The quest continues–I finished reading The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien this weekend, continuing my journey through the very-intimidating Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed Fellowship pretty well (review here), and I think I liked Towers better. Tolkien is still not exactly a high-speed car chase of a book, but there is more of a sense of things happening in the second book. I’m not sure why I think that, when the entire second half is Frodo, Sam and Gollum wandering about…but still, it felt like at least they were going somewhere. And I actually really liked that half!
The big surprise for me here (after seeing the movie) was how divided the book is. It’s really two separate novels–the first half focuses on Merry and Pippin with the Ents (tree shepherds) and Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn and Gandalf fighting against Saruman’s forces, most notably in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The other surprise was that Helm’s Deep was Chapter Seven of Twenty-one, instead of the big, final, epic battle!
It was still pretty epic, though. I’m not one for war novels, and I can’t say that I normally enjoy a major battle (swordfighting is different). However, Tolkien (and Peter Jackson) pulls it off very nicely. He sounds some interesting notes here. Helm’s Deep emphasizes the bravery and glory of the defenders, fighting off mindlessly evil Orcs. But then we get a different side in the second half, in a battle between Men. Sam sees an enemy soldier killed, and wonders who he is and what his story is and whether he believed in his cause too. It brings much more humanity and realism to the warfare. I’ve heard Tolkien was a soldier in World War I, so I imagine he knew of what he wrote.
After that somewhat heavy observation, the other big surprise for me was that Legolas and Gimli actually have a competition in the book over how many Orcs each can kill at Helm’s Deep. By this point, I was assuming that anything funny in the movie would not be in the book…
This first section of the book also introduced us to Eowyn, and I was happy to see another female character. She didn’t have much more screen time (page time?) then Arwen, but slightly more, and I thought Tolkien did a better job of painting her character even in a short time. From Tolkien, that’s about all I can hope for with a female character…
I loved Merry and Pippin and the Ents. That was much funnier in the movie (of course) but was pretty fascinating in the book too. In typical Tolkien-fashion, we got the whole history of the Ents, these incredibly long-lived creatures. It was (of course) a divergence from the main plot, but I found their history very interesting too.
The second half of the book brings us over to Frodo and Sam, on their quest to get into Mordor to destroy the One Ring. They’re guided for much of the book by Gollum, and he is such a wonderful character. He’s so distinct, so weird and strange, so interesting to read. Maybe it was the focus on a smaller number of characters, but I felt like Frodo, Sam and Gollum all emerged much more strongly in this second book. I was especially happy to see a lot of it from Sam’s point of view.
With the exception of Boromir, I like all the characters from the original Fellowship (although that may be more Jackson’s influence than Tolkien’s), but if I had to choose a favorite, I think it’s Sam. It was Frodo when I watched the movies back when they came out, and I still like him a lot, but on this go-around, I think it’s Sam.
I think it’s Sam because he’s not the strongest or the smartest or the heroic type who ought to be on a quest. But he’s so loyal and he’s so plucky and he’s going to stick by Frodo right into the depths of Hell–literally. He’s not a saint; he doesn’t like Gollum and he makes mistakes. He’s a Hobbit, but he’s very human. And because he’s in many ways the most ill-fitted for the adventure, I think he may be the bravest too.
The fact is, I (and probably most people reading the book) am much more the “sit at home and garden” type, rather than the “stride through the wilderness seeking evil” type. I’m never going to be an Aragorn, but if life thrusts challenges at me, I would hope to be a Sam.
I also love that Sam is so aware of stories. He keeps thinking about the epic tales, and how their adventure is just like one…but feels so different when you’re actually in it!
My favorite moment of both books so far…is a spoiler, because it’s near the end, but you’ve been warned…is when Sam believes that Frodo is dead, and resolves that he will take the Ring into Mordor himself. He doesn’t want to do it, he’s afraid to do it, it’s not what he ever signed up to do, but it’s what needs to be done, so he’s going to do it. Tolkien makes a U-turn about two pages later and it turns out it’s not the path Sam needs to take, but still. In isolation, taken as itself, that one moment is just so beautiful.
Yeah. So I kinda love Sam.
In fact, I’m glad I’m writing this review, because the more I think about the book, the more I think I liked it. I mean, I knew that–I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed reading it and didn’t have any big complaints (just still a little bit slow…) but as I think about parts of the book more, the more I think I really quite liked it!
And I have Return of the King sitting on my DVD player, and the book on top of my reading stack, so we’re good to go for the final installment…
Author’s Site: http://www.tolkiensociety.org/
Buy it here: The Two Towers