Well, as you can see, when it came to choosing my last read for the #1954Club, I followed my heart…

I was so immersed in the word of Middle Earth that despite all the other lovely options for 1954, the fact that “The Two Towers” was also from that year and that I longed to continue following the tale of the Ring made it impossible for me to read anything else. So I picked up “The Two Towers” and continued to lose myself in Tolkien‘s wonderful land. I’ll try to involve spoilers when sharing my thoughts, but inevitably plot elements will be discussed so please look away if you haven’t read these books yet!

“The Two Towers” takes up where “Fellowship…” finished, with the group becoming fragmented and under attack from the enemy. The first volume in the sequence, although split into two Books, was pretty much chronological, following the fellowship as they travelled on their quest. “Towers…” is again split into two Books, but each follows a different strand of the tale; the first goes with the scattered companions, following their various battles, encounters and adventures; the second follows Frodo and Sam as they try to carry out the missions they’ve taken on. Neither group will find their journey particularly easy.

Book 1 subdivides the adventures even more; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimly make one party, trying to track Merry and Pippin who have been swept off by the enemy. Encounters with the fierce Riders of Rohan, an unexpected and joyful reappearance and the gaining of new allies are one element; but the adventure of the two Hobbits is one of the most memorable parts of the book, where they gain in strength and bravery as well as meeting some very unusual beings who will turn out to help the forces of good. This is the book where Saruman is dealt with, to a certain extent, and there is hope that the tide will turn in favour of the allies. However, Saruman is only a small foe, compared with others…

Meanwhile, Book 2 finds Frodo and Sam travelling through bleak and horrible landscapes in an attempt to reach Mordor; and they have an unexpected guide with them, one who cannot be trusted. The Hobbits, too, encounter unexpected allies who offer welcome respite; but their road is a hard one, their guide is slippery and their are unknown perils to come. “Towers…” ends again on a cliffhanger moment, with the forces of evil gathering for a final battle, and the quest of Frodo and Sam in danger of failure. Once again, Tolkien leaves the reader breathless and desperate to carry on with the next book!!

It was now past midnight. The sky was utterly dark, and the stillness of the heavy air foreboded storm. Suddenly the clouds were seared by a blinding flash. Branched lightning smote down upon the eastward hills. For a staring moment the watchers on the walls saw all the space between them and the Dike lit with white light: it was boiling and crawling with black shapes, some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and stable shields. Hundreds and hundreds more pouring over the Dike and through the breach. The dark tide flowed up to the walls from cliff to cliff. Thunder rolled in the valley. Rain came lashing down.

When I read “Fellowship…” I must admit to going through rather like a hot knife through butter; I was loving it so much I raced on. Here, I tried to pace myself a little (though I still find the book a remarkably quick and easy read – perhaps a legacy from having read it so many times!) When it comes to LOTR, the words “sweeping” and “epic” are often applied, and it certainly is a tale which encompasses huge events and a long quest. Despite this, however, it’s a very human story and you never lose touch with the characters, their personalities and destinies. This is perhaps best exemplified in the Helm’s Deep chapter where Tolkien’s narrative is quite masterly; he covers the ebbs and flows of a huge battle which never loses you in rhetoric and always is compelling – he really was a brilliant writer and I was impressed once again by his expert handling of his material. Some parts the reader experiences “live”; some parts are told in retrospect; and Tolkien is always completely in control.

… songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely.

What is also quite marvellous is his inventive imagination; more erudite commentators than I will probably be able to provide further info about the sources of much of Tolkien’s creations, but the world he creates, and the living beings he peoples it with, are so original and unforgettable. I also noticed this time round how his tone gradually changes; LOTR starts off in relatively light-hearted fashion, with songs and adventure and only an underlying darkness. However, as the tale develops, characters grow in stature and the peril facing them becomes darker and seemingly more invincible; there are still moments of light-hearted Hobbit humour to lift the mood, but it’s clear by the end of “Towers…” that the world will be changed forever by the events taking place and that some peoples and ways of life will pass from sight forever. Even the songs and lyrics lose their light-heartedness, drawing on ancient myths and legends, or relating dark stories, and I found many of these very affecting.

I have lived to see strange days. Long we have attended our beasts and our fields, built our houses, wrought our tools, written way to help in the wars of Minas Tirith. And that we called the life of Men, the way of the world. We cared little for what lay beyond the borders of our land. Songs we have that tell of these things, but we are forgetting them, teaching them only to children, as a careless custom. And now the songs have come down among us out of strange places, and walk visible under the Sun.

As you can probably gather, I was perhaps even more immersed in this book than the first! The whole reading experience was just a marvellous one and I was once again transported into the narrative, living the events alongside the characters. There’s not a dull moment, the setting is vividly conjured (and helped along by the beautiful map in the back of my edition) and Middle Earth and its denizens are as real to me as they ever were. Tolkien’s prose is really beautiful and evocative in places, in a way I hadn’t perhaps appreciated before, and that lyrical quality runs through the book. I definitely did the right thing in revisiting these stories in the original edition I first read them (although I *do* remember them as being physically bigger – but then, I was a child!!); and thank goodness for the #1954Club giving me that nudge to re-read. It’s quite clear that these books are as precious to me as the ring is to Gollum!!! The only issue now is – do I simply continue to ignore the screaming TBR and carry on with my re-read to journey’s end??