The Return of the King

The Return of the King


J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Seeing Stones Symbol Analysis

The Seeing Stones Symbol Icon

The Seeing Stones symbolize the danger of assumption and miscommunication. The Stones, also called Palantíri, are devices which allow people within Middle-earth to send visual images to each other instantly. Though they cannot present artificial or objectively untrue images, the meaning of each dispatch depends on how its recipient interprets a given image. For instance, Aragorn is able to present himself to Sauron, one of the keepers of the Stones, through imagery that suggests the heir to Gondor’s throne has returned. While this is true, Aragorn is, at the time of his message, far from Gondor and without the support of many troops; yet, upon seeing these images, Sauron hastens his attack on Minas Tirith in fear of the new heir’s power. Like Sauron, Denethor believes himself to be a master of the Stones. When his son, Faramir, returns from the battle at Osgiliath badly wounded, Denethor retreats to ponder the Stone’s message. When the Stone shows him images of Mordor’s far-reaching and overwhelming power, Denethor descends into despair, believing what he has seen to be Gondor’s death knell. Taking images received through the Stones at face value overwhelmingly proves to be foolish at best and fatal at worst, highlighting the dangers of drawing conclusions from incomplete messages.

The Seeing Stones Quotes in The Return of the King

The The Return of the King quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Seeing Stones. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Book 5, Chapter 7 Quotes

“[O]ne at least of the Seven Seeing Stones was preserved. In the days of his wisdom Denethor would not presume to use it to challenge Sauron, knowing the limits of his own strength. But his wisdom failed; and I fear that as the peril of his realm grew he looked in the Stone and was deceived: far too often, I guess, since Boromir departed. He was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless only those things which that Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind.”

Related Characters: Gandalf (speaker), Denethor, Boromir, Sauron
Related Symbols: The Seeing Stones
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Seeing Stones Symbol Timeline in The Return of the King

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Seeing Stones appears in The Return of the King. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 5, Chapter 2 
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...asks him why he changed his plans. Aragorn says that he looked into the Seeing Stone to communicate with Sauron. As heir to the throne of Gondor, he is the master... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 4
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...first signs of war are arriving sooner than expected. Perhaps Pippin’s use of the Seeing Stone, which alerted Sauron of Saruman’s defeat, hurried the enemy along—or perhaps Aragorn used the Stone... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 7
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...him to follow, he laughs instead. He shows Gandalf that he was using a Seeing Stone as his pillow on the pyre, and that through it he has learned that the... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon danger, Gandalf may have prevented some of the loss. He says that the Seeing Stone was in part responsible for Denethor’s descent into delusion. Though Denethor was strong enough to... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...light in the high tower at that time: Denethor must have been looking into the Stone. Gandalf confirms that this is the way Sauron caused Denethor’s downfall. But now he must... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 9
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...and Elrohir. Gandalf urges them to consider Denethor’s final words—a prediction of defeat. The Seeing Stone showed Denethor only what Sauron wanted him to see, but it’s also impossible for the... (full context)