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The Return of the King

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The Return of the King

The Return of the King
First edition
Author J. R. R. Tolkien
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Fantasy
Publisher [1]
Publication date
October 20, 1955
Preceded by The Two Towers

The Return of the King is the third and final volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, following The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. The story begins in the kingdom of Gondor, which is soon to be attacked by the Dark Lord Sauron.


Tolkien conceived of The Lord of the Rings as a single volume comprising six "books" plus extensive appendices. The original publisher split the work into three, publishing the fifth and sixth books with the appendices under the title The Return of the King. Tolkien felt the chosen title revealed too much of the story, and indicated he preferred The War of the Ring as a title.[2]

The proposed title for Book V was The War of the Ring. Book VI was to be The End of the Third Age.[3] These titles were used in the Millennium edition.

The Return of the King was in the end published as the third and final part of The Lord of the Rings, on 20 October 1955.[4]

Plot summary

Book V: The War of the Ring

Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith in the kingdom of Gondor, delivering the news to Denethor, the Lord and Steward of Gondor, that a devastating attack on his city by Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor is imminent. Pippin then enters the service of the Steward as repayment of a debt he owes to Boromir, Denethor's dead son and preferred heir. Now clad in the uniform of the tower guard, Pippin watches the fortunes of war unfold, while Denethor descends into madness as the hosts of Mordor press ever closer to Gondor's capital city of Minas Tirith. Faramir, Boromir's younger brother, returns from his campaign with the shattered remnants of his company and is soon ordered to ride out and continue the hopeless defence of Osgiliath against a horde of orcs. Osgiliath is soon overrun and a gravely wounded Faramir is carried back to Denethor. His people seemingly lost and his only remaining son all but dead, Denethor orders a funeral pyre built that is to claim both him and his dying son. Minas Tirith stands encircled and besieged by Sauron's main host, composed of well over 200,000 orcs.

Meanwhile, in Rohan, Théoden and his Rohirrim are recovering from the Battle of the Hornburg, in which they defended Rohan against the forces of Saruman at great cost. Aragorn, having confronted Sauron through the palantír of Isengard, sets out to find the lost army of the undead oathbreakers who dwell in the Paths of the Dead, a mountain hall, cursed because they did not help Isildur during the War of the Last Alliance. Helped by his companions Legolas and Gimli as well as a Company of Rangers from Arnor in the north (the "Grey Company"), he sets out to recruit the Army of the Dead to his cause. As Aragorn departs on his seemingly impossible task, King Théoden musters the Rohirrim (mounted cavalry) to come to the aid of Gondor. Merry, eager to go to war with his allies, is refused by Théoden several times. Finally Dernhelm, one of the Rohirrim, takes Merry up on his horse so that he can accompany the rest of the Rohirrim. Aided by a tribe of Wild Men of the Woods, Théoden's forces travel a long-forgotten forest path to avoid an Orc ambush on the main road and reach Minas Tirith stealthily.

The hosts of Mordor, led by the dreaded Witch-king of Angmar, succeed in breaking through the gates of Minas Tirith, but are in turn crushed by the arriving cavalry of Rohan. The battle is also joined by a "black fleet with black sails". The forces of Mordor initially rejoice at its arrival; and then are horrified to see the banner of the King upon the ships. Aragorn has succeeded in using the Oathbreakers to defeat the Corsairs of Umbar; the men of Gondor who were once slaves on the ships are brought back to fight the host of Mordor. In the following Battle of the Pelennor Fields the Witch-king is slain by Dernhelm, revealed to be Éowyn the niece of King Théoden, with help from Merry. Thus the siege is broken, but at heavy cost: many warriors of Gondor and Rohan fall, among them King Théoden. Denethor attempts to immolate himself and Faramir on his funeral pyre, but Gandalf and Pippin succeed in saving Faramir. Then Denethor reveals that he has used the palantír of Minas Tirith and declares the situation hopeless.

Gandalf realizes that Denethor—in his desperation—looked into the stone several times. Unlike Saruman, Denethor was too noble of purpose and great of will to submit to the will of Sauron, but the Dark Lord duped the Steward into despairing of the situation. In addition, Denethor revealed that he would not accept Aragorn as the new king and then burns himself on the pyre. Faramir, though, is brought to the Houses of Healing where he is subsequently healed by Aragorn. Aragorn also heals Merry and Éowyn, who were hurt by the Witch-king before he fell. Knowing that it is only a matter of time before Sauron rebuilds his forces for another attack, Gandalf and Aragorn decide to draw out the hosts of Mordor with an assault on the Black Gate, providing a distraction so that Frodo and Sam may have a chance of reaching Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring, unseen by the Eye of Sauron.

Gandalf and Aragorn lead an army to the Black Gate of Mordor and lay siege to Sauron's army. A messenger from The Black Gate called "The Mouth of Sauron" shows the Captains Frodo's mithril shirt, elven cloak, and barrow blade and then demands their surrender and obeisance to Sauron as conditions for Frodo's release. However, Gandalf perceives that the emissary is lying, seizes the items, and rejects the terms. The battle begins and Pippin kills a Troll, which then falls onto him, and he loses consciousness just as the Great Eagles arrive.

Book VI: The Return of the King

Bearing the One Ring in Frodo's place, Sam rescues his master from torture and death by Orcs in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Frodo and Sam navigate the barren wasteland of Mordor and are overtaken by a company of Orcs but escape and are forced to disguise themselves in Orcish armour. Gandalf's plan to distract Sauron from the Ring is successful: Mordor is almost empty as all the remaining Orcs have been summoned to defend the land against the assault of the army led by Gandalf and Aragorn. After a weary and dangerous journey, Frodo and Sam finally reach their final destination of the Crack of Doom. As Frodo is preparing to throw the Ring into Mount Doom, he succumbs to the Ring's power and claims it as his own. Just then, Gollum, who had been following Frodo and Sam still, attacks Frodo and bites off his finger and the Ring. Gollum gloats over getting his precious back, but he ends up losing his balance and falls to death and takes the Ring with him. The Ring is finally destroyed, freeing Middle-earth from Sauron's power. Mount Doom erupts violently, trapping Frodo and Sam among the lava flows until the Great Eagles rescue them. Upon Sauron's defeat, his armies at the Gate flee. Sauron finally appears as a gigantic shadow trying to reach out for the armies of men, but is now powerless and is blown away by a wind. The men under Sauron's command that surrender are forgiven and allowed to return to their lands in peace. Frodo and Sam are saved from the lava, meet again with the other surviving members of the Fellowship, and then honoured on the Field of Cormallen in Ithilien.

In Minas Tirith, Faramir and Eówyn meet in the Houses of Healing and fall in love with each other. Aragorn comes to Minas Tirith and is crowned King of Gondor outside the walls of the city in a celebration during which Frodo brings Aragorn the ancient crown of Gondor, and Gandalf places the crown on Aragorn. A healed Faramir is appointed Prince of Ithilien, and Beregond—who saved Faramir's life from the madness of Denethor—is named captain of Faramir's guard. Gandalf and Aragorn go off high above the city and find a seedling of the White Tree, which Aragorn then plants in Minas Tirith in place of the dead tree. Soon after, Arwen, daughter of Elrond of Rivendell, as well as Celeborn and Galadriel come to Minas Tirith, and Aragorn marries Arwen. After a series of goodbyes, the Hobbits finally return home to the Shire, only to find that the Shire were in ruins, its inhabitants oppressed by Lotho Sackville-Baggins (usually called "The Chief" or "The Boss") who is in reality controlled by a shadowy figure called "Sharkey". Sharkey has taken complete control of the Shire using corrupt Men, and begins felling trees in a gratuitous programme of industrialization (which actually produces nothing except destruction and misery for the locals).

Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Sam make plans to set things right once more. They lead an uprising of Hobbits and are victorious at the Battle of Bywater which effectively frees the Shire. At the very doorstep of Bag End, they meet Sharkey, who is revealed to be the fallen wizard Saruman, and his servant Gríma.Saruman abuses Gríma and he then jumps on Saruman's back and cuts his throat. Gríma is himself slain by hobbit archers as he attempts to escape. Saruman's soul is blown away into the east, and his body decays instantly into a skeleton. Over time, the Shire is healed. The many trees that Saruman's men cut down are replanted with Galadriel's gift of dust used to facilitate growth and a small nut that is planted to replace the party tree; buildings are rebuilt and peace is restored. Sam marries Rosie Cotton, with whom he had been entranced for some time. Merry and Pippin lead Buckland and Tuckborough to greater achievements. However, Frodo cannot escape the pain of his wounds, having been stabbed by the Witch-king and poisoned by Shelob in addition to losing a finger. Frodo departs for the Undying Lands in the West with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and many Elves, including Elrond, and Galadriel. With the departure of Elrond, the Third Age ended. Sam, Merry, and Pippin watch Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, and the Elves depart and return home. Now heir to all of Frodo's possessions, Sam returns to Bag End, saddened by Frodo's departure. When Sam returns home at the end of the book, he is greeted by Rosie and his daughter, Elanor, and is gratified and happy when he realizes he still has something left to fight for.

Critical reception

In a review for The New York Times, W.H. Auden praised The Return of the King and found The Lord of the Rings a "masterpiece of the genre".[5]

Anthony Boucher praised the volume as "a masterly narration of tremendous and terrible climactic events," although he also noted that Tolkien's prose "seems sometimes to be protracted for its own sake."[6]



  • ISBN 345-24034-0 (paperback, 1974)
  • ISBN 0-345-33973-8 (paperback, 2001)

See also


  1. ^ "The Return of the King". Between the Covers. Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  2. ^  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ Tolkien in his letter of 12 October 1955 to Allen & Unwin, published in Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, London, George Allen & Unwin, no. 172 (p.227)
  5. ^ Auden, W.H. (22 January 1956). "At the end of the Quest, Victory". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  6. ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, July 1956, p.92.

External links

  • The Return of the King at the Internet Book List
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