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  • Written by J.R.R. Tolkien
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The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: Part Three

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The prequel to The Lord of the Rings—The Hobbit—is now a major motion picture directed by Peter Jackson
While the evil might of the Dark Lord Sauron swarms out to conquer all Middle-earth, Frodo and Sam struggle deep into Mordor, seat of Sauron’s power. To defeat the Dark Lord, the One Ring, ruler of all the accursed Rings of Power, must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. But the way is impossibly hard, and Frodo is weakening. Weighed down by the compulsion of the Ring, he begins finally to despair.
The awesome conclusion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, beloved by millions of readers around the world.



Pippin looked out from the shelter of Gandalf’s cloak. He wondered if he was awake or still sleeping, still in the swift-moving dream in which he had been wrapped so long since the great ride began. The dark world was rushing by and the wind sang loudly in his ears. He could see nothing but the wheeling stars, and away to his right vast shadows against the sky where the mountains of the South marched past. Sleepily he tried to reckon the times and stages of their journey, but his memory was drowsy and uncertain.

There had been the first ride at terrible speed without a halt, and then in the dawn he had seen a pale gleam of gold, and they had come to the silent town and the great empty house on the hill. And hardly had they reached its shelter when the winged shadow had passed over once again, and men wilted with fear. But Gandalf had spoken soft words to him, and he had slept in a corner, tired but uneasy, dimly aware of comings and goings and of men talking and Gandalf giving orders. And then again riding, riding in the night. This was the second, no, the third night since he had looked in the Stone. And with that hideous memory he woke fully, and shivered, and the noise of the wind became filled with menacing voices.

A light kindled in the sky, a blaze of yellow fire behind dark barriers. Pippin cowered back, afraid for a moment, wondering into what dreadful country Gandalf was bearing him. He rubbed his eyes, and then he saw that it was the moon rising above the eastern shadows, now almost at the full. So the night was not yet old and for hours the dark journey would go on. He stirred and spoke.

‘Where are we, Gandalf?’ he asked.

‘In the realm of Gondor,’ the wizard answered. ‘The land of Anórien is still passing by.

There was a silence again for a while. Then, ‘What is that?’ cried Pippin suddenly, clutching at Gandalf’s cloak. ‘Look! Fire, red fire! Are there dragons in this land? Look, there is another!

For answer Gandalf cried aloud to his horse. ‘On, Shadow- fax! We must hasten. Time is short. See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled. See, there is the fire on Amon Dîn, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan.

But Shadowfax paused in his stride, slowing to a walk, and then he lifted up his head and neighed. And out of the darkness the answering neigh of other horses came; and presently the thudding of hoofs was heard, and three riders swept up and passed like flying ghosts in the moon and vanished into the West. Then Shadowfax gathered himself together and sprang away, and the night flowed over him like a roar- ing wind.

Pippin became drowsy again and paid little attention to Gandalf telling him of the customs of Gondor, and how the Lord of the City had beacons built on the tops of outlying hills along both borders of the great range, and maintained posts at these points where fresh horses were always in readiness to bear his errand-riders to Rohan in the North, or to Belfalas in the South. ‘It is long since the beacons of the North were lit,’ he said; ‘and in the ancient days of Gondor they were not needed, for they had the Seven Stones.’ Pippin stirred uneasily.

‘Sleep again, and do not be afraid!’ said Gandalf. ‘For you are not going like Frodo to Mordor, but to Minas Tirith, and there you will be as safe as you can be anywhere in these days. If Gondor falls, or the Ring is taken, then the Shire will be no refuge.

‘You do not comfort me,’ said Pippin, but nonetheless sleep crept over him. The last thing that he remembered before he fell into deep dream was a glimpse of high white peaks, glimmering like floating isles above the clouds as they caught the light of the westering moon. He wondered where Frodo was, and if he was already in Mordor, or if he was dead; and he did not know that Frodo from far away looked on that same moon as it set beyond Gondor ere the coming of the day.

Pippin woke to the sound of voices. Another day of hiding and a night of journey had fleeted by. It was twilight: the cold dawn was at hand again, and chill grey mists were about them. Shadowfax stood steaming with sweat, but he held his neck proudly and showed no sign of weariness. Many tall men heavily cloaked stood beside him, and behind them in the mist loomed a wall of stone. Partly ruinous it seemed, but already before the night was passed the sound of hurried labour could be heard: beat of hammers, clink of trowels, and the creak of wheels. Torches and flares glowed dully here and there in the fog. Gandalf was speaking to the men that barred his way, and as he listened Pippin became aware that he himself was being discussed.

‘Yea truly, we know you, Mithrandir,’ said the leader of the men, ‘and you know the pass-words of the Seven Gates and are free to go forward. But we do not know your companion. What is he? A dwarf out of the mountains in the North? We wish for no strangers in the land at this time, unless they be mighty men of arms in whose faith and help we can trust.

‘I will vouch for him before the seat of Denethor,’ said Gandalf. ‘And as for valour, that cannot be computed by stature. He has passed through more battles and perils than you have, Ingold, though you be twice his height; and he comes now from the storming of Isengard, of which we bear tidings, and great weariness is on him, or I would wake him. His name is Peregrin, a very valiant man.

‘Man?’ said Ingold dubiously, and the others laughed.

‘Man!’ cried Pippin, now thoroughly roused. ‘Man! Indeed not! I am a hobbit and no more valiant than I am a man, save perhaps now and again by necessity. Do not let Gandalf deceive you!

‘Many a doer of great deeds might say no more,’ said Ingold. ‘But what is a hobbit?

‘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 the 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.

‘It has been guessed already,’ said Ingold; ‘for there have been strange portents here of late. But pass on now quickly! For the Lord of Minas Tirith will be eager to see any that bear the latest tidings of his son, be he man or——

‘Hobbit,’ said Pippin. ‘Little service can I offer to your lord, but what I can do, I would do, remembering Boromir the brave.

‘Fare you well!’ said Ingold; and the men made way for Shadowfax, and he passed through a narrow gate in the wall. ‘May you bring good counsel to Denethor in his need, and to us all, Mithrandir!’ Ingold cried. ‘But you come with tidings of grief and danger, as is your wont, they say.

‘Because I come seldom but when my help is needed,’ answered Gandalf. ‘And as for counsel, to you I would say that you are over-late in repairing the wall of the Pelennor. Courage will now be your best defence against the storm that is at hand—that and such hope as I bring. For not all the tidings that I bring are evil. But leave your trowels and sharpen your swords!

‘The work will be finished ere evening,’ said Ingold. ‘This is the last portion of the wall to be put in defence: the least open to attack, for it looks towards our friends of Rohan. Do you know aught of them? Will they answer the summons, think you?

‘Yes, they will come. But they have fought many battles at your back. This road and no road looks towards safety any longer. Be vigilant! But for Gandalf Stormcrow you would have seen a host of foes coming out of Anórien and no Riders of Rohan. And you may yet. Fare you well, and sleep not!

Gandalf passed now into the wide land beyond the Rammas Echor. So the men of Gondor called the out-wall that they had built with great labour, after Ithilien fell under the shadow of their Enemy. For ten leagues or more it ran from the mountains’ feet and so back again, enclosing in its fence the fields of the Pelennor: fair and fertile townlands on the long slopes and terraces falling to the deep levels of the Anduin. At its furthest point from the Great Gate of the City, north-eastward, the wall was four leagues distant, and there from a frowning bank it overlooked the long flats beside the river, and men had made it high and strong; for at that point, upon a walled causeway, the road came in from the fords and bridges of Osgiliath and passed through a guarded gate between embattled towers. At its nearest point the wall was little more than one league from the City, and that was south-eastward. There Anduin, going in a wide knee about the hills of Emyn Arnen in South Ithilien, bent sharply west, and the out-wall rose upon its very brink; and beneath it lay the quays and landings of the Harlond for craft that came upstream from the southern fiefs.

The townlands were rich, with wide tilth and many orchards, and homesteads there were with oast and garner, fold and byre, and many rills rippling through the green from the highlands down to Anduin. Yet the herdsmen and husbandmen that dwelt there were not many, and the most part of the people of Gondor lived in the seven circles of the City, or in the high vales of the mountain-borders, in Lossarnach, or further south in fair Lebennin with its five swift streams. There dwelt a hardy folk between the mountains and the sea. They were reckoned men of Gondor, yet their blood was mingled, and there were short and swarthy folk among them whose sires came more from the forgotten men who housed in the shadow of the hills in the Dark Years ere the coming of the kings. But beyond, in the great fief of Belfalas, dwelt Prince Imrahil in his castle of Dol Amroth by the sea, and he was of high blood, and his folk also, tall men and proud with sea-grey eyes.

Now after Gandalf had ridden for some time the light of day grew in the sky, and Pippin roused himself and looked up. To his left lay a sea of mist, rising to a bleak shadow in the East; but to his right great mountains reared their heads, ranging from the West to a steep and sudden end, as if in the making of the land the River had burst through a great barrier, carving out a mighty valley to be a land of battle and debate in times to come. And there where the White Mountains of Ered Nimrais came to their end he saw, as Gandalf had promised, the dark mass of Mount Mindolluin, the deep purple shadows of its high glens, and its tall face whitening in the rising day. And upon its out-thrust knee was the Guarded City, with its seven walls of stone so strong and old that it seemed to have been not builded but carven by giants out of the bones of the earth.

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 out against the sky, glimmering like a spike 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.

So Gandalf and Peregrin rode to the Great Gate of the Men of Gondor at the rising of the sun, and its iron doors rolled back before them.

‘Mithrandir! Mithrandir!’ men cried. ‘Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!

‘It is upon you,’ said Gandalf. ‘I have ridden on its wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let me pass!

Then men fell back before the command of his voice and questioned him no further, though they gazed in wonder at the hobbit that sat before him and at the horse that bore him. For the people of the City used horses very little and they were seldom seen in their streets, save only those ridden by the errand-riders of their lord. And they said: ‘Surely that is one of the great steeds of the King of Rohan? Maybe the Rohirrim will come soon to strengthen us.’ But Shadowfax walked proudly up the long winding road.

For the fashion of Minas Tirith was such that it was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each wall was a gate. But the gates were not set in a line: the Great Gate in the City Wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards; so that the paved way that climbed towards the Citadel turned first this way and then that across the face of the hill. And each time that it passed the line of the Great Gate it went through an arched tunnel, piercing a vast pier of rock whose huge out-thrust bulk divided in two all the circles of the City save the first. For partly in the primeval shaping of the hill, partly by the mighty craft and labour of old, there stood up from the rear of the wide court behind the Gate a towering bastion of stone, its edge sharp as a ship-keel facing east. Up it rose, even to the level of the topmost circle, and there was crowned by a battlement; so that those in the Citadel might, like mariners in a mountainous ship, look from its peak sheer down upon the Gate seven hundred feet below. The entrance to the Citadel also looked eastward, but was delved in the heart of the rock; thence a long lamp-lit slope ran up to the seventh gate. Thus men reached at last the High Court, and the Place of the Fountain before the feet of the White Tower: tall and shapely, fifty fathoms from its base to the pinnacle, where the banner of the Stewards floated a thousand feet above the plain.
J.R.R. Tolkien

About J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien - The Return of the King
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3rd, 1892 in South Africa. Tolkien was educated and taught Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. Tolkien's other works include The Hobbit and The Simarillion, which are both available on audio from Random House.


“There are very few works of genius in recent literature. This is one.”—The Nation
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Note to Teachers

The importance of the Stewardship held by Denethor's line until the return of a king should be carefully explained to students. A steward is one who runs the city in place of the king. Over the long years in the absence of the king, Denethor has grown strong and wise. His, and his favored son Boromir's, failing is the desire to hold power. For Boromir, his desire for the Ring left him unprepared for the Orc attack. For Denethor, his weakening position made him look into the palantir of Minas Tirith and he descended into madness. The stewardship sets up a great deal of bureaucratic maneuvering by Gandalf and Aragorn and should be made clear from the outset.


About the Book

While the evil might of the Dark Lord Sauron swarmed out to conquer all Middle-earth, Frodo and Sam struggled deep into Mordor, seat of Sauron's power. To defeat the Dark Lord, the accursed Ring of Power had to be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. But the way was impossibly hard, and Frodo was weakening. Weighed down by the compulsion of the Ring he began finally to despair.


Plot Summaries & Comprehension Questions

Book V Plot Summary & Discussion Questions

Book V tells of the gathering of the armies under the leadership of Gandalf, Aragorn and Theoden. The book begins with Gandalf's meeting with the Steward of Minas Tirith, Denethor, Boromir and Faramir's father. After looking into the palantir, Aragorn rides with Legolas and Gimli, as well as the Rangers of the North through the Paths of the Dead to gather the army of ghosts and to gain speed in arriving at Minas Tirith. Eowyn begs to travel with Aragorn, but he refuses. Merry rides with Dernhelm, who is Eowyn in disguise, and the Riders of Rohan into the battle at Minas Tirith where Denethor has gone mad and Faramir is gravely wounded. Theoden confronts the Lord of the Nazgul and is killed, but Eowyn, assisted by Merry, kills the Nazgul as the Men of Rohan arrive to turn the tide of battle. Aragorn arrives on dark ships to drive the orc armies back in preparation for the final battle. Meanwhile, Pippin calls Gandalf to save Faramir from Denethor's madness. With the help of Beregond, they save Faramir, but Denethor burns himself in his own pyre. Aragorn goes as a captain to the Houses of Healing to save Faramir, Eowyn and Merry. Once the city is healed, a group of Captains of the West plan to offer themselves as bait in the hope that the Ring-Bearer is still busy on his quest. When the messenger of Sauron greets the Captains with Frodo and Sam's garments, the Captains know there is still hope. The final battle begins with Pippin killing a troll-chief and the arrival of the eagles.

Chapter One--Minas Tirith & Chapter Two--The Passing of the Grey Company

1. Why is Pippin selected to ride with Gandalf? Why does Denethor favor his dead son Boromir over his son Faramir?

2. Who is the Grey Company and how were they summoned to join Aragorn? Look up the word fealty in the dictionary. Who does Merry pledge his service to and why? What do they plan to talk about in a more peaceful time?

3. Why does Aragorn decide to take the Path of the Dead? What is Eowyn's reaction to his plan to take this path? Gimli is usually comfortable in caves and mines. What happens to him on the Path of the Dead? What does Aragorn say inside the cavern which allows the Grey Company to pass?

Chapter Three--The Muster of Rohan & Chapter Four--The Siege of Gondor

1. What do Eowyn and her father Theoden think has happened to Aragorn? How many men will Theoden ride with to Minas Tirith? Why doesn't Theoden take all of his men?

2. What happens to Merry? Why isn't he allowed to go to battle?

3. Faramir's return to Minas Tirith is almost arrested by the Black Riders. Who saves him and what news does he bring back to the City? What does Denethor think should be done with the Ring? What does Aragorn think stirred Sauron into battle?

4. What devices does the Enemy use to weaken and then enter the first gate of the City? What happens on Faramir's retreat into the city? What is Denethor preparing to do as Gandalf takes control of the City? What do Pippin and Gandalf hear as Gandalf faces the Nazgul?

Chapter Five--The Ride of the Rohirrim, Chapter Six--The Battle of the

Pelennor Fields, & Chapter Seven--The Pyre of Denethor

1. What unexpected source helps speed the men of Rohan into Minas Tirith? What is the Enemy doing when the Riders of Rohan charge into battle?

2. How does Theoden fall and who stays to fight? When Dernhelm reveals that he is really Eowyn, what fear does this strike into the Lord of the Nazgul? How does Merry help Eowyn?

3. How is Eomer cut off in the Battle of the Pelennor Field? What does he see that first gives him despair and then hope?

4. What has happened to Denethor? What does he hold as he sets his own pyre ablaze? Who saves Faramir?

Chapter Eight--The Houses of Healing, Chapter Nine--The Last Debate & Chapter Ten--The Black Gate Opens

1. Which three important characters are sent to the Houses of Healing and what are their injuries? What old saying does Ioreth remind Gandalf of?

2. What does Gandalf counsel the Captain of Gondor to do? Why is the size of the Army that marches into Mordor significant?

3. What does the Mouth of Sauron show as proof that the Ring-Bearer has been captured? What are Sauron's list of demands? What does Gandalf accept? Pippin finally gets a taste of battle. What valiant deed does he perform and what does he hear as he falls?

Book VI Plot Summary & Discussion Questions

Book VI begins where The Two Towers left off; with Sam looking for Frodo and bearing the Ring. He hears the battle going on between Orcs in the Tower. Although tempted by the power of the Ring, Sam's hobbit sense returns and he finds Frodo who demands the Ring back. The hobbits struggle toward Mount Doom, pursued by Gollum and unknowing Orcs. With food and water running out, Sam carried Frodo up Mount Doom before Gollum attacks them. Sam spares Gollum, remembering the words of Gandalf and then chases his master to the fires of the mountain. Once inside, Frodo decides not to give up the Ring, puts it on, is attacked by Gollum who bites the Ring and Frodo's finger off, then dances backward in his glee, into the Crack of Doom. Gandalf and the Eagles rescue Sam and Frodo off the mountain.

Great feasts and celebrations greet the Ring-Bearers and all the hobbits are celebrated by Aragorn, King Elessar. Eowyn and Faramir are wed, as well as Aragorn and Arwen. Beregond becomes first captain of Faramir's Guards. The Fellowship is reunited and marches to Rivendell to see Bilbo and then eventually, the Shire. But the Shire has been under the rule of Saruman and his ruffians, who have looted and burned much to spite the hobbits. The battle-wizened hobbits raise the Shire with the help of Eomer's horn and defeat the ruffians. Wormtongue kills Saruman and then is killed by hobbit archers. Sam and Frodo ride away from the Shire and meet the elves heading west to the Sea with Bilbo. They meet Gandalf on the white boat. Sam, Merry and Pippin ride home as the heros of the Third Age ride over the sea to the Grey Havens.

Chapter One--The Tower of Cirith Ungol & Chapter Two--The Land of Shadow

1. What does Sam uses to enter the Tower of Cirith Ungol? What started the fight between the Orc chiefs? How does Frodo react to the fact that Sam has carried the Ring?

2. Name two glimmers of hope that the hobbits see in during their escape from the Tower. What decision do the hobbits make to speed their journey to Mount Doom? How do they blend in with the marching Orcs and how do they escape?

Chapter Three--Mount Doom & Chapter Four--The Field of Cormallen

1. What gives Sam the strength to carry Frodo and what do they leave behind for their final ascent? Where is the Dark Eye focused? Why does Sam spare Gollum?

2. What does Frodo decide to do with the Ring at the brink of the Fire of Doom? With the Dark Eye now firmly fixed on Frodo, how does Gollum complete the journey of the Ring?

3. What interrupts the final battle of the Captains of Gondor and Sauron's forces? How are Frodo and Sam saved from the eruptions of Mount Doom? What treatment do the hobbits receive from the King? What is the subject of Legolas's song?

Chapter Five--The Steward and The King & Chapter Six--Many Partings

1. Where does Eowyn wish to go? What does Merry tell Faramir about Eowyn? Who are Eowyn's loyalties torn between? What does Faramir say that makes her change her mind? What does Eowyn want to be?

2. What happens in the meeting of Faramir and Aragorn? In what order does Aragorn wish to receive the crown? What is the punishment of Beregond? What does Gandalf tell Aragorn about the Third Age? What does Aragorn find on his mountain walk with Gandalf ? What is the special event that Aragorn has been waiting for?

3. What gifts are given and what grudge is settled before the weddings and funeral? Where do Legolas and Gimli go? Why did Treebeard let Saruman and Wormtongue go? Who does the party meet on the road to Rivendell?

Chapter Seven--Homeward Bound, Chapter Eight--The Scouring of the Shire & Chapter Nine--The Grey Havens

1. What record is Bilbo trying to break? What peculiar thing does Elrond say to Frodo? What does Frodo feel near the approach to Weathertop? What does the company learn at The Prancing Pony? Why does Gandalf leave the hobbits before they enter the Shire? Why does he have confidence in them?

2. Who escorts the hobbits into the Shire? What does Frodo keep reminding the hobbits about? How does Merry raise the Shire and how did his travels prepare him for this encounter?

3. Who do the hobbits confront inside Bag End? What is the outcome of the confrontation?

4. What has happened to the Shire and how does Sam use Lady Galadriel's gift? Where do Sam and Frodo go and who do they meet? Who tells Merry and Pippin to meet Sam by the Sea? Where are the travelers going?

Discussion & Writing Topics

1. Boromir is given a very different burial than the Orcs who are killed by the Riders of Rohan. In Christian culture it is traditional to bury a body in a coffin with a marker above that place to say who lies beneath. Research different types of burial in Egypt, South America and China. How do people attempt to preserve the identity of the person who died? What is the notion of an after-life in each culture? Compare these with the variety of burials in the Lord of the Rings.

2. Throughout history there have been a great many military victories and blunders. The battle of Waterloo (Napoleon), The Spanish Armada, The Battle of Hastings, The Battle of the Bulge, Pearl Harbor, The Invasion of Normandy, The Tet Offensive. Research a military battle. What plans did one side make that helped them win, what mistakes were made? Compare these with the major battles at Isengard and Mordor. What did the enemy know and what information were they lacking?

3. Legolas has one way of dealing with pain and fatigue during the march of the Orcs. Pippin and Merry comfort themselves another way. What do the different characters do to endure pain? Find examples of how the power of the mind can assist the healing power and return the strength of the body.

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