I was nervous about starting Tolkien’s Return of the King(ROTK). I’d seen the film exactly once in the theater. I didn’t like the movie at all. It was long. It was tedious. Aesthetically it was beautiful, but so much time was setting up the pieces on the chess board that by the time checkmate came, I’d lost all interest in seeing who won. Still, I had already read the first two books and loved it. Live-tweeting them had been great fun, and considering its popularity I was sure this would be the piece de resistance of the series.
At first it was. After a wonderful little synopsis, which I promptly skipped, I dove into our adventure starting with Gandalf and Pippin who finally take us to this Gondor we’ve been hearing about for several hundred pages. Things are not so great there, but Gandalf gets them where they need to be with his usual flair. We’re caught up on what shenanigans Aragorn, Merry, Gimli, and the elf are up to, and I was eventually whisked back and forth between doings in Rohan and Gondor. There are ghost armies, family drama of the “Cat’s in the Cradle” variety, and a forgotten wonderful feminist twist in the middle, which I’m sure was very ahead of its time. Merry and Pippin gain massive experience points in battle, and having blocked out most of the film, I was eager to see what outcome awaited our heroes.
Unfortunately, between the bursts of action were long, drawn out geographical and strategic descriptions. I’m sure they were significant, though I couldn’t tell you why. I could do little more than scan these bits briefly and hope that despite not giving the words my full attention, I wasn’t missing any TOO important. Besides, wasn’t the real focus the Ring? What were Sam and Frodo up to anyways? I chugged along, although I was starting to have flashbacks of the frustration I felt during a certain 200 minute-long film, the majority of it spent in the throes of one long, internal scream.
Then my mom died.
Less than two weeks after we buried her, America elected a canned ham as president. It was not a cute and as a queer Latina, I’m taking it pretty hard. After a temporary break from reading and live-tweeting, I picked the book back up with some reluctance, determined to see this thing through. There was also the promise of a beautiful, Gondor-themed wood pipe from Flogglewerks once I had completed the triology. I WANTED that pipe.
When I picked up the book, it took me to the Healing Houses. After a two day stint in hospice, watching my mother die, I wasn’t ready to read about people magically surviving their ails. I gave myself an additional day or two before steeling myself, resolute. I was doing this thing, dangit. What started out as a bitter reminder of the happy ending I’d never get turned into a realization a realization of ROTK’s true gift – hope. For the rest of the book, reminders of the value of hope would come up again and again. I saw it restored as Aragorn healed the sick and accepted his fate as king. My heart fluttered with it when Faramir and Eowyn gift each other the joy of reciprocal love. And when Gandalf and his squad ride to the Black Gate, what else is there but hope to see them through as they’re surrounded by Sauron’s army?
Leaving me to dangle on the outcome, I began Book 6 of the Trilogy in which I was finally allowed to delve into the final leg of Frodo and Sam’s journey. They are haunted by Orcs, Gollum, and Sauron’s ever-searching eye. Fueled by my grief, I thirsted and hungered with them as they made their slow and impossible journey to Mount Doom. Y’all, it was ROUGH. Against all odds they make it, and with a few sudden paragraphs, the journey is over. Gollum takes the Ring for a swim at the bottom of Mount Doom and we’re left with two very fatigued and broken Hobbits. It all happened so quickly, I almost jumped. It wasn’t a satisfactory ending, so I was curious and relieved to see we still had five more chapters despite the fact that the Ring was kaput. What made these chapters worth reading was our Samwise Gamgee, whose never-say-die spirit reminded me time and again of the running theme of Hope, something much needed as I continued to deal with Real Life.
In the final chapters, I was treated to pages of our company getting some much deserved rest and accolades. Gimli and Legolas set off on their Best Friends Tour, and at last we see our eager hobbits home. Sadly, not all was well in the Shire thanks to Saruman the Turdly. In what is absolutely my favorite chapter of the series, I shouted and swore as our big bad Hobbits use their newfound warrior skills to make the Shire safe once again for Hobbitkind everywhere. It was the satisfying ending I had been waiting for, and I’ll never for the life of me understand why Peter Jackson left “The Scouring of the Shire” out of the movie. Seriously, Mr. Jackson, what’s up with that? Finally, Frodo, realizing at last that you can’t always go home again, leaves us for good. In a poignant and perfect ending Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin say their goodbyes, and everyone gets a happy ending.
And with that, I had finished what I had set out to do six months ago. And even though it was certainly not my favorite of the series, ROTK is the novel I will hold most dear. In every culture, stories of unlikely heroes succeeding against impossible odds exist. The Return of the King is one of those, and captures the essence of what is best about humanity – our infinite will to strive against true evil no matter how impossible the odds and our ability always hope. And always, always keep a Samwise