Places: The Return of the King

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1955

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Epic

Time of work: Third Age in a remote legendary past

Places DiscussedPaths of the Dead

Paths Return of the King, Theof the Dead. Accompanied by Gimli, Legolas, and his kinsmen Rangers of the North, Aragorn leads his forces south to the coast, passing through a forbidden door into a haunted passage beneath the Dwimorberg. There he calls upon the Army of the Dead, Numenoreans who once broke a vow to fight against Sauron and now have one last chance to prove their loyalty and rest in peace. The Dead follow, while even Gimli, used to the deep places of the earth, quakes in horror. Meanwhile Merry joins Theoden’s troops on a more conventional road to Gondor.

Minas Tirith

Minas Tirith. Chief city of Gondor that occupies a series of circles on Mount Mindolluin. Its ancient culture and people have declined, and many houses stand empty while childless lords brood about death. The White Tree has withered, but the Houses of the Dead are honored. Even this diminished Gondor awes Pippin of the Shire when he and Gandalf arrive. A series of sorties and battles ensues, both within the walled city and outside its gates; the timely arrival of Aragorn’s forces temporarily beats back a wing of Sauron’s army. The Defenders of the West march to the Black Gate, outnumbered but hoping to draw Sauron’s attention away from Mount Doom in case Frodo and Sam reach the central plain of Mordor, heading for the fiery volcanic chamber where the One Ring might be destroyed.


Mordor. The Dark Lord’s realm. Polluted, arid, and rocky, the plain of Gorgoroth (a name that suggests biblical Golgotha) offers little cover to the exhausted Hobbits once Sam has rescued Frodo and gotten them out of the Orc tower on the border. However, as Sauron focuses his gaze on the Black Gate, they elude capture and approach Mount Doom. Sam, desperately weary and thirsty, dreams of green Shire landscapes–willow trees, cool mud, streams, and pools–but reminds himself, “The way back, if there is one, goes past the Mountain.” He carries Frodo, who, being near the heart of Sauron’s power, has no individual will left. However, Gollum, who has been stalking the Hobbits, emerges from the shadows, bites off Frodo’s ring finger, and falls with it into the volcanic fires.

Road home

Road home. The monarchy is restored under Aragorn, and a new vigor is born in Gondor. The other companions begin their journeys homeward, Gimli and Legolas agreeing to visit the Glittering Caves of Aglarond and Fangorn Forest together in a future marked by dwarf and elf friendship. A rest stop at Rivendell reveals Bilbo, who had carried the One Ring for many years, to be very old and frail.


Shire. Homeland of the Hobbits. Saruman and some of his Orcs have occupied the Shire, where naïve and sheltered Hobbits have proved easy prey. Trees have been wantonly cut and rivers fouled. Led by Merry, Pippin, and Sam, the Shire folk are awakened to action and the invaders are killed or driven off. However, it will take generations for new trees to grow, and the Shire may never regain its old innocence or complacency.

Gray Havens

Gray Havens. Gimli and Legolas have formed bonds of brotherhood; Aragon has revitalized Gondor; Merry and Pippin will lead long and happy lives in the Shire and make periodic trips back to Rohan and Minas Tirith; and Sam will marry, sire a large family, and reign as Mayor of the Shire for years to come. However, Frodo has been too damaged by his long journey and heavy burden to enjoy Middle-earth any longer. Two years after the Hobbits return, Frodo joins a party of Elrond, Galadriel, Bilbo, Gandalf (whose task is finished), and a number of Elf lords who are riding one last road to the Grey Havens in the Northwest, where an Elven ship has been readied to take them to the Undying Lands beyond the circles of Middle-earth. There is a hint that Sam, who also carried the Ring for a short time, will make this final journey one day.

BibliographyCarter, Lin. Tolkien: A Look Behind “The Lord of the Rings.” New York: Ballantine Books, 1969. Basic introduction to the trilogy. Contains a summary of The Return of the King and includes chapters on allegory, fairy stories, elements of classical epic and fantasy in the trilogy, and the sources Tolkien used.Ellwood, Gracia Fay. Good News from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1970. In his introduction, Ellwood asserts the “aliveness” of all things in Middle Earth, as in the human unconscious. Traces the blend of sacred and secular in the work and interprets Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn as complementary heroes. The chapter on Aragorn and The Return of the King emphasizes the human need for a king.Giddings, Robert, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien: This Far Land. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Essays on varied topics, including narrative structure, which show how each episode in The Return of the King is described through a major character. Other essays address Tolkien’s relevance, humor, and female characters.Isaacs, Neil D., and Rose A. Zimbardo, eds. Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981. An introduction to earlier Tolkien criticism. Includes a chapter on Frodo as the old hero and Aragorn as the new, as well as a discussion of the combination of mythic and Christian elements in The Return of the King.Lee, Stuart D, and Elizabeth Solopova. The Keys of Middle-Earth. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. A handy portal into Tolkien’s medieval sources, featuring modern translations of the original texts.Petty, Anne C. One Ring to Bind Them All: Tolkien’s Mythology. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1979. Good introduction to Tolkien and mythology. Includes a chapter entitled “Trial, Death, and Transfiguration” and a structuralist interpretation of the trilogy.
Categories: Places