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.