The front cover of my edition of "The Two Towers" has a picture of what looks like a man mounted on some vast flying creature:

cover

The only thing that beast makes me think of is "dragon", but as far as I can remember, no dragons appear in "The Two Towers" or indeed in the whole of "The Lord of the Rings". So I can't work out what one is doing on the front cover of the book. I'd also be interested to know what the city/structure in the background is. It looks like Minas Tirith, but again "The Two Towers" has no scenes set in Minas Tirith. Could it be Helm's Deep?

What does this picture depict?

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    Well I'm pretty sure that the Witch-king of Angmar riding his fell beast. As to the setting or scene, I've no clue. – Daft Apr 10 '15 at 10:08
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    That is barad-dur and the witch king on his fell beast – user31546 Apr 10 '15 at 10:15
up vote 75 down vote accepted

The painting is known as "The Dark Tower", by John Howe. Howe is one of the greatest Tolkien illustrators, and worked with Jackson on the movies' art direction.

Originally painted in 1990 for the 1991 Tolkien Calendar, the image depicts Sauron's tower of Barad Dur, in Mordor, with a Lovecraftian spin (it was based on an early Lovecraft-inspired painting Howe had made). It wasn't drawn explicitly for the cover of The Two Towers, so it doesn't necessarily depict a specific scene from that book, but Barad Dur is one of the many choices for the titular Towers in the name of the book.

Having established the Tower being Barad Dur, it came naturally to add a Ringwraith on his flying mount, as they "came more or less with the landscape", according to Howe. Tolkien might not have described these flying mounts precisely - usually just using "The winged Shadow" or "a flying darkness in the shape of a monstrous bird" - but Howe's interpretation (like many of his visual images for Tolkien's works) became the basis for Jackson's vision in the movies.

Here's Howe's commentary, available on his website:

I had (and still do) a collection of photos of the skulls of small animals - mice, rats, small birds - that an art school classmate and I had piled up and photographed. [..] From these snapshots, I had done a painting of the Nameless Isle, from the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H. P. Lovecraft. [..] Like many things, some paintings are a dry run, and I knew I had the foundations of Sauron's tower Barad-dur.

And here's the full description of the flying creature, from The Return of the King, ch.6 - The Battle of the Pelennor Fields:

[A] winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, fingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil.

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    This answer and the one from @Daft would be perfect if combined. As it is, hard to choose - one has the detailed information while the other has the original image. – Omegacron Apr 10 '15 at 17:25
  • I like the hildebrant brothers Tolkien stuff better. – Escoce Apr 11 '15 at 14:20
  • @Omegacron I get what you're saying, but I feel like adding the full painting - which doesn't add much beyond the cover version - will just add noise to an answer based on quotes, and won't actually add information. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Apr 12 '15 at 5:19
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    Brilliant answer! This is what I like about SE: people can ask a simple question and end up learning a lot more than they even realised there was to know, in a well-organised answer from someone who clearly knows their stuff. – Rand al'Thor Apr 12 '15 at 11:10

It looks to be The Witch King of Angmar and his fell beast chilling out outside Barad-Dur.

The same image is on The Lord of The Rings' wiki with the title:

John Howe - The Dark Tower

enter image description here

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    +1 for full picture and for getting there first, but Avner is going to have to get the tick for a fuller and more detailed answer. – Rand al'Thor Apr 12 '15 at 11:10

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