Throughout both the Aragorn and Frodo plot lines of The Two Towers, there is an increased sense of seriousness. The Fellowship of the Ring was pretty funny, with the clear contrasts between the childlike hobbits and grand folk like Aragorn and Boromir. Now, that hobbity light-heartedness is mostly gone. Instead, the language of the book has become much more poetic and serious. For example, take this passage describing the barren plains around Mordor:
They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing—unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. "I feel sick," said Sam. Frodo did not speak.
For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows. […] The gasping pits and poisonous mounds grew hideously clear. The sun was up, walking among clouds and long flags of smoke, but even the sunlight was defiled. (4.2.87-8)
The most obvious darkness of this passage comes from the setting. Obviously, Tolkien wants to indicate to us that Mordor is not a particularly nice place. Even Sam's usual cheerfulness has been reduced to one three-word line of dialogue: "I feel sick." Beyond Tolkien's use of grim words like "defiled," "diseased," and "hideous," this passage also reminds us that Frodo, Sam, and even Gollum are going into danger. They have no choice but to travel to this awful place. These wordy passages, in which Tolkien plays up the horror of the setting, also work to build up suspense about the fate of our heroes.
Similarly, while the Aragorn plot line is less extreme, there is something so totally ominous about the ruins of Isengard and the dark forests of the Huorns. While the good side keeps winning victories over the bad, the darker tone of The Two Towers reminds us that there is still a larger war waiting for all of our buddies in The Return of the King. They have come a long way from the mostly cheerful The Fellowship of the Ring, but they still have a lot to do before they can find true peace.
We doubt there are many people out there who would argue that The Two Towers isn't an adventure novel. We've got fighting, mayhem, danger, and secrecy on every page. And of course, what generates all of this adventure is the Ring quest, so the "quest" genre is a no-brainer, too (for more on this, check out our "Genre" page for The Fellowship of the Ring).
That leaves us with folklore. Sure, we admit that The Two Towers is not a direct or recognizable folktale. Still, it includes a lot of folkloric elements: elves, dwarves, magic rings, a deep sense of history, and the whole good-vs.-evil plot structure of course. Tolkien invents new folklore for the twentieth century by combining traditional fairy tales and epic narrative structure. The Two Towers provides us with folklore for a new, contemporary age.
There's the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of London, the Leaning Tower of Pisa—if you've got a tower in your backyard, you've probably got something interesting going on. Towers are signs of wealth, power, and influence, both in our world and in Middle-earth. After all, to tower over something (or someone) is to be much, much taller than the little people around you. It's proof of power. And considering how much Sauron loves displays of power, it's no surprise that he has a thing for towers, too.
As you might expect, there are towers in The Two Towers. Surprisingly, though, there are lots more than two. And weirdly, Tolkien is never entirely clear on which two he means. He wrote, in a letter to his publisher dated August of 1953, "The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the wildly divergent Books 3 and 4; and can be left ambiguous" (source, pg. 170). In other words: I don't care, man; call it whatever you want. Let's just get this thing into print.
But later on (after it was way too late to doing anything about it), Tolkien wrote to his publisher to complain that the two towers of the title could be any two towers in the series:
I am not at all happy about the title 'the Two Towers.' It must if there is any real reference in it to Vol II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith, that seems very misleading. (Source, pg. 221)
So Tolkien assumes the Two Towers could be either:
(1) Orthanc (at Isengard) and the orc tower at Cirith Ungol (in Mordor), since those are the two towers that end the two books of the second volume; or
(2) Minas Tirith (the capital of Gondor, where The Return of the King mostly takes place) and Barad-dûr, Sauron's Dark Tower of Mordor.
But Shmoop can think of a couple other possibilities, too:
(3) Isengard and Barad-dûr, since we discover that Saruman's fortress at Isengard is only a pale imitation of Sauron's much stronger Dark Tower in Mordor; or
(4) Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul (which is where the Nine Nazgûl now live). Minas Morgul used to be called Minas Ithil, the beautiful Tower of the Moon. These two make sense as a pair because the towers of Minas Ithil and Minas Tirith (once called Minas Anor) have served as capitals of Gondor at various points in the history of that kingdom. Minas Tirith is still the capital of Gondor, while Minas Morgul has become its twisted reflection. They face one another across Ithilien and the fortress of Osgiliath.
(Shmoopers, if your heads are spinning with all these place names, consider keeping this map open in front of you at all times. It'll help. We promise.)
Let's just recap: there are a lot of towers in The Lord of the Rings, and they can all be paired in various ways that are thematically significant. After all, it's that very ambiguity about the name that makes The Two Towers sound intriguing to the reader, even if it's not immediately clear exactly what these towers have to do with each other, or which towers they are in the first place. All we can be sure of is that most of the major battles—and all of the main centers of power—in Middle-earth happen to be in giant towers. And some of those towers appear in The Two Towers, the middle book.
Tolkien was absolutely not a fan of using the word "trilogy" to refer to The Lord of the Rings: "The book is not of course a 'trilogy.' That and the titles of the volumes was a fudge thought necessary for publication, owing to length and cost" (source). For Tolkien, the idea that these books were a trilogy was just a cheap marketing strategy on the part of the publisher. So to talk about an "ending" to The Two Towers—when the book is clearly just a middle chapter in one, enormous, fifteen-hundred-page tale—would be crazy.
Still, even if Tolkien didn't like it, The Two Towers is a separate book within The Lord of the Rings series as we now know it. And there are significant cliffhangers that seem worth talking about at the end of the The Two Towers.
The Two Towers is the only one of the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings that splits evenly into two sections, with no direct overlap between the two. So there are really two endings at work. The first is Pippin's departure from Isengard with Gandalf. The pair rushes to Gondor to prepare for the bigger battle against Sauron to come.
The gathering of troops in Rohan and the destruction of Isengard both foreshadow the destruction of Sauron's kingdom in The Return of the King. Plus, the fact that Pippin accompanies Gandalf to Minas Tirith proves that the hobbits will continue to play a big part in the next book of the series.
The second cliffhanger in The Two Towers is Frodo's abduction by the orcs of Cirith Ungol, leaving Sam to try to think of a way to free his beloved master. Over the course of The Two Towers, as Frodo has gotten more and more distracted by the Ring, Sam has become an increasingly important character in the Ring quest. In fact, Sam starts developing into the leader of their two-man expedition, because he has got such a good head on his shoulders.
By the end of Book 4 in The Two Towers, while Frodo lies locked up in a tower by orcs, it's up to Sam to stand alone and decide what to do to rescue his pal. Sam is about to come into his own as a character, which is yet another reason to keep right on reading. You'll find out how that turns out The Return of the King.
The Two Towers is a good title for this novel, and not just because it includes two towers in it (two at the least; for more on the many towers in this book, check out "What's Up With the Title?"). In fact, nearly every setting in this novel acts as a point of comparison for another place in Middle-earth.
For example, Rohan is the first major human settlement we see in these novels, and it stands in sharp contrast to Gondor, which represents the height of human civilization in Middle-earth. Tolkien's descriptions of Rohan focus on its wide-open plains and empty spaces, while Gondor means pretty much one thing: the capital city of Minas Tirith. So the difference between Rohan and Gondor isn't just one of age (since Gondor is a much older land than Rohan); it is also one of country vs. city. We only get to see Minas Tirith in The Return of the King. But our knowledge that Gondor is even better than Rohan only increases our suspense and excitement going into the next book. Plus, it convinces us that Gondor must definitely be a place worth fighting for.
Similarly, the Forest of Fangorn reminds us of the Old Forest in Book One of The Fellowship of the Ring. Indeed, the two forests used to be one massive collection of trees, before people came along and started clearing space to build villages and towns. So Merry and Pippin's battle with Old Man Willow in the first book turn out to be a kind of foreshadowing of the fighting Huorns of The Two Towers. But in the first book, Merry and Pippin are on the bad side of the trees of the Old Forest. Now, they've won the friendship of the Ents of Fangorn. The shift from the Old Forest to the Forest of Fangorn also provides a yardstick by which we can measure the character growth of Merry and Pippin: from tree victims in the first book to tree friends in the second.
Of course, the most obvious parallel between places in The Two Towers is between Isengard and Barad-dûr, the fortress of Sauron in Mordor. Saruman (unconsciously) builds Isengard as a poor-man's Barad-dûr, with its giant engines and industries and its huge central tower. The fall of Isengard foreshadows what we hope is coming in The Return of the King. All that remains of Saruman's stronghold is Orthanc, the tower that actually dates back to the Men of Númenor. Otherwise, Saruman's works get totally destroyed, which might mean bad luck for Sauron in the final book of the series, and also might signify that humans will be the last ones standing.
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
For more on this epigraph, which appears at the beginning of each of the three books in the Lord of the Rings cycle, check out our learning guide for The Fellowship of the Ring.
Tolkien has a clear, straightforward style, so the language of The Two Towers is not too challenging. What might make this book a bit difficult is if you suffer (as some of us here at Shmoop do) from a total inability to either (a) read a map, or (b) remember directions. All the characters in this book are crossing huge stretches of land; they head east and west and north and south and everywhere in between, and we have a lot of trouble keeping up.
What makes following the paths of Aragorn and Company all the more difficult is that all their destinations are, of course, fictional. If someone we know says that they are going to France, we have a rough sense of where they are heading. But Dunharrow? Not so much. All we can advise is that, if you are confused about where Mordor is in relation to Rohan, or which way the River Anduin flows, it's helpful to keep Tolkien's own hand-drawn maps of Middle-earth handy at all times.
There are plenty of battles in The Two Towers, what with the Rohirrim's destruction of the orcs who have captured Merry and Pippin, the conflict between Gandalf and Gríma Wormtongue, the pulling down of Isengard by the Ents, the protection of Helm's Deep from all of Saruman's troops, and the fracas between Faramir's men and the Southrons. It packs more action that all four Die Hard movies combined (okay, maybe just the first three).
But in between these pages of huge activity, there are also lots of lengthy descriptions of the surroundings of our heroes. Take, for example, the sudden appearance of the Ents as the Riders of Rohan travel towards Isengard:
Even as [Gandalf] spoke, there came forward out of the trees three strange shapes. As tall as trolls they were, twelve feet or more in height; their strong bodies, stout as young trees, seemed to be clad with raiment or with hide of close-fitting grey and brown. Their limbs were long and their hands had many fingers; their hair was stiff, and their beards grey-green as moss. They gazed out with solemn eyes, but they were not looking at the riders: their eyes were bent northwards. Suddenly they lifted their long hands to their mouths, and sent forth ringing calls, clear as notes of horn, but more musical and various. (3.8.65)
Tolkien describes every aspect of the Ents as they would appear to Legolas and Company: their weird beards, their enormous height, and their solemn eyes. His word portrait of the Ents is so thorough that we can practically see them appearing out of the page. In passages like these, we think that you can really see Tolkien's personal love of words. After all, the guy was an Oxford professor of languages. Of course his descriptive passages would be careful and dense in style. But what we love about passages like these, is that they give Middle-earth a density and realism that you wouldn't expect from a land of sorcery and elves. We want to go to there.
Brace yourselves for a Shakespeare reference. If you've ever read Big Willy's Macbeth, maybe the moving forest of Huorns in The Two Towers will ring a bell. There is a scene in Macbeth (Act IV, Scene i, lines 92-4) when the Three Witches warn the main character:
Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.
In other words, the witches are saying: don't worry, Macbeth, you're fine. You will only be conquered when the Great Birnam Forest walks to Dunsinane Hill. Obviously, since trees don't usually do much marching, Macbeth thinks he's safe. The witches are being tricky, though: the "wood" turns out to be a bunch of soldiers disguising themselves with tree branches as they travel to Dunsinane Hill to defeat Macbeth.
Why are we telling you all this? Well, according to Tolkien, he has always resented the fact that Shakespeare did not bring real trees to war:
[The Ents'] part in the story is due, I think, to my bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill': I longed to devise a setting in which the trees might really march to war. (Source, pg. 212)
So Tolkien invents the Ents and the Huorns because ever since he was a kid, he wanted to see a book with a real tree army in it—not just a fake tree army, like in Shakespeare. We have to say, it says something about Tolkien's temper—and his self-confidence—that he uses his novel-writing to correct Shakespeare. Really, dude?
Plus, aside from the fact that it points to Tolkien's environmentalist sensibilities (for more on that, see our "Character Analysis" for Saruman), his use of the moving forest tells us one important thing about the coming war: this is a war that will be fought on all fronts in Middle-earth. Quite literally, no one is safe, and everyone—even the trees—must rally behind the cause of defeating Sauron, the Big Bad.
Mostly, lembas bread is a delicious snack. (We like to imagine that lembas tastes something like cinnamon graham crackers. Mmm.) It's a kind of bread made by the elves to sustain them over long journeys, and it keeps Frodo and Sam alive during their long trudge into Mordor. That's lucky, because there aren't exactly healthy eats available in the land of the Enemy.
But while lembas is mostly a practical detail in The Two Towers, it does have one moment of symbolic significance. Near the beginning of their acquaintance with Gollum, Frodo tries to feed Gollum some lembas. He chokes and spits it out:
"Ach! No!" he spluttered. "You try to choke poor Sméagol. Dust and ashes, he can't eat that. He must starve. But Sméagol doesn't mind. Nice hobbits! Sméagol has promised. He will starve. He can't eat hobbits' food. He will starve. Poor thin Sméagol!"
"I'm sorry," said Frodo; "but I can't help you, I'm afraid. I think this food would do you good, if you would try. But perhaps you can't even try, not yet anyway." (4.2.17-8)
Gollum cannot stand the taste of the lembas. The problem is that Gollum has grown so twisted that even the touch of elf products—of food made by such good folk—physically hurts him. Lembas may be just a food to Frodo and Sam, but it's a moral trial for Gollum, and it's one he fails miserably. Time to go scrounge some sushi.
The Phial of Galadriel, also known as Galadriel's jewel, also known as the star-glass, is a gift that Galadriel gives to Frodo as he leaves Lothlórien in The Fellowship of the Ring. It is a crystal that glows with the light of the elves' favorite star, Eärendil (the Morning and Evening star).
Like the name of Elbereth (which Frodo uses as a weapon against the Ringwraiths in The Fellowship of the Ring), the light from this star-glass is harmful to all things evil. Remember how Gollum can't eat lembas bread because it's an elf product and he is an evil creature? The light of the star-glass is like that times a million. It actually burns evil things.
But Frodo avoids using it for much of his trip into Mordor because a bright elf-star is not exactly going to go unnoticed in a place like the Dead Marshes. A shining beacon of goodness would kind of stand out in the middle of the Enemy's territory, right?
Where the Phial of Galadriel really comes in handy is Shelob's lair. When all seems lost as Shelob scuttles ever closer, Sam suddenly feels as though an image of the star-glass is taking shape in his own mind. With this inspiration, he shouts:
"Master, master!" cried Sam, and life and urgency came back into his voice. "The lady's gift! The star-glass! A light to you in dark places, she said it was to be. The star-glass!"
"The star-glass?" murmured Frodo, as one answering out of sleep, hardly comprehending. "Why yes! Why had I forgotten it? A light when all other lights go out! And now indeed light alone can help us." (4.9.27-8)
The star-glass hurts Shelob (though it isn't enough to kill her by itself). What's more, the star-glass seems to be Tolkien's way of representing some kind of holy spirit outside of any specific real-world religious framework. Sam is inspired to use the star-glass by a mysterious vision, rather than thinking of it in a practical way. And when he holds up the star-glass to fight Shelob, Sam feels someone speaking Elvish through him. It's as if the star-glass is some kind of direct access to divine powers. Now that's a handy present.
We'll say right now that Tolkien's relationship to war is incredibly complicated. After all, this whole series is about a giant war against evil, and at no point in the novels does that war seem unjustified. So how can it be an anti-war book?
As it turns out, Tolkien is not an end-justifies-the-means kind of guy. Like, at all. Wars may sometimes have justifiable goals, but if you start slipping over into hurting civilians or doing a lot of physical damage to the land, you've lost Tolkien's vote. We know, we know: if the Good Side doesn't take a stand, won't Sauron's evil prevail on Middle-earth? That's a question that needs answering, so let's take a look at some of the subtle ways in which The Lord of the Rings deals with Tolkien's philosophy of warfare.
Tolkien published The Two Towers in 1954. That is just nine years after the end of World War II. With the horrors of World War II still in mind, it seems totally reasonable to read the action of The Lord of the Rings series as an allegory (which means that the fictional plot and characters of this novel stand for specific things in real life).
If we do read The Lord of the Rings as an allegory of World War II, then the "hobbits" would be English soldiers joining with their European allies to go southeast to defeat Adolf Hitler in Germany. That's less of a leap than you might guess.
Think about it: The Lord of the Rings is the story of a group of people from the Shire, a place that Tolkien himself has compared to rural England: "But of course, if we drop the 'fiction' of long ago, 'The Shire' is based on rural England and not any other country in the world" (source, pg. 250). And these hobbits are part of an international coalition to go southeast to the land of Mordor to fight a Dark Lord. This Dark Lord is a tyrant who enjoys invading other neighboring countries. He wants to dominate the whole world, and he has to be stopped. All of this sounds horribly similar to the actual set-up of the Second World War.
Still, we have to admit that Tolkien has been definite about saying that The Lord of the Rings series is not specifically about World War II. He has pointed out that he started writing the series right after The Hobbit, before war with Hitler seemed inevitable. In his "Foreword" to the new edition of The Lord of the Rings series in 1965, Tolkien wrote:
The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If [World War II] had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied [...] In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.
In other words, if The Lord of the Rings were a direct allegory for World War II, it would have ended a lot less righteously and a lot more bitterly than the novels actually did end. If the War of the Ring were real-life World War II, Tolkien states, the Allies—the Good Guys, including Britain and the U.S.—would have used the Ring. That sounds like a pretty harsh thing for Tolkien to say (and it reminds us a bit of Boromir, doesn't it?).
So, if it's not about World War II, then what is Tolkien talking about here?
The thing is, Tolkien knew a thing or two about war. He served in the trenches in France during World War I (a hellish place to be). And during World War II, two of his sons, Christopher and Michael, also served in the British military (source, pg. 217). Christopher Tolkien was stationed in South Africa with the Royal Air Force, where his father wrote to him:
But it is the aeroplane of war that is the real villain. And nothing can really amend my grief that you, my best beloved, have any connexion with it. My sentiments are more or less those that Frodo would have had if he discovered some Hobbits learning to ride Nazgûl birds, "for the liberation of the Shire." (Source, pg. 115.)
Tolkien hated the idea of flying death machines (we're looking at you, winged Ringwraiths) dropping bombs on defenseless civilians. And the Allied troops used these weapons just as much as Hitler's troops did. Clearly, Tolkien felt that these bombings were an example of the Good Guys using the weapons of the Enemy, and potentially losing their morality as a result.
Obviously, Tolkien despised Hitler, whom he called a "ruddy little ignoramus" (source, pg. 218).
But while Tolkien hated Hitler, that doesn't mean he approved of the Allies firebombing ordinary Germans over the course of the war. (For an account of the awfulness of firebombing, check out our learning guide on Kurt Vonnegut's famous WWII novel, Slaughterhouse-Five.)
As Tolkien's greatest work, The Lord of the Rings preaches mercy and the possibility of redemption even for the worst of sinners (see our "Character Analyses" of Frodo in the modules for all three books in the trilogy for more on this theme). So it makes sense that Tolkien would strongly disapprove of the wholesale and impersonal destruction caused by modern warfare. He saw it firsthand.
That's why we say that The Lord of the Rings is an anti-war book, even if it's all about a justifiable conflict. All of the heroes in these novels have the opportunity for clean battle on a small enough scale that they can make good, moral decisions. And that's not something that Tolkien sees room for in current, real-life wars. In the quote from his Foreword that we included above, Tolkien points out that, "both sides [of the conflict in World War Two] would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt." Clearly, he is criticizing the widespread, greedy violence, not only of the Germans, but also of Britain and its Allies. According to Tolkien, war these days leaves no room for morality, and that's the very reason it's wrong.
It's personal, too. Tolkien had a terrible time during World War I, writing in the "Foreword" of The Fellowship of the Ring, "By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead." This trauma left him horrified with the cost of modern, total war. So while Tolkien's novels support the importance of resisting evil, even if it means fighting, they also absolutely do not approve of becoming evil yourself to counter the tactics of your enemy, which is a definite consequence of modern warfare.
After all, isn't that the lesson of the wizard Saruman's fall in The Two Towers? He begins as a wise wizard and a great leader of the Council of the Wise. But he studies the mind of Sauron with too much arrogance about his own ability to resist the Dark Side. In trying to battle evil, Saruman becomes evil himself, a traitor to everything he once believed.
And what's the point of fighting evil if you are going to sacrifice your own goodness to do so? It is these broad moral questions that Tolkien brings to his subtle portrayal of the "glories" of battle.
To be fair, some of the action in this story appears in dialogue. For example, Gandalf explains his battle with the Balrog in his own words, and Merry relates the destruction of Isengard directly to his friends.
But for the most part, we get the facts from an omniscient, unnamed narrator, thanks to his ability to roam around Middle-earth with fleet feet. Let's face it: our narrator is a huge know-it-all, and while this might annoy us on any given day, when we're reading The Two Towers, we're quite grateful that he's such a big nerd. For one thing, it gives us (fictional) historical insight on the current events of Middle-Earth. And for another, if you think about it, only an omniscient narrator would be able to unite the different narrative strands of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas; Merry and Pippin; and Frodo and Sam with a consistent tone and style.
By the start of The Two Towers Book Four, Frodo and Sam have not lost their will to continue on with their quest (at least, not yet), but they don't know how to get where they need to go. Enter Gollum: he may not be interested in helping Frodo or destroying the Ring, but he will totally tag along as long as Frodo is the Ring's master. Gollum and Frodo are proof of the old saying that necessity makes strange bedfellows. While Gollum might not be truly committed to Frodo's quest, he is called up by fate (or by Tolkien) to be a part of it.
As Frodo, Sam, and Gollum travel across Mordor, they face hardship after hardship after, well, hardship: the creepy, floating corpse-faces of the Dead Marshes; the huge armies entering the Black Gate to Mordor; the battles between the Southrons and the men of Gondor (between whom Frodo and Sam almost get caught); and the awkward confrontation with Faramir, brother of Boromir, who seems suspicious of Frodo's motives.
Add to these challenges the fact that Frodo and Sam can't trust their own guide, and their journey into Mordor gets even worse. But no matter how much they wish they could just turn back, these are two hobbits with a strong sense of duty: they press on, doing their best to get into the worst place in all of Middle-earth.
Finally, after all of these trials (and Sam's ever-growing suspicion), Gollum leads Sam and Frodo right to Cirith Ungol, the high pass through the mountains that should bring them undetected into Mordor. They climb up and up into the mountains, past the horrible city of the Ringwraiths, Minas Morgul. But just as they are about to enter the tunnel of Torech Ungol (the Spider's Lair), Gollum suddenly disappears. Frodo and Sam have no choice but to enter the dark hole on their own.
What is waiting for Frodo and Sam in Torech Ungol is, of course, Shelob, the giant spider. Shelob is the last obstacle Frodo and Sam have to pass in order to get into Mordor. Sam deals with this arachnid better than Frodo does. Filled with protective fury for Frodo and armed with Galadriel's jewel and his sword, Sam fights off Shelob until she scuttles off, too wounded to keep attacking. Frodo, sadly, just gets poisoned. A roving band of orcs pick up his unconscious body, separating Frodo and Sam for the first time since the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. Uh oh.
All of Book Four of The Two Towers has been geared towards getting Sam and Frodo into Mordor. Now that they have passed through Cirith Ungol (no thanks to their traitorous guide, Gollum) they have finally made it into Mordor. But what good has it done them? Frodo is poisoned, unconscious, and an orc captive. Sam is on his own with the Ring and Sting, trying to figure out a way to rescue Frodo from the orc tower where he is being held prisoner. We have to wait for The Return of the King to find out how Tolkien plans to resolve these obstacles.
Note: Obviously, there are two distinct plots in The Two Towers. There is the story of Aragorn and Company teaming up with the Riders of Rohan to face off against the troops of Isengard (which takes up the first half of the book), and there is the continuing Ring quest (which occupies the second half). But since we started The Fellowship of the Ring with the Ring quest, that's the plot line we are going to pursue here.
At the beginning of Book Four, Frodo and Sam finally catch Gollum spying on them. Frodo forces Gollum to swear an oath to lead Frodo into Mordor. From the get-go, things aren't too hot for our dynamic duo. Frodo and Sam need help getting into Mordor because they are completely lost in the rock fields of the Emyn Muil. But the guide they manage to find, Gollum, is only in it for the Precious. He swears on the Ring that he will help Frodo, but both the hobbits know that Gollum will stop at nothing to take back the Ring that has taken a hold on Gollum's mind.
Gollum leads Frodo and Sam towards Mordor, sure, but his motives appear unreliable, so Sam watches the little guy carefully for any sign of treachery. When he overhears Gollum arguing with himself in Book Four, Chapter Two, he discovers that Gollum is literally of two minds about helping Frodo with the Ring quest. On the one hand, Gollum's good side knows that he has promised on the Precious to help Frodo. Gollum's bad side doesn't care. He wants to lead Sam and Frodo up to a dark place where they will meet their deaths so that Gollum can steal the Precious back. Having overheard Gollum's arguments with himself, Sam knows to be suspicious, but we don't know yet whether Gollum's good side or bad side will win out.
When Frodo and Sam meet up with Faramir of Gondor, he seems like a huge help. Sure, at first they worry that Faramir is going to try to take the Ring, but (a) he doesn't, and (b) he gives them supplies to take with them into Ithilien. But if Faramir is friendly to Frodo and Sam (once he realizes that they didn't betray his brother Boromir), he is downright threatening to Gollum.
Faramir thinks Gollum looks evil (which is a bit prejudiced of him, we'd like to point out), and he almost gives his archers permission to shoot Gollum at the pool of Henneth Annûn. Frodo saves Gollum from this threat, but Gollum mistakenly believes that Frodo is conspiring against him with the men of Gondor. Convinced of Frodo's betrayal, Gollum's bad side starts to get the upper hand, leading to horrible, spidery consequences for Frodo and Sam.
… Shelob, that is. Despite the concerns about Gollum that Faramir expresses to Frodo, Frodo decides to keep following Gollum into Mordor. Gollum leads Frodo and Sam into a long, dark tunnel in the mountains bordering Mordor, to a place called Cirith Ungol. where the climax of the novel takes place. This mountain pass is the home of Shelob, a giant spider. And she really likes the taste of young hobbitses.
While Frodo is busy trying to fight Shelob, Gollum suddenly jumps on Sam out of the dark and tries to strangle him. This showdown finally answers once and for all if Gollum's going to be a good guy or a bad guy in this story. He may have promised Frodo to help, but in the end, Gollum is out for the Ring, and he'll murder our heroes to get it. Now, we just have to find out how Frodo and Sam are going to get away from Cirith Ungol to continue on with their quest.
After beating up Gollum in Cirith Ungol, Sam runs to confront Shelob. By holding up Galadriel's jewel and stabbing at Shelob's many (disgusting) eyes, Sam manages to scare Shelob away from Frodo. But Shelob has already bitten Frodo, leaving him dead(-ish). A despairing Sam decides to take up the Ring and go on to finish his master's quest before allowing himself to die.
Uh oh. After eavesdropping on some orcs, Sam finds out that Frodo is still alive. Yikes. Apparently all Shelob has done is paralyze Frodo, so she can save the good eatin' for later. Now Sam resolves to rescue Frodo, because he didn't really want to bear the Ring all that much in the first place, thank you very much.
The conclusion of The Two Towers is not much of a conclusion at all, to be frank. It merely sets the stage for the final installment of the Lord of the Rings series. On the minus side, Gollum isn't going to help our guys destroy the Ring. On the plus side, Frodo and Sam are both in Mordor, which is where they've been trying to go this whole time. Now, if only Sam can rescue poor Frodo from the orcs, they will be in good shape to continue the Ring quest. That's where The Two Towers leaves off, so you'll have to check out The Return of the King to finish off the story of the Ring.
Disclaimer: In this three-act plot analysis, we will follow the plot of the Ring quest in this analysis, since that is the journey that frames the whole Lord of the Rings series. For more information on Aragorn & Company's plot line, check out Aragorn's "Character Analysis" or the "Chapter Summaries" of Book Three.
At the start of Book Four, Frodo and Sam have left the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring behind to travel directly to Mordor. But here's the thing: they are two tiny hobbits in the middle of the howling wilderness. How do they know how to get into Mordor? They really want to finish the task of destroying the Ring, but they need a guide… someone who is familiar with the countryside… someone who knows the secret paths surrounding Sauron's stronghold… someone like… Gollum? Yes, that's right, everyone's favorite slimy creature from The Hobbit has now become a major character in The Two Towers. With the addition of Gollum to Frodo and Sam's traveling party, they seem set on the right road to Mount Doom to accomplish their quest.
During Act II of The Two Towers, the plot's conflicts seem the furthest from their resolution. For us, that's Book Four, Chapter Six, when Gollum blames Frodo for his capture by the men of Gondor. The thing is, throughout Gollum's travels with Frodo and Sam, we have been wondering about Gollum's motivation. Gollum is a tricky little sneak, and it wouldn't be hard for him to think of some way out of his promises to help Frodo. But Gollum does seem to have some vague memory of earlier and better times, when he was a better, less dishonest creature named Sméagol. Maybe his good side will win out?
The suspense over Gollum's decision comes to a close in Chapter Six, when Gollum thinks Frodo has betrayed him to Faramir and the men of Gondor. Gollum is wrong, but his new resentment of Frodo tips the balance over to Gollum's evil side. It's at this point that we know that Gollum is going to do something bad to the two hobbits. We just don't know what yet.
We find out what exactly Gollum is planning at the end of Book Four, when Gollum tricks Frodo and Sam into entering the lair of the giant spider, Shelob. Shelob ambushes Frodo while Gollum leaps out of the dark and tries to strangle Sam. Sam fights off Gollum, but Frodo does not do so well against Shelob; she bites him and leaves him paralyzed.
Using the light of Eärendil and his sword, Sam injures or perhaps even kills Shelob. Now, Sam and Frodo have indeed made it into Mordor, but Frodo has been poisoned by Shelob and taken prisoner by a party of orcs, leaving Sam alone and helpless in the western mountains of Mordor. So the Two Towers plot arc ends with Frodo and Sam closer to their goal but still stuck between a rock and a hard place. There are plenty of loose narrative threads for Tolkien to pick up in The Return of the King.
All of Tolkien's shout-outs in The Two Towers are to his own work. He mentions things that happen in his The Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit, and in his collection of fictional elvish mythology, The Silmarillion. After all, The Two Towers is supposed to be taking place in Middle-earth, not our Earth. It would probably break the illusion if there were tons of references to other people's books and movies.