The Return of the King

The Return of the King


J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Return of the King Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of J. R. R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1892 and left for England, his parents’ home country, at the age of three with his mother and brother. His father intended to join the family, but passed away before he could make the journey. Tolkien was subsequently brought up Catholic by his mother, who also educated him until her death when Tolkien was 12 years old. Tolkien completed a degree in English language and literature at Exeter College, Oxford. During World War I, he was posted to France as a British soldier, and his experiences in the war—including seeing many of his school friends dying—provided much of the inspiration for the themes of war and mortality in his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien became a professor at Oxford in 1925 and retired in 1959, having found fame during his tenure with the publication of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He died in 1973 at age 81.
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Historical Context of The Return of the King

Though Tolkien was uncomfortable with the idea that The Lord of the Rings stood as an exact allegory for any other event or theme, many of the trilogy’s characters and events were inspired by—or at least can be clearly linked to—his time as a soldier in World War I. Samwise Gamgee, in particular, was inspired by the loyal working-class men Tolkien fought alongside. Tolkien’s scholarship in Old English built the foundations of the people of Rohan, whose language and heritage were drawn in large part from the Anglo-Saxons. The hobbits’ home of the Shire, meanwhile, was inspired by Tolkien’s childhood in the English countryside.

Other Books Related to The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings was the natural follow-up to Tolkien’s first novel, The Hobbit, which focuses on Bilbo’s adventure to the Misty Mountains with Gandalf and 13 dwarves, during which he finds the One Ring. While writing the trilogy, Tolkien was also creating an extensive mythology for the peoples of Middle-earth, which was published posthumously as The Silmarillion. These works led to Tolkien’s status as one of the main proponents of modern fantasy, alongside C. S. Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia, and was a great source of inspiration for works ranging from George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet.
Key Facts about The Return of the King
  • Full Title: The Return of the King
  • When Written: 1937–1949
  • Where Written: Oxford, England
  • When Published: 1955
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: High Fantasy, Epic
  • Setting: Middle-earth
  • Climax: Frodo reaches the heart of Mount Doom and destroys the Ring, defeating Sauron and his armies.
  • Antagonist: Sauron
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The Return of the King

Three-in-one. Tolkien’s vision for The Lord of the Rings was as a stand-alone novel. The idea to split the story into three books was necessitated by the post-World War II paper shortage, which meant that sending a 1000-page tome to print was not a viable option.

The Atlantis Complex. Tolkien had a recurring dream of a great wave submerging green fields, which he dubbed his “Atlantis complex.” This dream provided the foundation for one of the tales of Middle-earth’s Second Age, which Tolkien chronicled in The Silmarillion. He eventually came to learn that one of his sons, Michael, seemed to have “inherited” the same dream from him.