The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

February 1, 2011 at 15:21 (Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction, Highly Rated Books) (, , , )

10/10

The most difficult part of this book is its division into two concurrent but largely separate stories; that of the rise of Aragorn to his potential regal nature, and of the Ringbearer’s journey with his longsuffering servant. There are a few places where these stories lean inwards and almost seem about to touch, but unfortunately (and due entirely to their separation as narratives) it is the easiest thing in the world to miss this fact, and to allow the two quests to drift steadily apart, without the symbiosis that they both rely upon. Even a frequent reader of the series might find it difficult to connect the two stories.

The emblem of the duality, present in the book’s title, is a fantastic and titillating leitmotif: Gollum’s two guardians of justice and mercy; his own duelling personalities fighting for mastery; the two quests divided into their two books; the two towers of satanic union, Barad-dûr and Orthanc, or else two towers of opposition, Minas Tirith and Barad-dûr. For it is in this second book that Tolkien treats his readers (his hungry readers, after a masterful first volume!) to a glimpse not only of the heroic quest to right the wrongs of his world, but also to the treason and villainy that oppose it. If The Fellowship of the Ring is a story much in the similitude of The Hobbit, of a reluctant hero setting out on a fabulous adventure, then The Two Towers is about the teeth possessed by that adventure, and what they are used to attack. The enemy also has a quest and is also active, and this counter-attack is visible in each and every appearance of duality in the book.

It is relieving, then, that Tolkien’s own theology does not admit to any sort of equality in the balance between good and evil. As far as morality goes, it is pleasant to be reassured that the sunrise is inevitable, and that every night will pass; and while it does not always make for very thrilling storytelling, or for incredibly complex or conflicted heroes, it does have its own power. One of the reasons Tolkien’s world is so comfortable and so welcoming is its unbending rule that ultimate good and ultimate evil both exist, and that the former shall overcome the latter.

As a simple story, then, The Two Towers does not attempt to cover its tracks with plot twists or suddenly unexplained betrayal. Even the centrepiece of the first section, and Saruman’s horrific treason, demonstrates simple and unabashed adherence to the rule that men who delve into certain things too deeply will find themselves ensnared by their own devices. The development and building of the characters does not take place through their own shifting and changing priorities or values, but through their discovery of the road upon which they had already committed to carry out. This book might be criticised for simplicity, when it is simplicity that makes its story elegant. It might be faulted for its stiff and old-fashioned moralising, when to be anything else would be a gross abberation from the foundations upon which it is built.

This book might also be accused of outdoing its predacessor. That one is too close to call.

Related reviews
The Silmarillion
The Fellowship of the Ring
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