half is taken up with what amounts to Tolkien-y politics which, to be honest, is not that interesting (although ENTS!), and the second half, which follows Frodo and Sam, seems to involve an inordinate amount of trudging through Dark and Terrible Lands, which, again, is lacking a certain narrative interest. Nobody ever says that the crossing of the Dead Marshes is among the high points of The Lord of the Rings. 

Having said that, the second half of The Two Towers does have some of the most beautiful writing in the trilogy, and I mean the sort of writing that makes you want to read it out loud to yourself. (Or is that just me?) For example:

Beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow-rolling pall of cloud, and falling in an ominous fire towards the yet unsullied Sea. The brief glow fell on a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it…Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. “Look, Sam!” he cried, startled into speech. “Look! The king has got a crown again!”

The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.

“They cannot conquer for ever!” said Frodo.

The evil city of Minas Morgul is genuinely spooky, as are the corpse-candles in the Dead Marshes and the wastelands before the Black Gate of Mordor. I know I said this in my review of Fellowship, but it’s worth repeating: Tolkien is really good at descriptions.

I can’t review The Two Towers without mentioning Gollum, who is, yes, my favourite character in The Lord of the Rings, because he is just about the only character who receives any development whatsoever. He is far more complex than Frodo or Sam or Aragorn or any of the many other people we meet in Middle-earth, most of whom can be summed up by a single adjective. Gollum is actually conflicted, and although he’s obviously a bad egg it’s perfectly possible to sympathise with him.

So, while The Two Towers is, in my opinion, rather less interesting than The Fellowship of the Ring or The Return of the King, it’s still one of my favourite books ever. Still not a fan of Helm’s Deep, though.

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