Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Two Towers is the second volume of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy of war between good and evil. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, good and evil are absolutes, each a recognizable force in the shaping of character and behavior. As the power of evil wielded by the Dark Lord Sauron waxes, diverse peoples are drawn to his banner. Those who would wield the power of good to heal the wounds of Middle-earth—Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel—find themselves besieged. The Two Towers traces the influence and definition of both forces as their great conflict draws once again to a climax.

The narrative of The Two Towers is divided into two distinct parts, each addressing the struggle in a separate way. The first portion (book 3) considers the problem in an elemental fashion, exploring the relationship between the natural world and the mechanistic inventions of human beings amid sweeping tales of war involving thousands. Book 4 is set at a far more individual level, examining the effects of good and evil on just three carefully drawn characters.

The critical event of book 3 is the meeting between the young hobbits, Pippin and Merry, and the old ent Treebeard. Newly escaped from the clutches of orcs, the hobbits have suffered a horrifying experience in what seems to be a war among the two-legged sentients who walk the earth. The military situation has become confusing; Sauron and his minions are the obvious enemy of the elves and men of the West, but Saruman the traitor has now set up in competition with both.

Treebeard helps the hobbits see the situation in a simpler and more frightening light: Both Sauron and Saruman are the enemies of nature, as are all who wantonly destroy the forests. Treebeard remembers the vast forests that once covered Middle-earth, now reduced to isolated and dangerous patches of angry trees. Sauron the destroyer had covered the world in darkness once before; even now nothing green grows in the fastness of Mordor. Given the chance, the Dark Lord would reduce the entire earth to heaps of slag and ash.

Saruman is a more immediate enemy in the eyes of Treebeard. The white wizard had once pretended a love for trees, but only mechanical artifice holds true fascination for him. Isengard, Saruman’s home, was once a pleasant grove filled with living things, but now it is given over to wheels and rising smokes. All the trees are gone.

To fight evil is to fight the destruction of nature. Evil, however, is a powerful seducer. Wizards, elves, and human beings have all turned their backs on the trees at one time or another. Saddest of all, even some of Treebeard’s own...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)