Places: The Two Towers

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1954

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: The Third Age in a remote legendary past

Places DiscussedEast of the river

East Two Towers, Theof the river. An Orc ambush has captured Merry and Pippin, and a remorseful Boromir has died trying to protect them. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas (human, dwarf, and elf) commit Boromir’s body to the river and head southwest, following the Orc trail in the hope of rescuing the young Hobbits. Their route crosses into empty grasslands, territory given to the Rohirrhim by Gondor. Meanwhile Merry and Pippin escape during a fight between the Orcs and a band of the Riders of Rohan and slip into Fangorn Forest. There, in an ancient, almost stiflingly dense woods, they meet Treebeard the Ent, a giant “shepherd” of the trees.

The long-lived Ents rarely concern themselves with human power struggles; however, Saruman, an evil wizard who occupies a tower near the forest, has allowed his Orc workers to chop down trees, partly to feed the furnaces of his war ambitions and partly out of utter indifference to nature. Treebeard agrees to help the Hobbits, gathers other Ents, and, with Merry and Pippin on his shoulders, leads a march upon Isengard followed by furious “huorns,” who may be degenerate Ents or angry animate trees, a green army intent upon payback.

Gandalf, who is not dead, finds Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, and they ride across the plains of Rohan to Edoras, where Theoden reigns in a primitive yet dignified palace which suggests the world of “Beowulf,” a simpler and younger civilization than that of Gondor. Roused to action, Theoden, his Riders, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas gallop from the Golden Hall to Helm’s Deep, a fortress from which the horselords are mounting a defense against Saruman’s troops. Gandalf departs to seek other help, and after a night of graphic battle, he brings aid to the outnumbered Rohirrhim in the form of Huorns.

The company proceeds to Isengard, where Saruman’s tower is now surrounded by flood and rubble. Merry and Pippin, perched on a pile of debris, greet their friends and offer them bacon, beer, and pipe tobacco. The allies now plan to march to Gondor’s assistance by way of Edoras, but Gandalf counsels Theoden to muster his troops in Dunharrow, a hidden fastness in the hills, while he and Pippin ride ahead to Minas Tirith.

West of the river

West of the river. Frodo and Sam, trailed by Gollum, wander through the Emyn Muil, a barren range of hills that demonstrates the harsh terrain of the Dark Lord’s lands. They capture Gollum, who is temporarily tamed by a promise to the One Ring, which he covets. He leads the Hobbits through the Dead Marshes, the site of a long-ago battle, where graves of humans and elves have been swallowed by quagmires and fens. Crawling through the festering swamp, they approach the Black Gate, a heavily fortified entrance to the land of Mordor. They shelter in the shadow of a mound of slag, choking on fumes from a land hopelessly defiled by Sauron, where “neither spring nor summer would ever come again,” a place “fire-blasted and poison stained.” Gollum suggests a “secret” way into Mordor, and the three follow the Mountains of Shadow south, where they encounter a guerrilla band of Men of Gondor, who maintain an outpost in a cave behind a waterfall in Ithilien, once “the garden of Gondor” and still possessing “a dishevelled dryad loveliness.”

The company captain Faramir lets Frodo and Sam go forward, but he warns them that the Pass of Cirith (Keareth) Urgol, Gollum’s destination, has an evil reputation. Rejoining Gollum, the Hobbits slip past Minas Tirith’s evil twin city, Minas Morgul, amid fields of noisome, toxic flowers and ascend a steep mountain pass. However, Gollum has twisted his vow and is taking them to the cavern of a giant spider Shelob, hoping that once she has devoured Frodo, he may find the Ring among the bones. Shelob stings Frodo; Sam, believing his master dead, wounds and repels the spider and accepts the burden of the Ring. Orcs from a guard tower just beyond the pass approach; as Sam uses the Ring to become invisible, he learns that Shelob stings not to kill but to immobilize “fresh meat.” Frodo is not dead, but the Orcs carry the unconscious Hobbit into the tower as Sam beats desperately on its brazen door.

BibliographyCarter, Lin. Tolkien: A Look Behind “The Lord of the Rings.” New York: Ballantine Books, 1969. A useful general introduction to the trilogy. Contains a summary of The Two Towers and includes chapters discussing allegory, the inclusion in the trilogy of elements of the classical epic and fantasy, Tolkien’s theory of fairy stories, the kind of names he used, and the sources on which he drew.Ellwood, Gracia Fay. Good News from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1970. Discusses the “aliveness” of all things in Middle Earth and the way in which that resembles the human unconscious. Traces the blend of sacred and secular in the trilogy and evaluates Gandalf’s death and return to life in The Two Towers.Isaacs, Neil D., and Rose A. Zimbardo, eds. Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981. An introduction to earlier Tolkien criticism. Includes discussions of Frodo and Aragorn as heroes, Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog, and light and darkness as symbols of Galadriel and Shelob in The Two Towers.Lee, Stuart D, and Elizabeth Solopova. The Keys of Middle-Earth. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. A handy portal into Tolkien’s medieval sources, featuring modern translations of the original texts.Lobdell, Jared, ed. A Tolkien Compass. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1975. Essays on such topics as good and evil in the trilogy, as represented in The Two Towers by color symbolism; the corrupting force of power, represented in The Two Towers by Gollum; and the spiral narrative structure of The Two Towers.Petty, Anne C. One Ring to Bind Them All: Tolkien’s Mythology. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1979. Good introduction to Tolkien and mythology. Includes a structuralist interpretation of the trilogy and traces Frodo’s development in The Two Towers.
Categories: Places