Table of contents

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

A note on cities, walls, & armies

We have seen men retreat into caves behind their castles; the art of building houses, cities, & to protect them by walls seems to be one of the necessities of civilization. Freedom without these things is mindless. Inside the city, freedom shows itself as freedom from necessity. Now we will see the city under siege. In this battle, we learn for the last time that without relieving troops, without fighting in the open fields, a city must fall.

The armies that fight for freedom comprise the skirmisher elves, & the humans fighting on foot & horse, in full armor. We are surprised to see a woman giving herself in marriage with a sword to her king, persuaded by visions of the son she would bear him to forego a contemplative immortality. & that king use ghosts to fight his battles, keeping men to their oaths, as if legitimacy is stronger than necessity. & a woman & a halfling kill a warrior-king in a duel.

The armies arrayed opposite them are slave armies. We see war-elephants used to terrify infantry formations, that school of democracy. Slavers with their whips drive the innumerable soldiers as if they were beasts, to be disciplined, who are more afraid of the lash than of the enemy, at whom they rage. We see corpses desecrated, decapitated, & used as projectiles.

We see the desperate patriotism of fighting on city walls, retreating deeper into high fortresses built in fear of war, succeeded by cavalry charges, flanking maneuvers, & surprise beachhead landings. The art of war seems like a great thing, a wise teaching, & sacred. War is a way of keeping faith & keeping one’s life by risking it.

A benevolent king emerges from this hell. He fought an evil which seemed to think to use science to enslave all mankind & destroy the world in the process. What other way is there to prove to people that power is immortal, infinite, & at hand? This evil seems to underestimate even evil; will not men rise against any order? – Even an evil one, will men obey? This king is not going to attempt this kind of empire. His rule does not announce any conquests. His ancients & his virtues both claim for him the throne; but he must ask for it, he must ask his troops to fight.

This king’s awareness of his mortality is something painful, humiliated. His kingdom is built on the ruins of things he loved. He has saved what he could. Children might keep the kingdom alive. In the end, we see the barren immortality of those delicate races sailing on immortal ships into the lands of the setting sun.

The end of the trilogy. The end of the war.