Firstly, The Return of the King gets a lot of stick because of the multiple endings and the large amount of time it takes to get to the Grey Havens. Well, anyone who has read the books will tell you that most of the plot Sam and Frodo have is actually in the Two Towers book, and in the The Return of the King book there is a lot more ending than what is in the film. Peter Jackson and his team had a lot more material that they could have included but didn’t.
I also really like the ending to the film. Sam and Frodo are rescued, they are reunited with the rest of the Fellowship, Aragorn becomes King and marries Arwen, the Hobbits go home and Sam marries Rosie Cotton, and then Bilbo and Frodo travel to the undying lands in order to find peace from the destruction the ring inflicted upon them.
There isn’t anything in there that isn’t unimportant, so while it took longer than most people’s patience can manage to end the film, there are no loose ends and the film ends perfectly. I even think it ends more perfectly than the book does, as I really don’t like the destruction of the Shire by Saruman that the Hobbits return to in the book.
Beyond the ending though, the film itself is about people making a stand to defend themselves. Everyone must have heard Samwise’s speech at the end of the Two Towers, because the amount of determination in the film is just inspiring. I also really love everyone’s motivation, to defend something they love. Aragorn steps up to become King and defend Sauron, not just because he knows it needs to be done but to also save Arwen.
Both Merry and Pippin pledge their allegiance to the world of men, and overcome all the prejudices that came with it. They proved themselves in battle, despite the reach of their arms being shorter, and pretty much induced an army of men to follow them because they didn’t hesitate for a second to follow Aragorn’s charge at the Black Gate. They might have been quickly overtaken, but they charged down the enemy full of the belief they were doing this for Frodo who had taken on such a heavy burden.
And it is burden’s beyond the measure of normal life that the film is really about. It is why I like the ending so much, because it is uplifting and about the lightening of those burdens,even if the scene at the Grey Havens is heart-breaking. When you see the colour return to Frodo’s cheeks just simply because he has physically stepped away from Middle Earth which he helped save, the impact of the rest of the film suddenly hits you, because the impact on Frodo is internal, and while Elijah Wood portrayed it beautifully Frodo’s struggle is not apparent until right at the end. Everyone else’s burden is more apparent, but no less inspiring.
The Hobbits are burdened with the guilt laid upon them by others that because they are small and therefore they cannot help. They overcome that prejudice (which as a petite person I greatly appreciate). Aragorn is burdened with the responsibility to rule and to redeem the world of men, which in the eyes of the Elves in particular needs redemption after the fall of Numenor and Isildur’s Bane. There are two burden’s though that the film for me and I suspect a load of people can relate to more easily, is that of Sam and Éowyn.
Samwise in the book is under appreciated, because he is seen as a servant who is loyal to Frodo, rather than the friend that is portrayed in the films. It isn’t a servant/master dynamic. Sam doesn’t have to watch his master fall into darkness and despair, he has to watch his friend instead. The only analogy that best depicts what Sam has to watch, is that of a friend falling into an addiction, a one that they struggle to give up even though it is slowly destroying them. On top of that the ring burdens Frodo with feelings of emptiness and despair akin to depression.
The person Sam knew is destroyed by this addiction and depression, while he helplessly watches. So when Sam heroically starts to carry Frodo up Mount Doom, shouting about how he cannot carry the burden Frodo endures, but he can carry him, I tear up and I hope that everyone else out in the real world, who suffers from addiction and depression has a friend as good as Sam to pick them up and help them.
And then there is Éowyn, who has to overcome a prejudice that sadly is still prevalent in the world; that she is a woman and that her place is different to that of men. She rides into battle all the same though, taking Merry with her, and slays the Witch-King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgul. And she does so, because she is woman.
Here in lies how deep-seated the meaning of the word ‘man’ really is when it come to defining that it means to be one and what it means if you aren’t. It could be used to define humans in general, but in the field of battle it means males. So while Éowyn rides into battle to take up the duties of a man, in truth what she is doing is riding into battle as a woman who is defying the expectations of her gender.
In battle the Witch-King of Angmar is so held with the belief at a man could not slay him, that he falls to Éowyn’s sword because of a twist of linguistic definition, because Éowyn does not believe herself to be a man, she believes herself to be a woman who is equal to man and whose place is no different. It’s a massive shout out for equality, and Tolkien’s love for the viking legends of shieldmaidens helps to prove that women, even if it is only certain women haven’t always been seen as lesser than men.
Anyway, yes the ending might be longer than the tradition of Hollywood would demand, but it ties up all the loose ends, and it is a lightening of the burdens they have all endured in the pursue of destroying evil, that started with the hobbits fleeing the Shire and ended with a King of Men and his people bowing to them.
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