“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
It’s been a while since I’ve finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy but I held off in writing the review for the last book. Mostly because it took me so long to read it. I could not read more than a few pages and I had to put the book down. It was heavy going. It was slow. It was dull. But it was totally worth it as towards the end the action picks up again and we’re presented with a massively well made social commentary about war and fear.
“What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
Oft hope is born when all is forlorn
The book was awesome! It got pretty dreary towards the middle but I can’t refute Tolkien’s level of genius when it comes to world-building and story-telling.
The book covers Frodo and Sam going to their final destination, knowing full well they might not make it back. But their super-human friendship is what keeps them going to the bitter end. I loved Sam. He’s so trustworthy, so loyal, so brave. Frodo pales in comparison, being characterized by his single-mindness resistance to the ring’s call.
“Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something.”
In the act of protecting his master, he finds within himself the inner strength to make difficult decisions of protection. He staves off Golumn for some time, carries the ring and saves Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol, and even carries Frodo up the side of Mount Doom at the end of their quest. By the conclusion of the novel, Sam is a true hero after the Battle of Bywater and is elected Mayer of the Shire for seven consecutive years. We see the hero’s journey not as much through Frodo as through Sam.
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
I should mention the return of the king since this book is, in fact, titled “The Return of the King.” Strider/Aragorn, who we all know and love, unlike the movies, accepts his true calling from the beginning as becoming future King of Gondor. He is honorable and fearless in fighting for good and comes into his calling when needed.
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields (which is the battle at Minas Tirith), was better in the movie than in the book, as the battle in the book was relatively short and unsatisfying in comparison to an epic CGI final battle sequence, but this is just my opinion. Most often, action in movies is a disappointment without an engaging accompanying storyline, and even then, I just tend to endure them. But some movies hit the sweet spot and it changes my whole perspective. The battles in the LoTR movies did just that, creating realistic, epic battle sequences bolstering the books.
Once the battle has been won (towards the middle of the book), the story re-focuses on the journey back home to the Shire where the four brave hobbits find that the world has changed and a gang of throat-cutters and thieves are ruling the city.
I loved this part of the book and I think Tolkien took his experiences from war and how it affected the small people and put it in the book in a heart-breaking description of how villages in England (The Shire) suffered after the war too.
While wars are things to avoid if possible, if the war is inescapable, it’s short-sighted and close-minded not considering the worth and courage of the “unlikely” beings (Hobbits, women) and including them into the ranks of the defending army. Since many times the tall and strong men don’t think that people of small height or from the “weaker sex”, can be valuable during a war. But you can testify that in “The War of the Ring”, four Hobbits and a woman, changed the course of it, during epic moments of impossible odds.
The flaws in each of the characters, as well as their journey, are immense but real. When you find out some of the changes in this book (no spoilers!) and people you thought were long-forgotten, it is brilliant. And seeing the evil forces fight the good forces… it’s just a version of the reality we face every day. All over a ring that provides power. But power is at the center of it all. And it’s one of the few books where I found myself happy with the ending.
- the description of how good and evil work their forces upon man. Gollum is a good example of fluctuating morality.
- Sam’s unwavering support that makes the impossible happen
- The reunion with Bilbo and his story
- Frodo’s long life and demise
- Galladriel’s voice through the book and the way Tolkien seems to view love as Chaste, distant, filled with longing – rather than a very sexualised affair that has to be consumated.
- The fellowship’s struggle and final win
- The rich writing (it’s a treat to read). The songs and poems in the book are pretty great too!
- The places, the names, the landscape, the creatures, basically everything is so well done and well sketched! I mean, the guy has even bothered to name the damn Orcs who have no role to play!
- The Shire bit at the end was amazing.
- I became a bit bored of reading all the ‘so it was’ and ‘thus it came to pass’ and stuff! So repetitive and it constantly felt like Tolkien didn’t know if he should treat this story as something ongoing or as something that is in the past. And he does both and it really was off putting!
- Some major characters, or supposedly major characters, were treated as sidekicks and they weren’t given enough ink and time. Legolas and Gimli were completely sidetracked and they’re essentially not in the book.
- Tolkien didn’t alternate between Sam and Frodo’s story and the rest of the fellowship. The two stories, while happening simultaneously, are told one after another in the book keeping the suspense high as to what was happening somewhere else.
- Arwen and Aragorn. While their love is depicted beautifully in the movies, the book has no lines for her and him. They marry at the end of the book but I was shocked to even see her there as there was no mention of her or her relationship to him prior to the marriage.
- The battle of Minas Tirith was crap. Short and side-lined.