Chapter Summaries of "The Return of the King"
Book Five

Chapter 1: Minas Tirith

After a long and swift ride Gandalf and Pippin arrive to the great city of Minas Tirith in the early hours of the morning and have an audience with Denethor, the Lord and Steward of Gondor, the father of Boromir and Faramir. Denethor is a man of great power and lineage, who can guess much that is hidden behind one's words. Pippin tells about their journey, and about Boromir, and swears an oath of fealty to Gondor. After the audience Gandalf goes about his business, and Pippin goes out to explore the City. He meets Beregond, a soldier of the city guard, who has been sent to keep him company for a while. They talk about Gondor and its customs, and about Pippin's journey and the distant lands he had seen, and the war that is drawing near and in which Gondor seems to have no hope. Later, when Beregond has to attend to his duties, Pippin looks up his son, Bergil, and together they go to the city gates to watch the armies of Gondor coming to strengthen the defence of the City. In the evening Pippin returns to his lodgings, and in the night Gandalf returns as well, seeming worried and concerned.

Chapter 2: The Passing of the Grey Company

Soon after Gandalf's departure the company of king Théoden is joined by a group of Rangers of the North, Aragorn's kin, accompanied by Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond. They ride together to Helm's Deep, where Aragorn looks into the palantír and wrenches it from the control of Sauron's mind. He decides to go as quickly as possible to Gondor, taking the dreaded Paths of the Dead, accompanied by Legolas, Gimli, the sons of Elrond and the Dúnedain. It will take Théoden (with whom Merry remains as an esquire) several days to muster the host of Rohan; meanwhile Aragorn and his company ride towards Edoras and Dunharrow in a straight course. There Éowyn wants to join them, but Aragorn does not permit her, saying that only Théoden could release her from her duty. The next morning the company pass through the Paths of the Dead: a kind of tunnel leading to the other side of the mountains south of Rohan. The 'Dead' are the shadows of a people of old who broke their oath to Isildur, and Isildur cursed them not to find peace until the oath be fulfilled. Now Aragorn, being Isildur's heir, summons them to help him in the war, thus fulfilling their oath. The company, followed by a great host of the shadows of the Dead, head eastwards towards Pelargir.

Chapter 3: The Muster of Rohan

Meanwhile Théoden and his host ride to Dunharrow, where the army of Rohan is gathering. Éowyn awaits them there and tells them that Aragorn has gone to the Paths of the Dead; little is known of them to the Rohirrim, only a few frightening legends, and they are sure that Aragorn will never be seen again. An errand-rider of Gondor comes, bringing word from Denethor about the peril of Minas Tirith, and asking the Rohirrim (who have been allies of Gondor for centuries) for help in the war. Théoden prepares to set out on the following day, intending now to go openly across the plain, for the great cloud from Mordor has covered the entire sky with darkness. He decides that Merry should remain behind in Edoras, where Éowyn will lead the people until the king's return. Yet a young rider called Dernhelm secretly offers Merry to bear him on his horse to Gondor, and Merry gladly accepts the offer.

Chapter 4: The Siege of Gondor

The following morning, when the Darkness has already covered the sky, Gandalf takes Pippin to Denethor, and Pippin receives a uniform of the Tower. Later he meets Beregond and talks to him for a while on the city walls. That very evening Faramir returns into Minas Tirith, barely escaping the winged Nazgul who were chasing him and his few companions. Pippin accompanies Gandalf and Faramir to a meeting with Denethor; Faramir reports about the events on the border, and about his meeting with Frodo. Denethor is displeased with his actions, and would prefer to have the Ring brought to his keeping. The next day Faramir leaves the City again to help in the defence of the passages across the Anduin. The defenders cannot withstand the well-prepared attack, however, and a day later survivors retreat back into the city, chased by the enemies; Faramir is brought in last, wounded by a poisoned dart. Huge numbers of enemies, led by the Captain of the Ringwraiths himself, encircle Minas Tirith and start a siege, digging trenches of fire and preparing great engines of war. Denethor is broken to see Faramir mortally wounded, and he gives up all hope and the defence of the city and retreats into the houses of the dead, intending to burn himself and Faramir. He releases Pippin of his service, and Pippin runs looking for Gandalf who might still prevent Denethor from committing some madness. Meanwhile the enemies attack the city gate with a huge ram, and break it open after several attempts. The Lord of the Nazgul rides in and is confronted by Gandalf alone; in that very moment, though, the horns of Rohan ring in the distance.

Chapter 5: The Ride of the Rohirrim

The host of Rohan rides quickly towards Gondor for four days. One night Merry listens to Théoden and Éomer talking to Ghân-buri-Ghân, a chieftain of the Wild Men of the nearby woods. Orcs seem to have waylaid the road towards Minas Tirith, and Ghân offers to show them a long-abandoned and unknown path through the forest. Thus they come unchallenged to the field of Gondor, for all the enemies are busy assailing the city walls. Just when the armies of Mordor are attacking the gates with their great ram, Théoden blows a signal with his horn and the Rohirrim charge into attack.

Chapter 6: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

In the first onset, Théoden slays a chieftain of the Southrons. Then the Captain of the Ringwraiths, riding upon his terrible winged creature, descends near Théoden; his horse, driven mad with fear, falls on his side and buries the king underneath him. Only Éowyn, who was disguised as Dernhelm, stands beside him in this moment; Merry's courage finally awakens and he attacks the Ringwraith from behind, and Éowyn with her last strength slays the Wraith-king. Before dying Théoden says farewell to Merry, and greets Éomer as the new king. The remaining defenders of Minas Tirith issue from the City to help the Rohirrim; the Prince Imrahil meets the men carrying Théoden and Éowyn, and notices that she is still alive, and sends for the healers. The forces of Rohan and Gondor are slowly losing the battle with the huge armies of the Enemy. But then a fleet of ships of Umbar sails up the Anduin, at to the surprise of both the attackers and the defenders it is not bearing the Corsairs, enemies of Gondor, but Aragorn and his company, as well as the hosts of southern Gondor. Now the battle turns to the favour of the West, and by the end of the day no enemies remain alive on the field.

Chapter 7: The Pyre of Denethor

Pippin finds Gandalf and brings him to the Houses of the Dead to prevent Denethor from burning himself and Faramir alive. There they find Beregond (whom Pippin had warned of Denethor's madness) fighting Denethor's servants. Gandalf tries to convince Denethor that the hour and way of one's death are not one's own to choose, and that his duty is to lead the defence of the City; but Denethor firmly believes that the might of Mordor is too great now and everything is hopeless. Beregond prevents him from slaying Faramir; then Denethor grabs a torch and throws it into the pile of wood prepared there, and throws himself upon it, and burns. It seems that a palantír, kept secretly in the White Tower, was the origin of his dismay, for he had looked in it often and seen nothing but the gathering of the great armies of Mordor. Then they take Faramir to the Houses of Healing, though it is uncertain whether he will ever awake again.

Chapter 8: The Houses of Healing

Merry, who has, totally exhausted, followed the bearers of Théoden's body but went astray, is finally found by Pippin and taken to the Houses of Healing. There Gandalf hears an old woman mention a legend that the hands of a king are the hands of a healer; and he goes looking for Aragorn, who might still have that skill. Aragorn decides not to claim his kingship until the war with Mordor is over, but he does come to help the wounded. First he tends Faramir, Éowyn and Merry. Faramir was struck by a poisoned arrow, but most of all he was affected by the "black breath" of the Nazgul; and Éowyn and Merry were falling into darkness after confronting the Ringwraith. Aragorn heals them with a herb called athelas, and they wake up, though they will still have to rest for several days. He and the sons of Elrond labour in the Houses of Healing until the morning hours.

Chapter 9: The Last Debate

The next morning Legolas and Gimli enter the City and meet with the Prince Imrahil; then they visit Merry and Pippin in the Houses of Healing. They talk about the passing of the Paths of the Dead: how they rode for several days, and Aragorn called upon the shades of the Dead to fight for him, how they captured the fleet of Umbar in Pelargir, and how they sailed up the Anduin to join the battle of the Pelennor fields. Meanwhile there is a meeting of the captains: Gandalf, Aragorn, Imrahil, Éomer, and the sons of Elrond. Gandalf presents his plan to ride towards the Black Gate of Mordor, as if to challenge battle with Sauron, such that he would empty Mordor and turn all his attention towards them; this would increase Frodo's chances to reach Orodruin and destroy the Ring. For so long as the Ring still exists, Sauron's strength is too great to be conquered in war. The plan is accepted, and a host of seven thousand men is to depart in two days' time.

Chapter 10: The Black Gate Opens

The host of the West marches towards the Gates of Mordor, and several times every day the heralds proclaim the coming of the King and challenge the forces of Mordor. Some men are left as guard at the Cross-roads, and later on some grow afraid and turn back. Nobody answers the challenges, though, except for a small host of Orcs and Easterlings that they defeat easily. At length the army comes before the Black Gate of Mordor, and again challenge Sauron to come out and make amends for his evil deeds. An embassy issues out then, led by the Mouth of Sauron, an evil man who had entered the service of Sauron and become the Lieutenant of the Dark Tower and a mighty sorcerer. The Mouth declares that a halfling-spy was captured (and shows Frodo's gear) and demands that the Captains of the West should yield to Sauron's territorial demands or the spy will be brutally tortured. Gandalf refuses the terms, but takes Frodo's items; then the embassy, in rage and fear, turns back towards the gate. Finally Sauron releases his trap: the gates swing wide open and an army pours out, several times outnumbering the host of the West. In this last, desperate defence, Pippin slays a great hill-troll, but then falls unconscious himself.

Book Six

Chapter 1: The Tower of Cirith Ungol

Sam is firmly decided to rescue Frodo, and therefore he must find a way to get into the watch-tower on the pass, where Frodo has been taken. He hears sounds of fighting from the tower, two orcs are shot with arrows in an attempt to run away; apparently the two orc-companies are fighting over Frodo's belongings. The main entrance to the Tower is guarded by the Two Watchers, horrible creatures like statues filled with great malice, that do not move yet seem to be aware of things around them. Sam holds up the Phial of Galadriel, and succeeds to run through the gate. Almost all the orcs were killed in the fighting; a small orc meets Sam on a stairway, but runs away in fear. Sam follows him, and listens to a conversation between the orc and Shagrat, who (though wounded) seems to have also survived the fight. The two orcs start to quarrel, and Snaga, the small orc, escapes; Shagrat runs out to get some help. Sam searches for Frodo and starts to sing; he hears a reply to his song, followed by Snaga's voice. Frodo was kept in the topmost chamber, accessible only by a ladder through a trap-door. Sam goes up and attacks Snaga, who falls down the ladder and breaks his neck. Then Sam and Frodo prepare to depart; Sam brings some orc-gear for Frodo (whom the orcs stripped of everything). Using the Phial, they pass the Watchers again, but the creatures utter a horrible cry, replied by a Nazgul from the darkness above.

Chapter 2: The Land of Shadow

Sam and Frodo barely avoid being discovered and travel to the north for a few days. They are troubled by the lack of food and water, and the Ring is becoming an ever greater burden to Frodo. The plain below them is full of Sauron's armies, and Frodo intends attempting to cross it where it is narrower. Hidden behind a bush, they hear a conversation between two orcs and discover that Gollum is still following them; one night Sam sees him nosing about, as well. The plain is still packed with orcs, and the hobbits have no choice but to follow the road along the sheer ridge of the Morgai. There they are caught up by a group of small orcs, being driven by two large ones towards Udun where Sauron's armies are gathering. The slave-drivers believe them to be deserters, and force them to join the company. Luckily, however, when the host nears the narrow entrance to Udun, confusion and quarrelling break out among different orc-companies, and the hobbits succeed to slip away unnoticed.

Chapter 3: Mount Doom

The hobbits follow an orc-road for several days, travelling towards Mount Doom. Thus they can make much faster progress than straight across the barren country, filled with rocks and crevices; and there are a few water-tanks along the road. But at last they have to leave the road and turn directly towards the Mountain. To ease the journey, they leave behind all gear that they are not likely to need any more. They reach Orodruin in two more days, and they almost run out of food and water. The next day they should ascend the Mountain, but Sam has to carry Frodo, who (tormented by the growing burden of the Ring) is completely exhausted. Near the summit they are attacked by Gollum, yet he is also weakened by hunger and Frodo escapes towards the Sammath Naur, the Chambers of Fire. Gollum begs Sam (who is still armed with Sting) for mercy, and Sam bids him be off. In the Chambers, however, Frodo is finally overcome by the power of the Ring and claims it for his own. Gollum creeps in and attacks him again, and bites off his ring-finger; then, in joy over regaining his Precious, he falls into the pit. Frodo, now delivered of his pain, and Sam come out and see that realm of Sauron is collapsing.

Chapter 4: The Field of Cormallen

The battle of the Captains of the West and the hosts of Mordor is joined by the Eagles, led by Gwaihir their lord. In that very moment the Ring falls into the fire of Orodruin: the Black Gate collapses, the spirit of Sauron is destroyed, and the forces of Mordor, bereft of the Power that controlled them, dismay and many run away or beg for mercy. Gwaihir, accompanied by two other eagles, bears Gandalf towards Mount Doom, where they rescue Frodo and Sam. The two hobbits awake several days later and are greatly honoured by the host of the West on the field of Cormallen in Ithilien. They stay in Ithilien for many happy days, exchanging tales of their adventures with their friends, until at last the entire host boards ships and sails to Gondor.

Chapter 5: The Steward and the King

Meanwhile Éowyn and Faramir are still in the Houses of Healing, recovering from their hurts. Éowyn is unhappy because she must spend her time in idleness, and desires a glorious death in battle (she also desired the love of Aragorn, but received from him nothing but pity and understanding). She meets Faramir (who, despite also being strong and valorous, is patiently waiting to be healed). The Eagles bring news of victory. Faramir and Éowyn spend a lot of time together, and eventually fall in love, and thus Éowyn is healed. The host of the West returns to the City and Aragorn is crowned as the King Elessar. He declares that Faramir will be given Ithilien as a princedom, and he and his heir will remain Stewards. The companions spend many days in Minas Tirith, and it seems that Aragorn is still waiting for some kind of signal. One day he and Gandalf ascend a mountain-path and there, in an old hallow of the kings, find a sapling of the White Tree, which is planted in the court of the king. A few days later, a great company of Elves arrives from the North, including Galadriel, Elrond, and Arwen. Elrond gives to Aragorn the Sceptre of Annúminas, and Aragorn weds Arwen on the day of Midsummer.

Chapter 6: Many Partings

Arwen gives Frodo permission to go to the Grey Havens instead of her, for by marrying Aragorn she chose to be mortal. Éomer and Gimli settle their argument over the beauty of Galadriel. At last a great company departs from Minas Tirith, bearing the body of King Théoden to Rohan. After the burial Éomer announces the wedding of Faramir and Éowyn. Then they go to Isengard, and there meet with Treebeard. Gimli and Legolas visit the Glittering Caves of Helm's Deep and the forest of Fangorn, and part from the company, turning towards their homes in the North. A little later Aragorn leaves them as well, going back towards Minas Tirith. The rest of the company travel on and overtake Saruman (who is now wandering around as a beggar, accompanied by Gríma). The folk of Lórien leave the company in Eregion, near the gates of Moria. Now the travellers turn towards Rivendell, and there the hobbits meet Bilbo and spend many days with him. Finally they decide to return home to the Shire, and to their joy Gandalf also decides to go with them, at least as far as Bree.

Chapter 7: Homeward Bound

Frodo feels pain again in his shoulder, for it is a year since he was wounded. Yet it quickly passes, and after a few more days they reach Bree. They are warmly accepted by old Butterbur, and talk with him for a long time, telling about their doings and adventures. Barliman mentions that business has been bad, with many strangers and evil creatures lurking about; and he is glad to hear the news that the King has been restored. Bill the pony had also returned to Bree, and is now returned to Sam. The company stays in the inn for two nights, and then leave towards the Shire. Gandalf leaves the hobbits, for he intends to visit Tom Bombadil; and to the hobbits he advises to hurry, hinting that things might be amiss in the Shire.

Chapter 8: The Scouring of the Shire

The four hobbits come to the Shire, and find that much indeed has changed: the Brandywine Bridge is guarded by several Shirriffs, who deny them the entrance. It seems that Lotho Baggins has taken over in the Shire, calling himself "the Chief" and enforcing a long number of unfair Rules. The Shire is full of ruffians (there's Bill Ferny at the Bridge), many of them being squint-eyed Isengarders; and there has been much burning and senseless destruction. The travellers break in (against the Rules) and spend a night in the Shirriff-house; next day they encounter a group of Shirriffs in Frogmorton and a group of ruffians in Hobbiton, but both fail to arrest them, being surprised and frightened to meet four fearless and well-armed hobbits. The hobbits, with the help of Farmer Cotton, start an uprising against the oppressors; first a small group of ruffians attempts to calm down the rebellion, but outnumbered by the hobbits they give themselves in. Pippin brings a large number of Tooks and together they deal with the next attack of the majority of the ruffians. Then a group of hobbits, led by Frodo and his friends, go to Bag End to find Lotho. Instead they find Saruman, who has been the organiser behind all the trouble; they tell him to leave, and Wormtongue (who seems to have murdered Lotho at Saruman's command) in wrath and despair stabs him and is then shot by three hobbit-bowmen. This also marks the end of the War of the Ring.

Chapter 9: The Gray Havens

These turbulent events are followed by a splendid, prosperous and happy year. The whole Shire is busy repairing the harms done by Saruman's ruffians. Sam remembers Galadriel's gift and discovers that the box contains a strange dust and a single silver seed. He uses the dust to plant trees all over the Shire where they had been hewn down by the ruffians, and he plants the silver nut in the Party Field in Hobbiton; and out of it grows a beautiful mallorn. Sam marries Rose Cotton; Frodo moves back to Bag End, and Sam and Rose come to live there as well. The next year their first daughter, Elanor, is born. On the anniversaries of the events at Weathertop and Cirith Ungol Frodo's old wounds hurt him again. In September, as Bilbo's birthday is approaching, Frodo and Sam set out again (towards Rivendell, as Sam thinks; though he does not intend to go all the way). Yet in the woods of the Shire they meet a large number of Elves, including Elrond and Galadriel; Bilbo is among them as well. Finally Sam realizes that Frodo intends to go to the Grey Havens, to pass over the Sea with the Elves and Bilbo. In the Havens Círdan the Shipwright and Gandalf await them; Gandalf, too, will board the ship. He has brought Pippin and Merry along as well, such that Sam will not be alone on the way home. Thus the elven-ship leaves Middle-earth; and the three hobbits return to the Shire.