But The Lord of the Rings is not The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings is The Hobbit's meticulous, older and more serious brother who is going to sit you down and tell you an epic tale of adventure that spans four ages with maps, appendices and side trips delving into the history of many people and a world of places. If you don't like the base elements of The Hobbit, you're going to hate Lord of the Rings because The Lord of the Rings is just a long drawn out, denser version.
J.R.R. Tolkien has not just written a story. He's written an entire world of stories. He pretty much spent a lifetime writing and bringing to life Middle Earth and it's freaking incredible.
Is it perfect? No. But any criticisms don't detract from the highly imaginative work this is - or from my enjoyment of it.
5 stars. It's a classic.
You know it's interesting. I've read the first two volumes three times now. But this is still only the second time I've read The Return of the King. I flew through the first two volumes every time but for some reason I've always struggled with the third one. It just fell apart for me sometime in the waiting for the war to actually happen. But I managed to get through it on my second try and reading this again for the third time (a good decade older) I didn't have any issues whatsoever.
I think maybe the first time I tried reading this series I was just a bit young. (I started after I read The Hobbit the first time, around 11/12?) I loved fantasy but long epics were a bit beyond me maybe. I loved the first two and found their pacing fast but the third one just got slow to the point of painful. I tried again when I was older (about 17/18) and found it easier (and finished it) but I still didn't love the third book. And perhaps it's because it becomes more character driven. Or more dramatic. Or because I hate Eowyn. But a decade older again and I loved this book. It's not my favourite of the trilogy but it is really good.
I love fierce female characters but god I hate Eowyn. Because she's not just fierce - she's also bloody selfish. Regardless of how demeaning or belittling her responsibilities are - they are responsibilities and it makes me furious to see how easily she abandons her people. Especially because she's heartbroken. And frankly I don't get it anyway. She sees Aragorn for all of two seconds and decides she loves him. It was pretty dumb.
Anyway, ignoring my issues with the romance, there are lots of amusing moments in the first half. Mainly because we follow Merry and Pippin who are busy pledging service to their Lords - Pippin to Lord Denethor (Boromir and Faramir's father) and Merry to King Theoden (Eowyn and Eomer's father and King of Rohan). Even separated, they're mimicking one another. But service or no, they are hobbits - you can't expect them not to manage to find time to eat!
‘Er well,’ said Pippin, ‘if I may venture to say so, rather a burning question in my mind at present is, well, what about breakfast and all that? I mean, what are the meal-times, if you understand me, and where is the dining-room, if there is one? And the inns? I looked, but never a one could I see as we rode up, though I had been borne up by the hope of a draught of ale as soon as we came to the homes of wise and courtly men.’ Beregond looked at him gravely. ‘An old campaigner, I see,’ he said. ‘They say that men who go warring afield look ever to the next hope of food and of drink; though I am not a travelled man myself. Then you have not yet eaten today?’ ‘Well, yes, to speak in courtesy, yes,’ said Pippin. ‘But no more than a cup of wine and a white cake or two by the kindness of your lord; but he racked me for it with an hour of questions, and that is hungry work.’ (p. 761)
Even injured the hobbits are concerned about food.
Gandalf and Pippin came to Merry’s room, and there they found Aragorn standing by the bed. ‘Poor old Merry!’ cried Pippin, and he ran to the bedside, for it seemed to him that his friend looked worse and a greyness was in his face, as if a weight of years of sorrow lay on him; and suddenly a fear seized Pippin that Merry would die. ‘Do not be afraid,’ said Aragorn. ‘I came in time, and I have called him back. He is weary now, and grieved, and he has taken a hurt like the Lady Éowyn, daring to smite that deadly thing. But these evils can be amended, so strong and gay a spirit is in him. His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.’ Then Aragorn laid his hand on Merry’s head, and passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids, and called him by name. And when the fragrance of athelas stole through the room, like the scent of orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees, suddenly Merry awoke, and he said: ‘I am hungry. What is the time?’ ‘Past supper-time now,’ said Pippin; ‘though I daresay I could bring you something, if they will let me.’ ‘They will indeed,’ said Gandalf. ‘And anything else that this Rider of Rohan may desire, if it can be found in Minas Tirith, where his name is in honour.’ ‘Good!’ said Merry. ‘Then I would like supper first, and after that a pipe.’ (pp. 868-869)
Aragorn, Gilmi and Legolas walk the ominous sounding Paths of the Dead and emerge in time to join the battle, all kingly like.
Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor; and the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords, and the joy and wonder of the City was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells. (p. 847)
And then we're back to Sam and Frodo. I love Sam. He's totally badass. He no longer had any doubt about his duty: he must rescue his master or perish in the attempt. ‘The perishing is more likely, and will be a lot easier anyway,’ he said grimly to himself, as he sheathed Sting and turned from the brazen doors. (p. 897)
He knows the odds are he's screwed but he's willing to keep pushing, keep fighting til there is nothing else he can do. But it's freaking hilarious when he scares the Orcs into thinking he's the big bad Elf warrior.
It stopped short aghast. For what it saw was not a small frightened hobbit trying to hold a steady sword: it saw a great silent shape, cloaked in a grey shadow, looming against the wavering light behind; in one hand it held a sword, the very light of which was a bitter pain, the other was clutched at its breast, but held concealed some nameless menace of power and doom. For a moment the orc crouched, and then with a hideous yelp of fear it turned and fled back as it had come. Never was any dog more heartened when its enemy turned tail than Sam at this unexpected flight. With a shout he gave chase. ‘Yes! The Elf-warrior is loose!’ he cried. ‘I’m coming. Just you show me the way up, or I’ll skin you!’ (p. 904)
And he's so nonchalant about it all. ‘Yes, they quarrelled, seemingly,’ said Sam. ‘There must have been a couple of hundred of the dirty creatures in this place. A bit of a tall order for Sam Gamgee, as you might say. But they’ve done all the killing of themselves. (p. 911)
On the other hand I feel really sorry for him. Frodo is almost done in. It's taking everything he has to resist the power of the Ring and it's left to Sam to pick up the slack. Of course, Sam really steps up.
Frodo groaned; but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he fell upon his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and then pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands. Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’ ‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.’ (pp. 940-941)
And even at the end he keeps his courage and humour.
They stood now; and Sam still holding his master’s hand caressed it. He sighed. ‘What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?’ he said. ‘I wish I could hear it told! Do you think they’ll say: Now comes the story of Nine-fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom? And then everyone will hush, like we did, when in Rivendell they told us the tale of Beren One-hand and the Great Jewel. I wish I could hear it! And I wonder how it will go on after our part.’ (p. 950)
But he does get rewarded for it and it's a very satisfying conclusion.
And then to Sam’s surprise and utter confusion he bowed his knee before them; and taking them by the hand, Frodo upon his right and Sam upon his left, he led them to the throne, and setting them upon it, he turned to the men and captains who stood by and spoke, so that his voice rang over all the host, crying: ‘Praise them with great praise!’ And when the glad shout had swelled up and died away again, to Sam’s final and complete satisfaction and pure joy, a minstrel of Gondor stood forth, and knelt, and begged leave to sing. And behold! he said: ‘Lo! lords and knights and men of valour unashamed, kings and princes, and fair people of Gondor, and Riders of Rohan, and ye sons of Elrond, and Dúnedain of the North, and Elf and Dwarf, and greathearts of the Shire, and all free folk of the West, now listen to my lay. For I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.’ And when Sam heard that he laughed aloud for sheer delight, and he stood up and cried: ‘O great glory and splendour! And all my wishes have come true!’ And then he wept. (p. 954)
I liked that we get to see Bilbo again.
At last one evening they came over the high moors, suddenly as to travellers it always seemed, to the brink of the deep valley of Rivendell and saw far below the lamps shining in Elrond’s house. And they went down and crossed the bridge and came to the doors, and all the house was filled with light and song for joy at Elrond’s homecoming. First of all, before they had eaten or washed or even shed their cloaks, the hobbits went in search of Bilbo. They found him all alone in his little room. It was littered with papers and pens and pencils; but Bilbo was sitting in a chair before a small bright fire. He looked very old, but peaceful, and sleepy. He opened his eyes and looked up as they came in. ‘Hullo, hullo!’ he said. ‘So you’ve come back? And tomorrow’s my birthday, too. How clever of you! Do you know, I shall be one hundred and twenty-nine? And in one year more, if I am spared, I shall equal the Old Took. I should like to beat him; but we shall see.’ (pp. 985-986)
The ending was sad though. In a good way? I mean it was sad for Sam but overall everything wrapped up nice and neat and all the characters were left happily ever after. It's kind of hard to hate an ending like that.
Then Bilbo woke up and opened his eyes. ‘Hullo, Frodo!’ he said. ‘Well, I have passed the Old Took today! So that’s settled. And now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey. Are you coming?’ ‘Yes, I am coming,’ said Frodo. ‘The Ring-bearers should go together.’ ‘Where are you going, Master?’ cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening. ‘To the Havens, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘And I can’t come.’ ‘No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.’ ‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’ ‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. And also you have Rose, and Elanor; and Frodo-lad will come, and Rosie-lass, and Merry, and Goldilocks, and Pippin; and perhaps more that I cannot see. Your hands and your wits will be needed everywhere. You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on. ‘Come now, ride with me!’ (pp. 1028-1029)
I liked that Merry and Pippin made an appearance to say goodbye to Frodo and Bilbo. And to be there for Sam, who was devastated by the loss of Frodo.
But Sam was now sorrowful at heart, and it seemed to him that if the parting would be bitter, more grievous still would be the long road home alone. But even as they stood there, and the Elves were going aboard, and all was being made ready to depart, up rode Merry and Pippin in great haste. And amid his tears Pippin laughed. ‘You tried to give us the slip once before and failed, Frodo,’ he said. ‘This time you have nearly succeeded, but you have failed again. It was not Sam, though, that gave you away this time, but Gandalf himself!’ ‘Yes,’ said Gandalf; ‘for it will be better to ride back three together than one alone. 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.’ (p. 1030)
The perfect end to a fantastic series. Now I just have to watch the movies.
NOTE: All references refer to the following omnibus edition. Tolkien, J. R. R.. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. (2005) HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.