Here begins the second part of The Lord of the Rings. Notice how I said the second part and not second book? Why is that, you ask? It’s because Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as one long book broken up into six parts. Because it was published during the post-WWII shortages (food, paper, etc.,) the publishers decided to break it into three parts: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. So while we constantly refer to it as a ‘trilogy’, The Lord of the Rings was meant to be one long book.
But anyway. Back to the Story.
The Two Towers
Chapter I: The Departure of Boromir
For one of the first times (if not the first time), our POV character is Aragorn. Now that the fellowship is broken we’ll see the story from many more perspectives than before, when we saw things through the hobbits’ eyes, and that mostly Frodo and Sam. So Aragorn is still looking for Frodo when he hears Boromir’s horn. Knowing that Boromir would only sound the horn if he were in dire need, he goes running, encounters orcs (which he quickly dispatches), and then finds Boromir.
Boromir is alone and he’s been pierced many times by orc arrows, and his horn is cut in two. He wakes up and sees Aragorn and confesses what he’s done: “I tried to take the Ring from Frodo… I am sorry. I have paid.” Though he briefly fell under the Ring’s influence earlier, he knows he was wrong. The Ring would not help him save his people, and he was wrong to try to take it from Frodo. He tried to defend Merry and Pippin from the orcs, even after he had cursed all hobbits, and now is dying. The hobbits were taken, he won’t be able to defend his people, and he gave in to the Ring’s temptation, however briefly. It’s a lot to take in, and Boromir believes he’s failed.
He’s wrong, though. He realized his error on his own, and if he’d had the chance I don’t believe he would have given in again, even if Frodo had offered the Ring to him. He has given his life defending his friends. Boromir has not failed, and Aragorn tells him so: “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!” His victory is not in the strength of arms, but in the strength of mind and character: he resisted the Ring at the last, and there are few in Middle-earth who can claim that. Boromir dies with a smile.
His death scene in Peter Jackson’s 2001 film The Fellowship of the Ring was longer, and with added dialogue (not to mention being moved from its proper place in The Two Towers), and was completely perfect. I cried every time I saw it in the theater, and it still gets me when I re-watch my DVDs. Thanks to their brilliant acting, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean truly convey Boromir’s redemption.
So Boromir is dead. He will never return to Minas Tirith to defend his people. But what now? Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli don’t have time to build a cairn to mark his grave and they won’t leave him for the orcs and crows, so they decide to put him in one of the boats along with his weapons, his horn, and the weapons of the orcs he killed. While they’re gathering the weapons, they notice some odd orcs that are larger, use different weapons, and have a white hand emblazoned on their shields and helmets. They’ve never seen it before, but they surmise that these orcs come from Isengard at Saruman’s behest. It’s definitely not good news, but they don’t linger on it for long. They need to give Boromir his funeral rite, and then decide what comes next.
Once they’ve laid Boromir in the boat and sent it down the Anduin, Aragorn and Legolas sing a song about North, South, and West Winds looking for news of Boromir the Tall. Gimli chooses not to speak of the East Wind, where Mordor is.
And now they have to figure out which hobbits went where. Boromir had spoken only of Merry and Pippin being taken by the orcs, not Frodo or Sam. Does that mean that all four of the hobbits were taken, or just the two? And if it was just Merry and Pippin, where are Frodo and Sam? They find the answer to the riddle when they investigate the boats. One of them is missing, along with Frodo and Sam’s packs. If they’d been taken by the orcs, they would have neither pack nor boat. So Merry and Pippin were kidnapped by the orcs, and Frodo and Sam left the company altogether. Aragorn knows what spurred Frodo’s decision, but declines to tell the others about it. Though he doubts his decision-making skills all the more, Aragorn finally decides what to do: “I will follow the orcs… I would have guided Frodo the Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer.”
And so the remnants of the fellowship leave behind everything they don’t absolutely need, hide the last Elvish boat and head out along the trail the orcs left behind.
Chapter II: The Riders of Rohan
The three hunters follow the orc trail for days, sleeping little, eating less, and losing hope the longer the chase continues. The orcs are moving tirelessly at speed, even in the middle of the day. Orcs cannot stand the light of the sun, so this is a telling point: their masters want them back with their prize– the two hobbits– as soon as possible. This is bad news for both Merry and Pippin and their friends who are looking for them. Aragorn and the others can’t maintain the same pace. The orcs get father and farther ahead.
Along the way, they spy the distant mountains of Gondor, and Aragorn wishes he could go there, but carries on. Legolas spies a giant eagle in the sky; it’s the second time he’s seen it, and he wonders what it means. They’ll find out later, but for now, they keep running.
They eventually find signs that at least one of the hobbits is alive: he finds hobbit footprints and one of the brooches that Galadriel gave them to fasten their cloaks. “‘Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall,’ said Aragron. ‘This did not drop by chance: it was cast away as a token to any that might follow.” This gives them renewed hope and energy for a while, but they suspect that it’s the last token they’ll find. Surely the orcs will increase the guard on their prisoners and not give them another chance to get away unless Aragorn and the others find a way. But how’ll they will do that, no one knows. And now that it’s night, they’re more likely to lose the already fading trail. Will they rest through the night and let the orcs get farther away, or will they keep going and miss some sign on the trail? Aragorn doubts himself again: “You give the choice to an ill chooser… Since we passed through the Argonath my choices have gone amiss.”
He decides they will rest for the night and give up hope of catching up to the orcs. During the night, Aragorn is troubled by the sound of hoofbeats in his dreams. He doesn’t know what it portends, but they are now in Rohan, the home of the horselords. They run through the day. The land is uneasy and silent. The next day, their search is even less hopeful, but they continue on for another day and a night.
In the morning, they spot riders in the distance. Aragorn and Gimli see them as a shadow in the distance, but Legolas has to be all Elven (and probably a little snarky about his great eyesight) and sees them clearly: “…there are one hundred and five. Yellow is their hair, and bright are their spears. Their leader is very tall.”
Aragorn rolls his eyes at this. But his mirth doesn’t last long. He knows what the people of Rohan were like in years past– he once fought alongside King Theoden’s father– but times have changed and the future is dark. Rumor says Rohan may be allied with Sauron. Aragorn doesn’t believe it, though. “I have been among them… They are proud and wilful, but they are true-hearted, generous in thought and deed; bold but not cruel; wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs after the mannof of the children of Men before the Dark Years.” The Rohirrim, then, are a hard people, but fair and just. They have long been allies of Gondor.
I have to admit that, of all the kingdoms of Middle-earth, Rohan is my favorite. Perhaps it’s to do with the wide open spaces, the wind, and the prominence of the horses in Rohan’s culture. I was a horse crazy girl who lived in a place of wide open spaces with plenty of horses. It was an easy connection for me to make, especially when I encountered Eowyn for the first time. But that will happen later.
Right now, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are waiting for the riders to reach them. It doesn’t take long, but the riders don’t see them at first, shrouded as they are in their Elvish cloaks. Aragorn finally stands up and calls out to them. Within minutes, the company of riders has turned about and surrounded Aragorn and his companions, with spears at the ready. Their leader demands to know their names and business.
Aragorn introduces himself as Strider and says they are hunting the orcs who have taken their two friends. The leader thinks this is strange and asks if they’re Elves who have sprung out of the grass (thanks to their cloaks). Aragorn says no, they weren’t chasing orcs on foot by choice, and the Lady of Lothlorien gave them their cloaks. This makes the leader even more suspicious, as they have heard strange stories about Lothlorien.
This angers Gimli, who will defend Galadriel to the death, and a scuffle nearly breaks out when Legolas declares that he will fight at Gimli’s side if it comes to it. But cooler heads prevail, and introductions go around. The leader’s name is Eomer, and thanks to Rohan’s laws and these dangerous times, he is bound to question strangers wandering around the country. They nearly come to blows again when Eomer questions Aragorn’s intentions and asks who he serves. Aragorn draws Anduril and declares his real identity. Eomer is taken aback, “There are indeed strange days… Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass.”
They do not fight, though. Eomer takes Aragorn at his word. He tells them that his company was hunting the same band of orcs and that they slaughtered them all and burned the corpses. They found no one but orcs, though. No one who could be Aragorn’s friends. He assumes they are Men.
Aragorn and Gimli try to explain hobbits to them, and one of the riders laughs. “Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?”
“‘A Man may do both,’ said Aragorn. ‘For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time.'”
And now Eomer must make a choice. He is bound by the king’s law to take these strangers back to Edoras to answer for their trespassing in Rohan, but Aragorn insists that his errand is too important to delay. They are many miles from Edoras, so the decision and its consequences are on Eomer’s head. They discuss the situation privately, and Aragorn passes on the news of Gandalf’s fall and Boromir’s death. These are fell tidings on top of everything else the Rohirrim are dealing with. He asks Aragorn to come with him to aid in the fight, but Aragorn refuses. He will find his friends, or he will die trying. Eomer is unsure of what to do: “It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live, and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the father of our father rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”
And here we come to one of the primary questions of The Lord of the Rings. When times are difficult and the world is turned upside down, what do we do? How do we know what course to take? How do we tell right from wrong?
Aragorn answers him- and us- “As he ever has judged… Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”
That is, we as individuals know the difference between right and wrong. We know it is wrong to cheat and lie and steal. We know it is right to help other people. These things do not change, regardless of the circumstances. It is an individual’s responsibility to do good, to do the right thing. There might be laws and cultural obligations in place, but if they are wrong or evil, it is still up to the individual to make the choice for good.
And so Eomer makes his choice. He will not force Aragorn to come to Edoras and answer to the king. He will send them on their way to search for the hobbits. And what’s more, he will loan them horses to speed them on their way. He only asks that, once they have their answers, they will go to Edoras and bring the horses with them as proof of their good faith, and that Eomer did not misjudge them. He might be putting his life on the line with this, as he is breaking the law, but out there in the middle of nowhere, he has only himself to rely on for this decision. He does what he thinks is right.
The rest of the riders are doubtful of this decision, but Eomer is their leader, and they will not gainsay him. Gimli refuses to get on either horse at first, but Legolas says he’ll ride double with him, and Gimli accepts that. Aragorn gets his own horse. They say farewell to Eomer, and they all hope they will see each other again. With that, the riders are swiftly gone, and Aragorn and the others depart to complete their errand.
Thanks to the horses, they soon arrive at the spot where the riders fought the orcs. They find no signs of the hobbits. Gimli guesses that their bones are mixed among the orcs’, and loathes the thought of giving the news to Frodo and those in Rivendell who opposed their coming. Legolas says that Gandalf was not opposed to it, but Gimli reminds him of how Gandalf’s foresight failed him.
Aragorn ends the discussion. ‘The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on the foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others,’ said Aragorn. ‘There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.'”
They make a camp for the night at the edges of Fangorn Forest, a dark and mysterious wood that Celeborn warned them about. They are sure to use fallen sticks and branches to make their fire since they don’t want to attract hostile attention, even if their fire might attract Merry and Pippin if they managed to escape. They attract nothing, but the tree next to them seems to want to curl up next to the fire and listen in on their conversation. It’s weird, but it’s also night. Maybe they’re imagining it? Or maybe it’s to do with the rumors of strange creatures that live in Fangorn? They get nothing sorted out before they fall asleep.
Partway through the night, Gimli wakes up and sees someone in the forest. It’s an old man with a staff and a wide-brimmed hat walking through the trees. He starts, waking the others. Aragorn calls out to the man, but the old man disappears. They find no trace of him, and as they’re looking the horses get away from their pickets and run away.
So there they are, under the branches of a foreboding forest, having spotted who they think is Saruman, and with no easy means of escape.
Next week: We hear from the hobbits! But it’s not the best news, as Merry and Pippin are captives of the orcs! Chapters III and IV: ‘The Uruk-Hai’ and ‘Treebeard’