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The Two Towers

J. R. R. Tolkien

Book III, Chapter 1

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Book III, Chapter 2

Summary — The Departure of Boromir

The narrative picks up just after Frodo and Sam have left the rest of the Fellowship and have headed toward Mordor to destroy the Ring. Aragorn races in pursuit of Frodo, but he finds it difficult to follow the hobbit’s tracks. Suddenly, Aragorn hears the voices of Orcs going into battle, followed by the battle horn of Boromir, the other human warrior in the Fellowship. Aragorn fears that Boromir is in danger. Indeed, the Orcs wound Boromir fatally, and when Aragorn reaches him, Boromir is nearly dead. Boromir confesses to having tried, unsuccessfully, to take the Ring from Frodo earlier. Boromir dies, and Aragorn weeps over his friend’s body.

Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf join Aragorn. Legolas regrets that he has been chasing the wrong group of Orcs, leaving Boromir without defense. Aragorn announces that Boromir is dead, having been killed defending the hobbits. Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn carry Boromir’s body on a bier to the river and launch a funeral boat. Legolas and Aragorn sing bits of prophetic songs that concern the death of Boromir and his role in the larger scheme of destiny.

Legolas asks where the hobbits are now, but Aragorn says he does not know. He explains that he sent Boromir to follow Merry and Pippin, but neglected to ask whether Frodo was with them. Aragorn now realizes his error. He speculates that Frodo separated from his colleagues because he did not wish to expose them to the dangers of the quest. Aragorn says that the Dwarves, Elves, and Men must stick together in their mission to find Frodo.

Analysis

The opening chapters of The Two Towers mark the first time in The Lord of the Rings in which the hobbits are absent from the narrative. The other characters—Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, and Legolas—constantly talk about the hobbits, however, and try to find them. This absence of the hobbits continues throughout much of The Two Towers, as the hobbits are at the center of everything that occurs, yet are kept offstage, leaving us in doubt about what is happening to them. Through Aragorn’s eyes, we study the tracks on the forest floor, hoping in vain for a glimpse of the hobbits. Tolkien, in structuring the narrative in this manner, keeps us in suspense about what is happening to Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry; our interest is inevitably aroused by creatures whom everyone is pursuing, but who are kept offstage. Ironically, it is the hobbits’ very absence that contributes to their status as the focus of the narrative, the center of the plot as bearers of the Ring.

Moreover, Hobbits in general are intriguing simply because of the fact that, as a race living in a sheltered corner of Middle-earth, they are relatively unfamiliar to many of the other inhabitants of Tolkien’s world. Although we as readers have been introduced to Hobbit lore and culture in The Hobbit and the Prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, many of the characters in The Two Towers—such as Éomer (whom we meet later)—are unclear about what exactly a hobbit is. Gimli must explain to Éomer that Hobbits are neither children nor Dwarves, but Halflings—a hybrid reference that makes us realize that even we, for all the background knowledge Tolkien has provided, do not really understand the true origin and nature of the Hobbit race.

As we have seen thus far in the novel, the Hobbits, unlike many of the other races and creatures of Middle-earth, do not appear to possess any special gifts or powers. Others have such special abilities, which Tolkien often showcases in dramatic moments of the plot. Legolas has the incredibly acute eyesight for which the Elves are famous. Gimli demonstrates the considerable Dwarf skill in wielding an axe. Aragorn displays the honor, courage, and masterful horsemanship that mark the best of the race of Men. Gandalf and his order of Wizards are immensely powerful; the Ents, the treelike creatures whom we meet later, have both great strength and seemingly limitless endurance and patience. The Hobbits—though they attract the close interest of all these other races, placed as they are at the center of the plot—display no comparable strengths or talents, making them rather unique among the canon of epic heroes.

Tolkien’s characterization of the villains in these opening chapters reveals much about the moral universe he has created. The evil of the Orcs is evinced not just by their cruelty, but also, we see, in their inability to fight in close union with each other. In the next chapter, Aragorn notes that some of the slain Orcs he passes on the battlefield appear to have been killed by fellow Orcs from a more northerly tribe. Unlike Gandalf’s alliance of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Men, who overcome long-standing animosities (most notably, that between Elves and Dwarves) to fight under vows of unity and solidarity, the Orcs kill each other in addition to their common enemy. This idea of evil as a tendency toward treachery is perhaps most notable in the character of Boromir. This noble and tragic figure dominates the opening of the novel; though he has fallen prey to the lure of the Ring, desiring it for himself, he appears noble and is mourned because he realizes the scope of his error, humbly repenting to Aragorn. The fact that Boromir is killed in battle so quickly after his attempt to commandeer the Ring suggests that his death may be a fated punishment of sorts for his lapse into selfishness and reckless ambition.

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Trying to trip up the lazy, or is it a mistake?

by CBCoulter, July 11, 2012

In the Sparknotes guide to The Lord of the Rings, on page 186 in the Character List for The Return of the King, Eomer is mis-identified as Theodan's son and heir. This is incorrect; Eomer is Theodan's nephew. Theodred was Theodan's son, and he was killed by Orcs, making Eomer, next in line for the throne, the new heir.

Is this error put in to trip up folks who aren't going to read the book, or is it a serious editing oversight?

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9 out of 9 people found this helpful

correction to summary

by tew1988, December 18, 2013

the plot summary says the hobbits meet an ent named Fangorn. Fangorn is the name of the forest, Treebeard is the name of the ent.

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1 out of 6 people found this helpful

Lacks attention to detail

by prancingpony2014, January 11, 2014

I've been reading through the series for the first time and using SparkNotes after each volume to help me process some of the larger literary elements I might otherwise miss. The SparkNote for FotR was very good, but this volume has many factual errors that make it distracting. Among these are: 1) the Orcs who capture Merry and Pippin heard a *rumor* about them possessing *something*, not a prophecy about them having the One Ring; 2) Gimli does not see a vision of Saruman, but all three see the figure in the woods with their own eyes and Ara... Read more

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12 out of 12 people found this helpful

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