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

Over the summer, the book club I am doing with Rory of According to Rory is reviewing The Lord of the Rings. Last month we looked at the first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. So, this time, we are looking at its often underrated sequel, The Two Towers. 

I have to admit, as far as the film goes, I don’t think I have really seen the full Two Towers more than perhaps once. I tend to do LOTR marathons when ill, and fall asleep by the time we’re well into the story. If I had not read it more than once, I would have a huge gap in how the story develops (which is not exactly in the same way as the books, apparently. I couldn’t tell you). Still, in the case of the book, I actually really like it: this is where the true action begins.

The identity of the two towers is a subject of debate, with Tolkien having said contradictory things over the years, with the most likely being Orthanc and Minas Morgul (but unless you read it, this will mean nothing to you). Still, it remains emblematic of the battle of good and evil that is taking place in Middle Earth. The first book (Book III) opens with the orcs attacking across the board, and the fellowship breaking up. Not everything is doomed and sad, though, as two of our Hobbits find themselves with my favourite creatures: huge living tree-like creatures called Ents. By the end of the book, the Fellowship will be reunited except for Frodo and Samwise, on whom the following book focuses. 

Book IV is a slower-paced book than the other one, but it is an interesting one especially if you are interested in psychological dynamics among characters. While there is a thrilling rhythm to the majority of what happens, there is also a fil rouge of “Are the Hobbits right to trust Gollum?” that isn’t as adventurous as the points in the story when you expect something big to happen (after all, they are in a scary territory). The book ends on a cliffhanger, so I really recommend you don’t read the end of it before bed. I am likely making it sound more boring than it actually is, it’s a wonderful work.

I said at the beginning that The Two Towers is often underrated, and that’s probably due to many people approaching the saga from the films rather than straight from the novels. I tend to say you should watch a film first, so you don’t get disappointed because they are usually worse than the books (unless it’s the Twilight saga, nothing with Michael Sheen could ever be worse than a book because he isn’t in the book). However, the films (while beautiful in their own way, don’t @ me) don’t do justice to The Two Towers the way Tolkien’s own writing does, and I fear people may approach it like “Do I really need to read this?”. After all, we all know more or less what happens at the end, and if we don’t expect the thrilling ride of the book it can appear a bit like a lot of filler content that you can easily sleep through. 

It is not that uncommon an opinion, either. Famed critic Anthony Boucher, while lavishing praise over how vividly Tolkien has created a universe with its own mythology, has nonetheless called many passages in the book something that could have been edited out (or words to that extent). I am inclined to agree on the basis that I tend to like descriptions that are not strictly necessary but are there for aesthetic purposes (like half of the Picture of Dorian Gray…) so I’m unlikely to find too much fault with how much is written in the story. And if something caters to my particular taste, it may be too much for others. 

Bearing that in mind, I think it’s worth reading it at least once in one’s lifetime, with an open mind, because classics are meant to be more than mere entertainment (that’s why everybody reads and even enjoys Dan Brown but nobody studies it except maybe as a case of how not to research historical fiction).

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