Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Slow Reading The Lord of the Rings, part II

The Two Towers remains the volume of The Lord of the Rings I relish most, perhaps because in the context of my 'slow-reading' project it is not just a bridge between beginning and end but a wonderfully developed story on its own (though, when reading time is short, I start to question the length of the Treebeard passages).

The Two Towers is really two books, or two stories. One, a heroic epic, a tale of battles and strange encounters with magic and myths; the other, a more personal quest, a journey built around character and the subtle triangulation between Frodo, Sam and Gollum, and the delicate moral and practical choices imposed on them.

To my mind, the battle sequence around Helm's Deep is particularly fine, since Tolkien's epic view allows him to balance the movement of armies and great forces with personal struggle, and the action is expansive but never unclear. But what sticks for me in the slow reading is rather the brilliant confrontation with the defeated Saruman, for the voice of Saruman in the modern context represents the peril and corrupting power of political language, the elegant and insidious lie that worms its way into thought and cannot be stilled even in the midst of the destruction it has brought. Saruman is defeated, of course, but how many political Sarumans remain, still persuading us from the ruins of their towers?

The mountains of New Zealand and the paths, steps and ravines around Ithaca, NY are now permanently fused in my imagination when I think of the climb towards Cirith Ungol.