Return of the King (reread)

And so we come to the end. Like Bilbo in The Hobbit, the participants in the Lord of the Rings Readalong have gone there and back again. A few are still on the journey, but for me it’s done.

Maree of Just Add Books is our readalong host this month, and she has provided some midmonth questions and a Mr Linky so you can see what others have said and share your own link if you’ve been reading along.

I finished The Return of the King last week and polished off the appendices today. As always, I’m happy to see the triumph of good over evil and the peace that came with the end of the war, but I’m sorry to be leaving Middle-Earth. In The Return of the King, we see the war end, but perhaps more important, we see the peace begin. New relationships are formed, and the characters accept new roles. Some leave Middle-Earth entirely. It’s a bittersweet ending because these events have changed the characters, and things can never go back to the way they were.

Although I love The Return of the King as part of Tolkien’s greater novel, I have fewer favorite moments than in the other books. Of course, I loved seeing Faramir and Eowyn fall in love. The first time I read the book, I was thrilled that my two favorite characters found each other. And who wouldn’t be moved by that final, riveting scene on Mount Doom? We’ve seen Frodo and Sam persevering for so long on what ultimately appears to be a hopeless journey. We see Frodo finally cave in—physically, mentally, and emotionally—under the weight of the ring. We see Sam’s tremendous strength of will in urging him on. And then we see that cataclysmic confrontation with Gollum, there at the end of all things.

I must also mention how much I appreciate Beth Fish Reads’s points about the hobbits’s strength, demonstrated particularly well in the chapter on the scouring of the Shire. This chapter was left out of the movie, and that makes sense as far as plotting is concerned, but the chapter reveals so much about how the four hobbits have grown. The first couple of times I read the book, that ending did feel tacked on. Once the ring is destroyed, why does any of this other stuff matter? But The Return of the King is not just about the end of the war; it’s about the dawn of the peace. And peace doesn’t come automatically or easily. The hobbits are shown to be fully fledged leaders in these final scenes; they aren’t just tag-alongs, and I fully agree with Beth that the movie doesn’t quite get that right.

Now on to the appendices. The appendices are a treasure trove of information for the Tolkien geek. Some of it is, in my opinion, only going to interest the hard-core fan. Some might find the long history of the kingship to be of interest, but I find it dull; it’s written more as history text than as story. Still, I like to know that Tolkien thought all this stuff through. I feel the same way about the calendars and pronunciation guides. These are resources for the curious, not riveting reading material. However, I do think there are some gems worth seeking out, even for the more casual reader.

First, Appendix A.I(v) is where you find the story of Aragorn and Arwen. One of the bigger flaws of The Lord of the Rings is in the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen. Immediately before it occurs, there’s lots of build-up: something big is about to happen, but what it is remains a mystery. When Arwen arrives, it’s rather anticlimactic. She has hardly appeared at all before that moment, and the reader is given very little reason to care that Aragorn is marrying her. At best, it could be seen as the final joining of Elves and Men and a sign of hope for the new age, which is a big thing, certainly. But a marriage to bind two peoples, rather than two hearts, is hard to get excited about. It’s nice to read their story in the appendix, and I think this is an area where the movie improved on Tolkien.

I also enjoyed the final section of Appendix A, which discusses the dwarves. I’m not a particular fan of the dwarves, but I like them, and they as a people aren’t given a whole lot of attention in the main trilogy. This section also tells what happened to Legolas and Gimli. I also recommend the last few pages of Appendix B, if you want to learn more about what happened to the characters in the trilogy.

But probably the most delightful discovery for me in the appendices this time around was a bit on translation at the end of Appendix F. This chapter explores all the challenges of translating the various Middle-Earth languages into English. I loved this. It provided some wonderful little tidbits on the meeting of cultures that occurs in Lord of the Rings. For example, we learn that Pippin was seen by the people of Gondor as someone who must be of great rank among his own people because he only used the “familiar” forms of pronouns (as opposed to the “deferential”). Only one of the great would do that in Gondor, but Pippin’s dialect simply didn’t include that distinction.

Then there’s a great discussion of translation of names and how the translator changed or Anglicized some names to make their flavor or their meaning more evident to English-speaking readers. I found this fascinating because I imagine translators of real languages must have to deal with some of these questions. If a woman is named for a flower in her own language, is it better for the translator to translate that into the flower’s name in English or to keep it the same? It’s an interesting little meta-discussion on translation, made all the more stunning because it’s all based on fictional languages! It’s almost like something you’d find in a post-modern experimental novel.

This will be my final post on the readalong, and I hope everyone has enjoyed it, whether you participated yourself or just vicariously participated through reading about it. Thanks so much to everyone who joined in! I’ve enjoyed seeing everyone’s thoughts along the way, and I look forward to seeing your final thoughts!

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7 Responses to Return of the King (reread)

  1. Melissa says:

    Wonderful thoughts on both this book and the whole series. Tolkien created such a fascinating world with Lord of the Rings. I always find new aspects to admire when I reread it. Also, I agree that fleshing out the Aragorn and Arwen story throughout the movies (as opposed to taking it on at the end) was an improvement from the book’s structure. And I think you’re right about needing to see the work needed to created a peaceful age and not just saying “they lived happily ever after.”

  2. Jenny says:

    Tolkien was a strange and interesting man. I didn’t read the appendices last time through Lord of the Rings, and I’m looking forward to them this time. Especially the language ones!

  3. Maree says:

    Great post! It’s been a fun journey for sure. <3

  4. Beth F says:

    I am so glad you discussed the appendices. I love them and have read them each time I’ve read the books except this last time. I love hearing more about the history of the different peoples of Aragorn’s death, of history of the Hobbits, and the three rings.

    Thanks so much for your kind words about my posts. And thanks again to all the hosts for this great readalong. I’m so glad I joined in.

  5. My final post is going up on Friday, and I’m working on it right now. I totally agree about the last chapter. For some reason, I remembered it as tacked on, but then again, I read it when I was ten, so that opinion is moot. It’s really wonderful; seeing the hobbits have to go through one more trial among people who don’t care about their exploits with the Ring.

    The Appendices were wonderful, especially the family trees- I still can’t believe Sam had thirteen children. Rosie must have a stout constitution…

  6. EL Fay says:

    I never looked at the appendices. I thought they were just geek stuff but apparently I was wrong. The language stuff sounds fascinating. And I totally agree that Arwen’s expanded role in the movies is an improvement on Tolkien. Her marriage to Aragorn doesn’t come out of nowhere and she gives an added female presence to a very male-dominated story.

    You’re absolutely right about the strength of the hobbits being one of the most important aspects of the books. I believe Tolkien actually said at one point that Sam was the real hero of the trilogy. I think that’s mostly due to the disparity between the humble, rustic, peace-loving nature of the hobbits and the peril of the war they find themselves in. Sometimes it’s the littlest people who make the greatest difference.

  7. Carl V. says:

    I’ve been visiting all these posts, sad that I was not able to participate in the read-along, as I love these books, and movies, so much. It is so fun to read everyone’s experiences and thoughts.

    I agree that all the stuff after the destruction of the ring is so important. It gives more closure with characters than many other novels do, and I really like that. It makes sense, because, as you say, we get to see a little more of the price that was paid for the peace that is to come. It is also so powerful.

    For me the melancholy feel of the end of the stories always reflects my melancholy mood for them being over. Whether it is watching the extended editions of the films, or reading the books, it is always and investment of time and I feel that bittersweet, ‘oh no, its over’ feeling so much, in large part because of the fact that we know as reader that this is all we have. Sure, we can read more about the past history of Middle-earth through The Silmarillion (which I love), but when we leave the characters at the end of ROTK, that is all we have. We can learn about their future a bit with the appendices, which are wonderful, but we don’t get to live it along with them the way we do with the trilogy, and that adds to the bittersweet melancholy.

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