Book Review – The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

Summary

Frodo and the Companions of the Ring have been beset by danger during their quest to prevent the Ruling Ring from falling into the hands of the Dark Lord by destroying it in the Cracks of Doom. They have lost the wizard, Gandalf, in the battle with an evil spirit in the Mines of Moria; and at the Falls of Rauros, Boromir, seduced by the power of the Ring, tried to seize it by force. While Frodo and Sam made their escape the rest of the company were attacked by Orcs.

Now they continue their journey alone down the great River Anduin – alone, that is, save for the mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go.

TheLordoftheRings

My reading journey toward completing a singular edition of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien continues, having reached another milestone by concluding the second volume The Two Towers. Before I started I was mentally exhausted from The Fellowship of the Ring’s meandering nature, despite my enjoyment of many parts of it. All the same, I was hopeful that the follow-up would gain much needed forward momentum. As a small indicator of how that hope turned out: I finished this volume a lot faster. Without further ado, this is my review of The Two Towers, being the second part of my review of The Lord of the Rings.

This volume did in fact bring in a nice change of pace to the story. The beginning picks up right where the previous book ended, so the reader is pretty much thrown into action from the get-go. Funnily, it still amounted to a lot of walking (only faster), but there was an urgency to the writing that kept it going smoothly. With the Fellowship having broken perspective was also divided between numerous parties, rather than anchored to Frodo. This helped to flesh out the other characters, since it is difficult to share focus in the moment with a party of nine, as well as kept things interesting by establishing numerous goals for the respective groups.

Book Three was divided between the trio of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli pursuing a group of orcs and Merry and Pippin who have been captured by said orcs. It was really refreshing to have the journey broken up that way, especially since previously the blank spaces in the plot would be filled in by a character recounting their experiences. Instead, the narrative backtracks to tell what happened from an alternative point of view. These storylines come together with the goal of confronting the forces of the wizard Saruman, so that the kingdoms of Men are not direly caught fighting a war on two fronts.

An approach of Tolkien’s that I find I like quite a bit is how sparsely his villains actually appear. We hear a lot about them, see the extent of their power, but it’s rare that characters actually encounter them, which is the only real direct experience the reader gets with them. I really like the touch of ambiguity and dread it adds to the story. When Sauron’s gaze passes over a character, or they happen to interact with him when messing with an orb, it became all the more tense for me. It meant something, because the last thing these characters want to do is actually engage him directly. It may not grant him a lot of dimension as a character, but it gives him a mystique as a villain and adds an appreciable layer of suspense. The same goes for Saruman, to a lesser extent, whom we only see during one ultimate confrontation in this book.

Book Four follows Frodo and Sam only, shortly after departing from the Fellowship, which is what closes this volume of the story. I was a little nervous that a return to their journey would pale in comparison to the rest of the book, but fortunately that was not the case. The lands they traverse are treacherous and it isn’t long before the two have to reckon with and cautiously accept Gollum as a guide on their quest. This added some much-needed friction in the group dynamics. It was especially effective because events were mostly told from Sam’s point of view rather than Frodo, who becomes more of a stoically burdened, though kindly authority figure over Gollum and Sam. Their journey into the belly of the beast is nightmarish, but also had its light moments that kept the story from becoming too dreary, thanks in no small part to Sam’s somewhat dopey and optimistic outlook. While self-deprecating and a little too subservient, his flaws make him one of the strongest characters in the story, and certainly one of the most relatable.

The Two Towers is a more than worthy middle chapter in the epic tale that is The Lord of the Rings. It builds upon deep foundations of the first volume in wonderful ways, telling a more momentous story full of action that expands upon its characters, while still managing to build out the lore of the world even more. The writing still meandered from time to time, but far less frequently than I griped about before. If anybody had misgivings while reading The Fellowship of the Ring I would encourage you to get through it for the sake of the rest of the story, which ramps up rather well, leaving me more excited than ever for the conclusion.

My rating: 4 out of 5

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