After many days, when the festivities are over, the Company sets out for Rivendell. Aragorn tells Frodo that he knows the hobbit wishes for nothing more than to return home. Frodo answers that he wishes first to stop off at Rivendell to visit Bilbo one last time, as the older hobbit will likely die soon. On the way, they stop at Rohan and bid farewell to Éomer, honoring the memory of Théoden. After a brief stay in Rohan, they set off again.
Arriving in Isengard, they meet Treebeard, the Ent leader who orchestrated the march on Saruman in The Two Towers. The Ents had promised to guard Saruman’s old stronghold of Orthanc, ensuring that the corrupt wizard would never escape. Treebeard tells them of the flight of many Orcs and the doom the Orcs met in the forest. He relates that he reported news regularly to Saruman, who would come to the window of Orthanc to listen. But then the wizard withered away. Treebeard, to Gandalf’s dismay, has released Saruman, for he did not wish to keep such a miserable creature caged. Gandalf warns Treebeard that Saruman still has the power of his voice—a power he has used to his advantage in the past.
Proceeding onward, the group comes upon an old, ragged man leaning on a staff. They recognize him as Saruman. Another beggar in his company is Wormtongue, his former servant. The deposed Saruman is bitter but powerless. Galadriel and Gandalf offer Saruman mercy and reprieve. Their kindness irritates Saruman, who claims that with his demise, theirs will soon follow. After a few more days of slow and pleasant travel, Galadriel and Celeborn turn eastward and return home.
The remaining travelers reach Rivendell and the House of Elrond, and they find Bilbo. The old hobbit sits quietly in a small room, surrounded by bits of paper and pencils. The next day, all of Rivendell celebrates Bilbo’s 129th birthday. After a fortnight, Frodo realizes that he must return to the Shire. Bilbo chooses to remain in Rivendell, for he is far too old for any more travel. Bilbo gives Frodo three books of collected lore entitled Translations from the Elvish, asking Frodo to finish editing them. Before Frodo leaves, Elrond takes the hobbit quietly aside, assuring him that in time he himself will visit the Shire, and he will bring Bilbo with him.
The hobbits are nearing home. Gandalf asks if Frodo feels much pain. Frodo answers that he has been wounded by a knife and by the other torments of his long and heavy burden. Gandalf is silent. The next day, Frodo feels happy, and they travel onward in relative ease. They arrive at Bree and speak to Butterbur, the innkeeper who aided them early in the quest. Butterbur, after welcoming them and making them comfortable by the warm fire, tells Gandalf and the hobbits that their strange warrior gear has scared many locals. Gandalf laughs at this. Gandalf assures Butterbur that now that Sauron has been vanquished, business at the inn will once again pick up, as people will feel more free to travel. Butterbur asks about the dangerous region known as Deadmen’s Dike, which he imagines no one will be visiting. Gandalf asserts that the rightful king will return to that area, and it will become safe and prosperous again. He adds that the king is none other than Aragorn, once known in the inn as Strider. Butterbur is astonished at this news.
The next day, business in the inn is brisk, as many visitors, unable to restrain their curiosity, come to gawk at Gandalf’s party. Many people ask Frodo whether he has written his memoirs yet. Finally, the Company sets off. Gandalf tells the hobbits that he will not accompany them to the Shire. His horse, Shadowfax, makes a leap, and Gandalf is gone. Frodo remarks that it feels as though he is falling asleep again, his adventures now over.
One complaint that readers of The Lord of the Rings sometimes make is that the denouement—the portion of the narrative following the climax—seems excessively long. Indeed, five full chapters follow Frodo and Sam’s successful completion of the quest at the Cracks of Doom. This lengthy coda, however, highlights the important fact that The Return of the King cannot be considered an individual work, separate from the other two volumes of The Lord of the Rings; together, they form a single novel and narrative. Given the extraordinary length of the novel as a whole and the height of its climax, an exceptionally long coda is not out of line with the rest of Tolkien’s work.
Furthermore, Tolkien does not use the remaining chapters only to tie up loose ends, but also to show the fulfillment of the images and themes he has introduced throughout The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion as a whole. The gradual return of the Company to the Shire frames the narrative, revisiting many characters and locales we have seen before. The Fellowship almost literally retraces its steps from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in reverse order, giving us a chance to glimpse how these people and places have changed now that the burden of Sauron’s evil has been lifted from Middle-earth. The town of Bree, for instance, is a far cry from the dark, suspicious, somewhat rough border town it once was. Whereas Frodo was earlier an object of great suspicion, especially after his accidental wearing of the Ring in the tavern in Book I, now he is the object only of great admiration and wonder, with throngs of people asking if he has written his memoirs yet.
Tolkien’s inclusion of the idea of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s respective memoirs adds an interesting twist to the narrative structure of the novel. Tolkien implies, though he does not overtly say, that these memoirs form his source material for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As such, the author suggests that the mythology he has recorded is not his own modern creation, but a much older set of lore he has merely retold. This sense that the story of The Lord of the Rings existed before Tolkien’s retelling connects the novel to the ancient mythological tradition, seemingly linking it to a narrative and a world that precede our own time.