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I always wondered which are the two towers that are referred to in The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. My memory is a bit hazy right now but there are at least 5 Towers that are mentioned in the book they are:

  1. Cirith Ungol
  2. Orthanc (Saruman's capital)
  3. Minas Tirith (Gondor's capital)
  4. Minas Morgul
  5. Barad Dur (Sauron's capital)

My guess is the Towers mentioned are 1 & 2 which were once part of Gondor but now Minas Morgul is part of Mordor. Is there any actual reference in the book citing the name of the towers?

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I believe it refers to an alliance of Barad Dur (Mordor) and Orthanc – Liath Jun 23 '14 at 15:26
Any proof of this in the books are some supporting material? – Ram G Athreya Jun 23 '14 at 15:27
The whole relationship between Saruman and Sauron as well as the linking Palantir within both towers are parts of a pretty strong support argument. – CandiedMango Jun 23 '14 at 15:30
There's nothing in the book that says in effect "These are the two towers". I'm not sure which two Tolkien had in mind. – Matt Gutting Jun 23 '14 at 15:42
I clicked your question thinking the answer was obvious: "Saruman and Sauron's towers, duh." Aaand I was wrong. So +1. – Dacio Jun 24 '14 at 0:28
up vote 66 down vote accepted

Tolkien Gateway says:

Tolkien came up with the title under deadline pressure and later expressed dissatisfaction with it. In letters and one sketch he considered several possible sets of towers, including Minas Tirith and the Barad-dûr, and even the possibility of leaving the matter ambiguous. However, he eventually settled on Orthanc and Minas Morgul and wrote a note to this effect which appears at the end of most editions of The Fellowship of the Ring. He also produced a final cover illustration showing these towers, but the publisher decided not to use it in order to save money on the production costs.

Loosely, any pair from a set of five towers in the story could plausibly fit the title: Cirith Ungol, Orthanc, Minas Tirith, Barad-dur, and Minas Morgul.

Here's the quote from "Fellowship of the Ring" that the Gateway referred to:

Here ends the first part of the history of the War of the Ring.
The second part is called The Two Towers, since the events recounted in it are dominated by Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, and the fortress of Minas Morgul that guards the secret entrance to Mordor; it tells of the deeds and perils of all the members of the now sundered fellowship, until the coming of the Great Darkness

And the letters that the Gateway referenced - research shamelessly stolen from this forum - are:

A letter to Rayner Unwin (the publisher) from Aug 17, 1953 (Letters #140)
"The Two Towers" gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 and 4; and can be left ambiguous - it might refer to Isengard and Barad-dûr, or to Minas Tirith and B; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol."

With the note which explains:

In a subsequent letter to Rayner Unwin, Tolkien is more definite that the Two Towers are 'Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol'. On the other hand, in his original design for the jacket of 'The Two Towers' the Towers are certainly Orthanc and Minas Morgul. Orthanc is shown as a black tower, three-homed (as seen in Pictures no. 27), and with the sign of the White Hand beside it; Minas Morgul is a white tower, with a thin waning moon above it, in reference to its original name. Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon ('The Fellowship of the Ring' p. 257). Between the two towers a Nazgûl flies.

In the "subsequent letter" from Jan 22, 1954 (Letters #143) mentioned in the footnote , Tolkien wrote:

"I am not at all happy about the title 'The Two Towers'. It must if there is any real reference in it to Vol II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith, that seems very misleading."

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Letter 140: "The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 and 4; and can be left ambiguous – it might refer to Isengard and Barad-dûr, or to Minas Tirith and B; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol". – user8719 Jun 23 '14 at 16:08
@JimmyShelter - beat your coment (I think) with my edit :) – DVK-in-exile Jun 23 '14 at 16:11
I think @DVK's answer is satisfactory don't you @JimmyShelter? – Ram G Athreya Jun 23 '14 at 16:28
@RamGAthreya - and the comment was intended to support DVK's answer (I also gave it a +1), not to make any kind of claim that it was unsatisfactory or otherwise inadequate. – user8719 Jun 23 '14 at 16:45
I've always assumed it was Barad-dûr and Minas Tirith - The capitol of darkness vs. the capitol of light. <shrug> But I'm not going to argue with DVK's research. – Joe L. Jun 24 '14 at 1:58

As DVK's excellent answer describes, there is a great deal of confusion on this question as far as the books are concerned.

I would add to that answer only: when Peter Jackson made the movies he wisely decided to state clearly that the "two towers" of the title were the towers of the main antagonists: Orthanc and Barad-dur. Saruman in the movie has a voiceover monologue where he declares that the world of men cannot withstand an alliance of the two towers, meaning his and Sauron's towers.

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I'm tempted to -1 for using the words "Peter Jackson" and "wisely" on the same site, never mind in the same sentence :) – DVK-in-exile Jun 23 '14 at 16:32
@DVK: There are many choices I would have made differently than PJ, but for most of the choices I disagree with, I at least understand the motivation. This one though I think is good; obviously there is potential confusion on the question; even the author was confused! It has never struck me as sensible that one of the "two towers" be Minas Morgul. Tolkien -- or PJ, for that matter -- could have deleted Minas Morgul from Middle Earth entirely with only trivial changes to the plot. – Eric Lippert Jun 23 '14 at 16:48
The current buzzword is IIRC "gritty". And yes, the comic relief was way out of place. Total dissonance, like a cold blooded murder inserted into the middle of a nice child friendly Disney cartoon. – DVK-in-exile Jun 23 '14 at 16:58
!Flag comment: Dacio 2014-06-24 00:30:49Z; reason: breaking rules 1 and 2. – corsiKa Jun 24 '14 at 17:38
@DVK Because no nice, child friendly Disney cartoons have cold blooded murder in them cough Lion King cough :) – AndyD273 Jun 25 '14 at 12:46

I recommend thinking outside of the box here.

  • Literally, Orthanc and Cirith Ungol, obviously -
  • but philosophically and perhaps even socially, "Sam & Frodo".

They're the obvious heroes whose strength of character - not masonry or arms - carry the story to its conclusion.

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Interesting point, some references - even more explanations - would add some weight to your assertions. – Mooz Jun 24 '14 at 1:04
This sort of double meaning would be fitting for Tolkien's genius. The small and overlooked are the victorious champions over the initially more powerful and dominant towers (obviously Orthanc and Barad Dur). I could see C.S. Lewis and Tolkien pleased with this as they sat at the brew pub. – wcochran Jun 25 '14 at 2:35
Not bad, but I have some serious objections. First, it's not obvious what the literal meaning was, as Tolkien himself stated (see accepted answer). As for the philosophical side, it's too subjective and opinion-based. I can think of many metaphorical "towers" standing either in opposition or side-by-side: Sam & Frodo, yes, but also Good & Evil, The Fellowship & Mordor, Sauron & Saruman, Barad-Dur & Minas Tirith, Gondor & Mordor, Sam & Gollum, etc, etc. This is way too speculative... – Andres F. Sep 5 '15 at 23:35
@AndresF. The beauty of literature is that you can draw that fractal of meaning from 3 words. – Josh Rumbut Dec 7 '15 at 8:52
@JoshRumbut Doubtless. But while it's fun to speculate about this in discussions with friends, sadly it's unsuitable for this site. Even though, like you say, this is inherent -- and even needed -- in literature, this isn't truly a site about literary analysis. It's more a site that invites answers of the form "what author X meant was Z, as they explain in this interview (link) or in page 456 of the book". (Note: this is a limitation of the Q&A format of this site, but while we're here we must accept the rules) – Andres F. Dec 7 '15 at 16:56

From a literary point of view, especially the idea of "parallelism", logic leads one to Orthanc and The Tower of Cirith Ungol. At the end of Book III, Saruman is stranded in Orthanc; at the end of Book IV, Frodo is stranded in The Tower of Cirith Ungol. Admittedly, this argument has raged on since 1954, and each point of view has a couple of merits. The OCD part of me likes this one.

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