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A Dark and a White Tower at a Time of War
Map showing the route (top left) from Thirtle Bridge to Edith's lodgings in Withernsea - to the bottom right of the lighthouse
Map showing the route (top left) from Thirtle Bridge to Edith’s lodgings in Withernsea – to the bottom right of the lighthouse

I am aware that my latest blog post may be a little controversial, but before anyone rushes to condemn it out-of-hand, please either obtain an OS Explorer map of East Yorkshire (292), or use the StreetMap I’ve included on this blog.  From this you should be able to see that what is now the B1242 heads from Thirtle Bridge in the top left hand corner of the map south-east down towards Withernsea.  Edith’s lodgings are in the bottom right-hand corner of the map.  The proximity of the massive white structure of Withernsea Lighthouse to Edith’s lodgings is evident on the map.

Black Mill at Waxholme after 1904 when the sails were removed
Black Mill at Waxholme after 1904 when the sails were removed
Withernsea Lighthouse as viewed from the garden at the rear
Withernsea Lighthouse as viewed from the garden at the rear

About halfway between Thirtle Bridge and Withernsea in 1917 was a stark black old mill being used as an army watch-tower, at which was situated a military checkpoint.  My blog tries to give an idea of how these two structures would look to anyone travelling along that road during WW1.  Tolkien would have to use that route every time he visited Edith, while she was lodged in Withernsea, but also on each occasion he had to catch a train in Withernsea for medical examinations in Hull.  As far as I know this is the only example of Tolkien having to travel past a dark tower towards a white one during wartime in a relatively bare landscape.  I’m not saying that these must be the Two Towers of his book title, but they are worth considering as more suitable candidates than others which have been suggested in the past.

To make up your own minds by reviewing all the evidence, please visit my personal blog.

About the Author: Michael Flowers

I am a self-employed wildlife guide. I take people to beautiful places to learn about their local nature. I’ve been reading Tolkien from the age of 9, and have recently become interested in Tolkien’s time in East Yorkshire during WW1. I completed a Masters degree from the University of Sheffield in the Victorian Ghost Stories of Ellen [Mrs Henry] Wood.

  • There was never any intention on Tolkien’s part to juxtapose two towers (one white, one dark) against each other when he was working on The Book of Lost Tales. Nor was there any such intention when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. The title for the second volume of the latter was an afterthought, forced by the necessity of publishing the book in three parts instead of as a single volume, and Tolkien wrote in Letter No. 140 to Rayner Unwin: “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.”

    Minas Tirith was a full city, of which one of the most striking features was the White Tower of Ecthelion, but I don’t think that would compare well to a lighthouse. Isengard was a fortress an the tower of Orthanc was only a part of the fortress. Barad-dûr was a city-sized fortress built atop a mountain, and it contained many towers despite the literal meaning of its Elvish name.

    There is a “great tower” in The Book of Lost Tales, Kortirion, which Christopher Tolkien identifies with Warwick Castle (based on his father’s notes), but I think the association is only inspirational in the same sense as your proposition for these two towers.

    Nonetheless, I think you are looking too hard for an inspiration that isn’t really there.

    • David Fletcher

      Hello Michael and Michael,

      We just returned from a short trip to Yorkshire (Leeds, York, and Skipton — where I believe we met two local Hobbits in a small eatery, though they had not heard of Tolkien!). I became interested in this area as a possible inspiration for his work while there, when I recalled that he had spent time at the University of Leeds in the early ’20s; then I learned of his WWI time there before that. Intriguing.

      On the current topic, though I am somewhat new to this game (in assigning specific references), let me say that these suggestions about the towers are most welcome indeed. We should always recall that Tolkien was adamant about his work not being allegorical — so I think even he would willingly allow various interpretations (mixed together) regarding influences on his productions, even as he would no doubt welcome his productions conjuring up many further associations (from all different time periods) in the minds of his readers. Certainly, the local country people in this region reflect his Shirelings (as I have seen first-hand); the Dales sound a bit like Dale and the area of Laketown (the Lakes region is also close by); and I even wondered if Leeds in his day somehow influenced his visions of the industrialization of Saruman’s Isengard. Round windows appear to be everywhere in England — and they can be seen in old buildings in Leeds also. (I won’t get into rabbits and their holes — suggesting Hobbits’ homes to a small extent for me, as again, they are everywhere in the countryside, near universities in England and near castles in northern Wales, where we traveled this trip.) So to end, I would not be too critical of this suggestion about the towers, though many other influences may have been conjoined in his thoughts on these — and, as his writing suggest, he had more than one possible interpretation of what they signified (and he constantly revised).

      Nice work Michael (keep it up! — I am glad to have found this site), and nice textual research in your rebuttal Michael — but maybe be a little more inclusive rather than dismissive.

      DTF (July 2016)

      • “but maybe be a little more inclusive rather than dismissive.”

        That dog won’t hunt. It’s one thing to allow a great story to spark your imagination. Tolkien would have appreciated that. It’s quite another to just start making assumptions and assume they are more likely right than the verifiable facts. There is no point to being “inclusive” when you are correcting an erroneous point of view with well documented facts.