Saturday 26 August 2017

The Return of the King, Book VI by J R R Tolkien

Book VI in The Return of the King brings us back to the perilous journey of Sam and Frodo.
Sam now has possession of the ring and Frodo is missing.

Tolkien provides the reader with a quick catch up that feels natural and part of the drama (not the obvious recap that so many authors clumsily employ). He also lets us know what the time frame is in reference to what's going on for Merry, Pippin and Aragorn. This helps us and creates panic at the same time. Sam and Frodo still have so far to go to succeed in their mission, yet their friends are about to go into one of the biggest battles of all time!

The power of the ring, even on hobbits, is clearly described here. We also see why hobbits were the perfect choice to bear the burden of the ring on this quest. Their humility and simple tastes over-ruled or kept at bay the desire for power, dominance and the large-scale delusions of grandeur that the ring encouraged.

Yet, the ring, still does exercise a power over Frodo, so that, some might say, that Frodo actually fails in his mission to destroy the ring. When he is standing on the edge of the fires at the Mountain of Doom, he cannot cast the ring aside.

Mount Doom - Alan Lee

But kindness, goodness and pity save the day in the end. Frodo's patient acceptance of Gollum throughout the journey now has a own role to play. The power of the ring may have been too much for Frodo in the end, but it completely overwhelmed and subsumed Gollum. His desire and greed made him reckless, whilst Frodo's inherent goodness set up the situation that makes the right result, the result for good, prevail.

Tolkien himself, talks about this in several of his letters. Many of his readers found this failure to be a problem or a concern.

no 192 to Amy Ronald 27 July 1956
I have just had another letter regarding the failure of Frodo. Very few seem even to have observed it. But following the logic of the plot, it was clearly inevitable, as an event. And surely it is a more significant and real event than a mere 'fairy-story' ending in which the hero is indomitable? It is possible for the good, even the saintly, to be subjected to a power of evil which is too great for them to overcome – in themselves. In this case the cause (not the 'hero') was triumphant, because by the exercise of pity, mercy, and forgiveness of injury, a situation was produced in which all was redressed and disaster averted....
Frodo deserved all honour because he spent every drop of his power of will and body, and that was just sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. Few others, possibly no others of his time, would have got so far. The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), 'that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named' (as one critic has said).

246 Mrs Eileen Elgar (drafts) Sept 1963
I do not think that Frodo's was a moral failure. At the last moment the pressure of the Ring would reach its maximum – impossible, I should have said, for any one to resist, certainly after long possession, months of increasing torment, and when starved and exhausted. Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely (as an instrument of Providence) and had produced a situation in which the object of his quest could be achieved. His humility (with which he began) and his sufferings were justly rewarded by the highest honour; and his exercise of patience and mercy towards Gollum gained him Mercy: his failure was redressed.

 211 to Rhona Beare 14 Oct 1958
But I might say that if the tale is 'about' anything (other than itself), it is not as seems widely supposed about 'power'. Power-seeking is only the motive-power that sets events going, and is relatively unimportant, I think. It is mainly concerned with Death, and Immortality; and the 'escapes': serial longevity, and hoarding memory.

Part of my reread of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was to compare them against my memory as well as with the movies. I couldn't make myself watch The Hobbit movies. The first one was so ghastly (when I watched it when it first came out), that I couldn't do the other two in the movie trilogy or re-watch the first this time around.

However re-watching The Lord of the Rings has been enjoyable and fascinating. We have an extended blu-ray version that divides each of the three movies into two full-length movies. I remember loving the first movie, but feeling more ambivalent about the other two.

Now I know why.

The first movie follows the action of the book fairly closely (with some notable omissions), but the second and third movie veer off in different directions and changes the story by adding extra scenes and killing off people that survive in the book.

The big one, of course is Saruman.

Which completely changes the end of the Book VI when Frodo, Sam, Merry & Pippin finally make their way back to The Shire.

Scouring of the Shire - Alan Lee
The return to The Shire is full of peril and change for our four fearless hobbits. Gates block their way and tall chimneys mar the view. Trees have been pulled down and hobbit-holes have been destroyed to make way for ugly timber structures.

Saruman and Wormtongue have made their way to The Shire, where his malice lingers,
You made me laugh, you hobbit-lordlings, riding along with all those great people, so secure and so pleased with your little selves. You thought you had done very well out of it all, and could now just amble back and have a nice quiet time in the country. Saruman's home could be all wrecked, and he could be turned out, but no one could touch yours

I had forgotten there was a final battle - the Battle of Bywater, 1419 - where Captain's Meriadoc and Peregrin came into their own. And that Frodo and Sam enjoy a whole year in the Shire together, rebuilding, replanting and bringing their world back to order before Frodo goes off with the Elves.

Frodo's prediction of Sam's life in The Shire was a lovely way to finish their time together,
you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. And also you have Rose, and Elanor; and Frodo-lad will come, and Rosie-lass, and Merry, and Goldilocks, and Pippin; and perhaps more that I cannot see. Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more.

Peace, hope and prosperity have overthrown the dark days of evil. The world has changed, things have moved on, but it's long as we learn the lessons that history has to teach us.

Grey Havens by Alan Lee

Well, that's it! After seven months and about 1500 pages, we have come to the end of our journey through Middle Earth.

Thank you to those who stayed with me to the very end, and those who shared but a part of the journey with me. All your comments and support and have been HUGELY appreciated and enjoyed.

I hope you found the readalong as rewarding as I did.

Appendix A - F (about 100 pages) remain unread in my edition. I have never been able to make myself read through these (my HLOTR fandom has yet to fall over into fanatic!) but I'm keeping my options (and the linky below) open for another month, to see what might happen.

I also have Tolkien's letters to finish.

If you've just stumbled onto this (re)readalong and would like to leave your review link or simply comment on our journey, please feel free to join in.

But for now,
dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are evil.


The Fellowship of the Ring 

- Halfway post - Book one 
- TFOTR - Book two

The Two Towers

The Return of the King


  1. I've fallen and got up again and again and again..
    ...but I reached the finish line!

    1. Bravo Nancy - your determination and grit is hobbit-like in it's epic-ness!
      Love your final review by image too - it's a great way to show how you felt at different times on this very long readalong.

    2. The images were all I had left in me...
      I've blogged about my struggles with Tolkien so
      I re-lived each step with my favorite pictures.
      I will never forget Pippin, Frodo, Bido, Merry, Sam, Arganon, Sauron,Nazg├╗l, Shelob, Gollum and Gandalf.
      Thx :)

  2. Anonymous16/10/18

    Not all tears are evil and finishing the journey of reading Tolkien must have left you in tears.


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