The Return of the King

by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Gandalf and Pippin ride on Shadowfax to the Realm of Gondor and are admitted to the presence of Denethor, steward of Gondor. Pippin tells of the heroic death of Boromir, Denethor’s son, and swears allegiance to the kingly old man. Gandalf does not hinder this, although Pippin senses tension between Gandalf and Denethor. Beregond of the Guard gives Pippin the passwords and tells him how Gondor, closest of free lands to Mordor, bears the brunt of the Dark Lord’s wrath.

After the departure of Gandalf, Théoden and his Riders, with Aragorn, Merry, Legolas, and Gimli, ride back to Dunharrow. They are joined by Rangers, Aragorn’s kindred. Aragorn, sorely troubled, says that haste demands that he travel the Paths of the Dead. He has wrestled with the will of Sauron in his seeing stone, hoping to distract Sauron so that Frodo and Sam might fulfill their mission of destroying Sauron’s Ring. Théoden’s niece Éowyn begs Aragorn not to take the Paths of the Dead, from which none has returned, or to take her with him, but he refuses. Leading his company underground, he summons the ghosts of oathbreakers who failed to fight Sauron and who can have no peace until they keep the oath sworn to Aragorn’s ancestor. They follow him, and wherever they pass, they spread terror.

Théoden and his nephew Éomer summon the Riders of Rohan to answer Gondor’s call for aid. Éowyn and Merry are denied a place among the combatants. When the Riders leave, a young warrior, Dernhelm, smuggles Merry with them under a cloak. The darkness that Sauron sends out to dismay his enemies conceals the movements of Rohan’s Riders.

When Faramir, the younger son of Denethor, comes back from his outpost and reports his meeting with Frodo, Denethor is coldly furious that Faramir did not take the Ring by force. Boromir, he says, would have brought the Ring to his father. Gandalf replies that if Boromir had taken it, he would have fallen and replaced the Dark Lord only by becoming another Dark Lord, whom even his father would not have known.

Sauron’s army, led by the chief of the Ringwraiths, attacks Gondor. Faramir returns to battle but is wounded by Ringwraiths. Despair seizes Denethor, who decides to burn himself and the unconscious but still living Faramir. Pippin seeks Gandalf to prevent this mad act. The hosts of Mordor batter down the gate, and the chief Ringwraith enters, confronted only by Gandalf. Horn blasts announce the arrival of Rohan, and the Ringwraith vanishes to return on his reptilian flying mount. Théoden’s horse goes mad with fright and falls on his master. Sick with fear, Merry crawls behind the monster, but Dernhelm faces the Ringwraith. According to an old prophecy, no living man can destroy the Ringwraith, but Dernhelm is discovered to be Éowyn, not a man. She decapitates the Ringwraith’s monstrous steed. Merry then thrusts from behind with his blade of Westernesse, and Éowyn strikes at the Ringwraith’s head. Both are stunned, but the Ringwraith’s empty cloak and armor collapse on the ground, and a shrill wail runs down the wind. Aragorn arrives in ships with reinforcements. The battle is won, but at great cost.

Denethor, thwarted by Beregond and Gandalf in his attempt to burn Faramir, burns himself, clutching his seeing stone, through which the will of Sauron entered Gondor. At Théoden’s death, Éomer becomes king of Rohan. In the Houses of Healing, Aragorn treats Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry. Gandalf, Aragorn, and others march to the Black Gate of Mordor to distract Sauron yet again and keep his Eye from Frodo. At the Gate,...

(This entire section contains 1241 words.)

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Mordor’s hordes attack them.

Meanwhile, Sam has made his way into Mordor to try to rescue Frodo. The orcs have fought over Frodo’s mithril coat, and most of them are dead. Sam kills the lone guard and disguises Frodo and himself with orc armor. Nightmare days follow as they struggle across the ashen land toward Mount Doom, often escaping capture through seeming miracles, once being taken for orcs and forced to join them before escaping by a fortunate accident. As Sam carries the exhausted Frodo on his back, struggling toward Mount Doom and its restless fires, Gollum, who has been trailing them, leaps from a high rock and knocks Sam down. Gollum grapples with Frodo for the Ring, but Frodo flings him off and announces that if Gollum ever touches him again, he will be cast into the fire. Frodo moves on. Sam raises Sting, his dagger, to kill Gollum but cannot strike the wretched, repulsive creature. Gollum flees, and Sam follows Frodo into the fissure in the side of Mount Doom.

There, beside the Crack of Doom, with its fearful flames, Frodo puts on the Ring, and Sauron becomes aware of him. The Dark Lord calls his Ringwraiths from the battle. Gollum dashes past Sam and struggles with Frodo for the Ring, which he captures by biting off Frodo’s finger. Dancing with joy, Gollum loses his balance and falls into the fire. The volcano erupts, the towers of Mordor disintegrate, and the Ringwraiths fly into the flames and are destroyed. The hosts of Mordor scatter like dust. The Captains of the West see a pall of smoke rise above Mordor, lean threateningly toward them, and then blow away. Gandalf and three great eagles pick up Frodo and Sam, who lie on an island of stone that is slowly being covered by molten lava, and bring them back for Aragorn’s healing.

They are present at the crowning of Aragorn as King Elessar. Frodo takes the crown from Faramir, the steward of Gondor, and bears it to Gandalf, who crowns the king. Celeborn and Galadriel are there, and Elrond, with his two sons, brings his daughter Arwen Evenstar to marry Aragorn and become queen. King Éomer of Rohan then takes Théoden’s body back to his country. He gives the hand of his sister Éowyn to Faramir, whom she has grown to love in the Houses of Healing.

The guests scatter—Legolas and Gimli to visit Fangorn, Celeborn and Galadriel to Lothlorien, Gandalf and the hobbits to Rivendell to visit Bilbo. Gandalf sends the four hobbits to the Shire after telling them they will find evil, which they can now remedy without help from him. In the Shire, Lotho Sackville-Baggins has set up a dictatorship, backed by the mysterious Sharkey. Merry and Pippin take charge of scouring the Shire with the help of other hobbits, who have needed only a leader. They kill or drive away the Boss’s ruffians and learn that Sharkey is Saruman, whom Treebeard had released after Sauron’s overthrow. Saruman tries to stab Frodo, but the mithril coat saves him again. Saruman and his henchman Wormtongue, who has murdered Lotho, are banished. Wormtongue hates Saruman and cuts his throat—when he does so, the wizard’s body shrivels with rapid decay. Hobbits kill the fleeing Wormtongue.

Sam brings beauty back to the Shire, sprinkling over it the dust given him in Lothlorien by Galadriel. He marries Rosie Cotton, and they make a home in Bag End, looking after Frodo. Every year, Frodo’s wounds trouble his body and his spirit until he joins Gandalf, Bilbo, Galadriel, and Elrond and sails away to the overseas haven of the elves. Thus ends the Third Age.