Study Guide

The Two Towers Themes

  • Good vs. Evil

    The Fellowship of the Ring is pretty clear-cut about who is bad (the Ringwraiths, the Balrog) and who is good (all those shiny elves). But in The Two Towers, it gets a little more complicated. You have good people who give in to temporary temptation (Boromir), good people who fall for bad advice (Théoden), and even bad people who serve the good side (Gollum, at least for a little while). Tolkien's work has gotten a lot of criticism over the years for being too black-and-white about moral issues. But we think The Two Towers depicts a more interesting moral world than just Dark versus Light. While this novel still shows the fight between forces of good and evil, Tolkien allows for some grey areas to develop which gives The Two Towers a nice dose of complexity.

    (Click the infographic to download.)

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. How does Tolkien attempt to portray a grey area between Good and Evil? What moral ambiguities does he present in The Two Towers? Do any of the characters seem particularly morally ambiguous?
    2. The Two Towers includes a lot of both moral corruption and redemption. For example, Saruman starts good and grows evil, while Boromir makes a major moral mistake and then redeems himself. Under what conditions in The Two Towers can you become good or become evil? Are there characters who are naturally good or evil and who cannot change?
    3. What characters represent the extremes of good and evil in The Two Towers? What does their characterization tells us about the novel's understanding of the best and worst human traits?
    4. If Sauron is so evil, how did he get that way? Do you think not knowing why the Big Bad is so, well, Bad interferes with the moral issues in the story?

    Chew on This

    Greed is the root of all evil in The Two Towers. The novel presents the relatively conservative view that everyone should be happy with what they have.

    Tolkien emphasizes the importance of moral redemption by making the case that acting good in the moment is more important than starting out good.

  • Love

    In The Two Towers it is love that makes Frodo leave behind the Fellowship so they do not get hurt by the Ring's evil; it is love that keeps Sam following Frodo into Mordor when Frodo says he doesn't have to come; it is love that sends Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli after Merry and Pippin; it is love that allows Gimli and Legolas to develop their funny, bickering friendship; and it is love that leads Éomer to help Théoden as best he can, in spite of Wormtongue's lying. If Sauron uses negative emotions like jealousy, pride, and hatred as weapons, then love is the main weapon in the Good Side's arsenal. It's the glue that keeps them together, and—more importantly—going.

    Questions About Love

    1. How does the story of the Ents and the Entwives represent the difficulties of married life? Does Tolkien mean this to be a cautionary tale about how husbands and wives treat each other? Why or why not?
    2. How does the representation of Éowyn's love for Aragorn compare to, for example, Sam's love for Frodo? Why does Tolkien choose to represent her unrequited love for Aragorn at all? What does this small hint of romantic love add to The Two Towers
    3. How does the love between two friends like Legolas and Gimli compare to the love of a servant to his master, such as Sam's love for Frodo? Does Sam's love for Frodo remain based on their master/servant relationship? Or does their relationship begin to change?
    4. What are all the different kinds of love we see in The Two Towers

    Chew on This

    The true measure of a character's moral value in The Two Towers is not just the love that he has for others, but also the love that others have for him. For example, Boromir is a flawed character, but the affection that the good-guy Faramir shows toward his brother reminds us that at the end of the day, Boromir was a good guy.

    By choosing to rescue Frodo rather than to continue the Ring quest on his own, Sam reaffirms his commitment to serving Frodo instead of achieving heroic fame for himself. Sam's final decision reestablishes the master-servant bond between Frodo and Sam.

  • Loyalty

    There is a huge difference in The Two Towers between loyalty on the Good Side and loyalty (or the total lack of it) on the Bad Side. Loyalty keeps the good people in this book together. But because the people on the Bad Side are, by definition, untrustworthy, they cannot be loyal to each other. Of course Saruman is going to betray Sauron at the first opportunity he gets, because Sauron would not hesitate to hurt Saruman if it could earn him some advantage. That's the problem with being evil: you can't rely on any of your friends.

    Questions About Loyalty

    1. Both Frodo and Théoden grant mercy to characters who may, technically, not deserve it: Gollum and Wormtongue respectively. Does this mercy result in gratitude or loyalty from these characters? Why or why not? What does Gollum and Wormtongue's response to mercy suggest about their characters?
    2. To whom or to what is Frodo loyal? How do Frodo's loyalties influence his decisions in The Two Towers
    3. How does Sam demonstrate his loyalty to Frodo in front of other characters? Are there times when Sam's loyalty to Frodo becomes a problem for Frodo's quest? Why or why not? 
    4. How do the characters maintain their loyalty now that the Fellowship has split up?

    Chew on This

    Boromir's final act of making peace with Aragorn before he passes away is an example of true loyalty, which is the central virtue of the moral of The Two Towers.

    The disloyalty among the orcs of Isengard and Mordor just goes to show: Sauron can't triumph, because his troops are always looking out for number one—themselves.

  • Isolation

    A few characters in The Two Towers have a bit of an isolationist bent (we're looking at you, Éomer and Treebeard). They simply don't want to become involved in the war with Sauron; sure, they can fight if they have to, but they would much rather live their lives freely and do their own thing. Sadly, Sauron's world-conquering ambitions make that freedom to choose absolutely, positively impossible. By the time we get to The Two Towers, isolation is no longer an option for any of Middle-earth's peoples—not even the hobbits, who, thanks to Bilbo, are thrust into the thick of things. While lots of people might want to stay isolated from all of these terrible world events, they generally can't. The sad fact is, there's no turning back now, for anyone in Middle-earth.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Why does Théoden resist getting involved in the war against Sauron? Why does Treebeard also hope that Fangorn can remain isolated? What changes their minds? 
    2. How does isolation become a moral problem for characters like Saruman or Gollum? What does isolation drive them to become? What does The Two Towers suggest is the danger of isolation?
    3. How does carrying the Ring itself become an isolating experience? How does Sam attempt to counteract this isolating effect of the Ring? Why does the Ring use isolation as one of its tools to harm Frodo?

    Chew on This

    While The Lord of the Rings is arguably an anti-war series overall, The Two Towers makes a case for the importance of maintaining a military defense, and, in the case of Isengard, offense, too.

    In The Two Towers, characters can only maintain their morality by being in a community with others. Just look at the oh-so-isolated Saruman and Gollum. They become immoral because they no longer have friends.

  • Suffering

    It sounds callous to say, but it's only natural that as the War of the Ring heats up in The Two Towers, some of the characters in these books are going to suffer, big time. What makes this unavoidable suffering even worse is that Sauron actively enjoys making people hurt. He's not just trying to conquer the world as a means to an end. He really enjoys the whole mess of war. When Pippin picks up the palantír and looks into Sauron's fiery eye, Sauron laughs at Pippin's pain. And through the One Ring, Sauron continues to cloud Frodo's mind and to twist his thoughts every minute of every day. Sauron is not just a killer; he is also a torturer. And as the trilogy continues, we see more and more evidence of this hateful love of suffering in all of his choices.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. Frodo's suffering is probably the most profound of all the characters in The Two Towers, but how do Merry and Pippin suffer during this novel? What are their responses to suffering? How does suffering change them (if it does at all)?
    2. How does Sam attempt to relieve Frodo's suffering as they trudge through the wastes outside of Mordor? What effect does Frodo's suffering have on Sam's own state of mind?
    3. What are the limits of Sam's sympathy? Does Sam ever sympathize with Gollum's apparent suffering, and if so, when? Why does Sam often appear unable to recognize Gollum's suffering?
    4. Does Gandalf suffer? Sometimes, he almost seems above it all, doesn't he?

    Chew on This

    Éowyn has suffered a great deal, but she's so cold and unapproachable that we can't, as readers, sympathize with her suffering.

    The more Frodo suffers, Sam must go stronger to compensate. While it may appear that Frodo is Ring-bearer, carrying the Ring is actually a two-hobbit job.

  • Power

    It goes without saying that Sauron desires power. Why else would he try to conquer all of Middle-earth? But even if Sauron is a power-hungry maniac (and he definitely is), the interesting thing about him is that he lacks the ability to make new things on his own. There appears to be a limit on Sauron's power even at the start of the War of the Ring. Don't get us wrong. Sauron can certainly still do tons of horrifying damage with the power that he does have. But in The Two Towers, it's clear he'll never truly achieve the kind of god-like domination he seems to crave.

    (Click the infographic to download.)

    Questions About Power

    1. What does Saruman hope to achieve by turning to the dark side and to Sauron? What does he use his newfound power to do? What is the difference between Saruman's wizardly power and Gandalf's?
    2. What's up with Saruman's voice? How does Saruman use the enchanting power of his marvelous voice for his own benefit? 
    3. Treebeard's frequent digressions into naming and the origins of names reminds us of the power of names in Middle-earth. Which characters in The Two Towers have multiple names? Why might they have multiple names? Do their names give them power?
    4. How does Frodo use the power of the Ring to control Gollum? Are there moral problems to this approach? 

    Chew on This

    Tolkien's negative representation of the stone walls and hot furnaces of Isengard suggests his strong suspicion of the power of industry and its effects on the green things of the world.

    When Sam finally realizes that the best part of him is his heart, it shows that he has totally given up any dream of power. You can't deeply love someone, like he does Frodo, and want to control them at the same time. That makes Sam surprisingly qualified for Ring-bearing.

  • Youth

    The elves in The Two Towers may look eternally young, but the characters who really symbolize youth—the innocence, the cheerfulness, the lack of experience—are clearly the hobbits in general and Merry and Pippin in particular. Their ability to take pleasure in ordinary things, their upbeat attitude, and their general exuberance provide a pleasant contrast to the dark goings on about Middle-earth. And not just any of the hobbits, since Frodo is getting older and older-seeming as the Ring starts to bother him more. Without their cheer, this book just might turn into Mordor-Mordor-doom-doom-doom on repeat. But while the presence of the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings keeps it from getting too epic and too serious, they serve a greater thematic purpose, too. In the face of great evil, the hobbits manage to maintain their sense of joy and good, and that's what makes them heroes.

    Questions About Youth

    1. What is the difference between being ageless and being actually young? How do the hobbits differ from the elves?
    2. What youthful traits do Pippin and Merry present? How does their youthfulness help to advance the plot of The Two Towers? What role does their youth play in the tone of the novel?
    3. What evidence do we have that Gollum remembers his own pre-Gollum youth? How does he feel about his own earlier days? Does Gollum's youth have a moral value for his character? 
    4. The Ents are super old. So why are they able to get along with Merry and Pippin so famously?

    Chew on This

    Pippin and Merry's youth gives them access to serious characters like Treebeard and Théoden, who might be more suspicious of unknown adults.

    In The Two Towers, Gollum's recollections of the folk tales and customs of his younger days prove that Sméagol—Gollum's good side—is rising to the surface under Frodo's care. Too bad Sam had to go muck it up.

  • Race

    The differences between Middle-earth beings may not look like the differences between people in our world. In fact, they're much more stark. Nevertheless, the interactions between all these creatures in The Two Towers—humans, elves, hobbits, and orcs—remind us of race relations in our world, too. It's clear from the get-go that these characters use race as a way to identify each other. But the race of their fellows also creates certain expectations; elves are good, hobbits are inexperienced, orcs are evil, men are proud. Are these fair assumptions? Probably not, but in any case, all of Middle-earth seems to share them.

    (Click the infographic to download.)

    (Click the infographic to download.)

    (Click the infographic to download.)

    Questions About Race

    1. What evidence does Tolkien give of regional variation among the different races of Middle-earth? What differences are there within peoples like the elves or the orcs? 
    2. What tensions exist between the good peoples of Middle-earth—the elves, dwarves, Ents, hobbits, and men? How does Tolkien represent these tensions in The Two Towers? Which characters seem to overcome these interracial struggles? How do they do so?
    3. Is there real cooperation among the bad peoples of Middle-earth (the evil men, the orcs, and the Ringwraiths)? How do these evil peoples work together against the forces of good? Do they cooperate successfully? Why or why not? 
    4. Are the inherent differences Tolkien creates between the peoples of Middle-earth racist? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Tolkien's depiction of the groups of Middle-earth is racist. The differences between the peoples of Middle-earth, which he describes as inherent, suggest unfair prejudice.

    In The Two Towers, one of the central distinctions between good peoples like elves or Ents and bad peoples like the orcs is that the good folk can work together in a common cause while the evil folk cannot overlook their differences long enough to cooperate productively.