1955, Books, Fiction

The Return of the King (1955) by JRR Tolkien

I don’t remember much about the film of The Return of the King, except for what felt like eternal denouement. I don’t actually remember but, if memory serves, it felt as though the last 45 minutes of that film were devoted to wrapping things up. I was worried that this book would be the same and, it sort of is. There are approximately 100 pages devoted to denouement, which may not seem like a lot for a 1350 page novel, but is a hell of a lot for the 400 pages of these two last books.

On the back of my edition it says the conclusion is “devastating” but I don’t see how. All major (good) characters live and only a few minor ones don’t – this is a conclusion with very little cost for the reader. There are so many characters at this point that I can’t help but think that killing off one or two of the major ones might have added some more emotional resonance; alas it was another time.

I find the way the battle for Gondor gets resolved to be awfully similar to the way the battle for Helm’s Deep was resolved – the cavalry show up just in the nick of time. Did we need two of these?

But at least Book 5 has lots of things happening. Much of Book 6 is devoted to the denouement but, before that, it is devoted to Frodo and Sam walking the wrong way (!!!) through Mordor. There are certain things Tolkien does which I just cannot get behind and one of them is having his characters walk the wrong way so his days line up correctly.

And then there is the interminable denouement, around 100 pages, which is just exhausting. I was wondering why the whole two chapters of Shire crap happen too, until a certain evil person, not yet killed, shows up. I don’t know how he got there ahead of Frodo and Sam – I guess they move so damn slow that it’s possible.

Whatever virtues I could see in the earlier books I couldn’t really see in this one. The story is of another time and is so morally unsophisticated that it has always driven me crazy, but at least the ratio of stuff happening to not happening was reasonably high in books 3 and 4, not so here. It still feels to me like a story told for a pre-industrial time and that’s something I cannot get my head around. Hate of modernity must have been pretty damn strong in the 1950s for this to captivate as many people as it did.

I now turn to the Appendixes because I am a completist, I am apparently a glutton for punishment, and because I feel like maybe they will clear up a few things. Wish me luck.


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