The Return of the King

The Return of the King

"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".


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. [ME-ref|Letters|no. 140]

Tolkien may have hoped to publish the one large volume together with "The Silmarillion", and to give names to the individual six books.Fact|date=July 2007 The discarded title for Book V was "The War of the Ring". Book VI was to be "The End of the Third Age". [ME-ref|Letters|no. 136]

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

Plot summary

Book V

The story begins with Gandalf and the hobbit Peregrin Took (Pippin) delivering news to Denethor, the Lord and Steward of Gondor, that a devastating attack on his city by the armies 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. (Boromir was a member of the Fellowship in "The Fellowship of the Ring" who fell defending Pippin and his fellow hobbit Merry Brandybuck against raiding Uruk-hai).

Now clad in the uniform of the tower guard, Pippin watches the fortunes of war unfold, while the Lord Denethor descends into madness as the armies 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 the Mordor orc horde. 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.

Meanwhile, in far-off 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 where they have been enslaved since their treachery ages ago. Helped by his companions Legolas and Gimli as well as a host 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 to come to the aid of besieged Gondor.

The forces 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 capture the pirate fleet; the men of Gondor who were once slaves on the ship are brought back to fight the horde of Mordor. In the following Battle of the Pelennor Fields the Witch-king is slain by Éowyn, the niece of King Théoden, with a little help from Merry, and the invasion is broken, at heavy cost — many warriors of Gondor and Rohan fall, among them King Théoden. Denethor immolates himself and Faramir on his funeral pyre, but Gandalf and Pippin succeed in saving the gravely wounded Faramir, who is subsequently healed by Aragorn. Aragorn also heals Merry and Eowyn.

Knowing that it is only a matter of time before Sauron rebuilds his forces for another attack, Aragorn adn Gandalf decide to draw out the host of Mordor with an assault on the Black Gate, providing a distraction so Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee (Sam) may have a chance of reaching Mount Doom unseen by the Eye of Sauron. Book V ends as the army desperately attempts to hold the Mordor hosts at bay until Frodo can complete his task.

Book VI

Book VI begins with Frodo held captive in the enemy stronghold of Cirith Ungol after being poisoned by Shelob. The brave and loyal Sam—who for a short time bears the One Ring in Frodo's place—rescues his master from torture and death by Orcs and the two navigate the barren wasteland of Mordor. They are overtaken by a company of Orcs but escape and are forced to disguise themselves in Orcish armour.

The two Hobbits, after a length of time and a weary and dangerous journey, finally reach the Crack of Doom. Yet just as he is about to throw the Ring into Mount Doom, Frodo succumbs to the Ring's power and refuses to let it go. Just then, Gollum, who had been following the pair still, attacks Frodo and bites off his finger with the Ring. Gollum gloats over his prize but loses his balance and falls into the lava below, taking the Ring with him. The Ring is destroyed, freeing Middle-earth from Sauron's power. Frodo and Sam are rescued by Great Eagles who carry them from Mount Doom. Upon Sauron's defeat, his armies at the Gate flee.

Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor outside the walls of Minas Tirith in a celebration during which all four hobbits are honoured for their contributions to the War of the Ring. A healed Faramir is given the title of Steward of Gondor and Aragorn marries Arwen, daughter of Elrond of Rivendell. After a series of goodbyes, the Hobbits return home, only to find the Shire under the control of "Sharkey", who turns out to be Saruman, diminished in power but not in malevolence. Merry and Pippin, now experienced warriors of Rohan and Gondor respectively, take the lead in setting things right again. They lead an uprising of Hobbits against Saruman, who is killed, thus freeing the Shire (see Battle of Bywater).

Over time, the Shire heals. The many trees that Saruman's Orcs cut down are replanted; buildings are rebuilt and peace is restored. Sam marries Rosie Cotton, with whom he had been entranced for some time, and Merry and Pippin lead Buckland and Tookburrow to greater achievements. Frodo, however, cannot escape the pain of his wounds, having been stabbed by the Witch-king and poisoned by Shelob. Eventually he departs for the Undying Lands in the West, with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and many Elves. Sam, Merry and Pippin watch them depart and return home. Now heir to all of Frodo's possessions, Sam is greeted by his wife Rose and his daughter Elanor. In the last line of the book Sam says to Rose: "Well, I'm back."

Chapter summaries

"The Return of the King" is divided into books five and six. Book Five follows Aragorn and Gandalf up to the opening of the Black Gate. Book Six begins with Frodo and Sam's journey to Mount Doom.

Book V

*I - Minas Tirith - Gandalf and Pippin arrive in the great but decaying city of Minas Tirith, where they talk with Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Pippin enters the service of the Steward to repay the debt he owed Boromir. Pippin then is taken through the city by Beregond, a soldier of the Guard, and later by Beregond's son Bergil. Pippin and Bergil end the day watching men from other lands in Gondor march in to defend the city. The Darkness begins.
*II - The Passing of the Grey Company - The story continues back at Dol Baran, where Gandalf and Pippin left the company. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Théoden, and Éomer are overtaken by the Grey Company riding from Rivendell. They ride to Helm's Deep, where Merry offers his sword to Théoden and Aragorn looks into the "palantír" of Orthanc, reveals himself to Sauron, and wins the struggle for the Stone. Aragorn then decides to take to the Paths of the Dead and goes to Edoras and then Dunharrow. There, Éowyn tries to both dissuade Aragorn from taking to the Paths and attempt to accompany him on the journey. They pass through the underground tunnel of the Dead and come across the remains of an heir of Rohan. The Grey Company comes to the Stone of Erech in Gondor where they summon the Host of the Dead to fulfil their oath. The Company then rides into the darkness of Mordor.
*III - The Muster of Rohan - Théoden, Éomer, and Merry come down from the hills into Dunharrow and climb the stair of the Hold. There they learn that Aragorn has travelled the Paths of the Dead, and Théoden explains to Merry the story of the deadly road. Théoden then receives an emissary from Denethor, who begs him to come to Minas Tirith with presentation of the Red Arrow through an emissary. Merry is ordered to stay behind on account of his small stature, but he is scooped up on the way to Minas Tirith anyway by the horse rider called "Dernhelm".
*IV - The Siege of Gondor - The story returns to Gandalf, and Pippin, who goes to wait on the Steward. Pippin and Beregond witness the return of Faramir and his remaining company, and the Nazgûl's attack on him thwarted only by Gandalf. Faramir comes to the city and reports that he had met Frodo and allowed him to continue into Morgul Vale. Faramir endures his father's wrath until Gandalf quells the argument and states that the Ring would not have in the end saved Minas Tirith. The next day Faramir is ordered to go and command the hopeless defence of the ruined Osgiliath, and is returned gravely wounded. After the Orcs overrun the Gondorian defenses on the Pelennor, Minas Tirith is besieged. Denethor, mad with grief over the apparent loss of (now) both his sons, withdraws from leadership and leaves the defending of the city to Gandalf. The Orcs set the first circle of the city on fire and Denethor in his madness tries to burn himself and Faramir alive on a funeral pyre. The gates of Minas Tirith are broken, leaving Gandalf, Pippin and the Tower Guard of Gondor alone to stand against the Lord of the Nazgûl until the army of Rohan arrives.
*V - The Ride of the Rohirrim - The Rohirrim pass through the Drúadan Forest and the Stonewain Valley, with the aid of the native wild men and their leader, Ghân-buri-Ghân. The army arrives at Minas Tirith to see the breaching of its gate, and then charges into the battle.
*VI - The Battle of the Pelennor Fields - The warriors of Rohan and Gondor desperately engage the armies of Mordor, Rhûn and Harad. Théoden is thrown and crushed by his horse, mortally wounded. Dernhelm, now revealed to be Éowyn, slays the Lord of the Nazgûl with Merry's help. The Black Fleet arrives, heartening Sauron's forces. But the first ship bears the standard of the King of Gondor; Aragorn has arrived with Gondorian reinforcements. Together, the Gondorians and Rohirrim destroy Sauron's forces.
*VII - The Pyre of Denethor - Pippin tells Gandalf of Denethor's madness. The two return to the hallows where Beregond is defending the wounded Faramir from immolation. He has been forced to kill several men in the process. Gandalf ends the conflict and takes Faramir off the pyre, and Denethor momentarily appears to regain his senses. However, it is soon revealed that Denethor has been using a "palantír" and has thus lost all hope of victory, and that he does not wish to serve under Aragorn. Denethor then sets himself on fire. Faramir is taken to the houses of healing. Gandalf explains how Denethor rejected Sauron in the "palantír" but was tricked by the Dark Lord and despaired of all hope.
*VIII - The Houses of Healing - Théoden is laid in state in the main hall of Gondor. Éowyn, Merry, and many others are injured and placed in the houses of healing where Gandalf calls for Aragorn to come and assist, stating that the "hands of the king are the hands of a healer." Aragorn uses kingsfoil to save Faramir, Éowyn, Merry, and many more who are injured. The people of Minas Tirith now begin to see that their true king has come back among them.
*IX - The Last Debate - Gimli and Legolas enter Minas Tirith and meet Merry and Pippin again. The Captains of the West hold a counsel on their next action; they decide to send 7,000 men against Mordor to march on the Black Gate to keep Sauron distacted, giving the Ringbearer time to complete his task.
*X - The Black Gate Opens - The army, with Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Pippin (but not Merry) marches to the Black Gate. The Mouth of Sauron comes out to discuss terms, and presents tokens which were owned by Sam and Frodo. The Mouth of Sauron calls for an unconditional surrender and claims the lands east of the Great River for Sauron. Gandalf asks to see the hostages, but the emissary hesitates, so Gandalf rejects the terms. The Mouth of Sauron then departs and the army of Mordor attacks them. Pippin and Beregond, attacked by a Troll chieftain, ready themselves for death; but Pippin hears the cries that the Eagles are coming before losing consciousness.

Book VI

*I - The Tower of Cirith Ungol - Sam goes to find Frodo in the Orc tower. Sam discovers that the Orcs have killed each other in a quarrel over Frodo's possessions — especially his "mithril" coat. Sam finds Frodo in the top chamber of the tower and returns the Ring to him.
*II - The Land of Shadow - Sam and Frodo make their way into Mordor. They discover that Gollum is still on their trail. As they approach the vale of Udûn, they are captured by an Orc company. Just as Frodo nears exhaustion and death, Sam engineers an escape off the road.
*III - Mount Doom - Frodo and Sam reach Mount Doom. Gollum appears and tries to attack them, but Frodo overpowers him. Sam prepares to kill Gollum, but relents out of pity when Gollum begs for his life. Moments later, Frodo succumbs to the Ring's power and puts it on, exposing him at last to Sauron. Gollum knocks aside Sam and attacks Frodo, biting off his finger and taking the Ring, but then he slips and falls into the Cracks of Doom, destroying himself and the Ring. Frodo and Sam witness the fall of the Dark Tower as the mountain collapses around them.
*IV - The Field of Cormallen - The story returns to the Field of Cormallen, continuing from Book Five, chapter X; the eagles arrive and the Captains of the West stand as they witness the destruction of Mordor and hear Gandalf proclaim the success of the Ringbearer; Gandalf then mounts an Eagle and flies south to Mount Doom where he and the Eagles rescue Frodo and Sam; Sam awakes to find himself in Ithilien and realizes that he has not dreamt; Frodo and Sam are honoured on the Field of Cormallen near Cair Andros with a great feast; they are reunited with Strider—now proclaimed as King—and the rest of the Fellowship.
*V - The Steward and the King - chapter begins in Minas Tirith at the Houses of Healing after the armies departed for the Black Gate. Éowyn, ill at ease from her wound and brooding over Aragorn, is taken to see Faramir, who is immediately attracted to her. Merry is also in Minas Tirith and tells Faramir much of Éowyn's suffering. Éowyn and Faramir slowly fall in love and agree to marry. Later they see the arrival of the armies with Aragorn, Gandalf and the four hobbits. Gandalf crowns Aragorn King of Gondor. Aragorn makes Faramir prince of Ithilien and keeps the office of Steward, appointing the pardoned Beregond as his chief captain. Gandalf takes Aragorn to Mount Mindolluin to survey the lands of his kingdom where they find a sapling of the White Tree, which Aragorn uproots and plants in the court of the King. On midsummer's eve, Elrond, Galadriel, Arwen and the elves arrive in the city from the north, and Aragorn weds Arwen.
*VI - Many Partings - The company rides north to Rohan where they bury Théoden and then celebrate his life and reign in a great feast at Meduseld. They then ride to Isengard where they find that the Ents have replanted the trees in the valley, but have released Saruman and Gríma Wormtongue out of pity. Gimli and Legolas head north through Fangorn; Aragorn, taking the keys to Orthanc, returns to his kingdom; the rest of the company heads north where they meet Saruman and Gríma. Saruman refuses to repent and even steals Merry's pipeweed pouch. Galadriel and the Lórien elves leave over the pass of Caradhras; and the hobbits and Gandalf later arrive in Rivendell where they visit Bilbo, who has now grown incredibly aged.
*VII - Homeward Bound - The hobbits and Gandalf travel to Bree where they stay at the Prancing Pony, and are told by Butterbur that there has been trouble in Bree while they have been away. They assure Butterbur that things will become better because Aragorn, who Butterbur knew as Strider, is now the King, and then depart for the Shire. Gandalf leaves the hobbits near the Barrow-downs to visit Tom Bombadil, affirming their abilities to handle their own affairs from this point forward.
*VIII - The Scouring of the Shire - The hobbits arrive in the Shire to find it taken over by Frodo's distant cousin Lotho Sackville-Baggins, who is a puppet of 'Sharkey.' The Shire has been submitted to tyranny by the bigger men and their dupes—the Sheriffs—with the exception of the land belonging to the Tooks, which is under a state of semi-siege. Merry and Pippin help "raise the Shire" and lead a revolt against the ruffian Isengard men and half-orcs controlling the Shire. The Battle of Bywater is fought in which the main group of ruffians are defeated and expelled from the Shire. The hobbits find Saruman ('Sharkey') and Wormtongue at Bag End and expel Saruman from the Shire, which has suffered vast ecological damage from Saruman's forced industrialization. Saruman tries to kill Frodo but is foiled by the "mithril" coat. Frodo spares the evil wizard, but Wormtongue—who has killed Lotho—kills Saruman, and is then killed himself by hobbit archers, thus ending the War of the Ring at the doorstep of Bag End.
*IX - The Grey Havens The cleaning up of the Shire. The hobbit resistors are released from prison. Sam discovers the gift that Galadriel has given him and uses the dust in the box to replant the Shire, culminating in the planting of the "mallorn" tree of Lórien. Several years pass, and Frodo begins to show signs of declining health and damage due to his wounds and the long burden of the Ring. Sam and Frodo go to meet the elves, Galadriel, and Bilbo travelling west through the Shire, and they travel to the Grey Havens where they meet Gandalf. Merry and Pippin arrive; Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf and the elves set sail to the west; Sam returns to Rose and their daughter Elanor at Bag End. In the later appendix it is noted that a lone ship eventually returned to the Grey Havens. Samwise Gamgee, the one time Ring-bearer, is at the end of his life taken to the Undying Lands.


The structure of "The Return of the King" mirrors somewhat that of "The Two Towers" in that the first section recounts the various adventures of several characters including a massive battle, and the second section resumes the quest of the Ring-bearers.

* Book V

* Book VI

* Appendices:A Annals of the Kings and Rulers::I The Númenórean Kings:::(i) Númenor:::(ii) The Realms in Exile:::{iii) Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur:::(iv) Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion:::(v) Here follows a part of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen::II The House of Eorl::III Durin's Folk:B The Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands):C Family Trees (Hobbits):D Calendars:E Writing and Spelling::I Pronunciation of Words and Names::II Writing:F::I The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age::II On Translation
*Indices:I Songs and Verses:II Persons, Beasts and Monsters:III Places:IV Things

Film, television or theatrical adaptations

* "The Return of the King", 1980 animated feature made for television, featuring the voices of Orson Bean and John Huston.
* "", 2003 theatrical film directed by Peter Jackson.

*Stage: "The Lord of the Rings"


External links

*IBList |type=book|id=273|name=The Return of the King

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