And now, all roads must lead to different places, or we run out of plot. Seven or eight heroes survive; two are sent off to Mordor, leaving call it five (cos Gandalf’s still dead). A two-three split looks good for a few more thousand pages. So.
The two junior Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, get hobbit-napped by Orcs. Did I mention Orcs? Sauron’s squaddies. Stinking stupid stunted stalinistic slobs who talk gibberish full of bad consonants and eat dried-out stale crap and drink vile toxic poisons and torture everything not like them and … Enough. You know at least one.
Strider, meanwhile, has had a humour by-pass and morphed into Aragorn. He, Gimli dwarf and Legolas elf chase the hobbit-nappers for days and days and days, but guess what - they don’t catch them! Instead they get waylaid by Vigilante Cowboys called Rohirrim, whilst the Hobbits get rescued by walking trees called Ents. [Keeping up? Hint: turn off the spellcheck.]
Gandalf comes back to life somewhere in here, got wiz-napped by Saruman but is now new White Wizard boss. Some people (and trees) go off to Isengard to beat Saruman up; others ride off to meet the King of the Rohirrim and prepare for war; Magic Balls get mobilised. Complicated strategy, heh? (there’s far worse to come) but basically, we’re stuffed, because Sauron has all the WMDs – except one!
FRODO: It’s too heavy for me, Sam me lad. All these cliffs and stuff – not to mention that scary spider. [Ed: er, point of detail, spider doesn’t actually turn up till Page Three. Author: Oliphaunt. Pukelmen. Grishnaksch. Balrog. Wanna play hardball Ed?]
SAM: I could carry it for you a bit, if you wanted, master.
FRODO: Oh no you don’t, you sneaky little squit!
GOLLUM: Perhapsss we can helpppss???
FRODO: Sounds good to me!
SAM: Hmm. Sing-song anyone? Nice bit of boiled rope?
[A note from JRRT: oh bugger what have I started here, oh flipping heck Lewis …]
I know, says Gandalf. All roads must lead to Helm’s Deep (Scotland) where there must be a Great Battle in which Rohan must confront the combined forces of Isengard and Mordor and stuff and, well, must be off, wizard biz y’know …
I know, says Gandalf again. Bring on the trees! They’ll eat the orcs and bury them and stuff and – ah, little Pippin, must cart you off so the plot can split again … And so it comes to pass. Lots of blood and thunder here. Amputations. Beheadings. Better in the film.
Aragorn goes a bit, like, strange, you know, like when the band’s breaking up, and leads his elf and dwarf off towards strange paths. Rohirrim princess fancies him, not well impressed so turns into a military man (she’s going to kill something nasty later on and marry a handsome prince, told you it was complicated …)
Sauron, meanwhile (remember Him?) has not been idle. His Wraiths are gliding around on their pterodactyls, and he’s cooked up a big yellow fog, which confounds everyone esp Gandalf. But He still hasn’t noticed that Frodo and Sam are still crawling towards those Cracks, still guided by that Gollum (will these Hobbits ever learn?) and still clutching His Big Vibrating Superpower Ring, which He still can’t find even though He made it and it’s His only chance of victory and His Orcs have actually caught Frodo and Sam redhanded with it and, oh, let’s just skip rapidly on ...
Engage tenterhooks and hang off cliffs for Page Three ...