The Return of the King
Book VI, Chapter 4
Summary — The Field of Cormallen
The narrative returns to Gandalf and those outside the Black Gate. To the north, the Captains of the West founder on the hills outside the Gate, surrounded by a dark, rolling sea of Orcs and Wild Men. Gandalf stands proudly, white and calm, with no shadow falling upon him. Suddenly, a great cry rises up: “The Eagles are coming!” Out of the north arrives a company of great eagles, led by Gwaihir the Windlord. The will of Sauron falters, and all the armies of Mordor quail in terror. A great roar shakes the hills. Gandalf cries in victory that the Ring-bearer has completed his quest, and that the reign of Sauron has ended. As Gandalf speaks, a huge shadow rises in the south, extending across the sky like a giant hand, and then vanishes in the wind with a great rush.
Aragorn leads the Captains in a great sweep over the plains. Gandalf then soars into Mordor on the back of Gwaihir. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam, still in the heart of Mordor, have given up all hope of survival. As they talk quietly below the ruin of Mount Doom, Gwaihir spots them. Two eagles sweep down and lift the hobbits into the air.
When Sam wakes, he finds himself on a soft bed in Ithilien, the eastern lands of Gondor. He first comments on the extraordinary dream he has just had and then cries out in astonishment that his dream actually happened. Frodo sleeps next to Sam, and Gandalf watches over the two of them. The wizard says that a great Shadow has departed, asks the hobbits to dress in their worn and ragged attire, and escorts them out of the wood. They are to attend a reception hosted by the King of Gondor.
A great throng of people awaits the hobbits. At their emergence, the crowd bursts into thunderous applause, singing songs in praise of the hobbits. Frodo and Sam approach a great throne, where Aragorn welcomes them. He lifts them and sets them on the throne, and the joy of the people flows over them like a warm wind. In a regal ceremony, Frodo bequeaths his knife Sting to Sam, who initially resists but finally accepts the gift. That evening, Frodo and Sam attend a generous feast. They reunite with their old companions. Sam is greatly surprised by Pippin, who seems to have grown several inches. The next morning, King Aragorn prepares to enter the great city of Gondor as its rightful ruler.
This chapter, which marks the public acknowledgment of the end of Sauron’s reign, features a number of prominent images of vanishing shadows. The great Darkness, extended outward like a giant hand over the land, suddenly vanishes. This sign of Sauron’s fall is marked by the image of the hand, which is associated with Sauron’s finger that wore the Ring and also suggests the reaching, grasping, greedy nature of the Dark Lord—the only aspect of him that we see, as he is never an actual character in the novel. But with the routing of Sauron, this hand dissipates like a shadow in the light, or like smoke in the air. The symbolism of this quick fading is clear. Sauron’s power was never substantial or real, but was always just an airy illusion, a castle in the air that was fated to dissolve. When Gandalf stands outside the Black Gate, Tolkien explicitly tells us that no shadow falls upon the wizard—as a figure of supreme good, he is able to resist the pall of Sauron’s evil.
The festivities at the court of Gondor mark an important step in the hobbits’ development. Throughout the entire journey, they have not once been treated with anything remotely close to this level of respect and admiration. Earlier, their presence was met either with wary suspicion (as when the hobbits arrived at Éomer’s court and Faramir’s stronghold in The Two Towers) or with outright hostility (as at the inn at Bree in The Fellowship of the Ring). Though the hobbits have, since their first step out of the Shire, been pursuing a goal of value to all civilization, their significance has not been rightfully rewarded or even appreciated in any place they have visited. But here, at the reception in Gondor, the reunited hobbits are treated to rapturous praise and applause, with no shadow of suspicion or darkness falling over the ceremony. The Hobbit outsiders, whom others have often viewed as children not to be taken seriously, have now, in a sense, grown up. They finally receive due recognition, having shown the world their worth.
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