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The Return of the King

The Return of the King


by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King Book 5, Chapter 1 Summary

Minas Tirith

  • Note: To keep all the places in this summary straight, you might want to keep a map of Middle-earth handy. This one's a sure bet. 
  • We're picking up where The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 11 left off. To see what has happened just before the events of this chapter, check out Shmoop's The Two Towers summary.
  • It has been three nights since Pippin and Gandalf have set off on their rapid ride, and they are in Gondor. 
  • Pippin sees red fires in the distance, which turn out to be the beacons of Gondor. They reach right up to the borders of Rohan, and they signal that war has come to Gondor. Now we're really in the big leagues.
  • Gandalf tells Pippin, "It is long since the beacons of the North were lit [...] and in the ancient days of Gondor they were not needed, for they had the Seven Stones" (5.1.9).
  • Pippin has good reason to recognize these Stones, given his adventures with the palantír in The Two Towers Book 3, Chapter 11
  • After another day and night of traveling, Pippin finds himself in front of a stone wall.
  • There are men wearing cloaks gathered all around Gandalf, and they tell the pair that they have been repairing the wall in preparation for war.
  • They demand to know more about Gandalf's companion, Pippin. Gandalf to the rescue: he says he'll vouch for the young hobbit.
  • Ingold the guard is reluctant to let Pippin pass the gates, which prompts little Pip to mention Boromir and his death protecting Pippin (see The Two Towers Book 3, Chapter 1). 
  • So Ingold lets them go inside to bring the Lord of Gondor news about his son.
  • They pass into a huge enclosed space. It's known as the fields of Pelennor. 
  • They ride across the fields to the City of Minas Tirith and through the Great Gate of the Men of Gondor. Fancy.
  • The men in the City know that war must be coming, since Gandalf has arrived.
  • Gandalf wastes no time in going to meet with Denethor, the Steward of Gondor.
  • But before they go in to meet him, Gandalf warns Pippin to mind his manners. Denethor isn't a softy, like Théoden, and he'll want to get information out of Pippin.
  • Oh, and whatever you do, Pippin, don't mention Aragorn, Gandalf says. 
  • Huh? Pippin is still in the dark about who Aragorn really is, so Gandalf spells it out for him: Aragorn could claim the kingship of Gondor, thus taking the rulership away from Denethor (who is Gondor's Steward in the absence of the king). Big news for little Pip.
  • So the hobbit and the wizard walk into a bar. Oops, we mean a long hall lined with statues of the kings of Gondor. 
  • At the end of the hall is a high throne. But it's empty.
  • There is an old man sitting in a stone chair on the lowest step of the dais.
  • He is "Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, Denethor son of Ecthelion" (5.1.52).
  • Bad news: Denethor has already heard of Boromir's death in a rather poetic way. He received the two halves of the horn of Gondor floating down the River Anduin.
  • This horn has been in Denethor's family since the days of Vorondil, the father of the first ruling Steward of Gondor, Mardil.
  • Thirteen days previously, Denethor heard the distant sound of this horn blowing.
  • Where was Pippin during this time? Denethor asks coldly.
  • Pippin explains that he saw Boromir die in an orc attack, but that he honors Boromir for fighting to protect Pippin and his kinsman, Merry.
  • Then, suddenly, Pippin realizes he's a bit irritated by the suspicion in Denethor's voice, so he offers up his sword to Denethor in exchange for Boromir's service to him, hoping to make good.
  • After accepting Pippin's offer, he demands that Pippin swear his loyalty to Denethor. Uh oh. 
  • In a fit of chivalry, Pippin does so: "Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm" (5.1.71).
  • Denethor's first order to Pippin is to tell all about his experiences with Boromir. 
  • That's when, in the nick of time, Gandalf chimes in with his own news: doesn't Denethor want to know about how Gandalf broke the staff of Saruman and how Isengard fell?
  • Denethor does want to hear it, but that does not mean he wants Gandalf's advice, thank you very much.
  • That's when Pippin finally realizes that there is some heavy tension in the air between the wizard and the Steward. Way to get with the program, Pip. Better late than never, we guess.
  • Pippin spends an hour talking to Denethor about Boromir. He is totally pooped by the end of it, after Denethor's sharp and endless questions.
  • Denethor lets Gandalf and Pippin go together to the rooms they'll be staying in.
  • But first, he tells the guards that Pippin is their newest member.
  • This prompts Gandalf to get in a parting shot: "Do you think that I do not understand your purpose in questioning for an hour one who knows the least, while I sit by?" (5.1.85). 
  • Denethor replies that his highest and only purpose is the defense of Gondor. We're not so sure.
  • While Gandalf wants to help Denethor, he also reminds him that the good of the whole world is Gandalf's concern—not just Gondor.
  • As they walk away, Pippin asks if Gandalf is mad at him.
  • Nope. In fact, Gandalf seems rather pleased. But he tells Pippin that he gave away more to Denethor than he may have thought.
  • After warning Pippin that Denethor is difficult to receive, Gandalf tells him that Pippin's honest offer "touched his heart, as well as (may I say it) pleasing his humor" (5.1.93).
  • Plus, there's a bonus: as a servant of Denethor, Pippin will be allowed to move freely through Minas Tirith. And that just might come in handy.
  • Then, with a quick request that Pip check in on Shadowfax, Gandalf rushes off. Somewhere, a bigger fish needs frying. 
  • Pippin sees a man in black and white walking towards him. It's an off-duty guard named Beregond, and his job is to help train Pippin as a Minas Tirith serviceman.
  • He also, being a curious guy, wants to know more about "halflings," and about Gandalf. 
  • But Pippin has other concerns on his mind. His first question for Beregond: where are the eats? 
  • Beregond disappoints Pippin by saying that his breakfast with Denethor is pretty much the best he's going to get.
  • He can have another light meal mid-morning, but for now, they will walk a bit.
  • When Pippin asks about Shadowfax, Beregond agrees to take him to the stables.
  • After making sure that Shadowfax is well, they go and sit on the battlements with a picnic and chat about Pippin's adventures. 
  • Beregond shows Pippin the lay of the land around Minas Tirith: the fields of Pelennor and the lands of Lebennin.
  • They watch the last wagons carrying the elderly and children down to Lebennin and away from the City. It's not safe anymore, what with Sauron beating the war drums to the east.
  • In the distance, Pippin can see the ruins of Osgiliath, a nearby city.
  • It was burned long ago, but the men of Gondor took it back and built a watch post there.
  • Unfortunately, Beregond tells him, the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths, came from Minas Morgul and took Osgiliath back.
  • Pippin shudders at the mention of the Nazgûl, which he really doesn't want to talk about. 
  • It's bad enough that he can even see the dark shadow of Mordor from the towers of Minas Tirith.
  • Beregond agrees: "We seldom name it; but we have dwelt ever in sight of that shadow" (5.1.135).
  • Apparently, a host of men from Umbar are sailing up to the mouth of the Anduin off the Bay of Belfalas. They have allied with Sauron, and they will begin warring against Lebennin and Belfalas.
  • This means that the Gondorians in the south will be occupied with war with Umbar, and Minas Tirith can expect little help from that area. More and more, they have to rely on assistance from Rohan.
  • This is why Pippin and Gandalf's news about the victory of Rohan over Isengard is so welcome.
  • Even so, Sauron will hit Gondor with all his might, and how can Gondor hope to withstand such a strike?
  • Pippin feels a Nazgûl passing high overhead.
  • For obvious reasons, Beregond's morale is not great: "Yes, the shadow of doom [...] I fear that Minas Tirith shall fall. Night comes" (5.1.176).
  • But he perks up again at the thought of Faramir, who will be returning soon. He's a big fan of Faramir, and has a lot of faith in our old friend. 
  • Pippin asks Beregond to bring him to their rooms so that he can look for Gandalf.
  • Gandalf isn't there and has left no messages, so Beregond takes Pippin to hang out with his fellow men of the Third Company of the Citadel.
  • They are glad to welcome Pippin, and seem impressed by the fact that he is a companion of Gandalf and Boromir.
  • When Beregond goes on guard duty, he suggests that his son should take Pippin on a tour of the City. As he leaves to find the kid, Pippin finds that his reputation has preceded him. 
  • He hears people calling him Ernil i Pheriannath—Prince of the Halflings—as he passes, and everyone knows that he is a friend of Gandalf. Not too shabby for a guy from the Shire.
  • Pippin finds the Old Guesthouse in Lampwright's Street, where Beregond's son is supposed to be staying. 
  • Just then, a boy runs up to him and asks who his father is and where he's from.
  • It turns out the boy has mistaken Pippin for another youngster; he can't believe that Pippin is almost twenty-nine. 
  • He thinks he could still stand Pippin on his head, no matter how old he is, to which Pippin responds jokingly.
  • The boy introduces himself as Bergil son of Beregond of the Guards. Pip's tour guide.
  • Bergil takes Pippin to the gates of the City to watch the Captains of the Outlands arrive from the rest of Gondor to protect Minas Tirith.
  • It's a fine and interesting sight, but there aren't enough men—not even three thousand to reinforce the City's guardsmen.
  • After thanking Pippin for the visit, Bergil invites him to his grandfather's house in Lossarnach, once the war is over.
  • When Pippin heads back to the Citadel, Beregond gives him a warm welcome.
  • After eating with the Third Company, Pip hurries back to his rooms. He's feeling a wee bit gloomy, and he wants to talk it out with Gandalf. 
  • When Gandalf returns in the middle of the night, he is muttering, "When will Faramir return?" (5.1.194).
  • He adds: "The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn." (5.1.196). Dun dun dun.

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