The Return of the King

The Return of the King

by

J. R. R. Tolkien

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Themes and Colors
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
Expectation vs. Ability Theme Icon
Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Theme Icon
War, Greed, and Nature Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Return of the King, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Hope vs. Despair

At several points throughout The Return of the King, characters find themselves in situations that seem to have no chance of success or survival. Nevertheless, their seemingly irrational displays of hope are eventually rewarded with luck or miracles, while other characters’ surrender to despair is a sign of their certain failure. Denethor is one of those who gives in to hopelessness. Despite Gandalf’s urgings towards optimism and perseverance, Denethor, prompted by plausible yet…

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Expectation vs. Ability

Several characters throughout the novel demonstrate ability far beyond what’s expected of them. The hobbits are a primary example of this. Being so small, they’re often mistaken for children and assumed to have childlike qualities: naivete, weakness, and inexperience. Théoden predicts that Merry will be more of a burden than a help in battle, but Merry ends up helping Éowyn defeat the Lord of the Nazgûl. Denethor is bemused by Pippin and unsure of his…

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Loyalty, Love, and Sacrifice

The novel’s great triumphs all involve profound sacrifices in the name of love and loyalty. Frodo’s task of carrying the Ring to Mount Doom ends up leaving him permanently wounded and exhausted by the Ring’s weight, yet he proves over the journey that his strength and fortitude are unique and incredibly vital to the success of the free folk in the war. He sacrifices his own health and happiness, and possibly his life, for…

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Power, Wisdom, and Mercy

Throughout the novel, when a character has the power to decide another character’s fate, they often choose to show mercy rather than dole out harsh punishment. Aragorn’s style of leadership is built on mercy: when some of his men approach Mordor and are too terrified to go on, he releases them from their obligation. Rather than making him seem soft and weakening his authority, this display of mercy encourages more loyalty from his men…

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War, Greed, and Nature

The best-equipped and strongest armies throughout the novel are also those who cause the most destruction to the natural world. Mordor’s atmosphere is one of the clearest examples of this. Smog, filth, and stench cover Mordor and obscure the sky as a result of Sauron’s constant production of troops, armor, and weapons. Sauron’s success in war is built upon the destruction of the land around him, to the point where no living thing can…

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