The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

Return of the KingI 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/

Other reviews:
Rawr Reader
Suzie Hunt
Carol Rae’s Random Ramblings
Arrow Through the Sun
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Return of the King

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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10 Responses to The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

  1. You’ve really made me want to re-read these right now! I too loved the relationship that bloomed between Eowyn and Faramir. They so both deserved a bit of happiness. I haven’t braved reading The Silmarillion yet 🙂

  2. You inspired me to go back and read the three group-read posts from 2011 when I last read Return of the King. This is the last one with links to the other two in it. Don’t feel obligated to even look at these, I’m more showing you just so you can see how I blather on about the story. 🙂

    http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/return-of-the-king-group-read-the-end

  3. Suzie says:

    Thanks for linking to my review!

    I agree that when Tolkien does dig into his characters, he can do a good job of it. I still prefer the films however!

  4. If in your skimming of the appendices you didn’t spend any time reading over the timeline that is in there, I would recommend going back to it as it does tell some more ‘story’ in that it gives ideas of what happened to the characters later on and there are some really nice tidbits in there.

    I feel in love with these books because the films compelled me to read them and in reading other stuff by and about Tolkien I have such great admiration and respect for what the man created. It is similar to some epic fantasy and yet so different in many ways. Like you point out, he actually does create some really wonderful character elements in a story that also does so many other things he wanted to do in regards to language, etc.

    I’m so glad I saw the films first because the books then flesh out parts, like the story of Eowyn and Faramir that you point out. All those things were surprises to me, pleasant ones, the first time I read through the books.

    I actually like that the movie has that ’empty’ feeling that you describe as I think it in many ways is meant to convey that you can’t go home again. Or at least Frodo couldn’t and I have a hard time in the end believing any of them didn’t remain a bit like Bilbo afterwards, longing for another adventure. I also imagine they entertained folks in the Shire that hadn’t been seen there in a long time if at all. I find the end of the movie very melancholy and it is all about the fact that in the end Frodo in part fails in his mission, not completely but surely partially, and also because I’ve always thought the same thing you mention about books…how could characters go back to a normal life after such adventures?

    • I did skim the timeline, and it was interesting both for the earlier or later events, and for putting the events of the trilogy in perspective in relation to each other. Things happened in different places and weren’t always told in order or together, when they were at the same time…

      It’s odd, but I feel like the books and the movies each flesh out parts that the other didn’t. The book, of course, has an enormous amount of detail and history, but often the movies brought out the characters more. It’s a rare case where the books and movies really complement each other very nicely.

      I respect the melancholy end of the movie, and I do believe it would be hard to go back to a normal life…but after 11 hours of movie watching, I want something uplifting at the end! And it did have some elements of that–but there was so much emptiness too.

      • True, but in those closing scenes there is also the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, the bowing down and honoring of the Hobbits, and the departing scene of Gandalf, Frodo and the rest of the Elves which, though very sad, is also a happy thing in Tolkien’s universe as they are going to that ‘far distant shore’ and we get to see Sam with his wife and kids.

        Still, there is a lot to be sad about.

  5. I just loooove The Lord of the Rings. I read them in my early or mid-20s and was taken away to Middle Earth. I’ll re-read them one day, for sure.

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