The Two Towers is the second volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's high fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. It is preceded by The Fellowship of the Ring and followed by The Return of the King. The volume's title is ambiguous, as five towers are named in the narrative, and Tolkien himself gave conflicting identifications of the two towers. The narrative is interlaced, allowing Tolkien to build in suspense and surprise. The volume was largely welcomed by critics, who found it exciting and compelling, combining epic narrative with heroic romance.

The Two Towers
First edition, with Tolkien's artwork
AuthorJ. R. R. Tolkien
SeriesThe Lord of the Rings
Set inMiddle-earth
PublisherGeorge Allen & Unwin[1]
Publication date
11 November 1954
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
Pages352 (first edition)
LC ClassPR6039.O32 L6 1954, v.2
Preceded byThe Fellowship of the Ring 
Followed byThe Return of the King 



The Lord of the Rings is composed of six "books", aside from an introduction, a prologue and six appendices. However, the novel was originally published as three separate volumes, due to post-World War II paper shortages and size and price considerations.[2] The Two Towers covers Books Three and Four.



Some editions of the volume contain a Synopsis for readers who have not read the earlier volume. The body of the volume consists of Book Three: The Treason of Isengard, and Book Four: The Ring Goes East.

Book III: The Treason of Isengard


A party of large Orcs, Uruk-hai, sent by Saruman, and other Orcs sent by Sauron and led by Grishnákh, attack the Fellowship. Boromir tries to protect Merry and Pippin from the Orcs, but they kill him and capture the two hobbits. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas decide to pursue the Orcs taking Merry and Pippin to Saruman. In the kingdom of Rohan, the Orcs are killed by Riders of Rohan, led by Éomer. Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn Forest, where they are befriended by Treebeard, the oldest of the tree-like Ents. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track the hobbits to Fangorn. There they unexpectedly meet Gandalf, resurrected from the dead.

Gandalf explains that he killed the Balrog. He was also killed in the fight, but was sent back to Middle-earth to complete his mission. He is clothed in white and is now Gandalf the White, for he has taken Saruman's place as the chief of the wizards. Gandalf assures his friends that Merry and Pippin are safe. Together they ride to Edoras, capital of Rohan. Gandalf frees Théoden, King of Rohan, from the influence of Saruman's spy Gríma Wormtongue. Théoden musters his fighting strength and rides with his men to the ancient fortress of Helm's Deep, while Gandalf departs to seek help from Treebeard.

Meanwhile, the Ents, roused by Merry and Pippin from their peaceful ways, attack and destroy Isengard, Saruman's stronghold, and flood it, trapping the wizard in the tower of Orthanc. Gandalf convinces Treebeard to send an army of Huorns to Théoden's aid. He brings an army of Rohirrim to Helm's Deep, and they defeat the Orcs, who flee into the forest of Huorns, never to be seen again. Gandalf, Théoden, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli ride to Isengard, and are surprised to find Merry and Pippin relaxing amidst the ruins. Gandalf offers Saruman a chance to turn away from evil. When Saruman refuses to listen, Gandalf strips him of his rank and most of his powers. After Saruman leaves, Wormtongue throws down a hard round object to try to kill Gandalf. It misses and Pippin picks it up; Gandalf swiftly takes it, but Pippin steals it in the night. It is revealed to be a palantír, a seeing-stone that Saruman used to speak with Sauron, and that Sauron used to ensnare him. Pippin begins to be entranced by its power. While Gandalf sleeps, Pippin examines the palantír, inadvertently causing Sauron to see him; as Pippin is a hobbit, Sauron believes Pippin has the One Ring. Gandalf is awoken by the commotion and is able to save the incapacitated Pippin. Gandalf immediately rides for Minas Tirith, the chief city of Gondor, taking Pippin with him.

Book IV: The Ring Goes East


Frodo and Sam, heading for Mordor to destroy the One Ring, struggle through the barren hills and cliffs of the Emyn Muil. They become aware they are being watched and tracked; on a moonlit night they capture Gollum, who has followed them from Moria. Frodo makes Gollum swear to serve him, as Ringbearer, and asks him to guide them to Mordor. Gollum leads them across the Dead Marshes. Sam overhears Gollum debating with his alter ego, Sméagol, whether to break his promise and steal the Ring.

They find that the Black Gate of Mordor is too well guarded to pass through, so instead they travel south through the land of Ithilien to a secret pass that Gollum knows. On the way, they are captured by rangers led by Faramir, Boromir's younger brother, and brought to the secret fastness of Henneth Annûn. Unlike his brother, Faramir resists the temptation to seize the Ring and, disobeying standing orders to arrest strangers found in Ithilien, releases them.

Gollum – who is torn between his loyalty to Frodo and his desire for the Ring – guides the hobbits to the pass above Minas Morgul, but leads them into the lair of the great spider Shelob in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol. Frodo holds up the gift given to him in Lothlórien: the Phial of Galadriel, which holds the light of Eärendil's star. The light drives Shelob away, and Frodo and Sam are able to get through the pass safely. However, after they leave the pass, Shelob appears and attacks Frodo; before he can help his master, Sam is attacked by Gollum. After fighting off Gollum, Sam picks up Frodo's sword, Sting; and the Phial. He seriously wounds and drives off Shelob, but after the fight, he finds Frodo unresponsive. Believing him to be dead, Sam takes the Ring to continue the quest alone. Before Sam gets far, however, Orcs find Frodo; Sam overhears them and learns that Frodo is still alive, but is separated from him.

Meaning of title

Tolkien initially considered four towers, three pairs of which (Orthanc and Barad-dûr, Minas Tirith and Barad-dûr, or Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol, black lines) could have been the two indicated by the title.[3][4] But he settled on a different pair (red line), with Orthanc and a fifth tower, Minas Morgul.[5]
Tolkien's own design for the volume's cover shows the two towers as Minas Morgul, white with the symbol of the rising moon, and Orthanc, black with Saruman's symbol of the white hand nearby.[6]

In letters to Rayner Unwin, Tolkien considered leaving the title ambiguous or naming the two as Orthanc and Barad-dûr, Minas Tirith and Barad-dûr, or Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol.[3][4] However, a month later, he wrote a note that is included at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, and later drew a cover illustration, both of which identified the pair as Minas Morgul and Orthanc.[5][6] In the illustration, Minas Morgul is a white tower, with a thin waning moon above it, in reference to its original name, Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon; Orthanc is shown as a black tower, three-horned, with Saruman's sign of the White Hand beside it. Between the two towers a Nazgûl flies.[6]

Interwoven narratives


The narrative in the volume is interlaced, unlike the largely linear narrative in The Fellowship of the Ring, as the Fellowship is broken, and the different groups pursue their own quests. The main quest is not forwarded at all in book 3; conversely, the other quests are not progressed in book 4 as Frodo and Sam continue their dangerous journey towards Mordor. The timeline is more complex than this would suggest, as many smaller-scale interlacings occur as the characters travel through Middle-earth and the story.[7][8]

Interlacing allowed Tolkien to weave an elaborately intricate story, presented through the eyes of the Hobbit protagonists, "underscoring [their] frequent bewilderment and disorientation". Most directly, this is achieved by letting the reader know no more than what one character sees as he struggles forwards, not knowing what lies ahead, where his friends are, or whether the quest has already failed.[9][8] The bewilderment of the reader is minimized by the use of synchronizing 'narrative landmarks', such as the brooch dropped by Pippin and discovered by Aragorn.[10] Equally, interlacing enables Tolkien to create suspense and "cliffhanger" section endings, as when the Ents and Huorns appear suddenly and decisively in a eucatastrophe on the battlefield of Helm's Deep.[8]

The Tolkien scholar Richard C. West writes that every reader must notice to some degree "the apparently meandering manner of the plot", where things happen apparently casually, as in real life. West illustrates this by examining Merry and Pippin's meeting with the Ents. This causes the Ents to overthrow their enemy Saruman, who was also the enemy of the kingdom of Rohan. This frees up Rohan to go to the aid of Gondor in their war with Sauron. The two Hobbits would never have met the Ents unless Saruman's Orcs had captured them. The Hobbits would not have escaped the Orcs unless Éomer's band of Riders of Rohan, disobeying orders from the King, had hunted the Orc intruders down. West states that each group and character has their own motivation, but their stories interact. It feels natural, and may appear "loose", but "everything is interconnected."[11]

The interlacing allows Tolkien to make hidden connections that can only be grasped retrospectively, as the reader realizes on reflection that certain events happened at the same time.[8] Interlace, West notes, can "show purpose or pattern behind change".[12] This can appear, Shippey writes, as luck, where in daily life it is uncertain whether this is "something completely humdrum and practical or something mysterious and supernatural".[13]



Donald Barr in The New York Times gave a positive review, calling it "an extraordinary work – pure excitement, unencumbered narrative, moral warmth, barefaced rejoicing in beauty, but excitement most of all".[14]

Anthony Boucher, reviewing the volume in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, wrote that The Two Towers "makes inordinate demands upon the patience of its readers" with passages which "could be lopped away without affecting form or content". Nevertheless, he lavished praise on the volume, saying "no writer save E. R. Eddison has ever so satisfactorily and compellingly created his own mythology and made it come vividly alive ... described in some of the most sheerly beautiful prose that this harsh decade has seen in print."[15]

The Times Literary Supplement called it a "prose epic in praise of courage" and stated that Tolkien's Westernesse "comes to rank in the reader's imagination with Asgard and Camelot".[16][17]

Mahmud Manzalaoui, in the Egyptian Gazette, wrote that the book "has not pleased readers of the staple modern psychological novel", but that it signified a new trend in fiction.[18][17]

John Jordan, reviewing the book for the Irish Press, wrote admiring its narrative "weaving of epic, heroic romance, parable, and fairy tale, and the more adventurous kind of detective story, into a pattern at once strange and curiously familiar to our experience". He compared the wizard Gandalf's death and reappearance to Christ's resurrection.[19][17]


  1. ^ "The Two Towers". Between the Covers. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
  2. ^ The Lord of the Rings Extended Movie Edition, Appendix Part 4
  3. ^ a b Carpenter 2023, #140 to Allen & Unwin, August 1953
  4. ^ a b Carpenter 2023, #143 to Allen & Unwin, January 1954
  5. ^ a b "The second part is called The Two Towers, since the events recounted in it are dominated by Orthanc, ..., and the fortress of Minas Morgul..."
  6. ^ a b c "Tolkien's own cover design for The Two Towers". HarperCollins. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  7. ^ West 1975, pp. 81–83.
  8. ^ a b c d Shippey 2005, pp. 181–190.
  9. ^ Sturgis 2013, p. 389.
  10. ^ Holmes 2014, p. 137.
  11. ^ West 1975, pp. 83–84.
  12. ^ West 1975, p. 89.
  13. ^ Shippey 2005, pp. 170–174.
  14. ^ Barr, Donald (1 May 1955). "Shadowy World of Men and Hobbits". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Boucher, Anthony (August 1955). "Recommended Reading". The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. p. 93.
  16. ^ Anon (17 December 1954). "The Epic of Westernesse". The Times Literary Supplement. p. 817.
  17. ^ a b c Thompson, George H. (15 February 1985). "Early Review of Books by J.R.R. Tolkien - Part II". Mythlore. 11 (3): 61-63 (article 11).
  18. ^ Manzalaoui, Mahmud (18 February 1955). "No Artificial Allegory in this Fairy Romance". Egyptian Gazette. p. 2.
  19. ^ Jordan, John (18 December 1954). "The Little Life of Man". Irish Press. p. 4.