We’re now halfway through March, The Two Towers month for the Lord of the Rings Readalong. That means it’s time for a midmonth progress report. The Two Towers, like the other volumes in the trilogy, is handily divided into two books—Book 3 and 4 of the trilogy. This post will focus on Book 3, the first half of The Two Towers.
To join the conversation, you can comment on this post or write a post on your own blog and share the link in the Mr. Linky below. If you’re not ready to talk about Book 3, that’s okay. Just read at your own pace and join in when you can. You’re also welcome to wait until the end of the month and write a single Two Towers post. The important thing is to read and post in a way that works for you!
Here are some questions to start the discussion. Answer whichever ones interest you, or share whatever other thoughts are on your mind!
- Where are you in your reading? Are you finding it slow going or is it a quick read?
- If you’re a rereader, how does this reading compare to past readings? If you’re a first-time reader, how has The Two Towers met—or not met—your expectations? What has surprised you most in your reading?
- In Book 3, we visit lots of new places and meet lots of new characters. There’s Fangorn and the Ents, the riders of Rohan, Saruman at Isengard. Which are your favorites? Least favorites?
- Have your opinions of the main characters from Fellowship changed at all in The Two Towers?
- Are there any scenes that strike you as particularly memorable? Anything you could do without?
- And the obligatory movie question: If you’ve seen the movie, has it affected your perception of The Two Towers? If so, how?
I’m now two chapters into Book 4, so I’m slightly ahead of schedule. I mentioned in my initial Two Towers post that I found this book frustrating on the first reading because I couldn’t believe there was no attention paid to Frodo and Sam in Book 3. I did find the new places and characters interesting, but I was bugged by the neglect of what I saw as the main story. On subsequent readings, I’ve been less bothered about that, both because I know what Tolkien’s doing (even if I don’t understand why) and because I’ve come to love the new characters and am happy to spend time with them.
One thing I picked up on in this reading, more than in past readings, was how often idea of the impossibility of neutrality comes up. Both Rohan and Fangorn try to just live independently, not taking sides or getting involved in what they see as others’ wars. This sort of neutrality is beguiling, but it cannot last. Eventually the war will come to them; better to go out and meet it. The trilogy was published in the 1950s, but Tolkien was working on it during World War II, and I can’t help but think that he had that war in his mind as he was writing.
As far as the new characters go, in The Two Towers I love the Ents best. I always have. One of my favorite things about The Lord of the Rings is how Tolkien makes Middle Earth so much bigger than the main story, and the Ents are a great example of that. They’ve been there longer than anyone can remember—so long that they’re thought of as little more than a fearsome myth. The fact that they get involved for the first time that anyone can remember shows how outrageous Saruman’s behavior is and demonstrates how foolish it is to forget history. Saruman never thought of the Ents in all his scheming, and that led to his doom.
Éowyn, who we also meet in The Two Towers is actually one of my favorite characters in the trilogy, and it was great to get to Rohan and see her again, but she doesn’t really come into her own in this book. It’s exciting to see that the people trust her to lead them in the absence of their king, but we learn little about her as a person.
Another favorite element of The Two Towers is the growing friendship between Legolas and Gimli. Their orc-killing competition cracks me up—and I love, love, love it that Gimli holds his own there. (And in the book, the whole business is wrapped in a tone of respect for each other’s fighting abilities, whereas in the movie it felt a little like a pissing contest, I’m sorry to say.) These two just seem to bring out the best in each other, and they help each other see the world in new ways. It’s a terrific relationship, especially when you consider that Legolas’s father imprisoned Gimli’s father in The Hobbit.
There are so many great scenes in The Two Towers that I don’t think I could choose one. I love the reunion of the company at Isengard. It’s great fun to see Pippin and Merry enjoying themselves and playing host. My dark sensibilities draw me also to Pippin’s struggle with the palantír. That Pippin looked into the eye of Sauron and survived ramps up the terror of the situation but also shows how strong hobbits are. Aragorn doesn’t even feel ready to attempt that! And that ending of the section serves as a good transition to Mordor, where Frodo and Sam are trying desperately to avoid that eye.
I will confess that the battle at Helm’s Deep continues to confound and bore me. Tolkien writes a lot about battles, but he usually keeps the descriptions brief and often has other characters report on them instead of just describing them as they happen. When I got to Helm’s Deep, I remembered why that’s a good thing. I still don’t quite understand what happened and why that spot was so important, and this is after five readings!
This is one area where I think the movies are more successful than the books. Even though I thought the battles went on too long in the movies (and I rolled my eyes at the shield surfing), I did understand what was going on in the movie battles. It’s probably just something easier to explain on film than on the page, and of course, Jackson made the stakes more clear (and much higher) by making Helm’s Deep a place of retreat for the women and children. This did come with the loss of showing Éowyn as the chosen leader of her people when the riders leave Rohan. Instead her main roles seem to be as an object of lust for Wormtongue and a lovesick Aragorn groupie. Both of these elements appear in the book, but they aren’t emphasized as strongly. I like the subtler approach, but that’s how I roll.
Thanks so much to all the readalong participants! I look forward to reading your thoughts. Come back at the end of the month for a Two Towers wrap-up post.