The Return of the King

The Return of the King


J. R. R. Tolkien

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Return of the King can help.
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 Theme Icon

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 false visions from the Seeing Stone, can foresee no success in the war, and when Faramir returns from Osgiliath on the brink of death, Denethor won’t be persuaded against his decision to burn with his son on the funeral pyre. Denethor thinks the hope of those around him is foolish, and as a result, he ultimately dies alone. His predictions of defeat and of the end of his bloodline are disproved, but he is no longer there to witness others’ hope coming to fruition.

On the other hand, Sam, one of the novel’s most optimistic characters, is constantly propelled by unfounded hope. There is no other way for him but onwards, and so he continues to hope that his and Frodo’s quest will succeed and that they’ll see their friends and their home again. When that second hope seems utterly futile, he still holds onto the first. Sam and Frodo travel to the point of utter exhaustion, and even when all their strength has gone and Mount Doom erupts around them, Sam urges Frodo to find a safer place to stand with him. Indeed, if it weren't for Sam's constant efforts to buoy Frodo's hope, even carrying Frodo when his strength lapses, Frodo likely wouldn’t have reached Mount Doom. Sam’s hope is one of the most necessary factors in the destruction of the Ring, implying that apparent logic which leads a person to despair and surrender is less wise, and less useful, than persistent hope that might seem illogical on the surface. 

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…
Get the entire The Return of the King LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Return of the King PDF

Hope vs. Despair Quotes in The Return of the King

Below you will find the important quotes in The Return of the King related to the theme of Hope vs. Despair.
Book 5, Chapter 1  Quotes

“But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

Related Characters: Gandalf (speaker), Denethor, Shadowfax, Samwise Gamgee (Sam), Frodo Baggins
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
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 4 Quotes

All about the streets and lanes behind the Gate it tumbled down, small round shot that did not burn. But when men ran to learn what it might be, they cried aloud or wept. For the enemy was firing into the City all the heads of those who had fallen fighting at Osgiliath, or on the Rammas, or in the fields. They were grim to look on; […] many had features that could be told, and it seemed that they had died in pain; and all were branded with the foul token of the Lidless Eye. But marred and dishonoured as they were, it often chanced that thus a man would see again the face of someone that he had known, who had walked proudly once in arms, or tilled the fields, or ridden upon a holiday from the green vales in the hills.

Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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 5, Chapter 9 Quotes

“We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dûr be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless—as we surely shall if we sit here—and know as we die that no new age shall be.”

Related Symbols: The Ring
Page Number: 162
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:
Book 6, Chapter 8 Quotes

“No, Sam!” said Frodo. “Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.”

Related Characters: Frodo Baggins (speaker), Samwise Gamgee (Sam), Saruman/Sharkey
Page Number: 325
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 6, Chapter 9 Quotes

“Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam,” said Frodo, “and then use the gift to help your work and better it. And use it sparingly. There is not much here, and I expect every grain has a value.”

So Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each.

Related Characters: Frodo Baggins (speaker), Samwise Gamgee (Sam), Galadriel
Page Number: 330
Explanation and Analysis: