Study Guide

The Return of the King Love

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Love

"A Halfling," answered Gandalf. "Nay, not the one that was spoken of," he added seeing the wonder in the men's faces. "Not he, yet one of his kindred."

"Yes, and one who journeyed with him," said Pippin. "And Boromir of your City was with us, and he saved me in the snows of the North, and at last he was slain defending me from many foes."

"Peace!" said Gandalf. "The news of that grief should have been told first to the father." (5.19-21)

Pippin, didn't your mother ever tell you to think before you open your big fat mouth? Guess not. Even now, after surviving some extremely tricky situations with his fellowship companions, Pippin's impulse to blurt everything out rears its ugly head. But you have to admire his loyalty. He is proud to have known Boromir, and he doesn't try to hide it. He blabs as a gesture of love and respect, so hey, at least he meant well.

Be careful of your words, Master Peregrin! This is no time for hobbit pertness. Théoden is a kindly old man. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king. But he will speak most to you, and question you much, since you can tell him of his son Boromir. He loved him greatly: too much perhaps, and the more so because they were unlike. But under cover of this love he will think it easier to learn what he wishes from you rather than from me. Do not tell him more than you need, and leave quiet the matter of Frodo's errand. (5.1.44)

Gandalf's warning to Pippin about Denethor's crafty nature means that we distrust Denethor even before we meet the manipulative old sod in person. While this description of Denethor as "proud and subtle" appears in Gandalf's mouth as a piece of dialogue, it is also an example of direct characterization, in which the novel is basically coming out and telling us that Denethor is a powerful guy, but also bad news in many ways. To prove this assertion of Denethor's manipulativeness, Gandalf tells Pippin that Denethor will try to use his own love of Boromir (which is genuine, for what that's worth) to get information out of Pippin. That's just tacky.

Filled suddenly with love for this old man, he knelt on one knee, and took his hand and kissed it. "May I lay the sword of Meriadoc of the Shire on your lap, Théoden King?" he cried. "Receive my service, if you will!"

"Gladly will I take it," said the king; and laying his long old hands upon the brown hair of the hobbit, he blessed him. "Rise now, Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan of the household of Meduseld!" he said. "Take your sword and bear it unto good fortune!"

"As a father you shall be to me," said Merry.

"For a little while," said Théoden. (5.2.49-52)

Shmoop admits it: we're having some trouble figuring out the tone of this oath-swearing scene between Merry and Théoden. When Pippin promises his loyalty to Denethor, Denethor accepts because Pippin "touched his heart, as well as [...] pleasing his humor" (5.1.93). So there is some mockery, but Denethor is also moved by Pippin's oath. In this case, Merry is clearly moved with love for Théoden. He even tells Théoden that he will be as "a father" to Merry. But whether the king is mostly touched or mostly amused is unclear. And what does he mean by that bleak, "For a little while"? Does Théoden foresee his own demise? Does he not want to be a father to Merry, or at least not for long? What do you think Théoden's feelings are in this scene?

"So may one counsel another," [Éowyn] said. "Yet I do not bid you flee from peril, but to ride to battle where your sword may win renown and victory. I would not see a thing that is high and excellent cast away needlessly."

"Nor would I," Aragorn said. "Therefore I say to you, lady: Stay! For you have no errand to the South."

"Neither have those others who go with thee. They go only because they would not be parted from thee—because they love thee." Then she turned and vanished into the night. (5.2.119-121)

When Éowyn tries to convince Aragorn not to go along the Paths of the Dead, she tells him point blank that the men who are accompanying him on this way are risking their lives not because they think it's a dandy plan, but because they love him. Éowyn's use of the word "love" has a double-meaning. When she's talking about Aragorn's companions, she means the friendship kind of love (at least, we assume). But she is also implicitly confessing her own feelings for Aragorn. She wants to go along, too, because she loves him, and not in a friendly sort of way.

Pippin pressed forward as they passed under the lamp beneath the gate-arch, and when he saw the pale face of Faramir he caught his breath. It was the face of one who has been assailed by a great fear or anguish, but has mastered it and now is quiet. […] Yet suddenly for Faramir his heart was strangely moved with a feeling that he had not known before. Here was one with an air of high nobility such as Aragorn at times revealed, less high perhaps, yet also less incalculable and remote: one of the Kings of Men born into a later time, but touched with the wisdom and sadness of the Elder Race. He knew now why Beregond spoke his name with love. (5.4.39)

Here's the thing about Faramir. He's high and mighty (like Aragorn), sure, but he's also "less incalculable and remote," and therefore much more likeable and approachable to folks like Pippin and Beregond. While Tolkien wants to describe the deeds of borderline superhuman figures like Aragorn or Gandalf, they are often so wise or so distant that it becomes difficult to identify with them personally (especially Gandalf the Perfect). In order to give something as epic as The Lord of the Rings an emotional anchor for the reader to sympathize with, he has to include some slightly less "remote" figures. While the hobbits fill that role for the most part, the occasional character like Faramir also helps us to remember that not every wise person is unemotional and inaccessible.

For there were servants of Denethor with swords and torches in their hands; but alone in the porch upon the topmost step stood Beregond, clad in the black and silver of the Guard; and he held the door against them. Two of them had already fallen to his sword, staining the hallows with their blood; and the others cursed him, calling him outlaw and traitor to his master.

Even as Gandalf and Pippin ran forward, they heard from within the house of the dead the voice of Denethor crying: "Haste, haste! Do as I have bidden! Slay me this renegade! Or must I do so myself!" Thereupon the door which Beregond held shut with his left hand was wrenched open, and there behind him stood the Lord of the City, tall and fell; a light like flame was in his eyes, and he held a drawn sword. (5.7.20-1)

We know that something is off with Denethor not just because he is dead set on burning himself and his son alive (though that is a pretty good indication that he is not a well man), but also because Denethor's actions in this scene remind us of the unjust orders Théoden gave while under the control of Saruman back in The Two Towers. Remember when he arrests Éomer for threatening Gríma Wormtongue in Book 3, Chapter 6? In the The Lord of the Rings, when a ruler starts turning on his own family and setting his soldiers against each other, it's a sure sign that he is possessed by some sort of Big Bad. Sauron's main weapon is corruption, and he loves taking good things and making them awful. For Denethor to decide to burn his son out of twisted love and guilt must have been a major coup for Sauron. The guy has actually managed to turn a father's love to murderous insanity. Nice job, Sauron.

Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. "My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?"

"Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!" said Aragorn. "You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return."

"I will, lord," said Faramir. "For who would lie idle when the king has returned." (5.8.73-5)

We don't mean to sound cynical, but this is awfully convenient. Both Boromir and Denethor, the two proudest members of the line of Stewards of Gondor, have managed to die. So the only member of the family of Stewards left when Aragorn enters the City is humble and gentle Faramir, who will never protest Aragorn's claim to the throne. What's more, even if he were inclined to protest, he now owes his life to the healing hands of Aragorn. The moment he opens his eyes after his illness, his eyes are filled with "a light of knowledge and love" for Aragorn. Faramir welcomes Aragorn with open arms. So the passing of the office of the Steward of Gondor to Faramir is not only a good thing for the anti-Sauron crowd; it is also highly convenient for Aragorn, since it smoothes over any problems of transition of power between the Stewards and the new King.

"For upon [the Paths of the Dead] I was put to shame: Gimli Glóin's son, who had deemed himself more tough than Men, and hardier under earth than any Elf. But neither did I prove; and I was held to the road only by the will of Aragorn."

"And by the love of him also," said Legolas. "For all those who come to know him come to love him after his own fashion, even the cold maiden of the Rohirrim." (5.9.25-6)

When Gimli confesses his utter terror in the Paths of the Dead, it's Legolas who tells him that what kept Gimli going was love of Aragorn. Aragorn's great leadership ability is not just that he is a clever strategist or a brave guy. It's also that he has this charisma that inspires people to love him, and to follow him out of that love. Faramir, too, inspires love in his followers. How else can we explain the devotion of Beregond, who willingly draws his sword on his fellow Guards in order to save his hero? This pattern raises the question: is love the foundation or result of leadership skills? And what kind of love is there between a leader and his or her followers—romantic, familial, something else?

Sam shuddered and tried to force himself to move. […] He listened; and as he did a gleam of hope came to him. There could not be much doubt: there was fighting in the tower, the orcs must be at war among themselves, Shagrat and Gorbag had come to blows. Faint as was the hope that his guess brought him, it was enough to rouse him. There might be just a chance. His love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts, and forgetting his peril he cried aloud: "I'm coming Mr. Frodo!" (6.1.10)

If there's one thing we're sure of when it comes to Sam, it's that this dude loves Frodo. Honestly, it seems like that love totally defines him. What's so great about this is that his devotion helps to protect Sam from any desire to steal the Ring from Frodo. He is so all about Frodo that he doesn't even give a thought to his own danger in this scene; all he can think of is storming the orc tower so that he can  find his captured friend. If love is what protects Sam from the Ring and what drives him to help Frodo finish the quest—in other words, if love leads to all of these important triumphs for the side of Good—then do you think love might be moral value or virtue in and of itself? What is the relationship between love and ethics in the Lord of the Rings series? How does love lead individuals to behave morally? Are there examples in which love is also the basis of immoral action, too?

"But," said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, "I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done."

"So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. […] And that will keep you as busy and happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on." (6.9.75-6)

We guess that, if Frodo had decided to complete his quest because he wanted to enjoy the Shire, that would be a selfish (though understandable) motive. The fact that Frodo carries the Ring to save the Shire even though he doesn't get to live there to enjoy it is where the moral lesson comes in. To use a trite expression, Frodo loves the Shire (and its inhabitants) enough to let it go.