WHY: My cousin's royal blue ‘Voyager Classics' edition of ROTK has sat on my bookshelf for almost a decade, next to a fat FOTR movie tie-in edition of the LOTR. With uni break, lockdown, my girlfriend's reminiscence and that annual itch for an Extended Edition rewatch I decided to finally finish the literary trilogy that I struggled with so long ago due to its pacing and detail, and found myself pleasantly surprised with how epic this was.
DIFFERENCES: Since most are already aware/ others have covered it before, I'll instead recap the differences between the film adaptation and this genre classic - spoilers ahead! The war with Aragorn and ring with Frodo storylines are split between Books 5 and 6 respectively in ROTK. Book 5 picks up with Gandalf en route to Minas Tirith with Pippin, warned by the Palantir and Saruman from TTT of the danger coming to Gondor. They spot the lit beacons on their way, and Beregond and his son Bergil serve the Steward Denethor who is not mad but tired from warring with Sauron through his seeing stone. Meanwhile Theoden is already mustering the Rohirrim to arrive, and our favourite multi-race trio takes the paths of the dead alongside the very cool Grey Company of the Dunedain (rangers from the North). Everyone meets in combat with a change of wind and there is a whole other Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, a whole other group & city! Whilst this beefed-up storyline ends on a depressing cliffhanger, Sam is attempting to rescue Frodo from the clutches of an orc stronghold. Together they embark through Mordor and orc-company swinging from depressed to happy, reaching Orodruin in a surprisingly fast manner. There is a lot more wrap-up when compared to the films, describing the House of Healing, coronation and lengthy walk back to the Shire. As the elves and Mithrandir depart Middle-Earth, the hobbits face a final trial by taking back the Shire from Sharkey (aka Saruman). Frodo is severely shaken from the tolls of the ring, and finally departs Middle-Earth in peace.
WRITING: But wait! It doesn't end there. Like a literary paper, Tolkien added the Appendices. These are honestly insane, describing the history of Middle-Earth and whole bloodlines of Kings and Hobbits. We find out more about what happened to all of the fellowship members years after the LOTR, especially Aragorn whose backstory (including his romance with Arwen and travels to the North and South) is tantalisingly covered. I will admit I skipped through the entry on language, as the extremely thorough explanations just failed to add value to me, although I definitely appreciate their existence. These all just reframed to me how beautiful Tolkien's writing could be, and made me respect all the small details from his comprehensive worldbuilding.
WHO: Having read a lot of modern novels recently, it was refreshing to experience Tolkien's at times poetic and unabashedly detailed writing, in what I feel was the strongest entry in the trilogy - it is highly cathartic in one of the darkest times possible. For me, the final ranking stands: Hobbit > B4 > B5 > B6 > B3 > B2 > B1. What surprised me the most was that I am now keen to read the surrounding lore through the Silmarillion and the rest of Tolkien's works!
“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”“There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?”“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace!”Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him with wonder; for they saw the grace of his youth, and the valor of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were all blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.