The Return of the King is the third and final volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, following The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.
Tolkien conceived of The Lord of the Rings as a single volume comprising six "books" plus extensive appendices. The original publisher split the work into three, publishing the fifth and sixth books with the appendices under the title The Return of the King. Tolkien felt the chosen title revealed too much of the story, and indicated he preferred The War of the Ring as a title.
The proposed title for Book V was The War of the Ring. Book VI was to be The End of the Third Age. These titles were used in the Millenium edition.
The Return of the King was in the end published as the third and final part of The Lord of the Rings, on October 20, 1955.
Book V: The War of the Ring
Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith in the kingdom of Gondor, delivering the news to Denethor, the Lord and Steward of Gondor, that a devastating attack on his city by Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor is imminent. Pippin then enters the service of the Steward as repayment of a debt he owes to Boromir, Denethor's dead son and preferred heir. Now clad in the uniform of the tower guard, Pippin watches the fortunes of war unfold, while the Lord Denethor descends into madness as the hosts of Mordor press ever closer to Gondor's capital city of Minas Tirith. Faramir, Boromir's younger brother, returns from his campaign with the shattered remnants of his company and is soon ordered to ride out and continue the hopeless defence of Osgiliath against a horde of orcs. Osgiliath is soon overrun and a gravely wounded Faramir is carried back to Denethor. His people seemingly lost and his only remaining son all but dead, Denethor orders a funeral pyre built that is to claim both him and his dying son. Minas Tirith stands encircled and besieged by the Dark Lord's Orcs.
Meanwhile, in far-off Rohan, Théoden and his Rohirrim are recovering from the Battle of the Hornburg, in which they defended Rohan against the forces of Saruman at great cost. Aragorn, having confronted Sauron through the palantír of Isengard, sets out to find the lost army of the undead oathbreakers who dwell in the Paths of the Dead, a mountain hall where they have been enslaved since their treachery ages ago. Helped by his companions Legolas and Gimli as well as a Company of Rangers from Arnor in the north (the "Grey Company"), he sets out to recruit the Army of the Dead to his cause. As Aragorn departs on his seemingly impossible task, King Théoden musters the Rohirrim to come to the aid of Gondor. Merry, eager to go to war with his allies, is refused by Théoden several times. Finally Dernhelm, one of the Rohirrim, takes Merry up on his horse, and secretly rides with the rest of the Rohirrim.
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