Jude Fisher's excellent Visual Companion to The Two Towers needs an introduction no more that did her equally enlightening Visual Companion to The Fellowship of the Ring. Since, however, the chance to add a preface has presented itself, it can be hoped that the digression of a few extra words will not do her good work any harm. 'How is it possible that suffering that is neither my
The Two Towers, the second part of Peter Jackson's filmed trilogy from J.R.R. Tolkien's heroic romance, The Lord of the Rings, comes to theaters in a world that is no more secure than the one in which The Fellowship of the Ring was released last year. Tolkien composed his original masterpiece in equally troubled times of terror, war and uncertainty. The great Nordic poets and saga-writers of medieval Iceland, who provided great inspiration to Tolkien, themselves lived under dictatorship and in times of extreme hardship. It would seem from even a cursory reading of world history that there is no new horror under the sun, that we will perhaps always have contend with destructive impulses in ourselves and others. That does not prevent us from making an effort to change, from working to find a better way.
own nor of my concern should immediately
affect me as though it were my own?'
At our best we, like the Fellowship, realize individually and collectively that peaceful coexistence can be achieved only through vigilance and conscious compassion. Compassion for oneself and others, especially for those determined to do us harm. An effort made to identify with others and understand them in order to understand ourselves. To understand that there is no absolute difference between us. That is not to say that we ought to allow ourselves to be trampled, eliminated as individuals, races or nations. Regardless of the odds faced, it is important to defend oneself and others against oppression. 'It is becoming to be humble, yet at the same time you must make a bold showing if put to a test,' as a father advises his departing son in one of the oldest and best-known sagas. The most enlightened beings in Tolkien's' Middle-earth are conscious of the ubiquity of good and evil in neighbors, strangers, adversaries, and most important, themselves. There can be little future in adopting a permanent policy of 'an eye for an eye'. If we were all regularly to put into effect such an inflexible approach, we would all soon be blind, as Gandhi pointed out. One must pick one's battles and fight only when it is unavoidable.
'Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor
are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and
another thing among Men. It is man's part to
discern them as much in the Golden
Wood as in his own house.'
Aragorn to Ã‰omer
As J.R.R. Tolkien's story gains momentum and complexity in The Two Towers, the situation for the now-fragmented Fellowship and for all well-intentioned peoples of Middle-earth becomes increasingly perilous. Hope has become a flame so feebly flickering that, even to the most stout-hearted and wise, it seems nearly certain to be snuffed out by morning. Even so, Frodo will no more falter in his lonely quest than will Sam in his determination to selflessly assist the Ring-bearer on his arduous journey to Mount Doom. Merry and Pippin, likewise, will continue in their struggle to survive and be of service to their friends and all who would stand against Sauron and his misguided servants. In the isolated reaches of proud Rohan, King Théoden and his brave but vastly outnumbered people will be able to count on the courage of Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn in their desperate battle against Saruman's terrible army. Gandalf himself will return from seeming oblivion to lend his ageless wisdom and powers of inspiration to the Fellowship and all free peoples of Middle-earth.
'He is truly wise who's traveled far and knows the ways of the world.
He who has traveled can tell what spirit governs the men he meets.'
From Hávamál, as translated by Björn Jónasson
What is unknown, as always, is whether the sacrifices of a brave few can inspire faith in others and, in the end, prove sufficient means to turn the tide and disable the forces that would make slaves of us all. There is probably no such thing as a lasting peace, any more than a garden will ever cease to need weeding and watering. Storytellers and stories change, but the opportunity to do well or ill by others and ourselves will always be present. The right to choose how we coexist is ours unless we willingly surrender it. There can be no quick fix, no easy or permanent answer to the troubles of today or tomorrow. A sword is a sword, nothing more. Hope, compassion, and wisdom born of experience are, for Middle-earth as for our world, the mightiest weapons at hand.
"All things are connected like the blood which unites us all.
Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."