'Well, here we are, just the four of us that started out together,' said Merry. 'We have left all the rest behind, one after another. It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.'
'Not to me,' said Frodo. 'To me it feels more like falling asleep again.'
Tolkien disliked allegory, favoring instead applicability. The War of the Ring is not WWII, Sauron is not Hitler, and the Nazgul and orcs are not Nazis. This story survives because anyone, at any point in time, can pick it up and find something in it that speaks to them, to their times and to their concerns and hopes. Undoubtedly, WWI and WWII influenced Tolkien. How could they not, when he started writing about Middle-Earth in the trenches while fighting in WWI? He writes about war, the battles, the people, and the destruction it brings unlike any other author I've read. He went to war with all his friends and came home alone. He then had to watch his sons go to war, and wait, and hope and fear, to find out if they would ever come home to him or be lost to him as his friends were long ago. And when he sons returned, it was to find their home ripped apart and devastated. So too Frodo and his friends return to the Shire to find their battles are not yet done.
This book easily has some of Tolkien's best writing in the entire series. The emotions and stakes are high throughout. He knows when to let our heroes have little moments of peace and small victories among the constant barrage of violence and hopelessness.
And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardy or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.
And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
The onslaught and oppression of the Dark Lord is relentless. He took the day away! He unleashes his armies against the West and he nearly wins. Our heroes battle on, not because they're Big Damn Heroes (although they are) but because if they don't fight they will definitely lose. They continue without hope, they willingly sacrifice themselves again and again, because if they give up, there is no one else to carry on the fight. The longer they can keep fighting, the longer they can hold off defeat - and the longer a certain hobbit has to reach Mt. Doom. In the onslaught of seemingly insurmountable odds, they keep putting one foot in front of the other - and they accumulate a lot of kickass moments while they're at it.
'Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!'
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. 'But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.'
From ruin, destruction and grief, comes healing, joy and love. Tolkien coined the phrase "eucatastrophe" to describe that moment in a story where the hero doesn't meet a terrible end - everything turns and victory is achieved. But that doesn't mean that losses don't still happen, or that everything bad is undone. But against all odds, that one moment of horror doesn't happen. We see it time and again throughout this book, the greatest being after Frodo fails in his quest but the Ring is destroyed anyway. Joy and sorrow, together, but joy is the greater.
And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.
Tolkien uses the concepts of dark and light to great effect throughout the book, from the day without dawn to the glittering veil of the Undying Lands, he shows again and again how even the darkest days cannot extinguish all light, that no matter how bad things are and how hopeless things may seem, that to give up, to give in to despair, is the worst thing any of our heroes could do. Despair is the greatest sin, for by despairing you are assuming you already know how things are going to end - and end horribly - and if any of our heroes had done that, things would have gone very differently. Each time it seems our heroes might be about to despair, they're given a sign to keep going.
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
Yet no matter how much light may shine upon you, sometimes you've just seen too much evil. That is Frodo's reality after the War, and so the Shire was saved, but not for him - just as many veterans feel when returning home. They don't fit anymore, those they left behind can't understand what they've seen or done, or lost within themselves. No amount of explaining, if you can bring yourself to do so, will help them understand. You're forever changed, and there is no going home again. Tolkien understood it well, and it flows from the pages in the last few chapters. Yet even for Frodo, healing may still be found.
Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
Anyway, I can continue to rain praises on this book, but let's get to the movie pros and cons:
~Frodo would never tell Sam to leave and Sam would never go! (Yes, I covered this in the book review for TTT, but it bears repeating. This is the single change that pisses me off the most about the movies.)
~Yet more fakeout falls to non-deaths *sigh*
~Pippin in Gondor, Merry in Rohan - amazing!
~Denethor *sigh* Way to take a complex character and turn him into a one-note villain.
~Faramir doesn't fare much better here than he did in TTT either.
~The destruction of the Ring and Mordor were spot on, and the Eagles were great.
~That ridiculous nonsense about Arwen's life force being magically tied to the Ring's destruction is ridiculous. It makes no sense and how the hell did Elrond even get to Dunharrow?
~Everyone bowing to the hobbits was pretty spectacular, though I do love Aragorn sitting Frodo and Sam on his throne and bowing to them just as much.
~Éowyn and Faramir's epic whirlwind romance got reduced to a single look - and yet still somehow works. :D
~And I do like that Merry got to go to the Black Gate with Pippin. They weren't separated yet again. Yay!
~The Scouring of the Shire is, in my opinion, the most important chapter in the series. It's a culmination of everything the hobbits learned while on their quest, and now they use those skills to free their own people and their own lands. It also reinforces Frodo's PTSD and sense of failure. 'I set out to save the Shire, and it has been saved.' Note he doesn't say 'and I have saved it.' Saruman's words to him on the steps of Bag End are the cruelest words he could have spoken, and his voice proves to still be weapon enough, for even though Frodo recognizes his lies when speaking to the other hobbits assembled he still finds what Saruman says to be too close to his own thoughts.
And it's what soldiers returning home after WWI and WWII would have encountered. No land was left untouched. They came back from fighting for their homes, families and freedoms to find those very things yanked away from them still. They had to rebuild, and say goodbye to many they loved, and roust out the spies in their midst. And so too do the hobbits.
All that being said, for the movie that PJ was making, the Scouring wouldn't have made sense. And it would have added another half-hour easily to the already long running time. I actually love all the stuff that happens when they get home in the movie - unrealistic though it may be - and I don't miss the Scouring at all. I can always come to the books and read it when I want to.
~Mordor was just as screwed up and gloomy as I expected.
~The Paths of the Dead and the Dead Army - someone was watching too much Scooby Doo before they made those scenes. I just can't take them seriously, and using the Dead Army at the Pelennor is ridiculous. They look like scrubbing bubbles! Also, it makes the deaths of Théoden and everyone else fighting at the Pelennor feel like a stalling tactic and cheapens their sacrifices.
~More oliphaunts!! <3
~Legolas's physics- and gravity-defying antics *sigh*
~The Witch-King crumbling up like a witch forced to take a bath is a bit on the nose, especially after they made Minas Morgul the Evil Emerald City. (I do love the visuals for Minas Morgul, it looks so creepy!)
~The Grey Havens are beautiful.
~"Well, I'm back." <3
And now, I'm done. Until the next reread. ;)