Sunday, March 1, 2015

LOTR: The Two Towers

JRR Tolkien
Completed 2/22/2015, Reviewed 2/27/2015
5 stars

Whew!  I was relieved that in reading the Two Towers, I found it to be completely engaging.  In past readings, I thought it dragged compared to the other two books.  This time, I was more present, even for the battle at Helm’s Deep.  Usually, I fade out when reading battle scenes, but not this time.  I think it was because I had imagery from the films, so I was able to visualize the battle better.  And by making the battle more engaging for me, it made the book as a whole feel more chock full of exciting episodes and encounters. 

Note:  Because this is the second book of a trilogy, and because there is so much going on, there are some spoilers in the following summary.

Even though I made it through this book in fewer days than “Fellowship”, I actually slowed down my reading.  I spent more time reveling in the prose, drinking in the descriptions and dialogues, and treasuring the experience.  The story picks up as the fellowship is breaking up.  While Frodo and Sam have gone off on their own, Merry and Pippin have been captured by a large army of Orcs.  They escape when the Riders of Rohan attack the Orcs, hiding in Fangorn Forest.  There they meet one of my favorite characters, Treebeard the Ent.  Ents are tree shepherds.  They are some of the oldest creatures in Middle Earth.  They look like trees but walk and talk, and it takes a long time for them to say something.  It makes them seem like giant tree teddy bears, even though they could probably be classified as chaotic good in the gaming biz.  Merry and Pippin persuade Treebeard and the Ents to attack the evil wizard Saruman at Isengard.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas go in search of Merry and Pippin, but Gandalf redirects them to Rohan.  There, they join forces with King Theoden as they prepare for battle against Saruman’s forces at Helm’s Deep.  In the meantime, Frodo and Sam continue towards Mordor to destroy the Ring.  They encounter Gollum, using him as their guide through the evil terrain. 

It’s difficult to say much more than what I already said in my review of “Fellowship”.  The prose is still stupendous.  One point that comes to mind is the characterization of Legolas and Gimli.  With the breaking of the fellowship, they get a lot more to say and do than before, which fleshes out their characters much better.

A second point is the lack of female characters.  I think this is more obvious reading it 30 years later and having the film in my head.  Eowyn, Theoden’s niece, is only seen briefly.  Having read the whole trilogy before and knowing her role in the third book, it is sad that she has little character development here.  Aowyn, if my memory is correct, isn’t referenced in this book at all.  I’ll be able to speak more of this once I get to the Appendices in the “Return of the King”.  When I read the book in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I probably didn’t notice this nearly as much.  Now, my response to the lack of female characters is the same as when I read golden age SF:  it’s a sad reflection of the time and culture of the writers. 

My last comment is about Grima Wormtongue.  I often find it difficult to swallow characters whose names reflect some aspect of their personalities.  I mean, really, did a person with a name like Grima Wormtongue ever have a chance at a good, happy life?  His name fates him to his miserable existence.  Unfortunately, it is way too common in fantasy for bad characters to have names that signify their wickedness.  I think it would be an interesting exercise to come up with names that more reflect the attractiveness of the temptation of evil. 

Again, rating this book separately from the whole trilogy just seems wrong.  But I will give it five stars out of five.  I loved reading it, getting deeper into the looming apocalypse, loving the Ents once again, feeling the despair and heroism, being surprised by the complexity and depth, and knowing that there’s still more to come.

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