Study Guide

The Return of the King The Home

By J.R.R. Tolkien

The Home

Even as Pippin gazed in wonder the walls passed from looming grey to white, blushing faintly in the dawn; and suddenly the sun climbed over the eastern shadow and sent forth a shaft that smote the face of the City. Then Pippin cried aloud, for the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost wall, shone against the sky, glimmering like a spire of pearl and silver, tall and fair and shapely, and its pinnacle glittered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze, and high and far he heard a clear ringing as of silver trumpets. (5.1.30)

Finally: Gondor. The whole series has been building up to the arrival at Gondor, right? Ever since The Fellowship of the Ring, when we discover that Aragorn is heir to the throne of Gondor, we've been itching for the story to bring Aragorn to his destiny in Minas Tirith. So this description of the City itself is like a fulfilled promise, even though it's Pippin who has arrived, and not the absent king. At long last, we, the readers, have arrived at Gondor, and now we just have to wait for Aragorn to catch up. Come on home, buddy.

"Farewell for this time," said Bergil. "Take my greetings to my father, and thank him for the company that he sent. Come again soon, I beg. Almost I wish now that there was no war, for we might have had some merry times. We might have journeyed to Lossarnach, to my grandsire's house; it is good to be there in Spring, the woods and fields are full of flowers. But maybe we will go thither together yet. They will never overcome our Lord, and my father is very valiant. Farewell and return!" (5.1.190)

What we love about Bergil's farewell to Pippin is that he is young enough to think that it is impossible for Lord Denethor to lose this war. And he's sure his father is too brave to fall in battle. Innocent Bergil seems to believe that, because things have always been (mostly) safe, that they will stay mostly safe, war or no. He doesn't really understand that his grandfather's home in Lossarnach may not still be there by the end of this conflict. Bergil's eagerness to watch the troops and to see all the signs of preparation for war demonstrates that he is unable to imagine any true changes to his home—changes that the older people of Gondor are all experienced enough to fear. The youngster's naiveté won't last for long though, because his hometown is about to be changed forever.

"Good-bye!" said Merry. He could find no more to say. He felt very small, and he was puzzled and depressed by all these gloomy words. More than ever he missed the unquenchable cheerfulness of Pippin. The Riders were ready and their horses were fidgeting; he wished they would start and get it over. (5.2.66)

At the start of Return of the King, both Merry and Pippin, in their different, distant places, miss one another awfully. Merry wishes that Pippin were near, with his "unquenchable cheerfulness," when Aragorn leaves to travel the Paths of the Dead. And Pippin tells Beregond, "I am lonely, to tell you the truth. I left my best friend behind in Rohan, and I have had no one to talk to or jest with" (5.1.154). Merry and Pippin both feel more comfortable and at-home when the other is present; when they are separated, they have a harder time keeping their spirits up in these unfamiliar places. But then again, if they hadn't been forced to leave each other and go it alone, they might not have accomplished all their brave deeds.

It was as [Denethor] said; and Pippin soon found himself arrayed in strange garments, all of black and silver. He had a small hauberk, its rings forged of steel, maybe, yet black as jet; and a high-crowned helm with small raven-wings on either side, set with a silver star at the centre of the circlet. Above the mail was a short surcoat of black, but broidered on the breast in silver with the token of the Tree. His old clothes were folded and put away, but he was permitted to keep the grey cloak of Lórien, though not to wear it when on duty. He looked now, had he known, verily Ernil i Pheriannath, the Prince of the Halflings, that folk had called him; but he felt uncomfortable. And the gloom began to weigh on his spirits. (5.4.18)

Pippin's new uniform for his Tower service with Lord Denethor is like a strange challenge. Up until now, he has mostly maintained his Shire habits and even manners, as when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli come upon Merry and Pippin smoking calmly among the ruins of Isengard (see The Two Towers Book 3, Chapters 8). But now, Pippin has been separated from everything that means home to him, even Merry. Even his own clothes. Now, he's in an unfamiliar uniform in a new city. He feels uncomfortable because the time has come for Pippin to shake things up, to start growing into his new double role as hobbit and Guardsman of Gondor. Of course, Pippin doesn't change too much—as Gandalf says, "hobbits have amazing powers of recovery" (The Two Towers 3.11.63).

But Éomer said: "Already you have raised the banner of the Kings and displayed the tokens of Elendil's House. How will you suffer these to be challenged?"

"No," said Aragorn. "But I deem the time unripe; and I have no mind for strife except with our Enemy and his servants."

And the Prince Imrahil said: "Your words, lord, are wise, if one who is a kinsman of the Lord Denethor may counsel you in this matter. He is strong-willed and proud, but old; and his mood has been strange since his son was stricken down. Yet I would not have you remain like a beggar at the door."

"Not a beggar," said Aragorn. "Say a captain of the Rangers, who are unused to cities and houses of stone." And he commanded that his banner should be furled; and he did off the Star of the North Kingdom and gave it to the keeping of the sons of Elrond. (5.8.30-3)

Yes! Finally Aragorn is where he belongs—Minas Tirith, right? Not so fast. He's sitting at the gates, waiting to smooth things over with Denethor before going in and claiming the throne of Gondor. (Little does he know that Denethor is, right at this very moment, setting himself on fire — it'll be tough to smooth things over with that guy.) But Aragorn is really stretching out the suspense here. The "return of the king" can't happen too soon, or else it would spoil the build-up. Plus, the fact that Aragorn has the prudence to wait until the time is a little less unripe shows that when he does come home to take the throne, he'll make some great decisions.

"There is some good stone-work here," [Gimli] said as he looked at the walls; "but also some that is less good, and the streets could be better contrived. When Aragorn comes into his own, I shall offer him the service of stonewrights of the Mountain and we will make this a town to be proud of."

"They need more gardens," said Legolas. "The houses are dead, and there is too little here that grows and is glad. If Aragorn comes into his own, the people of the Wood shall bring him birds that sing and trees that do not die." (5.9.4-5)

Yeah, yeah, Legolas loves the forest, and Gimli loves the stones of the earth. We get it. But what's so great about this scene is that we actually see just how much these two have in common. Both of them feel a bit out of place in Minas Tirith, because both belong to cultures and traditions that are passing away. Later Legolas comments, "The deeds of Men will outlast us, Gimli" (5.9.14). It's as if the two of them are representatives of endangered species. The fact that their stories get so little focus in The Return of the King, while the negotiations of men such as Aragorn, Éomer, Faramir, and Imrahil become more and more important to the plot of the series, demonstrates that men are slowly taking over the story from the elves and the dwarves. Poor Legolas and Gimli get left behind.

"So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started," thought Sam: "to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it. But I would dearly like to see Bywater again, and Rosie Cotton and her brothers, and the Gaffer and Marigold and all. […]"

But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam's plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue. (6.3.5-6)

Sam's nature is changing as a result of his journey to Mordor. His basic optimism has given way to an iron will to persevere in the face of all odds, even if he knows that there is no way he is going to come home again (or so he thinks). But you can already tell that, if Sam and Frodo survive Mordor, it will be Sam who flourishes back in the Shire rather than his more morose buddy. See, Frodo can no longer imagine the Shire—it's just too nice to even think of. But Sam can still remember fondly his home life, and for Sam, that's where the real treasure lies. Sam's roots in the Shire keep him firmly tethered to Middle-earth, but Frodo's weakness for the Ring will soon give him an urge to go west.

Sam went to [Frodo] and kissed his hand. "Then the sooner we're rid of it, the sooner to rest," he said haltingly, finding no better words to say. "Talking won't mend nothing," he muttered to himself, as he gathered up all the things that they had chosen to cast away. He was not willing to leave them lying open in the wilderness for any eyes to see. "Stinker picked up that orc-shirt, seemingly, and he isn't going to add a sword to it. His hands are bad enough when empty. And he isn't going to mess with my pans!" With that he carried all the gear away to one of the many gaping fissures that scored the land and threw them in. The clatter of his precious pans as they fell down into the dark was like a death-knell to his heart. (6.3.31)

Is it possible to chuckle and cry at the same time? We think so. There's something both comic and tragic about how much Sam hates to throw away his cooking pans. They have been his pride and joy since the beginning of their journey ("his chief treasure, his cooking gear" [The Fellowship of the Ring 2.3.74]). But still, we think there's something to this scene. Practically speaking, this is physical proof that Sam does not think they are coming back to the Shire any longer. To throw away his cooking gear, Sam must believe that there will be no food to prepare in the future. This is it for Frodo and Sam. Symbolically, Sam's cooking gear represents his attachment to home and hobbit life. After all, what is a hobbit if not a lover of eating (and smoking, although maybe not so much after Mordor)? By tossing his cooking gear, Sam is showing that his basic hobbit nature has been changed by this journey—"he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel" (6.3.6)).

"I'll not deny we should be glad to have you for a bit. You see, we're not used to such troubles; and the Rangers have all gone away, folk tell me. I don't think we've rightly understood till now what they did for us. For there's been worse than robbers about. Wolves were howling round the fences last winter. And there's dark shapes in the woods, dreadful things that it makes the blood run cold to think of. It's been very disturbing, if you understand me." (6.7.35)

While our heart goes out to Butterbur, here, we also can't help but wonder if there isn't an upside to all the bad shenanigans that have been going down in these parts. The events of wartime, as hideous as they have been, have also been illuminating. Now Butterbur knows "what [the Rangers] did for [Bree]." Early on in The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn argues that the Rangers have to keep the people they protect free even from the knowledge that they are being protected—he doesn't want them to know what dangers they would face without the help of men like the Rangers (see The Fellowship of the Ring 2.2.68), because even the knowledge of danger might be destructive. But you know what? Aragorn just might have been a little too patronizing for our taste. Isn't it better that Butterbur now has to take more personal responsibility for his safety and for the safety of his inn? And don't the hobbits prove, in the end, that they can take care of themselves?

It was one of the saddest hours in their lives. The great chimney rose up before them; and as they drew near the old village across the Water, through rows of new mean houses along each side of the road, they saw the new mill in all its frowning and dirty ugliness: a great brick building straddling the stream, which it fouled with a steaming and stinking outflow. All along the Bywater Road every tree had been felled. (6.8.200)

Hey, wait a minute. Where'd the Party Tree go? The replacement of Bag End's lovely trees (especially the Party Tree) by this "new mill in all its frowning and dirty ugliness" is, let's face it, the worst thing ever. But more importantly, it provides an eighty-or-so-word critique of the physical effects of the Industrial Revolution on England. The old greenery of the Shire (a stand-in for rural England) is getting turned into a pollution-producing machine, destroying "the old village" in favor of "rows of new mean houses." In the name of progress and profit, Lotho and his men have "fouled" the Shire with "a steaming and stinking outflow." Gross. The Shire is supposed to be a homey place of refuge. To see it torn up and polluted seems like a total violation of the natural order of things. But it also seems all too familiar in our world of oil spills and the like. Its very recognizability makes this mill seem almost worse than Sauron, who has no parallel in our times.