Flavin’s Corner

The Two Towers

Detail from an unused dust-jacket design by J.R.R. Tolkien.

  He climbed up and found Legolas beside Aragorn and Éomer.  The elf was whetting his long knife.  There was for a while a lull in the assault, since the attempt to break in through the culvert had been foiled.
  ‘Twenty-one!’ said Gimli.
  ‘Good!’ said Legolas.  ‘But my count is now two dozen.  It has been knife-work up here.’
From The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Millennium Edition, Book Three: The Treason of Isengard, pp. 167-168; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Tomorrow it’s autumn again.  The air is getting cooler, leaves will soon start to change colors, and for most of my teens and all of my twenties it marked the time to reread The Lord of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994; various editions).  In my thirties, and since then, I've been deciding to forgo plowing through all 1232 pages of the entire "trilogy," and just read my favorite parts, notably sections from The Two Towers, the middle volume. [Note: See below for more info on various editions of the "trilogy" and the names of individual “books.”]  The tragic events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 still haunt me and I can’t get the images out of my mind of the two towers attacked, burning, and collapsing.  Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  I don't know if I'll be reading Tolkien this fall.

New York City is the unabashed capitol of Mom Terra.  I spent some time in New Jersey as a kid and NYC was always larger than life (perhaps seeing the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History during a second-grade field trip added to this perception).  I passed (quickly) through NYC a few times during my twenties, once seeing a pudgy, middle-aged utility meter-reader with a stained t-shirt and a flack jacket going about his business.  It reenforced my not wanting to live there.  In my mid-thirties I spent a wild night in the Big Apple, details of which I don’t wish to discuss at this time, but it changed my opinion of the city somewhat–it was still ugly, but I could deal with it, if I had to.  A few years later, I had to.  I moved there with a girlfriend, returned to Boston after a year for a vacation, we broke up, and visit NYC only occasionally now, but I'm often sarcastic when speaking about the city and its population. [Note: See my short stories “Just Flowers” and “Headhunters: A Fifth Avenue Story.”]

I’ve joked with friends that I only see Hollywood movies which feature a scene where New York City is destroyed or badly damaged, e.g., Independence Day, Godzilla, and Armageddon.  Much of The Siege was filmed in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn where I used to live, and though I wasn’t that impressed by the performances turned in by Bruce and Denzel, I experienced a macabre enjoyment at watching NYC in chaos.  Now, seeing those planes strike the towers, knowing that in those few frames of film many innocent lives were instantly snuffed out, is almost too intimate to bear.  Seeing New Yorkers running through the streets as a huge cloud of dust and debris gains on them seems uncomfortably familiar, as if I’ve seen those scenes before.  I’m going to have to rethink my appreciation of special effects and this won’t be the first time.

[Note:If I cared about a strict chronology, this is where I'd mention being troubled by a black and white photograph of a Ugandan (?) soldier with a hole the size of a fist in his forehead, published as real "pornography" by Larry Flynt in Hustler Magazine during the late 1970s.  Well, and then there was seeing Romero's Dawn of the Dead while under the influence of a certain synthetic botanical extract in 1979.  That wasn't a bright idea...]

I remember feeling profoundly sad after seeing 1984's Body Double and the scene of Deborah Shelton getting murdered*with a large electric drill.  There was no gore, director Brian De Palma pulled a Hitchcock and only suggested it, but the instant of irreversible loss and the death of an innocent babe bothered me.  A lot.  A couple of years later, when I watched Sid accidently stab Nancy in 1986's Sid and Nancy, I felt faint, a bit nauseous, lowered my head and squeezed the hand of my date tightly for comfort and strength.  These were physical reactions I wasn’t used to.  I considered everything and decided the directors had simply done their jobs well.  That reason worked for awhile. *Scroll to mid-page and click on the hyperlinked words "murder sequence."

At some point in the late 1980s I got together with a couple of cousins and their friends to watch a few of the Faces of Death videos.  As we were all young men, fearless and dumb, we laughed at the footage allegedly depicting executions, fatal accidents, and other gruesome events.  I joined in the laughter, but later had problems getting some scenes out of my head.  Though some argue quite convincingly that most of the scenes were faked, I occasionally tthink about the segment where a guy parachutes out of a plane in Florida and the wind carries him over what looks to be an alligator farm.  His friends are rushing to save him (while carrying a video-camera, of course), and their comments of “No!  Oh, no!  Now, look what they’ve done!,” as the alligators are taking bites out of their off-camera friend, remain disturbing to me, even if staged.  Though I’ve long been a fan of splatter and hypergore films, the thought of watching real gore for entertainment seems an aberrant fetish I’d rather not give way to.  There’s such a thing as being too twisted...

The last time I was hurt watching video was while I was living in Brooklyn (the Greenpoint neighborhood featured in The Siege, as mentioned above).  It was 1997, I was bored at a local comic and video store (the owners were a few months away from opening Midtown Comics in Manhattan), and I rented an apparent Faces of Death knock-off ...because I do stupid things every now and then.  With feet up, cold beer in hand, I watched a segment about Islamic justice.  A convicted thief was tied to a table, held down by one fellow, and another takes a big knife and cuts off a hand, then a foot.  No last words, no words at all; just the harsh reality of what happens to thieves in some parts of the world.  The second scene also featured a guy from the Middle-east, but I don’t know if it had anything to do with Islamic justice, though it could have.  He was kneeling in the grass, his hands tied behind him, and someone opened up with a machine-gun at his face.  The flesh disappeared from half of his face in a second, as a result, and there wasn't any blood at first, just white bone.  I stopped watching the video, marched back to the store and returned it, demanding they put a warning on the film advising people that it contains horrible images which can cause pain and suffering.  Those two segments stayed with me for weeks.  In a way, they’re still with me. 

1) 1973's Godspell: The Movie; 2) 1976's King Kong poster art; 3) Frazetta's version of Kong.

I’ve a feeling the images of the World Trade Center towers being destroyed will stay a part of me forever, as with the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination; it’s now included in the permanent exhibition behind my brow.  During trips to the Big Apple I walked by the WTC a couple of times, but neither had business there or felt up to confronting my tourist status.  Yet, since its completion in 1973, the WTC and its towers were a given when considering the New York City skyline.  The Empire State Building soon became a symbol of another time, especially after Dino De Laurentiis released his 1976 King Kong, in which Kong climbs the WTC towers, changed from the Empire State Building in the 1933 version.

When we consider New York City, we often think of Times Square, the ice-skating rink outside of Rockefeller Center, Central Park, the United Nations building, the confluence of cultures found in the five boroughs, or any and all of the other important buildings, places, and unique neighborhoods that together make up the Big Apple.  On Feburary 26, 1993 terrorists chose the WTC as a symbol and exploded a massive bomb (perhaps of urea nitrate), killing 6 and injuring over a thousand.  The planes that attacked the two towers did so not to murder large amounts of innocent civilians, as an average Marilyn Manson or Eminem concert could easily have raised the numbers to twenty thousand or more.  Terrorists chose the two towers as symbols of New York City, of the United States, of the secular world, of freedom and tolerance, of cooperation, and of a bright hope for a brighter tomorrow.  As is now apparent, the terrorists destroyed the two towers, but failed to damage what they represented.

A little after seven tomorrow evening we say goodbye to summer.  It’s September 22nd, a date important to all fans of The Lord of the Rings, as it’s Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday (though some dispute the day and argue it should be earlier in the month).  One of the many marvelous elements Tolkien introduced us to in his writings was the practice of hobbits giving presents on their birthdays, instead of receiving them.  Tomorrow I’m going to give out presents; probably small presents, or maybe just some kind words and hugs.  Hopefully I can work things out inside and soon start to think about picking up The Two Towers again.  I can’t let them take that away from me.  I can’t.       

The Lord of the Rings:

Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a single, long epic novel, divided into six “books,” and tried in vain to convince his publishers to issue the work in one volume.  It was decided to release the work in three parts, each with a volume title.  The bibliographic information for the initial publications is:

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, 3 vols.: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King; London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954-1955; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954-1956; 2nd ed. with new forward, George Allen & Unwin, 1966; Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

It’s in poor taste to speak at length concerning the unauthorized Ace paperback edition, 1965-1967.

A one volume UK paperback was released in 1968; a deluxe hardcover edition was first published in 1974, with subsequent printings and various editions.

In 2000 a “Millennium Edition” of The Lord of the Rings was published as a boxed set of seven volumes.  Each individual volume bears a letter of “Tolkien,” and is entitled with Tolkien’s original names for the six “books” of The Lord of the Rings, plus Appendices.

T - Book One: The Rings Sets Out
O - Book Two: The Ring Goes South
L - Book Three: The Treason of Isengard
K - Book Four: The Ring Goes East
I - Book Five: The War of the Ring
E - Book Six: The End of the Third Age
N - Appendices

In what has been described as the greatest effort of “literary archaeology” ever undertaken, J.R.R.T.’s son, Christopher Tolkien, published early drafts of The Lord of the Rings (and many other related writings) as 'The History of Middle-earth', in twelve volumes from 1983 through 1996.  The individual volume titles are:

I, The Book of Lost Tales, Part One
II, The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two
III, The Lays of Bereriand
IV, The Shaping of Middle-earth: The Quenta, the Ambarkanta, and the Annals, together with the earliest ‘Silmarillion’ and the First Maps
V, The Lost Road and Other Writings: Language and Legend before ‘The Lord of the Rings’
VI, The Return of the Shadow: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part One
VII, The Treason of Isengard: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Two
VIII, The War of the Ring: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Three
IX, Sauron Defeated: The End of the Third Age (The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Four), The Norton Club Papers, and The Drowning of Anadûnê
X, Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillon, Part One: The Legends of Aman
XI, The War of the Jewels: The Later Silmarillon, Part Two: The Legends of Bereriand
XII, The Peoples of Middle-earth

A year ago Houghton Mifflin published a four volume boxed trade-paperback edition of 'The History of Middle-earth', vols. VI, VII, VIII, and a portion of IX, as The History of The Lord of the Rings, with Part Four having the title, The End of the Third Age.

In a week and a half HarperCollins UK has promised to publish The Complete History of Middle-earth; all previous 12 vols. in a 3 volume, deluxe boxed edition.  £250.00 (cheaper through Amazon UK), which will probably convert into very near $400.00.  Over 5000 pages in one set...  Limited to 200.  I ordered a copy a couple of months ago, but am now thinking about cancelling the order.  It’s all too confusing.


Return to main page