If you haven’t reread The Two Towers, it is a surprisingly quick read. It is more strangely paced than Fellowship, but that’s because of the core concept of the trilogy: true victory is not possible why the Ring exists.
The Rohan/Fangorn portion is where we start and it moves quickly, but sensibly, I think. There’s a lot modern about Lord of the Rings’ story structure, which makes sense, as all modern (or at least prior to contemporary, which has been infected by D&D structures, such as they are) fantasy stories have their roots in it.
The gist of the first part of The Two Towers flows as you remember it. It flows more sensibly, though, than the movies, and of all the books I think this one has the biggest contrast with the Jackson movies, but it’s the important details that are different.
Aragorn is showcased here and you really start to get him more, though his point of view is not as present as Gimli’s. Why Aragorn is the king and why he commands such intense loyalty becomes clear. He’s very driven, but very human, and really just wonderful. Again, self-doubt doesn’t enter into it. He crossed that bridge decades ago.
Rumor has it that Treebeard is based on C.S. Lewis, or at least owes a lot to him. The man had a big personality, apparently, and Tolkien interacted with him a lot during the writing of the trilogy. Lewis was a tall man with a booming voice and he was, I gather, loquacious. If Treebeard is a general portrait of Lewis, it’s a much kinder portrait than he gave of himself in his own works. That portrait can be found in That Hideous strength, I think, in the form of Mark Studdock, who is deeply flawed.
(That Hideous Strength is a good read and anyone who complains about its grotesque ending is, well, as the saying goes “Throw a rock into a pack of dogs, and the one that yelps the loudest is the one that got hit.” Lewis knew well the thinking and society he skewered in that book, as he used to be a part of it. It deserves what it gets in the story. Alternatively, the complainers are snobs, but they’re less vocal or common in this case.)
I enjoyed the Fangorn scenes. Of all the things that didn’t make it on screen, I don’t understand why Treebeard’s house didn’t. It’s clever and wondrous, a fairy tale set but with more dignity than we often assign such things these days.
Let me tell you, a girl could fall in love with Shadowfax. That horse…he takes back to my horse-crazy days. If you want to understand why horse people go nuts for horses, read closely the descriptions of Shadowfax.
Eomer is much better in the books than the movies. The movies just really did him a disservice in terms of the importance of his role (he and Aragorn develop a war buddy relationship) and character. Eomer would never have talked to his sister like he does in the movies.
Helm’s Deep plays out much like it does in the movie, actually, but how they get there and what’s going on are different and make more sense. The refugees huddled in the Glittering Caves (another mysteriously missing movie environment) are the bulk of Rohan’s people, but Edoras and Eowyn do not evacuate to Helm’s Deep; they’re set up in Dunharrow, which is closer.
Our heroes arrive in the middle, even the end, of the war with Isengard and Rohan, not the beginning. Rohan is already on the back foot largely because Theoden is brainwashed, depressed, and enchanted- all the same thing here- into not caring. Eomer is not exiled but rides with the king and the three hunters to Helm’s Deep and fights in the battle there. The riders who show up with Gandalf to turn the tide are actually the forces of the lord of Helm’s Deep, who had taken his army to fight Isengard and evacuated the people to the fortress. They’d been scattered following their defeat.
The explosion at the weak point of the wall, the mud, the darkness, the counterstrike against the ram at the main gate, all that happens, though not so comic-booky as the movie. The elves do not show up and it makes sense why they wouldn’t. Lothlorien and Mirkwood are facing their own battles and are essentially under siege. I’m not sure why Jackson did this; something sort of similar happens later, with The Grey Company sent by Elrond, but that’s in the next book.
For Sam and Frodo, a lot happens. Sam and Frodo’s story does an excellent job of depicting where they are and the feel of it, all while still moving. It is generally stranger and has more (usually bad) magic in it than the first half of the book, Ents notwithstanding.
Ithilien is an interesting environment and plot point. The Window to the West is yet again another movie environment that is not featured that should have been.
Faramir was shortchanged in the movies, though not as badly as Eomer and the extended edition makes it better. He’s got some of the best lines in the series and hardly any of them are in the movies.
Shelob is terrifying. I have fought many giant spiders in video games and Shelob in these books is worse than all of them.
Side note, I consider it a sign of modern decay that sexy Shelob (that article and site is very silly, but they have some good points in this case; some, many are still nuts) is a licensed thing that exists. “We wanted to explore this character”. The problem is, Shelob’s character is gross animal appetite. That’s it, that’s all there is. The reason Gollum takes the hobbits there is so he can get the Ring which she won’t take because she does not care about that sort of thing or any kind of power play. She cares about food. Those games are so ridiculous…
What’s interesting and often missing in any depiction or discussion is Sam’s beautiful Gethsemane moment when he takes the ring. Frodo didn’t have one in the same way, partly because the real meaning of the Ring and the horror of carrying it was not obvious. It isn’t that Frodo didn’t know it was dangerous and going to be hard, but he didn’t know the degree, not in a real sense. Sam does because Sam has seen what the Ring has done to Gollum and Frodo now. It’s already been a hellish journey, and now he must choose to carry the torturous Ring. It’s such an amazing scene. Sam has always been wonderful before this, but from this point forward he really shines.
Sauron is often dismissed as too simplistic, blah blah blah. Part of this is because evil ultimately isn’t complex, in fact, and Sauron has been evil for a very very very long time, but it also comes from…well, the movies. Sauron is scary in the books. Frodo’s dialogue in the movies, about how he is “naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes”, is the only point where the real terror of Sauron comes through. He is stronger than every one of the heroes by vast orders of magnitude, more clever, with more resources. He conquers and tempts and his most used and perhaps most effective power is a supernatural despair. Saruman is a joke by comparison. Sauron is the being who laid low the great and holy kingdom of Numenor, tricked it into turning itself into a horrible pile of filth so horrible that it must be washed away by God Himself. There is none upon Middle Earth who can hope to overcome him by force or cunning.
It’s only by playing to Sauron’s greatest psychological blind spot, his failure to understand the willingness to surrender power, that there is any hope for victory.
Well, that’s my thoughts on the Two Towers. Next up, The Return of the King.