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