Return of the King, Book V, Chapters 1-5


Christine Danielsson, Book V, Chap. 1 “Minas Tirith”

1) In this chapter the idea of darkness is very present. What do you think the reasons for that are?

2) What do you think are the reasons behind the tension existing between Gandalf and Denethor?

Uni Kim, Book V, Chap. 2 “The Passing of the Grey Company”

1) It is said in the text that the Dúnedain are almost entirely in gray.  Why do you think this is?  Explain.

2) What were your thoughts on the history of the Paths of the Dead?  Explain why you think Tolkien had Aragorn recite this song and the importance behind it. 

Jaime Pincin, Book V, Chap. 3 “Muster of Rohan”

1) What is the darkness emanating from Mordor symbolic of? Are there any biblical undertones to this darkness, and if so, what are they?

2) Why do you think Merry so insistent on riding to Minas Tirith? Was there any reason for Tolkien portraying Merry as almost childlike in this insistence?

Keri Hosler, Book V, Chap. 4 “Seige of Gondor”

1) Pippin must trade his clothes for those of Gondor – by order of Denethor. What does this represent? Why does it weigh on his spirits?

2) Denethor seems to hate Faramir by his speech to him, wishing he had died and not Boromir. Do you believe his words to be true? Why would Tolkien put this into his story?

Austin Chang, Book V, Chap. 5, “Ride of the Rohirrim”

1) Think about the Wild Men and how they’re described. How do they differ from other allies against Mordor? Why do you think Tolkien chose to describe them in this manner, and what could they be an analogy for?

2) Théoden looks upon the burning Minas Tirith with his head hung low. All seems low. Then he sees a flash in the distance and is transformed – by proxy transforming the Rohirrim as well. What do you think this flash is? What did Théoden see in it? Are we meant to understand this process at all?



25 thoughts on “Return of the King, Book V, Chapters 1-5”

  1. Chapter 3:
    2) I think Tolkien is trying to show the pain war brings to everyone, even those who stay behind. Merry wants nothing more than to fight for those he loves, and yet is supposed to be left behind. In this moment, Tolkien again shows us that heroes aren’t always the biggest and the strongest — in the end, Merry and Eowyn are the only ones who could defeat the Witchking. Both were supposed to have been left behind because of their weaknesses, but, as Dernhelm says, “Where will wants not, a way opens.”
    Chapter 5:
    2) I think this scene is supposed to show him snapping to his senses — he knows the Rohirrim came here for a single purpose: to fight evil. Even if it is hopeless, he has a duty to his own people to fight, not to cower and “slink away to hide in the hills.” Here, Tolkien shows the importance of individual choice, and places the fate of the world on this moment, stating that “Time seemed poised in uncertainty.” He describes the “weight of horror and doubt” on Merry, and the fear that Theoden would despair. It shows the enormity of evil and fear in that moment, but Tolkien makes it obvious that by choosing to fight, Theoden heroically chose to accept death in exchange for the lives of his people.


    1. I like what you say about Tolkien’s message about the hero, about how it’s not always who you expect it to be. I think your observation is exactly on point with what he is trying to show us


  2. Chapter 4
    1) I believe that when Pippin trades his clothes for those of Gondor, it symbolizes him giving up a little part of himself and a piece of home that he carried with him. This weighs on his spirits because he feels like he’s losing a bit of himself but he has to do it .
    2) Yes, I do believe that Denethor hates Faramir. It is obvious that he preferred Boromir over Faramir and he resents the fact that his favorite son died, so now he hates Faramir for it. I’m not entirely sure why Tolkien would include this into the story; maybe he had his own issues with his father that were similar to Faramir’s.


    1. Do you think Denethor truly hates Faramir, or is he just grieving over the loss of a son and thus bargaining? While it is obvious that Denethor favored Boromir over Faramir, Tolkien does not seem like the type of person to include a hateful father/son relationship. I think that he wanted to show how much war can negatively impact even something as sacred as a family.


  3. Ch 1
    1. Just like as the characters see ever growing darkness as they near Mordor, so do the readers. As the storyline gets closer to the climax, both the settings and themes become darker. Tolkien does not see war as anything positive, and he shows this in many places in his writing, this being one of them.
    2. I think that the tensions between Gandalf and Denethor arise from them both knowing the same things but neither of them saying them aloud. They both know that Denethor is not properly doing his kingly duty and leading his people to ruin. They also both know that there is a rightful king that should be sitting in Denethor’s throne instead of him.

    1. Pippin trading in his clothes for those of Gondor represent the separation between him and his homeland, something that continues to grow as the journey unravels. He gives himself over to Denethor, for service, and by doing so, he cuts ties with the Shire- I think he knows this.
    2. I don’t think he actually hates Faramir, but I do think it is made very clear that he has a favorite son. He is hurting after receiving word of Boromir’s death and does not think that Faramir can replace what strength and power he saw in Boromir.


    1. I agree with your thoughts on question two of chapter 1. I think this returns to the idea we discussed last class that the refusal to accept Aragorn as rightful king leads to tension even among the “good guys.”


    2. I agree with what you said in Chapter 1. I think that the idea of knowing someone is doing something wrong but not doing anything about it is strong in Denethor.


  4. Chapter 1)
    1) I think there is always darkness present, because there is a need to remember that the power of the ring if in the wrong hands could cause destruction.
    2) I think there is tension because there is a sense of wrongdoing by Denethor and Gandalf is good so he knows that it is not right.
    Chapter 3)
    1) I think that the darkness is similar to death that went through in Egypt in the Old Testement that Moses warned the Pharoah of that killed all the first borns of every family that did not sacrifice a goat.
    2) I think he wants to go because he is scared. And I think he shows us this because it is normal to be scared.


    1. I really like your thoughts about chapter 1 question 1 ! It’s true that the ring brings a lot of darkness to the book !


  5. Chap 3
    2/ Merry really wants to ride to Mina’s Tirith because he wants to be able to be there for his friends. He wants to fight for them.
    By doing that, Tolkien wants to show that Merry is a true friends, that is ready to fight for his friends.

    Chap 4
    1/ The fact that Pippin has to give a little bit of his clothes for Gandor symbolize that he has to give something that he owns l. He needs to get reed of something he likes to Gandolf. It is like a separation of a little bit of himself.

    2/ I don’t think he actually means it, but what I am sure about is that Denethir has a favorite son. I don’t think that a father could wish that one of his son would have died instead of the other one.


  6. Chapter 3
    2) I believe that at this point Merry is desperate to do something meaningful on his journey. So far, each character of the original company has contributed in some way or helped a situation, but Merry feels as though he isn’t worthy. He thinks that if he can at least be in one battle and help, then he would be worthy to be where he is today and will feel better about himself because of his contribution to the world around him. But Merry still is very young; though he’s 29, he’s still not the equivilent of adulthood (possibly 16 or 17 in human terms) so while he feels as though he should do more, he is still very young and easily swayed by ideas of honor and glory.
    Chapter 5
    2) This seems to be in direct comparison when Gandalf helped Théoden out of his curse far earlier. Again we see an image of Gandalf not actually destroying the enemy forces, but inspiring the armies of Gondor and Rohan that there is hope. By using light to illuminate the darkness, Gandalf is making the fight appear less desperate. Théoden could be remembering when Gandalf helped purge Saruman’s presence where Théoden used his own will to get rid of the curse himself. Remembering this, he’s inspired by Gandalf again and knows that with his own will the battle could be won, and if he does not behave valliant or inspirational, his army won’t follow him. His confidence and belief that they could turn the tide of battle is strong enough to convince everyone else as well.


  7. Chapter1
    1) I think the presence of darkness throughout the chapter is symbolic of the characters drawing closer to Mordor. The growing darkness follows along with the rising action of the plot and as the characters move closer to Mordor and start to develop a plan, the darkness comes thicker from Mordor itself. It also magnifies the level of urgency that the book starts off with, leaving the readers anxious from the very beginning of the book.
    2) The main reason behind the tension between Gandalf and Denethor is the fact that they both know who the rightful king should be. Not much is said between the two during Gandalf’s visit, because Denethor could already read Gandalf’s mind. Thus, a battle of wit ensued since both of the men know that the kingdom is in grave danger and that Denethor might not take all of the means necessary to protect Minas Tirith and the rest of Gondor.
    Chapter 4
    1) Pippin gives up his clothes from the Shire in order to wear the clothes of Gondor. This weighs heavily on his spirits because his clothes were really the last part of the Shire that he had with him. He had already given up every worldly comfort he was accustomed to in the Shire for the quest, and now he was also changing his clothes for a kingdom that was not his.
    2) Denethor does appear to hate Faramir and obviously favored Boromir. However, I don’t think Denethor truly hates his last living son. He is obviously still heavily grieving Boromir’s death and may be resentful of Faramir for living while Boromir has died, but Tolkien doesn’t seem like the kind of author to include a truly hate-filled father/son relationship. I think Tolkien includes this spiteful relationship as a way to show that war and destruction can wreak havoc even on something as sacred at family.


  8. Chapter 1:
    1) The coming darkness represents the imminent storm of battle in Gondor. Sauron’s armies have begun their march from Mordor, and the Nazgul have ridden out from Minas Morgul. The situation is dire for the free peoples of Middle-Earth.
    2) Firstly, Denethor recognizes Gandalf’s sorcerous power, and distrusts him for being a wizard, as many others do in Middle-Earth. Secondly, Denethor knows that Aragorn is among Gandalf’s allies. The old steward is reluctant to hand over sovereignty to someone who he sees as an outsider, even if Aragorn’s claim to the throne is legitimate. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Denethor holds Gandalf responsible for the death of his son. Boromir fell in battle as a member of the Fellowship, and as Gandalf is often recognized as the de facto leader of that group, Denethor blames him for the fate of his son, even if Gandalf was absent at the time of that battle.

    Chapter 4:
    1) As a servant of Gondor, Pippin must wear the livery of his title. However, it seems to Pippin that he may have made a mistake in pledging his service to Denethor, as he must wear chainmail and a steel helm. This is the garb of a warrior, and Pippin is just a peace-loving Hobbit of the Shire.
    2) I believe Denethor’s mind is very much addled by this point in the story. Boromir was always his favorite son, and with him gone, he sees Faramir as an unworthy replacement for his older brother. Denethor seems to speak truthfully when he says he wishes that Boromir had lived and Faramir had died. This passage shows the reader that grief and desperation have broken the steward of Gondor, even to the point of wishing death upon his son.


    1. I agree that the mental state of Denethor seems to be waning and I wonder if Tolkien made it that way so that the passing of the kingdom goes more clearly and rightfully into Aragorn’s hands. If Denethor was a noble ruler that readers felt was doing an excellent job, then maybe they would question whether a Ranger from the North really should take over so suddenly from someone who was doing well in the throne of Gondor.


    2. I agree with your response to Ch. 4 Question 1. I don’t believe Pippin truly understood what he was pledging his life to, driven as he was by guilt for Boromir’s death in the presence of his father. I believe that the realization that he may be expected to fight in the coming battle, an almost foreign concept to a hobbit from the Shire, has shaken him and indeed made him second-guess his decision.


    3. It was really unfair of Denethor to do that, perhaps Gandalf should have spoken about his “death” and subsequent “resurrection” to help Denethor see he is not responsible.


  9. Chapter 4:
    1. Denethor gives the order for Pippin to wear the uniform of Gondor to represent the transformation he must undergo in order to stay in Minas Tirith. Denethor has helped push the city from a bustling center into a city closed off from the rest of the world, including the other kingdoms of men. Denethor requiring Pippin to wear the garb of Gondor is an indication of this, and he surely would have Gandalf do the same if the wizard was not so powerful.

    2. I do not think Denethor truly hates Faramir, but his grief over losing his favorite son has turned him into a hateful character. If given the opportunity, he would surely rather have Boromir still alive, but I think that is more about his near-obsession for his eldest son. I believe he still cares about Faramir and values him somewhat, but he is such a mentally weak character that any misfortune can seriously alter the way he acts, and an event as large as his eldest son’s death has a massive impact on him.


    1. I entirely agree with your response to Q 2. Denethor’s mind has been twisted by grief and the years of putting Boromir’s worth over that of Faramir’s. Characterizing Denethor as a weak minded character would also be correct, I believe, not only in how disgusted and disappointed he is in Faramir, but in how he chooses to shut himself and the whole of Minas Tirith away and isolate themselves from the rest of the world.


  10. Chapter 2
    1) When I read about the Grey Company and their cloaks I was reminded of the Fellowship’s cloaks from Lorien. They are unassuming and yet very useful. The Dunedain also have silver brooches holding their cloaks together, but theirs are made in the shape of a star rather than a leaf of Lorien. I also think the color of grey is significant to the Dunedain because it represents the way they want to be seen by others. They look dull and weather beaten, with no flashy colors and big banners, but they are men of great valor and decent.

    2) Aragorn recites the song to give the history of the Oathbreakers and how they came to lie in unrest in the hills. I think the significance behind these ghostly men is great. They further represent the line of Isildur and the rightfulness of the throne for Aragorn. He alone is able to muster them and release them from the curse that his ancestor cast on them. But this also speaks a lot to Tolkien’s feelings about duty and war. Clearly the way that the men of the hills betrayed Isildur by not coming to the call of war and rather worshiping Sauron is Tolkien’s way of saying that it is dishonorable to run from your duty and to leave your kinsmen to die without aid in battle. In the real world, however, you would not have a curse set on you but you would have to live with the regret and knowledge that you left your duty behind and people died because of it. What I think he’s saying is, what is the point of living if you have not done your duty to your land? You live without purpose and without rest.

    Chapter 3
    2) Merry wants to fulfill his duty. He is restless and discontent with himself for being so uninvolved with the great battles of men and their courage. Now is the time for Merry to show his bravery and be at peace with the growing tension he has been feeling over this great journey.


  11. Ch. 1 Question 1)
    Minas Tirith is not the city it once was, when it was under the rule of kings. A darkness has fallen over the city, literally and figuratively. The forces in Mordor have been gaining strength behind the Mountains of Shadow, and the kingdom’s steward has done nothing in response. The steward himself, Denethor, has become prideful, ignorant, and not far from madness, his hopelessness bleeding into the very city and the people within. Not only is there the threat of Mordor, literally at their doorstep, but also a leader that would do nothing against that evil.


  12. Ch. 4 Question 1)
    This represents a responsibility and a change greater than anything Pippin has yet faced. He is farther from the Shire than he could have ever imagined, trapped in a city with a leader that would do nothing about the evil that threatens them. Pippin has pledged himself to Denethor’s service, but he is also alone in a strange place, save for Gandalf. The reality of current events has begun to weigh on him, largely due to the part that they are mostly of his own making.


    1. Pippin has definitely gotten in over his head in this chapter. Throughout his adventure until this point, Pippin has had Merry to get help get him out of trouble, but now his fate is in the hands of the mad steward Denethor. In a foreign land surrounded by strangers and enemies, Pippin will have to rely on his own wit to get through his service in Gondor.


  13. Book V, Chap 1:
    1) The physical presence of darkness is symbolic of the overwhelming presence of despair and hopelessness. In the eyes of men their doom is nearing by the day, they have little time left. The dark emotions that come with the impression of unstoppable doom is hinted at by the large physical presence of darkness.
    2) Denethor is clearly a man who doesn’t like to take instruction, but instead be the one to give instruction. Gandalf is the master of giving advice and instruction. Denethor likely doesn’t appreciate the advice Gandalf gives, seeing it as an attack. Such differences would likely lead to tension.

    Book V, Chap 2:
    1) The Dùnedain come across as incredibly stealthy and light-footed, unlike say Boromir who constantly used his horn. The fact that they wear grey falls into line with their sneaky aspects because Tolkien’s version of grey does a great job at concealing. For example, the Elven cloaks given to the fellowship were all grey and hide their owner incredibly well.
    2) The whole Paths of the Dead scene goes along with Tolkien’s theme that help can be found in the most unlikely of places. What it more importantly does is shows the power of Aragorn’s title. We are told how powerful the heir of Isildur is and how strong and legendary the position of King of Gondor is, but we are never showed its power until now. The King of Gondor has power over the dead. The legends of the throne are now believable and we can see the power that the return of the king would bring.


    1. I like your point that Denethor doesn’t like the advice Gandalf gives (as though Gandalf is controlling his actions). He’s almost like the other extreme of Theoden; he refuses to take any advice because he thinks his way is best, which also isn’t a good thing to do.


  14. CHAPTER 3
    1) The darkness emanating from Mordor is symbolic of a rise of evil, or a brewing of evil. That albeit the scramble of the respective companies (Gandalf, those with Rohan, Frodo & Sam) time is running out as evil prepares its last siege. This darkness is reminiscent of the darkness that clouded the region of Jerusalem at the crucifixion of Jesus.
    2) Merry, alongside the other hobbits, has been treated as a side burden for the longest time. He wishes to feel more important and as actually doing something like Merry with Gandalf or the quest of Frodo & Sam. Perhaps Tolkien wanted to show how much childlike faith Merry had in that he could be useful.
    1) Pippin is almost like removing the last part of the Shire that was with him. And Tolkien is possibly commenting on how hard it is to let go of home, even though there is a whole adventure (or in this case battle) ahead.
    2) Denethor’s madness and pride has lead to be hostile even towards his only living son. The fact that Denethor both lost Boromir and the ring has caused him great anger as a result lashes against Faramir. Tolkien is showing through Denethor how stubbornness and pride can inhibit a person’s judgement and how they treat others.


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