01 May 2013

Review: The Treason of Isengard by J. R. R. Tolkien

Hardcover, 252 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1954)
Acquired February 2011
Read April 2013
The Treason of Isengard: Being the Third Book of The Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien

I didn't realize/remember the way that The Lord of the Rings was structured in detail, so I was surprised by intrigued when I discovered that Frodo and Sam were completely absent from this book, which instead follows the adventures of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli and Merry and Pippin following the disintegration of the Fellowship. One of my problems with The Ring Goes South was that there were too many characters caught up in the narrative; the splitting of the Fellowship into three distinct groups gives everyone more space to breathe and become their own people.

Merry and Pippin on their own was fantastic, and I wish we'd gotten to see more of it directly (much of their adventures are reported by the two hobbits to the other characters late in the novel). They turn out to be surprisingly resourceful when captured by the orcs; the bit where they pretend to the have the Ring on them was one of my favorite parts. Their encounters with the Ents, too, are good fun.

Most of the book is spent on the Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli trio (who are later joined by Gandalf), and it is time well spent. Gimli is my favorite character-- always ready to threaten someone with his axe and competing with Legolas over his number of kills, but also grumpy when he thinks Galadriel hasn't sent him a message, and wistful about the beauty of the caverns behind Helm's Deep. (Also, he refuses to sing over Boromir's grave. Unlike Aragorn, who sings every ten pages-- something I have a hard time picturing his film counterpart doing!)

While the Battle of Helm's Deep isn't the spectacle it is in the films, it's still one of the highlights of the books so far. Tolkien shifts his usual style; rather than long passages of description, the events come at us in short sections, sometimes only a couple paragraphs at a time, imbuing both the buildup to the battle and the battle itself with tension and a slight sense of disconnection and choppiness that really works.

Each book of The Lords of the Rings so far has been different to the once preceding it; this one is a high fantasy war story. I don't know if I prefer it to The Ring Sets Out's more rustic tone, but it's well-executed, enjoyable, and fast-paced.


  1. Tsk tsk, Steve. "One of my problems with The Ring Goes South was that there were two many characters caught up in the narrative;"

    Typos from the English doctoral student? I never!


  2. This is my favorite book of LOTR! I really, really love Merry & Pippin and the Ents. The movie doesn't do that story any justice. And I love the heroic trio too.