Monday, April 19, 2010

LOTR Readalong: The Two Towers and The Return of the King

Teresa at Shelf Love wrapped up March and The Two Towers in fine style with an open-ended invitation to answer her questions or go off on our own tangents. I've done a little of both:

1. The last half of The Two Towers covers fewer characters than the first half. For some, this makes Book 4 slower than the rest of the book; others love the intense focus on Frodo, Gollum, and Sam. Where do you stand on this question? In previous readings, I always found this part rather boring. When most of the action involves NOT being discovered by enemies who aren't really looking for you anyway, it doesn't seem that much is happening; certainly not the nearly non-stop action of the previous section. This part is important for character development, though, especially of Gollum. We have heard about his origins, but now we have a chance to see that the being he was before the Ring got hold of him is still alive in there somewhere, and not evil. That's a nice touch by Tolkien, to show us, not just tell us through Gandalf's descriptions.

**SPOILERS AHEAD related to The Return of the King, if you care about such things.**

I especially enjoyed the development of Faramir's character this time, too. He is as capable as Boromir but more thoughtful, more self-aware, and yes, as a "wizard's pupil" (Denethor's charge against him), more like Gandalf. He is a worthy match for Eowyn. I know some people feel that Tolkien is unfair to women in these books. They point to Eowyn's "capitulation" from shieldmaiden to wife as a defeat for liberated women. But I think there's more to it than that.

First, the change is clearly portrayed as her choice and a true choice that comes from her heart, not from outside pressure. Second, Faramir is hardly a consolation prize. Aragorn's destiny and his match with Arwen are already sealed, but with Faramir Eowyn has a chance to choose and make her own destiny. Not only is he a great match in social status (appropriate for a marriage between kingdoms), he's a wonderful man, too. At the risk of putting a modern twist on it, he's all the things Aragorn is and more: intelligent, accomplished, insightful, high-status, and available. Third, in Tolkien's world, healing and growing are always better than fighting and destruction, so Eowyn's turn from soldier of the Mark to White Lady of the garden of Ithilien, with Faramir as her lord, isn't a diminishment.

2. If you’re a first-time reader (or even a rereader), what surprised you most about this half of the book? See above. Always something new to discover in a great book.

3. Are there any specific moments that stand out as favorites or least favorites in this section?
4. What are some themes or ideas in this book (or the trilogy as a whole so far) that stand out to you?
I noticed much more clearly this time how strongly Tolkien emphasizes the evils of destruction and the joys of cooperation with Nature. Green is almost always good, even when we're talking about the wild, dark trees of Fangorn. Treebeard says he's not sure about which "side" he's on, because no one is really on his "side." We already know that herb-lore is among Aragorn's many gifts. And in Ithilien, even land that has fallen under the sway of Sauron "remembers" happier days. To be connected to the earth of Middle Earth, and to understand the beings that live there, is to be connected to something larger than yourself and the relatively short lives of men.

5. And the obligatory movie question: Many LOTR readers take the biggest issue with Jackson’s treatment of this part of the trilogy than with any other? Did the changes bother you? Are there any ways in which you think the movie was more effective? Haven't seen them and don't plan to. I'm a purist, I guess.

Now we move into April with Maree at Just Add Books, who has different, fun questions about the final book in the trilogy.

1) We're coming to the end of the quest. Where are you in your reading? Finished in a rush in February. Sorry, I couldn't help it. Well, I'm not all that sorry. It was a glorious week of obsessive reading in one of my very favorite books!

2) Have you read LOTR before? If so, what are you anticipating most re-reading in ROTK? (er ... try to avoid spoilers, although I suppose that question makes that a bit tricky) I've read it many times but still find new things and have different reactions. This time I really enjoyed how all the loose ends get tied up. The way Tolkien handles the ending (supplemented by the Appendix) makes the end very satisfying.

3) If you're new to Middle Earth ... how has the experience been for you so far? Not applicable!

4) Who's your favourite character in ROTK? I like Galadriel best overall. She has only a small part in this book, but her influence is still strongly felt.

5) Favourite scene? I love the moment when the dawn comes and the wind changes and the Rohirrim leave the paths in the hills to gallop across the Pelennor Fields and burst into battle song. Normally I am one of the most pro-negotiation, anti-violence people you will meet. But there's something about this. I get all teary every single time. Maybe in a previous life . . . .

6) How do you feel about the overall series now that we're getting near the end? I love every word, from start to finish.

7) Have you seen the movies? Have they coloured your reading of ROTK?
8) Does reading the books make you want to watch the movies, or run screaming in the other direction?
See above. I don't want to change the pictures in my head.


  1. I keep coming across these posts on the Lord of the Rings Readalong, and it makes me want to revisit them! I noticed that you are currently reading All Souls' Rising. I read that one a couple of months ago. It was good, but the brutality was difficult to get through for me. I'll check back and see what you think of it.

  2. Shelley, the brutality and torture that is detailed so graphically in All Souls' Rising is almost beyond comprehension, which I why I've already told J.G. I would not be recommending the book to her. I can stomach just about anything in written form, but Rising is putting me to the test. It's a great read overall, but this is one book that needs to come with a warning label.

  3. We are having a fab time with the LOTR readalong. Maybe it will happen again next year and you can jump in.

    As for All Souls' Rising, based on C.S.'s very G-rated description, it's on my Do Not Read list for sure! I can't handle that stuff.

  4. Oh yay I'm glad you're having fun with it! :D
    There will be one more post at the end of the month :)

  5. Maree, I'm going to be sorry to see it go. I've learned a lot through this LOTR "geek-along." :-)

  6. You know, this reading was the first time it even occurred to me to get irritated that Eowyn went from shieldmaiden to healer. I think you're quite right, though, that it isn't a diminishment of her strength. Especially when so often her talk of going out to war feels rather like a death wish. In choosing healing, she chooses life. That seems like progress to me.

    (And I prefer Faramir over Aragorn anyway, so I see that as a step up.)


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