Return of the King reading notes, Book V

All right! We’re getting to the end of the Lord of the Rings read-through. Once again, I do have someone reading who doesn’t want to be spoiled, so this is going behind a jump. Also, it’s really long.

Brief recap: Fellowship of the Ring reading notes, Two Towers, Book III reading notes, Two Towers, Book IV reading notes.

“For partly in the primeval shaping of the hill, partly by the mighty craft and labour of old, there stood up from the rear of the wide court behind the Gate a towering bastion of stone, its edge sharp as a ship-keel facing east. Up it rose, even to the level of the topmost circle, and there was crowned by a battlement; so that those in the Citadel might, like mariners in a mountainous ship, look from its peak sheer down upon the Gate seven hundred feet below.” p. 24-25

I’m struck by the ship/mariner theme here, which evokes the seafaring history of Númenor. It’s one of those things which, if you aren’t super versed in Middle-earth lore, it’s possible to read right past. But if you do know a fair bit about it, it opens up a new level to Gondor and its history.

“But that shoulder, which rose to the height of the fifth wall, was hedged with great ramparts right up to the precipice that overhung its western end; and in that space stood the houses and domed tombs of bygone kings and lords, forever silent between the mountain and the tower.” p. 25

One of the things I love about Tolkien is his ability to evoke, in a few short phrases, all of the dying glory of the Third Age. He did it before with the Elves, and here he does the same thing with Gondor, drawing on all of the history he had created for the Men of Númenor and their desire to escape death.

“He [Denethor] is not as other men of this time, Pippin, and whatever be his descent from father to son, by some chance the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true in him; as it does in his other son, Farmir, and yet did not in Boromir whom he loved best.” p. 33

I think there may be a point later when this is drawn out a bit more, but once again I would like to point out that part of the tragedy of Denethor and Faramir is precisely that they are so similar, not, as Peter Jackson would have it, that Denethor and Boromir are. It’s precisely because Boromir was what Denethor feels he can never be that Denethor loved him so deeply.

“Merry got up and yawned…He missed Pippin, and felt that he was only a burden, while everybody was making plans for speed in a business that he did not fully understand.” p. 52

I love this–it rings so true, somehow. And I think it ties into one of the reasons that Tolkien is so great. Not all of his characters are Long Lost Heirs with Secret Powers, or Great Wizards. Sure, there’re Aragorn and Gandalf, Galadriel and Theoden. But there are also Merry and Pippin, and Beregond.

“There was no answer, unless it were an utter silence more dreadful than the whispers before; and then a chill blast came in which the torches flickered and went out, and could not be rekindled. Of the time that followed, one hour or many, Gimli remembered little. The others pressed on, but he was ever hindmost, pursued by a groping horror that seemed always just about to seize him; and a rumour came after him like the shadow-sound of many feet. He stumbled on until he was crawling like a beast on the ground and felt that he could endure no more: he must either find an ending and escape or run back in madness to meet the following fear.” p. 66

Okay, that passage is insanely scary. Tolkien was actually pretty awesome at writing horror. Think of this, or Shelob, or even the Black Riders.

“[Merry] sat for a moment half dreaming, listening to the noise of water, the whisper of dark trees, the crack of stone, and the vast waiting silence that brooded behind all sound. He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by the fire.” p. 70

This is yet another one of those places where Tolkien’s style is just so exactly right. And how well he captures the way I suspect almost all of us would feel in Merry’s position–like our dreams of adventure had come back to haunt us.

“From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning/with thane and captain rode Thengel’s son:/to Edoras he came, the ancient halls/of the Mark-wardens mist-enshrouded;/golden timbers were in gloom mantled.” p. 83

I know a lot of people who dislike, or say they dislike, Tolkien’s poetry. I am not one of them. Okay, I don’t usually read all of Bilbo’s poem about Earendil, but I love a lot of the shorter ones. I excerpted a bit of this, just because it’s so fitting–it evokes the Anglo-Saxon alliterative form. And after all, what is Rohan but a version of the Anglo-Saxon culture? It’s also interesting to note how the two sides of Tolkien’s life bleed into each other here. Most people can’t really write alliterative verse well. But Tolkien could, for hopefully obvious reasons.

“‘Yes,’ said Pippin. ‘Well, yes, well enough for my own people. But we have no songs fit for great halls and evil times, lord.'” p. 87

I’ve been pretty hard on Peter Jackson throughout these read-throughs. Look, I do love the movies, but the more I re-read the books, the more I notice what they got wrong. This, however, they got exactly right. I love the amplification they did for this scene, and the fact that now whenever I read that line, I hear Billy Boyd’s voice.

“Yet suddenly for Faramir his heart was strangely moved…Here was one with an air of high nobility such as Aragorn at times revealed: one of the Kings of Men born into a later time, but touched with the wisdom and sadness of the Elder Race.” p. 91

Not really a comment, just another reason that I love Faramir.

“And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming in with the dawn.” p. 113

I love this moment. Once again, it shows how well Tolkien juxtaposes ordinary life with this great epic adventure. Take note, writers of fantasy novels. Most of you fail to do this.

“The Ride of the Rohirrim”…what do you say about that? Beautifully written. I love this passage: “[Theoden’s] golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.” p. 124 It’s a beautiful image, first of all, but it also reminds me of the first quote from this post–“the colours of the waking earth returned”. Interesting that both moments are associated with Rohan.

“The Battle of Pelennor Fields” definitely makes me cry. Okay, the movie version actually makes me cry even more–the echoing of the line, “I know your face” was sheer heartbreaking genius. The first part of the chapter feels very bardic to me–slightly archaic sentence structure and vocabulary. I always forget what a huge relief it is when Aragorn finally shows himself.

“‘I would have things as they were in all the days of my life,’ answered Denethor, ‘and in the days of my long-fathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated.'” p. 143

It seems to me that this is really a key speech in understanding Denethor. The pride of his character really shows through, and the all-or-nothing approach.

“‘Then in the name of the king, go and find some old man of less lore and more wisdom who keeps some in his house!’ cried Gandalf.” p. 155

I had forgotten how funny the part with the herbmaster is! He’s so annoying and prosy and Aragorn and Gandalf are so testy. Heh.

“‘My friend,’ said Gandalf, ‘you had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonoured dotage; and her part seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff that he leaned on.” p. 157

This is another point where I think Tolkien really shows his sympathy for Eowyn, and his understanding of her frustrations and desires.

“for you she loves and knows; but in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields of Rohan.” p. 158

Okay, so here is exactly why I’m definitely an Aragorn/Arwen person rather than Aragorn/Eowyn. Because it’s true–Eowyn doesn’t really love Aragorn, she loves her vision of what he might be.

“‘Master Meriadoc,’ said Aragorgn, ‘if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken. If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herbmaster of this House. And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, bu that it is called westmansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues.” p. 160

I’m always sort of surprised when Aragorn is funny. But this part definitely made me laugh!

“It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could seed his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little.” p. 161

I just loved this passage, which I don’t remember having ever read before.

1 Comment

Filed under bookish posts, reading notes

One response to “Return of the King reading notes, Book V

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Best Series Endings | By Singing Light

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