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The Two Towers: Essay Q&A

Essay Q&A

  1. What message(s) about the importance of choice does The Two Towers convey? Support your response with specific references to the text.

Although students' responses may vary, essays should be able to point to several specific instances of characters needing to make critical choices in the narrative: e.g., Aragorn needing to choose whether to search for Merry and Pippin, and then needing to choose how to "read the riddles" he encounters in his search; King Thoden needing to choose whether to trust Gandalf, omer and others after he is freed from Wormtongue's influence; Frodo's choice to trust Gollum as a guide into Mordor; Sam's choice about whether to stay with Frodo or continue the quest after their encounter with Shelob. Students may find other notable examples. Overall, The Two Towers emphasizes that, as agents with free will, people must confront and make difficult decisions in life, even when there is no clear "best" choice to be made. While "luck," "fate" and/or providence have some important role to play, human beings must remain active in forging their own destinies through the exercise of choice.

  1. Discuss the motif of the "passing" or "fading" of the world as it relates to specific characters and/or incidents in The Two Towers. What seems to be the significance of this motif for Tolkien?

Specific occurrences of this motif in The Two Towers include but are not limited to: Treebeard's lament that some Ents are falling asleep and becoming "more tree-ish," as well as his longing for the absent Entwives; Faramir's comment that the men of Rohan are becoming men "of twilight"; and the dim recollection various characters of other races have, if they have any recollection at all, of hobbits' place in the order of Middle-earth. Students' essays should reflect an awareness that Tolkien emphasized the transitory nature of the world; he stressed that nothing endures forever, not to deny the importance of our life, but to heighten its significance: now is the time we are given in which to act for what is good and just (see, e.g., Aragorn's exhortation for omer to take sides in the coming war; or Sam's realization that he has been chosen to play a role in the fulfillment of the quest to destroy the Ring).

  1. In literature, a "foil" refers to a character or a thing that contrasts with another character or thing. This contrast helps readers understand both characters or things. How does Faramir function as a foil to Boromir? What do we learn about both characters in the process of contrasting the two?

Although they are brothers, Boromir and Faramir are also different. We learn that Faramir is wiser than his brother because, unlike Boromir, he does not seek the Ring for his own, nor desire to use it to defend Gondor. Faramir has a keener awareness of the true nature of evil and the seductive capability of power than did his brother. The contrast between the two helps define the nature of "heroism" in Tolkien's Middle-earth. Students may discover other points of contact and contrast between the two characters; support responses with specific references to the text.

  1. How does the ancient Norse concept of heroism show itself in The Two Towers? Give specific examples from the text.

Critic Tom Shippey defines the Norse concept of heroism which Tolkien adopted as follows: "The truly courageous answer. is to say that victory or defeat have nothing to do with right and wrong, and that even if the universe is controlled beyond redemption by hostile and evil forces, that is not enough to make a hero change sides" (Author of the Century, p. 150). Specific instances of this attitude in the text include but are not necessarily limited to: Frodo's determination to enter Mordor even when he feels he will never return from his quest; the defense the Rohirrim mount against Saruman's forces at Helm's Deep, fighting even when victory seems impossible; and Sam's resolve to continue the quest to destroy the Ring on his own, when he believes that Frodo has been killed by Shelob.

  1. Watch director Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Two Towers (New Line Cinema, 2002; rated PG-13). Discuss the ways in which Jackson and the filmmakers adhered to and diverged from Tolkien's text. Why do you think they made the changes they did? How do these changes affect your understanding and appreciation of Tolkien's story?

Students' responses will, of course, vary, according to their reading of the text and their attention to the film. Some significant changes worthy of comment include: (1) the expansion of Helm's Deep in the film-while both Tolkien and Jackson present it as a struggle that seems hopeless until the very end, Jackson enlarges it primarily for theatrical value but also uses it as an opportunity to develop the theme of interspecies cooperation (Elves again ally with Men against a common foe), a theme Tolkien sounds in other ways in his work, especially in The Fellowship of the Ring; (2) the addition, from the Appendices, of Aragorn's romantic relationship with Arwen, which not only adds a "love interest" to Tolkien's story but also develops his theme of choice, as Arwen chooses mortality for the sake of her love of Aragorn; (3) Faramir's reaction to the Ring-unlike the events in the book, in the film Faramir decides to use the Ring to defend Gondor and takes the hobbits and Gollum to Osgiliath. Only then does he realize the futility of fighting evil with evil means. Although the film may reduce Faramir's character by having him do this, it does ultimately present him as wiser than Boromir-he knows when to abandon his plan of using the Ring, and, as in the book, lets Frodo continue his quest.

How does Sam grow as a character

Reflect on Boromir and Faramir as foils to each other

The "passing" of the world (the Ents who have grown tree-ish)

What is the glory of warfare, if any?

Movie vs. text


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