Bret James Stewart's Reviews > The Return of the King

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
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it was amazing

The Return of the King contains books 5 and 6 of The Lord of the Rings sextet. Tolkien did not like the title as it gives away the ending, preferring, instead, The War of the Ring as a title. I rather agree with him, though this title quibble does not, in my opinion, detract from the book.

This is the finale of LOTR. Aragorn and Theoden come to the aid of Minas Tirith, which is beseiged by the forces of Mordor under the leadership (initially) of the Witch-king of Angmar, one of the Nazgul. In this epic battle, the Witch-king is killed by Eowyn of Rohan, with the famous, "I am no man," line. The Witch-king is legendary, and one of his characteristics is that he cannot be killed by "man." Tolkien gets around this by having him killed by a woman, which is clever. The feminists in the audience dig the powerful female character. I have never heard it addressed, but, with this technicality, anyone who is not a human male could kill the Witch-king, such as any of the hobbits, Gimli, Legolas, etc. Anyway, the forces of Mordor are routed. Aragorn delays being crowned king of Gondor in order to lead a force to Mordor. The goal is to buy Frodo and Sam more time to destroy the Ring as this is the only way to eliminate Sauron. This baiting is pretty much suicide as the forces of Mordor are much greater than the forces of Gondor/Rohan. The army approaches Mordor. Sauron takes the bait, and the forces of good are surrounded and at the brink of destruction. Tolkien wisely leaves us at this point and switches over to Frodo and Sam.

Sam eventually finds Frodo, and they travel on toward Mount Doom, still dogged by Gollum, who is now clearly their enemy. The journey becomes progressively more difficult for Frodo as the Ring as well as the hardship of travel overwhelm him. Sam's character really shines here as he takes care of Frodo, often doing without in order to aid his master. Tolkien brings things to a head with Gollum, Sam, and Frodo battling for/over/about the Ring at the very brink of the lava pit in Mount Doom. In a great literary move, Frodo chooses not to destroy the Ring, claims it (thereby unknowingly saving Aragorn's forces as Sauron's will leaves his army and focuses on the Ring; this scatters his forces, allowing Aragorn, etc. to survive), and is attacked by Gollum. As we all know, or should know, Gollum bites off Frodo's finger, claims the Ring, and slips and falls into the lava, accidentally destroying the Ring. Mission accomplished, but not in the way anyone except Tolkien saw coming. This segment is great because it begs the question of who is the hero? Sam because he selflessly aids Frodo, does not succumb to the power of the Ring even though he briefly bears it, and retains his character and personality throughout the episode? Frodo because he altruistically bears the Ring to the very brink of destruction even though he succumbs at the last instant? Gollum because he actually is the one who inadvertently destroys the Ring? I have an opinion, but will not give it here. This question is hard to answer; indeed, it may have no clearcut answer, and these kinds of questions are thought-provoking and intrigue the mind and intellect.

The follow-up is nice, addressing many questions, and bringing things to a satisfactory conclusion. Aragorn, of course, is crowned king, as the title implies. Good is restored. The scouring of the Shire is a nice touch. It is slightly anti-climactic, if this were a movie (which is why Jackson left it out, I suppose), but it works in the book, if only to demonstrate Saruman's pettiness and to show good never completely defeats evil in this world. The ending is somewhat heart-breaking as Frodo and Bilbo depart for Aman the Blessed along with some of the elves and Gandalf, leaving Merry, Pippin, and (especially) Sam.

This book is great on the emotional level. Sam's devotion to Frodo, Frodo's nobility and eventual fall to temptation (which makes him more believable and complex), and the general concepts of altruism and friendship are highlighted in many places throughout the book. We also see the transition from the third to the fourth age of Middle-Earth in a climactic smackdown between the forces of good and evil. Even more detail about Middle-Earth is provided, which makes the book more satisfying. Merry and Pippin remain the same character, as I have mentioned in the two previous reviews for Fellowship and Towers, but this is a minor thing in light of all the great things Tolkien has included in this book.

Everyone needs to read The Lord of The Rings at least once. It is not a classic for nothing. Even if you don't fall in love with it, and I think you will, you will benefit by knowing material that serves as common ground for millions of people world-wide.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 7, 2013 – Shelved

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