Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
(1991, Harper Collins [original copyright 1955])

The Lord of the Rings, book 3

War comes between Gondor and Sauron, as Frodo attempts to destroy the Ring against harsh emotional turmoil.


-- 5th reading (paperback)
July 10th to 21st, 2022


It’s strange to think that The Return of the King feels like the shortest book, especially when it’s so thick. So much happens after the destruction of the Ring, and while it’s all very interesting, it’s also a strange choice to the end of a fantasy tale. To Tolkien, this was so much more than the story of a few hobbits and a ring of power. It told the remainder of the story that had started back in the Book of Lost Tales, and became thoroughly expanded through the story of the ring told early in The Fellowship of the Ring. As mentioned below, some of the story lags a bit, but it’s more than compensated for by the extremely interesting and exciting parts. Still overall thoroughly enjoyable.


-- 4th reading (trilogy hardcover)
August 15th to 29th, 2017


The opening chapter of this book is the most trying of the entire story, and that's unfortunate. Pippin's adventures wandering the city and meeting people is not very interesting. Fortunately the book accelerates until the assault on the Gates of Mordor. The chapters covering the Ride of the Rohirim (including Ghan-Buri-Ghan, which was great), to the Battle of the Pelenor Fields was awesome. The quietness of Frodo and Sam's journey through Mordor slows the story down again, and although it's impressive the way the author describes the destruction of the ring, it's not as exciting as what came before.

I appreciated the details that were given with Gimli and Legolas' description of the Paths of the Dead, as well as Faramir's healing of Eowyn, something that I need refreshing on time and again, because it's so subtle.

I always thoroughly enjoy this story.


-- 3rd reading (trilogy hardcover)
January 18th to 27th, 2006


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.

Upon reading the first chapters of the book, I realized how much the movie screwed up the timeline and geography of the War of the Ring. As in The 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 movie. 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 Middle-Earth.

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 forms).

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 book.


-- 2nd reading (paperback)
August 29th to September 3rd, 1993 (and also sometime in 1985)


No review available.


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