from Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England, by Jane Chance

Lexington: U. Press of Kentucky, 2001, rev. ed.

 “The two towers of the title belong to Saruman and in a sense to Shelob because the quest of the remainder of the Fellowship in book 3 culminates in an attack on Orthanc and because the quest of Frodo and Sam in book 4 leads to their “attack” on Cirith Ungol, the sentry tower at the border of Mordor guarded by the giant spider . . . Through these two monsters represented by their towers, this second part of The Lord of the Rings defines the nature of evil in greater detail than the first part. Thus, it also introduces the notion of the Christian deadly sins embodied in the monsters (found in the Ancrene Wisse, which must be combated by very Germanic heroes.” (p. 162)

 “Tolkien shows the analogy between the two monsters and their towers by structuring their books similarly. The perversion of mind embodied in Saruman is expressed by the difficulty in communication through or understanding of words or gestures in book 3, and the perversion of body personified in Shelob is expressed by the difficulty in finding food and shelter, or hospitality, in book 4. Specifically, Wormtongue, Grishnakh, and Saruman all display aspects of the higher sins of pride, avarice, envy, and wrath through their incomprehension or manipulation of language. Gollum and Shelob both illustrate the lower sins of gluttony, sloth, and lechery. Each book centers on the adventures of only part of the Fellowship, the nobler members in book 3 (Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, and Merry and Pippin) and the more humble members in book 4 (Sam and Frodo).” (p. 164)

 “If book 3 demonstrates the intellectual nature of sin, then book 4 demonstrates its physical, or material, nature. Although the structure of Shelob’s tower of Cirith Ungol ends this book as Orthanc ends the third, the tower is never described in this part. Instead, another tower—Minas Morgul—introduces the weary group to the land they approach at the book’s end . . . As a type of corpse it focuses attention on the human body, whose perverse desires preoccupy Tolkien in this book.” (p. 168)

Return to Critics Discussion

Excerpted and reprinted without permission solely for purposes of discussion on