The Two Towers

by: J. R. R. Tolkien

Motifs

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Songs and Singing

Many songs are sung in The Two Towers, and Tolkien nearly always provides us with the complete lyrics, set off in italics from the rest of the text. Songs are clearly very important in Tolkien’s novel. It is not enough for us simply to be told that a character sings about something; the author must tell us exactly what words are being sung. As a scholar of early cultures, Tolkien was aware that, before the advent of published books and the spread of literacy, culture and religion were largely kept alive through the singing of songs—not merely for entertainment, but to preserve the very memory of a culture. We find songs fulfilling such a function in The Two Towers, as when Fangorn sings about his childhood at the dawn of the world, preserving memories far older than any other living creature. Songs also have an emotional impact that stirs characters to action, as when Aragorn sings about Gondor in Book III, Chapter 2, concluding with the appeal to the others, “Let us go!” For Tolkien, songs represent everything noble and good about ancient cultural traditions.

The Natural World

In a sense, it is unavoidable that a fantasy novel set in ancient times, involving much wandering over meadows and mountains, focuses significant attention on the natural environment. Indeed, The Two Towers is full of forests, fields, pools, mountains, gorges, and caves—a loving attention to natural scenery that made Tolkien a favorite writer of the back-to-nature activists of the 1960s. Yet nature in The Lord of the Rings is more meaningful than merely a scenic backdrop to the plot. The state of nature closely mirrors the state of the world, reflecting the time of crisis leading to the War of the Ring.

In this regard, Tolkien borrows ideas from Romantic poetry, most notably the idea that the external world often reflects the minds of men. Where conditions are bad and conflict imminent, nature itself suffers visible scars. In Saruman’s corrupt realm of Isengard, for instance, the landscape itself has become corrupted: the realm is barren and desolate where it once blossomed with greenery. Similarly, the land of Mordor has become sterile with the presence of Sauron’s evil. Nature is a moral barometer measuring good and evil throughout Middle-earth, and is therefore a moral force itself, as we feel when we witness the trees of Entwash marching off to fight the evil Saruman. Even the very trees in the forest are part of the vast moral struggle taking place in Middle-earth.

Suspicion

One of the bleaker aspects of The Lord of the Rings is the omnipresent aura of suspicion. Such suspicion surfaces frequently enough to give many characters (and us as readers) a gnawing sense of distrust toward others, even those we think we know well. The Two Towers opens with the death of Boromir, an ally-turned-traitor whose example reminds the members of the Fellowship that even vows of solidarity cannot guarantee lasting commitment to their cause; even a trusted colleague is open to suspicion. This ominous atmosphere of suspicion haunts The Two Towers. It is reaffirmed when strangers like Éomer and Théoden bluntly inform the travelers that, in dark times like these, no one is above suspicion, and all guests must be considered potential enemies. The final betrayal by Gollum carries this lesson home with tragic force.

However, it is clear that the current pall of suspicion cast over Middle-earth is due to the malevolent activities of Sauron. Therefore, there is hope that if the Dark Lord is defeated, trust will return to the world. This possibility makes it crucial that the members of the Fellowship continue to trust one another, despite the treachery of Boromir. When we see Gandalf return with Éomer to reinforce the Fellowship’s forces at the storming of the Hornburg, we are pleased not just because the side of good triumphs, but also because we confirm that Gandalf is trustworthy—a far cry from the corrupted Saruman. We are left with the hope that a final victory of the Fellowship will reaffirm that trust is still a reliable presence in the world and will make suspicion no longer necessary.