||Re-reading this book was much like the
opposite of re-reading The Two Towers. In that book, I found the
chapters with Frodo and Sam to be intriguing and far more interesting
than Book III, which dealt with the other characters as they became
engrossed in the affairs of Middle-Earth. In this book, the affairs of Gondor were the highlight.
reading the first chapters of the book, I realized how much the
screwed up the timeline and geography of the War of the Ring. As in
Two Towers with respect to Rohan, the lands of Gondor are much larger than presented in the
movie. Everything there had to be done by the main characters, while
here, the armies of Minas Tirith are supplemented by those of the other
cities of the realm. The small defensive force is only due to the threat
along the coast -those cities must leave forces to deal with the
Corsairs. Once Aragorn clears those lands of orcs and evil men, he
brings the rest of the defenders up the Anduin to the defense of the
city, and that is what turns the tide of the war.
Aragorn only used the army of the dead
to clear the coastal lands, not the Pelennor fields. It always felt like
a cheat to have the army of the dead destroy the armies of Mordor in the
Though: I understand the need to keep the list of new characters short.
Once the other cities of Gondor were removed from the story, it became
impractical to bring them into the battle. But it would have been easy
to say that Aragorn had gathered all of the other armies, which would
not have arrived in time, perhaps have them flocking to Aragorn's
banner, which would have been visually impressive, to say the least. I
suppose that once they had spent the money making the dead army, and
seeing how impressive it was, they decided to use them as much as they
could, which begs the question of why they didn't bring that army to
Mordor, where there were even more orcs. The whole battle and siege of
Gondor was so much better, and even more exciting, in the book compared
to the movie, if that is possible!
I also liked the way that Aragorn
looked into the Palantir before going through the Paths of the Dead,
which is what prompts Sauron to throw his army at Minas Tirith, even
though his plans are not quite ready, yet.
In the book, Denethor, although
depressed and obsessed with Boromir, is a lot wiser and smarter than
made out to be in the movie. The city had been mostly evacuated already;
there were no women or children or elderly people left in Minas Tirith
when Gandalf and Pippin arrived, as they had been sent to the mountain
refuges. The wall around the Pelennor fields had been repaired, and he
had called for the aid from other cities in Gondor.
One of the things that is stressed in
the book, which I really liked a lot, because it is one of the great
character moments, is the choice Gandalf makes to save Faramir. He knows
that King Théoden will die if he does this. Yet, if he went out to
challenge the Lord of the Nazgul, Faramir would die. He is torn, and I
think it is only Pippin's anguish that allows him to make the choice.
Returning to a comparison with the
movie, I really liked the way Aragorn started with about 7000 men from
Minas Tirith when marching on the Black Gate, destroying the Morgul
Bridge, and leaving some men at the crossroads and to retake Cair Andros.
There is no way he had 6000 men at the Gate in the movie. Since we saw
them marching for some distance, would it have been much effort or time
to show the same locations where Frodo and Sam had traveled, but with
Aragorn leaving people to guard them?
The more I read through the book, the
more exciting it became, and the worse the movie looked because of it. I
wonder why such huge changes were made. They didn't hasten the action by
much, or make it more visually impressive. The battle already felt long
to me in the movie, and could have been shortened by a few minutes to
add some more meaningful scenes. And the movie made the group look even
more foolhardy at the gate than they actually were.
Sam's rescue of Frodo from Cirith Ungol,
and their journey across Mordor is not as compelling as their turmoil in
The Two Towers. I did appreciate their devotion to one another. Mount
Doom and the destruction of the Ring are almost anticlimactic, because
the two hobbits are so exhausted. The movie, in this case, did a better
job of portraying the events just afterwards.
After the destruction of the Ring,
there are a lot of events that must take place, but are not all that
interesting, now that the main action has been finished. It is a long,
long denouement. There is a lot of waiting time after we are told about
the events on Mount Doom. Everything that happened in the meantime is
told from all the major points of view, including those of Eowyn and
Faramir in Minas Tirith. They wait for the return of Aragorn, then
Aragorn waits for Arwen to arrive, and so on...
I like the separation of points of view
in the different chapters, however, as I mentioned in my review of
The Two Towers. In a contemporary novel, we
would get the passage of the Dead, the Ride of the Rohirrim, and the events of Minas Tirith all at
once, in short sections. In this book, however, each commands a complete
chapter of its own, which means that we are constantly going back in
time. Some events are simply told between friends, as they catch up. It
made for a great variety of techniques, which kept it interesting.
The last chapters in Gondor felt like
they could use further revision, as they were somewhat difficult to
read, more like Tolkien's earlier drafts, as seen in
The History of
The book could have been closed at the
end of the chapter Many Partings, as everything pretty much gets
closure. If Saruman had died there, on the road, then it would have been
fitting. However, Saruman had unfinished business in the Shire.
The Scouring of the Shire is a strange
addition to the Lord of the Rings. It was set up early in the books, but
at this point, Saruman was obviously just out for revenge, not caring
that he would be thrown out eventually. It is not a loss to get rid of
the chapter for the movie, but it is also somewhat satisfying to
ordinary people to read it. We get to see some injustice done to the
entire land, and have our heroes set it right, bullying the bullies, who
don't know how tough hobbits really are.
Still, there is no lasting effect, as
Galadriel's seeds and soil restored everything within a single spring.
Perhaps the Shire-folk would take less advantage of their lives, and of
course we got to see the end of Saruman, but I liked his end in the
movie just as much (although it would have been nice to see him turn to
mist -apparently that is how the Maiar die or shed their physical
The Returns of the King is a very
exciting and interesting conclusion to the Lord of the Rings, although
it is a little too long once the objective has been completed. It is a
huge addition to the saga of Middle-Earth, giving us so much more to the
world than already existed from the first two books. Truly a must-read