The Return of the King

From Tolkien Gateway
The name The Return of the King refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see The Return of the King (disambiguation).
The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings 1955-v3.png
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Released20 October 1955 (UK)
5 January 1956 (US)
FormatHardcover; paperback; deluxe-edition; audio-book
Preceded byThe Two Towers (1954)

The Return of the King is the third of three volumes in The Lord of the Rings. It is preceded by The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. The Return of the King was originally released on 20 October 1955 in the United Kingdom. After the high demand of the previous volumes, this was released in significantly more copies (7000 in UK and 5000 in US).[1]

The volume is divided into two books, Book V and VI. The Appendices are included in the end.

Title and structure[edit | edit source]

Tolkien conceived of The Lord of the Rings as a single work comprising six sections he called "books" and extensive appendices. The original publisher made the decision to split the work into three parts, publishing the fifth and sixth books and the appendices in the final volume. For the two final "books" Tolkien suggested the titles The War of the Ring and The End of the Third Age, which however weren't use in publication; but in the case of the third volume, he suggested The War of the Ring or The Return of the King.[2]

The chosen title refers to Aragorn's assumption of the throne. Tolkien criticised it as giving away less of the story; but he was overruled by his publishers.


The structure of The Return of the King mirrors somewhat that of The Two Towers in that the first section recounts the various adventures of several characters including a massive battle, and the second section resumes the quest of the Ring-bearers.

Synopsis — Book V[edit | edit source]

Tolkien's preliminary design for the dust-jacket of The Return of the King.

The story begins as Pippin is in Rohan, reunited with the remnants of the Fellowship of the Ring. He steals Saruman's palantír and sees that Sauron will attack Minas Tirith. Then Gandalf delivers news to the steward of Gondor that war is imminent.

Gandalf brings Pippin with him, who enters the service of the steward. Aragorn by his courage and leadership proves himself a worthy ruler of men. He is destined to find a lost army of men now dead yet entrapped in a curse set forth long ago by their own disobedience, in the place known as the paths of the dead.

The remnants of the Fellowship lead the forces of Gondor and Rohan in defence of Gondor's capital city, Minas Tirith, resulting in the cataclysmic Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Those characters that manage to survive the battle are led by Aragorn on a assuredly suicidal feint-attack against the Black Gates of Mordor, partly to distract Sauron from defending his other borders so that Frodo and Sam can gain a clear passage into Mordor. Aragorn's company now surrounds the Black Gates of the Morannon exchanging idle words with the Mouth of Sauron.

Book V chapters[edit | edit source]

Helm's Deep and the Hornburg by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • I · Minas Tirith — Gandalf with Pippin arrive in Minas Tirith; they talk with Denethor; Pippin enters the service of the steward.
  • II · The Passing of the Grey Company — Follows Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli as they pass through the paths of the dead between Rohan and Gondor.
  • III · The Muster of Rohan — Rohan prepares for war; Merry heads off for Minas Tirith, on a horse with a rider who calls himself Dernhelm.
  • IV · The Siege of Gondor — Back to Gandalf and Pippin, and the preparations of the city of Minas Tirith for the attack by the armies of Mordor; Minas Tirith is besieged; chapter ends with the gate of Minas Tirith broken, and the army of Rohan finally arriving.
  • V · The Ride of the Rohirrim — The Rohirrim pass through the Druadan Forest with the aid of the wild men who live there, that are led by Ghan-buri-Ghan; the army arrives in Minas Tirith. (as seen from their point of view)
  • VI · The Battle of the Pelennor Fields — Armies of Rohan and Gondor fight the armies of Mordor, Rhun and Harad as described in Battle of the Pelennor Fields; Merry and Éowyn help to kill the chief of the Nazgul.
  • VII · The Pyre of Denethor — Denethor goes mad and tries to burn Faramir alive; he is saved by Gandalf; Denethor then sets fire to himself. They discover that Denethor has been using a palantir.
  • VIII · The Houses of Healing — Merry, Faramir, Éowyn and many others are injured and placed in the houses of healing; Aragorn uses kingsfoil to help treat the injured.
  • IX · The Last Debate — Gimli and Legolas meet Merry and Pippin again; the captains of the west hold a counsel on their next action; they decide to send 7000 men against Mordor to march on the Black Gate.
  • X · The Black Gate Opens — The army, with Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Pippin (but not Merry) marches to the black gate. The Mouth of Sauron comes out to discuss terms, and presents tokens which were owned by Frodo; he then departs and the army of Mordor attacks them.

Synopsis — Book VI[edit | edit source]

In the meanwhile, the brave and loyal Samwise Gamgee (who for a short time has himself become the ring-bearer) enables the long-suffering Frodo Baggins to navigate the barren wasteland of Mordor. For part of the way they are captured by a company of orcs and must pretend to be orcs before they are able to escape. The company, tired and half-alive, finally reach the Crack of Doom, where the One Ring is destroyed along with Gollum, freeing Middle-earth from Sauron's power forever. This happens when Frodo at the last moment decides to keep the ring rather than destroy it, and is attacked by Gollum who bites off Frodo's finger to take the ring, trips, and falls into the lava while still holding the ring. Frodo and Sam are rescued by the giant eagles who Gandalf rides to Mount Doom, from the black gates of Morannon. After Sauron is defeated, his armies at the black gates flee, and the men of Gondor and Rohan are victorious in the battle.

Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor at Minas Tirith. After a series of goodbyes, the Hobbits return home, only to find the Shire under the control of 'sharky' who they find out is Saruman, diminished in power but not in malevolence. Merry and Pippin, now experienced warriors of Rohan and Gondor respectively, take the lead in setting things right again, and lead an uprising of hobbits against Saruman, freeing the shire. Time passes. The Shire heals, but Frodo does not. Eventually Frodo departs for the Undying Lands to find healing, along with Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and the Elves. Sam, Merry and Pippin watch them depart and return home in silence. Sam is greeted by his wife Rose and his daughter Elanor. The last line of the book Sam says to Rose; "Well, I'm back".

Book VI chapters[edit | edit source]

  • I · The Tower of Cirith Ungol — Sam goes to find Frodo in the orc tower.
  • II · The Land of Shadow — Sam and Frodo make their way into Mordor; they are captured by an orc company.
  • III · Mount Doom — Frodo and Sam reach Mount Doom; the final battle for the ring between Gollum and Frodo.
  • IV · The Field of Cormallen — The story returns to the Gate of Mordor, continuing from Book Five, chapter X; the eagles arrive; Captains of the west victorious; Frodo and Sam rescued by Gandalf; all the company meets again in Ithilien.
  • V · The Steward and the King — chapter begins in Minas Tirith at the Houses of Healing after the armies departed for the black gate; Éowyn taken to see Faramir, Merry is also in Minas Tirith; later they see the arrival of the armies with Aragorn, Gandalf and the four hobbits; Gandalf crowns Aragorn King of Gondor; Aragorn makes Faramir prince of ithilien and keeps the office of steward; Gandalf takes Aragorn to Mount Mindolluin to survey the lands of his kingdom. On midsummers eve Elrond, Galadriel, Arwen and the elves arrive in the city from the north; wedding of Aragorn and Arwen.
  • VI · Many Partings — The company rides north to Rohan, then Isengard, where Gimli and Legolas head north through Fangorn, Aragorn returns to his kingdom, the rest of the company heads north where they meet Saruman and Wormtongue who were just released from Isengard; Galadriel and the Lothlórien elves leave over the pass of Caradhras; the hobbits and Gandalf then arrive in Rivendell.
  • VII · Homeward Bound — The hobbits and Gandalf travel to Bree where they stay at the Prancing Pony, and are told by Butterbur that there has been trouble in Bree while they have been away.
  • VIII · The Scouring of the Shire — The hobbits arrive in the Shire to find it taken over by 'the Chief' or 'Sharkey' at Bag End; Battle of Bywater; the hobbits find Saruman and Wormtongue at Bag End; Wormtongue kills Saruman, and is then killed himself by hobbit archers.
  • IX · The Grey Havens — cleaning up of the shire; several years pass; Sam and Frodo meet the elves and Bilbo travelling west through the Shire, they travel to the Grey Havens where they meet Gandalf, and Merry and Pippin arrive; Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf and the elves set sail to the west; Sam returns to Rose and their daughter Elanor at Bag End.


The Lord of the Rings
Foreword · Prologue · The Fellowship of the Ring · The Two Towers · The Return of the King · Appendices · Index
A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
Of Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth · The Fall of Númenor
Not of Arda Short stories
and poems
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · The Adventures of Tom Bombadil ·
Letters from Father Christmas · Mr. Bliss · Roverandom ·
Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Less known academic works A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse · The Old English Exodus
Letters The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Books by other authors
Biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Reference works The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide
Scholarly studies The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer · Tolkien's Library
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
Other works by Tolkien
Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
Collections of artwork
and manuscripts
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
The Art of The Hobbit · The Art of The Lord of the Rings · Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth ·
Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
This list is only a selection of works, for a fuller bibliography of Tolkien see here or here. See also a timeline.