Book Review: ‘The Return of the King’ by J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted: 21 February 2014 in Book reviews
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return-of-the-king

Here we find ourselves at the conclusion of Tolkien epic saga.  Gandalf and Pippin have arrived at Minas Tirith and Pippin has now sworn himself into the service of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor and father to Boromir and Faramir.  He is required by the steward to recount his experiences with Boromir and wait on him.  Pippin is worried that Gandalf would be mad at him for his rash decision, but on the contrary.  Gandalf thinks it likely to be a good thing.  And so he becomes a member of the guard as the rest of the city prepares for battle.  Reinforcements arrive from the south, but no word reaches them from Rohan as the threat of war looms ever nearer.

Gordor is stricken a devastating blow when Osgiliath is taken and Faramir is brought back nearly dead.  Denethor loses the will to fight and even live now that both his sons have been taken from him.  Gandalf takes control of the army, but has to leave the battle to save Faramir from being burned alive with his father.

During all this time, the riders of the Rohirrim had made it to Edoras and were then on their way to Minas Tirith.  They arrive after the battle was in full swing, but because of them they tide was turned and they won.  Éowyn (who was supposed to have been in Edoras) reveals herself and kills the Nazgûl Lord, which throws the enemy into a state of chaos.  Sadly, Théoden is killed and Éowyn is nearly killed.  Merry is injured and is taken to the House of Healing along with the Éowyn and Faramir.

Now that the black army has been defeated, they decide to take the fight to Mordor.  This is to be the final battle as they still wait to learn the fate of Frodo and the ring.  When they arrive at the Black Gate, they are presented with articles of Frodo’s clothing, but no mention of the ring.  Gandalf then rejects the terms set out by Sauron’s mouthpiece and the final battle begins.

In Mordor, Sam is on the outside of the Tower of Cirith Ungol trying to figure out how to save Frodo.  By the time he makes it inside, he is surprised to find the majority of the Orcs dead.  He quickly finds Frodo, gives him back the ring, finds disguises for them, and the make their way out of the tower and on their way.  They trek across the Land of Shadow towards Mount Doom.  At one point they are forced to fall in line with a group of Orcs, but escape once they neared the Black Gate.  By this point, the weight of the ring is nearly unbearable.  To walk has become a burden.  With a lack of water and very little food, their journey seems to have a rather tragic end.

Frodo’s burden finally reaches its climax when they reach Mount Doom.  Sam decides to carry Frodo when they are attacked by Gollum.  Sam battles with him while Frodo escapes.  When Sam catches back up with Frodo, he is already inside the mountain standing at the edge above the lava.  Rather than throw the ring in, he puts it on and disappears.  Gollum attacks once more knocking Sam down and fighting violently with an invisible Frodo.  He bites of Frodo’s finger and then falls over the edge, destroying himself and the ring.

With the destruction of the ring, the armies of Mordor retreat and Sauron’s terror is ended.  The eagles save Sam and Frodo, and once again the members of the fellowship are reunited in Ithilien.  They all remain in Gondor for a while until the arrival of Arwen and the wedding of her and Aragorn.  Finally, when the Rohirrim return to take Théoden’s body back to Edoras, the fellowship leaves.  They travel together to Edoras and then the group begins breaking apart as small groups turn on their separate paths.

When the hobbits make it back to The Shire, they are surprised to find it in such an awful state.  Nothing was as it had been, but then neither were they now that they were back.  They defied the pitiful excuse of authority and once they reached Hobbiton and Bag End, riled of the people and drove out the men who had plagued their lands.  Their biggest surprise came when they discovered that it was Saruman and Wormtongue who were the cause of all the chaos.  Frodo was to let them go peacefully, but then Wormtongue finally had enough and slit Saruman’s throat.

It took a while, but eventually The Shire was repaired and all was well.  But not with Frodo.  He was always plagued with memories of his old wound.  The day finally came when it was time for him to leave.  He went with Sam to the Grey Havens where Sam finally learned that Frodo meant to leave Middle Earth forever.  But before they could leave, Merry and Pippin appeared (not wanting to let Frodo leave without saying goodbye).  It was a sad parting, but through it wounds could heal and new beginnings could start.

To be honest, I really loved the last book.  I did feel that book 5 was more difficult to get through than book 6, but overall it was amazing.  Just to get it out of the way, the typical criticism applies as with the other books: the writing is complicated and challenging to understand at times.  That’s about it that I can complain about with the book.

So what did I like?  I loved that you had no idea that Éowyn was actually Dernhelm.  The only way I knew was because the film makes it blatantly obvious.  Even Merry knew although he doesn’t in the book.  I loved that Sam was so pivotal and strong.  He wasn’t a babbling emotional wreck as in the film.  He was the reason the quest was successful.  I loved the original ending.  I so wished that Peter Jackson had used that ending instead.  It was kind of annoying to think that the Hobbits could live in blissful ignorance and not be affected at all by what was happening.  Of course it all made sense why Saruman was killed off in the second film now.  Would have made an awesome ending though.  I loved the wisdom of Faramir.  Yeah he is still my favourite character.

I also really liked getting the story of Aragorn and Arwen in the appendices.  The appendices were tough to get through, but they are interesting.  The bit on Aragorn and Arwen explains a lot to why certain scenes were included in the films.  Of course they are placed more in the present than in the past (as they should have been), or at least that is how it seemed.

It was a journey for myself to finish the entire series, but it was well worth it.  The films were decent, but still did the books no fair justice.  I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and would definitely recommend them.  True lovers of fantasy would be remiss to bypass reading ‘The Lord of the Rings.’  I only wish I had read them much sooner, but no matter.  At least I have them read now.  Now you read them.  Enjoy 😉

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