Monday, September 29, 2014

"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review

I have finished a re-reading of the Lord of the Rings. I read them first college some years ago shortly after the movies had been released and now with the distance of time and the return of Middle-Earth to the big screen through the Hobbit, I thought I would read the beloved classic trilogy again. The challenge of reviewing this books ought to be obvious. What else is there to say regarding these classics? To make it worse, what is there for me to say regarding these classics? I am no literary critic nor an expert on literature or Tolkien. I am just a fan.

But in regards to The Return of the King there are a few things that I noticed. First, the title itself has been pointed out as rather inadequate. Is the story in this trilogy about the king of Gondor or about destroying the ring? My first exposure to this trilogy was the movies and when I saw the title of the third film I read it as, "The Return of Ring." That made more sense to me. Frodo and Sam are taking the ring to Mount Doom, where the ring was forged, to destroy it. It was later that I realized, and the picture of Aragorn on the poster made it obvious, that the title was about a king, not about a ring. This makes little sense to me. I know that Tolkien did not care for the title himself, but it still remains strange to me.

This leads to one thing that I do enjoy about the trilogy that is seen most clearly in this third book. There are many stories that make up this story. The main story is Frodo and the Ring. But beyond that we see a Ranger become King and how that came to be. Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White. Faramire uniting the two main realms of men - Gondor and Rohan. Theodine clearly wants to die as one of the great kings of men and does so in the end. Golum is destroyed by his lust. It seems that most of the main characters have two quests. The first, which unites them all, is the defense of Middle-Earth from Sauron and the destruction of the ring. The other is a unique quest of completion.

This might explain why the conclusion is so long. As I mentioned before, it takes a while for the story to really begin in The Fellowship of the Ring it likewise takes many pages for the story to end in the Return of the King. Each character's story within the greater story must come to a satisfying end. Aragorn has to be crowned. Faramire must get married. Theodin must be buried. The hobbits must fight for the Shire. Etc. I love stories that do this. When each character brings something unique to the story, it enhances the story and makes one love the characters more. Tolkien is a genius at this.

Regarding the battle at the Shire where Sauraman and Wormtongue are dealt with by the four hobbits, and the hobbits alone, is strange and everyone has highlighted that. I have little to say regarding it for or against. It is what it is.

One final thing should be highlight and that regards the division of the three books. Each book is broken into two parts. Each part follows the story of the dominate characters. This means that one is essentially reading the same story twice. One might follow Frodo and Sam up to a point and then return chronologically to the beginning of the book and then follow the rest of the fellowship. This is a big strange to the reader and if Tolkien had welcomed an editor, such an approach to telling the story may not have remained. But in the third book, this approach is really effective.

My favorite scene was cut from the theatrical version of the movie and only added in the extended version. There, at the Black Gate, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the others speak with the Mouth of Sauron. A strange character to say the least. But in this scene, the Mouth of Sauron tries to convince the Fellowship to surrender because their greater cause, the destruction of the ring, had been uncovered. To prove it, the Mouth of Sauron pulls out some of Frodo's belongings. Because of how the story is divided, the reader is as surprised as the Fellowship. We find out later that they had Frodo's belongings but not Frodo because of the bravery of Sam. Tolkien's division is effective here, but this great scene was cut from the theatrical version of the film because the audience already knew that the Mouth was lying. They did not have Frodo or the ring.

Here is that scene in the extended version of the film:



Overall, good book. Good conclusion to the series. But you already knew that.
Post a Comment