The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Summary and Analysis of Book 5, Chapters 1-5

Book Five

Chapter 1: Minas Tirith

Gandalf and Pippin ride the steed, Shadowfax, and they are moving very quickly towards Minas Tirith. Gandalf sees numerous lit beacons and he urges Shadowfax to ride faster because these beacons are signs of war. Gandalf and Pippin meet Ingold, who is in the service of the king, Denethor. Ingold refers to Gandalf by the name Mithrandir. Some of Denethor's men are busy rebuilding the walls of the city. When Gandalf and Pippin approach the White Tower of Denethor, Gandalf warns Pippin not to say more than is necessary. In Denethor's presence, Pippin ends us saying much about Boromir, who is Denethor's slain son. Pippin avoids mentioning the Ring, but there are other details of the quest that are revealed. In the end, Pippin ends up taking an oath of fealty, in allegiance to Denethor.

Gandalf is a little annoyed that Denethor has deliberately wasted so much time talking to Pippin when it is obvious that Denethor should have immediately consulted Gandalf (for Gandalf has more valuable information). From one of the men, Beregond, Pippin learns that there will soon be war and Beregond sees a sign of the city's doom. Pippin encourages him though and he later spends some time with Beregond's son and receives a tour of the city. At the end of the evening, the lights of the city are extinguished and war is imminent. Pippin returns to his room and he waits for Denethor's summons. Gandalf paces, waiting and wondering about Faramir's return.


Gandalf's characterization is as a herald of doom; Ingold tells Gandalf: "you come with tidings of grief and danger, as is your wont, they say." Gandalf explains that this is "because I come seldom but when my help is needed," and this is an understatement, when we consider the condition of Minas Tirith. The suspense of the chapter concerns the return of Faramir and also the precise time of attack‹it is clear that the battle is imminent and inevitable but when will it arrive? The metaphor of the darkness of night and storm are used to describe the oncoming terror. And the nazgul is another symbol of the evil forces, a flying creature that is a certain parallel to Shadowfax. In terms of the theme of knowledge, it is somewhat disconcerting that at the end of the chapter, Gandalf is muttering: "When will Faramir return?" for we expect that if anybody has answers it should be Gandalf. Finally, the archetype of darkness is used in this chapter to stand for fear, depression, destruction and war. Gandalf's closing phrase: "The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn." Is both literal and figurative.

Chapter 2: The Passing of the Grey Company

Four of the original Fellowship are still together: Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Merry. They are eager to continue on their course, hastened by the appearance of the winged nazgul. Overall, the hopes of the group are rather low. On the road, the Riders of Rohan fear an attack from behind as they hear riders approaching. It turns out to be Halbarad Dunadan, Ranger of the North, and he is accompanied by thirty men. This is good news, and Aragorn is reunited with his kin. Through Galadriel, the Rangers received word that: "Aragorn has need of his Kindred. Let the Dunedain ride to him in Rohan!"

A prophecy of old concerns a dreaded region in which the "Paths of the Dead" are located. Aragorn decides that he will have to take the Paths of the Dead in order to get to the site of battle. Eowyn tries to dissuade him but she is unsuccessful. Aragorn looks into the "stone of Orthanc" and it is a struggle of wills‹he only barely has enough will power to master the challenge. This strikes fear in the heart of Sauron. Aragorn keeps to his path and eventually he and his company arrive at the Paths of the Dead. They can see the remains of previous warriors who attempted to take this route, but they are under the guiding hand of destiny. The dead are bound by an ancient oath, and though this is a gloomy passage, Aragorn is successful and the forces of the dead follow him, along with Legolas and Gimli.


The characterization of Aragorn is very important in this chapter because he emerges as a hero of legend. The theme of fate is very important here, as it seems that Aragorn's success is contingent upon the preceding prophecies. For all of his bravery and courage, Aragorn would have been doomed had he not been the King mentioned in prophecy. In terms of narrative structure, this chapter is full of twists and turns: for example, the unexpected arrival of Aragorn's kin, as well as the re-emergence of Galadriel. The flying nazgul remain a symbol of doom and destruction, while the struggle with Sauron is heavily foreshadowed. There are a few archetypal images that are inverted in this chapter, where evil is used for good and death is used for life. The dead forces figure ominously and their black standard seems to be a symbol of evil. But as it turns out, these forces are led by Aragorn and so they are fighting for good. When they arrive at battle, their evil aspect will be a source of mischief for the enemy (who will briefly mistake them for an ally).

Chapter 3: The Muster of Rohan

Merry thinks back to the joys of hobbit life. His service in the company of Theoden is lonely because the other members of the Fellowship have all left, but Merry has had to stay behind. More troops arrive at Dunharrow not long after Aragorn, and there is a fortress in the White Mountains where the Riders of Rohan are going to await the attack. The fort is a winding and coiling passage and it is impossible to attack except from above. Merry continues to the fort, following the King.

A messenger named Hirgon, the errand-rider of the king, Denethor, comes with word from Gondor. Help is needed at Minas Tirith. Theoden sends words that he will send help and that he will probably go himself. Though he will probably arrive too late. Aragorn had requested armor for Merry and so the hobbit is outfitted. Theoden release Merry from his duties, but Merry wishes to follow him. A young rider, named Dernhelm, sees that Merry is despondent about being left behind‹yet again‹while others go to fight. Dernhelm hides Merry in his cloak, and so the hobbit is not left behind, after all.


The ideas of destiny and heroism both entwine as themes of this chapter, particularly in regards to Merry and Dernhelm. Should Merry have followed? It is clear that neither of the two knows what is ahead. The tone of the chapter is depressing because of the herald of war, Hirgon, who delivers depressing news. In archetypal terms, the perpetual night is definite a gloomy indication of death looming in the near future. Finally, the character Dernhelm stands as a representation of the group, for he has "the face of one without hope who goes in search of death." The themes of solitude, companionship and nostalgia are brought to a fore in Merry's contemplation. At this point, the Fellowship of the Ring could hardly be any more splintered than it is.

Chapter 4: The Siege of Gondor

Gandalf and Pippin are in Denethor's company. Pippin serves as esquire and he goes to the armory to be dressed. After this, he strolls with Beregond. At the battlement, they see the arrival of Black Riders chasing Faramir and a few of his men. Gandalf comes to their defense. Faramir greets Pippin and Gandalf and they retire to Denethor's chamber. Faramir mentions seeing other "halflings" and tells of his encounter with Frodo and his servant. Gandalf is troubled and Denethor puts pieces of the puzzle together and is angered that Faramir did not bring the Ring to him. Denethor argues that Boromir would have done better and remembered his allegiances, but this really isn't true.

Gandalf disagrees with Denethor, arguing that nothing that he might have done with the Ring would have come to any good.

Gandalf is glad to hear that Frodo was free‹still, he wonders why Sauron now hastens, and he correctly guesses that Aragorn used the stone of Orthanc. Gandalf speaks of Gollum and says that even if Gollum betrays Frodo and Sam, he may do some inadvertent good. Faramir is again sent to battle by is ungrateful father, Denethor. Faramir's men are pushed back by the Lord of Barad-Dur, the Captain of Despair. The enemy advances until Denethor sends reinforcements, but these also fail and the city is besieged. Orcs surround Gondor and Faramir is wounded and bedridden. Denethor stays with Faramir and Gandalf commands the remnant of the troops. Denethor begins preparation for a funeral pyre for himself and his son, though the city has not yet fallen.

The Lord of the Nazgul enters the city but Gandalf waits for him and commands him to depart. The Black Rider defies Gandalf, just as the riders of Rohan arrive.


There is definitely a contrast between the characters Gandalf and Denethor. The king (Denethor) displays cowardice, hopelessness and panic while the wizard (Gandalf) displays a king-like ability to martial and lead troops, and also hold off the enemy far longer than they expected. There is a double suspense that remains unresolved at the end of the chapter. First, is Denethor going to be successful in his attempt to set himself and his son on fire? Second, what will Gandalf do, in the face of the Lord of the Nazgul? Order has descended into chaos, and it is interesting how certain customs and patterns are maintained nonetheless. For example, Merry and Pippin, though separated, emerge into parallel positions of service to the king (though Theoden is far nobler than Denethor).

Chapter 5: The Ride of the Rohirrim

Merry is unable to sleep, though he is very tired while he is riding with the Rohirrim. Merry wonders whether Theoden will be upset when he finds out that he has continued along‹though he was forbidden to do so. The men in Dernhelm's company pretend not to notice Merry. Approaching Minas Tirith, the riders clearly see signs of the enemy. Merry sees Theoden and Eomer talking with a Wild Man who gives them information about the enemy. The Wild Man agrees to lead them down an unknown route if the will, in turn, kill the "gorgun" creatures, orcs and "drive away bad dark with bright iron." Ghan-buri-Ghan, the wild man, leads the riders himself, and then he disappears.

The find the bodies of two dead men. One clasps the Red Arrow and is presumed to be Hirgon, the messenger. Hence: Denethor does not know that Rohan's reinforcements are on the way (because Hirgon was killed before he was able to return with the message). The Riders make their way to Gondor and they are unchallenged. They see a white light in the distance and Theoden takes courage from the new daylight. He leads the Riders and they decimate the hosts of Mordor.


The motifs of light and wind represent good fortune for the Riders. The shift in the wind and the receding darkness are both symbols of good's imminent victory over evil. The wild men's name for the orcs, "gorgun," is an allusion to the Gorgons (Medusa and her sisters) of Greek mythology. As the gorgons were hideous to look at (you would turn to stone if you did) and they were, of course, quite evil, they make a good parallel to the orcs. Finally, when Theoden rides the horse Snowmane, he parallels Gandalf on Shadowfax, yet another warrior summoned out of his old age to do one more noble heroic deed.