Book review

The Two Towers by J R R Tolkien (1954)

Part two of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy

It was a desperate enterprise, to form a Fellowship of Nine Walkers to accompany Frodo son of Drogo, Ring Bearer, on his hopeless quest to return the Ring of Power to the fires of Mount Doom, to destroy it utterly for all time.

As you will know by now, the fellowship failed at the end of the first part of this trilogy. Gandalf fell into the abyss in the Mines of Moria as he battled with the Balrog; Boromir fell under the evil influence of the Ring and attempted to take it from Frodo by force. The company was attacked by orcs and scattered. Boromir died defending Pippin and Merry, but at the end they were taken hostage by orcs and carried away, and in the tumult Frodo and Sam set off alone on the final stage of their desperate journey to Mordor.

When The Two Towers opens Aragorn has lost control of the situation:

This is a bitter end. Now the Company is all in ruin. It is I that have failed. Vain was Gandalf's trust in me. What shall I do now? Boromir has laid it on me to go to Minas Tirith, and my heart desires it; but where are the Ring and the Bearer? How shall I find them and save the Quest from disaster?

It is an evil choice which lies before him:

'Let me think!' said Aragorn. 'And now may I make a right choice, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!' He stood silent for a moment. 'I will follow the Orcs,' he said at last. 'I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now. Leave all that can be spared behind! We will press on by day and dark!'

The three companions, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, who represent the three great races of Middle Earth, begin a relentless chase from the Falls of Rauros across the Vale of Rohan to the very eaves of Fangorn Forest in a bid to rescue the two hobbits from their merciless captors. It is a heroic effort:

'This deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall.'

Thus says Eomer of Rohan, who meets them on the plain and tells them that he and his men have already intercepted and killed the orcs on the border of the ancient forest. The three companions are still in some doubt about the fate of Pippin and Merry, when they encounter Gandalf, who has returned from death in order to continue the battle against the evil shadow. He is now presented as the White Rider, mounted on Shadowfax, so that the companions are momentarily confused as to his true identity, but it is a joyful, if hasty, reunion.

There is much to do. The traitor Saruman must be dealt with. Saruman is the leader of Gandalf's order, but he has spent too long studying the ways of the enemy and he has succumbed to the power of the Dark Lord. He seeks the Ring for his own use, and he has raised his own fighting force. Gandalf and the three companions ride across Rohan to rally King Theoden of the Mark. King Theoden makes his stand at the Hornburg against the forces of Saruman, and it it a hard-fought battle, but they receive unexpected assistance from the Ents out of Fangorn. If you want to know what kind of help a group of ancient shepherds of trees can render in this situation, you'll have to read the book, and you might find out what happens to Merry and Pippin too.

Now, what has become of Frodo and Sam? They have chosen a bitter route through the Emyn Muil hills and the Dead Marshes. They are heading, without hope, straight for the Black Gate of Mordor. Still Frodo does not know the way and cannot find his way, until he and Sam fall in with Gollum, who has secretly pursued them all the way from the Mines of Moria. Gollum is drawn by the power of the Ring and an uneasy truce is maintained between him and the hobbits. Gollum agrees to lead Frodo into Mordor through a secret entrance that he claims to have discovered during his wanderings alone.

If you want to know how Gollum keeps his promise, you will have to read the book for yourself. It is a grievous story of treachery illumined only by the love of Samwise for his master. Do you remember what Elrond said to Frodo, as the Company of the Ring prepared to leave Rivendell?

'I can foresee very little of your road; and how your task is to be achieved I do not know. The Shadow has crept now to the feet of the Mountains, and draws nigh even to the borders of the Greyflood; and under the Shadow all is dark to me. You will meet many foes, some open, and some disguised; and you may find friends upon your way when you least look for it ...'

Another nerve-shredding episode of The Lord of the Rings.

What can I read next?

This book is the second of a trilogy which is known as The Lord of the Rings. The three books are separately entitled:

Of course, if you haven't already read it, you might be interested to have a look at The Hobbit. Although it was written in a simpler style for younger readers, it presents many of the important characters and events for the later trilogy:

There is nothing else quite like The Lord of the Rings. It is the fantasy which set the standard for all other fantasies written this century - and last century!

You might like to have a look at the Earthsea sequence by Ursula Le Guin which portrays some fairly serious wizardry:

There is a new fantasy trilogy, in a historical setting, which might interest you, written by Kevin Crossley-Holland:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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