Monday, March 15, 2010

LOTR Readalong: The Two Towers

Month Three of the LOTR Readalong and I am finding it wonderful to hear what others have to say about one of my very favorite books in the whole world. We don't always agree, but the discussion is always enlightening. Perhaps this is why I have managed to stay in school for so much of my life. Reading is great, but it's one of those pleasures that is exponentially improved by sharing with others.

Jenny and Teresa at Shelf Love are this month's hosts. Teresa started us off with these questions:

1. Where are you in the trilogy right now? What do you think of the books so far? I was able to read The Hobbit and stop, and I rationed out the Fellowship, but then I lost all self-control and blew through the final two books in two weeks. In the process, I re-discovered how wonderful they are. Knowing the plot points only led to a series of thoughts of "Oh, this is my favorite part!" and "No, wait, THIS is my favorite part." This is a great story on many levels.

**SPOILERS AHEAD, if you aren't reading this book yet.**

2. What’s your past experience with The Two Towers? If you’re rereading, how does it stack up against the other two books? The Fellowship gives this book quite a long build-up, between the exit from the Shire, Moria, and the Council of Elrond. Now almost all the pieces have been introduced and everything is in motion. The main characters are well-established and we start to see the bigger picture, not just hearing about Sauron as the evil will behind much of what is happening in Middle Earth but actually seeing his forces at work, and experiencing the various armies and cultures that will oppose him.

I also discovered this time that Book Three is the highlight of the story for me. Right from the outset, we see that Aragorn is still growing into his destiny, now that he doesn't have Gandalf to advise him. We see Boromir's nobility--flawed, but recovered. The scene where Boromir confesses his failure and receives an absolution from Aragorn is very moving, as are his funeral and the songs Aragorn and Legolas sing when they send him to the falls. Is this realistic? Not at all. Is it heroic, in the best of the ancient traditions? You betcha. That's what makes it so good.

The language really changes in this book, echoing speeches from the Illiad and Arthurian legend and some of the best of Anglo-Saxon literature, like the Battle of Maldon. The characters sometimes talk about being "inside the old tales" and "old tales coming to life," and I think this adds to that feeling. As soon as the Three Hunters get out on the grass of Rohan, my heart picks up. By the time we get to Helm's Deep, it's just one good thing after another: Theoden's charge, and the appearance of the forest (I read somewhere that Tolkien wanted to "really" bring a forest to a new location, in contrast to Shakespeare's approximation of Birnham wood's arrival at Dunsinane in MacBeth, so he did), and the White Rider are all leavened by the courteous disagreement of Eomer and Gimli about Galadriel, Gimli's nervousness about travel by horseback, and a host of smaller details that give us something to smile at in the midst of all this heroism, even when no hobbits are in view.

As for Book Four, I'm with those who think this drags a bit. With Sam and Frodo, I'm weary, too, and all the environmental destruction around Mordor is depressing. It seems like it takes a lot longer than it actually does, which is probably the point. In all that devastation, Ithilien is (literally) a breath of fresh air, and Faramir is perfectly enchanting. I liked him before--he's clearly one of the good guys--but this time his insight and wisdom were so much more apparent to me. The switch of romantic interest that comes later makes a whole lot of sense, all of a sudden. Farmir is a man among men: more trustworthy and self-controlled than Boromir, and probably a lot more fun at a party than Aragorn.

And I felt very sympathetic toward Gollum in a way I'd not felt previously. Not only is he clever and funny ("Don't want fish," he says promptly, when notified that fishing in the pool carries a penalty of death.), but he's pitiful. Often tricky and sometimes evil, but sad.

Always something new to see in these books.

3. If you’re a first-time reader, what big questions do you have at this point? What are you hoping to see Tolkien deal with in The Two Towers? If you’re a rereader, what are you most looking forward to? Anything with the Rohirrim in it is okay by me. Ditto for the heroic tone. In real life I'm quite the pacifist, but show me a man who can lean on his sword and make a speech about courage and certain death, then go hand-to-hand with some orc captain, and I'll show you a happy reader with tears in her eyes.

4. What about the movie? If you’ve seen it, what did you think of it, and how much do you think it will color your experience with the book? I haven't seen it and don't plan to. I'm afraid it would be a major disappointment, no matter how well done, and I've heard enough discussion to know that they changed some major plot points. Because I'm a purist, I plan to keep the pictures in my head, thanks very much.

Excerpt:

'The end will not be long,' said the king. 'But I will not end here, taken like an old badger in a trap. Snowmane and Hasufel and the horses of my guard are in the inner court. When dawn comes, I will bid men sound Helm's horn, and I will ride forth. Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn? Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song -- if any be left to sing of us hereafter.'

'I will ride with you,' said Aragorn.

3 comments:

  1. *cracks up* Faramir so would be more fun at a party than Aragorn! In the films I like Aragorn better, but in the books it's Faramir, hands-down, no questions.

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  2. Well, that's the ultimate test, isn't it? :-)

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