The Two Towers

From Tolkien Gateway
The name Two Towers refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see Two Towers (disambiguation).
The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings 1954-v2.png
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Released11 November 1954
FormatHardcover; paperback; deluxe-edition; audio-book
Preceded byThe Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
Followed byThe Return of the King (1955)

The Two Towers is the second of three volumes in The Lord of the Rings. It is preceded by The Fellowship of the Ring and followed by The Return of the King. The Two Towers was originally released on 11 November 1954 in the United Kingdom.

The volume is divided into two books, Book III and IV.

Title and structure[edit]

Tolkien's design for the dust-jacket of The Two Towers as submitted to Allen & Unwin.

When it was decided that The Lord of the Rings would be published in three volumes to be sold separately, it became necessary for each volume to have its own title. By mid-1953, Tolkien was still considering various draft names, including "The Treason of Isengard, and The Ring Goes East" and "The Shadow Lengthens,"[1] but he settled on "The Two Towers" no later than 17 August 1953, on which date he wrote to Rayner Unwin with his names for the three volumes as they would ultimately be printed.[2]

At that time, the identities of the titular towers themselves were unclear in Tolkien's mind. In his letters[2] and sketches,[1] Tolkien considered several sets of towers, including Minas Tirith and the Barad-dûr, and even the possibility of leaving the matter ambiguous. Any pair from a set of five towers in the story could plausibly fit the title: Cirith Ungol, Orthanc, Minas Tirith, Barad-dûr, and Minas Morgul.

Tolkien settled on the final identities of the towers no later than 23 February 1954, on which date he sent to Allen & Unwin this note, which appears at the end of most editions of The Fellowship of the Ring:[1]

The second part is called THE TWO TOWERS, since the events recounted in it are dominated by ORTHANC, the citadel of Saruman, and the fortress of MINAS MORGUL that guards the secret entrance to Mordor.

Tolkien produced an illustration that depicts these towers for the volume's dust jacket. He sent it to Allen & Unwin on 23 March 1954, but it would ultimately go unused, as Tolkien and the publishers agreed to use variants of the Fellowship of the Ring illustration for the dust jackets of all three volumes.[1]


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 satisfying conclusion. 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 themselves. The narrative of the second part returns to the hero's quest to destroy the evil that threatens the world. While the first section tells of an epic battle, the struggles in much of the second section are internal.

Synopsis — Book III[edit]

Hobbits Merry and Pippin escape from the Orcs who captured them when the orcs themselves are attacked by the Riders of Rohan. Merry and Pippin head into nearby Fangorn Forest where they encounter treelike giants called Ents. These guardians of the forest generally keep to themselves, but are moved to oppose the menace posed to the trees by the wizard Saruman, who has been chopping down trees in the forest to fuel fires for his furnaces.

Aragorn, Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf, tracking Merry and Pippin, come across the riders of rohan who tell them that they attacked the orcs and left no survivors. However, Strider is able to find small prints and they follow these into Fangorn, where they meet a white wizard who they at first believe to be Saruman, but who turns out to be their wizard 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 reawakening. The four ride to Edoras and persuade King Théoden that his people are in danger. In the process, Saruman's agent in Edoras, Gríma Wormtongue, is expelled from the city. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas then travel to the defensive fortification Helm's Deep while Gandalf goes north in search of Éomer's men in Rohan to bring as reinforcements. At Helm's Deep, they resist an onslaught of Orcs and Men sent by Saruman, and Gandalf arrives the next morning with the Riders of Rohan just in time. The fleeing orcs run into a forest of Huorn half-tree, half-ent creatures and none escape. Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf and the Rohan army then head to Saruman's stronghold in Isengard.

There, they reunite with Merry and Pippin and find the city overrun by Ents, who have flooded it with the nearby river, and the central tower of Orthanc besieged, with Saruman in it. After giving Saruman a chance to repent, Gandalf casts him out of the order of wizards. Wormtongue throws something from a window at Gandalf and those with him. This turns out to be one of the palantíri. Pippin, unable to resist the urge, looks into it and has an encounter with Sauron. Gandalf and Pippin then head for Minas Tirith in preparation for the upcoming war.

Book III chapters[edit]

  • I · The Departure of Boromir — An uncertain and troubled Aragorn finds Boromir wounded with with many orc-arrows; Boromir tells him that orcs had taken Merry and Pippin alive. Boromir dies, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli send his body down the stream on a 'funeral boat.' After much debate, the 'Three Hunters' set forth to track the Uruk-hai who had captured Merry and Pippin, rather than pursuing Frodo and Sam, who were making their way to Mordor.
  • 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. They camp near the site of the orc massacre.
  • III · The Uruk-hai — This chapter begins further back in time, telling the story of Merry and Pippin being captured by the orcs, who are led by Uglúk from Saruman's army, and Grishnákh from Mordor. The two sides of orcs are constantly arguing. The orcs camp near Fangorn, and Grishnakh attempts to take the hobbits away with him. The hobbits escape as Grishnákh is killed from an arrow. They flee into Fangorn Forest as the orcs are attacked by the men of Rohan.
  • IV · Treebeard — Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard the Ent, who calls an Entmoot, a gathering of Ents in Derndingle. 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. They set off for Edoras.
  • VI · The King of the Golden Hall — The four of them reach Edoras and talk with King Théoden. Wormtongue is kicked out of the city. Théoden gives Gandalf the horse Shadowfax.
  • 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.
  • 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 the city.
  • 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 the palantir of Orthanc from the tower, which misses Gandalf, and is picked up by Pippin.
  • XI · The Palantír — Pippin picks up the Palantir and is seen by Sauron. Gandalf explains the origin of the Palantir; Gandalf sets off with Pippin for Minas Tirith, riding on Shadowfax.

Synopsis — Book IV[edit]

Frodo and Sam discover Gollum stalking them as they try to reach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. Gollum hopes to reclaim the Ring. Sam loathes and distrusts him, but Frodo pities him. Gollum promises to lead them to a secret entrance to Mordor and for a time appears to be a true ally. They first stop at the Black gate of Mordor, where Gollum persuades them not to go in, where they would have been surely caught. They head south into Ithilien, and are captured by Faramir, the brother of Boromir. Faramir learns from Frodo of his brother, with Faramir expressing his belief that Boromir is dead. Frodo tells of the plan to destroy the ring, and Faramir allows them to go on their way. Gollum leads them into the lair of Shelob, an enormous spiderlike creature, who inflicts her poisonous bite on Frodo. Sam resolves to finish the quest himself and takes the Ring. But when Orcs take Frodo's body, he follows them and learns that Frodo is not dead but unconscious and now their prisoner. The last line of the book is "Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy."

Book IV chapters[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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 tells Faramir of his brother Boromir's part in the Fellowship.
  • 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.
  • VIII · The Stairs of Cirith Ungol — They witness an army leaving Minas Morgul.
  • IX · Shelob's Lair — encounter with 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.


A trailer for The Two Towers film interprets the title as referring to the alliance between Orthanc and Barad-dûr.[3]

Some of the events of The Two Towers were depicted in a 1978 film of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi and the 2002 The Two Towers by Peter Jackson. Both films abandoned the parallel storytelling of the book in favour of a more chronological presentation. The first chapter from the book actually appears at the end of Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring. Later events of The Two Towers were filmed for Jackson's The Return of the King. Various games also adapt The Two Towers, including online role-playing games like The Two Towers MUD and graphically-oriented console games.

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, Truth or Consequences: A Cautionary Tale of Tolkien Studies (archive), footnote 50
  2. 2.0 2.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 140, (dated 17 August 1953)
  3. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Trailer (Galadriel: "There is a union now between the Two Towers: Barad-dûr, fortress of the Dark Lord Sauron; and Orthanc, stronghold of the Wizard Saruman.")

The Lord of the Rings
Foreword · Prologue · The Fellowship of the Ring · The Two Towers · The Return of the King · Appendices · Index
A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
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Of Arda Authorized by
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