Note that, although it is often published in three-volume editions, The Lord of the Rings is one novel, and not technically a "trilogy" at all. It consists of six parts or "books." The first two comprise The Fellowship of the Ring (first published July 1954); the second two comprise the present volume, The Two Towers (first published November 1954); and the third two comprise The Return of the King (first published October 1955). The following commentary assumes readers' familiarity with Books I and II of The Lord of the Rings, and interprets Books III and IV in the context of the entire work.
Summary: Searching for Frodo, Aragorn discovers Boromir, who, following his attempt to take the Ring from the hobbit, was attacked by orcs and now lies dying. Before he dies, Boromir urges Aragorn to go to Minas Tirith and defend Gondor, the ancient kingdom of Men, from Sauron's advancing armies. Aragorn, however, is torn between his desire to honor Boromir's wish and Aragorn's own sense of commitment to Frodo and the quest to destroy the Ring. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli send Boromir's body over the Falls of Rauros in a dignified and moving farewell. Then, having deduced that Frodo and Sam have set out for Mordor by themselves, the trio begins pursuing the orcs who have captured Merry and Pippin. Among the dead orcs whom Boromir managed to kill, Aragorn notes some who are not from Mordor: some orcs are from the Misty Mountains, while other, larger orcs bear on their armor the mark of a white hand and an S-rune that stands for Saruman.
Analysis: The chapter continues to complicate the situation in which the Fellowship found itself at the end of Book II. From this point forward, the structure of the novel diverges: one "stream" of plot follows Frodo and Sam to Mordor (Book IV), while the present "stream" diverges further to follow the other two hobbits (Chapters 3-4) and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli (Chapters 1-2, 5-8). These five will not reunite until Chapter 9. The "fractured" nature of the narrative mirrors the fractured Fellowship.
Aragorn, too, could be described as feeling "broken," as his initial uncertainty concerning whether to follow Frodo demonstrates. Notice his numerous references, in this and the next chapter, to the difficult choices he faces (e.g., "Vain was Gandalf's trust in me. What shall I do now?"). Many readers will be able to identify with Aragorn: without a mentor figure to guide him, he-not unlike Bilbo in The Hobbit, and not unlike Frodo in the present work-must face and make hard choices in order to achieve a desired goal. Such choices must be faced and made even, in Gimli's words, when there may be "no right choice." Quests in literature are often metaphors for journeys toward self-knowledge; in Aragorn's case, he will continue to seek knowledge of his destiny as the work progresses. Although he is the heir to the throne of Gondor, he, like so many people, must "grow into" their fates. He must forge and claim his identity for himself, and his decision to lead Legolas and Gimli in pursuit of the orcs is an important step along that journey.
Tolkien again indicates how orcs present an evil distortion and destruction of the natural world (cf. Treebeard's reference to the origin of orcs in Chapter 4). Legolas comments as the trio follows the all-too-easy to find orcs' path, "It seems [orcs'] delight to slash and beat down growing things that are not even in their way." In this chapter, the author also reminds readers of another important theme in The Lord of the Rings: the need for unity amidst diversity. The quest of the trio for Merry and Pippin represents, as Aragorn says, "a marvel among the Three Kindreds: Elves, Dwarves, and Men."