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, and even persuades some of them to continue following him despite their fear. Once the war has ended, one of Aragorn’s first acts as king is to make peace with the nations of men who fought on Sauron’s side, demonstrating that his mercy works in harmony with his desire for peace and supports his wise leadership.
Mercy is also a huge factor in the success of Frodo’s quest. After wearing and carrying the Ring, Sam understands how profoundly it corrupts those who bear it. This newfound wisdom means he orders Gollum to leave instead of killing him on Mount Doom, no matter how treacherous Gollum has proven himself to be, or how often Sam has dreamed of throttling him. Though this almost ends in the total failure of Frodo’s quest when Gollum makes his final attack in the heart of the mountain, ultimately Sam’s wise assessment of Gollum as a creature totally ruined by the Ring, and his resulting mercy, leads to the destruction of the Ring even when that seems impossible. In this way, Tolkien suggests that mercy is often a sign of wisdom, not weakness, and that an act of mercy can bring unpredicted luck or fortune.
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy ThemeTracker
Power, Wisdom, and Mercy Quotes in The Return of the King
“[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.”
Sam’s hand wavered. His mind was hot with wrath and the memory of evil. It would be just to slay this treacherous, murderous creature, just and many times deserved; and also it seemed the only safe thing to do. But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief ever in life again.
“Well here we are, just the four of us that started out together,” said Merry. “We have left all the rest behind, one after another. It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.”
“Not to me,” said Frodo. “To me it feels more like falling asleep again.”
“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.”