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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

I have re-read The Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien, once again, and, this time, am blogging about the books. My post on The Hobbit is here, and that on The Fellowship of the Ring is here. There is, of course, a good Wikipedia article on the book, and also one on the Peter Jackson film based on it. I won't concern myself with the film here.

One of the most remarkable features of Towers is the resurrection (?) of Gandalf. In Fellowship, the last we see of Gandalf, he had fallen into an abyss, while in single combat with an evil being. In Towers, he appears, to the surprise and joy of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry and Pippin. But there is serious work to be done. Gandalf explains that he destroyed the Balrog, but that he was changed in the process. He does not describe what happened to him, but does indicate that the eagle who carried him to consult with Galadriel after his restoration said that he weighed a lot less. The Encyclopedia of Arda article on The Battle of the Peak between Gandalf and the Balrog unambiguously describes what happened to Gandalf as a resurrection, without using that word.

There are many moral choices confronting the characters. The one described in the most detail is the choice of Saruman, offered by Gandalf. Saruman, of the same order as Gandalf, was sent to earth, like Gandalf, to help elves, men, and others to withstand Sauron and other evil beings. But Saruman fell, mostly because he became fascinated with Sauron and his doings. As Elrond put it: ' . . . It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill.' J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, p. 278. In Towers, Gandalf asks Saruman if he will renounce his attempt to mimic Sauron, and rejoin the battle against evil. Saruman refuses. Gandalf tells Merry that, although he did not have much hope that Sauron would choose to change, he had to try, and that Saruman almost chose to join Gandalf. But he did not.


Pippin also was confronted with a choice:
'I wish I had known all this before,' said Pippin. 'I had no notion of what I was doing.'
'Oh yes, you had,' said Gandalf. 'You knew you were behaving wrongly and foolishly; and you told yourself so, though you did not listen. . . .' (about ) J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962. p. 204. Pippin took the palantír from Gandalf, while Gandalf slept. Gandalf's speech to him, quoted above, would be widely applicable now.

Frodo, Sam, and even Gollum have moral choices to make, as Frodo tries to enter Mordor so that the Ring can be destroyed, accompanied by faithful Sam, and by Gollum, who is anything but faithful. Among these choices are what to do with Gollum. Frodo does not have Gollum killed, even though Sam wishes that he would choose to do so. Gollum sees, in Frodo and Sam, something of what he might have become, but remains self-centered as he has been for centuries. Sam chooses to follow Frodo, no matter what.

There is a little evidence of providence in this book, but not as much as in Fellowship. Sam blurts out the nature of Frodo's quest to Faramir, then is immediately afraid that Faramir will take the Ring. Faramir doesn't, and tells Sam that perhaps he was supposed to impart this information.

There is a female character, Eowyn, who is of some importance, and a spider-like monster who is said to be female. But, as in the previous books, this one is male-dominated. There is an entire species, the Ents, who have been separated from the females for centuries, perhaps millenia. There is no appearance of female orcs. Toward the end of the book, two orcs discuss getting away from the "bosses" -- Sauron, Saruman and others, with a few trusty lads, to start up somewhere on their own. In this Wikipedia article on orcs, there is a statement that female orcs do not appear in any of Tolkien's writings, except in a letter, wherein he indicated that he realized that there must have been females.

The only occasion of worship in all three of the books is this:
Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.
'So we always do,' he said, as they sat down: 'we look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be. Have you no such custom at meat?' (284-5, to Frodo and Sam, who do not have any such custom.)

Thanks for reading!

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