The Return of the King: Novel Summary: Book V Chapter 9

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The morning after the battle, Legolas relates to Merry and Pippin what happened to them as they followed Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead, and how the oath-breakers whom Aragorn had summoned overtook the Corsairs of Umbar, seizing control of their vessels. Upon releasing the oath-breakers from their service as he had promised he would do, Aragorn and his companions set about freeing those who had been slaves of the pirates. The grateful former slaves sped Aragorn and his company on their way to Minas Tirith, rowing with new energy and, indeed, new life.
Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gandalf, eomer and other leaders are taking counsel as to what should next be done in the fight against Sauron. Gandalf stresses, "Victory cannot be achieved by arms." Aragorn reveals that he confronted Sauron through use of the palanter: he deemed that the right moment to do so had arrived. Sauron is now greatly worried that the heir of Isildur has returned to claim his throne. Eventually, the leaders of the free peoples of the West decide to take advantage of Sauron's unease. Their armies shall march directly to the Black Gate of Mordor-thus diverting Sauron's attention from where it really should be: on the two hobbits making their way toward the Crack of Doom with the One Ring. The armies, in effect, will be "bait." As Gandalf says, Sauron "will try to trap the fly and take the sting. He will not smile."
Messianic figure that he is (see Metaphor Analysis), Aragorn is a liberator. Readers will notice the difference that freedom makes to the slaves of the Corsairs: they still row the oars of the ships, but with a new spirit-"The oars were now wielded by free men," Legolas reports, "and manfully they laboured." Interestingly, this chapter also hints at another way in which Aragorn is a messianic figure. In his decision to offer himself (and, granted, the Armies of the West) as "bait" for Sauron, readers conversant with Tolkien's Christian background may hear echoes of what theological scholars have termed the Christus Victor theory of atonement: namely, that Christ offered himself as "bait" for the Devil in his death. The Devil took the bait, thinking he could "swallow up" Christ-only, in the end, making himself vulnerable and being "swallowed up" instead (see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Readers need not share Tolkien's faith, however, to appreciate that Aragorn and company are preying on the essential folly of evil: it's narrow self-interest proves, at least to a large degree, to be its own undoing. For Tolkien, evil is essentially unsustainable. His thought resonates with that of the 20th-century theologian Karl Barth, who referred to evil as "nothingness," and an "impossible possibility." Sauron will be defeated because, on some epistemological level, he must be. He is a contradiction of the created order of the world, be it Middle-earth or the world as we experience it. This argument, however, does not justify doing nothing in the face of evil. As Tom Shippey persuasively argues, Tolkien's philosophy of evil is complicated and seemingly contradictory-but utterly true to our experience of it, especially in the 20th century and beyond.
Readers should also note, in this chapter, Gandalf's insistence that victory will not be achieved by force of arms, whether Minas Tirith endures another siege or its defenders march out to battle. Tolkien's great genius in telling his story, as full of epic warfare as it is, is that it does not glorify violence for violence's sake-see again, for example, the closing passage of Book V, Chapter 3-and it denies the often-held belief that military might holds salvation. In Tolkien's world, as in our own, violence is an inescapable and oft-times necessary reality, because good must be defended. But in Tolkien's world, as his tale draws toward its close, the violence "only" serves to create an opportunity for the real victory to occur. No doubt Tolkien's own faith convictions influenced him, but he may also have been making a more general comment about the modern world's (to his mind, misguided) reliance on war as a solution. After all, Tolkien fought in World War I, the supposed "war to end all wars," the war that would "make the world safe for democracy." Tolkien saw through such jingoistic slogans-his hard experience on the battlefield made sure of that. For all its stirring passages of martial might and even glory, The Lord of the Rings remains a cautionary tale about war. It is not avoidable in life, but it is dangerous and, of course, deadly, and is not to be taken lightly. It is, however necessary, an evil. Not for nothing does critic and Tolkien's official biographer Humphrey Carpenter call The Lord of the Rings a sustained reflection upon the reality of evil.

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