57 pages 1 hour read

J. R. R. Tolkien

The Two Towers

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1954

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Summary and Study Guide


The Two Towers (1954) is the second book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. The Two Towers is a work of fantasy fiction set in the world of Middle-earth, the setting that Tolkien also used in his earlier 1937 novel, The Hobbit. It continues the quest of Frodo and his companions to destroy the One Ring that they set out on in The Fellowship of the Ring, interweaving the stories of the fellowship after they are separated. The narrative portrays the conflict of good versus evil, suggesting that the actions of the small and humble Hobbits can change the world. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was adapted into a series of films directed by Peter Jackson from 2001 to 2003. Tolkien’s work has been highly influential in the fantasy genre, inspiring works such as The Sword of Shannara, The Legend of Zelda, and Dungeons & Dragons.

This guide uses the 1994 edition published by Houghton Mifflin.

Plot Summary

The Two Towers begins in the immediate aftermath of the breaking of the fellowship at Amon Hen. Aragorn searches for Frodo but instead hears Boromir’s horn and rushes to find Boromir wounded and dying after a battle with the Uruk-hai. Boromir admits that he tried to take the Ring from Frodo and that he could not prevent Merry and Pippin from being captured by Uruk-hai. He dies, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli decide to place his body on a boat over the Falls of Rauros because they do not have time to dig a grave.

Aragorn finds evidence that Frodo and Sam left on a boat and eventually decides to follow the Uruk-hai who captured Merry and Pippin, since to abandon them and follow Frodo would inevitably mean their deaths. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli run after the Uruk-hai for several days. They cross into the land of Rohan, a wide plain inhabited by men known to be skilled riders and warriors. Aragon encounters Éomer, a commander of some of the riders of Rohan, and learns that his men recently killed a group of Uruk-hai.

Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin have endured harsh treatment at the hands of the Uruk-hai. Pippin notices that some of their captors seem to be Orcs from Mordor, while the Uruk-hai are loyal to Saruman. He exploits the conflict between the Orcs and Uruk-hai to make an escape plan, convincing one of the Orcs that he and Merry have the Ring and therefore need to be snuck away from camp and back to Mordor. When the Rohirrim attack, Merry and Pippin are able to run away and take shelter in Fangorn Forest. They meet an Ent, a tree-like creature who guards the forest, named Treebeard. After they tell Treebeard their story, Treebeard decides to bring them to a meeting of other Ents where they can debate whether to attack Isengard. The Ents decide to go to war against Saruman and get revenge for all of the trees that he has cut down to fuel his industrial projects.

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli track Merry and Pippin into Fangorn, but they instead encounter Gandalf, who has returned to the world as Gandalf the White. Gandalf tells them that Merry and Pippin are safe with the Ents, and he asks them to accompany him to meet Théoden, king of Rohan. They travel to Edoras, where the king’s hall is, and Gandalf confronts Théoden and his traitorous advisor, Wormtongue. After Théoden realizes that Wormtongue has been an agent of Saruman, he decides to send his army to defend the fortress of Helm’s Deep. After finding that a large portion of his army commanded by a man named Erkenbrand has vanished after an unsuccessful battle with Isengard, Théoden fears that his people will be defeated. At Helm’s Deep, Saruman’s army of Uruk-hai nearly overwhelm the defenders, until, at the last moment, Gandalf returns with Erkenbrand’s missing men. The Uruk-hai retreat into a strange forest that has mysteriously appeared in the valley and are never seen again.

After the battle, Théoden rides with Gandalf toward Isengard. He realizes that the strange forest is made up of Huorns, Ents that have grown more tree-like over a long time but still wish for vengeance against the Uruk-hai for cutting down parts of Fangorn. When they reach Isengard, they find Merry and Pippin, who tell them how Treebeard and the Ents attacked and flooded Isengard, leaving Saruman trapped in the tower of Orthanc. Merry and Pippin also mention that Wormtongue is trapped in there with him.

Gandalf takes Théoden to speak with Saruman, and the king is nearly persuaded by Saruman’s persuasive rhetoric. However, Éomer encourages Théoden to be skeptical of Saruman’s words. Wormtongue angrily flings a strange orb down from Orthanc, which Gandalf collects. That night, Pippin takes the orb and looks at it, experiencing a terrifying vision of Sauron. Gandalf realizes that Pippin looked into a Palantír, a magical seeing stone, and deduces that Sauron now believes that Pippin has the Ring but has been captured by Isengard.

The narration switches to Frodo and Sam, who have been traveling toward Mordor through a confusing region of hills called the Emyn Muil. Flying Nazgûl are patrolling the skies overhead, and Gollum is following close behind them. Frodo and Sam manage to ambush and capture Gollum, and Frodo decides to spare the creature and keep him around as a guide. Gollum leads the Hobbits through the Dead Marshes, a stinking bog where apparitions of soldiers who died in an ancient battle can be seen beneath the water. Sam mistrusts Gollum, but Frodo treats him with kindness.

When they reach the Black Gate of Mordor, Frodo realizes with despair that it will be nearly impossible to sneak through undetected. Gollum proposes entering Mordor through a secret way that he knows about, and Frodo agrees that this is their best option. They enter into the region of Ithilien, a forest that once belonged to Gondor before falling to Sauron.

Frodo and Sam encounter a group of soldiers from Gondor led by Faramir, Boromir’s younger brother. Faramir tries to persuade Frodo that he does not desire power or glory, but Frodo still keeps the Ring a secret. After Faramir brings him and Sam back to the outpost at Henneth Annûn, Sam accidentally reveals that they are on a quest to destroy the Ring. Faramir is shocked but keeps his word to not try to take the Ring or interfere. When Faramir’s men spot Gollum outside catching fish in a pool, Frodo asks that Faramir spare Gollum’s life as long as he is with them. Faramir agrees, but Gollum’s trust in Frodo is damaged after his capture.

Gollum leads the Hobbits toward Minas Morgul, the fortress of the Nazgûl. They watch as a large army leaves its gates, marching toward Gondor. They climb up a narrow stair on the side of the mountain that brings them to a dark tunnel. In the tunnel, Gollum abandons Frodo and Sam, who are attacked by a monstrous spider creature called Shelob. Frodo drives Shelob back with the light of Galadriel’s phial, and they escape the tunnel. However, outside on the cliffs, Shelob attacks Frodo while Gollum attacks Sam. Sam manages to fight off both Gollum and Shelob, but Frodo is stung by the spider’s stinger and appears to die.

Sam is heartbroken but decides to take the Ring and continue the quest alone. He hears a group of Orcs approaching and puts on the Ring, turning invisible. The Orcs find Frodo’s body and decide to bring it back to their fortress. Sam overhears them mention that Frodo is not dead but paralyzed by Shelob’s venom, and he follows them, distressed that he has accidentally allowed Frodo to be captured.