Throughout The Lord of the Rings (and most of Tolkien's myths) we come across many different towers. Narrowing them to two can often be a difficult task, especially since Tolkien left it "ambiguous" on purpose (Letters No. 140). Unlike his other enigmas though (e.g. Tom Bombadil), this riddle has an answer (or two). To start our investigation we must start with a list of some of the main towers discussed in The Two Towers.
Second, The Two Towers is comprised of two "widely divergent Books" (Letters No. 140). The first half (Book III) primarily follows the path of The Three Hunters (Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli) while the second half (Book IV) follows Frodo and Sam. With two such vastly different books it would make sense that the titled towers would come from either sides or paths of the story to tie the volume together. With this in mind let's split our list of towers:
Book III Towers
- Isengard (Orthanc)
Book IV Towers
- Minas Tirith
- Minas Morgul
- Orc Tower at Cirith Ungol
In our Book III list Orthanc stands alone. It was this tower that served as the residence of Saruman, the main antagonist in Book III. He was the one who orchestrated the events and armies that nearly conquered Rohan. Towards the end of Book III he is defeated and Isengard is destroyed. It is an important location in the book that represents an important character and for that reason I think Orthanc is one of the Two Towers. Furthermore, Tolkien himself affirmed this in letters (No. 140, 143) and in his jacket design for The Two Towers (which will be discussed later).
The second tower is a bit trickier to identify. Fans often bring up Minas Tirith and Barad-dur as candidates. Much is said of the White City and the "basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith" is a recurrent theme throughout the The Lord of the Ring (Letters No. 143). However, we never actually go to Minas Tirith. While it is talked about it is not a key player like in The Return of the King. In The Two Towers there are many other strongholds that would better fit the bill. Even though Tolkien first suggested this pair (Letters No. 140, J.R.R. Tolkien; Artist & Illustrator ) he later criticised this connection and called it "misleading" (Letters No. 143).
|A poster for The Two Towers film with Orthanc|
in the foreground and Barad-dur behind
This combination was also first suggested by Tolkien (in Letter No. 140).
*This was really the only option left for the filmmakers to explore since in the films Frodo & Sam wouldn't reach the next two towers until the Return of the King film.
Minas Morgul is another possible contender for the second tower. It is a very important location and one that Frodo and Sam pass (very closely!) on their way to Cirith Ungol. The best support for this idea comes from Tolkien's original jacket design for The Two Towers:
On the right we see Orthanc with the White Hand of Saruman underneath (affirming Orthanc as one of the two). On the left a white tower is pictured. At first glance one could mistake it for the White Tower of Ecthelion (at Minas Tirith), but a closer look reveals that it is actually Minas Morgul. This is evidenced by the moon underneath (and above). The symbol of the moon comes from the city's name before it was taken by the Ringwraiths, Minas Ithil (Ithil = Moon). Even after it was taken by the Nazgul the moon remained an icon of the city. The black creature in the middle depicts one of the final scenes at the end of Book III in which a Nazgul flies on a fell beast from Mordor to Isengard, further confirming this connection.
The Tower of Cirith Ungol
At the end of book IV Frodo is taken prisoner by the orcs of Cirith Ungol and taken to a tower there. Sam follows and just when he gets inside the fortress the book ends and we're left with a huge and suspenseful cliffhanger that won't be resolved until Book VI. It forms an important part in the story and it's a key tower that Frodo & Sam come across during their journey in Volume II (The Two Towers). In a letter written to Rayner Unwin, the son of Tolkien's publisher, the Professor wrote about this connection
It [the title, 'the Two Towers'] must if there is any real reference in it to Vol II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. (Letters No. 143)
Like so many mysterious in Tolkien's works, there isn't one definitive answer. Despite this difficulty I think we can still reach a few conclusions regarding the title.
- The title was left ambiguous on purpose and is open to some interpretation and/or inference.
- One of the Two Towers is Orthanc, representing Saruman.
- The second tower could be Barad-dur, Minas Morgul, or the Tower of Cirith Ungol, all of which have support within the text and externally.
Which towers do you think are the Two Towers? Share your thoughts and comments below!