Summary and Analysis: <i>The Return of the King</i>
Book 6, Chapters 1–5 - Cirith Ungol to the Return of the King
Sam awakens outside the underground gates of the Tower of Cirith Ungol, makes his way back out of the tunnel, and puts the Ring on again. The lure of power tempts him, but his love for Frodo and his own common sense outweigh the visions of the Ring. He realizes that if he wears the Ring inside Mordor, Sauron will immediately sense it and try to take it back. At the entrance to the fortress, he defeats a magical barrier with the phial of Galadriel. Although a warning sounds, he soon discovers that the orcs have killed each other. He finds Frodo stripped and beaten in the topmost chamber of the tower. Frodo fears that the orcs have taken the Ring and the quest has failed. When Sam reveals he took it for safety, for a moment Frodo sees him as an orc. Frodo warns his friend not to come between him and his burden again. They disguise themselves in orc clothing and leave the tower just before a Nazgûl arrives.
Traveling through the rough and waterless country of Mordor is very difficult for Frodo, and he quickly abandons his heavy orcish mailshirt. He is so tired that he cannot even remember the Shire. As the hobbits struggle along, they hear the death cry of the Witchking, but it does little to raise their spirits. They learn from the overhead conversation of two orcs that Gollum still follows them. A troop of orcs catches them on the road, but they are mistaken for orcs themselves and forced to join the march until they can escape. Sam realizes that they will not have either the strength or the food to leave Mordor after destroying the Ring, but the realization only makes him more determined to see the quest to its end. Frodo grows steadily weaker, worn down by the physical and psychic burden of the Ring. Sam offers to take it once again, but Frodo nearly draws his sword on him. Instead, they cast off as much as they can spare, saving little more than food and their elven gifts. When they reach the mountain, Sam carries his master, unsure of where they are headed but knowing they must continue. They finally crawl onto Sauron's road from his fortress to the Cracks of Doom. For a moment the clouds break and they have a glimpse of the Eye of Sauron.
Frodo collapses, convinced they have been seen, but Sam again picks him up to continue. Before Sam can move, Gollum attacks in an attempt to take the Ring from Frodo but throws Gollum off. Sam offers to kill Gollum, but after Frodo leaves, Sam pities the debased creature too much to kill him and orders him away instead. Sam follows his master, unaware that Gollum continues to follow, maddened by his lust for the Ring. Sam enters a chamber in the mountain where he sees Frodo, but rather than cast the Ring into the fire, as he always intended, Frodo claims it for his own. Sam is knocked down by Gollum, who attacks the invisible Frodo, while Sauron realizes what is happening and sends the Nazgûl to the mountain. Sam sees Gollum bite an invisible hand, and Frodo reappears clutching at his missing finger. Gollum dances a mad celebration, but he stumbles and falls into the fire. The Ring is consumed. The mountain erupts. The Nazgûl vanish in flames. Sauron's fortress collapses. Sam and Frodo huddle on the mountainside, waiting for the lava to sweep them away. Frodo is himself again
At the battle before the Black Gate, Gandalf announces the coming of the eagles. Even as they join the fight, the entire army of Mordor hesitates, and the Nazgûl flee. The gate collapses, and Gandalf announces that Frodo has completed the quest. The Mordor army flees, and Gandalf leaves the battle with the eagles to rescue Sam and Frodo from Mount Doom.
Sam wakes in a soft bed next to Frodo, whose right hand is missing a finger. Gandalf leads them to the king, where an army greets them with cheers and praise. Aragorn himself gets up from his throne and bows to them, seating them in his place. There is a great celebration feast, where they see Legolas and Gimli, and Merry and Pippin serve as squires at the head table. The four hobbits learn of each other's adventures, including how Gimli pulled Pippin from under a dead troll, and they rest and recover in Ithilien before returning to Minas Tirith.
Meanwhile, although restless, Éowyn allows Faramir to keep her in the Houses of Healing, walking in the gardens, watching the east, and wondering what will happen. One day, the wind is cold and a dark shadow seems to rise up from Mordor and reach toward them. For a moment they are terribly afraid, then the wind blows away the shadow. In that moment of joy, Faramir kisses Éowyn, and soon an eagle delivers the news of victory. A few days later, she accepts the steward's love and agrees to marry him. When Aragorn returns to the city, Faramir brings him his crown, and Frodo places it on his head. Some time later, Gandalf tells Aragorn that the power of the Rings has ended and the elves and wizards will depart Middle-earth. Aragorn finds a seedling of the White Tree of Gondor, a sign that his reign is blessed and his line will continue. At Midsummer, the sign is fulfilled when Galadriel and Elrond escort Arwen Evenstar to the city to be his bride.
With the help of his steadfast companion Sam and the distraction provided by his friends outside Mordor, Frodo makes it to the Cracks of Doom. Why then, when he arrives at the end of his long road, does he fail? Even in Rivendell, the Ring had hold of Frodo's mind. His perception of Bilbo as a greedy and grasping creature becomes magnified tenfold at Cirith Ungol when Frodo sees Sam as an orc. Later, when Sam offers to take the Ring again, Frodo nearly draws his sword even though he knows why Sam makes the suggestion. Already at Minas Morgul, his will had been sapped by the arduous journey, and only Sam's dogged encouragement has kept him moving across the last miles. Finally, only the desire to save the Ring from Gollum gives Frodo the energy to reach the fire. When he arrives, he has no will left to destroy the thing, and so he claims it as his own.
Early in the first book, Gandalf said to Frodo, "My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many — yours not the least." Frodo did not believe him at the time, yet when he met Gollum in the barren waste of the Emyn Muil, Frodo too was moved by pity to spare him. And here, on the slopes of Mount Doom, pity intervenes yet a third time, convincing Sam to spare Gollum's wretched life one more time. Of all the lucky chances in the trilogy, from the time the first Black Rider came to Hobbiton and was mistakenly told that Frodo had already left, to the arrival of the Armies of the West just in time to draw Sauron's armies away from Mount Doom, Gollum's fall into the fire must be counted the most fortunate. From the smallest actions, the greatest events follow.
After the destruction of the Ring, many readers expect the narrative to end quickly. With the quest complete, not much remains to be said, right? For Tolkien, however, the destruction of the Ring is not really the point of it all — what matters victory if we do nothing with it? Celebration and feasting must mark the occasion, but more importantly the restored king must take his throne and ensure a peaceful and prosperous future, now that Sauron's evil has been defeated. Locating the sapling of the White Tree, as well as Aragorn's marriage to Arwen, symbolizes the hope for the future and a new beginning.
cloud-wrack remnants of clouds.
esquire a candidate for knighthood or knight in training.
eyries a cliff-top nest.
smote attacked, especially to kill or severely injure.