The Two Towers is the second volume in JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings. In The Two Towers Tolkien continues the story begun in The Fellowship of the Ring and left at “The Breaking of the Fellowship” with exactly what the chapter title implies – a “breaking-up” of the companions.
Frodo and Sam have crossed the River Anduin and now follow their own quest. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, and Pippin travel in the opposite direction…west, though not entirely by choice.
The Two Towers was released near the end of 1954, approximately five months after the July release of the first volume.
The Fellowship of the Ring met with a much greater than anticipated popular reception (indeed, Tolkien’s publishers had expected the entire venture to lose money, and published it wholly on the premise that it was a literary work of art).
The reception for The Two Towers was similarly excellent, at least on the popular level, though many critics expressed their dislike of the story.
The Two Towers was something of a literary oddball at the time. It was published as the middle installment of a three-volume set…it provided no back story to bring the reader “up to speed”.
Instead, it simply picked up the narrative where The Fellowship dropped it, carried it forward until the end of “Book Four”, and then dropped it again…leaving the plot literally “hanging” mid-story.
Since that time, this style of publishing has become something of a literary convention of its own. Series of books, often of the fantasy genre, are published in this way on an almost daily basis. At that time, outside of the monthly “serial” novels that had pervaded the Victorian age, this was far from “business-as-usual”.
As I mentioned on the page detailing The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien had not intended for The Lord of the Rings to be published as three separate volumes. He had written the long epic with the express intention of having it published as a single, cohesive text.
Post-war paper shortages, combined with the prohibitive cost of publishing the text as a single entity, caused the novel to the split into three volumes.
Tolkien himself had divided the entire Lord of the Rings narrative to be sub-divided into six distinct “books”, merely a way of breaking up or sectioning the storyline.
Each final published volume contained two of these “sub-divisions”, The Two Towers, as the middle volume, contained books 3 & 4.
One of the major debates amongst Tolkien-fans and scholars is exactly which “two towers” are referred to in the title. Several “towers” play prominent roles in the book itself.
There are (in no particular order), Saruman’s tower of Isengard; the White Tower of Minas Tirith; the Dark Tower of Sauron; the watch-tower of Cirith Ungol; and the towers of Minas Morgul.
I tend to favor Isengard and Cirith Ungol as the referred towers for several reasons. The main action of the books tends to revolve around these towers. The Dark Tower and the White Tower of Minas Tirith both play much larger roles in the final volume, The Return of the King.
Furthermore, Tolkien had originally given names to each of the prospective books, some of which were scrapped in favor of the final names. One of the names Tolkien had proposed for the second book had been The Treason of Isengard, a title later used by his son Christopher Tolkien for volume VII of The History of Middle Earth.
Cirith Ungol is the centerpiece of the climax of “Book 4”, Frodo and Sam’s journey into Mordor.
Parts of The Two Towers were incorporated in Ralph Bakshi’s animated movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings which was released in 1978.
A large budget film adaptation was released in 2002 by New Line Cinema under the direction of Peter Jackson. Like its predecessor, The Fellowship of the Ring, the movie garnered almost universal acclaim and became one the largest-grossing films of the year.