The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted May 23, 2019 by Amber in Reviews / 4 Comments

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Digital Audiobook narrated by Rob Inglis

Published by Houghton Mifflin on October 20th 1955
Series: The Lord of the Rings #3
Genres: Adventure, Classics, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, High Fantasy
Length: 1137 pages or 18 hours, 19 minutes
Source: Audible

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As the Shadow of Mordor grows across the land, the Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, has joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and took part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by Orcs, escaped into Fangorn Forest and there encountered the Ents. Gandalf has miraculously returned and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman. Sam has left his master for dead after a battle with the giant spider, Shelob; but Frodo is still alive -- now in the foul hands of the Orcs. And all the while the armies of the Dark Lord are massing as the One Ring draws ever nearer to the Cracks of Doom.

I really, really dislike the feeling of: “Oh thank goodness, this is over” when I’m reading a book, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that was the way I felt after completing this trilogy.  For a series so renowned and beloved, The Lord of the Rings is incredibly boring… and honestly?  The Return of the King is the worst culprit of them all.


The Return of the King has the greatest potential for excitement, but the least delivery of the trilogy.  There are so many cool things that are happening here, but the parts I found I was personally really enjoying were not the parts that went into detail.  For example, there’s a bit where the Rohirrim charge against the forces of Mordor.  This has epic battle potential, right?  Add to this the fact that this scene has Éowyn’s BIG MOMENT.  Fans of both the books and films should know what I’m talking about here.  This battle comes to us from Merry’s POV, and the depth of the fighting and that glimmering moment of Éowyn’s defiance and courage and complete badassery are drowned out as Merry and a small platoon of soldiers go to weep over Théoden.  There’s death speeches and mourning and meanwhile somewhere behind it all there’s another important body, and there’s a WHOLE BATTLE GOING ON and we don’t get to see it.  Because we’re singing funeral dirges and talking about the succession of the kingdom

I found this so frustrating.

Some characters certainly had their moments – Sam, in particular, was given the opportunity to shine and I really appreciated his role in this journey.  Other interesting characters, such as Legolas and Gimli, seemed to fall to the background here.  A great deal of time and attention is devoted to the hobbits and to Aragorn.  Which is all well and good.  Aragorn’s storyline in particular has importance here.  But I found myself so frustrated with the conversations and talking about their plan instead of actually tuly being immersed in the fulfillment of them.  It was difficult to appreciate the characters here when their version of the story were boring me.


So, to give a little technical background:  this audiobook recording of The Return of the King is about 18 hours long.  This is more or less on par with the rest of the series.  For those familiar with the film adaptations, that ending occurs at about halfway into the book.  It left me scratching my head as to what could possibly fill up the next eight hours.

As it turns out, the second half of the book is all about closure for the fellowship.  The various members go their separate ways, and we follow the hobbits back to the Shire.  This wind down lasts about four hours.  The last four hours are the appendices.

I didn’t wait and listen to the appendices, guys.  I’m sorry, I’m just not that interested in the minutia.  I feel like I got plenty of closure and heard more than enough about the various races and languages and histories in the course of the trilogy.

The ideas and everything behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy and especially this last installment are SO COOL.  But the way it’s written… it feels like there’s a movie going on behind you, and you can hear it through a muffled screen, but you’re staring at a blank wall.  It tried my patience, and in wanting so badly to be in the moment of the action, I was unable to appreciate the cultural nuances Tolkien was trying to impart about Middle Earth.


I understand that this is largely a me-problem.  Tolkien’s writing (not just his stories) has a huge fan base all over the world and his works have captured the hearts and imaginations of multiple generations.  I remember really enjoying these the first time I read them in middle school, so perhaps time and experience have jaded me.


I really recommend to every fan of this genre to give the books a go.  They will enrich your experience of Middle Earth and they are fantasy classics and deserve appreciation.

The Breakdown
Personal Enjoyment
Overall: two-stars

Which books have you wanted to love, but just… didn’t?  There are a lot of books that have a lot of love and a lot of hype, but we can’t ALL click with them – which ones let you down?  Let me know in the comments! <3

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4 responses to “The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. So I think that what I love about Return of the King is the very thing that a lot of people DON’T like: the slow pace of the battles. It’s not written like an action-packed battle you see in the movies, but more like a Revolutionary or Civil War battle. In those battles the action WASN’T constant. There was time to stop and mourn your fallen, take them off the battlefield. The action happened in bursts and bits over the course of days, not all in 6 excruciatingly action-packed hours. I liked that story telling method. I have always felt that Tolkien is a taste, and he’s not for everyone. That style of writing is boring for many MANY people. But I devour it.

    • Amber

      This is what I love about books. 🙂

      Something that absolutely frustrated me was your favorite part. And I love this type of connection, where we can talk about a book we had very different feelings about, but we both still want to talk about. 🙂 Where I like the action in battle scenes, you enjoyed the slower pacing, and that is so awesome. To be honest, I’m a little jealous, because I so deeply want to love these books because I think the story is fascinating, even though Tolkien’s writing isn’t strictly to my taste. I’ve actually had an opposite experience where so many people I know love and devour Tolkien, and what I’ve presented here is a very unpopular opinion. It takes all sorts!

  2. I really enjoyed this review! As someone who LOVES Lord of the Rings, I also really appreciate and agree with your discussion of how this book is anticlimactic and written in a way that seems to undermine a lot of the important events and moments of characterization. I think the films definitely do a better job at this, particularly in parts with women characters–the books sorely lack that, unfortunately.
    Thanks so much for sharing such an honest, nuanced review!

    Holly @ Nut Free Nerd recently posted: Done with my English major?!?!
    • Amber

      OMG HI HOLLY! *waves frantically* I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever and your comment makes me so happy.

      I think that the films are well tailored for people like me who enjoy Tolkien’s story, but struggle with his writing. I very much appreciate that there are two options to get, at least, the guts of the story out there and reach a greater audience. There are certainly people who deeply enjoy this writing style – the pacing, the characterization, the sensitivity – and I am so happy for them.

      Even with the changes made to the female characters in the film (Arwen, in particular), I really appreciate that they had more of a place. I think the lack of women is very much a product of Tolkien’s cultural experience and his time in the war, so I’m actually please to see things like Eowyn’s heroism at ALL. The film did a good job of making both genders feel more present, modernizing it without losing Tolkien’s spirit.