Nikki 's Reviews > The Return of the King

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Nov 16, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, based-on-myth-saga-etc
Read 5 times. Last read November 15, 2012.

The Return of the King is perhaps my least favourite of the three volumes. Part of that is the slow hideous crawl to Mordor, of course, despite the bright valour of Aragorn and Eowyn and most of the people in Minas Tirith -- even the death of Denethor is good to read, though sad. Part of it is the fact that a huge chunk of it, over a hundred pages in my edition, is the winding up of the story. There are some beautiful bits, of course, but Tolkien's descriptions of joy and victory don't ring quite so true as his descriptions of strife against the odds. I'd be surprised if they did: joy is very difficult to write about, I think.

It seems to take forever to wrap up and for those interested in the characters, it's very satisfying in that sense, if bittersweet in places. But it's also the wrapping up of the mythology, the end of an age, and for once I was focused more on that than on the characters. I'm not interested in the Fourth Age!

Of course, then the appendices are a welcome addition, from that point of view. You really mustn't neglect them, if you're interested in Tolkien's worldbuilding. He worked on a scale that few other writers bother with, for the sheer joy of the imagination required, and it's amazing to look at his handiwork.
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message 1: by Dr M (new)

Dr M Here be spoilers.

Tolkien's descriptions of joy and victory don't ring quite so true as his descriptions of strife against the odds.

While I agree with this statement, I think one should also add at this point that the resolution of the events in The Return of the King is not really unequivocal victory and joy. The story does not end with the defeat of Sauron. The scouring of the Shire and Frodo's eventual journey to the West are important parts of the story, and, on the whole, not joyous events.


Nikki Never said it was! See also: the part where I call it bittersweet. I think Tolkien does much better at bittersweetness than he does at joy, in fact.


Cassandra It seems to me that Tolkien's most joyful moments aren't the victories--or at least, not in the ordinary sense of the word--Theoden's mad charge to almost certain death is utterly glorious, for instance. Or does that fall under the heading of bittersweet? Can it be both at once?


Nikki Theoden's charge to almost certain death -- hmm. I'm not sure what to call that. Bittersweet, yes, I suppose, but stronger than that. It's the moments that epitomise "northern courage", the kind of courage that Tolkien saw in Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic literature and reflected in Lord of the Rings, that are the most... I don't think joyful is the word either. Fulfilled?


Cassandra Fulfilled is a good word--a sense of completeness, right-ness, even if the event is tragic-- but also something else. Maybe what I'm thinking of is C. S. Lewis' definition of joy, little moments of beauty that evoke a sudden mysterious longing "which pierces with such sweetness..."


Cassandra More joyful for the reader than the characters, I guess.


Cassandra You've sparked my curiosity now. Can you suggest any good readings about the idea of 'Northern Courage'?


Nikki Tolkien's own essay, 'Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics', is a good place to start, and his 'The Homecoming of Beortnoth'.


Cassandra Thanks!


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