I always find it somewhat difficult to review a novel that is so well known, even worse a novel that I have seen the movie for first...and even worse a novel that my husband has all the information about. He knows it all.
In The Return of the King we see the Lord of the Rings come to a close, and technically the novel itself is one with six “books” within it, so this review will be on books five and six: The Return of the King, and The End of the Third Age combined. In The Return of the King the plot follows two thirds of the fellowship: Pippin and Gandalf; and Merry, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn. Pippin and Gandalf make their way into Gondor and there help defend the city of Minas Tirith until the final battle. The rest travel through Rohan before moving into Gondor to aid in the battle at Minas Tirith before moving onto Mordor.
One thing that stood out to me was the way in which I read the novel. Had this novel been published today, I would have been much more critical of it in terms of style and unnecessary scenes. But knowing it was written in a different time, that makes a big difference. This novel was the culmination of everything in Middle-Earth, it seemed, everything coming to a head. The war to end the age. Of course, Tolkien lived through both World Wars, and that is very apparent in his writing. That may be what made this novel so much richer than the previous ones. With the true battle on the horizon, everyone’s true characters were shown. Tolkien did not put much emphasis on character development, but it’s clear the character he chose for this story were the ones meant to be on this journey. Everyone played their part, which cannot always be said in novels. Were there scenes that could be cut? Definitely. But I think the simple scenes, such as Pippin when he first arrives in Minas Tirith and he’s spending time with Beglerond, those showed the reality of a city before a siege. They all know what’s coming, but it was the waiting that Tolkien showed.
On the road we have Aragorn and the rest of his companions making their way to Gondor. Unlike the movie, Aragorn is ready to take the crown and defend his kingdom. This is the novel where I feel his character truly shows himself. He is strong and kingly. He has a heart for the people and is ready to take on the responsibility and use what he can in the coming battle. He does not flinch upon entering the Path of the Dead, as he has no need to. It is his birthright, the ability to walk along that road with no fear. While they make their way, the rest of the Rohirrim travel to Gondor and when they finally arrive I have to admit that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. The scene where the Rohirrim crest the hill, horns blowing to announce their arrival, it was probably one of the best written scenes in the entire novel.
As a quick note, I loved that Tolkien added in small descriptions of how the cultures and languages differed from each other. I noted this specifically when Pippin is being toured around Minas Tirith and the bell was ringing three hours past sunrise. He commented to himself that in the Shire they call it nine o’clock instead. It’s these small details that make the world come to life.
The End of the Third Age flips to the rest of the fellowship, Sam and Frodo the ring-bearer. We’ve already seen the love and devotion Sam has for his master, but as with all other points of the story, this comes to a head finally. It’s a type of love we do not see in modern novels, or even in society on the whole. Even when they return to the Shire (spoiler!) Sam is torn between marrying Rosie and moving in with Frodo. That’s some deep devotion right there.
If we can talk about character development, perhaps those with the most amount were Merry and Pippin. When they return to a ravaged Shire, they immediately step up. Yes, they were always a bit precocious and head-strong but they had now seen battle. They had faced true evil and defeated it. Again, Tolkien placed the best people for the job into the story. I say that, because he had created the world before the characters, but the characters had already been there.
While I can say that modern epic fantasy is not generally my cup of tea, I thoroughly enjoyed these two “books.” I find it awkward to read this style now, mostly because it’s almost not needed in our current times. Tolkien wrote this coming out of the war, so all of the elements within the story were so relevant. When I read this style now it sounds awkward in their attempt to sound like Tolkien. With that being said, this is a timeless novel that generations from now, in war or in peace, can appreciate. And perhaps while we’re living in this unsettled world we can remember Gandalf’s words of wisdom:
“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields hat we know so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”