The Return of the King

by: J. R. R. Tolkien

Book V, Chapter 1

Summary Book V, Chapter 1

After the interview, Gandalf explains to Pippin that Denethor possesses the ability to read men’s minds. Gandalf praises Pippin for kindly offering service to Denethor in spite of the Steward’s rudeness, but he warns the hobbit to be wary around Denethor. Gandalf expresses his longing for Faramir, Denethor’s other son and Boromir’s brother, to return to Gondor.

Pippin meets a soldier, Beregond, who is instructed to give the hobbit the passwords of the city. Looking over the city walls, Pippin perceives—either because of a cloud wall or a distant mountain—a deep shadow resting in the East, beyond the Anduin River toward Mordor. Beregond expresses little hope that Gondor will survive the ensuing conflict. The two hear the far-off cries of a flying Nazgûl, riding a terrible steed with enormous wings that darken the sun.

Pippin descends to the outermost ring of Minas Tirith, where Beregond’s young son, Bergil, shows the hobbit to the gate. The captains of the Outlands arrive with reinforcements, the proudest of whom is Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth. The reinforcements prove smaller than expected, as the Outlands are under attack from the south by a large army of Men of Umbar, allies of Mordor.

That night, a black cloud settles over Minas Tirith and enshrouds it in a terrible gloom. Gandalf ominously explains to Pippin that for some time there will be no dawn, for the Darkness has begun.

Analysis

The opening chapter of Book V begins where Book III left off in The Two Towers, immediately accelerating and making more urgent what previously appeared to be a far-off conflict with Sauron. As Gandalf and Pippin race eastward to the border of Mordor, the quest shifts from a meandering journey of self-discovery through the various realms of Middle-earth to a head-on confrontation with the Enemy just outside the gates of Mordor.

The idea of darkness and obscurity is important in this chapter, as Gandalf and Pippin ride to Gondor in darkness. Darkness appears as an important element throughout much of the rest of the volume. On one hand, the darkness is metaphorical, suggesting the protagonists’ growing sense of uncertainty and dread. Pippin only perceives a gloom of darkness in the East, unsure whether it is a cloud wall or a mountain shadow—a confusion that suggests a broader fear and uncertainty regarding the imminent conflict with Sauron. On the other hand, the darkness indicates the increasing proximity of an actual, physical evil force. The wings of the Nazgûl’s steed darken the sun, creating terrifying and ominous shadows on the earth below. Gandalf claims that evil has the next move in a grand, metaphysical game of chess. We see that evil acts as a physical substance, spreading out over Gondor, and enveloping Minas Tirith in darkness at the end of Chapter 1. In this regard, the natural world itself is affected by the conflict between Gondor and Mordor, as the apocalyptic Darkness spreads over the landscape. Gandalf’s ominous words at the close of the chapter—“The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn”—create a sense of dread that propels the narrative.