Returns

I’m getting set to head back to the US soon, and into the anxious mess that is the American Covid Response. It’s terrifying, and disheartening to have to go back to all of That (I’m currently in Singapore, which, through a combination of vaccination, tracing, masking, and distancing has kept things under control enough to facilitate a semblance of normal life). It’s a lot, and personal vaccination, masking, and distancing can only do so much in the face of systemic failure.

Meanwhile, I’m rewatching The Lord of The Rings for the first time in much too long. I’m halfway through The Return of The King and have been reminded again and again how much I love these movies and these stories. They aren’t perfect, no, but they’re wonderful all the same. There’s a lot that’s striking me this time around, stuff I’m not sure I caught before or maybe stuff I’ve just forgotten.

Like how much of the movie is built around the idea of hope. Empirically, the Wise characters in The Lord of The Rings know that an unstoppable Doom is against them. Sauron’s forces are strong: Saruman prepares to raze Rohan to the ground and the Nazgûl lead the attack on Gondor. But if, if, a couple Hobbits can get to Mount Doom and throw the Ring in the fire, maybe it can all be stopped.

Throughout the stories, characters falter. Elrond has almost given up on Middle-earth as he prepares to go into the West. Boromir thinks the quest to destroy the Ring is as vain as a King’s return to Gondor, better to use it as a weapon against the enemy. Theoden waits for the Uruk-hai and wonders “what can Men do against such reckless hate?” But Aragorn calls on Theoden to ride out with him and meet that hate head-on. Boromir dies defending the weak and heralds Aragorn as Gondor’s King. Elrond heeds his daughter and challenges Aragorn to take up his mantle as King. Aragorn, who as a child was called Estel — the Elvish word for ‘hope,’ bolsters the others while knowing that all his efforts are in vain but for two Hobbit journeying east. All the while, Frodo and Sam press on, hoping that their distant friends are still alive and that their quest will aid them.

There’s so much to unpack here (and maybe I will in the weeks to come) but again and again, the heroes of The Lord of The Rings are those who don’t give up in the face of despair, who dare to hope again and again. There’s comfort in that fantasy, in the idea that when it comes down to it people will choose to help the greater good. That maybe this will pass.

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