Our Own Dear John Ronald: Our Time

“I cordially dislike allegory (…). I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader.”

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‘ 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.  And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.’

JRRT: LOTR, Book I, Chapter II

GandalfHobbiton
Gandalf Arrives in Hobbiton. What started as a sketch of Gandalf and his cart ended up as a view of Hobbiton.

‘Large symbolism’, however, should not be a matter of one imposed diagram, but of repeated offered hints.  The hints would work only if they were true both in fact and fiction.  History, thought Tolkien, was varied in its applicability.  But if you understood it properly, you saw it repeating itself.

(…) When Gandalf tells Frodo about the ring, Frodo replies ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, but Gandalf reproves him: ‘So do I … and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide’ (p. 50).  The rebuke is deserved by Frodo, but also by Neville Chamberlain with his now infamous promise that he brought ‘peace in our time’.  Elrond, on p. 237, has learned better.  He remembers a moment when ‘the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever’ but knows that ‘it was not so’.  Tolkien himself fought in ‘the war to end all wars’, but saw his sons fighting in the one after that.

Tom Shippey: The Road to Middle Earth, pp. 169-70

Both illustrations used in this post are from John Howe’s website.  For the featured image uncropped, visit his Portfolio.

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