The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by

J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Shadow Symbol Icon

The shadow symbolizes the hopelessness and dread of war. It takes the form of a dark cloud that Sauron sends over the lands of Middle-earth to provide darkness for his light-intolerant armies and to obscure his enemies’ sight and awareness. The shadow completely blocks out the sun, causing many in Gondor and Rohan to wonder whether the dawn has arrived—or if it ever will. Its presence brings gloom and despair over the people it covers, echoing their lack of hope as they approach a seemingly inevitable defeat. However, it is an inadvertent source of stealth for the Rohirrim, who find they can move quickly under its cover without being noticed by enemy troops, and even at the shadow’s darkest, Sam sees a glint of a star through it. Ultimately, though the shadow symbolizes overwhelming hopelessness, it is never able to completely obscure the few signs of hope that can be found in the most unlikely places.

The Shadow Quotes in The Return of the King

The The Return of the King quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Shadow. 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 3 Quotes

The world was darkling. The very air seemed brown, and all things about were black and grey and shadowless; there was a great stillness. No shape of cloud could be seen, unless it were far away westward, where the furthest groping fingers of gloom still crawled onwards and a little light leaked through them. Overhead there hung a heavy roof, sombre and featureless, and light seemed rather to be failing than growing.

Related Characters: Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry), Sauron
Related Symbols: The Shadow
Page Number: 66-67
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 5, Chapter 5 Quotes

His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.

Related Characters: Théoden
Related Symbols: The Shadow
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 5, Chapter 8 Quotes

“Alas! For she was pitted against a foe beyond the strength of her mind or body. And those who will take a weapon to such an enemy must be sterner than steel, if the very shock shall not destroy them. It was an evil doom that set her in this path. For she is a fair maiden, fairest lady of a house of queens. And yet I know not how I should speak of her. When I first looked on her and perceived her unhappiness, it seemed to me that I saw a white flower standing straight and proud, shapely as a lily, and yet knew that it was hard, as if wrought by elf-wrights out of steel. Or was it, maybe, a frost that had turned its sap to ice, and so it stood, bitter-sweet, still fair to see, but stricken, soon to fall and die?”

Related Characters: Aragorn/Strider (speaker), Éowyn/Dernhelm, Lord of the Nazgûl
Related Symbols: The Shadow
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

“Do not be afraid,” said Aragorn. “I came in time, and I have called him back. He is weary now, and grieved, and he has taken a hurt like the Lady Éowyn, daring to smite that deadly thing. But these evils can be amended, so strong and gay a spirit is in him. His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.”

Related Symbols: The Shadow
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 6, Chapter 1 Quotes

Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.

Related Characters: Samwise Gamgee (Sam) (speaker), Frodo Baggins
Related Symbols: The Shadow
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 6, Chapter 5 Quotes

Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.

“I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,” she said; “and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.”

Related Characters: Éowyn/Dernhelm (speaker), Faramir
Related Symbols: The Shadow
Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

“Turn your face from the green world, and look where all seems barren and cold!” said Gandalf.

Then Aragorn turned, and there was a stony slope behind him running down from the skirts of the snow; and as he looked he was aware that alone there in the waste a growing thing stood. And he climbed to it, and saw that out of the very edge of the snow there sprang a sapling tree no more than three foot high. Already it had put forth young leaves long and shapely, dark above and silver beneath, and upon its slender crown it bore one small cluster of flowers whose white petals shone like the sunlit snow.

Related Characters: Gandalf (speaker), Samwise Gamgee (Sam), Aragorn/Strider, Arwen
Related Symbols: The White Tree, The Shadow
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Shadow Symbol Timeline in The Return of the King

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Shadow appears in The Return of the King. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 5, Chapter 1 
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...the Black Riders, Pippin looks towards Mordor, where all he can see is a huge shadow which seems to be growing. He asks Beregond when the war will begin, because preparation... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 3
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
...Théoden decides that they should ride to Gondor quickly on the open road, because the shadow provides cover. The horns blow to marshal the riders: they sound harsh and ominous to... (full context)
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
...They journey past the beacon hills, but by now the beacons have been extinguished. The shadow above them grows and deepens. (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 4
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
The shadow deepens over Minas Tirith over the course of the day. After many hours, Pippin is... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Beregond wishes Faramir would return—he would not be as cowed by the shadow as the rest of the men are. Suddenly, Beregond and Pippin hear a terrifying cry.... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...Faramir tells him that they would not have reached Cirith Ungol before today, so the shadow, having started to grow yesterday, is not a sign of their failure. (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 6
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
The Lord of the Nazgûl is disturbed by the breaking of the shadow and rides out from the city immediately. Théoden leads his Riders towards the city with... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 7
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...Gandalf, Pippin, and Beregond hear a piercing cry and see the sun breaking through the shadow. Though this brings new hope, Gandalf can sense there’s grief, too—he tells Pippin and Beregond... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 8
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
...Healing, where the Healers are unsure how to deal with what they call the Black Shadow—an affliction brought through contact with the Black Riders. The afflicted patients have been slipping deeper... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 9
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...too vivid—but Legolas, having been less afraid, tells them the story. He says that the shadow that had hung overhead had seemed to strengthen the army of the Dead, who were... (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 2
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...wait for the orcs to pass overhead. As they hurry on into the valley, the shadow above begins to disperse a little in the distance, and light filters through. (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 4
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Book 6, Chapter 5
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Suddenly, the huge shadow disperses and the sun shines on the river. An eagle arrives with the news that... (full context)