The Two Towers
J. R. R. Tolkien
Contributed by Marinda Dreiling
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Chapter 5

The narrative rejoins Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli as they enter Fangorn Forest. Aragorn discovers more signs that at least one of the hobbits escaped the orcs alive, but the three companions cannot piece together exactly what happened. At length, an old man approaches them. Legolas readies his bow, as he and the others fear the man is Saruman, but "some other will" prevents him from shooting his arrow. Aragorn asks for the man’s name; the man replies, "Have you not guessed it already?" The man is Gandalf, returned from his struggle with the Balrog-in effect, returned from the dead. He tells the three companions that the eagle Legolas has been spotting was the eagle who rescued Gandalf from Orthanc, and whom Gandalf has now sent to gather tidings of the quest to destroy the Ring since Gandalf’s absence. Gandalf thus knows that Frodo is on his way to Mordor, but that many perils still await the Ring-bearer. To Frodo’s advantage, however, Sauron has, Gandalf says, not even considered the possibility that anyone would wish to destroy the Ring. Instead of guarding and defending Mordor, Sauron is marshalling his forces to attack Minas Tirith. Gandalf also tells them that Merry and Pippin are safe with Treebeard and the Ents. He tells them of his struggle with the Balrog, and of how he, Gandalf, has been "sent back-for a brief time, until my task is done." Further, he tells them that the old man they saw must indeed have been Saruman, as Gimli suspected; yet, at that same moment, the horses encountered Shadowfax, who was being directed by Gandalf’s thought, and rejoiced to see him; that is why they ran away. Newly reunited, the four companions journey to Meduseld, the Golden Hall of King Thoden of Rohan, so that Aragorn may lend his promised aid.


The revelation of the "resurrected" Gandalf emphasizes again the power of names. When Aragorn demands to know the stranger’s name, the old man is reluctant to give it. Legolas hails him as Mithrandir, the wizard’s elven name. Gandalf recalls his own name "as if. from old memory." There is power in names. As Treebeard taught Merry and Pippin, to know a name is to know that to which it refers.

Gandalf’s return clearly marks him as a Christ-like figure. Readers need not share Tolkien’s own Christian convictions to see the wizard fulfilling this literary function. In Book II, of course, Gandalf gave his life so that the remaining members of the Fellowship might be safe (i.e., might be saved). Gandalf descends into the depths in his struggle with the Balrog-which functions as a symbol of an ageless evil-in a manner not too far off from the typical medieval concept of Christ storming the gates of Hell during Holy Saturday. Furthermore, Gandalf’s salvific death leads to his return (i.e., his resurrection) in a form that is both the same and different. Gandalf is still Gandalf, but he is "Gandalf the White." He is also Saruman, he says, as Saruman should have been. Thus, Gandalf represents an unfallen state of existence, an existence unstained by sin, as Christ in Christian tradition embodies unfallen humanity. In Middle-earth lore, however, Gandalf is not, strictly speaking, human. He is not of the race of Men. He is, as Tolkien confirmed in one of his letters, something akin to an "angel." Indeed, Gandalf himself states that he has been sent back to fulfill a mission-as, in Christian theology, Christ was sent into the world to fulfill a mission (compare, for example, John 1 and 17). Gandalf also exhibits characteristics of guidance that Christians would associate with Christ. Tom Shippey argues convincingly that Gandalf’s cryptic reference to struggling with the Dark Tower after his encounter with the Balrog is a reference to Frodo’s hearing of a voice urging him to take off the Ring near the close of Book II.

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