Frodo goes to see the new royal couple of Gondor, who are just chillaxing now, apparently. Aragorn doesn’t even need to hear Frodo talk to know what’s up. It is long past due for the Fellowship to head home. Aragorn has known this has been coming, but you get a sense of his genuine reluctance for it to happen, which was part of the previous chapter. He just wants to cling onto this moment for just a bit longer. Maybe he has become a Tolkien proxy in that way.
Frodo is clearly a little troubled, something we’ve had glimpses off before. Something – several things – are gnawing away at him, and the joy and relief of a completed quest haven’t been shining brightly through. Tolkien belabours this point over the last few chapters, and it is one of the last real sub-plots.
Arwen actually gets to talk here for a page or so, a rare sounding from what is nominally one of the most important female characters in the story. She perceives Frodo’s disquiet, as every other Elf character along the way will. Frodo misses his Uncle and wants to see him again before what must be an inevitable end. But more than that, Frodo is sick at heart over his very existence in a way. He isn’t suicidal, though he is depressed. He seems to be suffering through something we can relate to post-traumatic stress disorder thanks to his numerous horrific wounds – knife, sting and tooth – and Middle-Earth does not really have the means of helping him. Even a return to the Shire will be a temporary reprieve, nothing more. Arwen gifts Frodo his solution, a place on one of the last boats out of the land.
That’s our endpoint, as seems obvious on this, what must be a tenth reading. It did not seem so much the first time, but Tolkien has hung a lantern on where the story is going. Frodo is going to spend most of the time between here and there trying to avoid this inevitable conclusion. It doesn’t matter. Arwen reaches out to him, seeing that he is in crisis, in need of aid. She gives him a chain to wear, a notable form for such a comfort.
Gimli and Eomer interject in the middle of all this gloom with some humour, calling back to what seems like their ancient argument over Galadriel in “The Riders of Rohan”. This little sequence is an excellent rounding off to the tiniest of insignificant sub-plots, that the reader most likely forgot 17 chapters ago. That Eomer is able to jokingly laugh of the matter by placing Arwen on a pedestal is good in that it shows off the friendly camaraderie of the good guys, but also in the way that it portrays Arwen. It isn’t just Aragorn mooning over her, and lots of other peoples are very enamoured. Arwen really needed more of this kind of thing, aside from more direct appearances, to make her a better character.
The journey home begins, or perhaps if we’re counting the trip from Cormallen to Minis Tirith, restarts. This chapter is essentially some of the books greatest hits in reverse, as Tolkien guides us past numerous landmarks and areas that we have seen already.
Tolkien takes a paragraph to talk about the order of this procession, Théoden’s last trip. Merry gets prominence as the guy with the actual body, while Frodo and Sam get to ride next to Aragorn. It is all somewhat overdone from the author here, it seems so artificial. Pageantry yeah, but it’s like Aragorn is beating us over the head with all of his symbolism.
A stop off is made at the Druadan forest, the first of many past locations we will see in this chapter. Aragorn, having just come into the ownership of two Kingdoms, starts giving bits of it away, declaring the forest now belongs to the wild men who inhabit it. He gets some cheerful drums in response, but if we remember the mannerisms and behaviour of Ghan-buri-ghan and his folk back in “The Ride of the Rohirrim”, we know that this kind of grand pronouncement would have meant absolutely nothing to him. His people have owned this forest for longer than Gondor has existed.
The troop reaches Edoras, and there Théoden is laid to rest as the mighty hero that he is. In typical Rohan style, his final ceremony is no depressing funeral, but a wake, almost a party atmosphere, with singing and the like. Our first proper description of Rohan included the info that it is a land of songs, and as we prepare to say goodbye to them for good, we get a clear glimpse of that, in the dirge that Théoden receives, all epic symbolism and glorious death. This is Rohan right here, the barbarian Kingdom singing to celebrate their last King’s life and death, while preparing to do the same to welcome the new one properly.
It is left to Merry to provide some actual real sorrow to the occasion, as he bids his farewell to the man who took on the role of a father to him, albeit briefly. It is good that some regret and sadness is mixed into this entire affair, so that the reader is reminded of how much the victory in the war has cost. Rohan may laugh and sing, but it is hiding some tears.
Eomer is given a formal crowning shortly after, which amounts to little more than a recitation of all the previous Kings and a toast to him. That’s an excellent image to compare to Gondor, who had a gigantic elaborate ceremony to give Aragorn a crown, whereas Rohan just gets on with it. The betrothal of Faramir and Eowyn is announced to give the whole scene a bit of proper joy (and these two characters their last part in the story). A happy ending for Rohan then, though Aragorn’s jokes with Eomer about the whole thing may certainly raise feminist ire. Moreover, Eowyn acknowledges Aragorn as her “liege-lord” a rather odd way to close off this little sub-plot, showing the dominance that Gondor (Aragorn) has over Rohan.
The next few goodbyes round off our time in Rohan. Arwen takes her leave of Elrond, a bitter passing that is portrayed well without any dialogue. Instead, it is treated very much as a private moment, one whose pain we can only imagine. The Rohirrim bid farewell to Merry, and to the story, with words of praise and friendship, a suitable ending to that arc. Merry has found himself in his service to the Mark and goes home a much better man for it. And all of that experience will stand to him in a large way in the second last chapter.
The Gimli/Legolas friendship starts in on its last glimpses, as the two make good on their vow to see sights related to the others culture. This was a thread that Tolkien again wove ages ago just to bring it back into our minds now, and it is a nice way to round off those characters and their inclusion in the story. Gimli and Legolas have been marked by their relationship with each other, so it is only fitting that their final passages should be together.
On they travel, next to Isengard, now the home of the Ents. Treebeard is in a happy mood anyway, and serves up some vital plot points and exposition. First though, he takes some time to praise Gandalf for all of his works. The wizard has been pretty quiet in this chapter, and it is only in this scene that he will actually get to talk much. First, we have to listen to some praise for him that we haven’t heard in a while, but at least it is somewhat fitting coming from such an ancient character as Treebeard.
Turns out the Ents have been doing a pretty vital job of their own accord. The mention of Orcs raiding into Rohan was made ages ago, way back in “The Muster of Rohan”, and it is here, again, that the author ties up that little plot thread, as Treebeard recounts his and the Ents actions against them, not to mention some battles that were fought in and around Lorien as well. It is good to note that the war was not solely confined to Rohan and Gondor, and that other places had troubles as well.
However, Treebeard shows himself up as a bit of a dumbass in the same regard, as he reveals that Saruman (and Grima) are gone, let go by the Ent. Treebeard claims to have done so out of sheer pity for a man who is no threat: but the words are barely out of his mouth and we know that it is not true. Saruman’s voice has ever been his biggest weapon and it has worked its wonders again. Even Treebeard, emphasised as such a wise and dominant character, has been overthrown by it. Gandalf see’s this immediately, but, cest la vie is his reaction. The war is over, it would seem, and Saruman is no longer a threat to the world.
More goodbyes follow, as Treebeard speaks to the Elves present. The long defeat is coming true all around them, and all see it. Such a gathering like this will not happened again. The Elves will soon depart, the Ents will soon die out, Treebeard’s depressing reaction to claims that the search for the Entwives may have new hope all the evidence the reader needs. “The world is changed” says Treebeard, and it really has. Aragorn hands him the dominion of Isengard, but it does not alter the new reality of the world. This is Aragorn’s time, and it is the Age of his kind. The Elves, the wizards are soon to leave, and the Ents no longer have a place in this world. Treebeard previously wondered if their attack on Isengard was to be their last act, a “last march”. He was right, but not in the way he intended. Just like the Elves, his race has been swept up in the winds of the long defeat.
Gimli and Legolas turn aside to continue their own wanderings, the unlikely friendship that is a triumph over Middle-Earths real strain of racism. They leave now to combat the long defeat for a little while. The goodbyes are coming hard and fast, as Merry and Pippin also take their final leave of Treebeard, a peculiar relationship that really carried a large part of Book Three. Treebeard, watching two people who have been almost surrogate children to him leave, seems to be more struck by this parting them he was with Gandalf or the Elves. It is a moving moment.
The Fellowship is coming to a real final end on these pages. It is Aragorn’s turn to say his goodbyes. The King has come into his own, and the future is his to rule. It is time for him to run back into his own lands and into that new future. The bond between him and the four hobbits is one of the longest in the Book, but it is good that this final goodbye is so understated. The reader knows how much it all means from Sam’s reluctance to say goodbye to the man he was once so suspicious of back in Bree. Aragorn is seen as one last flash from his titular Elfstone, and is gone, almost as mysteriously as he was first introduced.
On they walk, and who else would they bump into, but Saruman and Grima, stumbling towards…somewhere. The White Wizard is as bitter and taunting as we remember, easily unnerving even the stoutest of hearts with a sentence. Insidious is the term. Only Gandalf and the Elves seem able to resist his words, but Saruman doesn’t seem to care, choosing to place his ire on the hobbits, who just about deal with it. Saruman really is a very well written villain, and his words imply ooze with stinging poison.
Saruman references the long defeat again, mocking the Elves for their “victory” but it is his words about the Shire that are far more concerning. His hints at something dark happening up north are not the first time that we have heard such things. Of course, the tone here is of a man who is just lashing out in what little way he can, and the reader, the first-time reader anyway, is not meant to take it too seriously. He’s completely broken, so he can’t actually be much of a threat anymore right?
Another thing that’s broken is Grima, who is like some kind of mongrel dog following at Saruman’s heels. That’s very important in just a little while, even if it seems like just desserts at the moment.
Another goodbye comes as this pass Moria, this time between the older guys, the last of the White Council I suppose, who spend a few days talking under the stars before going their separate ways. A temporary parting of course. This little sequence adds that sense of mystery and age to these characters, who are essentially reminiscing over their lives in Middle-Earth that are coming to a rapid conclusion.
The final four reach Rivendell, a place whose time is drawing to a conclusion along with its occupants. Bilbo has aged even further then when we last saw him, to a huge degree. It seems to have been more than a year to him. Perhaps his connection to the Ring, which he carried for so long, was still working to an extent after he gave it up. Now that the thing has been destroyed, its power and hold over anything done at last, Bilbo’s lifetime is really catching up with him as he appears slow and dull-witted in these passage like, well, someone who is over 130.
Rivendell is a place of peace and recovery, but Frodo can find no peace here, which is telling. He won’t be able to find peace anywhere really. He is not Bilbo with his happy ending. The time draws near to go home, pressed by Sam who has had to overcome more than anyone in terms of personal blocks just to get to the point where the Shire is on the horizon. He wants to go home, but Frodo seems oddly reluctant, as if he does not want to face something in Bag End. His mind is focused on elsewhere, with vague and eye-raising references to “the sea”. We many cast our minds back to his dreams in Book One at this point, and the image of the sea that was evident in some of them. The dreams were an odd plot point, but they appear to have been something akin to premonitions.
The last goodbyes of the chapter take place as the hobbits and Gandalf set out for the last stretch to the Shire. Bilbo is back to his old self for a moment (though he occasionally forgets the Ring is gone, evidence of its lingering influence perhaps) and hands out some gifts to all of them. He is back to being a normal country hobbit in these scenes, handing out advice and good humour with equal measure, much more like the character from the very first chapter which is comforting, a change from the slightly dark tone that the narrative had taken. He adds on a new verse to his famous “Road” song as a sort of coda to his own tale, talking about his decision to turn away from their journey, adventuring and “at last with weary feet, will turn towards a lighted inn, my evening meal and sleep to meet”.
His last act is to hand over his history of their lives, the red book, and trust to Frodo to finish it. This is Bilbo’s great work and his legacy, the symbolism of handing it over to Frodo, obvious.
Elrond has some parting words for Frodo that echo what Arwen has previously said to him, indicating that he and Bilbo will only meet once more, and that he knows when this time will be. The last three chapters have this heavy sense of foreboding from all this kind of talk, and we look forward to the conclusion with relish.
The movie, as far as I can see, cuts this whole chapter out completely, save for a few snippets of dialogue here and there. Treebeard’s words to the Elves actually form the opening lines of the trilogy (spoken by Galadriel) while Saruman is killed off previously.
Next, it’s been a long road, getting from there to here…
For more Chapter by Chapter reviews of The Lord of the Rings, check out the index here.