The Return of the King
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Angbor is the only commander of the fighters from Lamedon to stand his ground when the Sleepless Dead arrive with Aragorn to fight back the ships of Umbar and Harad. Aragorn asks Angbor to gather his men and come behind the Grey Host, the Sleepless Dead, who follow Aragorn. He tells Angbor, "At Pelargir, the Heir of Isildur will have need of you" (5.9.32). So Angbor arrives after the Sleepless Dead have destroyed the Southrons; he sails with Aragorn up the river to Minas Tirith.
Last High King at Fornost, in the lost kingdom of Arnor. It was the King at Fornost who first permitted the hobbits to cross the Brandywine River and settle the land now called the Shire. According to the appendices of The Return of the King, Arvedui is also the last ruling member of the line of Isildur before Aragorn returns to Gondor.
When the Witch-king of Angmar overwhelms Fornost, Arvedui holds out for as long as he can in the North Downs. Eventually, he has to hide in the mountains. He seeks help from the Snowmen of Forochel (not Snowmen as in Frosty, but Snowmen as in, they live in bitterly cold regions), who take pity on the extreme pathetic-ness of Arvedui's company. He and his comrades have no food and are totally unprepared for the cold; their horses have also died.
Círdan the Shipwright hears of Arvedui's terrible situation from Arvedui's son Aranarth, who was driven out of Arnor with the rest of the Dúnedain. Círdan sends a ship to Forochel to help. The Snowmen have never seen a boat before, and are really freaked out by it. It also takes a long time for Arvedui and his men to reach the boat, since the ice is so thick.
The Snowmen warn Arvedui: "If they have them, let the seamen bring us food and other things that we need, and you may stay here till the Witch-king goes home. For in summer his power wanes; but now his breath is deadly and his cold arm is long" (A, I.iii.16). Arvedui doesn't listen, which is unfortunate. A huge storm blows up, the ice closes in, and the ship is crushed. Arvedui dies and his two palantíri (the stones of Amon Sûl and Annúminas) go to the bottom of the water.
In The Two Towers, we find out that Brego is the son of Eorl the Young. Brego built Meduseld, the gold-thatched hall where Théoden's throne now sits. Baldor is this Brego's son (and therefore, grandson of Eorl the Young). At a feast to bless the newly-built Meduseld, Baldor drunkenly swears that he will go down into the Paths of the Dead. And go he does, but he also never comes back again.
It may be that the "bones of a mighty man" (5.2.142) that Aragorn finds in the Paths are all that remains of Baldor. The skeleton is laid out flat on its face, with its bony hands still clawing at the cracks of "a stony door closed fast" (5.2.142) at the far wall of the cave. It's an ugly death, for sure, and also possibly a warning against drunken dares more generally.
Théoden then tells a tale he has heard of both Brego and Baldor: when the children of Eorl first came out of the North looking for places to build fortresses in their new country, these two climbed the Stair of the Hold to Dunharrow.
There, they found the Dark Door to the Paths of the Dead. There was an ancient man sitting at the door, who was "withered as an old stone" (5.3.50). This man tells Baldor and Brego (and we're guessing that Baldor wasn't listening): "The way is shut [...] It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut" (5.3.51). But, wonders Théoden, maybe the time to open the door to the Paths of the Dead is now? We know, of course, that Aragorn is the man the Dead are waiting for; sadly for Baldor, he was not that man.
We hear a very brief summary of the story of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel in The Fellowship of the Ring; for that story, check out our "Character Analysis" of Beren in the The Fellowship learning guide. For the much more detailed tale of Beren and "the Great Jewel" (6.4.21)—a.k.a. the Silmaril—read Tolkien's long cycle of elf mythology, the Silmarillion. Beren's love story with Lúthien Tinúviel turns up again in Appendix A, I.i: "The Númenorean Kings: Númenor," but you can find out the same information from Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring Book 1, Chapter 11.
Bergil is Beregond's son, a nine-year-old with a quick temper and a warm heart. When he first sees Pippin, Bergil mistakes the hobbit for a human child. When Pippin answers that he is twenty-nine, Bergil swears that he could still stand Pippin on his head, to which out Pippin replies, "Maybe you could, if I let you [...] And maybe I could do the same to you" (5.1.168). Bergil, a hothead, clenches his fists at this, but Pippin soon calms him down by telling Bergil that he is a friend of Beregond's, who sent Pippin to find Bergil.
Throughout this whole story, Pippin has been hanging around with people older—often much older—than himself. By hobbit standards, twenty-eight isn't even of age yet. It's as though he's still a minor, in human terms. Because he's constantly around older people, he often seems a little bit at a disadvantage. Gandalf, for one, is always scolding the poor little guy.
Bergil is the only child we've seen so far in these novels, and he provides a very different kind of foil for Pippin. Bergil shows us how much Pippin has really grown up, since Pippin is much more mature than Bergil.
At the same time, Pippin enjoys Bergil's company so much that it reminds us how much of a kid Pippin still is. Pippin is certainly not stern Aragorn, with his "many winters" (The Two Towers 3.6.72). Bergil allows us to get a better understanding of Pippin's character by providing a point of contrast for the youngest hobbit.
Boromir passed away in the beginning of The Two Towers, but he is certainly still alive in the memories of The Return of the King's characters. Not only is he a constant point of comparison with Faramir (to Denethor, Boromir always comes off better; to everyone else, Faramir totally wins), but he also provides a warning for what happens to men if they let their ambitions get the better of them.
When Denethor starts complaining that Boromir would have brought him the Ring if he had had the opportunity, Gandalf answers (rightly):
He is dead, and died well; may he sleep in peace! Yet you deceive yourself. He would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it he would have fallen. He would have kept it for his own, and when he returned you would not have known your son. (5.4.62)
Basically, Gandalf is saying, of course Boromir would have stolen the Ring for himself. It's horrible that he died, but at least he passed with honor instead of living to be twisted by the Ring.
Denethor has this idealized image of Boromir as the perfect son who would have been happy to support Denethor in whatever he wanted to do. But he only thinks about Boromir this way because Boromir did not survive to disappoint Denethor. The horrible thing is, Denethor hates and despises his living son, Faramir, because Faramir can never live up to the fantasy that Denethor has of Boromir's character.
Chief of the knights of the king's household, Déorwine dies alongside Théoden in the Battle of the Pelennor fields.
The men of Dervorin arrive in Minas Tirith at the same time as those of Forlong the Fat; there are about three hundred on foot. They come from Ringló Vale.
Duinhir, Duilin, and Derufin
Duinhir arrives in Minas Tirith with his sons Duilin and Derufin. They are bowmen, and they lead a troop of about five hundred. They have marched from the uplands of Morthond, in Blackroot Veil. Both Duilin and Derufin die in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, trampled by a múmak (a.k.a. an Oliphaunt, an elephant-like animal).
Chieftain of the people who live in the valley of Harrowdale, at the foot of the White Mountains and on the banks of the River Snowbourn. Dúnhere receives word from Gandalf to gather the rest of Théoden's riders and meet him at Dunharrow rather than at Edoras, because a Winged Messenger (Nazgûl) has been seeing flying low over Meduseld (the king's hall at Edoras). Gandalf also counsels Dúnhere to use as little light or fire as is possible. Dúnhere has obeyed all of these orders, and he is ready and waiting with his men when Théoden arrives after a three-day ride from Isengard.
Eärnur is the last king of Gondor before Aragorn returns to the throne. He is of the line of Anárion, Isildur's brother, and he dies without heirs more than a thousand years before this final stage of the War of the Ring.
On the day that Aragorn officially returns to Minas Tirith, Faramir goes to Rath Dínen, to the burial places of the kings, to find Eärnur's crown. He brings the crown to Aragorn. It is tall and white, with "wings at either side [...] wrought of pearl and silver in the likeness of the wings of a sea-bird [...] and seven gems of adamant were set in the circlet, and upon its summit was set a single jewel the light of which went up like a flame" (6.5.78). Obviously, King Eärnur liked his jewelry showy, what with the wings at the sides and the seven diamond-looking jewels and the glowing gem at the top of his crown.
We first see Elfhelm in The Two Towers, when Gandalf sends him with a group of Riders of Rohan to Edoras. As of The Return of the King, Elfhelm is the Marshal who commands the company of Riders with whom Merry and Dernhelm/Éowyn ride to Gondor. There seems to be some kind of understanding between Elfhelm and Dernhelm/Éowyn, since it doesn't seem as though Elfhelm has mentioned these two extra troops to Théoden.
Elfhelm's main job (besides not selling out Dernhelm/Éowyn and Merry to Théoden) is bringing them news of the secret counsels they can't join because they are not supposed to be going to Gondor in the first place. So, it's Elfhelm who first tells Merry that the Woses (the Wild Men of the Woods, led by Ghân-buri-Ghân) have come to offer their service to Théoden. Elfhelm is also the Marshal who tells Théoden that Denethor is not expecting the Rohirrim to come. So Elfhelm is a generally well-informed guy, and he probably knows more about what's going on with the Riders of Rohan than anyone else.
Elfhelm is senior enough in the Rohirrim hierarchy that it is he who leads the three thousand remaining horsed Riders of Rohan west to fight the Enemy marching on Minas Tirith from Anórien, after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. He leads the Riders back to Minas Tirith in time to be present at the gate of the City when Aragorn returns in victory from Mordor.
Eorl the Young, Brego, Aldor (brother of Baldor), Fréa, Fréawine, Goldwine, Déor, Gram, Helm (who hid in Helm's deep), Fréalaf (nephew of Helm), Léofa, Walda, Folca, Folwine, Fengel, and Thengel
Phew. Talk about a mouthful. The line of Lords of the Mark, from Eorl the Young, the first Lord of the Rohirrim after Gondor gave the northern provinces to him to seal their alliance after the Battle of the Field of Celebrant, down to Thengel, father of Théoden. These names are read out at Théoden's burial.
Finduilas is Boromir and Faramir's mother. She died young, leaving Faramir with "his first grief" (6.5.35). As an adult, Faramir gives Éowyn a shawl that his mother made. Whenever he sees Éowyn wearing that particular "great blue mantle of the colour of deep summer-night, [...] set with silver stars about the hem and throat" (6.5.35), it makes him think of his grief over Finduilas's death. To which we say, what a depressing gift.
Forlong (also known, somewhat embarrassingly, as Forlong the Fat) is a leader of the men of the Outlands and Lord of Lossernach (a part of Gondor). He is "a man of wide shoulders and huge girth, but old and grey-bearded, yet mail-clad and black-helmed and bearing a long heavy spear" (5.1.184). He arrives in Minas Tirith on the day that Pippin and Gandalf do, leading a troop of well-armed men carrying huge battleaxes.
There are two hundred men following Forlong, which disappoints the people of Gondor a bit: "Two hundreds, what are they? We hoped for ten times that number" (5.1.184). The reason that Forlong can spare relatively few of his men to defend the city is that the black fleet of Umbar is sailing up to the Mouths of Anduin to attack Gondor from the South. Some of the men of Lossernach must stay to protect their homes. But at least Forlong comes with some reinforcements for Minas Tirith.
Forlong the Fat rides out to join the Riders of Rohan in taking back the gate of Minas Tirith. He is killed in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Gléowine is Théoden's minstrel. He composes the final song of Théoden that his Riders sing as they ride around his newly-fashioned barrow in Book 6, Chapter 6: "Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day's rising/ he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing" (6.6.24). After this song, Gléowine never writes another.
The lord of the Anfalas, in the west of Gondor. Golasgil leads a highly varied troop of men, most of them not that well-equipped, to fight for Minas Tirith. He and his men join Forlong the Fat, Dervorin, and the rest of the Captains of the Outlands.
Grimbold of Westfold
It turns out that the soldier whom Gandalf sent to join Erkenbrand at Helm's Deep after the battle with Saruman's forces (see The Two Towers Book 3, Chapter 8) is now leading an éored (a cavalry company) to Minas Tirith alongside Théoden and Elfhelm. It's nice to see him again. For a bit, anyway: he dies in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Guthláf is Théoden's flag-bearer; he also carries the horn that Théoden blasts so loudly that it bursts before the Riders of Rohan fight to help Minas Tirith. Guthláf dies with his master, so one of Éomer's knights picks up the banner in his place.
Hirgon is an errand-rider for Denethor, Lord of Gondor. He comes to Théoden at the stronghold of Dunharrow, in the White Mountains, carrying the Red Arrow, which is a sign of Gondor's great need for help. It means, "the Lord Denethor asks for all your strength and all your speed, lest Gondor fall at last" (5.3.58).
Hirgon tells Théoden that the Enemy will soon surround Minas Tirith. Denethor wants to warn Théoden that, "unless [Théoden has] the strength to break a siege of many powers [...] the strong arms of the Rohirrim would be better within [Denethor's] walls than without" (5.3.60). In other words, Théoden should get inside Minas Tirith before it is so entirely surrounded by enemies that he can't get through the gates.
Sadly, Hirgon winds up decapitated on the road back to Gondor. They find a body with a hand holding the Red Arrow, but "his head was hewn off" (5.5.46). Yikes. The worst part is that this means that Hirgon never made it to back to Minas Tirith with Théoden's messages, and that Denethor does not know that the Rohirrim are coming. Perhaps if Denethor had known that help was coming, he would not have gone off the deep end in quite such a spectacular fashion?
Hirluin the Fair
Like the other Captains of the Outlands of Gondor, Hirluin arrives in Minas Tirith the day after Minas Tirith lights the alarm beacons. He leads three hundred men in green from the Green Hills of Pinnath Gelin. Hirluin is part of the group of soldiers from Minas Tirith who ride to the aid of new king Éomer on the fields of Pelennor, once the Lord of the Nazgûl has killed Théoden. He accompanies Imrahil (of course, that guy is all over the place), Forlong the Fat, and Húrin the Tall, Warden of the Keys. Hirluin dies in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Húrin the Tall
Húrin the Tall is Warden of the Keys of Minas Tirith, which means he holds high office in Gondor. He rides out of the gates of Minas Tirith with Hirluin the Fair, Forlong the Fat (Lord of Lossarnach), and Imrahil to help new king Éomer continue the Battle of Pelennor Fields when Éomer starts to falter. Húrin leads the men of Gondor in Minas Tirith while Faramir is in the Houses of Healing and the rest of the Captains of Aragorn's army accompany him to the Black Gate of Mordor. He's present to welcome Aragorn back to the City, along with Éowyn, Faramir, and Elfhelm, and he witnesses the crowning of Aragorn. Oh, and Húrin is also the one who pushes away the barrier at the gates to allow Aragorn to enter Minas Tirith for the first time as King Elessar.
Ingold is one of the guards at the walls of Minas Tirith, in Gondor. His main duty, along with his men, is to repair the crumbling old wall encircling the fields of Pelennor. He demands to know more about Pippin before he allows Gandalf to enter the city with the hobbit by his side. Gandalf assures Ingold: "He has passed through more battles and perils than you have, Ingold, though you be twice his height" (5.1.14). Ingold and his men are surprised when Gandalf describes Pippin as a man, but Pippin jumps in immediately and says no! he is a hobbit.
Pippin also mentions Boromir's name, at which point Ingold lets them through quickly, "for the Lord of Minas Tirith will be eager to see any that bear the latest tidings of his son" (5.1.21). As a parting word, Ingold asks if the men of Rohan will answer Gondor's alarm beacons and come help in the war. Gandalf says they will, but they've had a hard time lately. So Ingold's main role is to provide Tolkien with an opportunity to catch us up on the bare bones of what happened in The Two Towers Book 3 (Boromir's death and Rohan's adventures) before continuing with Gandalf and Pippin's plot line.
Bergil's uncle, whom he apparently thinks is the height of old age: "Twenty-nine! [...] Why, you are quite old! As old as my uncle Iorlas" (5.1.167), Bergil says to Pippin.
Isildur is one of Aragorn's greatest ancestors. Throughout The Lord of the Rings series, we have been hearing a fair amount of bad stuff about Isildur. While he is a lord among men, the son of Elendil, High King of Gondor and Arnor, he is also the man who took the Ring off Sauron and refused to destroy it back in the days of the Last Alliance.
If Isildur had just tossed the thing into Mount Doom when he had the chance, poor Frodo could have avoided a whole boatload of trouble. Even so, The Return of the King spends some time redeeming Isildur's reputation. After all, Aragorn is his heir, and Isildur is the one who initially cut the Ring from Sauron's hand, which is pretty impressive.
It is also Isildur who first plants the White Tree of Númenor in Minas Tirith, the Tree that Aragorn replaces with a new, blooming sapling hidden on Mount Mindolluin (for more on the significance of this tree, check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory").
There is something nice about this circular structure of The Return of the King: Aragorn finally ends the war that Isildur half-finished against Sauron; Aragorn replants a descendant of the tree that Isildur brought to Minas Tirith. Clearly, there is strong connection between Isildur and Aragorn, even if Isildur did make one colossal ethical mistake that eventually led to his death. (For more on his death, see our entry on Isildur in the The Fellowship of the Ring learning guide "Character Analysis.")
But the most important link between Isildur and Aragorn is undoubtedly the Sleepless Dead. When the King of the Mountains and his people fall into dark ways and break their oaths to help Isildur in the war against Sauron, Isildur curses them to find no rest in death until his own heir should call them up for battle in the final days of the war against Sauron.
So Aragorn closes the deal that Isildur set up. Without the help of his ancestor, Aragorn would not have been able to overwhelm the Haradrim in their ships from Umbar. By leaving this agreement in place, Isildur contributes to the final War of the Ring from beyond the grave. And he also somewhat redeems himself for not destroying the Ring when he had the chance.
Mablung is one of Faramir's men in his battle against the Southrons in Ithilien. He asks Mablung to guard Frodo and Sam while they are in his custody in The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 4. Mablung returns in The Return of the King, as a leader of the scouts for the armies advancing against Barad-dûr in Book 5, Chapter 10. Of the orc ambush of their front companies, the narrator comments, "the Captains of the West were well warned by their scouts, skilled men from Henneth Annûn led by Mablung; and so the ambush itself was trapped" (5.10.17). Well done, Mablung.
Malbeth the Seer
Malbeth is a seer in the days of the last king at Fornost in the now-lost kingdom of Arnor. Arnor was the land of Anárion, Isildur's brother and fellow ruler in the line of Númenor. Malbeth makes a prophecy:
Over the land there lies a long shadow,
westward reaching wings of darkness.
The Tower trembles; to the tomb of kings
doom approaches. The Dead awaken;
for the hour is come for the oathbreakers:
at the Stone of Erech they shall stand again
and hear there a horn in the hills ringing.
Whose shall the horn be? Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come, need shall drive him:
he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead. (5.2.83)
Aragorn recognizes from this prophecy what he has to do to save Minas Tirith (that's "The Tower [that] trembles"). The Sleepless Dead, "the oathbreakers," will wake up and stand by the Stone of Erech (in the White Mountains south of Edoras, in the Gondorian outland of Morthond). They will wait for "the heir of him to whom the oath they swore"—a.k.a. Isildur. This prophecy explains both Elrond's and Galadriel's hints to Aragorn about his need to travel through the Paths of the Dead. Aragorn is finally ready to follow this exceptionally grim path.
The first ruling Steward of Gondor following the death of King Eärnur without an heir (see The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 5). Denethor is now the 26th ruling Steward of Mardil's line.
These are the statues that line the steep road up the gorge where Dunharrow lies, in the West of the White Mountains. They are "huge and clumsy limbed, squatting cross-legged with their stumpy arms folded on fat bellies" (5.3.20). While the Riders of Rohan are used to them and pay them no mind, Merry finds them strange and rather sad, "as they loomed up mournfully in the dusk" (5.3.20). No one knows who made these statues or what they were for. They are the last remnants of a forgotten civilization, which disappeared before the Riders of Rohan took possession of the Hold at Dunharrow. When Merry first claps eyes on Ghân-buri-Ghân, he thinks that the Wild Man looks like these Púkel-men; Ghân-buri-Ghân may be a descendant of these long-dead craftspeople.
On the third day of Pippin's stay in Minas Tirith, as the whole city is waiting for a siege from Sauron, they hear that the Southrons (people from Near Harad, to the south of Gondor) have sent regiments to Sauron. These regiments have joined the troops about to attack Osgiliath, where Faramir is captaining a small army of Gondorians. The Black Captain, a.k.a. the Lord of the Nazgûl, a.k.a. the Witch-king of Angmar leads the Southrons, and "fear of him has passed before him over the River" (5.4.101).
It is on the order of the Lord of the Nazgûl that the Southrons use their massive and elaborately carved battering ram, Grond, to bash through the gates of Minas Tirith. Luckily, the Lord is so focused on this task that he fails to notice the 6,000 Rohirrim coming in behind him from the fields of Pelennor—oops!
For more on the Southrons as representatives of "evil men," check out our "Character Analysis" of them in The Two Towers learning guide.
Targon is the keeper of the storehouse and "buttery" (5.1.122). That means he keeps the food for Beregond's company. Since Pippin has complained about being hungry, Beregond kindly goes to Targon and pleads: "It is early yet, but here is a newcomer that the Lord has taken into his service. He has ridden long and far with a tight belt, and has had sore labour this morning, and he is hungry. Give us what you have!" (5.1.122). Targon gives Pippin bread, butter, cheese, and apples, so he's all right in Pip's book (and ours, too).
Technically, we're not all too sure that Tom's a human. But we'll stick him in here anyway. We don't see Tom Bombadil directly in The Return of the King (see his "Character Analysis" in The Fellowship of the Ring for more on him), but Gandalf does mention that he is going to go and visit him in the Old Forest rather than continuing on to the Shire. We can't really imagine what a conversation between Gandalf and Tom Bombadil would be like, with Tom singing all over the place and Gandalf, well not. But in any case, we wish we were a fly on that wall.
Vorondil is the father of the steward Mardil, who becomes Lord of Gondor when King Eärnur dies in battle without an heir to take over after him (see The Two Towers Book 4, Chapter 5). Vorondil is the one who first used the horn of Gondor, which has passed down the generations to Boromir, while hunting "the wild kine" (5.1.59) (by the way, kine are cattle) of Araw in the fields of Rhûn.
Warden of the Houses of Healing
The Warden of the Houses of Healing is the head healer in the city of Minas Tirith. This poor man has to put up with the high-handed bullying of Éowyn, as she insists that she is well enough to leave the hospital just a few days after she almost dies from the Black Breath of the Lord of the Nazgûl. Éowyn says that she would have preferred to die in battle than live in peace, which upsets the Warden for obvious reasons.
The Warden is the one who introduces Éowyn to Faramir, mostly because he doesn't know what else to do to distract her from her dark thoughts. Éowyn demands to know who is in charge of the city now that Aragorn and Imrahil have ridden out to Mordor. The Warden stutters, "[Faramir] was sorely hurt, but is now set again on the way to health. But I do not know—" (6.5.12).
As the current boss in town while the King is riding to Mordor, Éowyn tries to persuade Faramir to order the Warden to let her leave the hospital. But Faramir isn't having that. She should "endure with patience the hours of waiting" (6.5.22). And while they are both stuck in the Houses of Healing together, they fall in love. As the Warden observes the two of them walking in the gardens together, he's tickled pink, because the two of them are good for one another.
Widfara is a Rider and a former resident of the Wold of Rohan. He tells Théoden that, like Ghân-buri-Ghân, he has noticed the wind changing. There is a tang of salt in the air, and the wind is coming from the South. This is a sign that the morning will bring new things. Théoden answers Wídfara: "If you speak truly [...] then may you live beyond this day in years of blessedness" (5.5.53).