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 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the departure of Aragorn’s army, those remaining in Minas Tirith are filled with gloom. Éowyn refuses to rest for the amount of time the healers think is required. She rises, saying she’ll get sicker if she can’t find anything to do. She asks for tidings of war but there are none. She’s frustrated by the healers who suggest that there are other things outside of war that require attention, and she says that she would’ve rather died on the battlefield than be stuck here with nothing to do. She demands to be taken to Faramir, who is still resting in the Houses of Healing.
Even after nearly martyring herself on the battlefield, Éowyn is not satisfied and feels just as restricted as she did before. She cannot even surrender to a few days of rest without feeling condemned to a life of helplessness, and she can’t see the value of tasks outside the most dangerous and vengeful ones. Her demand to see Faramir suggests she thinks a man of high status will understand her dilemma and let her go free from the Houses of Healing.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Faramir is walking in the garden when Éowyn finds him. She explains that she’s not upset with her treatment, but she cannot endure being caged. When Faramir sees her, he’s moved by her beauty and obvious strength, and asks what she wants. When she demands to be let go from the Houses of Healing, she begins to doubt herself; she doesn’t want Faramir to think she’s just being petulant. He tells her that he himself is under the care of the healers, and even if he had the power to release Éowyn, he wouldn’t, because she still needs care. Éowyn softens and begins to cry. One of the causes of her sadness is that the window by her bed doesn’t look to the east. Faramir tells her he can fix this, at least.
Faramir’s openness to hearing Éowyn’s wishes, and his subsequent refusal to grant her freedom from the Houses of Healing, suggest that he respects her and is invested in her happiness, while believing that she should be cared for and protected. He can sense that she may not appreciate being treated gently or cared for, but he does not allow her to reject the treatment she needs, suggesting he loves her more than she can immediately appreciate.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Faramir goes on to tell Éowyn that he’d enjoy her company during his walks in the garden. She isn’t sure what he wants with her company and doesn’t have much interest in conversation. Faramir tells her he thinks she is beautiful, and he feels close to her through their shared experience of the Dark Shadow. Éowyn tells him she is still under the shadow, so Faramir should not depend on her to lighten his spirits, but thanks him for the permission to walk in the gardens. When Faramir returns inside, he asks the warden to tell him everything he knows about Éowyn, but the warden tells him that Merry would be able to provide more insight. Merry helps Faramir to understand Éowyn’s sadness, but when Faramir walks in the garden again, Éowyn doesn’t join him.
Éowyn’s stubbornness continues to shine through even, or perhaps especially, when she’s shown gentleness and understanding. She has restricted her appreciation of her own worth to her value on the battlefield, which means she’s confused when Faramir professes to find her beautiful and requests her companionship—these are not qualities she has considered useful. Merry’s ability to tell Faramir about Éowyn suggests he's cultivated a special friendship with her—a friendship that, perhaps, was strengthened by their shared status as outsiders in the midst of the Rohirrim.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
In the morning, Faramir sees Éowyn again. They walk and talk together, seeming to grow stronger in each other’s company. A few days pass and the two of them look out from the wall together. The air has grown colder. Aragorn must be reaching the Black Gate soon. Faramir tells Éowyn that the last days have brought him both joy and pain: joy in meeting Éowyn, but increased sadness and fear of losing the war, because he does not want to lose her. Éowyn evades his statement. From the wall, they see a huge mountain of darkness rising in the distance and feel the city shake. Faramir says that he knows that this seems like the end, but he feels an unreasonable amount of hope and tells Éowyn he thinks that the darkness is over. Without knowing it, Éowyn and Faramir have been holding hands.
Faramir and Éowyn grow stronger from their budding relationship, suggesting that love and care have physical, not just mental and emotional, benefits. Love in a time of war, Faramir realizes, is especially joyful and especially painful—joyful because it’s one of the only delights in such a dark time, and painful because the war’s hopelessness means there’s little chance that he’ll get to live a happy life with Éowyn. This passage also displays Faramir’s ability to look for hope and possibility, which acts as a foil for Éowyn’s stern, realistic outlook.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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Suddenly, the huge shadow disperses and the sun shines on the river. An eagle arrives with the news that Sauron has been overthrown, and the people of the city sing in all their different languages. Faramir takes up his position as Steward of Gondor until the king’s return to take charge of readying the city. Though Éomer summons Éowyn to join the camp in Ithilien, she doesn’t go, and while she stays in the city, she seems to grow weaker and sadder.
Faramir’s assumption of the role of Steward shows that he’s loyal and humble in equal measure: he’s devoted to his city and to making it ready for Aragorn, and yet he knows that his role as steward will be short-lived. The news of peace brings back feelings of despair for Éowyn, who knows she can no longer search for her purpose in the violence of war. 
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Faramir asks Éowyn why she refused to go to Éomer. He suggests there are two reasons: first, that it was Éomer and not Aragorn that called for her; second, that she wishes to stay with Faramir. Faramir knows that Éowyn wished to have her love for Aragorn requited, but he suggests that she only loved him because he represented an ascent to power and an escape from her own life. Faramir tells Éowyn he loves her, not out of pity, which was the only way Aragorn could love her; but because he sees her beauty and strength. At this, Éowyn’s heart changes. She vows to become a healer rather than obsessing over battle and honor. Faramir and Éowyn agree to marry.
In this moment, Éowyn’s path seems to become clear to her. She stops yearning for Aragorn’s love, which she’s realized he’ll never give to her, and she surrenders to Faramir’s gentleness, no longer stubbornly refusing the love he feels for the qualities she herself couldn’t value. She appears to realize the values of softness and care, finding peace in the idea of protecting and healing instead of fighting, killing, and dying. 
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Quotes
The people of the city prepare for the king’s return. Many groups of men arrive from distant cities, and the women and children return home. At last, the people of the city see a camp arrive in the field below. The next morning, the captains ride towards the city where Faramir greets them. Aragorn leads the company of Dúnedain forward, and with them are Éomer, Gandalf, Imrahil, and the four hobbits. Faramir meets them and surrenders his stewardship to Aragorn, but Aragorn tells him the office of steward will remain with Faramir. Then, Faramir announces to the people of Gondor that Aragorn has come to claim the kingship.  
Aragorn’s ascent to the throne will unite the many different groups of men from all over Gondor, and it will also provide a chance for celebration—something Gondor has presumably gone without for many years. He begins his reign by honoring the different peoples who aided Gondor in the war, highlighting his humility and loyalty to the ones he loves. This loyalty continues when he tells Faramir he’ll remain a steward instead of surrendering his status.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
Faramir brings Aragorn the crown of the last king. Aragorn gives the crown back to Faramir, saying that he has had the help of many in order to claim the kingship, so he’d like Frodo to bring him the crown and Gandalf to set it on his head. When this has been done, Aragorn rises: he appears to the crowd like one of the ancient kings, wise, strong, and gentle. Aragorn takes the throne and begins to transform Minas Tirith into a more beautiful place than it has ever been.
Even in the most symbolic matters like the placing of the crown on his head, it’s important for Aragorn to honor the people closest to him who have sacrificed so much for his kingdom. He’s a symbol of the power that comes from a combination of strength and gentleness, and his wisdom manifests in the priority to beautify the city for the joy of all who live there.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
Over the following days, Aragorn issues pardons and judgments. He makes peace with the men from the south and east who fought under Sauron’s rule, and he releases the slaves of Mordor. He then comes to Beregond’s sentence. Because Beregond disobeyed his orders, he would have once been sentenced to death, but instead Aragorn appoints him to Faramir’s guard as a captain. Aragorn gives Ithilien to Faramir’s command. Éomer returns to Rohan to set things in order, and Éowyn goes with him, telling Faramir she’ll return when they’ve laid Théoden to rest. The Riders of Rohan leave Minas Tirith.
Aragorn, like Gandalf, values the individual sacrifice of a well-meaning person over a group’s commitment to blindly following authority, which is why he grants Beregond the honor of captain. Meanwhile, Éowyn’s enduring love and loyalty to her home and her family mean she prioritizes helping Éomer to set matters straight in Rohan and burying Théoden over spending time with her betrothed.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
The people of the city are busy repairing the damage from battle. The hobbits, Legolas, and Gimli stay with Aragorn, who doesn’t want the Fellowship to disband yet. He tells them a day is approaching that he’s been anticipating for many years, though he won’t say what that day is. Frodo knows that the hobbits will have to return to the Shire soon. Gandalf assures him that, while their journey must’ve felt endless, it has in fact been less than a year since they left the Shire.
Though he’s preoccupied with his role as king, Aragorn’s love for his friends never diminishes, and he keeps them close as long as he can. He knows he needs their loyalty and comfort as he anticipates an important, long-awaited day. Meanwhile, regardless of how Frodo has been changed by his journey, his thoughts are still with the Shire: he knows that it’s where he and his fellow hobbits truly belong.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
One night, Gandalf takes Aragorn to a high peak to survey the land of Gondor. He tells Aragorn that while much of the kingdom has been preserved, there will be a lot that will soon decay. With the destruction of the One Ring, the Three Rings also lost their power. It is now up to the mortal men to ensure the preservation of their lands and people. Gandalf goes on to say that he will not stay for long, now—his task was to be Sauron’s enemy, and that task is over.
Gandalf’s advice to Aragorn suggests that he’ll need to be prepared to take responsibility for the world of men in the absence of immortal beings—a heavy burden for Aragorn, who has only just accepted his role as Gondor’s king.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Aragorn laments that he cannot see his line continuing, and one day he will die—who will be king after him? Gandalf tells him to look around him. Aragorn sees a sapling growing in the snow: it’s a White Tree that must’ve been planted from the fruit of the tree in Minas Tirith’s court. Aragorn lifts the tree easily from the soil and carries it back to the citadel where he replaces the old, withered tree with the young, healthy one. He says that “the sign has been given” and the day he spoke of will arrive soon. He sets watchmen on the walls.
The White Tree growing in the rubble and snow is a sign that Aragorn himself, though uncertain and from a line of fallen kings, will be able to lift Gondor into a place of flourishing glory again. Planting the new tree, a symbol for hope and the future, suggests that the day Aragorn is waiting for is coming soon.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
Quotes
Messengers come to Aragorn on the day before Midsummer to tell him that a group of Elves are riding towards the city. Aragorn orders the city be made ready. The Elves arrive, headed by Elladan and Elrohir and joined by others including Galadriel and Elrond. Beside Elrond is Arwen. Frodo exclaims that she, the “Evenstar,” has come to make the day as beautiful as the night. Aragorn welcomes the Elves. Elrond gives Arwen’s hand to Aragorn, and after they climb the levels of the city, Aragorn and Arwen are married.
Arwen’s beauty brings great joy to those around her and is a sign that her presence in Gondor will lead to delight and a flourishing kingdom. The marriage between Aragorn and Arwen is also a symbol of the Elves’ respect for him, and their trust that together, he and Arwen will ensure the virtue and beauty of Middle-earth.
Themes
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon