During at least one iteration of J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive novel The Lord of the Rings the fourth book (and second half of the second volume) was known as “The Journey of the Ringbearers.” In case you had any doubts about Tolkien’s intentions, that is exactly what Book IV is about.
We’ve had some excitement in the novel so far. The menacing Black Riders in the first volume, the confrontation on Weathertop and the fevered race to Rivendell. The Mines of Moria and Gandalf’s battle with the demonic Balrog. In the first half of Two Towers, the defeat of Saruman, mainly by Treebeard and the Ents (a great name for a band), and the Battle of Helm’s Deep. But, for me, none of what preceded this book was as exciting as Frodo and Sam’s journey, with Gollum as their guide, into Moria.
Along the way, they meet Faramir, Boromir’s brother, but he doesn’t seem the type to be tempted by the One Ring. Gollum, as Sméagol, acts friendly towards the hobbits, but he is leading them to the tunnels of Cirith Ungol, where the fearsome great spider-beast Shelob dwells. The movie version comes very close to capturing Shelob in all her deadly, scary glory. But, as any book-lover knows, it’s difficult to match the fictional reality created by a master craftsman such as Tolkien. The writer uses all of the senses to bring Shelob to unnatural life. The sound of her claws on stone. The lights in her many eyes. The stench issuing from her bloated body. I think it was Shelob that Stephen King had in mind when finally revealing the killer clown’s true form in IT. I know for a fact that it was Shelob that King had in mind during the scary tunnel scenes in The Stand. King has never been shy about J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence on his work.
The Black Riders have now taken flight as the Nazgûl, and their leader, the Witch-king of Angmar, also commands Sauron’s army. I remember being confused about who all the bad guys were the first time I read LOTR. I didn’t realize that the Black Riders, the Nine, the Ringwraiths and the Nazgûl all referred to the same characters. But, when they are flying atop great fell beasts, seen only from a distance in this book, they become even scarier.
Backtracking just a bit before Shelob, our trio’s journey leads through the Dead Marshes, which adds to the horror element that seems ever-present in this book. The thought of looking down into the stagnant water and seeing the faces of the dead staring back is enough to disturb me during my waking hours, let alone in my nightmares.
The reader also has to suffer the temporary emotional trauma of Sam believing that Frodo was killed by Shelob’s sting, then sharing in his combination relief/frustration when, while concealed by the One Ring’s power of invisibility, he discovers through orc conversation that Frodo yet lives. However, Frodo is also the prisoner of the orcs by this point, and it’s left up to Sam to save him, which is where this volume ends.
I liked The Two Towers a lot. The story is heating up, becoming scarier, with ever-higher stakes. Gandalf is back. The Quest of the hobbits continues to truck on to its inevitable conclusion, encountering various obstacles along the way. And we’re about to see all-out war between the human/elf/dwarf alliance and the evil forces of Sauron. What more could a fan of heroic fantasy ask for?
Looking forward to cracking open Return of the King.