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In brief, The Two Towers is about a man, an elf, and a dwarf chasing down two hairy-footed young guys before joining a super-powerful wizard and going on an epic campaign to defeat another wizard and his army of vicious, man-eating goblin-creatures. Oh, and then there are two more hairy-footed youngsters doing some seriously strenuous mountaineering, all so they can chuck a perfectly nice ring into a volcano.
The basic point we're trying to get across is that the events of The Two Towers do not bear any obvious resemblance to our regular, daily lives. We don't often go on huge quests to rescue our friends from a band of orcs. (And if The Two Towers does represent your real-life experience of the world, we want to hear about it.) Yet, while the plot of The Two Towers doesn't actually sound ripped from the headlines, it really is. In fact, all three books of the Lord of the Rings series are.
See, as we discussed in our "In a Nutshell" section of The Hobbit learning guide, author J.R.R. Tolkien spent some time fighting in the trenches in World War I. And by the time Tolkien got around to publishing the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1954, the world had just emerged from another hellish war, World War II. Clearly, war was on everybody's mind, whether it was the recent, real war with Hitler, Mussolini, and the Emperor Hirohito, or Tolkien's fantastical, fictional war against Saruman and Sauron.
We talk about this topic of real-world war and The Lord of the Rings in greater detail in our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section, so for now, we'll just say that it's in The Two Towers that we start seeing battles of truly huge scale. Middle-earth is experiencing a World War of its own, and we readers witness the drama, action, and bloodshed that come with. Tolkien has taken the smaller, more personal scale of The Fellowship of the Ring and multiplied it tenfold to give us an epic clash with thousands of players.
Clearly, by the second book of the series, Tolkien is trying to raise the stakes. This isn't just a story about a couple of guys trying to complete a quest anymore. All of Middle-earth is getting involved in the War of the Ring, and we get the giant battle scenes to prove it.
This build-up of momentum, from the smaller-scale events of The Fellowship of the Ring to the huge face-offs in The Return of the King, only becomes possible with The Two Towers to act as a bridge between the other two parts of the trilogy. But because The Two Towers is a bridge, it doesn't truly stand on its own. If you want to find out more about how Tolkien saw this book fitting into his The Lord of the Rings project, check out our learning guide for The Fellowship of the Ring, where you'll find a full discussion.
Epic battles between Good and Evil? Sounds like a recipe for a great read, right? It's no wonder, then, that this series was so popular in its early days of publication. Plus, Tolkien's anti-war sentiment may have also played a role in bringing so many readers to The Lord of the Rings, especially in the 1960s. Even though the books were published in 1954, it wasn't until the sixties—that decade of anti-war protests—that The Lord of the Rings "explod[ed] into popularity almost overnight" (source). Perhaps it wasn't until the world had gotten more perspective on the huge trauma and pain of World War II that they became ready to read an anti-war novel about the fight between good and evil.
Let's say you're struggling with a huge problem. Scratch that. You're facing the biggest problem you've ever faced. Maybe it's not the Ring quest, but it's your equivalent. What do you think would be a more effective strategy: going off by yourself, or getting a bunch of friends together to help you deal?
We'd go for Option Number Two every time. Be honest: everything seems easier to manage when you're not alone. There's strength in unity, and that's one of the main reasons we keep coming back to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers. Of course this book is all about a thrilling struggle against the forces of evil. But we don't read it just for the nifty action scenes or for the cool fantasy elements.
We read The Two Towers because this is a book about banding together with your buddies to get the job done. Sure, the job in question might be destroying a Ring of unimaginable evil, which is not something we have a lot of personal experience with, luckily. But we can relate to the desire to bring your best friend with you if you have to go on a long and terrifying quest. That's totally what we would do if we were Frodo and Sam or Merry and Pippin.
After all, we may not know a lot about Ringwraiths or orcs or twisted wizards or walking trees. But we do know what it's like to want a friend by your side while you try to do something that's really hard for you. We do know how essential it is to have someone at your back whom you can trust to help without even needing to be asked.
It's that kind of unity that powers The Two Towers. And throughout the The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien reminds us of the same lesson: even the strongest people sometimes need help. And it's having help that sometimes makes you strong.
A Map of Middle-earth
Not to beat a dead horse, but if you want to follow the action of The Fellowship of the Ring and its subsequent novels, it is really helpful to consult a map. Here's an expandable version of the map Tolkien hand-drew for the publication of The Lord of the Rings in 1954, even has pins on important locations.
The Encyclopedia of Arda
A truly extensive fan site dedicated to Tolkien's works. Desperate for scoop from The Silmarillion or The Adventures of Tom Bombadil? This should be your first stop.
The Tolkien Wiki
One-stop shopping for all things Tolkien. Of course, like Wikipedia, anyone can edit these pages, so we can't promise it's all on the up and up.
The Tolkien Society
This English charity, dedicated to spreading the word about J.R.R. Tolkien and his many works, takes fandom to a whole new level.
The Two Towers MUD
A multiplayer real-time game based on The Two Towers—so you can participate in Middle-earth life yourself. You know you want to.
Continuity and Factual Errors in The Two Towers Film
For those who love a good nitpick.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002
An awesome follow up to the first Peter Jackson-directed film.
Get the scoop on all he accomplished, and get inspired to create your own world. No Nazgûl necessary.
The Two Towers Reviewed
Imagine reading this book review, back when The Two Towers was published in 1954. How could you not want to read it?
The Two Towers Trailer
Danger, intrigue, romance. New Zealand. Seriously, folks, this movie has it all.
Despite his intimidating appearance, we swear he's really nice.
Gandalf the White
Gandalf returns with great fanfare, and a whole lot of shiny white light in this scene from the 2002 film version.
This scene is not for the faint of heart, folks. Watch if you dare.
The Ents Take Down Isengard
Do. Not. Mess. With. Trees.
Flight of the Conchords Spoof
A hilarious spoof of The Lord of the Rings by New Zealand comedy duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. Prepare to laugh.
Here's the first part of a lengthy BBC interview of Tolkien, and you can link to the second part, once you've watched the first.
Listen close, Tolkien lovers. This radio interview is full of awesome insights into Tolkien's creative process.
The Tolkien Professor
The Department of English at Washington College provides a more academic take on Tolkien's work, for the geek in all of us.
The Two Towers
A poster from the 2002 movie, with all your favorites, front and center.
The crew's looking pretty grim before the Battle of Helm's Deep. That's Théoden on the left there, with Háma, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn.
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
You wish you had that hair. Admit it.
Gandalf the White (a.k.a. Ian McKellen)
This guy means business.
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
He's ready for action.
The author in his element (a.k.a. smoking a pipe with a professorial air).