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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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Return of the King!