I always wondered which are the two towers that are referred to in The Lord of the Rings: The 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-Dûr (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?

The cover of "The Two Towers", showing one white tower with the moon above on a dark ground, and one black tower with a star above on a white ground. A dark winged creature is flying in between them, and a red ring is positioned in the center.

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    I believe it refers to an alliance of Barad Dur (Mordor) and Orthanc
    – Liath
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 15:26
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    Any proof of this in the books are some supporting material? Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 15:27
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    The whole relationship between Saruman and Sauron as well as the linking Palantir within both towers are parts of a pretty strong support argument. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 15:30
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    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. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 15:42
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    I clicked your question thinking the answer was obvious: "Saruman and Sauron's towers, duh." Aaand I was wrong. So +1.
    – Dacio
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 0:28

8 Answers 8


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
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 16:08
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    @JimmyShelter - beat your coment (I think) with my edit :) Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 16:11
  • I think @DVK's answer is satisfactory don't you @JimmyShelter? Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 16:28
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    @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
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 16:45
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    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.
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 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 :) Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 16:32
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    @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. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 16:48
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    I'll never forgive the Dwarf Tossing. Also, welcome to SFF.SE corner of the Exchange :) Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 16:49
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    @DVK Because no nice, child friendly Disney cartoons have cold blooded murder in them cough Lion King cough :)
    – AndyD273
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 12:46
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    @AndyD273 - That works, though I was actually trying to refer to Bambi. But I'm glad someone finally caught on to the sarcasm Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 14:21

Except that when Faramir has Frodo and Sam captured, Sam is scolding Faramir. He asks Faramir if he wants to have 'two towers smiling at each other across the river' referring to Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul.


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.
    – Möoz
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 1:04
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    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
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 2:35
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    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.
    Commented Sep 5, 2015 at 23:35
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    @AndresF. The beauty of literature is that you can draw that fractal of meaning from 3 words. Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 8:52
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    @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.
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 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.


There's no real argument for it being what the title is referring to, but it's interesting to note that the phrase "two towers" is used to describe the black gate in The Return of the King when Aragorn rides up to it with the host of Gondor.


Saruman makes clear the Two Towers are the Orthanc (Isengard) and Barad-Dûr (the seat of the Lord of Mordor) when he talks to Sauron through the Palantír about "the alliance of the Two Towers".

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    See the accepted answer. Saruman did not name the book. The accepted answer comes from Tolkien as author. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 18:18

Cirith Gorgor, the Black Gate, guarded by the two Towers of the Teeth, Carchost and Narchost. See chapter the chapter entitled, "The Black Gate is Closed." As far as I'm can recall, it's the only time the phrase "Two towers" is used in the whole book and I'd argue that's likely what is being referenced.

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    The accepted already has a different answer, straight from Tolkien. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:08

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