Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Return of the King
“‘I am with you at present,” said Gandalf, “but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.'”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week will be the last of the “not quite blind” reads for Tolkien as we discuss The Return of the King before heading back into The Book of Lost Tales.
To begin, I want to reiterate that if you have not read these books yet, purchase this one first and read the appendices before you go back and read The Fellowship of the Ring. The Lord of the Rings is so much better when you have the history of the Legendarium under your belt, and the appendices give enough of this information to get a basic understanding of what happened in The Silmarillion.
To that point, The Dúnedain was a concept I had a challenging time with when I first read them. Why did Tolkien spend so much time discussing their armor, and what was the Star of Eärendil on their forehead?
I didn’t realize before reading The Silmarillion that Eärendil was Elros’ and Elrond’s father. He saved the world in the First Age by sailing to Valinor and getting the Valar to assist in the war against Morgoth.
That voyage was such a big deal because it was against the will of the Valar for a human to sail to Valinor (Eärendil was half-elven, but you get the point). Eärendil knew he would die, but he also knew that it would save the world, so he sacrificed himself for the betterment of the people of Beleriand (I.E. Middle-earth of the First Age).
For his bravery, the Valar made him immortal, and he would sail across the cosmos in his ship for the rest of eternity. Hence the Star of Eärendil guided the Dùnedain on their helmets (Tolkien brings up the helmets and the signet many times, especially before battles).
So why does the Dùnedain get the star and no one else? The book described them as Rangers like Aragorn, first introduced as Stryder. Who are these guys?
They are the living descendants of the Númenoreans.
Elros and Elrond chose to be Human or Eldar because they were both Half-elven (remember their parents were Half-elven). Elrond chose to be Eldar, but Elros chose to be human. Because he had the Eldar blood in his veins (the people who cannot die, but by battle or disease), the humans of his line were blessed with a much longer life. They also had the blessing of the Valar, which extended their lives even further, and this group became the Númenoreans.
They thrived and ruled humanity for many years from their island kingdom, but eventually, there was a split, made into a chasm thanks to Sauron. The faithful Númenoreans eventually became the Dùnedain, and the “Black Númenoreans” either died off or became part of Sauron’s cadre.
Sauron’s Luitenant (or The Mouth of Sauron), whom we see at the Battle of Morannon (The Battle at the Black Gate), is one of the Black Númenoreans who fell for Sauron’s lies and followed him into Mordor.
Much of this information is lost if you don’t read The Silmarillion or the Appendix at the end of The Return of the King.
But why read the book when the movies are so spectacular? Because you won’t get the end of this book, The Scouring of the Shire.
Saruman escapes from Orthanc and wanders the roads as a defeated man, or at least we are made to think this. Instead, we find out he orchestrated a greedy Hobbit to take over the Shire and employ “guards” who were goblins and ruffians Saruman controlled. These guards then took over the Shire entirely at the end of the book. It isn’t until our four Hobbits head back to the Shire and discover this that they become even larger heroes.
This event is the first time in all the books that the Hobbits take on enemies and fight them head-on without help. All of their experiences leading up to this make them able to be self-sufficient beings, even in the face of such a ruthless character as Saruman. The metaphor here is that they are finally grown, no longer children now that they are back from war, and aren’t putting up with anyone’s crap.
I hated this when I read it years ago, but there is a bit of poetic justice in it, as it brings these characters full circle.
The Hobbits are the ones who kill Wormtongue. Saurman throws Grima under the bus for the last time, and Wormtongue takes his knife and cuts Saruman’s throat, only to be shot to death with arrows by the Hobbits.
It seems a fitting end, The death of Saruman. But the fact that Saruman is an Istari, and once he “died,” he turned to mist, which gave me pause. We have seen this before. Saruman is not actually dead.
There are two different reasons for this. The first is Saurman is an Istari, which means he is a Maiar, one step down from the immortal Valar. Maiar are also eternal. Gandalf is a Maiar; and he died earlier in Fellowship of the Ring, only to be resurrected in The Two Towers. However, his memory was hazy on who he was before because his (their?) proper form is not the man we see walking around, but a god-like wizard from Valinor sent at the beginning of the Third Age to help fight against Sauron.
If Gandalf can come back, then it stands to reason that Saurman can also come back.
The second reason I’m sure Saruman will be back is that Sauron is a Maiar as well. In the Akallabeth (The second to last chapter about the Second Age in The Silmarillion), Sauron is killed during The Drowning of Númenór, but he becomes a mist and travels back to Mirkwood forest. This half-death is precisely how Sarumon’s death is described at the end of the Scouring of the Shire.
But does that mean that Sauron will also return because he is Maiar? Unfortunately (unfortunate for us because of the stories, fortunate for the people of Middle-earth!), no, and that’s because of J.K. Rowling.
No, not really, but she did seem to get an idea for Voldemort out of Tolkien. Sauron’s bodily form was defeated at the end of the Second Age when Isildur cut the One Ring from his hand. He was defeated because, to create the One Ring, he had to infuse all of his power into the Ring. Most of his life essence went into the One Ring when he created it. Yep, you guessed it, the One Ring is Sauron’s Horcrux.
When Gollum falls into the lava of Mount Doom with the Ring and destroys it, Gollum, in essence, destroys Sauron. So now, who’s the real hero?
Join me next week as we begin the next chapter of The Book of Lost Tales, “The Chaining of Melkor!”
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