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 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the hobbits ride towards the Shire, Frodo feels the pain of his wound more strongly. It’s been a year since he was stabbed by a Black Rider. He’s worried his wound will never heal, and that he won’t recover from the burden of the Ring. He asks Gandalf where he’ll be able to rest at last, but Gandalf doesn’t answer. The next day, Frodo feels better and the journey seems to go quickly. The group reaches Weathertop and Frodo begs them to hurry past while he refuses to look at it.
The fact that the pain returns to Frodo on the day that marks a year since he was wounded implies that the pain he feels is as much a symbolic sense of grief as it is a physical injury. This pairs with his refusal to acknowledge Weathertop when the group passes by—the memory is deeply uncomfortable for him.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
They reach Bree where they’re disappointed by the gatekeeper’s brusque welcome. The innkeeper of the Prancing Pony, Butterbur, greets them warmly but tells them that most rooms of the inn are empty these days, and they’ll find out why soon. No more than a few people are in the common room. Butterbur tells them there’s no pipe-weed to spare—they don’t get any supply from the Shire these days. He goes on to tell them that last year a group of “bad men” came through Bree and some of the villagers were killed. The hobbits thought they’d left danger behind them, but Butterbur says the only reason they got past the gates of Bree so easily was because the men were threatened by their armor and weapons. The hobbits realize their appearance has changed dramatically since they left the Shire.
Bree’s transformation into something of a ghost town is worrying for the hobbits, who, when they were there last, drank and shared stories in the rowdy inn. There’s no pipe-weed and the atmosphere is decidedly somber, which comes as a shock—the hobbits thought they were returning to a home that was untouched by the perils they experienced. They realize that they’ve transformed on their journey, as shown by their new outfits, and this hints at the fact that perhaps their home has undergone its own transformation.
Themes
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
Quotes
Gandalf tells Butterbur to cheer up: more pleasant days will come soon. He says that many people will come to the area to settle and live, and that even the king will visit. Butterbur doesn’t understand what the king has to do with Bree. Sam tells Butterbur that the king is the same Strider that visited Bree a year ago. Butterbur is shocked and pleased. He tells Sam that Bill, the pony the hobbits took from Bree when they set out, returned by himself. Sam goes to visit Bill at once.
In this moment, Butterbur realizes that his thoughts of Gondor as an irrelevant, far-off place are perhaps mistaken, because the ranger who frequented his inn is now the king. He realizes that he’s not so far removed from the noble city of Minas Tirith, no matter how different he thinks hobbits are from kings.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
The Prancing Pony is soon filled with visitors curious about the returned travelers. They ask Frodo whether he’s written his book yet; he replies that he’s going to finish it when he gets home. After a few nights, the hobbits and Gandalf leave Bree. Butterbur says he should’ve warned them more about what’s gone on in the Shire. The hobbits wonder what he’s talking about and become more worried when Gandalf tells them he won’t go with them to the Shire. He says that it’s up to the hobbits to settle the problems themselves.
The hobbits’ hope of returning home to a peaceful, unchanged Shire begins to fade. It seems they have another challenge to face. Gandalf seems secure in the knowledge that the hobbits are up to the challenge, though, because he goes off on his own journey.
Themes
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
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Gandalf urges the hobbits to hurry to the Shire before the gates are locked. Merry reminds him there aren’t any gates—but Gandalf replies that they might not find that to be true anymore. As the four hobbits make their way home, Merry says it feels like they’re waking up from a dream, but Frodo says it feels to him more like he’s sinking back into one.
The suggestion that the Shire has locked gates is absurd to Merry, because he’s never known the Shire to have any gates at all. Meanwhile, Frodo feels that the closer he gets to home, the more unreal his life begins to feel, which suggests his journey was more vivid than anything he experienced in the Shire, and he knows he’ll never have similar experiences again.
Themes
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
Quotes