TGAR 1B: Slightly More-Coherent Thoughts on The Two Towers

two towers

All right, I know it’s been a while, but I finally finished the second volume of The Lord of the Rings, AKA The Two Towers, AKA the one with Orlando Bloom on the cover. This one is 70-something fewer pages than the first one, but (predictably so) a lot more action happens. However, if I say anything about The Two Towers, it’s this: True to how Tolkien apparently wanted it, The Two Towers reads much more like a continuation of The Fellowship of the Ring than a sequel. The prose doesn’t miss a beat, and essentially what we’re left with is the rising action of the story, compressed into a singular volume for our reading pleasure. Does tons of action and plot development elevate The Two Towers over the previous installment? It depends.

Also, just a heads up–If you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings and have a strong desire to, go ahead and skip the next paragraph. The rest of the review will be spoiler-free, but I can’t help myself from spoiling stuff in at least one spot.

The Two Towers picks up, quite literally, where the previous installment left off. At the end of Fellowship, Frodo and Samwise cross the river on a boat while everyone else spends way too much time looking for them. A real melee breaks out between the rest of the fellowship and some orcs, and Tolkien kills off yet another character who had previously been central to the story. The two weak Hobbits get kidnapped, and the first half of the novel conveniently forgets Frodo exists and we are forced to watch everyone else play hide-and-seek with Saruman’s forces. The second half of the novel brings us back to Frodo and Sam, who manage to tame Gollum and make it all the way to Mordor. Along the way, we get the trademark Tolkien description, red herrings, and overabundance of Middle Earth references with little relevance within this confined story.

On a positive note: The character development in this volume is stunning. Though The Fellowship of the Ring may have given us more information, The Two Towers thrusts the characters into situations where we can see them shine. A favortie instance of mine occurs about a quarter of the way through the novel, when Legolas and Gimli are trying to earn each others’ respect by seeing who can tally the highest Orc body-count. The subtle humor mixes well with the rocky backstory of the two races, and the result is an unlikely friendship that really isn’t all that unlikely based on circumstance. This is but a small instance of Tolkien’s storytelling prowess; in the half of the book that concerns Frodo, we spend a hundred and fifty pages traveling along with Gollum, the treacherous being of The Hobbit fame. He works with Frodo and Samwise to get them further in their quest to Mordor, and the antics that ensue are even funnier than the ones I just mentioned. Frodo trusts Gollum almost from the start, but Sam is wary and suspicious. He and Gollum share some of the most biting exchanges in the whole series, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny. As this goes on, you the reader are trying to figure out what to make of Gollum yourself. If you’re anything like me, you’re pulling for him to be a redeemable character deep down despite his history and present actions suggesting otherwise. The Gollum-Samwise-Frodo triad made the book’s largest “travel section” its most enjoyable, and if you read my last review, you’ll know this is a gigantic compliment coming from me. Witty banter is this book’s greatest strength, and it radiates throughout the text, blending nicely with the other elements.

As I’ve discussed The Lord of the Rings with various people over the last few weeks, I’ve realized I can condense my frustrations with the book into a single question: What’s the payoff? I’m kind of this way with any author, and understandably so: If I’m set up for some gigantic, climactic event, I better get to experience the damn thing. For a lot of The Two Towers, I feel like my reading-time-to-payoff ratio is okay, but this doesn’t hold true for the most pivotal section of the first half. I’m speaking of Saruman, and everything that concerns him. As I said previously, first part of The Two Towers, otherwise known as “Book 3” follows Aragorn & Co. as they search for the two less-important Hobbits and eventually wind up, along with a newly-minted Gandalf, at the feet of Saruman’s tower. To their surprise, they find out that the fighting is over–Isengard has been stormed and taken over by the Ents (a race of tree-men who reside in the forest of Fangorn) and the mighty Saruman sits locked in his tower unable to do anything. I would normally be okay with the way things play out, HOWEVER, we don’t get to read any of this in real time.

Similarly to what happens in the novel Mockingjay, we hear the events of the battle from another character rather than read about the battle as it goes on. When the warriors of the fellowship show up, they are greeted by Pippin and Merry, safe as can be, who then fill them in on everything that happened. We don’t get to read “Saruman didn’t know what was happening,” but instead, “I don’t know what Saruman thought was happening.” Still a viable way to tell a story, but the translation through Merry’s character was unnecessary and what should have been “The Great Battle for Isengard” becomes nothing more than a re-telling through the eyes of someone who didn’t lift a finger. It’s lazy and off-putting. I expected an author held in such high regard as Tolkien to be able to pen an epic battle scene, especially given the bright spots in previous parts of the novel. This is Tolkien’s worst offense in the story to date, and it significantly sours what is otherwise a pretty enjoyable book.

I complained about how difficult it was to judge a third of The Lord of the Rings in my Fellowship review, but I find it even more difficult to do so with the middle installment. I will say this: Some of my beefs with The Fellowship of the Ring were addressed in this volume; the rhymes were limited and interesting, some of the minor races were explored more in-depth, and the historical jargon was cut down significantly. In short, the pacing of this volume is much better than the first. It might be obvious that the beginning installment would be the slowest, but that isn’t always the case. I saw plenty of opportunities for Tolkien to get wordy and annoy me in The Two Towers, but he streamlines his plot significantly. It works better. There are instances of The Two Towers that are slow (that same wordy-yet-empty description bogs down a couple of the chapters) but the slow parts are blended among the riveting ones. There’s enough to keep me turning the pages, whereas Fellowship had entire chapters that felt like time-wasters. Sticking with my “payoff” theme: there’s less time between the dopamine hits, and therefore the book is more entertaining. I’m still not in love with The Lord of the Rings, but The Two Towers is a bit of an improvement over the preceding volume. I’ve heard The Return of the King is the best yet, so I’m interested in seeing how that takes off. At this point, it’ll take a lot for volume three to redeem the entire series, but I am anxiously awaiting the conclusion. It’ll be a happy day when I see Sauron tuck his tail.

In other news: My YouTube channel is going strong! I haven’t put up a video in over a week, but I’m working on it. Subscribe here if you’re interested.

On the writing front: I have recently accepted a writing position for Film Daily, and you can find my first article here. I’ll be writing longer, more in-depth pieces in the future, and I’ll link them here as they go up.

Be on the lookout for my first Pop-Tart review later this week. The first flavor is “Vanilla Milkshake.”

Remember that the next book on the list in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, so make sure to grab a copy if you’re reading along. I’ve rambled enough for now, but keep checking back and I’ll talk to you all soon!

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