The Fellowship of the Ring, the excitement and emotional journey of The Two Towers, I have come to the end of Tolkien's epic trilogy with The Return of the King. Aside from an overly long ending (a little bit like the film adaptation), I was pleased the The Return of the King was an appropriate, engaging, and thrilling ending to fantasy's most well known adventure.
I can't help mention the inspiring heroism on display in Tolkien's story. These are characters of a nobler type; there are no anti-heros to be found here, and that's quite refreshing. With characters like Aragorn, Samwise, Theoden, Gandalf (who takes somewhat of a back-seat later in the book), Eomer, Eowyn, Merry, Pippin, and, of course, Frodo, the reader is shown again and again what moral rectitude and courageous action looks like. It's inspiring and touching. Samwise and Frodo's actions in particular at the end of the book are so touching and meaningful I struggle to find too many comparisons in other literature and stories I have read. (I feel one comparison could be made to the self-sacrifice on display at the end of Charles Dickens's incredible A Tale of Two Cities). Tolkien's storytelling can be slow, although deliberate, with a lot of detail regarding each step of his characters' journey. This made the pay-off all the more fulfilling.
The Return of the King, along with the entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is, even with all of its fictional complexity, a very, very simple story. Good vs. evil. Light vs. dark. The book frequently returns to themes of hope, especially when the night is the darkest. There appears to be unseen influences working on the characters that aren't fully explained which I found to be very interesting and thought-provoking. There may be some additional Lord of the Rings lore which explains this, but I'm unaware of it. I'm moved by the thematic elements on display in Tolkien's story and consider his addition to our library of stories to be of exceptional value.
As much as I liked The Return of the King, I must confess I found the ending to be overly and unnecessarily long, especially with the addition of the chapter The Scouring of the Shire. Once the main conflict of the story is resolved, the book somewhat meanders around for another 40 - 50 pages with, in my opinion, very little value being added to the overall story. The Scouring of the Shire in particular feels like a short story haphazardly inserted because, well, why not? It exists so readers might as well as read it. I think I understand why Tolkien would want to have added that chapter, but I don't feel it was in any way necessary.
In the end, The Return of the King was a great book--better than The Fellowship of the Ring but not quite streamlined a story as The Two Towers. Furthermore, The Lord of the Rings is appropriately considered one of the finest works of fantasy and fiction we have. I am so glad to have read the trilogy for myself and regard it as highly as many others.
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Fellowship of the Ring
Reflections: The Two Towers
Memorable Moments: A Tale of Two Cities - 'It is a far, far better thing'