Revisiting the Lord of the Rings Books: The Two Towers

I’m progressing through my reread of the Lord of the Rings for the first time in over twenty years. (I took a break to read an Agatha Christie, because Fellowship through me off my pace to finish a book a week. Gotta love a nice quick mystery to set things right.) While I’ve started reading Fellowship multiple times over the years since I last finished it, I’ve never even picked up the Two Towers. I thought I had a generally good memory of how it played out, compared to the film.

Boy, was I wrong.

It’s a great book, and I enjoyed it more than Fellowship, but looking at it from an adaptation perspective . . . yikes. I’m so impressed that Peter Jackson was able to make such a compelling movie out of the novel. Again, not because the book is bad, but simply because there’s just not a whole lot of an arc to build on, other than Helm’s Deep. (But even that plot line is rough, since Helm’s Deep isn’t anywhere near to the end of it in Two Towers.)

You’ve got some great moments: Gandalf’s reveal of still being alive, the hunt for the orcs, the battle of Helm’s Deep, the ents at Isengard, Frodo and Sam vs. Shelob, and more. All of those were most definitely used by Jackson. But look at the plot arcs! The Gandalf/Aragorn/Pippin/Merry arc leaves with Gandalf talking to Saruman and then booking it out of town with Pippin in stow, entire chapters after the Helm’s Deep sequence finished. Frodo and Sam? It leaves with Frodo getting carted away by the orcs, just after Shelob’s attack. Both main plots of the book just basically cut off in the middle of the action.

It makes total sense, then, that Jackson expanded Helm’s Deep into a larger action piece, as well as including the full battle of the ents in-scene. (It’s just described after the fact in the book). Ending that plot before the conversation with Saruman turns it into a climax that feels like an ending of sorts, but you’re still left with Frodo and Sam. There is no part of their plot that feels like anything close to an accomplishment. Like something that would make sense to end on. Yes, you could just cliffhanger it, but I think Jackson was wise not to. The movies that just cut off in the middle feel like a swindle to me.

Instead, he expanded Faramir, having him actually follow through with taking Frodo back to Gondor. This way, the choice Faramir makes to ultimately let Frodo go feels like a key point, and that plot has something like closure. True, this came at the cost of making Faramir less of an awesome character. In the book, he’s not tempted by the ring at all, and he really shines as good person. In the movie, it’s more muddled.

But still, the change makes the movie work. Jackson still included all the main beats of the book, though he cut both plots short to do so. Adaptation at its finest, in my opinion.

I’m really looking forward to reading the final book.

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