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The Return of the King

J. R. R. Tolkien

Book V, Chapter 4

Book V, Chapter 3

Book V, Chapter 4 (continued)

From the beginning of the chapter to Gandalf’s words about Gollum

Summary — The Siege of Gondor

Back in Minas Tirith, Pippin receives his new uniform and gear as a member of the Tower Guard. He spends a long day serving Lord Denethor, Gandalf, and the Captains of the West. Pippin chats with Beregond at the outer wall of the Citadel amid heavy darkness and a stagnant air. Suddenly, they hear the terrifying shriek of a Black Rider. Beyond the outermost gate, they can see five dark Nazgûl swooping over a small, rapidly approaching group of Men on horseback. The leader of the horsemen sounds his horn; Beregond recognizes the trumpet call of Faramir, Denethor’s son.

The men, thrown from their terrified horses, run for the city gate on foot. Just as a Nazgûl descends on Faramir, Pippin sees what appears to be a brilliant white star in the north—it is Gandalf on his horse, Shadowfax. Gandalf raises his hand and sends a shaft of light shooting upward into one of the Nazgûl. The Nazgûl cries and circles away, the other Ringwraiths following. Gandalf returns to the city with Faramir slumped in the saddle.

Faramir is escorted into Denethor’s chambers, where he is shocked to see Pippin (Faramir has already had a strange encounter with two other hobbits—Frodo and Sam—in The Two Towers). Gandalf erupts when he learns from Faramir that Frodo and Sam are heading to Mordor by way of Cirith Ungol. Faramir notes that he bid farewell to the hobbits only two days ago; they could not have reached Cirith Ungol yet. The men surmise that Sauron’s new movement on Gondor is not related to Frodo’s approach to Mordor.

Denethor upbraids Faramir for showing cowardice in defending the outposts. The Steward bitterly remarks that Boromir, his other son, would have brought him a “mighty gift”—meaning the Ring. Gandalf points out that Boromir would have kept the “gift” for himself. The two men argue, and Pippin again senses the strain between them. Denethor opposes sending the Ring with a Hobbit into the hands of Sauron, believing that he himself should have been given the Ring for safekeeping. The gathering disperses. Pippin asks Gandalf why, as Faramir has indicated, Frodo and Sam are traveling with Gollum. Gandalf fears Gollum’s treachery, but notes that perhaps some good may yet come of Gollum’s actions.

Analysis

Now that Pippin is a member of the Tower Guard, we realize how much his status has changed throughout the novel. When we first meet him, he is content to smoke and lounge about; as recently as The Two Towers, he has seemed more interested in leisure than in warfare, as when Aragorn’s group comes upon Merry and Pippin smoking their pipes at Isengard. The Pippin of this volume of the novel, however, is a warrior, or at least an aspiring one. His passage from the simple pleasures of food and conversation to the grave obligations of fighting mirrors the rite of passage that all the hobbits of the Fellowship are undergoing on the quest. Nonetheless, at this point Pippin is still not much of a fighter. His close association with the slender young warrior Beregond reminds us that Pippin is no seasoned soldier. Moreover, we see that his role in this chapter is basically observational rather than active. He sees the white star heralding Gandalf’s arrival on the back of Shadowfax, carrying Faramir with him—but Pippin only witnesses this heroism; he does not play any part in it. Nevertheless, his presence on the scene is a kind of achievement for him.

Denethor’s misappraisal of his two sons, Boromir and Faramir— his wrongful condemnation of Faramir and praise of the treacherous Boromir—recalls an earlier scene from The Two Towers. Previously, Faramir captured Frodo and Sam on suspicion that the hobbits had something to do with the death of Boromir, who perished under mysterious circumstances. Faramir hinted that the hobbits had betrayed Boromir, ironically unaware that it was actually Boromir who was the betrayer. While Frodo remained silent on that earlier occasion, unwilling to destroy Faramir’s faith in his deceased brother, Sam eventually spoke up to tell the truth, which Faramir ultimately accepted gratefully. Here, the situation is similar, as Denethor is unable even to imagine that Boromir would have kept the Ring for himself rather than presenting it as a gift to his father and lord. On this occasion, it is Gandalf who reprises Sam’s earlier role of truth-teller, revealing Boromir’s betrayal to a shocked family member. This parallel between the two scenes is one of many in The Lord of the Rings, serving as a unifying force that reminds us that The Lord of the Rings is one novel with three volumes, rather than three separate novels.

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