Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reflections: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Reading The Fellowship of the Ring is a bit of a slog.  Author J.R.R. Tolkien appears to have felt compelled to spend an inordinate amount of time building his world of fantasy--its rules, limitations, and possibilities.  I enjoyed the book enough, but I certainly didn't love it.  The Two Towers is a marked and wonderful improvement over The Fellowship of the Ring.  Indeed, it appears Tolkien felt able to focus on story and characters in his second book of his epic trilogy.  Whereas in the first book the characters feel wooden and somewhat devoid of real emotion, The Two Towers presents passionate characters and genuine emotion in its storytelling.

It's impossible, of course, to not compare The Two Towers book to its film adaptation, which I thoroughly enjoyed when I saw it in theaters and still enjoy it today.  The narrative structural changes are extremely apparent, especially considering the reader isn't re-introduced to Frodo and Samwise until 200+ pages into the book.  Beyond that, the deviations and modifications are slight but mostly effective.  The biggest deviation in the film is the character of Faramir.  The book presents Faramir to be a much more noble and wise character.  I liked him much more in the book than I did the film; however, I completely understand the need for conflict in the film and don't fault the screenwriters and filmmakers for the change.

The Two Towers is a faster paced and much more engaging story.  The tensions and conflicts have become much more global in scope in this book, and the battles of Helm's Deep and Isengard show that clearly; however, halfway through the book, the tenor and tone changes as we re-join Frodo and Sam on their quest into Mordor.  Gollum is as interesting a character as you would expect, and the additional details and insights given in the book as opposed to the movie make for some fun "ah ha" moments.  Gollum in this book is more corrupted and irredeemable than he is shown in the film.  The inseparable link between Frodo and Gollum is a fascinating idea worth discussing and debating and how one must show pity to the creature Gollum but yet never trust him.  In addition, the Ring feels like more of a presence in this book than it did in The Fellowship of the Ring.  As Frodo walks closer to Mordor the weight of the Ring becomes more and more profound and burdensome.  Frodo feels it; the reader feels it.  I felt much more invested in the journey and struggle in this book than I did the last.

The mythology felt much more meaningful in The Two Towers as well.  The historical commentaries, albeit brief, are interesting and provide context to the characters.  A people's history matters a great deal in reality, and it also matters to Tolkien in this story. Surprisingly, I loved the backstory on Rohan, Gondor, and Middle-Earth generally.  I seem to have caught the vision a lot more reading this book as to why The Lord of the Rings trilogy is so beloved and so imitated.  This is, after all, a grand story, a great story, and as Samwise says, those are the kind that "never end," and I sincerely hope he's right.

The Two Towers is a great book.  It is a significant leap forward from Tolkien's first book in the trilogy.  The world has been established, the characters are deep into their journeys, and the readers get to enjoy the ride.  It is not normally my habit to read books in a series or trilogy back-to-back, but I am seriously considering it for this trilogy.  I know how the story ends, of course, but the best stories are the ones that demand to be experienced over and over again and especially in different ways.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Reflections: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Being a Lousy Book Blogger

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