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to keep Frodo entirely absent from Book III, directing our attention
instead to the wanderings of Merry, Pippin, and Aragorn’s group. Why
does the main protagonist of the novel not appear in Book III at
One reason Tolkien chooses to focus on characters
other than Frodo in Book III may simply be to create suspense and
reader involvement in the story. A missing major character in a
novel always arouses our curiosity, keeping us turning the pages
to find out what has happened to him or her. Furthermore, our lack
of awareness of the whereabouts of Frodo, and of the Ring as well,
makes us sympathize more closely with the other characters, who
are in search of Frodo. We are just as clueless as to his location
as the others are, and the similarity of our situations causes us
to feel as though we are part of the group pursuing the missing
Another possible reason for Frodo’s absence is more symbolic, related
to the idea of fellowship that gives the first volume of the novel—The
Fellowship of the Ring—its title. A constant focus on Frodo
throughout The Two Towers might give the mistaken
impression that Frodo matters more than the other characters—that
he is the main figure, while Sam, Pippin, Merry, Aragorn, and the
others are minor background characters. But Frodo is not any more
heroic than the others are. He is just one part of the whole, as
are all the members of the Fellowship. They work together, unlike
their enemies, such as Saruman and Sauron, who follow only their
own private ambitions. Focusing on the other characters throughout
Book III helps remind us that the Fellowship as a whole is more
important than any individual member.
are several figures of powerful evil in the novel, such as Sauron
and Saruman, the greatest and most immediate danger to Frodo is
arguably Gollum, one of the weakest characters in the novel. Why
do you think Tolkien has Frodo fall prey to such a small, pathetic
creature rather than a much more powerful evil force?
It is indeed noteworthy that Frodo’s downfall
comes in the guise not of the dark Lord of the Nazgûl or
the sinister Saruman, but in the somewhat ridiculous Gollum. Gollum
is not at all a majestic figure: Tolkien emphasizes the creature’s
absurd side by showing us how he constantly whines and pouts, and
how he squirms and squeals when he feels uncomfortable. As Gollum
seems more interested in getting fish in his belly than in ruling
the universe, we hardly expect him to be the one to cause Frodo’s
undoing. In part, Tolkien may choose Gollum as the culprit just
for the sake of our surprise. It is more thrilling to have the danger
come from an unexpected source than it would be to have Frodo attacked
by an Orc-chieftain or a Nazgûl.
Tolkien may also select Gollum to be Frodo’s undoing for
more psychological reasons. As we have frequently observed, Frodo
is a kind and generous soul, and Gollum preys upon Frodo’s kindness by
flattering the hobbit, making himself appear weak and vulnerable,
and pretending to be a loyal servant. Unlike the wary Sam, Frodo
is all too ready to see the positive side of Gollum and to try to ignore
the wickedness in the creature, of which he is nevertheless aware.
Frodo is not stupid, and he clearly knows Gollum to be capable of
horrid deeds, but his innate kindness leads him to trust a traitor.
In a sense, then, Frodo causes his own downfall, making him something
of a tragic hero whose fatal flaw is that he is too trusting. This
sort of downfall is more complex and interesting than if Frodo were
simply captured by a horde of Orcs.
arguably the primary adversary in The Two Towers, yet
we learn that he and Gandalf used to be allies. Why does Tolkien
choose to make Gandalf’s opponent a former colleague?
It is interesting that Saruman is not a mysterious
stranger from a wicked land, but is someone whom Gandalf knows well.
A faraway invader with evil intentions is easier to accept, as we
never expect the familiar to be as evil or mysteroius as the unfamiliar.
But Tolkien chooses to maximize the shared background of the two
wizards in order to show how little separates them, and how similar
they could still be. They are not that different, as we see from
the fact that Gimli mistakes Gandalf for Saruman when the wizard
appears in the forest. Both wizards are old men who wear broad-brimmed
hats and cloaks. This physical similarity is significant, reminding
us that Saruman could be like Gandalf if he chose to be. Gandalf’s
former affiliation with Saruman emphasizes the fact that magic is
magic, and that great Wizards may have similarly profound skills
even when they differ in the ways they choose to apply these powers. Good
magic and evil magic both derive from the same origin. Gandalf and
Saruman do not differ in blood, brains, or background—the only difference
is in the moral choices they make.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Two Towers!