The Two Towers: Novel Summary: Book III - Chapter 6

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Summary: Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive at the gates of Edoras in Rohan. The gatekeeper warns them, "None are welcome here in days of war but our own folk"-Wormtongue (the counselor to King Thoden who, unbeknownst to the gatekeeper, is an agent of Saruman) has ordered that no strangers shall enter. He does, however, obtain permission from the king for the travelers to enter, provided that they leave all weapons behind, even Gandalf's staff. The wizard convinces Hma, however (the warden of the doors of Thoden's hall itself), to let him keep his staff. They enter Medulsed, the Golden Hall, to find Thoden much aged and decrepit, with Wormtongue by his side. Wormtongue encourages the king's distrust of Gandalf. Gandalf rebukes Wormtongue with a flash of lightning from his wizard's staff. King Thoden, beside his niece owyn (the sister of omer) emerges from the darkness of his hall into the light of day. Thoden releases omer from prison-where he had been placed for not heeding the words of Wormtongue-and returns him to active duty among the Rohirrim. For his part, Wormtongue pleads for mercy from Thoden. The king grants Wormtongue clemency, and more: he offers the false counselor a chance to redeem himself by riding to war with the Rohirrim against Saruman. This opportunity, of course, Wormtongue rejects, still falsely professing love for Thoden even as he does. Wormtongue departs for Saruman, and Thoden thus knows the truth. Thoden prepares to ride forth to war against his enemies, the forces of darkness that, in Wormtongue, have too long enslaved him. He appoints owyn to rule in his place while he is away.
Analysis: The light from Gandalf's staff is symbolic of the light of hope that the wizard brings to Thoden. As King Thoden listens to Gandalf speak of the "hope at which [Sauron] has not guessed," "the light shone brighter in Thoden's eye." Gandalf urges the king not to give into despair, which is indeed a deadly sin in Middle-earth-to abandon all hope is to yield a victory to the Enemy; that is, to evil. "Too long," he tells the despondent king, "have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings." This quote also shows how Tolkien is paying attention to the theme of communication-or, more accurately in this case, miscommunication-throughout The Lord of the Rings. (See, for example, Book III, Chapter 10 below). Wormtongue (as his name suggests) (ab)uses language in order to sow fear and hopelessness; Gandalf uses language to nurture courage and hope. Closely related to this theme are questions preoccupying Tolkien in the book as a whole: Whom do we trust? How do we determine in whom and in what to place our trust? Thoden has been rescued from the fate of misplaced trust in Wormtongue-who, in turn, has mistakenly placed his trust and hopes in Saruman. As Gandalf says to Wormtongue, "Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price?" Tolkien is asking his readers, What is the price of trust?
Thoden's return to action, and his accompanying return to vigor, echoes the Fisher King motif of much mythological and fantastic literature, particularly the Grail Quest stories of Arthurian literature. This motif emphasizes the connection between the king and his land (see comments in Aragorn in Chapter 2 above). When Thoden tells owyn, "The time for fear is past," he is speaking about more than his own personal situation; he is speaking about the situation of Rohan at large. Healing for the king brings healing for the land-a motif readers will note again in Books V and VI. Another connection of this chapter to the saga as a whole occurs with the king's initial mistrust of his nephew omer, which parallels the lack of faith Denethor will exhibit toward his son Faramir in Book VI. As readers will discover, King Thoden is eventually reconciled to omer, and his rule of his kingdom is renewed; Denethor and Faramir will never reconcile, and Denethor's reign as Steward of Gondor ends in needless tragedy.
Readers should also note how King Thoden's sparing of Wormtongue's life, even though "it would be just" to slay him, looks both backward to Bilbo's sparing of Gollum's life in The Hobbit and ahead to Frodo's sparing of Gollum at the beginning of Book V.

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