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 (UK)
21 April 1955 (US)
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. 3,250 copies were printed in the first UK edition, with another 1,000 for the American edition.

Title and structure[edit | edit source]

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

Tolkien intended The Lord of the Rings to be published as one volume and believed that it was naturally divided into six "books." However, at the urging of his publishers, Allen and Unwin, he agreed to release the work in three volumes to be sold separately. Even so, Tolkien considered the division into three volumes to be artificial and was dissatisfied that the "not really related" Books III and IV would have be published together.[1]

On 24 March 1953, Tolkien wrote to Rayner Unwin with ideas for the titles of each volume. At that time, he suggested that each volume be named for the two books it contained. For the middle volume, this was "The Lord of the Rings Vol. II: The Treason of Isengard, and The Ring goes East." As an alternative in case Unwin found the previous to be unsuitable, Tolkien suggested "The Ring in the Shadow."[1]

A galley proof of the combined table of contents for the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings from around that time includes a list of contents that gives the title of the middle volume as "Vol. II The Treason of Isengard and The Journey of the Ring-bearers," being a combination of the then-current draft titles for Books III and IV.[2][3] None of these individual book titles would ultimately be used, but decades later, "The Treason of Isengard" was recycled as the title of the seventh volume of The History of Middle-earth.

On 28 July 1953, Unwin wrote to Tolkien proposing that the overall title The Lord of the Rings be abandoned and that the second volume be named either "The Ring in the Shadow" or "The Shadow and the Ring."[4] Tolkien replied on 8 August 1953, stating his opposition to having individual volume titles without an overall title. By that time, Tolkien had forgotten the volume titles he had sent in his letter of 24 March, and made a new suggestion of "The Shadow Lengthens" for volume two.[5]

Finally, on 17 August 1953, Unwin met with Tolkien in person; later that day, Tolkien wrote to Unwin, partially to summarize and put to paper the results of their discussion. This letter contains Tolkien's final suggestions that the overall title The Lord of the Rings be retained and that volume two be titled The Two Towers.[6] Hammond & Scull note that it is unclear as to whether these volume names were first suggested by Tolkien or Unwin.[4]

At that time, the identities of the titular towers themselves were unclear in Tolkien's mind. In his letters[6] and sketches,[4] Tolkien considered several sets of towers, including Minas Tirith and the Barad-dûr, and even the possibility of leaving the matter ambiguous. Most pairs 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 and Unwin this note, which appears at the end of most editions of The Fellowship of the Ring:[4]

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 depicting these towers for the volume's dust jacket. He sent it to Allen and Unwin on 23 March 1954, but it would ultimately go unused, as Tolkien and the publishers agreed to use variants of the Fellowship illustration for the dust jackets of all three volumes.[4]


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 | edit source]

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 | edit source]

Orthanc by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • 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 | edit source]

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 | edit source]

  • 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.

Adaptations[edit | edit source]

A trailer for The Two Towers film interprets the title as referring to the alliance between Orthanc and Barad-dûr.[7]

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.


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
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
Of Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth · The Fall of Númenor
Not of Arda Short stories
and poems
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · The Adventures of Tom Bombadil ·
Letters from Father Christmas · Mr. Bliss · Roverandom ·
Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Less known academic works A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse · The Old English Exodus
Letters The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Books by other authors
Biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Reference works The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide
Scholarly studies The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer · Tolkien's Library
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
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Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
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Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
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Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
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