The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002 – dir. Peter Jackson
Its theatrical release only a year after the World Trade Center attacks, director Peter Jackson mentioned that the producers briefly considered retitling the film, although opted against the idea as, “Fans would’ve killed us.”
I’ve often pondered alternate titles for the trilogy’s second installment. Tolkien himself was less than happy with it in hindsight. He never even concretely specified WHICH two towers the title referred to, although one was most certainly Orthanc, the spire of Saruman, the corrupted white wizard. Other contenders could include Minas Tirith (Gondor’s capital), Minas Morgul (the lair of the Ringwraiths), or Cirith Ungol (the guard tower at the secret entrance to Mordor).
Tolkien’s publisher wrote a note at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring specifying that the two towers referenced were Orthanc and Minas Morgul (which is seen in “The Two Towers” book, but only makes an appearance in The Return of the King film).
As The Two Towers follows a split narrative, the title ought to evoke a broad theme encountered by both sets of characters. What’s the significance of the tower?
In myth (and notably, Tarot), the tower is frequently an image associated not with construction but destruction. It is a leveling of that which has been built. Something new must take its place. The Tower of Babel, for example. In Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass” (the book, not the movie), Lord Asriel states, “Man cannot see anything without wanting to destroy it. That’s original sin.”
We love to create, but we also love to destroy. Duality.
Don’t forget Gollum: “He hates and loves the ring. As he hates and loves himself.”
Of course, the ultimate fate of the two towers referenced in the film (Orthanc and Sauron’s Barad Dur) is the loss of their power, to be essentially leveled, so that humankind can inherit the land.
In Middle-Earth, Gandalf and Saruman are Maia spirits, which are essentially tantamount to angels. Thus, Gandalf’s powers and foresight are easily explained. We expect great things from a being such as him. However, the moment at which Gandalf and Eomer thunder down the mountain, leading thousands of cavalry in a charge against the hordes of Isengard… well, that’s a sublime moment, even for one of angelic origin.
It reminds me of Gandalf’s words to Frodo. “Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”
Whether it’s the sun breaching the rim of Helm’s Deep in Rohan or someone who smiles at you at the close of every day, the very fact that you’re here is, well, encouraging.