Mark Reads ‘The Two Towers’: Book 2, Chapter 1

In the first chapter of the second book of The Two Towers, OH MY GOD. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.


‘Well, master, we’re in a fix and no mistake,’ said Sam Gamgee.

OH SHIT OH MY GOD IT’S SAM. Oh my god, does that mean the next ten chapters or so will be ONLY SAM AND FRODO? I’m sorry, THIS IS BRILLIANT. Is this where George R.R. Martin got the inspiration to split up character POVs? I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.

It’s been so long since we’ve seen Sam and Frodo and Tolkien very promptly reminds us that everything is incredibly fucked up. Look, flat-out, I did not expect this novel to be harrowing at all. I’m at a point where I’m so invested in the characters that Tolkien has created that I am getting irrationally upset and worried by the things that are happening to them. They aren’t real, I keep telling myself. Your worrying is not going to help keep them safe.

And neither is the journey these two hobbits have chosen to take. The slopes of the Emyn Muil are possibly the most difficult terrain they’ve passed over yet, a steep and stony set of hills and cliffs that never seem to end and never seem to let them go in the direction they want to head. I think the most significant thing I picked up out of all of this is that Frodo is simply tired. Obviously, he and Sam are physically exhausted, but that’s not surprising. Frodo just wants to end this one way or another. He is sick of carrying the Ring, he’s sick of worrying about what awaits over the next pass, and he’s sick of fretting over the outcome of his trip to Mordor. He just wants to be there, to deal with whatever Sauron has for him, and to be done with it all. Plus, they’ve now reached a point where Gollum just annoys them, since they know he is following them.

Once again, Tolkien uses his brilliant grasp of geography and vocabulary to paint a bleak and expansive picture:

Along its brink there now stretched a wide tumbled flat of scored and weathered rock, cut every now and again by trench-like gullies that sloped steeply down to deep notches in the cliff-face.

It’s such an aggressive description, one that makes the hills of the Emyn Muil seem sinister and treacherous. But it also feels incredibly lonely, as if it is a constant reminder to us of where these hobbits are and that they’ve separated from the main group. When they come upon a cliff that leads into a gully and try to figure out a way down, I can’t ignore how much harder their journey is with only two people in the whole group. I like that Sam is fairly ready to just jump down first, to test the drop in a way that won’t harm Frodo. Is it impractical? Of course it is! Plus, all I could think was DUDE DIDN’T YOU BRING ELF ROPE WHAT ARE YOU DOING.

I find it impossible to really predict anything in this book both because it’s so detailed and because Tolkien is proving to be quite good at fooling me. I cannot even fathom a guess as to what the fuck happens when Frodo hangs over the edge and that darkness arrives. Tolkien says they heard it “far away in the Marish,” but I can’t even remember then what that was. At first I thought it might be a Nazgûl, but this darkness makes it so that Frodo can’t even see. Is this something else of Sauron’s design? Why is their a scream when it arrives? WHY AM I SO CONFUSED? Right, because I am eternally unprepared.

Actually, let me take that back. I think I finally figured out one thing in this book. When Sam’s rope mysteriously seems to come untied from the stump, I think that was Gollum who untied it. I suppose that doesn’t make the most sense; at that point in the story, why would he help them? Still, I bet there’s a reason for it. Oh god, wait, I just thought of another idea. What if elf-rope is, like, magic and shit? You know, you just think something while holding it and it does that? Okay, that’s even worse of an idea than Gollum untying it. LOOK, I’M TRYING, OKAY?

It did not, however, turn out half as bad as he had expected.

Do not use those words, Tolkien. You are trying to trick me into letting my guard down so you can destroy me later. I CAN SEE YOUR PLAN A MILE AWAY.

I got a sense that I was right once Sam and Frodo tried to rest underneath a boulder and spotted Gollum on a nearby cliff. However, it actually doesn’t end up to be quite the disaster I thought it would be. Actually, it’s not much of a disaster at all once I give it some thought. There’s actually a lot of crucial information that I learn not only about Gollum but about the journey ahead from their interaction with him:

  • You know, when I first met Dobby, I thought he was a combination between Yoda and Jar Jar Binks. But I think it would be hard to deny that there is a little bit of Gollum in him as well, at least in terms of influence.
  • The way that Gollum speaks is so fascinating to me because I can’t think of another character who does that was created before he was. I’m curious what Tolkien’s decision-making process was like concerning him. Why have him speak the way he does? (As long as it’s not spoilery, I’m actually cool with y’all sharing this with me.)
  • Frodo is kind of a badass with Sting.
  • There are cats and mice in Middle-earth???
  • Despite everything, he isn’t too fond of Mordor. I suppose that makes sense. According to Gandalf and Aragorn’s tale, Gollum wasn’t exactly treated well there.
  • There are pits and thousands of Orcs in Mordor. Are the Orcs in the pits? So they’re like evil ball pits and you just slide into them and get eaten or something. Right?
  • Okay, so at one point, he actually imitates Sauron, doesn’t he? And Sauron is rather upset that he cannot find the Ring.
  • Elf-rope (or perhaps objects made with elf magic) hurt Gollum terribly.

Here’s the thing, though: it really does seem as if getting Gollum to swear by the Ring (not on it, as Frodo isn’t a fool) actually calms him down. It’s a whole behavioral change on Gollum’s part, and there’s nothing in the text to suggest that it’s not genuine. Still, I don’t know if I necessarily trust Gollum yet. It might be in his best interest to destroy the Ring so that it eliminates this uncontrollable power it has over him, but he doesn’t even know why Frodo is going to Mordor, does he?

I’m completely intrigued by this idea, though. Is Gollum really going to help Sam and Frodo? Or is this all a trick?

(Note: I realize this is technically book “four,” but the way I’ve been labeling posts, it doesn’t make sense that way. Just pointing this out before someone says it’s a mistake.)

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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