The Two Towers
J. R. R. Tolkien
Contributed by Marinda Dreiling
Chapter 17

The hobbits and Gollum prepare to leave Henneth Annn. On Faramir’s instance that Gollum be blindfolded, Frodo replies that all three of them should be blindfolded. This is done, and Faramir leads them back to the woods of Ithilien to continue their journey into Mordor. As they head toward the Cross-roads during ever-darkening days, they become aware of a distant but loud, constant rumbling. Frodo fears their journey may be coming to an end; Sam replies, "Where there’s life there’s hope. and need of vittles." When they at last reach the Cross-roads-the beginning of the Southward Road into Mordor-they see a sign of hope: a huge statue of one of the kings of old that has been decapitated, its head replaced by a representation of Sauron’s ever-searching Eye. But, on the statue’s fallen head, flowers grow, giving the king a new crown.


The most significant moment in this chapter occurs at its end, when Frodo and Sam see the headless statue. On the one hand, this statue symbolizes the destructive power of Sauron, for his agents have broken the statue-which represented all that was good and noble and powerful about the old order-and have defaced it "with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used." On the other hand, the statue provides a glimpse of evil’s ultimate defeat: "A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars [significant as images of light, let alone the fact that there are stars in the royal insignia of Minas Tirith] had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king." Seeing this, Frodo cries out-almost, one feels, despite himself, given the despair he manifests early on in the next chapter-"They cannot conquer for ever!" The moment anticipates the "eucatastrophe" to come-the sudden and unexpected reversal, the replacement of evil with good. Once more, Tolkien may be thinking of Scripture when he writes this passage (see the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 11:1), but more than likely the dramatic image of the fallen yet newly crowned statue is meant to give readers that promise of ultimate victory that the characters themselves are denied-for, as the narrator soon tells us, "And then suddenly the brief glimpse [literally, of the statue; figuratively, of ultimate, undefeatable hope] was gone." And, as Sam and Frodo discuss in the next chapter, this dynamic works as it should: readers do not really want the characters within a story to know "how it will all end." Tolkien is thus, in part, skillfully preparing his readers for the key discussion of story and narrative that concludes the next chapter.

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