Welcome back! Last time, I took a much overdue trip down memory lane with the Fellowship of the Ring. Hope you liked the trip too! And now, we come to the second volume in the tale of Lord of the Rings, which just happens to be my favorite installment in the series.
In addition to being my first exposure to Tolkien’s work, it was also action-packed and brought the plot to a fuller fruition, leaving the reader at a crucial point where things are both poised on a razor’s edge, yet with the knowledge that the greatest actions are still yet to come.
Oh, and I trust people noticed the artwork last time, which is the famed work of renowned Rings artist Alan Lee. In the full-length compendium of LOTR, where all six books appeared in a single volume, Lee was the man who provided the illustrations that brought Tolkien’s literary vision to life. I hope you all liked it last time, because there’s plenty more in this installment! I guess Lee felt particularly inspired by this volume…
Aptly named The Two Towers, the title of this volume refers to the that events contained within revolved around the towers of Isengard and Barad-dûr. This included the deployment of Saruman’s Orc armies against neighboring Rohan, and Sauron’s first movements towards Minas Tirith and the Kingdom of Gondor.
Book III: The Treason of Isengard
This book story picks up with the aftermath of the Fellowship’s dissolution. Upon returning to their camp, Aragorn learns that Frodo and Sam have set out alone, that Boromir has been killed in battle, and that Merry and Pippin have both been taken prisoner. He is joined by Gimli and Legolas, who both lament the breakup of their union, but are given heart when Aragorn declares that they yet have a purpose: to save Merry and Pippin from capture.
After committing Boromir’s body to a boat and setting it down the river Anduin, they set out in pursuit of the Uruk-hai. Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin begin to contemplate their escape. They notice that two camps exist amongst the Orc – the Uruk-hai of Isengard and the Uruks of Mordor. They take their time and exploit the differences between them, but are ultimately set free when the Riders of Rohan attack and eliminate the Orcs. They flee into Fangorn forest shortly before Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas meet Eomer and the Riders and learn of how they killed the company of Uruk-hai .
Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin are taken in by an Ent named Treebeard. After learning about the Ents, an ancient race of tree-creatures, they tell Treebeard of what’s happening outside his door and ask for his help. He agrees to hold a council with the most ancient of the Ents and discuss what their involvement, if any, will be. After lengthy discussions, Treebeard manages to convince the others that they must go to war since Saruman is cutting down their forest to fuel his engines of war.
Aragorn, Gimil and Legolas track Merry and Pippins into the forest, where they spot a white wizard whom they assume is Saruman. When they reach him, however, they realize it is Gandalf, that he returned to Middle Earth after his ordeal with the Balrog and is now far more powerful. They then ride together to Edoras and the Golden Hall to meet with Theoden, King of Rohan, to ask for his help.
Once there, he finds that Theoden is a shell of his former self, and that his adviser, Grima Wormtongue, appears to be in control of the Kingdom. Gandalf reveals him of being Saruman’s spy, and unable to deny it, he spits on the floor and runs away. Theoden now realizes that the spell Saruman has been holding over him has now passed and he is once again strong and in control of his faculties. He agrees to help them and orders the Rohirrim (Riders of the Mark) to mobilize.
After rallying all available forces from Edoras, Theoden orders his army to march to the fortress of Hornburg in Helm’s Deep. Gandalf meanwhile rides out to find Erkenbrand and the rest of his riders, whom Saruman’s forces had previously routed. They ride to Helm’s Deep where they find the local garrison undermanned, but ready and willing to fight. After preparing the defenses, the entire host of Saruman’s Uruk-hai take the field and begin laying siege.
Initially, things go well for the defenders who are able to thwart attacks along the wall and against the Keep itself. However, things soon turn when Saruman’s forces deploy “devilry” to explode a hole in the wall. With the wall breached, the Uruk-hai surround and lay siege to the Keep, and all seems to have been lost. However, Aragorn addresses the Uruk-hai and warns them to withdraw before the sun rises; an offer they reject.
When the sun does rise in the east, Aragorn and the defenders of the Hornburg mount one last assault. The horn of Helm Hammerhand is blown, defeaning the Orcs, and the riders charge out to meet them. Just then, they see Gandalf emerge on the hills overlooking Helm’s Deep with Erkenbrand and the rest of the Rohirrim. They charge upon the Orcs faltering lines and break them, routing those that survive into the forest of Huorns, where they are slaughtered by vengeful Ents.
Together, Theoden, Gandalf, Aragorn and the rest ride to Isengard to confront Saruman. When they arrive, they find that an army of Ents have overrun Saruman’s defenses and have him cornerned in the tower of Orthanc. They are reunited with Merry and Pippin and all seems well. However, he warns them that Saruman still has much power and will try to use his “voice” to command them.
Despite Saruman’s arrogance and power, he is unable to sway Theoden into a peace settlement. Instead, Theoden demands Saruman’s surrender, and Gandalf urges him to renounce the power of the Ring and return to the light. When Saruman tries to walk away, Gandalf becomes angry and orders him back. In a display of his newfound power, he cast Saruman out of the Order of Wizards and the White Council and breaks his staff, thus destroying his power.
Grima, who is trapped inside with Saruman, throws something at Gandalf but misses. Pippin picks it up and is told to hand it over to Gandalf, as he knows that this object is one of the palantíri (seeing-stones). Pippin, unable to resist, looks into it the stone that night and encounters the Eye of Sauron. Luckily, he emerges unharmed and Gandalf realizes this might work to their advantage. Gandalf leaves with Pippin for Minas Tirith to oversee their preparations for the coming war while Théoden, Merry and Aragorn remain behind to muster Rohan’s forces to ride to Gondor’s aid.
Book IV: The Ring Goes East
After making their way across the Anduin River, Frodo and Sam begin walking through Emyn Muil, the impassable rocky mountains that seem to go on forever. They realize that Gollum is still following them, and lay in wait for him. Frodo manages to subdue Gollum with Sting, and they tie him up with elvish rope and take him prisoner. However, Frodo is pursuaded to let him go when Gollum agrees to help them find a way into Mordor.
Though Sam distrusts Gollum with a passion, Frodo feels sympathetic to him because his experience with the Ring mirrors Frodo’s. In time, Gollum also begins to trust in Frodo and remembers his old self and even his old name, Smèagol. Ultimately, Frodo hopes he can save him from the Ring’s influence.
After leading them out of Emyn Muil, he shows them the path through the Dead Marshes to avoid orc patrols. They learn that these Marshes are so named because they were the field of battle during the War of The Last Alliance. It was here that they defeated the forces of Sauron before moving on to lay seige to Barad-dur.
As such, the Marshes are littered with the bodies of dead men, elves and orcs, and haunted by their spirits. Gollum warns them not to state into the green lights, which are apparently the emanations of the dead themselves. Unfortunately, Frodo does just that and becomes drawn in, and is nearly lost in the process. Luckily, Gollum manages to save him, surprising both Sam and himself.
When they reach the Black Gate, they witness forces loyal to Sauron entering from the South. These men are called Southrons and are arriving by the thousands. Gollum warns them not to enter there and tells them of a secret entrance that lies the south through the province of Ithilien, which is still in the hands of Gondor.
When they arrive, the see another company of Southron men accompanied by the massive war Oliphants. The company is attacked by a group of unseen Rangers and Gollum flees just before Frodo and Sam are captured. The Rangers are led by a Faramir, Boromir’s brother, who informs them of Boromir’s death.
Faramir and the Rangers lead Sam and Frodo into a secret hideout and begins questioning them. In the course of things, Sam accidentally reveals to Faramir that Frodo carries the One Ring. Much to their surprise though, Faramir doesn’t want to take it from them. Unlike Boromir, he understands the dangers of the Ring and approves of their plan to take it to Mount Doom where it will be destroyed.
Later that night, Gollum is found diving for fish into the sacred pool, the penalty for which is death. Faramir’s archers are about to kill him, but Frodo admits that he is there companion and he need him to to get into Mordor. Though Frodo has saved his life, Gollum appears to feel distraught and betrayed by the incident. The following morning Faramir gives them some provisions and sends them on their way, but warns them that Gollum may know more about the secret entrance (Cirith Ungol) than he has been telling them.
Gollum leads them past the city of Minas Morgul and up a long, steep staircase of the Tower of Cirith Ungol. At the base of it lies a long tunnel which he claims leads into Mordor, one which the orcs don’t know about. His betrayal is soon revealed when an enormous spider named Shelob sneaks up on them. Gollum attacks Sam and prevents him from warning him before he’s stung. Sam manages to fend off Gollum and back into the spider’s cave where he manages to scare off Shelob with the light of Erendil.
After seeing Frodo lifeless and pale, Sam assumes that Frodo is dead and becomes despondent. He debates abandoning the Quest in favor of chasing after Gollum and killing him. However, he resolves to finish the Quest himself and takes the Ring from Frodo’s body. Unfortunately, a group of Orcs show up and take Frodo’s body away, and reveal in the process that Frodo is not in fact dead, but only unconscious. This is Shelob’s way, he learns, which is to paralyze her victims with poison before draining their blood. The story ends with Sam resolving to travel to Minas Morgul and save Frodo!
As I might have said already, this book was my favorite of the three. The action starts immediately with the introduction of the Rohirrim and the march to war. And of course, things didn’t let up with the seige at Helm’s Deep, the decision of the Ents to get involved, and the reigning in of Saruman. But at all times, the action is made all the more poignant by the fact that everything is steeped in ancient lore and genuine cultural influences. I for one couldn’t get enough of Rohan’s culture and its Anglo-Saxon nature, nor the constant intrigue Tolkien sowed into the plot with all the spying, lying, influence and plotting.
And then things calm down just a bit for Frodo and Sam’s journey, which is characterized by fear, suspicion, and an in-depth analysis of Gollum’s split personality. Here is perhaps one of the best elements of the series, where we find a creature so perverted by evil and twisted by centuries of isolation that he seems barely human. But at the same time, there is still a spark of humanity that burns within him, one which Frodo feels he must harness and breathe new life into.
And of course, there’s Frodo’s own transformation as he becomes more and more consumed by the Ring’s power. Though they are already bound by mutual necessity, it is clear that Frodo and Gollum are bound by shared experience a swell. This gives another one of the story’s arguably best elements, which is the way the reader is left hoping that Frodo can endure, and torn between hoping for Gollum and suspecting him of treachery. This is a perfect device, in that it mirrors the dichotomy between Sam and Frodo perfectly.
On top of all that, there was more development in terms of the stories deep background and geography of Middle Earth. Seeing the Southrons for the first time was very intriguing, and reminded me just how inspired Tolkien’s literary creations are. Whereas the people of Rohan were clearly inspired by the Anglo-Saxon example, the Southrons clearly represented the armies born of West Asia that threatened the real-life “Men of the West – the Persians, the Carthaginians, and the Saracen Turks.
It is perhaps for this reason, or the fact that I read the book first this time, that I found the movie quite inferior. All throughout, they made extensive changes which I felt were obvious, transparent, and just plain unnecessar. For example, several scenes were added that never took place in the book for the simple reason that Peter Jackson and the script writer’s felt it needed more drama. Aragorn never fell on the way to Helm’s Deep, there was no pitch battle between Saruman’s riders and the Rohirrim, and the battle at Hornburg was hardly as hopeless as they made it out to be.
And let’s not forget the cheese element that was pervasive in the film. In this installment, Arwen and Elrond had no page time, and yet they forced them both in with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Really, what was the point of those long, drawn out scenes where she and her father are discussing the consequences of her life choices, aside from ensuring they still had screen time? Perhaps it’s just the fact that I know they weren’t in the book, but it just seemed annoying and forced. The first film seemed to excel for me by leaving stuff out, not adding stuff in.
And that scene at Helm’s Deep where Legolas rides a shield like it’s a skate board down the steps? I know they felt the need to throw the kids the bone, but that was just plain cheese! Much of the action was pervaded by that in fact, like when Gimli told Aragorn to “toss him”, an obvious reference to the terrible sport. Whereas in the first movie Gimli was a brusque and tough soul, by this movie his antics have degenerated into cheap comic relief, and Legolas’ stunts begin to border on the completely unrealistic.
But I aint done yet! There were also the million and one changes that they made to the script which I couldn’t help but notice, being a newly graduated Rings geek. For one, the confrontation at the Golden Hall was all wrong! Saruman was not exercising direct control over Theoden, Grima was the one whispering poison in his ear to keep him weak and complaint. That was far more realistic than the scene were Gandalf “shoves” Saruman out of him. And what’s more, the scene totally did away with the way Gandalf gets mad in the book, summons lightening, and scares the shit out of Grima. That was literary gold!
In fact, the best parts in the series are where Gandalf get’s mad and the whole world begins to shake. And they left that part out too, where Gandalf grows tired of Saruman’s bullshit and breaks his staff. Not only did they not even show it in this movie, they made the scene where it happens totally calm and boring. But that’s something for next review…
The next big change I saw was in how Theoden marched to war. In the book, he agrees and mobilizes his forces to go to Helm’s Deep because its a natural fortification that stands in the way of Saruman’s advance. But in the movie, he is hesitant and rides to Helm’s Deep because Edoras is “vulernable”. That made no sense because anyone who has access to a map of Middle Earth will see that Edoras is much farther away from Isengard than Helm’s Deep, and its a freaking walled city. How is it vulnerable? If anything, marching his people through the wilderness to an old fort that’s located practically on Isengard’s doorstep was stupid strategy. But that’s such a Rings geek point to make!
Oh, and the way the Elves marched to their rescue? Heartfelt, but never happened. Theoden had a garrison at Helm’s Deep, and though it was understaffed and made up of too many old men and youths – recall the line “too many winters or too few” – they stood against the Uruk-hai on their own. They were rescued in the end, but by Erkenbrand and the Rohirrim, who had not riden away out of anger at Theoden, but because they had been routed by the Uruks while fighting in the Westfold.
Still not done! There was also the extended part where Faramir decides to take the Ring and makes Frodo and Sam ride with them to Osgiliath. This never happened, and it totally pitched Faramir as some unappreciated child who was eager to earn his father’s respect. True, his father didn’t appreciate him, but his whole character was built on the fact that he was the wiser of the two brothers and knew how to resist the Rings allure. And that scene where he and his Lieutenant roll out the map to discuss strategy? So obvious! It was nothing more than an excuse to give the audience a gander at what Middle Earth looks like and illustrate their strategy. Obvious, but I guess it was necessary seeing as how many viewers hadn’t read the book.
And unlike the first movie, in this case, they cut out the ending instead of dipping into the next book to strengthen it up. This includes the portion where Gandalf, Aragorn and Theoden ride to Isengard and where Frodo is attacked by Shelob. Some would say they needed to make cuts for the sake of time, but that doesn’t hold seeing as how they added in scenes which never took place in the book. Cutting real material that was well worth watching just to make room for obligatory scenes of Arwen crying and the forced drama of Aragorn nearly dying just seems silly.
Okay, all done! Next up is the final installment, where things come together with climactic war scenes and the last, desperate attempt to destroy the Ring. Stay tuned for The Return of the King!