The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by

J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Return of the King: Book 6, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Aragorn’s army is overcome by the onslaught of Mordor’s troops. Suddenly, though, Gandalf looks to the north and cries, “The Eagles are coming!” As the huge eagles arrive in long lines, the Nazgûl are called away and Mordor’s army seems to slacken, filled with dread. Aragorn and the other captains rally their troops again, buoyed by new hope, but Gandalf calls for them to stand and wait. Around them, the land of Mordor begins to crumble. A huge shadow billows out towards them before disintegrating in the wind. Gandalf tells them that Sauron has been defeated and his reign has ended.
The arrival of Gandalf’s eagles shows that even when he thinks he’s exhausted every option, the loyalty and power he commands in Middle-earth provide him with new sources of hope. The image of Sauron’s shadow reaching out before disappearing is a sign that his greed was never able to produce a lasting or tangible kind of power—with the destruction of the Ring, he, too, fades into nothing.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
When the captains look around them, they see that the enemy troops are fleeing in chaos. Gandalf calls to the mightiest eagle and asks to be carried by him, joined by a few other eagles, towards Mount Doom. Meanwhile, Sam encourages Frodo to walk just a little further down the mountain with him, but soon the mountain erupts with lava and ash. Soon they’ll be engulfed. Sam thinks about their incredible story and wishes he could live to hear it told by others. Just as Frodo and Sam fall down, exhausted and soon to die, Gandalf and the eagles find them and lift their bodies to safety.
Though Sam doubted that the others thought of him and Frodo during their time in Mordor, Gandalf’s first act in the event of Sauron’s destruction is to rescue the two hobbits, showing his priority was to ensure their safety in any way he could. And even in the face of death, Sam keeps hoping for the future of other hobbits and that they’ll remember him and Frodo in their stories.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sam wakes up on a soft bed as if from a long dream. Frodo is lying beside him, and when Sam sees that Frodo is missing a finger, he realizes that it wasn’t all a dream. Gandalf appears in front of the bed. Sam is amazed: he thought Gandalf was dead, and he asks if all sad things are going to be erased. Gandalf laughs, and the sound makes Sam burst into tears, overwhelmed with joy. Frodo wakes up next to him. Gandalf tells them both that they’re in the realm of Gondor and the king is waiting to see them. Sam worries about what he’ll wear, but Gandalf says that the rags they wore on their journey are the most noble and appropriate clothes. 
Gandalf’s presence when Sam wakes up seems like a miracle—he’s so confused by what was a dream and what was real that he imagines Gandalf’s presence will make everything good again. Sam’s overwhelming emotions, which arise from hearing Gandalf laugh, shows that he hasn’t heard a sound that joyful in weeks—he’s had to sustain his and Frodo’s hopes without the help of any tangible delight.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Frodo and Sam follow Gandalf through a tree-lined grove and are heralded by a host of knights and guards. The crowd raises spears and blows trumpets and chants in praise of the hobbits. As they go forward, they see Aragorn sitting on a high seat: he is the king they were told about. Aragorn stoops to bow for Frodo and Sam, then leads them to sit on the throne. A minstrel offers a song of their journey, at which Sam feels his dreams have come true. After this celebration of the hobbits, the crowd rises to feast together.
Much has changed in Frodo and Sam’s absence—the man they knew as Strider, the leader of their small Fellowship, is now Gondor’s king. And their doubts that anyone remembered them during their journey through Mordor are now disproved by the lavish celebrations in their honor. Sam, whose dream was to be immortalized in song, is now completely satisfied.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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Frodo and Sam are led to a tent where they’re given noble armor to wear, including, to their delight, the mithril-mail that was stolen from Frodo in Mordor. Though Frodo gave Sting to Sam on their journey, Sam insists that Frodo wear it again. Gandalf helps them to dress in their mail and places a silver circlet on each of their heads. They arrive at the feast and sit at the king’s table along with Gimli and Legolas. When two esquires come to serve wine, they recognize them as Merry and Pippin. After the feast, the hobbits talk with Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli about their different journeys. There’s so much to make sense of that Pippin suggests Frodo will need to be locked up and forced to write it all down, otherwise Bilbo would be very disappointed. The friends disperse to rest.
The mithril-mail and Sting are signs of the free people’s complete victory over Mordor, proven by their ability to reclaim some of what was lost without agreeing to Sauron’s terms. Frodo and Sam are treated like royalty, demonstrating Aragorn’s respect for bravery and sacrifice over any official rank or status, and proving to them that their treacherous quest was vital to Middle-earth’s freedom and survival. But Pippin, like Sam, feels that a journey isn’t complete without being properly remembered, so he thinks it’s vitally important for Frodo to record every detail.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
The camp remains in Ithilien for a few days. The hobbits wander the land, recognizing places they passed through on their journeys, while the men prepare for the return to Minas Tirith. Eventually, they all set out to the city and camp on the field below.
The hobbits are able to find familiarity in Ithilien, which is a sign that their travels have taken them far from the Shire and they’ve been able to adapt to new places and landscapes.
Themes
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon