I think I came to love The Lord of the Rings a bit later than many fantasy enthusiasts. This is because, although I remember trying to read it more than once as a lass, I wasn’t able to get past the Black Riders.
They terrified me.
There is evil in Narnia, but somehow, despite seeing how the characters I cared about suffered, and even faced possible painful death, I almost never felt seriously threatened by their experiences. I was eager to see how they pulled (or were pulled!) through, but somehow I always had a sense of assurance they would, and that all would be well. This kept any real sense of menace at bay. I realize now, looking back, that this underlying sense of assurance – a vain hope that there really aren’t any Black Riders, perhaps? – was one of the most important things I was looking for in the stories I lived on in my early years.
The only real exception to that Narnian sense of assurance came in the final volume of the Chronicles, The Last Battle. It was hard to read about those losses on and off the battlefield. Somehow, they represented a threat of a different magnitude. It was the first time I can remember feeling the real shadow of menace over Narnia. As a result, I didn’t reread that book with warm enthusiasm the way I repeatedly reread the others – at least, not for many years.
But how I felt about The Last Battle was nothing compared to what it was like to encounter the Black Riders. Fearing Black Riders was the sort of thing that makes one shudder and put a book down, unfinished. Which is what I did for several years with The Lord of the Rings.
As it turned out, I had to meet a few “Black Riders” in real life before I was able to appreciate their significance in fiction.
Flash forward a few years, into adulthood: There I was on the run, as it were, with my own Black Riders in pursuit. The terror was real. The horror of it was in my life!
It was only when I was beyond any hope of helping myself that it finally became clear to me that help comes from God. Not to escape in a moment of deus ex machina dramatics, but rather to bear the experience. And for me, having help to bear the fact of Black Rider presence in this sad beautiful world was significant indeed.
After that, I came to love The Lord of the Rings as I’ve loved very few other stories. What a comfort to be reminded that although the road is long and hard, following it is the only hope there is. What a comfort to be reminded that whatever astonishing burden we must bear on the road is meant for us to bear – but not without help.
What a comfort to be reminded that even though we don’t understand everything that is happening, if we only follow through as much as we can, then even when we fail, all is not necessarily lost.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”