The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

two towersAnd people will say: “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!” And they’ll say: “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?” “Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”’

“But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. “I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?”’

There’s often a tendency, especially among those seeking power, to overlook the power of friendship. The things we’ll do and the places we’ll go for the ones we love most in this world is, in my opinion and certainly in Tolkien’s, beyond estimation. Quite like hobbits themselves – you can learn everything there is to learn of them in a single day yet they never cease to amaze you when you least expect it.

The Two Towers, a.k.a. The Lord of the Rings Part III and IV, is not a happy chapter in the epic saga it carries on. In fact, I’m sure many would agree, it is, perhaps, the bleakest and most miserable of the three main books, as middle parts of journeys and adventures must be, if the hero is to ever come out alive in the end.

But because of the darkness, this has always remained my least favorite of the books, and I’ve often felt very much like the poor remaining members of The Fellowship, always looking back and wishing for better days or looking forward with a trembling heart imagining the trials still to come.

If you pay attention you might notice that reading these books has put me in quite a lofty and poetic mood (one that has annoyed my friends for the past day or so at least). It’s a hazard, when you read any of the great stories of our time (and The Lord of the Rings is singularly the greatest), to be swept up in them and to feel the pull to emulate them in your daily life. Or so it seems to me at least, who often wishes that she could write as beautifully as Tolkien did long ago.

But for the rest of this post, and for your sake, I’ll try to restrain myself, and give my thoughts as plainly as they come to me.

The shining light of The Two Towers lies, not in any of the great or heroic deeds that are done, of which there are many in this portion of the story. No, not even the triumph at Helm’s Deep or the overthrowing of Isengard with the Ents could truly alleviate the smothering hopelessness that pervades all the pages of this text.

Indeed, this would have been a desolate and wholly unenjoyable novel if not for the many small rays of light to be found, quite like friends, in the most unlikely of places. The true joy of The Two Towers is made manifest in small and human kindnesses here and there along the way. That’s what makes the journey seem just a tiny bit less hopeless than it is.

There are many such acts that I could point out to you, each with it’s own merit. Faramir could be named, for letting Frodo and Sam go free without trying to take the ring as Boromir, his own brother, did. Treebeard also, for harboring Merry and Pippin in Fangorn. But I want to focus, if time permits, on the most important characters in this story, though they appear only in the latter half.

Frodo, Sam, and, irrevocably, Gollum.

Frodo’s relationship with Gollum is the one that I find the hardest to understand, yet feel the strongest compassion towards. There’s a line that Gandalf spoke to Frodo in the mines of Moria, which Frodo recalls when he is at long last, confronted with the foul and wretched creature that was once, long ago, much like a hobbit himself, back when his name was simply Smèagol. Gandalf says, speaking of Gollum, “Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.”

I think in the film, it’s much easier to dislike and distrust Gollum, especially when Hollywood makes it look like Frodo has fallen under the spell of his “honest” act and obvious lies. But the book is much subtler than that. Frodo knows much more than he lets on, and though the reader knows that Gollum is scheming to get “the precious” back, it’s impossible not to have pity for him, and to understand and appreciate Frodo’s mercy. The reader is reminded not to confuse “kindness with blindness.” A wise lesson for any who wish to learn it.

But it’s Sam, I think, who makes this book wonderful to me, because of all the characters in all of Middle Earth, Samwise Gamgee is by far my favorite. Who wouldn’t want to have a Sam by his or her side on a great and terrible adventure? No one with more stoutness or stubborn loyalty could you find in any kingdom, not in Middle Earth, here, or anywhere else you troubled to look about. He’s such a small hobbit – just a gardener by all accounts – but his loyalty is everything, and Frodo is right in believing he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without Sam.

More than that, to me at least, is that Sam is often overlooked for what he suffers through on their journey. He’s not the hero, not the ring-bearer (save for a few pages at the very end of this book), and his trials are of a different sort. But they’re of equal mettle, as anyone who’s ever had to sit idly by and watch a loved one suffer and dwindle into nothing well knows. Sam never strays from Frodo. He watches him suffer from the ring, getting worse and weaker every day, unable to do anything except be there, which is an insufferable kind of hopelessness to be handed. Yet, despite this, Sam never walks away, never tries to take the ring, never complains or does anything that might hurt or burden Frodo more. He focuses on the little things he can do, and he eases the burden Frodo carries as best he can in his own small ways.

“He put Frodo in front of him now, and kept a watchful eye on every movement of his, supporting him if he stumbled, and trying to encourage him with clumsy words.” 

There is no greater friendship than that of Samwise Gamgee; I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again a thousand times before I die. 

Because who is more wise than he who reminds us all that, “where there’s life there’s hope… and need of vittles”?

Rating: 100,000/5 stars (Hey, it’s not my favorite, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it better than most ordinary novels anyway.)

Overall Reaction: “Oh Sam, Oh Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam… How I love thee.” (There’s so much poetry in me lately I might burst of it)


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