I am very happy to report that I have finished reading the Lord of the Rings. The Return of the King turned out to be much shorter than I always thought–only 340 pages (plus Appendices, which I skimmed…) I might have read these books years ago if I’d had a clearer picture of their length! But I’m happy I finally read them–and in time for Once Upon a Time.
The Return of the King finishes out the trilogy. (Read my reviews of Fellowship and Two Towers, if you like.) Like Towers, the book is really in two separate sections. The first half deals with Sauron’s forces attacking Minas Tirith, capital city of Gondor, and the various forces rallying to fight him. The second half brings us back to Frodo and Sam, and the final stretch of their quest–followed by a hundred pages of the aftermath.
Overall I enjoyed the book quite a lot, although parts of the first half dragged for me. I enjoyed the setting, and there were wonderful moments in there, especially ones centering on Merry or Pippin. I loved anything with Faramir or Eowyn (more on them in a bit), and Gimli had some nice moments too.
As I write this, it’s becoming even clearer to me why I liked some parts better than others. It comes down to characters. When the focus narrows down and is just on what one individual is doing, feeling, thinking, I was engaged. When we pull out and it becomes the epic sweeping clash of armies, then it lost me. I thought this part went on a bit too long in the movie too (until the Riders of Rohan showed up, because they always make battles awesome).
I was happy when we (finally) got back to Frodo and Sam. I love their sections, because it’s exactly what I wanted in the previous section–we zero in close on Sam, and we get nearly all of the quest from his point of view. It’s immediate, it’s personal, it pulls me into the story because I’m not watching an army, I’m pushing through Mordor with Sam. It’s funny, I think of Tolkien as being a very dry, detached writer, but he really was capable of writing beautiful, deep character stories (just not often enough…)
There are two other parts I wanted to look at, and they’re very late in the book, so spoilers ahoy!
I was thrilled to pieces by the Faramir/Eowyn romance. I knew it existed (and the extended cut of the movie did lovely things with it, even though it only got about a minute and a half of screentime) but I wasn’t expecting much. By this point, if a woman was identified by name I felt like we were ahead. So when there were actual conversations, and entire scenes, and really sweet, cute lines back and forth, and an exploration of Eowyn’s feelings…it was still probably only ten pages but it was beautiful.
I was expecting something much more like what the Aragorn/Arwen romance turned out to be–she shows up just in time to look pretty and marry him! Otherwise, not really in the story. (The Appendix fleshes it out a bit, but not much.) So I was so happy to get something actually romantic for Faramir and Eowyn, and I just love the two of them as characters besides. They’re two of the most relatable characters, because they struggle more than most. Faramir’s father never thought he was as good as his brother; Eowyn chafes against society’s role for her. Most of the characters here are great fun to read about, but too perfect in some ways. I love that Faramir and Eowyn are awesome, but still human. (I think it relates to a lot of the reasons of why I love Sam too…)
The other part I wanted to talk about–the Scouring of the Shire. This section (and its exclusion from the movie) seems to be highly controversial among the faithful. I have to say I didn’t mind the long wrap-up, and I didn’t mind the concept of trouble coming to the idyllic Shire. It did bother me what the specific trouble was, though. The whole trilogy exists in this very high fantasy, very Medieval realm. Then we return to the Shire to find a metaphor (surely not an allegory…) about the Industrial Revolution and Communism. Or so it felt, anyway. And that jarred for me. I’m also not quite sure when Merry and Pippin became generals…they were soldiers, yes, but when did they learn how to organize battle plans and command an army of Hobbits?
On the other hand, while the nature of the trouble felt strange, I actually quite liked it that there was work to do when they returned to the Shire. The end of the movie feels very empty to me. The whole time the Hobbits dreamed about returning to the Shire, but when they actually come back from their grand adventures and find nothing at home has changed…I don’t know, I always like to believe people can go home again, but it just seemed to me that they would all find their daily lives so meaningless and dull, after the incredible events that they’d been involved in.
I really liked that in the book, after saving the world, they had to save the Shire too. The scale is smaller, but the work is just as important, and you could see how everything they had done then enabled them to become leaders in their own community and to set about making things better there too.
I feel like I should have some succint, summing up words here. I’m happy that I finally filled in this gap in my fantasy knowledge by reading Lord of the Rings, and of course it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I always thought. The Two Towers is my favorite, book and movie, although there are wonderful moments in all three.
I don’t have plans to read The Silmarillion…but I am very much looking forward to the next movie installment of The Hobbit!
Author’s Site: http://www.tolkiensociety.org/
Buy it here: The Return of the King