The Return of the King: The "Hop on Pop" Saga

David Washington '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

In the final installment of The Lord of Rings saga, tension builds to a mighty pinnacle. Darkness visibly consumes Middle Earth as the forces of good attempts to rally themselves for the final showdown. The plot alone, which actually comprises several subplots and tensions, efficiently in creates the heart-racing suspense that characterizes much of The Return of the King. One such subplot involves Denethor, "Lord of the City" Gondor and his ailing son Faramir. This plot, although supplementing the intensity of the situation, seems somewhat out of place, which prompts the reader to ansk why Tolkien included it.

No hours so dark had Pippin known, not even in the clutches of the Uruk-hai. It was his duty to wait upon the Lord, and wait he did, forgotten it seemed, standing by the door of the unlit chamber, mastering his own fears as best he could. And as he watched, it seemed to him that Denethor grew old before his eyes, as if something had snapped in his proud will, and his stern mind was overthrown. Grief maybe had wrought it, and remorse. He saw the tears on that once tearless face, more unbearable than wrath.

"Do not weep, lord," he stammered. "Perhaps he will get well. Have you asked Gandalf?"

"Comfort me not with wizards!" said Denethor. "The fool's hope has failed. The Enemy has found it, and now his power waxes; he sees our very thoughts, and all we do is ruinous."

"I sent my son forth, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins. Nay, nay, whatever may now betide in war, my line too is ending, even the House of the Stewards has failed. Mean folk shall rule the last remnant of the Kings of Men, lurking in the hills until all are hounded out."

Then continued:

"Farewell!" he said. "Farewell, Peregrin son of Paladin! Your service has been short, and now it is drawing to an end I release you form the little that remains. Go now, and die in what way seems best to you. And with whom you will, even that friend whose folly brought you to this death. Send for my servants and go. Farewell!"

"I will not say farewell, my Lord," said Pippin kneeling. And then suddenly hobbit-like once more stood up and looked the old man in the eyes. "I will take your leave, sir," he said; "for I want to see Gandalf very much indeed. But he is no fool; and I will not think of dying until he despairs of life. But from my word and your service I do not wish to be released while you live. And if they come at last to the Citadel, I hope to be here and stand beside you and earn perhaps the arms that you have given me."

"Do as you will, Master Halfling," said Denethor. "But my life is broken. Send for my servants!" He turned back towards Faramir. [807]

Discussion Questions

1. Why would Tolkien place such a scene amidst such a harrowing battle?

2. What purpose does Pippin serve in the dilemma?

3. At one point, Tolkien writes, "And then suddenly hobbit-like once more, he stood up and looked the old man in the eyes." What is meant by "hobbit-like once more"?

4. What, if anything, could Tolkien be saying about human nature and especially the father and son relationship through this subplot.


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Victorian Web Overview J. R. R. Tolkien Victorian courses

Last modified 1 March 2004