Book Review | The Return of the King

Aaaand I’m back with the final installment in my ramblings about The Lord of the Rings! Let’s do this.

So The Return of the King picks up—as you might imagine—where The Two Towers left off. Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli Merry, Pippin, and their allies from Rohan head for Gondor, where trouble brews on the horizon. Meanwhile, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum make a desperate bid to reach Mount Doom in Mordor and to destroy Sauron at last.

This is a fantastic conclusion to the trilogy. Everything comes together in a massive battle, and the conflict comes to a head (or perhaps, to a fiery eye? No, sorry, bad joke. Moving on). And at the same time, we get insights into the characters, new dramas, and great subplots.

I love the new lands we travel to here as well. First off, Gondor is great. Minas Tirith is an incredible setting for some nearly Shakespearean drama. Lord Denethor makes for a troubling, loathsome secondary villain, and the interactions between him, Pippin, Faramir, and Gandalf are engaging. And of course, seeing Mordor at last is great. It’s a compelling place, even in its filth and despair. You really see the influence Tolkien has had on fantasy landscapes: Gondor’s stark but regal air, and Mordor’s dark decay.

Our favorite characters continue to shine: Gandalf is delightful; Aragorn is the best at everything and I love him; the hobbits are wonderful everyday heroes; Eowyn is probably who I want to be if and when I ever grow up; and Gollum is still a twisted, fascinating creature people have probably written entire essays about. Of course, the standout is Samwise, who has a fabulous arc that allows him to really come into his own and step forward as a leader and protector. I just really love him. (I love lots of them, but in this book, Sam and Aragorn are probably my favorites).

The pacing of Return of the King is pretty good too; with everything leading up to the battle outside the gates of Mordor, the audience is eager and engaged every step of the way (or at least I was). However, the ending — while enjoyable — goes on for a verrrrry long time. There is just so much resolution. And yes, I appreciate the tying up of all the loose ends, it goes on for almost too long at points.

The scouring of the Shire, for one thing, is something that feels kind of tacked on. I know it’s important, because Tolkien did not write unimportant things within this plot, but for me it is one of the less memorable portions of the novel. (Sue me…? Actually please do not.)

On the other hand, I really like seeing what happens to some minor characters. Sure, we hear what happens to the fellowship, but Tolkien also devotes a portion of the end to two of my absolute favorites: Faramir and Eowyn. The first time I read this book, I adored their relationship. This reread… well, I felt the exact same way. In fact, I might have loved them more this time. They meet while recovering from injuries, and Faramir is instantly smitten. He seems to feel a connection with her like he hasn’t with anyone else. Their relationship is quite tentative for a long time, though: she just isn’t eager for a romance. Over time, though, they become friends, but — best of all — don’t actually begin a romantic relationship until after getting the news that Sauron is defeated. This is a great subversion of the typical trope, which relies so much on “this situation is pretty apocalyptic, we might as well get together.” No, Faramir and Eowyn’s relationship is not borne out of despair and desperation, but out of hope and looking forward. They’re very sweet together, which makes this section one of my favorites in this novel. (If only the movie had given them more than a single scene in the extended version…)

Moving on, I really like the appendices at the end of this book. We get bonus insight into the lives of hobbits, more about Aragorn and Arwen, and so on. Tolkien clearly adores this world and has so much to share about it with us. His attention to detail and imagination is remarkable, and they really shine here. Plus, more hobbit gossip and more Strider, what’s not to like? Besides, as long as the end of Return of the King is, I didn’t want it to end, and the appendices meant I didn’t have to stop reading yet. (Goodness, I’m a geek.)

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Thanks for reading! If you’ve read all the LOTR series, which is your favorite book and why?

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