Hello, my dear strangers!
My Tolkien Odyssey began last year with Roverandom and is now finally finished with The Return of the King. I’ve been completely enchanted by Tolkien’s style, themes and his unique approach to writing and that enchantment will never wear off. There is so much to learn from his pages, so many lessons to walk away with, an abundance of messages on not only how to be a better writer, but how to be a better person. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Tolkien’s presence will never diminish and this work – The Lord of the Rings, will continue to stand as the pillar, the crown, his greatest literary achievement for many centuries to come, I hope.
I hate repeating myself, but I believe that honestly no words of praise will ever be excessive when it comes to Tolkien’s masterful use of language, his poetic style, the sheer tenderness of his pen. This was a man who was born to write. And am I glad that he did. He enriched the world of literature beyond words, altering it and steering in the best direction possible.
The Return of the King offers us the very end of the Quest the Fellowship set out to accomplish in the first book (the first of six, not the first of three). There’s no more warming up, no more preparation, the end is nigh. We’re thrown into the chaotic climax along with our protagonists and fully exposed to all of their suffering, pain, despair and sorrow. The pages are drenched in hopelessness.
One can easily envision the man Tolkien was through his words. He was definitely ahead of his time in many aspects and the aspect I liked the best was that of gender roles. His description of Éowyn gives us a clear indication that Middle-Earth can just be just as unfeeling towards women as our world is. Éowyn challenges traditional gender roles. She is bitter about her duties and longs to go to war and fight for what she believes in. A shieldmaiden of Rohan, she angrily states that she is neither a nurse nor a hostess. Her heart is that of a warrior. Going against her king’s wishes, Éowyn rides to war in a disguise and manages to overthrow one of the greatest villains of the novel almost singlehandedly. I’ve already raved about Faramir in my previous review and think that the two of them make a perfect match.
And while I’m on the subject of Faramir, it seems a good time to explore the relationship between him and his father. We were given glimpses of the underlying frustration and their opposing views in The Two Towers, but this tome really covers the gap that exists between father and son. Denethor goes so far as to flat-out tell Faramir that he valued Boromir’s life more his brother’s. He is unsupportive and dismissive of Faramir’s bond with Gandalf, perhaps even jealous. It isn’t until Faramir is brought to his feet virtually dead that Denethor finally comes to realise how much he loves his son, though by that point it doesn’t even matter anymore so much, since Denethor is steeped deep in madness and only wants to burn out of this world. Thankfully, his burning of Faramir is stopped by Pippin’s intervention and although the heroes succeed in rescuing Faramir, Denethor proceeds to burn.
Even though he was given the benefit of the doubt by many characters (and readers), Gollum proves to be beyond any salvation. The ring has its claws in him so deep, that Gollum can no longer exist without it. He is aware of his own powerlessness and the addiction the ring provides, yet cannot let go of it. Literally. Having embraced the only thing he cared for in centuries, Gollum falls to his death, irrevocably pulled over to the other side of his psyche.
Gandalf remains Gandalf, one of my favourite characters. Wise, determined, passionate and careful about trusting either hope or despair too much. He also knows when to step down. After the demise of Sauron, Gandalf goes on to calmly accept that his time in Middle-Earth is at an end and that he must obediently pass over to another place – a beautiful metaphor for aging and the struggles of accepting death gracefully. His time and involvement in the war haven’t made him more severe and cruel, but rather softened him. He offers Saruman help, though he refuses it in his pride. He also offers us one of his best lines in the form of a simple, sane piece of advice. “So, leave him!”, he tells Wormtongue after Grima expresses his desire to be rid of Saruman’s domineering ways. Simple and sane. It isn’t going well with another person and you feel dominated and unappreciated? Leave them. The nature of your relationship doesn’t matter, only the fact that you’ll help yourself immensely by getting out of such toxic, dysfunctional and sometimes downright abusive relationships.
Another great theme Tolkien introduces us to is the differing ways in which we view others in comparison to their true strengths. Pippin thinks that Denethor looks wiser, more learned and calmer than Gandalf. His appearance may suggest that, though Pippin recognises that he knows Gandalf well enough to know that few mortal men could ever match Gandalf’s wisdom, no matter how ragged and dishevelled he may appear.
While Denethor’s fathers come from a great line of sires, he himself is not regarded as king, only a steward. On the other hand, Théoden comes from a line of lesser sires, “lesser children of lesser men”, yet in his own land, he rules as king.
Despite his small stature and no apparent strengths, Pippin is an instant hit in Gondor. He gets a prestigious local title in the local tongue and is revered as a stranger of great worth, due to his connections with Boromir, Denethor and Mithrandir. While he may confess to Bergil that he is a person of no great power, Pippin’s reputation has already grown out of proportions.
In all three cases, we see a deep wedge between how people perceive themselves and each another and their true strengths, qualities, values and faults.
And at last we come to Sam, beautiful, patient, immensely optimistic Sam, probably one of my favourite characters. Frodo has a heavy burden to carry and it takes a great toll on him, which may serve as his excuse, but even before the Ring of Power ever walked into his life, Frodo was less-than-hero material. He has initiative and inner strength and resilience, yet I just cannot see him as a hero or a protagonist. The reason is probably because all of his deeds pale in comparison with Sam’s. It isn’t even about the deeds, but about one’s mindset and outlook. What Sam has in abundance, Frodo lacks.
For a brief period of time, Sam experiences what it’s like to be the Ring-bearer. He even experiences reluctance when the time comes to give it back to Frodo. And even though his time spent as the Ring-bearer can in no way be compared to Frodo’s, we still get an insight into Sam’s thoughts and realise the kind of person he is, even under enormous pressure and in the presence of great temptations. We all know those people who are so plain, simple and uncomplicated (though certainly complex characters), that even the greatest of evils cannot taunt them. They remain as good and as pure as they ever were. Sam experiences situations few characters find themselves in, yet retains optimism, strength and righteousness. He daydreams about the plainest of pleasures during the darkest of times.
Upon the hobbits’ return to the Shire, Sam manages to pick up and glue the pieces back together, throwing himself into gardening, governing and life. Frodo never manages to achieve the same peace, which is understandable. Some wounds can never be healed. To return from such a great Middle-Earth-shattering adventure replete with perils into one’s sleepy hometown where the people remain largely unaware of the outside world and are too preoccupied with their own frivolous concerns can only be described as disheartening. It comes as no surprise then that Frodo decides to leave such a world behind. In his own words: “The Shire has been saved, but not for me.” It is sad to think about all that Frodo has had to sacrifice in order to make a better world and have it turn out a world he can no longer enjoy in.
When the hobbits say their farewells to the rest of their travel companions and head home, the reader expects them to find peace and the idyllic picture of the Shire they carried with them all the way. However, the last two chapters largely constitute their final struggle against the enemy’s servants. However, this time there is no Aragorn to defend them, no Gimli to bravely charge into battle before them, no Gandalf to offer them sound advice. They must defend their home all on their own. It isn’t until then I think that the reader truly gets to appreciate everything they’ve been through and, maybe even more importantly, everything they’ve learned. They organise the defence of their home and drive out their enemies and we realise that the hobbits have been observing and soaking in everything from the day they left. It is there, on their doorstep, that they make their final stand against the forces of evil, all on their own, albeit on a much smaller scale. And then they get on with their lives, each in his own way.
There are times when I wish a chunk of an asteroid would smack me in the head and leave me with amnesia. Those times largely occur after I’ve read a great book. It’s no wonder then that I find myself wishing for that asteroid now. I wish I could completely lose any knowledge of this novel and its accompanying movies and get to relive it again, fresh and untainted by previous information. I have no doubt that I’ll reread this masterpiece many, many times in the years to come, but the experience will never be as fresh and as new and as rewarding as it is now. Sadly, that asteroid will probably never come for me, which is probably for the best. So, with that, I’ll close the book and return it to the shelf and proceed to make enough popcorn to last me the entire run of The Lord of the Rings marathon I’m about to treat myself to. Just to round-up the experience. And to watch Faramir be cute and awesome.
Well, here at last, 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 an evil.
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