Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Series Improves In The Sequel: The Two Towers Is Readable!

The Good: Pacing and Plot
The Bad: Repetitive, Lack of Character Development
The Basics: While not fabulously written, the pacing and plot are enough to overlook continued dry characterization and recommend the novel The Two Towers.

When last seen in Fellowship of the Ring (click here for that review), everyone was alive, the hobbits Samwise and Frodo had taken off for Mordor and the rest of the group was hanging around in the woods. Well, to be fair, they were looking for Frodo. Sound unfamiliar? That's probably because you watched the film. In the movie version of Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson incorporates the first chapters of The Two Towers to give the film a more climactic feel. It works well, too.

Peter Jackson also takes some liberties in the character development department. In the climax of Fellowship of the Ring, Merry and Pippin sacrifice themselves as a diversion to allow Frodo to flee the Fellowship. In The Two Towers, the pair is not so noble. Instead, the book opens with Boromir being slain (unseen, by the by), the hobbits being captured and Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli vowing to find them.

The Two Towers is an adequately titled, novel which implies the almost multiple-personality effect of the book. By the third chapter, Frodo and Sam disappear entirely. The whole third book (recalling Fellowship of the Ring is books 1 and 2, The Two Towers is comprised of books 3 and 4) focuses on the pursuit of the hobbits by the trio. This lands the larger people in the land of horse tamers going to battle against the traitorous Saruman with the help of a returned member of the Fellowship. While they go to war, they are unwittingly aided by Merry and Pippin who have escaped their captors and found themselves in league with Ents, an ancient, tree-like race. The second half of the novel consists solely of Frodo and Samwise attempting to get into the land of darkness. They are joined much of the way by Gollum, who has been following them.

What works is that the books does not get bogged down with the sweeping history of Middle Earth the way the first book did. The Two Towers is well-paced and easy to read. As well, the plot is interesting and it continues along plausibly. The novel feels like a middle act, yet it works well as such.

Where the novel fails is in the character development. Frodo is the same split person he was in the first book, Sam is his same loyal self, Gandalf returns at least as powerful as he was before, Merry and Pippin are perhaps less worthless and more intelligent - or perhaps experienced - in this second novel, but they continue to leave little lasting impression. Likewise, it seems the whole point of Gimli and Legolas in the book is to make the point that people initially prejudiced against one another may work together and make things better between them.

The problem is that after they spend one scene saying "You're not as bad as I initially thought," they continue to do so. Over and over again. The novel gets repetitive rather quickly. Even the book's most intriguing character, Gollum, who is suffering from a sort of split personality thing as he fights his desire for the ring, becomes annoyingly predictable. This happens because Gollum/Smeagol oscillates regularly between subservience and homicidal, so we expect the reversals, we predict treachery.

All in all, this novel redeems the first book in the series and is enough to intrigue a reader into finishing the series. The end of the book is enough of a cliffhanger to encourage continuing with the series.

For other fantasy novels, please check out my reviews of:
Dragons Of Winter Night
The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner
The Time Traveler's Wife


For other book reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing!

© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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