The Two Towers: LOTR Book 4

Welcome to the end of March and the end of our The Two Towers leg of the Lord of the Rings Readalong. To follow the discussion of The Two Towers from the beginning, check out my Intro and Book 3 posts. As in the past posts, I’ll offer a few questions to spark discussion.

If you’re reading along, you can share your thoughts in the comments here or on your own blog. Feel free to answer whichever questions on this post or past posts that interest you or to go off on your own tangents. And you’re welcome to combine posts as well!

Here are the final questions for The Two Towers:

  1. The last half of The Two Towers covers fewer characters than the first half. For some, this makes Book 4 slower than the rest of the book; others love the intense focus on Frodo, Gollum, and Sam. Where do you stand on this question?
  2. If you’re a first-time reader (or even a rereader), what surprised you most about this half of the book?
  3. Are there any specific moments that stand out as favorites or least favorites in this section?
  4. What are some themes or ideas in this book (or the trilogy as a whole so far) that stand out to you?
  5. And the obligatory movie question: Many LOTR readers take the biggest issue with Jackson’s treatment of this part of the trilogy than with any other? Did the changes bother you? Are there any ways in which you think the movie was more effective?

And here’s a Mr Linky for sharing a link to your post:

And now for my thoughts:

Book 4 of Lord of the Rings follows Frodo and Sam into Mordor, with Gollum as their only guide. It is perhaps the most consistently dark section of the trilogy, and I love it for the intense feeling of foreboding, which Tolkien depicts so vividly. Both Frodo and Sam are given opportunities to show their heroism as they make their way into Mordor without any help from Gandalf, Aragorn, or any more knowledgeable guide. I know there are some who find this part of the book to be too slow, but I love the intimacy of it. It’s somehow more psychological than the rest of the book—we see the ring start to have more of an effect on Frodo, and we see the power it still has over Gollum.

This section of the book is filled with terrific moments. We see Gollum struggle with his conscience. We see Frodo ably climbing down walls and Sam fighting Shelob. There are oliphants in battle and the defaced statue of a long-dead king whose head is lying nearby with a crown of flowers—what a wonderful sign of hope!

But there are two sections that stand out especially strongly. First is the meeting with Faramir, which provides a needed break for the two hobbits. At first, the meeting looks perilous, as Frodo and Faramir test each other’s trustworthiness. As readers, we don’t know who this man is, so we can’t be sure that Frodo hasn’t gotten himself captured by the enemy. But in the end, Faramir proves to be an especially good friend. He can’t provide much in the way of concrete help, aside from some food and a pair of walking staffs, but I think it helped Frodo and Sam to have someone else who understood the situation to confide in. I loved when Sam commented that he saw a bit of Gandalf in Faramir because that’s just what I thought when he stood over Sam, with his grey eyes glinting!

The other great moment is the final chapter, even the final sentence: “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.” What a cliffhanger that was! Yes, it’s perhaps not quite the cliffhanger that you find in, say, the last chapter of Stephen King’s The Waste Lands, when there were years between books, but even though this is a novel in three parts and the next book is readily available, there’s something jarring about seeing that sentence followed by “Here ends the second part…” My heart is just in my throat at that point. I actually know of a couple of people who stopped reading at that point, but I simply cannot understand not needing to go on with an ending like that!

One of the themes that comes up throughout the trilogy, and which E.L. Fay has written about at length, is the power of story. Throughout the trilogy characters tell stories to learn, to entertain themselves, to pass the time, to comfort each other. Stories of the past are everywhere, and it’s one of the things that makes Tolkien’s world so remarkable. The narratives inside the narrative give the world layers.

In this section, we also see how stories give people knowledge that enables them to choose the correct path. Faramir, more so than Boromir, has a reverence for history and for the tales of the past. He tried to learn what he could from Gandalf, and he picks up enough to figure out what Frodo is carrying almost without being told. (At least, he gets very close to the mark before Sam reveals the whole truth.) His knowledge of the larger tale also helps him to resist the temptation of the ring. Faramir, with his deep knowledge as well as his awareness of his family’s place in the story—as stewards, not as kings—is scarcely tempted by the ring at all. The one moment when it looks like he might be ready to take the ring is also the moment when he seems most Gandalf-like:

The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way—to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!” He stood up very tall and stern, his grey eyes glinting.

As Sam and Frodo rise to defend themselves, Faramir seats himself with a chuckle.

“Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!” he said. “How you have increased my sorrow, you two strange wanderers from a far country, bearing the peril of Men! But you are less judges of Men than I of halflings. We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take these words as a vow, and be held by them.

“But I am not such a man. Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.”

Through stories, Faramir learned of the peril that came with any weapon of Sauron, especially the ring. Through stories, Faramir learned of the limits of human strength. It is those stories that saved him from temptation here and that ultimately saved them all.

But in this section, we also learn of this limits of story. Throughout the book, Sam has been utterly optimistic, recognizing the dangers of the journey, but not contemplating the end without including a return to the shire. When he’s rationing out the food, he has the return journey in mind and seems startled when Frodo explains that there probably won’t be a return journey, even if their quest succeeds. But by the end of this section, Sam has realized that the great stories might be valuable guides and sources of wisdom, but those old stories are silent on where one’s choices might lead:

“The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to thing that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid 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 shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding thing all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to be landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”

Bilbo’s tale, with the title “There and Back Again” is clearly a tale in which things do return to something nearly normal, but that may not be the case for Frodo and Sam. And Sam realizes this just before things take a drastic turn, putting whole story in his hands.

In April, Maree at Just Add Books will be our host as we wrap up the readalong. Thanks to all who have joined in, and I hope you’re enjoying the journey through Middle Earth as much as I am!

This entry was posted in Classics, Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Two Towers: LOTR Book 4

  1. I did find Book Four a little slow in comparison to the rollicking action of Book Three, but I thoroughly enjoyed it- we can almost see the moment where Sam becomes the hero we know he is.

    I haven’t seen the film version of The Two Towers in a very long while, but I enjoyed the fact that Book Three and Book Four crossed over a great deal more.

    More of my thoughts are in my review, if you’re curious. Thank you for hosting, Teresa!

  2. Kristen M. says:

    Now that I’ve re-read The Two Towers, I think the film bothers me a bit more. I mean, it’s fine as its own entity but it doesn’t really stick with the spirit of the book. Saruman’s final scene with Gandalf should have been in the movie instead of an hour long Helm’s Deep fight (with added elves). It’s a crucial scene for the establishment of Gandalf’s new personality and power.

    I mention it in my review but Book 4 was definitely more tedious for me (except for the introduction of the wonderful Faromir).

    • Teresa says:

      Kristen, As I think you know, this was my least favorite of the movies although there are some things I appreciate about it. But as I’m getting into ROTK, I’m finding myself more exasperated with my memories of the movies. I read a review somewhere that said many of Jackson’s changes served to diminish the characters, and I’m finding that to be true as I compare the movie versions with the book versions.

      • Kristen M. says:

        Totally agree with that. Gimli is much more of a joke in the movie with the oversized armor and being thrown about and such. Treebeard’s entire personality was basically stripped away. Sam is more foolish and Frodo is more of a jerk. Those sorts of things are standing out to me again and I’m getting a bit peeved.

        Obviously I thought this before though since I read the books before the movies but I think I was maybe more overwhelmed when I first saw the films and didn’t focus on the characters as much. Then the books faded to the films as I re-watched them over and over but now re-reading is bringing the books back to the surface again.

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  4. EL Fay says:

    Thanks for the shout-out! That’s a great point you made about Faramir – that it’s his knowledge of history, as revealed through storytelling – that enables him to resist the power of the ring. I was actually apprehensive about this part because I remembered Faramir from the movie as a sketchy guy who was going to imperil Sam and Frodo’s quest. I was very surprised at how he turned out in the book, although I understand why Peter Jackson made the change he did (he felt that Faramir never underwent any real character development).

    I enjoyed both books equally but I especially liked Sam and Frodo’s section in this one. I loved the descriptions of the lands surrounding Mordor – very creepy and tied in really well with the environmental theme.

    • Teresa says:

      EL, Faramir is my favorite character by a long shot so I was frustrated by the changes in the movie. I guess I just don’t think everyone needs to have an “arc” to be interesting, especially when the main narrative only covers a short period. And Jackson was good at inserting back story, which he could have done here to show earlier development. I would have *loved* a Gandalf, Denethor, Faramir, Boromir flashback to show how that dynamic developed!

      I liked the Sam and Frodo section best on first read, but the rest has grown on me.

  5. Teresa says:

    Kristen, that’s been exactly my experience. I noticed some of the differences when I first saw the movies but was only bothered my the changes to Faramir’s character–mostly because it involved him doing something that is the exact opposite of what Tolkien’s Faramir would do. (Plus, he’s my favorite, so I’m especially alert to deviations.)

    But otherwise I was overwhelmed by all the eye candy in the movies. They are utterly gorgeous films and well done in so many ways. Now, though, that I’m revisiting Tolkien’s versions of all the characters, I’m realizing why I loved them so and wishing the movie versions had been closer.

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  7. Awwe man I forgot about the oliphants! Book 4 was so fantastically dark but you are right that it is also filled with wonderful moments. I love when Sam finally gets to see his oliphants. I actually cheered out loud.

  8. J.G. says:

    I really enjoyed your insights about the function of “story” and the richness the history gives to the action.

    It’s mentioned briefly in Book 3, also, where Theoden says he won’t stay inside the Hornburg but will charge out and perhaps do some deeds worthy of song . . . if anyone’s left afterward to sing it. Even Eowyn’s “you have leave to be burned in the house” speech has a little echo of this. Do the tales continue, without the characters, or not?

    More evidence Tolkien was a genius and this work is a masterpiece.

  9. Pingback: The Two Towers – the LOTR Readalong month 3 - Annabookbel

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