Mark Reads ‘The Return of the King’: Book 2, Chapter 7

In the seventh chapter of the second book of The Return of the King, the hobbits make their way back to the Shire. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.

CHAPTER SEVEN: HOMEWARD BOUND

Okay, first of all, let me get this out of the way: it disturbs me that I am so distracted by the title of this chapter because I feel like there’s no real reason to imagine this all as Homeward Bound. The film. Like, I have literally not thought of that movie in a decade. I barely even remember it, despite that I saw it like fifteen times in a year when I was eleven. That was seventeen years ago, so I don’t feel that bad about being unable to remember much of anything. But why is my brain so obsessed with thinking about a Homeward Bound / Lord of the Rings crossover? Absolutely ZERO PERCENT OF THIS makes any sense, and none of it would be good, and I don’t even know how I could make it a good crack fic. I mean, I guess they are kind of related? WHY THE FUCK AM I SPENDING MORE THAN TEN SECONDS THINKING ABOUT THIS?

Okay, I’m moving on. Can we just talk about how much this part in the beginning fucks me up?

‘There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?’

Gandalf did not answer.

Look, my life is not The Lord of the Rings, and that’s mostly because there is no way I would survive longer than five minutes in any historical time period aside from the present and through the future. Sorry, I wouldn’t! I’ve just accepted that. (This reminds me of people I’ve seen online wishing that Westeros was real, and my instant response is NO WHAT THE FUCK WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT WE WOULD ALL BE DEAD FROM THIS MOMENT ON AND NO THAT IS AN AWFUL TERRIBLE AWFUL AGAIN IDEA.) However, I can’t help but find a very specific subtext to this passage that I can relate to, and I’m sure some of you can, too. For me, I can’t go back to Riverside, the city I spent the most time growing up in, without feeling wrong. I know that I can never truly go back there and feel like I’m a part of anything, and Frodo’s right about why. I’ve changed. I’ve changed so much from the person I once was in high school that the memories and experiences I had distract me from ever genuinely belonging to anything. And it’s not just that I fell out of contact with people I once knew and were friends with. I’m still familiar with the city and the house I grew up with. It’s just that my memories have irrevocably changed my perception of everything. It makes me feel like I’m almost a fraud who steps into the role of my own life.

For Frodo, it’s framed in this idea that he can’t rest, and I totally get that this isn’t referring to a physical sleep. Bilbo had the same problem! After going on such an intense journey, how can he feel content living in the same house and never seeing more of the world? I’m currently writing this on a plane back to San Francisco after my first tour has ended, and I feel a strange attachment to this passage. I already feel restless being back in a place that is static and that has a routine.

The moment doesn’t last long, but I’m guessing that before this book is over, we’ll learn that Frodo never quite felt right after this adventure. How could you? How could you forget or move on from such a journey? The very thought of this is making me nervous about getting to the Shire. How are these four hobbits ever going to integrate back into any normal sort of life?On top of that, if Bree is any indication, things are not all that great this far west in Middle-earth. Bree itself is a sign of how the world has gone sour: reluctant Gate-keepers, abandoned buildings, missing persons, general disarray, and a whole lot of suspicion and fear. This town is so far away from everything else that there’s no way they’d know that the Dark Lord has been unseated. Again, information travels in very specific (and very slow) ways in Middle-earth, and I appreciate Tolkien’s consistency here.

It’s nice to see BUTTERBUR again because it’s definitely something I didn’t think would ever happen again. There are a lot of subtle things to be learned from the group’s conversation with him, including quite a few references to the dire state of the Shire. WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED THERE. We learn just how much events of the last year have affected Bree’s business, as it turns out the town has become rather isolationist in order to protect itself. How much is this going to change in the coming years? I think it certainly helps that Aragorn (or Strider, to BUTTERBUR) is the new king, and I admit to laughing when BUTTERBUR finally realizes who it is they are talking about. BUTTERBUR demonstrates such an innate loss of faith in anyone aside from those he knows because of what’s happened to him and to Bree. The only way he could begin to put aside those feelings is with someone in charge who truly does care about what happens in Bree. Oh, Aragorn, I already miss you. WHY DO YOU FILL ME WITH SUCH FEELS?

I might also have experienced many feelings when BUTTERBUR reveals that BILL SURVIVED. Holy shit, what a pony. How did he survive that thing in the lake? By the sheer power of awesome, I imagine.

When the group departs two days later for the Shire, the final parting in this book arrives, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t make me feel extremely sad. Gandalf announces that he’ll not be going with them to the Shire, that he has business with Bombadil to tend to. More important than this, though, is Gandalf’s admission that his time has passed. As we’d learned before, this was the end of a great age, and now all these Elders are ready to pass out of existence. That’s kind of an upsetting thought, but Gandalf accepts it with such ease. I suppose it helps that he says this is not the final goodbye, but it’s still the very end of this book. Gandalf is gone, and I may never see him again.

‘Well here we are, just the four of us that started out together,’ said Merry. ‘We have left all the rest behind, one after another. It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.’

‘Not to me,’ said Frodo. ‘To me it feels more like falling asleep again.’

Could this not end? Thanks.

About Mark Reads

Vegan cyclist, Internet community nerd, atheist bookworm, high-five purveyor.
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