The Return of the King: Tolkien saved the best for last

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review The Return of the King <strong>J.R.R. Tolkien</strong> The Lord of the RingsThe Return of the King by J.R.R Tolkien

There are many opinions and discussions that one could have on Tolkien’s great epic, but one thing is for certain: he saved the best for last. Even Peter Jackson, the director of the film trilogy was heard to say: “I made the first two movies so that I could make the third.” Everything that has been building in the first two installments now explodes across the pages: battles, intrigues, madness, escapes, disguises, rescues, chases — it’s all here as the allied forces of Middle-Earth (Hobbits, Men, Elves, Dwarves and Ents) make their last desperate stand against the converging forces of evil.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLike the previous volumes, The Return of the King is divided into two books: Book Five and Book Six. Book Five concerns the reunion of most of the Fellowship and the lengths they take in order to draw the Dark Lord Sauron’s eye away from Frodo and Sam. But this togetherness is not to last — soon Gandalf whisks Pippin away to the white city of Gondor in order to stir the city up for battle, whilst Merry swears fealty to King Theoden of Rohan and attempts to find a way to follow him into battle. In even more peril is Aragorn, who decides to take the dread Paths of Dead in order to muster the ghoulish allies that may be found there — with Legolas and Gimli at his side.

They will all converge once more in Gondor, (along with Faramir, Eomer, Eowyn and Denethor, the grim Stewart of the King) where the battle of their time will take place outside the walls…

In Book Six, Sam finds himself alone in the terrible realm of Mordor after realising that Frodo is not dead, but now captured by the Enemy. After Gollum’s betrayal, Sam has nothing left to do but sneak his way into the very fortress of the Dark Lord in the attempt to find Frodo and continue their journey to Mount Doom. But with the Ring now in his keeping, he becomes aware for the first time of its terrible lure…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsEverything that Tolkien has set up in the previous books come to fruition and is dealt with in its proper time and place — not always to happy endings, but to satisfactory and bittersweet ones: the fading of the elves, the cost of battle, the return of the king, and even Tolkien’s subtle but vitally important Christian resonances in the course of the story. To point them out directly would be to take away your opportunity to discover them yourself, but keep in mind the triad role of Frodo, Gollum and the Ring: Frodo’s continual mercy toward him, Gandalf’s past words that “he has yet a part to play, for good or for evil,” and the divine grace that seems to intercede at a crucial moment, where the fate of the entire world seems to hang in the balance.

At the end of the day, credit must be given where credit is due, and in many ways the hero of the piece is Samwise Gamgee. By the time we reach Book Six most of the journey is seen through Sam’s point of view in order to better witness Frodo’s decline and the intense devotion that Sam bestows on him. Perhaps my favourite part of the book is Sam’s epiphany, when he gazes up at a lonely star in the sky — but again, I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

Reading The Lord of the Rings is an amazing experience. By this stage, you’ll probably be intensely invested in these characters and their situations, as well as enveloped in the detailed and three dimensional realm of Middle-Earth, the most vivid and realistic sub-creation that the literary world has ever seen, bar none. From the movement of armies to the pitiful sight of two tiny hobbits crawling up the side of a mountain; Tolkien can effortlessly describe both epic and intimate moments. In fact, in this contrast lies one of his most tear-stirring ideas — the careful and deliberate decision on the part of Aragorn, Gandalf and their allies use themselves as bait in the hope of the barest possible chance that Frodo will be able to complete his mission. The display of such enormous self-sacrifice is just…well, I’m lost for words to describe it.

Just as Peter Jackson made the first two movies in order to make the last one, reading the first two books definitely has its payoff in this magnificent conclusion.

The Lord of the Rings — (1954-1955) Publisher: In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. From Sauron’s fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion. When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the  Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom. The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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