The Return of the King

Book review by
Mark Nichol, Common Sense Media
The Return of the King Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
The exciting and bittersweet conclusion of Frodo's quest.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 10 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is one of the best contemporary examples of what scholar Joseph Campbell calls the Monomyth or Hero's Journey (another is the Star Wars series). Tolkien is also greatly admired for his "world building": he paints an unbelievably complete picture of Middle Earth with maps, dense background history of each race (elves, dwarves, different kingdoms of humans, hobbits), poems and songs, and even whole languages and scripts to pen them in.

Positive Messages

Good vs. evil is at the heart of this trilogy and the stakes are very high. Many races must come together to fight and the smallest and most innocent carry the heaviest burden. When evil is finally defeated the victorious show mercy many times against their enemies, and many times against the creature who will unwittingly save them. Friendship and loyalty are also huge themes here, especially among the Hobbits, two of whom pledge alligiance to different kingdoms and two of whom face what they think is certain death together as they approach Mt. Doom. There are also some lovely passages about losing and finding hope again when all seems lost.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Merry and Pippin grow into heroes here, both pledging oaths to protect different kingdoms and fighting bravely in battle. Their new confidence helps them defeat enemies of the Shire. Sam continues to show a fierce loyalty to Frodo, even carrying him on his back when the journey was hardest. Frodo's display of mercy toward Gollum ends up saving them all and he reiterates this lesson when he returns to the Shire. Aragorn is the epitome of a just king even before he accends the throne, also showing mercy and respect for all who serve him.


Some gore here that surpases the other LOTR books, including many heads of fallen soldiers catipulted over a beseiged city's walls, a giant flying beast that rips apart and eats a fallen horse, talk of some orcs biting the throats of their kills, a self-conflagration, and a finger bitten off. Some key characters die in battle and are mourned while some depart to another world. Ghost soldiers fight in one scene, destroying everything in their path. The rest of the battle violence is with men against orcs, trolls, and other scary beasts. Orcs also fight and kill each other over riches and some Hobbits die in a battle against ruffians in the Shire.


Some kisses and declarations of love.


"Ass" said somewhat affectionately.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Still plenty of talk of the pipe-weed Hobbits love to smoke -- Bilbo gives Merry and Pippin his favorite pipes. Some talk of drinking beer too but less time for it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that if kids are ready to see the excellent Lord of the Rings movies they're ready to read this last book of the trilogy. This is the end of a momentous quest where evil is finally defeated, so expect the violence to get a bit more intense. Gory moments include heads of fallen soldiers catipulted over a beseiged city's walls, a giant flying beast that rips apart and eats a fallen horse, talk of some orcs biting the throats of their kills, a self-conflagration, and a finger bitten off. Some key characters also die or pass into anther realm, so get the hankies out. Also expect to be touched by the loyalty of Sam who carries his friend on this back when the journey is hardest and the passages about losing and finding hope again. It's not a bad idea to read along with kids and engage them in discussing the deeper stuff and how we are all on our own Hero's Journey -- one of the reasons why this genre is so compelling.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 8 and 10-year-old Written byiMovie April 26, 2015

The Lord Of The Rings

The Return Of The Kings concludes the epic tale of adventure. Fans of the previous volumes will be amazed as main characters die, the Ring is destroyed, and (ba... Continue reading
Parent Written byPlague May 11, 2010

The Return of the King (Book)

A compelling fanale to the Lord of the Rings saga. If you read and loved the first two, do not think about missing out on The Return of the King, You will regre... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bybilc01 February 15, 2020

Best book I ever read.

(apart from the Return of the King). I read this when I was 12 and although it was a difficult read, I would recommend this to anybody who likes fantasy. It has... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byUndomiel January 21, 2019

The best book ever!

I first read this when I was 9, and it has been my favorite book ever since. I love the whole set of three books (not actually a trilogy because it is one story... Continue reading

What's the story?

The quest to destroy the One Ring of Power before Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, can conquer all of Middle Earth concludes in this third chapter of J. R. R. Tolkien's action-packed fantasy adventure. Four young, formerly sheltered heroes must dredge courage from deep within themselves to face the challenges before them as Middle Earth's peace-loving inhabitants seek to save their world.


Is it any good?

This concluding volume of Tolkien's three-book epic, The Lord of the Rings, maintains the dark desperation of its predecessor. Even amid all the celebration that occurs after the free peoples achieve their victory, sadness is there also, for good magic passes on with the vanquishing of sorcery, and the dominance of the human race begins.

But for all this gravity, the story is laced with humor and beauty, and although it is very much an adult tale, it appeals to younger readers. Tolkien's writing is dense and the writing style veers from heroic to homespun, but the plot unfolds with relentless vigor. He brilliantly describes Middle Earth -- reverently, in the case of magnificent structures and natural features, and with eloquent dread when he depicts the horror of Sauron's works.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Merry and Pippin. Who were they at the start of the series and who have they become?

  • The ending of this series is bittersweet. What is lost from the world of Middle Earth? Why do you think Gandalf now thinks it's time for him to visit Tom Bombadil and leave the Hobbits in charge of saving the Shire?

  • All seems lost to characters at many points in the quest. How do they find hope? What does Sam look at in Mordor to ground him again? How does Eowyn become hopeful again? Denethor completely loses hope -- what happens to him?

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