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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 4 Summary

The Siege of Gondor

  • Up and at 'em, Pippin. 
  • Gandalf wakes the young hobbit to tell him that Denethor has summoned Pippin to learn his new duties. 
  • Denethor appoints Pippin his new esquire, which means that Pippin's duties will be to wait on Denethor, do errands, and talk to him. Sounds… rewarding?
  • A new job means a new uniform, so Denethor orders Pippin to the armories to get the appropriate clothing. He has already requested that they make the hobbit smaller garments in black and silver. 
  • Pippin feels quite awkward in his new uniform, but he promised to serve, so that's his lot.
  • By eleven, he finally gets a break for lunch, so he seeks out Beregond and the two chat over their food. 
  • Beregond wishes once more that Faramir were here, and Pippin wonders where Gandalf has gone.
  • Suddenly, there is a horrible cry in the air. Uh oh.
  • It's those pesky Nazgûl. There are five of them, and they are flying just out of arrow range of Minas Tirith. 
  • Pippin can see that they are looking for something, but he's not sure what until he sees four or five men on horses on the ground in front of the city. 
  • Beregond hears the sound of Faramir's horn. Realizing his idol is in trouble, he dashes off to help him.
  • Meanwhile, Pippin watches as a glowing white light approaches the Nazgûl: it's Gandalf, being his usual bad self.
  • When Gandalf shoots out a white light from his hands, the Nazgûl scatter.
  • Pippin rushes to the Citadel, where he expects that Faramir will be going straight away. As soon as he sees the man, Pippin is totally impressed, and shouts Faramir's name. 
  • When Faramir sees Pippin, he's stunned: "A halfling, and in the livery of the Tower! Whence ...?" (5.4.41).
  • But this is no time for explanations. Gandalf leads Faramir to Denethor straightaway. 
  • Faramir tells Denethor (his father) about his travels in Ithilien and his fight with the Southrons (see The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 4).
  • Faramir then turns to Pippin and remarks that it's odd that Pippin isn't the first halfling Faramir has seen in the south.
  • Now it's time for Faramir to give them the scoop on his meeting with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum at Henneth Annûn.
  • When Faramir informs them that he parted with Frodo on the road to Cirith Ungol (The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 7), Gandalf wants more info. Just what were they doing there?
  • Denethor scolds Faramir for looking to him for advice but never following it. Then he accuses Faramir of listening to Gandalf over his own father. He's a real gem, this Denethor.
  • As it turns out, the real reason he's angry is because he thinks Boromir, at least, would have brought Denethor "a mighty gift" (5.4.59). In other words, Boromir would have brought back the Ring.
  • Faramir reminds Denethor that the only reason Boromir went to Rivendell instead of Faramir is because Denethor ordered it.
  • Gandalf cuts in, reminding them that even if Boromir had taken the Ring, he wouldn't have brought it to Denethor in any case. He would have kept it for himself and been corrupted.
  • Whatever, dude, says Denethor. He thinks it is totally stupid to send the Ring into Mordor with a "witless halfling" (5.4.65). 
  • They should have hidden it, and not used it except to bring a final victory that would kill the user as well as Sauron.
  • Let's get frank, shall we? Gandalf tells Denethor that he plainly does not trust Denethor with the Ring. In fact, Gandalf doesn't even trust himself with it. 
  • So, mature man that he is, Denethor simply changes the subject. How's the garrison at Osgiliath doing, Faramir? 
  • Not well. Faramir sent his men from Ithilien to Osgiliath as reinforcements, but they are still too thin on the ground.
  • Denethor lets Faramir go and rest until tomorrow, and Pippin and Gandalf retreat to their rooms.
  • Pippin asks if there is any hope left for Frodo.
  • Only a fool's hope, according to Gandalf. But at least now they know that Sauron has started his war without having captured Frodo. 
  • Still, Gandalf wonders why Frodo and Sam decided to go through Cirith Ungol (see The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 9 for why that was a bad idea).
  • Wise old Gandalf (rightly) suspects that Gollum has betrayed Frodo and Sam.
  • The next day, Denethor, Faramir, Gandalf, and Imrahil (another Very Important Person in Gondor) hold a brief council.
  • Denethor wants to hold Osgiliath, since he knows that's where Sauron will hit hard.
  • But Faramir thinks it may be a waste of men to try and hold the bridges so far from Minas Tirith.
  • So Imrahil brings up Cair Andros, which is in the north of Ithilien. If they try to hold Osgiliath, they should also worry about the men in that fortress, since Sauron will have enough troops to attack on multiple fronts at once.
  • Denethor refuses to give up the Anduin and the fields of Pelennor without a fight.
  • So Faramir volunteers to defend Osgiliath (even though it's already been ruined repeatedly by Nazgûl).
  • He asks only, "if I should return, think better of me!" (5.4.96).
  • Stubborn Denethor does not yield an inch: "That depends on the manner of your return" (5.4.97). That's quite a way to talk to your own son.
  • Meanwhile, everyone in Minas Tirith is waiting for the Rohirrim to arrive, if they ever will.
  • They hear news that there are Southron regiments joining the host from Mordor that is about to march on Osgiliath. Things are looking, well, dire
  • On the fourth day comes the news that Faramir has had to surrender the fords to the enemy. Now he's retreating to the fields of Pelennor, but his troops are outnumbered tenfold. 
  • At this news, Gandalf rides off to join Faramir in battle, returning a while later with news that the Gondorian troops are retreating to the wall of the City.
  • Faramir is still fighting with a rearguard of soldiers, and as far as Gandalf knows, he's still alive. 
  • The problem is that the Mordor host is being led by the Lord of the Nazgûl, who is particularly nasty.
  • No surprise here: Denethor accuses Gandalf of running away from the fight.
  • Gandalf says that the Lord of the Nazgûl is not appearing in battle yet himself; he is driving his slaves in front of him first, so Gandalf has returned to escort the injured back to the City.
  • He also wants to warn Denethor that war has come to the fields of Pelennor, and they need to send as many horsemen as possible to the battlefield.
  • They will have some reinforcements from Cair Andros, since that fort has fallen and the surviving soldiers are returning to Minas Tirith.
  • The problem is, there's another army coming from Mordor from the northeast. Seriously, folks, this is not looking good.
  • The watchers from the walls of Minas Tirith see a company of men retreating to the City.
  • But then suddenly, a company of Southrons comes riding up, and the Nazgûl swoop in. There are orcs, too, bearing flames.
  • Bottom line: Faramir's retreat has become utter defeat. Whoops.
  • A horn sounds from the Citadel and all of the mounted men left in the City come riding out to help. The swan-knights of Dol Amroth are at the front with Imrahil.
  • Oh, Gandalf rides out with them, too. That guy is always front and center.
  • The attacking enemies are taken by surprise and scatter, and the cavalry of Gondor marches back to the City proudly.
  • Despite the brief victory, Faramir has lost a third of his men, and he himself is horribly injured. 
  • Imrahil carries Faramir back to Denethor, who lays Faramir out on a bed, and then refuses to speak. 
  • Osgiliath is now officially besieged, and the wall around the Pelennor Fields, the Rammas, has been broken. Basically, the Gondorians have abandoned Pelennor to the enemy. 
  • The gate of Minas Tirith is now officially shut, and all the soldiers can do is watch as masses of orcs start camping out around the City, preparing for the inevitable assault.
  • The orcs start building missile engines for hurling explosives into the City, while many of the citizens start to feel the effects of hunger and despair. 
  • The Nazgûl just keep circling around the City, too. Now would be a good time for Rohan to show up.
  • Throughout all of this, Faramir is lying in bed with a high fever.
  • Denethor will not leave his side, "as if something had snapped in his proud will, and his stern mind was overthrown" (5.4.147).
  • Pippin tries (and fails) to comfort Denethor. Maybe Faramir will get better?
  • But all Denethor can think about is that he sent his son into battle without a blessing or any thanks. 
  • He's so busy moping and feeling guilty that he won't go down and help with the arrangements for Minas Tirith's defense.
  • So Gandalf takes command of the City's defenses, with a healthy dose of help from Imrahil.
  • A messenger comes to Denethor asking for orders, because the first circle of the City (which has seven circles) is burning. Yeah, we'd say that's a problem.
  • Denethor says grimly, "I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! [...] The West has failed. Go back and burn" (5.4.157).
  • The messengers all run away, and we don't blame them. Denethor is a supremely creepy old man.
  • Then, when the Steward tells Pippin farewell, the hobbit simply refuses to say good-bye. Instead, he runs to go find Gandalf. 
  • Denethor's servants help carry Faramir to the Withered Tree, and then on to a closed door in the rear wall of the sixth circle. 
  • This is the door of Fen Hollen, and it is only opened for funerals. Not good. So not good.
  • It leads to a narrow ledge under the shadow of the peak of the Mountain Mindolluin. 
  • At this place stand the tombs of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor.
  • Everyone is getting a little freaked out as Denethor walks down "the Silent Street, Rath Dínen, between pale domes and empty halls and images of men long dead" (5.4.166).
  • They go into the House of the Stewards and put Faramir down on the one empty table. All the other tables have a form of a man with his hands folded. (We're guessing those are the dead kings.)
  • No sooner have the servants bowed their heads in morning than Denethor tells them to fetch wood to lay it all around the table—he and Faramir are not going to be embalmed.
  • After this last duty, his servants can go, Denethor tells them.
  • As Pippin runs out of the House of the Stewards, he tells a servant guarding the door, "Go slow! Bring no fire to this place while Faramir lives! Do nothing until Gandalf comes!" (5.4.171).
  • Pippin runs into Beregond, who asks where Denethor has gone. Apparently, he heard a rumor that the Steward has gone towards the Closed Door with Faramir, and he starts crying at the thought of Faramir's death. 
  • But Pippin tells him that Faramir isn't dead yet. The real problem is Denethor, who has gotten seriously weird, and just might be dangerous. 
  • So Pippin asks Beregond to help him prevent something awful from happening.
  • Beregond is worried about deserting his post, but Pippin assures him that this is more important.
  • Then Pippin finally finds Gandalf, but the wizard is a little busy at the moment. 
  • Throughout the night, see, the Southrons have been throwing themselves at the gate. They have the mûmakil in tow, the oliphaunts that Sam loves so much (see The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 4), and they're using a gigantic battering ram, which they call Grond.
  • Still, the swan-knights of Amroth are resisting, and the guardsmen of the City are, too. They're doing everything they can to fend off Sauron's armies. 
  • The Lord of the Nazgûl orders the Southrons to ram the gate three times, and on the final strike, they burst through and the Lord of the Nazgûl rides into the City. 
  • He finds Gandalf waiting for him. 
  • The Lord of the Nazgûl draws his sword and laughs at Gandalf.
  • But just then, a rooster crows, and the Riders of Rohan finally arrive at Minas Tirith. Phew.
  • Saved by the… rooster?

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