Tolkien fact 54 – Which Towers?

No doubt people will watch the The Lord of the Rings movies and get to the second movie and ask “What are these ‘two towers?'” This is a legitimate question, as several towers are mentioned over the course of the tale. It is also a frustrating question because it is one of those things that isn’t quite as clear as one may hope it would be.


Upon viewing the movie The Two Towers, one may finish the film satisfied with thinking the ‘two towers’ are Orthanc (Saruman’s dwelling in Isengard) and Barad-dûr (the Dark Tower in Mordor). This is understandable, as Saruman has a line in the movie to the effect of “…the union of the two Towers,” referring to his own and Sauron’s.

However, if the book is to be taken into account, this pair of towers is not the only possible answer, as no one has such a line in the book. There are many possibilities, as five towers are mentioned that are central to the story:

  • Orthanc
  • Barad-dûr
  • Minas Tirith (the White City)
  • Minas Morgul (where the Ring-wraiths dwell)
  • Cirith Ungol (the tower Frodo gets captured in)

When publishing the book, Tolkien was under a lot of pressure to get it into print and was rushed for a title. He says ‘The Two Towers’ captures closely enough the events of books III and IV, though it is somewhat ambiguous. Later on, it can be seen in his letters and forewords and post-words in his books that he debated which towers they were himself.

In the end pages of most editions of The Fellowship of the Ring, the following passage is written:

“Here ends the first part of the history of the War of the Ring.
The second part is called The Two Towers, since the events recounted in it are dominated by Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, and the fortress of Minas Morgul that guards the secret entrance to Mordor…”

He even went as far as to draw a picture portraying these two towers for the final cover of the book but it was not used due to printing costs at the time. One would almost seem to be able to put this question to rest with this quote. However, in a letter to his publisher after this he says the towers could be Orthanc and Barad-dûr, Minas Tirith and Barad-dûr, or Orthanc and Cirith Ungol. The next year, he writes another letter to a friend that says he is more definite the pairing must be Orthanc and Cirith Ungol:

“I am not at all happy about the title ‘The Two Towers.’ It must, if there is any real reference in it to Vol II, refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the basic opposition of the Dark Tower and MinasTirith, that seems very misleading.”

If you wished to go with the original concept, then the answer is Orthanc and Minas Morgul; if you want to go with the most recent statement by him, yet unofficial, the answer is Orthanc and Cirith Ungol. However, one may also make the argument that Minas Tirith is set against Barad-dûr in a more direct manner, as the White Tower strives against the Dark. Furthermore, one could make the argument that since Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith were built opposite of each other and are immediately in opposition that they must be the towers.

Unfortunately, no one may ever know the real answer, if there even is one. The books do carry a sense of definite, historical exactitude but Tolkien’s creation is still a form of art, and anything not “tied down” is open to interpretation. Perhaps one reader may feel like one pair of towers encompasses the struggle in the stories and another reader thinks the same of another pair. Who’s to tell them they are wrong?


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