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The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Language and Communication Theme

There are two sides to this theme in The Return of the King. First, the language the characters use says a great deal about who they are, where they come from, and what they represent. Then, there's communication on the whole, and in this book, communicating is all about storytelling. In Middle-earth, stories have a power all their own. And in telling these stories in the guise of an academic history (with those fancy appendices), Tolkien lends a realness to a fantasy world that you can't find anywhere else.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Gandalf constantly warns Pippin to be more careful of his language with Denethor. Pippin talks and talks, without always knowing when to shut up. But what are some of the advantages of Pippin's unabashed honesty? How does Pippin's directness of speech both benefit and harm him in The Return of the King?
  2. How does Tolkien use language to contrast the social and cultural backgrounds of different characters? For example, what does Ghân-buri-Ghân's speech tell us about him as a person? And what about the way the hobbits talk?
  3. How do the appendices fit into The Return of the King and the The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a whole? Are they extra material, or do you have to read them to understand the main series? How does the style of the appendices differ from the style of the main texts? And why bother using such fancy, academic language in the first place? What does it communicate?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Sure, Tolkien uses speech and dialogue to indicate a character's social place (just look at Sam and Frodo's different ways of speaking). But he also uses it to distinguish between different levels of cultural development. Ghân-buri-Ghân talks like a stereotypical Wild Man, while the men of Gondor speak something like Elvish as their native tongue, which shows their high level of cultural achievement.

The fact that Pippin speaks so directly while Denethor speaks suspiciously is proof that the way a person talks is a surefire indicator of what kind of person they are in The Return of the King.

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