The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
4.5 / 5
Classic, timeless and magnificent.
The Lord of The Rings series reaches a climactic crescendo with the final instalment, The Return of the King, providing the brilliant ending to the battle for Middle-Earth. The story hikes down two parallel lanes: Frodo and Sam lumbering wearily towards Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring and Aragorn leading the people of Middle-Earth against a massive attack by Sauron and his forces darkened by his shadow and fear. As the two storylines coincide, we are assured of an ending of epic proportions.
Throughout the trilogy, and especially in ROTK, Tolkien displayed his huge talent for creating the exactness of any given situation, which was done expertly in both Mordor and in the battling Middle-Earth. The way Tolkien described Mordor to give the perfect sense of misery and gloom as Frodo and Sam gradually made their way inch by inch closer to their destination. It seemed so real and the sense of impending doom and the deepening darkness was breathtaking. The barrenness of the land and the toll that had taken over Frodo is heightened, because of the landscape that Tolkien paid so much attention to, with Frodo’s burden as the ring-bearer becoming harder with every step we takes.
I’m not sure what other editions and versions of this book offer, but at the end of my edition which was released after the films were released, there are extensive appendices which offer the reader more information and facts that concern events surrounding the histories, legends, bloodlines and events concerning the Age of Men. I was particularly interested in the future of the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen. Despite not having a major role in the War of the Ring, she also made a huge sacrifice of the Elvish kind and rejected immortality to be with Aragorn. Also the timeline was very informative, with events detailed in all the ages of Middle-Earth. The events during Aragorn’s reign were also good reading, as were the events of the Shire (Sam was Mayor 7 times!)
I also enjoyed the Battle of Bywater, with the hobbits showing how far they have come since the early days when they first left the Shire. They are now confident, proud, hobbits and are now charged to take control of the Shire, which provides a happy ending for the hobbits. I was disappointed that this did not make the film, as I would have loved to have seen those 4, clad in all the gear from Gondor, Elves and Rohan march their way back into Hobbiton and deal with the Men that have taken advantage and dominion over the hobbits.
Despite LOTR being a legendary classic series, a criticism that I have on this book, is the slow pace of Frodo and Sam’s voyage to Mount Doom. The majority of their story is focused on the environment of Mordor, and Sam’s observation of Frodo’s growing weariness. Another criticism I had was the relative absence of Legolas and Gimli. After featuring prominently in the previous books, they were largely unmentioned in this book, and after the war, they departed the fellowship all too quickly for my liking. In this respect, I think the film had an advantage, as the pair had became much loved characters and the friendship and comedy that they had built provided refreshing interludes to the threat of war and dark nature concerning the War of the Ring.
Though there are few main characters that are women, but the few that do feature, are strong, brave, intelligent and courageous. Particular attention is paid to Eowyn, who performs one of the key strikes of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and one the best lines in the trilogy. With the Witch-King of Angmar/ Lord of the Nazgul entering the battlefield and striking fear into the soldiers of Gondor and killing them unmercilessly, he encounters Eowyn, who is disguised as a soldier faces him as he hovers over the dying King Theoden. The Witch-King says that “No living man may hinder me!” Thus Eowyn reveals herself and proudly responds:
But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Be gone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead; I will smite you, if you touch him.
They exchange strikes, and Eowyn seems destined to follow in the footsteps of her father, if not for brave Merry who stabs him, thus distracting the Witch-King long enough for Eowyn to deliver the last blow.
There is also Arwen’s character, despite not playing a big part in any of the books, she is shown to be an intelligent, loyal and brave Elf who selflessly gives up immortality to be with Aragorn, who she loves dearly. Galadriel again is not a prominent figure, but whenever she is seen or heard, she is described as a strong, intelligent and powerful Elf. The women in the Houses of Healing are also given much credit to as well, in a similar way to how women during the World Wars were looked upon.
One of the great debates among readers of LOTR, is the fate of Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Elves, as it is left ambiguously open to interpretation. The “Grey Havens” or “Undying Lands” for which these characters are bound for could be interpreted as the actual deaths of the characters going there. Tolkien, it seems, had been hinting throughout Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom, that the pain in Frodo’s shoulder was to mean more than was written down, with the things left unsaid tantalising the readers and allowing the reader to make their own mind. The frequent mentioning of Frodo never feeling whole again and being described as “too deeply hurt” seems to suggest that Tolkien has a plan for Frodo in the end.
There is also some debate on whether Gandalf died in Moria and came back. My perception of what I have read and through the appendices and other material, is that Gandalf made the ultimate sacrifice to uphold the possibility of the fellowship continuing with its mission. Despite possessing more inner power than any of the fellowship members, he made the ultimate sacrifice knowing that he would not be able to help in the resistance and he forgone any personal glory that would have come with success. However, he was brought back by a higher power but not as himself; “Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.” Of course, he remains similar in personality and idiosyncrasy, but both his wisdom and power are much greater. Gandalf really ‘died’, and was changed: for that seems to me the only real cheating, to represent anything that can be called ‘death’ as making no difference. “Naked I was sent back- for a brief time, until my task is done.” And now that he has completed what he was sent back for, and also being of the Third Age and a ring-bearer, he goes to the Grey Havens.
Ring-bearers all seem to go to the grey havens too- Sam eventually goes there as he only bore the ring for a short while and he was able to live a long life with his wife Rose, then he was able to join his other love Frodo in the Grey Havens.
The Elves are also bound to the Grey Havens as there time has come to an end, and the new age of Men has begun, and with the destruction of the One Ring all the other Rings of Power failed. Therefore, the weight of the thousands of years falls upon them, especially the keepers of the Rings of Power (Elrond, Cirdan and Galadriel). They return to their spiritual home where they still have relatives whom they have not seen in centuries, there were many signs that the Elves would leave Middle-Earth for the Undying Lands, especially as Legolas said how he “will never again find peace under bough or leaf because he heard the sea bird’s call.” The Elves were threatened with possible fading, were they had become “weary” of the world and were on the verge of “burning out”; hence, they had no choice but to leave Middle-earth forever and seek out the Grey Havens, where they could be healed and restored, or possibly they will die and they are sailing to their peace.
There are so many factors at work here that make me, the reader, immensely proud: Frodo’s tender heart torn asunder by his unbearable burden, Sam‘s unflinching loyalty and unconquerable spirit, Merry and Pippin’s newfound courage and bravery, King Théoden’s last regal stand, Éowyn’s legendary blow in the face of male chauvinism, Gandalf’s steady presence and angelic return, Gimli and Legolas‘ quiet but unwavering support, good and kind Faramir finally receiving his just reward and Aragorn, the King that is the finest man among the race of Men.
In the end, just a fantastic story of Good Vs Evil, with a plethora of characters that appeal to every type of personality with heroes to love, and villains to hate. A classic fantasy story, I can now see why many fantasy reviews are compared to this book. An enchanting story and for all the reasons I’ve stated in all three reviews, a classic.