The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Summary and Analysis of Book 3, Chapters 1-5

Book Three

Chapter 1: The Departure of Boromir

The Two Towers continues where the two books of The Fellowship of the Ring left off. Chapter 1 is the beginning of Book Three. The fellowship of the ring has been broken and The Two Towers recounts the stories of how each of these individual heroes fared after the split. The chapter begins with the two humans (men) who were included in the company, Aragorn and Boromir. At the end of Book Two, Boromir foolishly attempts to steal the ring from Frodo; now, we find Boromir attacked by evil orcs. Aragorn hears Boromir's horn, signaling for help but when Aragorn arrives, it is too late to do anything for Boromir, who has been pierced by many arrows. He was a valiant warrior, nonetheless, and many of his enemies lay slain around him.

Aragorn is soon joined by the dwarf, Gimli, and the elf, Legolas. They make a funeral boat for Boromir and launch the boat on the banks of the nearby River. Investigating the weapons of the dead villains and the numerous tracks in the area, the three warriors conclude that Frodo and Sam have continued on their journey. It also seems that the dead villains were not in the service of the evil lord, Sauron, but instead they were in the service of Saruman, a wizard gone bad. Under Aragorn's leadership, the diminished troupe has few options ahead. They continue on, not so much because they feel connected to their original quest, but because it may be that some of their fellow adventurers have been bound and kidnapped by the orcs and they feel a genuine moral obligation to come to their colleagues' assistance.


There is a dry irony in titling this chapter "The Departure of Boromir," though it does seem fair that Boromir pays a high price for is incredibly wretched crime. Aragorn expresses a desire to "change the evil fate of this unhappy day" and questions of fate and destiny intertwine and remain one of the central themes of this work, just as we saw in The Fellowship of the Ring. In terms of characterization, we can find a contrast between the two humans presented here: Aragorn is so noble that he withholds the revelation of Boromir's crime (treachery, attempted theft). The burial motif can be read as an allusion to the old Icelandic sagas and Anglo-Saxon epics (especially Beowulf) where heroes were buried at sea. We find numerous riddles, the re-introduction of the wizard Saruman, and the secrets withheld by Aragorn as developments of the theme of knowledge. Here, the misleading forest in which Boromir has attempted ambush (and has, in fact, been ambushed) stands as a symbol of confusion and its attendant fear.

Chapter 2: The Riders of Rohan

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas continue on their trail and they pass into the land of Rohan. They are pursuing the orcs who they believe have taken Merry and Pippin. The trail is a difficult one but when they are well within the boundaries of Rohan, the course is smoother. While they can find evidence of the orcs and their path of destruction, there is no trace of Merry or Pippin.

The story sifts when Legolas the elf sees Riders approaching. There are 105 of them and they are led by Éomer. After a somewhat tense confrontation, there is no violence but instead an exchange of information. Éomer is surprised to hear of this group for they represent characters that he only knows as fable. From Éomer, the three travelers learn that there is trouble at every border. Éomer also reveals his group's enmity with the orcs, who have long been horse thieves. The Riders have recently killed the orcs that Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas were pursuing but this is to the advantage of the travelers, for the orcs would have surely overpowered them. Éomer does not recall seeing "hobbits" among the dead bodies of the orcs‹indeed, he is not entirely sure what a "hobbit" is. Though he remains somewhat distrustful, Éomer agrees to lend horses to the group but later in the night, the horses steal away. Legolas sees the sign as an ominous one, as the horses disappeared right as a mysterious old man appeared on the scene‹only to disappear, himself. Legolas believes that this was probably the wizard Saruman.


The end of this chapter foreshadows the trouble ahead and the three travelers have certainly embarked upon a perilous journey. Besides the danger of Saruman, a character who remains undefined, there is also the trouble of riddles. Éomer's words suggest that the theme of wisdom will be complicated in moral terms and the quest is not only about wizardry but about surveillance as well. Éomer and the riders are in a situation that is an allusion to the political reality of Tolkien's time with trouble at every border. When Éomer raises the rhetorical question: "How shall a man judge what to do in such times?" Aragorn replies with a powerful statement against moral relativism: "As he ever has judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern tem, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house." The difficult pat of the "Golden Wood" forest is a symbol of moral conflicts and confusion. Finally, there is an irony in Aragorn's argument for universal morality because Éomer's previous knowledge was so limited that "Elves and Dwarves" did not exist in his world‹the idea that he shares a moral code with creatures that do not exist is a little humorous. This narrative structure which isolates the main characters as the fancy of the others, also allows Tolkien to make moral statements without belaboring the text.

Chapter 3: The Uruk-Hai

This chapter focuses on Merry and Pippin who are trapped and imprisoned by orcs‹just as Aragorn suspected. The orcs are lead by a figure called Uglúk but they are rebellious. In particular, one of the orcs named Grishnákh is especially disobedient, threatening mutiny at every turn. The orcs want to kill Merry and Pippin but the orders from Saruman could not be any clearer: ŒKill all but NOT the Halflings; they are to be brought back ALIVE as quickly as possible.' Some of the orcs decide to rebel and leave the group, but the Riders of Rohan are in pursuit of the orcs and they quickly do away with the orcs who fall off to the side.

In the constant turmoil of bickering and constant traveling, the orcs fail to notice that Pippin has loosened his arm ties. He only pretends to be securely fastened, waiting for a chance to escape. His first attempt to escape fails but the second attempt is more clever and successful. When Uglúk is not present, Pippin and Merry (following Pippin's lead) take advantage of Grishnákh's rebellious greed. They convince Grishnákh to release them, suggesting that they have the ring (which they realize Grisnákh has a desire to acquire). Grisnákh is felled by a Rider's arrow just as he raises his sword to threaten the hobbits. Merry and Pippin escape as Riders fall upon the orcs, killing all of them and burning the bodies in a great heap. The Riders do not notice the Hobbits, and the horses, detecting the goodness of the hobbits perhaps, purposefully gallop over them, removing the possibility of stray harm or danger.


The narrative structure of this chapter is important; displaying a rather post-modern view of the narrative form, Tolkien now backs up and gives us the story that was casually alluded to by Éomer. We should be aware that the level of dramatic irony increases as the work more and more resembles a Œstory within a story.' This motif is made explicit in Merry's congratulatory remarks to Pippin: "You seem to have been doing well, Master Took. You will get almost a chapter in old Bilbo's book, if ever I get a chance to report to him." The narrator and narration complicates the characterization of Bilbo and Merry for Tolkien is speaking through one of them or writing from this point-of-view. Finally, this chapter makes an important allusion to Milton's Paradise Lost and the fall of Lucifer (Satan): a thief among thieves, a rebellious leader of rebels. We should also note the parallel between dead Boromir and Grishnákh, another would-be ring-thief who also catches his death by an arrow. The arrow as a symbol of fate landing were it will, is in effect here: "An arrow came whistling out of the gloom: it was aimed with skill, or guided by fateŠ"

Chapter 4: Treebeard

Merry and Pippin are traveling through the forest when they notice that the air is thinning and they are finding it very difficult to breathe-let alone walk. As they reach the end of the forest they proceed into a less hospitable region and remark that the forest was actually not unlike Hobbiton in some of the forest's more charming aspects. At this point, the hobbits are confronted by a tree-like creature (his race are called Ents) named Treebeard. The hobbits travel on Treebeard's arms and as they become allied to one another they exchange information about Gandalf's death and the evil that Saruman and the orcs bring to the land.

Treebeard is distressed about the orcs' wanton destruction of the forest and he rouses the other Ents to action. As the chapter ends, Treebeard and a company of younger Ents have decided to take action against Saruman's stronghold at Isengard. Treebeard makes it clear that the mission is a difficult one, though the Ents are powerful. Merry and Pippin travel in Treebeard's company, looking forward to the siege of Isengard, which is still a far way off.


In terms of characterization, Treebeard is a parallel to Tom Bombadil, who appeared in Book One, Chapter 7 (of The Fellowship of the Ring). Here, nature remains an archetypal symbol for goodness, freedom and time. Still, Treebeard and the Ents blur the distinction between who is a character and what is nature. There is plenty of political and moral relevance in the parallel between human wrongs and the orcs' misuse of natural resources and Saruman's misuse of knowledge. The theme of knowledge is developed by the motif of the song; Treebeard's many songs‹like those of Tom Bombadil‹represent a canon of collected history. The song becomes a metaphor for storytelling and storytelling becomes a metaphor for life in the discussion of what the songs have prophesied and what actually comes to pass. This discussion dampens the otherwise hopeful tone of the chapter with Pippin's realization that "the story seems to be going on, but I am afraid Gandalf has fallen out of it." In a simile we find a comparison of songs (prophetic stories) and fruit, foreshadowing the death and elimination of many good tribes and lands in the ensuing battles: "Songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and in their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely."

Chapter 5: The White Rider

Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn continue their journey, hoping to find the hobbits. They are able to find Pippin's tracks and they figure out the story that has transpired. They continue on with greater anticipation having found evidence that the hobbits are likely alive and that they have eluded their orc-captors. Legolas sees, in the distance, the figure of an old man and fearing it to be Saruman, Gimli bids Legolas to shoot an arrow at the man.

What the three travelers find, much to their surprise, is that this old man is Gandalf seemingly come back from the dead. They follow Gandalf‹not in the direction of the hobbits, for they have another task at hand. Gandalf calls for two horses (one of them is the steed, Shadowfax) and the four heroes advance towards the court of Théoden, king of Rohan, who lives at Meduseld.


The narrative structure is full of twists and turns here, as the story shifts (back) to Aragorn and his troupe. Characterization is certainly complicated by Gandalf's reappearance as the "White Rider." Here, Tolkien freely makes allusions to the Christian accounts of Christ's resurrection and besides this, the account of Gandalf's struggle against the Balrog is cast in archetypal terms of good and evil. The parallel between the physical appearance of Saruman and Gandalf should not be overlooked: Gandalf stresses the fact that the good are easily turned towards evil, evil often masquerades as good and many creatures (most notably, the Ents) are unaware of how powerful they actually are. This wisdom, coupled with the image of "a great smoke" at the end of the chapter, spells "battle and war" for Saruman and Isengard. The court of Théoden, however, is what is immediately foreshadowed and we have every reason to believe that the White Rider will be received respectfully, in the end, though there may be a few initial complications.