Book Review: The Return of the King

“The 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.” – J. R. R. Tolkein

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading every book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I would have to say The Return of the King is easily my favorite. Perhaps it’s because a decent amount of time has actually passed since I saw the movies, or perhaps it was simply that great.

For one thing, after reading this book I feel as though I actually understand the world and the characters, and their relationships in it and with each other. When I first sat down to begin reading the third installment in the series, given that I had spent the last few months checking off another semester of college, I was glad the book I had bought provided me with a brief recap of the first two. And yet not too much later I found myself googling who the King of Gondor was… Needless to say I realized by the end of The Return of the King, and anyone who is familiar with the story (or who even ponders the title a bit) will probably agree with me, that this is a sign I had forgotten much, or perhaps misunderstood some of the information I was given before. But by fully engrossing the reader deep within the world, in the cities of Middle Earth such as Minas Tirith, and by putting the novel’s already compelling characters into vivid engagement and action in yet higher stakes, I found myself not only becoming quite fluent in the knowledge of the world but also turning the pages pretty quickly in a rush of suspense.

Now, that action I just spoke of- much of it happens in chapter 4, titled “The Siege of Gondor.” Despite being action packed however, and while the events really were uniquely compelling (including a man insistent on being devoured by flames and a young woman finally getting her chance on the battlefield), this chapter was also written well, and I was pleasantly surprised. While of course the entire trilogy indeed possesses high quality writing, this chapter in particular used techniques I had not yet seen in Tolkein (there’s a chance that as a writer I appreciated them more than most readers). Notably, there was a lot of repetition. For instance, without giving away any spoilers for anyone who has yet to see or read it (and really, you should read it), many of the paragraphs during the battle scene found themselves beginning with the same sentence two or three times in a row; then a new repetitive pattern would begin. This not only emphasized the action but also increased the suspense and created an energetic rhythm and flow itself.

Lastly, while I am always surprised by the lack of page presence of Sam and Frodo compared to their equal screen time in the movies, I was intrigued by the fact that this book led me to see the series as more about the war in Middle Earth, with the ring simply being a vital side part. I found myself quite happy to see the success and triumph of Pippin and Merry, two characters who I personally believe the book portrayed with care and who deserve more credit than are often given; I was also surprisingly interested in the affairs of Gondor, despite perhaps being thought of as a subplot compared to the adventure of the two hobbits and the ring.

The Return of the King ends in a comparatively anticlimactic way, but simply put I enjoyed that. The last words offer a sense of calmness and normalcy compared to the events that uprooted their lives in the first place.

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