The Two Towers
A Movie-goers Guide
Like The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson's The Two Towers is a tremendous movie - visually stunning
and rightfully hailed as a true epic. What it very definitely is not, though, is any kind of direct translation of
Tolkien's original book to the medium of film. Where the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring really only differed
from the book in matters of detail, it's fair to say that The Two Towers reinvents more than a little of the history of the
War of the Ring.
Like our original Movie-goer's Guide to The Fellowship of the Ring, this article is mainly aimed at those who've
seen the movie before reading the book, to help introduce that much deeper and richer world created by Tolkien. It's unavoidable that
it also discusses some of the major variations from the book to the movie.
You should be aware that this article, and indeed this entire site, contains reference information that might spoil your enjoyment
of the movies or the books. If you haven't seen (or, better still, read) The Two Towers, then we strongly recommend you don't read any further until you have.
This article has been updated to include a few comments relating to the Extended Edition DVD.
Of Books and Films
Purely from the perspective of its faithfulness to the book, The Two Towers is a much more controversial film than its
predecessor. From viewers who have never read the original books, the response seems to be almost universally positive.
For those of us who know Tolkien's tales well, though, while we can certainly enjoy the movie on its own level too, it's probably
true to say that there's a general sense of discomfort at its distance from the original work. It's beyond the aims of this
article to try to judge the rights and wrongs of such changes, but they've generated such a response that it would be remiss
not to comment on them, however briefly.
At one extreme of this argument is the view that sees the movie of The Two Towers purely as a work by Peter Jackson
and his colleagues. This view was succinctly expressed by the commentator Mark Lawson in his column for
The Guardian newspaper. Writing of negative responses to The Fellowship of the Ring, he expressed the view that
'This hostility to interpretation is anti-cinematic. The point of movies is to rip up the words and reassemble them as pictures which
may - which should - differ in key details.' It has to be said that - at least in a general sense - he is absolutely right about this.
One recent popular example of this is the adaptation of Ted Hughes' wonderful fable The Iron Man, which was turned into an
animated feature film, The Iron Giant, in 1999. That film jettisoned almost every character and situation from the original book,
deleted its entire second half, relocated the action in time and in space: in fact, it fundamentally modified the original in almost
every way, and yet the result was a charming and engaging tale in its own right (to the extent that visitors to the
Internet Movie Database consider
it the 198th best movie ever made, at least at the time of writing). So, there clearly isn't anything intrinsically 'wrong' about
making radical changes like this.
But this freedom of interpretation must surely be valid only up to a point. If we were to see a film version of Romeo and Juliet
with a happy ending, say, it's hard to imagine the critics accepting that 'reassembly' in a positive light.
When Thomas Bowdler attempted to revise and adapt Shakespeare's works to his contemporary (early nineteenth century) audience,
his reward was to be immortalised by the scornful word 'bowdlerise'. So, there is a line beyond which an adapter strays at
their peril, at least for some exceptional works.
Of course it would be preposterous to compare Tolkien to Shakespeare (or Peter Jackson to Thomas Bowdler!), but it can be argued that his
work has a particular exceptional quality of its own. Tolkien is unique in that his stories take place in a fully realised
universe, and one that (to a great extent) pre-existed the stories themselves. The Lord of the Rings is an
historical novel, and the trivial fact that its history is a fictional one is really beside the point. Its consistent adherence to its
own underlying reality is a key (perhaps the key) strength of the book. Even the tiniest of changes within the story
can potentially have profound effects on the fabric of its universe, and it's that universe, as much as the stories he set in it, that is
Tolkien's true legacy. Perhaps that consideration can help define what's a reasonable change to the original story - the extent to which
it enhances or diminishes the broader tapestry into which the story is woven.
The extent to which Peter Jackson steps over this hazy limit, if at all, is really a matter of personal judgement.
In the rest of this article, we'll leave such considerations aside and try to bridge the gap between Peter Jackson's movie and
J.R.R. Tolkien's book, and also delve a little into the background of the story.
Which Two Towers?
Originally, Tolkien had meant The Lord of the Rings to be a single book, rather than a trilogy. When The Lord of the
Rings came to be published in the 1950's, paper was still in short supply after the Second World War, meaning that it could
only practically be produced as three separate volumes. The middle volume of the three contains so many varied lines of action
that Tolkien seems to have found some trouble naming it. In his own words:
"I am not at all happy about the title 'the Two Towers'. It must if there is any real reference in it to Vol II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there
is so much made of the basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith,
that seems very misleading."|
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 143, dated 1954
Tolkien also considered at least five other combinations of the towers of Barad-dûr,
Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul,
Minas Tirith and Orthanc, and it seems that he never settled on
a definitive identity for the eponymous towers. (If you haven't read the book, don't be surprised that you haven't heard of the
towers of Cirith Ungol or Minas Morgul. In the movie version
of the trilogy, the story of Cirith Ungol has been moved to The Return of the King, and
Minas Morgul gets only a fleeting mention in The Fellowship of the Ring.)
Peter Jackson seems to have suffered no such indecision over his two towers. In one of the earliest scenes of the movie,
Saruman identifies them as his own tower of
Orthanc at Isengard, and Sauron's
Dark Tower of Barad-dûr, and this is in fact one of the
many combinations that Tolkien suggested himself.
Major Changes from the Book to the Film
This section takes a look at some of the more fundamental ways that the movie differs from its source material. These
are changes that modify the underlying structure of the story in important ways, or introduce events that never occurred
in the original book.
- Perhaps the most obvious and significant difference is in the way the various storylines of The Two Towers are presented.
Tolkien's original was literally divided into two books: the first tells us the complete story of Aragorn's
adventures in Rohan and the overthrow of Isengard, and then the second returns
to Frodo and Sam, and concentrates on their journey through
the borderlands of Mordor. It was Tolkien's hope that a movie version of the book would preserve this
separation of the story. Of an earlier attempt to film the book, he wrote, 'It is essential that these two branches should each be
treated in coherent sequence.' (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, No 210, dated 1958, with original italics). Nonetheless, it
is perhaps not too surprising that the current movie version follows a more conventional approach, cutting between the various
storylines as they develop, rather than treating them as entirely separate.
- In both of the story strands, the movie finishes much earlier than the book. Tolkien's The Two Towers covers
events in a period of seventeen days, but the movie only deals with the first thirteen of these, losing about eight chapters
of the book in total. If rumours are to be believed, some of these missing events will be transferred to the opening scenes
of The Return of the King.
- The film contains several sequences that are entirely the invention of the film-makers, with nothing directly comparable in
the books. Perhaps the most extensive of these is the battle between the Rohirrim and the
Wargs on the road to Helm's Deep. That battle is unique to the film
version, as are Aragorn's subsequent adventures (he falls into a river which sweeps him away from the
others, and eventually spies the armies of
Saruman approaching before riding to Helm's Deep).
- Similarly, the entire sequence showing Elrond's remonstrances with Arwen, and
Galadriel's commentary on events, occur only in the movie version. None of these characters appear
anywhere in the original book. The idea behind this sequence seems rather at odds with Tolkien's intention - in the book, there is no
question of Arwen sailing away from Middle-earth, nor of
Aragorn thinking she might do so - these two had long since 'plighted their troth'. While the movie suggests
the real possibility of romance between Aragorn and
Éowyn, then, this is quite unthinkable in the original book.
- The story of Frodo's meeting with Faramir has been radically
modified. Tolkien's Faramir is one of the most insightful and compassionate characters in the book,
intelligent enough to divine the importance of Frodo's mission, and to let him
continue without hindrance. In the movie, he's lost all these qualities - deciding to take the Ring to
Minas Tirith, he drags Frodo and Sam
some forty miles out of their way, allowing a Nazgûl to discover the Ring
in Osgiliath, before he realises he's made a mistake.
In fact, the idea of the Ring being revealed to one of the Ringwraiths in
Osgiliath threatens to undermine the entire plot. The whole purpose of Frodo's
mission is to bring the Ring to Mordor in secret. His only hope of
success is in Sauron's ignorance of the Ring's whereabouts, but here we seem
to see one of Sauron's slaves discovering its exact location, and on the very borders of his master's
realm. It's not completely clear how Frodo survives this encounter - no such dangerous and
foolhardy adventure occurs in the book.
The feedback we've had on this point suggests that it's worth exploring in a bit more detail. A lot of people have pointed out
already knew that the Ring
was in the hands of a
, and would have expected it to be on its way to Minas Tirith
so its appearance in Osgiliath
, only about twenty miles from the City of Gondor
wouldn't have made a significant difference to his plans.
Actually, at this point in Tolkien's original story, we have a clearer idea of Sauron's
beliefs about the
than this suggests. He knew about Saruman's
capture of the
beneath Amon Hen
, and assumed that one of these had been the
. Through Saruman's palantír
(in a scene that hasn't yet appeared in the movie version) he says, 'Tell Saruman
that this dainty is not
for him. I will send for it at once.' (The Two Towers
III 11, The Palantír
). Soon after this, he discovered
had been overthrown, and so would presume that the Ring
was in the
possession of the Rohirrim
, out of his reach at that time, but far from
The situation presented by the movie would overturn all these presumptions, suddenly presenting him with the
all-but unguarded on his own borders. Of course it's impossible to say with certainty what would have
happened in a situation like this, but it's also difficult to believe that it wouldn't have affected Sauron's
actions in any way at all. Having presumed the Ring
to be hundreds of miles away, he would suddenly
have found it on his own borders - a few minutes' flight for the Nazgûl
, and with a huge army stationed
just a few leagues away at Minas Morgul
. Given this extraordinary opportunity - the key to victory dangled in front of his grasp - Sauron
would surely have made some
attempt to recapture it.
It should be said that Faramir
has several extra scenes in the Extended Edition DVD, and together they go a long way towards presenting the more thoughtful and sympathetic sides to his character that we see in the books. One of these scenes is particularly interesting: a flashback to events in Osgiliath
left for Rivendell
. At one point, Boromir's
tells him that Elrond
has called a Council
, and Boromir
agrees to set out for the north. Their discussions include the following curious piece of dialogue:
This is quite at variance with the book's version of events, in which Boromir
is not summoned to Rivendell
at all. In the original story, he sets out for his own reasons long before Frodo
even leaves the Shire
, and has no inkling what 'Isildur's Bane
' might be until he sees it at the Council of Elrond
. The movies' new version of events raises some interesting questions.
The book orchestrates events so that Boromir
arrives at Rivendell
within a few days of Frodo
, but here he needs to wait for a messenger to arrive from Elrond
before setting out himself: a round trip approaching two thousand miles in length. From this, we'd have to assume a delay of at least several months between Frodo's
arrival and the beginning of the Council of Elrond
motivations are made a little more difficult to understand by this scene, too. In the movie of The Fellowship of the Ring
, just as in the book, he's presented as a noble warrior who is uncontrollably tempted to take the Ring
for himself. Here, though, we see Denethor
instructing his son to capture the Ring
, which seems to suggest that he is actually working as an undercover agent within the Company
, and plotting to recover the Ring
all along. The implications of this change are quite profound, but rather beyond the scope of this article.
- In both the book and the movie, the Ents are motivated to attack Saruman in
Isengard, but the details of how this comes about are strangely different. In the book, the
Ents gather in Entmoot to discuss the destruction
Saruman has been wreaking on their forest, and finally decide that they will attack him in
Isengard. In the movie, the same meeting takes place, but the Ents decide
that they won't attack. Pippin then
manipulates Treebeard into witnessing the destruction of the forest, causing him to change his
mind and summon the other Ents to war.
The logic of the film version is rather difficult to follow. If Treebeard didn't already know about
Saruman's destruction of the forest, why was Entmoot called in the first
place? If it's necessary for the Ents to hold a council before going to war, why is it that
Treebeard can single-handedly overturn their decision? Even more curiously, after walking for miles
through the forest away from the other Ents (remember that they had decided not to attack
Isengard) Treebeard has only to call them, and they step
out of the trees in unison, ready to charge. All in all, Tolkien's version of this plotline seems to make more sense.
- A word needs to be said about Éomer, whose role in the movie has shrunk to almost
insignificant proportions. In the book, he is one of the key characters - after King
Théoden is healed by Gandalf, he is made heir to the kingdom of
Rohan, and remains with Théoden from then on, fighting beside
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in the defence of
Helm's Deep. In the original, Helm's Deep isn't relieved by
Éomer (who is already there), but by a quite different character named
- Tolkien's version of the battle sees Saruman's army ultimately defeated by the Ents and their huorns (the moving trees of Fangorn Forest). There's no hint of this in the theatrical version of the movie, but the Extended Edition DVD changes the ending of the battle slightly - the fleeing Isengarders find themselves confronted by a newly arrived forest, run into it, and are destroyed.
Minor Changes from the Book to the Film
Apart from the larger changes to the structure of the book, the movie also introduces a host of smaller adjustments. These are changes
that don't really affect the progress of the story, but are nonetheless quite different from their equivalents in the original.
- The first of these is the sheer scale of the Battle of the Hornburg (or the
Battle of Helm's Deep, as it seems to have become universally known from the movie, though
Tolkien never used that term). In Tolkien's version, the entire battle occupies about ten pages - less than one of the book's
twenty-one chapters. In the movie, it has been expanded to occupy almost a third of the story. It will be fascinating indeed to
see how the movie-makers approach the much larger Battle of the Pelennor
Fields in The Return of the King!
- The idea of the Elves of Lórien marching to the aid of Rohan is
verging on the unthinkable - certainly nothing of the kind occurs in the book. These Elves had no
historical links with the Rohirrim at all, and were in any case under threat of attack themselves at this
time (a strand of the story that the film doesn't attempt to cover). As for Haldir, since he never travelled to Helm's Deep in the original version of events, he didn't die in battle there. Instead, he presumably fought in the defence of his own land, though in fact he is never mentioned in the trilogy after the departure of the Fellowship from Lórien.
- After fighting the Wargs and being swept away by the river, Aragorn wakes to find a horse. He immediately recognises this horse as 'Brego', which is odd, because no horse named Brego appears anywhere in
Tolkien's books, nor has it been mentioned in the movie before this point, at least in the theatrical release. The Extended Edition of the movie solves this puzzle, by providing scenes explaining that Brego was the horse of Théoden's son Théodred. He became wild after his master's death, but Aragorn tamed him again and set him free. In one of the new scenes, Aragorn tells Brego he has a 'kingly name' - a reference to Brego son of Eorl, the second King of Rohan and Théoden's distant ancestor.
- The idea that Théoden is somehow 'possessed' by Saruman, and that he
has to be 'exorcised' by Gandalf is entirely the invention of the movie-makers. In the book, there is no
magic involved in this at all, merely the whisperings (and probably poisonous drugs) of Gríma Wormtongue.
- Understandably, the movie has had to simplify and contract the geography of Rohan somewhat. In the
original, the people of Edoras were not sent into danger at Helm's Deep,
but were led by Éowyn to the much nearer and more suitable refuge of
Dunharrow, in the mountains south of the capital. Only the
King and his soldiers rode to war (and in fact they did not originally
intend to go to Helm's Deep at all, but past it to defend the
Fords of Isen).
Trivia and Curiosities
One of the noticeable differences between The Two Towers and The Fellowship of the Ring is that rather less of the
intricacy and detail of the book has made it onto the screen. Because of that, there's rather less in the way of trivia
to explore than for the first movie, but there are still a few curiosities that are worth a mention.
- Legolas' eyesight might be incredibly keen, but his sense of direction leaves something to be desired.
Near the beginning of the film, he tells his companions that Saruman's Uruks have
turned northeast. This would take them back over the River and off into the wilderness - in fact, their
destination of Isengard was northwest from where Legolas stood, and this is
confirmed by Faramir's map later in the film.
- Faramir's map is generally very similar to that given in the books, but with one apparent omission -
the tower of Minas Morgul has disappeared. This is strange indeed, since
Minas Morgul was Sauron's main base west of the
mountains, ruled by the Lord of the Nazgûl himself. It was also within a day's march of
Faramir in Osgiliath, so it seems very odd (and somewhat dangerous!) that it
should be missed by Gondor's map-makers.
- Our Movie-goer's Guide to The Fellowship of the Ring mentions Saruman's statement - quite
unfounded in the original book - that Sauron could not yet take physical form. The movie of
The Two Towers goes to even more bizarre lengths, presenting Sauron as a huge electrical eye
hovering over his Dark Tower. These strange renderings are difficult to understand, especially when
Tolkien gives a perfectly sound description of the character: 'Sauron should be thought of as very
terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.' (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,
No 246, dated 1963).
- At the edge of Fangorn Forest, Merry reminds
Pippin of the strange trees of the Old Forest on the borders of
Buckland. In fact, though we don't see it on screen, the hobbits should have
travelled through that forest on their way to Bree in The Fellowship of the Ring. Merry and Pippin were nearly crushed by a tree there, in a scene which reappears on the Extended Edition DVD. The movies change things around a little, so the Hobbits are trapped in Fangorn instead of the Old Forest, and their rescuer is Treebeard, not Tom Bombadil.
- In the defence of Helm's Deep, we gain a fleeting glimpse of a bearded soldier raising his arm.
That's Peter Jackson, in a director's cameo.
- The Movie-goer's Guide to The Fellowship of the Ring mentioned the curious occurrence of certain vegetables in
Middle-earth, like tomatoes, that shouldn't really have been there. In The Two Towers, we have a similar oddity -
Sam talks about potatoes several thousand years before they were
introduced east of the Great Sea. While the oddities of the first film came largely from the
film-makers, these references to potatoes are definitely from Tolkien himself. You can find out more
about the botanical peculiarities of Middle-earth in the FAQ.
- Though Tom Bombadil may not have made it into the movie of The Fellowship of the Ring, some fragments of his dialogue have crept into the Extended Edition of The Two Towers. As they settle down to sleep in Fangorn, for instance, Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin to 'heed no nightly noises', which is Tom's instruction to the Hobbits in the original story.
- The Extended Edition of the movie includes a scene revealing that Aragorn is eighty-seven years old, and served with Théoden's father Thengel decades before. Though there's no directly equivalent scene in the book, Aragorn did indeed live this long (the royal line of the Dúnedain had exceptionally long lives). To be precise, the movie gets his age very slightly wrong: Aragorn was born on 1 March III 2931, so the day he met Gandalf in Fangorn Forest (1 March III 3019) was his eighty-eighth birthday. He reveals his age to Éowyn just a few days after this, so he should really have told her he was eighty-eight, not eighty-seven.
If the movie gives us a little less detail than its forerunner, it does at least provide a few brief moments that hint at
the greater depth of the original story. Here, we delve into the aspects of Tolkien's fictional history that lie
behind some of the events and comments in the movie.
- Aragorn calls Éowyn 'daughter of Kings',
and this family tree shows what he means. Her mother Théodwyn was the youngest sister of
King Théoden. She could claim descent from
Théoden's father King Thengel, and all
of his royal ancestors back to Eorl the Young, who had founded Rohan more than five
- One of these great ancestors was Helm Hammerhand, after whom Helm's Deep
was named. During his time, the land of Rohan was overrun by its enemies the
Dunlendings, and Helm led his people to shelter in the ravine behind the
castle of the Hornburg. Helm is only fleetingly mentioned in the movie, but we do see his statue, and Gimli blows his famous horn in the castle. Earlier in the movie, we see
Saruman encouraging Men in his own armies: these are the descendants of the
Dunlendings who had invaded Rohan two hundred and
fifty years beforehand.
- Aglarond, the caves behind Helm's Deep, are given a brief mention in
the movie. What isn't mentioned, though, is their effect on Gimli. With his Dwarvish
love of underground places, he is enraptured by the caves' beauty. In fact, in the years
after the War, he will return here with more of his folk from the north and found a
Dwarf-kingdom, taking the title Lord of the Glittering Caves.
- The film doesn't give much background about the city of Osgiliath, visited (in the movie, at least) by
Frodo and Sam. This city on the Great
River was the ancient capital of the kingdom of Gondor. It had a disastrous history, including a
destructive civil war and a great plague, so that at the time of the
War of the Ring, it had been deserted for centuries.
- Right at the end of the film, we hear Gollum muttering about how 'she' will be able to get the
Ring for him. If you know the story already, of course, you'll know who 'she' is, but if you don't, and you
can't wait a year to find out, you can jump to 'her' entry by clicking here.
The Language of the Rohirrim
The Elvish tongue spoken throughout The Fellowship of the Ring, and occasionally in
The Two Towers, was entirely Tolkien's invention. The language spoken by the people of Rohan, though,
is not an artificial language, but a real historical one: Old English.
To understand why, remember that neither Old English nor modern English had developed in the ancient times in which
The Lord of the Rings is set. In the context of the story, most of the characters actually spoke a language known as
the Westron, which is represented in the books and films as modern English.
That language had itself evolved, in part, from an older tongue that was still used by the Rohirrim, and so
Tolkien used Old English (which shares a similar relationship to modern English) to translate it.
Old English isn't just used to translate the language of the Rohirrim, but also their names. This has
introduced some peculiarities in the movie version, because names have been moved from one character to another without considering their
meaning. So, the boy who flees Saruman's armies early in the film is called
Éothain, 'horse-warrior', while Théoden's relatively young
lieutenant in Helm's Deep has the name Gamling, meaning 'old man'. (In the book, of course, these names
belonged to more appropriate characters).
Because the ancestors of the Rohirrim had travelled widely through the history of
Middle-earth, remnants of their tongue were found in communities far from
Rohan (just as personal names and place-names in English-speaking countries today often owe their origins
to Old English). Many Shire-names have their roots in Old English (for example,
Samwise means 'half-wise'). Sméagol's people had come into
contact with this tongue long ago, too, and his name is also Old English - it means 'burrowing' or 'worming in'.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, the film-makers were very careful over the pronunciations of Elvish words,
but they seem to have taken rather less trouble in the The Two Towers with the language of Rohan. In particular,
éa and éo represent two 'diphthongs' (combined vowel-sounds) that should have their own distinct sounds,
but they are spoken literally by the movie's actors. So, for example, the King of Rohan
would not be addressed as 'Theeohden', but more as if his name were spelt 'Thearden'. This would be an extremely minor point,
except that these sounds are very common (éo in particular - it is a word for 'horse') and appear
in the names of some important characters.
The list below gives some the meanings of some of the words, names and phrases from
the language of the Rohirrim that are heard in the film:
||One of the horses given to Aragorn by Éomer near the beginning of the film. The name means 'swift'.
||'Chieftain' - in the movie, this seems to be the name of Théodred's horse, later ridden by Aragorn. In the original trilogy, though, it was the name of an old King of Rohan: Brego son of Eorl.
||'The Courts', the royal citadel of Rohan. Théoden's great hall in Edoras was Meduseld, the 'mead-hall'.
||Literally 'fare you well', essentially meaning 'goodbye and good luck'.
||The name of the horse that accompanied Arod, with a name meaning 'grey-coat'.
||The greatest of horses - Tolkien characterised their relationship to other horses as being comparable to that of Elves to Men. The word mearas is actually just an Old English word for 'horses'.
||'Borderland of the Riders', the name the Rohirrim used for their own country. The more common name Rohan came from Elvish, meaning 'horse-land'; the Rohirrim themselves usually called their land the Riddermark or just the Mark.
||Gandalf's great horse, one of the Mearas, whose name means 'shadowy hair'. ('By day his coat glistens like silver; and by night it is like a shade, and he passes unseen', says Gandalf in the book of The Fellowship of the Ring.)
||A white anemone-like flower that grew especially on graves and tombs, from which it gained its name, meaning 'Evermind' (that is, 'always remembered').
||A greeting: 'Be well!' Oddly enough, the movie has Gandalf say Westu hal to Théoden's dead son Théodred as he lies in his tomb.
This site has entries for all of the main characters and locations in the film. You can look them up using the indexes on
the left, or you can jump straight to more important entries using these links. You might not recognise some of the names,
like Ithilien or Henneth Annûn, but if you've seen the film, you've
already been to these places - just click their links to find out more about them.
Original content © copyright Mark Fisher 1997-2005. All rights reserved. For conditions of reuse, see the Site FAQ