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.
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.