Sunday, September 5, 2021

Review - The Return of the King

Original Title: The Return of the King
Series: Lord of the Rings, #3
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Published: October 20th, 1955

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (this edition)
The board is set, and the pieces are moving.

We traveled, and fought. We lost and cried. And here we are, at last, at the end of all things.

No review, no matter how long, can do proper justice to the magnificence of this book, and of course, the movie that adapted it. Both made history, and conquered a place that nothing, ever, will take from them. This journey will live in us forever. At loss of words, I solemnly bow in front of J. R. R. Tolkien, and Peter Jackson, for what they did.

As I read Return of the King again, I realized something that I never noticed before, that perhaps I knew but I did not stop to consider it. And it is that every character has a story to tell, to the point that, if you want, you can write a book telling the same story, from their point of view, and you would get an equally rich tale. Imagine Lord of the Rings told from Gandalf’s viewpoint, or Merry’s, or Éowyn’s, or Faramir’s. Each and every one of these people have something to say, a past, a way of seeing things that make their voices unique, and would be perfectly capable of telling us about their lands, their battles and their feelings, in full detail, and in an equally believable way.

This story opens with Pippin and Gandalf, riding to Gondor, after Pippin couldn’t help himself and looked into the Palantír from Orthanc. Until then, Merry and Pippin had been doing everything together, and in this book, they are separated, and have to grow on their own, finding themselves individually, discovering what they are capable of, and the part they have to play in this war. The Ents are left behind, and what awaits them now is the open battlefield. And so, they pledge themselves in the service of King Théoden, and Lord Denethor. One of my favorite parts in this book is Merry and Pippin’s evolution, and how they are so relatable because of that. Especially Pippin; his growth is amazing, as we go with him as he discovers his own courage, and proves that heroes aren’t always leaders or great captains, and that the purity of your heart is what counts in the end. Yes, you will make mistakes along the way, but you can, and must, learn from them, as they can be the first step into becoming a better person. Obviously, Pippin shouldn’t have looked into the Palantír, but he did, and from that he became a knight of Gondor, saved Faramir’s life, and was later one of the captains during the scouring of The Shire, proving that sometimes your mistakes are the threshold to your purpose, and the tests you endure reveal what you are truly capable of.

When they go back to The Shire, and someone insults Frodo, Pippin just won’t tolerate it.

He cast back his cloak, flashed out his sword, and the silver and sable of Gondor gleamed on him as he rode forward. […]

Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon, or I will set this troll’s bane in you!

This is definitely not the same clueless Pippin that left the Shire all those months ago, and I’m so proud of him. His heart is now divided between his two homes, as he became a warrior and a knight in Gondor, and will defend it to the end.

And Merry doesn’t lag behind.
“‘Bill Ferny’ said Merry, ‘if you don’t open that gate in ten seconds, you’ll regret it. I shall set steel to you, if you don’t obey. And when you have opened the gates you will go through them and never return […].’”

Past Merry would have never uttered this challenge, but he grows so much, fighting his way to becoming this hobbit, and after the battles he went through, one man alone is no threat for him. His attitude is the one to be expected from a knight of the Rohirrim, and when he and Pippin take up as captains to retake The Shire, even there, in that normally quiet corner of the world, the mighty horn of Rohan echoes announcing the turn of the tide. And as we have learned, Rohan’s horns sound when the hour of need comes, and never in vain. Théoden would have been proud of his esquire. Even if at first, they felt like a burden to the others during the journey, they were able to find their place, through their courage and their mistakes, and that allowed them to become the leaders The Shire needed. Otherwise, the hobbits couldn’t have resisted or fought back, because war is not in them. They can be warriors, but they choose not to, as their hearts lie in living in peace.

But before all this, we get to visit Gondor.
The description of Minas Tirith has to be one of the most intricate I’ve ever read, and it’s fascinating. This place that looks unconquerable, a solid fortress of stone and marble that stood for thousands of years, is not as strong as it seems. In the absence of a King, and with a Steward that is slowly losing his mind, who makes decisions out of pride instead of wisdom, Gondor is on the brink of destruction, only kept afloat by the brave men who every day risk their lives to protect it with sword and courage. As Gandalf and Pippin ride across the plains, they see the beacons burning, as the country calls for aid, and unlike in the movie, is not for them to be seen in Rohan only, but for whoever sees them and is willing to come in Gondor’s hour of need. That’s when we meet characters that didn’t made it to the screen, but were there nonetheless, like Prince Imrahil from Dol Amroth, Faramir’s uncle on his mother side. He’s the one that realizes that Éowyn is still alive after falling unconscious in the battlefield, he assumes Gondor’s command after Denethor’s death and Faramir’s inability, he rides with Aragorn to the Black Gate, and later on, his daughter Lothíriel marries Éomer, hence becoming Queen of Rohan.

I want to talk about this man for a minute.
Denethor II, son of Echtelion, Steward of Gondor, and father to Boromir and Faramir. He’s one horrible man, but also a really well written character, who only got better after John Noble’s flawless acting. Here, I think his costume deserves a mention. Ngila Dickson says that she tried to make him look vain and expensive, as grandeur as she possibly could, with luscious furs and pelts, embroidered pieces and luxurious fabrics. And all this, without resorting to color, and adding the chainmail and the sword, to show how this man fancies himself a soldier, in despite that we never, ever see him doing anything remotely close to what a soldier is supposed to do. But also –and this is me– the black costume is completely opposite to anything we’ve seen his sons wearing. Denethor practically blends with the hall he sits in, almost like another of its statues, as his figure is made bigger by the elegant fabrics and the coat that drags behind him; but at the same time is not something someone who is ready to fight would wear. I see it as a way he has of appearing greater than he is, but also, it makes him look like he’s been sitting there for so long, in that huge hall of marble and stone, that he also became marble and stone.

I despise Denethor. During the Osgiliath scene in the extended edition of Two Towers, we can see how he’s absolutely undeserving of the sons he has. But he played with forces far greater than him, and paid for it with his life. Much like Gollum, because both came too close to the Enemy, and both went mad, they lost themselves inside their own minds. Denethor dared to pry into Sauron’s secrets, and it worn him out. He already had a bitter heart, but that pushed him over the edge, with no possibilities of returning. And yet, his son still loved him, in despite of having to live with the burden of being the least cherished child of a father who wasn’t exactly subtle about it, leaving very clear that he would rather have him dead than Boromir, in despite that he did everything he could to keep Gondor safe.

And this is in the movie in a way that’s not easily forgettable. Faramir had left Frodo go instead of taking the Ring for Gondor, and that was the final straw for Denethor. Angry at his son, he dispatches him to Osgiliath to retake it after it was overrun by Orcs, and when he and his men ride out, it is absolutely heartbreaking, not only because of the sad music and the men’s facial expressions, but because when people throw flowers at their feet, it’s like they are already dead.
As they go, you know there’s no way they can come back victorious. You know they simply won’t survive the madness of trying to retake Osgiliath, because although they are brave, and willing to fight, the reality of being outnumbered will soon crush them. It is folly, only a madman would attempt it. You lose that battle just by thinking about it. Yet, the fact that you see that Denethor eats as his men die for him, including the only son he has left, gives this idea that sending people to the grave became an everyday occurrence for him, and that it doesn’t interfere with other, more ordinary things in his life. He had looked into the Palantír, he believed the war was already lost, and still, he tries to do this, but not out of hope. Denethor doesn’t feel anything that could come any close to that. It’s pride, and stubbornness.

As opposed to Denethor, there’s Théoden of Rohan, who indeed deserves to be called a leader.
After Hirgon, errand-rider from Gondor, brings the Red Arrow as a token of war, which hadn’t been seen in the Riddermark in his time, he realizes how serious Gondor’s need is, and for the way he speaks from then on, it’s noticeable that he knows he won’t survive the war. And this is in the movie, too, when he’s talking to Éowyn in the Rohirrim’s encampment, and every word is basically a farewell. He tells her “I would have you smile again, not grieve for those whose time has come. You shall live to see these days renewed.” Not “we”, but “you”. He knows his time has come, and that he won’t see her again after this moment. And although Éowyn treats him more as a king than a relative, Théoden shortens that distance, and reminds her that he always wanted her happiness, and loved her as a daughter. It’s heartbreaking, but I’m glad their relationship was included, because he was the only father figure and example Éowyn ever knew. In the book, Théoden never finds out she’s next to him in the battlefield, but in the movie, he does, and I think it’s so emotional that right on the verge of death, her name is his last word, and he gets to see her smiling at him once more.

Meanwhile, Minas Tirith is under siege, with a mad Steward who doesn’t show up to fight, an injured, unconscious captain about to be burned alive by said Steward, and the courage of its men hanging by a thread. If they held up and fought, it was because of Gandalf and his ring, Narya; but they wouldn’t resist for long on their own. And so, comes one of the most epic battles fiction has ever known.

Great horns of the north wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.”

I don’t think I can put into words how I feel when, in the middle of Gondor’s siege, on fire and with the gate burst into pieces, leaderless and on the brink of ruin, the horns finally sound, announcing how the story is about to change. You become a captive of what is happening, the story absorbs you completely, and keeps you silent, but heavily breathing all the way through.

With that he seized a great horn from Guthláf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightaway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.

The charge of the Rohirrim, with the horns and the king’s words, are the epitome of epicness. In the movie, it is always one of my favorite scenes. It never fails to give me goosebumps and accelerate my heartbeat, as the riders advance, unstoppable, making the scene incredible beyond words. And as they do, the Hardanger fiddle sounds for the last time, in a melody you recognize as the Rohan theme, but more intense. And in the books, you feel you are right there, with them, ready to ride into the battle that will define the fate of Gondor, and basically of the race of Men. I can’t put into words each and every one of my feelings with the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, you have to read it too, to understand what I mean. Even though every horse and rider who falls pierces your heart, the way they are unstoppable is indescribable. It truly is to win or die. This is the only way they will act, fighting down to the last man. And while Denethor, the supposed leader of Gondor, is trying to burn alive without even fighting, a true king is out there, giving his life and those of his men to save the city (although we cannot say that it’s Rohan’s victory only, Aragorn came and won in the name of Gondor, too).

But while all this takes place, nor Théoden nor Éomer know there’s someone else among them, that shouldn’t be there.
It’s is in Return of the King that Éowyn’s development truly comes, and as a warrior, she can give Boromir a run for his money. She’s a true Queen, at least in spirit.

Miranda Otto’s acting when the Rohirrim get to Minas Tirith is amazing, because it shows that Éowyn, though brave, has never been in battle before, and her eyes show the fear of not knowing what will happen; yet, she won’t turn back.
As the battle goes on and the Haradrim show up, she’s the only one smart enough to go and cut the tendons in the oliphaunt’s legs to prevent it from advancing, while everybody else is aiming for their heads and making the beasts mad and utterly more dangerous. And of course, few moments are as epic as this one.

And if words spoken of old be true, not by the hand of man shall he fall, and hidden from the Wise is the doom that awaits him.”, Gandalf had previously said. And sometimes I think, it’s not so much that she did it, as the fact that no one saw it coming, not even the Witch-King. She is the unexpected factor that changes the tides of the war. I love how it says that after Éowyn stabs him, “the great shoulders bowed before her.” Not even the Nazgûl could break her spirit and resolve, and in the end, she stood while he shrieked and disappeared. At her feet. Like a Queen.

Éowyn always knew that she was born for far more than just staying in Edoras and taking care of the small tasks. And I love the fact that she went for it, defying everyone and breaking the rules cast over her. She was perfectly aware of what she was capable of, although she was withering away in the castle, the only woman in the midst of men, but being no less than them in skill, bravery and temper. As Gandalf says to Éomer:

You had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and a courage at least the match of yours.

And I wonder, what else could anyone expect from a woman raised among men, horses and weapons, witness to glory and honor in battle every day of her life? And worse, seeing all that denied to her, wasting her days, lonely and cold, yet devoted to those she loved. She’s a daughter of kings, and for that “stern as a steel”. In the movie, Éomer tells her that “war is the province of men”, and even though it doesn’t say, because she goes to battle with the hope of dying an honorable death, it’s as if she had taken it as a challenge. Her bravery and determination are what inspires Merry to do something that would surely cost his life, sneaking on the Witch-King and stabbing him, to help her. I like that, in the in the movie, Merry actually knows he’s riding with Éowyn, and not with a man named Dernhelm, because it adds to the development of their relationship; they have a lot in common when it comes to the war. They both had been told that the battlefield was not their place, but they knew very well that, sooner or later, everyone would have to fight, whether they wanted it or not. And they were both willing to prove what they were made of, defying those around them, being the only ones who stayed when the Witch-King showed up, and in the end, reverting the tides of the battle, achieving something that not even the greatest warriors could. Heroes, indeed, come in all shapes and sizes.

Also, I think it’s important to mention that Éowyn’s wish for death in the battlefield is not fully a reaction to being rejected by Aragorn. She had wanted to ride into battle like all the men in her life, long before meeting him, and was frustrated because she could not. However, Aragorn’s rejection is the final straw that leads her to make her decision; without that, her life was destined to be forever what had been until then, sad and lonely. However, I will say, the fact that Aragorn had already pledged his heart to another doesn’t mean that, had he not, she wouldn’t have been a match for him. Aragorn himself admits that “few other griefs amid the ill chances of this world have more bitterness and shame for a man’s heart than to behold the love of a lady so fair and brave that cannot be returned.” He has no more than respect and understanding for her, because he sees that she is, indeed, worthy of being loved. Yet, as a true man of honor –and a gentleman–, he never leads her on, or gives her false hope. If he had, I believe Éowyn could have truly gotten to love him as a man, beyond her idea of great deeds and glory, but the truth is, she didn’t know Aragorn the way Arwen did, with all his hopes, fears, faults and virtues.

The fact that Éowyn is written as a shieldmaiden doesn’t mean she’s cold, or unfeeling, in any way, for the love she feels is strong and intense, and that is what moves her to fight an enemy that even Gandalf feared. She rode into battle not even thinking she would encounter the very incarnation of darkness, and when she saw Théoden fall, she didn’t think it twice and faced the Witch-King, in despite of the terror he inspired. As Aragorn later says, she fought a foe that was beyond both her physical and mental strength, and paid for it with the Black Breath, but my point is that she was there with the secret wish for death, and yet, jumps in defense of her uncle out of love, willing to save him no matter what. And that is something that we see in Éomer too, because when he sees his sister unconscious in the battlefield, he’s possessed by a temporary madness that rekindles his fury and makes him charge towards the enemy.

Karl Urban deserves an award for that earth-shattering scream, when Éomer finds Éowyn in the battlefield, and holds her in utter despair, believing her dead.
They win at Pelennor Fields, but the price is terrible, there can be no joy in this victory. Théoden is dead, in honor and glory, and Merry, Éowyn and Faramir lie in the Houses of Healing, afflicted with the Black Breath. And even though Aragorn manages to bring them back from the shadows, sometimes the spirit takes a little longer to heal. Yet Éowyn doesn’t want to heal, but to ride to war again, and when she asks to leave, she meets Faramir, and they eventually become friends.

I personally think Faramir and Éowyn are perfect for each other. They have more in common than it seems. Both were forgotten in favor of others, overlooked, but equally capable, and still loved and followed by their people. No one deserved a happy ending more than them, even if it wasn’t together. They both fought their own battles, and saw too much grief and pain in their lives, especially Éowyn. She knew loss at a very young age, and even after that, she had to wait on an old man, a task in which she found no honor or glory, when she would have liked to prove her worth just as Éomer and Théodred did. And Faramir was very sad and lonely too, having a lot more than the responsibility for the war in his mind, especially his own grief after the loss of Boromir, and his worry over his father’s decay and mental instability. Plus, if anyone knows about unpraised deeds, that is him, always in his brother’s shadow, even after his death. True is that people fall in love faster in war, especially in the brink of darkness, but before knowing them together, we get to know them separately, and we know they are compatible.
Faramir and Éowyn’s hand holding is deeper, and more meaningful, than entire romances I’ve seen or read. There’s so much in that simple gesture, and moreover, because they don’t even know they’ve held hands, the same way they don’t know how much they are holding on to each other as they wait for news, in the despair of not knowing, and in Éowyn’s case, her eagerness to ride into battle again. They don’t know they are healing each other.
The beauty of their story lies in seeing how they unexpectedly find each other when they thought nothing good could happen after the terrible loss and pain they went through, and so, they are able to finally move on from their pain. When Faramir tells her he loves her, it says that “her winter passed”, and she finally smiles again. Her coldness was her shield, a self-defense mechanism that allowed her to survive all those years, but with him she could be vulnerable, without getting hurt, and be loved by herself. She wasn’t essentially cold, but with fire in other areas of her life, same as him, who was strong in many ways, but not perhaps in the one that was expected from him. Faramir makes Éowyn stop wishing for death and makes her sadness go away, and yes, he may not be a king, but not for that he is less worthy of her. She got to know him in a way that she could never know Aragorn, and saw him as the honorable man he was. And she loved him, or she wouldn’t have married him, as she had already proved she was not the kind of person that would have settled because she had no other choice. But I like how she can be both the shieldmaiden and the lady who falls in love. Faramir may not be Aragorn, but he has honor and the entirety of Gondor loved him, and saw how admirable he was, when his own father didn’t.

Pity that the only kiss in the entire trilogy didn’t make it to the screen. The only thing I feel Éowyn’s character lacked was, in fact, a special honoring after her battle deeds, which weren’t small at all. After she kills the Witch-King, it’s barely mentioned again, save Faramir telling her that she has herself won a renown that shall not be forgotten. As it had been foretold that no man would kill him, the battle wouldn’t have been won without her, so I think she deserved a little more renown, after Théoden’s funeral.

I want to talk about the King, for a while.
Aragorn grows so much during this book, as he leaves the Ranger behind, and starts to act more as the leader he is, no longer hiding who he is, not even to Sauron himself. Still loyally followed by Legolas, Gimli, and now the Grey Company, he sets for the Paths of the Dead, to make those who vowed to defend Gondor finally fulfill their oath. And yes, gathering an army of ghosts may sound a little too farfetched, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and it gives them the surprise factor with the corsairs of Umbar. Yet, Aragorn’s destiny is more than just achieving victory in the battlefield, because, yes, kings are warriors, but also healers; it’s their duty towards their people, and their land. In Gondor there was an old lore that said “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer”, and so the rightful king would be known. Aragorn comes to the Houses of Healing, and asks for the plant athelas to treat the wounded, and if you read carefully, you can tell how it is a metaphor of himself. As a Ranger, no one paid him any heed, much like the plant, which was considered a useless weed. But it had more power than it was given credit for, being able to purify the air, and heal in ways no one thought possible, defeating the Black Breath and restoring life, even when no one was aware of it. Just like Aragorn, who always was more powerful than it seemed, full of virtues, but often dismissed and ignored, with an aspect that made him go unnoticed. But such as the kingsfoil’s is Aragorn’s destiny, in the end, healing and banishing the darkness forever.

Yet Aragorn’s task is not only saving Gondor, but also, making amends after what Isildur did. If he wanted to, he could enter Minas Tirith, and sit on the throne, and he would be right to do so; after all, it is rightfully his, and his attitude is that of a king as the book progresses. But he doesn’t, and I so admire and love him for that. He will fight for what it is his, but it’s not in the sense of a possession, but of service. A king owes himself to his people, as a leader, a warrior, and a healer. Aragorn knows very well that taking the throne entails a huge responsibility, and that first he as to prove he is worthy of it. But one thing is for sure, and is that he’s no longer a Ranger.
Even though that is a big part of his life, and taught him almost everything he knows, making him who he is, in this book his majesty and his authority are a lot stronger, and people around him feel them, and for that respect and admire him. Also, he’s aware that victory, if achieved, won’t be only his. He doesn’t want glory, but all those who fought with him to be recognized. Everyone suffered the war, and they survived it through fighting in all kinds of fronts, not only the battlefield. And moreover, when he’s crowned King of Gondor, Faramir asks in a loud voice: “Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?”. And I love it. It moves me, because, in the end, it’s the people’s will, and not his own, the one that determines the Return of the King.

Although before that, there’s the decision of going to the Black Gate and challenging Sauron, to give Frodo and Sam an opportunity to finish their task.
It’s a foolish move, and they know it very well. But nor their hope nor their intention are in winning. There’s only one way to win the war, and they know very well that it isn’t in their hands, yet, they are willing to sacrifice everything for that last remnant of hope. And I like the fact that in that last battle, the army is composed by men from Rohan, Gondor, and Dol Amroth, without any distinction. There’s no point in making a difference, because Darkness won’t, either, falling over everyone equally, and destroying without any consideration. Plus, as Faramir points out, every man that falls in battle is a terrible loss, while, for the enemies, a fallen soldier is immediately replaced, and means nothing. And that would be the future of the race of Men, battle after battle, until the day there was no one left to defend their lands and their people, finally being defeated. Without the Ring destroyed, the doom of the world would only be delayed by Men’s sheer will alone, their strength to grab a sword, and their decision of not going down without a fight; but that wouldn’t last forever. So, this attempt to go and challenge Sauron is more about saying that even if they perish, they would be giving their lives for a chance of a better world, even if they aren’t there to see it. A very slim chance. But their hope isn’t in the numbers and in the physical act of fighting, but in using what they know to their advantage. So, no matter how you see it, it is a risky move that is born from bravery as well as despair. An ill-advised one, you may think, but with the noblest of purposes.

While all this happens, Sam and Frodo keep trudging through Middle Earth, towards Mordor. The road is more difficult with each step they take, not only for the evil that reigns in the Nameless Land, and the days getting darker, but because the Ring gets heavier, and takes hold on Frodo. In the movie, there’s a moment in which Sam wants to make Frodo eat some food, saying he’s rationing the lembas bread they have left.

This, right here, it’s when it hits you. You didn’t think about the journey back, either. And it’s kind of the same with us, because once we take this journey with them, there’s no turning back.

At the end of Two Towers, Gollum betrayed them, and Frodo was taken unconscious to Cirith Ungol, after Sam, believing him dead, took the Ring to keep going and finish the quest. But now that he knows Frodo is alive, he’s determined to save him. And this is the book in which you see how Samwise Gamgee, gardener of Bag End, is the real hero of Lord of the Rings. He’s not immune to the Ring’s power, and is tempted by it, in a vision that promises that the Dark Lord will be banished and Mordor will be turned into a huge, beautiful garden. Yet, he resists, because “The one small garden of a free gardener was all his needs and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command”. If Sam was less pure and innocent, he may have been tempted by the Ring beyond redemption, but the power of Mordor can’t do anything against this, against his absolute lack of ambition and wish to dominate others, and his satisfaction on the simple things in life.

But Frodo is not like that.

I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad.

At first it was possible to see that Frodo could resist the Ring, but near the end, he doesn’t even try anymore, he knows there’s no point to it. Heavier with every step he takes, it doesn’t let go of him. So, it becomes Sam’s responsibility to keep Frodo moving, talking to him, and reminding him there’s still beauty and life in the world, beyond the mountains of Mordor. He has to be strong for both of them.

But this blind dark seems to be getting into my heart. As I lay in prison, Sam, I tried to remember the Brandywine, and Woody End, and The Water running through the mill at Hobbiton. But I can’t see them now.

The despair Mordor provokes is too well written. What they see there is what the Ring does inside those who have it. It smothers their essence, and anything that could grow and bear fruit, is killed. Even the memory of it. Nothing grows in Mordor, and the same happens to Frodo, who day after day is less willing to fight back the darkness that crept over him since the journey started. Already shivering, hungry and thirsty, Frodo and Sam look over the Black Land, and the descriptions really let you feel how their hope of getting alive to Orodruin wavers, but even if they had the chance to turn back, they wouldn’t even take it now. All is onward, onward until exhaustion, starvation and hopelessness kills them. It’s beyond all words, beyond anything I can tell you. You need to read it yourself to understand what I mean.

Never for long had hope died in his staunch heart, and always until now he had taken some thought of their return. But the bitter truth came home to him at last: at best their provision would take them to their goal; and when the task was done, there they would come to an end, alone, houseless, foodless in the midst of a terrible desert. There could be no return.

This is when you realize that even when, ultimately, it’s Frodo’s responsibility to throw the Ring into the fire, all hope for the success of the quest rests on Sam’s shoulders, and that it is his strength and resolve what keeps them walking. Before this, he was a follower, a small figure amidst the tall, experienced warriors in the Company, such as Aragorn and Gandalf, but now he becomes a leader by necessity and discovers that he has what it takes. In the end, it depends on him, because after Cirith Ungol, Frodo reached the end of his strength, not broken yet, but definitely overcome by darkness and despair.

Up to the moment in which Sam decides to carry Frodo, I didn’t notice how deep into it I was, until I felt my eyes welled up in tears. It is what this entire trilogy does to you.

His will was set, and only death could break it.

As they get closer to Mount Doom, they have to leave everything useless behind, including Sam’s cooking gear, which is heartbreaking.

Now at last they turned their faces to the Mountain and set out, thinking no more of concealment, bending their weariness and failing wills only to the one task of going on.

This is how much nothing matters anymore. It’s just moving forward. Walking, walking and walking. Until the task is done. And nothing else. But they are not alone. Gollum is following them, determined to get the Ring back. When they finally reach Mount Doom, Frodo refuses to destroy the Ring, utterly in its power now, but Gollum leaps on him, and they struggle for a while. This scene, especially in the movie, is heart-stopping.
Being so close, and on the brink of losing everything, their whole struggle one step away of being completely in vain. It’s just… Incredibly well done, both in the book and the movie.

But with this, it’s clear once again that the Ring isn’t meant for anyone that isn’t Sauron. No one else can wield it for long, without going mad. Yet it is ironic that both its first and last bearers lost it by having their finger torn from their hands, by characters who died desperately trying to keep it, and were betrayed by it.

This is the only possible end for Gollum. If a part of Sméagol still lied inside of him, by this point is completely gone. He dies with the Ring, because there was no turning back for him, no possible salvation. In his purity, Frodo had thought that there may be still hope for him, but the sad reality soon took over. There was no possible differentiation between his personality and the Ring, he was lost beyond redemption. Yet none of them kills him, as it seemed his fate would be, making him pay for all his treachery. The damage done by the Ring can’t be undone. It can heal but it will leave marks, yet Gollum didn’t want, nor couldn’t, leave that part of his life behind. Simply, his part in this tale, though important, was done, and he had to step aside. He had a violent end, but it couldn’t have been in any other way.

And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear.

This is the line when you let go the breath you didn’t know you were holding, since Frodo and Gollum started fighting for the Ring. As both hobbits lie on the rock, surrounded by all the lava and smoke that came out from Orodruin, unaware of the army that, right outside the Black Gate, is fighting for them, or that Barad-dûr is crumbling and falling, they remember happy times in their home, that is so far from them now, as the tune that sounds in the background is like a sad version of The Shire theme, because now that it is over, they remain their simple selves, yet broken, and utterly lost, because there’s no escape from there.

And I dare you not to cry.

But the Eagles come, and retrieve them from the depths of Mordor, taking them to the safety of Gondor, where they wake up to their friends, and the highest honors, and although no one can fully understand what they went through, that doesn’t stop the very King of Gondor from kneeling before them.

Aragorn himself, who should bow to no one, knows when he is in front of true heroism and majesty. In the movie is not only Frodo and Sam, but also Merry and Pippin, and they deserve it. Without them, Isengard would have never been defeated, because even without the physical skill to lead a battle, they were able to wake up those who could, and ended Saruman’s abuse. Plus, without Pippin and his mistakes, Faramir would have been burned, and with him all hope for Gondor. And without Merry, Éowyn would have been killed, and the Witch King wouldn’t have been defeated. They both grew a lot from those naïve, yet loyal, hobbits who left The Shire not really knowing where they were going, with zero fighting skills, but being stronger than what they thought. The four hobbits, together and separately, have some of the best character evolution arcs in the history of fiction.

Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same.

They left without anyone knowing, and they suddenly came back like this. Such a shock for the other hobbits! But this is what allowed them to be leaders for The Shire in its hour of need. Because even when the Ring is destroyed, and there’s a good number of pages telling us about the peaceful times that followed, not everyone is happy. As the attention was elsewhere, Saruman crawled his way into The Shire and took over it, and that, if you ask me, is definitely going too far. It’s a last, desperate attempt to grab some power, after being utterly humiliated, even without magic. Because one thing is trying to conquer Rohan or Gondor, countries that are prepared for war and can fight back, but messing with the hobbits is just too wrong. I myself will personally go and beat him up. Hobbits are peaceful creatures who do not bother anyone, love the simple things in life and stay out of everyone’s way, happy to be left alone. If Saruman had to go and slave them to feel he still had a little power left, I feel sorry for him. He wanted to rise with Sauron, and be unstoppable, and yet, he met his end at the hands of the servant he mistreated so much, right at Bag End’s door. As a Maiar his death would only be physical, but he never reached peace, rejected by those in the West, and left powerless, never to return to Middle Earth. And this is what excessive ambition does to you, leading to your downfall.

The four hobbits had to play a part in retaking The Shire, but Sam’s, just as it was during the journey, isn’t in fighting. He’s a leader now. And leaders heal. The darkness he faced couldn’t kill his purity nor his selflessness, and so, he uses Galadriel’s gift, not for himself, as it was meant, but to give new life to his home, after all its suffering, making it grow again, richer and more beautiful than it ever was. And yes, perhaps one would think that, after such journey, Sam’s ending is very common, even a cliché, as he gets his happy ending with a wife and children, but he deserved it more than anyone.

He was never ambitious, being the epitome of hobbits as they are, satisfied with the joys of everyday life. So, it is a simple happy ending for a simple hobbit, in which he asks for nothing more. It’s his turn to be selfish after being such a friend and guardian for Frodo, and for not using Galadriel’s gift for himself only.

If you want, you can read The Shire beyond fiction, as metaphor of the comfort zone, because those who leave it return changed. They simply cannot get back to what it was. Bilbo feels restless, liked trapped, in a place he almost didn’t leave in the first place. Frodo returns but he left a part of himself in every place he was in. Merry and Pippin become leaders, and when they die of old age, they lie next to Aragorn himself, in Gondor, next to the other Kings. They simply can’t go back. Not after everything they went through and the people they met. And this can be seen in the movies.
Of all the deeply emotional moments, I think the toast of the four hobbits deserves a mention. So much can be read on it, in their faces. They fought to defend their home, but they came back utterly changed. They are not the same four friends that left, and all they saw and lived will never leave them now. They really earned that drink, you could also say. Those around them could never understand, because their essence as hobbits was utterly touched by the world of Men, Elves, Ents, and the Darkness they encountered every step of the way. As it happened with Bilbo, there’s absolutely no way to come back from this journey, and they may be back in The Shire, but not as they left. It’s like saying “this right here, around us, is what we fought to save”. And it had its price.

But Frodo is hurt beyond all healing, and as much as it pains me to see him as he hugs his friends for the last time, and boards the ship in the Grey Havens, I believe it is the only possible end for him. He would never find peace in Middle Earth again. As Ring-bearer, he earned his entrance into the Undying Lands, taking the place in the ship that would have been Arwen’s, hadn’t she decided to stay with Aragorn. With him go the Elves, as their time is ended and the Three Rings lost their power, and so does Gandalf, because his task in Middle Earth is finally done.
It truly is the end of all things. Yet hobbits, until then unknown by many outside The Shire, were written forever in the pages of history by these four heroes that will also live forever, in our hearts.

Finally, a word in these, the greatest movies ever filmed. I think it is beautiful and amazing to see how everyone behind the whole trilogy was so committed to the project, with such love for what they were doing, from screenwriters, to the costume designer, the make-up artists, the composer… Everyone. And also, how the actors would sometimes do or suggest things to add to their characters to make their scenes richer. For example, Sir Ian McKellen going around set with a copy of the book to make sure he was playing the Gandalf Tolkien had written; Sir Christopher Lee going to the make-up department to give tips on how to get the Orcs right; Billy Boyd composing the tune he sings for Denethor, that made the scene what it is; Andy Serkis risking hypothermia to bring Gollum to life in a frozen river; Bernard Hill coming up with the idea of having Théoden rattling the Rohirrim’s spears right before battle; Viggo Mortensen and his commitment to Aragorn that made him carry a sword wherever he went outside the set, and scored him a call to the police, and a number of injuries, because he didn’t use any stuntmen, and worked through the pain. And so on. You don’t do this if you don’t love what you are doing. And that love shows. Every emotion and action on screen pull you in, to the point that you are a part of the story you are watching, and the feeling is just incredible. This is what fiction is supposed to do. To make you think but also feel. And feel deeply, in a way in which you don’t know where else to go after it.

Tolkien may have written about kings, but he’s definitely the King of epic fantasy. And all I can say is thank you. Thank you for all these characters and places that talk to us, and let us glimpse into ourselves, too. Even when Middle Earth is another, completely different world from ours, all these people we get to travel with are close to us, and we can relate to them in incredible ways. Lord of the Rings is a timeless classic, both in book and movie form, and I recommend it to everyone. It’s brilliant, complex and yet simple, and it will speak to your heart, as well as make you feel you are right there with them, walking through Middle Earth in this amazing quest.

If you made it this far, thank you so much!
I’m glad I could share this journey will all of you.
See you soon!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Review - The Two Towers

Original Title: The Two Towers
Series: Lord of the Rings, #2
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Published: November 11th, 1954

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (this edition)

To know how I’ll be doing this review and the Return of the King one, please visit my review for Fellowship of the Ring. And watch out for spoilers.

The adventure continues.

The Fellowship of the Ring is broken, and now our heroes are going separate ways, meeting new people, and facing the unknown, while darkness grows, and war marches on the lands of Men. What was one journey is now divided three ways, and if at first you were the 10th member of the Company, here you become the fourth hunter along with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, you go with Merry and Pippin into the depths of the Fangorn Forest, and cross Emyn Muil, the Dead Marshes and Ithilien with Frodo, Sam and Gollum. In every possible way, the story gets deeper, and more complex.

One of the things I love the most in the Two Towers movie is that, as the story starts to change and new characters come in, the score also changes and gets deeper. Howard Shore is nothing short of a music genius, because every race has their tune, and he managed to make them utterly different from each other, reflecting their identity. In the Fellowship of the Ring, we met the Elves through a melody that is mysterious, and sounds ancient, but not threatening, while in Moria, the tune is deep, and the male voices have this echoing quality that makes me think their singing was born from the very depths of the mountain. But now, things change. Isengard is unleashed, and its music is heavy on industrial sounds, like hammer on anvil, and with a metallic quality that can only mean war. Yet now, in this adventure, we finally enter the realms of Men, and the music is just incredible. Gondor’s is a majestic, yet still quiet sort of melody, that we already heard with Aragorn and Boromir, but now its meaning grows, speaking of a city of kings and old glory, that, although it’s been diminished over time, is not completely gone. And Rohan, with that utterly unforgettable sound provided by the Hardanger fiddle, matches to perfection the rolling hills and wide plains of the home of the Horse Lords.

After Boromir’s death, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli start the chase that will lead them into the country of Rohan. Things didn’t go as planned, yet there’s still a lot to be done.

I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end.

Aragorn is a loyal friend, and although Legolas and Gimli don’t say it, they would’ve done the same thing. Their loyalty to each other, and to their cause, never wavers, moving them to go after the Uruk-hai that took Merry and Pippin, instead of considering them lost, and abandoning them. But these hobbits aren’t completely hopeless. If until then they were naïve and perhaps didn’t do much for the journey, now they are on their own. And Pippin proves that even being carried as prisoners in that foul-smelling band of Orcs, he can keep his head cool, because it’s his wit what saves them both. Yes, more than once in the trilogy he is a fool of a Took, but this is definitely not the case. Both in the books and in the movie, it’s possible to appreciate Merry and Pippin’s evolution into people they never thought they would become, not even in their wildest dreams. And as Gandalf says, their coming to Fangorn, almost accidental, is “like the falling of small stones that start an avalanche in the mountains”. They may not have the strength to change the course of the war, but they do have the power to awake those that can.

And so, we get to meet the mysterious, yet powerful Ents, the shepherds of trees of the Fangorn Forest.

Treebeard is Fangorn, the guardian of the forest; he’s the oldest of the Ents, the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle Earth.

Treebeard is a fascinating character, with a lot more of stories to tell than the one Tolkien chose to tell us. However, he’s so slow that his chapter kinda puts me to sleep. Yet, I love how Tolkien was able to imbibe his writing with this “no hurry” mindset of his, and the concept of him having a name that is like a story, filled with all the ages of the world. After all, you can’t define the world’s oldest creature with only one word, after all he’s seen and done. Now, as I left abundantly clear, I deeply admire Tolkien for the world he created, and how he wrote it, I mean, the scene in Wellingfall, with the green and golden lights, is nothing short of magical, and all the time I felt I was there, with Merry and Pippin. Yet, if I have to talk about something that is a little hard to get through in Two Towers, is the whole Entwives part. There’s a very long song about them that I skip every time I read this book, because this, just as Tom Bombadil in the previous book, expands the world, but not the plot, and while Treebeard sings about the Entwives, I just want to go back to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, to continue de hunt. It’s a lot more interesting and fun.

Ents seem to think at the speed of a growing tree, it appears to me. But everything in Middle Earth is alive, and the Fangorn Forest is no exception. You don’t mess with it without getting slapped. And upon Isengard’s lack of respect for growing and living things, the Ents decide to go to war –in despite that they may not survive it– in a last march that is to be reckoned with.

You don’t want to anger these tree-shepherds. They may be slow but it only took them two days to make a decision, imagine if they were not in a hurry. They don’t like being roused, but when they are, you better have something to hold on to. A war gets serious if the Ents decide to join, because they normally stay out of business that don’t concern them. And even though nor Merry nor Pippin have any experience in war, they understand that sooner or later, in a way or another, everyone would have to fight, no matter what they were (Men, Elves, Hobbits or Ents), and that is what they try to explain Treebeard. The war would get to them sooner or later, and they have to either act, or wait to be destroyed. The world around them doesn’t move at their speed, and won’t wait for them to decide before aiming for the trees with axes and fire.

In the movie, one of the best things about the Ents, other than their design, because there are not two alike, is the overwhelmingly intense music that sounds as they march towards Isengard. It’s ancient, something that hasn’t sounded in ages, something that was powerful, yet dormant, and was awaken. Saruman knows nothing of love, friendship, or honor; only numbers, and servitude, and the Ents come to prove how wrong he is if he thinks the world won’t fight back his abuse. And of course, Sir Christopher Lee’s face when he sees the havoc they cause in his forges is absolutely priceless.

Saruman may have the seer stone, but he definitely did not see that one coming. You forced them to wake up, now deal with it. And later, after Helm’s Deep, when Gandalf and the rest go to find him in Orthanc, it’s amazing how I felt sorry for him. But not because of the words he speaks from his tower, using the little magic he has left, but because he actually has to do that so save his miserable life. Now that Isengard lies in ruin, and Sauron –his so-called ally– won’t answer for him, or help or shelter him in any way, he realizes that, in his lust for power, he was used as Mordor’s puppet, and now is completely alone. Even his own servant tried to kill him by dropping the Palantír on his head. Sauron was never really going to let him share his power, and it’s pitiable how he has to go for cheap tricks to avoid punishment, after all he destroyed in his name. How a wizard known as the White could be so naïve? But there you see it, darkness promises it all, and in the end, it takes everything from you. Saruman learns it the hard way.

In Two Towers, Gandalf is back, as the White. His task in Middle Earth was not done, and he was sent back after the victory over the Balrog of Morgoth, that cost his life. But even though he is more powerful than as the Grey and he can’t be easily hurt, he’s mostly absent in this book. Yet, it’s not in vain. Even though he only uses his power when there’s absolutely no other choice, I think that the fact that the characters do not rely on his magic is also a way in which they grow and evolve, through the facing of difficulties and obstacles just as they are, making them all the more relatable and human. Magic can’t, and won’t, save Middle Earth, but it can doom it, and no one can foresee the end of the road, except possibilities that fade in such an unstable reality, with so much at stake. The only answer is courage and fighting back, as the fate of the world is every day closer to be decided. And that seems to be Gandalf’s task, as he comes and goes where he’s needed, making sure people make the right choices, and do what they are supposed to be doing, advising them, and using his wisdom to guide them in the war that, if won, will lead to the dominion of Men. That is his purpose. His magic is meant to be used against Sauron, and beings like the Balrog, and to help those prisoners of their power. And so was Saruman’s, but getting too close to the Dark Lord has the same effect as having the Ring: all that was good on you gets rotten, and becomes a mean of destruction.

Beyond the Fangorn Forest, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli enter the green plains of Rohan, where darkness is slowly taking over and poisoning their king’s mind. Rohan has always been my favorite country in Middle Earth. In contrast with places like Lórien, life in the Land of the Horse Lords is more about practical things: riding, weapons, battle and honor (never forget honor). And it’s also the home of my favorite character in the trilogy.
Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, niece to King Théoden, and White Lady of Rohan. She represents everything her country is, and is a strong female character that was written long before the concept was popular (or as popular as it is today, at least). Now, I feel like I really need to say this. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Tolkien didn’t write strong female characters. They may not be in Lord of the Rings, but The Silmarillion is filled with them. There, we can find proud Haleth, who, after both her father and brother died in an Orc raid, took the reins, and lead her people with strength and resilience (and for that they were later known as the Halethrim). There’s powerful Queen Melian, mother of Lúthien, whose magic kept both Elves and Humans safe in Doriath. There’s Lúthien herself, who dared to enter Morgoth’s fortress to save Beren, and ultimately sacrificed everything for love. There’s Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, princess of Gondolin, who died trying to save her son, by stepping on the way of a poisoned spear. There’s Emeldir, Beren’s mother, who was responsible for leading the women and children of her people to the safety of Doriath after the conquest of Dorthonion, their home. And there’s Nienor, that, though her fate was sad and tragic, still dared to pose as a male soldier so she could find her brother Túrin, joining her equally strong mother, Morwen (she even tried to fight Glaurung’s spell, but proved too much for her).

But Éowyn is the most remembered of them all, and an utterly unique character. This is a woman who understood, a long time ago, that no one would come save her, that she had to be her own hero, and that if she wanted something, she had to make it happen herself. Along with her brother, Éomer, she was responsible for keeping Rohan’s head up, while the king was under Saruman’s spell, all the while stalked by Gríma, and promised as his war spoil. I’m glad the movie included her story from before the travelers meet her, and that her appearance as she’s first seen was respected, with the simple white dress and her long hair like a river of gold. The only thing I feel she lacked in this book was the opportunity to stab Gríma, after he had followed her steps for so long. He so deserved it.

Miranda Otto’s performance is absolutely perfect. If you don’t know who Éowyn is, at first it seems that she will be just a royal lady in elegant dresses with one or two lines of dialogue here and there; but then she grabs a sword, and you see that she’s no damsel in distress, nor she will ever be one. Miranda kept true to Éowyn’s spirit as a shieldmaiden, and was able to show her strength, in despite that in this movie she doesn’t do much fighting (at least not with swords). She wants to, though, especially during the warg battle (which is not in the books, but to keep things moving in the movie was a great choice), but her uncle begs her to lead their people to the safety of Helm’s Deep. I love her, but I’m afraid I’m with Théoden on that one, because if both him and Éomer died in battle, she was Rohan’s only hope. It was wise to listen to reason this time.

I think it’s admirable that Éowyn’s worst fear isn’t war or death, but a cage.

There’s a very significant take in Return of the King, that reflects this:

It matches this quote from Two Towers:

For over the plain Éowyn saw the glitter of their spears, as she stood still, alone before the doors of the silent house”.

Éowyn, standing in Edoras, while the fiddle sounds, is a beautiful image, but it’s also what she hates: waiting at home for the men while they deal with the important stuff and get all the glory. And taking care of the bewitched king, her worst nightmare had come true, she had nothing else to fear. She was eager to fight and yet, she was sad and lonely, doomed to play nurse to an old man she loved, but who didn’t even recognize her. As a woman in a world of men, that would be her fate, if she didn’t step forward to change it. And when Aragorn comes along, she can feel his majesty, and falls in love with the idea of him. Miranda Otto was capable of showing us the exact moment in which that happens.

I never considered this to be a love triangle with Arwen, because they both are just too different, and don’t get to be rivals over his heart. While Arwen knows Aragorn and cares for him as a man, Éowyn cares for him as a king, the one that promises freedom, and the opportunity to turn her into everything she knows she can be. Because the fact that by the end she doesn’t get to be the Queen of Gondor, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have what it takes. She had leading qualities, and her people loved her and were willing to obey her when Théoden left for Helm’s Deep.

And speaking of the King of Rohan…

I want to mention the wardrobe department here, although this is entirely my own interpretation. I think Théoden’s costume also tells his story. While under Saruman’s spell, he’s wearing this big fur-trimmed coat, fully dressed in light brown shades that give him a totally stale sort of look, like he’s drained of life. But after Gandalf sets him free, that changes completely; back as himself, he starts wearing richer, more lively colors and fabrics, like deep brown and red with hints of green and gold, in pieces that do not hinder his movements, and never again he’s seen in such a big coat that is more ornamental than fit for movement.

The real Théoden is not the one that sits in his throne and does nothing while his land suffers, but the one who says this:

But I will not end here, taken like an old badger in a trap […] When dawn comes, I will bind men sound Helm’s horn and I will ride forth.

This is a king speaking! Rohan won’t go down without a fight, even with slim chances of victory. And then:

I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be”.

I love Théoden for this. And with such spirit as an example, no wonder Éowyn and Éomer are who they are, as children of kings, with the same sense of duty. And although we never get to know Théoden’s son, Théodred, I’m sure he shared that very same love for the Riddermark. He died fighting, after all, like a true son of his father. It was good that, in the movies, Théoden’s grief over the loss of Théodred was included. In the book, it is overlooked, he only says “I have no child. Théodred my son is slain. I name Éomer my sister-son to be my heir”, and that’s it. But in the movie, there’s a funeral scene, and we can actually see Théoden as a heartbroken father, crying on his knees, in front of his son’s grave, making him so deep, so human, that it’s tear-worthy.

Something that is very noticeable in this book is Aragorn’s evolution. It’s amazingly well done how he comes to everyone’s life like a quiet sort of thunder. He doesn’t appear on a big moment of glory or majesty; he just strolls in, in old, ragged clothes, and speaking in a calm voice, and yet, no one can remain unchanged after knowing him, because they all can feel what he is, and see how he is, a man that is selfless, wise, and powerful. It’s fair to say that, in every character, there’s a before and after Aragorn. Yet, it’s not that he changes a lot as the story goes on. It’s more about revealing his real self, the man he’s always been in despite of the Ranger’s look and attitude, and that everyone can sense.

But still, he remains humble. During the Helm’s Deep battle, he exclaims “Andúril for the Dúnedain!”. Not Gondor. The throne isn’t his yet, and he doesn’t brag about his bloodline. He doesn’t even speak of himself as future king. And that is constant with him. He doesn’t force anyone to do anything, in despite that one order from him would be enough to set anyone in motion. And that is the same attitude he has towards Arwen, in despite of how much he loves her.

She’s not in the book, but in the movie, we see her as Elrond tries to convince her to leave and take a ship to the Undying Lands. It’s an utterly sad scene in which Arwen has to face the perspective that, even if Aragorn survives the war and reclaims the throne, it will entail that she gives up immortality to stay with him. The time of the Elves is over, and if she wants to stay, it will have to be as a mortal, understanding that Aragorn simply won’t be with her forever. Elrond is harsh but realistic with her, showing her the bitter side of her choice. But ultimately, if staying is worth it or not, it will be her decision.

It’s not like Elrond doesn’t want Arwen and Aragorn together, it’s just that he doesn’t want her to regret her decision, because there’s no turning back from it. Arwen may not be strong the way Éowyn is, as she doesn’t belong in the battlefield and the wielding of weapons like she does, but her choice isn’t an easy one, and her strength lies in her love for Aragorn. And no matter the choice she makes, Aragorn will respect it, because he wants what’s best for her. Theirs is an immortal true love.

And then, battle reaches Rohan. Helm’s Deep has to be one of the most epic ones in the history of cinema. Until then, you were at the edge of your sit, but when it starts, it’s just… breathtakingly epic. There’s no other word to define it.

Yet, it is also raw and realistic. You can feel the men’s despair, because they are simply too few to defend the keep against ten thousand Orcs, and see how they even prepare children for battle. However, one of the things I like about the movie, and that it doesn’t happen in the books, is this:

Bravo to the armor department for Haldir’s stunning look.

At one point, in the movie, Galadriel asks “Do we leave Middle Earth to its fate? Do we let them stand alone?” In the books, save Legolas, no other Elves come to fight alongside the Riddermark, and at first it bothered me, because it’s their world too. They did a great job guarding their own borders, and even when their time was ending and most of them were leaving, they should have stayed and fight along with Men, for a better world. It’s not like they aren’t warriors, after all. But later, as you read the appendixes, you see their absence is justified, for war had already reached their own lands. As Gondor and Rohan fought both Mordor and Isengard, Thranduil in Mirkwood, and Haldir in Lórien, lead their own battles against invaders, same as the Dwarves in the Iron Hills. So, it’s good to know they were doing their part for the world.

But, Elves or no Elves, the point is that the Helm’s Deep battle is so immersive, that you forget about everything else, both in the book and the movie. Gimli and Legolas add the comic relief to all the blood and destruction around them, with their killing count, the same way Haldir’s death adds the element of loss, because in the book, no significant characters die in this battle. However, as the day comes, the Orcs take the fortress and plant their flag, and Men do their best in despite of exhaustion, fighting to their last breath; it all seems lost, and in one last ride, Théoden decides to go down as the king he is. The cry of “Forth Eorlingas!” has always made me want to jump from my seat and charge along with the riders, as there’s such pride and dignity in it, for the Mark and who they are, that is infectious.

And then Shadowfax neighs, and Éomer returns, and you feel the relief, the renewing of hope. I have cried. Yes. How I feel when that happens, it’s beyond words.

Few things are as epic as the charge of the Rohirrim with the rising sun.

And yes, I know in the book it’s not Éomer but Erkenbrand from the Westfold, but I don’t care. I love Éomer, for his loyalty and his spirit. A worthy future King of Rohan.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Anduin, Frodo and Sam continue their journey, utterly lost in the labyrinth of rocks that is Emyn Muil. And it’s maddening. The description is so well done, so vivid, that I felt as lost as Frodo and Sam, even if the place is little else than grey rock, water streams, and dead trees.

As they go, the Ring gets heavier, and I can’t but think about Galadriel’s line in the movie that states that Frodo begins to understand that the Quest will claim his life. This doesn’t necessarily mean physical death. The journey takes a toll on both Frodo and Sam, but Frodo is slowly losing himself, taken over by the Ring; even if he survives, the scars won’t fade, and his life will never be the same. He’s been deeply hurt both in body and soul, and yet, there’s still a long way ahead of him, with no less than the weight of the world’s fate on his shoulders. But there’s hope, and it relies on the most unlikely of creatures. Because in the middle of Emyn Muil’s grey landscape, Frodo and Sam meet one of the most iconic characters fiction has ever known.

So… Gollum. What a character, right? He’s the living proof of what happens to those who keep the Ring for too long. Their essence is lost, as if the Ring is feeding on it. He became a hollow, primitive creature, ruled by his basic instincts of survival, hunting with his bare hands and eating raw fish. He can barely speak properly, even when before finding the Ring, he wasn’t very different from hobbits. He forgot the basic names of everything, as he calls the Sun and the Moon, the Yellow Face and the White Face. He lost his language, keeping only a few misused words, and the skills he needs to keep himself alive. Hunger and hiding are his driving force, he was reduced to two things alone. The rest is his Precious. He had it for so long that he lost himself, he was reduced to no more than a sad carcass of what he used to be. Yet, a part of him remained Sméagol, and that is the one that Frodo wants to reach. As Gandalf said, he still had a part to play in this tale, even though he’s overall a wretched, pathetic creature. However, his depth lies in trying to understand both him and the Ring. Whatever it was that it did to him, it consumed him whole.

It’s amazing how one little decision contributes to the shaping of the world and sets so many things in motion that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. You see it in Isildur, in Frodo, in Merry and Pippin… But most of all, in Bilbo. His pity over Gollum, in despite of the wicked, disgusting creature he was, meant one step closer to destroying the Ring, and basically to the outcome of a war that hadn’t even started by then. He couldn’t even have imagined it, but, as it is said, the great tales never end, and those who have already played their part step aside, so others can continue it. If it wasn’t for Bilbo, if he had gone through with it, Frodo would have never gotten to Mordor alive. Sam never trusted Gollum, and constantly watched him, but with Frodo, it’s different. He, other than being their guide, lets him see his future, what he would become eventually, if he didn’t carry on with his task, that was slowly taking over him. And it’s chilling.

With Gollum and his reluctant help, Frodo and Sam manage to finally leave Emyn Muil behind, and after trudging through the Dead Marshes, and finally finding the Black Gate closed, they take a different route that leads them to the fair Ithilien, where they meet another of my favorite characters in the whole series.

Faramir, son of Denethor II, and the very embodiment of honor.

Yet he felt in his heart that Faramir, though he was much like his brother in looks, was a man less self-regarding, both sterner and wiser.

He’s the only character that lost some of its essence in translation from book to movie, although in the end, his true heart prevailed. He’s a man of his word. He has everything in his favor to just take the Ring, but he said he wouldn’t do it, and he won’t. That is the main difference with the movie, because there, Frodo and Sam are his prisoners, while in the book they are his guests; Faramir is actually not as cold-hearted as he appears to be in the movie, but if I have to read something on it, I see it as a way he has of being some sort of replacement now that Boromir would never come back, obeying rules, and trying to do what he would do. Yet that is not who he is.

I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend […]”

Faramir doesn’t want power, but rather, he seems more interested in knowledge, and can’t detach himself from his feelings the way his brother could. Though he’s too young to be such a wise man, he has a sense of responsibility, and he’s a warrior by need, not for the love of battle. He himself says that he doesn’t kill unless he absolutely has to. Even though in the shadow of Boromir, Faramir was indeed a true Son of Gondor, less proud, perhaps, but equally brave, and ready to die for his cause. But the main difference with his brother is that Boromir was willing to do literally anything to save Gondor, while Faramir is not. Not just anything. He wouldn’t delve in darkness, he had boundaries, lines he didn’t cross. He simply wouldn’t take what wasn’t his.

I liked that, in the extended edition, they included a scene with Boromir and Faramir together as brothers, after reclaiming Osgiliath for Gondor.

There, you can perfectly see both their differences and their similarities. Faramir loves Gondor as much as Boromir does, but he’s not made for war, nor finds any joy in it. He fights because if he doesn’t, no one will. With Boromir gone, and without him too, Gondor’s men would be leaderless. But he’s more fit for the diplomatic aspects of war. His strength isn’t physical or in combat, but that doesn’t make him any less strong, and I think he was more fitted for the Fellowship than Boromir. He didn’t have his same attitude, he even says that he wouldn’t take the Ring, and much less use it, even he had found it by the side of the road. I believe that if he had been the one to go to Rivendell, perhaps the Company would have lasted longer.

I think it is necessary to mention the amazing job done by the wardrobe department with Boromir and Faramir, to show the difference between the two. While Boromir is dressed in more elegant, distinguished pieces, framing this huge presence he is, Faramir’s outfits are more like a Ranger’s. If no one tells you he is the captain, you wouldn’t guess it, because he’s dressed with almost no difference with his men. Obviously, the clothes of an Ithilien Ranger respond to a need of camouflage, but I mean, his looks are way humbler than his brother’s, as he seems the kind of person who gets lost in the crowd, but not quite. And Boromir definitely did not give that image. You could instantly tell he was an elite warrior, someone of rank and status. And that is also one of the reasons why Faramir is such a great man, modest and yet worthy of respect, followed blindly by his men, no matter where he leads them.

One of the main differences with the book is that Faramir never takes Frodo, Sam and Gollum to Osgiliath. But if anything, it helps to see how men are being besieged in every possible front, how Sauron is actually worried about Gondor fighting back, and left Saruman to deal with Rohan, like a minor nuisance. He knows the power to defeat him in the battlefield is in Gondor, especially if Isildur’s heir still lives and reclaims the throne. And even in the middle of all the chaos, Faramir gets one step closer to understand the burden Frodo is carrying, and that everything around the Ring is a lot bigger than himself, than his father, and even Gondor itself, finally accepting that pleasing Denethor is not more important than doing the right thing.

In this book, Sam continues his task of being… well, Sam. Even though he is as lost as Frodo in the wilderness, his innocence is just too much for the darkness that gets closer with each passing day. He’s the one that keeps Frodo moving, and although he’s not the wisest or the strongest, his loyalty is unbreakable.

Sam is the one that keeps up Frodo’s hope, taking care of him and helping him bear his burden, slowing down the darkness that is slowly taking over him. And he does so by being himself.

Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into song or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards.

I want to hug this hobbit. He’s so simple and adorable! For God’s sake, he wants his tale to be told by the fireside! Through the journey he gets in contact with the very same immense power that have corrupted people way older and more powerful than him, and yet, the Ring can’t do anything about someone whose greatest ambition is this one. This is what keeps darkness at bay. Sam’s promise and love are his driving force, and when he attacks Shelob, it’s for sheer anger, managing to wound her in ways no one, ever, could before. He had no idea of the magnitude of his enemy’s power and strength, he just wanted to defend his master, and acted on an instinct. His purity is too much for the darkness of the Nameless Land.

In Two Towers, once again, Tolkien’s writing is gold. The way Minas Morgul is described is utterly terrifying. As Minas Ithil, it used to be a fortress of Gondor, so it wasn’t always a place of darkness. But it was taken over during the Third Age, and since then it has been controlled by the Ringwraiths. The place drips evil and horror, it’s where the doom of Middle Earth will start. It’s basically Mordor’s threshold, both literally and figuratively, because what’s coming is way, way worse. Now, few things are so appalling as the description of the darkness that reigns in Shelob’s lair. It’s too well written, because it’s not just that you can’t see with your eyes. Your mind also gets blinded to all memory of light, making it inescapable, because you can’t go back to what you don’t remember, you can’t get out of a darkness you have always been in. There’s no smells other than the stench of rotten corpses, and nothing beyond the blackness of the tunnel. It’s just… terrifying. And this is even before knowing about the nightmare creature that dwells inside that mountain. All paths that go into Mordor are watched, and this one is no exception. No wonder not even Orcs want to take it.

Yet, I have to say this. I think it is amazing how Tolkien could write about darkness, and make it different in each place the characters face it. It’s not the same one in Moria, than in Mirkwood, than in Shelob’s Lair, or later in the Paths of the Dead. In each of these places, it is silent and deep, and yes, it’s ominous, but there’s no way it means the same thing. Not all darkness is the same, just as no one is corrupted by it in the same way. Galadriel’s phial is what helps them cut through the sheer blackness of the lair, but as they get closer and closer to the heart of Mordor, not even the star of Eärendil can get past its power. There will be a point in which the hobbits won’t be able to rely on any sort of help anymore, and they’ll have to go on as they are, with nothing but their own willpower to keep moving. This horrible place is just the beginning of that. Yet, hope prevails. Frodo is stung by Shelob, and when Sam believes him dead, he takes up as Ring-bearer, determined to finish the quest, in despite of his despair. And this is a hero for me. The one that is broken and makes mistakes, doesn’t want to go on, and yet, finds a reason to keep moving, even if he must go alone, and there seems to be nothing else to be done, nor way out. If this is not the definition of hope, then I don’t know what it is.

No matter how many times I read this book, it will always leave me fascinated, and unbelieving how one single man could create all this. This universe that we get to know is worthy of a standing ovation, and it’s so incredible, that my love for it is beyond all words, beyond all review. It’s a fantasy world, and yet, it’s amazing how close it is to us. I myself can relate to some of these characters in the trials they go through, and understand their struggles, even when their obstacles and mine are way different. But this is what makes stories classics, after all. Their ability to resist the test of time, and mean something different in each stage of our lives.

Now, I final word on the movie trilogy. People may disagree with this, but I’ll say it, anyway. I think these movies were made right when they needed to be made, before fantasy filming became more about the special effects and the action sequences, and less about the story they wanted to tell you. Before CGI became almost everything the actors work with, and the computer effects were perhaps less sophisticated, but the story is so compelling that you forget you are watching, completely absorbed and having forgotten about the world outside. I’m not saying that there weren’t good fantasy movies after Lord of the Rings, but I hardly ever saw something done with such passion for a story, in which not a single scene is a waste, and there’s such a perfect balance between worldbuilding and characterization, in which you can both fall in love with the characters, and get fascinated with the places they visit.

They are, without a doubt, the bests in their genre.

If you stayed this long, may you be blessed! 
Thank you so much for reading!

See you soon!