Literature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsThe Return Of The King Book 5 Chapter 2 Summary

The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | The Return of the King (Book 5, Chapter 2) : The Passing of the Grey Company | Summary



Back in Isengard, Théoden prepares to return to Edoras to gather soldiers, then march to Gondor to join in the fight against Sauron. As they ride, another group of riders overtakes them. They turn out to be other Rangers—Aragorn's people from the north—as well as Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond. Elrohir bears a message from Elrond to Aragorn: "The days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead," and Halbarad, one of the Rangers, brings Aragorn a staff wound around with cloth—a present from Arwen. For the time being, Aragon does not unwind it.

Merry becomes an esquire of Rohan and plans to travel to Gondor with the king. But Aragorn decides to part company with the king of Rohan and take the Paths of the Dead instead. This route will be faster, but more dangerous. The Rangers, the sons of Elrond, and Legolas and Gimli travel with Aragorn, hoping to reach Gondor in time to make a difference in the battle. To add to the urgency, Aragorn, as rightful owner of the palantír, uses the stone to assess Sauron's forces and reveal himself to Sauron, hoping to cause Sauron to strike in haste, unprepared.

Aragorn and his Company enter the Paths of the Dead, and the dead gather around. Long ago, they broke their oath to fight Sauron with Isildur, and he cursed them. To break the curse and find peace, Aragorn tells them they must fulfill their oath to Isildur's heir—Aragorn himself. The dead follow Aragorn.


This chapter relies heavily on Aragorn's role in the plot as rightful heir of Isildur and king of Gondor, as well as his symbolic role as a Christ-like figure. Like Gandalf, who passed into the abyss only to be "resurrected" and returned dressed in white, Aragorn passes through the Paths of the Dead and emerges victorious. This recalls the Christian teaching of the "harrowing of hell" in which the crucified Christ goes into Hell to retrieve the virtuous who lived before His time on earth.

By traveling these paths, Aragorn fulfills the words of Galadriel brought to him by Gandalf: "But dark is the path appointed for thee: The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea." Aragorn also fulfills the prophecy of Malbeth the Seer that "The Dead awaken ... Who shall call them from the grey twilight, the forgotten people? The heir of him to whom the oath they swore ... he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead."

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