Gondor is in a depressed mood, in what is to be the last timeline skip in the narrative. Tolkien lays it all out very clearly as to why, that just as things were looking up with the return of Aragorn, away he went to a certain doom. In doing so he creates just the sort of mood he is looking to express: that of a city that is holding its breath, refusing to even hope for a happy ending.
And that takes its human form in Eowyn, last seen waking up in “The Houses of Healing”. While she seemed to be perking up then, she’s clearly fallen back into old habits. While the subplot around her love for Aragorn is symbolically over (when Eomer called her back to life instead of him) she’s still moping like a teenager dumped by her first boyfriend. And that horrible strain of glory-hunting is yet to pass, as she gets into an argument with one of the healers.
The healer is somewhat annoyed at all of this carry on, using surprisingly strong language to decry all who carry swords and inflict wounds, including the “good guys”. Eowyn takes the opposite, traditional view, that sometimes such violence is necessary, and that sometimes such deeds may even be glorious. She’s still looking for a way out, and is still trying to find a way to follow her Uncle. Théoden’s death in such glorious circumstances mean that this idea has firmly taken root in her head, and now she is actively trying to go off and join in the fight.
Eowyn still doesn’t have any hope of her side actually winning the war, so all she wants is to go down swinging, in as memorable a fashion as possible. What she does not want is to be left here in a hospital to meekly accept her fate. She’s a wounded soldier just trying to get back to her regiment.
The actual argument with the healer doesn’t go far enough for my liking, a rare opportunity for a debate on this subject matter. But Tolkien has other plans for this chapter, and the time has passed for such discussions to be truly relevant to the plot.
Faramir and Eowyn, now isn’t that a good combination? Almost an obvious one when you think about it, the Prince of Gondor and the Princess of Rohan. Both characters have that similar fire, the ability to inspire others, to encourage friends to fight alongside and die with them. Both have been wounded horribly and both have lost father figures and, as far as they may be concerned in this moment, both have lost brothers.
Eowyn goes to Faramir like a spoilt child, whining about her desire to die with a sword in her hand. Faramir, about as learned and wise a character as there can be aside from Gandalf, gives her a rueful smile and lays out quite logically why her request is not only dumb, but impossible to grant. Eowyn, usually the firebrand, just sort of gives in, evidence that her heart may not really be in it, or perhaps that coming up against actual authority in the form of Faramir has made her come to her senses.
Faramir turns this conversation on its head by being bluntly straightforward with his sudden admiration for Eowyn, though his wording is certainly flowery (and romantically “epic”, as is the style Tolkien is going for). Clearly Faramir has had little experience talking with women, because he isn’t exactly subtle. Of course, Eowyn is soon taken aback by his comments as to be smitten, so I guess it all works out. He’s also throwing around a bit of his authority, promising to get her a new room more to her liking. Someone’s showing off.
I actually really like the romantic narrative that Tolkien creates here, especially the image of Faramir no longer looking to the east, but casting glances back in the direction of Eowyn. Something about that just seems so real to me, in-between all of the poetry and grand pronouncements.
Tolkien continues on with the romantic tone, as he narrates the two getting closer. The outcome of this little subplot is increasingly obvious, but it doesn’t quite feel thrown together, even if it is kind of has. As the two lovebirds spend more time together, Eowyn predictably begins to detach herself from the memory of Aragorn, even if she has trouble admitting it. She feigns ignorance when Faramir becomes more suggestive with her and still talks about the new King like she’s the only one for him. Her words sound increasingly hollow, as if the character has suddenly realised that there is more to life then replicating an epic poem.
Perhaps it is simply Eowyn’s sheltered life. The only real men we have seen her interact with up to this point are either relations or Wormtongue, and then Aragorn comes along. Eowyn’s feelings for him appear increasingly to just be an intense infatuation, and suddenly here comes nice guy Faramir to show her that other options are available.
An eagle arrives to announce the fall of Mordor in song, and the city rejoices. That is eclipsed however, by Faramir and Eowyn initiating some real physical contact, as if the downfall of Mordor has removed the last block from Eowyn’s mind. There is precious little left for her in the old way of thinking: there no longer exists a powerful enemy to die heroically against.
She remains honest about her attraction to the King, but Faramir seems to take that in a oddly happy way. He’s totally fallen for the Rohan shieldmadain clearly, to the extent that he doesn’t care that she openly takes about how she really wants another guy. Perhaps he’s just wise enough to see through it, and just blows through whatever objections Eowyn has. Finally, Eowyn makes her final acceptance of reality: Aragorn doesn’t love her and she doesn’t really love him, but a much better choice is standing right next to her.
Faramir might actually be your classic “nice guy” in a way, who initially appears to be pursuing a lost cause, the woman he loves only interested in the guy with bigger muscles and a nicer sword. But he pulls through, which can only invoke happy feelings from the reader. Aragorn can have the personality-less Elf Queen. Faramir, a much more sympathetic and likable character then Aragorn on the whole, gets the only girl worth talking about. This while section ends in this kind of awesome flirty sequence where Eowyn mockingly chides Faramir for going after a barbarian from the hills, which was kind of neat. These two get a happy ending at least, after a lot of sorrow.
We come to the actual point of the chapter, and the book as a whole: the real, official, return of the King. This is all pomp and ceremony, with the arrival of the King at the head of his troops, Faramir handing over his authority, Gandalf doing the actual crowning etc. Tolkien interjects some humour into proceedings with Ioreth and her frequently cut-off attempts to talk down to her cousin, which is the last we see of her. Not sure it really works for the occasion either.
Aragorn is humble, yet glorious, everything that you want the King of the world to be and more. He acknowledges that it is the work of others that have got him to this point, looking to Faramir, Gandalf and Frodo in equal measure. Aragorn has come an extremely long way from the depressed looking Ranger that we first met at The Prancing Pony, and not all of it in a good direction, He has been indecisive and bone headed at times, but he’s proven himself on the field of battle. He’s come into his own, looked Sauron dead in the eye and won. Aragorn is the King, the traditional hero of the story. His crowning, in majestic circumstances, recalling the Kings of old, just adds to that.
Aragorn gets round to the proper business of ruling officially, which in the narrative takes the form of judgement on those that need judging. This includes prisoners of war and Sauron’s slaves, who get the softball treatment and Beregond, Tolkien unable to leave his little sub-plot loose end in its untied state. Beregond receives proper justice, dismissed from the city to be the Captain of Faramir’s new realm in Ithilian. Hurrah for all.
Then there is the meeting of Eomer and Aragorn, the battle brothers who rule most of Middle-Earth between them now. Eomer is yet to be crowned, but he is an equal of Aragorn in the Gondorian’s eyes. There is a nice soldierly bond feeling from this scene. The last bit of sorrow in this long farewell to the story, or so it may appear to the characters present, is the sorting out of Théoden’s final resting place, which will be the focus of the following chapter. The Rohirrim don’t have much left to do in the story, but then again, neither does Aragorn.
Everybody is, on Aragorn’s instruction, waiting for something to happen, and days and weeks pass in a few sentences, a rarity for The Lord if the Rings. The reader can easily guess what that thing is – this happy ending for Aragorn is just missing one crucial element – but this passage provides a way to show the hobbits becoming increasingly restless and homesick. The journey back to the Shire will take place soon, as this quest that should never have been theirs is complete.
Gandalf takes the new King on a trip to the mountains as the chapter draws to a close. One aspect of this relationship that I admit I have never considered is that of an Arthur/Merlin dynamic, the mighty warrior with his magical advisor at his side. This kind of sequence, with Gandalf imparting lost knowledge to the new King, reeks of this kind of sentiment, and this is one of the last real impacts that Gandalf will have on the story.
It is a memorable scene, as Gandalf gives Aragorn a big wide look at his whole Kingdom, at the beginning of a new age of the world. The long defeat is coming to its fruition with the passing of the One Ring. The time has come for men to claim their final victory in this battle and inherit the world that the Elves and others no longer have a taste for. The War of the Ring is the cauldron in which that age has begun, and the Elder races have played their parts in the saga.
Aragorn seems unconcerned by all this, his mind firmly on his succession, always a thought for Kings to dwell upon. Gandalf gives him his last real gift, a new white tree for a new Gondorian Kingdom. The tree, the Kingdom, and the royal line have been renewed and the time has come to cement and seal that process.
So Arwen and a host of other Elvish character thus far met upon the journey and arrive, and the fairytale wedding takes place. All is as it should be. The age of man has come at last, marked by an Elf rejecting immortality and the happily ever afters ring loud and clear.
The movie eliminates the Faramir/Eowyn romance with the exception of a very short, inconsequential extended edition scene. Aragorn’s crowning and wedding are merged into one event, portrayed in a slightly more passionate manner then the book did. Time was a wasting for a very long conclusion it would seem.
Next up, the journey home begins with a hell of a lot of goodbyes.
For more Chapter by Chapter reviews of The Lord of the Rings, check out the index here.