In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I always regarded the title of the third book, The Return of the King, as referring to the return of Aragorn to reclaim his kingdom. However, after reading this answer I've begun questioning myself.

The full title of the Red Book of Westmarch is:

     OF THE
     AND THE

Here, it's unclear if lord and king refer to the same subject (Sauron), or whether lord refers to Sauron while king refers to Aragorn.

So in the title The Return of the King, which king is being referred to? Sauron, or Aragorn?

Edit: the reason it wasn't clear to me is because grammatically, it's a little weird to have two different, unidentified antecedents for the two unnamed nouns. Normally, when people use two similar nouns (lord and king are pretty interchangeable) they refer to the same subject, not different ones. Hence the confusion. (and I wasn't the only one confused)

Edit 2: if you're downvoting, I'd appreciate it if you left a comment explaining why. Apparently this question isn't a very good fit for this community, and I'm assuming that's because it's too obvious to the rest of you, but it would be nice to confirm that assumption.

  • 6
    Even if you knew little about the plot (which makes it clear it's the King of Gondor that returns), it's not unclear that "lord" and "king" aren't the same person. If it's the downfall of the lord and the return of the king, it makes little sense for them to be the same person. Otherwise it would have been written "The return and downfall of the king and lord of the rings" or something like that.
    – Andres F.
    Jul 1, 2014 at 12:56
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    Agreed that literary style is sometimes ambiguous :) But I think you are looking too hard for ambiguity here: surely "the downfall of X and the return of Y" has X != Y by default. It's not analogous to titles such as "the life and death of X", where X is uniquely identified with two events happening, life and death. Or "the decline and fall of the Roman Empire" (only one Empire referenced). While Lord and King could refer to the same, the default is that they're different. In any case, reading the books would dispel the doubt in this particular case, as it's clear it's King Aragorn.
    – Andres F.
    Jul 1, 2014 at 16:56
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    Note that "lord" and "king" are not pronouns, and furthermore the former is qualified as "lord of the rings" specifically (not just any old lord). It's not weird that these nouns refer to different subjects.
    – David Z
    Jul 2, 2014 at 5:10
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    Sauron isn't king of anything or anyone.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 3, 2014 at 0:28
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    +1 for posting an interesting question. Although I, personally, would find that the answer is quite simple, I don't see the need for all the downvotes.
    – user35594
    Aug 8, 2015 at 23:08

4 Answers 4


Aragorn. The Return of the King of Gondor and Arnor.

  • 1
    Just to cite a reference here, from Wikipedia: "The Return of the King was especially delayed. Tolkien, moreover, did not especially like the title The Return of the King, believing it gave away too much of the storyline. He had originally suggested The War of the Ring, which was dismissed by his publishers." Jul 1, 2014 at 19:28

Aragorn is referred to as the "king" in "the Return of the King" because

After Isildur's death, Gondor and Arnor were split. The Kingdom of Gondor was ruled by a succession of Stewards until the restoration of the line of Kings with Aragorn, the first King of the Reunited Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor.

So Aragorn must be the Return of the King.

  • I got totally reffered once. It was awesome!
    – Omegacron
    Jul 1, 2014 at 17:09
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    I think you mean Aragorn must be the king that returns. I don't think Aragorn can be a return
    – The Fallen
    Feb 12, 2015 at 12:48

In Addition to Kevin The Knight's answer: even if Sauron was referred to as 'King', it's not him that returns in the third book, it happens way earlier. (It would even make more sense to call the whole story 'The Return of the Dark Lord', however not even that is entirely accurate)

There is no doubt whatsoever that Aragorn is the King returning.

  • He doesn't claim the title of King for himself until the end of Return of The King. Jul 1, 2014 at 9:07
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    @Simon: Are you referring to my 'it happens way earlier'? I'm talking about Sauron at this point. Sauron does not claim the title King at any point.
    – cfrei89
    Jul 1, 2014 at 9:14
  • Oh, that's okay then. Jul 1, 2014 at 10:07

The Return of the King has to do with Gondor's absence of a King for 1000 years and the destruction of the Northern Dúnedain realm in Arnor for over 1000 years. This is captured in Malbeth's prophecy concerning the last King in Arthdain:

Arvedui you shall call him, for he will be the last in Arthedain. Though a choice will come to the Dúnedain, and if they take the one that seems less hopeful, then your son will change his name and become king of a great realm. If not, then much sorrow and many lives of men shall pass, until the Dúnedain arise and are united again. [Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion]

Basically what this means is that Malbeth told Arvedui's father Araphant that there will be a decision made that will have a huge impact on the course of things. The harder choice was for the Dúnedain to suck it up and to trust in the royal line from the North who the Dúnedain in the South saw as "a small thing for all the lineage of its lords" [Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion]. They felt this way because Arthedain was a small kingdom, it's lords did not have much power, and the kingdom in the north was seperated into three separate realms each held by one of the sons of Eärendur. Instead they chose Eärnil II who was a member of the royal house of the South and a great captain who had just won a great victory for Gondor against the Wainriders after the King (Ondoher) and his two sons (Artamir & Faramir) were killed by them.

In the North (Arthedain) the line of the Kings was not extinguished but they did lose their lands after fighting with Angmar for hundreds of years in 1973 TA. In the South (Gondor), the last King died not too long after (in 2050 TA) the Northern Kingdom fell [Appendix B: Third Age]. Since then the Southern kingdom of Gondor was ruled by the Stewards in the King's stead until the return of the king. None in the South kingdom had a claim to the throne that all would accept, but they did remember the royal line in the North. Denethor himself saw in Aragorn/Thorongil one who might "supplant him" [The Stewards].

The Lord of the Rings would be Sauron and none other. He was the inspiration behind the Rings when he got the Elves to work on them by playing on their desire to still the change that is part of Middle-earth and to bring to Middle-earth what they had in Aman (the deathless lands). This motive led to great things in Eregion where under the guidance of Sauron the Noldor forged the Rings of Power. He himself unbeknownst to the Elves forged the One Ring to rule them all. The Ruling Ring, or the One, had most of Sauron's essence put into it since in order to control the other Rings he needed such power to do so.

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