The Two Towers

Thursday, March 26, 2015

**If you haven’t read the book, just skip this review. I tried to avoid spoilers, but there is just too much to talk about.**

The Two Towers
by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers has always been the slowest book in the trilogy for me, but it also contains some of my favorite scenes. I particularly adore the Ents and Lady Eowyn. The book is split between three separate stories: Merry and Pippin's, Aragorn, Leogalos and Gimli's, and Frodo, Gollum and Sam's. But unlike the movie, we don't switch back-and-forth between each story. We hear about the first two groups’ stories in their entirety and then the second half of the book is devoted to Frodo and Sam's story. Their tale is at times exhausting, just in the way that their journey must have been.

At the beginning we see the fellowship split apart. Merry and Pippin are taken by orcs; Frodo and Sam leave on their own to take the Ring to Mordor. Boromir is killed by orcs while defending the hobbits and Leogalos, Gimli and Aragorn follow the orcs trail to rescue Merry and Pippin.

Merry and Pippin finally escape in Fangorn forest and meet Treebeard. He is one of my favorite characters in any book. He is so thoughtful with his “Hum ho hum boom barooms.” It’s Merry and Pippin’s role in the story to bring the ents into the War of the Ring. When they discover how Saruman has been destroying their trees they are furious and ent anger is no joke. I did think it was interesting that the ents say it was the elves who gave them their wisdom. I also love their names: Leaflock and Skinbark.

Meanwhile Leogalos, Gimli and Aragorn meet the Rohirrim. They also encounter a wizard that they think is Saruman. When they realize it’s actually Gandalf the relief is palpable and as a reader you’re just as thrilled to see him again. When they go all travel to Edoras to meet King Théoden they realize how bad the situation in Rohan has become. We get to meet Théoden’s niece, Eowyn, one of the most badass characters in literature.

This book also contains the destruction of Isengard, Saruman’s stronghold. His voice is one of his greatest powers. He can put his listeners under his spell with his words, but he doesn’t even think most of Middle Earth is worthy of considering a foe. His neglect to consider the ents leads to his downfall. The scene where Merry and Pippin described the destruction of Isengard by the Ents is one my favorite things in the book. The ents are absolutely terrifying in their righteous anger.

Sauron has a similar fault. He assumes his enemies will act in the same selfish, power grabbing way that he does. It never crossed his mind that the fellowship’s goal is to destroy the ring, not to struggle to rule in a position of power over all of Middle Earth with it.

Tolkien descriptions of places are so incredible. In my opinion that’s why people love the movies so much. For many authors much of the location and situation is left to your imagination. So what each reader pictures is invariably different. But Tolkien described everything is such detail that what you see in the movies feels like the books have come alive…

"There stood a tower of marvellous shape. It was fashioned by the builders of old, this moved the Ring of Isengard, and yet it seemed a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills."

… there's more than a paragraph after that which continues to describe Isengard.

I’m constantly surprised by how quickly things are happening in this book. There are only nine days between Boromir’s death and the breaking of the fellowship and the day when they all reunite in Isengard (except for Sam and Frodo)!

** As I reread the books I used “A Guide to Middle Earth: A Complete and Definitive Concordance of the Lord of the Rings” by Robert Foster. It was incredibly helpful because so many things that are called by different names. At one point they're going to see the Wizard's Vale, which when you look it up in the concordance you learn that it's also called valley of Saruman and Nan Curunír in other sections. There are a dozen more examples of the same thing and so the concordance was really helpful.

BOTTOM LINE: The adventure continues without a single lag from the first book. Frodo and Sam’s section is slow at times, but I love the whole trilogy.

“Yet do not cast all hope away. Tomorrow is unknown.”

“The brave things in the old tails and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and look for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life is a bit though, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way a bit with the tales that really matter, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually - their past relayed that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we should know, because they'd have been forgotten.”

A few tidbits where the book differs from the film: 
I feel like some of the major book to movie differences with this one are important because they speak to each characters’ motivation. These changes paint the ents, Faramir, and Gandalf in a different light and in each case I prefer the book to the film.

- When Frodo has to lure Gollum into captivity for Faramir, he tries to explain to Gollum that the men will kill him if he doesn't come quietly. I think it’s important that he’s not trying to trick Gollum.

- In the movie Gollum tries to make Frodo think Sam was stealing the food. Frodo sends Sam away because of it. That never happens on the books. Sam goes with Frodo into Shelob's lair. Also the book talks about Sauron and what he thinks of Shelob. He sees her as his pet, his cat that he lets eat orcs and prisoners.

- The Huorns (trees of Fangorn Forest) were the ones that turned the tide at Helm's Deep with Gandalf.

- Faramir knows that he can gain power and glory by taking the ring back to his city, but he chooses not to. He makes the impossible choice to send Frodo on safely and he never falters from that. In the movie he does the opposite and then later changes his mind.

- The ents decide to go to war with Saruman during their moot. In the movie they decide not to and then later Merry and Pippin convince them.

- The Palantír: In the movie Gandalf is beyond furious at Pippin, but in the book he's frustrated at first but is quickly grateful to the little hobbit even though he still calls him a fool. He says, "Maybe, I have been saved by this hobbit from a grave blunder. I had considered whether or not to probe this Stone myself to find its uses. Had I done so, I should have been revealed to him myself. I am not ready for such a trial, if indeed I shall ever be so."

- Another important note, Sam put the ring on to hide from the orcs. Even with his pure heart, he couldn't resist that temptation.


Jeanne said...

The way Faramir differs in the movie is the worst thing about it, Ron says. I think it's pretty much a tie with the way they portray Denethor.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - Faramir in the movies really bothered me. I'm curious what you didn't like about Denethor though.