The Two Towers


J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Two Towers Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien was born in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa and moved to the Birmingham countryside at the age of three after his father’s death. Tolkien’s mother, Mabel, homeschooled him, and he grew up a voracious reader with an interest in languages. When he was 12, his mother died, leaving him and his brother in the care of her friend Father Francis, who raised them Catholic. Father Francis ended Tolkien’s budding romance with Edith Bratt, an older Protestant girl, fearing that she was distracting him from school and forbidding him from contacting her until he turned 21. When WWI began, Tolkien delayed enlisting to complete his degree at the University of Oxford, then married Edith in 1916, two months before being sent to the Western Front. While recovering from trench fever, he began recording the stories that would later be published by his son Christopher as The Book of Lost Tales. Though he is best known for The Lord of the Rings series, Tolkien had a prolific academic career, publishing highly acclaimed translations and critical essays during his time as a professor at the University of Leeds and Oxford. Tolkien’s novels have remained both popular and culturally influential since their publication, inspiring numerous adaptations and popularizing the epic fantasy genre.
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Historical Context of The Two Towers

Though Tolkien detested allegory and denied that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory for WWI, he admitted in a 1960 letter that his experiences in the war influenced his writing. In particular, the Dead Marshes are reminiscent of Northern France’s landscape—bleak and muddy—after the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. It is likely that the dead faces Sam and Frodo see in the mucky water were inspired by corpses Tolkien himself saw in the mud of the Somme. In addition, though Tolkien lived after the Industrial Revolution, he was greatly affected by its slow destruction of rural life and the natural landscapes of his childhood. His hatred of the noise, ugliness, and pollution of industrialization is reflected in the evils of Saruman and Sauron, who abuse and exploit the environment. The two great villains of The Two Towers, like industrialization itself, disrespect the beauty and sanctity of the lands of Middle-earth, destroying trees and rivers in order to create mechanized horrors.

Other Books Related to The Two Towers

Most of Tolkien’s fiction is set in the world of Middle-earth, including The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and 23 other volumes of writing published posthumously by Tolkien’s son Christopher. Another fantastical series with Christian undertones is The Chronicles of Narnia, written by Tolkien’s friend and colleague C.S. Lewis. Though Tolkien disliked the Narnia books heavy allegory, the two series both explore heroism, duty, sacrifice, and the importance of fellowship. Tolkien’s characters Boromir and Faramir are brothers who differ in their feelings about war and glory. They share many characteristics with the brothers Hector and Paris from Homer’s Iliad, which explores, as The Two Towers does, the dictates of honor and the necessity of war. Furthermore, the culture of the Rohirrim is similar to that of the Danes in Beowulf, one of Tolkien’s main areas of scholarship. Tolkien is also believed to have drawn inspiration for Middle-earth from Norse and Finnish myth collected in the Poetic Edda and The Kalevala. Tolkien’s novels have been incredibly influential to the fantasy genre and have inspired new generations of fantasy writers such as Ursula K. LeGuin, Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Christopher Paolini, and Patrick Rothfuss. Modern fantasy authors such as N.K. Jemisin both follow in Tolkien’s footsteps and critically engage with his books by creating epic fantasy worlds full of conflict and oppression. Jemisin has written that she, as a Black woman, does what Tolkien also did in creating mythologies into which she can escape and that necessarily elevate the author’s own cultural background.
Key Facts about The Two Towers
  • Full Title: The Two Towers
  • When Written: 1937–1949
  • Where Written: Oxford, England
  • When Published: 1954
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Epic, High Fantasy
  • Setting: Middle-earth
  • Climax: Gollum betrays Frodo and Sam by sending them into Shelob’s lair, leading Frodo to be paralyzed by spider venom and captured by Sauron’s orcs.
  • Antagonist: Sauron
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The Two Towers

Polyglot Penman. Tolkien enjoyed creating languages, a process he called “glossopoeia.” He created as many as 20 languages before his death, in varying stages of development. The two most developed of these, Sindarin and Quenya, are elvish languages found in Middle-earth.

An Ent Among the Inklings. The character Treebeard was modeled after Tolkien’s friend and fellow author C.S. Lewis, who was known for his booming voice. Lewis and Tolkien were both members of the Inklings, a group of Oxford writers who met in the Eagle and Child pub to discuss the value of fantasy fiction and share their writing.