Mark Reads ‘The Return of the King’: Book 2, Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of the second book of The Return of the King, Gandalf and company learn of the events on Mount Doom. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.


I can’t believe this is happening. I just can’t.

This chapter is a visual dream as far as I am concerned. So many things happen in such a short span of time, and Tolkien wisely uses this space to show us the fall of Mordor. AND IT IS A BILLION TIMES MORE SPECTACULAR THAN I COULD HAVE EVER HOPED. Even better, there’s this moment of uncertainty before it all crumbles away. The various characters fighting the hosts of Mordor are preparing for the onslaught, and no one knows if this is going to be the trap that Gandalf spoke of.

But then Gandalf announces that the Eagles are coming, which means that Pippin wasn’t imagining it. This also means that Pippin got buried just seconds before the call from the Dark Tower rings out, and the Power that bound them to Sauron flashes out. That is probably the one image that is the most powerful to me. I haven’t spoken much about it, and now it’s impossible to ignore: Sauron’s power was used to create slaves. Even if the various creatures and tribes and cultures had something they wanted out of this war, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the fact that the Power of Sauron was something that gave these people drive, motivation, and an endless sense of hatred. I actually like that this idea of hatred driving people to war is something that isn’t magical; it’s easy to find representations of this in a lot of major world conflicts, particularly World War II.

Oh, then there’s this:

Then rising swiftly up, far above the Towers of the Black Gate, high above the mountains, a vast soaring darkness sprang into the sky, flickering with fire. The earth groaned and quaked. The Towers of the Teeth swayed, tottered, and fell down; the mighty rampart crumbled; the Black Gate was hurled in ruin; and from far away, now dim, now growing, now mounting to the clouds, there came a drumming rumble, a roar, a long echoing roll of ruinous noise

The end of Sauron’s reign is physical, and I will forever fucking love this. We must not forget that Sauron’s Power was used for any number of things, and I adore the idea that the very construction of Mordor itself falls apart when Frodo fulfills his Quest. Oh god, Frodo fulfilled his Quest and Gollum is dead and I cannot fucking handle this book at all. Anyway, some of Tolkien’s best writing is in this chapter. I will not apologize for loving his ant hill metaphor, and this is 100% science. But it’s so good because it demonstrates how Sauron gave these other characters a purpose. Yes, that purpose was destructive and hateful, and I only really feel sorry that they ever got involved in the first place. But in an instant, without that Power binding them, they scatter in fear and confusion.

That does make me wonder, though. Orcs naturally hate and bicker and argue, so will they continue doing this? What about the creatures Sauron specifically bred? Will they start being friendly? Will this turn into Orcs: Friendship is Magic? Whom did I just give the idea for a fic? WRITE IT NOW I GIVE YOU MY BLESSING.

And those that were deepest and longest in evil servitude, hating the West, and yet were men proud and bold, in their turn now gathered themselves for a last stand of desperate battle.

Well, that’s unfortunate. Spoiler alert: y’all gonna get your asses handed to you by the Captains of the West. Just sayin’! I mean, GIANT EAGLE FOLK JUST SHOWED UP. How long until the Ents arrive to utterly destroy everyone? For now, though, I was just so happy that Gwaihir was giving Gandalf another ride. But to where? What was so important?

As soon as Tolkien switched over to Frodo and Sam, I knew that this chapter was only going to get more amazing. He was going to get them. Still, I worried that the two hobbits might not make it. Frodo was clearly very weak, losing what little life he had left. Frodo’s words to Sam are indeed among some of the bleakest and saddest in the whole book: accepting his own end, Frodo muses that this is just how life is. Everything must come to an end, and there’s something poetic about bringing Sauron to an end while losing your own life. And then Sam just fucking destroys me, and I admit I teared up reading this:

‘What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?’ he said. ‘I wish I could hear it told! Do you think they’ll say: Now comes the story of Nine-fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom? And then everyone will hush, like we did, when in Rivendell they told us the tale of Beren One-hand and the Great Jewel. I wish I could hear it! And I wonder how it will go on after our part.’

I feared that Tolkien was about to do something horrific: have Frodo and Sam die just before the Eagles arrived. Fortunately, Tolkien is not quite this cruel, so I was genuinely surprised when Sam wakes up. And he’s alive. And in ITHILIEN. WHAT. THEY FLEW THEM BACK TO ITHILIEN THIS IS AMAZING. I’d also totally forgotten the fact that the last time Sam and Frodo saw Gandalf, he’d died in front of them. WHOOPS. I’m pretty sure I completely unraveled when Sam realized that the very sound of Gandalf’s laughter was the greatest thing he’d ever heard. The truth is that there really had not been a single moment of joy on Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mount Doom, and that the very presence of this sassy and wonderful wizard is the most gorgeous, life-affirming sign imaginable. To me, that’s just goddamn beautiful. I love the message that Tolkien imparts here: we take these spurts of joy for granted, and you really don’t know how much they mean until your joy has been taken away.

Oh god, SO MUCH TIME HAS PASSED. In fact, this has happened:

‘The King of Gondor and Lord of the Western Lands,’ said Gandalf; ‘and he has taken back all his ancient realm. He will ride soon to his crowning, but he waits for you.’

AHHHH HOLY SHIT, ARAGORN IS THE KING. Oh god, it’s the title of the book I just love this so fucking much. I mean, I wasn’t surprised by this revelation, as I’d assumed this was about Aragorn back when we found out who he really was. It’s just fascinating to me that this third “book” is named after someone who isn’t the main protagonist. Though, is Frodo even the main character anymore? When I started this book, I never expected Tolkien to deviate from Frodo’s point of view, but there are more chapters from the perspective of other characters than Frodo’s. THIS IS SO FASCINATING TO ME. The characters feel like they are on more equal ground than I ever anticipated. (George R. R. Martin, I see you. And I understand you.)

Ugh, I have goosebumps right now. I’m re-reading Frodo’s and Sam’s entrance into the opening in the wood, and it just fills me with competing sensations of joy, sadness, and pride. These two hobbits did the impossible in every sense of the word. It should have been impossible for them to unseat Sauron, but they did it, and they are alive. How are they alive??? I thought at least one of them would be dead for sure. I AM NOT COMPLAINING. I VERY MUCH PREFER THEM ALIVE. I prefer them walking into a song sung in their honor. I prefer them walking up to Aragorn, seated on his throne, realizing what they’ve helped accomplish. I prefer Aragorn, King of Gondor, kneeling before the two hobbits and then taking them to be seat on the throne. It’s not often that I tear up out of sheer joy, but this book has been so harrowing and upsetting for so long that it’s a relief to experience this scene.

The truth is that these two characters, more than anyone else, deserve all the praise and celebration that they get. It’s just so impressive to me how selfless they were, and I think Gandalf recognizes this, too. And then they’re reunited with PIPPIN AND MERRY. PIPPIN IS FUCKING ALIVE. Wait, how the hell did this happen? WHO FUCKING CARES BECAUSE I DO NOT AT ALL. Oh my god, Merry and Pippin survived. I am so emotional right now and I refuse to hold it back. Oh my god, this is the best development on top of everything else. I LOVE IT. But there’s EVEN MORE.

But amidst all these wonders he returned always to his astonishment at the size of Merry and Pippin; and he made them stand back to back with Frodo himself. He scratched his head. ‘Can’t understand it at your age!’ he said. ‘But there it is: you’re three inches taller than you ought to be, or I’m a dwarf.’

‘That you are certainly not,’ said Gimli. ‘But what did I say? Mortals cannot go drinking ent-draughts and expect no more to come of them than a pot of beer!’

AHHHHHHHHI AM SMILING SO HARD AT THIS. Where is Treebeard, by the way? Did he just go back to the forest? I MUST KNOW.

For the first time in many chapters, no one walks around. They sing, they rest (so much napping!!!), and all are happy that this chapter of their lives is over. I’m interested to see where else Tolkien takes this story. Clearly, this chapter ends by leading into the crowning of Aragorn as the King of Gondor, but are we going to get to see these characters return home? WILL WE SEE THE SHIRE AGAIN? Oh god, I am so excited, y’all. THINGS ARE NICE FOR ONCE.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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2 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Return of the King’: Book 2, Chapter 4

  1. DarthPinkHippo says:

    This has always been one of my favorite chapters of LotR. I am so glad you got to this point and we all just get to be happy for the first time in ages! It’s like Tolkein is saying, “Y’all can have ALL THE HAPPIES NOW GO FREAKING REJOICE!!” and we totally take him up on the offer and just have a Hobbit love joyfest and bow to them and such. Yeah I’m happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Boyce Steil says:

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