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Title: The Two Towers
Series: Lord of the Rings #2
Author: John Tolkien
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Format: Digital Edition
The Fellowship is broken. Gandalf and Boromir are dead, Frodo and Sam have slipped off on their own to find their way into Mordor to destroy the Ring, Merry and Pippin have been captured by Orcs and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli must decide which set of hobbits to follow and support.
The first quarter of the book follows Merry and Pippin as they have their various adventures. Merry and Pippin are captured by the orcs and are on their way to Orthanc, Saruman’s stronghold. Saruman knows that a hobbit holds the One Ring, but he doesn’t know which one. The Orc band, however, is ambushed by the riders of Rohan and destroyed. One of the orcs from Sauron had taken the hobbits outside the orc camp to find for himself what Saruman wanted and this kept the hobbits alive during the attack. They proceed into the forest of Fangorn. There they meet the Ent Treebeard and help convince him and the other Ents that Saruman is a real threat and must be dealt with. Their part of the book ends with the Ents and their herds of trees marching off to Orthanc.
The second quarter of the book follows Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli as they try to rescue Merry and Pippin. After the breaking of the Fellowship, Aragorn is torn between following Frodo and Sam or rescuing Merry and Pippin. He chooses to rescue Merry and Pippin as he realizes that Frodo and Sam CHOSE to go off on their own. The three friends begin a tracking expedition and start running after the orcs. They find signs that the Hobbits are alive. They then run into the Riders of Rohan who destroyed the orc band. The Riders didn’t see any signs of the Hobbits but the three friends are convinced that the Hobbits are still alive. The three friends find signs that the Hobbits survived the ambush and begin tracking them into the forest of Fangorn. There they meet an old man who they take for Saruman but is revealed as Gandalf returned from the dead. Gandalf lets them know that the Hobbits are safe with the Ents and they (Gandalf and the 3 friends) must begin rousing allies against both Saruman AND Sauron. They all head over to Rohan to get Theoden ready. They find him under the influence of Wormtongue, an ally of Saruman. Gandalf drives Wormtongue out and Theoden rallies his riders. Scouts bring news that Saruman’s entire orc army has marched on Rohan and is destroying everything they find. Everyone heads to Helm’s Deep, a fortress where the Rohirrim make their last stand. Things are looking very bad for them until a whole forest of living trees and a band of riders led by Gandalf and Theoden’s nephew show up. The riders break the siege and the Forest deals with the orcs. Everyone goes to Orthanc. The Ents have destroyed Isengard (the city built around the tower of Orthanc) but Saruman has taken refuge in Orthanc. Gandalf confronts Saruman and casts him out of the Council of the Wise. Wormtongue throws a stone at them that turns out to be a Palantir, a device that allows the user to see around the world and to communicate with other Palantirs.
The final half of the book deals with Frodo and Sam and Gollum as they make their way towards Mordor. Frodo extracts a promise from Gollum to help them. Gollum leads them Mordor but they can’t get in. Gollum reveals that he knows a secret way in through a tunnel in one of the mountains. On the way there the Hobbits meet Faramir, Boromir’s younger brother. Faramir finds out the secret of the Ring but shows he’s a better man than Boromir by not even trying to take the Ring. The Hobbits continue their journey and Gollum leads them to the secret passage. There he disappears and the Hobbits must make their way through the tunnel on their own. They are ambushed by a giant spider named Shelob, who is an evil power on her own. Gollum is her vassal and plans on taking the Ring from the corpses of Frodo and Sam once she has eaten them. With the Phial of Galadriel and Sting, Sam destroys Shelob but not before she stings Frodo. Frodo enters a deathlike state and Sam is convinced he is dead. Sam takes the Ring and realizes the burden to destroy it is now his. Some orcs come along and Sam finds out that Frodo isn’t actually dead. The orcs take Frodo to their base and the book ends with Sam using the Ring to follow them so he can rescue Frodo.
For a 400+ page book, this felt incredibly short. Things just happen bam, bam, bam! It was great to be honest. Lean, sparse and yet fully fleshed out, the writing here wasn’t like some of the stuff we get today, ie, “world building”. Man, save me from “world building” for world building’s sake. Tolkien reveals a LOT about his world but it never becomes the point of the story and it always is secondary to the plot. It was masterfully done in my opinion.
Another thing I appreciated, that annoys me with more modern stuff, is that we stuck with one group POV for ¼, ¼ and then ½ of the book. We don’t follow a character for one chapter and then skip to another. My literary feet were firmly grounded in each POV instead of jumping and whirling and generally giving me motion sickness (I’m looking at you, John Gwynne and your horrible, terrible, no-good Valor). It was also written in such a way that I wasn’t thinking about the other characters not on page. I was fully invested in each group as I read about them.
I mentioned how short this felt. Not only that but the story itself sped by. If I hadn’t been reading carefully, so many things are mentioned by a character that aren’t fully written out, I would have missed a lot. Tolkien doesn’t pad out anything and he expects his readers to be paying attention and not need everything spoon fed to them. As a grumpy “get your YA off my lawn!” man, I appreciate that. It also lends itself towards re-reads, as you will miss some things on each read or not fully grasp the import of a sentence until you’ve read it again years later.
All of that being said, this does feel very much like the Grandfather of Fantasy. What I expect today and what I am used to (even if I am not fully behind it, like 1000 page tomes) is very different and that colors my perception of this.
Overall, this was a great read and a fantastic way to end the month.