Theme: Battle and Deliverance; Hope and FreedomInsights:
The Two Towers, the second film in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, is a movie about battle. Sandwiched between the opening scenes that set the stage in The Fellowship of the Ring and the glorious victory, which concludes the story in The Return of the King, is this battlefield called The Two Towers. This is the story where deliverance of Middle Earth often hangs by the thread of hope as members of the Fellowship do battle for one another and for freedom.
Within each battle that occurs in The Two Towers are incredible moments that J.R.R. Tolkien would have called "Eucatastrophe". It is important to understand the word he created in order to see the great spiritual truths that are being revealed in this film.
Tolkien defined Eucatastrophe as the good catastrophe. "The sudden joyous turn, not an ending, but the moment we get a glimpse of joy. A moment that passes outside the frame rends indeed the very web of story and lets a gleam come through, a gleam of revelation from outside the narrative."1
A devout Christian, Tolkien believed that beyond the level of myth was what he called Evangelium, the Gospel, or revelation.2 It was a gleam or glimpse of this "Large Story"3 breaking through that created the moment of Eucatastrophe.
Battle One - The Return of Gandalf
The movie opens with a fierce battle scene, which will set the stage of those to follow. The outcome of this battle will determine the fate of Middle Earth, for if Gandalf the Grey loses the battle to the ancient demon, Balrog, all will be lost. These are powerful spiritual scenes as we see Gandalf, a type of Christ, sacrificing himself for the others and "falling through fire and water until at last he threw the enemy down and smote him."4 (Hebrews 2:14). Feeling life in himself again, he comes back at the turn of the tide to complete the task. He is no longer Gandalf the Grey, but is Gandalf the White. With hair and clothing white like wool (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 1:14), he comes back with the mighty sword and appears to members of the Fellowship of the Ring. It is Gandalf's awesome return that not only gives them hope, but also empowers and equips them to play their part in the battles that follow.
The moment of Eucatastrophe comes when Gandalf appears to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Note the music and sense of awe as they fall down in reverence before him. Gandalf has come back with power and glory, majestically riding Shadowfax, the Lord of Horses (Revelation 19:11).
Battle Two - The Deliverance of Théoden
The deliverance of Théoden, King of Rohan, is one of the most visually dramatic scenes in the entire film, as well as being one of the most important spiritually. Here we see an earthly king, possessed by Saruman's supernatural power, being controlled by the mind poisoning words of a human pawn, Grima - Wormtongue.5 It is important to note the effect this possession has and the extent to which it reaches.
The entire kingdom falls into "shadow".
Theodan turns against his own family and people.
He is unable to distinguish good from evil.
His physical body is corrupted; clouded eyes, unkempt appearance, pre-mature aging.
His mind is darkened
Saruman speaks through him indicating total possession.
The "resurrection" power of Gandalf is needed to break through this level of possession. The moment of Eucatastrophe occurs when Saruman is cast out, and Théoden is visibly transformed before our eyes. Gandalf handing the sword to Théoden signifies the return of his authority, his ruler ship, and his dominion over the realm of Rohan.
Battle Three - The Battle for Helm's Deep
Gandalf allows King Théoden to make his own choices as to how he will protect his people. The choice to flee to the ancient fortress of Helm's Deep sets the stage for another powerful moment of Eucatastrophe. Looking to the past and ignoring Aragorn's plea, Théoden symbolizes pride and trust in one's own strength. This pride must be broken (Proverbs 16:18) and is metaphorically pictured in the crumbling walls and broken down gate of Helm's Deep. Humbled, Théoden listens to Aragorn and chooses to ride out rather than die in defeat. His choice is one of hope over despair and, in that, he is saved.
The Kings of men ride out at "first light of the fifth day." As the horn blows in the deep, the day begins to dawn and the enemy flees in fear and wonder. This is the moment of Eucatastrophe. With the sun rising in the East, the White Rider sits high on a ridge; Gandalf has retuned on Shadowfax leading the armies of men. He descends in glory and deliverance; the light overcomes the darkness (Revelation 19:11-19).
Battle Four - The Battle of Isengard
At the moment his army is being destroyed, Saruman is under attack in the Tower of Orthanc. In response to the destruction of the forest by Saruman as he built his army, Treebeard calls the Ents forth to battle. With deep groaning, the forest, filled with memory and anger, seems to come alive as the tree herders (Ents) move to destroy Saruman's war-making machinery (Romans 8:18-22). It is nature against technology. The moment of Eucatastrophe comes when the Ents release the dam, and the water floods the ugly scarred terrain. It is a cleansing flood reminiscent of the ancient flood used by God to cleanse the earth (Genesis 6:11-23,17).
Battle Five - The Battle of the Mind
Frodo and Sam have followed another path, the path to Mordor. It has led them into a tremendous battle; a battle for their mind and their heart. At the center of the battle is the creature, Gollum. Once similar to a hobbit, Gollum has been so corrupted by the power of "his precious" that he has become a repulsive, crawling creature filled with lies and deception.
There is no moment of Eucatastrophe in this battle. Instead there is a growing sense of darkness and despair as Frodo falls under the power of the Ring. His mind shows the early stages of becoming divided and corrupted just like Gollum's. The movie closes on an ominous note, for Gollum has devised a plan to regain "his precious", and he simply says, "Follow me."
Two other "battles" must be mentioned because they run throughout the entire film. They are the spiritual battles of Hope vs. Despair and Freedom vs. Bondage.
Early in the movie, Éomer warns Aragorn that hope has forsaken these lands. A constant theme throughout the movie is that those who have hope deliver those that have fallen into despair. At the darkest moments, Arwen, Aragorn, and Sam all deliver powerful words of hope. Hope does not disappoint because it brings a change of heart that, in turn, turns the tide of battle (Romans 15:4,13).
What is at stake in the entire Lord of the Rings story is the freedom of Middle Earth. The battle that encompasses all other battles is the fight for freedom over bondage to the dark Lord Sauron. Thus, when Théoden is delivered, Gandalf says, "Breathe the free air again".
Perhaps one of the most dramatic scenes of this spiritual battle is the "deliverance" of Smeagol from Gollum. When Frodo call Smeagol's name, it awakens the person he was before he was corrupted by the Ring, before he became Gollum. Smeagol has a new master. He tells Gollum to go, then he dances his dance, "Smeagol is free". He remains Smeagol until he feels betrayed by Frodo when Faramir captures him. At that moment, Smeagol is bound, and Gollum gains control.
The Two Towers
One last word concerning the two towers, and what they possibly represent. Early in the film, Saruman makes a speech declaring a union of the two towers. He says that together Sauron and Saruman will rule Middle Earth destroying the Old World in the fire of industry while making a new order, the Machine of War. Clearly, the filmmakers have chosen Orthanc (Saruman's fortress) and Barad-dur as the two towers.6
Saurman's speech contains some of the great concerns that men like Tolkien and his friend, C.S. Lewis, shared concerning the direction the modern world was taking mankind. They realized that the modern world was the first civilization that had no religious foundation.7 As Peter Kreeft writes, "The most radically new feature of our civilization is not technology, its newly powerful means, but the lack of a summum bonum, an end. We are the first civilization that does not know why we exist". 8 In other words, we have no hope.
Another word from Kreeft may give us insight as to what the two towers symbolize. "Once modernity denies or ignores God, there are only two realities left: humanity and nature. If God is not our end and hope, we must find that hope in ourselves or in nature. Thus emerge modernity's two new kingdoms, the Kingdom of Self and the Kingdom of This World: the twin towers of Babel II."9
Consider Orthanc/Saruman as representing the Kingdom of This World and Barad-dur/Sauron, the Kingdom of Self. It is interesting to note that in the year 2002 when this film was released, these two idol kingdoms were being shaken. From powerful corporations and denominations to high profile individuals, the two towers of world and self were falling down.
Finally, perhaps the reason the Lord of the Rings is touching so many lives is because without even realizing it, people are spiritually hungry. They want a story to believe in, a part to play, an end and a hope. They are waiting for that moment of Eucatastrophe! Maranatha!
1. Paraphrased from pg. 206-207 in J.R.R. Tolkien by Tom Shippey
2. See J.R.R. Tolkien by Tom Shippey, pg 223
3. For further insights into "The Large Story" see The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge.
4. Quote from the movie.
5. The pattern of a supernatural demonic power working through an earthly king comes from the Bible.
Lucifer/Satan works through the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14 and through the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28.
6. When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, it was written as one novel. It was his publisher who
requested that the rather lengthy story be broken down into three separate books. Tolkien was forced to
come up with three "subtitles" for his work, and it seems that at times he wasn't sure to which Two Towers
the middle book was referring. Orthanc, Barad-dur, Cirith-Ungol, and even Minas Tirith were offered at
different times. The book, unlike the movie, ends with the story of Shelob's Lair in Cirith-Ungol.
7. See Heaven, the Heart's Deepest Longing, the Introduction, by Peter Kreeft
8. C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium by Peter Kreeft, pg 46
9. Heaven, The Heart's Deepest Longing by Peter Kreeft, pg 20