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1. Up until Book V begins, the impending direct confrontation with Sauron has seemed relatively far off; the first two books have of course built up to it, yet in Book V the pace picks up considerably and the mood becomes more urgent. What is Tolkien's dramatic purpose in doing this, and what significance does it lend to the meaning of the quest at this point in time?

2. The “shadow” and “darkness” motif becomes more and more omnipresent in “The Return of the King,” as Gandalf and Pippin move eastward. (Recall Pippin's feeling of foreboding with Beregond.) Gandalf tells Pippin “there will be no dawn.” How does the darkness of a metaphysical evil manifest itself physically here?

3. Minas Tirith is a strong and important city that is becoming corrupted and deteriorated by the nearness of evil. Is there a Poe allusion regarding a once-grand house that can work here?

4. What kind of historical implication is there in the number seven being associated with Minas Tirith? Recall also the importance of the color white. What, then, is the problem with Denethor and the empty throne, and the significance of the broken tree? 18th century and appearance v. reality might be useful here.

5. Denethor loved the son that was most like him. What does this say about his self-perception? He is able to read minds, but is his self-evaluation accurate? Is Boromir morally superior to his father? Jessica Dunckel

1. Why are Pippin and Gandalf on the way to Minas Tirith? What does this mean for Frodo and Sam? Has Pippin grown at all during the trilogy?

2. What motif is present throughout Pippin and Gandalf’s journey? What does this foreshadow? What does Gandalf say at the end of the chapter?

3. Describe Minas Tirith. What does it remind you of in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING? What is Minas Tirith called? Relate that to the motif you discuss in question two. What is Tolkien doing by invoking these opposites?

4. What symbol is present beyond the gate of the Citadel? What does Gandalf warn Pippin against? Knowing Pippin quite well by this point, do you think he will heed Gandalf’s advice?

5. Characterize Denethor. Do you like him? What does he hold in his lap? Would you vote for him if he were a candidate in the up coming presidential election? Why or why not?

6. How do you think Gandalf feels about Denethor? What does Denethor say to Gandalf? Do you think this is wise? What would Tolkien say?

7. What does Pippin do? Make a judgment about all of his significant actions. How are they similar? Is this a good quality?

8. What ability does Denethor have?

9. Physical appearance does not always dictate how something / someone is on the inside. Relate the physical appearance of Minas Tirith and Denethor vs. what they are feeling on the inside. Sean Finan


1. Macbeth contains imagery of women wanting to cast of their womanhood and wanting to be men, most notable is Lady Macbeth's “unsex” me soliloquy. In The Return of the King, Eowyn hides herself as a man known as Dernhelm. What is the significance of trying to deny one’s own sex? Do you feel Eowyn's charade helps or hinders the battle she participates in? Mike Basaman

1. What Biblical allusion is appropriate as related to Aragorn's journey through the Paths of the Dead?

2. How is Aragorn's role in the quest changing as the story continues? What elements of his character stand out more (or less) when compared to the first time we encounter him? Jessica Dunckel

1.What type of route does Aragorn say they must take from Isengard? Relate this to question 2 above. {See Chapter One for the second question}

2. Whom does the company meet? What is the message from Rivendell?

3. What does Merry do? Compare this to Pippin.

4. What does Aragorn do with the Palantir? What does Gimli think?

5. Summarize the history of the Paths of the Dead. Which of the story's motifs is present here? What must happen for their souls to be set free? What does Aragorn symbolize to these men? Sean Finan


1. What specifically is almost apocalyptic in nature in regard to the anticipation of battle in this chapter?
2. How does Merry’s desire to join in the battle pinpoint the difference between the hobbits’ purpose in the quest as opposed to the purpose of men? Jessica Dunckel

1.What disagreement do Theoden and Eomer have?

2. Of what does the messenger remind Merry?

3. What has descended upon the land the next morning?...motif….Biblical allusion? (Book of Revelation)

4. What do Eowyn and Merry have in common? What does she give him? Do you like Eowyn?

5. Characterize the warriors. Contrast them with Merry. Should Merry be allowed to fight? What are the moral implications of this issue? What would Tolkien say? Sean Finan


1. Who is Beregond?

2. Who has returned? What happens with the Nazgul? What does Gandalf do? (Relate the motif)

3. How does Faramir react to Pippin? Why is this so?

4. What does Faramir's information about Frodo and Sam's mean in relation to Sauron's movements?

5. How does Denethor treat Faramir? Is he justified in treating him this way? What does Gandalf say? Which of his sons is Denethor more like? Is this a possible foreshadowing?

6. What does Gandalf say about Gollum? Do you agree? What part of Tolkien's belief system is here?

7. What does Denethor send Faramir to do? How do you evaluate Faramir's motivation for being so dutiful to his father? How would you react if Denethor were your father?

8. (For review) What/ Where is Osgiliath?

9. Who is the black captain? What makes him so powerful?

10. Evaluate the number of “bad guys” from Mordor vs. the number of “good guys” from Gondor. What are the moral implications? Do the good guys stand a chance?

11. What happens to Faramir? What do you think will happen? How do you think Denethor will react? Why?

12. What does the enemy use as missiles? How do you feel about this?

13. What does Denethor do? Evaluate his actions. Do think he is mentally unstable?

14. What does Denethor tell the messengers? What does he do with Faramir? How does Pippin react?

15. What happens when the black Captain arrives? What does Gandalf do? Biblical allusion???

16. Who arrives at the end of the chapter? Are you hopeful at this point?

17. Evaluate the chapter as a whole. How much of Tolkien’s own experience do you think he applied to this chapter? Sean Finan


1. What is Merry's concern?

2. Who does the group meet while resting? What do these people offer to do?

3. What does Theoden see when he approaches Minas Tirith? (Motif!)

4. What does the Black Captain sense? What does he do? Sean Finan


1. There are times in the trilogy that Tolkien appears to show some elements of sexism. The women generally do not play very prominent roles in his tale. How does Eowyn refute this tendency in the battle of the Pelennor Fields? Jessica Dunckel

1. What happens to Theoden?

2. Evaluate Eowyn's character up until now. What does she do? How does Merry help? What is Tolkien saying? How do feel about this?

3. What happens next to Theoden? How do you feel about this?

4. What happens next? Who arrives? (When this happened in the movie the audience started cheering) Do you think Tolkien wrote this with as much suspense and heroism as Peter Jackson portrayed it in the movie?

5. What happens at the end of the chapter? Sean Finan


1. Tolkien was influenced in his writings with Anglo-Saxon philosophy; this is shown through Boromir's character, including his death, and the burial of Faramir. Denethor tries to burn himself with his “dead” child on a funeral pyre. Are any other influences of Tolkien present in these events? Mike Basaman

1. Which is more important to Gandalf: the macrocosmic consequences of the war or the microcosmic ones? (Hint: trick question?) Note how he resolves conflicts and his reaction to Denethor's attempted suicide while in the midst of battle.

2. Does Gandalf’s attempt to save (redeem?) Denethor remind you of any other characters to whom this has occurred? How does Gandalf’s belief in second-chances reflect Tolkien's Christian philosophy? Jessica Dunckel

1. To whose perspective do we return?

2. What is Gandalf’s dilemma? How is Gandalf’s appearance described? (Motif)

3. What authority does Denethor not have according to Gandalf?

4. What do they discover about Denethor? Sean Finan


1. What poignant reunion occurs? How different are these two characters from when they last met?

2. What does Aragorn refuse to do? Evaluate this choice philosophically…

3. What power does Aragorn have which can help Eowyn, Faramir, and Merry?

4. What does Aragorn do? What is the biblical allusion?

5. How is Aragorn dressed? Another biblical allusion?? Sean Finan


1.What story is told at the beginning of this chapter? Who tells it? Who refuses to tell it? Who is listening?

2. What is ironic about of the Legion of the Dead's success? Who points this out?

3. What does Gandalf point out?

4. Where is the ring now? Why is this so dangerous?

5. What does Gandalf suggest?

6. What moral issue does Gandalf express at the end of the chapter? Sean Finan


1. Gandalf rejects without hesitation the demands of the Lieutenant at the gate of Mordor. Has Gandalf’s approach to conflict changed since his transformation after the encounter with the Balrog? What has remained constant?

2. How can we use Plato to relate Sauron to the symbol of the Eye? Sauron seems to be a mere idea or concept behind the physical manifestation of the Eye, but of what then is he composed ? Where or how does he exist? Compare this to his essence being present in the Ring. Jessica Dunckel

1. Who is Imrahil?

2. What does Pippin do? Where is Merry?

3. How does Sauron react to the army while at Osgiliath?

4. What is Morannon? Describe it.

5. Describe the Lieutenant of the Dark tower. What does he have under his cloak? What are his terms? What do you think of him?

6. How does Gandalf react to his terms?

7. What happens to Pippin at the end of the chapter?

8. What happens at the very end? Are you hopeful? Sean Finan



1. We now return to Frodo and Sam. What do you think Tolkien chooses to break the action into two parts? Recall how in the movie, it was not done the way Tolkien wrote it. What are the pros and cons of both modes of storytelling? What do you prefer?

2. Recall and discuss Sam's moral dilemma. What prevents Sam from entering the tower?

3. What does he do with the ring? What does he love of Frodo inspire him to do?

4. What does he see in the east? How does he react? (Relate this to Gollum and Frodo)

5. What does Sam “unconsciously” do? (Relate the motif from book five to this) What happens next?

6. Who does Sam meet on the staircase? How does this “person” react? What does Sam call himself after this?

7. What does Sam do when he can't find Frodo? What happens to Snaga?

8. Describe the reunion between Sam and Frodo. What do you think about Frodo's reactions?

9. What happens at the end of the chapter? Sean Finan

1. How does the darkness described in Volume Five differ in VolumeSix?

[Instructor note: Read the following from Conrad's Heart of Darkness:

The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The pre-historic man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us -- who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign -- and no memories. "The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there -- there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were -- No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it -- this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity -- like yours -- the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you -- you so remote from the night of first ages -- could comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable of anything -- because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future. What was there after all? Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valour, rage -- who can tell? -- but truth -- truth stripped of its cloak of time. Let the fool gape and shudder -- the man knows, and can look on without a wink. But he must at least be as much of a man as these on the shore. He must meet that truth with his own true stuff -- with his own in-born strength. Principles won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags -- rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief. An appeal to me in this fiendish row -- is there? Very well; I hear; I admit, but I have a voice, too, and for good or evil mine is the speech that cannot be silenced...]

2. In chapter ten of volume five, Sauron's weaknesses are shown throughout the theme of choices. How can this apply to Sam and his possession of the Ring? How can this differentiate with Frodo? Kathleen Kelley


1. What do Sam and Frodo do to escape the coming Orcs?

2. How much food / water do they have left? What to they find to nourish them?

3. How close are they to Mount Doom?

4. What do Frodo and Sam overhear from two Orcs?

5. What happens when they cannot escape a group of Orcs behind them?

6. Describe Frodo's mental/ physical state.

7. There has been a lot of talk about the physical/ mental state of Jesus before and during his crucifixion since THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Do you see similarities? Could Tolkien purposely be dramatizing Frodo's climb up Mount Doom to reflect Jesus carrying the cross? Why or why not? Sean Finan


1. Is there a moral problem with Sam taking / using the Ring? Is he completely aware of the danger this poses as he enters the heart of Mordor?

2. In what way is Sam’s heroism in this chapter very different from the kinds we have seen from Aragorn, Gandalf, and the more “experienced” characters in the trilogy? Relate this to William James’ discussion of choices related to consciousness.

3. What is disturbing about Frodo's reaction to Sam’s temporary possession of the Ring? Does this diminish our ability to be sympathetic toward Frodo, or can we pity the hardship their friendship suffers as a result of Frodo's absorption in the Ring?

4. The destruction of the Ring is really more of an accident than a completion of a goal. How does Frodo's failure to truly complete his goal reflect on the nature of his quest? He takes upon him in the first place a burden that is universally undesired; does this at all excuse his failure? Is there anyone in the trilogy that might have been better-suited to the task, or would it have been futile for everyone?

5. Is Smeagol redeemed? What about Gollum? If one or the other or both is fulfilling a greater good through his role in ultimately destroying the Ring, can Christian philosophy justify his actions, or even his intent? Jessica Dunckel

1. What does Sam do when Frodo falls? What biblical allusion is applicable here? Has Sam been metaphorically doing this for Frodo throughout the trilogy? When this happened in the movie, I was crying my eyes out. Why is this perhaps the most poignant scene in the entire trilogy? (If you don’t think it is, defend yourself!)

2. Who returns when they get to the top of Mount Doom? Do you find this realistic?

3. What does the weak Frodo say to Gollum? How does Gollum react? What did Jesus do that was similar?

4. Why does Sam not kill Gollum? (MAJOR TURNING POINT IN CHARACTER!)

5. How is the ring destroyed? Evaluate this philosophically. What is Tolkien saying? ( Recall what Gandalf said about Gollum.)

6. What does Frodo say to Sam at the end of the chapter? Why is this so beautiful? Why is it ironic? What is Tolkien doing?

... by Sean Finan


1. Who arrives at the beginning of the chapter? What do they represent?

2. Do Sam and Frodo think they will survive? What happens next? Would it be more “epic” or “dramatic” to have them die, or do you like what happens?

3. What does Frodo give to Sam at the banquet? What does this symbolize?

4. What does Sam notice about Pippin? What does this represent in Pippin's development?

5. What is the predominant motif in this chapter? Why? Sean Finan


1. Aragorn represents a Christ figure, especially in The Return of the King, throughout the trilogy. Find at least two examples of his resemblance to The Christ. (Note Joseph Campbell’s description of “The Hero’s Journey" on the course web site.) Mike Basaman

1. To what perspective does the narrative now flashback? Why do you think Tolkien wrote the story this way? Do you think it works? Why or why not?

2. Who falls in love? Why do you think Tolkien did this? (Think about Shakespeare's definition of a comedy)

3. Aragorn notes that the third age of Middle Earth has passed. What event in American history (20th century) is considered as the break between an incredibly dark time and the beginning of a joyous time? Do you see similarities?

4. What happens to the White Tree? What does this symbolize in conjunction with what has just happened?

5. Who arrives at the end of the chapter? Evaluate this with definition of comedy.

6. Evaluate all the romantic activity of this chapter. My biggest frustration with the trilogy is the lack of female characters as well as the lack of romance. Why do you think Tolkien does this since it seems to come from nowhere?

...By Sean Finan


1. What goes on throughout the entire chapter? (The title is a clue.)

2. What did Treebeard do with Saruman? Why did he do this? Evaluate his reasoning.

3. What, in Gandalf’s mind, is Saruman's greatest power? (HEART OF DARKNESS allusion) Relate all the work we did on the “Voice of Saruman.”

4. Describe Saruman's state when they find him. What does this symbolize? Who is with him?

5. How does Saruman react to the companies kindness? What is his warning? Once again, evaluate what he says using all that we have discussed.

6. What does the company celebrate at the end of the chapter? How does the make the story a frame?

7. How is the theme of tradition used in this chapter? (What does Bilbo give to Frodo?) How might this symbolize a progression? Sean Finan


1. Frodo has gained self-knowledge on his quest, but what has he lost? His ability to experience the world has been affected; what might Keats say?

2. Why does a feeling of loss of identity parallel newfound self-knowledge in Frodo? How is this possible Jessica Dunckel

1. How is the journey home? Contrast this with the journey towards Mount Doom.

2. Describe the tone of Gandalf’s conversation with Butterbur. Contrast this with our country's current state.

3. What do you notice about the way the book is ending? How is Tolkien's mode of conclusion different from other adventure/ fantasy stories?

...By Sean Finan


1. What happens when the four hobbits arrive home? What is the state of Hobbiton? What in history does this remind you of?

2. Who is Sharkey? What happened when the hobbits left?

3. Describe Frodo's exchange with Saruman. Which of Tolkien's key themes is exercised here?

4. What does Wormtongue do? How does this relate to Tolkien's belief about evil?

5. What rises from Saruman's body? What does this symbolize? (Look for a major symbol.) Sean Finan


1. What does Sam find in the box Galadriel gave him? What does he do with it? What does this symbolize?

2. What happens to each of the four hobbits? How does this relate to their character?

3. What major biblical allusion occurs next? Does this automatically make Frodo a Christ figure? Why or why not?

4. How does the trilogy end? Do you like this image? Philosophically evaluate Sam’s final words. What is Tolkien saying? Sean Finan


1.) A quest can be completed many different ways and does not always have specific requirements. With Frodo this is the case. There are two sides of an argument: one side is that Frodo completed the quest he undertook, while the other side is that Frodo failed his quest. Which side do you support? Defend the position.

2.) Throughout his books, Tolkien is constantly fighting the effects of the Industrial Revolution (note Isengard: Book III and The Shire: Book VI). By the end of the trilogy, do you believe that Tolkien feels the characters, if not himself, have successfully defeated the Industrial Revolution? Cite examples from the books.

3.) In The Two Towers the taming of Smeagol played a major role as did the betrayal. In The Return of the King, Gollum plays a major role in the destruction of The One Ring. Does Smeagol have anything to do with the destruction of The One Ring, or has Gollum taken complete control of the body? Defend your answer.

4.) In Tolkien’s books, greed often leads to downfall. This is true with characters like Saruman when he still holds in Isengard. Are there any other characters and instances you know where greed leads to a downfall? Mike Basaman

Does Illuvatar have a fated plan that he made for everyone in Middle Earth? How does this link to Christianity and the fact the Tolkien was a Catholic? If Illuvatar is a Christian figure, redeeming characters and making sure ‘good conquers all,’ why isn’t he ever mentioned directly in the trilogy, whether in reference, prayer, or thanks? I think there is fate in the trilogy due to many things:

1.First, the language being used by the characters: "meant," "intended," " doomed "course," etc.

2.Second, everything that happens in the book, every person that plays his or her role is absolutely essential to the destruction of evil in this book. “The quest stands but on the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail.” I think Christianity played a very large role in this book.

Personally, I think Tolkien wished to improve upon the Bible, and wrote this book. It contains nearly every moral parable that exists in the bible, and makes in completely understandable. (With out the hypocrisy and inconsistency, etc etc.)

I don’t think that Illuvatar was mentioned in the directly in the book because then, Tolkien’s efforts to conceal most of the religion in the book would be lost. He’s a smart guy; he knows that everyone will derive Christian influences out if it, even if there are none. Perhaps Tolkien is trying to prove, through the absence of praise to Illuvatar, that it is not how you pray to or praise your God that brings you salvation, but through your acts to other people.

[Follow up comments...]

1.Why is it so hard to identify one hero in the trilogy? Is there more than one? Who and why.

2. Katharyn F. Crabbe makes several references to Tolkien’s characters and how almost each one fits into some genre of a hero. There is no one hero saving everyone. Tolkien gives every person with “at one point good intentions” a heroic role, in one way or another, whether it refers to strength, sacrifice, or the ability to endure. Many people argue that there are only a few heroes in this trilogy, whether it is Frodo and Sméagol, or Gandalf and Aragorn. I have always been shy to name only two or three characters heroes because I think they are all heroes. Every Character that has some amount of good in them and is forgiven / redeemed is a hero.

3.Can LOTR be viewed as ‘the Bible in layman’s terms’? Was it intended by Tolkien to be that way?

4. What was the point of Tom Bombadil? Was it to show the potential of Middle earth if a good ruler maintained it? (Macrocosm, Microcosm)

5. Is there supposed to be a Christ figure, or does everyone simply work together as a team the whole way.

6. Why do many people want to see a Christ figure in the book?

7. Is Frodo still a hero if another hobbit / person could have behaved the same as he did on his journey? What makes Frodo ideal for taking the ring to Mt. Doom?

8. Why was the oldest a wisest elf (Galadriel) a woman? Does it have to do with a mother figure? Or perhaps a comparison to Mary mother of God? [Instructor comment: How would a feminist react?]

9. Did the editor forget to look over the Council of Elrond Chapter?? Gabrielle Moskey