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The Return of the King

The Return of the King


by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King Good vs. Evil Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph).

Quote #1

"But how shall a man discover whether that time be come or no, save by daring the Door?" said Éomer. "And that way I would not go though all the hosts of Mordor stood before me, and I were alone and had no other refuge. Alas that a fey mood should fall on a man so greathearted in this hour of need! Are there not evil things enough abroad without seeking them under the earth? War is at hand." (5.3.53)

Even before Aragorn goes on his voyage along the Paths of the Dead, we've gotten plenty of indications that disturbing the dead is a bad idea in Middle-earth: you've got the Barrow-wights of the Old Forest in The Fellowship of the Ring and the ghostly faces of the Dead Marshes in The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 2, for a start. But the story of the Sleepless Dead is a weird one, morally speaking: Aragorn is reaching across time and death itself to give these soldiers a chance to fulfill their oath to fight Sauron. That's good, right? He's restoring their honor. But on the other hand, it seems bizarre to use ghosts to fight Sauron. Sauron has his own ghost army, controlled by the Lord of the Nazgûl (see The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 8). Should Aragorn be using the tools of the enemy? Then again, maybe that's all a part of Tolkien's moral lesson. The people on the side of good are able to take Mordor's own instruments (evil ghosts) to fight evil. Sauron isn't the only one who can make the weapons of his enemies work to his advantage. And evil contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Quote #2

Flinging on some clothes, Merry looked outside. The world was darkling. The very air seemed brown, and all things about were black and grey and shadowless; there was a great stillness. No shape of cloud could be seen, unless it were far away westward, where the furthest groping fingers of the great gloom still crawled onward and a little light leaked through them. (5.3.76)

Sauron's power has grown so great that he can actually stop the sun from shining with his evil. That's serious business. But this hushed, dark stillness serves another purpose besides demonstrating that Sauron will be an extremely tough enemy to beat. The hush of the world before the final battle raises the reader's expectation that the actual battle is going to be huge and climactic when it finally comes. This repeated trope of "Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn" (5.1.198) underlines how high the stakes are in this war against Sauron, and raises our suspense as readers. We have to wonder how this ragtag bunch of soldiers (plus a bunch of dead guys) are going to win against a power strong enough to blot out the sun.

Quote #3

"The Lord has given me leave. But, Beregond, if you can, do something to stop any dreadful thing from happening."

"The Lord does not permit those who wear the black and silver to leave their post for any cause, save at his own command."

"Well, you must choose between orders and the life of Faramir," said Pippin. "And as for orders, I think you have a madman to deal with, not a lord." (5.4.181-3)

Pippin makes it very clear that Beregond has to choose between his orders to stay at his post and his inclination to save Faramir. The greater good would obviously be served in saving Faramir, but Beregond's own moral code tells him that he has to follow his Lord's orders (thanks to years of military training). To us, this situation seems like a pretty black-and-white one, in which disobeying orders is justified. For crying out loud, Beregond's lord is about to set his own son on fire, alive. But still, it's a tough moral call for Beregond to make. Neither choice is a good one per se. So which is the right one? Where would you draw the line between an individual soldier's sense of good and evil and the larger good and larger evil being faced by the military as a whole?

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