The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Digital Audiobook narrated by Rob Inglis
Published by Houghton Mifflin on November 11, 1954
Series: The Lord of the Rings #2
Genres: Classics, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction
Length: 322 pages or 16 hours, 40 minutes
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The Fellowship has been forced to split up. Frodo and Sam must continue alone towards Mount Doom, where the One Ring must be destroyed. Meanwhile, at Helm’s Deep and Isengard, the first great battles of the War of the Ring take shape.
Where The Fellowship of the Ring dragged on for an age (thanks, Council of Elrond!), The Two Towers swiftly picks up its pace. The fellowship have now gone their separate ways and are having battles and adventures of their own. Merry and Pippin have teamed with the Ents. Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn connect with an old friend. And as for Frodo and Sam? The two Hobbits are following the perilous journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring.
While as a whole I think The Fellowship of the Ring is a more successful novel in that it feels like things are actually getting done, I do find The Two Towers more enjoyable. With the fellowship separated, the pacing of the story really picks up, and I found my attention was less apt to wander. Tolkien’s writing is very dense, and for myself, I have to focus extra hard to make sure I’m actually paying attention to the story and not just letting the words slip through my brain unabsorbed.
Depending on whether you like all the characters or just some of them, The Two Towers may be an extra chore. I’m fortunate in that I love Merry and Pippin’s adventure with the Ents, and I enjoy Sam and Smeagol, and the feats of Aragorn and Co. I’ll be honest – if Frodo went off on his own and didn’t have Sam there with him, I’d likely be bored to tears for the most important storyline in the trilogy. Tolkien does a very good job balancing his characters, and it’s so important in a long-winded epic fantasy. Without likable characters, the drudgery of this type of writing would repel the average reader, leaving The Lord of the Rings to be a piece for deep fan speculation.
My biggest complaint with The Two Towers is that even though it seemed to be moving swiftly, nothing happened. There was a small battle that took out a minor character, but there were whole scenes that added nothing to the plot. A lot of time in the beginning was spent speaking of the dead. When Aragorn and Co. meet up with Merry and Pippin, we are told about a past battle rather than experiencing it ourselves. There’s a lot of dialogue where there should be action. It gets boring. At the beginning of The Two Towers, there’s no real direction, and at the end of The Two Towers, the groups have made commitments, but haven’t made it very far down the road. It leaves a lot for The Return of the King to cover.
Even without any real feel of progress, this book is enjoyable enough. Characters who felt flat in the first book have fleshed out a little bit – Legolas’s love for Fangorn Forest gives him some depth, for one. While Merry and Pippin still blend together and Aragorn’s complexities are still mostly conversation, there’s hope for these others as the trilogy continues.
As with book one, the bits and pieces I find particularly interesting seem so short. I remember being fascinated by the Dead Marshes in the film, and I was hoping for a little more depth about those in The Two Towers. The magic of Middle Earth is a constant fascination to me – particularly magic of the dead. The Barrow King, the Dead Marshes, even the naming of Sauron as The Necromancer. For LotR fans out there – is there more depth on these things in the appendices or other works?
As a whole, The Two Towers reads better than The Fellowship of the Ring and of course, we need to know what happens to everyone, so it’s on to The Return of the King! Nonetheless, for casual readers I still feel pretty confident in saying that the films with Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, etc., are a pretty good overview of the story for those who find the books daunting.
Do you typically enjoy middle books? Book 2 in a trilogy usually gets a bad rap… and usually for a good reason! Still, there are exceptions to the rule. Let me know your favorite middle books in the comments!