The Return of the King: An Educator's Guide

THE RETURN OF THE KING

 

BOOK FIVE: CHAPTER I, MINAS TIRITH—CHAPTER II, THE PASSING OF THE GREY COMPANY

 

Comprehension Questions

 

1. What is the Rammas Echor? (733)


2. What stands over the fountain in Minas Tirith’s citadel? (736)


3. What kind of special power does Lord Denethor have? (748)


4. Who lived in Lossarnach? (753)


5. What does Aragorn decide that he and the Dúnedain will do, and how do the others react? (761)


6. Why does Aragorn summon the unseen dead to the Stone of Erech? (770)

 

Vocabulary
beacons (731)
quays (734)
oast (734)
byre (734)
bastion (735)
monoliths (737)
liege (741)
manger (745)
flagon (746)
tithe (753)
thain (760)
wroth (769)

 

Discussion and Essay Questions

 

1. What are the main characteristics of the various towns and cities of Middle-earth, from Hobbiton to Minas Tirith? How do the layout and construction of each reflect the needs and way of life of its inhabitants?


2. Comparing Gandalf and Denethor, Pippin notes that “Gandalf had the greater power and the deeper wisdom, and a majesty that was veiled.” How would you describe Gandalf’s power, wisdom, and majesty? How are they revealed? How is Gandalf’s majesty similar to and different from the majesty of others?


3. Gandalf tells Denethor, Steward of Gondor, “For I also am a steward.” Of what and whom is Gandalf a steward and by what authority? What “worthy things” now in peril do you care for, and why?


4. How do Pippin and Merry fulfill their oaths of service to Lord Denethor and King Théoden? What is remarkable about the two hobbits entering the armed service of two great leaders?


5. Éowyn protests to Aragorn, “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house.” What are Éowyn’s and Aragorn’s views of her duty? What variety of women does Tolkien present in The Lord of the Rings? What roles do they play?


6. How do Tolkien’s chapter endings create suspense and make you want to keep reading? How do they keep the various parts of the story—especially those concerning Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, and Théoden—moving forward?

 


 

BOOK FIVE: CHAPTER III, THE MUSTER OF ROHAN—CHAPTER V, THE RIDE OF THE ROHIRRIM

 

Comprehension Questions

 

1. What, and where, are the Púkel-men? (777)


2. Where is Frodo on the evening when Pippin and Beregond walk on the walls of the Citadel of Minas Tirith? (790)


3. What does Gandalf guess is the Enemy’s reason for beginning his war earlier than expected? (797)


4. What are Denethor’s final orders, and how does Pippin react? (808)


5. What is Grond, and what is its purpose? (810)


6. Who are the Woses, and what does Elfhelm the Marshal tell Merry concerning them? (813)

 

Vocabulary
buttresses (774)
sonorous (775)
gloaming (775)
concourse (776)
fealty (786)
girths (787)
lithe (787)
brazier (793)
mirk (803)
pyre (807)
balusters (808)
ravening (810)

 

Discussion and Essay Questions

 

1. How does the great cloud rising from Mordor and overshadowing everything as far west as Harrowdale represent Sauron’s spreading power? What do the forces of good have at their command to oppose the growing darkness?


2. Besides their appointments as esquires to the rulers of Rohan and Gondor, what other parallels between Merry and Pippin are there? What parallels exist or have existed between other pairs of characters—Gollum and Wormtongue, Gandalf and Saruman, Arwen and Éowyn, for example?


3. How does Denethor and Gandalf’s debate concerning the Ring reflect the Ring’s central importance? How are the arguments on both sides expressed elsewhere in The Lord of the Rings? What do these arguments reveal concerning the temptations, uses, and abuses of power?


4. Why might “all great lords, if they are wise,” use others as their weapons, as Denethor notes? What instances do you find in The Lord of the Rings and in our world of leaders using others to obtain their ends?


5. What beings, from hobbits to Woses, populate Middle-earth? What are the distinguishing characteristics of each, and what part does each play in the battle? How is the allegiance of each indicated or expressed?


6. As the Rohirrim advance on besieged Minas Tirith, “the joy of battle was upon them.” What is this “joy or battle,” and what other instances of it are there in the novel? To what extent do any of the hobbits experience this emotion? What are the dangers of giving oneself up to “the joy of battle”?

 


 

BOOK FIVE: CHAPTER VI, THE BATTLE OF THE PELENNOR FIELDS—CHAPTER IX, THE LAST DEBATE

 

Comprehension Questions

 

1. What happens to the Lord of the Nazgûl in the battle of the Pelennor Fields? (824)


2. How has the will of Sauron been able to enter Minas Tirith and influence Denethor? (838)


3. Why is Aragorn reluctant to enter Minas Tirith? (843)


4. What do Legolas and Gimli say about Minas Tirith? (854)


5. Why is Legolas disturbed by the sight and sound of sea gulls? (855)


6. What plan do the Captains of the West and Gandalf agree upon? (864)

 

Vocabulary
brigand (821)
discomfiting (828)
hallow (n.) (833)
bier (835)
litters (840)
doggrel (847)
trammel (849)
prows (859)
succour (861)
fiefs (863)
wrights (863)
jeopardy (864)

 

Discussion and Essay Questions

 

1. Seeing the dead porter at the Closed Door, Gandalf exclaims of the Enemy, “Such deeds he loves: friend at war with friend; loyalty divided in a confusion of hearts.” What other deeds does the Enemy love—family discord, for example? What “deeds” loved by the Enemy do you find, and how does each serve the Enemy’s purposes?


2. How would you explain Denethor’s despair and unwillingness to cede Gondor to the rightful claimant? How do grief, hunger for power, envy, pride, and vanity affect his attitude? What other examples are there of negative qualities transforming otherwise good and noble individuals?


3. Mourning Théoden in the Houses of Healing, Merry apologizes to Aragorn for his sarcasm by saying, “But it is the way of my people to use light words at such times and say less than they mean. We fear to say too much. It robs us of the right words when a jest is out of place.” What does he mean? What other instances are there of hobbits using light words and jests at serious times?


4. “It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose,” says Merry; “you must start somewhere and have some roots.” How is this true of the hobbits and others? To what extent does the absence of this kind of love explain the evil of Sauron, Saruman, Gollum, and others?


5. How might Gandalf’s words to the Captains of the West apply to you and your world? “Other evils there are that may come . . . Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.” What could you do to make better the years in which you live to and to make the world better for those will follow you?

 


 

BOOK FIVE: CHAPTER X, THE BLACK GATE OPENS—BOOKS SIX: CHAPTER II, THE LAND OF SHADOW

 

Comprehension Questions

 

1. Why is Merry so despondent at the departure of the Army of the West? (865)


2. What terms does Sauron’s lieutenant present, and how does Gandalf respond? (872)


3. What was the original purpose of the tower of Cirith Ungol? (880)


4. What does the orc running down the stairs of the tower see when it looks toward Sam, and why? (883)


5. What is Frodo’s plan for making his way through the Morgai? (899)


6. What is happening in the Dale of Udûn as Frodo and Sam approach it? (906)

 

Vocabulary
booty (866)
ghylls (867)
feint (867)
slavered (872)
sluice (873)
proffered (873)
bucklers (874)
trough (879)
throes (882)
flout (885)
rummaged (893)
screes (901)

 

Discussion and Essay Questions

 

1. Having crossed into Mordor, Sam takes the Ring off and mutters, “Better have a look at the worst.” Why might it be better to “have a look at the worst” than to blunder around, invisible, “in a fog”? When else is having a look at the worst the best action to take?


2. What indications are there of the Ring’s increasing burden as it comes nearer to the place of its creation? How are Frodo and Sam able to deal with that increasing burden?


3. Speaking of the Orcs, Frodo says to Sam, “The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own.” Why is it important that evil cannot create, while good can—that evil can only imitate or mock creation? How is this shown?


4. Sam looks up from the Morgai and sees a white star twinkling through the cloud-wrack, and “The beauty of it smote his heart, . . . and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” To what extent can we think of the Shadow as “a small and passing thing”? What do you think constitutes the light and high beauty Sam considers to be forever beyond the reach of the Shadow?


 


 

BOOK SIX: CHAPTER III, MOUNT DOOM—CHAPTER V, THE STEWARD AND THE KING

 

Comprehension Questions

 

1. How does Frodo react to Sam’s offer to carry the Ring, and why does he react in this way? (916)


2. What does Frodo see when he and Sam reach the road on Mount Doom, and what is the effect on him? (921)


3. What is the final display of Sauron’s power? (928)


4. What song does Legolas sing as he leaves his friends? (936)


5. What actions does King Elessar take in the days immediately following his coronation? (947)


6. Who arrives in Minas Tirith from the north on the Eve of Midsummer, and what event then takes place? (951)

 

Vocabulary
insatiable (922)
stratagems (925)
bereft (925)
vassals (927)
turves (932)
sloth (937)
presage (939)
mantle (940)
puissant (943)
garlands (945)
fillet (945)
office (945)

 

Discussion and Essay Questions

 

1. What “new dark thought” does Sam have after his and Frodo’s escape from the Orc battalions? How would you describe the “new strength” and the “new sense of responsibility” that come upon Sam?


2. Why is it important that Gollum be responsible for the destruction of the Ring? Why does Frodo say, “But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring”? What otherwise would have enabled Frodo to destroy the Ring, and what might have been the consequences for Frodo?


3. What song does the minstrel of Gondor sing before Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam? Why is Sam so delighted? What are the effects on those gathered? How would you explain more fully Tolkien’s description of those effects?


4. Why does Aragorn have Frodo bring the crown to him and have Gandalf place the crown on his head? Why are these two elements of his coronation appropriate? What does this indicate about the roles that Frodo and Gandalf have played in the king’s return?


5. What does Gandalf tell Aragorn as they stand together on Mount Mindolluin, and why are his words important? In what ways do we now live in the Fourth Age of the world and the Dominion of Men? What is our burden—the burden that Gandalf tells Aragorn lies upon him and his kindred—and what are we making of it?

 


 

BOOK SIX: CHAPTER VI, MANY PARTINGS—CHAPTER IX, THE GREY HAVENS

 

Comprehension Questions

 

1. Where does Frodo want to go before returning to the Shire, and why? (952)


2. What does Éowyn give to Merry as a parting gift, and what will it do? (956)


3. What does Aragorn tell Pippin in parting? (960)


4. What is the meaning of Elrond’s parting words to Frodo? (966)


5. What is the outcome of the Battle of Bywater, 1419, and how is that battle memorialized in the Shire? (992)


6. What about the Hill causes Sam the most grief? (999)

 

Vocabulary
niggard (955)
fortnight (964)
cudgel (968)
retentive (972)
scouring (975)
truck (986)
grist (990)
weskit (991)
dawdling (995)
shale (999)
byword (1001)
firth (1007)

 

Discussion and Essay Questions

 

1. What does Gandalf mean when he tells the hobbits that they must settle the affairs of the Shire themselves? “That is what you have been trained for,” he tells them. In what ways have Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin been trained, and in what ways have they “grown indeed very high”?


2. What do Frodo and his companions discover when they reach the Shire? Who and what have caused the changes? How does all this reflect the battle between good and evil in which Frodo and his friends played an important part?


3. How do the changes that Sharkey and his ruffians have effected in the Shire reflect our world? What correctives does Tolkien suggest? What correctives would you recommend, and why?


4. How do you interpret the “new road,” “secret gate,” and “hidden paths” of Frodo’s song as he and Sam ride into the Woody End? What do they mean for Frodo and for Sam? What new road, secret gate, or hidden path would you like to come upon in your life?


5. Just before Frodo boards the ship in the Grey Havens, he says to Sam, “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” How has this turned out to be so in The Lord of the Rings?

6. What kind of lives do you think Sam and Rosie, Merry, and Pippin have after Frodo and Gandalf’s departure?

 

 

Discussion questions written by Hal Hager.

Copyright © 2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt