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The Return of the King

The exciting and bittersweet conclusion of Frodo's quest.

What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable
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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:J.R.R. Tolkien
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Princesses and fairies, Adventures, Friendship
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Children's Books
Publication date:October 20, 1955
Number of pages:520
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 14

This review of The Return of the King was written by

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Teen, 14 years old Written byCaesar_12219 April 9, 2008


I read this book in the third grade, and have read it some 5 or six times since. It is simply THE best fantasy book that has ever been written. C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling just lack the ingenuity or the skill to weave a tale of such depth and magic. We pass through the spectrum of human character, through greed, hate, lust, friendship, loyalty, courage, and evil, but most importantly hope. In a world that grows darker daily, with the world of men outmumbered and surrounded, the elves sundered, and the dwarves dispersed, it is the heroic tale of small people who change the world, and mercy which in the end saves it. Gandalf, alone defying the witch-king of Angmar, alone holding the gates, Eowyn, protecting the dying body of her king and father with her own life, pitted against a foe she knows is much more powerful then her, and in the foreground, Frodo, fighting against the consuming power of the ring, and Sam helping him. And the characters also are marvelously well developed: Denethor, driven mad with hopelessness from his visions in the Palantir, Gollum, torn between his lust for the ring and his promise to protect his master, and Frodo, slowly weakening under the power of the ring, supported only by Sam. This is, to put it mildly, a must-read for every single person on the face of the globe over the age of 8.
Teen, 14 years old Written byrockndramakid@a... April 9, 2008

God, you think someone should be 12 to read this?

You've got to be insane! I read The Hobbit and LOTR when I was 7! It has been my absolute favorate series since! Seriously, how can this scare anyone? There's no graphics! If you haven't read it, YOU HAVE TO!
Teen, 15 years old Written bySAR April 9, 2008

I Loved It!

I first read this book when I was 9 and have read it several more times since then (I would read it more, it's just a really long book!). This is the book that began my love of the fantasy genre. It's a classic that everybody should read!