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“The Time That Is Given Us”: Gathering Strength from Lord of the Rings

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Teresa Preston

Staff Writer

Since 2008, Teresa Preston has been blogging about all the books she reads at Shelf Love. She supports her book habit by working as a magazine editor at a professional association in the Washington, DC, area, which is (in)conveniently located just a few steps from a used bookstore. When she’s not reading or editing, she’s likely to be attending theatre, practicing yoga, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer again, or doting on her toothless orange cat, Anya. Twitter: @teresareads

The outcome of the 2016 presidential election has left many of us frightened and worried. In President-Elect Trump, we see a threat unlike any we’ve seen entering the White House. I know that democracy is fragile, and I’ve written before about how fiction shows us what threats to democracy look like.

Perhaps those of us who are afraid will be wrong. But perhaps we are not, and in case we are not, we need to think about how we will respond if we see injustice and acts of evil. Here, I draw strength and comfort from J.R.R. Tolkien.

In the second chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf reveals to Frodo the dark history of the ring Bilbo possessed all those years and tells him of the rise of Sauron. Frodo’s response was not so different from my own feelings right now, and Gandalf’s words to have been in my head for the last couple of days:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Frodo, of course, had to make the biggest and scariest decision of all. He had to walk into the heart of evil while being pursued by the author of evil himself. A hobbit, never one of the powerful, ended up destroying the source of the Dark Lord’s power. He didn’t know he could. No one knew he could. But he could, with the help of the fellowship of nine walkers and his dear friend Sam. Who knows what any of us could do? I’m just about as hobbit-like a person as you could find. What could I do, if I had to?


As inspiring as Frodo’s deeds are, part of the beauty of The Lord of the Rings is the fact that heroism takes so many forms.

There are those whose contributions seemed smaller but were significant all the same. Arwen sewing a banner, Fatty Bolger keeping up the appearance that Frodo’s house was occupied, Radagast rescuing Gandalf. Even Lobelia Sackville-Baggins proved herself better than she seemed when she went after Saruman with her umbrella and landed in prison for it.

For Middle-Earth, the fight against evil needed to take place on many fronts. For although Sauron was the large, looming terror, there was also Saruman, Wormtongue, the orcs. There was Denethor, a good man gone mad, and Théoden rendered useless. And there needed to be people keeping the places like the Green Dragon going to provide hope and a refuge, people singing songs and telling stories. There are many ways to fight, and each of us has to decide our own way.

As I went through my work day on Wednesday, I set the music library on my phone on shuffle, and it wasn’t long before a song from the stage musical of The Lord of the Rings came up. Inspired by a scene in The Two Towers, the song has Frodo and Sam resting in the power of story.

As the song says, “The stories we tell will cast their spell, now and for always.” I’m letting Tolkien’s story cast its spell on me, giving me strength and resolution and comfort in this time that has been given to us all.

What stories are casting that spell for you?