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The Two Towers

The Two Towers is the second volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's high fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. It is preceded by The Fellowship of the Ring and followed by The Return of the King.


The Lord of the Rings is composed of 6 "books", aside from an introduction, a prologue and 6 appendices. The novel was originally published as 3 separate volumes due to post-World War II paper shortages and size and price considerations. The Two Towers covers Books III and IV.

Tolkien wrote, "The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 & 4; and can be left ambiguous. Tolkien may have hoped to publish the entire novel in one large volume combined with The Silmarillion. At this stage he planned to title the individual books. The discarded title for Book III was The Treason of Isengard. Book IV was titled The Journey of the Ringbearers or The Ring Goes East.

A note at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and Tolkien's final illustration of the towers gives the pair as Minas Morgul and Orthanc. However, in a letter to Rayner Unwin, Tolkien instead gives Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol, but felt such an identification was misleading due to the opposition between Barad-dûr and Minas Tirith. Loosely, any pair from the set of five towers in the story could fit the title: the tower of Cirith Ungol (Cirith Ungol being a pass), Orthanc, Minas Tirith, Barad-dûr and Minas Morgul.

However ambiguous the title may be in the book, director Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Two Towers designates the title as referring to the towers of Barad-dûr in Mordor and Orthanc in Isengard. In dialogue written for the film, the wizard Saruman says:

"The World is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman ... and the union of the two towers? Together, my Lord Sauron ... we shall rule this Middle-earth."

In different teaser trailers for the film, voiceover narration by Gandalf and Galadriel directly states the towers as Barad-dûr and Orthanc.


Because The Two Towers is the central portion of a longer work, its structure differs from that of a conventional novel. It begins and ends abruptly, without introduction to the characters, explanations of major plot elements, or a strict conclusion. This is characteristic of the technical classification novel sequence, not a book series — though it and the other two volumes are not individual novels themselves. The first section follows the divergent paths of several important figures from The Fellowship of the Ring, but tells nothing of its central character, on whose fate so much depends, enabling the reader to share in the suspense and uncertainty of the characters. The narrative of the second part returns to Frodo's quest to destroy the evil that threatens the world.

Plot summary

Book III

As Aragorn searches for Frodo, he suddenly hears Boromir's horn. He finds Boromir mortally wounded by arrows, his assailants gone. Before Boromir dies he reveals that Merry and Pippin had been captured by Orcs in spite of his efforts to defend them, and that Frodo had disappeared after Boromir had tried to take the Ring from him. In his last moments, he charges Aragorn to defend his city Minas Tirith from Sauron. With Legolas and Gimli, who had been fighting Orcs themselves, Aragorn pays his last respects to the fallen hero and sends him down the Great River Anduin on a funeral boat. The three then resolve to follow the Uruk-hai captors. However, after some hardship, the hobbits escape when the Uruk-hai are attacked by the horsemen of Rohan, called the Rohirrim or "Riders of Rohan".

Merry and Pippin escape into the nearby Fangorn Forest where they encounter the giant treelike Ents. The Ents resembled actual trees, except they can see, talk, and move. These guardians of the forest generally kept to themselves, but after a long contemplation on whether or not the Hobbits were friends, or foes, their leader Treebeard persuades the Ent council to oppose the menace posed to the forest by the wizard Saruman as suggested by Merry and Pippin, as Treebeard realizes Saruman's minions have been cutting down large numbers of their trees to fuel the furnaces needed for Saruman's raising of his dark army.

Aragorn, Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf come across the Riders of Rohan led by Éomer, nephew of King Théoden. The trio learns that the horsemen had attacked a band of Orcs the previous night, and that they had left no survivors. However, Aragorn is able to track a small set of prints that lead into Fangorn, where they meet a wizard in white robes who they at first take to be Saruman, but who turns out to be their friend Gandalf, whom they believed had perished in the mines of Moria. He tells them of his fall into the abyss, his battle to the death with the Balrog and his resurrection and enhanced power. The four ride to Rohan's capital Edoras, where Gandalf rouses King Théoden from inaction against the threat Saruman poses. In the process, Saruman's agent — and King Théoden's advisor — in Edoras, Gríma Wormtongue, is expelled from the city. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas then travel with Théoden's troops to the defensive fortress, the Hornburg, in the valley of Helm's Deep, while Gandalf goes away to Isengard to talk to Treebeard. At the Hornburg, the heroes resist a full-scale onslaught of Orcs and Men sent by Saruman, and Gandalf arrives the next morning with the remains of the army of Westfold that Saruman's forces had previously routed. The orcs flee into a forest of Huorns, creatures similar to Ents, and none escape alive. The heroes then head to Saruman's stronghold of Isengard.

There, they reunite with Merry and Pippin and find the fortress overrun by Ents, who had flooded it by breaking a nearby dam of a great river, and the central tower of Orthanc besieged, with Saruman and Gríma trapped inside. After giving Saruman a chance to repent, who refuses, Gandalf casts him out of the Order of Wizards. Gríma throws something from a window at Gandalf and those with him. This object turns out to be one of the Palantíri (seeing-stones). Pippin, unable to resist the urge, looks into it and encounters the Eye of Sauron. Gandalf and Pippin then head for Minas Tirith in preparation for the upcoming war.

Book IV

Frodo and Sam discover and capture Gollum, who has been stalking them in their quest to reach Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring, for Gollum hopes to reclaim the Ring for himself. Sam loathes and distrusts him, but Frodo pities the poor creature. Gollum promises to lead the pair to the Black Gate of Mordor and for a time appears to be a true ally. He leads them through a hidden passage of the Dead Marshes in order to avoid being spied by Orcs. Frodo and Sam learn that the Dead Marshes were once part of an ancient battlefield, upon which the armies of men & elves fought Sauron. Upon reaching the Black Gate, Gollum persuades the hobbits not to enter, where they would have been surely caught. He tells them of a secret entrance to Mordor. Instead they head south into Gondor's province of Ithilien and are accosted by a group of Gondorian rangers led by Faramir, the brother of Boromir. Faramir learns from Frodo of his brother's death and of the plan to destroy the Ring, and allows them to go on their way.

Gollum leads them past the city of Minas Morgul and up a long, steep staircase into the lair of an enormous spider named Shelob. Gollum hopes to get the ring from Frodo's bones after Shelob is done with him. The hobbits escape Shelob in her lair and mistakenly assume that they are safe. However, Shelob sneaks up on Frodo. Sam attempts to warn Frodo but he is jumped by Gollum. Shelob stings Frodo in the back of the neck and he collapses to the ground.

Sam fends off Gollum and Gollum runs off back towards Shelob's cave. Sam also manages to fend off Shelob. After seeing Frodo lifeless and pale, Sam assumes that Frodo is dead and debates chasing Gollum and abandoning the quest in favor of vengeance. Yet, Sam resolves to finish the quest himself and takes the Ring, thinking that Frodo is dead. But when Orcs take Frodo's body, Sam follows them and learns that Frodo is not dead, but only unconscious, and now a prisoner. The book ends with the line, "Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy."

Chapter Summaries

Book III

  • I - The Departure of Boromir - Aragorn finds Boromir wounded by many arrows, who tells him that orcs took the Hobbits, and they were still alive. Boromir does not tell Aragorn which Hobbits were taken. Boromir dies, and his body is set down the stream on a funeral boat. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli decide to follow the orcs.
  • II - The Riders of Rohan - They follow the trail of the orcs and find several clues as to what happened with the hobbits, then meet a company of Rohirrim led by Éomer, who tell them that the orcs were destroyed and none were left alive.
  • III - The Uruk-hai - This chapter begins further back in time, telling the story of Merry and Pippin being captured by the orcs. The orcs are constantly arguing, for they serve different masters. The orcs camp near Fangorn, and Grishnákh attempts to take the hobbits away with him. The hobbits escape as Grishnákh is killed by an arrow.
  • IV - Treebeard - Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard the Ent. The hobbits meet another Ent, Quickbeam. The Ents decide at the Entmoot after three days, to attack Isengard.
  • V - The White Rider - The chapter goes back to the story of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, who discover signs that the hobbits escaped the orcs into the forest. They meet an old man, who they at first presume to be Saruman, but who turns out to be Gandalf. Then they set off for Edoras.
  • VI - The King of the Golden Hall - The four of them reach Edoras and talk with King Théoden, curing him of the depression induced in him by Wormtongue, who flees Edoras.
  • VII - Helm's Deep - Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are at Helm's Deep with the Rohan army, defending the people of Rohan from attack by the army of Saruman. Gandalf arrives with reinforcements, and Saruman's army is defeated.
  • VIII - The Road to Isengard - They travel to Isengard, and see that it has been destroyed. At Isengard they find Merry and Pippin.
  • IX - Flotsam and Jetsam - Merry and Pippin tell the story of how the Ents attacked Isengard, in amongst the ruins or 'flotsam and jetsam' of Saruman's fortress.
  • X - The Voice of Saruman - Saruman has a very persuasive voice, which he almost uses to persuade Théoden and the others until Gandalf casts him from the order of wizards. Wormtongue throws a hard object out of the tower, which narrowly misses Gandalf, and turns out to be Saruman's palantír (the seeing stone through which he communicated with Sauron).
  • XI - The Palantír - Pippin picks up the palantír and is seen by Sauron, and sees the Enemy's plans to attack Minas Tirith. Gandalf explains the origin of the palantír as Gandalf sets off for Gondor with Pippin riding on Shadowfax.

Book IV

  • I - The Taming of Sméagol - Gollum joins Frodo and Sam, after Sam captures him.
  • II - The Passage of the Marshes - They pass through the Dead Marshes, and evade detection by a Winged Nazgul.
  • III - The Black Gate is Closed - They reach the gate of Mordor, Gollum persuades them not to go in, and to head south.
  • IV - Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit - They reach the pleasant country of Ithilien. Title refers to the rabbits Gollum catches that Sam cooks; the smoke from the fire causes them to be seen by men of Gondor led by Faramir, and they witness an attack on a Southron army, and an Oliphaunt.
  • V - The Window on the West - Frodo and Sam are captured by Faramir's men and they are blindfolded on their way to Henneth Annûn. Frodo and Faramir discuss Boromir's death.
  • VI - The Forbidden Pool - Faramir shows Frodo they have found Gollum at the Forbidden Pool. Frodo saves him from being shot by Faramir's men.
  • VII - Journey to the Cross-roads - Frodo, Sam and Gollum leave Faramir. They travel to the crossroad of the road east between Osgiliath and Minas Morgul, and the north-south road from the Black Gate to the southlands, where they see the decapitated statue of a king.
  • VIII - The Stairs of Cirith Ungol - They climb the Stairs of Cirith Ungol and witness an army leaving Minas Morgul.
  • IX - Shelob's Lair - The two hobbits encounter Shelob the spider.
  • X - The Choices of Master Samwise - Frodo is taken by the orcs. Sam listens to the orcs talking about him, which is how he finds out that he is still alive, having thought that Frodo had been killed by Shelob.


Some of the events of The Two Towers and Fellowship of Ring were depicted in a 1978 film of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi.

In 1999, The Lifeline Theatre in Chicago presented the world premiere of The Two Towers, adapted for the stage by James Sie and Karen Tarjan, directed by Ned Mochel.

In 2002 the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, directed by Peter Jackson, was released. Both The Two Towers and the succeeding film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King abandoned the parallel storytelling of the volume in favour of a more chronological presentation. The first chapter from the volume actually appears at the end of Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Later events of The Two Towers involving Frodo and Sam were filmed for Jackson's The Return of the King. Other significant changes were made in the plot line, partially to give each of the characters a story arc in which they could develop and change. Although all three of Jackson's films differ from their source material, "The Two Towers" arguably contains the most major alterations. There was initial concern over using the title "The Two Towers" due to the real-life association with the World Trade Center and the terrorist attacks the previous year. The WTC was also commonly called The Twin Towers and due to that similarity, the filmmakers were reportedly considering alternate titles. It was decided, eventually, to retain the original title.

Various games also adapt The Two Towers, including online role-playing games like The Two Towers Mud and graphically-oriented console games.


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