I’ve read a lot of fantasy literature, but to this day my favorite remains Tolkien’s The Return of the King. I’ve never been able to forget the siege of Minas Tirith, Aragorn’s last minute intervention in breaking it, and the heroism of Gandalf in defending the city. More than that, though, the ending of the book haunts me. Tolkien gives us Frodo, slowly degenerating under the weight of the ring, bringing it to the brink of destruction and then … failing. The ring is destroyed, not through Frodo’s agency, and not through Gollum’s intention. Something (Someone?) transforms the situation, using the evil intentions of the characters to bring about good. Yes, Frodo’s good actions prior to this moment were necessary, so too Sam’s unflagging assistance. And yet, they failed. Nevertheless, something redeems their failure, and brings good to pass despite it. The hope that Tolkien presents at this moment is real, and all the more powerful for the despair out of which it is born. But Frodo’s failure is also our own, and that should give us pause.