The Return of the King
By: J.R.R. Tolkien
The armies of the Dark Lord are massing as his evil shadow spreads even wider. Men, Dwarves, Elves and Ents unite forces to do battle against the Dark. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam struggle further into Mordor in their heroic quest to destroy the One Ring.
Well, here we are at the last leg of the journey that is The Lord of the Rings which started with The Fellowship of the Ring (commentary) and continued with The Two Towers (commentary). Contains references to the later two volumes of the story!
I’ve mentioned it before that The Return of the King my favourite of the three volumes comprising the overall story. It’s my favourite because it’s the culmination of everyone’s journeys, their sufferings, their triumphs. Aragorn comes to claim his birthright after proving himself and suffering so many trials, Frodo brings the One Ring to Mount Doom, Sauron throws all of his might into one final battle. All of the heroism and tragedy that you’d expect from this type of movie comes into fruition here in The Return of the King.
Random things I noticed while re-reading the book:
- Denethor. Every time I re-read LOTR I am reminded at why I dislike the character. I’m not a fan of people who play favourites with their children and Denethor is blatantly one of the worst. Reading the appendices you get a better sense of family life with Denethor, how Boromir is more like him than Faramir (who presumably takes after his mother–notice that he wraps Eowyn in his mother’s cloak). It’s hard to decipher his feelings after Faramir is brought back from battle the second time around critically wounded and Denethor is raving in despair but at that moment it’s tragic because he realises how much he lost: his eldest son and now without truly realising it his second son. Re-reading it this time around it occurred to me just how much he hated Gandalf and his influence in Middle Earth; you see not only in his confrontations but also in the way he treats Faramir, calling him “a wizard’s pupil.” Perhaps his estrangement with his son is not so much the fact that his son is very different from him but from the fact that Faramir is quite close to Gandalf.
- It’s too bad Merry wasn’t around a lot in the “The Houses of Healing” chapter because it would’ve been interesting to know more about Faramir’s reaction to his father’s death. Remember that The Lord of the Rings is technically written from the hobbits’ points of view so we don’t really know what’s going on in the heads of the other characters.
- Reading “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields” it always irks me that all of my favourite lines from Eomer got moved to other characters. While I understood the changes for the movie, I thought it was a lovely sequence for Eomer’s character. I don’t want to write too much about it here because I’m writing on his character for the November/December issue of Femnista but I always thought that one of the core features of Eomer’s character was his love and protection of his sister Eowyn. So not only to see his uncle die but to also see his sister lying nearby seemingly dead would just drive him mad. He doesn’t think at that moment, just so crazed with guilt, he just speeds back to battle to kill every enemy he could find, shouting “Death! Ride to ruin and the world’s ending!” I wished the snippet of him finding Eowyn at the movie was kept, it was a good moment for Karl Urban and really touches on that.
- I admit, I was cackling in the “Houses of Healing” chapters because of how snarky Gandalf and Aragorn were. Here they were trying to treat the gravely wounded (Faramir, Eowyn and Merry) and you’ve got a clucky midwife and a dry academic herbs master who’s more into lore than in speed and Aragorn’s all “I don’t care however you call it as long as you have some!” while Gandalf’s all “In the name of the king find someone who’ll get the job done!” Aragorn’s bit with Merry was also funny because you can tell Aragorn’s really tired at this point and Merry’s like “Yikes, o-kay, geez, I’m sorry.” Maybe I’m just putting a humourous take to the scene but it’s a good break after all of the intense battle and people dying.
- I remember reading people’s reactions about the Army of the Dead from the movie and how it seemed like such a cop-out. I thought it was always a nifty little detail, how Isildur pretty much damned the men of Dunharrow for breaking their oaths to Elendil, allowing them no rest until the Heir of Elendil calls on them again to fulfil their oaths. Sucks to be them (since they didn’t know when the Heir of Elendil would call them).
- In the final battle before the Black Gates Aragorn says that Pippin would be the one to represent the hobbits against Sauron, saying that Pippin still needs to match Merry’s deeds in battle (Merry had stabbed the Witch King). I wonder, did Pippin match up that valour in any sense? Of course it would be ridiculous to compare the two of them, their circumstances were completely different just as they are different hobbits altogether but it had be wondering nonetheless.
- I don’t think I mentioned it in my TTT commentary but I thought Gimli and Eomer’s little debate was amusing as to whether Galadriel is the most beautiful to have ever graced Middle Earth. I thought it was interesting how Eomer ranked Arwen before Galadriel (or is he just saying that because he’s best friends with Aragorn? ^_~) and Gimli said that Eomer chose Evening over Morning. I thought that was a poetic moment from Gimli.
The ending is always a heart break because as joyous as it was that Sauron was defeated, Frodo and Sam were rescued from Mount Doom and Aragorn was crowned king and married Arwen, you know that also means that everyone would disband and return to their respective homes. The long travel from Minas Tirith back the way they came until it’s finally the four hobbits and Gandalf is a lovely farewell to all of the characters. This gets me every time but the most heartbreaking farewell for me had to be the one between Arwen and her father Elrond:
…and Arwen Evenstar remained also, and she said farewell to her brethren. None saw her last meeting with Elrond her father, for they went up unto the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the end of the world.
I wish this had been shown on-screen (given the amount of scenes and build-up between the two characters in TTT and ROTK) because it’s just so beautiful and so sad, as it is with all the elves that left Middle Earth. Galadriel and Celeborn were another couple that left me feeling forlorn; you don’t see their farewell but it seems clear that Celeborn remained on Middle Earth when Galadriel left for the Undying Lands. Celeborn had never been to the West and I guess it just seemed fitting that, having lived for so long in Middle Earth, that he’d remain there until he faded away (like Arwen). [Edit: Correction, Celeborn did sought the Grey Havens at the end and travelled to the West, as noted in the prologue to FOTR (see the comments)]
The final goodbye at the Grey Havens was just as sad as every other time that I’ve read the book. One of my favourite lines from LOTR as a whole comes from that chapter:
‘Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.’
I love how fitting the very end was with Sam coming home to Rosie and Elanor. It’s this wonderful and quiet moment and in contrast to the epicness that went on in the novel, it’s fitting that it ends on a quiet note: of home and family and love and the notion that life goes on.
I obviously let out a lot of storylines in this commentary (Eowyn’s role in ROTK and her part in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Merry and Pippin’s services to the rulers of Rohan and Gondor, Frodo and Sam’s last stage of their journey to destroy the Ring, the Scouring of the Shire) but it’s a massive book, you can talk about every single detail for ages ^_~ It was a great experience to re-read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in a few years. I always pick up something different or, depending I guess where I am in my life, I notice something different about a character or come up with a different approach or interpretation to a scene. Still my favourite book ever =)
Though my re-read of LOTR is over now, I am hoping to re-read The Children of Hurin sometime in the next two months or so (the Tolkien group on GoodReads is doing a group read) and there’s of course The Silmarillion which I’ve actually never re-read to date. So that should be fun.