The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Summary and Analysis

Book 3, Chapters 6-11

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Chapter 6: The King of the Golden Hall

Gandalf leads the way and Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn follow his guidance. It takes several hours for the group to arrive at Meduseld. At the gate, the group expresses the wish to see Théoden, the king, but they are held at the gate and the guard must get permission to let them enter the city. At the door to the Golden Hall, they are again stopped by a guard named Hama, who explains that they must leave all of their weapons at the door. In the end, Gandalf is able to bring his walking-stick with him.

Théoden does not hide his immediate displeasure, but his animosity towards Gandalf is the result of his wicked counselor, Gríma, who is more often referred to as Wormtongue. Gandalf exposes the treachery of Wormtongue and he also advises Théoden about his current options. The political climate is significantly altered and things are not as Gríma has suggested. When Théoden sends for Éomer, who has been imprisoned by Gríma, Gandalf's accurate account is validated. Taking Gandalf's advice, Théoden decides to join forces with Gandalf and proceed to battle. He has his soldiers rallied and he decides that he will also take up arms against the enemy, especially as it seems that Saruman will soon be defeated. Gandalf wins Shadowfax as gift (rather than a mere loan) and the cowardly traitor, Gríma, proves his true nature when he spits at the king and makes a hurried exit.

Analysis

There is a parallel between Gríma, the Wormtongue, and the dragon Smaug. Like Smaug, Gríma has hidden the sword of the king, along with many other things which develop the motif of a hidden treasure. Gríma is the image of a treacherous worm/dragon who plots, schemes and steals. This is also an allusion to the character Grendel in Beowulf‹in fact, Grendel is often named as "the wyrm (worm)" just as Gríma is doubly named Wormtongue. The tone of the chapter is generally optimistic; even though war looms ahead, we find a symbolic resurrection in terms of the two old men (Gandalf and Théoden) who now return to the brave enterprises of their younger days. Indeed, neither man is as old and frail as he pretends to be and this can be considered within the theme of knowledge. Gandalf's deceit in regards to smuggling his staff into the Golden Hall, out-trumps the more wicked but also less capable treachery of Gríma.

Chapter 7: Helm's Deep

Gandalf advises Théoden to advance to a fortified valley called Helm's Deep, rather than head directly for Isengard. After a day on the journey, Gandalf separates from the group. Meanwhile, Théoden continues towards Helm's Deep and when he arrives with his troops, he learns that the main wall has been breached and even worse, the valiant warrior, Erkenbrand, is nowhere to be found. Orcs and wildmen do not wait long to initiate a siege on the rocky fortress, and Gimli, Legolas, Éomer and Aragorn are exceptionally brave in battle. The siege lasts all night and as dawn approaches, the orcs are making great gains because they are using Saruman's sorcery. At one point, Éomer and Aragorn nearly lose their heads but their axe-wielding friend, Gimli, arrives at the nick of time.

The tide of battle turns at the very end of the chapter. With dawn comes the hope of a new day and the allies of Théoden converge upon the scene and the orcs are soon ambushed. Suddenly, a forest of trees (the Ents) has appeared, inspiring fear in the orcs and wildmen. Gandalf (the White Rider) returns with Erkenbrand and his troops and none of the orcs escape.

Analysis

The battle scenes are marked by a suspense that is only relieved at the climax of the chapter, which comes at dawn. Here, dawn is symbolic of hope and a new beginning because it is the beginning of the new day. In archetypal terms, the evil orcs excelled in the nighttime battle but when the day arrives, Gandalf (the White Rider) is victorious. The motif of nature is complicated in this chapter as we find the Ents in battle, standing as a forest under whose "shadow" none of the orcs escaped. The understatement here suggests that the trees do more than cast a shadow on the orcs. Also, the word "helm" refers to a part of a ship and the dug-out valley fort is outfitted with rocks. The rising and sinking of the fortunes of Théoden's men becomes literal and metaphorical when the "tide" of Orcs is described as a sea-surge threatening to capsize a ship.

Chapter 8: The Road to Isengard

After the battle, Gandalf and Théoden are reunited. It is also to their benefit that Gimli and Éomer have reappeared, for they were on the wrong side of the wall when the orcs made their final advance. There are many men to be buried; the orcs are piled and simply left. Gandalf decides that he is going to make way for Isengard and he is joined by Théoden and a smaller company. Most of the troops, however, remain at Helm's Deep. The road to Isengard is a gloomy one, bordered on both sides by trees that are still searching out and killing their enemies. Gandalf cautions his troops to remain on their horses and keep to the road.

As they near Isengard, the terrain looks significantly altered. The black tower of Saruman looms ahead but the waters of Isengard are now only an interrupted flow. A great mist envelopes Saruman's domain and it is not clear whether this is actual smoke or if it is only steam which is intended as an illusion. When Gandalf and the troops arrive at Isengard, they are greeted by Merry and Pippin who are drunk and well-fed, delirious and sprawled in the field of victory. Treebeard and his army have done away with Isengard and feeling quite pleased, Gandalf rides with Théoden, to locate Treebeard.

Analysis

This chapter ends with a humorous tone that undoes much of the gloom of the chapter's earlier pages. One thing that is nice about the depiction of Merry and Pippin is that these characters are now typically hobbit-like in their merrymaking with ample food and wine. The description of this scene as a "field of battle" is as ironic as Merry's claim to be Saruman's doorwarden. There is a bit of understatement in Merry's confession that: "The Lord Saruman is within; but at the moment he is closeted with one Wormtongue, or doubtless he would be here to welcome such honourable guests." The motif of the court scene is represented here, with Merry and Pippin playing jesters. A bit of foreshadowing of new danger is the necessary consequence of Saruman's undoing; for Sauron is the ultimate enemy and with Isengard so quickly dismissed, Gandalf's immediate exit from the scene makes perfect sense.

Chapter 9: Flotsam and Jetsam

Gandalf and Théoden take a tour of Isengard to see the extent of the damage but Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas remains with Merry and Pippin and the hobbits play host. The highlight of the evening is when they find pipe-weed among the provisions of the now vanquished residents of a rather comfortable lodge. The five are happy to be reunited and they exchange stories about the Ents and the battle at Helm's Deep. The Ents carried out the siege of Isengard and they drowned the city with the river water. Saruman and Wormtongue are now trapped together in the tower of Orthanc. Gandalf has been very busy then, for when he left Théoden and his troops, he came to enlist the Ents help against the orcs. Still, it is not clear what is to be done now nor is Saruman's condition known. The five expect that Gandalf will have more information to provide.

Analysis

One of the major motifs is the presentation of nature and the Ents offer a particular insight into whether nature is Œalive' in Tolkien's world. Their initial siege of Isengard, using their roots to crush the rocks‹this seems to be a parallel to geological and ecological processes for, as the hobbits describe it, the battle was the work of centuries completed in seconds. Another motif is that of language and sound. Here we find the same importance of speaking good words against evil that was presented in The Fellowship of the Ring; we also find, however, that the Ents are able to grumble in such a way that this sound becomes a weapon that destabilizes the enemy. The scene of fraternity resembles the hobbit life that is illustrated in The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring; we can see that tobacco (pipe-weed) is a symbol of civilization, hospitality and domesticity. In thematic terms, it is also of great significance that the five are able to exchange gifts and information; this suggests that in some ways, the fellowship of the ring may be reuniting. However, the pipe-weed foreshadows potential complications looming ahead: for how did this crop make its way from the Southfarthing region to Saruman's stronghold in Isengard? Does Saruman have some mode of communicating with far-flung territories and even though he is imprisoned in a tower, is his power adequately weakened?

Chapter 10: The Voice of Saruman

Gandalf, Théoden and his men return to the site where they left Merry, Pippin and the others. Gandalf has decided that he is going to go to the tower of Orthanc to have a parley (discussion) with Saruman, and though the others are welcome to come, Gandalf makes it clear that Saruman is especially treacherous and dangerous still. At the tower, Saruman is exposed as the wily creature that he truly is. His powers of flattery and sugared speech are waning and as he realizes that he is trapped inside of the tower, Saruman is angry and he sometimes snaps at Gandalf and the others. Saruman still has some power and Gandalf makes an offer to spare Saruman from punishment if he would only turn to the side of good and assist them. Saruman refuses and in an act of power, Gandalf announces that he is no longer Gandalf the Grey but he is Gandalf the White. He dismisses Saruman (formerly, Saruman the White) from the council of wizards and Saruman's staff breaks, its head falling at Gandalf's feet. Wormtongue finds a round globe-like object and tosses it down, possibly aiming at Gandalf. No harm is done and Pippin goes to collect the ball, finding it tremendously heavy. By chapter's end, Gandalf has commissioned Treebeard and the Ents to guard Saruman in the tower; they re-flood Isengard to insure that Saruman will not escape through some subterranean tunnel.

Analysis

One thing that we learn about the wizards is that they have a hierarchy; there are archetypal meanings attached to the colors (white, gray) that were assigned to Gandalf and in terms of character development, Gandalf does a good job of erasing much of whatever parallels existed between him and his former master. It is clear now that Saruman is an inferior wizard, though he still has power and as is the case with Lucifer in the alluded-to Paradise Lost, so it is with Saruman: he is undone by his own pride. There is also a good deal of foreshadowing regarding the mysterious globe that Wormtongue hurls down the stairs. It fits in with the rings and swords of the book, yet another artifact or image of power. At the same time, we do not know whether it is fashioned for evil though it does seem especially dear to Saruman, for he screams when he realizes what has happened. The narrative structure of the trilogy is full of resembling scenes‹this is not the first time that we find a villain-type mourning for his departed treasure (Gollum, Smaug).

Chapter 11: The Palantír

Gandalf leads the group to the end of the valley and they rest here for the night. Merry and Pippin are very tired but Pippin is restless because he is curious to know what the stone is‹the stone that he retrieved after Wormtongue tossed it down at the group. Merry tells Pippin to forget about the stone and not to interfere in wizard's affairs‹as there is often a high price to pay. After Merry falls asleep, Pippin decides to go to where Gandalf is sleeping. He removes the stone, replacing it with a decoy and makes the foolish error of looking into the stone. It is as if he becomes possessed with a spirit and he is being used for information. Fortunately, Gandalf awakes and breaks Pippin out of his trance. The stone is called the Palantír and it is a medium of long-distance communication. Apparently, Sauron and Saruman have been using it to communicate. Sauron is now under the impression that Saruman has briefly used the Palantír to frighten the hobbit who is in his custody‹this would be treachery on Saruman's part. Sauron has already sent sentinels in the direction of Isengard and in the end, Pippin's error may do more good than harm, pitting evil against evil. Still, what Pippin did was wrong and the stone is put in Aragorn's custody (as it is his by birthright), and of course, Pippin is not told. The hobbit is forgiven and Gandalf rides with Pippin on a separate course from the others. As Book Three comes to a close, Gandalf and Pippin have a slightly different mission than the rest of the group‹they are headed for Helm's Deep.

Analysis

The narrative structure of Book Three expresses Tolkien's concern for symmetry and internal unity. Here again, we find a concern over the misuse of dangerous tools. We can see Pippin's act as an innocent parallel to Boromir or Saruman. Pippin does not make a play for power; he is simply curious. In old archetypal terms, this is much like the temptation of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, or perhaps Pandora's Box of Greek mythology. Indeed, the motif of gifts‹accidental and intended‹is ever expanding and this certainly plays into Tolkien's theme of fate and destiny. Here, a potentially dangerous action has turned out to the advantage of the group. Trouble looms ahead we are told, and yet the glorious image of Gandalf and Pippin riding Shadowfax expresses the immediate reconciliation between the wizard and the hobbit, and it caps a string of successes that seemed to begin with the emergence of Gandalf the White. Even Shadowfax is like a Pegasus, a symbol of unsurpassed excellence and strength. The final words of the chapter do little to foreshadow what is immediately ahead (Book Four continues the story of Frodo of Sam‹characters we have probably forgotten about until now). The conclusion of Book Three reestablishes the tone of confidence in victory that is necessary in epic works like this one; the assurance that Good will win out in the end is of vital importance:

"As he fell slowly into sleep, Pippin had a strange feeling: he and Gandalf were still as stone, seated upon the statue of a running horse, while the world rolled away beneath his feet with a great noise of wind."

It is very nice that Pippin can afford such a dream (illusion), very nice and also very enviable‹but then, we would not read fantasy if reality were otherwise.