The Two Towers

by: J. R. R. Tolkien

Study Questions

Further study Study Questions

Tolkien chooses 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 all?

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 hobbit.

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.

Though there 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.

Saruman is 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.