A question perhaps not as common as Who is Tom Bombadil? or Do Balrogs have wings?, is the equally-ambiguous issue of which Two Towers give their name to the second volume of The Lord of the Rings.
From a book perspective I never found myself asking this question, since the answer seemed to present itself clearly – even though in contradiction with what the films have offered us.
– Orthanc & Cirith Ungol
– Minas Tirith & Minas Morgul
– Barad-dûr & Minas Tirith
– Orthanc & Barad-dûr
And this is but a selection of the mix-and-match possibilities. These combinations are the result of correct assumptions based on certain moments in the story that take place in The Two Towers.
Orthanc seems to be an almost certain contender in any case, considering it features heavily in the second volume and is crucial to the Rohan storyline. At the same time, we are introduced to Saruman’s abode in Isengard in this book, and interestingly enough, so is its downfall. The journey of the rise and fall of Orthanc is documented in Volume II of The Lord of the Rings and it is therefore only natural to safely assume that this was one of the Two Towers.
The most tantalising and accurate combination from the above list, would be Orthanc & Barad-dûr. Indeed, Peter Jackson and his team came up with such a grouping for the second installment of the Trilogy. Such guess is as good as any, but perhaps more so than others due to the strong interactions between the two dominating forces of evil: attempting to thwart our heroes’ respective journeys on both fronts.
Naturally, the tower of Orthanc (as the seat of Saruman) and the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr (for the Dark Lord), seem appropriate as the eponymous Two Towers. There is no specific reason why these shouldn’t be the ones referred to in the book – and the argument may well be considered closed.
On the other hand, while from a cinematic perspective I take the above two as being THE Two Towers, when reading the book I get a completely different picture.
Taking into consideration the structure of the second volume – differing greatly from its film counterpart, especially the last eight chapters or so – I tend to lean more towards the towers being those of Orthanc and Minas Morgul.
We’ve already discussed the reasons for the inclusion of Orthanc so let’s proceed directly to Minas Morgul (not literally!).
– Orthanc and Minas Morgul
One of the most dominating threats for Frodo and Sam as they journey towards Mordor, is the presence of the Nazgûl – flying high in the air upon their winged creatures to search for the One Ring. The halflings, comprehending the impossible task of slipping through the Black Gate, are forced to tackle another entrance which takes them right into the valley of Minas Morgul – the city of the Ringwraiths.
It is here that one of the central moments in The Lord of the Rings occurs. In such close proximity to the claws of the enemy, our heroes find themselves in the middle of a concourse, as one of Sauron’s hosts marches out towards Gondor.
Much of these threats to the characters, do not come from Barad-dûr directly, but rather through Mordor’s servants: with attacks from Orthanc in the West and (more specifically) Minas Morgul in the East.
Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons why I’ve always considered both Orthanc and Minas Morgul as being THE Two Towers, was due to the book’s cover. For reading purposes, I use one of the HarperCollins hardback editions, containing Tolkien’s famous illustration of the towers standing opposite of each other.
One has the distinctive image of a hand (the White Hand of Saruman); whilst the other displays a crescent moon. If you recall, Minas Morgul was once called Minas Ithil (“Tower of the Moon“) before it fell in the hands of the enemy.
Furthermore, a winged creature can be seen travelling towards Orthanc from Minas Morgul’s direction, strongly suggesting the depiction of the final scene in The Two Towers – when Pippin looks into the Palantír and a shadow dashes across the sky towards Isengard – leaving Gandalf no choice but to take the hobbit to Minas Tirith.
Ultimately, it’s all up to the reader. Whether or not Tolkien intended for this to remain a mystery, or perhaps he never realized it was so unclear in the book, we may never know.
But at the same time, it’s fun to speculate and this continues to generate appeal towards the multi-layered stories of Middle-earth: constantly providing us with amusement, no matter how many times we read the books.
In the meantime, what are YOUR thoughts on the Two Towers? 😉